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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Holy Saturday Blood Donation

I donate blood on a fairly regular basis.  I used to do it every time I was eligible.  One year I was able to donate seven times in one year, which is actually hard to do.  One is limited to a whole blood donation every two months, but if the first one of the year is in early January, you can squeeze in a seventh at the end of December.  I did that a few years ago.  I donate because people truly need it.  My father on a number of occasions needed it during his frequent events at the hospital, and I was so thankful to whoever provided it for him.  I’ve since more than given back whatever he needed.

Lately I’ve not been as disciplined in my donations, for various reasons I guess.  Perhaps it’s having a son now that complicates my schedule, but it’s more than that.  Things just seem to come up.  And recently I keep getting sick, and they want you healthy.  Also, after I donate my exercise ability drops for almost a week and I really feel it when I go to the gym.  But it seems that ever since I started donating platelets last year my eagerness to donate has dropped a little.  You can read about the different types of blood donations here, and more specifically about blood platelet donations here.

Platelet donation takes a lot longer than the fifteen minutes of a whole blood donation.  The way platelets are taken is that blood is drawn in the usual way but it is sent through a centrifuge which spins the platelets out, and then the blood is returned back into your arm through the same line.  The same blood line (is it called intravenous line?) goes through a cycle of draw and return, and the process takes about an hour per unit of donation.  You can donate up to two units, which not including the mini exam and the prep stage, takes two hours to complete.  If you read the website on the platelet, you’ll find that losing those platelets feels funny.  It makes your face tingly, especially the lips, and your whole body feels cold.  Plus it hurts.  That darn needle in the arm for that long starts to pinch and eventually ache.

They seem to like my blood, those vampires…lol.  I get calls from the New York Blood Center as soon as I’m eligible to give again.  I’m a member of “The Gallon Club.”  I’ve probably given a few gallons actually.  They call and we schedule, and if it’s convenient I keep my appointment, and, if I don’t, they call again and reschedule.  Lately they’ve been more persistent in asking for platelets.  I’ve given a few times, but last time I really didn’t have the time and said I couldn’t do it and just gave whole blood.  This time I scheduled for the day before Easter since I figured I should be available that day.  And then it struck me that giving blood over the Triduum weekend would make it a sort of mini imitation of Christ’s sacrifice: I’d give my blood to save a life.
When I got there this morning, and after I passed the mini exam, the examining nurse said they were really short on my blood type, would I mind if I gave one unit of platelets and one unit of whole blood.  I said I didn’t know you could do that, but if that was what was needed, sure.  And so he hooked me up.  The machine projected a completion time for both extractions of 76 minutes.  I was ready with my Kindle, made myself comfortable under the conditions, and set myself to re-read Edgar Allen Poe’s “William Wilson.”  The nurse came back a few minutes into the extraction with a print out of a mini blood analysis and said in his East Indian accent, “Your blood is VERY good,” whatever that meant.

At the forty-five minute mark (the centrifuge indicates the progress) I had just completed the story, and actually one handed typed in a little note as to why I enjoyed it and its concluding flaw (all of Poe’s stories seem to have a concluding flaw to me) but it’s then I noticed my lips were beyond just tingling, they were almost numb.  My face was also a bit numb, but the numbness seemed to go into my brain.  And my arm was really hurting now, not so much from the needle prick—he had inserted it really smoothly, flawlessly—but from being locked into an awkward position for good deal of time.  The nurse had never loosened the blood pressure cuff and my arm was more elevated than I ever remember at a blood donation, and it was also hanging over, so that it felt as if my arm were being stretched.  The pain was in my bicep mostly, and I didn’t dare shift the arm very much with the needle point inside.  A slight shift did help, but then the arm went back into the same position and exerted the same pain.  The nurse responsible for me had disappeared (lunch break I think) and the other nurse looking over the floor seemed to be busy.

As I finished that short story and went on to another Poe, my concentration dropped.  My brain was getting fuzzy.  The pain was also getting more to bear.  It occurred to me at that point that this was in part a little suffering in the manner of Christ on the cross.  My arm was pinned and being stretched.  This was like a half crucifixion.  However, don’t let me take the analogy too far.  Though this hurt, this was nowhere near a crucifixion.  I tried to wonder what a real crucifixion must have felt like.  I tried to project how two arms pinned and stretched in this manner for three hours must have felt.  Add to it that Christ was beaten and scourged before hand, forced to carry a cross up a hill, and probably didn’t have any food in him since the night before.  Well, I never called the nurse over to relieve the pain.  This wasn’t suffering.

When I was finished, it felt so good to get my arm back.  I almost pulled it away before the nurse took the needle out.  He gasped and caught my arm before I moved too far.  When I got up I felt really light headed.  I had never felt like this before after giving blood.  I realized that Friday—Good Friday—I had mostly fasted, and even this morning I had only a small breakfast.  I normally would have a bit more if I were donating blood.  As I moved I felt very awkward on my feet and told the nursing crew I was light headed.  They had me quickly sit down and rest, and the nurse went over and got me a bottle of juice.  My head was numb.  I don’t know how long I rested, ten, possibly fifteen minutes, and then I got up and went to snack table to have some coffee and cookies.  I took another bottle of juice and cautiously, still feeling peculiar, went out.

"I turn me and lean against the most Holy Cross of Christ Crucified, and there I will fasten me." –St. Catherine of Siena.

 Have a most blessed Easter, or as I prefer to call it it, Resurrection Day.



Friday, March 29, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: "Crucifix" by Giovanni Cimabue

Holy, holy, holy.

Painting by Giovanni Cimabue, "Crucifix," 1268, detail.  You can see the entire painting here and read about it here.

Have a blessed holy weekend.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Music Tuesday: "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" by Kathleen Battle

I'm sure you'll recognize this great Negro Spiritual sung by one of my favorite opera voices, Kathleen Battle.  I love the way she sings this A Capella.  Scenes from "The Passion of the Christ."

When I think of Holy Week, this is the song I most identify it with.  Prayers for all of my intentions.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

2013 Reading List: Update #1

As you can see I've completed a couple of short stories. a book of the Old Testament, and the biography of St. Catherine of Siena since I listed my progress.  I've now pushed a couple of works into the Currently Being Read catagory, though I haven't started the Mark Helprin novel yet; I'm about to start.  I've also expanded the Upcoming plans.  The Mark Helprin novel is very long, so I'm going to use a lot of the time while reading it to write up posts on some of the completed works.  I've still have more to say about Catherine of Siena; I finally found a Poe short story I liked; Hemingway's "In Another Country" was outstanding, and while the First Book of Chronicles might be the most boring book of the bible, it had a great last two chapters.  I might post something on each.  And I have not forgotten that I promised Sue I would give my thoughts on Tolstoy's The Cossacks.  If anyone has an interest in any of the works I've read, let me know; I'll definitely post something on them.


“A Star Trap,” a short story by Bram Stoker.

“Grandfather and Grandson,” a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. 

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, a novel by G.K. Chesterton.

“Feathers,” a short story by Raymond Carver.

The Cossacks, a novel by Leo Tolstoy.

“In Another Country,” a short story by Earnest Hemingway.

First Book of Chronicles, a book of the Old Testament, KJV.

Catherine of Siena, a biography by Sigrid Undset.

“The Masque of Red Death,” a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Currently Being Read:

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, a non-fiction history by Martin Goodman.

Les Misérables, a novel by Victor Hugo.

“The Lovely Lady,” a short story by D.H. Lawrence.

Imagist Poetry: An Anthology, a collection of poetry edited by Bob Blaisdell.

“William Wilson,” a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

A Soldier of the Great War, a novel by Mark Helprin.

Upcoming Plans:

Second Book of Chronicles, a book of the Old Testament, KJV.

“Purgatorio,” 2nd part of the epic poem of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Life on the Mississippi, a memoir by Mark Twain.

“Hills Like White Elephants,” a short story by Earnest Hemingway.

 “A Descent into Maelstrom,” a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

ifferismsif, a work of non-fiction by Dr. Mardy Grothe.

“The Shawl,” a short story by Cynthia Ozick.

Washington Square, a novel by Henry James.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: O Passio Magna

Today you get a twofer, my weekly Faith Filled Friday (an old prayer in Latin perfect for Passion week) and my humble attempt at a poetic translation of the prayer to English.

The prayer comes from Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby, a prior at a Benedictine Monastery who blogs at Vultus Christi.  By the way, hat tip to Joyce who blogs at The Unprofitable Servant for pointing out Fr. Mark’s wonderful blog for me a few weeks ago.

The prayer is titled from the first line, “O Passio Magna," and you can read the prayer's history from Fr. Mark’s blog entry.  Here's the Latin prayer.

O passio magna!
O profunda vulnera!
O inestimabilis dolor!
O largissima effusio sanguinis!
O abundantissima effusio lacrimarum!
O dulcis dulcedo!
O mortis amaritudo!
Da mihi vitam aeternam.

Fr. Mark provides what he says is one variant of a translation:

O great Passion!
O profound wounds!
O immeasurable sorrow!
O most copious shedding of blood!
O most abundant outpouring of tears!
O surpassing sweetness!
O death suffered in every bitterness!
Give me eternal life.

Well, I began thinking.  If there are variations, then I don’t think it would upset anyone if I came up with one more variant, and while at it give it a more poetic feel.  Here's my translation:
O great Passion
With wounds arcane and deep,
With boundless pain,
Diffusive spray of blood;
O tears, bursting tears,
Sweet-scented sweetness
In most bitter death,
Give me eternal life.
My thoughts on the translation were such.  Straight translation of Latin tends to lack full context that the Latin typically implies.  So I tried to expand a little in some lines.  I avoided the over use of the repeated expressive interjection “O.” That doesn't do well in English.  I also have some diction differences that I don’t think alter the meaning, but I think makes it more interesting English.  The only word I translated with a different meaning is in the third line, “dolor,” which I translate as “pain” rather than “sorrow.”  I can’t claim to being anywhere near an expert in Latin, so I can’t say if “sorrow” is accurate.  I'm pretty sure "pain" is a legitimate option.  Either way, I think “pain” fits the meaning better.
Hope you liked it, and feel free to critique it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One More Note On The New Pope

Here he is today riding around in the Popemobile.  Notice he stops and gets out to physically touch and bless a disabled man.

Now I've made this comment at several Catholic blogs today.  I want to post it here so that I can share with my readers and preserve it for myself.

"The last few days have made it apparent that B16′s strengths were intellectual at the expense of human contact. Given what I’ve seen of Francis’s human contact approach to his ministry, human contact is much more important than intellectual pontificating, pardon the pun. The intellectual underpinnings of Catholicism are there in the magisterium. Whatever updating B16 did to it is marginal, and non-Catholics weren’t listening anyway. I like what I’ve seen Pope Francis. This contact ministry is the human contact that I’ve argued brings Christ to everyone. Through human contact is where Christ is revealed. Pope Francis is a shot in the arm!"

What a gift this man has become.  God bless Pope Francis!

Music Tuesday: "The Way I Am" by Merle Haggard

Merle is probably my favorite Country and Western.  His voice is perfect for country, and I can so identify with them.

Wish I was down on some blue bayou,
With a bamboo cane stuck in the sand.
But the road I'm on, don't seem to go there,
So I just dream, keep on bein' the way I am.
Wish I enjoyed what makes my living,
Did what I do with a willin' hand.
Some would run, ah, but that ain't like me.
So I just dream and keep on bein' the way I am.

The way I am, don't fit my shackles.
The way I am, reality.
I can almost see that bobber dancin',
So I just dream, keep on bein' the way I am.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Matthew Monday: Two Weekend Stories

Two quick stories from when Daddy alone was in charge of Matthew on Saturday afternoon. 


There was a little paint brush that was left on the dining room table from when Matthew and my wife were doing some water based painting on a white page.  A page with orange brush strokes lay near it.  We walked by it.

Matthew: Daddy, can we paint?

Daddy: No, I don’t know how.

Matthew: Don’t worry daddy.  When you get big you’ll learn.  You’ll do it.



On the kitchen counter was a bag with some little chocolate bunny rabbits for Easter.  Matthew pointed to them and asked for one.  I said alright.  I took one out for each of us.  Actually I took a couple more for myself when he wasn’t looking.   He came back and asked for more.  I gave him another.  He wanted even more.  I said that was enough, and he scampered off understanding.  Then I took a couple of more for myself.

Then we spent some time on the computer.  He loves the little nursery rhyme videos on Youtube.  He’s gotten the hang of clicking them on too.  I got a little bored after a half hour and opened up a video with a set of nursery rhymes that would last over a half hour.  I went to sit and then lie down on the couch.  I fell asleep.  In my sleep state I could sense Matthew had walked away from the computer and was walking around the house.  He went up and down the stairs and by me a couple of times.  When I woke up an hour later I didn’t see him around.  He came down from upstairs and asked if he still wanted to look at Youtube.  No he didn’t.  And I put on the TV for him.

My wife shortly thereafter came home.  She walked into the kitchen and burst out, “Who ate the chocolate bunnies?”   Uh oh, I thought, she found out.  It was only a couple I thought.  I walked into the kitchen and there was a step stool by the counter and the bag opened and the aluminum wraps on the counter.  I didn’t do that. 

 “Matthew, come here.  Did you take some chocolate bunnies?” hi mother sternly asked.

 “No, Daddy gave me.”

 “I gave him one.  Now, tell the truth, you went and took more.”

“Yes.  I did mom," he said turning to his mother.

 Then his mother turned to me.  “And where were you when he took them?”

Sheepishly I said, “I guess I wasn’t in the kitchen.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Thoughts on the New Pope

First, it was an incredible surprise on the timing.  Not much more than a couple of hours (maybe it wasn’t even that long) before the white smoke I had just finished reading a blog by a church historian on how long some of these conclaves take to come to a decision.  He was implying to not hold your breath.  Well, he was wrong. 

I was also surprised on who was picked.  I had been researching the leading candidates, and I had settled on a few who I thought would be good picks: Cardinal Erdő from Hungary, Ouellet from Canada, Tagle from the Philippines, or even possibly Dolan from here in New York.  Everyone was looking at candidates seventy or younger.  Bergoglio was never mentioned as a leading candidate.  He seemed to have come out of nowhere, though it’s now been mentioned he was a runner-up when Benedict XVI was elected in 2005.  It was while sitting at my desk at work that I saw a headline come across of the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, and therefore a Pope was selected.  I switched on some video feed from the Vatican and I waited in anticipation like the rest of the world as to who the man was.  Suddenly my boss comes into my office and we start talking work.  He couldn’t see my computer screen and it was muted, so he didn’t know what was going on.  After we finished talking I told him that they had selected a Pope and I was waiting to see who it was.  He was interested.  He’s Catholic too, though somewhat cynical, and he came over and had me put the sound up.  We waited for a bit, and another person, another Catholic , came in and we three, me in my chair, the other two standing behind me, stared at the screen until the new Pontiff came out.  What a surprise that the man selected, Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, was 76 and he took the name of Francis. 

First let me state some less profound, more emotional connections to the man.  He’s from this side of the world!  Who needs the Europeans!  That’s tongue-in-cheek but it’s fantastic that the Pope comes from the New World side of the Atlantic.  I probably would have been just as excited if he had come from Africa or Asia, though from the Americas is just a touch more special.  Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci must have prayed a few extra Ave Marias for this to come about.  ;) Next, he’s from Italian immigrants.  I can certainly identify with that!  In fact his middle name is the same as my father’s first.  His father was a railway worker, the same with my great grandfather.  Before he went into religious life the Holy Father was either a chemist or a chemical engineer (I’ve seen both and can’t verify which), earning a master’s degree, and after becoming a Jesuit went on to teach among other things literature.  Hmm, an engineer (or a science background) with links to literature?  There’s only one person I know with that combination, and I identify with him extremely well.  :p  Finally he takes the name of Francis, after Francis of Assisi, which I have always considered to be my personal patron saint since before pre-teen when I took the name as my confirmation name in his honor.

Another interesting fact is that he’s a Jesuit, a religious order, and it’s very rare for a Pope to be from one, and he’s the first from the Jesuits.  The Jesuits are one of the intellectual arms of the Catholic Church, but the Jesuits have more of an evangelical bent than the others, and I think that’s significant.  They don’t just teach; they persuade with rhetorical skill.  Poet Gerard Manly Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and James Joyce was Jesuit trained.  Given the slow secularization across western culture, the Cardinals picked a man trained to deliver sharp, disciplined argument.  I also think this is in contrast to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.  B16 was known as a deep, profound theologian, arguably the leading theologian of this age, even before he became Pope.  Wikipedia lists 66 books under his name from before and during his Papacy.  But B16 presented arguments as a scholar and, if you will, as an artist: full context, intricate logic, subtle connections, and rounded in a sort of beauty.  While that might be good for the intellectual believer, and I certainly grew to love the man through his incredible illuminations, I don’t think the non-believer, or the lapsed Catholic, or even average person in the pew really contended with his thought.  Jesuit persuasion is more of a disputation.  It’s not artistic.  Its thought is honed to clarity and it responds to the rebuttal by picking apart its fallacies.  This will be more of an engaged counter to the philosophical Zeitgeist of our day.  And I can it see already.  On that first day on the balcony, he was radiating Francis of Assisi, simple and humble.  But on the second day, he gave a homily reflecting his Jesuit mind in his first mass as Pope, and I caught it.  The homily given was completely extemporaneous, no notes, no teleprompter, completely off the top of his head, in, mind you, his second language of Italian.  But when you look at the translated transcript what you see is a central thesis that links the three biblical readings; then boom-boom-boom, three points that flesh out and substantiate the argument, and then builds toward a higher point from where he started, all in about eight paragraphs.  Now that’s a trained mind.

The fact that he took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi is most significant.  No Pope has ever done that.  It’s dramatic, stunning actually, especially when you realize that Francis of Assisi wasn’t even a priest but a deacon.  That may be a first in itself too.  What does the connection to Francis of Assisi signify?  Several things actually.  First simplicity.  St. Francis was known as a most simple soul, a “fool for Christ,” living in the most rudimentary lodging, begging for meals, working only for a day’s wage, never saving any money, giving anything left over away.  He eschewed planning, organizing, systematizing.  The Friars Minor still try to live that way, though I don’t know how.  (By the way, when I say above that I consider St. F of A as my personal patron saint it’s not because I’m of the same constitution; quite the contrary, he’s my opposite, and in order to be grounded I need to embrace him as counter ballast.)  Second, St. Francis embraced and actually loved poverty, both his own poverty and those who lived in it.  Pope Francis in his constant reference to the poor since the moment of his selection and in every public moment since seems to be completely focused on this.  While this is nothing new for the Catholic Church, which happens to be the largest charitable organization in the world (hospitals, orphanages, homeless, destitute, developing countries, natural catastrophes, etc.), the impression the general public has is of opulence.  Well, 1.2 billion Catholics each donating a little something adds up to several billion dollars.  I think he wants the image to reflect the Church’s spirit of poverty.  Third, the Franciscans, unlike the previous religious orders, were a city ministry, and quite the opposite of the monastic orders.  Monastics withdrew from the world into monasteries in the isolated countryside.  Franciscans, formed in the high middle ages with the resurgence of cities, engaged people’s needs on a street level, caring for the destitute and evangelizing on a personal level.  It’s most telling that the previous pope took his papal name from the most famous of the monastic’s, St. Benedict, while this pope stands in stark contrast.  Finally, the significance of the name Francis for this Holy Father is the link to the charge Christ  Himself directed St. Francis at a ruined chapel outside of Assisi named San Damiano.  “Francis, can’t you see my house is crumbling.  Go and rebuild the church.”  And so the saint is a known also as the mender of the church, and certainly there is some mending to be done in the current church.

We have these two strands in this pope, the disciplined mind of a scholarly Jesuit with the humility, simplicity, and human engagement of the Franciscan ministry.  The implication is that he’s going to challenge the spiritually indifferent trend of western culture, both through rhetorical argumentation and humble example.  And in him we see the real deal.  He is inherently a humble man, lived in a small apartment, cooked his own meals, rode the subway, embraced the people in the slums.  St. Francis embraced and kissed the lepers; Bergoglio washed and kissed the feet of today’s equivalent of the lepers, AIDs patients.  On Holy Thursdays Catholic religious wash the feet of lay people in reminiscence of Christ washing His disciple’s feet (John, chpt 13).  And at another Holy Thursday Bergoglio washed the feet of pregnant women to highlight the unborn, the truly least of humanity.  (Christ: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” Mat, 25:45)  The unborn, the lowest caste of the secularized world, are so least of humanity that they can’t speak out, they can’t resist power, they can’t even show you their face to activate some element of compassion; compassion has to be there a priori.  It will be the Holy Father’s mission to validate that compassion resides somewhere in every human heart, and connect it to our everlasting God.  So far I am impressed with the selection.  This seems to be an inspired pick.  May God bless his words and deeds. 

The Lord wants us like Him: with an open heart, roaming the streets of Buenos Aires. He wants us walking the streets of Buenos Aires and carrying His message! Like Him, on the road and on the street. He doesn’t want us hoarding His word just for ourselves, locked inside our own hearts, our own house, or in the temple, instead that we spill His word on the street. He wants us walking out on the street.

                -CardinalJorge Mario Bergoglio, Palm Sunday, 2008



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Excerpt: Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset, Part 2

Part 1 of this biography can be found here.
One of the unique aspects of Catherine’s discernment was that it was both inwardly contemplative and outwardly engaged.  When she essentially locked herself in a cell at her parent’s home engaged in mystical union with her “Bridegroom Christ” alone, she felt an “indescribable happiness” [p.46].  Her betrothal to Christ is one of her early experiences where Christ comes to her and says, “I here betroth you as My Bride in perfect faith, which for all time shall keep you pure and virgin, until our marriage is celebrated in heaven with great rejoicing” [p. 49].  She probably would have been so inclined to be in contemplation for the rest of her life if let be, but Christ had other plans.  The excerpts for this blog will touch on some of her mystical experiences and the process in which Christ drew her out of her contemplative cocoon and thrust her into the issues of the outside world.

A little while after her mystical betrothal Catherine again saw her Lord in a vision.  It was the time of day when the good folk of Siena gathered round the dinner table.  Jesus said: “You are to go and seat yourself at the table with your family.  Talk to them kindly, and then come back here.”

When Catherine heard these words she began to weep—she was so completely unprepared to leave her cell and her life of contemplation and mix again with the people of the world.  But Our Lord was firm:

“Go in peace.  In this way you shall serve Me and become more perfectly united to me through love of Me and your neighbor, and then you will be able to rise even more quickly to heaven, as though on wings.  Do you remember how the desire to bring souls to salvation burned in you while you were still a child—and that you dreamed of dressing yourself as a man and entering the order of the Friars Preachers to work this end?”

Although Catherine was more than willing to obey the will of God she tried to raise objections: “But how can I be of any use in the work of saving souls, I who am merely Your poor servant girl?  For I am a woman, and it is not seemly for my sex to try to teach men, or even to speak with them.  Besides they take no notice of what I say,” she sighed.

But Jesus replied as the Archangel Gabriel had once replied:

“All things are possible for God who has created everything from nothing.  I know that you say this from humility, but you must know that in these days pride has grown monstrously among men, and chiefly among those who are learned and think they understand everything.  It was for this reason that at another period I sent out simple men who had no human learning, but were filled by Me with divine wisdom, and let them preach.  To-day I have chosen unschooled women, fearful and weak by nature, but trained by Me in the knowledge of the divine, so that they may put vanity and pride to shame.  If men will humbly receive the teachings I send them through the weaker sex I will show them great mercy, but if they despise these women they shall fall into even worse confusion and even greater agony.

“Therefore, my dear daughter, you shall humbly do My will, for I will never fail you; on the contrary, I will come to you as often as before and I will guide and help you in all things.”

Catherine bowed her head, rose and went from her chamber and seated herself at the table with her family.  It is a pity none of Catherine’s biographers has described for us the amazement it must have caused Jacopo and Lapa [her parents] to see their hermit daughter seated among them—not to speak of her brothers and sisters-in-law and their children.  But although Catherine had returned in the flesh to the bosom of her family, her thoughts were with her Savior.  And as soon as the Benincasas rose from the table Catherine fled back to her cell, filled with longing to continue her conversation with her Lord.  For the young girl who was later to have such experiences with unyielding courage, this first return to the family circle after having lived outside it for three years must have been a terrible ordeal.  [p51-2]

When Catherine went into her contemplative moments, it was truly an ecstasy, consuming her whole body.  Here is a description of what her body became in one of these moments. 

From the time when she began her life of active charity, her familiarity with the secrets of the supernatural world became more apparent to the world around her.  When her soul rose upwards in prayer and contemplation, her body became as rigid, cold and insensible as a stone.  It happened also that her companions saw the motionless, kneeling woman lifted from the floor, “so high that one could put one’s hand between Catherine and the floor”—they had certainly tried for themselves.  At other times, and especially after she had received the Body of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, as she was withdrawn in ecstasy, it was as though her body was flooded with such heat that beads of sweat appeared all over her flushed face.

As the ecstasies came over her most often in church, the whole town was soon talking about her.  For her friends, who were convinced that Catherine was a chosen vessel of God, these extraordinary attacks of unconsciousness were a source of awe and joy; when her soul had been lifted up to the presence of Divine Love it always returned bearing gifts for her fellows.  Andrea di Vanni, the painter who once, while Catherine was in her twenties, made a sketch of her on a pillar in St. Dominic’s church, firmly believed she was completely sincere, although it does not even seem he had at that time joined the circle of her nearest friends.  He has given us the only authentic portrait we possess of St. Catherine.  The lily which she holds in her hand, and the woman kneeling before her, were added after Catherine’s death.  [p58-9]

Other than receiving the stigmata, one of the few saints ever be so blessed, the most glorious mystical experience was the displacing of her heart with that of Christ’s heart.  I’m not sure how many saints were praying to Christ’s heart before St. Margret Mary’s Sacred Heart, but Catherine was doing so three hundred years earlier.

The same day Catherine was meditating over the words of the prophet, “Cor mundum crea in me, Domine,” and as she prayed for God to take away her own heart, in which her self-will was rooted, she saw a vision.  Her heavenly Bridegroom came to her, opened her left side, took out her heart, and carried it away in His hand.  This impression was so strong and was accompanied by such a physical reaction that Catherine told Fra Tommaso at confession that she had no heart in her body.  The monk could not help laughing, “Now, now, no one can live without a heart…”  But Catherine was adamant.  “But it’s true Father, I would have to distrust my own senses if I were to doubt that I now have no heart in my body.  It is certain that with god nothing is impossible.”

A day or two later Catherine had been to Mass in the Capella della Volte and remained in church to pray along after all the others had left.  Suddenly Christ appeared to her; in His hand he carried a human heart, deep red and sparkling with light.  When Catherine saw how it shone she fell on her face.  But again Our Lord opened her left side, and put the burning heart into her body.  “My dear daughter, the other day I took away your heart.  To-day I give you My heart, which will give you eternal life.”

Her most intimate friends assured her biographer that they had with their own eyes seen the scar under her left breast where this exchange of hearts had taken place.  From now on Catherine no longer prayed, “Lord, I offer You my heart” but “Lord, I offer You Your heart.”  And often when she received the Blessed Sacrament, the heart beat so violently that those who stood near her heard it and were amazed.  [p.104-5]

I don’t know what to make of such extreme spiritual experiences that are physically transformative such as that and go outside my personal ken.  The displacing of her heart sounds more like a bit of folklore, but that would be presumptuous on my part.  Ultimately I hold open the possibility of it being exactly true, especially since I revere St. Catherine so, but I can’t help a hint of skepticism.  I believe, help my unbelief.

Later that summer she lay in her bed ill (she had a problem with holding down food most of her life and hardly ate anything) and went into one of her ecstasies.  This passage is too long to quote in its entirety, so I’ll use ellipses (…) to reduce the verbiage and get the crux down.
But all these ecstasies seemed to take such a toll on her physical strength that the moment came that the body could stand no more…

For many days she remained so weak that she could not move.  But most of the time she was in ecstasy, and her friend who listened to her low whisperings said afterwards she seemed transported with bliss: she smiled and laughed softly, while her lips uttered expressions of love to her Bridegroom, talking of her ceaseless longings to be called to that heavenly home where Christ would be hers for ever and no separation could force her back to the world of the senses.

She was so tired of this body which shut her out from all she desired.  But when her Lord said to her that she must not be selfish, He had still work for her which she was to carry out among her fellow men on earth, she humbly bowed before His will.  But she asked that she might be allowed to taste a little, only a very little—as much as she could bear—of the agony He had suffered in His body here on earth for the salvation of mankind…She was granted this.  But when in this way she learned how bitter His pains had been, how boundless was the love which succumbed to such suffering because His heart pitied mankind, then it was as though her heart broke and the breath of life left her body…

She wept unceasingly for many days.  But little by little she told Tommaso della Fonte something of what she had experienced when she lay as though dead.  She was quite certain that her soul had been freed from its prison of flesh and blood; she had seen a little of the pain and the burning desires of the souls in purgatory who know that the time will come when they shall possess God as He is, but as yet are cut off by their deeds and thoughts from that revelation that is blessedness itself.  She had seen the agonies of the lost souls in hell, and for a moment had tasted the joy of the blessed in heaven…

Finally Christ had said to her: “There are many whose salvation depends on you.  The life you have led up to now will be altered: for the sake of the salvation of souls you will be required to leave your native town, but I shall always be with you—I shall lead you away, and I shall lead you back again.  You shall proclaim the honor of My name to rich and poor, to clerks and laymen, for I shall give you words and wisdom which no one can resist.  I shall send you to popes and the leaders of My church and to all Christians, for I choose to put the pride of the mighty to shame by the use of fragile tools.”

It is not strange that Catherine asked her confessor at times, “Father, can you not see that I have changed?  Can you see that your Catherine is no longer the same?  [p.107-10]

It is at this point that Catherine went on first to aid the poor and ill of her town, and then to be regarded as a true holy woman throughout her city limits, her region, and then Italy and beyond, from which Princes, Bishops, and Popes would seek her intervention.  I take her  “no longer the same” to refer the transformation from the shy young girl who wanted to hide to the assertive, bold woman who scolded men, the aristocracy, and church leaders to have courage to do the moral thing.  She castigated Pope Gregory XI when he wavered from returning the Papacy to Rome from Avignon because he feared the French Cardinals to “Be a man.”

I came across this interview on EWTN with Fr. Mitch Pacwa with a Dominican scholar who has written a book on her teachings and writings, Fr. Thomas McDermott, OP.  It’s an hour long, but it captures her life well.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Music Tuesday: "Im Late, I'm Late" by Stan Getz

In my Fur Elise blog of a couple of weeks ago, in a reply to Antonella I mentioned I would tell a funny story about me taking up an instrument.  When my siblings and I were children, my mother tried to get us into activities.  She had my sister take painting lessons, and my brother play in a sports league, and for some reason thought I should learn a musical instrument.  I'm not sure how she could afford it, but my mother was a great scrimper and saver.  I must have been around ten years old when she took me to a musical instructor who asked me what I wanted to learn.  I had loved saxophone music as a kid for some reason, and I thought this was my chance to be a jazz player.  I think I had dreams of being a great one.  Well after the first lesson, the instructor went to my mother (he must have noticed that this was a financial challenge for her) and told her to save her money because i didn't have any talent that could be drawn out.  LOL! 

Nonetheless I have always loved saxophone jazz.  Here's a great piece by one of my all time favorites, Stan Getz.  There's not much I could find on this work on the Internet, but there is a Wikipedia entry on the album it first came out on, Focus. There's a line in there about this song.

Notice the wonderful interplay, a real dialogue, between the sax and the rest of the band.  Who is late, the band voice or the sax voice?  Not sure who is urging who.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Matthew Monday: The Bandages

Friday Matthew got into his head that I was still sick.  I had been sick with sinus allergies the week before, and so he took out his plastic stethoscope and listened. 

"Daddy, you're sick," he determined after listening carefully. 

"I'm feeling better," I replied. 

"No, you're sick."  He was adamant.  "I'll make you better." 

I shrugged.  I was typing on the computer while he was examining me, and didn't notice where he went.  When he came back he had a roll of masking tape.  He pulled off a strip and bandaged me.  He bandaged my face, reaching up.  Then he pulled off another strip and bandaged another part of my face.  When he couldn't find an end of the tape to pull, he had me find the lead and break him another piece.  He kept bandaging me. 

"This will make you feel better,"  he said.  "Bring your head down."  I lowered my head and he taped up toward the top.  "You're missing another one right here," he said pointing to the other side of my face.  After putting that on, he patted all the bandages down.  "You feeling better?" he asked.

"I'm feeling a lot better, thank you." 

I took a picture of myself after he finished.  Here's his handiwork.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Notable Quote: Catherine of Siena

In reading Sigrid Undset's Catherine of Siena, I have really grown to love this saintly woman.  I've always considered Francis of Assisi as my personal patron saint, but I think Catherine is going to be a co-patron from the female side, a patroness.  I will have more excerpts from that biography in the near future, but I doubt I will be able to convey her true holiness and greatness with short excerpts.  Both contemplative and active in the world (she convinced Pope Gregory XI to move the papacy from Avignon back to Rome), humble but strong, tough as nails, a true feminist in that she didn't let men and social pressure dictate her life, peace maker (she was the ambassador that brought peace between the papacy and Florence), courageous in expressing the truth, a tireless writer (she typically dictated three letters simultaneously to individual secretaries), mystic, pure as fire, ascetic to the point of not having any flesh on her bones, devout, matriarch to her disciples, mentor, teacher, and theologian, possibly the greatest theologian of her age, she was a truly unique person.  One cannot imagine any woman of her day to have lived such a life or have such a personality.  She was truly an instrument of God.  I found this website, "Drawn By Love," devoted to her, and I hope you explore it.  There is a page there listing some of her quotes.  This one I'll pick as notable:

"It is only through shadows that one comes to know the light."
-St. Catherine of Siena, from Prayer 24.

I don't know the context of her prayer 24, but I pick it for this literary blog because a writer must write of and through shadows to arrive at true meaning.

I also love this image of her dictating to a secretary.  All her secretaries were male, since only men were taught to write, and she had three priests who traveled with her on most of her trips abroad.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Getting Nearer

Lent is a long process.  I'm not doing great on abstaining from snacks but I am surprising myself on extra praying.  Three plus weeks in and it feels like I'm getting closer to God.  And isn't that the real point of Lent?  Here's something to sing for our journey.

For some reason I really like the way Ann Murray sings this classic.  It's not a fancy version, either in the musical accompaniment or the vocals.  There's not much embellishment.  But Murray modulates her voice so the song builds momentum.  It feels like a journey, a journey getting nearer to God.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Poetry: "Delight In Disorder" by Robert Herrick

I haven't done enough poetry.  I need to step up on that.  I used to keep a spiral notebook filled with copied handwritten poems I wanted to keep on my fingertips.  Certainly they were among my favorites.  I believe I started that notebook back in college days, which now is some thirty years ago.  I have it right here in front of me.  It has a red cover and it's kind of beaten around the edges.  As I flip through I see it's about two thirds full.  I haven't added too many recently. 

Let me pick one to share, "Delight In Disorder" by the seventeenth century English poet, Robert Herrick.  Herrick was a strange man.  He never married, took holy orders in I assume the Anglican Church, and yet wrote extensively about women and love.  You would think he was a sort of playboy, but there's no evidence that any of the women he mentions ever existed.  Nonetheless he wrote beautiful little poems, thousands of them, with a very retrained use of metaphor.  He mostly delineates and speaks directly.  He lets the language speak for itself, and at his best he maneuvers the words so that they reflect the meaning.  And he keeps a very nice rhythm.  Here's this wonderful poem:

by Robert Herrick

A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

The poem is about what it says: beauty is best with a bit of disorder.  There is a metaphor in this poem; the woman stands for art, and the delineation of the woman's careless dress dramatises that art is best when not perfect.  Notice how with each detail his emotions rev up ("tempestuous petticoat") until finally his imagination leaps into seeing "a wild civility."  The narrator is most certainly "bewitched."  He thinks the woman is wild because her shoelace is untied!  LOL.

Here's a very nice reading of the poem.  Hope you enjoyed it.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Music Tuesday: "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor" by Andrea Bocelli

I love Andrea Bocelli.  He's definitely my favorite living tenor.  My parents love him too, and I treated them to a concert at Madison Square Garden a few years before my father fell seriously ill, which at this point must be nine or ten years ago.  Taking them to that concert was one of the best things I ever did for them.  Luxuries like that were not something they could afford.  There was also a special connection with Bocelli.  If you don't know, he's blind, and my father was blind for most of his adult life.  So my father had a natural kinship.  But when they guided Bocelli on stage, and my mother and I watched him move in the limited, wary way that blind people do, we realized how similar his mannerism were to those of my father.  It has stuck with me ever since.

I know Bocelli sings mostly in Italian, but this one in Spanish has enthralled me ever since I first heard it.  This song was composed by the great Spanish composer Joaquin Roderigo, and coincidentally he was also blind.  Lorin Maazel, the lead conductor at the New York Philharmonic for some years, is the conductor here and arranged the piece.  The original Roderigo composition I believe was for orchestra, guitar, and voice.  Maazel substitutes the violin for the guitar, and softens the orchestra somewhat, bringing out the vocals and violin.  It does change the true Spanish feel, but still it's quite a nice effect.  You can find this song on Bocelli and Maazel's album titled Sentimento.  Hope you like it.

The lyrics are really beautiful and worth including in its entirety in Spanish.

En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor

Un lugar de ensuenos y de amor
Donde un rumor de fuentes de cristal
En el jardín parece hablar
En voz baja a las rosas.

Hoy las hojas secas sin color
Que barre el viento
Son recuerdos del romance
Que una vez
Juntos empezamos tu y yo
Y sin razón olvidamos.

Quizá ese amor escondido esta
En un atardecer
En la brisa o en la flor
Esperando tu regreso.

Hoy las hojas seces sin color
Que barre el viento
Son recuerdos del romance
Que una vez
Juntos empezamos tu y yo
Y sin razón olvidamos.

En Aranjuez, amor
Tu y yo!

Aranjuez is a medium sized town in Spain dating back into the middle ages and at one time a spring home for the royalty. Here are the first two stanzas in English:

A place of dreams and love.
Where a rumor of crystal
Fountains in the garden
Seems to whisper to the roses.
Today the dry leaves without color
Which are swept by the wind
Are just reminders of the romance
We once started
And that we've forsaken
Without reason.
Read the entire translation here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Matthew Monday: "O-N-E"

Wednesday I got another of those emails from my wife about Matthew.  I saw the subject line: “Big Day Today” and I wondered, “now what?” 

From: Mrs. Manny
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:14 PM
To: Manny
Subject: Big Day Today

Matthew hit a milestone at school today. They were practicing drawing the number one and he wrote the word "one". I was a little skeptical but his teacher said he did it all by himself. I have the proof too!!


From: Manny
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:47 PM
To: Mrs. Manny
Subject: RE: Big Day Today

He wrote out the three letters "o-n-e"? I'm definitely skeptical.


I’ve tried helping Matthew write, but it has all turned out to be scribble.  When I got home, there it was on the page.  He wrote it.  I took a picture of him holding up the page.


There's a bunch of 1's and then on the bottom, "o-n-e."  I still don’t believe he did it all by himself.  But who knows.  Maybe my son is a genius. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book Excerpt: Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset

I’ve been reading Catherine of Siena by the Nobel Prize Winning author Sigrid Undset.  I scheduled this reading as my Lenten read, in that the biography is that of Saint Catherine of Siena, the fourteenth century saint who is also a Doctor of the Church. 




So far I’m about a third of the way in.  Her early life has been covered, and I can’t wait to read more.  These two excerpts are from chapter 2, which covers her adolescence and I think provides a good insight into her nature.  The names mentioned in these passages are the following: Lapa is Catherine’s mother, Bonaventura is Catherine’s favorite older sister, Raimondo is her confessor and first biographer, and Jacopo is her father.

It was the custom in Italian towns that once a girl was twelve years old she could not go out unless accompanied by an older woman.  She was considered more or less of an age to be married, and her parents must now begin to look around for a suitable husband.  When Catherine had reached her twelfth year, therefore, there came an end to running errands for her mother or slipping out to visit her married sisters.  Her parents and brothers hoped that they would be able to find a husband for her who would bring honor and advantages to the whole family.  Lapa was especially happy, sure that she would find a remarkable man for her darling, the charming and sensible youngest daughter.

But when Lapa told the young girl that now the time was come to try to make the very best of her beautiful appearance, arrange her lovely hair in the way that suited her best, wash her face more often, and avoid anything which could spoil her delicate complexion and white throat, she was bitterly disappointed.  Catherine was not the least keen to make herself beautiful for the sake of young men: on the contrary, it seemed as though she shunned their company and did everything she could not to be seen by them.  She fled even from the apprentices and assistants who lived in their house, “as though they were snakes.”  She never stood at the front door or leaned out of the window to look at the passers-by and be seen by them.

Lapa sought the help of Bonaventura to make Catherine more amenable.  Lapa knew how extremely fond Catherine was of her elder sister, and for a while it really seemed that Bonaventura succeeded in making the child slightly more obedient to her mother, so that she began to take more care of her appearance.  According to what Raimondo says, Catherine was never a startling beauty, but young and vivacious as she was, slim, with fair skin, beautiful dark eyes and an abundance of that shining golden-brown hair which Italians have always admired so much, she must have been an extraordinarily attractive young woman.

[Excerpts from Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset, Translation by Kate Austin-Lund, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2009.  p. 19-20]

And after Catherine rejects marriage we see her family tightens the screws.  Catherine then rebels:

It was perhaps Jacopo who had the idea of sending for a Dominican monk who was an old friend of the family in order to see if he could persuade Catherine to comply with the family’s plans.  It was Fra Tommaso della Fonte, who had once been brought up with Catherine.  She confessed to him that she had already promised Christ that she would be His alone as long as she lived.  Fra Tommaso could only advise her to meet the hardness which her family showed her so resolutely that they would have at last to understand that she would never give in.  And Fra Tommaso thought that if she were to cut off her hair, which was her greatest beauty, perhaps they would leave her in peace.

Catherine accepted this advice as though it came from heaven.  She immediately fetched a pair of scissors and cut off her lovely golden-brown plaits close to the head.  Then she tied a little veil over her shorn head.  It was against the custom of that time for an unmarried woman to cover her hair, so when Lapa saw her daughter with this extraordinary headdress she immediately rushed up to her and asked what it meant.  The girl dared not tell her the truth and would not tell a lie, so she did not answer.  Lapa tore off the veil, and when she saw her beautiful daughter standing there so disfigured she sobbed with sorrow and fury: “Child, child, how could you do such a thing to me?”  Silently the girl put on her veil again.  But when Jacopo and the boys came hurrying in, startled by Lapa’s shrieks and tears, and heard what had happened, they threw themselves upon Catherine in fury.

To make matters worse for Catherine she had now a suitor, a young man whom the Benincasas were very intent on bringing into the family.  So they abused her roundly.  “You wicked girl, do you imagine that you can escape our authority by cutting off your hair?  It will grow again, and you shall be married, even if it breaks your heart.  You shall never have any peace or quiet until you give in and do as we say.” 


That was pretty dramatic, reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi stripping himself in front of his father.  Her family would go on to make her life at home very difficult.  But Catherine persevered.

The Holy Spirit had taught her how to build herself an inner cell, a place of refuge where she could pray and think of her Beloved, and from this no one could recall her; here no one could come and disturb her.  “The Kingdom of God is within you”: now she understood the meaning of those words, spoken by Him who is truth itself.  Within us—it is there that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out upon us to perfect our natural talents, to break down internal and external obstacles.  If we passionately desire the true good, the heavenly Guest comes and lives within us—He who has said “Be of good courage, I have conquered the world.”

Catherine trusted in Him, and felt that a cell, not built by human hands, was formed within her, so that she had no need to regret what they had taken from her the little cell of wood and stone.  Later she used to advise her disciples when they complained of being so overburdened with the problems of the world that they never found quiet to meet God or to drink of the spring by which they lived: “Build an inner cell in your soul and never leave it.”  Raimondo admits that he did not understand these words of his “mother” at once, but “it is extraordinary to see how I and all who have lived near her understand all her actions and words much better now than in those days when we had her beside us.”

[p. 25]

Sigrid Undset is an interesting woman in her own right as you can read in the Wikipedia entry.  She was Norwegian, though actually born in Denmark, and she grew up in a secular, atheist home but mid way through her life, after a failed marriage, had a crises of faith, and ultimately converted to Catholicism.  She certainly must have had her share of suffering.  Two of her three children died while she was alive, her son killed fighting the Nazis.  While in exile during the war she lived in Brooklyn, NY, where I grew up, though not the same neighborhood.  She was independent, outspoken, and deplored the growing moral relativism.  I can see in this biography she thoroughly understood Catholic theology; she was a ThirdOrder Dominican herself.    Undset is known for her great work, a trilogy of novels, which go by the name of Kristin Lavransdatter   I’ve never read any of her works before, but I certainly intend to read that one eventually.  The work centers on the life of the title character, set in the middle ages in Scandinavia.  Undset is supposed to have done a lot of historical research to accurately portray the lives.  Unfortunately the trilogy amounts to over a thousand pages, and so is a commitment of time.  I will certainly get to it though.