Category Archives: Nature

Update: My “Shadow” and Irma

cia memorial

I’m worried about my “Shadow” in these days. He’s in southern Florida at the moment, right in the path of Irma, which will hit his house as a Category 5 hurricane. He’s pretty frantic. Many times in text messages and phone calls I’ve invited him up to stay with me here in Western North Carolina. I hope he’s on his way, at least to get to a county shelter where he is. The storm surge map on NOAA looks like his house would be part of the ocean, with waves way over that level. He’s just sent me a text saying that he’s worried about people that he helps down the way.

Update: So, my “Shadow” survived, and well. Not even the drywall was affected. But, he might need some chainsaw work. Lots of trees and power lines down all around.

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Laudie-dog Eclipse-dog; Islam and the crescent moon; Jesus and me.

laudie dog eclispse dog

So, there I was, sitting in a chair, head back, eclipse glasses on, staring at the moon crossing the sun, with Laudie-dog trying to get my attention. So, I took a number of pictures of her, including this one. Mind you, she is not blind, this moment was just a millionth of a nano-second in length in which I somehow managed to take the picture just as she also looked up just before totality. She wasn’t just imitating me; she was trying to tell me that something weird was going on, like, um, me sitting and staring at the sun, because, how dumb is that, right?

During totality, Laudie dog was shaking with fear. But the shaking wasn’t, mind you, in fear of the celestial events. Rather, the town of Andrews was playing super weird spooky music even while others were shooting off fire-works. Laudie dog has no liking for that activity. Anyway, here’s the totality to my naked eye (and naked camera):

eclipse totality andrews nc 2017-

I loved going to the planetarium in the Twin Cities as a kid. It’s totally different when you see things happening in front of you. When the moon started blocking the sun, the first thought that came into my mind and heart and soul was: “God exists! God is so very wonderful! God loves us!”

But this wasn’t just an intellectual thing. I suppose people will make fun of me for saying this, but this was a spiritual event for me, very very very peaceful. By that I mean something beyond Saint Paul’s chapter one of his letter to the Romans. All creation speaks of the glory of God, yes! But more… It was as if Jesus was with me watching the eclipse, which, although He is creating that eclipse, although He is creating me, He can come in His wonderfully condescending love (in the absolutely best sense) and be in His own creation (He is incarnate!). And, by the way, He can also give a flower to the Immaculate Conception.

eclipse beginning crescent andrews nc 2017

Meanwhile, with the crescent sun a thought came to mind about the crescent moon and Islam.

While I was studying the Syrian language I came across a cultural tid-bit well known to every Muslim in that part of the world but not to someone like me from the North woods of Minnesota: the moon is a man, enlightening in difficult circumstances, helpful and kind, never threatening, even while the sun is a woman, always threatening, burning, hurtful, unrelentingly cruel. During a solar eclipse, the moon beats down the sun. The phases of the moon are actually just the sun trying to escape on the other side of the earth. Once in a while the moon hunts down the sun and shows the sun who is boss. The crescent moon is lifted up above every mosque/cultural center. The meteor rock in mecca is part of the moon come to earth, right? In that part of the world, the received mythology treated various celestial bodies as the gods, that is, the sons and daughters of the original deities which progressively became more material as time went on.

Meanwhile, the woman clothed with the sun in the Apocalypse (and our Lady of Guadalupe) has the crescent moon under her feet. Heh heh heh.

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Preying caption call. Note eyes.

Caption call. Note the eyes.

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Day off – part 2 – Bambi

Mother doe and her little bitty fawn – at her right shoulder – had their antennae up near the Hermitage. I wonder if the lion will get them, or the wolves, red and grey, or panthers. Or..  or..  they could be OK.

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NASA comes to my parish: Eclipse 2017 Full Corona Andrews North Carolina

eclipse

eclipse map august 21 2017 Andrews NC USA

NASA has rented out an entire abandoned strip mall here in Andrews NC to get ready as we’re directly in line with the center of the eclipse on Monday August 21 2017. [NASA will be at the middle school.] So, this is the official place to be. Of course, the moon doesn’t care about anything “official” but runs it’s course where it will. On the map below, the vertical moons show the extent of the corona that you will see depending where you are. You can see the full corona in the greyed out path:

eclipse usa map.png

Here’s the timing and duration. You’ll be able to see the full corona for a just more than two and a half minutes if you’re in Andrews, North Carolina:

eclipse north carolina.png

The hotels are all booked out on that date already months ago. But bring your own vittles and fixins and drinks and you should be just fine. We’ll have an extra big supply of food after the 11:00 AM Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church at 214 Aquone Road (see map above). Monday you’re on your own. Be sure to get your eclipse glasses. Someone gave me a pair today. They sell them in City Hall for $2.50, or for lots less if you buy many:

eclipse glasses

I think the population of our little town is something like 1,700, but “they say” that there is an estimated 10,000 people coming, with some saying 20,000 (from as far away as Europe) and some saying 100,000. That’s a lot of porta potties for 2 1/2 minutes! But it might well be a three day event.

Be careful of the pickpockets and be aware that the end of the world people come out of the woodwork at such times. Be situationally aware in these weird times we live in.

A spiritual note: Jesus said that He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. There was a full eclipse when He died on the cross. That passed and the sun came out again. That’s one day and night right there. Then Friday and Saturday night. He rose on Easter Sunday.

Mass Schedule: On Sunday, 11:00 AM, Holy Redeemer Church 214 Aquone Rd. Andrews. We have a “Social” afterward with lots of food. All welcome.

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Rejoicing in Rainbows?

rainbow church

I always rejoice when I see a rainbow because I love how nature works, including natural law. This double-rainbow was seen the other night with a good sized group of young priests over at the parish church where we were. Some of them had suffered in the seminary or in their priesthood from the lavender mafia, as it is called. All of them were happy to see the symbol that the castigation is over and the promise of good things to come has arrived. None of them thinks of God’s promise of goodness symbolized by the rainbow as a symbol of continued sin, but instead find such an interpretation of self-congratulation for sin to be disgusting, blasphemous. All would agree with this:

Rainbow

For myself, in this year of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, of Our Lady of the Rosary, of graces and mercy, I think of another splash of light across the otherwise threatening skies:

fatima lucia trinity mercy

And with much emphasis on Divine Mercy we recall this light coming from the Heart of our Lord and Savior:

divine mercy

As a priest who hears confessions, I don’t care what sin it is that people confess. We’ve all crucified the Son of the Living God with original sin and whatever other sin, right? I only care that people turn away from sin by turning to our Lord and His Divine Mercy. I rejoice in that Divine Mercy for all who want it, who want to be on their way to heaven. I know that His Mercy is a sign that the castigation is almost over, with the clouds dissipating, with the floods receding, with the promise of goodness and kindness to come. So, I hope I haven’t made the LGBTQetc crowd too upset. That’s not my intention. I’m just saying that mercy is for everyone who wants it. Is that a bad thing to say?

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Air Quality Index for parts of my parish: Extreme health hazard: 423 out of 500

moon-smoke

The perigee moon the other evening in an otherwise cloudless sky, except for the suspended particulates. I guess on the scale of 0-500, 500 equals choking on spoon fulls of dust. The past couple of days have seen what appears to be clear enough air as there is a breeze carrying some of the smoke away. Of course, that also fans the flames. 1/2 dozen of one or six of the other. We’re trying to catch a sixth arsonist. They get to pay for firefighters from all over the country, not to mention the equipment including the helicopters, EMTs, logistics, lost homes, etc. But, that’s when they get out of prison.

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It’s definitive: the dreaded serpent

brown snake

This is a common brown snake, otherwise known as a city snake, a garden snail eater of all things, which I picked up in the back yard of the rectory. Sigh. This is the dreaded serpent because, well, it’s definitive then. I’m no longer a mountain hermit. I’m domesticated, a city slicker. Sigh. Oh, for the days in the hermitage with timber rattlers and water moccasins and copper heads and whatnot, where even the rat snakes and Eastern Racers got six feet long and over. But here in the city the snakes are all measured in inches. Sigh. And what’s worse, I’m even busy with Spring cleaning. Sigh. I’m so domesticated. It all just makes me long for the days of my youth with extreme sports knuckleheadism. But, O.K. I’m domesticated. So be it. Heaven will be different! O.K., maybe I should make something of this, like an encouragement, gentle as it is, to get to my popular version of the thesis on Genesis 3:15, you know, about the crushing of the serpent on the head, something like that.

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Analogy for Divine Mercy: Waterfalls!

waterfall1

This above picture is utterly deceptive. These falls are about 1/4 mile long. The width of the falls at the bottom is about 150 feet across. I’m sure this would count as a level 6 for serious knuckleheads, if not just an outright portage (good idea). I’m guessing all kayaking is forbidden (good idea). I took this picture the other day on way to the house exorcism.

waterfall2

The picture above is utterly deceptive. You would think cars can’t drive under waterfalls. You would be wrong. That is a roadway. I took this picture the other day on my way to the house exorcism.

waterfall3

The above picture is utterly deceptive. This waterfall is next to the hermitage. You would think it’s only about 5 feet across. It’s more like thirty. I took this picture the other day on my way back from the house exorcism.

san clemente mosaicThis mosaic at San Clemente in Rome isn’t utterly deceptive. It’s an attempt at an analogy about waterfalls, using the psalm line: As the hart years for running streams, so my soul is thirsting for you my God.” I used to pass this daily for years while doing my stint in bella Roma. The waters gushing from the foot of the cross depict the exorcism of all exorcisms. Note the serpent escaping just below the cross. He hates that the Lord Jesus has just died for all of us, thus having the right in His own justice to have mercy on us, the mercy of establishing His own Kingdom to replace the kingdom of the prince of the this world, the ancient dragon, that cunning serpent, the father of lies.

To this day, the one who has best depicted the waterfall of which we must take note is Mel Gibson in his “The Passion of the Christ.” In one of the final scenes on Calvary, you’ll remember the soldier must thrust his sword into the side, into the Heart of Jesus, you know, just to make sure that He’s dead. He does so, and from that we receive the image of the font of the Sacraments and the creation of the Church from the side of Christ just as Adam’s wife was taken from the side of Adam:

side of christ

side of christ 2

side of christ 3

Also His Immaculate Virgin Mother was redeemed at the first moment of her conception so that sin never touched her soul. This vision of this waterfall is not deceptive at all. It speaks of us of the truth of our salvation, the goodness and kindness and truth of Jesus with a love stronger than death, that mocks death, that rises from the dead, taking captivity captive, taking us to our Heavenly Father to give us as a gift to Him. Thank you, Jesus.

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Cardinal sins and me: “You’re so vain!”

cardinal sin

Anything “cardinal” is about the hinge effect (cardo=hinge), something on which other things turn. A cardinal sin spins off so many other sins.

  • The cardinal sins are superbia (hubris/pride), avaritia (avarice/greed), luxuria (extravagance, lust), invidia (envy), gula (gluttony), ira (wrath), and acedia (sloth). The fellow above is surely guilty of all these, but, with myself guilty in every way, who am I to judge?
  • These call to mind seven holy virtues, chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. But I’m sure this fellow has none of these virtues. I mean, how could he?
  • The actual cardinal virtues are four in number: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Don’t look to him for any example with any of these, except in the via negativa.

Perhaps you suspect that I am upset with this fellow. The sin of the cardinal or red-bird (toxaway in the local language of WNC) pictured above is not what you might think it is, however. It’s not that he’s vain, looking in the mirror 24/7/365, nor that he’s pooping all over my vehicle, nor even that he’s overly aggressive in attacking his rival in the mirror, nor that he’s surely cracking his beak and giving himself a headache and causing himself spinal injuries so that he will disable himself and won’t be helpful in feeding the young ones in the nest. The sin is that he’s showing me what a bad auto mechanic I am by ripping off my perfectly good gorilla tape (this is almost impossible for a human, much less for a little bird) which holds the windshield frame on, which holds the windshield on, more or less, and thus holds the cab on to the truck and holds the truck together. Here he is, arranging a little piece in his beak before taking off to show his prize for nest strength to his nesting spouse:

cardinal sin-

And then, just to rub it in, after he does that, he sings about it! The gall! The nerve! I mean, look at that top-near-corner of the windshield. It was fine all this time until he, my enemy, my nemesis, the destroyer of my one good vehicle, has appeared. What to do? I think I firstly need to give him a name. We are so afraid to name our enemies these days, you know, like ISIS and such as that. We are our own worst enemies. But in escaping that latter discussion of ourselves being our own worst enemies, I’ll just project all my troubles onto him and accuse him of everything horrible and evil. I suppose I could just call him the Red Terrorist, but that’s more of a title. I need a name, you know, to make it personal. Any suggestions? Any mythic demon from the underworld? And galactic satan from the meta-beyonds?

P.S. Pope Francis vehicles allow you to have some fun like this. ;-) Sometimes I think I have too much fun. This is a benefit of being utterly convinced at each moment that we can be ever so easily catastrophic disastrous victims of cardinal sins if we are without friendship with the Most High God of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them; He has us in the palm of His hand; He has us look to Him in rejoicing.

Oh, and, by the way, the local mechanic shop said they’ll try to attempt to bring Betsy the Nissan Pickup back to life first thing Monday morning. Resurrection in Holy Week!

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Today: wonderful distractions of mercy

smoky mountains

Today was corporal work of mercy day: bring an elderly parishioner to the hospital day. I never tire of the mountains. You would think the red tone to the forest above is reminiscent of Autumn, but instead those are trillions of buds you are looking at, with the trees in foreground exploding in praise of our gracious Creator, the Almighty. We had to make it over the top of the far ridge, where one finds the ultra-famous Parkway, where bears and wolves and elk reign supreme.

hospital

The view from the hospital, well, a specialized clinic right next to the hospital. Dotty, the 1987 Toyota no-longer-just-a-backup pickup, is the tiny black truck, 3rd one in, a bit hard to see. She’s pretty humble next to the other monster vehicles next to her.

Right now, as the sun sets in EST USA, I have to get Father Gordon’s post edited up to send off to Australia for further editing and publishing on TSW in just about 6 hours time. That’s another work of mercy, is it not, visiting the imprisoned kind of thing? I think so. I think we all do much more than we think. Jesus said so to the incredulous crowd on His right when they protested that they never saw Him anywhere to do something good to Him: “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.” I don’t all consider Father Gordon to be the least among us. He’s a hero to me, a priest’s priest. But many don’t. So? I’ll stand next to him in all solidarity any day.

In a previous post, I mentioned putting other things in a pot of water to give to the Immaculate Conception besides flowers. Here’s an example of a tree right next to the rectory. These are not flowers. Just budding leaves. I’m the kind who would rip off just a small branch or two to put in the mix. Is there someone in your parish who puts such things before our Lady, returning to make sure all is fresh and proper?

red bud tree

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Kudzu: look away and it will jump you, strangle you, tear you to pieces, consume you

kudzu

I was wanting to drive over the gap today on the way back from Communion calls, but the forest service still has the road barred, perhaps because too many vehicles were grabbed and eaten by kudzu. This fellow looked away for just a moment, and it was all over.

Oh, and if you’re thinking this is a great analogy for sin, don’t, unless you add three words, “from the Lord”, for we cannot so much battle sin directly as be lifted out of it from on high: “Sin: look away from the Lord and it will jump you, strangle you, tear you to pieces, consume you.” And… and… the Lord can even reach into the wreckage and extract us. It’s a matter of love, not of strategy.

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Hearing Confessions in the strangest of places: Blizzard’s edge at the impassable chasm

blizzard

Mountains are strange that way. One or two flakes in front of you. An impassable white-out blizzard another 5000 feet away, on the other side of the impassable chasm. I’m exaggerating, but I’m trying to make an analogy, you know, like when hell freezes over, that kind of thing. I love the snow, being from Minnesota and all, but the analogy I’m thinking about involves our Blessed Mother showing the Fatima kids a vision of hell, with souls falling into hell like snowflakes in a blizzard. Snowflakes are so very delicate, beautiful, seeming immaculate in their wispy crystalline designs, but destined, in this analogy, to drop inextricably into an ever more violent eternal vortex of hateful violence and despair. But, just think, before dropping in, if only they had a chance to go to Confession, and then they wouldn’t drop down at all. Having said that: here’s a wild article on mercy and confession that was just published in the Catholic News Herald for the Diocese of Charlotte:

Father George David Byers: A Missionary of Mercy hears confessions in the strangest of places (Catholic News Herald – March 2016) 

This Missionary of Mercy confesses to you that I haven’t always followed to the letter the canon law of the Church, namely Canon 964, which states that “the proper place for hearing sacramental confessions is a church or oratory” and that “except for a just reason, confessions are not to be heard elsewhere than in a confessional.” I have been very broad in my interpretation of a “just reason.”

Scaling particularly deadly mountain walls with friends, or other similarly intense moments, has never been an occasion for me to hear a confession. However, as any priest, I do recall terrible traffic accidents when absolutions were provided. We’ve all heard confessions in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, as well as in nursing homes and assisted living centers. But those are to be taken for granted.

Some venues for confessions might be considered strange by those who just can’t imagine themselves confessing in such circumstances, but others are less inhibited. I’ve frequently heard confessions in the midst of rushing crowds in airport concourses or train stations, outside supermarkets or on street corners. Cars and trucks and parking lots are most favored, but so are walking confessions, which make their way along city sidewalks or country roads.

A house, a barn, a dog kennel, a chicken coop … any place will do. Mercy is available everywhere.

The fact of someone wanting to go to confession is a “just cause” for not using a confessional, even when a confessional is right at hand. Sometimes the sacristy is better for any number of reasons. In some places, women’s confessions were traditionally heard in “the box,” while men’s confessions were heard in the sacristy.

Having said this, though, there are limits. Proximity is necessary for the sacrament. No video conferencing. No phones. No radio talk shows. No email or texting or Facebook or Twitter. Not even Snapchat. No sacrilege.

Permit me, though, to bring you to a place to offer your confession so strange that you may not have considered it – not realizing that you have been confessing in this most unheard of place since your very first confession. You’ll need your imagination for this, but only because it’s so real that it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around.

Imagine that when you go into the confessional, to your shock you see that there is someone already kneeling down just starting to confess. It’s Jesus! You kneel beside Him sheepishly, and see your own priest on the other side of the screen. Jesus then starts to confess all your sins as if they were His own. He’s brief and to the point, includes aggravating circumstances and numbers of times for any serious sins. He just enumerates the sins without ambiguity, without excuse. He then concludes: “I accuse myself of all these sins, Father, and I beg absolution and penance.” Your priest then gives you your penance and absolves you, and you go away filled with wonder at the great love of Jesus who, in order to provide the grace of that absolution, stood in our place, taking on the death we deserve because of our sin.

When we confess, we do so alongside Jesus, who steps in for us. But because He does that on a spiritual level, we must be loyal to Him by ignoring any fear, any humiliation we might feel. Instead of looking to ourselves, we look to see His goodness and kindness. That’s a strange place to confess from, alongside Jesus, is it not? And yet, it is all very familiar, for no matter how strange the place is in which we might confess, we are always right next to Jesus, who loves us so very much.

Father George David Byers is administrator of Holy Redeemer Church in Andrews and one of two “Missionaries of Mercy” commissioned by Pope Francis in the Diocese of Charlotte.

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When a WAKE turns into a KETTLE, run for your life!

turkey vultures buzzards

Being a Minnesota boy, I always thought that our dangerous animals were timber wolves and moose and that’s it, and that here in North Carolina, panthers and bears and red wolves and wild boar and lynx comprised what was dangerous and that’s it. But now I’m meeting up with huge numbers of vultures. I’ve never seen anything like it.

While out on Communion Calls yesterday I disturbed a “WAKE OF VULTURES”, which is what a group of turkey buzzards are called when they are feeding on a carcass. Gruesome. The fellow pictured here takes a bit of looking at to see what you are looking at. Even though he is flying away, his head is turned back and looking directly at you, staring at you, noting who you are, saying to you ever so dreadfully: “You’re not so big. Fifty of us could finish you off in a few minutes! Just you wait!”

This is about the northernmost stretch of their normal territory, which means the ones in these parts can have a wing-span edging on toward seven feet. What a fright! What scares me about these guys is that they can congregate in enormous groups. Down the way in Brevard there is always a “KETTLE OF VULTURES” (meaning they are in flight, stirring around as in a vortex in a kettle), near the Triangle Marathon gas station on the Southwestern end of town. But out here in the Smoky Mountains, just yesterday, I saw a KETTLE nearby that had what looked to be 175 vultures, no exaggeration. I thought perhaps more like 225. I mean, what are they planning to feed on up there? Why do they wait, stirring the kettle like that? It seems to me that if they put their minds to it, they could easily kill live prey just by sheer numbers, including human prey. Yikes! So many!

Anyway, an active imagination is sharpened by not watching TV! (I don’t have one.) I heartily recommend just taking in the show outside. It’s refreshing. That helps purity of heart, agility of soul. Nature is absolutely wonderful. Most entertaining. Having said that, here’s a heart-stopping video of a just-born calf. The vultures are demons. Relentless. But, with a little love, they are stoppable, and yet, oh my…

If you want to make it that demons will have a really difficult time trying to bother you, regular confession is the best way to go. If you are repentant, that’s pretty much a guarantee of purity of heart and agility of soul. And you’ll have plenty of mama cows, that is, guardian angels, to protect you. [I’m now ducking for cover, having just compared my guardian angel to a mama cow!]

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