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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Music Tuesday: "White Lightning" By George Jones

Country music star George Jones passed away last week.  That he lived to 81 is astonishing to me.  He lived a self destructive life of alcoholism and drug abuse.  From the Associated Press Obituary:

When it comes to country music, George Jones was The Voice.

Other great singers have come and gone, but this fact remained inviolate until Jones passed away Friday at 81 in a Nashville hospital after a year of ill health.

“Today someone else has become the greatest living singer of traditional country music, but there will never be another George Jones,” said Bobby Braddock, the Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter who provided Jones with 29 songs over the decades. “No one in country music has influenced so many other artists.”

He did it with that voice. Rich and deep, strong enough to crack like a whip, but supple enough to bring tears. It was so powerful, it made Jones the first thoroughly modern country superstar, complete with the substance abuse problems and rich-and-famous celebrity lifestyle that included mansions, multiple divorces and — to hear one fellow performer tell it — fistfuls of cocaine.

He lived a hard life, and if you look at his features over the years, they must have taken a physical toll on him.  But he was probably the preeminent singer of country music.  Here's one of his early songs I really dig.

Well in North Carolina, way back in the hills
Me and my old pappy had a hand in a still
We brewed white lightnin' 'til the sun went down
Then he'd fill him a jug and he'd pass it around
Mighty, mighty pleasin, pappy's corn squeezin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'

Well the "G" men, "T" men, revenuers, too
Searchin' for the place where he made his brew
They were looking, tryin to book him,
But my pappy kept a-cookin'
Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin'
You can read the rest of the lyrics here.  One of his daughters, Georgette Jones, through his marriage with Tammy Wynette, is also a country music singer.  I absolutely love this song they did together.  I don't know if there's any biographical family history in the lyrics, but it sounds like there might be.  It's called "You and Me and Time."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Excerpt: Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset, Part 4

You can find part 1 of my blogs on this biography here, part 2 here, and part 3 here
One last excerpt from the biography, this time with the focus on the author.  I’ve mentioned that Sigrid Undset went from an agnostic at best to a Roman Catholic convert in mid life.  She experienced the full catastrophe of the Second World War, losing her home and her son’s life.  There are a number of places in her biography of this saint from the middle ages she personally speaks from a perspective of one who has lived through the first half of the twentieth century, suggesting that we here in the modern world have much to learn from Catherine.  I found those passages interesting and worth noting.

Here is a most moving passage where Undset, starting from Catherine’s vision of drinking blood from the actual side of Christ, contemplates the remedy Catherine would proscribe to horrific life of the modern condition. 

In our own lifetime we have learned to know the smell of rotting corpses on battlefields and in bombed towns; we know of the stinking sores and boils of prisoners from concentration camps, where dead and dying were made to lie on beds as wretched as the one Catherine had chosen for herself.  We have poured out oceans of blood and tears, both of the guilty and the guiltless, while we hoped against hope that this blood and these tears could help to save a world reeling under the weight of its miseries.  And how little have we achieved of the great things we dreamed!  Yet we ascribe it to the confused ideas of the time she lived in and her own dark vision of Christianity, when Catherine intoxicated herself on the blood of Christ—that blood which would put an end to human bloodshed, if only we could agree to receive it as redemption from our bloodthirsty passions, our insatiable lust for imagined gain for ourselves projected onto other nations or classes.  Indeed, many Catholics think in this way.  The strong-willed, brave and strangely optimistic girl who handled the powerful men of her time so masterfully, who had an unusual understanding of the characters of the men and women among who she lived, who succeeded in making peace between many of her unruly townsmen, who in fact on one or two occasions prevented war, and on many put an end to bloody feuds—she would answer us as she answered her contemporaries in her letters and conversations and in the Dialogue: that the blood of Christ was the only source of her own courage and strength and wisdom, of her amazing and indomitable joy of living.  She would say to us, Drink of it with the lips of your souls, as the saints in their visions seemed to drink it with their lips of flesh; assuage your thirst in the love which streams from God’s holy Heart—then there will be an end to the vain shedding of man’s blood by the hand of man.  In her visions Catherine saw God’s fire fall from heaven, like a rain of blazing light and burning warmth: can we really understand anything of her experience, we who have seen the fire of hate falling from the clouds, who fear in our hearts for the day when an even more destructive fire, invented by an even more bitter hatred and more violent passions, shall rain down over us and our children?  For us, Catherine would have only the same message which she brought to her contemporaries, she would know only of the same remedy for our misery—the blood of Christ, the fire of God’s love, which burns up self-love and self-will, and lets the soul appear, beautiful and full of grace, as it was meant to be when God created it.   [p.83-5]

For Undset, the remedy that Catherine would offer is the remedy that all the saints taken in their comprehensive whole offer this age.  It is in our bond of a common humanity that they serve as guide posts for us.  The wars and devastation of our age have shown us that suffering is part of our condition.  It is in our response to suffering that distinguishes people, but our Catholic faith tells us that suffering is not to be shunned.

The fact that the saints have been so willing to suffer, that they often in fact seemed to be in love with suffering and chose it as their inheritance on earth, is often looked upon by non-Catholics—that is to say non-Catholic Christians—as incomprehensible, and, in the eyes of many, extremely unsavory.  If God is goodness, if Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins, why should Christians have to suffer—and suffer not only merely ordinary opposition, which may have an educational value for the sufferer, but, though innocent, suffer for other’s sins?  One thing is certain, that all the saints have maintained that they suffer for their own sins, although we cannot see it otherwise than that they suffered for the sins of others.  It is only among the saints that we find any who have the right to say, “Nothing human is foreign to me.”  Nevertheless, we may all, at any given moment, find that we have to suffer for what in our eyes are exclusively the sins of others.  Two world wars, and their aftermath, spread over almost the whole of the world, should have made this truth understandable—emphatically understandable—even for the simplest and most self-satisfied of souls.  [p.331]

What the saints show us is that through suffering and a holy life we can achieve wholeness, “unity with the Origin of life.”  Suffering is not wasted; a holy life will find its reward.

The saints have always known the power of good is something quite incalculable.  When they renounce even pure and harmless happiness on earth, that they might have none of the hindrances interposed by care for their own or another’s material needs, in their struggle to achieve unity with the Origin of life, they knew if He filled them with His grace and mercy, His superfluous gifts—gifts bringing health and life—would overflow into the lives of other men—even to people outside the range of their knowledge, beyond their sight and the field of their activity.  St. Catherine must have felt discouraged when she saw no concrete results of her efforts for certain individuals, both men and women, through prayer and attempts at persuasion.  But she never wavered; she gave of herself until her physical life was used up, in a fight whose final results she was as sure of, as she was sure that she would not see many victories on the battlefield of this world.  But in fact Our Lord has never made any promises regarding the triumph of Christianity on earth—on the contrary.  If we expect to see His triumph here, His own words should warn us: “The Son of Man, when He cometh, shall he find, think you faith on earth?”  He did not tell us the answer.  [p. 334]

Finally what the saints and Catherine offer us is wisdom, a wisdom achieved by seeing beyond the material, beyond human constructions, beyond the human ego. 

It is not given to us to know what Christendom’s final fate on earth will be.  The gates of hell shall not overpower His Church, but those who wish to break out of it have full freedom to do so.  The real question is: when the conditional reality which we call the material world withers away, who will have won real life in all eternity in the land of the living?  Even the people of our times, who have magnified mankind’s ineradicable trust in the things which we can see, touch, and enjoy with our senses, and made their articles of faith out of materialism, self-aggrandizing humanism, collectivism, or whatever one likes to call it—even they have caught a glimpse of how utterly worthless all material things are.  In light of the split atoms, solid objects become as it were transparent, evanescent.  But who can say how mankind will react to the new discoveries it makes?  We sorely need the wisdom of the saints.

Has the world changed much since Undset wrote that in the late 1940’s, post World War II and at the onset of the Cold War?  Those wars of devastation have passed, and perhaps we can breathe a sigh of relief.  But the culture, if anything has deteriorated even further.  Nihilism has taken root; self-doubt in our heritage, in the existence of God, in noble values, in the dignity of the human person has only expanded.  Nazi and Soviet holocausts may be over but in our very democracies that stand on the ideal of human rights the slaughter of the unborn go on at holocaust proportions.  Undset showed us how Catherine of Siena emptied her ego into that of Christ crucified.  That forgoing of one’s ego is what is sorely lacking today.  I don’t know if Undset would be surprised (probably not) but I’m sure she would have been saddened.



Not sure how old Undset was here, but it’s obviously in middle age.  I particularly like this photo since it shows her proudly displaying her cross pendent.  She was a lovely woman.

If you wish to find more on St. Catherine of Siena, these links are most interesting:

I’ve mentioned this all encompassing St. Catherine of Siena site, Drawn By Love.

Here is an article from Crises Magazine proclaiming Catherine “The First Catholic Feminist?” by Christopher Check:

And one of my favorite Catholic bloggers, Jimmy Akin, has just put out a piece, “8 Things to Know About St. Catherine of Siena” just in time for her feast day:

Tomorrow, April 29th is St. Catherine’s feast day.  Let us appeal to her for her prayers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Music Tuesday: "The Way You Look Tonite" By Frank Sinatra

I was at a wedding this weekend, and as in most weddings quite a few of Frank Sinatra's music is played.  I love Franky.  He's my all time favorite singer in any music genre, truly the finest American singer that I can think of.  I can listen to Sinatra all night long.  So here's one.

Some day, when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you...
And the way you look tonight.

Yes you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight.

With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart...
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.

Lovely ... Never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it ?
'Cause I love you ... Just the way you look tonight.

Mm, Mm, Mm, Mm,
Just the way you look to-night.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Matthew Monday: Matthew Proposes Marriage

We had to go to a wedding in Pittsburgh, and we spent the weekend there.  Wed had two double beds in the room for the three of us, and we expected Matthew and his mother to sleep in one and I would get the other.  After all my wife makes a snide comment to Matthew that he wouldn't be able to sleep with Daddy's snoring.  Nonetheless Matthew chose to sleep with me.  After the lights were out and I had turned over with my back to him, Matthew pulls me over and whispers, "Daddy I want to tell you a secret."  I kind of half turn back and said, "What?"

He climbed over my shoulder to face me.  "I want to tell you that we're friends," he whispered.

"Oh, thank you.  Why did you tell me?"

"Because we're going to have adventures together." 

"OK," I whispered back.  I thought that was a neat male bonding moment.

Next day when he kind of understood what marriage means, he tells his mother rather dramatically that he's "going to marry" her.  "You are?" his mother asks.  "Then you better go out and buy me a ring as soon as you can." 

Pulling out a quarter, Matthew says, "OK.  Is this enough?"

Later that night, the night of the wedding we were there to attend, the baby sitter we arranged to take care of Matthew showed up.  She was a sweet young lady who was a friend of the bride's family, and she apparently had a nice way with children.  Matthew took to her immediately.  She baby sat from four-thirty to ten-thirty at the hotel room.  When we got back to the room, Matthew had gotten Ellen (her name) to sit with him in his "man-cave."  He had taken one of the decorative spreads from the bed and placed it over a table so that it formed a sort of cave (he's done this at home) and placed his stuffed animals in there and invited her in...lol.  They had read nursery rhymes and stories and played with alphabet cards.  He also made her race back and forth up the length of the room with him.  What a little lady's man.  When we asked him if he had a good time, he said, "I'm going to marry Ellen." 

So there you go.  From male bonding to marrying his mother to dumping his parents for a cute chick all within 24 hours.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: Thanksgiving Prayer

Well, my mother had her operation on her finger Wednesday.  You can read about the need here.  All went well.  The only hangup was trying to get one of her earrings off.  She was to take all jewelery off, but no matter how we tried we couldn't unclasp the right one.  The nurse put tape over it, something about it getting too hot during the operation and burning her.  I can't say I understand.  It had no bearing on the operation.

The operation took under an hour.  She went in at 12:25, and I went out to get lunch.  I also took a little walk since it was such a beautiful spring day here.  I got back to the waiting room at 1:20 and the doctor had gone.  He had stuck his head out to look for me and I wasn't there.  Mama was in a recovery bay sipping a cup of coffee and looking like she had slept pleasantly.  I had them call the doctor for me and he said it all went well.  The tendon/ligament (not sure if that's the same thing) had torn and was in need of reconstruction.  I think he used that word, but I'm not sure.  Then he put pins in to hold it together for the next ten days when he will see her again.  We were home an hour later.

Thank you for all those who prayed for her.  The finger will be the finger, but my biggest concern was her going under sedation.  One never knows with that. 

And finally I thank the Lord for this little blessing.  His blessings are too numerous to count.  Special devotion to the Holy Family on this instance.  I'll end with this Thanksgiving Prayer.

Blessed are You, loving Father,
For all your gifts to us.
Blessed are You for giving us family and friends
To be with us in times of joy and sorrow,
To help us in days of need,
And to rejoice with us in moments of celebration..

We praise You for Your Son Jesus,
Who knew the happiness of family and friends,
And in the love of Your Holy Spirit.
Blessed are you for ever and ever.


Prayer source from here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Notable Quote: Walt Whitman

Well, Walt Whitman has been on my mind this week.  He was such a good soul.  He never had an unkind word for people, even those he opposed.  He embraced all people, even those from the South, though he was staunchly against slavery and supported the Union as a nurse to the wounded during the Civil War.  Last year I completely read his Death-Bed edition of Leaves of Grass, all 500 plus pages.  Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, was his great work that he kept republishing with additional poems.  I think there were up to nine editions of publications, with the concluding edition dubbed "The Death-Bed" edition because it went into publication just prior to Whitman's death.  With each addition Whitman added and revised the poems, but unfortunately not all the revisions were improvements.  Sometimes the original poem is superior.  What I really like about Whitman was how he embraced humanity.  He loved everyone.

The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.

In his life time he was not appreciated.  That really disappointed him.  He loved the United States, and you can see that in many of his poems.  He was consciously the poet of America, embracing the land, the people, the life-style of his day, and most importantly the particular English language we call the American language.  He did for the American language what Shakespeare did for British English and Dante did for Italian.  He became our national poet.  It took a while, but after his death the country did embrace him as he embraced the country.

By the way, he was frequently photographed in his lifetime.  There are lots of great photos of him.  It was hard to pick one.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Poetry: "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" by Walt Whitman

Today April 14th is, if I did my arithmetic correctly, the 148th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  That factoid, coupled with Jeanette, my fellow blogger at J’s Café Nette, writing  about her lilac in a recent blog  made me think of the poem I always think of this time of year, Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”  Normally the poem would come to me on its own, since I can’t help recall it when I see my mother’s dwarf lilac in bloom.  However this year it seems to be blooming late up here.  It’s been a cool spring and things are behind.  No perfuming blossoms yet, so the poem was out of mind until Jeanette mentioned it.

You may know that the poem was written on the occasion of Lincoln’s assassination .  Whitman had developed a profound love of Lincoln since he caught a glimpse of him in Washington in 1861, totally gave of himself during the Civil War as a nurse to aid the wounded Union soldiers, and when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 suffered a most profound despair.  He wrote this poem as an elegy for the fallen leader.

 The poem is nearly nine pages long in my Leaves of Grass (Whitman’s opus of all his poetry) edition, so I’m not going to quote the entire piece.  I’ll highlight the major moments and try to give you an appreciation of its greatness.  But you can read the entire poem at my favorite poetry site, PoetryFoundation. 

 Whitman is not a difficult poet to comprehend.  For the most part he tells you exactly what he means to convey.  His symbols are usually not multifaceted.  His genius is in his language, rhythm, and imagery.  The poem is divided into 16 stanzas with the usual Whitman free verse of irregular meter and irregular line length.  Whitman is not big on formality.  Let’s start with the first stanza.


WHEN lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, 5
And thought of him I love.
An elegy is a poem of a fallen hero with an appeal for eternal remembrance.  Lincoln is the great star Whitman is quite explicit about it in the second stanza, and lilacs will be eternally returning at the same time of year in remembrance.  Throughout the poem there is a religious undertone that suggests Lincoln to be a Christ-figure whose sacrificial death brings new life to the nation.  And so Whitman collects the bloom, the star, and his love into a “trinity.” 


Let’s look at the next three stanzas:



O powerful western fallen star!

O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me! 10
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,

Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard, 15
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

In the swamp in secluded recesses,

A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
Solitary the thrush, 20
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die).

In the second stanza, Whitman connects Lincoln to the star and his emotional connection.  In the third he fleshes out the lilac bush, pointing out the heart-shaped leaf, suggesting love, and ending with a very suggestive broken sprig.  In the fourth stanza he introduces a new character, a shy little bird singing.  From other Whitman poems, the little thrush is a stand-in for the poet himself, and even here it’s not so subtle.  The bird “sings by himself a song,” which echoes Whitman’s famous poem “Song of Myself.”

Stanzas five and six dramatizes the journey of Lincoln’s coffin from Washington to Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, Illinois, a procession across the nation which actually happened.  Whitman ends the procession with offering that sprig of lilac he broke to the coffin as people tend to throw flowers into an open grave.  In stanzas seven and eight Whitman consecrates the death as a sacred death, that Lincoln’s life and now death was connected to something beyond earth, divine providence.  That is why Whitman chooses the falling star to symbolize Lincoln.

Stanzas nine and ten he returns to the singing bird, wondering how he shall sing for the fallen man.  What Whitman decides on is to let the bird sing of the nation, all it’s varied elements.  In stanzas 11, 12, and 13 he sings of farms and hills and a flowing river, then to Manhattan with its spires, and then to swamps and prairies.  The song—the death song—is knitting the nation together, as the tragic death of a president can do. 

And then we come to what I think is the climatic stanza, fourteen.  Let me cite it all.



Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,

In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops, 110
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty (after the perturb’d winds and the storms),
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor, 115
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death. 120

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,

And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness, 125
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,

The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.
From deep secluded recesses, 130
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,

As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird. 135

Come lovely and soothing death,

Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.
Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome? 145
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,

When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee, 150
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

From me to thee glad serenades,

Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night. 155

The night in silence under many a star,

The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil’d death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-pack’d cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

Here the land, the houses, the streets, the sea all come into the song of death, into “the sacred knowledge of death.”  Here while holding hands with his companions Whitman meets “the receiving night that talks not,” or in different words, the universal providence.  The word “companion” is nicely chosen too.  It was originally a religious word, its Latin origin “com pane,” with bread, or members of the Christian union of Christ’s breaking of bread.  The italics in the poem are the bird’s actual voice, and it’s a prayer almost in the form of St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of Brother Sun.”  This little section is so beautiful: “Prais’d be the fathomless universe,/For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,/And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise!

In stanza 15 the song alludes to the nation’s recent history of strife and war.  And finally let’s end with stanza 16 where by Lincoln’s death and through the rising birdsong the poet, and by implication, the nation now goes forward with heaven’s blessing.


Passing the visions, passing the night,

Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands,
Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul,
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night, 190
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring. 195

I cease from my song for thee,

From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,

The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird, 200
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake, 205
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

Whitman ends it with lilac, star, and bird, forever caught within his soul.  A truly inspired poem.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Personal Story: Mama’s Finger

Let’s start with my mother being seventy-nine.  She’s a strong seventy-nine, but still she’s actually closer to her eightieth birthday than the one she just passed.  She has slowed down since her hip replacement from four years ago, but still she gardens and walks, and now that my brother has been away she’s living alone.  Living alone actually gives her less to do because when my brother and his wife are at her house, she cooks and cleans for them as if she was forty years old and they were teenagers.  She’s one of those tireless Italian ladies that just need to be doing something.

She lives about a half mile from my house.  I stop there every day on my way home from work, just for five or ten minutes to make sure everything is OK.  In the spring and summer she’s usually in the back gardening, and sometimes digging trenches and moving buckets of dirt.  Half the time I shake my head and ask her why.  She just does.  Sometimes after digging a trench where rain puddles up, she’ll redo it if she doesn’t feel like it came out right.  Some of our biggest arguments are over what I see as meaningless heavy labor.  She’s incorrigible.  She’ll tell me this will be the last time and I find out she did it again any way.  Or I just catch her at it.

I stopped there last Thursday and no one answered the door.  I knocked and rang the bell for ten minutes.  The side of the house was nicely raked with dirt turned over.  I used my cell phone to call.  I heard her phone ring.  Still there was no answer.  I keep her keys, and so decided to open the door.  I did and called inside.  No answer.  At her age I worry about her collapsing and either being unconscious or incapacitated.  I went through each room and she wasn’t anywhere to be found.  I sighed. 

The next possibility is she walked about a mile away to where the commercial street resides.  There she could have gone to several stores.  Under typical conditions she would have planned walking there and being home at the time I normally get home from work.  But there have been a few times where she didn’t plan that well and was out.  Those times I drove toward that commercial boulevard and found her walking along the way.  She would be grateful for the ride home.  So I drove and didn’t come across her.  I drove back and didn’t see her.  I stopped back in her house—nothing.  I drove back toward the boulevard again and this time I stopped at the little supermarket where she might be.  I walked through every aisle—nothing.  I gave up.  I called my wife (at this point I was late for home) and told her what had happened and that I was on my way home.  I got about a block when my cell phone rang. 

“Are you Maria _____’s son?” asked the voice.

“Yes.  Where is she?”

“The Emergency Room at Staten Island University Hospital.”

“What?  What happened? ”

“Don’t worry.  No need to get worried.  She fell.”

“How is she?”

“Don’t get alarmed.  It’s scratches and bruises and a dislocated finger.  When can you get here?”

“I’ll be right there.  Ten, fifteen minutes.”

I called my wife and told her I was headed straight there, raced over.   The Emergency Room was packed and they had beds in the aisles, and I found her in a bed in an aisle.  She looked rather comfortable laying there.  Her right hand was wrapped and she held it up.  The doctor was happy to see me.  My mother doesn’t speak enough English to really understand everything.  I guess they understood her since communication of pain is rather easy.  She had been there at least three hours.

So what happened?  She had been raking the backyard and needed to put down grass seed.  She had walked to that commercial boulevard to the hardware store and bought grass seed.  When she was just a few blocks from home she just fell.  She’s not sure why, but she fell forward catching herself with her hands and apparently also taking the blow with her chest.  A couple living nearby saw her fall, tried to help her up, but decided to call an ambulance.  They even checked up on her at the hospital. 

Her chest hurt all the way around.  They did an EKG and chest x-rays.  Her heart was fine and no ribs were broken.  She had scratches and bruises on her hands and legs.  The tips of several of her exposed fingers had band-aids.  She was grateful (with a weird sort of pride) that she did not scratch or hurt her face.  Her right hand had a splint with bloody bandages.  The doctor said she dislocated at the mid knuckle.  She came in with the finger bent in the middle literally at a right angle outward.  Yikes.  They had straightened it, and now they were going to stick it back into the knuckle.  When they unwrapped it I squirmed, especially my face.  The finger was swollen double the size, the color of the skin looked pale grey, and there was a slit down the inside that you could see into the finger.  The doctor shoved the front half of the finger into the back half.  It wasn’t going in right, so they needed to do it several times.  Finally they got it in, then x-rayed again, and then when they were happy, stitched the gaping wound. 

They finally let her out around eight o’clock with a follow up with a hand surgeon.  As I helped her with her coat, which had been lying on the hospital bed beside her, I noticed a plastic shopping bag that was underneath the coat.  I looked in the bag and it was a big bag of grass seed.  LOL!  She still had the bag all this time, ambulance ride and all.  The white plastic was smeared with blood. 

You would think that would be the end of the story, but no.  I checked in on her the next day, and there she was in the backyard, smeared with dirt, her right hand full of bandages and inside a plastic bag to prevent it from getting dirty.  “What the hell are you doing?” I screamed.  “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”  “I had to get the seed down,” she explained.  “It’s going to rain tomorrow.”  And then she asked me to help her with her ice pack.  We walked inside and she sat down.  I assumed she had an ice pack inside the bag around her hand.  But she lifted her pants leg up and had a wrap with ice around her calf. 

“Is it swollen?” she asked. 

It was slightly swollen.  “What happened here?”

“A dog bit me.”


“A little dog.  It bit me.”  She extended her arm and with her other hand showed the length of the dog to be from her fingertips to the mid forearm.  “A little dog.  No bigger than a rat.  It bit me?”

“Where was this?  In front of the house?”


So here’s what happened.  She walked back to the spot where she had fallen the day before.  For what reason, God knows.  To see if her blood was still there?  To see if there was something in the sidewalk that caused her to fall?  She really didn’t have an answer.  While she was looking at the concrete floor at the very spot she fell this little dog on a leash, possibly on one of those extendable leashes, squirted up around her leg and bit her calf.  At the very spot she fell…LOL. 

The dog’s owner was apologetic and what-not.  But here she was now with a swollen leg and two little fang piercings.  My first thought was, do I need to take her to the hospital?  I was pretty sure she had a tetanus shot in the last ten years, but could the dog possibly be rabid?  Given the dog was with the owner and on a leash, I figured it was fairly unlikely it was rabid.  I did not want to go to the hospital again.  I put an antiseptic on the bite marks, put a band-aid on that, and wrapped the ice pack again.  I looked at her.  “What is going on with you?”  I had my hands up, almost appealing to God.  She had an embarrassed smirk on her face.  “I don’t know.”

So in the last week we met with the hand surgeon and she will need an operation on the finger.  The front part of the finger won’t stay correctly.  He will have to put pins in and reconstruct (I think) the tendons.  The operation will be on the 17th.  But since then we’ve had pre-op testing, medical clearences from her general doctor and from a cardiologist.  Oy vey.

 Here's a picture of my mother in her garden from several years ago.  As you can see, she's into her gardening.





Friday, April 12, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: "Hiding Place" by John Michael Talbot

It's been such a hard week.  Besides working late and taking work home, work has been a drag.  And then at the end of last week my mother broke and dislocated her finger, which will require an operation.  So it's been hectic and busy and stressful.  Through it all I have one hiding place.

I love this song, and I love most of John Michael Talbot's music.  If you've never heard his music, here's his home page, and I know you can sample a lot of it on Youtube.  I think he looks better with the shorter hair and beard, but I guess that sort of thing doesn't matter to him.  ;)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Music Tuesday: "Gloria" from Bach's Mass in B Minor

I can never make up my mind on who's the greatest composer between Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven.  I guess it depends which one's work has been in my ear.  Leading up to Easter our local classical radio station, WQXR, 105.9 FM, presented Bach's complete works in about ten days of play time, calling the event Bach 360.  I had been sick of talk radio ever since the election, and so I've had WQXR on in the car.  During the Bach 360, every time I got in the car it felt like I was in heaven.  I love Johann Sebastian Bach

Here is his Gloria in excelsis from his Mass in B Minor.  Now I don't know why a German Lutheran would write a mass in Latin.  Honestly I know very little about the Lutheran liturgy, but if the Mass in B Minor is any indication, it appears to have a very similar form as the in the Latin rite.  Hope you enjoy this piece of heaven.

Director: Karl Richter and the Munich Opera Bach Orchestra

Monday, April 8, 2013

Matthew Monday: Class Switch

This needs a little preface.  Matthew had been in a class (pre-pre-school) of three year olds that was mostly boys.  I think it was four or five other boys and one girl.  I don’t know if that fact is very significant.  Perhaps the fact that the teacher did not seem to control the class that well is much more significant.  I visited the class once and was totally not impressed of her presence or command of the class.  As far as I could tell from that one hour there was not much structure.  The kids raced about and played with whatever they took, possession being the rule as to who got to play with what.  I could sense that could lead to problems, but it didn’t while I was there, and I don’t think that is the root of the current problem either.   It was a sign, though.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t a bad class.  The teacher, Miss Melissa, is young, dressed rather common that day, probably isn’t paid that much for this level, but the kids were happy.  Matthew has been in the class since August (I think) and the kids are all friends.  They are rambunctious and Matthew picked up some bad manners at first.  But the kids all hug each other.  I’m not sure how much he’s learned, but I’m not sure how much he’s supposed to have learned at this level.  He knew his ABC’s and numbers already, and I’d have to say now he’s infallible with them.  Other than improving on what he already knew, I don’t know what exactly he’s learned.

A few weeks ago Miss Melissa said that she thought Matthew was going to be a perfectionist, not so much as a compliment, but just because he insists on doing things himself.  He’ll start doing it and then, when it doesn’t turn out as quite it should, he wants to move on to something else.  He gets frustrated.  Then we were told his writing of the alphabet (calligraphy) was behind the other kids, and he didn’t want to do it anymore.  He was refusing.  Now the other kids are all I think in class five days a week, full days.  This amounts to day care for them while the parents work.  Matthew is only there three days a week for half days.  Obviously he’s not going to be at the other kid’s level. 

And then last week we were told that Matthew doesn’t want to do the school projects.  The school projects amount to gluing things together as a little craft.  When he gets frustrated and stops he starts to cry.  He told my wife last week that the other kids call him “cry baby.”  My wife verified this with the teacher, and she said they do.  Something was going on because it reached a point where Matthew on Tuesday was refusing to go to school altogether.  Wednesday he was crying when my wife dropped him off.  She spoke to the administrator and asked he go into another class. 

I was reluctant to make the switch.  After all Matthew has to learn how to deal with different types, and he’s got to toughen up.  He can’t quit just because he’s called names.  Thursday he was put into another class with fewer boys.    The following are email exchanges I had with my wife.

From: Mrs. Manny
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 9:35 AM
To: Manny
Subject: Matthew

Matthew actually looked forward to going to school this morning. Brought him to his new classroom and right away you can tell how mellow it is compared to his other class. He gave me no problem at all, not even a whine. Gave me a kiss and off he went to play. His new teacher Miss Vicki is the total opposite of Miss Melissa. Even Vicki told me that the boys in Melissa's class are a rough bunch.

I'll know more when I pick him up later.

From: Manny
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 10:57 AM
To: Mrs. Manny
Subject: RE: Matthew (UNCLASSIFIED)


From: Mrs. Manny
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 1:29 PM
To: Manny
Subject: Matthew

Today went very well. Matthew likes his new class and teacher. When his new teacher asked him if he wanted to stay in her class Matthew responded with a yes and gave her a hug.

From: Manny
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2013 01:31 PM
To: Mrs. Manny
Subject: RE: Matthew (UNCLASSIFIED)

Sounds like you made a good decision.


Let’s hope it’s all resolved.    

Friday, April 5, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: "Divine Mercy Flood My Soul"

This coming Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  This song is just too moving to not post for the occaision.  Annie Karto has such a delicately beautiful voice. 

Divine Mercy Flood My Soul
by Annie Karto

I knelt before Him one stormy night
His Face was adorned in a golden light
I felt so unworthy, I want to run and hide
But His gaze was so intense I felt paralyzed

Divine Mercy
like a river, oh, flood my soul
wash me clean, and make me whole
Divine Mercy
like a river, oh, flood my soul
wash me clean, and make me whole

I found the lyrics here, if you wish to read the rest of them. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Excerpt: Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset, Part 3

You can find part 1 of my blogs on this biography here and part 2 here

Catherine of Siena has been proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, which is an honor based on a saint’s extensive writings that promote the doctrine or explain theology or reflect great sanctity.  In her short life Catherine wrote almost four hundred letters (381 to be exact, taking up four volumes in collection) known to have survived, a book of prayers, and a book on her mysticism and spirituality simply called Dialogue.  I’d like this excerpt to give a sample Catherine’s writings, both to display her theology and her writing style, as showcased in Undset’s biography.

 First, here’s a little bit on Undset speaking about Catherine’s language.

Catherine always wrote in Tuscan, her native tongue.  It is impossible to give any proper idea of her style in translation—she has complete mastery over the music of the Italian peasant language, whether she is tenderly admonishing a soul whose welfare means just as much to her as her own, describing her heavenly visions, or threatening with the wrath of God; whether she is advising powerful lords or ordinary people, laymen or monks in cases concerning the fate if people and countries, or private people’s everyday difficulties.  But because her soul was filled with the love of Christ and belief in Him, her interest for everything human was bathed in faith; to use her own analogy, as the swimmer under the water only sees what is in the water, or what can be seen through the water, so she sees everything through her faith.  But in our time and the language of our time the expressions we use for religious emotions and religious experience have become worn out and meaningless; words which in Catherine’s language are as shining as new-minted gold, become, when repeated by us, worn-out coins, which have gone out of circulation.  Catherine speaks of Virtù, and for her the word retains its full weight; it means a vital and powerful pursuit of high ideals.  “Virtue in English has no connection in the popular mind with capacity, capacity for goodness; we think of virtue as something slightly sour, weak and boring.  Catherine’s eternal cri du coeur, “Gesù Dolce—Gesù Amore,” is filled with very different associations from those which occur to us when we read “Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.”  A sweet Jesus, a lady Jesus; Jesus-Love—a substitute or sublimation of sexual love.  In Catherine’s language and when she lived, sweetness was also a name for strength, for all that is good and at the same time gentle and merciful.  That goodness must also at times be hard and aggressive, no one knew better than Catherine.  For her and her contemporaries, even for the hosts of people who in practice tried to forget it or deny it, it was acknowledged that “Amore” love, is fundamentally an expression for the connection between God and the soul of man.  [p.190-1]

The phrase “Gesù Dolce—Gesù Amore” was her favorite way to address our Lord, and apparently she used it to sign off many of her letters.  I’m so enamored (pardon the pun) with that phrase that I’ve begun to use it in one of my prayers where I address Christ.  Here is a sample letter, this letter to Pope Gregory XI to take responsibility like a man or the Church of Christ would continue to suffer.

As usual she begins her letter in the name of Jesus Christ and gentle Mary, and addresses herself to the Pope as her dearest and most worthy father in Jesus Christ.  For herself she has chosen the title of God’s servants’ servant and bondswoman—it is reminiscent of the Pope’s traditional signature, “the servant of the servants of God.”  She describes her longing to see him standing as a fruitful tree, loaded with noble fruit because it is planted in good earth.  But if the tree is not planted in this good earth, which is self-knowledge—the knowledge that we are nothing, existing only in Him Who Is—the tree will wither.  The worm of egoism will eat up the roots, for he who loves himself feeds his soul with mortal pride, the principle and origin of evil in all men, in those who rule and those who must obey.  A man who has become the victim of self-love becomes indifferent to sins and faults among his subordinates, for he is afraid to annoy them and make them his enemies.  Either he attempts to punish them so halfheartedly that it is useless, or else he does not punish them at all.  In other words Catherine tells the Pope that in the last resort it is he who carries the whole responsibility for the terrible abuses which are draining the life of the Church, even though according to human reckoning he may be a fine person with many good qualities…”If the blind leads the blind both fall into the abyss; doctor and patient hurry to hell together.”  The kind of mercy which is due to self-love and the love of friends, relations, and temporal peace is in fact the worst cruelty, for if a wound is not cleansed when necessary with the red-hot iron and the surgeon’s knife, it festers and finally causes death.  To apply salves to it may be pleasant for the patient, but it does not heal him.  Love your neighbor for Jesus’ sake, and for the honor and glory of His sweet name.   “Yes, I could wish you were a good and faithful shepherd who was willing to give a thousand lives if you had them, for the glory of God and the salvation of His creatures.  Oh, my beloved father, you who are Christ on earth, imitate the Blessed St. Gregory.  You can do what he did, for he was a man as you are, and God is always the same as He was.  The only thing we lack is hunger for the salvation of our neighbor, and courage.  But to arouse this hunger in ourselves, who are nothing more than barren trees, we must graft ourselves to the fruitful tree of the cross.  The Lamb who was slaughtered for the sake of our salvation still thirst—His desire for our salvation is greater than could be shown by His suffering—for His suffering is without end, as is His love.

“…Have courage Holy Father, no more indecision, raise the banner of the holy cross, the fragrance of the cross is what will bring you peace.”  “Forgive me, Father, for all I have said to you.  The tongue speaks of that which fills the heart”…

Finally she talks of the forthcoming nomination of cardinals, and warns him he must choose those men who are most worthy, otherwise he need not be surprise if God punishes him.  For the Dominican order, which is to have a new Master General, she begs him to chose a pious and virtuous man, “for that is what our order needs.”  She ends by asking humbly for his blessing and forgiveness for all she has dared to write.  “Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.”  [p.187-9]

I love her use of what would today be called folksy maxims: the blind following the blind into the abyss, a wound that is not cauterized and cut clean will lead to death, applying salves may be pleasant but it will not heal.  Her language is very vivid, charged with simile (the Pope needs to be a fruitful tree) and then extends the simile almost in the manner of Homer (the tree needs to be planted in good earth or the worm of egoism will destroy the roots).  And of course her outspoken is at the very core of her identity.  Who has the audacity to tell the Pope to have “courage”?

Finally her great work, Dialogue, should be described and sampled, and Undset does that in a whole chapter.  I can’t copy an entire chapter, but I’ll try to give a taste of it.

Catherine calls the manuscript “the book” or “my book.”  It was Raimondo who first gave it a title and called it the Dialogue.  The first Latin translation, by Critofano di Gano Guidini and Stefano Maconi, had been called by the translators the Book of Divine Learning.  Since then the various translations and unprinted editions in several different languages have gone under several names…The undercurrent beneath the waves of shifting ideas in these conversations between the Eternal Father and her whom He calls His very dear daughter, and His much loved child, is the belief in God’s mercy.  With her heart crushed by compassion Catherine begs for mercy—for all this world which sin has laid waste, for all Christians and heathens and the infidel too.  And finally, when the Eternal father compresses all He has taught His daughter into a few sentences, He says: “I have told you that I will show the world mercy so that you can see that mercy is the sign by which I am known”…

In the Dialogue the Lord repeats for Catherine all that he has taught her before of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of one’s own ego and the way to perfection: “Your service of no use to Me, it is by serving your neighbor that you can serve Me.”  The soul which has once experienced the bliss of being united with God in love, which has reached the point where it only loves itself in God, will expand and embrace the whole world with its love.  Once it has won for itself the virtue which brings a life of grace it will work with the utmost zeal to help its neighbor.  But this is an inner virtue; outward action, physical work, diligent penitence, self-chastisement and all kinds of self-denial are nothing more than the tools of virtue—God is not interested in them for themselves.  On the contrary—they can be an obstacle on the way to perfection if the soul begins to love penitential exercises for their own sake.  One must do penitence from love, with true humility and perfect patience.  And it must be done with understanding, that is to say with a true knowledge of God and one’s own self…   .  [p.262-4]

It seems that Catherine is taking us on a journey, and the journey is inward toward her mystic visions.  She seems to be suggesting the notion of Divine Mercy centuries before St. Faustina.  The visions rely on a complex imagery and symbolism, such as one of her favorite images, the swallowing sea.

When she saw that she had been given a new and deeper understanding of the love which caused the redemption by Christ Crucified, Catherine was filled with holy joy and prayed again for the whole world—although if the Holy Church should regain the outward beauty which is an expression of its eternal inner beauty, the whole world would be saved…So when mankind had rebelled against God it immediately rebelled against itself; the flesh rebelled against the spirit and mankind drowned in the dark and bitter waters of sin…Man thinks it is the things he loves which float, but in reality it is he himself who is swept by the stream towards the end of his life.  He would like to stop, to keep his hold of this life and the things he loves, so that they are not washed out of his reach.  He reaches out blindly to whatever he happens to touch, but cannot tell the difference between valuable and the valueless.   Then comes death and takes him from all he loves…

God made a bridge over this abyss when He gave the world His Son.  For God, who created us without our having anything to do with it, demands of us that we should work with Him for our salvation…    .  [p.264-5]

The symbol of the bridge (God’s grace) becomes further complicated as it intertwines with the symbol of light as the path to God. 

But because it is through the grace which God gives us that we are able to work with Him for our salvation, Catherine prays for light.  This too she is given, and then she sees how one can receive and increase the grace God gives freely.  It is the old teaching of the mystics on the Via Purificativa, the way to cleanse the soul, the Via Illuminativa, the way to enlightenment of eternal truths, and the Via Unitiva, the way to unification with God in love.    [p.266]

Does the bridge become transformed into a bridge of light?  I’ve perused the Dialogue itself (here, free on the Internet), and I have to admit it is hard to follow.  Her imagery shifts fluidly, too fluidly, and her symbols seem to be built on top of each other.  She violates several rules of rhetorical clarity, but what she loses in clarity she gains in poetic vision.  She writes (actually mutters while in mystic transcendence and someone else is writing it down) like a complex modern poet, symbols morphing into symbols.

She develops the bridge symbol in several ways.  The soul steps onto the bridge by three steps.  Sometimes, according to her, the steps mean the three grades of intimacy with Christ, which are also expressed by the kiss on His feet, the kiss on the wound in His side, and the kiss on His mouth.  Then she lets the three steps mean three stages toward perfect union with God: slavish fear of God’s punishment is what leads most souls to the bridge.  The next step is the faithfulness of a servant who follows his kind lord through love, even though this love is still imperfect, because the servant of his reward—the blessedness which God gives His faithful servants.  This leads to the third step, where the soul loves God with the love of a son—for what He is, not for His gifts.  At another time, the three steps become a symbol for the qualities of the soul—memory, intelligence, and will.  With an interpretation, entirely her own, of a phrase in the Bible, Catherine declares that when these three qualities of the soul run together in the desire for unity with God, Christ will fulfill His promise: “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.”   [p.266]

Undset describes that the structure of the work is not linear in progress, but rhythmic, as the sea.   The book was written in four or five days, the divisions into chapters and sections by others subsequent to the transcription.

The contents of the book came from Catherine’s lips during a series of visions and take the form of thoughts which are often repeated or which reappear constantly in new forms.  Her mind is like the waves of the sea which break inwards over the same problems and then wash back again, then break again.  The comparisons and symbols, some of them old favorites from earlier visions and letters, are repeated or given new meaning.  No translation can do justice to the beauty, tenderness, and pathos she expresses in her lovely Tuscan dialect, and which have made the Dialogue one of the masterpieces of Italian literature as well as a milestone in Catholic thinking.  [p.267-8]
Finally if you want to hear Fr. Thomas McDermott speak about Catherine's writings, you can watch his interview on EWTN's Bookmark.