Tag Archives: Christianity

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain
durer

Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


(Dec/21/2017)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519

 

Morning Thoughts: Little Drummer Boys and Girls

by Howard Hain

Yesterday I witnessed a “dress” rehearsal for a live nativity. The cast was made up of first and second graders, and the audience was mostly composed of residents of a retirement home for religious sisters, Franciscans. It was spectacular.

Last week I was at Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes in their “Christmas Spectacular”. It was quite a production.

Sitting in the dark this morning I cannot help but contrast the two.

I also cannot help but relate to the seven-year old who played the part of The Little Drummer Boy.

As that child walked so slowly toward the foot of the altar, where the rehearsal was being staged, I saw my vocation in an entirely different light.

The children were all singing their hearts out, and many of the eighty and ninety year-old sisters were mouthing the words. The boy with the drum didn’t utter a sound. He just kept walking, slowly, extremely slowly toward the altar, every once in a while ever so slightly pretending to tap two tiny sticks upon a toy drum. He was beautifully awkward.

There was no greater spectacle on earth at that very moment. Shall I dare to say, no greater event that heaven or earth has ever known?

For a child was born. We were all being born.


Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.*


.

.*(Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958.)

 

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2-1


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


(Dec/16/2016)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Morning Thoughts: She Planted The Sun


.

There once was a little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

Day after day she pecked away.

A little hen marking the ground where she play.

All kinds of chicks came to stay.

She lined her dolls in pretty little rows.

A beauty pageant, all kinds of hair.

Straight. Curly. Blond. Brown.

She loved them all.

Did she favor?

She rotated each day.

She knew who needed extra care.

Though all to be happy.

That the only rule.

No room in her garden for overcast days.

And how her family grew.

She had, my God, so many to attend!

Amazing she could even keep track.

Yet each tiny doll held a special place.

She simply made room.

A little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

———

Miriam…Marie…Maria…

Mary…

I guess it depends on the day.

Accent. Pronunciation. Spelling.

Even eye color may change.

But it’s always the same little girl.

Age to age.

Place to place.

The same little girl

Helping save the human race.

The same little girl

In the fullness of time

Forever known:

Full of Grace


.

—Howard Hain

.

St. Dominic

fra-angelico-st-dominic-featured-w740x493

St. Dominic, who’s feast is August 8th, is a saint universally celebrated in the Catholic Church. Why is he universally celebrated?

Dominic, who lived at the beginning of the 13th century, faced the Albigensians , a gnostic movement strongly entrenched around Toulouse in France that was drawing believers away from the church.  Dominic gathered preachers to bring the teaching of the gospel to the area. Preaching the gospel, according to Dominic, meant not only to understand your faith, but to know what those who differ from you believe. He  established communities of followers, the Dominicans, near universities such as Paris and Bologna.

They were to study and pray. Study and prayer and a simple life would help them know the truth and bring it to their world. His community still has that vital role in the church today.

The prayers for Dominic’s feast ask that the gifts of study and prayer and a simple life remain in the church. We need people who think and pray and preach.

One of Dominic’s biographers mentions something about him that’s true of all the saints, I think.  Saints look redeemed. Dominic’s face was joyful,  which came from a joyful heart and a soul at peace. He believed God was with him.

“He was a man of great equanimity, except when moved to compassion and mercy. And since a joyful heart animate the face, he displayed the peaceful composure of a spiritual man in the kindness he manifested outwardly and by the cheerfulness of his countenance.”

That same “cheerfulness of countenance” seems to be what people remark about Pope Francis. That doesn’t mean smiling continuously, but that joy is our “default,” it’s the attitude usually there.  Fra Angelico seems to capture  the  peacefulness of Dominic in his portrait of the saint. (above)

Hummingbird and Passionflowers

by Howard Hain
1509123983639705942327.jpg

Martin Johnson Heade, “Hummingbird and Passionflowers” (ca. 1875-85) (The Met)

The delicate little bird that resides within each of us.

It hops to and fro. It stands startlingly still.

Very often we are the very ones who chase it away.

But it doesn’t fly far.

Just to the closest branch, that’s just beyond our reach.

And it looks back at us, as if to ask, “Why are you afraid?”

The tiny head of a tiny bird, slightly cocked to the side—a question mark floats from its beak.

It longs to return, to live within us, to build a nest, to raise its young.

But it doesn’t rush back.

No, it waits.

It waits for us to ask for it to return.

It’s a patient creature, that tiny bird.

One may be tempted to say it’s not very smart, but that’s not it at all.

It’s simple. It’s holy. It knows who it is. It’s not afraid of the fall.


Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.


Web Link: The Met Museum. Martin Johnson Heade, “Hummingbird and Passionflowers” (ca. 1875-85)

Word by Word


As we walk along and lean more and more on God and less and less on human consolation we discover we are never alone.

When we truly give thanks to God for the human consolation that comes our way we discover just how many angels and saints God has placed along the path.

Everyone and everything is originally from God.

He is the only true creator, at the beginning, and at the end of the day.

If we love only Him we love everyone and everything.

Evil is the denial of such undeniable truth.

Evil is the denial of God’s supreme creativity.

Evil is the absence of good.

And shadows and darkness need spaces and voids in order to exist.

Jesus came to cast providential light.

For as the sun rises toward “straight above” the length of negativity surely disappears.

And at perfect high noon darkness does not stand a chance.

For Jesus was raised up upon the crisscrossed tree of life.

Good squelching evil for all the world to see.

———

The foot of that Cross still remains.

The closer we get the brighter the day.

Spaces and voids fill with pure light.

Absence disappears.

Evil is cast into hell.

For what God creates He intends for good.

———

Will we then live good lives?

Will we allow our absences to be filled with genuine goodness?

Will we speak life?

Will we help build the kingdom?

Let us do so.

One stone at a time.

One flickering light at a time.

One Eucharistic encounter at a time.

———

Let us live “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

For when we do,

Stones become bread,

Water becomes wine,

And bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

———

Lord Jesus, cover us with Your Blood.

Let us hug the foot of Your Cross.

Let us adore Your feet nailed to the trunk of the tree.

Let us get so close that not even a speck of darkness can get in between.

Let us truly ask this in Your Holy and Perfect Name.

Amen.


.

—Howard Hain

http://www.HowardHain.com

.

Joy of Minds Made Pure


The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:5


There’s a place

Where walls are made of flowers

And petals are made of uncut stones.

Where virtue grows untold

And innocence can simply be itself.

Where earth and water mix

But never make mud.

The rain continually falls,

The sun always shines,

The dew remains sight unseen.

Laughter, joyful laughter

Tills the soil.

Weeds are welcome,

No plant chokes another.

The seasons,

They come and go,

The temperature remains the same.

Innocence. Innocence. Innocence.

The constant refrain.

Such a place exists.

It lowers from the sky

While within a playground

Filled with screaming kids.


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

—Revelation 21:1-4


.

—Howard Hain

http://www.HowardHain.com

Continue reading

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?

st-paul-castellazzo


..

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

.