Monthly Archives: October 2019

Cézanne: The House with the Cracked Walls

Boulder upon boulder, earth upon earth

Vessel holding water despite its cracks

Life, life, filling voids, flailing to support

Even the black lines stretch toward the light blue

Tiny dark threads turned shades of ever green

And beneath it all a man lives and breathes

He exhales thru the stone, crying “Mother!”

Look, listen, nose hair like bearded stubble

He inhales, right before balance crumbles

—Howard Hain

Docile Before the Spirit

Father Amedeo Cencini, an Italian priest frequently consulted by dioceses and religious communities, spoke at the Passionist General Chapter in Rome, October 2018 on the issue of formation. 

I expected his presentation to touch on academic matters. What schools to go to, what books to read, how should we form new members. 

He didn’t speak on those issues at all, instead he spoke on learning in the school of daily life. Learning day by day, where you are, every day of your life. Daily life is our basic school.

For the school of daily life we need “docibilitas”, a Latin word we might translate as “docility”, but docility can be understood too negatively today– someone easily led, easily trained, like a trained animal.

In its original Latin meaning, to be docile means to be open to what one hears and willing to follow that truth. It’s brave and daring, not weak and compliant.

In the Letter to the Romans, which we’re reading these days in our liturgy, Paul calls for a docility to the Holy Spirit. Don’t be led by the world, he says, be led by the Spirit of God, and “the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,” (Romans 8,26)

We don’t know how to live as we ought either. Docility means we listen to more than ourselves or the accepted wisdom of our world.

Prayer is a way of being docile to the Spirit, who is there in our weakness.  Daily prayer brings us wisdom for daily life.

Remember His Death and Resurrection

St. Clement, an early pope, urged the Corinthians to keep the Lord’s death and resurrection in mind. Nature itself reminds us of this mystery::

“Consider, beloved, how the Lord keeps reminding us of the resurrection that is to come, of which he has made the Lord Jesus Christ the first fruits by raising him from the dead.

Let us look, beloved, at the resurrection that occurs at its appointed time. Day and night show us a resurrection; the night lies in sleep, day rises again; the day departs, night takes its place.

Let us think about the harvest; how does the sowing take place, and in what manner? The sower goes out and casts each seed onto the ground. Dry and bare, they fall into the earth and decay. Then the greatness of the Lord’s providence raises them up again from decay, and out of one many are produced and yield fruit.” (Letter to the Corinthians)

How down to earth Clement makes the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Day follows night; the seed falls to the ground, then produces a marvelous harvest. The mystery of the Jesus’ death and resurrection takes place in simple elemental time. What happened once, long ago, we experience now, day by day, as time goes by.

Lord God, deepen our faith,  strengthen our hope,  enkindle our love;and so that we may obtain what you promise,  make us love what you command.


October 28 Mon Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles Feast

Eph 2:19-22/Lk 6:12-16

29 Tue Weekday

Rom 8:18-25/Lk 13:18-21

30 Wed Weekday

Rom 8:26-30/Lk 13:22-30

31 Thu Weekday

Rom 8:31b-39/Lk 13:31-35

November 1 Fri ALL SAINTS

Solemnity [Holyday of Obligation]

Rv 7:2-4, 9-14/1 Jn 3:1-3/Mt 5:1-12a

2 Sat The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day)

 Wis 3:1-9/Rom 5:5-11 or Rom 6:3-9/Jn 6:37-40 (668)

How Do We Pray?

In his Letter to Proba, in our liturgy this week, Augustine sees  the desire for God at the heart of prayer. Prayer’s not a litany of needs (God knows what we need) or a search for new knowledge. We need to “pray always with unwearied desire.”

We pray to increase our desire for God.

“ At set times and seasons we also pray to God in words, so that by these signs we may instruct ourselves and mark the progress we have made in our desire, and spur ourselves on to deepen it.”

Words help us pray,  Jesus taught and he gave his disciples words of prayer. Much of Augustine’s Letter to Proba is a commentary on the words of the Our Father.  One of his greatest works is his “Commentary on the Psalms.” We need to pray with words at set times. They’re essential in our liturgy.

Augustine also recognized the need for short, frequent prayers. “The monks in Egypt are said to offer frequent prayers, but these are very short and hurled like swift javelins.” They’re quick reminders of God’s presence.

There’s another kind of prayer Augustine addresses in his letter– lengthy prayer. Jesus spent whole nights in prayer; he prayed at great length, giving us an example to follow. 

It’s not necessary to use words in long prayer, Augustine writes. In lengthy prayer, it’s the attitude of persistence that counts, knocking at the door of the One we’re seeking.

 “This task is generally accomplished more through sighs than words, more through weeping than speech. God places our tears in his sight, and our sighs are not hidden from him.”

Long prayer with sighs more than words, weeping more than speech. Not much is said about this kind of prayer today, I think.

In my community, the Passionists, it was a prayer that was recommended. It still is.

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?



Who is Paul of the Cross?

He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.

He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.

There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.

There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.

But there is also the man named Paul.

And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.

His weaknesses greatly interest me.

Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.

If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.

We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.


In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…

…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…

…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…

…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…

We just may find ourselves.

Or we may find someone that we used to know.

Or we may find someone that we should get to know.

But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.

And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.

For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.

Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.


The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.

And the answer is always the same: With God.

Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.


I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.

As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.

For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.

A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.


—Howard Hain


How Do I Pray To You?

Photo: Fr. Paul Zilonka, CP

How do I pray to You?

You, whose sun makes the shadow I see

across the golden brown cornfield

look like the shadow of your strong arm?

You, whose artistry I see in the vulture

that circles gracefully on wind currents

that make the huge pines sway?

You, who blow the wind chimes into song

and the windmill into a whirling blend

of red and white, red and white, red and white?

You, who created all the beauty

I see through my kitchen window,

a miniature of all your beautiful Creation?

How do I pray to You?

With gratitude!

Gloria Ziemienski

February 20, 2008

Friday Thoughts: Francesca and William


Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Julie Manet with cat”, 1887


Francesca, like most 4-year-olds, is not particularly gentle when it comes to petting a cat. Well, let me put it another way, her gentleness as compared to her zeal when It comes to petting a cat is somewhat lacking. Hence, our cats spend most of their time in the attic of our apartment, hiding from the over-affectionate hand of Francesca.

One morning I was on the couch and Francesca was sitting at the coffee table working on a coloring book. From the door leading to the attic peaked the head of William. Francesca saw him and quickly looked at me, and for some reason this time she attempted to implement what she had been told many times before.

In a barely audible whisper, she looked for affirmation: “Daddy, I shouldn’t move, right?”

“No, Francesca, stay still…”, I whispered back, “…let him come to you. Just leave your hand down by your side.”

And lo and behold, William began to make his way toward us, and began to even approach Francesca’s still fingers. He sniffed. He balked. He approached again. Francesca went to move and stopped. William and Francesca courted each other, one filled with fright, the other excitement, both nearly shaking with emotion.

Francesca broke the tension and attempted to pet his head. William allowed it but could not hold together the nerve to stay put once Francesca’s hand moved past his neck. Off and up the stairs William went.

I realized something. Sometimes, when a person is filled with fear he can not be approached. No matter how kind, soft, sincere our intention, he just can not take the approach, any approach. He needs to make the first move. And we on our part need to simply stay still, patiently waiting for him to come closer, and then maybe, just maybe, we can make a kind gesture. But even if the person runs away at that point we need not take it personal. It is fear that is the cause. Neither the person giving nor the person receiving is to blame.

But unlike cats, who usually show fear just as it is, perhaps with an occasional threatening hiss, humans on the other hand show fear through a different type of tremble. They often preemptively throw insults, curses, mocks, pushes, and even outright physical strikes.

And just as it is hard to ignore the sharp claws of a frightened kitten digging into your arm—even when we fully understand that the kitten truly means no personal harm to us—it is hard to ignore such “attacks” from our fellow man. It is hard to strip them down to what they really are: pathetic attempts at self-preservation. But then again, was not Jesus striped down? And shouldn’t we always keep Christ’s Passion in our hearts? Well, then, as a sign of gratitude, we owe it to Jesus to see His Passion in all our interactions, especially the encounters that cause us pain, be it a superficial abrasion or a wound that pierces the core of our soul.

Let us then employ God’s grace in seeing all harshness, in any form, from any human being toward us, as fear. And by doing so we find ourselves very much in the actual footprints of Christ. For what nailed Him to the Cross was not jealousy nor anger nor even resentment, but fear, fear of the worst kind, fear of the truth. And in the case of Jesus, Truth had a very real face.

But we too are alive. We too have within us the divine presence, a presence that some find dreadfully frightening.

No, we can not like Jesus be sinless, but we can see our persecutors as he did: men to be pitied not punished, men that need mercy not condemnation, men who if we don’t offer forgiveness to are less likely to find it within themselves when they are at the other end of the sword—when it is their turn to be insulted, cursed, mocked, pushed, and even outright physically struck for simply wanting to love.

In the mean time, Francesca continues to color and William sleeps peacefully up in a tight nook of the attic. In the fullness of time, they’ll see eye to eye, as shall you and me.


—Howard Hain