"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, May 21, 2018

Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, Part 1


This may be the most important papal encyclical of our time.  On July 25th it will mark the 50th anniversary of its publication.  This was selected as a short read in our Catholic Thought Book Club on Goodreads.  You can find the encyclical on the internet for free, here, and it’s only about fifteen pages.  You can read this in an hour.  The following are my thoughts followed by an energetic discussion which I’ll post a few excerpts.

Let me start the discussion on Humanae Vitae, in pointing out the context of the encyclical and the central question to be discussed.  These turn out to be paragraphs two and three. 

The Holy Father points out three contemporary issues that has caused the need for this Papal Encyclical, which is subtitled, “on the Regulation of Birth.”  Let’s recall that the encyclical is dated 25 July 1968, and this is in the upheaval of many post World War II revolutions.  There is the huge population spurt across the world, the social revolution of women entering the work force, and sexual revolution mostly caused by the easy access and mostly reliable devices for contraception. 

I found the Holy Father’s phrasing of women’s new choices in society to be very compassionate: “a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society.”  That’s actually quite sensitive and respectful to a woman having choices when such choices were socially denied. 

However, in paragraph two, Pope Paul VI lays out some social forces that are at countervailing odds.  On the one hand, there is the escalating population, the economic pressures that come, the freedom that women to shape their lives against a new mentality that in control of one’s life controls the very nature of God’s will.  That third subparagraph of paragraph two is well worth quoting:

But the most remarkable development of all is to be seen in man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.

What Pope Paul VI finds most disturbing is the control of life over the transmission of life. 

The third paragraph I think crystalizes the central thesis.  The first subparagraph justifies a review of the moral norms of married life, and we will see that in the next series of paragraphs.  But the second subparagraph is where the central thesis resides, and I think worth quoting in entirety:

Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act? A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies.

First, I’ve never heard of the “principle of totality.”  So I looked it up.  It ultimately comes from Thomas Aquinas and natural law, but brought to contemporary society by Pope Pius XII in a 1952 address:  

On September 14, 1952, Pope Pius XII gave an address to the First International Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System. On that occasion, the Holy Father discussed the Principle of Totality at length and in the contrasting terms spelled out in this question. The principle itself is the general notion that, since parts are ordered for the good of the whole, they may be disposed of, if necessary, for the good of the whole. The application to a human person is that “parts” (i.e., organs, digits, etc.) may be mutilated, severed, removed, or otherwise debilitated if, by so doing, one benefits the person.

But more specific to the issue at hand can be summarized by this definition from ethics:  

The principle of totality states that all decisions in medical ethics must prioritize the good of the entire person, including physical, psychological and spiritual factors. This principle derives from the works of the medieval philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized the philosophy of Aristotle with the theology of the Catholic Church. The principle of totality is used as an ethical guideline by Catholic healthcare institutions.

So what Pope Paul VI is asking in paragraph 3.2 is whether this control of life, while it may address the issues of the need for control, may in the end be more harmful to the totality of the individual and married couple.  In looking at the totality of the human experience, is that control more harmful than good?




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Irene responded:
It would seem to me that most Catholic couples have decided that controlling the number of pregnancies does more good for their experience and for the health of the mother, than harm. I am not married, so I am not speaking from experience. And I am not trying to argue for or against papal teaching. I am only trying to answer Manny's question. From listening to people and watching contemporary family life in the developed world, it seems that the principle of totality would have most couples saying that the benefit to the whole is greater when pregnancies can be planned. Women in abusive relationships have more freedom to find safety for themselves and any children they already have if they are not pregnant or fearing pregnancy. Couples can better provide financially and emotionally for children if they do not have more than they can care for. Many women have died in child birth leaving older children motherless because they could not prevent medically inadvisable pregnancies. Although abstanence could limit pregnancies, we know that the sexual act bonds two people. To prevent couples from a mutually affectionate sex life can weaken the emotional bond of the marriage. For all of these reasons and more, even though the average Catholic has never heard of this principle, many have made the decision that the greater good for the whole is the use of birth control.

My Response:
Not my question, Irene. Pope Paul VI's question. And what I think his argument will be (I have not read it all yet) is that when one considers the totality of the individual and marriage, it will not be beneficial. Do the near term positives, as you outline, outweigh the long term harm he sees as a result of the control? That is a true test. Well we know his answer. I'm anxious to read what he sees as the long term harm. I haven't gotten there yet.

Yes, the majority of Catholics apparently have determined that birth control (and to my shock abortion) is the greater good. But that doesn't mean it's correct. After all Christ Himself says that divorce is unacceptable. And yet I think most Catholics have determined that's not part of the greater good either. Just because the majority of Catholics make the decision they do doesn't mean it's not as a result of a fallen world, and therefore a sin. And doesn't the Church determine it's a mortal sin to use birth control?

Irene’s response:
Yes, the Church does prohibit the use of artificial birth control. that is why I prefaced my answer with the disclaimer that I was not arguing against Church teaching. I was only trying to answer thee question from an experiential stand point. The Church will bring into their perspective some things that are less easily perceived by the average person. So, as I tried to post, this is how the average lay couple would see the benefits or harm to the total organism, the woman or the couple or the family playing out.Not married, I have no skin in this game. And, I certainly would not advocate for disobeying Church teaching. I realize that my little perspective is too limited to think I know better than the Church. But, if asked my personal opinion, I am not sure we won't see this reversed at some point.

My Response:
Yes, I agree, that is the calculation the average lay couple makes, but that's contingent on whether they are conscious of Church teaching. I went most of my life not knowing about the restriction to contraception. I had no idea until I became devout and started learning as much as I could.

Kerstin’s Reply:
Yes, I agree, that is the calculation the average lay couple makes, but that's contingent on whether they are conscious of Church teaching. I went most of my life not knowing about the restriction to contraception. I had no idea until I became devout and started learning as much as I could.

Irene’s Response:
I am not sure I would attribute artificial birth control as the cause for increased divorce rates, same sex marriage, the growing acceptance of LGTB rights, and the declining awareness of or fidelity to God in society. I think there are many factors. We harnessed the power of the atom to wipe out entire populations, developed the technology to understand and manipulate genes to cure serious birth defects, empowered women in professional and economic realms, sent probes to the edge of our solar system and seen the pictures of distant planets. Although the availability of artificial birth control certainly offered married women greater freedom to pursue lives outside the home and allowed people to engage in sec without the fear of pregnancy, I do not think it alone brought about all the changes we currently observe.

My Response:
Irene, granted we're dealing with a complexity of phenomena, so there's no one thing that's a causal link, but the notion of recreational sex which resulted from contraception certainly can be linked to higher divorce rates. The whole sense that sex is a means to personal satisfaction and not procreation alters the outlook. If a spouse no longer provides that satisfaction - either they are no longer desirable or has become routine - then the rationale for someone else becomes justified. There has been many a "mid-life" crises that has resulted in divorce.

As to homosexual issues, that understanding too was altered as a result of the sexual revolution which stemmed from contraception. If sex is no longer primarily for procreation but now for personal satisfaction, then the notion of homosexuality is no longer that of a perversity - which is how it was characterized when I was young - but just a variation on how one achieves that satisfaction. It wasn't contraception per se that altered our understanding, but because of contraception we looked at sex differently. There was a middle step in the causal chain.

I’m going to end it there.  There were lots of good comments but I think I captured all sides without repetition.  Stay tuned for more posts on this.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: St. Catherine of Siena as a “Pivotal Player”

Bishop Robert Barron’s video series are spectacular.  I bought the Catholicism series and it was well worth it.  When he came out his The Pivotal Players was very tempted to buy it, but it was very expensive.  Volume 1, which I think is the only volume put out so far, might have been around $199 when it first came out.  The Pivotal Players is a series of videos on the people in the history of Catholicism who have been instrumental in shaping its thought and culture.  Volume 1 consists of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, Michelangelo, and St. Catherine of Siena.  Now, of course if you knew my love for St. Catherine of Siena, you quickly see how tempted I was.  However, at that time I figured, what could Bishop Barron say about St. Catherine that I didn’t already know? 

So I didn’t buy it, but I had hoped there would one day be a means of buying only one of the series and not the whole volume.  There wasn’t but recently I got an email where Bishop Barron put Volume 1 on sale for $99, which amounts to just over $16 per video, each video being about an hour long.  Now that I figured was a sale and worth getting.  As soon as I got the shipment I went and put on the episode on St. Catherine.  Goodness, it’s beautiful.  Yes, I probably already knew 90% of the information given, the video images of the locations and visuals of the paintings and statutes of St. Catherine was breathtaking.  Bishop Barron’s company, Word on Fire, does such a wonderful job on these videos.  But what really moved me was the love and admiration the video had for my beloved patroness.  More than once did it bring tears to my eyes.

Here is a trailer for the Catherine of Siena episode.



And I also found an interview Bishop Barron had on St. Catherine shortly after completing filming the episode on her.  He makes these points in the episode, but the episode is so much more.





If you want to learn a little bit about the patron saint of this blog and why I love her so without having to read books about her, get the Pivotal Player episode on her life and teachings.  It’s well worth it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Blog Note: I Haven’t Forgotten my Blog

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted.  No I haven’t forgotten.  There have been a number of things that have limited my posting.

First, I’ve gotten a new major project at work, and the start of a major project is labor intense for the project manager.  Once I’ve gotten things rolled into a plan and I’ve got good people working toward that plan, I can go into a more monitor mode.  Until then there are budgets to be put together, funding to be broken out, designs that need to be drawn up, plans that need to be established, contracts that need to be written and sent over to legal, and endless engineering documents to be composed that ensure good engineering process.  Hopefully I can take a step back in a couple of months.  In the meantime, I’m still working the project I was on before, which has become a pain.  So I’m doubly busy.

Second, baseball season!  I’m obsessed with my beloved Baltimore Orioles.  They had a disastrous first month of the season, possibly the worst start in team history.  You would think I would give up after that kind of start.  No, I’m only more obsessed.  I’m convinced this is a good team that had injuries and bad luck, and will bounce back.  It seems like they are finally returning to norm.  They’ve now won six of the last seven, including a 17-1 win yesterday.  However, in a division where the Yankees (I call them the “Stinkees”) and the Red Sox (I call them the “Red Pox”) are off to incredible starts, it does seem that the hole the Orioles dug that first month will be too deep to climb out.  We shall see.  Anyway, when I come home, my first order of business after a tiring day at work and after Matthew runs me ragged with whatever he wants me to do before he goes to bed is to turn on that night’s game.  Baseball is such a joyful pastime, even if your team is underperforming.   

Third, The Catholic Thought Book has been reading G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.  It’s been a bit slow for me, not because it’s not a good read—it’s fascinating actually—but because I was burnt out from the long list of reads the month before.  Also, although I’ve taken copious notes, I’m really not sure what I want to say about, or, perhaps more accurately, not sure on how to go about saying something on it.  I’m about two thirds of the way through (the rest of the club has finished) and I still intend to post something on it.  All those notes can’t go to waste.

Here’s what the book club is onto now, if you want to join in or follow my blog posts.  Currently we have as a short two-three week read of Pope Paul VI’s famous papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.  It’s the 50 year anniversary of this enormously important document which confirmed Catholic teaching on reproduction and marital relations.  It stands as a contrast to the sexual revolution that was swirling in the air in 1968 when it was written and published.  It’s not a very long document, only 17 pages.  It won’t take you long to read, and you can read it here from Vatican documents.  I will definitely have a couple of posts on it.

The short read is to fill the time gap while we vote, select, and acquire our next book.  The winner for the next read is The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noiseby Robert Cardinal Sarah, one of the cardinals who are on a short list for the next pope.  Everyone who I know who has read this book has raved about it.  I have a friend, Mary Sue, who is a very devout Evangelical Protestant, and she said this in her Goodreads review of this book:

This book moved me. Every once in a while, I come across a book that makes me want to reevaluate everything I know, and this book did that. I absolutely loved the recognition I felt reading this book - despite standing in quite a different corner of Christianity as a young, American, fairly Calvinist woman compared to an established and revered African Catholic cardinal, I could identify many (not all, but many) of Cardinal Sarah's reflections and understandings as ones I've shared and come to love with all my heart. More importantly, he put into words things I've felt so deeply it hurts about the quality of silence and solitude I've loved desperately as a believer. I've not even known that these things could be put into words, but Cardinal Sarah did that.

I don’t know what she is referring to when she says that the book made her “reevaluate everything [she] knows” but that is quite a statement.  I will have to ask her to explain once I have read the book myself.  So if that doesn’t get you to want to read this book, then you have no Catholic blood in your veins.  (I kid.)   By the way, Mary Sue has commented occasionally on my blog and she keeps her own blog, At the Still Point.  This week the Book Club is acquiring the book, next week we start reading, and the week after we discuss the opening sections.  Hope that motivates you. 


Nice to be blogging again.  Bless you all that read these humble posts.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Way up the Ladder by St. Catherine of Siena


April 29th is the feast of the patron saint of this blog, St. Catherine of Siena, and this little passage from one of her letters outlines one of her most profound theological ideas, Christ crucified as a ladder to holiness, a ladder to God.  She would go on to develop this further in her great work, The Dialogue, which was a mystically inspired conversation between God and her.  Since the 29th falls on a Sunday this year, I think technically the feast day is shifted to Monday.  Enjoy this little passage.  It’s filled with her incredible brilliance.


And if you ask, “What is the way?” I will tell you it is the way Christ chose, the way of disgrace, suffering, torment, and scourging.  “And how?”  Through genuine humility and blazing charity, an indescribable love by which we renounce all worldly riches and ambition.  And from humility we progress to obedience, as I have said.  Upon such obedience follows peace, since obedience frees us from all suffering and gives us every joy—for the selfish will, the source of suffering, has been done away with.

To make it possible to climb to this perfection, Christ actually made for us a staircase of his body.

If you look at his feet, you see that they are nailed fast to the cross to form the first stair.  This is because we have first to rid ourselves of all selfish will.  For just as the feet carry the body, desire carries the soul.  Reflect that we can never have any virtue at all if we don’t climb this first stair.  Once you have climbed it, you arrive at deep and genuine humility.

Climb the next stair without delay and you come to the open side of God’s Son.  There you find the fiery abyss of divine charity.  At this second stair, his open side, you find a storehouse filled with fragrant spices.  There you find the God-Man.  There your soul is so sated and drunk that you lose all self-consciousness, just like a drunkard intoxicated with wine; you see nothing but his blood, shed with such blazing love. 

Then, aflame with desire, you get up and climb to the next stair, his mouth.  There you find rest in quiet calm; there you taste the peace of obedience.  A person who is really completely drunk, good and full, falls asleep, and in that sleep feels neither pleasure nor pain.  So too the spouse of Christ, sated with love, falls asleep in the peace of her Bridegroom.  Her feelings too are asleep so that, even if all sorts of troubles befall her, they don’t disturb her at all.  If she is materially well off she feels no disproportionate pleasure, because she has already stripped herself of all that is at the first stair.  This, then, is where she finds herself conformed with Christ crucified, united with him.

            From The Letters of St. Catherine of Siena, Vol. II translated by Suzanne Noffke; quoted from Magnificat, March 2018.



Notice the three steps of the bridge, the feet, the wounded side, and the mouth.  One climbs the first stair by shedding one’s will through humility.  One reaches the second stair as one reaches charity, or true love.  And finally at the third stair you are in complete harmony with God whiole achieving a state of peace. 



Monday, April 23, 2018

2018 Reads, Update #1


It’s time for this year’s first quarter status.  Even though I’ve been unable to read much the last few weeks (busy with work and home, and baseball season has begun!) I think I’ve accomplished more than most quarters.  Here’s the list with upcoming plans:

Completed First Quarter:

From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God, a confessional memoir by Derya Little.
The Inferno, 1st part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
The Inferno, 1st part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esloen.
"Behind the Veil," a short story by Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub, translated by S. Al-Bazzazz. 
The Way of the Cross, a non-fiction devotional by Caryll Houselander.
A Man Could Stand Up, the 3rd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
The Magician’s Nephew, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.
“The Call of the Cthulhu,” a short story by H. P. Lovecraft.
“Hard Times,” a short story by Ron Rash.


Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Virgin and the Gipsy, a short novel by D. H. Lawrence.
Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, a collection translated and edited by Mark Atherton.
The Everlasting Man, a non-fiction book of Christian apologetics by G. K. Chesterton.
 “Flowering Judas,” a short story by Katherine Ann Porter. 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of the Old Testament, Ignatius Translation.
Blood Pressure Down: The-10 Step to Lower Your Blood Pressure in 10 Weeks—Without Prescription Drugs, a self-help, non-fiction book by Dr. Janet Bond Brill. 


Upcoming Plans:
The Annotated Waste Land, a book of the poem, “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot with essays and annotations by Lawrence Rainey.
Purgatorio, 2nd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
Purgatorio, 2nd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esloen.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
“The Balance,” a short story by Evelyn Waugh.
“The Tight Frock-Coat,” a short story by Luigi Pirandello
“Here We Are,” a short story by Dorothy Parker.
“The Light of the World,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Gods,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.


I’ve completed six full length books and three short stories this past three months or so this first quarter.  Not bad.  From Islam to Christ by Derya Little was a conversion story, confessional memoir on her religious journey, going from a Muslim to an atheist, from atheist to Christian, and then Protestant Christian to Roman Catholic.  It’s a wonderful young woman’s exploration for the truth.  I read Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, the first section of his great epic poem, The Divine Comedy. And I read it in two different translations the Robert and Jean Hollander translation and the Anthony Esolen translation.  Both are wonderful translations.  In effect I’ve read it twice! I’ve read one devotional for Lent, Caryll Houselander’s The Way of the Cross.  It follows the Stations of the Cross, and each chapter is a meditation on a station.  I’ve completed two novels.  A Man Could Stand Up, which is the third novel in Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End, set during the First World War.  Finally I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s seven novel sequence compiled as The Chronicles of Narnia to my son Matthew at night as an extended bed time story.  I started The Magician’s Nephew some time at the end of last year, but I completed it recently.  The Chronicles of Narnia may be novels for young adults, but it’s something everyone should read.  I have never read them, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. 

I’ve also read three short stories, which is only one per month.  I can’t say any of the three are standouts, but none of them were dreadful.  "Behind the Veil," by the Egyptian writer, Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub, is about a young woman who challenges the conformity of covering her face in public.  “The Call of the Cthulhu,” by H. P. Lovecraft which is considered a classic in the horror genre, is about a monstrous demon called a Cthulhu, and the destruction to the lives of those who try to study it.  Finally “Hard Times,” by Ron Rash is a story set in a depression era farming household involving the daily theft of eggs whose loss puts a financial strain on the family.  The thief turns out to be the neighbor’s little girl.  Very well told, though ending seemed to be anticlimactic. 

The Goldsworthy biography of Julius Ceasar is still on my list—I refuse to give up on any book I think worthwhile—after a number of years, but I haven’t touched it this quarter.  I never had time last year to finish the D. H. Lawrence short novel, The Virgin and the Gypsy, but I will get to it.  Every so often I still read a page or two of the selected writings of Hildegard of Bigen.  But most of my time has been spent with G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.  It’s a good read, but slow in spots.  I’m about half way through.  We’re currently reading it for my Catholic Thought Book Club.  I’ve also been reading the next of the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I’m about a third of the way in The Book of Isaiah.  Usually I read the King James Version first and then go to the modern English, but this time I’m trying reversing it with the modern English first.  I think that’s the better way to go.  Finally I’ve been reading Blood Pressure Down by Dr. Janet Bond Brill because in all these doctor’s visits I’ve had recently, besides all the immediate ills (bronchitis and broken nose) they have found a slightly high blood pressure, and they have given me a few months to resolve with adjustments to life style.  And if I fail with life style changes, then I will have to go on medication. 

With upcoming reads, I want to walk my readers through the great T. S. Eliot poem, “The Waste Land.”  It will probably be an eight to ten post endeavor.  Also the Catholic Thought book club will continue with Dante’s The Divine Comedy with the second cantica, Purgatorio.  I also list some short stories I want to read and continue with Isaiah. 

Happy reading!



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lines I Wished I’d Written: Tietjens Under Fire, from Parades End


This scene in A Man Could Stand Up, the third novel of the Parades End tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford is magnificently drawn out.  It’s World War I in the trenches and the hero, Christopher Tietjens, is trying to defend against a German offensive.  There is a young soldier, Aranjuez, who has sunk into the mud, and most of the scene deals with Tietjens pulling him out and carrying him to safety, all the while bullets and bombs hurling about him.  The language simplifies immensely to simulate the fragmenting thoughts of the soldiers under immense pressure.  Compare the staccato, simple sentences of this battle scene with lush, flowing language of an earlier part of the book, a scene describing Tietjens’ unfaithful wife, Sylvia, here.  This is a very complex, modernist book, and I’m not sure I completely follow everything, but the characters are really engaging and the writing is exquisite.  Ford Madox Ford is one of the best prose stylist in the English language.  Here’s this remarkable scene.

It was slow, slow, slow…like a slowed down movie.  The earth maneuvered for an infinite time.  He remained suspended in space.  As if he were suspended as he had wanted to be in front of that cockscomb in whitewash.  Coincidence!

The earth sucked slowly and composedly at his feet. 

It assimilated his calves, his thighs.  It imprisoned him above the waist.  His arms being free, he resembled a man in a life-buoy.  The earth moved him slowly.  It was solidish.

Below him, down a mound, the face of little Aranjuez, brown, with immense black eyes in bluish whites, looked at him.  Out of viscous mud.  A head on a charger!  He could see ‘the imploring lips form the words: ‘Save me, Captain!”  He said: ‘I’ve got to save myself first!’  He could not hear his own words.  The noise was incredible.

A man stood over him.  He appeared immensely tall because Tietjens’ face was on a level with his belt.  But he was a small Cockney Tommy really.  Name of Cockshott.  He pulled at Tietjens’ two arms.  Tietjens tried to kick with his feet.  Then he realized it was better not to kick with his feet.  He was pulled out.  Satisfactorily.  There had been two men at it.  A second, a corporal had come.  They were all three of them grinning.  He slid down with the sliding earth towards Aranjuez.  He smiled at the pallid face.  He slipped a lot.  He felt a frightful burning on his neck, below and behind the ear.  His hand came down from feeling the place.  The finger-tips had no end of mud and a little pinkishness on them.  A pimple had perhaps burst.  He had at least two men not killed.  He signed agitatedly to the Tommies.  He made gestures of digging.  They were to get shovels.

He stood over Aranjuez, on the edge of liquid mud.  Perhaps he would sink in.  He did not sink in.  Not above his boot tops.  He felt his feet to be enormous and sustaining.  He knew what had happened.  Aranjuez was sunk in the issuing hole of the spring that made the bog.  It was like on Exmoor.  He bent down over the ineffable, small face.  He bent down lower and his hands entered the slime.  He had to get on his hands and knees.

Fury entered his mind.  He had been sniped at.  Before he had had that pain he had heard, he realized, an intimate drone under the hellish tumult.  There was reason for furious haste.  Or, no….They were low.  In a wide hole.  There was no reason for furious haste.  Especially on your hands and knees.

His hands were under the slime, and his forearms.  He battled his hands down greasy cloth; under greasy cloth.  Slimy, not greasy!  He pushed outwards.  The boy’s hands and arms appeared.  It was going to be easier.  His face was not quite close to the boy’s, but it was impossible to hear what he said.  Possibly he was unconscious.  Tietjens said: ‘Thank God for my enormous physical strength!’  It was the first time that he had ever had to be thankful for great physical strength.  He lifted the boy’s arms over his own shoulders so that his hands might clasp themselves behind his neck.  They were slimy and disagreeable.  He was short in the wind.  He heaved back.  The boy came up a little.  He was certainly fainting.  He gave no assistance.  The slime was filthy.  It was a condemnation of a civilisation that he, Teitjens, possessed of enormous strength, should never have needed to use it before.  He looked like a collection of mealsacks; but at least he could tear a pack of cards in half.  If only his lungs weren’t…

Cockshott, the Tommy, and the corporal were beside him, grinning.  With the two shovels that ought not to have stood against the parapet of their trench.  He was intensely irritated.  He had tried to indicate with his signs that it was Lance-Corporal Duckett that they were to dig out.  It was probably no longer Lance-Corporal Duckett.  It was probably by now ‘it’.  The body!  He had probably lost a man after all!

Cockshott and the corporal pulled Aranjuez out of the slime.  He came out reluctantly, like a lugworm out of sand.  He could not stand.  His legs gave way.  He drooped like a flower done in slime.  His lips moved, but you could not hear him.  Tietjens took him from the two men who supported him between the arms and laid him a little way up the mound.  He shouted in the ear of the Corporal:

‘Duckett!  Go and dig out Duckett!  At the double.’

He knelt and felt the boy’s back.  His spine might have been damaged.  The boy did not wince.  His spine might be damaged all the same.  He could not be left there.  Bearers could be sent with a stretcher if one was to be found.  But the might be sniped coming.  Probably, he, Tietjens, could carry that boy, if his lungs held out.  If not, he could drag him.  He felt tender, like a mother, and enormous.  It might be better to leave the boy there.  There was no knowing.  He said: ‘Are you wounded?’  The guns had mostly stopped.  Tietjens could not see any blood flowing.  The boy whispered: ‘No, sir!’  He was, then, probably just faint.  Shell shock very likely.  There was no knowing what the shell shock was or what it did to you.  Or the mere vapour of the projectile. 

He could not stop there.

He took the boy under his arm as you might do a roll of blankets.  If he took him on his shoulders he might get high enough to get sniped.  He did not go very fast, his legs were so heavy.  He bundled down several steps in the direction of the spring in which the boy had been.  There was more water.  The spring was filling up that hallow.  He could not have left the boy there.  You could only imagine that his body had corked up the springhole before.  This had been like being at home where they had springs like that.  On the moors, digging out badgers.  Digging earth drains, rather.  Badgers have dry lairs.  On the moors above Groby.  April sunlight.  Lots of sunlight and skylarks.

He was mounting the mound.  For some feet there was no other way.  They had been in the shaft made by the projectile.  He inclined to the left.  To the right would take them quicker to the trench, but he wanted to get the mound between them and the sniper.  His breathing was tremendous.  There was more light falling on them.

Exactly…Snap!  Snap!  Snap!...Clear sounds from a quarter of a mile away…Bullets whined overhead.  Long sounds, going away.  Not snipers.  The men of a battalion.  A chance!  Snap!  Snap!  Snap!  Bullets whined overhead.  Men of a battalion get excited when shooting at anything running.  They fire high.  Trigger pressure.  He was now a fat, running object.  Did they fire with a sense of hatred or fun!  Hatred probably.  Huns have not much sense of fun.

His breathing was unbearable.  Both his legs were like painful bolsters.  He would be on the relatively level in two steps if he made them…Well, make them!...He was on the level.  He had been climbing, up clods.  He had to take an immense breath.  The ground under his left foot gave way.  He had been holding Aranjuez in front of his own body as much as he could, under his right arm.  As his left foot sank in, the boy’s body came right on top of him.  Naturally this stiffish earth in huge clods had fissures in it.  Apertures.  It was not like regular digging. 

The boy kicked, screamed, tore himself lose….Well, if he wanted to go!  The scream was like a horse’s in a stable on fire.  Bullets had gone overhead.  The boy rushed off, his hands to his face.  He disappeared round the mound.  It was a conical mound.  He, Tietjens, could now crawl on his belly.  It was satisfactory.

He crawled.  Shuffling himself along with his hips and elbows.  There was probably a text-book way of crawling.  He did not know it.  The clods of earth appeared friendly.  For bottom soil thrown to the top they did not feel or smell so very sour.  Still, it would take a long time to get them into cultivation or under grass.  Probably, agriculturally speaking, that country would be in pretty poor condition for a long time….

He felt pleased with his body.  It had no exercise to speak of for two months—as second-in-command.  He could not have expected to be in even the condition he was in.  But the mind had probably had a good deal to do with that!  He had, no doubt, been in a devil of a funk.  It was only reasonable.  It was disagreeable to think of those Hun devils hunting down the unfortunate.  A disagreeable business.  Still, we did the same….That boy must have been in a devil of a funk.  Suddenly.  He had held his hands in front of his face.  Afraid to see.  Well, you couldn’t blame him.  They ought not to send out school-girls.  He was like a girl.  Still, he ought to have stayed to see that he, Tietjens, was not pipped.  He might have thought he was hit from the way his left leg had gone down.  He would have to be strafed.  Gently.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Twelfth Station

For Good Friday I was going to post some pictures and video of my annual procession of the Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge, but the batteries in my camera crapped out just after I turned the camera on.  This was the 23rd year of the March, and that surprised me.  I didn’t realize it went back that far.  I think this was my fifth year attending.  I blogged about the first time in 2014, here.   

Since I didn’t get pictures t post, I’m going to provide one last Caryll Houselander way of the cross station.  What could be more fitting for today, than the twelfth station.

Christ Dies on the Cross

To His enemies this seems to be the hour of their triumph and Christ’s defeat, but in fact it is the supreme hour of His triumph. Now when He seems to be more helpless than He has ever been before, He is in fact more powerful. When He seems to be more limited, more restricted, His love is boundless, His reach across the world to the hearts of men in all ages is infinite.

But to those who look on, how different what appears to be happening seems to what is really happening. How certain it seems that Christ has been overcome, that His plan of love for the world has failed utterly, that He Himself is a failure, His “kingdom” a pitiful delusion.

Can this be the same Christ who only three short years ago went up into another mountain and spoke to the multitudes, filling the heart of each individually with secret joy and hope?—teaching the poor their own glory, revealing the secret of his personal beatitude to each one who suffered, to each who was downtrodden or unjustly treated, showing them each the reality of the poetry of life, the inwardness of the kingdom which was already theirs if they could receive it with simplicity and the values of unspoilt children?

Did he not tell them, and did they not believe, that their very poverty clothed them, not in drab, worn garments, but in those that, seen by the true vision, are richer than Solomon’s robes, lovelier than the iridescent lilies growing in the fields of Palestine?

Did he not convince them that if their hearts were pure, the kingdom of heaven was already theirs—and he himself, who strewed the wild flowers under their feet and gave them the morning star, their king?

But now on this other mountainside how different everything seems to be. What hope is there now for them? Their king is poorer than any of them. He is stripped of all that he has; his crown is a ridiculous crown of thorns; he has nothing left of his own, not even a grave to receive his dead body. Far from being clothed in splendour that rivals the glory of Solomon, or beauty that rivals the wild flowers, his own natural beauty is hidden under wounds and bruises.

“He has no comeliness whereby men shall know him.”

He has never seemed so helpless as He seems now, not even as a little infant in Bethlehem.

The hands that could raise the dead to life with a touch, could heal the sick and give sight to the blind, are nailed to the hard wood: unforgettable, stiffening in death. The feet that blessed the delicate grass by their touch, that walked on the swiftly moving waves of the storm at sea, are fastened down to the rough trunk and held still. The eyes that could see into the depths of the soul are darkening with the blindness of death. The tongue that spoke the words of eternal love is swollen with thirst, and stiffened in death. The heart of the man who is love is turning to a small, hard stone that a man could hold in his hand!

More bitter than all His other suffering is the desolation of His soul, His own unutterable loneliness, the sense of being wholly unsupported by any love, emptied out, forsaken even by God: “. . . and at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” (Mark xv. 34).

He seemed to be quite alone, quite defeated, dying a useless death at the end of a useless life, the tragic life of a poor deluded dreamer who, because of his fondest delusion that his love for the world could save it, had come to a still more tragic death, to die alone, an object only of scorn or pity—not even hated now, since now he is powerless—beaten. Men hate only when they fear.

“The passers-by blasphemed against him, tossing their heads. ‘Come now,’ they said, ‘thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue thyself; come down from that cross, if thou art the Son of God.’”

But Christ would not come down from the cross—“I, if I be lifted up,” He said, “will draw all men to me.” Now He had done just that, He had drawn all men to Him because He was dying all of their deaths for them; He was giving Himself to them in death, so that in their turn they would die His death, with His courage, His love, His power to redeem.

From that moment when He bowed His head, crying out: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” and died, everyone indwelt by Him to the end of time would die His death, with His power to heal and strengthen and redeem themselves and other men by their dying.

He came to the tremendous mystery of His death alone, He felt forsaken even by God; but from that moment until the end of time, no Christian man or woman or child will die alone. Each one will die Christ’s death, their hands in His hands, their feet folded upon His feet, the last beat of their hearts the beat of His heart; and because He has made their deaths His own, theirs too will have the power of His to save themselves and those whom they love.

Houselander, Caryll. The Way of the Cross (pp. 79-82). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition.

Let me leave you with this glorious hymn that is so fitting for today, “What Wondrous Love is This.”






WE ADORE YOU, O CHRIST, AND WE PRAISE YOU, BECAUSE BY YOUR HOLY CROSS YOU HAVE REDEEMED THE WORLD.