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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: Isaiah 49

For my Old Testament read this year, I mentioned I would read the Book of Isaiah, and I actually just finished reading it in contemporary prose.  I have to say, I don’t really get it.  I will need help with some commentary, if I can find a good one and if I have time to read it.  In it there is the voice of God, the voice of the prophet, the voice of Jerusalem which is many times referred to as Zion, and occasional outside voices.  In many places the voice of God is severe and censuring of the people of Israel.  In other places He is loving and forgiving.  I kind of understand the history, Israel caught between overpowering nations, and apparently the people had not lived up to God’s commandments.  It’s very poetic, but there is certainly something I am missing from my understanding. 

Well last Sunday’s first reading at Mass was Isaiah 49:1-6, http://usccb.org/bible/readings/062418-day-mass.cfm and as it turned out, by total coincidence I had read that chapter the night before.  Let me post the entire chapter to get a feel for this if you haven’t closely read it before.  It opens with the voice of the Isaiah (1-3), the prophet with the mouth of a “sharp-edged sword.”  There is the voice of the Lord speaking to him (3-7), and then the Lord speaks to Zion (8-13); Zion speaks back (14), feeling forsakened.  But the Lord speaks back in reassurance (15-19).  And the children of Zion reply back (20), augmented I think by their parents (21).  The Lord God replies (22-26) again reassuring Israel’s survival. 

Chapter 49

The Servant of the Lord[a]

Hear me, coastlands,
    listen, distant peoples.
Before birth the Lord called me,
    from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.[b]
He made my mouth like a sharp-edged sword,
    concealed me, shielded by his hand.
He made me a sharpened arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me.
He said to me, You are my servant,
    in you, Israel,[c] I show my glory.
Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
    for nothing and for naught spent my strength,
Yet my right is with the Lord,
    my recompense is with my God.
For now the Lord has spoken
    who formed me as his servant from the womb,
That Jacob may be brought back to him
    and Israel gathered to him;
I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
    and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
    and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.[d]
Thus says the Lord,
    the redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
To the one despised, abhorred by the nations,
    the slave of rulers:
When kings see you, they shall stand up,
    and princes shall bow down
Because of the Lord who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.

The Liberation and Restoration of Zion

    Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I answer you,[e]

    on the day of salvation I help you;
I form you and set you
    as a covenant for the people,
To restore the land
    and allot the devastated heritages,
To say to the prisoners: Come out!
    To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the roadways they shall find pasture,
    on every barren height shall their pastures be.
10 They shall not hunger or thirst;
    nor shall scorching wind or sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
    and guides them beside springs of water.
11 I will turn all my mountains into roadway,
    and make my highways level.
12 See, these shall come from afar:
    some from the north and the west,
    others from the land of Syene.[f]
13 Sing out, heavens, and rejoice, earth,
    break forth into song, you mountains,
For the Lord comforts his people
    and shows mercy to his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a mother forget her infant,
    be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
    I will never forget you.
16 See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you;[g]
    your walls are ever before me.
17 Your children hasten—
    your levelers, your destroyers
    go forth from you;
18 Look about and see,
    they are all gathering and coming to you.
As I live—oracle of the Lord
    you shall don them as jewels,
    bedeck yourself like a bride.
19 Though you were waste and desolate,
    a land of ruins,
Now you shall be too narrow for your inhabitants,
    while those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of whom you were bereft
    shall yet say in your hearing,
“This place is too narrow for me,
    make room for me to live in.”
21 You shall ask yourself:
    “Who has borne me these,
    when I was bereft and barren?
Exiled and repudiated,
    who has reared them?
I was left all alone;
    where then do these come from?”
22     Thus says the Lord God:
See, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
    and to the peoples raise my signal;
They shall bring your sons in their arms,
    your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your guardians,
    their princesses your nursemaids;
Face to the ground, they shall bow down before you
    and lick the dust at your feet.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord,
    none who hope in me shall be ashamed.
24 Can plunder be taken from a warrior,
    or captives rescued from a tyrant?
25     Thus says the Lord:
Yes, captives can be taken from a warrior,
    and plunder rescued from a tyrant;
Those who oppose you I will oppose,
    and your sons I will save.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood
    as though with new wine.
All flesh shall know
    that I, the Lord, am your savior,
    your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.


  1. 49:1–7 The second of the four “servant of the Lord” oracles (cf. note on 42:1–4).
  2. 49:1 Gave me my name: designated me for a special task or mission (cf. Jer 1:5).
  3. 49:3 Israel: the servant is identified with the people of Israel as their ideal representative; however, vv. 5–6 seem to distinguish the servant from Israel.
  4. 49:6 The servant’s vocation extends beyond the restoration of Israel in order to bring the knowledge of Israel’s God to the rest of the earth; cf. Lk 2:32.
  5. 49:8 You: the individual is not named; perhaps Cyrus or the prophet.
  6. 49:12 Syene: now called Aswan, at the first cataract of the Nile in southern Egypt.
  7. 49:16 Upon the palms…you: for continual remembrance; cf. Ex 13:916Dt 6:6–9.

I’m not sure I got all those voices correct.  I get the censuring from God, I get His compassion, but why?  What is motivating the dialogue and the action?  I’m missing something.  Still it’s lovely to read.

Edit: I should have mentioned that I know that lines 1-7 is one of the "suffering servant" passages in Isaiah that prefigures Christ.  However, that brings up even more questions.  Who within this text is the suffering servant?  Isaiah?  But what suffering does he undergo?  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Power of Silence by Robert Cardinal Sarah, Part 2

Having taken you through the Introduction and Chapters I, II, and III in my first post on Robert Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, I continue here with Chapters IV, V, the Conclusion, and the Afterward.

The fourth chapter, titled “God’s Silence in the Face of Evil Unleashed” furthers the understanding of silence as it pertains to evil in the world.  It examines why God is silent in the face of evil, silence as a proper reaction toward evil, and silence in understanding sickness and death. 

Christ alone can give man the strength to confront evil and come to terms with it.  He offers himself as the only power of helping mankind to conquer suffering.  “Apart frpm me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).  By the strength of his Cross, he has the power to save mankind.  The most beautiful cry possible is an outburst of love for God.  Suffering is often the expression of immense love.  It is redemptive.  Suffering and sorrow show that we are alive, guiding the physician more precisely in his diagnosis.  It is necessary to accept suffering and to cope with it in silence.  There is no injustice in the world that does not find a prayerful response to God.  (P. 283)

But Sarah emphasizes that silence “is not a form of passivity.”  To fight injustice, man must turn to God and His love.

We must involve God in our combat against injustice.  I like to keep saying that are true weapons are love and prayer.  The silence of prayer is our only equipment for combat.  The silence of invocation, the silence of adoration, the silence of waiting: these are the most effective weapons.  Love alone is capable of putting out the flames of injustice, because God is love.  Loving God is everything.  All the rest has not the slightest value to the extent that it is not transformed and elevated by Christ’s love.  The choice is simple: God or nothing… (P. 292)

While Cardinal Sarah understands man’s rebellion in the face of injustice, he does not support many of the modern approaches to combat such injustice.  In what I find to be one of the most insightful paragraphs summarizing the modern condition, Sarah is repulsed by the noisy struggles from all sides.

Modern existence is a propped-up life built entirely on noise, artificiality, and the tragic rejection of God.  From revolutions to conquests, from ideologies to political battles, from the frantic quest for equality to the obsessive cult of progress, silence is impossible.  What is worse: transparent societies are sworn to an implacable hatred of silence, which they regard as contemptible, backward defeat.  (P. 336)

That paragraph is at the center of the book’s theme. 

The fifth chapter, “Like a Voice Crying Out in the Desert: The Meeting at the Grand Chartreuse” pulls together the various threads that Cardinal Sarah has been developing and comes to answer why search for silence.  Though the themes seem a bit redundant at this point—I think he has answered the same question in every chapter—there is a change in presentation.  A new voice enters the discussion, Dom Dysmas de Lassus, the Prior General of the Carthusians.  Nicholas Diat is still asking questions, but now the two religious answer in a sort of duet.  As the chapter title suggests, the meeting of the three take place at the Grand Chartreuse, the head monastery of the Carthusian religious order.

In an answer to why seek silence, Cardinal Sarah answers bluntly: “The authentic search for silence is the quest for a silent God and for the interior life.  It is the quest for a God who reveals himself in the depths of our being (p. 191).  He continues:

Silence is an extremely necessary element in the life of every man.  It enables the soul to be recollected.  It protects the soul against the loss of its identity.  It predisposes the soul to resist the temptations to turn away from itself to attend to things outside, far from God.

If man wants to become entrenched in the depths of his heart, in that beautiful interior sanctuary, in order to examine himself and to verify the Presence of God within him, if he wants to know and understand his identity, he needs to be silent and to win his interiority.  (p, 192)

Dom Dysmas amplifies this by explaining the Carthusian rule of silence: “In a charterhouse [Carthusian monastery], we seek, not silence, but, rather, intimacy with God by means of silence.  It is the privileged space that will allow for communion; it is on the order of language, but a different language (p. 199).  Cardinal Sarah then cautions that seeking silence has to have meaning.

Man does not seek silence for the sake of silence.  The desire for silence for its own sake would be a sterile venture, a particularly exhausting aesthetic experience.  In the depths of his soul, man wants the presence and company of God, in the same way that Christ sought his Father in the desert, far from the cries and passions of the crowd.  (p. 201)

Cardinal Sarah goes on to assure us not to fear the silence.

A Christian cannot fear silence because he is never alone.  He is with God.  He is in God.  He is for God.  In the silence, God gives me his eyes so as to contemplate him better.  Christian hope is the foundation of the true silent search of the believer.  Silence is not frightening; on the contrary, it is the assurance of meeting God.  (p. 230)

In the formal “Conclusion,” Sarah encourages us “to revolt against the dictatorship of noise, that seeks to break our hearts and our intellect” (p. 240). 

Finally in a short “Afterward,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI praises Cardinal Sarah as a spiritual teacher, one “who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us” (p. 244).

This book does have something to say that is very important to the modern—or shall I call it, postmodern—world.  But will the world listen?  It would be wise if we each in our individual practices listened.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Signorini Statue of St. Catherine of Siena

While on the first leg of our Father’s day adventure Sunday (See here) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Matthew and I stumbled on a statue of St. Catherine of Siena while wandering in the medieval section looking for suits of armor.   I have probably seen the overwhelming majority of art related to my patron saint, but I have never come across this statue.

Subsequently I looked up the statue on the Met’s website, and the artist was a Sienese named Fulvio Signorini and the bronze was completed in around 1600 apparently for a Franciscan church but in Siena.  I can find nothing on Signorini.  Here are the pictures.

0382, 0383, 0394

Fulvio Signorini's St. Catherine of Siena

Fulvio Signorini's St. Catherine of Siena

Fulvio Signorini's St. Catherine of Siena

As you can see, the right hand shows the sign of the stigmata, she’s wearing the Dominican cloak, and her face has a striking resemblance to what she really looked like.  What is interesting is that she is carrying a book.  That would be a sign that she is a doctor of the church, but St. Catherine wasn’t given the title until 1970.  Signorini couldn’t have possibly envision she would be recognized as doctor back in 1600.  Interesting.  This statue should get more dissemination.  I would love to buy a small copy. 

If anyone finds more information on Fulvio Signorini or his statue, please comment with a link here.

Pinterest does have a close up photo of his statue.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Matthew Monday: Father’s Day 2018

Yesterday was Father’s Day in this part of the world and as I’ve mentioned before Matthew and I go off on this day in a father/son adventure.  Matthew wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but before you get any ideas he is some precocious art maven, the only thing he is interested in the museum is in the medieval suits of armor, and even there he’s really only interested in the little models they sell in the children’s shop.  I took him to the “Knights Section” as he likes to call it a few years ago, and he’s gotten his grandmother to take him a few other times.  He’s seen the very same suits of armor before but what he’s really after is adding to his toy knights collection.  Here are a few pictures at the exhibit.

While we did stop at the ancient Egyptian section and explained to him what a sarcophagus was and though we made our way through American paintings where he was impressed with the famous “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” we weren’t at the museum too much more than an hour, and most of that was spent trying to find the darned Knights Section.  So right after we went to his next favorite spot in Manhattan, Central Park. 

I have to say I find Central Park the most beautiful city park that I have ever been to, and I’m always amazed at its beauty every time I go through.  However, Matthew isn’t really interested in its beauty or the fascinating variety of plants and trees that one stumbles upon.  What Matthew finds interesting about Central Park are the little playgrounds.  He’s obsessed with the swings. 

Finally let me add one picture of the park with both of us in it.  This is one of the ponds that one stumbles upon.

We went on to the new Liberty Tower at the reconstructed World Trade Center and down to the South Street Seaport, which was disappointing, which made for a long day, but I don’t think those pictures are anything special.  What was special was the father/son day.