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.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Envy

Envy is a food of the mind, corrupting it with its poisonous juices and never ceasing to make it wretched and miserable at the prosperity and success of another. Institutes Book V, Chapter 21, St. John Cassian
The envious man tortures himself without cause, morbidly holding as he does, the success of another to constitute an evil for himself. Catholic Encyclopedia
For God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it. Wisdom 2:23-24

As the quotes above indicate, Envy is not just the desiring of another's goods, but the desire that the other be deprived of the goods. This is what makes it so insidiously horrible. It is not only covetousness, but an offense against charity, the highest of the virtues. One might think that the opposite of charity should be hatred, but envy contains a sort of hatred within itself, and is larger than hatred. It's possible to hate someone without wishing him ill, but it's impossible to wish ill to someone for whom we do not harbor some hatred.

There is a lot in the picture, some of which I don't understand, and some of which I can't make out due to the fact that there is a considerable amount of damage to the painting. For one thing, Envy appears to have grown horns. Is this just a symbol of evil, or is there something I'm missing? 

Everything about Envy's face is hard and sharp--no softness allowed there. Her ears are large enough to hear any gossip that is in the air. Her word is like a poisonous snake that is meant to destroy others, but unexpectedly turns back to strike at her eyes, blinding her to the truth.  Her head bears a distinct resemblance to that of Injustice, and just as Envy exceeds Injustice in evil, her face exceeds his in monstrousness.

Her left hand is a puzzle. It is in the shape of a claw, but the ends of her fingers do not seem to be there. Or are the claws sunk into the wall? Or as Andrew Ladis suggests in Victims and Villians in Vasari's Lives, have her fingers, "been reduced to mere nubs from all their clawing?"  In her right hand she clings with all her might to a bag holding her possessions. No one will be able to get anything away from her! The Web Gallery of Art says that the decoration on her bag is a row of Turk's Head Knots, and the turban around her own head looks like one of these knots.

I wish I knew if there was some symbolism here.

Finally, she stands in flames that rise around her feet. Unlike those of Infidelity, which are off to the side, she is right in the middle. Is the fire a symbol of the inner fire of her jealously as the Web Gallery says, or are those the flames of Hell reaching up to consume her? Likely it's both.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lauda Sion Salvatorem

Allegory of the Eucharist, Alexander Coosemans

Below, you will find the sequence for Pentecost written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast. We heard it chanted at Mass today at the Church of St. Martin of Tours in Louisville, KY. This translation was in the bulletin. I can't find it anywhere, so I'm thinking it might have been translated by someone at the church.

You might want to read it when you have time to do so prayerfully and quietly. Not only is it a beautiful and inspiring prayer, it is the most astounding piece of catechesis I have ever read. Everything one needs to know about the Eucharist is explained here. Sadly, many churches do not read the sequence for Corpus Christi, or any of the sequences. What a tragedy at a time when so many Catholics do not understand what the Church teaches about the "source and summit of our faith." Sometimes there will be a hymn based on the sequence, but frequently it is very abbreviated and poorly worded.

UPDATE: I want to add what my friend Steve said about the experience of hearing the sequence chanted at Mass yesterday. "The Sequence sounded as if sung by angels. If they recorded it and played it back during lights out in prisons every night, even the most hardened lives could not help but be affected and changed."

O Zion, praise thy Savior thy Prince and thy Shepherd;
praise him with hymns and canticles.
Make bold to praise him with all strength; for he surpasseth all praise; 
thou shalt ne'er be fully equal to the task.
A special theme of praise, the living and life-giving bread, is on this day proposed.
Let our praise ring out full and resonant, 
a song of the heart, joyful and radiant.
For today is a most solemn festival,
recalling how this sacred banquet first was instituted.
At this banquet of our newly crowned King, 
the Paschal mystery of the New Law bringeth to its end the ancient Passover rite.
Novelty replaceth that which is old,
reality chaseth away the shadows, radiance doth eliminate the night.
That which Christ accomplished at this supper he ordered to be done again, in memory of him.
Taught by his divine precepts, 
we consecrate the bread and wine, a sacrificial victim for salvation.
This sacred doctrine do Christians receive:
the bread into his body and the wine into his blood is changed.
What thou can neither grasp nor perceive is affirmed by ardent faith, 
beyond the natural order of things.
Beneath these double appearances--mere signs, and not the realities themselves--
is hidden the most sublime of mysteries.
His body is food, his blood, a beverage but Christ remains present under each.
His flesh, when eaten, is not torn apart, broken asunder or divided;
intact he is received.
Though one alone be fed, though thousands be fed,
all receive the same reality, 
which perisheth not at meal's end.
The good and the guilty may all have part therein,
but with different results: life or death.
Death for sinners, life everlasting for the just;
mark well the varied effects of this single food.
And when the bread is fragmented, be thou not troubled,
but remember:
he is present in each fragment just as much as in the whole.
The hidden reality is not divided, the sign only is fragmented;
He whose presence is signified,
suffereth no diminution in stature or in strength.
which hath become food for us on our pilgrimage;
it is truly the bread of God's children, let it ne'er be thrown to dogs.
Scripture announced it figuratively by Isaac's sacrifice,
by the paschal lamb and by the manna given to our forefathers.
O Good Shepherd and most true bread of life,
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us; 
feed us and protect us,
bring us to the vision of eternal riches in the land of the living.
Thou who knowest and canst accomplish all things, who dost feed us in this mortal life,
make us thy chosen guests, the co-heirs and companions of the saints in the heavenly city.

Amen. Alleluia.

You can listen to the sequence in Latin below.

St. Martin of Tours Church, Louisville, KY


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Novena to the Sacred Heart

I'm out of pocket at the moment and may or may not have time to write this week, but I wanted to mention that today is the day to start a novena to prepare for the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the 12th. 

I know that several of my readers do not care for this devotion, but I would like to propose that you pray it anyway. There's a link to one written by Padre Pio above. It is scriptural and doesn't have a lot of the flowery language of many novenas.

I had intended to write more about what the devotion really is, but just don't have time. One thing I will mention is that Our Lord said exactly the same things to St. Margaret Mary that He did to St. Faustina, so if you have a devotion to the Divine Mercy, there's very little difference.