Why are pearls considered the world’s most mysterious of gems? Because of their origin and the manner in which they are formed. Pearls come from shell fish, the most common of which is the oyster. When a grain of sand enters and irritates the soft part of the oyster, a new substance is formed called nacre, a protective covering, the mother-of-pearl. Within approximately six months, a pearl emerges from the shell as a radiant gem requiring no processing. The Queen and Her Wardrobe of Pearls Elizabeth I ruled as Queen of England for forty years until her death in 1603. Abstemious in many ways, she nevertheless fed her extravagant fondness for pearls—thousands of pearls. Her crowns were adorned mainly with pearls. Imbedded into her starched and lacy coronets, her 3,000 gowns and 80 wigs were pearls. Necklaces, earrings, pendants, and yes, shoes—adorned with pearls—pearls of great price. Women with Pearls There were other famous women who delighted in wearing pearls but to a lesser degree: Czarina Alexandra of Russia, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana, Sophia Loren, and Elizabeth Taylor. Vermeer’s painting, “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” has piqued the interest of 17th-century art enthusiasts. Pearls of the Mind The desire for education can stimulate the intellect in much the same way as a grain of sand ‘irritates’ the oyster. Another aspect of pearls—pearls of the mind. “Born Yesterday” In 1951, Judy Holliday won an Oscar for her role as Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday.” In the movie, she plays the brassy live-in girlfriend of Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), a dishonest junk dealer. For him, she’s the proverbial ‘dumb broad.’ No intellectual prize himself, he sports a personality, loud and crude. They take up residence in Washington D.C. where Harry’s shady dealings focus on politicians. He pays Paul Verrell (William Holden), a bright journalist in search of a story on him, to smooth out Billie’s rough edges. She’s ill-prepared for relating to the Washington elite. With Paul as her guide, the two visit historic places. Billie learns about the underpinnings of American democracy found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. She had no idea! Encouraged by her desire for self-improvement, Paul supplies her with books on western civilization. She relates to ancient and modern philosophers; the dictionary becomes her friend as do museums and classical music. Learning has become its own reward; the life of the mind, fulfilling. Never again will she return to her former life. Billie wears, she owns pearls of great price which cannot be taken from her. At commencements, it is not at all unusual to find a handful of students beyond college-age to be awarded various degrees. Someone or something prompted them to pursue their education. The result? It has enriched them personally and expanded their desire for self- improvement. Taking that first step was the most challenging. Once these basics were overcome, learning for its own sake became exhilarating. With their newfound pearls of the mind, they experienced new life. The Pearls of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and Thomas More (1478-1535) The future wife of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon was educated by outstanding tutors. What did she study? Arithmetic, canon and civil law, classical literature, genealogy and heraldry, history, philosophy, religion, and theology. Her strong religious Catholic upbringing would play a major role in later life. Fluent in Spanish and Latin, French and Greek, she also learned domestic skills, cooking, dancing, drawing, embroidery, good manners, lace-making, music, needlepoint, sewing, spinning, and weaving. Of female monarchs, this accomplished woman had no rivals. During Catherine’s twenty-year marriage to Henry VIII, the two monarchs enjoyed a marriage of minds, she a formidable match for him. Before issuing decrees, Henry asked Catherine for her opinion and her seal of approval. She made certain her daughter Mary was well educated, and she promoted learning among her subjects. Throughout Henry’s devious pursuit of a divorce from the Catherine and his determination to put her away to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn, she steadfastly protested her marriage to be true. Through it all, she held fast to her faith, the pearl of great price. In 1529, King Henry VIII appointed Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor. An outstanding scholar and jurist, Thomas More was perhaps the most learned and respected layman throughout the Tudor realm. This honor was short-lived however. Within three years, Thomas resigned the Office when, in conscience, he opposed Henry’s usurpation of papal powers in England and defended the Pope as the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church. Thomas’ wife Lady Alice derided his decision to relinquish his Office. In Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons,” the dialogue following the return of the seal of his Office goes as follows: Alice: So there’s an end of you. What will you do now—sit by the fire and make goslings in the ash? Thomas: Not at all, Alice, I expect I’ll write a bit, I’ll read, I’ll think. I think I’ll learn to fish! I’ll play with my grandchildren—when son Roper has done his duty. (Eagerly) Alice, shall I teach you to read? Alice: No, by God! Thomas valued the pearls of the mind while Lady Alice shunned them. Thomas tried to find a legal way to take the Oath of Supremacy, required of all subjects, without compromising his conscience—that “moral squint,” Cardinal Wolsey called it. But to no avail. He could not give his consent to the King’s divorce, a refusal that sealed his fate. Moments before his execution, Thomas professed: “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first.” His faith—the pearl of great price. A Wake-up Call Average American children spend from six to eight hours a day attracted or addicted to screens. In a study entitled The Learning Habit, conducted over a three-year period, family routines in 50,000 homes were canvassed in the United States with children in grades K-12. After 45minutes of media use, children’s grades, sleep, social skills, and emotional balance start to decline. Increasing numbers of parents, including those CEOs in the Tech industry, are placing stringent media rules on their children. During the school week, there is no use of electronics, and on weekends, only a limited use … and never in their bedrooms. Parents are requiring their children to read books, books they can hold in their hands, this in addition to doing their homework. In a New York Times piece by Nick Bilton (Sept 10, 2014), it was reported that Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now executive of 3D Robotics, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” he said of his five children, 6-17. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, and I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” Pornography is the first harmful content, then bullying from others, and perhaps the worst of all, becoming addicted to their devices. Steve Jobs, the genius of high-tech was a low-tech parent who valued education, the pearl of the mind. Walter Isaacson, the author of Steve Jobs, spent a great deal of time at the Jobs’ home. “Every evening, Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen discussing books and history and a variety of things,” Isaacson narrates. “No one pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.” Can families resist the current electronic trend by not moving with its flow? Pearls of the mind lead to pearls of truth and to the pearl of great price. Image credit: Pearls by FergieFam007 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The feast of the Most Holy Trinity falls on this Sunday, one week after Pentecost. Ordinary time resumes with the Eighth Sunday of the liturgical year. The feast has two aspects: the outer and the inner, the objective and the subjective or personal. First, the outer or objective aspect. The Trinity is a mystery of faith, “one of the mysteries hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God,” the Catechism teaches. It is true that traces of the Triune God have been left in creation and in the Old Testament. But the inmost mystery of the Trinity is inaccessible to reason alone. To confirm belief in the tri-personal God, Christians profess the Creed and sign themselves in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, the inner, the subjective or personal aspect. Perhaps the most consoling and most beautiful truth about the Trinitarian dogma is captured by St. Paul in teaching the Corinthians and the extended Christian community: “Don’t you realize that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple” (1Cor 3:6-7). Each of us is a consecrated temple of God. For we were all baptized into one body. Regardless of accident of birth or of choices made, every person deserves to be treated with the dignity of a child of God. As the Body of Christ, all the Church’s members make each other’s welfare their common care. Desecration of the Temple The violation of an adult or a minor for one’s own sexual pleasure desecrates God’s temple. The unborn—the developing fetus—deserves infinitely greater care than a household pet, a statement not as absurd as it seems. All we need do is contrast the laws against cruelty to animals to the few attached to aborting the life of a human fetus. Pets are protected under the law. In most states, the child in the womb enjoys no such protection. In some cloistered religious institutes, it is customary to bow the head slightly when encountering another as a reminder that each person is a temple of God. Baptism Through Baptism, the enfleshed soul is made sacred. We are consecrated and incorporated into the love of the Triune God and made members of Christ’s Body. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given to build up the Body of Christ with its diverse ministries. The liturgy of Baptism of an infant is quite a rich ceremony filled with the symbolisms of the cross, white clothing, holy water, blessed salt and oil. Thus, the five senses of the child are consecrated, and, following the profession of faith by its godparents, the entire child is christened. The doctrine of the indwelling of God rejects the false belief of New Age theories that asserts: ‘I am God.’ I am a sacred vessel, not of myself, but because God dwells within me. The sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit are given as the baptismal graces. These are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Each gift disposes us to docility in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. What Is Fear of the Lord? The phrase, “fear of the Lord” is sometimes used in conjunction with the phrase, “the glory of the Lord.” Fear of the Lord occurs throughout the Bible. (Gen 42:18; Ex 1:17; 9:20; 18:21; Deut 5:29; 6:2; Ps 25:14; 102:15; 111:5; Prov 3:7; 24:21; 31:30; Eccl 5:7; 8:12; 12:13; Is 41:10; 50:10; Jer 5:24; Dan 6:26; Lk 1:50; Acts 10:2; Rev 15:4). The noun fear, whose Latin counterpart is tremor, connotes emotional trepidation, and the adjective terrible, also from the Latin terribilis, has been imprecisely transliterated as terrible or dreadful. These words impose on the phrase, fear of the Lord, not only a negative connotation but also a meaning opposed to its original intent. Fear of the Lord means awe of Divine Mystery connoting reverence at the mysterium, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of God. It causes the soul to shudder from its overpowering reality, and yet it draws the soul into the tremendum, a moment of rapture to it. God’s absolute holiness is at once love, beauty, mercy, wonder–words incapable of being adequately expressed, but which we experience as fascinosum, unspeakable bliss. Fear of the Lord is awe, marvel, wonder, majesty, and astonishment–glory. Filial fear refers to a fear of offending God because of His great glory. On this Trinity Sunday, the tri-personal God is celebrated as the pre-eminent model for all other relationships. Glory not only transcends every word, all speech, every category, and every expression of Jesus’ hiddenness but also his manifestation. And “we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:16). Divine glory is God. Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity: the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah The icon of the Old Testament Trinity was painted by the Russian monk Andrei Rublev (1370-1430). He uses the Old Testament story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18) as a point of reference pointing to the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. In the scripture narrative, the couple are hosts to the three angel-visitors at Mamre who will foretell the birth of Isaac to the elderly couple. The angels are seated at a table on which stands a cup with a sacrifice offering. The angels hold traveling staffs. Abraham and Sarah are not in the icon. The Icon Proper The basic form of this icon representing the Trinity is a circle. It is seen in the bowed figure of the angels deferring to one another. Their wings touch each other as a trinity, while the hands of the two outer angels lean toward the center angel who commands attention. The circular shape of the picture surrounds the cup and calls attention to it, the symbol of the Eucharist. The angels wear blue and green in varying degrees of intensity to symbolize unity in color. The center angel is Jesus, clothed in strong, clear colors because of his coming in history. He wears a magenta tunic with a gold ribbon draped over the shoulder under the cloak of solid blue-green. Because human eyes have never seen the Father, Rublev has chosen indistinct hues of pale orange colored with a tint of blue-green for the Father’s clothing. Wearing a green cloak over a tunic of azure blue, the Consoler-Spirit symbolizes life and sanctification. With the other two figures, Jesus blesses the cup with the stylized Eastern blessing. The facial features of the three figures suggest a set of identical triplets marked by dignity and rare beauty. The raised eyes of the Father appear anxious because of the sacrifice his Son will accept. The unity brought about by the clothing and circular form and motif of the composition reveals Rublev’s masterful insight into the mystery of the tri-personal God. The icon offers deep satisfaction because through color, form, and symbol, we grasp with delight the truth of the central mystery of Catholic Christian faith. Its loveliness has captured the admiration of the Christian West, thereby surpassing abstract Trinitarian symbols. The beauty, truth, and formal goodness of the icon invite one’s contemplation and a resolve to live in the presence of the life-giving Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One way to do this is carry about in our imagination this work of art that nourishes the life of prayer. Image credit: The Trinity by Andrei Rublev via Wiki Commons.
This Sunday, the Church brings to completion the Paschal Season by bestowing the Holy Spirit on us in the Liturgy, rich and beautiful. The Birthday of the Church On that first Pentecost morning two thousand years ago, the frightened apostolic community had already been huddled together for ten days awaiting the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised to send them his Paraclete-Counselor and Advocate. The Eleven were present, as were the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the women who had attended to his needs, and the various followers of the Lord. At nine o’clock, a sound like that of a mighty wind filled the house. Then what seemed to be tongues of fire came down and rested on the heads of each of those present. As the Church came to birth, the Holy Spirit opened to all the knowledge of God and brought together the many languages of the earth in the profession of one faith. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit who enabled them to speak in foreign tongues, as the Spirit gave utterance to each” (Acts 2:3, 4). The apostolic community was transformed from venal and fearful followers to strong and fearless apostles, serving as the Lord’s witnesses in the four corners of the earth. The ecstatic experience that overwhelmed them that day would be tested time and again. The blessings of the Holy Spirit were not limited to that day two thousand years ago. They come to us in our own day in our own milieu. The Paraclete Will Teach You Everything Jesus promised that his Spirit would teach us everything we need to know and remind us of all that he taught. The Paraclete is our divine solicitor on whom we can call at any time. As the soul of the Church, as its animating principle, the Spirit-Paraclete comforts and consoles. Our Advocate prods, protects, pleads, and intercedes for us before the Father and inspires us not only to do good but in many cases to do heroic things. Though the Holy Spirit is described in metaphors—as fire and love, breath and wind, springs of water, energy and power, as fire and water, justice, and artistic creativity—our Spirit-Advocate is the outpouring of love between Father and Son. The action of the Advocate can pass unnoticed because God does not reveal to us his plans. God is a God of surprise. This is why the sacrament of the present moment is so important because in the moment, the Spirit-God reveals the graces we need and a way of following them. The Spirit is at work always and everywhere leading us forward to the eternal, always seeking new ways of bringing forth new fruit (Jn 16:13). What the Spirit desires of us is just one virtue, that of docility to those promptings. The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen On May 6th, Pope Francis received the prestigious Charlemagne Award, a prize conferred on those who have contributed to the ideals of reconciliation and peace among nations. In the presence of hundreds of diplomats, the Pontiff responded in a simple and direct way. He delivered what could be construed as his own “I have a dream” reflection. The United States, a Child of Europe . . . Though the Pontiff’s response was intended for the European community of nations, it can be applied in large measure to Americans. In the quotations given below, substitute ‘USA’ for ‘Europe, and you will grasp the strength of his concerns, hopes, and dreams. The question he asked in 2014, “Europe, what has become of you” was answered in last week’s response. “I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable to being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life. I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything.” “I dream of a Europe of families with truly effective policies concentrated on faces rather than numbers, on birth rates more than rates of consumption. I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone without neglecting its duties toward all, of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.” What do we need? A rebirth after years of world-wide conflict that rages on in Syria, the Middle East, and Africa. What do we need? “A new European humanism” for the rebirth of a continent that cannot forsake her roots and her history. Indeed the Church “can and must contribute” to this process, he said: that is, men and women must witness to the Gospel and use its “pure water to irrigate the roots of Europe.” The Pope Speaks of Our Youth The Pope stressed that all countries—the smallest and the greatest—have an active role to play in the creation of an integrated and reconciled society.” He exhorted youth: ‘you are not the future of our people but the present.’ He posed some questions to those in attendance: “How can we tell them that they are essential players in this rebirth when for so many there is widespread unemployment?” “How can we avoid losing our youth who end up going elsewhere in search of their dreams and a sense of belonging because here in their own countries, we don’t know how to offer them opportunities and values?” Can the Spirit’s outpouring transform us and our families? Can the Advocate’s outpouring transform the community, the Body of Christ as it did the community at Pentecost? Yes, incrementally but with our cooperation. Three Prayers for Pentecost Three prayers to the Holy Spirit stand out for their beauty, majesty and vitality. They form an integral part of the Church, East and West. In Eastern Christianity, the following prayer is chanted on Pentecost and at other times during the year: “Heavenly King, Consoler, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, the Treasury of Blessings and the Giver of Life, come and dwell in us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, O Good One!” Veni Sancte Spiritus, known as the Golden Sequence, is the sequence for the Mass for Pentecost of the Roman Rite. It is commonly regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of sacred Latin poetry ever written. Praised by many for its beauty and depth, the hymn has been finally attributed to Stephen Langton (d 1228), Archbishop of Canterbury. VENI, Sancte Spiritus, et emitte caelitus lucis tuae radium. COME, Holy Ghost, send down those beams, which sweetly flow in silent streams from Thy bright throne above. Veni, pater pauperum, veni, dator munerum veni, lumen cordium. O come, Thou Father of the poor; O come, Thou source of all our store, come, fill our hearts with love. Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium. O Thou, of comforters the best, O Thou, the soul's delightful guest, the pilgrim's sweet relief. In labore requies, in aestu temperies in fletu solatium. Rest art Thou in our toil, most sweet refreshment in the noonday heat; and solace in our grief. O lux beatissima, reple cordis intima tuorum fidelium. O blessed Light of life Thou art; fill with Thy light the inmost heart of those who hope in Thee. Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium. Without Thy Godhead nothing can, have any price or worth in man, nothing can harmless be. Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. Lord, wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal. Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium. To Thy sweet yoke our stiff necks bow, warm with Thy fire our hearts of snow, our wandering feet recall. Da tuis fidelibus, in te confidentibus, sacrum septenarium. Grant to Thy faithful, dearest Lord, whose only hope is Thy sure word, the sevenfold gifts of grace. Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium, VENI, Creator Spiritus, mentes tuorum visita, imple superna gratia quae tu creasti pectora. COME, Holy Spirit, Creator blest, and in our souls take up Thy rest; come with Thy grace and heavenly aid to fill the hearts which Thou hast made. Qui diceris Paraclitus, altissimi donum Dei, fons vivus, ignis, caritas, et spiritalis unctio. O comforter, to Thee we cry, O heavenly gift of God Most High, O fount of life and fire of love, and sweet anointing from above. Tu, septiformis munere, digitus paternae dexterae, Tu rite promissum Patris, sermone ditans guttura. Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known; Thou, finger of God's hand we own; Thou, promise of the Father, Thou Who dost the tongue with power imbue. Accende lumen sensibus: infunde amorem cordibus: infirma nostri corporis virtute firmans perpeti. Kindle our sense from above, and make our hearts o'erflow with love; with patience firm and virtue high the weakness of our flesh supply. Hostem repellas longius, pacemque dones protinus: ductore sic te praevio vitemus omne noxium. Far from us drive the foe we dread, and grant us Thy peace instead; so shall we not, with Thee for guide, turn from the path of life aside. Per te sciamus da Patrem, noscamus atque Filium; Teque utriusque Spiritum credamus omni tempore. Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow the Father and the Son to know; and Thee, through endless times confessed, of both the eternal Spirit blest. Deo Patri sit gloria, et Filio, qui a mortuis surrexit, ac Paraclito, in saeculorum saecula. Amen. Now to the Father and the Son, Who rose from death, be glory given, with Thou, O Holy Comforter, henceforth by all in earth and heaven. Amen. Image credit: vjpaul via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Every major tradition, culture, and nation celebrates Mother’s Day. Each of us knows instinctively that this day belongs to those special women we call our mothers, living or deceased. The noun mother refers to a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth. Mother is a relational word, as is father. An expectant mother conceives, carries within her, and nourishes a developing human person. Motherhood is God’s miraculous gift from which emerges human life that is nurtured, protected, and loved. In pre-historic times, men were in awe of women’s power and worshiped them for it. Untying Knots Mothers are practical people—at their best when untying knots. They smooth things out, resolve petty squabbles and seemingly intractable problems. Mothers are the soul and inspiration of the family, the mortar holding it together in a network of relationships that give meaning to family life. A mother loves unconditionally; her love and care, ever-present. As the first educator of the family, there is no one like a mother, no substitute for her and for the centrality of her role in the family. She is sui generis. A Heartbroken Mother and the Downfall of a Nation A mother would rather die than see her child suffer. For a moment, consider the tragic case of the last Romanov family, Tsar Nicholas II, his consort Alexandra, and their five children. Alexis, their only son and future Tsar, was born with hemophilia, a disease of the blood transmitted by the mother to her male offspring. In the early twentieth century, ordinary channels of medicine proved useless to alleviate his suffering. So desperate was the empress to untie the knot of her son’s illness that she took control of the situation by turning to Rasputin, the half-crazed, unwashed, and sexually promiscuous Russian peasant who boasted of his powers as a mystical faith healer. She pleaded with him to heal the dying Tsarevich. He did so, and thereafter, Alexandra firmly defended his otherwise sordid reputation. To avoid upsetting Alexandra, Nicholas refused to dismiss the peasant who came to exercise a decisive role in the affairs of state. Alexandra’s desperation over her sick child had far-reaching consequences: History has blamed her and Rasputin for bringing about the collapse of the Romanov dynasty that led to the Russian Revolution in 1917. Earliest Reference to Our Lady, Untier of Knots The earliest reference to a depiction of Our Lady is found in Adversus haereses, “Against Heresies,” written by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century. In Book III, Chapter 22, he draws a parallel between Eve and Mary. “The knot of Eve’s disobedience,” he writes, “was loosed by the obedience of Mary” (Gen 3:15). In its basic theological meaning, the image symbolizes Mary untying the knot of the first sin and first act of disobedience in the Garden. The Story behind Devotion to Our Lady, Untier of Knots The story of Our Lady under this title begins in 1612 in Augsburg, Bavaria in Germany. Wolfgang Langenmantel and Sophia Rentz, husband and wife and both of noble estate, were on the verge of a divorce. Over a period of twenty-eight days, Wolfgang sought help from Jakob Rem, a Jesuit priest, who prayed with him to Our Lady to untie the knots of their marital problems. They prayed that she smooth out the ribbon that had bound them together at their wedding ceremony. The divorce did not happen, and together the couple lived out a peaceful married life. Years later, to commemorate this turn of events, their grandson, Fr. Hieronymus Langenmantel of St. Peter’s Monastery in Augsburg commissioned the painting, “Untier of Knots.” “Holy Mother, Our Lady, Untier of Knots” is an oil painted on poplar. It was executed in 1700 by Johann Georg Schmidtner and is cast in the typical Baroque style with its dramatic flair and didactic effect. Our Lady is flanked by two angels. She is untying knots from a long marriage ribbon which, in the seventeenth century, represented the marital union. At the same time, she presses her foot crushing the head of a coiled (or knotted) serpent. The painting has also come to symbolize the knots that are part of any marriage. The original painting is located in St. Peter’s Church in Augsburg, Germany. Given its busy character and ornate decorations, a contemporary, understated icon with this title would be welcomed. Pope Francis and Our Lady, Untier of Knots Our Lady’s ingenuity and her practical streak are captured in the title dear to the heart of Pope Francis. He has cultivated a special devotion to Our Lady depicted as the one who unties knots. While a graduate student in Germany, he was inspired by the Bavarian painting entitled, When he returned to Argentina with a copy of that image on a postcard, he had an icon struck with this same title. Today, devotion to Our Lady under this title is growing by leaps and bounds. It can touch those beset by sudden illness, sudden financial trouble, sudden ‘anything.’ Devotion to Our Lady under this title is especially popular among married people, given her active role at the wedding at Cana. The feast day of Mary, “untier of knots,” falls on September 28th. Untying Knots at Cana Recall what happened at the wedding at Cana. Mary would not accept Jesus’ reply—‘not now.’ For the married couple, the empty wine vats had to be filled immediately. Jesus needed to save the couple from disgrace now, not later. Mary played a pivotal role in untying a knotted situation at the wedding feast. Refugees and Martyrdom in Egypt Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories of the Christian Scriptures is that of the unnamed mother of the Holy Innocents whose feast day is celebrated on December 28th. To make certain that the Child Jesus born in Bethlehem would not challenge Herod’s power, the king decreed that all infants under the age of two were to be killed. St. Matthew’s Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more” (Ch 2). Today a similar scene continues to be played out in Africa, the Mideast, and in other parts of the world, where mothers and their newborn infants are put to death for their faith. Mary of Nazareth: the Loveliest Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys (Song of Songs 2:1) Whether it is in literature, architecture, iconography, painting, statuary, or in music, the burst of creativity continues among artists in singing her praises. In fact, since the Middle Ages, about 15,000 hymns have been directed or addressed to Mary. In the Christian East, Mary plays an integral role in liturgical celebrations where she is mentioned several times. Her presence in the liturgy is based on the centrality of her role in the economy of redemption. Most often addressed as Theotokos, the God-bearer, or the Mother of Life, Mary is hardly ever depicted without her son, for she is intertwined with the mystery of Jesus. She holds the God-Man and shows him to the world. The Christian East praises Mary as the Virgin of Motherhood as expressed by St. John in the verse: “Woman, here is your son” (Jn 19:26). In her divine motherhood, Mary of Nazareth gave Jesus his humanity, nurtured him, and stood beside him to the very end. She is the model of all mothers. A woman, full of grace and strength, Mary is not simply a type of ideal womanhood who is placed on a pedestal. As the prototype of the Church, she inspires and assists us to untie knots in our own lives and in the lives of others. (Addendum to last week’s essay: “Little Boy Lost” may be seen on Amazon Prime.)
In September 1953, the movie “Little Boy Lost” starring Bing Crosby had its New York premiere to benefit the Overseas Press Club. Bosley Crowther wrote about it in the New York Times: “. . . [H]ere Mr. Crosby is playing a straight dramatic role in a picture of deep emotional content and genuinely tragic overtones. Except for two or three songs that are worked in consistently, there are few other points of contact with the bright and chipper Bingle of old. And yet it must be said for Mr. Crosby that he manages to convey a strong sense of real emotional torment in a tragically wracked character and that he serves as a credible buffer in a candidly heart-socking film. . .” Glowing words, these. But how many movie goers or even film buffs have heard of “Little Boy Lost,” based on the Marghanita Laski novel by the same title. It concerns a father in search of his young son from whom he was separated during World War II? The black and white movie is very difficult to find in any format but is worth the search. Owing to its outstanding cast, with Mr. Crosby’s voice adding greater pleasure, it satisfies far more than the book. Summary of “Little Boy Lost” Bing Crosby plays William Wainwright, a World War II correspondent stationed in Paris. There he meets, falls in love with, and marries a French singer, Lisa Garret (Nicole Maurey), a popular singer and, unknown to her husband, a secret member of the French Resistance. Soon a boy, Jean, is born to them. Assigned to report on the Battle of Dunkirk, Wainwright reluctantly leaves Lisa and the infant to cover the story. Red tape prevents his early return to Paris. When he does, months later, he is stunned to learn that the Nazis executed Lisa. Many lyrics of her songs were encoded with secret messages to the Resistance, for example, “Mon Coeur est un violon.” Finding it impossible to accept her violent death, he goes into denial, descends into bitterness, and returns to America. The audience is given this information in a flashback as Wainwright, after the war, flies back to Paris in an effort to find his six-year old son (Christian Fourcade) who is reportedly living in a Catholic orphanage for young boys. The Mother Superior points out a scrawny-looking child, shy but intelligent, and he does resemble his mother. A skeptical Wainwright takes the word of the crusty Mother Superior (Gabrielle Dorziat) who conveys certitude the boy is his son. She cautions however that he ought not become too attached to Jean. Wainwright begins to test Jean’s memory through a series of experiences aimed at arousing his very early childhood memories. To advance the cause along, Mother Superior and others begin to create for the boy wrong memories about his childhood. On discovering this trick, Wainwright registers anger at all concerned, including Jean. He arranges his return home to America without the boy. Embarrassed by his own silly deceptions, the youngster abandons hope of ever coming to America with “Monsieur” Wainwright and has rejoined his class at the orphanage. Before departing Paris, Bill goes to the orphanage to leave for Jean a little stuffed dog he won at a local shooting gallery. Little does he realize that, before Jean’s tragic loss of his mother, he had played with a copy of this very same toy he named Binky. Wainwright leaves the package on Mother Superior’s desk and tells her it’s for Jean. She sends for him. “Pour moi,” he asks? She nods for him to open. He unties the string and sees the stuffed dog inside the brown paper. Instantly he cries out: “Binky, Binky!” He hugs and kisses the stuffed animal as he thinks that “Monsieur” Wainwright has found his long lost toy. Jean’s automatic recall brings the film to an emotional and happy conclusion with the certainty that Jean is Bill Wainwright’s son. Happily, gratefully, father and son leave the orphanage hand in hand. The Movie’s Contemporary Application The story has its modern counterpart for youngsters who have lost their fathers in war or in terrorism, in work-related tragedies, or divorce. Others have never known their absentee fathers. The details and times may be different, but the sentiments are the same. Though the narrative may give some children an emotional outlet for grieving, it may be too painful to show those children whose fathers have been derelict in their paternal responsibilities. Discretion is advised. Production of “Little Boy Lost” In the Crosby constellation of accolades and awards, his many movies, radio and television programs, and vocal successes, “Little Boy Lost” shows the audience a side of him, not present elsewhere. He does sing a few songs—the familiar “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” sung in French, “The Magic Window,” and “Frère Jacques” and “Sur la Pont d’Avignon” with Jean. Delightful, all. Here there is no avuncular, easy-going performance as Father Chuck O’Malley. Neither do we see him as the straight man in the “Road” comedies nor as a wealthy “juke box” jazz composer in “High Society” nor even as an alcoholic in “The Country Girl.” The making of “Little Boy Lost” assumed a dark coloration because it coincided with Crosby’s drama in real life. In September 1952, while filming the movie in Paris, he received the news that his wife Dixie Lee was terminally ill. He returned to California to be with her and the family. She died two months later. The grieving actor now attempted to complete the Paramount movie not in Paris but in Hollywood. He had to face some of the most intense and painful scenes of the movie. As the war correspondent, Bill Wainwright, he had not accepted his wife’s death at the hands of the Nazis. And Bill Wainwright was forced to listen to the official and brutal account of Lisa’s murder read by a friend. Bing Crosby wasn’t simply playing the role of Bill Wainwright. In essence, he became Bill Wainwright. His taut facial features reveal intense, almost unbearable pain. But of course the audience has no clue of the drama that is taking place away from the camera. Bing Crosby brought to this performance a new depth of penetrating emotion. Conclusion “Little Boy Lost” received the Golden Globe Award for Best Film Promoting International Understanding. It was also entered into the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. Bing Crosby enjoyed a long and successful career on the America’s screen, radio, and television, not to mention his sports and golf endeavors. His teaming up with Bob Hope to entertain our troops fighting overseas is a matter of record. “Little Boy Lost” ranks among Bing Crosby’s unforgettable performances, and it shine an incandescent glow on his illustrious career as a star among the stars. Image Credit: © Paramount Pictures. Non-free use rationale/fair use? via Wikipedia.
April has been set aside as National Poetry Month, and this Saturday marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. In an essay entitled “Poetry: Who Needs It?” the author William Logan observes: “… The way we live now is not poetic. We live in prose. . . . But to live continually in a natter of ill-written and ill-spoken prose is to become deaf to what language can do. . . . Poetry has long been a major art with a minor audience.” The dirty secret of poetry is that it is loved by some, loathed by many, and bought by almost no one. Is this the silent majority?” (New York Times Sunday Review, June 14, 2014). Catholic Poetry Catholic poetry refers to a body of literature whose content is derived from the Old and New Testaments and patristic corpus, whether dogmatic, contemplative, biblical, or creative paraphrases of them, for example, The Song of Songs (8:6) Love is a fire no waters avail to quench, no floods to drown; for love a man will give up all that he has in the world, and think nothing of his loss Alfred Barrett, S.J. (1906-55) There Must Be Tears” (And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: Rev. 7:17) The fog of why men suffer only clears When Revelation lances down its ray If Heaven be the banishing of tears, There must be tears for God to wipe away. St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82) Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough. Out of the poet’s linguistic thesaurus, words, figures of speech, and imagery illuminate our faith, make it shine, make it come alive with beauty. It attracts first the senses and the imagination, then the heart and intellect. Some poems are characterized by simplicity; others overflow with rich imagery; still others use paradox or parallelisms. Consider the poem about the Mother of God: Mary, the Dawn Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day; Mary the Gate, Christ the Perfect Way! Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine; Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine. Mary the Wheat Sheaf, Christ the Living Bread; Mary the Rose Tree, Christ the Rose blood-red. Mary the Font, Christ, the Cleansing Flood; Mary the Chalice, Christ, the Saving Blood! Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord; Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored. Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest; Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest! Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son. Both ever blest while endless ages run. Amen. Catholic poetry invites the musical element both in its vital rhythmic beauty and its melodic sonority. These elements are exemplified in the first two lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem and then in Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem, made famous by Fulton J. Sheen’s dramatic recitation of it. The world is charged with the grandeur of God It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916) I see his blood upon the rose And in the stars the glory of his eyes, His body gleams amid eternal snows, His tears fall from the skies. I see his face in every flower; The thunder and the singing of the birds Are but his voice—and carven by his power Rocks are his written words. All pathways by his feet are worn, His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea, His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn, His cross is every tree. Poetry from the Old Testament Certain books of the Hebrew Scriptures are replete with sacred and religious poetry. Ps 17: “I call upon you; answer me, O God Turn your ear to me; hear my prayer” Ps 47: “All you peoples, clap your hands; Shout to God with cries of gladness.” In creative repetition, parallelism is key to appreciating the conviction of the Psalmist. In parallelism, the second part of a verse rephrases what the first part has already expressed. In the psalm below, there is parallelism in the first two verse-lines, and parallelism in the final three verse-lines. Ps. 28: 1-2 Give to the Lord, you sons of God, Give to the Lord glory and praise. Give to the Lord the glory due his name Adore the Lord in holy attire. Ps. 90 Give us joy to balance our affliction For the years when we knew misfortune. Let the favor of the Lord be upon us: Give success to the work of our hands, give success to the work of our hands. The poetry that follows is centered on God, whether in praise, gratitude, mercy or other sentiments. It lifts the spirit and the entire person facing the daily grind of the human condition. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) The Beauty of Creation Bears Witness to God Question the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sea, the beauty of the wide air around you, the beauty of the sky; question the order of the stars, the sun whose brightness lights the day, the moon whose splendor softens the gloom of night; question the living creatures that move in the waters, that roam upon the earth, that fly through the air; the spirit that lies hidden, the matter that is manifest; the visible things that are ruled, the invisible that rule them; question all these. They will answer you: “Behold and see, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is their confession of God. Who made these beautiful changing things, if not one who is beautiful and changeth not? Late Have I loved Thee Late have I loved Thee. O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new, Late have I loved Thee. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.” (Confessions, bk 10, chap 27, par. 38) St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) The Canticle of the Sun Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing. To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name. Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned. Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy willl, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility. AMEN Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning, that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. In the Romanza of St. John of the Cross, the Spanish Carmelite theologian (1542-91), the Incarnation is cast in lovely poetic language and makes the mystery of our salvation come alive in the reading of it. The saint wrote several Romanzas. Each is a gem of sparkling beauty. St. John of the Cross (1542-91) Romance on the Gospel Text: The Incarnation Now that the time had come when it would be good to ransom the bride serving under the hard yoke of that law which Moses had given her, the Father, with tender love, spoke in this way: “Now you see, Son, that your bride was made in your image, and so far as she is like you she will suit you well; yet she is different, in her flesh, which your simple being does not have. In perfect love this law holds: that the lover become like the one he loves; for the greater their likeness the greater their delight. Surely your bride’s delight would greatly increase were she to see you like her, in her own flesh.” “My will is yours,” the Son replied, “and my glory is that you will be mine. This is fitting, Father, what you, the Most High, say; for in this way your goodness will be more evident, your great power will be seen and your justice and wisdom. I will go and tell the world, spreading the word of your beauty and sweetness and of your sovereignty. I will go seek my bride and take upon myself her weariness and labors in which she suffers so; and that she may have life, I will die for her, and lifting her out of that deep, I will restore her to you.” St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82) Laughter Came from Every Brick Just these two words He spoke changed my life, “Enjoy Me.” What a burden I thought I was to carry - a crucifix, as did He. Love once said to me, “I know a song, would you like to hear it?” And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, He changed my life when He sang, “Enjoy Me.” Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came. I say more: the just man justices; Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -- Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces. Thomas Merton (1915-68) The Flight into Egypt Through every precinct of the wintry city Squadroned iron resounds upon the streets; Herod's police Make shudder the dark steps of the tenements At the business about to be done. Neither look back upon Thy starry country, Nor hear what rumors crowd across the dark Where blood runs down those holy walls, Nor frame a childish blessing with Thy hand Towards that fiery spiral of exulting souls! Go, Child of God, upon the singing desert, Where, with eyes of flame, The roaming lion keeps thy road from harm. Alfred Barrett, S.J. (1906-55) Saint Thérèse of Lisieux Not as a prima donna in a pose Before the swaying curtain when the plays Is clamorously ended, her bouquet Loosed on the throng,— not even as a rose Can I conceive of you. Let others, those Whose lyric season is incessant May, Cull similes to strew your “little way,” With hothouse verse and honeysuckle prose. You are too real, too actual, Therese, To live in metaphor. The girl behind The legend, could the legend fade, would be The girl you were, sobbing upon your knees In lowliness and love and anguish, blind With the beauty of a stark Gethsemane. Francis Thompson (1859-1907) (Francis Thompson was raised in an affluent British home. After unsuccessfully attempting to follow in his father’s footsteps as a medical doctor, he tried other professions but failed at them. Thompson succumbed to depression, became a drug addict, and lived as a derelict in the London slums and alleys. The monks of Storrington rehabilitated him, and after long years of purgation, he found himself and his vocation as a Catholic poet. Thompson published several volumes of poetry. “The Hound of Heaven” is considered his best poem, a long dramatic narrative about God’s constant concern for and pursuit of one individual soul.) The Hound of Heaven I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up, vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase And unpreturbèd pace Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat–and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet– “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.” I pleaded, outlaw-wise, By many a hearted casement, curtained red, Trellised with intertwining charities (For though I knew His love who followèd, Yet was I sore adread (20) Lest having Him, I must have nought beside); But, if one little casement parted wide, The gust of His approach would clash it to. Fear wise not to evade as Love wist to pursue, Across the margent of the world I fled, And troubled the gold gateways of the stars, Fretted to dulcet jars And silver chatters to the ports o’ the moon, I said to Dawn: Be sudden; to Eve: Be soon– (30) With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over From this tremendous Lover! Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see! I tempted all His servants, but to find My own betrayal in their constancy, In faith to Him their fickleness to me, Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit. To all swift things for swiftness did I sue; Clung to the whistling mane of every wind. But whether they swept, smoothly fleet, (40) The long savannahs of the blue; Or whether, Thunder-driven, They clanged His chariot ‘thwart a heaven, Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:– Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue. Still with unhurrying chase, And unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, Came on the following Feet, And a Voice above their beat– (50) “Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.” I sought no more that after which I strayed In face of man or maid; But still within the little children’s eyes Seems something, something that replies, They at least are for me, surely for me! I turned me to them very wistfully; But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair With dawning answers there, (59) Their angel plucked them from me by the hair. “Come then, ye other children, Nature’s–share With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship; Let me greet you lip to lip, Let me twine you with caresses, Wantoning With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses Banqueting With her in her wind-walled palace, Underneath her azured daïs, Quaffing, as your taintless way is, (70) From a chalice Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.” So it was done: I in their delicate fellowship was one– Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies, I knew all the swift importings On the willful face of skies; I knew how the clouds arise Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings; All that’s born or dies (80) Rose and drooped with; made them shapers Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine– With them joyed and was bereaven. I was heavy with the even, When she lit her glimmering tapers Round the day’s dead sanctities. I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine; (90) Against the red throb of its sunset heart I laid my own to beat, And share commingling heat; But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart. In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek. For ah! We know not what each other says, These things and I; in sound I speak– Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences. Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth; Let her, if she would owe me, (100) Drop yon bue bosom-veil of sky, and show me The breasts o’ her tenderness; Never did any milk of her once bless My thirsting mouth. Nigh and nigh draws the chase, With unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, And past those noisèd Feet A Voice comes yet more fleet– “Lo! Naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.” (110) Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke! My harness, piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me, And smitten me to my knees; I am defenceless utterly. I slept, methinks, and woke, And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep. In the rash lustihead of my young powers, I shook the pillaring hours And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears, I stand amid the dust o’ the moulded years– My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap. My days have cracked and gone up in smoke, Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream. Yea, faileth now even dream The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist; Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist, Are yielding; cords of all too weak account For earth, with heavy griefs so overplussed. Ah! Is They love indeed (130) A wee, albeit an amarinthine weed, Suffering no flowers except its own to mount? Ah! Must– Designer infinite!– Ah! Must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it? My freshness spent its wavering chower i’ the dust; And now my heart is as a broken fount, Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, split down ever From the dank thoughs that shiver Upon the sighful branches of my mind. (140) Such is; what is to be? The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind? I dimly guess what Time is mists confounds; Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds From the his battlements of Eternity; Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then, Round te half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again; But not ere seen, enwound (149) With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned; His name I know, and what His trumpet saith. Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields Be dunged with rotten death? Now of that long pursuit Come on at hand of the bruit; That Voice is round me like a bursting sea: And is thy earth so marred Shattered in shard on shard? Lo, all things fly thee, for thou Fliest Me! (160) Strange, piteous, futile thing! Wherefore should any set three love apart? Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said) “And human love needs human meriting: How hast thou merited– Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot? Alack, thou knowest not How little worthy of any love though art! Whom wilt thou fund to love ignoble thee, Save Me, save only Me? (170) All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for they harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which they child’s mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home; Rise, clasp My and, and come!” Halts by me that footfall: Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, (180) I am He whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.” [You who drove love from yourself, you who drove it from Me.] Finally, a little serious fun about the great St. Teresa of Avila by Joseph Roccasalvo: AT AVILA Through all the agitation at the Convent of Incarnation Where the spirit of the world was raising riot, Knelt Teresa in her cell, contemplating rather well, For she found herself beyond the Prayer of Quiet. She loved her sister, Earth, with a gay Castilian mirth, Which made her gifted nature sane and sound, Yet Teresa de Ahumada was a devotée of nada, And this raised her quite a distance from the ground. One day, while she was kneeling, and began her prayer appealing, “Lord, why must you treat me sternly as you do?” This voice was heard append: “This is how I treat a friend,” She replied, “Perhaps that’s why you have so few.” When she met Juan de la Cruz, (five feet tall, to tell the truth), First she turned away to stifle a loud laugh; Then drew near him with another, while her quip she failed to smother, “Now it’s time to meet my friar-and-a-half.” So the smile upon her face for Teresa was a grace, And to find a better kind’s a hopeless search; Now there’s nothing left to vex or to minimize her sex, For she’s ranked among the Doctors of the Church. For centuries, the Church, in the West as well as in the East, has created and preserved a treasure trove of religious poetry. We are this Church. We bear a responsibility for transmitting this possession to others lest we succumb to religious amnesia. Reading Catholic poetry and committing it to memory “is like constructing a magnificent library inside one’s head,” writes Kate Haas, “one that I can pore over at any time” (New York Times: “The Case for Bribing Kids to Memorize Poetry,” August 3, 2014). Reading Catholic poetry to our children and committing it to memory keeps alive the Church’s literary heritage that will be passed on to other generations. Such a cornucopia of religious poetry gives lasting enjoyment and lasting pleasure that inspire reflection and prayer.
Most of us have seen war movies in which families are exchanging good-byes with loved ones. The parting evokes few words; the unspoken feelings repeat: ‘Don’t go. Stay with us.’ The Risen Lord Humors Two Disciples A few days after the Resurrection event, two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, were walking along the road to Emmaus. Jesus, now the Risen Lord, caught up with them and joined in the lively conversation. They of course didn’t recognize him. On the one hand, they vented sadness, and on the other, bewilderment about the rumor of the empty tomb and the Lord’s Resurrection. ‘What are you talking about,’ Jesus asked? Was he about to humor them? What was he up to? Amazed, they stood still, incredulous at his ignorance. ‘Everyone is talking about the rumor,’ they blurted out. Where have you been for the past few days? Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the breaking news? Everyone’s talking about the empty tomb. How could you have missed the news?’ Keeping a straight face but chuckling to himself, Jesus asked: ‘What news?’ He was not above a little fun—surely enjoying the repartee. Out came their breathless narrative, word stumbling over word: ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. The chief priests handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he would be the one to save Israel. It’s been three days. Some women from our group astounded us. They went to the tomb in the early morning and didn’t find the body.’ [And then], ‘they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive.’ [And then], ‘some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything as the women had reported but they didn’t see Jesus. The whole story is incredible. White-robed angels, stone rolled back, empty tomb, shroud left behind. Who ever heard of a corpse being resurrected from the dead?’ They came up for air. Now it was Jesus’ turn to speak, to instruct, and to console. His eyes met theirs and, in his deep, steady voice replied: “O foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then he interpreted to them the things in all the scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, that pointed to himself. Why were their pulses quickening, their hearts burning? There was no recognition. And yet. . . . ‘Who is this curious fellow,’ they wondered? Maybe he’s not such a country bumpkin after all. Maybe he knows more than he’s saying. He certainly knows his scriptures.’ They pressed him not to go but to stay with them for supper. As the three reclined at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, and broke it. Suddenly, he vanished from their sight. Suddenly, their eyes were opened. Now, they recognized him. It was the Lord. ‘He broke bread with us. We were so caught up in our grief that he had to give us a more concrete sign that he was alive.’ Jesus’ Ubiquitous Presence Such is the way of the Lord. He brings us to faith by dropping clues of his presence in our path. Didn’t he use a similar approach with the Samaritan woman at the well? From one contemporary view, Jesus’ miraculous appearance is hardly necessary when his presence in the Eucharist is firm. Still, he has assured us: ‘I will be with you always.’ The clues of his presence are everywhere—what the Church refers to as Providence, found in daily life, in others who walk alongside us, and in events over which we have no control. The Emmaus story is ours, and we are the Emmaus disciples. THE EMMAUS DISCIPLES Luke 24:13-35 To Emmaus, the both of them went In a state of acute discontent. The two of them walked Seven miles as they talked Of the one catastrophic event. It proved to be more heat than light, When a stranger, believing he might Shed more light than heat By sounding upbeat, Drew near though he hid from their sight. He asked them: “What’s caused a dispute That makes you affirm, then refute?” “Excuse if we stare, But are you unaware Of events we can hardly be mute? “The good news in action and speech The Nazarene prophet would preach. He needed no prod As the chosen of God To cure illness, pardon, or teach. “Our priests after more than one try Had him judged and then sentenced to die. We saw, agonized, A man whom we prized- How could one life have gone so awry? “We thought him to be without fail The one to redeem Israël. In three days that passed Since seeing him last, We haven’t yet ceased to bewail “That they chose him to be crucified, That he brutally suffered and died. And to heighten our gloom, There came from the tomb Some women who looked petrified. “They claim angels said he’s survived. While it’s nothing we say they contrived, We went to his tomb, We thought, to exhume, There we asked: “Could it be he’s revived?” He said, “How unwise on your part Not to trust God with all of your heart. The scriptural story To enter his glory Meant suffering these things from the start. Let’s begin with the prophets and Moses And all that the Scripture supposes. I’ll make it quite plain As I try to explain What’s been there right under your noses.” Shortly afterward, taking their leave, He was stopped by their saying: “Now we’ve Been enjoying your stay, Throughout this whole day. Don’t go, or you’ll make us both grieve.” He remained and at table reclined, And when all three had suitably dined, The blest bread he broke (A pure master stroke) And in one act was fully enshrined. Their vision, once darkened, grew bright; They knew now who slipped from their sight. As brother to brother Affirming each other, They drew from a shared inner light. “Our hearts, were they not truly burning On the road as he helped us with learning?” They returned to the city Released from self-pity, No longer the victims of yearning. They reached home and looked slightly dazed, Then found themselves jointly amazed At receiving the word (No longer absurd) That Jesus had truly been raised. The Eleven were told how Christ led Them to faith by the things that he’d said, And how suddenly he Was synchronously Made known in the breaking of bread. Joseph Roccasalvo
Last week, the New York Times published an article entitled, “God Is a Question, Not an Answer.” Its author William Irwin asks if we should avoid claiming with certainty whether or not God exists. And what of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? The Gospel narratives record at least seven instances of disbelief in the Lord’s Resurrection. The words were spoken not by outright disbelievers but by most of the Eleven. On returning from the empty tomb, the women couldn’t wait to announce the good news to them. But the Eleven didn’t, or wouldn’t, believe the women. ‘Idle chatter,’ they called it. In the Johannine Gospel, when people walked away from Jesus, it was over the issue of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He asked the disciples if they too would leave him. Of course not. “Lord,” they answered, “to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” Their belief was short lived. Disbelief of Peter, Thomas, and Others On the first day of that week, on finding only linen cloths at the tomb, Peter went home wondering what happened to the body. Wondering what? Then there was Thomas. You can almost hear his impertinence, ‘I will not believe unless I can see the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side.’ Only then would he condescend to believe. Jesus didn’t reprove Thomas but engaged him. Once Thomas professed his belief, he personified all those who, through the centuries, have not believed. His acclamation, “my Lord and my God,” has become a common confession of faith for those who have moved from doubt to the certainty of faith. For them, it is as though two plus two equal four and not five. The two disciples at Emmaus had just about given up on the Lord’s promise and prediction of his Resurrection. They had hoped as well . . . . You can understand the disciples’ doubt or anyone’s doubt for that matter about the resurrection of a mere person. Yet throughout his short ministry, Jesus foretold his Resurrection. Didn’t they listen to him? Weren’t they the ones who had protested that he was the Christ and expected Messiah? Why were they so obtuse? For days, they were gripped by doubt, their vision, clouded. The Women at the Tomb; Mary Magdalene Not so with the women. Seeing the empty tomb, they were afraid, at least initially. Then, assured by the angel, they believed. There was no doubt about it. No need to rationalize, they hurried back to the Eleven with the joyful news. It was a slightly different story with Mary Magdalene, a woman with much love to give. Yet, there was nothing gullible or naïve about her. Unlike Peter, she stayed behind at the tomb weeping, all the while trying to sort things out and attempting to unravel the mystery of the missing body. Distress aside, she was sleuthing around for any clue as to the Lord’s whereabouts. Little did she suspect how close he really was. The scene unfolds: “Why are you weeping,” ask the angels at the empty tomb? Mary ignores their question but observes that “they” took away the body, whoever “they” are. She doesn’t know where they laid him implying that she ought to know. Then a gardener appears and asks what she’s looking for. Assuming he has some information, she blurts out “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I’ll take him away.” She will look after the body? How? Such is the language of love that blurts out a protestation and solution, both unrealistic and impossible, before reasoning it out. Love knows no reason. Centuries later, Blaise Pascal would say: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Only one week before, in an act of profligate love, Mary had poured out costly perfume on Jesus’ feet. ‘What a waste,’ sneered Judas. But Jesus told Judas to his face that he needed human consolation before his passion and death. The gardener of course is Jesus in disguise, and the encounter between them paints a lovely picture. Jesus calls out, “Mary.” The voice stills her. His intonation is filled with consolation. Her instinct is to touch him, but this cannot be. A new relationship now exists between them. She hurriedly goes to the disciples to announce what the Lord has done for her … not unlike Mary of Nazareth who had visited her cousin Elizabeth. Do we wonder that Magdalene’s name has been placed at the head of the named women in the Gospels? She is the “apostle to the apostles” signaling her special place among them all. The Johannine encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene parallels the words of Isaiah 43:1:“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” Contemplation as Event In prayer, try role playing and repeat what the disciples said in a cynical tone. Utter the harsh words, ‘I will not believe.’ For a moment or two, it will align you with the thousands who refuse to believe in God, not to mention the Lord’s Resurrection. Then, recreate this scene and listen for Jesus to call your name. It may not be possible to share the news of the Risen Christ in the way Magdalene did. But sensitivity to others brings possibilities that are perhaps more creative. The time may come when others, instead of finding in you an indifferent Catholic or a mere cultural Catholic, they will discover a disciple and companion of the Lord. For most of us, it means touching others quietly, without hesitation, and with a joyful faith. You and I live in a world that often shouts the harsh words, ‘We will not believe.’ You and I must pray, “Lord, we believe; help our unbelief” (Mk 9:24). The pearl of great price—our faith—is not difficult to lose. The limerick below summarizes this essay “with a twinkle in its eye.” Rhyme seems to have been invented early in the Christian era, probably by priests of the Alexandrian church so that parishioners could remember church teachings . . . it can become inspiration-awakening. A good limerick should sound like someone talking.” THE RESURRECTION Luke 24:1-12 At the dawn of the week’s first day, Women came with spices which they Had meant for the tomb, Christ’s burial room: What they saw was a stone rolled away. Having entered, the three looked around, But the body was not to be found. Then the shadowy den Came ablaze with two men, And in fear the three fell to the ground. From the brilliance came this repartee: “It’s a corpse you three came to see? But death can’t survive What’s quick and alive, We mean Jesus who walked Galilee. “Now grasp the how, why, and when Of a hope that’s beyond human ken. Dispense with the gloom Of this vacated tomb.” So they went back to tell the brethren. These made no attempt to be civil, For the menacing tale made them shrivel. Peter rushed to the tomb, Having cause to assume The female account was pure drivel. He saw how the stone was rolled back, Saw burial cloths lying slack. Too tipsy for thought, He raced home, overwrought, Like a lapsed dipsomaniac. —Joseph Roccasalvo
Reading the Gospel narratives of the Resurrection can be confusing. They break off suddenly and contain contrasts and contradictions that crisscross each other. Yet one thing is clear. The Evangelists depict the women disciples as unwavering in their belief that the Lord had truly risen. Their devotion to him could not be questioned. The angel at the empty tomb told Mary Magdalene and the other women to announce the good news to the disciples. Because of their great love, they believed. Not so with the Eleven. If you expected to find in these narratives a luminous and transformed Peter, you might be disappointed. On that Resurrection morning, Peter goes to the empty tomb, stoops and looks in. Seeing the linen cloths by themselves without the body, he decides to go home, amazed at what he has seen. ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead, he asks himself? Impossible!’ It’s not that the Evangelists doubt Peter’s faith, nor do they wish to emphasize his failure during the Lord’s passion. Yet, he and the others as well respond differently from the women. From Mary Magdalene and the other women to Peter and then to Thomas and the others, a wide range of belief is evident. Either their love enabled them to believe in the Lord’s Resurrection, or, their lack of love impaired their belief. One Question, Three Times In the Johannine account of the Resurrection, Peter’s threefold denial is recalled as a backdrop to a different context. No longer boasting, he has been chastened by his dreadful betrayal of Jesus. Once again, Jesus tests Peter with a question, one that deeply embarrasses him: “Do you love me more than these others?” Does Peter love Jesus more than loyalty to the disciples, more than anything else in the world? Does Jesus come before every created thing? Peter does not compare his love with that of the other disciples but confines himself to a simple and personal protestation of love: “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus responds: “Feed my lambs” Again, Jesus asks: “Do you love me?” Where is Jesus leading Peter? We can feel Peter’s embarrassment: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus tells Peter to look after his sheep. When Jesus asks a third time, Peter holds his temper but is clearly upset. Jesus has matched three acts of betrayal with three questions that infer doubt in Peter’s love for him. It is clear that Peter finds it exceedingly painful to dredge up his past disloyalty, and he answers, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” This Gospel writer omits any descriptive details. Is Peter’s face red with hurt? Are his eyes filled with tears? Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” Previously, Peter had been serenely confident of himself, but no longer. He will never again boast. Instead he humbly asserts what the Lord already knows concerning his love. In this conversation of one question asked three times, Jesus has been preparing Peter for mission. Peter must profess his unwavering devotion to Jesus. Pastor of Souls If Peter serves in ‘the shoes of a fisherman,’ he will also be a pastor, a shepherd of souls. It will be Peter’s destiny to follow the Good Shepherd in every detail, even to the laying down of his life. In his youth, Peter could go about freely where he wanted, but now and later, he must let himself be led where he’d rather not go. In none of the conversations does Jesus ever speak about ruling over others. The role of shepherd is to lead his flock, know them personally so that they feel close to him, and especially to lay down his life for them. There is no talk about power, of lording over others. The Office of Peter is one of service to others and for others. Conclusion The Evangelists present to us different degrees of readiness and different factors that cause people to come to faith. Yet, it does not follow that belief in the risen Jesus early in one’s life will necessarily result in a faithful adult life. The history of the Catholic Church reveals a sobering truth. Many who once believed no longer practice their faith within the Church of Rome or in any faith. Yesterday, they believed. Today, they don’t. Who or what drove them away? The renewal of baptismal promises exhorts all of us: “May we walk in the newness of life . . . and renew the promises of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and his works, and promised to serve God in the holy Catholic Church.”
The sudden death of a spouse or a family member, or problems with children—these experiences can evoke bitter tears. Betrayal of one’s trust by a dear friend can prompt a similar pent-up reaction. Such a shameful act can wreak havoc on the offended person, but the betrayer must live with his or her offense. Which brings us to Peter. Overview of Peter’s Betrayal What drove Peter’s treachery on that fateful night, shortly after boasting to Jesus: “I will never deny you?” It is true that Zechariah of the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah’s friends would desert him, and that he would be betrayed by a friend (Ps 41:9). There were also predictions that others would give false witness about the Suffering Servant-Messiah. But they were in the past. It was quite another matter for the betrayal to happen now—and by Peter, the head of the disciples. Did greed motivate Peter as it did Judas? Was it malice? What then? Emotions ran far ahead of his thought process. Terrified at how the events were unfolding, he chose to save his own skin. Peter had not yet reached that level of emotional maturity that defers to reason. Yes, he had boasted, but words are cheap. When it came down to the particulars of accusers and accusations, of soldiers and torture, defending his beloved friend became less attractive and less pressing than protecting himself. Lacking spiritual depth, he took the road of least resistance. The Garden of Gethsemane Once the supper was over, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with the Twelve but took Peter, James, and John farther into the garden to comfort him. He told them all to stay awake and pray with him. They fell asleep. Peter’s betrayal began to unfold first with violence. When Judas arrived with the soldiers to seize Jesus, Peter, perceiving a threat to the Master, took out his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, a servant. Peter could afford to act the braggart. He felt safe because Jesus was at his side. Peter Follows Jesus at a Distance As the guards seized Jesus for the mock trial, Peter followed events from a distance. He warmed himself by the fire, and a servant girl recognized him as a disciple of the Nazorean. She accused him of being Jesus’ follower. Peter pleaded ignorance: ‘What do you mean?’ A second woman also accused him of being a follower. Peter lied, “I am not his disciple.” But while he was replying, Jesus was on trial answering Pilate with the truth about his identity: “I am he.” In his monograph, A Crucified Christ in Holy Week, Fr. Raymond Brown writes that in St. John’s Gospel, stress is placed on the simultaneity of Peter’s denials and Jesus’ self-defense. It becomes a matter of ‘I am not’ versus ‘I am.’ How striking the contrast! When others accused Peter, he unleashed his rage. Most scholars agree that he cursed and swore at Jesus. With the cock crowing at the third denial, he recalled the Lord’s words: ‘You will deny me three times.’ St. Luke’s Gospel narrates that as Peter passed Jesus from within the temple confines, the Lord’s eyes met his. Like a laser beam, they bore into Peter’s entire soul. Unable to bear the shame, he went out and wept bitterly. Never would he forget the experience. Never would Jesus let him forget. Scattering in all directions, the other disciples abandoned Jesus, and with Peter, they left their Lord standing alone. Brown notes that every Christian stands on stage as do Peter and the disciples, Pilate, his wife, and other venal characters in the Paschal drama of redemption. J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: “Erbarme dich” If you would like to experience in music Peter’s denial, you need only listen to the aria, “Erbarme dich” from J.S. Bach’s great St. Matthew Passion. Peter’s guilt is taken up by a solo violin that keeps grinding out the same eight-note motif over and over. Round and round, up and down they go to symbolize Peter’s anguished mind, obsessed with his descent into treachery. Shame paralyzes him. The motif expresses only one thought: “Erbarme dich, mein Gott’ that is, “Have mercy, my Lord, have mercy.” Or, ‘What have I done; ‘how could I?’ How?’ ‘I’m so sorry; forgive me, have mercy on me, my God.’ Over and over, the words grip his soul. Through the music, he wails: ‘What did I do, what did I do?’ The tears drop with a steady rhythm. The organ together with pizzicato (plucked) cellos and double basses play the drip-drip. For a few moments the ensemble abates while the grinding motif of the violin bores more deeply into his soul: ‘What have I done? Have mercy on me, my God, Erbarme dich, mein Gott.’ Peter can’t shake his grief. Still Bach gently treats his sorrow and repentance. To derive benefit from this aria, you don’t need to know German. The text is simple and repeats itself. The music speaks for itself. If you do not have the recording, the aria is available on YouTube. It is one of the finest musical expressions of a soul in anguish. The emotional tug of Bach’s music on the listener springs from the recognition of dashed dreams and failed resolutions to follow Jesus as his companion and disciple without hesitation or compromise. Text: J.S. Bach, St. Matthew Passion, 39. Aria A, “Erbarme dich” Erbarme dich, mein Gott, um meiner Zähren willen! Schaue hier, Herz und Auge weint vor dir bitterlich. Erbarme dich, mein Gott. Have mercy, my God, for the sake of my tears! See here, heart and eyes weep bitterly before you. Have mercy, my God. Before Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., Cardinal-Archbishop of the Chicago Archdiocese died last year, he predicted with stark hyperbole, what a completely secularized society would mean in the future: “I expect to die in bed; my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” (To be completed next week)
On May 13th, 1940, Winston Churchill, the newly-elected Prime Minister of Britain, delivered a memorable speech to the Ministers of the Admiralty and the House of Commons. At war with Nazi Germany, Britain had one aim: victory. Chilling words followed, however, as he orated: “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” They bellowed across the cities and throughout the countryside uniting the Brits in shared sacrifice for a common purpose. Centuries before, Peter learned that discipleship in Christ would be realized through blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Peter is the disciple most frequently mentioned in the Gospel narratives, but he doesn’t come off very well in them. In fact, the Evangelists paint a rather unflattering picture of him. Peter is supposed to exemplify discipleship to the others. But instead, one gets the impression that he is quite a flawed person, found wanting in moral depth, prudence, and humility. We witness his character profile from the Lord’s call to his failures, and from his leadership to martyrdom. Stilling of the Storm One evening after a busy day, Jesus is sitting alone in a boat and far out on the lake. A squall blows up, and the disciples are terrified because, from afar, they see Jesus get out of the boat and walk on the water. They think it’s a ghost. “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid,” Jesus calms them. To make certain it is Jesus, Peter asks, “Tell me to come to you across the water.” “Come,” Jesus responds. As Peter begins to walk on the water, he feels the force of the storm. Terrified, he begins to sink. For a moment, he took his eyes off Jesus. Calm is restored when Jesus puts out his hand to hold him up. “Why did you doubt, you of little faith?” This experience is nothing in contrast with the faith Peter will need soon enough. An Intolerable Saying One day, after Jesus feeds the thousands and the leftovers have been saved, Jesus continues his teaching on food, but food that will last. He follows up with the mandate for all to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Translators of this passage have used words describing the crowd’s reaction as disgusting, intolerable, hard, or cannibalistic. The crowd begins to leave him. Jesus turns to the disciples with a question that has echoed down the centuries: “Will you too go away?” “Master, to whom shall we go,” Peter blurts out. “You have the words of eternal life. There is no one else to whom we can turn.” Peter’s response has sustained many a believer through hard times. Peter’s Betrayal Foretold and Peter’s Boast Excessive boasting ranks among the least attractive qualities in a person. Peter boasts to Jesus: “Even though I must die with you, I will never deny you.” The disciples repeat this protestation of undying loyalty. Jesus turns to Peter: “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Again, Peter boasts: “Even though all become deserters, I will never desert you.” “No boasting like a fool,” writes Shakespeare. Peter’s betrayal is only a few hours away. Discipleship Is Service to Others The washing of the feet is a central part of the Lord’s Supper. It was the typical task of a slave when guests entered a home from the outside dusty roads. The meal becomes a lasting memorial of Jesus’ love and the context for a lesson the Apostles will not forget. Jesus girds himself with a towel and begins to wash the feet of the disciples. All except Peter receive the Lord’s gesture with docility. Peter recoils however. Perhaps he understands the symbol all too well, or perhaps he is embarrassed to have the Master wash his filthy feet. But Jesus admonishes him: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me; you cannot be my disciple” (Jn 13:8). Peter is free to refuse, but Jesus presses for his consent. If Peter wants to be a disciple, then he must renounce status and all that is associated with status—glory, pomp, power, and prestige. The Lord will choose a servile but loving act to give the example. Peter realizes that what Jesus has done to him and for him, he must likewise repeat by sharing in the Lord’s redemptive work for others. Henceforth, the mandate given to Peter will be the loving service that marks Christian discipleship. The action is so explicit that it defies misunderstanding. Peter changes his mind and allows Jesus to wash his feet. Eventually, the Office of Peter will come to represent structure, permanence, stability, law and order. Later, with St. Paul, the paradigm shifts to leadership that is creative, dynamic, and idiosyncratic. Those appointed to an Office in the Church are to lead responsibly, serve with kindness, and avoid trappings of privilege. Peter had to learn this lesson, and so must we. (To be continued)
He stood tall, burly, and hot-headed, an uneducated common man, a seasoned fisherman from Bethsaida, a town on the Sea of Galilee, and using human logic, hardly the one suited for ministry. The fifteenth-century Florentine painter Masaccio depicts him with a full head of curly hair, furrowed brow, daring eyes, straight nose a la Fiorentina, and a well-trimmed beard. You wouldn’t want to mess with him. So, what was Jesus thinking when he signaled, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church?” Would you have chosen Peter to lead the Twelve? Profile of First-Century Fishermen It was essential that Galilean fishermen be physically fit to manage their livelihood. Theirs was the daily grind of long hours that confronted the unforgiving elements of nature: heat, wind and rain, and turbulent storms. Sea monsters could surprise fishermen by capsizing their boats, and the fishermen were no match for them. The all-encompassing watchword for danger? Alertness at all times. Boats, nets, sails, and ropes had to be kept in good working order. Each time the boat set sail, food and a supply of dry clothes had to be placed on board. For fishermen and their families, there was no other livelihood except plying their trade until they were no longer able to do so. The Call of Peter One day, Peter and his brother Andrew, also a fisherman, are busy as usual attending to their work. According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus walks along the water’s edge and summons them to follow him. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gets into Peter’s boat while the brothers are washing their nets. Jesus tells them to let down their nets. All through the night they have caught nothing. Who is this man telling them how to run their business from their boat? Peter raises a mild objection, but to humor this intruder, surrounded by the crowd of people, Peter lowers the nets. Stunned, he hauls in two boat loads of fish that tear at the nets. Then Jesus tells him not to be afraid, “from now on, it is men you will catch.” The Synoptic writers close the respective sections on the calling of the disciples with the phrase, “They left everything and followed him—at once.” Who was this rabbi who, by the sheer force of his personality, could persuade them to abandon their families and livelihood? Follow him? Where, they wondered to themselves. Later when they retrieve their bearings, they shrewdly remind Jesus straight to his face: ‘We have left all things to follow you.’ In other words, what will they get in return for leaving all? Peter’s Impetuosity Peter is the one who heads the list of the apostles; he speaks for the group. Apart from Jesus, he is the person most often mentioned in the Gospels. Peter becomes part of the Lord’s inner circle of three who observe the ministry and miracles of Jesus. When Jesus asks Peter, “Who do men say that I am,” Peter blurts out, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God, the Messiah.” The miracles are signs of Jesus’ divinity. Yet, when Jesus predicts his passion and for the first time, Peter, brash and impetuous, speaks up before he thinks. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for saying such a thing. How could the Messiah be subject to suffering and death? Obviously, Peter doesn’t want to lose his Lord and friend. Clearly irritated, Jesus turns to him with a rebuke of his own: “Get behind me, you devil! The way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” Jesus knows that he must fulfill the Old Testament prophecies which centuries before, predicted that the expected Messiah, the Suffering Servant, would be despised and rejected by men. In all likelihood, Peter isn’t familiar with the prophecies in Psalm 22, Psalm 24, Psalm 60; Isaiah 53, Ez 37:1-15, 2 Macc 7:57. His companionship with Jesus hasn’t as yet changed his thinking or his attitude, his understanding or his words. Still stuck in the ways of the world, Peter’s conversion will begin to take root when he betrays Jesus. The Transfiguration Jesus takes the inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up to a mountain where he is transfigured before them. Peter is so overwhelmed by this sublime experience that he wants to stay up there; he wants to build three tents. One would expect this desire from a child but not a grown man. It’s wonderful to have those high points in life, but for the most part, life is lived in the valley where darkness comes to everyone regardless of the source. Jesus has given them a glimpse of glory before he encounters suffering and death. No, the experience up there must be momentary. They have to leave the mountain and return to the daily grind. Companionship with Jesus means imitating him everywhere and in all things. (To be continued.)
In mid-February, the BBC broke a story concerning the friendship between Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II and Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a prominent Polish philosopher. “The friendship defies definition,” the reporter Ed Stourton wrote, “they were more than friends and less than lovers.” Dr. Tymieniecka was married to the Harvard professor of economics, Hendrick S. Hauthakker when she began corresponding with the Cardinal-Archbishop in 1973 about phenomenology, their mutual scholarly interest. In 2008 after her husband’s death, she sold some 350 letters, to the National Library of Poland. John Paul II died in 2005; she, in 2014. This friendship showed “a startling degree of affection,” wrote the New York Times. The Daily Beast titled its article, “Did Pope John Paul II Have a Secret Lover” but stated in its topic sentence, “This is exactly how rumors get started?” “It comes as no great revelation that Pope John Paul II had deep friendships with a number of people, men and women alike,” notes Greg Burke, a Vatican spokesman. “No one will be shocked by that.” While the correspondence of a pope is newsworthy, in this instance, it was reported on the day the story broke. This so-called news, which was no news because it was old news, fed speculation about the ‘true’ nature of this relationship between the two philosophers, one of whom had been recently canonized. In 1997, Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi published His Holiness, a biography of John Paul II with several pages referring to the Pontiff’s friendship with Dr. Tymieniecka. When it comes to news items concerning the Catholic Church, there are fewer misunderstood realities than chaste friendship. Rare are the journalists who write about it with accuracy and subtlety. Friendship between Two Supreme Court Justices Consider the friendship between Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. When the late Justice’s life was recently summarized, journalists highlighted the decades-long friendship between them long before they were named to the Supreme Court. Their judicial philosophies were at polar opposites. Yet, the two Justices shared their love of the law and their love of opera. To persuade her on the matter of the Second Amendment, Justice Scalia even took Justice Ginsberg hunting. Their love of opera was so strong that they played Extras in a few operas. In 2015, as an affectionate tribute to the friendship of the two, Eric Wang, a young lawyer, ‘composed’ the opera Scalia/Ginsberg. He used the Justices’ own words and set them to the music of famous opera such as Bizet’s “Carmen,” Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the lament from Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” Mozart, and finally, our national anthem. Justice Ginsberg noted: “He was my BB, my Best Buddy; I loved him, but I could have strangled him on many occasions.” He quipped, “Call us the odd couple. What’s not to like? Except her views on the law.” Martin Ginsberg, who was a gourmet Italian cook, showed off his culinary flair when he and his wife went to dinner at the Scalias. The Scalia-Ginsberg friendship pointed outside of themselves and not on themselves, as is the case in married love. It was easy for journalists to accept the well-known friendship as the deep affection of Best Buddies. No one questioned or implied anything shady or untoward. If the eight Justices on the Court are currently in shock over Justice Scalia’s sudden death—and they are, surely Justice Ginsberg is in deep mourning for the loss of her Best Buddy. Friendship between Jesus and Women The New Testament gives us examples of friendship beginning with Jesus. St. Luke’s Gospel reveals the strong friendship Jesus enjoyed with women, and especially with Mary and Martha. He probably visited them to relax on a regular basis. We know that Mary Magdalene was the first apostle to whom the angel announced the Lord’s resurrection, and the youngest apostle John was known to be the Lord’s “Beloved.” Friendships that Helped Build Christian Culture The period of Nicene Fathers (4th-5th c), is particularly noteworthy for the friendships that blossomed among women-deacons as well as those who collaborated with men of distinction to build up the Church. They shared the same struggles, the same ups and downs, the same aspirations and goals. St. Jerome translated the texts of the Bible from the Greek into Latin. Given St. Paula’s knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, this wealthy widow provided for his needs and helped him with the translation of the Vulgate Bible. They founded two monasteries in Rome, one for men and the other for women. Considering St. Jerome’s cranky temperament, her collaboration with him was all the more remarkable. St. John Chrysostom served as the fiery bishop of Constantinople, and his widowed friend was St. Olympias, deaconess. When Chrysostom was illegally deposed, she rallied to his defense, a brave act that eventually led to her exile. During this time, Chrysostom consoled her in several letters written between 404 and 407. In the Christian East, St. Olympias is venerated as the imposing one, seat of strength, grandeur and human perfection itself. Examples of Spiritual Friendship through Later Centuries In the thirteenth century, the second Dominican General, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P. wrote several letters to the Dominican Tertiary, Sr. Diana D’Andolo, O.P. between 1226 and 1236. They integrate Jordan’s spiritual direction with a mutual friendship that ended with his death in 1237. The Dominican Gerald Vann, O.P has written about this friendship in To Heaven with Diana. In the thirteenth century as well, St Francis of Assisi (d 1226) and St. Clare of Assisi (d 1253) became spiritual friends when he helped her found the first Franciscan religious order for women, the Poor Clares. The graced beginnings of the Society of Jesus remain an incomplete record without noting those women who helped Ignatius financially and otherwise. Some of those who collaborated with him are: Isabel Roser, Leonor Mascarenhas, Lucrezia de Bradine, Juana de Aragón, Leonor Osorio, and Princess Juana of Spain. Many more women played important roles in the growth of the sixteenth-century Society. Prompted by the same graced experience, the Carmelite mystics Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross reformed the Carmelite Order of both men and women in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth, the Bishop-Saint Francis de Sales encouraged and helped the widow Jane de Chantal found the semi-cloistered Visitation Order of sisters. The Nun, the Infidel, and the Superman One of the most accomplished women in consecrated life was the Benedictine nun, Dame Laurentia McLachlan, O.S.B., abbess of Stanbrook Abbey between 1931 and 1953. Through her rich, expansive but unassuming letters, this cultivated cloistered nun maintained remarkable friendships with men and women of every walk of life. The agnostic Sydney Cockerell (“the Infidel”) and the playwright George Bernard Shaw (“the Superman”) corresponded with her for many years and visited her at Stanbrook. The belles lettres of Lady Abbess elicited from Shaw this comment to her: “Though you are an enclosed nun, you do not have an enclosed mind.” Dame Felicitas Corrigan, O.S.B, also of Stanbrook Abbey, has recorded the remarkable friendships of Dame Laurentia McLachlan, O.S.B. with Sydney Cockerell and George Bernard Shaw in The Nun, the Infidel, and the Superman. Conclusion Despite some exceptions, love among the saints has continued as a vibrant and fruitful legacy throughout the history of the Church. Such love would be unique if it weren’t so prevalent—from Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene to John Paul II and Dr. Tymieniecka. In many cases, a passionate friendship kept its difficult balance through a sublimated sexuality, that is, a mature transformation of sexual energy into creative energy for the sake of a higher purpose. In the case of most bonified mystics, they finally sacrificed the love of one particular person in favor of embracing the world for a wedding ring.
Despite Gospel counsels about almsgiving, this ancient practice can arouse negative feelings. Every day whether by phone or mail, agencies plead for donations. To those in extreme indigence like The Bowery Mission, immediate relief must come. Still, you can almost read people’s thoughts: ‘Do they think we’re human ATM machines?’ Americans, and certainly Catholics, are generous people. The Church has a 2,000-year tradition of caring for the needy, a tradition bolstered by papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and patristic writings. St. Lawrence pointed to the poor, saying: “They are treasures in whom is Christ, in whom is faith.” Yet, extortionists like bona fide mendicants compete with legitimate organizations seeking to care for the needy. The Apostolic Constitutions (4th c) warns that “Alms must not be given to the malicious, intemperate, or the lazy, lest a premium should be set on vice.” Three Types of Giving: Almsgiving, Stewardship, and Philanthropy Strictly speaking, almsgiving is offering money, food, or other material help to the needy. It is practiced out of concern for the neighbor, thus fulfilling the Lord’s mandate to perform the corporal works of mercy. The word alms comes from the Old English, ælmysse, ælmesse, which in turn is rooted in the Latin eleemosyna and Greek ele?mosun?. Almsgiving is synonymous with mercy and compassion—being attuned to the suffering heart. Weekly stewardship, tithing, or donating to a house of worship helps clergy of every denomination do the work of God in practical ways. Chartres Cathedral (12th-13th c) was built by craftsmen and the community. All participated in its construction, including the animals who dragged heavy carts of stone to the construction site. Chartres was a labor of love. Philanthropy is sharing wealth for the good of society. Most often, the donation identifies the purpose for which it is made, for example, medicine, education, or the local community. Almsgiving in Contemporary Life Christians give according to their means. No two families are alike. Today, many families live from pay check to pay check with their finances stretched to the last penny. Giving alms is personal to every person and every family, and it may call for adaptation expressed in forms other than in money. Didn’t St. Peter tell the crowds: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have, I give you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 3:6)? Volunteerism If it is impossible to give alms over and above weekly donations in church, then Christians should be alert to exercise charity in other direct, immediate, and personal ways. In the ministry of volunteerism, there are hundreds of creative ways to explore. It may be helping children to read, working as a hospital aide, helping the homebound and the blind, comforting the lonely or depressed. These are only a few suggestions, and they are all forms of creative almsgiving. After all, time is money. The Gospel pleas, counsels, and commands remain as true in 2016 as they were in ancient Christianity. Tender mercy is basic to almsgiving, for “whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we are doing to and for the Lord.” Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com
In the epic film, “Gandhi,” Mahatma’s fifty-day fast is undertaken to bring about reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. His extreme act of self-denial draws worldwide attention. “If you want something from God, fast; if you want to relieve calamity, fast,” Gandhi believes. From primitive times, fasting has been practiced for three reasons: the magical, the ethical and the religious. As a religious discipline or in accordance with prescribed law, fasting is understood as the complete or partial abstention from food. Refraining from eating meat or meat products is known as abstinence. It is said that fasting among adults sharpens the intellect and strengthens the will and concentration. Fasting in Judaism and Islam Jews fast on designated holydays of the year to atone for sin. In the Hebrew Scriptures, fasting was practiced especially in times of war, famine, drought, and for deliverance from pestilence. Islamic law has adapted Jewish practices. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast for twenty-nine light hour days during which time they abstain from eating, drinking liquids, smoking, and sexual contact. Early Christianity From the early days of the Church, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were understood as one great act of worship. Last week in this column, the public prayer of the Church was considered. Why did the early Christians observe the fast and hold it in such high regard? They fasted to imitate Christ in his passion and death. Fasting was seen as a powerful weapon in the fight against evil spirits according to Our Lord’s comment: “This kind of demon can come out only through prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29). Christians also saved food to give as an offering to the needy, an act of mercy for the poor. According to Josef Jungmann, S.J., “in the beginning, fasting was not taken as a strict obligation. It was taken for granted as something which everyone observed, rather like civilized people who realize the obligation of rules of politeness, although they are nowhere prescribed” (The Early Liturgy, 254-256). In the fourth century, St. Athanasius of Alexandria exhorts the faithful to keep the Lenten fast: “Anyone who neglects to observe the Forty Days Fast is not worthy to celebrate the Easter Festival” (“Festal Letter,” XIX, 9). After the Council of Nicaea in 325, many of the Fathers discussed the forty-day fast. From the time of Augustine and John Chrysostom, Lent was characterized by (1) a period of fasting, sharing, and prayer for the whole Christian people, (2) a preparation for catechumens to be baptized, (3) a period of preparation of penitents for their reconciliation. Later the axiom arose in the Maronite Church: “during Lent, we fast from the world.” Fasting was followed by feasting. The former represented a physical diminishment; the latter, a celebration of life. The Taste for God Taste refers to the appetite and is most commonly understood in the physical sense as the intake of food and liquid. In its basic understanding, taste identifies what is bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. The goal of taste is enjoyment and union with what is tasted. The loss of taste is an unnerving disorder but can be cured by stimulating the taste buds with natural remedies and, if necessary, medication. During Lent, Catholics and other Christians reduce their intake of alcohol and delectable foods abstaining as well from meat on prescribed days. Feeling the pangs of hunger can suggest a hunger for God, our full and complete satisfaction. Fasting from a created reality frees us from that object, revitalizes the spirit, and brings self-mastery and interior freedom. To embrace Lenten asceticism is to avoid those things which over stimulate the senses—not only food but also entertainment and the excessive use of electronic devices. The practice of Lenten asceticism is meant to intensify one’s taste for God. Good or bad, taste is an analogous word extending to clothing, and one’s choice of companions, and entertainment. Good Taste Good taste is restrained; bad taste is excessive. Good taste varies with the faculties of an individual that develop from early childhood. The adage, taste may not be questioned or disputed (de gustibus non disputandum est), has its limits and is not absolute. Sound taste is based on objective criteria and the particulars of truth; it is not arbitrary. Good taste gives the sense of what is fitting, harmonious, and beautiful, a sense of what is polite and tactful. It displays social or aesthetic value. Good taste applies to table manners and public courtesy, caring for the body, and to dispositions and judgments of the mind that reveal one’s choices. Impeccable Taste A person who develops himself or herself according to the beautiful gradually learns to acquire the art of discrimination. A person with impeccable taste “has an eye for quality analogous to the eye of the connoisseur; he or she can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality,” writes Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Taste for God and Acedia The Psalmist exhorts us to “taste and see how good the Lord is” (Ps 34:8). Here taste, used in the spiritual sense, participates in the act of faith. The goal of spiritual taste is enjoyment in God’s presence and communion with the divine. Those who disdain the things of God, those with no taste for God or for spiritual things suffer from acedia or spiritual sloth; acedia is “a loathing of the spiritual good as if it is something contrary to ourselves” (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, “Acedia’s Resistance to the Demands of Love: Aquinas on the Vice of Sloth”). Acedia, one of the seven deadly sins, was first discussed by the fourth-century desert fathers. Through the ages, it has been a problem, but with the current figure of 23% of non-affiliated Americans, perhaps acedia is more prevalent now than in earlier years. Acedia is an aversion and a restless resistance to God and the Good that sees both as the burden of commitment. Acedia regrets God’s call to friendship and discipleship. It’s too much trouble to work at one’s relationship with God. It is distaste for and disgust with spiritual things because of the physical effort involved in pursuing them. Acedia is an oppressive sorrow that so weighs down a person that he or she wants to do nothing. It is a form of nihilism. These are all classic signs of acedia, a state that recalls the early verses of “The Hound of Heaven” a long poem by Francis Thompson, an English poet, ascetic, and drug addict. He later made his peace with God but not before expressing his odyssey in this famous poem. The first lines are given below: The Hound of Heaven I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up, vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase And unpreturbèd pace Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat–and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet– “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.” … Acedia and Joy Spiritual sloth is opposed to joy. If there are people who live in a state of acedia, there are also those joyful ones who walk with purpose and hope. “In him, they live, and move, and breathe, and have their being” (Acts 17:28). They can readily pray Psalm 63:2-3, 9: “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you! Like a dry, weary land without water. . . . My soul clings to you; Your right hand holds me fast.”
The festive days of Christmas have given way to the forty days of Lenten asceticism. During this time, the liturgy arouses in us the desire to accompany Christ to Calvary and beyond Calvary, to the Empty Tomb. The heart of Christianity looks directly into the eye of our souls: Christ suffered his passion and death out of love pro me and pro nobis—for me and for us. This redemptive love has no precedent, no analogy, no metaphor—a love entirely unique. Putting On Christ Frequently, children who desire to imitate a sports figure wear a T-shirt or jacket with the figure’s name on it. Children are proud to wear the clothing marked with their hero’s name. It is their badge of honor. St. Paul gives us a similar image, that of putting on Christ, of wearing the garment of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom 13:14). In Old Testament times, an initiate identified himself with a god by donning a robe that resembled the one worn by the god. Putting on the garment also meant that the apprentice imitated the idol. In Romans, Paul goes even further. He suggests that the Christian has already been buried with Christ in the waters of Baptism and rises to new life by putting on not just any new garment but the garment which is Christ. Christians put on Christ by embracing his entire viewpoint that was opposed to wearing the outlook of the unbaptized. Wearing new clothes at Easter time is linked to this notion. In his twelve Baptismal Instructions, St. John Chrysostom waxes eloquent in describing the baptismal robe worn by newly-baptized Christians. They shine with the beauty of Christ by wearing the baptismal robe, their badge of honor. Invitation to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours Lent offers many different ways of putting on Christ. Catholics are in the habit of giving up something good and legitimate for Lent. The Vatican document on the Sacred Liturgy recommends that the laity participate in the public worship of the Church (#102-11). During Lent, many Catholics attend daily Mass. In fact on workdays, churches in business areas of New York City are filled to capacity with worshipers who attend morning or Noon Mass. Those who are homebound and cannot attend Mass avail themselves of following the Liturgy on television. A second way is that of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. What Is the Liturgy of the Hours? Formerly known as the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours is the official prayer of the Catholic Church sung or recited every day of the year throughout the day and night. It was the Rule of St. Benedict that formulated the principle of a complete recitation of the psalter (150 psalms) over the course of a week. The Liturgy of the Hours responds to the Lord’s command to pray always, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Of course, it was never possible to take these words literally. Nevertheless, the Church has set aside certain canonical Hours at various times of the day and night: Matins (Office of Readings), Lauds (Morning Prayer), and the Little Hours, prayed from 6 AM to 3 PM. Vespers is prayed in the late afternoon or early evening, and Night Prayer (Compline), the last canonical Hour of the day, prays for peaceful sleep throughout the night. The Liturgy of the Hours is no longer intended just for clergy or those in consecrated life. More and more laity are using electronic devices for praying the Hours on their way to and from work. The Hours are available in many convenient formats on one’s Desktop, provided each day at http://divineoffice.org. Or, the Hours may be listened to or prayed on one’s mobile devices: iPhone, iPad, Android, or Mac at http://divine-office.com. Spiritual Rewards of Praying the Hours Praying the Hours nourishes Catholic family life. It brings consolation, courage, and a host of other virtues that sanctify the daily grind. The faithful are encouraged to pray portions of the Hours, if not the entire cycle. The reader may bristle, objecting that this suggestion can become an undue burden for the average Catholic, busy at home raising children, or for the person working long hours. Here common sense applies. There is no suggestion of shirking one’s responsibilities. Still, the rewards of praying the Hours are immeasurable. If a family is convinced that prayer is the underlying power of strong family life, then parents will find ways to incorporate some part of the Hours in their daily schedule. In prayer, married couples derive the strength of God’s grace to live their demanding vocation. God’s generosity far surpasses ours. Spiritual Benefits of Praying the Hours The spiritual benefits of praying the Hours are many. First, Jesus prayed the psalms contained in the Liturgy of the Hours. When we pray the Hours, we are praying with Christ and putting on Christ. Second, the psalms are a treasury of human emotions. Praying the psalms supports and guides our emotions permitting their expression within the context of prayer. Our emotions are raised to the level of prayer. The words and expressions of the psalms become ours, and after a short period, the tone and quality of our vocabulary as well. Third, when we pray the Hours, we unite ourselves with the Catholic Church around the world. While Catholics in the East are praying one Hour, the West is praying another. Fourth, praying the Hours is an experience in reading profoundly beautiful religious poetry. Fifth, when we pray the Hours, we are not only praying in ordinary time, but the ordinary is transformed into sacred time. The Benedictine rhythm of prayer, work, and rest offers the family a rewarding liturgical life of beauty, piety, and learning. Pre-Cana Experience The practice of praying the Hours should be encouraged at Pre-Cana instructions so that couples will make the Hours an integral part of their married life. In fact, it is recommended that shortly before or after their wedding, they make a week’s retreat. It takes three to make a marriage. A Parish Prays Sunday Vespers Some years ago when I was visiting the Benedictine Abbey of Chur in Switzerland, the Abbey church was filled to capacity for solemn Vespers on a Sunday evening. From the procession of monks into the sanctuary to the end of the service, the entire Assembly sang the Office of the day with full and enthusiastic voices. This was an indispensable Sunday prayer that took priority over all other activities. One of the monks remarked that the townspeople so loved this liturgy that they were wedded to Sunday Vespers. Great Movements Great movements are born out of great adversity. Such was the experiment of the first colonists, and later, of the Civil Rights Movement. Such is the situation in the Church today. What is needed for a great renewal of the Church? For a moment, let us imagine a cross section of the Church who, convinced of the power of the psalms in their lives and in the culture, would pray the Hours on a daily basis. These might include: commuters in New York subways, farmers and ranchers, political leaders and bankers, blue collar workers, the bedridden and the imprisoned, the addicted, the disenfranchised, artists, scientists, physicians and lawyers, media moguls, and last but not least, the stay-at-home mother caring for her family. Imagine such a renewal! The Rosary Emerges from the Liturgy of the Hours The present form of the rosary is traced back to the sixteenth century, even though the fingering of beads can be traced to ancient Eastern traditions. In the eleventh century, 150 Our Fathers were given to an illiterate laity to pray as a substitute for the 150 psalms that were prayed by the monks and nuns. Called “the poor man’s breviary,’ the psalms were divided, as was the Psalter, into three sets of fifty. The strings of beads were used to count them. Eventually, the rosary, consisting primarily of Hail Marys, was popularized by the Carthusian Order. We are no longer illiterate people. During Lent, the universal Church immerses itself in salvation history, God’s redemptive love for us all. The Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours point to this wondrous mystery.
The electronic age may have displaced cursive writing, but love letters, thank-you notes, and letters to Santa, for example, are typically handwritten. It’s the personal touch that counts. Certain letters have become fixed and valued historical documents. In fact, St. Paul’s letters were the first New Testament writings to be recorded, even before the gospel writers. As such, they belong to the canonical texts. Letter Writing among the Ancients Letter writing dates from about 3300 BCE. People wrote letters because they had an idea they wished to communicate to a wider audience, except for love letters which were meant for only one—the beloved. Most letters were powerful forms of expression because of their compact organization, except for love letters which were scattered and loosely-structured. As one example of the latter, while still married to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII wrote seventeen love letters to his mistress, Anne Boleyn. While plotting his request for an annulment from Clement VII, the King supersaturated his letters with effusive nosegays; they read like gushing sentiments of a smitten, love-sick adolescent. Emperors had a trusted courier, a slave, or secretary who notated their words and delivered their letters. A poor man took his letter to a favorite tavern; a relative or trusted friend collected and delivered it as a circular letter to a group. A love letter, especially if it involved an illicit liaison, had to be sent through a discreet and trusted carrier. Materials for Letter Writing Letter writing was a tedious and expensive activity. First, papyrus, the soft inner part of the bark of a tree, was used as a writing pad. This material—the pith—resembled the white, inside part of an orange or lemon skin. Then, the papyrus had to be dried and smoothed out with pieces placed side by side. The stylus or pen was made from wood, metal or bone shaped to a point. Later, quills were used on vellum or parchment, produced from animal skins. Actual Writing and Length of Letters Letters were created in three ways: they were dictated to a scribe at a slow laborious or, the author spoke at a fast clip, and the servant took down the contents in short hand; finally, the author told the scribe the general idea or main points. Then the scribe would write it out in full. The author would sign it and send it off with his own name affixed at the end with a personal seal. Henry wrote to Anne Boleyn in his own script, and he assures her that it is so. Paul used all three formats in his letters. Paul: the Man of Great Letters On almost every Sunday of the Church Year, parts of St. Paul’s letters are read during the Liturgy of the Word. The Apostle to the Gentiles was a master of letter writing in the way Leonardo DaVinci wielded a paint brush, in the way Shakespeare composed his masterpieces. Paul’s intense personality could be seen in his single-minded purpose—to preach Christ crucified, to preach Christ risen from the dead. Paul’s dynamic imagery is unrivaled, his metaphors, vivid and memorable. As a teacher and spiritual father, Paul conveyed urgency: ‘this is my vocation—to be with you and teach you,’ ‘I need you,’ ‘you must do this for the Lord,’ ‘I hold you dear to my heart, and I thank my God for you.’ ‘I expect you to do this,’ ‘Are you mad?’ ‘Don’t you know that you are temples of God, and that God dwells in you?’ ‘You are that temple.’ Though he rebuked the community when necessary, he also allowed them to love him. For pastoral reasons, Paul adapted and adjusted his style to every community he visited, speaking in koine Greek, the “coined” language of the people; his letters were intended to be read aloud to the faith-community. For all his rigorous thinking, this urbane Jew, Pharisee, and Roman citizen steeped in Greek culture and philosophy was a sickly man. He dragged himself from place to place insisting, “I am still running, trying to capture the prize, and I strain ahead for what is still to come. ... I am racing to the finish, for the prize” (3:12, 14). Indefatigable, irrepressible, and unflinching, Paul was convinced that he could do all things in him who strengthened him. The Ode to Love The First Letter to the Corinthians may be summarized in the word: body. The epistle concerns the health of the body—body and soul. Their unity is profound. Paul’s sublime praise of love in Chapter 13 is a masterpiece of the human condition. In basic and plain colloquial lyrics, the Beatles did get it right: “Love is all you need; all you need is love; love is all you need.” Here is Paul in an ecstasy about love; here is Paul at the pinnacle of love: If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end; When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. Paul’s ‘Letter of Joy’ to the Church at Philippi Paul wrote to his beloved Philippians in 56-57 while under house arrest at Ephesus. He loved them not just because of their financial support, but also for their receptivity to his teaching. They brought him great joy, a word he used sixteen times throughout the letter. He held them close to his heart and could say unequivocally: “I thank my God whenever I think of you; every time I pray for you, I pray with joy” (1:3). And, “my prayer for you is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening you perception so that you can always recognize what is best” (1:8). “Do all things without murmuring or arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation in which you shine like the stars” (2:14-15). As the Church shortly turns toward the Lenten-Easter cycle, St. Paul’s letters will play a central role in the Paschal Mystery. His Hymn to Christ as the God-Man reaches its peak in the Christological hymn: “In your minds, you must be the same as Christ Jesus: He state was divine yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. But God raised him high and gave him a name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth, and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). Who of us would not want to receive a letter from the greatest letter writer of them all?
This week, the spotlight focuses on effective education for every child in this country. It’s a week dedicated to the theme of school choice. NSCW was begun in 2011 by a diverse coalition of concerned parents, schools, and organization. Characterized by its nonpartisan and nonpolitical effort, it pledges to leave no child behind and give children the quality education they so richly deserve. For years, the fundamental question has been publicly raised: “Why are American children failing in public schools when, in poorly-developed countries, children are doing quite well?” During this week, parents, schools, and organizations, have been urged to conduct positive events that celebrate school choice options while drawing attention to the need for even greater opportunities for children. After years of opposition from the public school sector, concerned parents and educators have united in a resolve to make the education of children highest priority. If public schools are failing children, the youngsters must be removed and placed in an academic environment where they can learn. Some Problems Several deficiencies in public schools have been cited: unprofessional administrators, unprepared teachers, lack of motivation, poor discipline, and low expectations from their students. Children cannot read, write, or spell at grade level. Often parental involvement is missing. Evaluators have come to define this deplorable situation as “Dumbing Down.” Conscientious teachers cannot be blamed for feeling demoralized. Still, they try to educate their students in adverse circumstances. Alternate modes of education have arisen due to the chaos, the lack of leadership and dedication that too often define public schools. In addition to the traditional public school, some other models have emerged arousing great interest among concerned parents: public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, and homeschooling. The Catholic school system was established in the nineteenth century to ascertain that children of Catholic parents would be taught from the springboard of faith. Qualities of a Professional Educator Modern pedagogues have written much about the education of children. Some characteristics are essential to the very description of an effective teacher: Be prepared. Children can see through a teacher who “wings” a lesson. Prepared lessons usually proceed with energy and purpose. There is no more vivid biblical curse against mediocrity than the sharp words in the Book of Revelation (3:16): “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Be authentic. Teach by example. Today young people turn their backs on those who display artifice or insincerity. They are searching above all for truth and honesty in their elders. Build character. One need not use the word virtue lest it be interpreted as a religious word. But the teacher should be virtuous in the classroom. It is a quality of character by which individuals habitually recognize and do the right thing. Virtuous living is moral living. Children learn virtue not only in the family but also from role models in schools. Be compassionate. Develop an understanding heart. Pay attention to the individual. The phrase, cura personalis, means care of the individual person. No two children have the same needs. Respect every student. Students expect to be corrected, but in the process, they should be respected. Never, never ridicule. Be a candelabra. The student awaits the discovery and the joy of learning, that of being led out from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. One could say that the teacher is a candelabra, a bearer of light. Inspire. Memorable teachers are those who inspired their students and gave them a vision for life. Our students should be able “to taste and see the goodness of the Lord” in every educator who stands before them. Regardless of the option used, here is education worthy of its name.
An essay entitled, “St. Teresa and the Single Ladies” recently appeared in the New York Times. Its author, Jessa Crispin, was prompted to write it while touring Avila, Spain, the city famous for its first lady Teresa, the Carmelite nun, mystic, reformer, prolific writer, and Doctor of the Church. Like many non-Catholics and even those within the faith, Ms. Crispin both marvels and puzzles over the vocation of consecrated religious women whom she refers to as “single ladies.” They are not only “the most socially engaged, working with the world’s most vulnerable,” she observes. Their creative output is also impressive, far more so than single and married women. What could possibly inspire women to become nuns? This question is at the heart of Ms. Crispin’s essay. A Response to the ‘Jessa Crispins’ of the World Having responded to a personal call from God, consecrated women find it difficult to explain the proximate source of their religious vocation; each one is born out of a certain aura of mystery. Consecrated women freely embrace a way of living that foregoes married love and family in preference to consecrated celibacy that chooses “the world for a wedding ring,” to quote Jesuit poet and priest, Daniel Berrigan. Consecrated women also profess the vows of poverty and obedience. The former essentially means that finances and other material goods become part of a common fund. The latter means that assignments for mission are intended to build a better world, a more vibrant Church and a mature, fulfilled individual. By professing three vows, the consecrated woman is free to live the two great commandments completely: love of God and neighbor with no intermediary encumbrances. How she carries this out is dependent on her natural gifts and acquired talents. Today many deplore that dedicated and gifted women should be lost to a world where they might have exercised wider and more beneficial influence. The truth however is that it is precisely the religious vocation with its structure that forms her in preparation for the Church’s mission. A life of service reaps countless rewards. What follows below is a thumb-nail sketch of a few consecrated women dedicated to the service of others. The unnamed thousands, living or deceased, are included in spirit. Consecrated Life: Cloistered Orders Women who live in enclosed monasteries or abbeys are nuns, to be precise. They take vows of stability to remain in one specific community, conversion to the monastic life, and obedience to the superior. Poverty and celibacy are included in these solemn promises. The main ministry of Benedictines is prayer—prayer for the world, for the Church, and for individuals in need. Their six or seven hours of chanting the Divine Office, spread over the course of the day, begin when most people are fast asleep. Rarely do the nuns leave the enclosure, but within it, the seeds of creativity blossom as in a garden of variegated and colorful flowers. Speaking of flowers, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is probably the most famous Carmelite female saint, a Doctor of the Church and co-patron of the missions—this “The Little Flower of Jesus” who died in her mid-twenties. Stanbrook Abbey Originally founded in 1625 in France, the foundress of Stanbrook Abbey in England was Dame Gertrude More, the great-great-granddaughter of St. Thomas More. Dame Laurentia McLachlan, O.S.B., was abbess of Stanbrook between 1931 and 1953. Through her rich but unassuming letters, this cultivated nun maintained remarkable friendships with men and women of every walk of life. The agnostic Sydney Cockerell and the playwright George Bernard Shaw corresponded with her for many years. The belles lettres of Lady Abbess elicited from Shaw this comment to her: “Though you are an enclosed nun, you do not have an enclosed mind.” Dame Laurentia McLachlan and her community pioneered the restoration of Gregorian chant in England, and she was a leading authority on music and medieval manuscripts. Her work was recognized by Pius XI who bestowed on her the Bene Merenti medal for her contribution to Church music. Stanbrook Abbey served as the model for Rumer Godden’s novel, In This House of Brede, a fictionalized account of Benedictine monastic life in the twentieth century. Abbey of Regina Laudis The Benedictine nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis are perhaps the best-known monastic community of cloistered nuns in this country. Its foundress, Mother Benedict Duss, was a medical doctor in France before becoming a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Notre Dame de Jouarre. The movie, “Come to the Stable,” is based on the historical facts that led her to Bethlehem, CT after World War II. Later she discovered that General George S. Patton had liberated that Abbey from the Nazis. Women who enter Regina Laudis Abbey are said to be accomplished in various disciplines which can support the monastic community from within the enclosure. Here only four nuns will be mentioned. The current Abbess, Dame Lucia Kuppens, holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Yale University. Under her visionary leadership, the monastery is engaged in the New Horizons Renovations project that will increase the number of its buildings and renovate the old ones. She oversees a vast land project and a burgeoning Monastic Intern program. Mother Margaret Georgina Patton, O.S.B., a trained horticultural therapist, cares for the Abbey gardens. She is the granddaughter of General George S. Patton (mentioned above), best known for his leadership of the Third Army in France and Germany following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The former Hollywood actress Dolores Hart, now Mother Dolores Hart, maintains ties with Hollywood and is a voting member of the Oscar nominating committee. She directs the Abbey’s open-air theater and arts program. When the actress Patricia Neal died in 2010 as a new convert to the Catholic faith, she was buried on the grounds of Regina Laudis. A lifelong friend of Mother Dolores Hart, she was an enthusiastic supporter of the Abbey’s theater and arts program. Mother Jerome Von Nagel Mussayassul, O.S.B. was known before her marriage as Baroness Melanie Von Nagel. She married a Muslim, Kahlil Mussayassul, and after his death, she became a convert to Catholicism and a cloistered but extern Benedictine nun. She devoted her life to scholarship, writing, and translating in the spirit of her namesake, Saint Jerome. She died in 2006 at ninety-eight. At Regina Laudis, Gregorian chant is sung daily at the Divine Office. The nuns convey its power to communicate the presence of God as no other music does. Consecrated Life: the Active Institutes Consecrated women who conduct ministries in external social venues like schools, hospitals, foreign missions, retreat houses, and homes for unmarried and abused pregnant women are referred to as sisters. Daily prayer and other religious exercises are integrated with their ministry, and one is done for the sake of the other. Thousands of women religious are dedicated to others in ways known only to the beneficiaries of their love. Often the foundational Rule of a religious institute specifies its mission as with the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa. No one who has read about them or worked for a time with them can fail to be moved by their remarkable dedication to the destitute poor. Human logic defies explaining how these women can take men, women, and children left to die in the gutter and with tender compassion, prepare them for a peaceful and dignified death. What is done for these least ones is done for and to Jesus Christ. Women enter a monastery or convent with their own unique narratives and gifts. The journalist Kate O’Beirne, a graduate of Good Counsel College, notes that the early appearance of female leadership in this country was assumed by consecrated women who served as college presidents. Sister Madeleva, C.S.C., internationally-known poet and educator, was president of St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN for twenty-seven years. Her circle of friends included Edith Wharton, C.S. Lewis, and Joyce Kilmer. As a college educator, Sister Madeleva deplored the piecemeal education of sisters and initiated efforts to establish higher degrees in theology at Catholic institutions across the nation. Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J. was the first female theologian to join the faculty of theology at The Catholic University of America. Sister Luke Tobin, S.L., a leader among her own sisters, was one of a few women invited to the Second Vatican Council as an auditor and planner of the sessions. Mother Georgia Stevens, R.S.C.J., a convert to the Catholic faith, erected the Pius X School of Liturgical Music at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Purchase, NY (renamed Manhattanville College). With the collaboration of Mrs. Justine B. Ward and others, she was dedicated to the refinement of the Church’s liturgical music, especially Gregorian chant. Mother Josephine Morgan, R.S.C.J. taught music at Manhattanville and headed the committee that published the Pius X Hymnal. Under the leadership of Mother Alfons Schmid, O.S.F. the School Sisters of St. Francis have established a strong tradition in music and art at Alverno College, Milwaukee, WI. Sister Helena Steffensmeier, O.S.F. was an accomplished artist and teacher at Alverno College working in diverse media: wood, stone, fiber, oil, clay, and watercolor. She remained active until she lost her vision in 1993. Sister Theophane Hytrek, O.S.F. was an internationally-known organist and composer whose leadership in music extended beyond the School of Music at Alverno College which she transformed into the finest in this country. Social Justice Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J. has dedicated her life to death row ministry and to abolishing the death penalty altogether. In the movie, “Dead Men Walking,” Susan Sarandon, who played Sister Helen, won an Oscar for her portrayal of this Sister of St. Joseph. Conclusion Consecrated women would be the first to say that they did not choose their vocation. Rather, it is they who have been chosen by God. The consecrated women in this country have been the backbone of the American Catholic Church and even beyond, a fact that is frequently overlooked or diminished. Without them, their hard work, ingenuity and determination, without their trust in Providence and fidelity to their vocation, the daily activities of the American Catholic Church would screech to a halt. Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com.
At the end of each year, WQXR, the classical radio station originating in New York, asks its listeners to vote for their favorite pieces of classical music played during the year. Based on those requests, WQXR closed out 2015 by counting down to the 100 most-requested pieces of the year. Countdown to Midnight On New Year’s Eve, the countdown to Midnight intensified. The end came as no surprise. It wasn’t even close. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony won third place, his Fifth, second place, and his Ninth Symphony, the “Choral,” took first. This, his last, was composed in 1823 when he was completely deaf. At the turn of the millennium, the Ninth was played across every time zone to usher in the year 2000. How does Beethoven consistently command so much love? How does he shine in use? It’s not as if the other Greats pale in his company. But Beethoven is set apart from them all. Why so? In a word, he was on a collision course with fate but defied it. At thirty, at the height of his creativity, at a time when as a lower-class German, he was gaining the respect of the aristocracy, deafness marched into his life overtaking him with its steady and irrevocable onslaught. How could this cruel fate rob him of his most prized possession? There was nothing more to live for. He withdrew from society, contemplated suicide, and drew up his last will and testament. After fighting it, Beethoven made suffering a fundamental part of his life-vision. It took years but was accompanied by an enormous power of self-assertion and indomitable strength. Toward the end, he was reduced to communicate with few and did so by scribbling on scratch pads. Though most readers know few details about Beethoven’s life, his music is emphatic—assertive. It speaks for his personality which changed the course of music history. Charlie Brown would declare wholeheartedly: ‘Beethoven shines in use,’ do you hear? Beethoven!” Alfred Lloyd Tennyson’s “Ulysses” In the course of their collegiate years, students may read “Ulysses,” the dramatic monologue by Alfred Lloyd Tennyson. After having sailed the seas and having drunk deeply of life’s experiences, Ulysses returns home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus. Restlessness prevents him from settling down. He fears it will keep him from living as fully as he did abroad: “I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d . . . Much have I seen and known; cities of men And manners, climates, councils, governments, Myself not least, but honour’d of them all; And drunk delight of battle with my peers, Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.” Ulysses reasons that to avoid boredom, he must not remain in one place: “How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use.” This last couplet can be broadened to mean: Wherever you are, shine, shine in use. Or, “whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, … do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). “Let Your Light Shine among Men” Everyone can shine in use regardless of circumstance. Beethoven did. Jesus, who was the light of the world even on Calvary, exhorted his followers to let their light shine before all men; it was impossible to hide their light under a bushel basket (Mt 5:15 ). In his Letter to the Philippians (2:14-15), St. Paul urges: “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like the stars.” The first aspect of our lives that can be made to shine is our personalities. They’re with us all the time. Developing a first-class temperament to shine in use should be a primary concern. Speaking through Portia in “The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare writes as though paraphrasing scripture: “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”