Friday, December 31, 2021

Crazy For My Mommas

Yes I am.  I am a Momma’s boy and I wear that title proudly.

I’m not just saying that as a warm sentiment.  My Momma Laura died with that terrible forgetting disease, dementia.  Loving someone through that dark valley is no small thing and it took our whole family to do it well. 

We called her GG (Great Grandma) towards the end because granddaughter number one lived with us at the time and she especially loved her.  In fact when that same granddaughter comes to visit Papa we sometimes walk the few blocks up the street to visit GG’s grave together and we sing to her and blow her kisses and if the weather is right, leave her some snow angels.

Momma Laura adopted me as an infant and raised me as her own.  She was like that, taking in people in need like my biological mom and myself and helping them.  

Speaking of my biological Momma, last December 14th I was finally able to visit her grave.  It meant a lot to me to stand there in the brisk Idaho afternoon air and sing to her and blow her kisses.  My sweet sister Rondi came out and put her coat over my shoulders when she saw I was going to be a while.  Closure is good, and I am thankful my sister helped me find it.

Though I never met my Momma Jeanie, I love her in some crazy way and very much look forward to meeting her some day.  I swear I sense her looking down on me when I’m at Church sometimes.  I'm told that she loved Jesus too.  I was even given a picture of her at her confirmation because as a Sicilian Catholic girl that is just what one did I suppose.  Maybe she had to learn the Rosary in Latin too, just like I'm learning it now in a song that Pastor Jim has led us in at the end of daily Mass this whole season of Advent. 

Anyway, I like to think she smiles to see me worshipping with my mostly Mexican Catholic brothers and sisters at Our Lady of Sorrows, just around the corner from my house.  It comforts my soul to think someone loves me and prays for me up there.

Our Lady of Sorrows is just up the street from the Our Lady of Guadeloupe Parish.  Every December 12 we march from one Mexican Parish to another on a chilly evening with a police escort and lots of loud drumming, singing and praying.  Neighbors poke their heads out and wish us well, I mean almost everyone loves a parade, don’t they!?!

Why do we do this?  

Because we are crazy for our Momma.

Most folks go through life dimly aware that Mexicans love the Mother of God to some strange extremes.  Just go to a Mexican store or flea market, and you’ll find all kinds of candles, trinkets and apparel with Her image on it.  You’ll see the image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe plastered on trucks, tattooed on men’s bodies, flying on flags, and most people just shrug it off as some kind of crazy idol worship.  Well, any devout Catholic would clear that notion up right away, but nobody usually asks one of those.

Since I’ve chosen to worship with my Mexican brothers and sisters these past couple years, I decided to try to understand why they are so crazy for their Momma and this image of her in particular.  It turns out there is a very good reason.

In 1531, the popular religion of the indigenous people near Mexico City was certainly not Roman Catholic. No, it was a death cult that sacrificed humans by tearing their hearts out of their chests to appease their cruel god.  By the year 1551,  nine million of those people had converted to the Christian Way and it all had to do with this miraculous image that appeared on a peasant’s overcoat.  I’m not making this up.

My professor, Dr. Christopher West, explains how this happened in a short video which was shot this month when he took some of his students on pilgrimage to visit the place where it happened and view the original miraculous image.

I couldn’t go on that pilgrimage, but I am blessed to be leaving in two days to attend a class taught by Dr. West in person at a retreat center near Philadelphia.  The name of the class is “Theology of the Body and the Marian Mystery” and in it we will take a week long deep dive into the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus, the God-man, born of this woman whom I believe is the most powerful woman in the universe.

Why do I believe she is so powerful?

Because her Son is crazy about His Momma and loves her so much he’d do just about anything she asks.  And since he is God Almighty, I mean… just sayin’…

As Christians (literally “little Christs”) we are adopted into that supernatural family circle.  Jesus is my brother and that makes His Momma my Momma too.

And I am just as crazy about THIS adopted Momma whom I’ve not yet met as I am about my other two Mommas.

I have to admit it took years to come to this point because I had a lot of anti-Mary baggage to work through.  My upbringing as a Baptist boy was instrumental there, but I don’t begrudge them.

If this writing reveals anything, it is that so often I don’t even know WHAT I don’t know.  I stumble through life ignorant and only vaguely aware of the most profound things.  I judge others without even knowing the reasons why they are the way they are.  At least I judged Catholic and Orthodox Christians for their seemingly insane obsession with Mary the Mother of God.

Well, people can change.  I did.

I’m crazy for all three of my Mommas today.  Fifteen years ago I couldn’t say that.

I love my Momma Mary so much I made this gift for her.  It is a famous Byzantine Hymn to Our Lady.  I put it over a slide show of some favorite images I have of her.

In a way, this is for all the Mommas I love, including the Mother of my children and the Mommas of my grand children.  They remind me of Momma Mary's goodness almost every single day.  For that I am truly grateful.

Totus Tuus.

Here are the lyrics in English:

"O Pure Virgin"

O pure and virgin Lady,

O spotless Theotokos: 

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O Virgin Queen and Mother

O dewy fleece most sacred:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O height transcending heaven above

O beam of light most radiant:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O joy of chaste and virgin maids

surpassing all the angels:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O brilliant light of heaven above

most clear and most radiant:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Commanding chief of heaven above

O holiest of holies

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O ever-virgin Mary

O Mistress of creation:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O Bride all-pure and spotless

O Lady all-holy:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O holy Mary, Bride and Queen

O cause of our rejoicing

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O Maiden Queen most hon'rable

O Mother most holy

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

More precious than the cherubim

more glorious than the seraphim:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Surpassing principalities

dominions, thrones and powers:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!


Rejoice, song of the cherubim

Rejoice, hymn of the angels:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, ode of the seraphim

and joy of the archangels:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, o peace; Rejoice, o joy

and haven of salvation: 

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O bridal chamber of the Word

unfading, fragrant blossom:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, delight of paradise

Rejoice, life everlasting: 

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, o holy tree of life

and fount of immortality:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

I supplicate thee, Lady,

I humbly call upon thee:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O queen of all, I beg thee

To grant me Thy favor:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O spotless and most honored Maid,

O Lady all holy:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

I call upon thee fervently, 

Thou temple most holy:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

O thou my help, deliver me

From harm and all adversity:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

And by thy prayers show me to be

An heir of immortality:

Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Friday, December 3, 2021

Attending Daily Apocalypse

I have such fond memories of the tiny Baptist Church of my youth.  The people were so warm and loving. They made sure a God-hungry kid like me was fed plenty of spiritual meals, going out of their way to ensure I was at Sunday School, Bible Camp and every special Church function.

One such function was our recurring invitation of what I called Chart Evangelists to our little Church on Jebavy Drive.  It was a big event when one would show up for a week, preaching loud and dramatically every night with his wall-to-wall colored charts detailing out the end times.  I confess I was enthralled with the maps of end-time events more than the preaching.

They always used the same charts, created by a draftsman who became a Baptist dispensational preacher in the late 1800s.  Clarence Larkin was his name and his attention to detail in laying out apocalyptic chronologies was and is unparalleled.  It takes a brilliant mind to collect all those seemingly untamable images and lay them out in some sort of intelligible order, no matter whether the underlying theology was spot on or not.

That explains why I showed up every night on those weeks in the late 70's when those flamboyant preachers came to town.  For a kid who loved working puzzles, building model rockets and soldering electronic kits I found the end-time charts irresistible, for they claimed to be the key to understanding future events from a Biblical perspective before they unfolded.  They helped me work the puzzle of mankind's future in my mind and set me at ease that God was indeed in control and had a plan, albeit somewhat bizarre, for humanity's future.  For me it was almost as good as I imagined it would be if I had my own Light Saber, X-wing Fighter, Elven Ring of Power (like Gandalf) or better yet, a Palantir (i.e. a Middle Earth Seeing Stone)!

Now, forty years later I am drawn back to those memories with an added layer of meaning.  

Over the years I learned that Apocalypse is the English transliteration of a Greek word and means "unveiling" or "revealed" thus the alternate title of the last book of the New Testament "The Revelation of Jesus Christ".  My early formation in the faith taught me that this "Revelation" of Jesus was to happen at the end of the ages... that the whole world would see Him revealed as King of the universe.

Now however, I have found there is another way to understand this revealing of Jesus spoken of in the last book of the Bible.  In fact, because of this new and deeper way, my entire view of the cosmos has changed from what I held as a kid in the late 70's.  I mean, I used to wish so intensely that the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings stories were really true.  Now I believe with the entire fiber of my being that something even more mind blowing is true on our planet on a daily basis.  I thought I was hungry for my favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories to come to life, but that was just scratching the surface of my longings.

From the time I was a kid, my hunger for God never grew less as I grew older.  It increased.  I couldn't figure out how to feed that deepening hunger for God within the venues where I was seeking Him, so I turned to other less nourishing things to abate my hunger.  Yet like Gollum, the more I partook of those things, the more famished my soul became.  Misdirected hunger could have actually killed me as it has so many others, but God's mercy prevailed until I was ready to hear and embrace the truth.

This came about in 2008 when I heard and finally comprehended that there was a form of the Christian Faith that believed God literally offered Himself to us as food and drinkEvery day.

Literally.  Spiritually.  Mystically.  Physically. 
[I no longer see these terms as contradictory.]

I.  Had.  To.  Have. THAT!

I found THAT in The Lamb's Supper.  In the eastern hemisphere it is usually called "The Divine Liturgy".  Here in the west it is called simply "The Mass".  It is here that Jesus, hidden in the form of bread and wine is unveiled to the faithful in a tiny way each day.  

Believe me when I tell you, that was a lot to unpack for a guy who grew up Baptist and married into the Reformed tradition.   I was not taught to look kindly on the Catholic Church nor anything that smacked of High Church Tradition.

Yet my cosmology shifted nonetheless, for  something greater than Star Wars is here.  Every day Jesus is revealed at divinely appointed celestial portals (Yes, Star Gate is another of my favorite stories) and makes an inconceivably humbling appearance as food and drink to be consumed by the faithful.  [Isn't it interesting that Sci-fi and fantasy genres so often point to something beyond our comprehension.]

Well, for me this is the only reality worth pondering over and over.  This is why I go to Mass every day I am able.  Jesus is there and pours Himself out literally as food and drink and I gobble Him up.  God becomes (in a mind blowing quantum physics sort of way) an actual part of me and every believer who partakes in this time bending "once for all" meal.

Now my conversion to this way of thinking may be interesting (probably to me only) but I cannot help revisiting the stories of others who have come to see things in this cosmology shifting fashion.  That is why nearly every year I reread or at least re-listen to Dr. Scott Hahn's story.

He was a protestant pastor researching how to teach his congregation about prophecy, especially the book of Revelation, when he stumbled into Mass one day on a hunch that it might "reveal" some of the mysteries of the material.  His hunch turned out to be spot on, for the ancient Christian liturgies are chock full of quotes and scenes straight from the Apocalypse.

His story can be found in a book (audible, kindle, softcover) called "The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth".  It is relatively short, only a four hour listen.  Every time I revisit it, I am comforted to know that Jesus appears to us daily, if we have eyes to see Him and indeed mouths to consume Him.  

I'm now taught that there are at least three 'comings' of Christ.  The first appearance hidden in Palestine 2000 years ago.  A final coming in the future when He returns as King openly to the whole world.  But also (between that first and final appearance), billions of hidden middle comings in the bread and wine every day, all over the world.

It is a decidedly covert operation, at least for now.

Apocalypse is now.  Today is the day of salvation.