A Day Among The Stones

by Howard Hain


Murillo, “Christ on the Cross”, (1660-70) (detail)

some were stones

others rocks

the difference

i’m not quite sure

though both are heavy


so many distinctions

almost all

humanly made

yet not even

a single

grain of sand

is created by man


perhaps then

stones are former rocks

those chosen to enforce

worldly power

perhaps they’re earthly kingdoms

established by men

men possessing

such domain

perhaps they’re the ones

reigning down

upon those brought low

upon those dragged

outside the walls

hauled off to a yard

to be stoned


yet both

both stone, and rock

seem to get along

as long as they’re simply left alone

call to mind

that famous pile

that most famous pile of stone

the one upon which

we crucified our Rock


to some it’s golgotha

to others it’s calvary

to too many

it’s a giant farce

but oh those stones

oh they don’t lie

and all those rocks

they build up the church

o, those stones, o, those rocks

yes, both big and both small

they keep straight

the vertical beam

upon which is nailed

the weight of the cross


it’s You of course


who holds it all together

it’s You of course


who provides all the strength

who holds up Jesus

for the world to see

the entire world

as You hold

those wooden beams

that stretch

to the ends of the earth

much like You taught

good saint joseph

that just and upright man

to hold Your child Jesus


o good saint joseph

everyone’s patron saint

break your silence

tell us then

tell us of that day

the day your Jesus

was crucified

speak o strong man of stone

you who speak

thru so many silent statues

chiseled to show forth

the birth of our salvation


for you saint joseph

are not only

the foster father

but also a stand-in

for the cross

for you are still there

you are still there to be seen

yes, saint joseph

you are at the crucifixion

playing a role

yes, Father God has taken over

but you joseph

are certainly present

for the crucifixion

is still a portrait

of the Holy Family


dear joseph

you reside in the wood

the scent of which

fills Jesus’ earthly suffering

it’s the scent of the workshop

the scent that Jesus breathed

His entire youth

especially when asleep

against your heart

good saint joseph

a just man

just home from work

your clothing covered in dust

the dust from the saw

cutting thru raw wood

it’s in this sense

that you joseph are present

in the sights and sounds

of the first domestic church


the clanging of hammer against nail

driven thru His hands and feet

Jesus thinks of joseph

the joy of work well done

the importance of finishing well

while all the while

the hard unrelenting

stone below

kisses His mother’s knees

consoling Jesus

reminding Him

and all of us

of the stability

of a truly godly home…


What a day among the stones!


Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…




Not Worthy

by Howard Hain


Durer, “The Four Apostles” (1526), detail of St. Peter

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

—Luke 5:8,10,11


It is our job, perhaps our only job, to continually put ourselves into a perspective—in a relation to Christ—that causes us to truly believe with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds that we are not worthy of His sacrifice, His gift, His love for us as embodied in the Crucifixion and His glorious wounds—and then to share that “divine unworthiness” with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds with every brother and sister of Christ we cross.

For it is truly the most “unworthy” of news that best delivers the Good News.


“The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

—Matthew 8:8




Love Your Proud Papa

Today, This Moment, The Year of Your Lord

My Child,

I thought I should write you this morning. To put down a few words. To speak into creation my ongoing love for you.

There are times when I watch you, somewhat at a distance. I leave that space so that my watching doesn’t impede your playing. But there is really no space at all. Because by not being “right with you” I get to see you as you truly are. My “distance” allows me to see you within the full scope of your existence. And never forget, my child, not for a second, I create your existence. It is not an event of the past. I am active. Always. I am always creating you, and I am always enjoying my creation. That is why I watch.

I watch you unfold. I watch frowns and frustrations unfold into smirks and full-blown smiles. I watch you evolve and grow. I watch you transform. I watch you fight then make up. I watch you get hurt then heal. I watch you hoard then share. Of course there are many times, my dear child, always in fact, that I want to jump in and save the day, to stop the fight, the hurt, the misunderstanding before it even begins. But I love you too much to always deny you such good food and such nutritious drink.

I will your existence moment by moment, and my will is love. I know exactly how much you need to digest in order to provide for your perfect growth. I also know when too much of one nutrient or the denial of another is not part of my overall plan.

Perhaps that is the hardest thing about being a father, knowing that your maximum freedom within the ever-expanding bounds of my love is what you most need. Such liberty leads you into the divine individuality that I ultimately will to be achieved. And it’s also what makes you most valuable to our one, united, and very common family.

True liberty is what makes you most like me.

Please enjoy my gift this new day.

That’s what I will.

Enjoy my love. Enjoy your freedom. Enjoy the play of keeping it all within bounds. For you should also know—your freedom without my love is a very dangerous game. A game that as much as it grieves me to see any of my children play, I must allow, if the freedom I gift to you is to be of any value at all.

I am always with you. And know this too—and know it for sure—if at any one moment you choose to use your liberty to call out my name, I will scoop you up before you can even utter “the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter” of my most hallowed name.

For the distance between us isn’t real at all.

It’s love. It’s everywhere. And it lasts for eternity.

I seal this with a kiss. I place it upon the palm of my hand.

I hold it out and gently blow it your way.

I love you…my dear child.


Always smiling at you,

Your Proud Papa




The Bad Thief

by Howard Hain


Rembrandt, “Self Portrait”, c. 1668 (detail)

The Bad Thief

good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
can be all three?

we know of Jesus
as perfect
as perfect can be
speaking faith
breathing forgiveness
the Word
bound up
completely free

we know too
of the good thief
turning toward Goodness
our Goodness
so gracious
hanging there
beside him
beside the good thief
Jesus nailed
one with the tree

we know too
what happened
what happened then
to the prodigal thief
a humble heart
spurned not
true repentance
sorrow for sin
painful sorrow
paid forth
by a sinless man
and God
God the father
accepting the fee
the precious blood
of Jesus Christ
setting him
the good thief free

but what
what of the other one
what of the thief
named bad
what of him
deserving to hang
what of that poor man
that poor
prideful soul
just like you and me
that poor
nameless sinner
just like you and me
also hanging
hanging there
hanging above Mary
and the disciple
Jesus loved
hanging there
upon a third
a third
rarely talked about tree

who is he?
but you and me

i am the bad thief

and so are you

i have stolen
stolen so much

especially time

what have you
in your pocket
that isn’t thine?

Jesus makes it
perfectly clear
what happens
what happens to thieves
thieves like us
who simply say
i’m sorry
yet even His promise
His promise
full of mercy
His promise
of paradise
of paradise in fact
that very day
doesn’t stop
his good thieving legs
from being smashed
his repentant body
completely broken
head to toe
not even Christ’s promise
the promise
from the King Himself
removes the good thief
from the gift
from the gift that is his cross

but what of the other one
what of you and me
what of us
thieves who also lie
who reject justice
Justice hanging
right next-door
what of the bad thief
can be redeemed
what of the bad thief
in you and me
God only knows

upon the dead
both the living
and the deceased
upon us all
upon Your children
Your children turned thieves
whose faith
and sorrow
is known
by You
and You alone

good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
and all the rest
of all humanity
can lack
to such a degree
true repentance
true humility

good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
are all three?



Walled Garden (2)

by Howard Hain

[Note: This is part 2 of a work entitled “Walled Garden”. To read part 1, please click here:  Walled Garden (1)]

pissarro orchards at louveciennes 1872

Camille Pissarro, “Orchards at Louveciennes”, 1872


And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

—John 19:27


On leaving the convent I came upon the friar whom I had noticed on my way in. The little dog was no longer around. We approached each other as if we had met before. He was kind. He was middle-aged. He was simple. And then the strangest thing occurred. He took me by the arm, the way men stroll in Italy, arm-in-arm, during the evening passeggiata—the evening stroll.

But I had never met this man before.

Yes, it is certainly strange to have an unknown man approach you and link his arm in yours.

He led me toward a dirt path. We strolled. We spoke little. He didn’t speak English and my Italian was tiny. But it was nice. Peaceful. It didn’t feel strange. I only now use that word, for from a somewhat forced “objective” perspective, it seems that it had to be.

He was a man of God. And he saw I was too, before I had any idea God had undeservedly entrusted me with such a gift. The gift of loving God. The gift of wanting Him more than I could ever explain. The gift of being an outcast here in this world of time, a wanderer, a pilgrim, a crusading knight of Lady Poverty—of being—in yet again, some strange kind of way—a lady-in-waiting—patiently and painfully anticipating the exuberant arrival of the one and only eternal groom.


He brought me to what appeared to be an old foundation. I understood from what few words we exchanged that this was the remains of an abandoned orphanage. And then we began to head back toward whence we came. I remember offering him some bread that I had in my bag, purchased that morning in the city of Assisi up above. He lightly touched his stomach with one hand and shook his head “no”—a kind, polite, gracious, and utterly grateful, “no-thank-you” kind of “no”.

When we arrived at the door of the convent I understood from his gestures that he was inviting me to see something inside. It was clearly something that I had not yet seen. I motioned “yes” and we entered. We climbed a staircase and walked down a hallway. We were in an area not open to the public. The walls revealed its age. And we approached a door. A wooden door. And he unlocked it with an old large skeleton key. He opened the door and motioned for me to go inside, quietly informing me that this is Saint Clare’s cell. I entered and he remained outside. He gently pulled the door closed.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I was safe. I knew I wasn’t locked in. I was pleasantly confused. I looked around. It was small. It was literally a cell. Enclosed. All stone. A low tight arched ceiling. Bright. Dark. Cozy. Warm. Beautiful.

A tabernacle. A womb. A virgin’s womb.


At the end of the somewhat rectangular shaped room was a small alter-like shelf. I knelt before it. I have not the slightest recollection of what I prayed.  Of what I thought. Of anything spiritually taking place. I was just there. And I remained a few minutes. And then I left. I opened the door and I was all alone. No friar. I closed the door behind me and made my way back down from where I had come.

It seemed as if nothing extraordinary had happened. It was all so normal. So everyday. Yet it was nothing of the sort. It was extraordinary. It was an encounter. I think. Perhaps.


I think of little Mary. Alone in her room. I think of a gentle breeze and the sight of a bowing angel.

“Hail, full of grace…”

What a name, what a title to be given!

Gabriel holding the key that opens the door.

The young, chosen, highly-favored virgin agrees to hear his message, to walk arm-in-arm with him, to accompany him to she knows not where. She agrees to accept God’s invitation.

The Holy Spirit comes upon her simple life, her simple way, her simple manner.

The power of the Most High overshadows her daily existence.

Our Father confirms her trusting posture, her grace-filled instinct to utter the purest of prayers:


“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)


Jesus entered a private, off-limits room. He made His home there.

And He never left.


“…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…”

—Matthew 6:6




Cat under a Hot Tin Roof

by Howard Hain


My daughter wants to be a cat.

Like with most kids, the formal structure of school, day after day, can create a desire to wander freely about the house, one hour into the next, no schedule or agenda, simply playing, humming, and exploring as she goes. A cat’s life viewed in this light can certainly seem attractive. Francesca loves the idea of staying home all day, sleeping soundly in sunny spots, and most of all, the tranquil adventure of discovering little nooks in order to curl up and hide away.

I don’t blame her. And she and I have discussed it several times. After all, the desire to curl up and hide away is pretty universal. It resurrects consoling memories and secure sensations: The womb. Fetal position. Warmth. Safety. Seclusion. Protection.

I think it’s safe to say that voluntary hiding spots—especially those involving blankets, quilts, pillows, and/or stacks of sweaters—invoke great emotional, psychological, and spiritual comfort. And physical comfort goes without saying.

I shared with Francesca a little secret. I want to be a cat too. Well, that’s not really the secret. This is: I am a cat. That got her attention—as displayed by a raised eyebrow and a curious smile. “No, it’s true,” I told her. “Especially when I go to church.” Now this really got her attention. “Yes, when I go to the chapel I become like a little cat…and during Mass I wander around the altar, slowly, very slowly, looking for just the right space to curl up and hide away. And I find it. I always find it. But I also have to wait for just the right time. Because this special little crevice is not always open.” She asked where it is. I let her in on it: “You know the gold box behind the altar?” Yes, she nodded. I told her it’s called the tabernacle, but this she apparently already knew, and she made a point of making that very clear. Well anyway, I asked her if she ever noticed that the tabernacle door was left open during a certain part of Mass. She acknowledged that she already knew this too, but this time with a little less certainty. “Well, that’s where I go,” I nodded. She smiled and made a funny face. “It’s true, I’m telling you…I wait for the door to open and then I quietly climb in.” She liked this. She really liked this. So do I.

She thought about it a little bit and had to confess that a cat would really love a little cozy space like that, especially our kitty named Clive. “He’d definitely try to get in there if the door was left open!”

But she was also a little curious if you could get stuck in there if the door was closed after you got in.

I assured her that God would never trap a kitty like that.

She agreed again.

“You’re right, Daddy, God would never trap a kitty, especially not with Jesus inside!”