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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poetry: My Nature is Fire by St. Catherine of Siena

Today, April 29th is the feast day of what has become my personal patron saint, St. Catherine of Siena.  I read a biography of her life written by the Nobel Prize winning author, Sigrid Undset last year, and I blogged four posts on the work, and you can access them all here.  The biography was consequential for me.  Now I admire many saints, possibly all of them, but for several reasons. Catherine is the first saint that strikes me as a kindred spirit.  And I have to say that when I can I promote her importance.    

Well, I keep going deeper and deeper in learning about St. Catherine.  Everyone seems to know her biography, especially that she was able to convince the Pope at the time to return to Rome after the Papacy had been displaced to Avignon for sixty-five years.   

But personally I think her greatest achievement is her immense writing in so short a life time, especially when you consider she had no formal education.  In 1970, along with St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine became the women to be recognized as Doctors of the Church.  This is a title not given lightly.  One has to have expanded the church’s understanding of its theological doctrine.  When at a time it was rare for women to know how to read and write, let alone write books and letters, Catherine either taught herself to read, or, as her hagiography goes, was given the gift by God as an adult.   

And what writing.  I’m not qualified to speak to the theology and the Church doctrine, but I can speak to her writing skills.  Her output is her treatise The Dialogue, 385 letters (collected to be four volumes) to Popes, leaders across Europe, and religious and lay people, and a collection of prayers, which amounts to a complete book.  All in a short life of thirty-three years.  I can’t speak to the quality of her Italian, which is considered by experts to be among the best of her day, but what stands out for me in the translations is her ability to generate sparkling imagery and metaphor.  She was a natural poet. 

Last year Judy Keane at Catholic Exchange had this piece on the newly translated letters that encapsulates her accomplishments, her personality, and why the letters should be read:     

Each letter Catherine wrote gives us a greater understanding of her personality, humor, charm and deep spiritual wisdom.  Miracle worker, mystic, contemplative, stigmatic, humanitarian, Doctor of the Church, activist, and counselor – this is a woman whose letters you want to spend some time with!  Why? Because they are letters that allow us to peer deeply inside the soul of a celebrated saint.  They are a gift from her to us from across the centuries – filled with spiritual and practical advice – from her troubled times to ours.  Ultimately, they contain the simple gift of being able to learn from a saint and in doing so, hopefully, become saints ourselves. 

I haven’t read them yet, but in time.  I have spent a little time with her collected prayers.  What I’ve done below is taken one of her prayers, posted at the marvelous St. Catherine of Siena website, Drawn by Love, and shaped it into the form of a free verse poem.  Other than the shaping the line lengths and organizing the strophes (irregular stanzas) I have not changed a single word except for one.  In the very first line, the actual word provided is “Godhead” but I simplified it to God.  I don’t have access to the Italian, so I don’t know exactly what word Catherine used for the translator to come up with “Godhead” but there is no distinction between the nouns “God” and “Godhead,” and I have never been fond of the term “Godhead.”  

 

My Nature is Fire
Prayer 12 (XXII)*

by St. Catherine of Siena 
 

In your nature, eternal God,
I shall come to know my nature. 

And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire, because you are nothing but a fire of love. 

And you have given humankind a share in this nature,
for by the fire of love you created us. 

And so with all other people and every created thing;
you made them out of love. 

O ungrateful people!
What nature has your God given you?
His very own nature! 

Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off
from such a noble thing through the guilt of deadly sin? 

O eternal Trinity, my sweet love! 

You, light, give us light.
You, wisdom, give us wisdom.
You, supreme strength, strengthen us. 

Today, eternal God, let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth
in truth, with a free and simple heart. 

God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us! 

Amen.
 

*Taken from The Prayers of Catherine of Siena. 2nd edition. Suzanne Noffke, OP, translator and editor.
(San Jose.: Authors Choice Press, 2001) (Roman numerals indicate the number of the prayer in
the critical edition of G. Cavallini).
 

Excerpted from Drawn by Love.   

By the way, arrangement of a passage of words into a poem is called FoundPoetry.    
 

The central image that controls the poem and I think bends theology is that God is a fire, that He created through medium of fire, and that His love itself manifests itself through fire.  Now fire can be a destructive element; it can be a purgative element; it can be a punitive element.  But a creative, generative element is a new one for me.  My first impulse is to say it’s not biblical, so one has to consider it metaphorical.  But God does manifest Himself as a fire in the burning bush.  He is a pillar of fire leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  There are the tongues of fire at Pentecost.  In classical learning, fire was considered one of the primary four elements, so perhaps there is a leap from there to being a creative element.   

To visualize God and His love as a fire is actually an image that symbolizes unity, which I think is outside all the examples I just listed.  Fire consumes and swallows.  It merges and becomes one.  We are part of God in His essence and we dissipate (line 18) into the greater whole.  

I hope this has inspired you to search out more by this saint.  
 
 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lines I Wished I’d Written: In New York City, from Paul’s Case by Willa Cather

I’ve never read anything by Willa Cather that I didn’t think was fantastic.  This is from a short story called “Paul’s Case” about a high school aged boy from Pittsburg, who, troubled, bored, and in desire for an exciting life, runs away to New York City.  I’m going to provide my analysis of the story as soon as I catch up with a few other things.  If you want to read the story ahead of my analysis, you can read it here at Literature Network.  This excerpt is from a carriage ride through New York City during a snowstorm.   

When he went downstairs Paul took a carriage and drove up Fifth Avenue toward the Park. The snow had somewhat abated; carriages and tradesmen's wagons were hurrying soundlessly to and fro in the winter twilight; boys in woolen mufflers were shoveling off the doorsteps; the avenue stages made fine spots of color against the white street. Here and there on the corners were stands, with whole flower gardens blooming under glass cases, against the sides of which the snowflakes stuck and melted; violets, roses, carnations, lilies of the valley--somehow vastly more lovely and alluring that they blossomed thus unnaturally in the snow. The Park itself was a wonderful stage winterpiece. 

When he returned, the pause of the twilight had ceased and the tune of the streets had changed. The snow was falling faster, lights streamed from the hotels that reared their dozen stories fearlessly up into the storm, defying the raging Atlantic winds. A long, black stream of carriages poured down the avenue, intersected here and there by other streams, tending horizontally. There were a score of cabs about the entrance of his hotel, and his driver had to wait. Boys in livery were running in and out of the awning stretched across the sidewalk, up and down the red velvet carpet laid from the door to the street. Above, about, within it all was the rumble and roar, the hurry and toss of thousands of human beings as hot for pleasure as himself, and on every side of him towered the glaring affirmation of the omnipotence of wealth. 

The boy set his teeth and drew his shoulders together in a spasm of realization; the plot of all dramas, the text of all romances, the nerve-stuff of all sensations was whirling about him like the snowflakes. He burnt like a faggot in a tempest. 

When Paul went down to dinner the music of the orchestra came floating up the elevator shaft to greet him. His head whirled as he stepped into the thronged corridor, and he sank back into one of the chairs against the wall to get his breath. The lights, the chatter, the perfumes, the bewildering medley of color--he had, for a moment, the feeling of not being able to stand it. But only for a moment; these were his own people, he told himself. He went slowly about the corridors, through the writing rooms, smoking rooms, reception rooms, as though he were exploring the chambers of an enchanted palace, built and peopled for him alone. 

When he reached the dining room he sat down at a table near a window. The flowers, the white linen, the many-colored wineglasses, the gay toilettes of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating repetitions of the Blue Danube from the orchestra, all flooded Paul's dream with bewildering radiance. When the roseate tinge of his champagne was added--that cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in his glass-- Paul wondered that there were honest men in the world at all. This was what all the world was fighting for, he reflected; this was what all the struggle was about. He doubted the reality of his past. Had he ever known a place called Cordelia Street, a place where fagged-looking businessmen got on the early car; mere rivets in a machine they seemed to Paul,--sickening men, with combings of children's hair always hanging to their coats, and the smell of cooking in their clothes. Cordelia Street--Ah, that belonged to another time and country; had he not always been thus, had he not sat here night after night, from as far back as he could remember, looking pensively over just such shimmering textures and slowly twirling the stem of a glass like this one between his thumb and middle finger? He rather thought he had.
 

The “Cordelia Street” mentioned in the last paragraph is his home street back in Pittsburg.  Isn’t that just beautifully set and detailed.  The story is worth reading.
 
 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Literature in the News: Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

Today, the 23rd of April, is held as both William Shakespeare’s birthday and day of his death.   We know for sure he died on this day in 1616 but his birthday is assumed to be on the same day.  We have a record of his baptism, which happened on the 26th of April in 1564, but tradition in his day had babies baptized three days after birth, so it is assumed he was born on the 23rd.  So as it turns out this is the anniversary of his birth and death. 

And this morning I noticed in the papers that this was the 450th anniversary of his birth.  I noticed there were several commemorations.  I sort of kicked myself for not pulling together a blog last night to also commemorate such an anniversary, and then I said, well, I’ll just have to remember for his really big one, his five hundredth.  And then I realized I’ll be a 102 then, and if I’m still alive, I’ll be damned if I’m still writing this blog at 102.  ;) 

So I put a commemorative post together late on the 23rd even though most people will probably see it the next day.  What else can I do for the greatest writer in the English language, and arguably in the top three greatest writers of all languages.  To date I’ve read 26 of the 36 acknowledged solely written plays.  There are two plays in which he collaborated, Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsman.  Henry VIII is usually accredited as mostly written by Shakespeare while Two Noble Kinsman as not.  I have not read either of them.  There are also other plays where it’s thought he may have contributed.  Here is a listing of all the plays he may have had a hand in. 

Three controversial points about Shakespeare’s life that I’ll give you my opinion on.   

First, Shakespeare’ religion.  It has been long time rumored, going back to the seventeenth century, that Shakespeare was actually a Roman Catholic in an age of Catholic persecution in England.  In recent years the entire body of evidence on his religion has been put together and I think it is indisputable that Shakespeare was most certainly Roman Catholic, and possibly even a supporter of the  underground subversive movements attempting to undermine the Protestant government.  I don’t come to such a conclusion lightly.  I had known of the lurking Catholicism both in his plays and the rumors, but I had been skeptical.  When the totality of the evidence was put together by Joseph Pierce in his biography, The Quest for Shakespeare, I was completely convinced.   One of these days I will have to put together a post summarizing the evidence.  But I have never seen anything remotely rebutting the evidence. 

Second, Shakespeare’s sexuality.  It has been claimed that Shakespeare was either homosexual or bi-sexual.  The claims are based on what amounts to a couple of lines from a few sonnets that perhaps can be construed as professing love for a man, his patron that supported his writing.  well, the man supported his writing, so yes Shakespeare’s profession of love for the man might appear to go overboard.  Given the thousands of other lines and drama he wrote that have no suggestion whatsoever, and given he was a married man with children, I find that claim of his other than heterosexuality to be insubstantial.   

Third, that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays.  You will see all sorts of theories that either some other Elizabethan man wrote the plays or they were a mix of people or even that Shakespeare didn’t exist.  Well, all the semi-credible theories (frankly there are no credible theories) have been taken apart by Shakespeare biographers and scholars and the conclusive evidence is that a William Shakespeare existed and wrote his 36 plays by himself.  This claim has become one of those ridiculous conspiracy theories that just never seem to die. 

So let’s start with a summary of the global celebrations that are going on.  Fox News summarizes it here, but of particular note is Shakespeare’s hometown celebration:  

Of course, you would expect Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, to do it up right in honoring the day of his birth. To start, they’ll be creating a giant model cake that will require the power of a horse-drawn carriage to pull it along during an annual birthday procession. Led by actors, diplomats and local dignitaries, the parade to the playwright’s grave at Holy Trinity Church has taken place for 150 years. 

This year’s birthday celebrations will be held the weekend after the Bard's birthday on April 26 and 27. Afterward, the tens of thousands in attendance can delve into a “real” birthday cake and enjoy street entertainers, music, sonnet readings, theatre workshops, tours of his houses and even try to spot some famous actors in town for the event. 

 

Of course you can take Victoria McNally’s advice at Geekosystem (not sure if that’s a blog) by taking up these ill advised suggestions to celebrate from Shakespeare’s plays.    She provides 25 suggestions, but here are a few:
 

1. Convince a friend that his wife is cheating on him through the clever placement of handkerchiefs.

2. Trick your significant other into developing feelings for an ass. No, like, a literal ass.

3. Get a group of your buddies together and dress up as trees.

4. Blackmail nuns into having sex with you. (Alternately, demand that people you’ve had sex with become nuns.)

5. Bake a pie. (Do not tell anyone what you’ve made the pie from. Laugh maniacally.)
 

I’m going by memory here but I believe No. 1 is from Othello, No. 2 from A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, No. 3 from Macbeth, No. 4 from Measure for Measure, and No. 5 from Titus Andronicus. 
 

The aforementioned Joseph Pierce has a piece in The Imaginative Conservative outlining why Shakespeare is timeless, titled “TheEternal Shakespeare.”  Here is an excerpt.
 

The reason that Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time is that he serves the Heilige Geist and not the zeitgeist. The truths that inspire his Muse and the truths that emerge in the fruits of his Muse (his plays and poems) are the truths of the Holy Spirit. Such truths do not merely stand the test of time they are the very truths by which time itself is tested. This timeless aspect of truth is very important for us to understand but perhaps a little difficult to grasp. It might, therefore, be useful to employ a famous philosophical riddle: If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear it fall does it make a sound? The answer is that of course it makes a sound because the sound of the tree falling is not dependent on anyone hearing it. We might rephrase the riddle thus: If Shakespeare’s works are neglected so that they are no longer performed or read, will Shakespeare and his works cease to be relevant? The answer is that of course they are still relevant because the goodness, truth and beauty of the works are not dependent on our ability to see or understand them. Indeed, it could and should be argued that a culture that could no longer read Shakespeare because of its illiteracy and barbarism was suffering the woeful consequence of neglecting the truths that Shakespeare’s plays reveal!
 

It’s worth reading the entire piece.  Finally, today’s Wall Street Journal had a hilarious piece in their Op-Ed where Kim Askew in the persona of a Hollywood movie producer tells “Bill” how to improve his plays for the movie industry. 

Dear Bill, 

Thanks for the screenplay pitches—you're certainly a prolific guy! We're confident that some of the ideas, with a few tweaks, would have real blockbuster potential. I'm happy to pass along this feedback from the studio creative team… 

And here are a couple of the suggestions that come back from the creative team.   

King Lear : Retooled as an action flick, this could be a great starring vehicle for a geriatric hunk like Liam Neeson. How about a rewrite where Lear, a retired CIA operative, has to rescue his daughter Cordelia from an undercover crime syndicate? (Love the cliff dive, by the way . . . can totally see this filmed like a Bond sequence.) 

Titus Andronicus : This slasher flick is solid in terms of blood, guts and body count but would doubtless land us in NC-17 ratings territory. Just riffing here, but what if we lose the rape, cannibalism and beheadings and re-imagine it as dark animated tale for kids? "Game of Thrones" meets "Frozen." 

Othello: We like this one, except (stay with me here) we want you to rethink the location. And time period. Let's set it in the distant future on another planet (maybe Venus stedda Venice?) with the Moor being either an alien or cyborg. If we lose the murder-suicide ending and the Moor lives to fight another day, this could pop as a trilogy.
 

Too funny.  Read the rest for a few more suggestions. 

And now for a confession.  My poor wife has had to put up with my love of Shakespeare by me insisting that we keep a bust (shown just below) of the man prominently placed on a pedestal in the corner of our dining.  The bust is staring at me as I write. 
 
 
I have always said that if there is a single person I would love to hang out with in heaven, it is William Shakespeare.  Happy birthday Billy!
 
 
 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Literature in the News: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, RIP

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the passing of one of the most important writers of the last one hundred years, the Columbian writer and literature Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.    He passed away a few days ago. 

Let me say up front I have not read any of his major works.  I think the sole work I read was one short story, and if I dig long enough into my books I might find which one it is.  I don’t have a distinct memory of it.  So I’m going to let this obituary from CNN outline why Marquez was such an important writer. 

Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," has died, his family and officials said. 

He was 87. 

The literary giant was treated in April for infections and dehydration at a Mexican hospital. 

García Márquez, a native of Colombia, is widely credited with helping to popularize "magical realism," a genre "in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination," as the Nobel committee described it upon awarding him the prize for literature in 1982. 

He was sometimes called the most significant Spanish-language author since Miguel de Cervantes, the 16th-century author of "Don Quixote" and one of the great writers in Western literature. Indeed, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda told Time that "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes." 

Magic realism is a genre that blosoomed in the 20th century and seemed to be embraced by many South American writers.  When one thinks of magic realism, Marquez is certainly one of the first writers one should come to mind.  More from the obit: 

The author -- known by his nickname "Gabo" throughout Latin America -- was born in the northern Colombian town of Aracataca, which became the inspiration for Macondo, the town at the center of "Solitude," his 1967 masterpiece, and referenced in such works as his novella "Leaf Storm" and the novel "In Evil Hour." 

"I feel Latin American from whatever country, but I have never renounced the nostalgia of my homeland: Aracataca, to which I returned one day and discovered that between reality and nostalgia was the raw material for my work," reads a mural quoting the author outside of town. 

García Márquez was tickled that he had earned so much praise for his fertile imagination. 

"The truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination," he told The Paris Review in 1981. 

What is most interesting is that Marquez started as a journalist, which one would think would strip his reality down to the most objective of facts, but his breakthrough came by going beyond such an objective reality to a collective cultural reality rooted in the mindset of his surroundings. 

For years, García Márquez had been writing and publishing fiction, including short stories in Latin American journals and a handful of longer works, including "Leaf Storm," which was published in 1955. But it wasn't until 1967 with the publication of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" that he broke through to a wide audience. 

The novel is set in Macondo, a town founded by the patriarch of the Buendia family, José Arcadio Buendia. Over the generations, members of the family are set upon by ghosts and visions, fall in love, dream of riches and fight in wars. Natural events take on supernatural aspects -- rains that last years, plagues that create memory loss. It is a tapestry of almost biblical proportions in which reality and spirit swirl and merge, a world unto itself -- as well as a commentary on the politics and history of the world at large. 

"The narrative is a magician's trick in which memory and prophecy, illusion and reality are mixed and often made to look the same. It is, in short, very much like Márquez's astonishing novel," wrote The New York Times in a 1970 review upon the release of the English translation by Gregory Rabassa. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude remains the novel for which Marquez is known.  It is one of the must read novels, and I have to admit I have not gotten to it.  If it’s not on your list of reads, put it on.  Perhaps I will place it on my next year’s list of reads. 

García Márquez's style and impact have been widespread.

He is credited with spearheading "el Boom," attracting attention to a generation of Latin American writers, including Vargas Llosa and Mexico's Carlos Fuentes. Magical realism is now an accepted genre, to the point that some critics believe it has been overused. 

And he prompted a focus on Latin American politics -- protesting the 1973 CIA-aided coup in Chile, calling attention to corruption and free speech issues in South America and around the world. 

He never gave up journalism. 

"I've always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist. What I didn't like about journalism before were the working conditions," he told The Paris Review. "Now, after having worked as a novelist, and having achieved financial independence as a novelist, I can really choose the themes that interest me and correspond to my ideas." 

He was one of the most honored -- and highly respected -- authors on Earth, particularly in parts of the world where literature is taken as seriously as politics. 

What is meant by “el Boom” is the incredible burst of creativity in the novel form that came from South America in the second half of the 20th century.  Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and others could one day rank with the great French novelists of the early part of the 19th century or the great Russian novelists of the latter half of the 19th century. 
 

However, Marquez is not free of controversy, not to his writing, which is universally acclaimed, but of his political sympathies.  Yes, he was critical of right-wing dictatorship in Chile as noted above, but he was a big supporter and apologist for Fidel Castro and communist Cuba.  Here is a critical obituary from National Review Online, by the Cuban poet and human-rights activist, Armando Valladares.   

All dictators and murderers have had staunch defenders — Stalin, Hitler, and Fidel Castro. 

Perhaps the most heinous in that fauna supporting dictatorships are writers, poets, and artists. I’ve been saying for decades that an honest intellectual has a commitment to society: Tell the truth, fight for respect and human dignity, and do not lie or skip over the historical reality and thereby abuse the privilege of reaching millions of people. 

This is one of the biggest crimes in the case of the late Gabriel García Márquez. He put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba. 

As Vallardes goes on to say, Marquez did more than just support Castro with his pen.  But you will have to go and read the rest if you are interested.   

I do wish to leave this post on a positive note.  Marquez, rightly or wrongly, will be remembered for his fiction and his contribution to the art of the novel, of which he will be considered one of the greatest.  One cannot fathom from the outside the political extremes that South America experienced, and frankly continues to experience.  Those extremes may partly have been the reason for the creative burst of el Boom.  May Gabriel Garcia Marquez be forgiven of his sins and rest in peace.
 
 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Photo Essay: Way of the Cross 2014 - UPDATED

I mentioned yesterday I was participating in the Way of the Cross GoodFriday procession in New York City.  You can find links on yesterday’s post to what The Way of the Cross entails.  Well, I participated and here is a little photo essay of the procession.

One correction from yesterday’s post.  There weren’t fourteen stops on the procession reflecting the fourteen stations of the cross.  That was an assumption on my part that turned out to be wrong.  There were five stops where we came to a halt and read a Gospel reading (from the Passion chapters of St. John’s Gospel), read a meditation from the writings of Luigi Giussani (the event was sponsored by the local Communion and Liberation movement), listened to a mini homily by Fr. Richard Veras (my pastor at St. Rita’s who I mentioned here ), and sang hymns.  The five stations were (1) at St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn, (2) at the Brooklyn Bridge, (3) at City Hall in Manhattan, (4) at Ground Zero where 9-11 World Trade Center tragedy occurred, and (5) at St. Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan. 

This is inside the St. James Cathedral where the Communion and Liberation Choir were magnificent. 


 

And then onto the Brooklyn streets. 

 

 

The highlight for me was the procession over the Brooklyn Bridge.  I had never walked over before.  I took lots of wonderful pictures which I'll have to reserve for another photo essay.  The tall building on the left with the antenna is the new Liberty Tower that replaced the Twin Towers that collapsed.

 





 

You can see the hundreds of people in front of me, and I would say there were even more behind me.  There must have been a thousand people that participated.  At the head of the procession was a man carrying a wooden cross, but within the crowd there was a man carrying a statue of a black Jesus carrying his cross. 


 

 

 

At Ground Zero We weren’t actually at Ground Zero since the construction has closed it off, but about a block away.  I didn’t get a good picture but I have this.

 

And finally at St. Peter’s.  It looks a lot prettier on the inside than the outside. 

 

 

It was a great experience.  The only difficulty was getting to a bathroom.  The bus left in the morning at 8:30 and the last station was at about 1:30 PM.  Thank God St. Peter’s had a bathroom for us to use, even though the line was very long.

 


UPDATE (April, 19, 2014 @ 9:19 AM):
New York Post reports this morning that over 3000 participated in the procession.   Whoo hoo!  That’s a better turn out than I imagined.


 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: Good Friday way of the Cross

Today is the reason I reserved Fridays as the day to post a faith related subject.  Since a child I’ve stood in awe of this day, even when my faith wasn’t very strong or not at all.  There is something about this day that I walk quieter, with a gentler step, not wanting to disturb the ground, the air, the earth.  The very universe stands still today. 

Today I will participate in a procession from Brooklyn into Manhattan on what is called The Way of the Cross.  It will be a two and a half mile hike from the St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge and completing the pilgrimage in St. Peter’s Church in lower Manhattan.  We will be praying the Stations of the Cross, an identified site for each of the fourteen stations.  You can read about it here.  It’s an annual event—this will be my first time participating—and you can read a news clip of a past procession here 

I post today in commemoration one of the most famous crucifixions in all of art, the centerpiece from Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.  Here is the entire centerpiece.
 

 

Here are two details of Christ, the upper body, and then His face.

 
 

 

 

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Music Tuesday: Ma Nishtana

Passover started last night, and many of my readers know I am Jewish on my wife’s side.  And this year it will be special with the lunar eclipse and what some are calling a “blood moon” last night to kick off the festival. 
 

Special or not, I’ll be at Passover Seder tonight.  It will be small, my immediate family, my mother-in-law, and a couple of friends.  It’s been a long time since I’ve actually sat through an entire Haggadah reading.  I’m sure tonight it will be abbreviated as most of the Pesach Seders I’ve been at—it’s rather long and you would want a large gathering to justify it—but central to the Haggadah are the four questions referred to as Ma Nishtana.  Here is a musical arrangement of Ma Nishtana. 
 

 

In English, the four questions are the following:

What has changed, this night, from all the other nights?
That in all other nights we eat both chametz and matzah, on this night, we eat only matzah?
That in all other nights we eat many vegetables, on this night, maror?
That in all other nights we do not dip vegetables even once, on this night, we dip twice?
That in all other nights some eat sitting and others reclining, on this night, we are all reclining? 

Yes, I know, there are five questions there.  The first is to initiate the song and is not part of the traditional four questions.
 

Joyous Pesach to all who celebrate.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Felix Louis Leullier

I haven’t posted much art recently.  Here’s a beautiful work by a 19th century French, Romantic artist, Félix Louis Leullier.  For Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. 

 


 

Isn’t that a wonderful work?  I love the circles in the painting: the one in the clouds suggesting God looking down, the circle of people suggesting homage, the circular aura around Christ, the two halos, and the circles formed by the palms and trees.  I assume the woman on the right in blue and with the halo is His Blessed Mother. 

Hope you all had a wonderful Palm Sunday.  It was beautiful here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: The Imitation of Christ

This year for my Lenten read I selected the fifteenth century devotional The Imitationof Christ by Thomas à Kempis.  The work was completed in 1427 and probably written by more than one man, two or three priests at a religious community in Netherlands named Brethren of the Common Life.  Later the work was attributed to a particular priest, who was probably involved in the writing, Thomas à Kempis.   

I knew very little about the work when I picked it.  What lured me was that it was a medieval work—and I wanted to diversify my reading periods—and that The Imitation of Christ comes with the designation of being the “most widely read devotional work next to the Bible.”  How could I not want to read it?   

However, I was warned that it was a dry (shall we say, boring?) work.  I do have to admit it’s not my cup of tea as a devotional, and I think for two reasons.  First the thematic development was extremely drawn out.  For most of the time I was reading, I kept telling myself that this is all repetition and à Kempis never reaches any culmination.  However, I have to say, that is not true.  There is thematic development; it goes from internal consolation to acceptance of Christ, which is about as slow a movement as a glacier, but it is a movement.  But it is drawn out and overly repetitive.  However, this is a devotional, and devotionals are mostly static. 

What really didn’t agree with me was that this was a work for those in monastic life.  It’s a withdrawal from the world.  He states in the Twenty-Fifth Chapter in Book One: “Be watchful and diligent in God’s service and often think of why you left the world and came here.”  There are too many references to being a hermit and restricted to one’s cell.  From the Twentieth Chapter of Book One: “Your cell will become dear to you if you remain in it, but if you do not, it will become wearisome.  If in the beginning of your religious life, you live within your cell and keep to it, it will soon become a special friend and a very great comfort.”   

Was Jesus a hermit?  He had his moments of asceticism.  He spent forty days in the desert, but He came out of the desert and lived with His apostles and was surrounded by thousands and dined with Pharisees and tax collectors and prostitutes and other sinners.  I see Christ as an extrovert and gregarious.  Perhaps I’m projecting in Him parts of my personality, but I don’t think so.  He was a working man, and working men have to deal with the world. 

Though The Imitation of Christ was written in the late medieval period, it really has an outlook of an early medieval period, when monasteries and hermitages were abundant.  But from the twelfth century on, medieval life shifted from predominantly agrarian to urban towns, and so there was a shift from monastic religious orders to evangelizing orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans and, a few centuries later, the Jesuits.  They engaged the populace, not retreated from it.  Those are the types of religious orders I identify with, and if I had to pick one that fit my personality I would probably pick the Dominicans.   

Nonetheless, The Imitation of Christ has wonderful passages.  It is a great devotional.  If you opened a page randomly you would find lots of wisdom.  And here I’ll share a few. 

From the Seventeenth Chapter of Book One:
     He who seeks anything but God alone and the salvation of his soul will find only trouble and grief, and he who does not try to become the least, the servant of all, cannot remain at peace for long.
     You have come to serve, not to rule.  You must understand, too, that you have been called to suffer and to work, not to idle and gossip away your time.  Here men are tried as gold in a furnace.  Here no man can remain unless he desires with all his heart to humble himself before God.
             
From the Eighth Chapter of Book Two:

In what can I hope, then, or in whom ought I trust, save only in the great mercy of God and the hope of the heavenly grace?  For though I have with me good men, devout brethren, faithful friends, holy books, beautiful treatises, sweet songs and hymns, all these help and please but little when I am abandoned by grace and left to my poverty.  At such times there is no better remedy than patience and resignation of self to the will of God.
 

In Books Three and Four, à Kempis creates a dialogue between “The Voice of Christ” and “The Disciple.”

From the Eleventh Chapter of Book Three:
The Voice of Christ: My child, it is necessary for you to learn many things which you have not yet learned well.
The Disciple: What are they Lord?
The Voice of Christ: That you conform your desires entirely according to My good pleasure, and be not a lover of self but an earnest doer of My will. Desires very often inflame you and drive you madly on, but consider whether you act for My honor, or for your own advantage. If I am the cause, you will be well content with whatever I ordain. If, on the other hand, any self-seeking lurk in you, it troubles you and weighs you down. Take care, then, that you do not rely too much on preconceived desire that has no reference to Me, lest you repent later on and be displeased with what at first pleased you and which you desired as being for the best. Not every desire which seems good should be followed immediately, nor, on the other hand, should every contrary affection be at once rejected. 

From the Fifty-Second Chapter of Book Three, The Disciple:
What do you especially demand of a guilty and wretched sinner, except that he be contrite and humble himself for his sins? In true sorrow and humility of heart hope of forgiveness is born, the troubled conscience is reconciled, grace is found, man is preserved from the wrath to come, and God and the penitent meet with a holy kiss.
To You, O Lord, humble sorrow for sins is an acceptable sacrifice, a sacrifice far sweeter than the perfume of incense. This is also the pleasing ointment which You would have poured upon Your sacred feet, for a contrite and humble heart You have never despised. Here is a place of refuge from the force of the enemy's anger. Here is amended and washed away whatever defilement has been contracted elsewhere. 

From the Seventh Chapter of Book Four, The Voice of Christ:
Lament and grieve because you are still so worldly, so carnal, so passionate and unmortified, so full of roving lust, so careless in guarding the external senses, so often occupied in many vain fancies, so inclined to exterior things and so heedless of what lies within, so prone to laughter and dissipation and so indisposed to sorrow and tears, so inclined to ease and the pleasures of the flesh and so cool to austerity and zeal, so curious to hear what is new and to see the beautiful and so slow to embrace humiliation and dejection, so covetous of abundance, so niggardly in giving and so tenacious in keeping, so inconsiderate in speech, so reluctant in silence, so undisciplined in character, so disordered in action, so greedy at meals, so deaf to the Word of God, so prompt to rest and so slow to labor, so awake to empty conversation, so sleepy in keeping sacred vigils and so eager to end them, so wandering in your attention, so careless in saying the office, so lukewarm in celebrating, so heartless in receiving, so quickly distracted, so seldom fully recollected, so quickly moved to anger, so apt to take offense at others, so prone to judge, so severe in condemning, so happy in prosperity and so weak in adversity, so often making good resolutions and carrying so few of them into action.

It was certainly worthy of a Lenten read, despite its dryness.