Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Over the Bent World.

The children ate their biscuits and drank their milk and the stormcock sang, and Mary thought, "I will remember about this rainbow place. When my own particular experience seems dark and hard I'll remember that it's really a shining thing holding like a flower to the branches of the tree, and that I travel in it, like Cinderella in her coach, to the ending of the days. And up above me in the tree the Seraph sings, and sometimes he sings peace for us and sometimes courage, praise, truth, love, death, but he is always the same Seraph. Who is he? On Mount Alverno St. Francis saw a great crucified Seraph above him, filling the heavens. I'll remember.                                                                                                  The Rosemary Tree, Elizabeth Goudge 


Monday, July 6, 2015

I Want Him to Be in Heaven With Me

Alessandro Serenelli
It is almost impossible to find a picture of St. Maria Gorretti that isn't sappy, so instead I've chosen one of her murderer. This is Alessandro Serenelli, who, at the age of 19 in an attempt to rape the eleven year old Maria, stabbed her 14 times. As he was stabbing her she cried, "No. It is a sin. God forbids it! You will go to hell!" She seems to have been more concerned about his ultimate fate than her danger. Later when she was dying, and was asked if she forgave him she said, "Yes! Yes! For the love of Jesus, I forgive him, and I want him to be with me one day in heaven!" Years later, she appeared to him in his cell; he was converted, and went on to live an exemplary Christian life. I seem to remember that there has been talk of his canonization. You can read more here.

The reason that I wanted to write this today is because of the SCOTUS decision. I've been pretty quiet about it because I don't think I have much to say that I think is helpful. Then, when I noticed that is was the feast of St. Maria Goretti today, I started thinking about her focus on the one important thing. 

I wish that there were some way to let people know that the reason that we oppose this decision is not because we hate, or are afraid, but because we want them all to be in Heaven with us. I surely do not know how to accomplish this. I may have some work to do on myself before I can say that honestly, but it's necessary work. It's hard, sometimes, to keep from looking at how things affect me, rather than what I'm being asked to do. I only hope that whenever I find myself face-to-face with someone who disagrees with me about the decision, I can look at them and think how much I really want that person to be in Heaven with me.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nothing Like Us Ever Was

Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind
Carl Sandburg 

The past is a bucket of ashes. 


 The woman named Tomorrow
 sits with a hairpin in her teeth
 and takes her time
 and does her hair the way she wants it
 and fastens at last the last braid and coil
 and puts the hairpin where it belongs
 and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
 My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
 What of it? Let the dead be dead.


 The doors were cedar
 and the panels strips of gold
 and the girls were golden girls
 and the panels read and the girls chanted:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.

 The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
 Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
 where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,
  nothing like us ever was.


 It has happened before.
 Strong men put up a city and got
  a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
 to warble: We are the greatest city,
   the greatest nation,
   nothing like us ever was.

 And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
 there were rats and lizards who listened
  … and the only listeners left now
  … are … the rats … and the lizards.

 And there are black crows
 crying, “Caw, caw,"
 bringing mud and
sticks building a
nest over the words
carved on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
 We are the greatest city,
 the greatest nation:
 nothing like us ever was.

The only singers now are crows crying, “Caw, caw,"
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.

The feet of the rats
scribble on the door sills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.

And the wind shifts
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.

Monday, June 22, 2015


That's me on the right with the pained expression.
I love singing in a good choir. To me it's like a taste of heaven. It has been at least 13 1/2 years, and probably more since I've been in a choir with lots of people who can read music better than I can, and lots of complicated harmonies to learn, so I thought this would be the perfect time to join a choir a month before we were scheduled to sing at an ordination and a first Mass--and a week of that month I was out of town. 

I knew it would take some time to get back into the swing of things--not that we swing too much--but it has been even harder than I thought. So, I had been so focused on hitting the right notes, and figuring out which stave I was supposed to be singing from, and not pronouncing my r's, that on Saturday, the day of the ordination, I wasn't even thinking about what we were singing. I wasn't thinking about the significance of the ceremony. I had no integrated notion of the meaning of the lyrics; it was just a string of words and notes that went together. This was the case throughout the first part of the Mass.

And then I looked down at the altar and the Bishop was laying hands on the two ordinands, and it finally hit me what was going on. Those young men down there were changing. I can't imagine what they were feeling. A minute before they had been deacons, yes, but they didn't have any real power. Now they could with certainty call down God from heaven and feed Him to people--to me. No king or politcal leader has ever had power like this (unless he was also a priest). And no matter what they do for the rest of their lives, they will never lose this power. 

After the Bishop laid his hands on the men, we sang while all their brother priests laid hands on them. We sang, "You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek," and I knew what those words meant. Forever. Not, "Till death do us part," but forever. 

Later in the ceremony, the new priests lay hands on the Bishop and bless him. What must that be like for them and for him? And then, they bless all their fellow priests. I don't remember what we were singing at that point, but I know that it's hard to sing and weep at the same time.


Saturday, June 20, 2015


For the past week or so, I have been re-watching the movie Ida. I've watched it half an hour at a time, and gone back and watched some scenes over again. I could easily watch it two or three more times, and that is not something that I do. I came across the movie on Netflix last year and, of course, the fact that it was about a religious sister caught my eye. I liked it very much the first time I watched it, although it left me with some questions. Now I think it's the best movie I've seen in a long time.

As the movie begins, we see Ida face to face with a statue of the Sacred Heart that she is restoring for the courtyard of the convent.

As you see, the scene is bleak. The movie is filmed in black-and-white, and one might more accurately say that it is filmed in gray. This is post-war Poland, and though the convent appears to be an old stone mansion, it, as is most everything in the movie, is in bad repair. One gets the feeling that color film would be wasted here because most likely everything is gray anyway--and not just in the convent.

Ida is a war orphan who has been raised by the sisters in the convent. It is the only life that she has ever known, and now, a few weeks before her final profession, her superior tells her that she has a living relative, her mother's sister, who always refused to see her niece. The superior says that before Ida can make her profession, she has to go and meet her aunt, and, "Stay as there for as long as necessary." 

Wanda Gruz is a judge, a former state persecutor for the Polish government. She "even sent a few people to death," "enemies of the people." Now we find her hearing the case of a protester who mowed down a bed of red tulips planted by socialist scouts with his grandfather's saber. At first Wanda is not happy to see Ida. The one thing she tells her niece about her family is that they were Jewish--a fact which was completely unknown to Ida. 

Soon Wanda, remembering her love for her sister, and seeing the close resemblance between mother and daughter, invites Ida back to her apartment. She shows Ida pictures of her family, and tells her about her parents who were killed because they were Jews. She agrees to drive Ida back to their home and search for their graves.

I don't want to give away the rest of the plot. As Wanda and Ida find out more about the deaths of their family members, they also discover more about each other and about themselves. There are things that happen that may be a bit surprising, but maybe not. You might not like everything that happens in the movie, but I think that you will be glad you watched it.

Agata Trzebuchowska, who plays Ida is beautiful in a very simple sort of way. He eyes are amazing, dark and mysterious as we see the world through them. She has the gift of complete stillness, and there are scenes in the movie that are so still, and so silent, that a few times I checked to make sure the movie had not stopped streaming. 

The cinematography is wonderful. I took a lot of screen shots so that you could see what I am talking about. Frequently, we see the scene from unexpected angles. They don't jar, though, like some off-center images, but seem fitting to the story.

In this scene, Wanda is using all her prosecutorial skill to question the (Catholic) man who now lives in the family home. Look at that picture of the Holy Family behind her head.

Although there are some extreme close-ups in important scenes, more often than not we see the characters dwarfed by their surroundings--caught up in events that are too big for them.

Often, they are set off in the corner of a blank background--

all but lost in the world looming over them.

The walk to the grave.

After watching Ida for the first time, I was surprised that I had not seen anyone else mention the film. Eventually, Artur Sebastian Rosman wrote two posts about it on his blog, Cosmos in the Lost, and you can read them here and here. He writes from a political and historical perspective which is a very different angle than the very personal one that interests me, but I was glad to have some background information. Also, Craig Burrell wrote about it briefly in January on All Manner of Thing. I read it at the time, but have been studiously avoiding re-reading it before writing this post. 

I recommend watching Ida when you have time to sit and watch it quietly without interruption. It deserves the time and the stillness. You might even want to watch it again.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Charity

The third and greatest of the Divine virtues enumerated by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13), usually called charity, defined: a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for his own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God....Its seat [is] in the human will. Although charity is at times intensely emotional, and frequently reacts on our sensory faculties, still it properly resides in the rational will a fact not to be forgotten by those who would make it an impossible virtue. Catholic Encyclopedia
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which "binds everything together in perfect harmony"; it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1827
For your good is charity, love of the brotherhood, being united, being bound together, living at peace, living in gentleness. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 26 on Romans.

Haec figura karitatis suae sic proprietatis gerti formam.
Cor quod latet, in secreto Christo dat, hanc pro decreto servat norman.
Sed terrenae facultatis et contemptrix vanitatis coloraret
Cuncta cunctis liberali offert manu spetiali caelo caret

The translation as best as I can figure out is this:

This figure wears her charity as her quality.
The heart which lies concealed, she gives in secret to Christ, by decree she serves???
But she has contempt for earthly means and the hue of vanity
She liberally gives to all ??? heaven ???

Charity stands on sacks of some sort of worldly goods. We can also see some coins beneath her feet. She has these possessions, but they seem to to interest her not at all. She wears the same garment as Hope, but where Hope flies heavenward her feet are planted firmly on the ground. In her right hand we see a bowl with the flower and fruit of her labors. She doesn't cling to these, however. She holds them lightly, seemingly only possessing them to give them away. She is crowned not only with an earthly crown of flowers, but with a crown of glory. Within her halo are three red rays of light which call to mind the Trinity.

Psalm 34:6 says, "Look to him and be radiant and your faces shall not blush for shame," and Isaiah 60:5, "Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall throb and overflow." The face of Charity is filled with joyful radiance with no shadow of shame. There is no room for shame when all your attention is turned away from yourself, and Charity's gaze is outward. (You can see this better if you look at the enlarged version of the picture at the Web Gallery.) Her eyes are firmly fixed on Christ to whom she offers her abundant fruit.

At first glance the object in her hand appears to be a pear, but closer examination reveals it to be a heart. Basil de Selincourt mentions that there is a disputed point about this image which is whether Charity is offering her heart to Christ or He is offering His heart to her. Whatever Giotto may have had in mind when he painted this image, and the inscription seems to indicate the former, the truth is that the answer to the question is both. It is an image of the perpetual exchange of hearts between the Lover and His beloved in which one becomes conformed to the Other. 

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, 
Jesus asked for my heart which I begged Him to take, as He did, and placed it in His adorable One, in which He showed it to me as a tiny speck consumed in this burning furnace. Then, taking it out as a burning flame shaped like a heart He replaced it in the place from which He had taken it. 
Charity unceasingly surrenders her heart to the burning abyss of Divine Love where all imperfections are purified, wounds are cauterized, and she herself is set afire. It is the burning bush, the fiery furnace, the furnace of great affliction and the flames of Pentecost. It costs everything, and it is all there is.