Wednesday, February 28, 2007
"No," replied the dying young woman. "I will come down." Another time she said: "After my death, I will let fall from Heaven a shower of roses."
Another book that can be read repeatedly, offering fresh insights, is one I saw recommended on Elena's site. It is The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lovasik. I have sometimes used it in adult etiquette classes, because it explores kindness as the essence of our interactions with others; good manners are empty without charity of heart. It is a book which helps with outward behavior as well as giving spiritual advice. Father Lovasik speaks of the dangers of discouragement to the spiritual life:
There are few things which resist grace so much as discouragement. Many plans for God's glory have failed because there was no bright look or or kind eye or kind word to support them. You may not have come forward with the help your brother needs, because you were busy with your own work and never looked at his, or because you were jealous and looked coldly and spoke critically.
A kind deed, a kind word, or the mere tone of voice is enough to convey sympathy to the poor suffering heart, and in one instant all is right again. The downcast soul is encouraged to do bravely the very thing which, in a mood of discouragement, it had almost resolved to leave undone. That encouragement may be the first link of a new chain, which, when finished, will result in final perseverance. (Lovasik, Lawrence. The Hidden Power of Kindness. p.10)
How vital it is especially in families to help each other fend off discouragement, especially when the times are full of foreboding. Lent is a wonderful season to start building new, positive patterns of behavior.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Talleyrand had not wanted to become a priest; his family pressured him into it, since because of his limp he would never be able to ride or dance in the manner becoming a courtier. Talleyrand said, "I will make them regret that they ordained me, " and that was one promise he kept. He was not able to keep his marriage vows any better than he had kept his clerical vows. He married his mistress the actress Catherine Grand in a civil ceremony because Napoleon insisted on a veneer of respectability. He remained attached to the lifestyle of the old regime in spite of his revolutionary involvement and he missed the courtly ways. Whatever else can be said for him, his manners were unfailingly gracious; he remained an aristocrat of a bygone era.
His great love was no doubt the wife of his nephew, Dorothea of Courland, the Duchess of Dino. She lived in his house for many years, although there is no solid proof that he fathered one of her children. It was teaching his little nieces and nephews their prayers that led to his reversion to the faith. He was not completely reconciled to the Church until his deathbed though, and then he corrected the priest who was administering extreme unction, as the minister was about to anoint the palms of his hands. "Remember, I am a bishop," Talleyrand reminded, and the priest anointed the backs of his hands. He was sincerely mourned by the people of France who knew that, politically at least, he had worked for their benefit. Share
Monday, February 26, 2007
Sunday, February 25, 2007
"Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" is one of the most exquisite arias ever composed; it was featured in the Merchant-Ivory film A Room With A View. "What do riches matter when happiness has blossomed at last?" is the theme of the song, and of the opera. Basically, the story of La Rondine ("The Swallow") is along the lines of Verdi's La Traviata and its film version, Camille, both based on the Dumas novel. A sad but good-hearted courtesan finds true love at last, but because the love is sincere, she must leave the man she loves for his own good. La Rondine is different because the heroine does not die of tuberculosis; she only goes away.
Yes, the characters are decadent; yet, they are able at some point to acknowledge their immoral behavior, or at least lament it. Because it was frowned upon by society that men and women live together without being married, there was more hope that the relationships be broken off, especially if marriage was out of the question. Guilt is not healthy if nourished but it can and does lead to repentance.
We live now in a shameless time. Parents no longer intervene as the fathers do in both La Traviata and La Rondine. In those old operas, there was sin, there was great passion, but there was also great love and the willingness to make sacrifices for the beloved. There is now little shame, little love and few willing to sacrifice. And sometimes I wonder if people are really happy. Share
A site dedicated to the Chevalier de Saint-Georges has the following to say about him:
The story of the Chevalier de Saint-George ("Knight of Saint-George") depicts the rise, fall, and rebirth of an athletic, musical, and military hero who became a superstar in 18th century France. Born on Christmas Day, 1745 in the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, to a Senegalese slave and a French colonialist, Saint-George was a breakthrough composer and violin virtuoso who came to be called "Le Mozart Noir". He became the first black man to lead France`s most important orchestras. Saint-George was also Europe`s finest fencer, a master horseman, elite musketeer, infamous playboy, and a Colonel who led an army in the French Revolution. Described by poets of his day as a "French Hercules", "a veritable Mars", and a "rival of Apollo", Saint-George stands out as one of the most extraordinary figures of the 18th century.
The "King of Pop" of his age, Saint-George`s celebrity was known throughout Europe and word of his fame eventually reached the U.S. John Adams, the 2nd U.S. President, was reportedly given an account of Saint-George by one of his aides: "He is the most accomplished man in Europe, in riding, running, shooting, fencing, dancing, music. He will hit the button - any button on the coat or waistcoat of the greatest masters. He will hit a crown-piece in the air with a pistol-ball."
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Author Geoffrey Moorhouse describes the details of life on Skellig Michael, and of Irish monks in general, in his book Sun Dancing (1997). I read it on a cruise to Bermuda a couple of years ago. Looking out to sea I would think about the Irish monks in another part of that same ocean, long ago. There is something about being surrounded by nothing but water that puts the soul immediately in touch with the infinite.
Moorhouse tells of the "green martyrdom" sought by the monks, the penitential life of strict fasting, solitude, silence, poverty, chastity and obedience. According to the traditions of Celtic monasticism, the Irish cenobites wore long white robes of undyed wool, the front of their heads shaved from ear to ear, with long hair flowing in the back. The shaving of the head was called the "tonsure" and was different from the Roman practice of shaving the crown of the head.
There is also mention of the "extreme violence" of the pagan Irish culture, including human sacrifice. Such grotesque practices disappeared with the coming of Christianity, but the Irish belligerence was not tamed. Irish monasticism was a stranger to pacificism; the monks on the mainland would have feuds and communities would battle each other over land or cattle. The skelligs seemed to be peaceful, however, for many centuries, except for occasional Viking raids.
No one knows for certain why the monks eventually left Skellig Michael and withdrew to a monastery on the coast of County Kerry. Moorhouse explores the various changes that occurred in Irish culture due to the Viking and Norman incursions, which may also have led to the monks' departure. Sun Dancing is a collection of stories about forgotten heroic souls, whose radical lifestyle remains a source of mystery and fascination. Share
Friday, February 23, 2007
The farm has often been cited as an example of decadence on the part of Marie-Antoinette, particularly the dairy with the porcelain milk pitchers. However, it must be taken into account that wealthy people all over Europe were building "follies" in their gardens, such as a fake ruined castles, ornate mosques, Chinese tea houses, solely for decoration. At least, Marie-Antoinette's hameau had a practical purpose. Of course, she would not wear an elaborate court gown when spending time on the farm; she would wear a simple cotton dress and sometimes an apron. Therefore she is still accused of "playing dairy maid." I somehow do not see how milking cows with her children and friends can be regarded as extreme frivolity; it seems like a fairly innocent past time to me. In the main "farm house" there was elegant furniture, a billiard table and such amenities for entertaining in the manner expected of a queen. Foreign guests and ambassadors were occasionally given hospitality at the hameau, although it was mainly just for the family.
There was also an orchard, berry bushes, fishing in the pond, and lots of vegetables in the garden. Everyone needs a refuge, a cozy corner, a place to be quiet. In our busy world there seems to be more of an appreciation of Marie-Antoinette's creative way of carving out a retreat for herself and her family, one which patronized and exulted French craftsmanship while simultaneously helping the poor.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
In 1918, Dr and Mrs. Fergus O’Connor, my great-grandparents, moved to 193 Earl Street in Kingston, Ontario, with seven of their soon-to-be eight children. A white rose bush from the original that old Daniel had brought over from Ireland was planted outside the front door. It was an elegant brick row house around the corner from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, where Fergus and Frank had been married eleven years earlier, and where several of their children and even some of their grandchildren would eventually be wed. “One ninety-three,” as the house is still referred to among my relatives, although it passed out of the family in 1988, seemed like a palace to me as a child, with it’s high ceilings, beautifully carved furniture, and three stories of rooms. It was not a palace though, or even a mansion, just a grand old house.
Fergus slowly built up a new practice. He taught medicine at Queen’s University, and continued on the faculty for forty years. His close friend, Monsignor J.G. Hanley said of him:
His concern for his students was not limited to their professional development. Working in an area fraught with deep moral implications, he instilled in future obstetricians sound ethical principles to guide them in making crucial decisions which would crucially affect the lives of their patients. Moreover, he was not merely a professor to his students; they all regarded him as a personal friend, and so he was.
By the late 1930’s he was delivering one third of all the babies in Kingston. He had many poor patients who could not pay, but to Fergus being a doctor was a vocation, not a career. However, he would gratefully accept an offering such as a bag of potatoes in the place of money, so that he could feed his family. He eventually became Chief of Obstetrics at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston and remained so for almost half a century. He delivered his last baby at age eighty-four.
We were always encouraged to aim high—accomplish as much as possible, accepting the results. We were all given as much freedom as possible to live our lives, with parental guidance that was not too directed and with a family attitude of loving, direct example and a family history shown by Mother and Dad. (from Because You Asked For It by Dr. Fergus James O’Connor.)Share
We have 40 days to deepen the relationship with God during the austere period of Lent, Pope Benedict said, noting the faithful have useful instruments to achieve a true inner and communal renewal: charity or almsgiving, prayer and penance or fasting.
Such external gestures, which must be performed to please God and not to get men’s approval, are acceptable to him if they express the heart’s determination to serve him only in simplicity and generosity.Share
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
One of the most splendid palaces of Europe, surpassing even the vastness of Versailles, was the palace of Caserta of the Bourbon kings of Naples. Marie-Antoinette's strong-willed sister Queen Maria Carolina lived there, as well as her grand-niece Caroline, the Duchesse de Berry. The scene in the novel Madame Royale where Caroline and Ettore pledge their love takes place in the gardens of Caserta. Share
Thousands and thousands of pilgrims past and present trod these and many other roads. These pilgrims and their journeys need not be things of the past; they continue to live in all of us. We are all peregrini in this world, and the Celtic saints and their journeys remind us that each place we are in calls us to be transformed, while each journey we make takes us deeper into that one special place where we are most at home. Although it seems that the Celtic saints wandered in an aimless way, they believed that in the end their goal would be found -- finding their place of resurrection, that place where they would cross from this world to the next.
This is a good way to view Lent, as a pilgrimage from this world to the next, believing that on Easter day we will have one foot in Heaven.
I also found this controversial article. Share
Here is a recipe for lentil soup. It is great for Fridays of Lent if you do not care for fish. Here are some other soup recipes, not all vegetarian.
And another great site, with recipes for breads and bagels. Bagels are good fasting fare; one can keep you going a for awhile. Share
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Our forty days of penance commence with the reception of blessed ashes. The words from the book of Genesis (3:19) help us to think of the shortness of life, of our last end, and of that moment when each shall come before God to be judged. "Remember," wrote Saint Teresa of Avila, "that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; that there is only one glory, which is eternal."
Since Old Testament times, ashes have been a symbol of sorrow for sin. "For I did eat ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping." (Psalm 101:10) In the early Church, only "public" sinners, those guilty of murder, adultery, or idolatry, who had formally repented, would receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, they would humbly kneel at the doors of the church, not entering until they were given absolution on Holy Thursday. The famous liturgist, Abbot Gueranger, gives a description of the ceremony "of the Wednesday in Quinquagesima:"
Before the Mass of the day began, they [the penitents] presented themselves at the church....The priests received the confession of their sins, and then clothed them in sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes on their heads...the clergy and the faithful prostrated themselves and recited aloud the seven penitential psalms. A procession, in which the penitents walked barefooted, then followed; and on its return, the bishop then addressed these words to the penitents: 'Behold, we drive you from the doors of the church by reason of your sins and crimes, as Adam, the first man, was driven out of paradise....' The clergy then sang several responsories, taken from the book of Genesis....The doors were shut, and the penitents were not to pass the threshold until Maunday Thursday, when they were to come to receive absolution. (The Liturgical Year, Vol IV, p 204-205)
During the Middle Ages, it became the custom for all of the faithful to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. We are blessed that so many indulgences can now be gained with very little effort on our part. How light are the penances now demanded of us; what little fasting is required of us! Perhaps the best penance is the patient and loving endurance of hardships and sorrows which come our way; those unchosen mortifications can be heavy enough. Interiorly, we can share the contrition of the brave penitents of old by receiving the ashes with great love for Christ and a determination to follow Him, no matter what. It is time for a new beginning, and for trying, again, to be a disciple.
Sweet is this present life, but it passes away; terrible, O Christ is thy judgment, and it endures forever. Let us, therefore, cease to love what is unstable, and fix our thought on what is eternal: saying: Christ, have mercy upon us!
Now the time has come to go into the desert, the desert of Lent.
We fast in order to imitate Our Lord's forty day fast in the desert. Unlike Him, we need to tame the concupiscence of the flesh, acquire self-discipline, and atone for our personal sins. It was by breaking God's commandment to abstain from eating a certain fruit that Adam and Eve lost the earthly paradise. Both Moses and Elias fasted for forty days before encountering the living God. (Exodus 24:18 and 3 Kings 19:8)
In former times, every day of Lent (except for Sundays and first-class feasts) was a fast day. Now, only two fast days remain -- Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat, as are all Fridays of Lent. Many people think that the Second Vatican Council did away with Friday abstinence, but it did not. Every Friday of the year is a day of abstinence from meat unless the bishops of the country decide to substitute another form of penance. In the United States, it is up to every individual to perform some other Friday penance if they are not able to abstain from meat. However, every Friday of Lent remains a day of strict abstinence.
The third Lenten good work is almsgiving, by which we overcome the "world," that is, the love of riches, luxuries, and honors. Through almsgiving we not only help the poor, the missions, and the temporal needs of the Church, but we mortify any any inordinate desires for material things. By having Masses offered, our alms can assist the "Church Suffering" in purgatory. As the aged Tobias said to his son: "Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than more than to lay up treasures of gold. For alms delivereth from death, and...purgeth away sins." (Tobias 12:8-9) As Jesus commands in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday: "Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing." (Matthew 6:3) It is most important that all our good works are accompanied by charity, humility, and the desire to please God alone.
Here is what the learned reader shared with me about what happened when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Switzerland in 1798:
When the French soldiers went to Engelberg, which at the time belonged to the Abbey of Engelberg, including the population. The farmers (peasants) were none to too pleased to be told that God was dead, that everyone was equal, and they were now free, and no longer the serfs of the Prince-Abbot, and charged the French soldiers. If memory serves me right, the farmers charged the French musketeers with their pitchforks, and sustained more than 200 dead compared to somewhere between 10 and 20 French casualties. But it was the French soldiers who fled the battlefield. Long afterwards, perhaps to this day, the people from around Engelberg are proud of this victory.
The persecutions led to the monastic traditions being brought to America:
In 1841, anti-clerical forces stormed the abbey of Muri, (pictures) and disbanded it, and some other monasteries . (They also confiscated the equivalent of seven year's taxes from the monasteries.) As always, the argument was about money. The Austrians almost declared war, and the monks from Muri went to Engelberg. The monks in Engelberg were afraid that they may be next and eventually sent a delegation out to start a monastery in Oregon, Mount Angel by name. Einsiedeln, which had to forfeit two of its four castles, established Saint Meinrad.
I have been to Switzerland once, by accident. When flying back to Washington, D.C. from Vienna, the plane had engine trouble. We had an emergency landing in Geneva; the airline put us up in a pleasant hotel where there was lots of complimentary food and wine. It was a delightful stay. I hope to return at some point, especially now that I am more aware of the existence of such beautiful monasteries.
VATICAN CITY, FEB 20, 2007 (VIS) - Made public today was a note signed by Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby and Anglican Bishop David Beetge, co-presidents of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), regarding an article published yesterday in the British newspaper "The Times" on the IARCCUM document: "Growing Together in Unity and Mission."
"'Growing Together in Unity and Mission' has not yet been officially published," the English-language note reads. "It is unfortunate that is contents have been prematurely reported in a way which misrepresents its intentions and sensationalizes its conclusions. The first part of the document, which treats doctrinal matters, is an attempt to synthesize the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) over the past 35 years. It identifies the level of agreement which has been reached by ARCIC, but is also very clear in identifying ongoing areas of disagreement, and in raising questions which still need to be addressed in dialogue. Those ongoing questions and areas of disagreement are highlighted in boxed sections interspersed throughout the text. It is a very honest document assessing the state of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations at the present moment."
The note continues: "The Times article speculates about the Catholic Church's response to a possible schism within the Anglican Communion. It should be pointed out that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has consistently spoken of the value of the Anglican Communion remaining a communion, rooted in the Apostolic faith, as indicated in this statement from 2004: 'It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree'."
VIS 070220 (300) Share
The image to the left is the representation of the imprint of Our Lord's face on the Veronica veil, as it is venerated in the Carmelite Order, and propagated by Sister Marie de Saint Pierre and Venerable Leo Dupont.
Here is the prayer of Saint Therese of Lisieux to the Holy Face:
O Jesus, who in Thy bitter Passion didst become "the most abject of men, a man of sorrows," I venerate Thy Sacred Face whereon there once did shine the beauty and sweetness of the Godhead; but now it has become for me as if it were the face of a leper! Nevertheless, under those disfigured features, I recognize Thy infinite Love and I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men. The tears which well up abundantly in Thy sacred eyes appear to me as so many precious pearls that I love to gather up, in order to purchase the souls of poor sinners by means of their infinite value. O Jesus, whose adorable Face ravishes my heart, I implore Thee to fix deep within me Thy divine image and to set me on fire with Thy Love, that I may be found worthy to come to the contemplation of Thy glorious Face in Heaven. Amen.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Does anyone know anything about the Ask Sister Mary Martha blog? I cannot tell if she is for real or not but it is certainly enjoyable to read what she has to say. "Life is tough. But Nuns are tougher." Isn't that the truth! Share
At any rate, I was deeply touched to be told that some kind individual(s) had nominated me for the categories of "Best New Catholic Blog" and "Smartest Blog." I have not yet ascertained whether "smartest" in this case means "chic" or "intellectual." I do hope it means the former, since I am not a true intellectual; I am just a story-teller who enjoys historical research. Either way, I am truly complimented. I did not win; the people who won are the real intellectuals.
It is gratifying to see that people from all over the world are visiting here everyday, especially all of those readers from China. Welcome! I have made many new acquaintances through this site, as well as solidifying existing friendships. It is enough of a prize for a writer to know that they are being read. However, the nomination banners are down at the bottom of the sidebar. Thank you, I am grateful! Share
In the words of Dom Gueranger for "Quinquagesima Sunday:" We are commanded to use this world as if we used it not; to have an abiding conviction of our not having here a lasting city, and of the misery and danger we incur when we forget that death is one day to separate us from everything we possess in this life.
~from Abbot Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol. IV) Share
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
During the fireworks celebrating the marriage of the young prince and princess in May 1774, there was a stampede in which many people were killed. Louis and Antoinette gave all of their private spending money for a year to relieve the suffering of the victims and their families. They became very popular with the common people as a result, which was reflected in the adulation with which they were received when the Dauphin took his wife to Paris on her first "official" visit in June 1773. Marie-Antoinette's reputation for sweetness and mercy became even more entrenched in 1774, when as the new Queen she asked that the people be relieved of a tax called "The Queen's belt," customary at the beginning of each reign. "Belts are no longer worn," she said. It was only the onslaught of revolutionary propaganda that would eventually destroy her reputation.
Louis XVI often visited the poor in their homes and villages, distributing alms from his own purse. Madame Campan records in her Memoirs that during the difficult winter of 1776, the king oversaw the distribution of firewood among the peasants. The king was responsible for many humanitarian reforms. He went incognito to hospitals, prisons, and factories so as to gain first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which the people lived and worked.
The King and Queen were patrons of the Maison Philanthropique, a society founded by Louis XVI which helped the aged, blind and widows. The queen taught her daughter Madame Royale to wait upon peasant children, to sacrifice her Christmas gifts so as to by fuel and blankets for the destitute, and to bring baskets of food to the sick. Antoinette started a home for unwed mothers at the royal palace of Versailles. She adopted three poor children to be raised with her own, as well as overseeing the upbringing of several needy children, whose education she paid for, while caring for their families. She brought several peasant families to live on her farm at Trianon, building cottages for them. There was food for the hungry distributed every day at Versailles, at the King's command.
During the famine of 1787-88, the royal family sold much of their flatware to buy grain for the people, and themselves ate the cheap barley bread in order to be able to give more to the hungry. There were many other things they did; what I mentioned here is taken from Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette, as well as Marguerite Jallut's and Philippe Huisman's biography of the Marie-Antoinette. The king and queen did not see helping the poor as anything extraordinary, but as a basic Christian duty. The royal couple's almsgiving stopped only with their incarceration in the Temple in August 1792, for then they had nothing left to give but their lives. Share
What is odd to me is that so many people are concerned about the social niceties but have no qualms about living together before marriage. I wish I could convince young couples that cohabitation is not a good idea and can hurt the marital relationship in the long run. Not to mention that cohabitation is sinful, gives scandal, and is not an adequate preparation for entering into the sacrament of matrimony. Parents and members of the older generation, who would never have "lived together" themselves, seem to look upon such arrangements very benignly and often do not speak up for what is right. When we try too hard to keep the peace by silent acquisition to wrong, we end by hurting the people we love. Share
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Made at the dawn of the sexual revolution, the film captures the angst of modern life, with the all the loneliness, the frantic striving for wealth at any price, seeking in material pleasures a happiness which remains elusive. The "Holly Golightly" character, nimbly portrayed by Miss Hepburn, embodies the lifestyle of so many contemporary young women, sans the Givenchy gowns, in whose lives there have often been many lovers but very little true love. The George Peppard character, "Paul" the writer-gigolo, was shocking at the time the film debuted. He, too, like so many modern people, knows a lot about sex but nothing of love. He longs for love, nevertheless. Paul, like Holly, is trapped in a lifestyle from which there seems to be no escape. Hope is presented in the awakening of love, and the desire for commitment, from which Holly flees like a bird.
The film would be nothing without the Henry Mancini song "Moon River," written for Audrey's limited vocal range. Although the words speak of a youthful desire to see the world, when Audrey sings it, she captures a deeper level of meaning, an intense yearning for home, for a family setting that is no more. It is essentially a mourning of lost innocence. Holly had lost her innocence by age fourteen, when she married a man old enough to be her father; instead of being a much-needed parent, he became a lover, and perhaps that is what set her on the path to promiscuity. Underneath her carefree exterior, she is tormented at the very core of her being, as is demonstrated when she smashes up her apartment upon receiving the news that her only brother has died.
When hearing the song "Moon River" as a child, I always thought of the Monocacy River, not far from our house. It was a yellow muddy river due to the cow manure and silt from the fields, but on a summer night, beneath the glimmering of the moon, it became beautifully surreal, connoting the magic and mystery of places far away. How often the youthful longing to see the world is replaced with the nostalgia for home, after the world has been seen and tasted. There is no going back home, only going forward, while creating structures of stability for the new generation. Paul and Holly standing in the rain at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany's, hugging a soggy cat, while a choir sings "Moon River" in the background, is almost like a gleam of promise. Amid the despair, depravity and chaos of modernity, a man and woman can still find each other, commit to each other, and build a life of meaning for themselves and for others.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007