Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

Articles by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Lessons from the Mozart Playbook

Aug 12, 2015 / 00:00 am

From the end of July and for four weeks thereafter, the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center dominates other musical offerings in New York City.  This essay will take us for a quick tour behind the scenes of Mozart’s life.  Can you size up the man behind his music and gather up a few lessons for your own life? A Quick Overview of Mozart’s Early Life   What do you make of a child who at four begins to compose at the keyboard and notate music before he can read and write?  What of a child who at twelve has mastered the violin, viola, and organ in addition to the clavichord?  And composing an opera?  He had a photographic mind, a gift that time and again was tested in public.  This is the Wunderkind, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the world’s greatest musical prodigy. When Mozart’s father Leopold realized the extent of his son’s talent, publicizing his son’s name became his sole purpose in life. Then Wolfgang would be offered a fine court appointment commensurate with his musical gifts. A court appointment gave the recipient room and board plus a stipend that depended on his talents. The boy received a systematic classical education from his erudite father who had been educated by the Augustinians and Jesuits.  Leopold played the role not only as a consummate pedagogue but also as his son’s publicity agent.  The boy concertized throughout Europe and England and became the darling of court nobility.  No court appointment was forthcoming however.  Only applause, pieces of fruit, trinkets, and hugs from the women. His father protected him from all outside influences that could interfere with his concentration on music.   Mozart at 20 As a person, Mozart never matured to adulthood but remained stuck in adolescence all his life. Letters to a cousin written in his early twenties are punctuated with vulgarisms and silly word play.  But at twenty, Mozart had matured as the most highly skilled and versatile European composer, at home in every genre of composition. His gifts exceeded those of seasoned and far older composers except Joseph Haydn who respected Mozart’s talents. Still, at twenty, it was time for him to secure a steady position. The Patronage System and the Downward Spiral Like Bach, like Haydn, like all composers before him, Mozart worked under the patronage system which considered the composer merely as a court servant. Mozart, who knew his worth, bristled at this indignity. He worked for a time under Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, the Ordinary of Salzburg. He complained that the music Mozart composed for Masses was too long and delayed the liturgical action; he ordered him to shorten the music.  Out of spite, Mozart would compose a very, very short Mass, known as the Missa Brevis.  The archbishop was furious and had him kicked out though Mozart protested that he had resigned. He wrote to his father: “I hate the archbishop to madness.”  Leopold too was furious at his hot-headed son. Mozart worked at the imperial court of Joseph II where Antonio Salieri was also employed. Mozart once sarcastically remarked: “The two valets sit at the head of the table; I at least have the honor of sitting above the cooks.” Because of his inflexible temperament, Mozart could not hold down a job.  In the patronage system, musicians and composers were easily replaced. Working under Emperor Joseph II, Mozart remarks with bitterness about his stipend:  “Too much for what I do, too little for what I could do.”   His operatic music lampooned characters in the opera and linked their foibles with men and women in real life—and all at the court.  His patrons were horrified to see themselves ridiculed in the characters through Mozart’s vivid music, especially in “The Marriage of Figaro,” an opera that had the lower class emerge victors against the aristocracy.  Understandably, France had banned the play as subversive. This meant fewer concerts, fewer subscriptions, less money, less work.  Mozart wanted the freedom to compose as he liked but paid a high price for it.  He was kicked out in to music history as its first freelance composer. Indigence Despite Mozart’s fame as a child prodigy, despite the promising and lucrative future that might have been but never was, Mozart died a pauper in 1791.  Leopold died a bitterly disappointed father a few years before his son.  The writing on the wall was all too clear for the man who had staked his entire lifeblood on the success of his son. Mozart was buried like other indigents, unceremoniously in an unmarked common grave.  The cause of death was given as overwork brought on by tension. He was not yet 36 years old.   He left a wife and two sons. At the time of his death, he had composed 626 works, symphonies, concertos, full-scale operas, sonatas, and chamber music. Lessons Out of the Mozart Playbook Mozart was mediocre in all things except his music.    In all things except his music, he was clumsy, inept, careless, and even indolent.  Nothing or no one came before his music. He was never not composing.  Here he is in his own words: “When I am composing, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on these occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them.  Those ideas that please me, I retain in memory, and am accustomed to hum them to myself.  If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, etc.” “All this fires my soul, and provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.  Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once, what a delight this is I cannot tell!  All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream.  Still the actual hearing of the tout ensemble is after all the best.  What has been thus produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for.”     Recording his ideas was a purely mechanical task, one which he postponed to the last minute.  His calligraphy was neat and beautiful.  There was no struggle in composing, and his music is a continuous, logical and mysterious flow of effortless perfection. He never tried to imitate other composers.  He is always the aristocrat.   In his play “Amadeus,” Peter Shaffer poses a metaphysical question: ‘How can a just God bestow the gift of genius to a foulmouthed buffoon like Mozart while giving a devout man like Antonio Salieri only enough talent to recognize his mediocrity?  Salieri is the patron saint of mediocrity. He speaks for all mediocrity in the world, and he is their champion.’ Salieri and Mozart worked at the imperial court at the same time.   Though Salieri could never match Mozart’s gift, he tried his best even though his best efforts may have resulted in mediocre music.  The lesson?  Mediocrity in effort?  Never.  Mediocrity in effect? It can and does happen. Conclusion Mozart’s growth as a creator is like that of a precious and rare plant whose inner secret remains a mystery, observes the musicologist, Alfred Einstein.         If Bach’s music is a proof of God’s existence, as William J. Buckley, Jr. once remarked, then according to George Bernard Shaw, Mozart’s music is “the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God.”

Beauty Rising from the Ashes

Aug 5, 2015 / 00:00 am

Tomorrow and this Sunday, the Church celebrates the feasts of the Lord’s Transfiguration and that of St. Teresa, Blessed by the Cross.   The Transfiguration is a day when the adjective radiant enjoys prominence.  There on Mount Tabor, Jesus’ face and garments become radiant with light, and Peter, James, and John are also drawn into this luminous mystery.  “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” Peter speaks for the others.  They would prefer to taste the sweetness on Tabor rather than the human condition in the valley.  Jesus knows the folly of their desire.  They will learn the hard way. This Sunday’s scriptural readings take precedence over the feast of the day, that of St. Teresa, Benedicta a Croce, (St. Teresa, Blessed by the Cross).  Edith Stein, a Jew and noted philosopher, and an atheist-turned-Catholic, became a Discalced Carmelite nun. She and her sister Rosa were murdered at Auschwitz because they were Jews. Between 1941 and 1945, at least six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in various concentration camps.  This genocide did not spare other groups such as Catholic nuns and priests who stood with the Jews and defended them. Edith Stein was both a Jew and a Catholic nun. The Nazis were forced to abort an elaborate plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII because they were certain he had rescued Jews or was harboring them within Vatican confines.  They were right. From Darkness . . . Born in 1891 into an observant Jewish family, Edith Stein was the youngest of eleven children.  Her father died an early death.  While Edith admired her mother’s piety, she followed her own insights.   At a time when few women did graduate studies, Edith earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Freiburg.  But in the course of her studies, she lost her Jewish faith as well as belief in the existence of the soul.  However, two of her mentors influenced her thinking:  Edmund Husserl (d 1938) and Max Scheler (d 1928), both born Jews and both converts to Christianity.  Edith was deeply affected by their convictions, but her long, lonely struggle was just about to begin. Truth can reveal itself through the witness of other people, and this is what happened to Edith Stein in two instances, and both changed her life.  The first happened in 1917.  After Edith’s colleague and friend, Adolf Reinach was killed in World War I, she received an invitation to the Reinach home to organize his papers.  Edith met his widow, Frau Reinach who was suffering deeply from the loss of her husband, but despite the woman’s anguish, Edith saw in her face hope and joy.  As Edith remained with Frau Reinach for a time, her rational arguments against the existence of God began to crumble in the face of the mystery of the cross.  Thus began her journey from atheism to belief.  Still, the road to the Catholic faith remained at a distance. The second occurrence happened while Edith was visiting at a friend’s home.  In the library, she came across the autobiography of the great Carmelite reformer, St. Teresa of Avila.  After staying up almost the entire night, enthralled by the narrative, she put down the book and said to herself, “This is the truth.”  At that point, Edith realized that for the first time in her life, she could see.   Edith bought a catechism and a missal, studied them both, and went to her first Mass.  Shortly after, she asked the pastor to baptize her.  The priest knew of her academic background. He encouraged her to read St. Thomas Aquinas’ treatise on truth (De Veritate) as a proximate preparation for her reception into the Church.  On New Year’s Day, 1922, at the age of thirty-one, Edith Stein was baptized.  Her mother wept with sadness.  Edith could not intensify the blow by announcing at the same time that she wanted to become a cloistered nun. Instead, she embraced the teaching apostolate. To Integration In Speyer, Edith took a position at a secondary school conducted by the Dominican sisters.  There she won the hearts of the teachers and students alike.  In addition to teaching, she lectured widely about women to women.  On one occasion, speaking to them, she reflected aloud, “The nation . . . doesn’t simply need what we have.  It needs what we are.” In 1925, the noted philosopher, Eric Przywara, S.J., asked Edith to translate St. Thomas beginning with his disputed questions on truth. She was now convinced of the importance of academics as an apostolic vocation that she should follow.  Thomas’ works served not only as a path to truth but also as an ordered way to personal experience of God.  For Aquinas, there is a unity between the thinking person and the person who contemplates and loves.  Eventually, Edith lost her teaching post because she was a Jew.   The Cologne Carmel, Kristallnacht, and the Carmel at Echt In October, 1933, at age forty-two, Edith was received in the Carmelite monastery at Cologne. Her mother was crushed by the decision and utterly incapable of comprehending it.   One month later, on Kristallnacht, on “the night of broken glass,” the Nazis intensified their anti-Semitism. During this year, a large-scale offensive was enacted against the Jews, and thousands were forced to leave Germany.       With the horror of Kristallnacht, all hope was virtually abandoned for the Jews to live in peace.  Throughout the night, Jewish citizens were rounded up, driven from their homes, and their businesses were demolished or confiscated.  Broken glass was everywhere. In a matter of a few hours, their lives as members of German society were destroyed.  Even the synagogues were been burned.  It was clear to Germans and Jews alike that any public outcry would be intensified with ruthless and immediate punishment by the Nazis.   On New Year’s Eve 1938, Sr. Teresa and her sister Rosa, an extern sister, were transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt.  For two years, they lived in relative peace.  But when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis invaded Holland and arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in the country. They were forced to wear a yellow star on their person.  Though the Carmel in Switzerland offered asylum to Sr. Teresa, there was no room for Rosa.      In his journal dated July 30th, 1942, Dr. William Harster, the Commanding Officer of Security Police and the Public Security Administration in charge of The Hague, wrote among other entries: “Since the Catholic bishops have interfered in something that does not concern them, deportation of all Catholic Jews will be speeded up and completed within the coming week.  No appeals for clemency shall be considered” (Waltraud Herbstrith, Edith Stein, 191). To Auschwitz On August 2, 1942, Sr. Teresa, her sister, and twelve hundred Jews were arrested and put on a train to Westerbrook, a transitional concentration camp in Holland.  “Come, Rosa, we’re going for our people,” she declared. Early in the morning of August 7th, Number 44074, Edith Stein, and her sister Rosa were brought to Auschwitz, Poland.  August 9th is the date recorded for their death in the gas chamber there.  Sr. Teresa, Blessed by the Cross was canonized a saint of the Church on October 11th, 1998.   Adagio for Strings In 1938, even as Hitler’s threats engulfed Europe, the American composer, Samuel Barber, composed Adagio for Strings. Evocative of intense pathos, the melody makes its slow, steady, and irrevocable ascent, building to a climax that is almost unbearable to experience.  Once the strings reach their peak, the unrelenting tremolo sends shivers up the spine. Abruptly, the music breaks off, presumably for all to catch their breath before it resumes with a whimper, yielding to a tense silence.  Then it dies away. The music follows the trajectory of St. Teresa Benedicta’s life.   In 1979, Father Johannes Hirschmanns, S.J. wrote that although Auschwitz remained a place stripped of love, it also revealed that the Cross was stronger than hate. Whoever has visited Auschwitz can appreciate the beauty, however stripped, rising from the ashes, as it did for Isaiah. “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.  In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his glory” (Is 61:3).  

'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.'

Jul 29, 2015 / 00:00 am

“Light of the World,” a nineteenth-century painting by the Englishman, W. Holman Hunt, perhaps best captures the human narrative. The Painting and Its Symbolism In this unconventional and highly personal work of art, Jesus, crowned with thorns, stands outside a door and knocks.  He is asking for permission to enter. The door can’t be opened from the outside because it has no handle on it.  The rusty nails and hinges are overgrown with ivy and weeds, presumably because the door hasn’t been opened in years or perhaps never opened.   The sealed door represents the human heart choked by cares, which prevent one from opening it. For the artist, the door symbolizes “the obstinately shut mind.” Shown in the painting are two lights.  The one inside the lantern symbolizes the light of conscience, and the halo around Jesus’ head, the light of peace and hope of salvation.  The painting illustrates two verses: one from the Johannine Gospel: “I am the light of the world,” and the other, from the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and dine with you and you with me” (8:12; 3:20).   The Battle from Within Jesus standing as priest, prophet, and king, is the sole figure in this painting.  Still the focus of attention lies outside the picture. Behind the door stands every man or woman as a hidden presence.  What might this individual feel, think, desire, fear as he or she decides on a response.  What to do, if anything? What we say to ourselves is far more important than what we say to others.  Thus begins the inner combat with sparring.  Quid volo?  What do I desire?  What do I really desire? What are my options?  Ignore the knock?  Call out: Go away?  Not now, later?  If I open the door, what will I be getting myself into? Discipleship?      How much will discipleship cost me? Peter too asked this question.  The Lord’s reply? ‘Lose your life, and you will find it.’   These nagging thoughts provoke other thoughts by day, by night. The Decision Without reservation, I will choose to follow the Lord as his companion and ardent disciple.  Taking a deep breath, I unlock the door, turn the knob and open.  My vision is transfixed with sheer wonder. I see before me the glorious Lord of the universe.  In fact, I am standing in the presence of all the saints, headed by Mary and Joseph, all my loved ones, all my role models who are prompting me to join their company.  And how many are there who, one century after another, have brought a little light and joy to others through their talents?   My Prayer . . . In the presence of this esteemed company, I recall what I have received. I thank God for having created me … for having redeemed me … for so many personal gifts! For all that I have been given, what ought I return to God? In the spirit of overflowing gratitude and love, I pray: TAKE, LORD, into your possession, my complete freedom of action, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all that I have, all that I own: it is your gift to me. I now return it to you.   It is all yours to be used simply as you wish.   Give me your love and your grace.   It is all I need. God Living in All Things I see God’s imprint everywhere: in matter, giving it existence; in plants, giving them life; in animals, giving them consciousness; in men and women, giving them intelligence. God lives in me, giving me existence, life, consciousness, intelligence. More, He makes me his temple, since I have been created wearing the divine image and likeness. Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.  Bless the Lord, my soul; never forget all that he has done for you. God at Work in All Things Nothing happens by chance. I think of God energizing all things, as though he were at work in every created reality, in the sky, in matter, plants and fruits, animals, and in me. By acting in every event, God’s inscrutable will is in play.  He heals me, and through each event, challenges me to grow. All creation is in the hands of Providence. As a disciple, I am called on to cooperate with the divine plan in building a compassionate world according to my gifts and limitations.   All Good Gifts from Above I realize that all gifts and benefits come from above.  My ability and gifts come from a loving God.  They come down like sunbeams from the sun or streams from their source.  “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”   By choosing to be a companion of the Lord, my life is modeled after the Master. This human-divine relationship, real though unequal, this great exchange may sometimes bring exciting and joyful moments, even dull or painful moments, but life with the Lord is always meaningful.  I conclude with a favorite prayer or simply an Our Father. –Paraphrase of the “Contemplation for Obtaining Love” in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  His feast day is celebrated on Friday, July 31st.  

The Apostle to the Apostles

Jul 22, 2015 / 00:00 am

She followed him as a disciple.  She stood with his mother at the foot of the cross.  The burial too.  She announced the resurrection to the disciples. Nowhere in Scripture is she identified as a prostitute.  Not even as a sinful woman.  In Protestant faith-traditions, the Bahá’i, the Roman Catholic, and the Christen East, her feast is celebrated today.  This is St. Mary Magdalene, “the apostle to the apostles.” The Name Mary in the New Testament For Jews, the name Miryam or Miriam was and continues to be a popular female name.  Several other female names are variants of Miryam or Miriam: Mary, Maria, Marina, Maryka, Mara, Maura, Moira, and Maureen. The New Testament gives several women named Mary:   Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus Christ; Mary the mother of James and Joses (Mt 1,2,12,13,27,28; Mk 6,15,16; Lk 2,24; Jn 19); Mary Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Mt 20, 27); Mary, wife of Clopas (Mt 27, 28; Mk 15, 16; Lk 24, Jn 19); Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She sat at the Lord’s feet while Martha prepared the meal for him.  When Lazarus died, she rebuked Jesus for delaying his visit to him.  She anointed Jesus’ feet a week before his death (Mt 27,28; Mk 15,16; Lk 10; Jn 11, 19, 20); Mary Magdalene was present during and after the Lord’s crucifixion and after his resurrection. Luke narrates that she was delivered of seven demons.  As a physician, he could have been describing a physical or nervous disorder and not a sinful life (Mt 23, 27, 28; Mk 15, 16; Lk 8, 23, 24; Jn 19, 20). The error that Magdalene was a sinful woman rests with Pope Gregory I, “the Great,” (6th c) who, in a homily, mistakenly referred to her as a scandalous woman.  Her title, “Apostle to the Apostles” is ascribed to St. Augustine of Hippo (4th-5thc). A Composite Woman Some stories about the women disciples named Mary were conflated and blended into one composite woman—Mary Magdalene. This occurred in the Roman Church.  It was never accepted in the Churches of the Christian East, Orthodox or Catholic.  They have always seen Magdalene as a disciple, and in fact, “the equal of the apostles.”   Mary Magdalene in the Christian East Through the ages, the Christian East has taught that Mary Magdalene was a virtuous woman all her life, even before she began to follow the Lord.  The label of ‘penitent’ was never applied to her.  It is only the Christian East that has kept Mary Magdalene free from the confusion that still exists in western traditions. She followed Jesus to the very end, brought myrrh and other spices to anoint his body, and was the first to witness and announce his resurrection.  Thus, her title, “the equal of the apostles.”   In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for this feast, the Kontakion, summarizes her role in salvation-history: “Let us all sing a hymn of praise and a special canticle to the disciple of Christ, Mary Magdalene, the first myrrh-bearing woman:  for she was a messenger of joy to the disciples.  Let us praise the God of All who lavished upon us and upon the world such a fountain of wonders and miracles.” The Icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women In 1931, an icon dating back to the third century was found by archeologists near the eastern border of Syria.  It depicts the women, led by Mary Magdalene, carrying torches and containers of costly myrrh and other precious ointments. The Myrrh-bearing Women are listed as:  Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary and Martha of Bethany, sisters of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the steward of Herod Antipas, Mary Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are also included in the icon for the important role they played at the time of Jesus’ death and burial. In the Christian East, the Third Sunday of Pascha (that is, the second Sunday after Easter) is called the “Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers.”   Sadly, the art of the western world cannot undo the countless depictions of Magdalene suggesting her troubled past rather vividly . . . and erroneously.   The Woman Who Loved Much In the Johannine Gospel (20:11f), Mary returns from the empty tomb, but her emotions render a different verdict:  ‘The Lord’s body has been stolen.’  She finds herself in the garden where she encounters the gardener who is Jesus in disguise.  He addresses her as “Woman,” but she doesn’t recognize him, perhaps because she is blinded by anxiety.  ‘He has been taken out of my life,’ she fears.  She cannot bear to think of a future without his presence in her life. Preoccupied, she bypasses his questions:  “Why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?” “Tell me where you have put him, and I will take him away,” she blurts out without tact.  Mary is nothing if not a lover.  And love can be tactless. Reason suggests that this undertaking might be impossible, but no, “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”     “Mary!” That voice! She recognizes it, deep, penetrating, and most of all, it is the voice that consoles. The darkness of her facial expression is lifted, and it is transformed to radiance and joy. Her eyes sparkle, her bearing, calm, serene. ‘The Master is calling out to me!’ He’s depending on me to tell the others that he is risen.’   She goes to announce the good news, the wonderful news. All is well in Mary’s life.   She loved him so much; for this reason, she is a beautiful woman. This contemplation, “Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene in the Garden,” surely belongs to one of the most poignant in all of Scripture! The reflection below describes Magdalene and all other men and women whose lives are single-mindedly decided by love: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What seizes your imagination will affect everything.  It will decide everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,   how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.” Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the 28th General of the Society of Jesus  

Our Young People, Summer Time, and the Language Arts

Jul 15, 2015 / 00:00 am

With the close of the academic year, parents must find ways for their children to spend the summer in safe environments. If during the school year, texting others takes precedence over most activities, what is to be expected during the summer?  Statistics report that young teenagers text others more than one hundred times a day. Summer Chores Our young people deserve some respite from the typical structure of the school day. Still, the wise use of the leisure time is a lesson to be learned.  While many attend camp, others do not. During the summer months, children should contribute to the family good by helping with household chores or those linked to family business.  Manual work can help them mature by stimulating their imaginations.  This is an important by-product of manual work, whether in the home, field, or factory. Language Arts: An Overall View When parents read to their toddlers at night, an intimate bond grows between them.  Children feel loved because their parents’ attention is focused wholly on them. Positive attitudes are formed in early childhood as children associate good experiences with reading.  They will sleep more soundly with happy thoughts. As they grow older, the positive habit of reading is formed and implemented. In all likelihood, they will become independent readers.  Children who are accustomed to seeing books in the home, and children who hold books in their hands are inclined to be readers in their adolescent years. Read, and Your World Will Grow Larger Reading good literature enlarges a child’s world.  Vocabulary increases, and  language skills improve. Emily Dickinson begins one of her poems with lines that expand our own thinking:  “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” There was no one who understood this thought more than Abraham Lincoln whose speeches with their beautiful cadences reflect the great literature he read.  In our own day, Dr. Ben Carson, the world-renowned pediatric surgeon and candidate for the Republican Party, grew up in a very poor household in which his parents divorced when he was a child.  Dr. Carson developed such a violent temper that one day, over a trivial matter, he nearly stabbed a classmate with his knife.  Determined that her son would not grow into a delinquent and join the prison population, his mother pressed him to read.  She became the instrument through which new worlds were opened up to him as he read voraciously one book after the other.  When speaking to parents and young people, Dr. Carson repeats:  “Read and you can go everywhere and anywhere with anyone.”  In other words, “Read and your world will grow larger.”  Dr. Carson’s world did grow much larger as he embraced the medical profession with purpose and distinction. Reading as Intelligent Enjoyment When parents read uplifting and inspiring stories to their young children at their bedtime, certain favorite topics will emerge.  Animals, children living in faraway places, sports, suspense mysteries, the arts are only a few topics.  Reading biographies is a fine way to learn about the lives of great people who preceded them.  Biographies show children the worth of human life and how men and women have woven their own lives into the lives of historical figures. Reading biographies of these men and women and of saints too can inspire their imitation. Lives of the saints do this better than most. Reading good literature can change life for the better in practical ways.  It improves vocabulary and language skills.  Children whose parents know a minimum of English need to read a great deal to increase their vocabulary. The Language Arts as a Way to Virtue Where do our children derive their inspiration? And by whom or what?  Reading good literature offers virtue to them as an attractive way of life. In fact, reading can be a way to virtue.  When children read stories about people who live virtuously, they are inspired to imitate them.  The ancient Greeks, a growing number of theologians, and other educators hold that the cultivation of virtue makes individuals happy, wise, courageous and competent.  Summer is the time when our children should grow in virtues like faith, loyalty, hard work, and respect for elders.  Virtue is that quality of character by which individuals habitually recognize the right thing and do it.  Virtue is always in style and never takes a vacation.   The Joy of Memorizing Poetry  Readers ought not to be surprised at how many people learn poetry by heart.  They do it while jogging, traveling by public transportation, doing manual chores, going on errands.  Some years ago, learning poetry formed an essential part of the language arts curriculum.  Children loved poems like “If,” “The House with Nobody in It,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “St. Catherine, St. Catherine, o come to my aid.” “Marlon Brando memorized heaps of Shakespeare,” writes Robert Pinsky. Maria Bartiromo, the daughter of Italian immigrants and a Wall Street Whiz, recites Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” whenever she delivers a commencement address. Memorizing poetry, apart from the sheer joy it gives, is power—power of mastering the beauty of the English language.  It brings with it its own reward.  “Over the last two hours, my 11-year old kid has memorized 14 lines of Keats,” boasts a mother, “the result of sheer bribery.”  Other parents confess to rewarding their children with a dime for each poem they learn.    The Art of Beautiful and Distinctive Handwriting Handwriting is an effective and reliable indicator of personality and behavior.  Handwriting reveals the kind of person one is.  In fact, handwriting analysis is used in interviews, job selections, and many other aspects of business. Yet, in public schools, handwriting is no longer taught.  In Catholic schools, the handwriting class was the most rewarding for the children.   And  … for the duration of the lesson, the breathing of the children was the only sound heard, intent as they were on the art of beautiful and distinctive handwriting. During the summer, children can discover that practicing their handwriting is a rewarding exercise.  They can follow one of two methods: the Zaner-Blöser method or the Palmer method explained on their webpages, too numerous to list here.  There are also websites that analyze your personality through your handwriting.  Be ready for a surprise. One Hour a Day An hour a day, divided into segments, should be expected from children and young people to devote to the Language Arts.  After a short time, they will experience the joy of having gained an intellectual power that no one can take from them. Some References Parents may wish to consult three short but excellent essays on poetry for children and for adults:  (1) Jim Holt, “Got Poetry? The Case for Memorizing Poetry” (NY Times April 2, 2009); (2) Kate Haas, “The Case for Bribing Kids to Memorize Poetry,” (NY Times, August 3, 2014); William Logan, “Poetry:  Who Needs It?”  (NY Times Sunday Review June 14, 2014). The comprehensive book engines given below are only two of many that can be found on the internet.  Age-appropriate suggestions are provided. http://frcoulter.com/books/novels.html Http://fordham.readingprograms.org Here are some poems that children can easily memorize: Swift Things Are Beautiful by Elizabeth Coatsworth (recited quickly) Swift things are beautiful: Swallows and deer And lightning that falls Bright-veined and clear, River and meteors, Wind in the wheat, The strong-withered horse, The runner's sure feet. (recited slowly) And slow things are beautiful: The closing of day, The pause of the wave That curves downward to spray, The ember that crumbles, The opening flower, And the ox that moves on In the quiet of power. The Well of Beauty By Eileen Lomasney, C.S.J. A canticle of color, A symphony of sound, Asks the eager-hearted “Where is beauty found?” The liturgy of seasons, The rhythm of the skies, Reads like Wisdom's Primer Furnishing replies. We marry moods to beauty Early in our youth And find our spirit tutored In goodness and in truth. We search our inner being, Our birth, our life and death, To learn we are dependent On beauty's very breath. All syllabled creation Spelleth last and first, The Word is Beauty's Well-Spring, O come, all ye that thirst. Prayer to St. Catherine to Find a Husband St. Catherine, St. Catherine, O lend me thine aid.And grant that I never shall die an old maid. A husband, St. Catherine,a good one, St. Catherine.But anyone’s better than no one, St. Catherine. A husband, St. Catherine,young, St. Catherine,handsome, St. Catherine,rich, St. Catherine,soon, St. Catherine! René Descartes once remarked that “the reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”  And F. Scott Fitzgerald echoes the French philosopher and mathematician:  “That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”

Is Life a Cabaret or a Pilgrimage?

Jul 8, 2015 / 00:00 am

Most of us have heard the refrain: “Life is a cabaret, old chum, come to the cabaret.” The 1972 film, “Cabaret,” was set in the night life at the KitKatKlub, a decadent restaurant in 1931 Berlin just as the Nazi regime was rising to power.   In stark contrast, Jesus describes life as a journey.  Speaking through Luke’s gospel, he cautions his disciples to travel lightly—detached from material things.  Though the word pilgrimage doesn’t appear in Jesus’ treasure trove of words, he is nevertheless on a sacred journey.  Jerusalem and Calvary are on the way to his final destination, the empty tomb. During his short ministry, Jesus shared his life and teachings with others, and he invited them to discipleship and to fullness of life.  This royal road has drawn men and women since the early days of Christianity, and the invitation to join him remains open to all.   Pilgrimage as Life’s Journey A pilgrim is one who is at home everywhere and at home nowhere. This is why one of the Prefaces of the Mass reads:  “Strengthen your Pilgrim Church on earth.”  We live in the ‘city of man,’ but it is no lasting city . . . no cabaret. We are a Church on the way to the ‘city of God.’ When infants are born, there is no telling what their journeys will be like. As with most people, they will weave together their hopes, dreams, and fears. People of faith grasp the metaphor of pilgrimage: at home everywhere, at home nowhere. Others may subscribe to the philosophy of ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’   Films with a Travel Theme In the “Wizard of Oz,” a young girl in Kansas engages in daydreaming and soul-searching to discover that life in Kansas is not so bad.  In fact, it’s just fine. In “The Way,” a father walks Spain’s Camino de Santiago Trail (Pilgrimage to St. James of Compostela) to honor his son, recently deceased. The experience opens his eyes in a deeply emotional experience when he is forced to make friends with complete strangers and to examine his life.  “Around the World in 80 Days” tests the resolve of an English gentleman to win a wager.  In the course of traveling in 80 days by any means, his life and that of his valet are changed. Ups and Downs In good times, we sprint and even skip, and in the bad, we stumble, fall, and get hurt.  These are times when decisions, bitter losses and betrayals have jolted us and halted our stride. It becomes necessary to pause, take stock, heal, and recoup our energies before resuming the journey. Occasionally we hear someone say, ‘That chance meeting gave me a fresh perspective on life.’ Or, ‘if this event hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have changed for the better.’ Sometimes tragedy transforms lives. In 1971, Charles Krauthammer was a brilliant first-year medical student in psychiatry at Harvard University.  One summer day, while diving into a pool, he hit his head at the bottom and severed his spinal cord.  He took his exams lying flat on his back, earned his medical degree with his class, and then spent his residency in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Today, Dr. Krauthammer, confined to a wheel chair, is a psychiatrist, author, journalist, and syndicated writer for The Washington Post. The Way and Different Ways Without a moral compass, it’s easy to lose one’s way.  The only religious figure who ever described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” was Jesus Christ. Fix your eyes on him, Psalm 123 tells us, and he will make a safe path for us; his way is perfect. Spiritual writers, philosophers and theologians described life as a journey. Saints Gregory of Nyssa, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross wrote in terms of “ascents and descents” within oneself. Their message was intended for those who were circumscribed by a monastic way of life.   By contrast, St. Ignatius’ spirituality was designed especially for people who work in a fast-moving world.  In fact, Ignatius was a recovering, battle-scarred soldier on the verge of conversion when he composed his Spiritual Exercises in a cave at Manresa, Spain.   The Daily Examen was, and continues to be, a most powerful spiritual exercise found within these Exercises.  This short time of prayer of ten to twenty minutes keeps busy people spiritually balanced throughout the day.  It helps them seek and find God in the midst of their daily journey, whether in the home or at business, in the hospital, or when making critical decisions in the light of faith.  The Daily Examen has strengthened many to live as effective and affective disciples in the midst of today’s challenges and demands.

The American Dream

Jul 1, 2015 / 00:00 am

In 1943, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen made a prescient observation: “A proof that we are in danger of losing our freedom is that everyone is talking about it. Picture a group of men on a roof-top proclaiming in song and story the glories of architecture, while below saboteurs have already knocked out half the foundations of the house–and here you have the picture of modern freedom.”  On this extended holiday weekend, Americans will proclaim in song and story the glories of our American freedoms, the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights given by God and not by any person—inalienable rights.  The American flag will be displayed outside homes and public buildings to celebrate our independence, and small groups will gather to read aloud the majestic document we call our Declaration of Independence. Colonial costumes, parades and picnics, hot dogs and hamburgers, barbecues and fireworks, rousing music of John Phillip Sousa, George M. Cohan, and Irving Berlin—these make up the lighter side of Independence Day. The Drama of 1776 During the spring and summer of 1776, days of great drama and of even greater consequence, the congressional members of the Second Continental Congress ratified the decision to separate from England.  Since 1763, the colonists had bristled against Parliament with one grievance after the other.  Tax piled on tax had been levied on them without any representation in Parliament. In 1775, matters came to a head.  The intolerable situation could not stand.  All of which brought them to 1776. In June, the Congress’s Committee of Five assigned Thomas Jefferson to draft the declaration to separate from the mother country. Throughout the meetings, the gentleman from Virginia had remained taciturn, but he was reputed to be the consummate wordsmith as well as a scholar in literature and in science. Jefferson accepted the task—but reluctantly.  He had responsibilities back home. Early in July, the draft was placed before the entire delegation as they edited and pored over words, phrases, and their meaning.  An impassive Jefferson sat observing the verbal gymnastics.  ‘They’re mangling my prose,’ he thought to himself. But in the end the gentleman from Virginia would be credited as the author of our founding document.  It became the inspiration for similar documents of more than one hundred fledgling nations. Slavery and the Declaration While the Declaration claimed that “all men are created equal,” slavery still existed in southern colonies.  Jefferson and other signers owned slaves. It was feared however that if decisions about abolishing slavery were brought to a vote, the members from the slave states would refuse to sign the document.  Years would pass before equal rights and equal opportunity were finally afforded African Americans. Education of Black Children Several institutes of religious women engaged in educating black children, regardless of their faith-traditions. We Sisters expected much from them. Motivated and proud of their Catholic education, they did not disappoint. They walked with heads held high. Their personal difficulties were many, but we encouraged them to press ahead through diligent hard work at their lessons. Class sizes were large—fifty or more.  Concentration was placed on teaching the children to spell correctly, write clearly, and speak with conviction. They loved to diagram sentences and present oral topics, especially those linked to their future.  Reading and reciting poetry—these they loved as well.  The slower readers were brought up to speed while the better ones advanced beyond their class reading levels.  This was the Language Arts curriculum.  Religion lessons taught them how to pray, strengthened their inner resolve, and formed positive habits. The children excelled in music and many joined three- or four-part choirs after school hours.  Year after year, they won gold medals in choral competitions. They were ready and eager to take their responsible place in American life there to enjoy the freedoms denied their forebears.    Religious Liberty: A Burning Question The First Amendment to the Constitution states that the government has certain limited powers to preserve the good order of the people, but “government is not juridically omnipotent.”  One of its limitations has to do with the distinction between church and state, in their purposes, methods, and manner of organization. “The freedom of the Church is a pregnant phrase,” writes Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.  His thoughts as articulated in We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition (1960).  In the first place, it means the freedom of the Church as a spiritual authority to carry out her divine commission.  But, secondly, it means the freedom of the Church as the Christian people to live within its fold an integral supernatural life, a life with inherent super-political dignity that transcends the goals and power of the state.  The Church then lays claim to immunity from subordination to the state and its temporal ends.  The chief example of this concerns the dignity of the whole person, marriage and the family.  Freedom from Coercion Religious freedom is freedom from coercion.  It is the absence of constraints and restraints on individuals in their efforts to pursue freely the positive values of religion.  Religious freedom is the recognition of the inviolability of the human person, individually and in association with others in what concerns religious belief and action.  The people are united in their religious freedom to believe and practice without any governmental coercion, restraints or constraints.  The political or civil freedoms of the First Amendment, unlike later freedoms or rights, were assurances against coercive action by government and society (Francis Canavan, S.J., “Religious Freedom:  John Courtney Murray, S.J. and Vatican II”) Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom (1965)    The Council Fathers spoke to the issue of religious freedom, though they could not have predicted the urgency of their words in today’s world.  Religious communities, they wrote, “have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word.”  In addition, religious communities “should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity.” The Religion Clause of the First Amendment We celebrate our liberty in law, and the establishment clause has two parts: the government (a) shall make no law establishing a religion, and the government (b) shall not prohibit the free exercise thereof.  This clause is a good law but not a religious law; it is not an article of faith but an article of peace in a pluralistic society.  What can be further stated about the First Amendment? 1.  America has proved by experience that political unity and stability are possible without uniformity of religious belief and practice, without the necessity of any governmental restriction on any religion. 2.  In areas allotted to the government, it is easier to differ without civil strife when religious differences are excluded. 3.  The Catholic Church, for example, is better off when left alone to carry out its identity and its mission.  This is so because religious freedom is guaranteed not only to the individual Catholic but also to the Church as an organized society with its own law and jurisdiction.  In other words, “this independent authority has been the essential element of freedom in the political tradition of the Christian West” (Canavan). Anti-Catholicism in the United States Anti-Catholicism, the last acceptable prejudice in the United States, has a long history, but a new wave of anti-Catholicism has taken on a subtle coloration, coercion by the government in the name of freedom for the masses.  It appears as the virtuous counterpart of hatred.    In 1642, Virginia and later the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws prohibiting Catholics from settling there, but within ten years, the law was repealed.  Rhode Island imposed civil restrictions on Catholics for several years.  Catholics are still prime targets in social media which ridicule the Church with biting criticism—and, with impunity. Coercive Power, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, Martyrs In 1534, Henry VIII separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church and established himself as the supreme head on earth of the Church of England.  He demanded an oath of absolute obedience from his subjects after Rome refused his request for a divorce.  He wanted to marry Anne Boleyn claiming that he needed a male heir. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon had no son. Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher would not bend to the divorce. They and a few others were out of step with the rest of the realm. Henry had them beheaded.  They were neither the first Englishmen nor the last to suffer death for their faith. The break with Rome was the most consequential event in English history.  Catholic for 1500 years, Anglican for 400, England still has Catholic sensibilities. In Robert Bolt’s play, “Man for All Seasons,” there is a tense encounter between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More.  The Cardinal asks him ‘to come along with the rest of us.’ More replies sardonically:  “Well (he pauses), I believe that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”  Just before his execution, the future saint declared, “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”  His words echo down through the halls of English Church history. We Catholics would be wise to keep Thomas More and John Fisher on our radar.  Their backs of steel would not bend to the whims of temporal power. A Happy and Safe Weekend to you all!

The Pope and the Planet

Jun 24, 2015 / 00:00 am

Behold and see, how beautiful, we who are brothers sun, wind, air, clouds, fire, and brother stars; we who are sisters, moon, water, and sky.  See how wonderfully made!   We who are visible and invisible matter, all living things—trees and flowers, birds of the air and living creatures large and small, animals, especially our canine companions and buddies:  Behold and see, how beautiful!   Question us, and we brothers and sisters will confess our praise of you, O Beauty who never changes. Men and women, praise the Lord, for you are wonderfully made. This confession of praise reiterates the words of both St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Francis of Assisi. It sets the tone for the encyclical, “Praise be to you!” “Praise Be to You!” Pope Francis invites all men and women into a conversation about the quality of life on this planet. Weeks before its publication, the encyclical was anticipated with animated discussions, pro and con. It has not abated. The document is ambitious in scope, detailed in content, and non-political.  In it, three thoughts are repeated like refrains:  This planet is “our common home.” All things are interrelated, interconnected; and, every human activity because it is human carries with it a moral dimension whether it is technology, global markets, the economy or consumer affairs. See and Observe     Pope Francis clarifies terms.  Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop.  The ecology, of which nature is a part, cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves as a mere setting in which we live. This creation that includes nature is much more than nature.   In the Judeo-Christian tradition, creation connotes “God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance.  While “nature can be studied, understood, and controlled, creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all; it is reality illumined by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” The environment is the relationship existing between nature and the society in which we live.  We live in relation to nature and not separately from it.  The role of nature is not simply to provide an aesthetic backdrop for us to contemplate.   “If everything is related, than the health of a society’s institutions carries consequences for the environment and quality of life.” “Every organism is a creature of God, good and admirable in itself.  The same holds true of the ensemble of organisms existing in a defined space and functioning as a system.”   “We depend on these larger systems for our own existence.  These ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about.”   In war-torn regions and underdeveloped countries, people drink polluted water, the only kind available to them.  They live in garbage fields searching there for food or clothing.  What is the quality of their lives?  A deeply troubling question, a question with a moral dimension.  At the same time, Pope Francis uses important guides at his disposal to help us see the roots of the worst problems affecting mostly the poor and the most vulnerable. To make his point, the Pope enlists ethical and spiritual positions, the Judeo-Christian tradition, Church Fathers, and writings from other faith-traditions.   This planet is the house we live in and “our common home.” The panoramic vistas proclaim the ordered harmony of the universe evoking wonder.  They are “charged with the grandeur of God.”  Pure gift.   Yet, the Pontiff draws a stark contrast between a world of beauty and a world that is dangerously on the verge of self-destruction.  The world “is beginning to look like a pile of filth,” the Pope declares. Moreover, even a cursory observation tells us that we are in an ecological crisis characterized by the word “throwaway.”  It is not just our climate that is in crisis.  The root cause of this ecological crisis is the overall mentality that men and women can throw away whatever they wish and whenever they wish in order to promote a more efficient culture however disordered and destructive in the process.   We have become a “throwaway” world with a “throwaway mentality.”  See for yourselves.  Among the victims of this “throwaway mentality” are the most vulnerable of society, the poor and the homeless, the elderly, the unborn life in the womb, our wounded veterans—these, Francis declares, are the refuse of society. “Our common home” needs to be cleaned up and made whole. Judge for Yourselves The Pontiff describes “a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment for which he blames apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness.”  This world, driven by technology, global markets, economics, and consumerism, has assumed a power that dictates the principles by which we should live.  “A technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its power.”  He gives the example of transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos.   What is an integral ecology?  It encompasses cultural and moral conversion in such a way that it touches the international community, national and local groups all the way down to educating our young people with a moral ecology.  It invites our young adults into an ecological lifestyle.  An “integral ecology” is nothing less than a conversion to wholeness.   The Call to Action—Now    Having seen and observed the ecological landscape, the question arises:  what have we done to bring about this “throwaway culture?”  What must we do to improve the situation in small but practical ways?  We have been given the responsibility of caring for “our common home” according to our talents, abilities and limitations.  The encyclical conveys a sense of urgency; we must act, and change our ways. Small measures can be taken by individuals and families to conserve our water supplies and other natural resources which are so scarce in other parts of the country and world.  Cooperate on state and local levels. The Pontiff’s summons is not for others and for tomorrow, but for each of us now. From us, it fans outward to our children.  Our youngsters can learn to conserve water and heat, food and paper.  Children in this country should be made aware of other children their age who are not quite as fortunate as they.     Parents can teach their children to have a God-centered, sacramental reverence for created things . . . how to care for their homes, their common spaces, and their own rooms. Other Suggestions Parents may choose to send their children to summer camp or day camp.  Directors there are well aware of ecological matters.  Likewise at the beach and pool, museums, libraries, parks, and cultural events.   One of the most satisfying times in the lives of children is to have inspiring and uplifting stories read to them at bedtime—stories with happy endings. Parents should read to their children about the world around them—stories about nature, animals, the environment, heroes, and mutual respect for others, and yes, conservation of “our common home.” Worthwhile DVDs like the Lassie movies, through dated, are classics and can always be enjoyed by everyone in the family. Joy and Peace The Pope writes that “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.”  ‘Less is more’ is preached by many faith-traditions.  “A happy life is marked by gratitude for what one has, by moderation and by the contentment to live with little and appreciate small things and small pleasures.  Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating.  It is a way of living life to the full.”  

Fathers and Their Families

Jun 17, 2015 / 00:00 am

From the time of Aristotle, men have reflected on the role of fathers and their family relationships.  The philosopher writes that the family is society’s basic social unit.   Data about Fatherhood The National Center for Fathering, a non-partisan agency, reports some appalling facts about fatherlessness in America.  More than twenty million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father—four out of ten.  Half of these children do not see them.   Millions more have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent.  These numbers have increased with the growing number of premarital births and a continuing high divorce rate.  Divorce is no longer the main reason that children do not grow up with both of their parents.  In recent years, divorce has declined, but single parenthood has increased. As yet, we do not have firm numbers on those fathers who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or pornography.  Today there are more idle or unemployed men than at any time since the Great Depression.  This is partly due to issues in the work place. If fatherlessness were classified as a disease, it would be an epidemic and a national emergency.  Given President Obama’s own family background, having grown up without his father, Mr. Obama is the pre-eminent person who can address this issue.   Men with Women and Children While “super-Dads” exceed our expectations, derelict fathers degrade their vocation.  In more than sixty-per cent of TV’s programming, fathers are portrayed as uninvolved, incompetent, stupid, and unnecessary.   Discussions about women having it all are a fallacy.  At least not all at once.  Most women cannot conceive children, give birth to them, raise them, and work outside the home without the presence of a loving father in the home.  It must be said however that single mothers try doing it all the time.   Studies show that fathers who put family first are usually good husbands and fathers. The Odyssey:  Telemachus In Homer’s Odyssey, there is a touching moment between Odysseus (Lat. Ulysses) and his son Telemachus, who is determined to find out what has happened to his father who left home to fight in the Trojan War when his son was still a baby.  Telemachus has longed for a lifelong relationship with his father.   In Crisis of Manliness by Walter Newell observes that too many boys today are like Telemachus who long for a father who will nurture and guide them through a hard world. Many boys are from broken homes and are forced at a very early age to be their mother’s protector from oppressive men.  At the same time, they struggle to bring themselves up in a way that would make their absent fathers proud of them.  Each year Newell tells his students the story of Telemachus and his father in Homer’s Odyssey. As the narrative advances, the classroom grows silent because his students realize that they are Telemachus.  Part of the dialogue is given below: “Sir,” said Telemachus, “as regards your question, so long as my father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the gods, in their displeasure, have willed it otherwise and have hidden him away more closely than mortal man was ever yet hidden. . . .” “And Ulysses said, “I am no god; why should you take me for one?  I am your father on whose account you grieve and suffer so much at the hands of lawless men.” As Telemachus spoke, Ulysses kissed his son, and a tear fell from his cheek on to the ground, for he had restrained all tears till now.  But Telemachus could not yet believe that it was his father, and said: “You are not my father.  You are some god who is flattering me with vain hopes that I may grieve the more hereafter.  No mortal man could of himself contrive to do as you have been doing and make yourself old and young at a moment’s notice, unless a god were with him.  A second ago, you were old and all in rags, and now you are like some god come down from heaven.” [Ulysses has changed cleaned himself up and changed his clothes to make himself look presentable.] Ulysses answered, “Telemachus, you ought not to be so immeasurably astonished at my being really here.  There is no other Ulysses who will come hereafter.  Such as I am, it is I, your father], who after long wandering and much hardship have got home in the twentieth year to my own country. I will tell you the truth, my son.” As Ulysses spoke, he sat down, and Telemachus threw his arms about his father and wept. (William Bennett’s, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, 365-68)   Thomas Jefferson to His Son, Thomas Jefferson Smith: “A Decalogue of Canons for Observations in Practical Life” 1.     Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. 2.    Never trouble another for what you can do yourself. 3.    Never spend your money before you have it. 4.    Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. 5.    Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold. 6.    We never repent of having eaten too little. 7.    Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly. 8.    How much pain have those evils cost us which have never happened. 9.    Take things always by their smooth handle. 10.     When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.  (The Book of Man, 425). Charles Sykes, Writer and Journalist: Things to Tell Your Children or Grandchildren Rule 1:  Life is not fair—get used to it! Rule 2:  The world won’t care about your self-esteem.  The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. Rule 3:  You will not make $60,000 a year right out of high school.  You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both. Rule 4:  If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. Rule 5:  Flipping burghers is not beneath your dignity.  Your grandparents had a different word for burgher flipping.  They called it opportunity. Rule 6:  If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes; learn from them. Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now.  They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were.  So, before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room. Rule 8:  Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.  In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times you want to get the right answer.  This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life. Rule 9:  Life is not divided into semesters.  You don’t get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself.  Do that on your own time. Rule 10:  Be nice to nerds.  Chances are you’ll end up working for one! (The Book of Man, 379) My Cousin Peter Some years ago, before my cousin Peter became an architect, he taught boys in three of New York City’s trade and technical high schools, two of them located in the ghetto.   The boys, who came from lower income families, were mostly African American.  One thread linked them together:  There was no sign of fathers anywhere in their lives.   The worst Friday in the year for the boys was anticipating the upcoming Father’s Day. Without their fathers, they were like orphans.  The boys’ mothers were the bread winners; grandmothers raised the children.  When a boy was absent from class, in most cases, he was caring for a sick grandmother. Mothers couldn’t afford to get sick. Peter taught his students the basics of trade, architecture and building construction, drawing, drafting, and reading blueprints, but more importantly, they learned from him self-discipline and self-respect. He loved his boys with a firm yet understanding heart, gave them direction for the future, and often served as in loco parentis. Peter was a hero to those boys.  To this day, he is the much-loved patriarch of his family. From Scripture “A wise child makes a glad father but a foolish child is a mother’s grief” (Proverbs 10:1)     “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.  The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice.  He who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice” (Proverbs 23:ff).     “After chaos, confusion, and turmoil, after a frantic search for him all over, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. “After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.   . . . . When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him: ‘Why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety’” (Luke 3: 41ff).    Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Today and every day, give us what we need.  “To our sons, John and Joseph, who are becoming the kind of men we hoped, prayed, and worked for.  Know that others will say of each of you, following Homer, that the son is far better than the father, and that he makes glad the heart of his mother.”  This dedication appears at the beginning of William J. Bennett’s, The Book of Man.   A Happy Father’s Day to All Fathers and Expectant Fathers.

Apostolate of the Laity: An Overview

Jun 10, 2015 / 00:00 am

Not until Vatican II was the vocation of the laity brought into sharp focus.  Two thousand years earlier, the early Church was made up of bishops and lay disciples, at first Jewish converts, followed by those from all walks of life. The timid and the weak came.  The deeply religious followed.  Paul of Tarsus embraced The Way only after being knocked to the ground.  Then he summoned others to serve as his emissaries.  How did the apostolic Church grow from a few frightened men and women to large numbers? Wasn’t it a high crime to join a sect that refused to worship pagan gods? A community, ablaze with fervor and revealing the face of God, prompted others to ‘come in.’ Nothing could surpass being gathered round its bishop celebrating the Eucharist.  These baptized laity took their vocation so seriously that, if it became necessary, they were ready and willing to die for their belief in Jesus Christ.  And many did. In the third century, Tertullian could say in his Apologeticus that “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.” As the persecutions intensified, converts multiplied in number.  The crime of belief in Jesus Christ would likely be followed by cruel death, a phenomenon that is today being repeated throughout the world. The Middle Ages and BeyondBy 315 AD, Christianity was the established religion of the Roman Empire.  In the next century, the clerical and monastic states of life began to organize, expand, and win high praise. Priests and monks separated themselves from ordinary lay people. Nuns were already cloistered. Whereas some monks entered a completely enclosed life, Benedictine monks educated sons of the rich but within the confines of the monastery. A sharp hierarchical division arose:  first bishops, clergy, then monks and friars who disparaged the material and ‘evil’ world, and finally, the laity.Vatican II and Beyond98 percent of the Catholic faith-tradition is composed of the lay faithful, defined most often as the People of the New Covenant, the People of God, or more precisely, the Body of Christ.  In the years leading up to Vatican II, lay movements such as the Grail began to spring up not only in Europe but here in this country.  They attracted young men and women to weekly gatherings that worshiped around the Eucharist. Vibrant social apostolates like those of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin welcomed these young people.  It was not until the conciliar Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity and later, the 1987 World Synod on the Laity that the vocation of the laity was placed on equal footing with the clergy and those in consecrated life. Holiness, they affirmed, is a universal call.  On the eve of Vatican II, Pope John XXIII assembled a group of prominent theologians:  Jesuits Henri De Lubac, Jean Daniélou, and Karl Rahner; Dominicans, Yves Congar and Edward Schillebeeckx, and diocesan priest, Josef Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). They saw the need of rekindling the fiery zeal of the early lay Christians and to revitalize their apostolic roles.   A Variety of Ministries Standing shoulder to shoulder with others, lay people take their place in public life and in the social milieu. The roles in the Body of Christ are varied, and everyone has a specific ministry that must be fulfilled.  No substitutes will do.   Lay faithful act as leaven in the masses bringing Gospel values directly to the world, their specific mission. According to 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, the ministry of the Body is done through the duties inherent in the work of each member.A bishop builds up his Local Church; a mother and father build up their family as the Domestic Church. Secular institutes of men and women serve the world differently from the communities that follow the spirit of St. Bruno or Charles de Foucauld. A person in public service ministers differently from those in the social milieu.  No one was more aware of his ministry than Tim Russert who died in 2008.  America lost a dedicated and shrewd journalist, a devoted family man, and a devout, Catholic gentleman.  The manner is ordinary, as John LaFarge, S.J. wrote years ago. What appears ordinary is far from ordinary however.  It is the “sacrament of the present moment,” a phrase used by Jean-Pierre Caussade, S.J. 

Beautiful Minds, Beautiful People

Jun 3, 2015 / 00:00 am

Last week’s tragic death of John Forbes Nash, Jr. and his wife, Alicia Nash prompted an immediate outpouring of emotion praising the Nobel Laureate from Princeton University.  Defined as “a beautiful mind,” Professor Nash was a math genius whose life story inspired the Oscar-winning film by the same title.The BeautifulOne need not excel in academics or in any field to merit the descriptive, beautiful.  The beautiful may be seen in a nurse’s assistant who tenderly cares for the most basic needs of a patient.  Or, we may observe how delicately a physician deals with the family of a terminally-ill patient. And how many teachers spend extra time beyond class hours to help troubled students? Whenever a person acts unselfishly, there we see love in action, always beautiful.  Every infant is born with a beautiful soul that calls for expression. Of course, the beautiful is not limited to persons.  External stimuli attract us: a cool, sunny spring day, observing children at play, reading good literature, or listening to a piece of music.The Road to Character David Brooks, a journalist for the New York Times, has recently published a best-seller, The Road to Character which has sparked widespread interest, especially among those in search of moral depth.  For years, Brooks has asked himself why, despite his career successes, feeling superficial has disturbed him, and why other people seem to be more content.  He notes that these people “radiate an inner light.  They can be in any walk of life, seem deeply good, listen well, make you feel funny and valued.  You often catch them looking after other people and as they do, their laughter is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude.  They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing.  They are not thinking about themselves at all.”As one example, Brooks cites Monsignor Raymond East, an African-American Catholic priest and pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, D.C., one of the poorest parishes in the nation’s capital.  This priest is “insanely happy,” Brooks observes. “A few years ago, I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people.”The Road to Character reveals the author’s concerns and addresses traditionally-religious topics but without reference to organized religion.  He knows that many readers harbor a deep mistrust of mainline faith-traditions.  Catholics, Protestants, and Jews have left behind their churches and synagogues in search of experiences powerful enough to effect interior change, help them cope with life’s hardships, and put them on the road to a contented life.     The Relationship to Crown All OthersCentral to the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths is the awareness that God summons us as a community of believers and as individuals—called even by name—for a special reason.  God initiates and establishes a mutual yet unequal relationship, the sacred bond of a covenantal union. As with Abraham, our father in faith, our relationship with God covers the whole of our lives. It embraces every aspect of our prayer and worship, our observance, our work, thought, activity, and our relationships with others.  As with Abraham and his descendants, we believe that nothing happens by chance, for God acts in every event of life.  Through the ups and downs of life, we are guided by God’s abiding presence.  Psalm 8 proclaims the lofty truth that we have been created a little lower than God; we are made according to the divine image, in glory and honor.  The mandate is to act accordingly. Time and again, the Psalms make reference to this sacred bond: “Come to me in your distress, and I will save you” (Psalm 50).  “O Lord, my God, answer me, when I call, you gave me room when I was in distress, be gracious to me, and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4). The relationship with God precedes and crowns all others.  It shines out “like shook foil” to others.When asked about the meaning of holiness, Brooks confesses his uncertainty about what it is.  Is it a ‘do-it-yourself’ activity or does it depend on this something called grace?  He is certain that people like Monsignor East reveal an inner radiance that he describes and much admires.  But explain it, define it?  He cannot quite do that.  Still, Brooks summarizes the qualities he admires:  a profound humility, that is, thinking about others; awareness of one’s core sin and conquers it; recognizing one’s need for “redemptive assistance from outside” or grace; unselfish, energizing love; responding to the call within the call of one’s vocation; and finally, the conscience leap—getting beyond power, prestige, and position.  Dorothy Day is another person whom the author admires.Building a Better WorldAn increasing number of men and women no longer adhere to a faith-tradition.  Perhaps they’re not even aware that a relationship with God is possible. Still, atheists, agnostics—secularists all, can and do come to terms with their decisions and, without a religious framework, build a better society.  Believers see themselves as co-creators with a mandate from the Creator to build a better world.  The breakdown and tearing down we witness today only prompts dedicated people to build that better world, expressed in the words of “Ulysses” by Alfred Lloyd Tennyson:Much have I seen and known; cities of menAnd manner, climates, councils, governments,Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;. . .I am part of all that I have met;Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fadesFor ever and forever when I move.How dull it is to pause, to make an end,To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!  . . .   “to shine in use.”  Here are beautiful minds, beautiful people. 

Stay with Us

May 27, 2015 / 00:00 am

The songs of Irving Berlin have woven their way into the fabric of American life.  They’re a national treasure.  Occasionally, the lyrics can raise our minds heavenward. Take for example, the song, “I’ll be loving you, always.”  In St. Matthew’s gospel for Trinity Sunday, Jesus speaks his final words to the disciples:  “I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.” In other words, ‘I’ll stay with you always . . . ‘I’ll be loving you, always, for I-AM-LOVE.’  The Plan of SalvationWith the feast of Pentecost, the Easter season has officially come to a close.  Pentecost leads directly to the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the central mystery of Christendom. From now until next Advent season, the Church settles in to Ordinary Time, the extended time when the Church basks in the love of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. The plan of salvation acts dynamically and continues in creation, in current events, in the mission of the Church, and in every individual. The Indwelling of the Most Holy TrinityThe feast of the Most Holy Trinity is mystery so wide, expansive, and boundless to ponder, for it is the gift of God’s very own Self to the world. God’s grace encourages me in moments of distress.  It prompts me to develop my gifts and root out my particular faults. Whatever I have received is placed at the service of others.  My vocation is to love God into the world, one day at a time.  Nothing less will do.Jesus assured his disciples:  “If any man and woman love me, they will keep my word, and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with him.”  This awareness makes the sacrament of the present moment all the more vital.  Exhorting the catechumens in Constantinople, St. Gregory the Theologian (4th c) tells them:  “I give the Most Holy Trinity to you as the companion and patron of your whole life.”    St. Paul’s Favorite MetaphorThe Christian vocation is lived out not in isolation but with one another, the Body of Christ. St. Paul’s use of the body-metaphor comes into play most vividly in his letters to the Corinthians: • “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?” • “The temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple.  You belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to you.”   • “Get rid of all the old yeast and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread.”  • “You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for.  That is why you should use your body for the glory of God” (1 Cor 3; 5; 6ff).“Do you love me more than these?”At the close of St. John’s gospel, Jesus turns to Peter with an edgy question: “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” he answers.  Jesus repeats the question, and Peter answers. Didn’t Jesus hear him the first time?   But a third time?  The Master’s gentle jab, or is it teasing—whatever it is upsets Peter, and rightfully so.  He grasps the point.  His threefold denial has been seared in his memory. He will weep over that betrayal all his life. “Do you love me more than these?” This question to every Christian does not lose its edge. Peter is Everyman—Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier,  Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein, Dietrich Bonhoffer, Oscar Romero, the martyred missionary women in El Salvador, the martyrs in Syria, Nigeria, Nagasaki.  Then there are the hidden and nameless:  the homebound and suffering praying for special intentions of the Church, our wounded veterans and those suffering in hospitals, the dedicated teacher, physician, nurse, and other caregivers, the politician and government official, the spouse and mother keeping the family together and praying that it stays together.  The question pricks; it needles.  It will never lose its edge. It’s always before us.The words of Jeremiah anticipate those of Jesus:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3), and the lyrics of Mr. Berlin echo Jeremiah’s: “I’ll be loving you, always, Not for just an hour, Not for just a day, Not for just a year, But always.” In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus clinches it all: “I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.”

Untying Knots

May 20, 2015 / 00:00 am

Most of us love television mysteries. We follow our sleuth in detecting clues that will ultimately loosen the knots and solve the mystery.  Whether it’s Agatha Christie with Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Jessica Fletcher, or Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, Inspectors Lewis and Foyle, or Father Brown, they delight us with their unique approaches to solving mysteries. Greek and Roman DramaIn Greek tragedy, like Superman, the gods insert themselves into a knotted problem—it may deal with a family or a national dilemma.  Not above mischief, the gods themselves may initiate the problem.  Then suddenly, abruptly, they swoop down, intervene, loosen the knot, and resolve the mystery.  Collectively, the gods are the deus ex machina, the god from the machine.  The difference between modern-day sleuths and the deus ex machina is that the latter work with the speed of lightning to resolve the narrative.  The former take a little longer to solve the mystery in which the writer has painted the culprit into a corner.  Knots in Mary’s LifeWith the angelic message, Mary’s placid life at Nazareth was suddenly thrown into turmoil, as was Joseph’s. Once they were married and traveled to Bethlehem to enroll in the census, there were concerns about a suitable place for the Child’s birth. In escaping Herod’s wrath, they were filled with tension trekking off to Egypt in the middle of the night like fugitives. Then there were predictions by Simeon and Anna about the Child’s future.  And what of the loss in the temple?  It would be one stressful event after the other—a series of knots.Mary at the Wedding Feast of CanaIt’s at the wedding at Cana that we see Mary untying a knot for others, at least in its initial stage (Jn 2:1-11).  The wine has run out.  On a day when the bride and groom should be rejoicing, they’re in great distress. What will the guests think and say?  Mary notices the problem before the guests and intends to do something about it.  Jesus sees but plans to remain uninvolved. They’re her friends. Still, he will not refuse his mother’s request, this she knows.  Just one sentence to him, stating the problem.  ‘Now is not the time for a miracle,’ comes his ready response. She looks past him as though not listening.   “Do whatever he tells you,” come her confident words to the waiter. You have to love her cool, as our young people might say.The Story behind Our Lady, the One Who Unties 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 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.”  Earliest Reference to Our Lady, Untier of KnotsThe earliest reference to this 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 painting, oil on poplar, 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.  It has also come to symbolize the knots that are part of any marriage.  At the same time, she presses her foot crushing the head of a coiled (or knotted) serpent. The painting is located in St. Peter’s Church in Augsburg.  Pope Francis and Our Lady, Untier of KnotsOur 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 a Bavarian painting entitled, “Holy Mother, Our Lady, Untier of Knots.”  When he returned to Argentina with a copy of that image on a postcard, he had an icon struck with this same title.  He seems intent on following Our Lady’s example by untying knots within the Church and in the wider community of nations.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. There are countless visuals depicting the wedding at Cana but none more telling than that of Giotto, the fourteenth-century Florentine painter.  The fresco of Cana is the eighth of twenty-four in the life of Christ painted on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.   The unusual fresco shows Mary with her hand raised in blessing as her son performs the miracle that she has initiated.  The feast day of Mary, “untier of knots,” falls on September 28th.

Celebrating Our Lady of Chartres

May 13, 2015 / 00:00 am

While the story of Fatima is well-known, that of Chartres still needs to be told.In the 1940s, a French monk and a star-gazer made a curious discovery. He observed that in certain cities, the churches dedicated to Our Lady were strategically located in such a way as to outline the constellation Virgo.Now Virgo is the second largest cluster of stars that form the outline of a woman carrying two sheaves of wheat.  Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, is bluish-white, traditionally Our Lady’s colors.  In Greek and Roman antiquity, Virgo was sometimes called the virgin goddess.  The designated cities are north of Paris, and they are:  Amiens, Rouen, Bayeux, Evreux, Chartres, Paris, and Reims.   All have churches or cathedrals dedicated to Our Lady. These monuments tower over people’s homes like mighty guardians, keeping alive the invincible faith of France’s history.  Medieval builders of these Marian churches sacralized the countryside, for their intent was to bring heaven to earth. To echo St. Augustine, we live in two overlapping cities: the City of God and the City of Man, just as Jesus did.  The two cities must speak with each another.  The Attraction and Power of ChartresVisitors are quite unprepared for the beauty of Chartres in an age that teaches ugliness to our children and glorifies it for the rest of us. Chartres’s loveliness thrills the senses and sends chills up the spine.  In this period of faith, the arts flowered for God’s sake. This architectural marvel has stood for 1,000 years.  Since the twelfth century, pilgrims have traveled there for different reasons.  Jewish and Catholic philosophers visited the cathedral school where the teachings of Plato were taught.  By the twelfth century, the cathedral had become a major pilgrimage site.  The Chartres of today is the Chartres of the twelfth century. Today, millions visit Chartres to admire the cathedral’s Gothic beauty, vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, rose windows, flying buttresses, Labyrinth, and of course, its eerie gargoyles. Believers and secularist go to Chartres to be enveloped by its silent beauty and by a sacred, if not divine, presence abiding there.  They sit, heads bowed while others meander, deep into their own thoughts. It’s easy to lose track of time because Chartres’s atmosphere is one of timelessness.  All are searching, but searching for what?  Who can fathom what lies in the recesses of the heart?  Visitors stay for hours at a time. Year after year, they return.  Chartres is designed to quiet the mind and the heart, and offer respite from a noisy world. The Construction of ChartresBegun in the eleventh century, Chartres took a few hundred years to build.  In 1194, the church and much of the city was destroyed by fire.  When the veil believed to be the veil worn by Mary at the Nativity was lifted intact out of the rubble, the people’s resolve to restore the cathedral was further strengthened. People came from far and wide, all classes of people, united in heart and mind.  The whole community helped to build the cathedral. There are no signatures on the stained glass or on the sculptures, or anywhere.  Orson Welles wrote about Chartres in a 1974 film essay, F for Fake:  “And this has been standing here for centuries. The premier work of men, perhaps in the whole Western world, and it’s without a signature:  Chartres.”  To the medieval soul, building a church dedicated to the Mother of God who interceded for them was the greatest reward one could receive.      How did the architects construct the great walls of colored glass? These cathedrals were taller than the ancient pyramids, larger than the Statue of Liberty and as heavy as the Empire State Building.  Their engineering secrets remain a medieval mystery. A compass sufficed as their sole instrument of measure. Masters of the compass had a working blueprint which they shared with a few masons. They had no rulers, no units of length, only the proportions of the human body, an A B A form.  The Human Body, the A B A Form as CruciformThe church building is the Domus Dei, the House of God, where the Body of Christ assembles for worship.  The shape of the traditional church building is that of the human body, the form of a crucifix, i.e., cruciform.  The cruciform in churches conveys rich symbolism.  The head of the body is the apse, the body of the church is the nave, and the arms, the transept.  This human image is completed in the image of Christ who is outstretched on the wood of the cross in expectation of the resurrection. The human body became the basis of the measurement of Chartres.  Its layout followed the principle of the body, A B A.The building of Chartres, which utilized theologians, master stonecutters, decorators and designers, was a costly enterprise. Patrons and royal families, artisans, merchants, and the guilds donated funds to finance the stained glass and rose windows. In 1194, enthusiasm ran high, and the community stood to gain economically as well.Medieval cathedrals like Chartres dominated the lives of the people.  They were magnets for outsiders as well as symbols for the people. Cathedrals were town buildings where vital social and economic, religious, and academic functions were carried out. Around the cathedral were sold textiles, images and relics, fuel, vegetables, meats, and fish.  Baptisms, sacraments, marriage, burials, and schooling took place there. But especially for the great Marian feasts of the year, Chartres was the central place to celebrate them. World War IINeither the French Revolution nor the two world wars could damage Chartres. In 1939, before the Nazis invaded France, every piece of cut glass was painstakingly removed from 176 stained glass windows with their millions of brilliant colors. After World War II, each piece was cleaned and replaced with stronger leading. This intense labor was one of intense love.“The American Colonel of World War II, Wellborn Barton Griffith, Jr., is best remembered for helping to preserve the cathedral. When it was learned that the Nazi army was about to attack them at Chartres, the Allies planned to shell the cathedral. Griffith questioned the strategy and volunteered to climb the cathedral tower alone, not knowing whether an enemy unit was a step or turn away. After finding the tower unoccupied, he rejoined his forces, reporting that the cathedral was clear. The order to shell the cathedral was withdrawn, and the Allies took the town” (Relative’s letter to Jay Nordlinger, National Review, May 10, 2011). In 1979, Chartres was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Finally . . . Chartres’ grandeur appeals to the highest aspirations of the human spirit.  In Chartres, one does not simply see beauty. One experiences it and is united to it.In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell, the comparative religionist who left his Catholic faith, writes of Chartres:  “I’m back in the Middle Ages.  I’m back in the world that I was brought up in as a child, the Roman Catholic spiritual-image world, and it is magnificent . . . .  That cathedral talks to me about the spiritual information of the world.  It’s a place for meditation, just walking around, just sitting, just looking at those beautiful things.”Gothic architecture is nothing without its pervasive light, its luminosity.  It is said that Catholic faith is rational and right when, from the inside, one is bathed by the outer light of God’s grace.  And “to want to see the stained glass window from the inside is already to believe,” writes Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Chartres, a manifestation of God in stone, has been called a library of spirituality and a visual Bible.  Chartres celebrates God’s glory, the dignity of men and women, and what they can accomplish together.     The dark Middle Ages, ridiculed by sophists, were anything but dark.  This age of faith can enlighten today’s Sophisticates through the genius of Chartres.

Mothers of the Bible

May 5, 2015 / 00:00 am

Mother’s Day has been celebrated throughout the world since the time of Ancient Greece.  Most countries designate the second Sunday in May to recognize mothers in a special way.   The Bible records the names of strong, courageous women—wives and mothers—who contributed mightily to the plan of salvation, and we call attention to those women in this essay.Mothers of the Old TestamentEve is the name we give to the mother of humankind.  She is followed by the saintly Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, the wives of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  As they approached old age, they remained childless, generally viewed as an embarrassment if not a punishment from God. But through their persevering trust, God’s plan turned their barrenness into fecundity with the birth of sons to lead their people. RahabThe Canaanite woman Rahab plays an important role in the genealogy of the Matthean Gospel.  Though she was a prostitute, her courage in protecting the Israelite spies made the conquest of Jericho possible (Joshua 2). Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and King David were Rahab’s son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson, respectively.  Her most famous descendent was Jesus of Nazareth.  In Rahab, we see that, with God’s grace, a person can change, for she became a worthy mother and God’s effective instrument for future generations.Ruth Ruth was a woman from the Moabite tribe.  She was married to Naomi’s son, and when he died, Ruth was left childless.  In time, when she was about to marry her new husband Boaz, son of Rahab, she asked Naomi to join the family.  Ruth gave birth to a son, Obed whom Naomi adopted as her grandson.  The Book of Ruth describes the loving relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.   An Italian institute of consecrated women in Caserta, Southern Italy has opened up the shelter Casa Ruth to care for women who are sold into prostitution, forced slavery or trafficking.  This institute is one of 100 safe havens throughout Europe with 250 nuns participating in them from 28 congregations.  Many have missionary experience.  The umbrella organization for Casa Ruth is Talitha Kum, the International Network of Consecrated Life against Trafficking in Persons.  Talitha Kum is a phrase spoken by Jesus which means “Little girl, arise” (Mk 5:41).   Under the loving care of the nuns, the women and their children retrieve their human dignity and worth.  The women learn a useful trade, and their children receive a fine education. HannahHannah prayed to the Lord in anguish and bitterness, for she too was childless. She prayed ceaselessly and promised that if God blessed her with a son, she would dedicate him to the temple.  When her prayer was answered, the child Samuel was brought to Eli for training as a priest.  He became the last of Israel’s judges and a counselor to Saul and David.  Hannah and her husband Elkanah were blessed with three more sons and a daughter (1 & 2 Samuel).  In this story, perseverance in prayer and generosity are richly rewarded.Mothers of the New TestamentElizabethThe narrative of Elizabeth runs parallel to that of Mary’s Annunciation.  Advanced in age, Elizabeth was childless.  But the angel appeared to tell her that she would conceive and bear a son, John the Baptist.  Zachary, her husband, doubted the messenger, and for his disbelief, he was struck mute.  She welcomed her cousin Mary of Nazareth, and together they rejoiced at their approaching motherhood, miraculous in every way.Rachel Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories of the Christian Scriptures is that of the Holy Innocents whose feast day the Church celebrates on December 28th. To make certain that the Child born in Bethlehem would not challenge his power, King Herod 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). 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 the Christian faith.Mrs. Zebedee Zebedee and his wife had two sons, James and John.  She asked Jesus for a personal favor:  “Grant that one of these sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at you left in your kingdom” (Mt 20:21).  Though she probably didn’t realize the weight of her request, who can blame her for seeking preferential treatment of her two sons?  Mary of Nazareth:  the Loveliest Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys (Song of Songs 2:1)Traditionally, May is Mary’s month. In Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, one Mary Chapel after another represents various countries in their depictions of this loveliest of women holding her Child, each garbed in ethnic clothing.   Whether it’s in literature, architecture, iconography, painting, statuary, or in music, the burst of creativity continues among artists in singing Mary’s praises.  In fact, since the Middle Ages, about 15,000 hymns are directed or addressed to her.   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).  A woman, full of grace and strength, Mary is not simply a type of ideal womanhood.  She is a prototype of the Church and a model for Christians.  Mary in IslamNot only revered in the universal Catholic Church, Mary is also greatly honored in the Islamic tradition.  She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.  Maryam is mentioned thirty-four times as contrasted with nineteen in the Gospels.  She is never referred to as the Virgin Mary, but the account of the Annunciation and Nativity is extensive.  The Quran reverently approaches the narrative on Jesus’ birth from Mary.  He was a prophet who respected his mother and whose mission was to offer an example through a life of prayer and good deeds. Our church leaders should take note that Maryam is a bridge between Islam and Christianity.   Mary and the Spiritual ExercisesIn the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola presents a lovely tableau not found in the Gospels, the Appearance of the Risen Lord to his Mother.  Ignatius reasons that it would have been impossible for the Son not to appear to his Mother before appearing to his disciples.  The simple chant, “Mary the Dawn,” is lovely to pray on Mother’s Day:Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!Mary the Root, Christ, the Mystic Vine;Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!May the Wheat-Sheaf, Christ the Living BreadMary 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.“Credentials,” a poem by Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., describes the essence of a rose and the loveliest rose God ever made:. . .  So the rose is its own credential, a certainunattainable form: wearing its heart visibly,                it gives us heart too: bud, fulness and fall. Happy Mother’s Day, Valiant Women All.

The Revolving Door

Apr 29, 2015 / 00:00 am

A few months ago, Jimmy Fallon, the late-night host at NBC, was reminiscing with his guest, Bill O’Reilly, about their common experience serving as altar boys at the Latin Mass.  Gleefully, they rattled off the prayers proud of their sure memories.  The host then asked his guest if he was still a practicing Catholic. Yes, Mr. O’Reilly nodded.  Then, eager to react, Mr. Fallon countered in his careless diction and in poor taste: “I don’t practice anymore.”While many walk out or back out of the Church, others file in.  Some are deciding whether to leave or to stay.  Still others are returning to the Church.  Martyrs to the faith are being made all over the world. The revolving door.Then there is Tom Selleck who relishes his role of an Irish Catholic Police Commissioner of New York City in the successful series “Blue Bloods” on CBS.    Brideshead Revisited and ConversionsIn 1981, the thirteen-part television series, “Brideshead Revisited,” won international acclaim and numerous awards for its portrayal of a very rich English Catholic family living in the early twentieth century.  The series closely followed the novel by the same title, written by Evelyn Waugh (1903-66).  By the time he had completed the book in 1945, the author was recognized as the greatest English writer of his time.  The multiple themes of Brideshead Revisited are adultery and marital love, loss and retrieval of faith, divine grace, and conversion.  “The book is about God.  It is about the human spirit, redeemed; it can survive all disasters,” writes Waugh.  Death-bed Conversion in Brideshead RevisitedDivine grace provides the very possibility for faith, the Church teaches.  To desire faith or to desire to retrieve one’s faith is already God’s grace at work in a person.  That grace is entirely personal and unique. We see this fact dramatized in a final scene of Brideshead Revisited.   On his death-bed, the family patriarch Lord Marchmain, refuses the Church’s last rites and dismisses the Catholic priest.  He has not practiced his faith for years. But at the request of some family members, the priest returns to dying man.  Then, in the very last moments of Lord Marchmain’s life, with his family surrounding him, slowly, painfully, he pulls his hand up to his forehead, and then drags it down to his breast with as much difficulty, then to his left shoulder.  His fingers make a slow, difficult, and very determined outline of the sign of the cross, but death claims him before he completes the Trinitarian profession of faith.For Lord Marchmain, faith was not a matter of the head but one of the heart, entirely prompted by God’s grace. This scene remains one of the most powerful in all of literature.  At the end of this scene, one family member returns to the faith, and an agnostic family friend hostile to Catholicism also kneels and signs himself. The revolving door.“Come Inside”Waugh, who at age sixteen had announced to his school chaplain that there was no God, made his conversion to Catholicism ten years later.  In his essay, “Come Inside,” he writes for an American readership: “The shallowness of my early piety is shown by the ease with which I abandoned it. There are, of course, countless Catholics who, for a part of their lives at least, lose their faith, but it is always after a bitter struggle—usually a moral struggle. I shed my inherited faith as lightheartedly as though it had been an outgrown coat.”  Waugh was asked whether he realized that 99% of the British disagreed with his decision. Yes, he knew.  “Here, I think, the European has some slight advantage over the American. It is possible, I conceive, for a man to grow up in parts of the United States without ever being really aware of the Church's unique position. He sees Catholics as one out of a number of admirable societies, each claiming his allegiance. That is not possible, for a European. England was Catholic for nine hundred years, then Protestant for three hundred.”  In Tudor England and beyond, thousands were executed for their faith because they would not agree to Henry VIII’s divorce from his lawful wife. Bishop John Fisher, Thomas More, Edmund Campion, John Ogilvy, monks and nuns and many others of this era were martyred for their faith.  Monasteries across Great Britain were pillaged or destroyed.Waugh continues:  “Then England was agnostic for a century. The Catholic structure still lies lightly buried beneath every phase of English life.  Everywhere history, topography, law, and archaeology reveal Catholic origins. Foreign travel anywhere reveals the local, temporary character of the heresies and schisms and the universal, eternal character of the Church. It was self-evident to me that no heresy or schism could be right and the Church wrong. It was possible that all were wrong, that the whole Christian revelation was an imposture or a misconception. But if the Christian revelation was true, then the Church was the society founded by Christ and all other bodies were only good so far as they had salvaged something from the wrecks of the Great Schism and the Reformation. This proposition seemed so plain to me that it admitted of no discussion. It only remained to examine the historical and philosophic grounds for supposing the Christian revelation to be genuine. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a brilliant and holy priest [Father Martin D’Arcy, S.J.] who undertook to prove this to me, and so on firm intellectual conviction but with little emotion I was admitted into the Church.”Persecution of Armenian ChristiansOn April 24,th the Vatican, France, Belgium, Germany, Lebanon, and Russia  joined with the Armenian community to commemorate the “first genocide of the twentieth century,” a phrase used by Pope Francis last week during a Eucharistic liturgy.  In that worship service, Armenian Church leaders spoke passionately about the massacre. Beginning at the turn of the nineteenth century and continuing to 1915 and even beyond, the Ottoman Turks systematically slaughtered some 1.5 million Armenians.  The genocide was carried out in two stages.  The first part included intellectuals and political leaders, all keepers of the creative flame of an ancient people whose beginnings date back to Antiquity.  The second part of the genocide turned to the deportation of men, women, children, the elderly and infirm all of whom were placed on death marches that led to the Syrian Desert.  They were deprived of food and water, subjected to robbery and rape.  The hostile desert is where they succumbed to death.  Other massacres included systematic drownings, poison, drug overdose, and mass burnings. The revolving door.The systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians has been well documented in most history books, except perhaps those in Turkey. The Hebrew University scholar, Yehuda Bauer has called the Armenian genocide “the closest parallel to the Holocaust.”   Last week, the Armenian Church canonized its 1.5 million martyrs.  The Christian organization, Open Doors, estimates that at least 100 million Christians face persecution particularly in Muslim-dominated countries.  According to the Society for International Rights, up to 80% of acts of persecution are directed to Christians.The praise Charles de Gaulle offered during World War II to the Résistance is praise that well describes those Christians who undergo martyrdom for the faith: “You who were killed as Resistance Fighters or executed by firing squads, all of you who with your last breath shouted aloud the name of France, you are the men and women who exalted courage, sanctified effort, invented resolution.  You took the lead at the head of the immense, magnificent cohort of the sons and daughters of France who, through their suffering, bore witness to her greatness.” Waugh ConcludesWhen asked about his conversion, Waugh replied: “My life since then has been an endless delighted tour of discovery in the huge territory of which I was made free. I have heard it said that some converts in later life look back rather wistfully to the fervor of their first months of faith. With me it is quite the opposite. I look back aghast at the presumption with which I thought myself suitable for reception and with wonder at the trust of the priest who saw the possibility of growth in such a dry soul.”“From time to time friends outside the Church consult me. They are attracted by certain features, repelled or puzzled by others. To them I can only say, from my own experience, ‘Come inside.’ You cannot know what the Church is like from outside. However learned you are in theology, nothing you know amounts to anything in comparison with the knowledge of the simplest actual member of the Communion of Saints."  On stepping in to the revolving door, Evelyn Waugh found his spiritual home … on the inside.

'They did not believe'

Apr 22, 2015 / 00:00 am

The Gospels record at least seven instances of disbelief in the Lord’s Resurrection.  The words were spoken not by outsiders but by the disciples themselves.  They didn’t believe the women who, on returning from the empty tomb, couldn’t wait to announce the good news to them. Idle chatter they called it.  On finding only linen cloths at the tomb, Peter went home wondering at what happened to the body.  The two disciples at Emmaus had just about given up on the Lord’s promise and prediction.  They had hoped as well . . . .  Then there was Thomas. You can almost hear his brashness, ‘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 doesn’t reprove Thomas but indulges him.  Once Thomas professes his belief, he becomes “the very one who most completely affirms the fullness of Christ’s nature found on the lips of anyone in the Gospel when he acclaims, “My Lord, and my God.”  His acclamation has become a common confession of faith concerning Christ. (Jerusalem Biblical Commentary, #178).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?  For days, their vision remained clouded.The Women at the Tomb; Mary MagdaleneNot so with the women. Seeing the empty tomb, initially they were afraid.  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 about her, nothing naïve. Unlike Peter, she stayed behind at the tomb weeping, all the while trying to sort things out 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.  To recapitulate the scene: “Why are you weeping,” ask the angels? She 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 Jesus, disguised as a gardener asks what she’s looking for.  This time, assuming that this gardener 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, both unrealistic and impossible.   Love knows no reason.  Or as Blaise Pascal would say in the seventeenth century, “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” It was only a few days before that Mary, in an act of profligate love, had poured out 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.   This encounter in the garden is lovely.  Jesus consoles Mary with her very own name.  His voice entirely transforms her.  The Risen Lord won’t allow her to cling to him because 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.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 that of Isaiah 43:1:“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” Contemplation as EventIf, in prayer, you can recreate this scene and sense that Jesus is calling you by name, it may be difficult to utter those harsh words, “I will not believe.”  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.  For most of us, it means living our faith quietly, firmly, but without hesitation.   God’s gracious presence at work in our lives gives them purpose and directs them with dynamism.  God’s face also shines on other persons, places, things, and events. You and I proclaim our belief to a world that often shouts the harsh words, ‘We will not believe.’ You and I are called to participate in the Trinity’s ongoing redemption in the world because we pray, “Lord, we believe; help our unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

Händel’s “Messiah” at Easter Time

Apr 15, 2015 / 00:00 am

At Christmas time, millions around the world enjoy George Friedrich Händel’s “Messiah.” Apart from carols, it ranks among the season’s most popular music.  In addition to the Advent-Christmas section, there are two other parts, the Passion of the Suffering Servant (Part Two), and the Resurrection (Part Three). Unless these two parts are also sung at Christmas time, they are otherwise infrequently performed.  In this Easter season, Part Three deserves more than a comment and repays listening.Some Interesting Facts about Händel and His “Messiah”Händel was born in Germany in 1685, the same year as J.S. Bach and only one hundred miles from him.  They never met. In 1712, Händel traveled to England, and in 1727 became a naturalized British subject. “Messiah” is his greatest oratorio, defined as a large-scale religious or serious musical work for solos, chorus, recitatives, and orchestra, sung on stage but without actors, costumes, or sets.  “Messiah,” was composed in just twenty-four days.  Clearly, it was an inspired work which Händel executed in feverish activity.  It takes about three hours to perform even at breathless Baroque tempos. One of Händel’s biographers, Sir Newman Flower sums up the consensus of history:  “Considering the immensity of the work and the shortness of time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.” As a point of reference, it took Mozart six weeks to compose his last symphonies, 39, 40, and 41, taking about fifty minutes to perform, back to back. Mozart almost always worked at fever pitch and did not use an eraser.Just as Händel was putting the finishing touches on the “Hallelujah” Chorus, an assistant called to him in his study and found him in tears, proclaiming, ‘I saw the heavens open, and I saw the face of God. Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it, I know not.’ He never left the house for the entire time.First PerformanceHändel chose Dublin as the place of ‘Messiah’s” first performance, and it was advertised in the 1741-42 season as a Benefit Concert for orphans, widows, and freed prisoners.  The concert raised 400 pounds that evening.Because an overflow crowd was expected to attend and be seated, the women were told not to wear their hoops inside their skirts and the men, to leave their swords at home.On Your Feet! The tradition of standing at the “Hallelujah” Chorus is attributed to the attendance of King George II at the 1743 performance in London.  He is supposed to have stood in amazement at the opening bars of the “Hallelujah” music.  It was understood that whenever the King stood, everyone else did as well. This long tradition has remained to this very day, even in this country. The Easter TextsFor most of the Resurrection texts, Händel chose the Book of Revelations and 1 Corinthians.  Of course, the power of the music intensifies these scripture verses.  The texts are printed below.   Word painting is a favorite Baroque device with the composer making the music do what the words suggest.  Händel uses this device in all his oratorios. For example in “Messiah,” in the text, “for as in Adam, all die,” and in the word “forever,” “die” and “forever” are prolonged musically; the trumpets are made to shine majestically when the text suggests their brilliance;  to emphasize the theology of a text, all the voices are aligned in vertical chordal harmony, as in “worthy is the Lamb that was slain” and in the word, “Hallelujah.”  The final “Amen” is an entire movement of music, clearly an indication that the composer affirms his belief in all that he has just composed. He has proclaimed it with great jubilation.Introduction to Part Three:  “Hallelujah” ChorusRev.  19:6-11; 15; 19:16 Hallelujah  (repeated). For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.  The kingdom of this world will become, the kingdom of our Lord and of his Chrsit, and of is Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.  King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Hallelujah.”Part Three: The Resurrection45.  Air  I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand as the latter day upon the earth.  And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.  For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.  (Job 19:25-26; 1 Cor 15:20).  46. Chorus Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  (1 Cor15: 21-22)47.  Accompagnato  Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (1 Cor 14:51-52)48.  Air  The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. The trumpet shall sound . . .   (1Cor 15:52-53)49. Recitative    Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  (1Cor 15:54)50.  Duet O death, where is thy sting?  A grave, where is thy victory?  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  (1Cor 15:55-56)51. Chorus But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1Cor 15:57)52.  Air    If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?53.  Chorus Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.Blessing and honour, glory and power unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.  Amen.   (Rev 5:12-14)Recommended for ListeningThere are numerous recordings of Händel’s “Messiah,” some better than others.   Recommended for the listening of readers are the recordings of Jeffrey Thomas or John Eliot Gardner, Version 1741, performed on period instruments.  This means that the instruments used in these recordings were constructed to match sonorities of eighteenth-century Baroque practice.  In particular, the trumpet used is the clarino or the Baroque trumpet.   For this period, the twentieth-century trumpet is lacking in brilliance and agility.  It will not do.  Händel’s Easter “Messiah” reveals in musical form St. Augustine famous verse, “We are Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”

Putting on Christ

Apr 8, 2015 / 00:00 am

Etched in film memory of the 1940s is the scene in “Easter Parade” featuring Irving Berlin’s “In Your Easter Bonnet.” Wearing their new Easter outfits are the stars of the movie, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. With others, they strut along Fifth Avenue singing the famous song. Even pet dogs, decked out in canine finery, prance along the Avenue with their owners. In many cultures, Easter marks the time for special foods. Easter breads in different shapes and sizes are decorated with hard-boiled eggs placed in the center of the breads. Eggs, especially at Easter time, are a symbol of the resurrection, for while it is dormant, the egg contains new life within it. With other culinary delights, the breads grace the table, colorfully-decorated. Specially-prepared vegetables, rack of lamb symbolizing the Lamb of God as well as butter carved in the form of a triumphant lamb complete the table’s Easter delicacies. New Life in ChristUsing the Passover feast to explain new life to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells them to “get rid of the old yeast and so that you may be the new batch of dough” (1 Cor 5:6). During the Paschal season, the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours emphasizes new life in Christ as opposed to the old way of living. Having been plunged into the waters of baptism, the new Christian, and we who renew our baptismal vows, are raised to new life. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Not only refreshed, we are ready to don the new Easter robe, a symbol of putting on Christ. St. John Chrysostom (d 407) is considered the greatest preacher in the Early Church. His Baptismal Instructions use vivid imagery to make the teachings of the faith attractive and meaningful to his people. For this reason, he is called “golden-mouthed.” (Greek prefix, chrys, meaning gold or new.) Chrysostom’s Baptismal Instructions would read like an ad for new clothes, except for the fact that he is speaking about donning the baptismal robe of new life in Christ. In each of the twelve instructions, he cannot stress enough the words of St. Paul, that through baptism, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on the wedding garment of Christ” (Gal 3:27). The soul becomes washed, metaphorically. He is fond of speaking about the beauty of the Christian’s new robe. By donning the majestic robe, the Christian is marked as a disciple of Christ. In this way, the Christian puts on the beauty and brilliance of Christ. Like Easter strollers along Fifth Avenue, the new Christian proudly ‘wears’ Christ but without fanfare. Didn’t Jesus command: “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16)? Good example needs no words.Easter Is a MindsetEaster is not a day but an attitude of mind. It is for this reason that the Church sets aside many weeks for us to bask in Christ’s glorious resurrection and to contemplate the meaning of new life in him. Great joy and exuberance characterize the liturgical readings at Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours. The Lord has triumphed over death. And so shall we all, for we know that our Redeemer lives. “We are Easter men and women, and alleluia is our song.” (St. Augustine)

'My Son, with you I am well pleased, so well pleased.'

Apr 1, 2015 / 00:00 am

The Hebrew Scriptures record more than fifty prophecies concerning the passion and death of the expected Messiah. The theme of the Suffering Servant, despised, rejected, and abandoned, anticipates his sufferings.  Amazingly, a few veiled references to the resurrection are found among them. The parallels between the Old and New Testaments offer the singular and compelling case that Jesus, and no other historical figure, fulfilled these prophecies. The most explicit of them are found in Isaiah’s chapters 50-53.  The remaining are scattered throughout the Old Testament.   Jesus’ passion and death should be considered on two levels, the human and the divine. A common and familiar source of human suffering is malice. It was malice that crushed him.  It was malice that led to his crucifixion.Overview of Holy Week Taken collectively and viewed in human terms, the last hours of Jesus were crowded with high drama.  Judas had already sold him out, and his enemies were seeking a way to expedite his death. Where were his defenders?  Peter got cold feet.  After boasting of his unwavering support for his Master, he betrayed Jesus not once but three times, swearing in the process.  The other disciples fled. Every man for himself. The early hours of that Good Friday inched inexorably toward the Hour.  Only the Beloved Disciple and a few women remained with the Lord.  His Mother stood by to the end. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”Once again, the stage is set this week for the Church to reenact the “crowning moment of salvation history.”  The cast of characters includes the familiar players: Judas, Peter, the other disciples, Pilate, leaders of the Jews, Barabbas, the two thieves, the soldiers, and the mob. The stage is large enough to hold us and the rest of humankind.  The sins of betrayal, denials, cowardice, venality, and political correctness are not just theirs but ours as well.  The truth is that Christ suffered and died for my sins and for yours.  And, warns St. John: “If we say we are without guilt, we deceive ourselves; the truth is not to be found in us.  But if we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong” (1Jn 1:8-9).The drama of salvation is about to begin.PropheciesWhat do the prophecies tell us about the last week of Jesus’ life?  In most of the passages cited below, the first in parentheses refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, the second to their fulfillment in the Christian Scriptures.  They are offered for personal prayer.Palm Sunday  Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king riding on an ass.   (Zech 9:9//Mt 21:5)“Hail, King of the Jews.  Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Wednesday–Thursday  The Messiah would be betrayed by a friend.  (Ps 41:9//Jn 13:21) Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver.  (Zech 11:12//Mt 26:15; Lk 22:5)  Later these coins were given for the potter’s field and cast into the temple.  (Zech 11:13//Mt 27:9-10)   Jesus would be falsely accused but would remain silent before his accusers. (Ps 35:11//Mk 14:57-58; Is 53:7/Mk 15:4-5)   Jesus’ friends deserted him.   (Zech 13:7//Mt 26:56)Others gave false witness about him.   (Ps 35:11//Mt 26:60)  Poem for Holy Thursday EveningGethsemaneGethsemane means “olive press.”A place where the fruit of the tree is crushed and squeezedand the unbearable pressure releases the oil inside.And as the will of the Fathermet the will of the Son,the unbearable pressurecrushing and squeezing him,the thorns of our wasteland digging ever deeper,the sweat of our curse pooling on his skin,he made his choice and cried,“Not my will, but yours be done.” And the oil of the Spirit flowed freely.   (Jeff Peabody, First Things, April 2015, 16)In Jesus’ last hours, he was spat upon and scourged (Is 50:6, 53:5//Mt 27:26, 30) and struck on the cheek (Micah 5:1//Mt 27:30).   Good Friday    The Messiah was called the sacrificial lamb (Is 53:5//Jn 1:29 who was given for a new covenant (Is 42:6; Jer 31:31-34//Rom 11:27; Gal 3:17, 424; Heb 8:6, 8, 10;10:16, 29; 12:24; 13:20).  He was despised and rejected by men (Is 53:3:1-6), the one who bore “our grief” (Is 53:4, 6); “and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:5)The Messiah would be given vinegar to drink. (Ps 69:21//Mt 27:34, Jn 19:28-30)The Messiah’s hand and feet would be pierced. (Ps 22:16; Zech 12:10; Ps 22:7-8; //Jn 20:25-27; Lk 23:35)The Messiah’s bones would not be broken. (Ex 12:46; Ps 34:20//Jn 19:33-36)The Messiah would be forsaken by God.   (Ps 22;1//Mt 27:46)The Messiah would pray for his enemies.  (Ps 109:4//Lk 23:34)The Messiah would be buried with the rich.  (Is 53:9//Mt 27:57-60)“We adore you O Christ, and we bless you. Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.”Holy Saturday“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.  The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep, asleep in the flesh, and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.”“Rise, let us leave this place.”  (From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday)Resurrection Sunday “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25-26; 1 Cor 15:20)The Messiah would resurrect from the dead (Ps 16:10; Ps 49:15//Mt 28:2-7; Acts 2:22-32)“He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory that I may share in his fullness.”  (St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Liturgy of the Hours I: 161.)Ascension Day  The Messiah would ascend to heaven. (Ps 24:7-10; Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51)  The Messiah would be seated at God’s right hand. (Ps 68:18; Ps 110:1//Mk 16:19; Mt 22:44)Finally . . .Listen to the Father’s joy: ‘My Son, I am well pleased with you, so well pleased. May every tongue confess that you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords.’“We are Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”  (St. Augustine)