Thus far I’ve been recommending books written by saints of the past. Lest one get the idea that there are no books being written by saintly men in and for our times, let me urge you to read The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, by Robert Cardinal Sarah, with Nicolas Diat, (Ignatius Press, 2017). Cardinal Sarah, originally from Guinea, currently serves as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The book was inspired by his friendship with a saintly monk who had lost his voice to an illness that eventually took his life. This spiritual friendship was conducted, then, in almost complete silence. The book’s Introduction relates this friendship with Brother Vincent, explaining the inspiration of the book, and then moves into a description of the Cardinal’s arrival with Mr. Diat, a French journalist, at the Grande Chartreuse, the ancient monastery of the Carthusians, where holy silence reigns, broken only by the monks’ chanting of the hours. In the first chapters, with minimal promptings from Mr. Diat, Cardinal Sarah expounds on the power of silence to bring us closer to God, using his own words and excerpts from scripture and other writings, as well as cataloguing all the ways different kinds of noise (external and internal) separate us from Him. In everything that Cardinal Sarah says echoes his own tendency to practice and cultivate silence, his deep prayer, his fruitful relationship with our Lord. In the later chapters some of the monks, who normally do not speak except to pray, sit around a table with Mr. Diat and Cardinal Sarah taking turns sharing the wisdom that such silence has taught them. It’s a book that will prove a most helpful antidote to whatever kind of noise oppresses you, whether it’s the 24-hour news cycle, excessive engagement with social media, or children screaming in your kitchen. Pope Francis has recently recommended that we incorporate more silence into our liturgy, and this book makes clear why such a move would be salutary for our souls as well as pleasing to God. I hope you’ll read it and encourage your loved ones to do the same. May you be blessed with the gift of silence in which God makes Himself known.
Our priest is encouraging us, as he should, to increased devotion to Our Holy Mother. A treasure of the Church to aid us in this worthy endeavor is the classic The Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus de Liguori (Bishop, d. 1787). He begins with an “Introduction: Which Ought To Be Read,” then a prayer to the Blessed Virgin, and then dives into a close reading of the prayer “Hail, Holy Queen” (and I do mean close: the phrase “Hail, queen, Mother of mercy” is treated to its own chapter, with four sections). As he goes through the prayer, riffing on each phrase, we’re treated to a course in Mariology served up by one who’s both a connoisseur and a true lover. He ends Part I with a list of prayers to Mary from various saints. Part II treats us to discourses on the seven principle feasts of Mary and her dolors. A devotion particularly pleasing to the Holy Mother is the Seven Hail Mary’s for her seven sorrows. Reading this last one will enrich those meditations. At the end of each chapter and throughout the book we’re given prayers to deepen our relationship with Mother Mary, as we learn of her many virtues and excellences, her closeness to her Divine Son, the power of her intercession, and her deep and abiding love for us.
During my foray through Orthodox Christianity, before reconciling with the Catholic Church, one of my favorite discoveries was the blessing of the waters celebrated in January, on the day of epiphany. The coolest aspect was this: because Christ was already perfect, sinless, as God-made-man, when he submitted to baptism the grace that would have flowed into his soul in the sacrament, washing away sin, instead flowed out from his divinity into the water, into all water. Now, having witnessed many Catholic baptisms, I realize that this doctrine is also held true in the Catholic faith: because of this outflowing of grace at Christ’s baptism, all water is sacred. This is a tenet of the Church which corresponds beautifully to what is held true by most indigenous peoples, including the two nations from which I descend and to which I retain a certain loyalty.
That loyalty, to my indigenous heritage and to the land held sacred by my native ancestors, impels me to side with the water protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota, opposing the desecration of their sacred burial grounds and the callous risk-taking with their water supply (and the supply of millions of Americans, native and settler, that live downstream!) that Dakota Access (and all the companies banking on their success) wants to commit for profit (don’t let them tell you it’s for energy independence…because much of that oil will be sold to other countries…true energy independence is found in renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal). Here’s a link to info regarding the legal status of the case. The company does not actually quite have legal permission yet to do what they want, but they’re trying to go ahead with laying the pipeline anyway, and even bulldozed through sacred burial grounds on the day a request for an injunction was filed because of those burial grounds, on the holiday weekend, in hopes that if they simply did it before they were told not to, there’d be nothing to stop them. And used a private security firm with attack dogs against non-violent families (including a sweet little two-year-old girl whose face was mauled–for shame!) when confronted. This is the sort of cultural genocide that has no place in 2016. (It was shameful in past centuries, but at this point it’s simply unconscionable and anyone who supports it ought to have their humanity membership card revoked.) The UN has recognized that human rights abuses are taking place at Standing Rock. And now the Governor of North Dakota, who stands himself to profit from this pipeline, is calling in the National Guard against these peaceful people. And yet the Obama administration is silent. Which makes them complicit. You can try, as I did, to call the White House at the number below, but you may find the line closed, as I did. Frustrating, to say the least.
So what can a Catholic of goodwill, who recognizes all of God’s children and His Creation as worthy of protection, do? Well, we can call our local representatives and ask them to speak for us, we can donate to any number of funds.
And we can pray. We can pray to the Holy Mother, who so loved God’s creation for His sake that before her death she willed her body to become part of the earth as a blessing for it, though He had other plans (for more on this, read The Mystical City of God). And who loves every one of the people, made in His image. We can pray to St. Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks and patroness of ecology. We can pray to the newly canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta, who ministered to the poor and downtrodden (our indigenous citizens on reservations are the poorest of the poor and the most downtrodden in this country, much to our shame). And we can pray to St. John the Baptist, who baptized Christ with that sacred water and who knows a thing or two about speaking truth to power (though it cost him his head).
What we can not do is pretend that this isn’t happening, that how we treat the earth and all its citizens doesn’t matter. Pope Francis, Vicar of Christ, calls us to treat Creation with the care it merits as the handiwork of God, and as a work of mercy, since a polluted earth impacts most profoundly the poor, who are our sacred responsibility. Please join me in all of the above.
So as a Carmelite, I’m devoted not only to Jesus and Mary, but also to St. Joseph. This began somewhat gradually. First, after reading St. Teresa of Avila’s encouragement in her works to devotion to the most holy and chaste spouse of the Blessed Mother (she was a client of his, and his intercession was instrumental in securing a home for the order she founded), I bought a little book of prayers to St. Joseph at the church’s gift shop (now sadly closed). But I barely cracked it open. Then, when spring came here in our new home, the soil heaved up a small statue of St. Joseph, one of those used in securing his intercession when you need to sell your house. (It worked!) I cleaned it up and placed it on my iconostasis in front of the icon of the Immaculate Conception of Most Holy Mary (it has Sts. Joachim and Anne — whose name I’ve carried since baptism — embracing). Seems fitting he should stand with his inlaws, though he didn’t get to meet them until he joined the souls of the just in limbo, where they awaited the opening of the gates of heaven by his foster son.
And then I read that some visions of St. Joseph have been approved as worthy of belief, and that devotion to his Most Chaste Heart is being encouraged (we certainly could use an elevation of chastity as a virtue to counteract sexuality’s idolization and commodification, egads, people). So I began praying to him every morning. He is truly a powerful intercessor, I have found, and I want to encourage others to pray to him, as well. Here’s a prayer that’s almost as old as Christianity (the earliest copy comes from the year 50.) Say it nine mornings in a row for a particular intention.
Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph
O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.
And if your prayer is answered (and it most likely will be, if it’s conformed at all to God’s will), remember to thank him for his intercession! Not only is that gracious, but it will make him more likely to help you in the future. Here’s a lovely way to say thank you:
PRAISES OF ST. JOSEPH
IN the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be thy soul, which was adorned with all the virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be thine intellect, which was full of the most sublime knowledge of God and was enlightened with revelations.
Glory be …
O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be thy will, which all inflamed with love for Jesus and Mary and always perfectly conformable to the Divine Will.
Glory be …
O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be thine eyes, to which it was granted to look continually upon Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be thine ears, which merited to hear the sweet words of Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O dear St. Joseph, ever blessed be thy tongue, which continually praised God and with profound humility and reverence conversed with Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O chaste St. Joseph, ever blessed be thy most pure and loving heart, with which thou didst ardently love Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O holy Joseph, ever blessed be thy thoughts, words and actions, each and all of which ever tended to the service of Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O holy Patriarch Joseph, ever blessed be all the moments of thy life, which thou didst spend in the service of Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O my Protector St. Joseph, ever blessed be that moment of thy life in which thou didst most sweetly die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O glorious St. Joseph, ever blessed be that moment in which thou didst enter into the eternal joys of Heaven.
Glory be …
O happy St. Joseph, ever blessed in eternity be every moment in which, until now, in union with all the Saints of Heaven, thou hast enjoyed the incomprehensible bliss of union with God, with Jesus and Mary.
Glory be …
O my dear Protector! Be ever blessed by me and by all creatures, for all eternity, with all the blessings which the Most Holy Trinity bestowed upon thee and with all the benedictions given thee by Jesus and Mary and by the whole Church.
Glory be …
O thrice holy Joseph, blessed in soul and body, in life and death, on earth and in Heaven. Obtain also for me, a poor sinner but nevertheless thy true and faithful client, a share in thy blessings, the grace to imitate thee ardently, and to love and faithfully serve Jesus, Mary, and thyself, and especially the happiness to die in thy holy arms. Amen.
St. Joseph was made patron of the Church by the Vicar of Christ, so he’s also a good one to pray to to help the whole Catholic world. There’a a wonderful prayer for priests in that little book, and one for the Holy Father and the Church, and for the church militant. Our church hierarchy and our dear priests can’t lead without prayers from the pews, and from all the saints and angels. I encourage you to pray to St. Joseph, for the good of the Church and all the world. That picture up at the top…those flames on all three hearts is the fire of charity, and as this old prayer card shows, it’s catching. Let our hearts be tender tinder for it. Charity: love of God in our neighbor, or love of our neighbor for His sake. Let it burn.
I write not because I think you will listen, but because I can’t live with myself if I don’t give voice to my objection to your position on using force in Syria. I am sickened that we find ourselves, as Americans, in this position again, watching our government try to make a case for military action in a country that is not threatening us.
I’m not going to detail here how our foreign policy for decades has benefited an economic elite and caused the very unrest our military actions are allegedly intended to quell. Such knowledge is out there for anyone to discover, who cares to look.
I am going to appeal to your humanity, because, despite your actions that illustrate the contrary, I feel you must still have some, somewhere. You seem to love your wife and daughters, at least. So remember, when you order another batch of bombs or drone strikes, that many of the men you’re striking at have wives and children, too. Like the children you killed at that birthday party in Pakistan.
I have sometimes wondered if you’re not a hostage in that big house, unable to do anything but the bidding of the warlords who run this country, the industry heads who profit from our endless wars, the munitions manufacturers and dealers and Big Oil representatives. That if you don’t do what you’re told, you’ll end up like Kennedy. It must suck not to be a free man, whatever the perks.
But then I think that maybe you do have a choice, but have simply been blinded by the glitter of Washington, by having your ego stroked, by having so much smoke blown up your rear end. The leader of the free world, and all that. Pffft.
Let me tell you, Barack Hussein: your soul is in peril. Wake up. No one knows when we go to meet our maker. I suggest you put your own house in order. Do not keep murdering innocent people. There is nothing you can say from that Oval Office that will convince me that what the people of Syria need is more violence.
I’ll pray for you at the table tonight, that you see the light. That you might strive to deserve the prize the Nobel committee awarded you.
very best wishes for a more peaceful tomorrow,
So fellow poet Metta Sama and I engaged in a week-long conversation for Her Kind about the natural world and what it means, how issues of race and gender play into it, what the persistence of rape culture and how the Mother Earth trope plays out within it are destroying the life systems of the planet. Get a cup of tea when you have a moment and eavesdrop on two earnest souls. And then engage us there in the comments section, if you feel moved to do so.
My daughter, who is 13, when she believes in God at all, is usually angry at Him. (I’d say Her, but usually her anger is directed at a Patriarch, so Him fits.) She’ll say, for example, about the fact that my father died on the morning of my first wedding anniversary, “Yeah, nice timing, God.” And I was thinking about this recently, and remembered this old poem, included in my college’s literary magazine from my junior year, which is evidence not only that I can sympathize with her anger (though it no longer holds me in its sway), but also that I used to use commas at the end of lines.
Someday, when I am nothing but old bones —
my hip, like a dinosaur’s thigh, jutting
from a boulder, my shoulder left alone
among rubble, rocks, my teeth cutting
nothing but mold, and all these bones
whitened by ages of suns and waters running,
when my last bleached bone is beached
on some ancient shore, and every core
and solid place has been bored and breached
by a gluttonous worm
the gods will want more.
And I will offer up my old bones, saying
Take this, all of you, and eat–there is no more.
But those damned insistent deities will say
“Quit playing! We’ve watched you for a thousand
years as you took your time (such sloth!) decaying.
We’ve watched your flesh rot, eyes, tongue,
ears, all your atoms danced away to feed
the ever hungry universe, yet we fear
you’ve held something back we desperately need.”
Ah, I’ll say, you must mean my heart.
So you, in all your eternal greed,
miss that little thing? I kept it from
the start preserved in hate and disillusion
in hopes that you would spare me that one part
left me in this nothing. Pardon my confusion.
Take it, then. Take it, my last Communion;
though it’s bitter, and heavy, and smooth
as a stone. Eat it, take a bite, break a tooth.