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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: The Vine and the Branches

One last entry on Mother Teresa’s Heart of Joy.  The thesis of this little passage has probably been said, but I wanted to highlight this because I think it's the best written passage in the entire book.  It has me wondering if she wrote it herself or if someone edited it for her.  The balanced sentence and the parallel structure is absolutely exquisite.  Great writing sparks me as much as what's being said.  This passage is a rhetorical joy!

The Vine and the Branches

Let us be like a genuine and fruitful branch of the vine, which is Christ, accepting him in our lives the way he gives himself to us: as truth, which must be spoken; as life, which must be lived; as light, which must shine out; as love, which must be loved; as a way, which must be trodden; as joy, which must be communicated; as peace, which must be radiated; as sacrifice, which must be offered to our families, to our closest neighbors, and to those who live far away.

I haven't done this yet, but I think a good spiritual exercise would be take each clause in the parallelisms and meditate over them individually.  

There was one anecdote that I thought was hilarious which seemed someout of place.  But it's worth the smile to quote it here.

Unexpected Details

Jesus has unexpected details sometimes.  

Once, in London, I received a telephone call from the police: "Mother Teresa, there is a woman in the street, reeking of alcohol, who is asking for you."  We went to pick her up.

As we were coming back she said, "Mother Teresa, Christ changes water into wine in order to give us to drink."  She was, indeed, very drunk.

That was it!  I guess it was an unexpected detail from Jesus.  I bet Mother was a very funny lady.  

Finally I might as well provide my book review I posted at Goodreads. 

Heart of Joy is a collection of Mother Teresa’s speeches, talks to her religious sisters, and one published article all taken from the mid 1970s. The fact that most of the speeches are so close together in time creates some repetition. I doubt Mother Teresa had a book in mind when she made the speeches, but nonetheless this is an engaging read, a spiritually satisfying read, and an insightful read.

One of the more interesting themes of the book is how the future saint expands the definition of poverty. As people know, Mother was famous and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her care and attention to “the poorest of the poor.” Now the poorest of the poor in 1970’s India must be way beyond my experience of poverty, where mass numbers of people are homeless, starving, and deathly ill, all abandoned to the gutters. Her efforts which are linked to her seeing the Christ in all individuals are inspiring, but her expanded notion of poverty is striking to the core because it addresses the poverty that is not linked to material possessions. The poverty she identifies is a poverty of values in well off nations. Neglect of the elderly, the decision to abort a child, the abandonment of family, the insensitivity to others, these are a poverty just as debilitating as a poverty of material.

Most of the speeches appear to be extemporaneous and reflect that Mother Teresa is more of a doer than a systematic thinker. The sections where she address her sisters seem to collect aphorisms, precepts, and axioms from the future saint, presented in random order which has the effect of a collage. While no single piece of a collage creates a portrait, the sum total of the collage draws a portrait of the future saint through her thoughts and values. We see what makes her tick: her devotion to the poor, her tireless and ceaseless work, her merging with Christ and seeing Christ in the suffering. We see how she puts her faith into action. The central point of her message, if I may draw that conclusion, is by this quote: “Do not turn your back on the poor because the poor are Christ,” and as I’ve said the poor are more than those that lack means.

I enjoyed this book. The sections with anecdotes and aphorisms serve as good devotional reading. I gave the rating a three because the book is kind of slim and at times repetitive. But if you want a short read on understanding what motivates Mother Teresa and an unfiltered portrait through her own words and thoughts, this is a fine book.

With that ends Heart of Joy and next up for the Catholic Thought book club is Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo.  If you’ve ever want to read that, come and join the book club.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Music Tuesday: Joan of Arc by Jennifer Warnes & Leonard Cohen

As you’ve probably seen, I’ve had a series of posts on my reading of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.  If you want to read my posts on the literary work, here is a link to the last one, and that contains links to the previous four.  

But Joan of Arc always inspires me to listen to this wonderful song written by Leonard Cohen.  The best performance of his song is when he sings it as a duet with Jennifer Warnes.  The song is roughly a dialogue between Joan and Christ at the point of her being burned at the stake.  Now I don’t think the song is exactly historically accurate and the theology doesn’t strike me as being sound.  Cohen is Jewish, albeit he seems to place a number of Catholic memes and themes in several of his songs.  Still the song is excellent and this video clip with the song’s lyrics and images from various works of art on Joan is superb. 

"Well then fire, make your body cold
I'm gonna give you mine to hold"
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of a Joan of Arc
And high above all these assembled wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her very lovely wedding dress

It was deep deep into his fiery heart
That he took the dust of all precious Joan of Arc
Then she clearly clearly understood
If if he was fire, oh she must be wood

Read more: Leonard Cohen - Joan Of Arc Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I can never get enough of that song.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Literature in the News: Nobel Prize in Literature to Kazuo Ishiguro

It's unusual that I post back to back "Literature in the News" entries, but the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was announced this week and the winner is Kazuo Ishiguro, the Japanese born British novelist.  I have not read anything by Ishiguro, but by all accounts he is a worthy choice unlike last year when the Svenska Akademien (Swedish Academy) gave the prize to Bob Dylan.  

I have never read anything from Ishiguro, but I found the academy’s press statement with the announcement rather baffling. 
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 is awarded to the English author Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

So there is an “abyss” beneath an illusion?  Isn’t that a double metaphor?  Or if not a double metaphor, overly metaphysical?  The Nobel Committee for Literature has been a bit off the deep end for a while.

The Guardian has a fine article on the announcement.  Ishiguro was apparently taken by surprised and learned of it through the media.  They quote him here:

“You’d think someone would tell me first but none of us had heard anything,” said Ishiguro, who had been sitting at his kitchen table at home in Golders Green in London about to have brunch, when he got the call from his agent.

“It was completely not something I expected, otherwise I would have washed my hair this morning,” he said with a laugh. “It was absolute chaos. My agent phoned to say it sounded like they had just announced me as the Nobel winner, but there’s so much fake news about these days it’s hard to know who or what to believe so I didn’t really believe it until journalists started calling and lining up outside my door.”

While the selection of Ishiguro is not an outlandish pick like last year, it still raises questions as to whether he is the most worthy.  Ishiguro himself in his statement said as much:

“Part of me feels like an imposter and part of me feels bad that I’ve got this before other living writers,” said Ishiguro. “Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, all of them immediately came into my head and I just thought wow, this is a bit of a cheek for me to have been given this before them.

“And because I’m completely delusional, part of me feels like I’m too young to be winning something like this. But then I suddenly realised that I’m 62, so I am average age for this I suppose.”

Hmm, Atwood is seventy-seven, Murakami is sixty-eight, Rushdie is seventy, and McCarthy, who I would have given the prize to, is eighty-four.  Since I haven’t read any of Ishiguro, I would have to say he’s probably right.  As I researched his works, only The Remains of the Day seems to have been a unanimously great work.  Still one shouldn’t take that as a measure of great works.  Even the authors Ishiguro names as being more worthy have works of mixed approval in their histories. 

Perhaps what pushed Ishiguro to the forefront of authors for the committee is the moral center that seems to be at the heart of his works.  Ishiguro himself hinted at it in part of his statement:

“This is a very weird time in the world, we’ve sort of lost faith in our political system, we’ve lost faith in our leaders, we’re not quite sure of our values, and I just hope that my winning the Nobel prize contributes something that engenders good will and peace,” he said. “It reminds us of how international the world is, and we all have to contribute things from our different corners of the world.”

Interesting statement.  I don’t get the leap from the “losing faith part” to “how international the world is” but I do appreciate how western culture, if not the world has lost faith.  I don’t think, however, he is referring to a religious faith, but you cannot have values if ultimately they don’t connect with a divine source. 

Along those lines, Joan Desmond posted in a blog at the National Catholic Register, “Why Every Catholic Should Applaud Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize.”  Desmond seems enthusiastic about the choice:

No doubt, Ishiguro’s many Catholic fans, myself included, heartily applauded the news. In striking contrast to many modern novelists, his deeply moral stories go to the heart of the human condition with a spare narrative style that hints at deeper forces beneath the surface.  Though he does not deal explicitly with religoius faith, his moral vision is compatible with the Church's own insistence that the truth is knowable, and that we ignore it at great cost to our own human flourshing. 

And she goes on to say that Ishiguro’s “characters’ struggles for clarity and for hope are enormously absorbing and ring true for readers who have traveled down the same path.”  And Desmond provides a short summary of what she considers Ishiguro’s three greatest novels, The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and his most recent The Buried Giant

Well, all that has made me want to read something by Ishiguro.  I will make room to fit The Remains of the Day into the coming year’s reading schedule.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Literature in the News: Willa Cather’s Nebraska Landscape

I came across this wonderful article from The New Yorker (October 2, 2017 issue) titled “A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie: How Nebraska’s Landscape Inspired the Great American Novelist” by Alex Ross.  

If you admire Willa Cather’s writing—and I do—and if you have enjoyed any of her novels—and I consider her 1918 novel My Ántonia one of the top novels of American literature—then you should read the rather long essay, and though rather long I think you will come away with an appreciation of her work, the landscape and people that influenced that work, and of her as a person.  It’s really a fine essay. 

Let me give you a little sample.  From the article’s opening paragraph:

In Webster County, Nebraska, the prairie rolls in waves, following the contours of a tableland gouged by rivers and creeks. At the southern edge of the county, a few hundred feet north of the Nebraska-Kansas border, is a six-hundred-acre parcel of land called the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. Cather spent much of her childhood in Red Cloud, six miles up the road, and for many people who love her writing, and perhaps for some who don’t, the Cather Prairie is one of the loveliest places on earth. You park at the top of a hill and follow a path down to a gulch, where a creek widens into a pond. At the bottom, you no longer see traces of modern civilization, though you can hear trucks on Route 281 as they clamber out of the Kansas flats. The land here was never plowed, and with careful cultivation it preserves the prairie as Cather roamed it, in the eighteen-eighties—an immemorial zone of grass, trees, birds, water, and wind.

But Ross, the author of the piece, gives up trying to capture Cather’s prairie landscapes and decides to let Cather herself describe it:

The only person capable of doing justice to the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is the woman who engendered it. In “My Ántonia,” the orphaned young settler Jim Burden delivers a rhapsody that many Cather fans can recite by heart:

I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. . . . I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

The occasion for this piece is the opening of the National Willa Cather Center, “a seven-million-dollar facility with a climate-controlled archive, apartments for scholars, museum exhibits, and a bookstore. The complex is the dream project of the Willa Cather Foundation, which is based in Red Cloud.”  The Willa Cather Foundation has a lovely website where you can access The National Willa Cather Center.     

Red Cloud, Nebraska is a small town, and has always been small town, in the Great Plains in the western part of the mid-west.  In her youth, Nebraska was clearly part of the famed “west” from which Eastern pioneers rolled their covered wagons out and migrated to and claimed homesteads to farm. 

Red Cloud, which has a population of about a thousand and retains a farm-oriented economy, belongs to a select company of literary towns that are permanently inscribed with a writer’s identity: places like Hannibal, Missouri (Mark Twain) and Oxford, Mississippi (William Faulkner). Cather depicted Red Cloud in six of her twelve novels. The town is called Hanover in “O Pioneers!”; Moonstone in “The Song of the Lark”; Black Hawk in “My Ántonia”; Frankfort in “One of Ours”; Sweet Water in “A Lost Lady”; and Haverford in “Lucy Gayheart.” There is always a main street running through the town center, with the wealthier residents to the west and the poorer ones to the east. The railroad always cuts across to the south. Often there is a one-and-a-half-story house off the main street, where, up in an attic room, a girl dreams of being somewhere else. One of the first achievements of the Cather Foundation, in the nineteen-sixties, was to preserve the family home, and up in the attic you can see the wallpaper that Cather installed when she was a child—a pattern of “small red and brown roses on a yellowish ground,” as she writes in “The Song of the Lark.”

It is from growing up with this experience that Cather created a panoply of characters.  “Her symphonic landscapes are inflected with myriad accents, cultures, personal narratives—all stored away in a prodigious memory.” 

Ross also gets into some of the personal controversy surrounding Cather’s life, most notably her sexuality.  There is much to suggest she may have been a lesbian, but Ross finds “little trace of sexual attraction between women in Cather’s writing, but male homosexuality surfaces more than once.”  And Ross explores many of Cather’s personal letters, especially concerning her long live-in friend Edith Lewis, and can find no smoking gun writing of a sexual relationship between the two women or proof of her being lesbian.  So why bring it up?  Well, we live in sexual times, and this is The New Yorker.  The issue does come up when I gave my short story analysis of Cather’s fine story “Paul’s Case” here a few years ago.  Ultimately it’s the Nebraska landscape that forms Cather’s characters:

In the end, however, sex does not dominate Cather’s imagination. True romance lies elsewhere: in her characters’ relationships with work, art, nature, and the land. In “O Pioneers!,” Alexandra is said to be the first person who has ever looked on her corner of Nebraska with “love and yearning”—to see it as a place to be nurtured, not as territory to be conquered.

And further down, Ross continues on this theme:

 “The great fact was the land itself,” Cather declares in “O Pioneers!” Humans merely scratch at its surface. Perhaps this enormous empathy for the natural world is, after all, a displacement of desire, though the feeling goes too deep to be psychologized away. An overwhelming attachment to place is often a sign of immovable conservatism, and Cather can get dangerously close to blood-and-soil lingo, as when Ántonia’s strapping sons are compared to “the founders of early races.” But her conviction that the land belongs to no one—“We come and go, but the land is always here,” Alexandra says—undercuts any tendency toward nationalism and tribalism.

And that leads to another of the Cather issues, her political leanings.  Ross points out Cather’s conservatism but concludes she’s more of a moderate.  Personally I think he’s somewhat wrong there.  While Cather doesn’t integrate conservative political issues into her work, I think her world view, despite her supposed non-conforming sexual leanings, was definitely conservative.  And I think Ross is right to connect that conservatism to the land.  And another issue Ross touches on is the feminist issues in Cather’s work. 

In her rendering of the Great Plains and the West, women achieve independence from restrictive roles; people of many countries coexist; and violence is futile, with guns most often fired in suicidal despair. As the scholar Susie Thomas writes, Cather “created an alternative to the male mythology of the West.” In place of Wister’s slouching cowboy, “O Pioneers!” gives us a “tall, strong girl” with a “glance of Amazonian fierceness,” wearing a man’s coat. She holds the same pose at the end, silhouetted against the landscape and gazing westward.

Cather is a complex feminist, or certainly unconventional.  She was not a supporter of the feminist movements, despite great strong female characters. 

That’s more than enough to whet your appetite to read Ross’s fine article.  I whole-heartedly endorse it and of course recommend reading as much of Cather’s fiction as time allows.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: The Oil and the Lamp

Here is another excellent passage from Heart of Joy by Mother Teresa.  This comes from a section of a collection of her statements to her daughters in the Order.  This is one particular statement, titled in the book as “The Oil and the Lamp.”

Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary.  What we need is to love without getting tired.

How does a lamp burn?  Through the continuous input of small drops of oil.  If the drops of oil run out, the light of the lamp will cease, and the bridegroom will say, “I do not know you” (Mt 25:1-13). 

My daughters, what are these drops of oil in our lamps?  They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, punctuality, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting.  These are the true drops of love that keep your religious life burning like a lively flame.

Do not look for Jesus away from yourselves.  He is not out there; he is in you.  Keep your lamp burning, and you will recognize him.

The Biblical passage alluded to is the parable of the ten virgins, half who have run out of oil for their lamps and cannot meet the bridegroom.  What I find remarkable here is that Mother Teresa considers the oil that burns the lamp to be our little efforts of love and faith.  Those efforts are little drops of oil into the lamp.  And therefore it’s what brings light to the dark places of life.  I would read this passage to coincide with her order’s purpose, which she quotes a few pages later: “A Missionary of Charity is a messenger of God’s love, a living lamp that offers its light to all, and the salt of the earth.  We are to take Christ to those places where he has not been taken yet.”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 5

Part 1 on Twain’s Joan of Arc can be found here.  
Part 2, here.  
Part 3, here
Part 4, here.  

This post deals with Book 3.

Summary:  Book 3, Chapters 1-12

With Joan now in their possession, the Burgundians await ransom offer from the King of France, which would have been typical of a prisoner of her status.  But no offer came, nor did the King of France show any interest in retaining Joan.  The English, on the other hand were very interested in taking possession of Joan and paid a large sum for her.  Louis de Conte finds his way to Rouen, where he obtains a position to record the trial, and so serve the fictive purpose of providing narration.  The chief prosecutor is Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvals, and a strong English sympathizer.  Since they could not charge Joan with any war crimes, the plan shifted to convict Joan with idolatry stemming from her visions and wearing of men's clothing.  Without any defense attorney, without any knowledge of the law, being only a seventeen year old, uneducated peasant girl, and faced with over fifty well-schooled inquisitors, experienced men learned in law and theology, Joan magnificently rebutted all their questions.

I don't know who I have the most anger toward out of all the villains.  Caouchon or the King of France.  One can understand Cauchon and his motivations, though he was working toward an evil end, and he will be forever remembered in history for his evil effort.  But for the King of France to not lift a finger to ransom Joan after all she did for him and for France is downright despicable.  There are no mitigating circumstances for his pusillanimous heart, for his treachery, and for his lack of gratitude.

Summary:  Book 3, Chapters 13-24, and Conclusion

After Joan single-handedly rebuffing Cauchon and the vast numbers of inquisitors in public, the trial is moved away from public sight to the dungeon.  After reviewing the transcript of Joan’s words from the public part of the trial, Cauchon digs out or fabricates sixty-six articles of charges against her.  Still the only charges that were even remotely prosecutable were that of the voices she heard and the wearing of men’s clothing, which somehow conflated to a charge of idolatry.  Here too she avoided their traps, and finally she was threatened with torture and death.  Still she is unmoved.  Cauchon then contrived a trick to wear her down to exhaustion, have her sign some falsified statement, and then prove she violated it.  The trick works.  Her mind confused from fatigue and directly lied to as to the conditions for her concession, she signs the fraudulent document.  With now having “violated” the conditions for her concession Cauchon can justify her execution.  With that she is burnt at the stake.

Reading the last part of Book 3 was difficult.  It was like watching train wreck where the disaster is unavoidable.  Poor Joan.  I have nothing but contempt for Cauchon and those that participated in the farce.  They wanted this poor young lady burnt and they lied and deceived her without an ounce of pity or shame.  I pray that Joan received some justice in eternity.  Twain did a masterful job with the ending.  He captured Joan’s indomitable spirit, Cauchon’s malicious workings and his increasing frustrations as Joan repeatedly rebuffed him, and the overall sense of pity of the tragic outcome.  Reading through the novel, Joan of Arc became very dear to me. 

I don’t have much more to say about the novel but I do want to highlight a couple of passages in the last book.  This passage from Book 3, Chapter 17, “Supreme in Direst Peril” I think captures the central theme of the novel.  The first part of the trial has ended and the prosecutors are taking their time to strategize on how to trap Joan.  She spends ten days isolated in captivity while Louis de Conte ponders what is going on.

And then we naturally contrasted our circumstances with hers: this freedom and sunshine, with her darkness and chains; our comradeship, with her lonely estate; our alleviations of one sort and another, with her destitution in all. She was used to liberty, but now she had none; she was an out-of-door creature by nature and habit, but now she was shut up day and night in a steel cage like an animal; she was used to the light, but now she was always in a gloom where all objects about her were dim and spectral; she was used to the thousand various sounds which are the cheer and music of a busy life, but now she heard only the monotonous footfall of the sentry pacing his watch; she had been fond of talking with her mates, but now there was no one to talk to; she had had an easy laugh, but it was gone dumb now; she had been born for comradeship, and blithe and busy work, and all manner of joyous activities, but here were only dreariness, and leaden hours, and weary inaction, and brooding stillness, and thoughts that travel by day and night and night and day round and round in the same circle, and wear the brain and break the heart with weariness. It was death in life; yes, death in life, that is what it must have been. And there was another hard thing about it all. A young girl in trouble needs the soothing solace and support and sympathy of persons of her own sex, and the delicate offices and gentle ministries which only these can furnish; yet in all these months of gloomy captivity in her dungeon Joan never saw the face of a girl or a woman. Think how her heart would have leaped to see such a face.

Consider. If you would realize how great Joan of Arc was, remember that it was out of such a place and such circumstances that she came week after week and month after month and confronted the master intellects of France single-handed, and baffled their cunningest schemes, defeated their ablest plans, detected and avoided their secretest traps and pitfalls, broke their lines, repelled their assaults, and camped on the field after every engagement; steadfast always, true to her faith and her ideals; defying torture, defying the stake, and answering threats of eternal death and the pains of hell with a simple "Let come what may, here I take my stand and will abide."

Yes, if you would realize how great was the soul, how profound the wisdom, and how luminous the intellect of Joan of Arc, you must study her there, where she fought out that long fight all alone—and not merely against the subtlest brains and deepest learning of France, but against the ignoble deceits, the meanest treacheries, and the hardest hearts to be found in any land, pagan or Christian.

She was great in battle—we all know that; great in foresight; great in loyalty and patriotism; great in persuading discontented chiefs and reconciling conflicting interests and passions; great in the ability to discover merit and genius wherever it lay hidden; great in picturesque and eloquent speech; supremely great in the gift of firing the hearts of hopeless men and noble enthusiasms, the gift of turning hares into heroes, slaves and skulkers into battalions that march to death with songs on their lips. But all these are exalting activities; they keep hand and heart and brain keyed up to their work; there is the joy of achievement, the inspiration of stir and movement, the applause which hails success; the soul is overflowing with life and energy, the faculties are at white heat; weariness, despondency, inertia—these do not exist.

Yes, Joan of Arc was great always, great everywhere, but she was greatest in the Rouen trials. There she rose above the limitations and infirmities of our human nature, and accomplished under blighting and unnerving and hopeless conditions all that her splendid equipment of moral and intellectual forces could have accomplished if they had been supplemented by the mighty helps of hope and cheer and light, the presence of friendly faces, and a fair and equal fight, with the great world looking on and wondering.

Here Twain has captured Joan’s indomitable spirit, her natural heroism.  Twain I believe casts her as a Romantic heroine, fighting against the “master intellects” with nothing but her uneducated and natural wisdom.  Joan is the anti-intellectual, representing natural humanity, uncorrupted humanity.  Yes, she has certain graces, gifts from God to hold her moral core against societal immorality.  She transcends fallen human nature.

Finally I want to quote how Twain brings the tragedy to an end.  From Book 3, Chapter 24, “Joan the Martyr.”

Joan had been placed wholly apart and conspicuous, to signify the Church's abandonment of her, and she sat there in her loneliness, waiting in patience and resignation for the end. Cauchon addressed her now. He had been advised to read the form of her abjuration to her, and had brought it with him; but he changed his mind, fearing that she would proclaim the truth—that she had never knowingly abjured—and so bring shame upon him and eternal infamy. He contented himself with admonishing her to keep in mind her wickednesses, and repent of them, and think of her salvation. Then he solemnly pronounced her excommunicate and cut off from the body of the Church. With a final word he delivered her over to the secular arm for judgment and sentence.

Joan, weeping, knelt and began to pray. For whom? Herself? Oh, no—for the King of France. Her voice rose sweet and clear, and penetrated all hearts with its passionate pathos. She never thought of his treacheries to her, she never thought of his desertion of her, she never remembered that it was because he was an ingrate that she was here to die a miserable death; she remembered only that he was her King, that she was his loyal and loving subject, and that his enemies had undermined his cause with evil reports and false charges, and he not by to defend himself. And so, in the very presence of death, she forgot her own troubles to implore all in her hearing to be just to him; to believe that he was good and noble and sincere, and not in any way to blame for any acts of hers, neither advising them nor urging them, but being wholly clear and free of all responsibility for them. Then, closing, she begged in humble and touching words that all here present would pray for her and would pardon her, both her enemies and such as might look friendly upon her and feel pity for her in their hearts.

There was hardly one heart there that was not touched—even the English, even the judges showed it, and there was many a lip that trembled and many an eye that was blurred with tears; yes, even the English Cardinal's—that man with a political heart of stone but a human heart of flesh.

The secular judge who should have delivered judgment and pronounced sentence was himself so disturbed that he forgot his duty, and Joan went to her death unsentenced—thus completing with an illegality what had begun illegally and had so continued to the end. He only said—to the guards:

"Take her"; and to the executioner, "Do your duty."

Joan asked for a cross. None was able to furnish one. But an English soldier broke a stick in two and crossed the pieces and tied them together, and this cross he gave her, moved to it by the good heart that was in him; and she kissed it and put it in her bosom. Then Isambard de la Pierre went to the church near by and brought her a consecrated one; and this one also she kissed, and pressed it to her bosom with rapture, and then kissed it again and again, covering it with tears and pouring out her gratitude to God and the saints.

And so, weeping, and with her cross to her lips, she climbed up the cruel steps to the face of the stake, with the friar Isambard at her side. Then she was helped up to the top of the pile of wood that was built around the lower third of the stake and stood upon it with her back against the stake, and the world gazing up at her breathless. The executioner ascended to her side and wound chains around her slender body, and so fastened her to the stake. Then he descended to finish his dreadful office; and there she remained alone—she that had had so many friends in the days when she was free, and had been so loved and so dear.

All these things I saw, albeit dimly and blurred with tears; but I could bear no more. I continued in my place, but what I shall deliver to you now I got by others' eyes and others' mouths. Tragic sounds there were that pierced my ears and wounded my heart as I sat there, but it is as I tell you: the latest image recorded by my eyes in that desolating hour was Joan of Arc with the grace of her comely youth still unmarred; and that image, untouched by time or decay, has remained with me all my days. Now I will go on.

If any thought that now, in that solemn hour when all transgressors repent and confess, she would revoke her revocation and say her great deeds had been evil deeds and Satan and his fiends their source, they erred. No such thought was in her blameless mind. She was not thinking of herself and her troubles, but of others, and of woes that might befall them. And so, turning her grieving eyes about her, where rose the towers and spires of that fair city, she said—

"Oh, Rouen, Rouen, must I die here, and must you be my tomb? Ah, Rouen, Rouen, I have great fear that you will suffer for my death."

A whiff of smoke swept upward past her face, and for one moment terror seized her and she cried out, "Water! Give me holy water!" but the next moment her fears were gone, and they came no more to torture her.

She heard the flames crackling below her, and immediately distress for a fellow-creature who was in danger took possession of her. It was the friar Isambard. She had given him her cross and begged him to raise it toward her face and let her eyes rest in hope and consolation upon it till she was entered into the peace of God. She made him go out from the danger of the fire. Then she was satisfied, and said—

"Now keep it always in my sight until the end."

Not even yet could Cauchon, that man without shame,

My heart goes out to poor Joan.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

Matthew Monday: First Day in the Choir

This post gives me so much joy.  I have always felt Matthew has musical talent.  He has always had a talent to pick up a song’s tune and remember the lyrics.  The children’s choir at church is something he has always wanted to do, but he had to wait until third grade to participate.  Well, this year he started third grade and Wednesday night was the first practice.  The musical director thought his voice wonderful, so wonderful that she had him lead the Alleluia at his very first Sunday Mass with the choir.

I was able to film him at yesterday’s Mass.  Here he is leading the Alleluia.

Unfortunately the video is not sharp enough to see Matthew singing.  The first recitation is Matthew solo, and I think you can hear how sweet his voice is.  When the entire congregation responds with the second and third recitations unfortunately you can hear an ugly male voice in the forefront of the voices.  He was near my phone and I’ll have another word on him at the end.

But I also filmed the entire chorus during two of their hymns.  First, the offertory hymn, “Open My Eyes, Lord.”

That’s Matthew with the white shirt with the pink sleeves.  That’s the musical director playing piano, the younger children of the choir toward the front, and the older in the back. 

Here during the recessional hymn, “Though the Mountains May Fall.”

The kids are wonderful, and the music director, Debbie Williams, is great with the kids.  You don’t hear it with the children’s choir, but she has a wonderful voice.  I think she’s opera trained.

Now back to that ugly man’s voice in the Alleluia.  I must confess.  That was me, and I’m very embarrassed about it.  I’ve said, there are two types of Italian men, those that can sing and those that think they can sing.  I’m ashamed to say I’m of the second type obviously.  I don’t realize how bad I actually sound until I hear it played back.  Matthew has been making fun of me ever since we heard the recordings. 

But this was Matthew’s day and he shined.