An Easter Blessing for the People of Ukraine 2022

To you who are standing faithful and strong in the ashes:

May the skies clear of fighter jets 
to let the warm sun kiss your face;

May the sirens and explosions cease
that you may hear the chirping of the birds near and far;

May the rains take smoke, dust and ash from the air
that you may see the blue sky and bright yellow flowers, 
the colors of your flag surrounding you in Ukraine glory;

May the waters, teeming with fish, run clear and pure
to quench your thirst and refresh your body;

May the hatching of feathered friends and birth of furry critters
bring hope of a future with new life;

May the attacks, the violence and the fear come to an end
that you may come out of dark, cold bunkers into fresh air
where elders of wisdom sit on benches, engaged in storytelling
and children run and laugh and play in the sunshine;

May men and women return to their storefronts, to planting their crops,
to cooking the meals and baking the bread, to bottling the wine, 
to healing the sick, to educating the students, to writing the books, 
painting and sculpting, playing in concerts and singing in chorus;

May the mothers birth their babies, cradle and nourish them
for they are the future of Ukraine;

May you rise from the ashes to Resurrection, 
through Christ, with Christ, in Christ!  May it be.

+Joan on April 16, 2022

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2022 New Year Blessing

May our loving God bless and keep you.

May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May God look upon you with kindness and give you peace.

Book of Numbers, chapter 6

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Christ is risen – Christ is rising

Christ is rising in the fertile eggs 
protected by Mama Goose’s wings 
as she sits on her carefully feathered nest.

Christ is rising in the bright yellow daffodils
pushing up through the rich brown earth, 
reaching for the sun’s warm light.

Christ is rising in the hands of medical staff
bringing healing to the very ill and injured,
and comforting touch to those passing over.

Christ is rising in the scientists and lab technicians
producing life-saving vaccines with the promise 
that we will be able to hug one another again.

Christ is rising in the hearts of compassionate people 
feeding the hungry, calling out injustice 
and welcoming the stranger. 

Christ is rising in the cries of the newborns 
bringing hope to us all, for Christ says, 
these are my prophets, poets, teachers and artists, 
engineers, musicians and future leaders. 
“Do not be afraid, for see, I make all things new.”

Christ is rising in the sun 
lifting our spirits and energizing us.
Christ is rising in the moon 
allowing us rest and peaceful sleep.

Christ is risen.  Christ is rising.  
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

+Joan Clark Houk      Easter, April 4, 2021

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Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust – A Reflection

                  By John Houk

When we lived in a multi and diverse Church environment in Eastern Kentucky, Joan discovered opportunities to bring Churches together for some common celebration.  Ash Wednesday was one such opportunity.  I have memories of Protestant participants getting ashes on their foreheads for the first time.  One woman said to me, with enthusiasm, “This is the first time I’ve been ashed!”  She had “been ashed.”  For the first time.  I let that sink in.

I’m old school Catholic so “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is what being ashed has always meant to me.  I don’t struggle with the newer “good news” version of being ashed, but that is not where my mind is on Ash Wednesday.  My mind is on dust.

Genesis comes right out and says God made us from the dust of the earth.  The name, Adam, means earth creature so they say, and my dust beginning.  But ending as dust, what does that mean?

Anyone who has kept house knows dust.  Are we saying that our dusting cloth contains someone else’s dust?  Really?  Of course, we can’t say for sure, but I know dust.

In learning how to build things in Arctic Alaska I came to know that much of the ground there was composed of dust from someplace else, mostly Siberia.  We are not talking a “dusting” but feet, even yards deep dust.  It’s called loess to engineers who must learn to work with it and build things on it.  First, if it is frozen in place, for heaven’s sake don’t thaw it out.  OK, back to dust.

So dust often comes from far away.  In Alaska it comes from Siberia.  In the lower U.S. it comes with the prevailing wind from Asia and sometimes from Africa and the Middle East.  It seems like everything is from China lately, even the dust on your table top.  Dust gets around.  It is statistically probable that every surface in our home contains dust from far away places.  But that’s not the end of the story.  There is new dust and there is old dust; some dust is so old that it was dust when we were being created.

The more I know about dust, the more I like it.  Dust floats in the air.  Dust is not stuck in one place.  Local dust gets mixed with dust from every place else.  New dust is mixed with old dust, really old dust, Biblical dust, Roman dust, OK, Chinese dust.  Dust is the ultimate equalizer; the ultimate organic unifier.  I like dust.

I doubt that the well-dressed Protestant woman’s mind was on the equalizing and unifying qualities of the ashes / dust on her forehead, but maybe it was.  I believe she felt part of a wider Church that she may never have felt before because it showed in her enthusiasm for being ashed.  Ash Wednesday can do that for a person.

Dust to dust we say, at least we used to say.  We know that’s how we began, and now we know what becoming dust can mean.  Yes, it means being humble, but also it means organic oneness.  Dust never means isolation or being forgotten.  Whose dust is on your table, or perhaps better, whose dust is at your table?  And don’t forget to get ashed.

John

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We Are Thankful for These Things

Bikes and balls and sunny sky,
Flowers, fruit and corn grown high,
Critters, birds and kittie cats,
Snow and sleds and soft warm hats,

Rain and ponds for catching fish,
Cake with ice cream in a dish,
School and books and fun vacations,
Cups of tea and relaxation,

Evening walks and campfire chairs,
S’mores and hot dogs in fresh air,
First responders, good friends too,
Loving family, and especially, you.

We give thanks for God’s blessings!
Joan Houk     November 1, 2020

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An October 2020 Reflection

An October 2020 Reflection written by John Houk 

While Joan is “busy with many things” I have time to reflect, and October is my favorite month.  I remember another October when Joan was invited to participate in the ordination of a new bishop that would take place in Stuttgart.  She asked me if I would like to go along.  My response was Germany in October?  Of course, I want to go, and I want us to go a few days early so we can enjoy Oktoberfest, and so we did.  

The room in our motel was average size, but the exterior window was huge, floor to ceiling almost wall to wall so we could look out on the world with, of course, the world looking in on us.  The bathroom with its shower was set off with walls.  The shower wall itself faced the living space, with its great glass window, and the shower wall was clear glass.

“Adam and his wife, Eve, heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to Adam and said, ‘Where are you?’  Adam answered, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked.’  God said, ‘Who told you you were naked?’”  The Lord God’s question continues to echo down through the ages.  Who told Adam he was naked?

October is the month we remember Saint Francis.  I love the story of his conversion from rich kid to poor man, and the freedom he experienced and now shares with us 800 years later.  He was free to be.  Francis, the poor man, was free to be himself.  In the October of our lives, can we be free to be ourselves?  Walk with me as we reflect on these two questions.

Adam was a creature of the natural world, then, suddenly it seems, he wasn’t.  The story says that he had “eaten of the tree of good and evil.”  Adam has now become a judge between good and bad.  Well, yes, of course, that’s what we descendants of Adam do; we judge between good and bad.  But wait!  What happens next?  Adam became afraid.  Someone told him he was naked, and now that he was a judge between good and bad, he made the judgement that being naked before God was a bad thing.  So who told Adam that he was naked?  He did.  Adam would now need to make judgements concerning his behavior and the morality of situations, but just being Adam did not separate himself from God.  That was Adam’s mistake.  Adam was still Adam, and God was still God.

Now let’s reflect on the second question.  Can we, like Francis, be free to be ourselves?  Legend tells us that Francis didn’t have a lot going for him.  He was small, not particularly attractive, had no money and only one old brown robe.  He was one of God’s creatures in God’s world, not separate from it.  He was comfortable in his skin, as they say.  Francis was a non-judgmental person.  That was his conversion from rich kid to poor man.  He didn’t judge others, he didn’t judge the world in which he lived, and most important of all, he didn’t judge himself.

That’s nice for our little poor man, Francis, but it is not the real world we live in; at least it’s not my world, you may want to say.  O.K., but it is God’s world.  Two worlds are set before us in stark contrast in the two stories we read in the book of Genesis.  First we read about creation from God’s point of view – God’s world.  Then we read about creation from Adam’s point of view – Adam’s world.  Which world is the real world?  Jesus tried to answer that question.

Jesus, the Messiah of God, insisted that God’s world was the real world and God’s world was not a meritocracy.  Our sense that we must earn God’s love is an illusion. In God’s world there is no need to judge ourselves as good or bad.  Do not be afraid.  God loves you.  Jesus said it over and over.  There is no reason to fear God.  God does not judge us.  We are God’s children.  Later, take a moment to read again the first creation story where the word “good” is used seven times – the perfect number.  That includes us.  “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  Jesus lived it.  Francis tried to live it.  October is a great month for us to remember it.  In the October of our lives we remain God’s children even with, especially with, all the accumulated grit of our lives.

In our Stuttgart motel room with its great glass window and its clear glass shower we showered off the grit of our overnight flight and became refreshed for a new day.  Showers are like that.

The next time you shower, step out of the shower and stand in front of the mirror then do two things, drop your towel then sing this little song from our childhood.
Jesus love me this I know 
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong,
I am weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
yes, Jesus loves me,
yes, Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so.

Pax et bonum,
John

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Season of Creation

Inferno on the ground; toxic air above.
Fleeing; can’t breathe.

Hurricane winds from above; surging waters from below.
Houses gone; life is drowned.

Are you listening?
Citizens of the U.S.A., are you paying attention?

This is the Season of Creation, September 1 until
October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
What we do to creation, we do to ourselves,
for we are part of creation — not separate, but one with all.

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On Labor Day

Labor – A Reflection           by John Houk

Our home has seen a steady procession of people who work with their hands.  Masks were worn and doors and windows were open, and I stayed upstairs in the chapel to avoid exposure to COVID-19.  Joan became project manager for the weeks-long unscheduled mitigation and restoration of our moldy kitchen.  I liked being able to watch and celebrate Joan’s work.  I even bought her a white hard hat with her name on it.  If you know Joan you know this could never be just about replacing walls and cabinets.  It was all about people.

She knew everyone by name.  The sheet rock men and painters were George, Fernando and Pedro, the cabinet man was Jerry, and the hard work was done by Howard Jr and Ed.  Not only did she know their names, but their pets, their wives, how much they spend on rent; and when they didn’t have the right tool, she lent them mine.  But that’s not the only people she knew by first name.  There was the mitigation manager, Chuck, and crew chief, Jack, and restoration manager, Steve, site manager, Howard, Sr., the secretary, Amber, the USAA Insurance adjustors, Alexander and Victoria, the plumbers, Greg, Matt, Dave, Bryce and Lee, and their office manager, Bonita.  She knew everyone by name and used their names often along with many thank-you’s.  Why is this important on our annual celebration of labor?  It’s because there is dignity in the work of our hands that deserves respect and thanks.

People who work with their hands are not second-class people, repeat not.  They are not those who were not smart enough to go into college, repeat not.  These are the people who make our world actually happen.  Most obvious right now is that they are the people who put our world back together when it is destroyed by mold (our kitchen) or by storms as on the Gulf Coast.  The people who do the work not only deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they are real human persons, but because we couldn’t live without them.

As Catholics we can take pride in remembering Pope Leo XIII, who in 1891 wrote Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor), which set our Church on the path of respect for the person who works with their hands.  Here is where we find the official teaching on the dignity of labor, workers’ rights, including the right to organize and even strike, the condemnation of child labor, for just wages, just hours of work, and much more.  Pope Leo set our Church on the pro labor path.  Thanks, Pope Leo.

Joan grew up in Pittsburgh with working class people and with a family memory of union members in its mills and factories fighting the Pinkerton hired guns for the right to organize and even strike for just wages.  She didn’t need Pope Leo to learn respect for the people who do our work, but today our country does.  So, in thanks for labor on Labor Day and a reminder of our Catholic positive history toward labor let us, celebrate this special day.  Celebrate especially by calling people by name wherever they work and whatever work they are doing for us, for us.  Oh, and many thanks again to Pope Leo, and thank God we have our kitchen back!  Amen.

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Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Mother of Jesus

We can honor Mary on this feast day by remembering that she was, and remains, part of our world, our personal and natural world.  Pope Francis reminds us over and over that the natural world and we are not separate, and certainly we must understand that we stand with the natural world and not against it.  He calls this integral ecology, which he elaborated upon in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si
(On Care for our Common Home).  If you have not read it, you really must.

Mary was part of our world in powerful ways so we have honored her in multiple ways in the history of our Church, even to include that God had the power to lift her to heaven in her complete self. Because she walked in our world and remains connected to us there is no life challenge that Mary does not understand.  She was there.  Mary knew what it was like to be pregnant without a husband.  She knew what it was like to be vulnerable, having no control over her life, even to the point of being displaced from her home.  She knew the grief of seeing her child tortured. Mary knew what it is to be a mother watching her son gasping for his last breaths.

We invite you to join with our global Church remembering Mary on this August 15th by connecting with our world and with her, knowing that she is always there for us.

John and Joan Houk

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Feast of St. Mary of Magdala, the Year 2020

In the Gospel according to John 20:17-18, we read:

Jesus said to her, 

“Do not hold onto me because 

I have not yet ascended to the Father.  

But go to my brothers and say to them, 

‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, 

to my God and your God.’”  

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 

“I have seen the Lord”; 

and she told them that the Lord had said these things to her.

According to a fragmentary manuscript of the non-canonical Gospel of Mary, written in the late first or early second century, Mary comforts the distressed disciples telling them, “For his grace will be with you all and shelter you.”  Peter asks Mary, “Tell us the words of the Savior that you know, but which we haven’t heard.” Mary agrees saying, “I will re[port to you as much as] I remember that you don’t know.”  After telling them what she remembered, she fell silent.

However, Andrew says that he doesn’t believe Mary “be[cause] these opinions seem to be so different from h[is th]ought.”  Peter joins in, “Has the Sa[vior] spoken secretly to a wo[m]an and [not] openly so that [we] would all hear?  [Surely] he did [not wish to indicate] that [she] is more worthy than we are?”

Levi confronts Peter’s competitive, argumentative behavior.  In Mary’s defense Levi says, “If the Savior considered her to be worthy, who are you to disregard her?  For he knew her completely [and] loved her devotedly.”  We still have both Peter’s and Levi’s attitudes in the Church today.

Although Mary of Magdala is mentioned by name in all four canonical gospels as being present at the tomb of Jesus, and she is named as the first to see the Resurrected Christ Jesus, even given the name, Apostle to the Apostles, attempts have been made throughout the centuries to silence Mary Magdalene, to discredit her, and to excuse her experience, all because she was a woman.

We women today are still being silenced, discredited, and pushed aside, just because we are women.  St. Mary of Magdala, pray for us.  

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