No door will ever close.

maids with oil lamps

This is the screen saver on my computer at work. It is the facade of the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. It depicts the women from Matthew’s Gospel and the story of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25).  The church sits in the middle of a bustling piazza and so it looks as if the women are carrying is right into the middle of life in the piazza. The Gospel story has an Advent feel to it because it reminds us that we know not the day or hour when our Lord will return and so we need to be alert and ready, looking for  to walk right into the midst of our lives–here and now!

Limits and Promise

A few years ago I came across this poem by someone called T.J. O’Gorman of whom I know nothing other than this work which is an Advent favorite of mine.

  • Face to face with our limits,
  • blinking before the frightful
  • Stare of our frailty,
  • Promise rises
  • Like a posse of clever maids
  • Who do not fear the dark
  • Because their readiness
  • Lights the search.
  • Their oil
  • Becomes the measure of their love,
  • Their ability to wait–
  • An indication of their
  • Capacity to trust and take a chance.
  • Without the caution or predictability
  • Of  knowing the day or hour.
  • They fall back on that only
  • Of which they can be sure:
  • Love precedes them,
  • Before it
  • No door will ever close

“Make room for all within you that is not Christ”


The Season of Advent

On Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. It is a season rich in imagery, symbol, music and prayer.  Our readings from Scripture are filled with hope and longing as the Israelite people wait and watch for their long-awaited savior. I am always struck that the longing is not passive.  The prophets preach “prepare the way of the Lord,” and “make straight a path.” This is not the longing of a lover waiting patiently for the return of the beloved but rather an action-oriented preparation that has us watching, waiting, searching for signs of the Lord’s arrival.

Be Counter-Cultural: Celebrate Advent

Unfortunately, all of this richness is lost on a world that started celebrating Christmas before we finished our Halloween candy and if the GAP has its way—suggesting we “liberate” ourselves from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa and just party. See.

Give yourself an early Christmas present and celebrate Advent in a meaningful way. Set time aside to make a bigger space in your life for Jesus. The quote in my title comes from a reflection by Thomas Merton on Advent. Just as Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn, Merton suggests that the spiritual preparation of the Advent season is to ask ourselves where in our own lives there is no room for Jesus.

Here our a few suggestions for celebrating Advent:

1. Buy or make an Advent wreath. It can be as simple as a circle of three purple and one pink votives, or it can be greenery, wreaths and bows. Light the candle for daily prayer or during meals

2. Relish the Readings. Read and reflect on the readings for the day, practice the prayer of Lectio Divina to experience their richness and promise. See

3. WAIT for Christmas. In many cultures, it is not until the third Sunday of Advent that people begin to decorate for Christmas. In both my and my husband’s families, we do not put the tree up until Christmas Eve morning, to mark the end of Advent and the beginning of Christmas (my mother also admits it kept the excitement level of me and my eight siblings more manageable!). Why not wait to decorate or decorate a little each week as a practice or both waiting and preparing.

4. “Be on Guard!”  The prophets teach that we must be ready and recognize the Messiah when he comes. Consider adding daily Mass (if you don’t already) to your Christmas preparation. I think the four-week season is perfect for deciding to pray in a new way—it’s not such a long commitment, so take up the Liturgy of the Hours, or Lectio Divina or Centering Prayer and see how you like it. Make room for Confession before Christmas.

5. Read something spiritual. Set aside some quiet time to read something spiritual or listen to some of the great Advent music that is part of the Church’s tradition (helps not being sick of Christmas carols when Christmas finally comes!).

Feel free to share other ideas with us.  Happy Advent

Delight in the Dies Irae!

I am of the mind that we set aside a great treasure and masterpiece when the sequence hymn for funeral Masses, Dies Irae got the boot some forty years ago. I know it was a “heavy” hymn with a sobering message, but it sure was glorious. The gorgeous chant was one of the more beautiful and soaring melodies of Gregorian Chant and manycomposers such as Mozart and Verdi set the text to stirring musical compositions.

Ah the Dies Irae!  It’s syllables hammering away in trochaic dimeter: Dies irae dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla, teste David cum Sybila! (Day of wrath that day when the world dissolves to ashes, David bears witness to it along with the Sibyl!) Many came to think it a theme too dark and sobering for the modern funeral. Perhaps at times it is a bit heavy but at the same time no hymn more beautifully sets forth a basis for God’s mercy. The dark clouds of judgment part and give way to the bright beauty of the final line Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem (Sweet Jesus Lord, give them [the dead] rest).

The hymn was not composed for funerals. Actually it was composed by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century as an Advent Hymn. Yes, that’s right an Advent hymn. Don’t forget that Advent isn’t just about getting ready for Christmas, it is about getting ready for the Second Coming of the Lord. And that is what this hymn is really about. At this time of year, as the the leaves fall and summer turns to winter, we are reminded of the passing of all things. The Gospels we read are those that remind us of death and the judgment to come.

Journey with me into the beauty and solemn majesty of this hymn. I will give you an inspiring English translation by W J Irons, one that preserves the meter and renders the Latin close enough. A few comments from me along the way but enjoy this largely lost masterpiece and mediation on the Last Judgment. (You can see the Latin Text along with English here: Dies Irae)

The hymn opens on the Day of Judgement warning that the day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin. God’s wrath is his passion to set things right. And now it is time to put an end of wickedness and lies:

    • Day of wrath and doom impending,
    • Heaven and earth in ashes ending:
    • David’s words with Sibyl’s blending.

And all are struck with a holy fear! No one  and no thing can treat of this moment lightly: all are summoned to holy fear. The bodies of the dead come forth from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet and will all of creation answer to jesus, the Judge and Lord of all:

    • Oh what fear man’s bosom rendeth
    • When from heaven the judge descendeth
    • On whose sentence all dependeth!
    • Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
    • Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
    • All before the throne it bringeth.
    • Death is struck and nature quaking,
    • All creation is awaking,
    • To its judge an answer making.
    • Lo the book exactly worded,
    • Wherein all hath been recorded,
    • Thence shall judgement be awarded.
    • When the Judge his seat attaineth,
    • And each hidden deed arraigneth:
    • Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Judgment shall be according to our deeds, whatever is in the Book  (Rev 20:12; Romans 2:6)! Ah but also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy and so our hymn turns to ponder the need for mercy and appeals to God for that mercy:

    • What shall I frail man be pleading?
    • Who for me be interceding?
    • When the just are mercy needing?
    • King of majesty tremendous,
    • Who does free salvation send us,
    • Font of pity then befriend us.
    • Think kind Jesus, my salvation,
    • Caused thy wondrous incarnation:
    • Leave me not to reprobation.
    • Faint and weary thou hast sought me:
    • On the cross of suffering bought me:
    • Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
    • Righteous judge for sin’s pollution,
    • Grant thy gift of absolution,
    • Before the day of retribution.
    • Guilty now I pour my moaning:
    • All my shame and anguish owning:
    • Spare, O God my suppliant groaning.
    • Through the sinful Mary shriven,
    • Through the dying thief forgiven,
    • Thou to me a hope has given.

Yes there is a basis for hope! God is rich in mercy and, pondering the Day of Judgment is salutary since for now we can call on that mercy. And, in the end it is only grace and mercy that can see us through that day:

    • Worthless are my tears and sighing:
    • Yet good Lord in grace complying,
    • Rescue me from fire undying.
    • With thy sheep a place provide me,
    • From the goats afar divide me,
    • To thy right hand do thou guide me.
    • When the wicked are confounded,
    • Doomed to flames of woe unbounded:
    • Call me with thy saints surrounded.
    • Lo I kneel with heart-submission,
    • See like ashes my contrition:
    • Help me in my last condition.

 And now comes the great summation: That Day is surely coming! Grant me O lord your grace to be ready:

    • Lo, that day of tears and mourning,
    • from the dust of earth returning.
    • Man for judgement must prepare him,
    • Spare O God, in mercy spare him.
    • Sweet Jesus Lord most  blest,
    • Grant the dead eternal rest.

A masterpiece of beauty and truth if you ask me. Some years ago I memorized most of it. I sing it from time to time over in Church late at night, the hauntingly beautiful chant rings through the echoing arches of our Church. When I die sing it at my funeral!  For I go to the Lord, the judge of all and only grace and mercy will see me through. Perhaps the plaintive calls of the choir below at my funeral will resonate to the very heavens as I am judged. And maybe the Lord will look at me and say,

    • I think they’re praying for you down there, asking mercy.”
    • “Yes, Lord, mercy.”
    • “They’re making a pretty good case.”
    • Yes Lord, mercy.
    • Then mercy it shall be


Dies Irae from elena mannocci on Vimeo.