National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 18, 2003
“Tulipmania” at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Ark.
-- NCR photo/Toni-Ann Ortiz

Cristo Vive

I joined the procession of singing and
waving palms, equatorial sun imprinting
beneath my skin the words: Cristo vive,
Cristo vive, Cristo vive en me.
I saw him broken and shared at El Centro,

where families of small shoeshine boys
are fed and educated. I found him at mingas,
where neighbors help one another build
a house or harvest crops, I watched him
dancing until morning in fiesta.

He was everywhere, poured and parceled out
like the little piles of dried maize and peas
sold along the streets by Quechuan women.
Such wanton bread, nuestro pan quotidian.
In Quito and here in us, Cristo vive!

-- Mary O’Herron
   Buffalo, N.Y.

Lent and War: A Paradox

The shade of ashes crosses our brows.
We silence the gloria,
We bury the alleluia,
We cover up in purple
As we encounter this solemn season
Of prayer, fasting, alms to others.
But thundering in this season of silence
We hear the crash of night stretching bombs
That beat their war drums
With cacophony cadences
Splatter, break, explode
’Midst our purple shrouded silence.
We squint our eyes
As we try to pierce this mystery,
This paradox of Lent and War?
Prayer with bullets,
Sacrifice with lives,
Alms of oil for food,
With the thunder, lightning clap
Of destruction as Evil
Paints his portrait in
The fuming smoke
That spoils the
Night eyes of the sky.

And so we crunch our ashed brows in perplexity
And ask, “Why, now, God?”
“Why, now, God” as we with caution climb
Up that calvary hill
As we watch for each “booby trap” of War
Strewn at our feet on our way.

What mercy, mercy, Lord have mercy of Lent
Can sooth the pain of confusion
Of Lent and War?

This echoes our Job question
As we plead some answer
On bended, crippled knees
’Midst all this misery.
Where are you “I am, Who Am”?

And so we hear:
“There I am, on bended, broken knees
with you.”

-- Fr. William A. Beaver, OSB
   Jeannette, Pa.

Church of Loretto

They have retired early --
tongues of aging nuns,
prayers asleep in their mouths.
There is no singing now.
The convent church is locked.
It is snowing. Inside, votive lights plead with
stained glass.
The church window illumines worlds of the
Summa in lead:
Aquinas, the one who answered all questions.

When I was a child, I would flee
the unhappiness of my parents
and run to open churches til morning.
I would search the eyes of plaster saints
for something human we all had lost.
Now, I clutch this moon like a rosary with arthritic
I am a cawing bone, an animal curled in on itself
in winter,
too close to myself to scrape night off my paws.

I dreamed Iraqi children fell from roofs,
hit the ground running with broken limbs --
a fresco of fathers chasing them with hammers.
Again tonight I cannot sleep.
At this place, I hoped to pocket lingering lullabies,
smell the succor of compline warmed in wooden pews,
taste spoonfuls of this spoken food,
borrow their faith for the night.

Like a mendicant, I stand begging.
Nothing answers back.
Then in the convent window,
three women haloed with candles,
huddle and point at the snow.
I chase my breath and open my palms:
These are the alms I receive --
this knot of nuns, this sleepy silhouette of light.

-- Jacqueline Dickey
   South Bend, Ind.

Elegy for the Living

“In war, the first casualty is truth.”
-- Roman saying

A menacing specter scrapes the air
like a mom’s insistent pleas
to her drowning son.
The bastard god of war,
coddled and eager
waits to incinerate
the dew of our fresh century.

Now, must “shock and awe” refer
not to the rare mystic’s apprehension,
but standing plans
to rain 3,000 cruise missiles
on Baghdad one weekend?

Who’d dare seek
the ignominious capitulation
of civilization’s cradle:
survivors destined to crawl
along disemboweled streets
where cries of “water, water”
fall still and unrequited,
her staunchest defenders
to soiled and stupid psychosis?

Must not those
who plot such deeds
one day come
to envy their victims?

-- Jay Allain
   Hyannis, Mass.

Rahab’s House

A crimson thread
hangs in the window
of the woman’s house
who took the risk
and protected the strangers.

Now, one tiny thread
protects her household,
the thread of trust
that strangers are trustworthy,
that enemies are friends.

Some say she is no better
than she ought to be.
But she is better than most,
and I want to live
in a house like hers.

-- Bonnie Thurston
    Wheeling, W.Va.

-- Lori L. Brown

The Lean Hours

Ice fishermen cling to winter
sinking their lines into darkness
while spring rain bends the stalks

of some that would be tall--
corn and irises and blades of grass.
I remember the Idaho children

who ate water lilies and drank
from their shallow pond last year
in order to remain as one. Today

willow limbs whisper pale yellow.
Stooping to gather the remains of the season
I consider the risk and the return of tulips.

My knee grows moist from the earth.
My hands form themselves into questions
as old as the flags draped in windows

as vacant as the notion of victory.
Surely these are the lean hours
when the sea and sky hone gray to stone

and wind draws silent whitecaps
altering the monotone just enough for hope
that some glory might arouse the sun.

-- Jean Colgan Gould
    Natick, Mass.


The sunflower seed
Draws to itself
Matter and water --
Food blessed by God.

A single tender shoot
Breaks through earth
And in time grows tall
and sturdy --
Full face toward heaven
As it satisfies its
Short season on earth.

In due time
The flower bows its head
and dies
Spilling its fruit upon earth
So that others might eat and

-- Monica L. Zabor
    Arlington Heights, Ill.

Like a Tree

May I make of my life a prayer,
wearing my years like a tree;
its flocks of leaves singing
their tender vibratos,
its gaunt limbs pouring
blue rivers of shadow
over snow. May I honor
the wounds inscribed
on my body. During times
of drought may I plumb
the holy water of rain
In my heart.

-- Marguerite Bouvard
   Wellesley, Mass.

Mary Magdalene the Apostle

(“Go to my brothers and tell them. …” John 20:17)

Not promising,
not a good beginning,
to send Mary with the news
before the day is bright.

Had the hand he laid on her
killed the whiff
of seven demons
he had exorcised?

Anyway, by law
not to be trusted.
As witness,
very dubious.

Why had he appeared
first of all to her?
Why make trouble now?
Not street smart.

She walks the garden path
before the morning light,
the fortress of Antonia still
threatening the small of the night,

sees angels in white
guarding an empty tomb,
turns to find the gardener
(fretting over trampled cabbages?)

who is dumb before her question,
but speaks her name,
and in the speaking,
suddenly it is dawn.

She reaches out a hand
to touch the yesterday,
grasps the feet of all
the untouchable tomorrows.

She who loiters finds,
is sent to tell the others
before the history is cooked,
served on silver platters.

But the huddled guardians
of despair will not eat.
The unprocessed tale smacks
of bleeding grief.

-- Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB
    Collegeville, Minn.

teach in

I think they were dominican sisters
there among the chaldeans in basrah
seventy-five miles from the gulf
on the shatt-al-arab

and how once on the street
a stranger came to them and whispered
your archbishop kassab
I think he is a good muslim

I do not know anything about these people
this is what I tell myself
staring into the bathroom mirror
talking to an old american face
my eyes scored four time over

and that synagogue in baghdad
how long has it been there
I want to know this for myself
how long from the waters of babylon
and what of the four presbyterian churches

this is what my face says to me
this is the business of my face
it says how well does the bishop know you

-- John Knoeplfe
    Springfield, Ill.

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003

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