Personal Musings: December 2006 Archives

Happy 80th Birthday, Dad!

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Who is this beautiful child with the golden ringlets and winning smile? It is my Dad. The photo must be 77 years old. Today is Dad's 80th birthday.

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Daniel Bernard Kirby was born at home, 148 Grafton Street in Fair Haven, Connecticut on December 30, 1926. His father was Daniel J. Kirby and his mother Margaret Mary Kirby, née Gilbride. Dr. E. T. Falsey delivered the baby boy, the first of six. Little Danny was baptized in Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Fair Haven and attended Saint Francis School.

As a teenager he fell head–over–heels in love with the sweetest girl in the world, Emma Rose Barbato, my wonderful Mom. It was love at first sight. An Irish boy smitten by an Italian girl! Dad served in the U. S. Army during World War II. He married Emma Rose in Saint Francis Church on October 9, 1948. Together they had five children, all of whom were baptized in the same Saint Francis Church. Dad retired as a Battalion Chief from the New Haven Fire Department in 1986.

Dad is up early every morning and out the door to Mass, either in Saint Joseph's Church or in his parish church, Saint Mary's on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven. At 80 he remains very active and is always ready to lend a hand, to run an errand, to visit the sick, and to do whatever needs to be done. Mom takes good care of him and he takes good care of her. A couple more devoted to each other you will not find!

Family and friends are gathering this afternoon at my sister Donna's home in Woodbridge, Connecticut. If you cannot be there, please leave a Happy Birthday message for Dad here. And offer a prayer for him.

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Before I go to bed, I want to say, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! After Mass at the Glorious Cross, I joined my family (Mom and Dad) at the home of my sister Donna, her husband Wayne, and their children Sean and Lauren for Christmas dinner. Lauren's hidden talents are beginning to emerge: she is quite the decorator, the hostess, and the cook. Martha Stewart, watch out!

Tomorrow I begin a week of trying to get ready for my departure for Rome on 3 January. I have a lot of packing to do, especially of books. I will be returning to my monastery of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome for six months. If there are any Roman readers of Vultus Christi, do make yourselves known! Ci vediamo. I will continue Vultus Christi from the Eternal City, but will need a few days to recover from jet lag and to organize myself at Santa Croce. I should be back to regular posting from Rome by the Epiphany.

I Love New York

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I made a day trip into New York City today. Thanks to Deacon Richard Russo, Father Jacob Restrick, O.P. and I were able to visit the magnificent Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste on Lexington Avenue at 76th Street. The Church, completed in 1913, is served by the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, sons of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

I have long nourished a special devotion to Saint Peter Julian Eymard, an impassioned lover of the Most Holy Eucharist. Today's visit to Saint Jean–Baptiste Church was, in some way, a pilgrimage to Saint Peter Julian.

"Have a great love for Jesus in his divine Sacrament of Love; that is the divine oasis of the desert. It is the heavenly manna of the traveller. It is the Holy Ark. It is the life and Paradise of love on earth." (Saint Peter Julian Eymard to the Children of Mary, November 21, 1851)

The principal splendour of the church is a three–storey altar crowned by an immense golden monstrance for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Curiously, although the monstrance is the architectural focus of the whole church, it is empty. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a modest, much smaller monstrance set directly on the altar where Mass is now celebrated versus populum.

In entering the church the eye is drawn immediately to the empty monstrance enthroned above the high altar; only after a few moments of careful observation does one notice the discrete monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament on the versus populum altar. The current arrangement attests to the all too familiar hermeneutic of discontinuity — or even, of rupture — that, for the past forty years, has so marked the renovation of churches.

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There were three adorers present in the church when we visited. Everything in me wanted to linger in adoration. How extraordinary to find oneself, all of a sudden, before the Eucharistic Face of Christ shining with redeeming love through the veil of the sacred species, before the immolated and glorious Lamb in whose presence one wants only to be silent and adore!

To the left of the sanctuary is a spectacular preaching pulpit adorned with gilt symbols of the Holy Eucharist. Every detail in this church proclaims and celebrates the Blessed Sacrament. We stopped for a moment of prayer at the altar of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Beneath an exquisite marble statue of the saint holding a monstrance there is a reliquary containing a bone of his. The veneration of holy relics is very much a part of my piety. Caro cardo salutis. The grace of the saving Flesh of Christ suffuses the bodily remains of His saints with a mysterious attraction that compels one to pray. I have experienced this more than once.

The Lady Altar of the church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. She is depicted holding the Christ Child in her arms; He, in turn, holds the Sacred Host, radiating light. The whole effect is one of — what shall I call it? — supernatural enchantment!

"Be the apostle of the divine Eucharist, like a flame which enlightens and warms, like the Angel of his heart who will go to proclaim him to those who don’t know him and will encourage those who love him and are suffering." (Saint Peter Julian Eymard to Mme Antoinette de Grandville, July 4, 1859)

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I consider today's "pilgrimage" an Advent grace. The mystery of Christ's Eucharistic advent, coming between His first advent in the flesh and His final advent in glory, forms one single coherent adorable mystery. One cannot be drawn to one of these without, at the same time, confessing the others.

Hail to Thee! true Body sprung
From the Virgin Mary's womb!
The same that on the cross was hung
And bore for man the bitter doom.
Thou Whose side was pierced and flowed
Both with water and with blood;
Suffer us to taste of Thee
In our life's last agony.
O sweet Jesu!
O loving Jesu!
O Jesu, Son of Mary!

The Humble Prayer of Repetition

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I have wanted for some time to write again about the grace of the prayer of repetition. Today a God–seeking soul shared with me that she used to think of the prayer of repetition as second rate. Her ideal was to remain perfectly still, empty, and receptive before God. Unable to do attain her ideal, she fell to the humble prayer of repetition, and now has come to recognize its value. She often prays the Chaplet of the Eucharistic Face of Christ. Like others, she has found that this humble prayer of seeking, desire, supplication, and praise anchors her in the presence of Our Lord. The repetition of its invocations (like the prayers of the Rosary) binds her gently, but effectively, to God.

This soul's experience corresponds to my own. The prayer of repetition is pleasing to God because it is intrinsically humble. One accepts one's inability to be perfectly still, entirely receptive, and totally absorbed in adoration, and then one accepts to make use of the poor man's prayer: the same well–loved phrases burnished by repetition. As the heart is enkindled by the Holy Spirit, each repeated prayer becomes like a grain of incense thrown on an incandescent charcoal. Its fragrance is for God alone.

Folks who see themselves as theologically sophisticated and enlightened often disdain what I call les petits moyens, "the little means." They sniff condescendingly at people who pray rosaries, chaplets, and litanies. Better to pray that way, I say, than to abandon prayer altogether.

The humble prayer of repetition bears sweet fruits. One fine day — or in the middle of the night — one wakes to discover that the heart is praying by itself. Deep within, a spring has begun to flow, irrigating one's secret parts. Thus does the grace of Christ begin to heal what is wounded, to refresh what is weary, to make new what is old.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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