Giving Tuesday Letter to Readers: Please Support Little Portion Hermitage

Dear Readers:

The newish tradition of Giving Tuesday, coming after the consumer shopping over-indulgences of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a fitting way to take a step back from all of the seasonal excess and let others know about needs that are close to one’s heart. In this case, I’m asking for your support for the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage (FLPH), a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization which I have been honored to be a part of for several years now. I personally want to invite and encourage my readers to take a look at the Giving Tuesday post on the FLPH Facebook page, or on the FLPH website, to see how you can get involved. I also encourage you to share this post, whether it comes to you via email subscription or if you read it online, with anyone whom you think may be interested or in a position to help.

The overall goal of FLPH is to promote the eremitic life inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Christ-centered solitude, contemplative silence, intercessory prayer and the spiritual works of mercy. Our more specific goal is to establish a permanent Little Portion Hermitage, named for the spot where the Franciscan movement began, with the help of our hermit friend Brother Rex Anthony Norris, a consecrated Franciscan hermit who is under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Portland, Maine.  A dear friend and wise counsel to me and to many others, Brother Rex provides encouragement, insight, and prayer to those who seek him out [he also welcomes your prayer requests and inquiries via the FLPH website.] Brother Rex lives his spiritual vocation every day in a way that most of us, caught up in the demands and distractions of the everyday, material world, cannot.

So in the spirit of St. Francis, I beg you to consider if you’re able to help out materially if possible, and through prayer for the success of this campaign regardless of your means. Your deductions are tax-deductible, and you can donate through Facebook, via the FLPH website, or the traditional pen-and-paper way by sending your check made out to “Friends of Little Portion Hermitage” to:

Friends of Little Portion Hermitage

Post Office Box 15

Auburn ME, 04210

 Thank you, dear readers, and many blessings to you and yours.

Kind regards,

The Courtier




Invisible Friendships

Are you open to forming an intimate relationship with someone whom you don’t get to see?

At an after-party during the Catholic New Media Celebration in Atlanta weekend before last, I stood around chatting with a group of friends – all of whom I had originally met online – about this year’s conference. One of them took a step back and noted how strange it was that we were all there together in someone’s flat, drinking rare IPA’s and eating ice cream cake shaped like Hello Kitty’s head (don’t ask.) “There’s really no reason,” he observed, “for any of these people to be here together and know each other.”

It was an apt observation. It’s true that the CNMC always brings people together into new relationships, both personal and professional. In the days following the conference, many of the attendees have made similar observations on their respective podcasts and blogs, in their social media posts and comments. New collaborative projects always emerge online – watch this space – and people who did not previously know each other end up becoming friends.

However there’s something deeper at work here than simply throwing together a bunch of Catholic media nerds with common interests. After all, the same can and does happen at comicons or political conventions or any other similar gathering of like minds. Because beyond the silliness and selfies, the CNMC is really about recognizing the universal call of holiness to which all of us must respond.

And part of the way we do that, both in new media and social media, is by witnessing to people whom we will probably never see, about Someone whom we have not seen yet.

In St. John’s Gospel, when St. Thomas comes to believe in the reality of the Resurrection, Christ remarks: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (St. John 20:29) Similarly, St. Peter sums up the experience of those early Christians who never got to meet Jesus in the flesh during their lives, using words which are still resonant of the Christian experience today: “Although you have not seen Him you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 St. Peter 1:8-9)

Most of us – unless we are very, very blessed indeed – are not going to get to see Him during this life. I can’t Snapchat with God. We can only hope to see Him in the life to come. That can’t happen however, unless we are constantly trying to keep in communication with Him, through prayer. 

Prayer is not like an IM chat, where we need to see a checkmark to know the recipient has received what we are trying to say. He hears all of our prayers, when we make them; we take that on faith. Yet the message is going to have a much harder time getting through, if we don’t even bother to make it most of the time. Just as you can’t expect an online relationship to grow and develop if you don’t actually communicate with one another, so too you can’t expect to come to know Him, unless you’re willing to sit down and take the time to communicate with Him through prayer.

As we stumble through life constantly sinning our way into the grave, we are blessed and lucky if we come across people along the way that will give us a hand and pick us up out of the dust and dirt that we keep falling into along the way. Intimate relationships of this kind absolutely can be and are formed through engaging in new media and social media: I’ve seen it happen, and it’s continuing to happen. Yet the most important and intimate relationship of all, the one we have with the One who made us, is so often the one we spend the least time on.

Don’t forget, as you build your online relationships, that He would love to hear from you too, if you’ll take the time to reach out to Him.


Waiting with Mary

We spend a great deal of time in this life waiting around for things to happen.  When something we’re waiting for is particularly urgent or critical, many of us get more nervous and more upset the longer we have to wait for it.  It’s very easy in these moments to come to sympathize with the Psalmist.  “How long, O Lord,” we read in Psalm 13, “will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me?”

Yet how often do we stop to think about the fact that He is asking us the same question: “How long do I have to wait for YOU?”  Prayer, of course, is the way back, when we’ve forgotten that He is not our plaything, to be put down or taken up as we wish.  And one of the most powerful forms of prayer there is comes in the form of a set of beads.

Today Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The rosary is, of course, an object which Catholics and non-Catholics alike are very familiar with.  It is not some sort of amulet or talisman, nor is it simply “worry beads” to numb the consciousness.  Rather, the rosary is a tool for remembering and meditating on the love that God has for all of us, in recalling the Incarnation of God the Son through some of the major events of His life and that of His Mother.  It has been a lifeline for Christians for centuries, and today’s feast day recalls one particular instance of that.

On October 7, 1571, as the Ottomans were conquering their way into Europe, they were defeated by a naval armada led by Spain and a coalition of smaller Christian kingdoms at the Battle of Lepanto.  Knowing that the Christian forces were hugely outnumbered, and recognizing the implications for Christianity if the Ottomans were to invade Italy,  Pope St. Pius V called for all of Europe to fast and pray for the success of the effort, particularly encouraging people to pray the rosary and ask the Virgin Mary to intercede with Her Son.  In thanksgiving for the defeat of the Ottomans, Pius dedicated October 7th on the Church calendar to Our Lady of Victory; his successor, Pope Gregory XIII, changed the name of the feast day to honor Our Lady through prayer of the rosary.

This is all very grand and heady stuff, of course.  Saints having visions, popes issuing decrees, battling imperial forces, and so on are enough to fire anyone’s imagination.  Yet we have to remember that a lot of what went on here, albeit on an international scale, was waiting, and then waiting some more.  Because of this, the rosary was absolutely the right tool for the job at that time, as indeed it is on both an international and personal level today.

Most of us are not sitting around waiting to be conquered and slaughtered by the hostile armies of a different religion, although in fact many of our Christian brothers and sisters actually are, at this very moment.  For them, the rosary provides protection greater than any number of drone strikes or missile launches (let alone a politician’s misguided speech in rather poor taste.)  It reminds them that God’s promise works its way out in God’s time, not in the time we might like it to, and often not without great suffering.  Sometimes amazing things may happen, as at Lepanto on this day 443 years ago; other times, the outcome is not so obviously joyful.

For those of us whose suffering-while-waiting is more personal rather than geopolitical in nature, the rosary is just as powerful a reminder that we are loved, but also that we have to accept God’s Will whatever it may be, and whenever it may be revealed.  As we anticipate news of the job or school application, the mortgage approval, or the biopsy report from the oncologist, the rosary reminds us that this, too, is just a passing moment, even if it seems to be taking a long time to pass.  The rosary can accompany us in those moments, as we wait for the phone to ring, the letter to arrive, the person to come down the hall and tell us the news that we’re waiting on.

The real example for Christians to take from reflecting on the life of the Virgin Mary through praying the rosary is two-fold.  First we must accept that our life as Christians, like that recalled in the rosary, must have Christ at its center.  All that Mary does and witnesses, which we recall in the prayer of the rosary, is centered around her relationship with Him.  If we do not get that, then we do not “get” the point of the rosary.

Second, the rosary serves as a reminder of how we must humbly accept God’s Will in our life, even when things are not as we would necessarily like them to be, or when we don’t see how everything is going to work out in the end. It took Mary but a moment to say yes to the invitation to become the Mother of the Messiah brought by the Angel Gabriel.  It took her a lifetime for her to see how God’s promise to her, and indeed to all of mankind, would be fulfilled.

Whatever you are waiting on, then, no matter how great or terrible the news, or how long it takes to arrive, consider allowing the rosary to be your way of remaining close to God, as you await the outcome of His Will.

Detail of "Our Lady of the Rosary" by Caravaggio (1607) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Detail of “Our Lady of the Rosary” by Caravaggio (1607)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.