Sunday, January 07, 2018

Epiphany Reflection 2018

"By Another Way"

Brother Max Schmalzl, CSsR
Reflection offered at Epiphany Concert of St. Joseph's Church, Kingston, NY - January 7, 2018

Today we mark the end of the Christmas season by remembering the Three Kings, Wise men from afar. Guided by the light of a star and following the suggestion of a brutal scheming King, they arrived at Bethlehem of Judea and offered homage to the one they immediately recognized as a Holy Child of God. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, they departed to their country by another way.” While knowing the story by heart I was struck this time around by the repeated mention of light in what are called the Infancy Narratives of the Gospels. I was also struck by the very last words of the account; they ‘returned home by another way’. The act of going another way took on new meaning.

Ephipany is one of those fancy church words that comes from the language of ancient Greece. Today we commonly use the word to describe a Eureka moment when suddenly it is as if a light bulb goes on in the brain and we can finally say, “I got it.” Suddenly you fully ‘get’ a new concept or know how to use that new app on your I-phone just plain get a great idea. This common use is not off the mark. In Greek the word indicates a manifestation - a great reveal – an occasion when it seems a great light has been focused on a new truth.

Today we are thinking about those three wisdom figures who traveled from afar and following a star, came to a stable where God revealed the divine nature of an otherwise totally unremarkable child. But this event is only the first in a trio of Eureka moments in which the Messiah was revealed.  The next is the baptism of Jesus when Luke tells us the voice of God was heard saying “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The third is the wedding feast in the town of Cana told in the Gospel of John where Jesus turned water into wine to save a family from embarrassment. Scripture says, “Jesus did the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.”

Christians have tied together these three revelations of Jesus’ identity from the earliest days. Our Episcopalian sisters and brothers call the whole length of time from today to Ash Wednesday Epiphany-tide. That designation prolongs the period in which we are invited to meditate on our personal response to the Christmas revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah of our ancient longing.

It is interesting that we use the image of a light bulb coming to life to describe our Eureka moments. Light imagery so often appears in Scripture to explain what the revelation of the Messiah will mean for us. The three Kings were led by the light of a star. The last lines of the great prayer of the father of John the Baptist tell us that when the Messiah reveals himself, “The dawn from on high will break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” Much earlier in Hebrew scripture the prophet Isaiah declared:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
a light has shone…
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
The rod of their taskmaster,
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.                                  Isaiah 9:1,3,5

Even today we harken back to the light metaphor in our Christmas candles, our brilliantly lit homes, and sparkling decorations on evergreen trees. The real significance of these lights is that they draw attention to and underscore the central spot light focused on the child lying in the food trough of barnyard animals behind an inn with a no vacancy sign.
If that is the Epiphany moment; if seeing the new born child reveals his identity as our Messiah what, if anything is that supposed to do to us? I propose that these Epiphany revelations of Jesus as Lord and Savior have to become conversion moments; bringing us to a new path in our daily pilgrimage journey to God, giving us the choice to go home by another way.

We are told by Isaiah the Prophet that the Messiah will bring this message:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to the prisoners;
To announce a year of favor
and a day of vindication by our God;
To comfort all who mourn;
To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning,
a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit.               Isaiah 61

Like the Kings we came to the manager at Christmas. We are told that after their Epiphany moment the visitors offered their gifts to the babe before them and then “return home by another way.” I know they are trying to avoid the evil Herod. But “going home by another way” suggested to me that they went home changed by the light, changed by their Eureka moment.

Our Epiphany moment must bring us to conversion, a commitment that invites us to follow another way; the way of bringing good news, binding broken hearts, releasing those imprisoned by any circumstance, comforting those in sorrow, and spreading the oil of gladness far and near. The other way may lead us into our various communities or most especially to those with whom we share the dinner table at home. This other way is marked by an increase of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; all under the mantle of love which we are told is the bond of perfection.

Robert Frost poetically described the moment of choice and consequences unimagined.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

History Repeats, But We do Not Learn

Peekskill, NY - 1949
Charlottesville - 2017

Some must get tired of my history lessons but the record of history and current events compel me.   

I was Born in 1945, so I am old enough to remember the comments of my parents in response to national and world events. I remember coming home from school and finding my my mother doing her ironing while watching the Congressional sessions of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, other wise known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings.  My parents were outraged by this travesty of justice. Later on in a casual conversation about visiting territory north of New York City the city of Peekskill was mentioned. I was surprised by my mothers immediate recoil. I did not 'get it' and asked for explanation. "Oh, that is where bigots rioted after a performance by Paul Robeson, a Negro with a great voice who had spoken out against some US policies and in favor of Russia." Whenever I drive through Peekskill today I remember the story, now further informed by an interview with Pete Steeger in which he described being in a car leaving the grounds and being stoned by the crowd with police doing little to hold down the violence.  

So now, 68 years after Peekskill, and more than 50 years since the passage of Civil Rights legislation, we are faced  with hideous images of rampant violence and organized hate groups unafraid to brandish symbols of Confederate slave states, the renewed Ku Klux Klan, and the Neo-Nazi Party.

Believing as I do that the campaign rhetoric and current language and behavior of Donald Trump have given permission for such pent up prejudice, anger, and lethal violence to erupt  I continue to worry about what will happen when he is unable to produce what he promised. How will the Right spew its lava of resentment, hopelessness and pure hatred? The volcano has erupted in Charlottesville. It will not stop there.

So now we face the prospect of war, nuclear or otherwise. One issue seems not to be enough. Both North Korea AND the likes of Venezuela present issues. Could Venezuelan oil have something to do with it?  And at the same time we face domestic warfare unleashed by power that does not know history at all.

For further information about the Peekskill Riot of 1949 go to for great video and documentary accounts.                                              

Monday, May 15, 2017

History Teaches: 
     Effects  of Industrial Revolution

Dare a member of the academic elite opine? Takes a bit of courage these days. However, compelled 
as I am, here are some thoughts. They emerge from what I thought was a sudden flash of brilliant idea.
Further research brought me down a peg by revealing that the idea did not originate with me.

Recently I engaged in very stimulating conversations about the the current state of things with two young
men (freshman and sophomore in high school) and their father. The youngsters were totally engaged 
in the discussion, knowledgeable and very capable of expressing their thought out opinions. In the midst
of extolling the balance of powers in our government, presidential propriety, banning immigrants and 
restoring jobs in coal mines my new idea came as a flash. "We are going through a new industrial revolution
without learning the lessons of the unintended consequences caused by the last one", I blurted out.

Few would doubt that we have entered a period of technological revolution. It seems those in decision making 
positions effecting not only our citizens but also those of the world have failed to comprehend the enormous 
consequences of that revolution. Much less have they considered the unintended negative consequences for 
society which the industrial revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries caused. Highly recommended is an essay 
concerning the social effects of the industrial revolution . I makes abundantly clear the negative effects of 
unbridled free market capitalism.

In 2016 German economist Klaus Schwab published "The Fourth Industrial Revolution" . Reading it brought to 
an end my notion of having a unique idea. After giving historical context and ample evidence for his theory
(and that of others) of this new and equal consequential global revolution he offers a number of chapters on 
the consequences in terms of the economy, nature of work,business, national and global developments,
society at large and the individual. 

Sub-topics in these areas include but are not limited to:

nature of work
consumer expectations
collaborative innovation
inequality and the middle class
identity, morality and ethics
human connection
managing public and private information

You must be getting the idea. What is facing us cannot be fixed by persuading companies not to move facilities
in order to keep to 1,200 employees on the job; not by assuring coal miners that jobs will come back. 
Coping with what is to come requires major study and planning within an informed and communicating citizenry, 
governance by the constitutionally balanced executive, legislative and judicial branches of government less
interested in re-election or appointment than the best interests of all and influenced by 'the better angels of their
nature, and finally, business within a compassionate capitalist system.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Not So Unfamiliar Story

Current Presidential Immigration 
Actions Hit Home

Waking this morning to news of detentions at airports of visitors, refuges, immigrants and green card holder from middle eastern countries listed in President Trump's recent executive action immediately raised my anxiety/compassion level. These reports sadly melded with my own family story of an immigrant detention at port of entry.

In 1921 my Sicilian grandfather, long a citizen of the United States and veteran of service in the US Army durning World War I, returned to the US from a visit to his homeland. He brought with him a new wife and her 10 year old sister. Upon arrival at Ellis Island the authorities were required to admit my grandfather as a citizen and his wife by virtue of that citizenship. But his young sister-in-law did not fit into that formula. She was neither his wife, daughter or blood relative. Although he asserted his willingness to fully support this child he could not prove his ability to do so. He had been out of the country for almost a year and therefore could not provide evidence of gainful employment. He must have had savings because within four years he would by a three family house in Brooklyn. But it may also have been impossible at that moment to provide proof of any assets. The authorities determined that the 10 year old girl who could not speak anything but Sicilian had to be detained in Ellis Island facilities until my grandfather could return with proof that he could support her and prevent her becoming a burden to society and government coffers.

An Italian woman with young children apparently took little Carmelina under her wing for guidance and protection. It was November and during my aunt's two week detention Thanksgiving was celebrated and a special meal provided. Eventually my grandfather returned with proof of support in the form of bank passbooks or a pay stub and the small family was reunited. Our family heard this story recounted by my Aunt Millie every Thanksgiving. As a child myself I remember being horrified at the tale and wondering how this could possibly have been done to a little girl. 

This mornings' news went directly to the memory of this story. Today as a mother and grandmother I struggle to imagine how my grandmother may have cried and screamed at being separated from her little sister in a strange and forbidding place after a long ocean voyage. My heart still cries for the little girl who never knew her own mother and looked to her sister for everything in her life feeling such panic and wailing at their separation. It is within this emotional space that I considered the stories of those detained at airports this weekend; many already extensively vetted, some holding 'green cards' as vetted resident aliens in the US who work here, own homes, have families and pay taxes.

On Saturday, January 28, when Brooklyn Federal District Court Judge Ann M. Donnelly upheld an action by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging detentions by executive order she wrote that such detentions could cause "irreparable harm". I can attest to the irreparable harm done to my dear aunt by her detention so many years ago. Each time I heard her anguished story I thought, "Thank God they don't do that anymore." How wrong I was.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Christmas Greetings

A child is born to us, A Son is given

King of King
Lord of Lords
                Prince of Peace

Frater Max Schmalzl, CSsR – 1850-1930
                                                                                                                                                                                        December, 2016
Dear Ones,

            This message comes to bring you joy! May that joy begin with this photo. Matilda welcomed her brother into the family of Teresa and Andrew Pleva on September 16, 2016. They live in Kingston just two blocks away from the house where I raised my sons. That house now belongs to Heidi and Matthew Pleva along with their son Harrison, age 2. Having three little ones nearby makes for lots of time together and my ability to assist a bit in their care.
November 8th marked one year since my departure from the Redemptoristine Community in Beacon, NY. The emotional and logistical complexities were so complicated in 2015 that many heard little from me last Christmas. I relied on email and Facebook to remain connected. Fortunately, I can now report that the year 2016, while a busy one, allowed for good adjustment and happy resettling in a comfortable new home. My two bedroom apartment in senior housing provides a safe, convenient, sunny hermitage of sorts with ample space for my creative efforts, as well as overnight guests, all only a short ride from the little ones.
Shortly after relocating I began reorganization of the library at Linwood Retreat Center in Rhinebeck. There was a good bit of driving involved at that time as I was also visiting my mother in a Brewster Nursing Home. The day after I finished the library project, my mother died. My sister and I knew that she was slipping away but we did not expect it on that day. She was laid to rest alongside my father in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church, Tuxedo, NY. She was 92 years old. Unlike the situation surrounding my father’s death in 2013, this was a much more peaceful time because house and possessions had already been dealt with. We are fortunate to have so many of my parents’ beautiful things, especially my mother’s paintings. Most of all, we are blessed with the intangibles; values, memories, and heritage. How often during this current election cycle I have wished to discuss it all with my father! How often I think of my mother’s beauty when I handle an accessory or piece of jewelry which she enjoyed wearing in her stylish manner.
            It has been lovely to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. In their company I enjoy concerts at Bard College (Puccini last summer) live via HD video performances from the Metropolitan Opera, strolling through the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool and New England Fiber Festival and leisurely luncheons. I have joined St, Joseph Parish in New Paltz, became a lector and offered an introduction to Sacred Scripture class. Am also blessed by friendship with the Brothers at Holy Cross Episcopal Monastery. My friendship with and affection for the nuns of my former community continues. We have enjoyed visits particularly those with a grandchild in tow.
Most lovely of all discoveries is that in spite of being removed from the heart of the family for 15 years the connection with my sons remained a deep one only to be picked up again where we left off. Now there are three wonderful daughters-in-law involved and five grandchildren. It seems that it is a mutual joy to be present to each other but also respectful of the individuality of our lives. At this time, I am reminding them that they are the greatest gift given to me.
Today I mark one month of a bout with a bug common these days which has left me with what I have diagnosed as a chronic bronchitis. This kept me at home for Thanksgiving and caused me to miss lovely activities including singing at the holiday concert of the chorus I have joined. But last Sunday I took Matilda to see “The Nutcracker”. Each week I have Harrison with me for the day. He just turned two and I am mesmerized by his acquisition of vocabulary, exploration and manipulation of new construction toys and his observations of the world around him. Matilda is asking about another sleepover at Nonna’s. She just turned three and in caring for her one day a week for the spring and summer this year I found her such good and loving company. Homer is 3 months old; a happy little baby greeting all with a smile. My bug has kept me from spending more time with him. This summer, through their generosity, I spent a few days on the Maine shore with Jonathan and Kim and grandsons Nicholas and Benjamin. Later I had the pleasure of being with the boys while their Mom and Dad were in New Orleans. Interesting to spend a week with a 12 and 9 year old. We had fun both in Chelmsford, MA where they live and down here in Kingston. All the cousins just love being with each other. Matilda loved cuddling with her big cousins and they are so good to her. We will all be together during New Year’s weekend.
In reporting all of this to you and in listening to the news each day I am keenly aware of my blessings in a very troubled world and nation, not to mention the extreme suffering of so many. Since the presidential election I have been asking myself how I can respond as just one little person, merely able to feel her way through Baby Boomer Seniorhood! Wary of being consigned to the ranks of the educated elite living in ivory towers, I struggle to find my voice and ways of expressing the viewpoints of a longtime student of history. Guess that is one of goals for 2017.
I look forward to more amazing time with my little and not so little “Chicklets”.  Time with them is pure gold.
Thank you for all of the support and encouragement I have received from you. I look forward to hearing from you about your year. Thanks to those of you who have patience with and accept email delivery of this message. The time and money saved in the process allow me to connect via surface mail with those who have not discovered the wonders of online communication.
May the joy of Christmas bring peace and hope to your hearts.  Much love,