fidelity of our mother

mater-dolorosaOn the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15):

A garden dark and darker hearts
bring agony this day;
From Sunday palms to Friday whips
the passions wave astray;
He bears the tree with broken heart
upon the stony way.

With body raised, He hangs in pain
And very few will stay
To watch the life escape Him now
Instead they run away.

But someone stands beneath the Cross
to keep despair at bay
And Christ can smile before He dies:
He hears His mother pray.

on the underground to Heathrow

First Light & No One In Sight

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Monday, August 30, 1993
6:01 AM

First light
ashen grey —
travel alarms stoke the coals
and the first sparks emerge,
buy tickets and descend spiral stairs
to the electric pipe with its capsules,
and are swallowed through the London earth.

We are leaving London.

Soon we emerge from under.
We see the streets darkly,
and the yellow electric torches
in the neighborhoods,
as they rush past us
on their way
to where they are.

We sit still,
staying in order to arrive elsewhere,
far elsewhere
through the air elsewhere.

We sit, and few talk
as the tracks pound an echoed rhythm
down the tube cars:
“we move, you move,
we move, you move,”
says the rhythm-track.

Dimness fades into suburbs
in South Ealing
and the pealing
of imaginary bells
tells us it is morning.
And in the morning we will fly,
fly elsewhere,
to land,
still on Time’s underground
and we will stay on it
until we arrive at the tube stop of Eternity.

People will ride with us for a while,
then alight and make connections
with another tube —
yet all will arrive
at the same stop.
Only we must take our own routes
to arrive.

Our ride is ever-new,
forging our way toward eternity —
the momentless moment
and the light there will be a light
no ordinary dawn or day
can approximate.

We arrive in Heathrow in twelve minutes.

In anticipation,
we approximate our moments
as we travel toward eternity.

the leaf of August

maple_brightMy August flies by
down the street of summer
like an anxious maple leaf
brightened too soon
headed for the pond
where it will soon lie at the bottom
with a hundred other memories.

Why does time
like a wind
pick up in August?
Maybe it’s just my imagination
fueled by the approaching blackboard
feeding on the thrilling anxiety
of another school year.

I’m determined to let my mind
be starved of its fears
so that the tumbling speed of my August
no longer bothers me.
I need only look at the memory-covered bottom
of the pond of my experience
to see a thousand leaves of anxiety
decomposing, losing form.

My task is to enjoy the tumble
of my crisp, bright August
and to let it sink beneath the pond
when Autumn calls my name.

marriage and the possibilities of human love

This week, while sitting in a bakery, I picked up the June 30 edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune and read this sobering headline:

Weddings a less religious affair: Church weddings are now a minority, as Minnesota couples choose convenience over tradition

The cultural shift described by the article is very dramatic:

Religious institutions hosted only 22% of weddings in 2017, according to a survey by the Knot, a leading wedding news website. That’s a swift decline from the 41% in 2009.

Barns, ranches and banquet halls are among the top beneficiaries of the shift.

Catholic churches have been particularly hard hit. The number of weddings nationwide plunged from 326,000 in 1990 to 143,000 in 2018 — despite an increase in the Catholic population. In Minnesota, there are half as many Catholic church weddings today, with 3,100 last year, as in 1990.

In just ten years, the number of marriages performed by religious institutions has dropped by 50%.

And then this story of how it is playing out:

Even some couples whose first choice is a church ceremony often change their minds because of requirements. Raised Catholic, Emily and Joe Beckers expected to be married in a Catholic church. But the Maplewood couple was put off by the marriage preparation classes, which seemed too “faith based,” and the required weekend retreat with other couples. They also wanted a personalized wedding ceremony and worried that couldn’t happen.

There was even a bigger hurdle. Joe Beckers was divorced, and for the marriage to be recognized in the church, he would need to get an annulment of his first marriage.

The wedding plans shifted gears, and they ended up at Embassy Suites in St. Paul.

Said Emily Beckers: “We were able to tailor every detail to our relationship.”

God, the sacraments, and the church are fading in the minds of young couples. No longer are these things considered important to the success or vitality of their relationship. What matters more is the ability to make the ceremony a triumph of self-expression. Is it any wonder that marriages fail so often? They are little more than houses built on sand.

Pope Saint John Paul II was prophetic in his sense about the direction that marriage was headed with young people. He describes the dynamic delicately and profoundly in his play about the sacrament of marriage. One of the characters in the drama is an old jeweler, a man who prepares the rings for young couples. He represents the priest, the witness of the sacrament and the one who, in the person of Christ, offers the blessing on behalf of the Church.

When we took the rings I felt your hand trembling….
We forgot to pay attention to the face of that old man,
whom Mother told me about: his eyes are said to be very expressive.
It is not our fault that we read nothing
in his eyes; and he said little — things we knew anyway.
So do not be surprised, Mother, that his words left no trace
(things we knew anyway — we did not sense greatness),
and Monica’s trembling hands told me much more.
I was engrossed in her being moved, and in my own
experience of her being moved, which I shared fully
— and I saw us two deep down in our experience:
I think I love her very much.

We were taken up with each other — how could we tear ourselves away…
He did nothing to fascinate us…
he simply measured, first, the circumference of our fingers, then of the rings,
as an ordinary craftsman would. There was no artistry in it even.
He did not bring us closer to anything. All the beauty remained
in our own feeling. He did not widen or narrow anything
…I was absorbed by my love — and by nothing else, it seems.

This frightened me, however… Does the old jeweler not act anymore with the force of his eyes and his word? Or is it that those two are unable to feel that force, hidden in his look and his speech. Is it that they are different?…
What are you building, children? What cohesion
are these feelings of yours going to have beyond the old jeweler’s message
of which the vertical axis cuts across
every marriage in this world?

The Jeweler’s Shop by Karol Wojtyla

Clearly the Church has its work cut out for it if it hopes to be given the opportunity to assist young couples in preparing well for marriage in any kind of meaningful way… leading them beyond the fantasy and the sentimentality, toward the bedrock of a love that pours itself out selflessly on behalf of the beloved.

For more about the play The Jeweler’s Shop, click here.