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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Way up the Ladder by St. Catherine of Siena

April 29th is the feast of the patron saint of this blog, St. Catherine of Siena, and this little passage from one of her letters outlines one of her most profound theological ideas, Christ crucified as a ladder to holiness, a ladder to God.  She would go on to develop this further in her great work, The Dialogue, which was a mystically inspired conversation between God and her.  Since the 29th falls on a Sunday this year, I think technically the feast day is shifted to Monday.  Enjoy this little passage.  It’s filled with her incredible brilliance.

And if you ask, “What is the way?” I will tell you it is the way Christ chose, the way of disgrace, suffering, torment, and scourging.  “And how?”  Through genuine humility and blazing charity, an indescribable love by which we renounce all worldly riches and ambition.  And from humility we progress to obedience, as I have said.  Upon such obedience follows peace, since obedience frees us from all suffering and gives us every joy—for the selfish will, the source of suffering, has been done away with.

To make it possible to climb to this perfection, Christ actually made for us a staircase of his body.

If you look at his feet, you see that they are nailed fast to the cross to form the first stair.  This is because we have first to rid ourselves of all selfish will.  For just as the feet carry the body, desire carries the soul.  Reflect that we can never have any virtue at all if we don’t climb this first stair.  Once you have climbed it, you arrive at deep and genuine humility.

Climb the next stair without delay and you come to the open side of God’s Son.  There you find the fiery abyss of divine charity.  At this second stair, his open side, you find a storehouse filled with fragrant spices.  There you find the God-Man.  There your soul is so sated and drunk that you lose all self-consciousness, just like a drunkard intoxicated with wine; you see nothing but his blood, shed with such blazing love. 

Then, aflame with desire, you get up and climb to the next stair, his mouth.  There you find rest in quiet calm; there you taste the peace of obedience.  A person who is really completely drunk, good and full, falls asleep, and in that sleep feels neither pleasure nor pain.  So too the spouse of Christ, sated with love, falls asleep in the peace of her Bridegroom.  Her feelings too are asleep so that, even if all sorts of troubles befall her, they don’t disturb her at all.  If she is materially well off she feels no disproportionate pleasure, because she has already stripped herself of all that is at the first stair.  This, then, is where she finds herself conformed with Christ crucified, united with him.

            From The Letters of St. Catherine of Siena, Vol. II translated by Suzanne Noffke; quoted from Magnificat, March 2018.

Notice the three steps of the bridge, the feet, the wounded side, and the mouth.  One climbs the first stair by shedding one’s will through humility.  One reaches the second stair as one reaches charity, or true love.  And finally at the third stair you are in complete harmony with God whiole achieving a state of peace. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

2018 Reads, Update #1

It’s time for this year’s first quarter status.  Even though I’ve been unable to read much the last few weeks (busy with work and home, and baseball season has begun!) I think I’ve accomplished more than most quarters.  Here’s the list with upcoming plans:

Completed First Quarter:

From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God, a confessional memoir by Derya Little.
The Inferno, 1st part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
The Inferno, 1st part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esloen.
"Behind the Veil," a short story by Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub, translated by S. Al-Bazzazz. 
The Way of the Cross, a non-fiction devotional by Caryll Houselander.
A Man Could Stand Up, the 3rd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
The Magician’s Nephew, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.
“The Call of the Cthulhu,” a short story by H. P. Lovecraft.
“Hard Times,” a short story by Ron Rash.

Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Virgin and the Gipsy, a short novel by D. H. Lawrence.
Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, a collection translated and edited by Mark Atherton.
The Everlasting Man, a non-fiction book of Christian apologetics by G. K. Chesterton.
 “Flowering Judas,” a short story by Katherine Ann Porter. 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a novel from the The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of the Old Testament, Ignatius Translation.
Blood Pressure Down: The-10 Step to Lower Your Blood Pressure in 10 Weeks—Without Prescription Drugs, a self-help, non-fiction book by Dr. Janet Bond Brill. 

Upcoming Plans:
The Annotated Waste Land, a book of the poem, “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot with essays and annotations by Lawrence Rainey.
Purgatorio, 2nd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
Purgatorio, 2nd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esloen.
The Book of Isaiah, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
“The Balance,” a short story by Evelyn Waugh.
“The Tight Frock-Coat,” a short story by Luigi Pirandello
“Here We Are,” a short story by Dorothy Parker.
“The Light of the World,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Gods,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.

I’ve completed six full length books and three short stories this past three months or so this first quarter.  Not bad.  From Islam to Christ by Derya Little was a conversion story, confessional memoir on her religious journey, going from a Muslim to an atheist, from atheist to Christian, and then Protestant Christian to Roman Catholic.  It’s a wonderful young woman’s exploration for the truth.  I read Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, the first section of his great epic poem, The Divine Comedy. And I read it in two different translations the Robert and Jean Hollander translation and the Anthony Esolen translation.  Both are wonderful translations.  In effect I’ve read it twice! I’ve read one devotional for Lent, Caryll Houselander’s The Way of the Cross.  It follows the Stations of the Cross, and each chapter is a meditation on a station.  I’ve completed two novels.  A Man Could Stand Up, which is the third novel in Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End, set during the First World War.  Finally I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s seven novel sequence compiled as The Chronicles of Narnia to my son Matthew at night as an extended bed time story.  I started The Magician’s Nephew some time at the end of last year, but I completed it recently.  The Chronicles of Narnia may be novels for young adults, but it’s something everyone should read.  I have never read them, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. 

I’ve also read three short stories, which is only one per month.  I can’t say any of the three are standouts, but none of them were dreadful.  "Behind the Veil," by the Egyptian writer, Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub, is about a young woman who challenges the conformity of covering her face in public.  “The Call of the Cthulhu,” by H. P. Lovecraft which is considered a classic in the horror genre, is about a monstrous demon called a Cthulhu, and the destruction to the lives of those who try to study it.  Finally “Hard Times,” by Ron Rash is a story set in a depression era farming household involving the daily theft of eggs whose loss puts a financial strain on the family.  The thief turns out to be the neighbor’s little girl.  Very well told, though ending seemed to be anticlimactic. 

The Goldsworthy biography of Julius Ceasar is still on my list—I refuse to give up on any book I think worthwhile—after a number of years, but I haven’t touched it this quarter.  I never had time last year to finish the D. H. Lawrence short novel, The Virgin and the Gypsy, but I will get to it.  Every so often I still read a page or two of the selected writings of Hildegard of Bigen.  But most of my time has been spent with G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.  It’s a good read, but slow in spots.  I’m about half way through.  We’re currently reading it for my Catholic Thought Book Club.  I’ve also been reading the next of the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I’m about a third of the way in The Book of Isaiah.  Usually I read the King James Version first and then go to the modern English, but this time I’m trying reversing it with the modern English first.  I think that’s the better way to go.  Finally I’ve been reading Blood Pressure Down by Dr. Janet Bond Brill because in all these doctor’s visits I’ve had recently, besides all the immediate ills (bronchitis and broken nose) they have found a slightly high blood pressure, and they have given me a few months to resolve with adjustments to life style.  And if I fail with life style changes, then I will have to go on medication. 

With upcoming reads, I want to walk my readers through the great T. S. Eliot poem, “The Waste Land.”  It will probably be an eight to ten post endeavor.  Also the Catholic Thought book club will continue with Dante’s The Divine Comedy with the second cantica, Purgatorio.  I also list some short stories I want to read and continue with Isaiah. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lines I Wished I’d Written: Tietjens Under Fire, from Parades End

This scene in A Man Could Stand Up, the third novel of the Parades End tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford is magnificently drawn out.  It’s World War I in the trenches and the hero, Christopher Tietjens, is trying to defend against a German offensive.  There is a young soldier, Aranjuez, who has sunk into the mud, and most of the scene deals with Tietjens pulling him out and carrying him to safety, all the while bullets and bombs hurling about him.  The language simplifies immensely to simulate the fragmenting thoughts of the soldiers under immense pressure.  Compare the staccato, simple sentences of this battle scene with lush, flowing language of an earlier part of the book, a scene describing Tietjens’ unfaithful wife, Sylvia, here.  This is a very complex, modernist book, and I’m not sure I completely follow everything, but the characters are really engaging and the writing is exquisite.  Ford Madox Ford is one of the best prose stylist in the English language.  Here’s this remarkable scene.

It was slow, slow, slow…like a slowed down movie.  The earth maneuvered for an infinite time.  He remained suspended in space.  As if he were suspended as he had wanted to be in front of that cockscomb in whitewash.  Coincidence!

The earth sucked slowly and composedly at his feet. 

It assimilated his calves, his thighs.  It imprisoned him above the waist.  His arms being free, he resembled a man in a life-buoy.  The earth moved him slowly.  It was solidish.

Below him, down a mound, the face of little Aranjuez, brown, with immense black eyes in bluish whites, looked at him.  Out of viscous mud.  A head on a charger!  He could see ‘the imploring lips form the words: ‘Save me, Captain!”  He said: ‘I’ve got to save myself first!’  He could not hear his own words.  The noise was incredible.

A man stood over him.  He appeared immensely tall because Tietjens’ face was on a level with his belt.  But he was a small Cockney Tommy really.  Name of Cockshott.  He pulled at Tietjens’ two arms.  Tietjens tried to kick with his feet.  Then he realized it was better not to kick with his feet.  He was pulled out.  Satisfactorily.  There had been two men at it.  A second, a corporal had come.  They were all three of them grinning.  He slid down with the sliding earth towards Aranjuez.  He smiled at the pallid face.  He slipped a lot.  He felt a frightful burning on his neck, below and behind the ear.  His hand came down from feeling the place.  The finger-tips had no end of mud and a little pinkishness on them.  A pimple had perhaps burst.  He had at least two men not killed.  He signed agitatedly to the Tommies.  He made gestures of digging.  They were to get shovels.

He stood over Aranjuez, on the edge of liquid mud.  Perhaps he would sink in.  He did not sink in.  Not above his boot tops.  He felt his feet to be enormous and sustaining.  He knew what had happened.  Aranjuez was sunk in the issuing hole of the spring that made the bog.  It was like on Exmoor.  He bent down over the ineffable, small face.  He bent down lower and his hands entered the slime.  He had to get on his hands and knees.

Fury entered his mind.  He had been sniped at.  Before he had had that pain he had heard, he realized, an intimate drone under the hellish tumult.  There was reason for furious haste.  Or, no….They were low.  In a wide hole.  There was no reason for furious haste.  Especially on your hands and knees.

His hands were under the slime, and his forearms.  He battled his hands down greasy cloth; under greasy cloth.  Slimy, not greasy!  He pushed outwards.  The boy’s hands and arms appeared.  It was going to be easier.  His face was not quite close to the boy’s, but it was impossible to hear what he said.  Possibly he was unconscious.  Tietjens said: ‘Thank God for my enormous physical strength!’  It was the first time that he had ever had to be thankful for great physical strength.  He lifted the boy’s arms over his own shoulders so that his hands might clasp themselves behind his neck.  They were slimy and disagreeable.  He was short in the wind.  He heaved back.  The boy came up a little.  He was certainly fainting.  He gave no assistance.  The slime was filthy.  It was a condemnation of a civilisation that he, Teitjens, possessed of enormous strength, should never have needed to use it before.  He looked like a collection of mealsacks; but at least he could tear a pack of cards in half.  If only his lungs weren’t…

Cockshott, the Tommy, and the corporal were beside him, grinning.  With the two shovels that ought not to have stood against the parapet of their trench.  He was intensely irritated.  He had tried to indicate with his signs that it was Lance-Corporal Duckett that they were to dig out.  It was probably no longer Lance-Corporal Duckett.  It was probably by now ‘it’.  The body!  He had probably lost a man after all!

Cockshott and the corporal pulled Aranjuez out of the slime.  He came out reluctantly, like a lugworm out of sand.  He could not stand.  His legs gave way.  He drooped like a flower done in slime.  His lips moved, but you could not hear him.  Tietjens took him from the two men who supported him between the arms and laid him a little way up the mound.  He shouted in the ear of the Corporal:

‘Duckett!  Go and dig out Duckett!  At the double.’

He knelt and felt the boy’s back.  His spine might have been damaged.  The boy did not wince.  His spine might be damaged all the same.  He could not be left there.  Bearers could be sent with a stretcher if one was to be found.  But the might be sniped coming.  Probably, he, Tietjens, could carry that boy, if his lungs held out.  If not, he could drag him.  He felt tender, like a mother, and enormous.  It might be better to leave the boy there.  There was no knowing.  He said: ‘Are you wounded?’  The guns had mostly stopped.  Tietjens could not see any blood flowing.  The boy whispered: ‘No, sir!’  He was, then, probably just faint.  Shell shock very likely.  There was no knowing what the shell shock was or what it did to you.  Or the mere vapour of the projectile. 

He could not stop there.

He took the boy under his arm as you might do a roll of blankets.  If he took him on his shoulders he might get high enough to get sniped.  He did not go very fast, his legs were so heavy.  He bundled down several steps in the direction of the spring in which the boy had been.  There was more water.  The spring was filling up that hallow.  He could not have left the boy there.  You could only imagine that his body had corked up the springhole before.  This had been like being at home where they had springs like that.  On the moors, digging out badgers.  Digging earth drains, rather.  Badgers have dry lairs.  On the moors above Groby.  April sunlight.  Lots of sunlight and skylarks.

He was mounting the mound.  For some feet there was no other way.  They had been in the shaft made by the projectile.  He inclined to the left.  To the right would take them quicker to the trench, but he wanted to get the mound between them and the sniper.  His breathing was tremendous.  There was more light falling on them.

Exactly…Snap!  Snap!  Snap!...Clear sounds from a quarter of a mile away…Bullets whined overhead.  Long sounds, going away.  Not snipers.  The men of a battalion.  A chance!  Snap!  Snap!  Snap!  Bullets whined overhead.  Men of a battalion get excited when shooting at anything running.  They fire high.  Trigger pressure.  He was now a fat, running object.  Did they fire with a sense of hatred or fun!  Hatred probably.  Huns have not much sense of fun.

His breathing was unbearable.  Both his legs were like painful bolsters.  He would be on the relatively level in two steps if he made them…Well, make them!...He was on the level.  He had been climbing, up clods.  He had to take an immense breath.  The ground under his left foot gave way.  He had been holding Aranjuez in front of his own body as much as he could, under his right arm.  As his left foot sank in, the boy’s body came right on top of him.  Naturally this stiffish earth in huge clods had fissures in it.  Apertures.  It was not like regular digging. 

The boy kicked, screamed, tore himself lose….Well, if he wanted to go!  The scream was like a horse’s in a stable on fire.  Bullets had gone overhead.  The boy rushed off, his hands to his face.  He disappeared round the mound.  It was a conical mound.  He, Tietjens, could now crawl on his belly.  It was satisfactory.

He crawled.  Shuffling himself along with his hips and elbows.  There was probably a text-book way of crawling.  He did not know it.  The clods of earth appeared friendly.  For bottom soil thrown to the top they did not feel or smell so very sour.  Still, it would take a long time to get them into cultivation or under grass.  Probably, agriculturally speaking, that country would be in pretty poor condition for a long time….

He felt pleased with his body.  It had no exercise to speak of for two months—as second-in-command.  He could not have expected to be in even the condition he was in.  But the mind had probably had a good deal to do with that!  He had, no doubt, been in a devil of a funk.  It was only reasonable.  It was disagreeable to think of those Hun devils hunting down the unfortunate.  A disagreeable business.  Still, we did the same….That boy must have been in a devil of a funk.  Suddenly.  He had held his hands in front of his face.  Afraid to see.  Well, you couldn’t blame him.  They ought not to send out school-girls.  He was like a girl.  Still, he ought to have stayed to see that he, Tietjens, was not pipped.  He might have thought he was hit from the way his left leg had gone down.  He would have to be strafed.  Gently.