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Nostra Aetate over shisha: a conversation about inter-religious experience

We are sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah in the corner of a light, airy building in a shopping center in Central Texas. There is country music on the radio, and a minty, fruity smoke rising around us in the late afternoon sun.

Frank, (or as I call him,”Frankly,”) is my first late husband’s oldest brother. Our families have remained close over the years. He and his wife, Karin, are visiting from their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area.)

Today, I have set out to interview Frank about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue. I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that our own Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.

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Frank agreed to talk about his journey, though his natural state is somewhat taciturn. It takes him a while to warm up sometimes… so I’ll wait.

Right now Frank is not sure what he thinks of this hookah business, a hobby that I and his son, Hans have taken up from time to time. He stares at the plastic sanitary tip of the hose we have handed him, unsure of what to do with it.

“?”

While he figures this hookah thing out, I will give you some details to confuse you about Frank. (I say confuse because some of the facts about him are not usually found together in one person.)

Introducing Francis K. Pauc, West Point graduate, Army veteran (helicopter pilot) peace activist, father of an Iraq war veteran (Hans, mentioned above.) He is also a volunteer at the local V.A. hospital, an avid defender of immigrants’ rights, friend of Dominican Sisters, assister of people in the Catholic Worker movement (which was founded by Dorothy Day), and writer of many letters to the editor on issues of import.

He has written a book, available on Amazon Kindle, and in paper back, called Father at War. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout cradle Catholic with a long and distinguished history of being active in his parish, St. Stephen’s.  He has been twenty years a lector, a past RCIA teacher, and past parish council member, among other activities.

He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attender of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at the local mosque. He is a regular pray-er/visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.

Frank is the father of three adult children, long time husband to Karin, who he met and married while stationed in Germany as a young man.

He is of Slovenian heritage but is sometimes mistaken to be Turkish. Lately he has grown a long beard and looks very Orthodox Jewish. On that last long peace walk his beard became a bit dred-lock-ish.

I have known Frank since the late eighties when I started dating brother # 6 in the Pauc family of seven boys, Marc Blaze.

Frank is starting to be amused with the hookah experience. I can tell he is comfortable enough I can ask him questions now.

Fortunately, besides his big, German village wedding, his journey learning about other faiths is his favorite subject.

His habitually taciturn, crabby look becomes a warm, soft- eyed lucidity now as I begin to ask how all this started for him. When did he first learn about other religions, I ask, blowing out my delicious smoke.

Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic with someone from work, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made more friends there. They didn’t necessarily talk about faith all of the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.

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After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“No. I am a Catholic.”

Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”

Frank observes that the prohibition on images in Muslim art has created a very masculine looking art form of geometric shapes and calligraphy, which is beautiful, but, to him, missing something. He thinks it’s a conception of the feminine side of the Divine that is absent. This gave him a new appreciation of our knowledge of the the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, “Creator Blessed,” and of our Mother Mary exemplifying and reflecting this to us. He thinks our ability to be spoken to by God through images is related to conscious contact with the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary through whom the Incarnation was accomplished. The Incarnation puts us in touch with how God communicates through what we can see and touch. It’s why, he theorizes, Catholic art is so glorious. It’s because we have Mary, and we are very in touch with that creative motherly energy and imagery.

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He talks about how sad it is that so many Christians have lost their mother. Their art is not as cool as ours, either, he thinks. “There’s got to be a connection here.”

He really did love the Dome of the Rock, though when he went to the Holy Land. “That was awesome.”

But we digress. We smoke in silence a while… listening to the pleasant bubbling sound of the water in the hookah’s base. 

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Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh Temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “You have to eat. They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”

He adds that the music is great. Like a cross between our best praise and worship, and the coolest Indian music ever. Frank likes to find someone and ask them questions like, “Do you think God loves you?” and go from there.

The Sikh Temple he liked to visit was the same one where there was a shooting in 2012 . Frank knew one of the people who was killed. He was among those who offered support. He still likes to drop by and pray.

Sometimes he meets interesting people of other religions in his work as a peace activist. He met a Buddhist monk named Senji on a long peace walk he went on to protest drone warfare. The next year, he, his wife Karin, and his son, Stefan, went to visit Senji in his monastery in Oregon. They had a great time, and found a lot in common, especially in the social justice work the monks engaged in, and their quiet, dedicated life.

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The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He and Karin had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. (They have now.) So Frank and Karin went and sat with the Buddhists. Karin always took her rosary and prayed that. Frank started hanging around all the time and being part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do, of course.

He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts. When he thought something was stupid, he always said so, (he always does, regardless of the company,) and he also gave his thoughts as a Christian. They came to appreciate this.  He liked sitting in silence with them.

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Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank.

I remember seeing these changes in him. He became much more playful and open and calm. Less “‘onry.” I think he really did find peace. I could see it in his face and hear it in his speech. I could tell by  his kinder  attitude, and even the way he carried himself. He still can be found at the Milwaukee Zen Center on a Saturday morning if he’s not volunteering, or traveling somewhere.

He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.

“It’s made me a better Catholic.”

Learning to sit quietly in what was consciously a form of trusting, un-knowing prayer, for him, brought him nearer to God, and God blessed him with a sense of open-ness and peace. It seems the Lord continued to lead Frank on his unique travels through the spiritual world and to teach him that learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.

It is worth remembering that Thomas Merton, a great American Catholic admired by Pope Francis, also got to know Buddhism very well, made friends with Buddhist monks, and found ways to share silence and spiritual practice with them that enriched his own faith.

I asked him what lead him to choose to start showing up at the Orthodox synagogue, rather than Reformed. “Is it because of being Catholic and therefore more into deep, rooted, more ritualistic and mystical worship? ” He said no, that it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”

He says he became very close with the Rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the Rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at mass was a more profound experience for him after seeing the very solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.

He remembers a funny conversation he had with he Rabbi who said, “Oh, you Christians, always forgetting Satan isn’t anything close to equal with God,” when Frank was worried about something.

He still likes going to the Synagogue regularly.

Frank remarks that Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people and the Church. They are our older brother.

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I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seems to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.

He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects the most those who have “their faith woven into he fabric of their every day life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.

At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews.  They were quick to say they needed him around, and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually up lifted by their token Catholic.

At one time in his life, following a series of crises and being simultaneously very wounded by some in his own parish,  he actually struggled about whether to remain Catholic or not.  It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue, who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic Church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.

Now that he is newly retired, he can spend more time volunteering, working for peace, and walking into temples, synagogues and mosques asking about God and giving the gift of a listening heart to anyone willing to share their faith.

Frank seems to have been aptly named after the great St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach he Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

Frank and Karin are off to their next stop on their summer adventures; a Catholic Worker farm, then a Youth Hostel, a Benedictine guest house, and then on to Mt. Bly in Oregon to visit my off the grid daughter, Maire, and her little family.

I mention, as we get up to leave the cafe, that we’ve actually been talking Nostra Aetate over our shisha. Frank says, “Yeah. That pretty much rocks.”

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Read Nostra Aetate

Hookah: a waterpipe
Mu‘assel, or shisha tobacco: the molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a hookah; often comes in various flavors such as rose, lemon, mint, etc.
Hookah lounge, or shisha bar: an establishment where patrons share shisha

A Christmas meditation

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Mary

Warm, soft, vulnerable and alive, this sleeping One in my lap. I caress the tiny forearm, touch the curled, unsure hands. I can’t stop kissing his fast-beating heart, listening to his unpracticed, uneven breath. I touch his soft, dark, baby hair, nuzzling the top of his head with my nose. His little feet, slightly cold- so tiny and perfect- have never yet touched the ground. I hold them in my hands to warm them. I kiss their satiny soles. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” my heart in wonder repeats, repeats. I press him to me, this Lord of mine, with a profound, peaceful, joyful gratitude and love, a protective love. He opens his eyes, still that deep slate gray of the newly arrived human. They hold the newborn’s sage, open gaze; mildly curious, seeming to drink in the powerful love pouring out of the utterly enchanted person looking back at them. He blinks innocently at the tears falling from my eyes into his.

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Jesus in His Sacred Humanity

I am cold, my arms flailing awkwardly and out of my control. I’m confused. I don’t know what’s happening. I need comfort, warmth, nourishment. And then I am warm, pressed soothingly all around. A deep, sweet peace flows into my mouth and through my body as my unruly hands tangle in her hair; Mama, Mama. The only thing I know is this love, this union, this protection and assurance. I relax completely.

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TheBlessed Trinity

I am that I am, Being, Love, Light and Life. I surround my Son, inhabit my Son, I am within my Son, I love my Son, I am my Son.

I have remained what I have been and will be eternally, and I have become what I was not. In my love of humanity, I have finally become fully human, entering the world of time and space in the most profound and humble way. So great is my love, I have been conceived and born into this human cloud of unknowing, emptying Myself, taking the form of a slave, in order to free and divinize my beloved humanity, made of dust, that they might share my Divine Life.

Vulnerable, human, innocent and unknowing, be, oh Christian soul. I have shown you the way to Me: this little Child, this Way, this Truth, this Life, full of humility and trust, gentle, humble, simple, with the need, the open-ness of the newborn. Come to Me, forgetting everything but Love Itself, and be born again. Be little, be free, be loved. Never be afraid, it is I, the Little One, asking for your love.

Answer Me, say from the heart:

Truly, I have set my soul 

In silence and in peace

As the Divine Child has rest in His mother’s arms,

Even so, my soul.

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Kiss the sky; a blessing

A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.

We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.

I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.

I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this.  He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.

Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.

Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.

“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.

This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.

What is there to say in a place like this?

After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.

He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.

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I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.

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This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.

He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.

I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.

He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.

He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.

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We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.

Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?

Tears are running down my cheeks.

Father listens closely, nodding.

I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.

I have to cry a little bit.

“You’re being really strong right now.”

“Thank you.”

He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.

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“Jesus” By Bob Chapman

He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.

I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.

I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.

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I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”

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In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.

We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.

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I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.

He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.

So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.

Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.

We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.

I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”

We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.

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“Did you SEE that?!”  he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.

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He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.

With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.

Something I need to say to my brother:

“You’re not that.” 
You are not the way you died.

You’re just… my beautiful brother.”

Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.

 

We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O God.
~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.

 

The clergy sexual abuse crisis

I want you to know that I have addressed this issue on ATX Catholic and here is the link if you would like to read it.

God be with you,

Shawn

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Mary is our home girl; The Assumption

She is so often portrayed as too pretty to touch, air brushed like a fluffy cloud or a pink puff of spun cotton candy. But she knew gut-wrenching grief. She cried real tears when she was widowed. Of course she did. Joseph’s death must have been a bottomless loss for her.

She walked the way of the Cross with her Son, wanting to die with Him as any mother would. But she stood at the foot of the Cross all the same, to love Him, and to go on doing whatever He told her. Maybe her toes clenched in her sandals as she stood there; toes that probably looked more like Mother Teresa’s than the dainty artistic feet that peek out from beneath her dress in so many representations. Maybe she took her sandals off because she knew that Golgotha had just become Holy Ground.

Her hands, likely bloodied from attempts to comfort her bleeding Son, were probably rough and work scarred from a lifetime of labor and loving service. These hands of Mary’s, so soon to be assumed into Heaven, had held babies, hauled water, kneaded bread, cared for the sick, worked in the fields, watered the donkey, expressed human affection, and were often raised to God in prayer.

What do you think of when you think of Mary’s Assumption? I don’t know why, but I always think of the hem of her dress; a dress which was doubtless as simple as a worn tee shirt and faded jeans would be to us today. I see its frayed, homespun cloth brighten as she is taken into the Light of Heaven. I want to see her feet. I always look for them under there.

I am sure that in the mysterious process of the glorification of her body, Mary’s calloused feet were much honored in Heaven; every scratch, each leathery sole, becoming what they always were: beautiful, heavenly bright. Maybe that’s what happens in Heaven. Things begin to look the way they look to God.

Thinking of my own mother’s dirty little feet when she came in from the garden tracking mud on the kitchen floor convinces me that Our Lady tracked dirt all the way to her Son’s throne. She brought the Earth with her, I’m sure of that.

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We are a very Incarnation-al people, we Catholics. Earth is good, the body is good, because God is good, and Jesus is true God and true man; Incarnate in the flesh. In spite of the air brushed holy cards of Mary, in which her pupils seem far too small and she is painted to look like a pastel ghost, we know that the stars in Mary’s hair represent the way she looked to God: gloriously human, the humble and barefoot Spouse of the Holy Spirit who was lowly and invisible to the world, but brilliantly radiant to the Lord. Then again, our exalted Mother, as brightly shining as we see her in Revelations 12, shows us she is real and totally human. Even as Heavenly Queen, rather than sighing with celestial bliss, she wails in the pangs of birth.

That particular wailing is for us, I think. She is with us in our struggle with evil, in our determination to follow her Son, in our attempts and failures at practicing virtue, in the Church’s painful war against the powers and principalities of darkness.

There is a trail of glory that Mary left, but it looks a lot more like dirty foot prints to me as she runs to the Seat of Mercy with our burdens and pains, about her latest enmity with the Evil One, with her requests for us, her lost, suffering, fighting and dying children she wants to lead to her Son. Her Son, I like to think, must smile when he sees those clods of soil in the throne room that show she has been in. She will keep working for the Kingdom until her work of Queenly discipleship is done and there are stars in our hair too as we reign with God forever.

She was assumed into Heaven, body and soul. She is the Living Tabernacle of the New Covenant. She is Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of us. She listens with a real heart, leads us to Christ with real love.

The Assumption reminds me of this: Mary is real. She’s tracking in dirt. She’s holding my hand. And she’s beautiful- the way God sees beauty. Not only that, but as Bishop Mike Sis said once in a homily, “The Assumption means God’s gonna win! God’s gonna WIN!”

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In answering my Methodist friend, Paula, with an explanation of what the Assumption was, she exclaimed, “OH! Isn’t that what happens in the end to all of us?”

Can I get a “Heaven yeah?”

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“Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;

draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness. “

( Antiphon from The Little Office of the BVM).

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The beautiful story of how San Salvador Mission came about

She remembers walking barefoot on pilgrimage up the road to San Salvador Mission as a child, praying the rosary together with her family and friends, each August, lead by her grandmother, Ouida, to commemorate a healing, a vision, and a community coming together in response to a message from Heaven to build a church.

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She remembers her grandmother’s reluctance to talk much about the three apparitions she received at twelve years old from “a lady in black.” She only ever heard the story from her Italian American grandmother in broken English.

It’s a Scarmardo family story, a story of a community; and though it happened over 100 years ago, it is cherished and guarded by the family as a very special and somewhat private gift. To the local Catholic community it is the quiet, lovely legend behind a beloved little mission church out past the river, whose parent parish is St. Anthony’s in Bryan.

In 1894 getting to mass was very difficult for a small rural Texas community of Italian immigrants, as there was not a reliable bridge to cross the Brazos river and go to Bryan, where the nearest Catholic Church was. They mostly depended on a priest to come to them when he could, celebrating mass on someone’s porch.

One of these times, in the middle of mass, there was a sudden strong gust of wind and the crucifix fell onto the altar. The crash on the altar was so sudden and forceful, the people were uncomfortable and wondered what it meant.

The next day, in her family’s cotton field, in the wake of a gentle breeze, a young girl named Ouida (pronounced “Weeda”) suddenly saw a lady in black who asked why there was no church in this place. “There needs to be a church here.””

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The girl told her parents about it, but they didn’t take it seriously at the time.

Then there was another appearance of the lady, possibly in a dream this time, during which she gave the girl more details about the church she wanted to be built there, even including a list of the men who were to build it.

The girl’s parents wondered but were still not taking this too seriously until there was a yet another apparition, and this time the lady asked why the church had not been built yet.

Ouida’s concerned parents decided to take her to talk to the priest in Bryan, Fr. Antonio Simone. It seems the priest soothed their worries about their child because what happened next was that the community discerned that they should and they could do as the Lady from Heaven, understood to have been Mother Mary, had asked.

Each family gave their first crops, another family donated land, and the church was built in six weeks.

It was named for the patronal feast of Cefalu, Sicily, the native village of these Italian immigrants, a feast  they call San Salvador, “Holy Savior,” which is August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

First mass was said at its altar in October 1908.

Ouida had breast cancer at the age of 40 and vowed that she would make a barefoot pilgrimage to the church every year on the feast of San Salvador, the Transfiguration, if she was cured. She was cured. And the pilgrimage was made for many years, even revived by a third generation and walked for several more.

San Salvador Mission celebrated its centenary in 2008 with Bishop Gregory Aymond.

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Today there are good bridges into Bryan, and not so many people still live near San Salvador Mission, which still stands in the midst of an expanse of farm land near a country road. But it is cherished nonetheless and mass is attended there still by those who love it.

The first time I went out to take pictures of it, I was surprised to find it locked. A red truck pulled up, and a kindly woman, who told me she grew up right next to the church and still lived nearby, let me in. In the course of our conversation, she let me know that she had come to check on the sanctuary light. When she is at home she gets a feeling when it is out and she goes and changes it to honor the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When I remarked on how touching I thought that was, she said,

“When you get the grace to pay attention, it’s just an amazing life we live. “

San Salvador stands as a testament to a community that paid attention, and still does.

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*Many thanks to Ouida’s granddaughter, Mary Jo (Scarmardo) Lindsay, and to her cousin, Judy (Scarmardo) Comeaux, two lovely women, for sharing their memories with me.

**Mass at San Salvador is celebrated the First Saturday of the month, at 7PM. You’ll find it at County Road 222 – 1/4 Mile off Farm Road 50 (County Road 286), Bryan, TX 77836

*** No approval for this Marian apparition was ever sought. It is a private revelation given to Ouida that was responded to by her community of faith.

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Love her like a sister: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

We are holding hands as we walk together along a rocky path on a hot July evening. We are talking about this and that. She asks me questions, listens thoughtfully as I talk about my life. She has a lot going on too, these days, and she unburdens her heart to me about her work, about her children. I squeeze her hand and we pray together as tears gather in her eyes. I know she works hard for her children, and prays constantly for their needs, for their good, for their souls. I am glad she will talk to me about things that concern her, that she finds my company a comfort at times. We lapse into comfortable silence. 

She gathers up the brown skirt of her habit a little as we reach an incline, and I smile that she is barefoot like me. Of course she is. 

 People say we resemble one another, especially around the eyes. All of Carmel shares the family resemblance to Mary, our sister, as we share everything else with her. 

Some might say that ours is a curious Marian devotion, this Carmelite love of Mary not only as mother and queen, but as sister.

Carmelite Marian devotion is primarily about the imitation of Mary.  We see ourselves as “the other Mary,” and we view our Carmelite life of prayer and simplicity of heart as a reflection of the interior life she lived and still lives.

More than reflecting on Mary, we tend to simply see through her eyes, to love Jesus with her heart, to share in her hidden work in the world; in the silent drawing of her Immaculate Heart of all peoples toward her Son.

Siblings share confidences, and understand each other in a special way. They tell each other everything. In intimacy and cooperation with Mary, we receive a double portion of Christ’s spirit, because she magnifies the Lord, and together with her, we treasure His words and His life continually in our hearts, in union with her.

 A sister can share our lives, walk beside us, trust in us, and we in her.

Mary doesn’t have to knock; she practically lives at our house. When she comes over, she might even fold some of our laundry with us. 

We are always welcome at Mary’s house, too. We are allowed to pick the roses in her garden. She doesn’t mind.

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photo by Fr. Gregory Ross, O.C.D.

Living with her as a sister keeps us in touch with the precious, pure humanity of Mary. It keeps her close by our side, walking with us in a familiar, loving way.

We are less likely to only look up to her, but more likely to unconsciously reflect her- maybe around the eyes, yes, certainly in our ways, surely in the joyful depth of our inner lives in Christ.

As we walk, I notice more and more that there are many others around us. I recognize that it is the craggy path of the ascent of Mt. Carmel we travel with our many brothers and sisters, following Jesus with Mary, our sister, in our midst. She is smiling, enjoying the company, glad we are following her Son all together.

On the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16,) the family of Carmel invites you to love Mary like a sister.

If you’ll be her brother
She’ll kiss you like a sister
She’ll even be your mother for now…

I will be her brother
Kiss her like a sister
Come and be my mother forever.

~ Sixpence None the Richer from their song,  “Sister Mother”

 

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A Meditation on the Immaculate Heart of Mary

In contemplating the Heart of Mary, we enter into her interior life, symbolized by the beautiful image of her heart. It is often depicted as pierced with a sword, in flames, wreathed with roses or with the crown of thorns of her Son. Mary’s pure and open heart is the reflection of our beautiful Christian life of union with God; a reflection of sacrificial love for Him and all humanity, on fire with the Holy Spirit, flowering with every grace, blessing and virtue.

“Draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.” *  Following in her heart beats, we are to be directed by the the love of God: wholly pure, wholly given, fully human. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God,” because when we are pure of heart, all we see is God. Her heart is utterly pure beyond our comprehension, pure as Eve’s before the fall; then made even more beautiful by Mary’s heroic merits, her sacrifices, her complete alliance with God, her total love, and her compliance with His will and plan. Oh the willingness of this heart to  trustingly suffer in order to love Christ bravely, to grow in love and go on loving even to it’s own destruction! She believed all things, she endured all things, she hoped all things! Therefore she received all things.

How can we imitate Mary by heart? We are so often unlike her inside.  Sometimes we seem hopelessly off track. Mary’s heart’s simplicity and hidden life in Christ are hard to cultivate, but this is what true holiness is, loving God as she did; in stark faith, hope, and love, in simplicity of heart.  We walk with Mary in simple faith and learn Christ from her. We listen, we let go and let God, trusting in His grace that He will complete the good work he has begun in us. It all began with our Most Holy Mother saying, “I am the littlest of the servants of God. Let it be done to me as you have said.”  And Jesus was conceived in her.  This is what happens in the spiritual life if we allow God to work with us, and Mary to teach us. We become more and more attentive to His Word  in our lives. We learn to be in silent communion with Him in the quiet of our hearts and we become more and more aware of His indwelling. It takes training ourselves to be quiet and commitment to spend time with God every day in whatever way we are capable of. We can entrust our formation to Mary.

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She is the perfect model of the spiritual life of a Christian. And because she intercedes for us as Queen Mother we can do more than consider her heart and wish we were different. We can become  closer to what she is by her prayers for us, by grace, by attempting to follow her example, by being willing, by praying. In companionship with Mary and inviting her into our lives, we become more like her . She never keeps anything for herself though. She brings us right to Christ and intensifies our experience of Him. He seems to like to see us in her company, entrusting us to her “school of prayer.” *
With her let us “set out into the deep”*  as she did in trusting receptivity and self -giving love, in  prayer of the heart. In this way the Blessed Trinity will come to dwell in us fully and truly. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is an icon of the heart of prayer in its perfection.

Let us  allow our hearts to be cleansed by being willing to be shown our mixed  motivations and inner secrets and to let go of anything that keeps us from God, allowing ourselves to be transformed little by little as we learn to let God in.  May we be receptive to Love and in being possessed by God, possess God. As Mary allowed the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, may we be open to His movements in our souls with courageous love.  May our Holy Mother pray for us that we can mirror her heart with our own. May we too be simple , humble and free of heart for Him, that we may run lightly in His paths and wear the gentle yoke of Jesus with a joyful humility.

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We are so busy and so was she. Mary practiced prayer of the heart, I imagine, in the midst of family life: as she swept floors, chased her toddler when he ran out the door as all toddlers must, while she was cooking or working outside in the fields, kneading dough or bringing in water, helping a neighbor or wishing it would rain.

Her feet were often dirty and her hands were calloused with work. Maybe sometimes Joseph came in from the shop silent and far away, mentally working on some problem the way husbands will at times, and she had to be patient as every wife does, until he seemed ready to communicate or ready for a hug.

She had to have laughed when funny things happened . She was obviously astonished that her Son could seem so inconsiderate as to be at the Temple for three days while she worried so terribly. Sometimes she didn’t understand what was happening.

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looking and looking for Jesus

I am certain she had to stay up late or get up early to have any quiet time at all. She was and is fully human, and she understands our life. She will come and sit with us when we are crying. She will smile with us. She will teach us how she did it, how hers became the model for the praying heart amidst life’s work , sorrow and joy.

Maybe we could start a new phase of our relationship with Mary, Fetch get your favorite image of Our Lady and have a quiet cup of tea with her and see what happens. I did. It was nice.  You might try it.

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Let us pray: O Mary I consecrate my heart to yours that I may love the Father with your heart, listen with your heart, respond to grace with your heart, accept suffering and sacrifice lovingly and freely with your heart. Pray for me, that I may follow the way of prayer and service as you, His most worthy daughter have done before me.  Be with me and pray that I  serve with devotion and compassion, that I pray until  prayer becomes love and love becomes prayer.

May my heart be conformed to God’s merciful will in every way.  

May I learn from you, Mary, to live continually in God’s presence, whatever I am doing, “For the language He hears best is silent love.” *

Jesus, thank you for revealing the Immaculate Heart of Your Mother to the Church that we may grow in simply loving you,  letting ourselves be loved and opened and inhabited by you as Mary has exemplified.

“Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well beloved Spouse*” Teach us the heart of prayer. 

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*Mary’s “school of prayer” John Paul II in Rosarium Virginis Mariae

*”Draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness,” is an antiphon from The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

*”Set out into the deep!” – John Paul II

*”The language He hears best…”  St. John of the Cross

*This “Come Holy Spirit” is a prayer I learned from a friend years ago. We say it all the time at our house.

Mary, Mother of the Church

What I want to do is fall to my knees at her feet, to take hold of, and touch to my face, the hem of her long blue skirt. But I can tell she doesn’t want me to do this. What she really wants is some help in the kitchen.

She motions to me to join her in what she is doing. As my mother did when I was young, she hands me my own ball of dough to roll out with my own rolling pin.

She’s busy. She doesn’t want to talk, but to have me do what she does. So I watch her and together we roll out several large, oblong pieces of flat dough. She hands me one of my mother’s biscuit cutters (where did she get that?) and together we make small rounds of all the dough, placing each circle on a long baking sheet.

When the first batches are in the oven, and we have mixed more dough, she puts the kettle on, and motions for me to sit down at the kitchen table.

I look around with interest at the house we are in. It is a plain, comfortable house, probably built in the early 60’s, a combination of wood, brick and worn linoleum, a small window over the kitchen sink, honey suckle vine growing across it. There is a stack of books on the round kitchen table, next to a flowerpot with ivy spilling out of it.

She sets down a cup of a spicy black tea in front of me, and sits down with me. She seems thoughtful as she sips her tea, looking out into the back yard at her garden.

I notice that the books on the table are copies of the various documents of Vatican II.

I tell her I’ve been reading Lumen Gentium and that it is my favorite Vatican II Document. She smiles.

I ask her about Chapter VIII, which was written about her in the life of the Church. She said that as we grow as God’s children, we will see her, in clearer and clearer light, as the Holy Spirit leads the Church. She says that in different ages, different emphases are needed for us to grow in our faith, and understanding, and therefore, love.

 

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I am thinking about this as the kitchen timer rings.

It’s time to take more bread out of the oven and put the next batch in. Fortunately it is a big oven, and this is our last batch.

She makes me a sandwich, pats my shoulder, and goes out to clip some roses from her garden. She then arranges these in the box she packs the now cooled little rounds of bread into.

She washes her face, straightens her kerchief, and motions for me at the door, to come put my sandals on as she is doing.

Soon we are walking down the front path with the boxes of the flat little circles we have baked and crossed on the top.

We head through the neighborhood and then turn onto a down town street. We find a small, simple Catholic Church. (Did that sign really say St. Everyone?) The Church office is closed for lunch, but the door is open, so we leave our boxes inside.

She wants to pray in the main church, so we head back out and around the corner. A side door is open. I whisk my veil onto my head, she pulls her mantle up over her kerchief, and we walk into the cool silence, genuflecting. When she stands up to look at me, I notice a slight glow from the tabernacle and then I glance at her, standing still in the middle of this little church. She is gazing at me, her hands out, the growing glow from the tabernacle illumining her, until she seems made of that light.

In her dark and lovely eyes, I am suddenly lost in a mighty ocean. I understand the immense capacity of her heart to praise and love God continually. In the thundering roar of waves and the groaning of the deep, I understand her longing for her children to know the joy of Jesus and the conversion of their hearts to Love.

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I close my eyes, and it seems she takes me through the whole world. Together we move like a gust of wind among people of all ages and races and nations; the suffering, the unfairly treated, the persecuted, the poor, the imprisoned, the used and abused the addicted, the mentally ill, the troubled, the sick, the ignored, the unloved, those who know not how to love, the violent, the hateful, the selfish and the weak, the afraid, the judgmental, the prideful and the powerful. Together we touch them all. Sometimes she takes my hand and touches people with my fingers. The cool, sweet wind of the Spirit blows around us and through us, blessing us, blessing those we walk among.

“Jesus is Love, Jesus is Life. Jesus is Peace. Jesus is Truth. Jesus is the Way,” she says. “My children, pray. Pray. Pray.” She presses small crosses into each hand. Her heart glows with that same light I saw flowing from the tabernacle at the little church, the light of Jesus, who is the Light of the Church, Light of the World.

This Divine Breeze, as well as this humble touch and presence of Mary, too, transforms and unites everyone in Christ, bringing all toward His Love, Redemption, Mercy. This is what she does all day. This is her dream for us.

 

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Now we walk along with the  people of God, a holy nation, the Christ light of the world, as they are praying, working, being sanctified and sanctifying the world in all they do.

Then with  flashes of lightening and with peels of thunder I see Mary standing on the moon, her crown of stars on her head, clothed with the sun. I hear her wailing in the pains of childbirth and I realize I am crying out with her.

And then we are again standing in this little church, two women of small stature, each a little dusty with flour, in spite of our best efforts. But people are coming in to mass now. I try to recover myself, and breathe normally. I shake my head to clear it.

“If you went to Mass, where would you sit?” I ask her, looking around, wondering what to do.

“I do come to Mass. And I sit with everyone else. Today I will sit with you.”

We sit near the back, and she attends devoutly, listening carefully to the Word of God, saying the responses and making all the gestures with us. She receives Holy Communion with quiet devotion, and prays intensely afterwards. She sings all the hymns with us.

She holds my hand.

I had recognized the bread we had made as it was consecrated and changed by the priest in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) into His Body and Blood.

I am beginning to understand Chapter Eight of Lumen Gentium as it has unfolded in our day together. She squeezes my arm.

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We greet people as we walk out into the fresh air and sunshine. She kisses the hand of the priest and he lets her, humbly. Does he know who she is? I wonder.

She puts her arm around me as we walk home. I reflect on the fact that she is the greatest woman who ever was or who ever will be, yet she is also a simple servant of the Lord, walking beside me in worn sandals.

I fall to my knees at her feet. I take hold of the hem of her long blue skirt, touch it to my face, and kiss it.

 

This time she lets me, though. And she laughs.

 

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O God, Father of mercies, whose only Begotten Son, as he hung upon the Cross, chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother, to be our Mother also, grant, we pray, that with her loving help your Church may be more fruitful day by day and, exulting in the holiness of her children, may draw to her embrace all the families of the peoples. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen. ~ Liturgy of the Hours for May 21 Morning Prayer

Happy first ever Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church. 🙂

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