Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Memorial of St. Ignatius Loyola

Today is the Memorial of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, and a Soldier for Christ.
Today's Divine Office Office of Readings included a wonderful reading from the Life of St. Ignatius:

" When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercises, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits."

Wow. What a day it's been!

My son is almost 14.
He is amazing.  Someday he wants to be a soldier, or a policeman, or a lacrosse coach.

He and I discussed St. Ignatius' observation today.

He sees the world with supernatural sight, which is truly a grace.

I love spending time just talking with him...
driving in the car, going for brunch at our local coffee shop & creperie,  browsing shops in the Design District.

Almost every topic he brings up blows me out of the water,
with awe for God and for this teenager he gave us.

The depth of perception, the clarity of vision, the ability to articulate things not of this world leave me utterly dumbfounded sometimes.

I pray for him, as every mother does for her son, but I pray in particular that he will
continue to ask for God's guidance,  hear God's will and have the courage to do whatever
God calls him to do with his life, with discerning his vocation.

I am so blessed and so thankful.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gospel Poverty

This topic has been on my mind recently.

I read Connie Rossini's Contemplative Homeschool post this morning and found it both apropos as well as reassuring.

God Calls You to Holy Poverty

These passages spoke to me in particular:

"When we have too many possessions, we easily become attached to them and place our trust in our own resources, rather than relying on God. Our many earthly concerns distract us from heavenly matters. We find it difficult to advance in holiness.

What is Gospel poverty?

In his book Happy are You Poor, Father Thomas Dubay gives an excellent apologetic for the virtue of poverty. He argues that Gospel poverty means more than simply giving of your time and talent, more than being detached from what you own, more than giving of your surplus. If I truly love my neighbor, I will be more concerned about his being fed and clothed than about my owning the latest gadget. If I do not actively aid the poor, my faith is dead (see James 2:14-17). We are commanded to lend without expecting repayment (Luke 6:34), and to share our goods until there is an approximate equality among all (Luke 3:10-11)."

And Connie's conclusion is very helpful:

"An examination of conscience

Since we all have different family sizes, jobs, levels of health, and positions in society, the Church does not give us specific rules on living Gospel poverty. Following the lead of Father Dubay, I offer here some reflections as an examination of conscience:

Do I make buying decisions based on an image I want to portray?
Do I give at least 10 percent of my income to the Church and charitable organizations?
When was the last time I volunteered to help those in need?
Am I a slave to fashion or the latest product craze?
Do I practice hospitality?
How do I handle interruptions of my time?
Do I waste energy?
Is there any item it would be difficult for me to give up?
Do I trust God with my finances?
What do I do with serviceable items I no longer need?
Do I consider the poor in the voting booth?
How much do I spend on entertainment?
Do I value silence?
Am I content with what I have?
Am I grateful?"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

OCDS San Diego

This is the Order of Carmelites Discalced San Diego Chapter website

It includes an extensive list of resources and links.

I highly recommend the online link to  The Three Ages of the Interior Life 
by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., one of my all time favorite books and authors.

Also, visit Catholic Treasury for more online classic texts.

"God commands not impossibilities, 
but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, 
to ask for what is beyond your strength; 
and he helps you, that you may be able." 

--St Augustine

Feast of the Prophet Elijah

July 20th is the Feast of the Prophet Elijah 

"The prophet Elijah appears in Scripture as a man of God who lived always in His presence and fought zealously for the worship of the one God.  He defended God's law in a solemn contact on Mt. Carmel, and afterwards was given on Mt. Horeb an intimate experience of the living God.  The hermits who instituted a form of monastic life in honor of Our Lady on Mt. Carmel in the twelfth century, followed monastic tradition in turning to Elijah as their Father and model." (Meditations from Carmel)

Elijah is a primary figure in the history of the Church, the Carmelite Order and Carmelite spirituality. The words of the prophet Elijah are the motto of the Carmelite Order:
"With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts."

"The first Carmelites were hermits living in shared solitude who settled on Mount Carmel in northern Palestine in the 12th century. Inspired by the example of Elijah, a holy man and a lover of solitude, they dwelt in small cells near a spring called Elijah’s Fountain.

In Elijah, Carmel sees itself as in a mirror. His eremitic and prophetic life expresses its own most intimate ideal. In studying the life of Elijah, Carmel is aware of a growing thirst for contemplation. It perceives its deep kinship with this man who “stood in the presence of the living God”. If it shares his weaknesses and his anguish, it also knows his faith in God and his zeal for the “Yahweh of armies” and it has tasted the same delights of a life hidden in God which the prophet also experienced. (Carmelite Spirituality by Paul Marie de la Croix of the Order of Discalced Carmelites)

Here are a few more informative posts pertaining to the prophet Elijah:

Carmelite Street:

"Elijah is a principle figure in our spirituality. "

The Order of Carmelites:

"He is the prophet who is involved in the life of the people and, fighting against the false idols, he brings them back to the fidelity of the Covenant with the only God. He is the prophet in solidarity with the poor and those far away and he defends those who suffer violence and injustice. From the origin of the Order of the Carmelites inspiration is found in his person, who then permeates the whole history, so much so that justly the Prophet can be considered its ideal Founder."

Solemnity of the Holy Prophet Elijah
a Brief History and Meditation:

"In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah is a solitary figure. On Mount Carmel — where the Carmelite hermits first settled — he challenged his people to choose one God for Israel — Yahweh or Baal. According to the First Book of Kings, chapter 18, Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed by fire, which proved to the people that Yahweh was the true God.

Undertaking God’s work, Elijah started a journey through the desert, but he lost his focus and commitment to the project. Sitting under a bush, he wished to die. But God prodded him to continue his journey to Mount Horeb. There Elijah became aware of God — not with the usual eye-catching signs of fire and earthquake, but rather as a gentle breeze. Elijah was sent back to his people refreshed. From Elijah, Carmelites learn to become aware of the presence of God in the unexpected and to be silent enough to hear God’s whisper.

“God lives in whose presence I stand”, says Elijah, and the Carmelites try to follow, recognizing God in everyone they meet and serve."

Israel Tourism information on the historical Elijah:

"All local religions regard Elijah as a major Old Testament prophet. This day traditionally marks his ascension to heaven on a chariot of fire, and is celebrated in a cave which is identified as his hideout on Mount Carmel."

Kate Wicker Blog

One of my favorite blogmoms is Kate Wicker.

She recently posted this lovely prayer:

"So this is my prayer as we look ahead to new beginnings and big changes, also from Searching For and Maintaining Peace (a recent read for my spiritual book club):

“Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will. I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further. I am not going to spend hours racking my brain. I am deciding such and such a thing because, all things carefully considered, it seems to me the best thing to do. And I leave everything in Your hands. I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions. And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error. It will be for me a source of humility and I will learn something from it!”
This prayer, by the way, is perfect for someone who is NOT gifted at all at discernment. I’m sure I’ll be repeating it over and over as I continue to face big and small decisions in this messy but beautiful life of mine."

Friday, July 19, 2013

How I Start My Day...and Fill It Up

Every morning I run along one of my favorite lagoon trails, 
starting just before dawn, with the sun rising as I head toward the Pacific Ocean.

Photo:  Ben Burner Photography,

As I plod along, I listen to the following podcasts on my MP3 player:

The Daily Mass Readings

Then a short period of reflection on one of the readings, called Lectio Divina

Followed by the Liturgy of the Hours (Invitatory, Office of Readings, Morning Prayer)

and the Holy Rosary

and, quite often, re-listening to one of Fr. Alfonse's homilies

All of these are available through iTunes as well.

Later in the day, I will listen to the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) on my smartphone or laptop.  It is a wonderful way to stop, focus, prioritize, center myself and recharge my batteries.

Hope you enjoy these as well.

Fr. Alfonse Nazzaro, Parochial Vicar, All Saints Catholic Church, Dallas, TX

Fr. Alfonse Nazzaro 
Parochial Vicar 
All Saints Catholic Church
Dallas, TX

Fr. Alfonse Nazzaro  is an amazing priest, effective evangelist and grace-filled human being.

Blessed with innumerable gifts from the Holy Spirit, his homilies and blogposts are thought-provoking and inspirational. I hope someone else will enjoy these as much as I do.

 Here is a link to his blog:

 Here is a link to some of his homilies from his time at St. Monica's Catholic Church, Dallas, TX:

Fr. Alfonse at St. Ann's Catholic Church, Coppell, TX

Fr. Alfonse speaking at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Coppell, TX

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is there such a thing as a healthy addiction?
According to Dr. Ben Luedke, yes. Things like...breathing, eating, sleeping, etc. are all healthy addictions but can become unhealthy if we abuse them. He goes on to discuss on of my favorite 'addictions': running trails!


Read it here: Trail Running and AddictionEditor’s Note: This piece originally appeared at Running the Cascades, and was our top pick among entries into the April Trail Runner Blog Symposium: Can trail running develop into an unhealthy addiction? To browse other entries, check out our April Symposium Highlights. Next month's topic: Social media—bane or boon to trail running?

I’m a psychotherapist who works with people struggling with addiction, and I’m also a long-distance trail runner. I’m reluctant to apply a clinical word like addiction to a generally healthy pursuit like trail running. Trail runners, like all runners, are often healthy, happy, functional and well-respected people. That being said, any activity can lead to addiction if that activity results in a feeling of elevated affect. In other words, if I get a pleasurable feeling from participating in an activity, I’m more likely to repeat that behavior and could become "addicted" to the feeling it provides. If I continue with that activity despite negative effects on my life and the lives of those I love, an unhealthy addiction has developed.

On a personal level, I don’t like considering the possibility that the positive feelings I obtain from trail running might lead to an unhealthy addiction. I’d rather move on to a different Blog Symposium question, thank you very much, and honestly hope that next month’s question is less personally challenging. However, my aversion to openly and candidly answering this month’s question makes me think there must be some truth to the possibility that trail running can become addictive in an unhealthy way. My hesitation to answer points to the possibility of denial, and denial is a common attribute of (an unhealthy) addiction.

I think it’s important to point out that people also have healthy addictions. We feel compelled to breathe, eat, sleep, drink, clean ourselves and procreate in our everyday lives. Of course, these activities (with the exception of breathing) have the potential for abuse and can become problems in our lives. That being the case, it seems silly to assume that trail running couldn’t also become problematic in practice.

It would be easy, and far more comfortable, to take a narrow view of this month’s question, and to arrive at the conclusion that trail running, even in excess, doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria considered to constitute an addiction.

Trail runners don’t develop tolerance, as drug users do. Or do they? Many ultrarunners I know start with 50Ks and slowly move up to time-consuming 100-mile trail races, presumably responding to an inner need to cover more distance in order to arrive at a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Trail runners don’t have withdrawal symptoms. Or do they? Personally, I feel drained and a little depressed for a day or two after a trail ultra.
Trail runners don’t keep running, even when they know running causes physical or psychological problems. Well … I can recount several stories of runners I know (myself included) who ignored medical advice and resumed running too quickly after incurring a running-related injury. And, let’s face it, many of us long-distance trail runners cut back on time that could be spent with family and non-running friends due to our adherence to training or racing.
There are also neurological factors to consider when answering this month’s question. Trail running, like other aerobic activities, results in an increase in endorphins. Running can elevate the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. The combined effect is multifold—runners report feeling that famous runner’s high, and may experience a reduction in anxiety and depression, as well as a sense of satisfaction and consequent relaxation.

Personally, during my trail runs, I’m often aware of feeling more connected to nature, less worried about day-to-day life stressors, and often drive home feeling very satisfied and more centered overall. My anxiety lessened, my restlessness diminished and feeling generally content—it’s hard to spot a problem.

I like to think of myself as passionate about my trail running, and I suspect nearly all of my running friends do the same. Can passion become addiction? According to Dr. Gabor Mate, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, “Any passion can become an addiction; but then how to distinguish between the two? The central question is: who’s in charge, the individual or their behavior? It’s possible to rule a passion, but an obsessive passion that a person is unable to rule is an addiction. And the addiction is the repeated behavior in which a person keeps engaging, even though he knows it harms himself or others. How it looks externally is irrelevant. The key issue is a person’s internal relationship to the passion and its related behaviors.”

Perhaps trail running, like other recreational pursuits in which we engage passionately, exists on a continuum. On one hand we have passion and moderation, and on the other end, excess and addiction. I think the question of where we are on this continuum is one we can either answer honestly after thorough consideration, or one we can dismiss out of hand as being inapplicable.

Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed that I can, and sometimes do spend too much time online reading running-related articles and social-media posts. I feel compelled at times to buy more running gear when I know I don’t really need, so much as want the gear. At times, I can be inflexible with family planning, as I feel a need to get in more time on the trail prior to a long race or self-supported ultra. In her book Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth, Alice Miller asks us, “What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood.”

My personal intention is to be as mindful as possible of the internal relationship I have with trail running. When I feel compelled to run or pursue running-related activities, I hope to be aware of that felt need, and to respond by dialing back my level of involvement (at least on an emotional level). Running should be joyous and generally pleasurable for a runner (well, most of the time anyway), and family and friends should be able to look toward a runner’s passion with appreciation and respect. When these conditions aren’t present, I think we can safely assume that something is amiss and we’re sliding toward the wrong end of the continuum.

Ben Luedke, 40, a psychotherapist in private practice in Bellevue, Washington, can often be found running or hiking with his family in the Issaquah Alps or the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. He is the founder and manager of the Seattle Mountain Running Group.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Titian, The Assumption of Mary and the beauty of representational art

Assumption of the Virgin, Titian

Original article:

Read this amazing article in the WSJ and wanted to share it here.
After San Marco, the most famous church in Venice is Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The vast 15th-century building, its wide, high central nave and chapels lined with important monuments, has been described as a Pantheon of the glories of La Serenissima. There's a lot to look at, but the most spectacular of the Frari's many riches is the enormous painting above the high altar, Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" (1516-18). Recent studies have revealed that the great panel, painted when the ambitious young virtuoso was 28 and intended to assert his mastery, is apparently all by his own hand, made without the aid of assistants. When this magnificent work was first unveiled, it announced a new conception of what an altarpiece could be, both in the grandeur of its scale and the simplicity and unity of its composition, and successfully staked Titian's claim to being the most important painter in Venice.

At nearly 23 feet tall, in a frame like a triumphal arch (probably designed by the artist), the "Assumption of the Virgin" dominates the space above the altar, against a haze of light spilling from the lancet windows of the apse behind it. It's an astonishing painting, first capturing our attention with its bold economy. Titian translated his dramatic motif into a nearly abstract, simple structure that declares itself clearly from a distance, making the powerful image of Mary's ascent to heaven intelligible to worshipers the length of the nave.

The painting is divided into three rather widely separated zones of activity: First, there's a horizontal mass of awe-struck, gesticulating apostles who fill the bottom third of the immense wood panel, tightly packed together below a band of pale blue sky. Next, there's a descending arc with a swaying vertical element in the center: the Virgin, arms raised and balanced on a cloud populated by a throng of putti and a few slightly older angels, as she floats upward from the painting's midpoint into a golden dome of heavenly light. Above her, in a narrow band seen from below, God the Father, flanked by a putto and an angel, swoops in at a slight angle that expands the space, framed by a curving band of closely pressed putti, like a smaller, more distant version of Mary's arc of escorts, all golden orange in the celestial light.

The more time we spend with the painting, the more brilliant and unexpected Titian's staging of the miraculous event appears to be. As we admire the generosity and amplitude of his forms, the simultaneous delicacy and boldness of the modeling, and the rhythmic folds of the drapery, we also note how subtly he played with our expectations of symmetry and marvel at how he created big, eloquent gestures across his huge image both to engage the eyes of even distant viewers and carry the narrative.

Each apostle reacts differently to the vision. One shades his eyes. One kneels in prayer. One raises clasped hands like a supplicant. The figure closest to us turns his back and reaches up, as if longing to embrace the Virgin before she vanishes. All of them gaze upward, as we do, at the rising figure of the Virgin in the implied golden dome of light. In her red robe, she forms the apex of a tall, narrow, slightly asymmetrical triangle. The triangle is visually supported by the apostle with his back to us, one bare arm extended, and his opposite number, who faces us, one arm bent and covered by an artfully draped sleeve. Like Mary, this crucial pair wear red. So does God the Father; a glimpse of his scarlet robe pulls our eye to the top of the panel, so that we metaphorically recapitulate Mary's journey heavenward as we explore the painting. But variations in each of the reds slow us down, making us consider each element individually.

The Virgin's mantle, blown to one side but prudently knotted for her upward voyage, forms a sweeping dark-blue arc that restates, at smaller scale and with new animation, the curving band of cloud and putti. Our perceptions of the different sizes and slightly altered orientation of the two arcs, like the differences in the amounts and types of the color red, as we move through the painting, intensify the sense of ascension. The play of reds, greens and blues—and even some purple—against the radiant ground further heightens the illusion of motion. (It has been suggested that Titian adopted a brighter palette than usual to counteract the sidelight from the apse windows.)

Thanks to Save Venice Inc., the American charitable organization that for decades has been preserving the city's gems, the "Assumption of the Virgin" has recently been treated to dust removal—the horizontal inflections of the wooden panel catch grime—and careful study to determine what might need to be done since it last received conservation treatment in 1972. Generally, the nearly 500-year-old painting is in good condition, but small test patches to remove discolored varnish have revealed its original splendor. Save Venice is poised to begin a campaign to raise funds for conservation, but work can't start until an extraordinary problem is solved. In the 1930s an organ was installed behind the painting, and in the 1970s the pipes were attached to the panel. (Don't even think about what the vibrations are doing.) Negotiations about relocating the instrument have been initiated. Let's hope they are successful so that Titian's Santa Maria Gloriosa can return to her full glory.

—Ms. Wilkin is a critic and independent curator.
A version of this article appeared July 13, 2013, on page C13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A New Way to Heaven"
Some interesting reading about one of my favorite Carmelites, 
Edith Stein, later, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross