Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Vigil of All Saints

This feast announces the ever-growing nearness of the eternal nuptials; for on it we annually celebrate the progress of the bride's preparation.

Blessed are they who are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb! Blessed are we all, who have received in baptism the nuptial robe of holy charity, which entitles us to a seat at the heavenly banquet! Let us prepare ourselves for the unspeakable destiny reserved for us by love. To this end are directed all the labors of this life; toils, sufferings, struggles for God's sake, all adorn with priceless jewels the garment of grace, the clothing of the elect....Let us sing, then, with the psalmist: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord...."
~from Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol XV

Father Mark Kirby reminds us that November is the month of the Holy Souls.

Here is an article on St Joseph and Purgatory.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15

A happy death is one of the greatest and the last blessings of God in this life. The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: “From a sudden death and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord,” to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us “at the hour of our death” in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a Happy Death. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1014.)

Why should we be dedicated to St. Joseph?

St. Joseph is the Foster Father of our Judge and Savior. His power is dreaded by the devil. His death is the most singularly privileged and happiest death ever recorded as he died in the Presence and care of Jesus and Mary.

St. Joseph will obtain for us that same privilege at our passage from this life to eternity.

We are called to pray for a happy death and for the dying. Blessed Louis Guanella said, “There is a need of living well, but there is even more need of dying well. A good death is everything.”


At the Gates of the Ottoman Empire

Paula has some fascinating posts about Romanian history, and how that land endured constant attacks by the Ottoman Turks. She mentions Vlad the Impaler, the original "Dracula." Here is a post about the warrior king and saint, Stephen the Great and Holy. And, from many centuries later, Paula offers a love story of the Romanian gulag. Share

Solomon's Temple

Artifacts found. (Via LRC)
The artifacts, which date to the First Jewish Temple period—the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.—were found by employees of the Waqf Muslim religious trust doing maintenance work, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) reported.

The artifacts may be the first physical evidence of human activity at the Temple Mount—also known as Solomon's Temple—in that time.

Religious leaders do not allow archaeological excavations on Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites for Judaism and Islam. The site, known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is now covered by Islam's Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ode to Joy

The Holy Father reflects on Beethoven.

Benedict XVI [said], "This overwhelming sentiment of joy is not something light and superficial; it is a sensation achieved through struggle" because "silent solitude [...] had taught Beethoven a new way of listening that went well beyond a simple capacity to experience in his imagination the sound of notes read or written." This was akin to "the perceptivity given as a gift by God to people who obtain the grace of interior or exterior liberation."

The Pope recalled how in 1989, when the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir had played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for the fall of the Berlin Wall, they altered the text from "Ode to Joy" to "Freedom, Spark of God," thus expressing "more than the simple sensation of a historic moment. True joy is rooted in the freedom that only God can give."

"God -- sometimes through periods of interior emptiness and isolation -- wishes to make us attentive and capable of 'feeling' his silent presence, not only 'over the canopy of stars' but also in the most intimate recesses of our soul," the Holy Father affirmed. "There burns the spark of divine love that can free us to be what we truly are."


On the Veiling of Women

Hallowed Ground has an interesting discussion, with a link to quotes from some of the Church Fathers. Up through Victorian times, married woman in the West usually wore little caps or bonnets even at home, not just at church. Some Protestant fundamentalist sects have continued this practice. (Are they aware it comes from Tertullian?) Such social customs are interesting; it is intriguing how various practices evolve through the centuries and adapt to different cultures. St. Paul only mentioned having women's heads covered in church, which was in the code of canon law until 1981. More discussion here. Share

The Chinese Re-Connection

A reader sent me this interesting article.
The Chinese espionage that occurred on Clinton's watch was unprecedented, and analysts still don't know how deep Chinese moles penetrated our security complex.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Rules of Versailles

Diana Reid Haig, author of Walks Through Marie-Antoinette's Paris, offers some fascinating background about life at the royal palace on her informative website. (Via Marie-Antoinette Online)

The Rules of Versailles

In her memoirs, Mme. de la Tour du Pin, wife of the head of the château’s militia, wrote that life at Versailles had never been so, “pleasure-seeking as in 1789… Amid all these pleasures, we were laughing and dancing our way to the precipice… The word ‘revolution’ was never uttered. Had anyone dared to use it, he would have been thought mad…”

Though political unrest swept through France, life at Versailles continued as usual. Days revolved around scheduled ceremonies, and most traditions begun under Louis XIV continued until the end of the Ancien Régime. Some unusual rules of court etiquette were:

-- Knocking on doors was forbidden. Instead, in 1694, a rule was instituted that if entry was desired, the visitor should scratch on a door with the little finger.

-- Only ushers were allowed to open doors. If a visitor desired to leave a room, they had to wait for the usher to open the door.

-- A distinctive gliding walk was used by ladies at Versailles in which they never lifted the foot so as not to step on the train of the woman in front of them. Marie-Antoinette mastered this, and all her ladies were required to learn to walk without raising their feet from the ground.

-- People of different rank entered a room in order, princes first, then officers of the Court, and finally courtiers. The page opened both halves of the tall double door for a prince, but for lower ranked dignitaries, only one side swung open

-- Wall hangings at Versailles were changed twice a year for winter and summer. Between All Saint’s Day and Easter, the château’s tall windows were sealed with strips of tape to keep out cold air.

-- The royal Family was not allowed to pour a glass of water or reach for food themselves. Meals, refreshments, and items of clothing had to be handed or served to them, sometimes on silver trays, according to tradition. Mme. Campan famously tells a story of Marie-Antoinette impatiently shivering while waiting to be dressed as her petticoat is passed from one lady to another of higher rank.

Tolstoy Revisited

Michael Dirda of The Washington Post discusses the new translation of Tolstoy's masterwork, War and Peace. It is a novel which I read in preparation to write Madame Royale, since the same era is covered. According to Anne Edwards' biography Sonya, Tolstoy's wife edited the work for him; she is responsible for pulling all the characters and events together. Dirda says:
Stressing that their War and Peace sticks more closely to the Russian text than any other, including Louise and Aylmer Maude's semi-canonical 1923 version, Pevear and Volokhonsky retain the considerable amount of French used by Tolstoy's counts and princesses, preserve the author's penchant for word repetition and aim to match his tidy syntactic conciseness. The result certainly reads smoothly, its English being neither egregiously contemporary nor inappropriately old-fashioned. In this respect, the Pevear-Volokhonsky War and Peace joins company with recent translations of The Tale of Genji, Don Quixote and In Search of Lost Time, these being among the few works of classic fiction equal to Tolstoy's in scope and richness. Given so capacious and generous a masterpiece, it's simply impossible to do more than offer -- with due humility at how much is being overlooked -- a few introductory propositions for the would-be reader.

Nearly every man and woman in War and Peace is deeply flawed, and will make at least one truly terrible mistake in his or her life. This may be an epic, but there are no larger-than-life heroes in it. The main character, Pierre Bezukhov, is illegitimate, clumsy, naive, absent-minded and fat. He has red hands and wears glasses. The exuberant, impulsive Natasha Rostov, the principal heroine, eventually settles down as Tolstoy's ideal woman, but not before her unnaturally repressed libido wrecks her own happiness and that of her fiance, the noble-minded Andrei Bolkonsky.

Minor characters tend to be unconsciously corrupt or simply depraved. Boris Drubetskoy starts off as a charming young man and turns into an ambitious, calculating trimmer, always looking out for his advancement. Though the Countess Helene Bezukhov is promiscuous and stupid, her beauty ensures that the world finds her profoundly witty. The gorgeous Helene knows that her smile can reduce all male arguments to nonsense. Salons and drawing rooms reveal the French-speaking Russian aristocracy as venal, unctuous and self-important.


An Inconvenient Truth

Terry Nelson discusses the inconvenience of having two calendars, the traditional one and the Novus Ordo one. I remember how one year I missed celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, since I went to an indult Mass on the Sunday on which Epiphany is celebrated in the USA, but instead they were celebrating the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, according to the old calendar. At the church I attended during the week, there was no Mass of the Epiphany on Jan 6, since they had all celebrated the Epiphany on the previous Sunday. I found this to be quite distressing at the time….Although another year I got to celebrate the Immaculate Conception twice, since at the indult parish in Pittsburgh they celebrated it on December 8, which was a Sunday, and at the mainstream parish it had been transferred to a weekday. Since we also sometimes went to the local Byzantine church, for a while we were dealing with three calendars. Now, as much as I love the traditional Mass, I follow the new calendar, the one observed by the Pope and by my parish.

Meanwhile, the traditional Latin Mass is spreading. (Via the NOR) May God be praised!

Oh, what interesting times! Share

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Pas une apostasie...."

The largest beatification in history occurred today in Rome, the 498 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. Some people objected. I hope that the future will see many others who were killed by Communists in various countries raised to the altar. (Via Spirit Daily) Share

The Inquisition

Fr. Nicholas Schofield discusses the black legend of the Spanish Inquisition. Share

St Jude

The saint of desperate, hopeless and impossible cases is an old and dear friend to my family. I have lit many a votive light at this beautiful shrine. St. Jude, pray for us! Share

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Fersen Myth in Literature

Surfing the internet anyone can see that the Fersen myth is deeply entrenched in the public mind. This is due to major publishers yearly churning out sensational biographies and novels, which focus on the legend rather than on the facts, scouring letters and diaries for the slightest indication that Marie-Antoinette and Count Fersen may have slept together. At best, such books harbor the notion of a great and spiritual love between the Queen and the count, such as in Sena Jeter Naslund's Abundance. At worst, they are romance novels like Carolly Erickson's The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, which has the Queen going on a journey to Sweden with Axel von Fersen. It is a fabrication which should qualify that particular novel as fantasy rather than as historical fiction.

Excellent books by serious French historians, which attempt to look at the cold unromantic facts of the matter, such as Marie-Antoinette l'insoumise by Simone Bertière and Marie-Antoinette: Epouse de Louis XVI, mere de Louis XVII by Philippe Delorme, are not translated into English. Instead biographies such as Evelyn Lever's Marie-Antoinette, which focus on the possibility of a romance with Fersen, are the ones which find their way into American book stores. Older books like those by Hilaire Belloc, Desmond Seward, and Nesta Webster, all of which present clear evidence that there was little possibility of an affair, are not reprinted. However, Stefan Zweig's Freudian analysis is continually on the bookshelves. There is no great conspiracy here. Publishers know that stories of adulterous love affairs sell more books than do stories of chaste and faithful marriages. And so they give the public what they think they want.

Antonia Fraser's popular biography, like Evelyn Lever's, both admit that there is no solid evidence of an affair. Nevertheless, Lady Fraser gives as her reason for thinking that there was indeed a liaison the fact that it is human nature to give into passion. This may be her theory but it is not historical evidence, especially since there have been many thwarted lovers in the history of the world who have resisted temptation.

Although Marie-Antoinette was always the subject of gossip and rumors, the myth of Axel von Fersen as her lover evolved after the deaths of both the count and the queen. According to Fersen’s biographer Francoise Kermina, the count himself carelessly sewed the seeds of the legend when once upon hearing an opera favored by the queen he sighed, “Ah, those memories….” In 1822 an Irishman named O’Meara published Napoleon in Exile in which he repeated gossip that had been rampant at Bonaparte’s court, about Fersen and the queen, which were attributed to the queen’s maid Madame Campan. The rumor was proved to be false by British historian John Wilson Croker, who in October 1822 wrote in the Quarterly Review that Madame Campan had not been present at court when certain allegations were said to have occurred.

For many years following, most historians and biographers, including Carlyle, the Goncourts, Imbert de Saint-Amand, de la Rocheterie, Bimbinet, Lenotre and de Nolhac did not take the Fersen story seriously and ignored it. When the letters of the queen and Count Fersen were published by his great nephew Baron de Klinckostrom in the late nineteenth century, they proved the nature of the queen and Fersen’s relationship to be principally a diplomatic one.

In certain of the letters, mainly those from the queen to Fersen, passages have been erased and are indicated by rows of dots in the printed text. The Coursacs, Webster, and Delorme believe that Fersen erased certain passages himself. The erasures of Fersen were most likely sensitive diplomatic issues, not declarations of love, as authors such as Lever have claimed. They concealed allusions to the queen’s disagreements with her brothers-in-law Artois and Provence, or references to the Duc d’Orleans and other revolutionaries, or even mentions of spies or persons whose families would have been compromised had the letters fallen into the wrong hands. We do not know.

In 1907 a certain Monsieur Lucien Maury published in Revue Bleue what he claimed to be a fragment of a love letter of the queen to Fersen. Lever quotes it in her biography: “Tell me to whom I should send my letters to you, for I cannot live without that. Farewell most loved and most loving of men. I embrace you with all my heart." The letter had no signature, was not in the queen’s handwriting, only in the cipher she used, jotted down by Fersen in cipher. There is no proof it was from the queen but could have been from one of the many ladies with whom Fersen dallied over the years. And yet Lever includes this fragment among verified letters of the queen, giving the impression that it is evidence of a great love. Webster, however, dismissed it.

Many authors scour Fersen's diary for every and any hint of his love for the Marie-Antoinette. While he may have loved the queen on some level, his diary, as pointed out by Francoise Kermina, shows him to be a rather shallow person. The Queen actually is mentioned very little compared to his accounts of his various adventures with many other women, especially his beloved Eleonore Sullivan, the lady with whom he was having an affair all the while the queen was suffering in the Tuileries and in prison.

In the 1930’s Alma Soderhjelm published the letters of Count Fersen to his sister Sophie, hoping to prove from those letters that the Count and the queen had had a love affair. It is upon Soderhjelm’s book that most of the modern romances about Marie-Antoinette are based. Now in the spring of 1790, Fersen was having his passionate affair with Eleonore. She was kept bya certain Monsieur Crawford in an elegant house in Paris, where she had a maid named Josephine, and a hideaway for Fersen in the attic. Later authors would fantasize that when Fersen mentioned “Josephine” in his letters, it was really a code name for Marie-Antoinette, which ignores the fact that Fersen gave “Josephine” menial instructions about a stove; he was more than likely referring to Mrs. Sullivan’s maid and the cold room in the attic.

Likewise, the woman Fersen writes ardently about to his sister at this time, who is honored by Sophie’s attentions, is most likely Mrs. Sullivan, whom he refers to as “El” or “elle.” Some try to make the queen the subject of his ecstatic passages, but why would the queen of France, in the midst of so many political intrigues, threatened by death, have wanted to ingratiate herself to Fersen’s sister? "Elle” (capitalized), however, is what Fersen uses when referring reverently to the queen, la Reine, whom he usually mentions in conjunction with the King. Baron Klinckowstrom quotes Fersen’s letter to his father in Feb 1791, in which he writes of his service to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette: “I am attached to the King and the Queen and I owe it to them for the kindness they showed me when they were able, and I should be vile and ungrateful if I deserted them now that they can do nothing for me….” (see Webster's Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette During the Revolution)

The fact that Fersen was not mentioned at all at Marie-Antoinette's trial by her enemies, who were looking for anything to pin on her, except for his role in the royal escape, is quite telling. Instead, they trumped up the accusation of incest, which shows how desperate they were for charges against her, no matter how far-fetched. A queen has few secrets; her foes would have discovered a liaison, if one had existed.

There was a great nobility in Count Fersen, especially in his efforts to save the royal family. However, to make his friendship with Marie-Antoinette into a great and lofty romance is to ignore his reality and hers. For while Fersen was with his Eleonore, the Queen of France was losing her husband, from whom she refused to be parted even to save her life. She had to watch her children and sister-in-law being terrorized, as she herself had to prepare to die. For something much more powerful and glorious was going on than a love affair; it is called martyrdom.

Love and the Human Person

John Crosby discusses the philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand on love and the intrinsic value of the human person.
Now we find this idea also in von Hildebrand's treatise on love, the last philosophical book that he published in his lifetime. He insists here that love is a value-response to the beauty of a beloved person; in loving the other I do not take the beloved person only as beneficial for me, only as filling out what I lack, but as worthy and splendid in his or her own right. It follows that love is an eminently personal act; it is eminently personal because it is eminently self-transcending. To this extent we see von Hildebrand continuing in this late work along the line of his earlier work.

An Irish Halloween

Halloween was invented by the Irish, more or less, although they did not usually wear costumes (too poor, I suppose.) The picture above was painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, inspired by a typical Irish Halloween party. (It rather reminds me of one of the gatherings of my extended family. Some things never change.) Here is the caption which accompanied the painting:

There Peggy was dancing with Dan
While Maureen the lead was melting,
To prove how their fortunes ran
With the Cards ould Nancy dealt in;
There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will,
In nuts their true-love burning,
And poor Norah, though smiling still
She'd missed the snap-apple turning.

For the ancient Celts, November 1 was Samhain, their New Year's day. It is not necessary to detail some of the more gruesome pagan customs which accompanied the festivities in pre-Christian times, customs which eventually disappeared as the Faith spread and took hold. Nevertheless, on a more positive note, the Celts believed that on the day in question the veil between the worlds grew thin, and one could easily pass from world to world, from time into eternity.

As Christians, in celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, the sacred liturgy permits us to glimpse the place where the blessed ones dwell in light. We are led to think of all the dead, of the awe-inspiring realties of death, judgment, heaven and hell. On All Souls' Day we recall those who are still undergoing purgation in the realm beyond time. We, too, through the Mass and through prayer, pass from world to world, for all is present to God.

Here is an article (via A Conservative Blog for Peace) which elucidates on the history of All Hallows' Eve, the pagan vs Christian aspects and how the Irish and the French brought it all to North America. To quote:
Halloween can still serve the purpose of reminding us about Hell and how to avoid it. Halloween is also a day to prepare us to remember those who have gone before us in Faith, those already in Heaven and those still suffering in Purgatory. The next time someone claims Halloween is a cruel trick to lure our children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of Halloween and let them know about its Catholic roots and significance. (By Fr Scott Archer)

Catholic parents who are not comfortable with the worst secular aspects of Halloween can avail themselves of alternative activities on that day: family prayer and fasting for the Vigil of All Saints Day, visitations of houses in the garments of non-devilish personae, the reading aloud of stories of the Saints or of seasonal literature such as Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", and the playing of seasonal music such as Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre", Modest Moussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" and Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Isle of the Dead."

A word of caution, however. The Church has always condemned as sins against the First Commandment, and thus cautioned her children to stay far away from: astrology, charms, divination, fortune-telling, magic, the ouija boards, sorcery, spells, witchcraft, and other occult activities, even if they are treated in a trivial or jesting fashion.

St Thomas Aquinas says that it is not permitted to Christians even to dabble in such things: "Man has not been entrusted with power over the demons to employ them to whatsoever purpose he will. On the contrary, it is appointed that he should wage war against the demons. Hence, in no way is it lawful for man to make use of the demons' help by compacts -- either tacit or express" (II- II, Q96, Art. 3).

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Gruesome Halloween

I have noticed it, too; sadly, it is not just my imagination. Halloween decorations used to be rustic and charming but lately they have become grotesque, as this article points out. One house I walked into had plastic severed arms and legs as part of a decoration; it made my stomach turn. What is going on?
Back in the '50s, Halloween was a holiday centered on children and candy bars. In the glow of these memories, we think of families carving jack-o'-lanterns, decorating tricycles for neighborhood parades, bobbing for apples and trick-or-treating. And from this distance, even the tricks, such as draping toilet paper over a front-yard tree, appear benign.

But the country has been through a lot in the past 60 years, and violent images have become part of our culture, Bannatyne said. She pointed to slasher movies of the '70s -- specifically the 1978 horror movie "Halloween" -- as a turning point.


Marie-Antoinette: A Reputation in Shreds

She is the queen who danced while the people starved; who spent extravagantly on clothes and jewels without a thought for her subjects’ plight. Such is the distorted but widespread view of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), wife of King Louis XVI. The recent Coppola film has further damaged the image of the much-maligned, beautiful and charming Austrian archduchess, sent to France at age fourteen to marry the fifteen-year-old Dauphin. Sadly, the picture many people now have of Marie-Antoinette is of her running through Versailles with a glass of champagne in her hand, eating bonbons all day long, and rolling in the bushes with a lover.

In reality, she was a teetotaler who ate frugally. She was notorious for her intense modesty. Even some prominent biographers, who have insisted upon the possibility of an affair with Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, have had to admit that there is no solid evidence. Yes, she had a gambling problem when young. She loved to entertain and had wonderful parties. She liked to dance the night away, but settled down when the children started to come. She had a lively sense of humor. Her clothes, yes, were magnificent; volumes could and have been written about Marie-Antoinette's style. She did gradually introduce simpler fashions to France, however.

It is known that Queen Marie-Antoinette had high moral standards. She did not permit uncouth or off-color remarks in her presence. She exercised a special vigilance over anyone in her care, especially the young ladies of her household. As Madame Campan relates in her Memoirs:
All who were acquainted with the Queen’s private qualities knew that she equally deserved attachment and esteem. Kind and patient to excess in her relations with her household, she indulgently considered all around her, and interested herself in their fortunes and in their pleasures. She had, among her women, young girls from the Maison de St. Cyr, all well born; the Queen forbade them the play when the performances were not suitable; sometimes, when old plays were to be represented, if she found she could not with certainty trust to her memory, she would take the trouble to read them in the morning, to enable her to decide whether the girls should or should not go to see them,–rightly considering herself bound to watch over their morals and conduct.
In pre-revolutionary France it was for the King and the Queen to give an example of almsgiving. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette took this duty seriously and throughout their reign did what they could to help the needy. During the fireworks celebrating the marriage of the young prince and princess in May 1770, there was a stampede in which many people were killed. Louis and Marie-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 quipped. It was the onslaught of revolutionary propaganda that would eventually destroy her reputation.

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 buy fuel and blankets for the destitute, and to bring baskets of food to the sick. Marie-Antoinette started a home for unwed mothers at the royal palace. 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 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.

Here is an excerpt from Charles Duke Yonge's biography of Marie-Antoinette, describing how the queen tried to reform the morals of the court.
Her first desire was to purify the court where licentiousness in either sex had long been the surest road to royal favor. She began by making a regulation, that she would receive no lady who was separated from her husband; and she abolished a senseless and inexplicable rule of etiquette which had hitherto prohibited the queen and princesses from dining or supping in company with their husbands. Such an exclusion from the king's table of those who were its most natural and becoming ornaments had notoriously facilitated and augmented the disorders of the last reign; and it was obvious that its maintenance must at least have a tendency to lead to a repetition of the old irregularities. Fortunately, the king was as little inclined to approve of it as the queen. All his tastes were domestic, and he gladly assented to her proposal to abolish the custom. Throughout the reign, at all ordinary meals, at his suppers when he came in late from hunting, when he had perhaps invited some of his fellow-sportsmen to share his repast, and at State banquets, Marie Antoinette took her seat at his side, not only adding grace and liveliness to the entertainment, but effectually preventing license, and even the suspicion of scandal; and, as she desired that her household as well as her family should set an example of regularity and propriety to the nation, she exercised a careful superintendence over the behavior of those who had hitherto been among the least-considered members of the royal establishment.
Too often in the many articles about Marie-Antoinette that have surfaced in the last year due to the Coppola film, Count Axel von Fersen is referred to as the "queen's lover" or as her "probable lover." It is repeatedly disregarded that there is not a scrap of reliable historical evidence that Count Fersen and Marie-Antoinette were anything but friends, and that he was as much her husband’s friend as he was hers. People are free to speak of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour as “lovers” since they openly lived together for many years. But to speak that way of Marie-Antoinette, who lost her life because she chose to stay at her husband’s side, is the height of irresponsibility.

The Swedish nobleman was in the service of his sovereign King Gustavus III and Count Fersen’s presence at the French court needs to be seen in the light of that capacity. The Swedish King was a devoted friend of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and Gustavus, even more than the queen’s Austrian relatives, worked to aid the King and Queen of France in their time of trouble. Fersen was the go-between in the various secret plans to help Louis XVI regain control of his kingdom and escape from the clutches of his political enemies. The diplomatic intrigues that went on behind the scenes are more interesting than any imaginary romance. (The queen’s relationship with her husband is more interesting as well.) However, books and movies continue to add this sensationalism to the queen’s life, as if anything could be more sensational than the reality. Serious modern and contemporary scholars, however, such as Paul and Pierrette Girault de Coursac, Hilaire Belloc, Nesta Webster, Simone Bertière, Philippe Delorme, Jean Chalon, Desmond Seward, and Simon Schama are unanimous in saying that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Marie-Antoinette violated her marriage vows by dallying with Count Fersen.

As Jean Chalon points out in his biography Chère Marie-Antoinette, Fersen, who had many mistresses, saw the queen as an angel, to whom he offered reverent and chaste homage. According to Chalon, Marie-Antoinette knew about sex only through conjugal love, where she found her “happiness,” her bonheur essentiel, as she wrote to her mother. If there had been any cause for concern about Count Fersen’s presence at the French court as regards the queen’s reputation, the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy-Argenteau would surely have mentioned it in one of the reams of letters to Marie-Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Teresa, to whom he passed on every detail of the young queen’s life. Count Mercy had spies whom he paid well to gather information, but Fersen was not worth mentioning. Neither is he mentioned in a romantic way by other people close to the queen in their memoirs, such as her maid Madame Campan. Madame Campan herself refuted any calumnies in her Memoirs when she said of Marie-Antoinette:
I who for fifteen years saw her attached to her august consort and her children, kind to her servitors, unfortunately too polite, too simple, too much on an equality with the people of the Court, I cannot bear to see her character reviled. I wish I had a hundred mouths, I wish I had wings and could inspire the same confidence in the truth which is so readily accorded to lies.
The accounts of those whose personal knowledge of the queen, or deep study of her life, reveal her virtue, as well as her fidelity and devotion to her husband, are continually ignored. Montjoie in his Histoire de Marie-Antoinette, Vol.i, p.107 (1797) quotes the words of her page, the Comte d'Hézècques:
If one wishes to discover the prime cause of the misfortunes of this princess, we must seek them in the passions of which the court was the hotbed and in the corruption of her century. If I had seen otherwise I would say so with sincerity, but I affirm that after having seen everything, heard everything, and read everything, I am convinced that the morals of Marie Antoinette were as pure as those of her virtuous husband.
But since so often the testimonials of French monarchists are seen as being an attempt to ingratiate themselves to the surviving Bourbons, here is what the Irish politician and author John Wilson Croker (1780-1857) wrote in his Essays on the French Revolution:
We have followed the history of Marie Antoinette with the greatest diligence and scrupulosity. We have lived in those times. We have talked with some of her friends and some of her enemies; we have read, certainly not all, but hundreds of the libels written against her; and we have, in short, examined her life with-- if we may be allowed to say so of ourselves-- something of the accuracy of contemporaries, the diligence of inquirers, and the impartiality of historians, all combined; and we feel it our duty to declare, in as a solemn a manner as literature admits of, our well-matured opinion that every reproach against the morals of the queen was a gross calumny-- that she was, as we have said, one of the purest of human beings. (Croker's Essays, pp 72-73)
It is an assessment with which I fully agree. I hope that in the future responsible scholarship about Queen Marie-Antoinette and her family comes to replace lies which have fed the popular imagination for long. Share

Education and Culture in the Service of the Apostolate

Those who are called to exercise the apostolate in professional life have, more than others, the duty of training themselves and of developing the technical skill required for their profession. A teacher who does not carefully prepare his courses...will never deeply influence his pupils; any apostolic endeavor among them is doomed to failure. Only good professional competence can obtain for the Catholic that authority which, going beyond the limits of his profession, often embraces the moral and religious field, permitting him to exercise an efficacious influence over those who approach him; in this way he can do immense good, and his word is sometimes more readily heeded than that of the priest. It is noteworthy that Pope Pius XII counseled Catholic laymen 'not to be inferior to others in scientific and professional competence, but to do what they could to become better professionals, better jurists, scholars, physicians, engineers' (to the Catholic laureates, March 20, 1941); and this, not in view of financial profit, but in order to acquire for apostolic ends a wider and more authoritative influence.

~from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD. Share

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gypsy (1962)

I remember watching Gypsy on television as a child, when it would come on some Saturday afternoon in the days before cable. Much of the wider implications were lost on me at the time but I remember thinking even then that, in spite of the upbeat and carefree score, Gypsy is essentially a tragic story. Loosely based upon the life of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee, the heroine does not die in the end; she becomes rich and famous, but she spends her life taking off her clothes for crowds of leering men.

Yes, Gypsy Rose Lee tried to be a lady and perform with artistry and taste. However, by making the striptease “lady-like” perhaps she helped bring into the mainstream what was once only found in seedy theaters and cabarets. The message was that a woman can destroy the mystery and sacredness of her femininity, lavishing herself upon a multitude of men, and still be considered “respectable.”

It was all part of the tidal wave which started in the twenties and by the mid-seventies had inundated almost every American home. The whores were no longer confined to the red light district; because of contraception, any woman could be one, using her sexuality solely for recreation. The conversation of a men’s locker room eventually became common to any adult gathering, until there was no longer any such thing as a topic not being suitable for “mixed company.” Victorian prudery was destroyed, but so was the modesty, prudence and restraint necessary for living a life of virtue and dignity. No, it was not all the fault of Gypsy Rose Lee, but she was certainly part of the scenario.

The 1962 film, as I said, always struck me as tragic for it does not so much glamorize the occupation that Gypsy embraced as it does show why she embraced it. For Gypsy, or “Louise Hovic” as she was initially called, was driven by a mother who wanted to live out her thwarted desires for fame on the stage through her children. A mother who, while always insisting that her two daughters came first, fled from the domestic life that would have given her girls the stability that they needed. Traveling throughout the countryside, living in hotels, performing in vaudeville shows, seemed a romantic way to live when I was a young girl, first watching the film. But now I see that Mama Rose put ambition and the desire for fame before what was best for Louise and June, all the while saying that she was doing it for them.

After June, the talented younger sister, runs away, Rose pushes Louise into an unwanted life as a burlesque entertainer, insisting that she be in the theater, no matter what, even if it means being a stripper. Louise, who had spent most of her life as the plain Jane, dressing like a boy, suddenly realizes that to take off her clothes on stage (or at least, pretending to take them off) makes her feel pretty and feminine. And so she takes it up as a career; her mother becomes disgusted. But she had deprived Louise of the tools needed to make a decision to become anything else.

Natalie Wood is perfect as Gypsy/Louise, since Natalie, in spite of her striking beauty, always had the vulnerable aura of an exploited child about her, in my opinion anyway. Rosalind Russell dominates the screen as the obsessed Mama Rose, whose charm, vivacity and stubbornness are as mesmerizing as they are frightening. Frightening in that anyone can see that she is going to make her children famous even if she destroys them and herself in the process. For an ambitious parent can push their child, not out of love for the child and desire for the child’s greater good, but out of pride. It is such truths which truly make Gypsy a powerful “musical fable” on so many levels, as well as a glimpse into the life of the American theater in the days of vaudeville. Tragedy, comedy and farce rolled into one, it has one singing “everything’s coming up roses” even as Gypsy (and American society) prance into a future of glamorous (and not so glamorous) degradation. Share

The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales

Today we remember so many valiant souls. More detailed accounts of them are here. Share

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Jonathan Yardley reviews a new biography by Stacy Cordery of the irrepressible Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a queen of high society. For decades she influenced Washington politics from behind the scenes.
Stacy Cordery writes: "Alice . . . was sometimes accused of inconsistency, yet much was constant throughout her life: books; her intellectual curiosity; the need to be at the center; her conviction that the United States should not become entangled in the business of foreign countries; her dismissal of whiners, complainers, and those who indulged in regrets; her belief that what a later generation would call self-fulfillment, and what she called 'an appetite for being entertained,' was just as viable a path as 'do-gooderism'; her support for conservative national fiscal policy; her loyalty to her friends; her shyness; her loathing of drunkenness; her fear of losing control; her commitment to independence."

The Humanitarian with the Guillotine

A splendid excerpt from the book by Isabel Paterson, via Wilson Revolution Unplugged. To quote:
Why did the humanitarian philosophy of 18th-century Europe usher in the Reign of Terror? It did not happen by chance; it followed from the original premise, objective, and means proposed. The objective is to do good to others as a primary justification of existence; the means is the power of the collective; and the premise is that "good" is collective.

The religious orders maintained hospitals, reared orphans, distributed food. Part of such alms was given unconditionally, that there might be no compulsion under the cloak of charity. It is not decent to make a man strip his soul in return for bread. This is the real difference when charity is enjoined in the name of God, and not on humanitarian or philanthropic principles.

Katrina by Fire

Blog by the Sea reports on the terrible fires in California. Please pray. Share

Apocalypse Now?

Pat Buchanan on global warming.
This, it seems to me, is what the global-warming scare and scam are all about—frightening Americans into transferring sovereignty, power and wealth to a global political elite that claims it alone understands the crisis and it alone can save us from impending disaster.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mrs. Fitzherbert

She was the morganatic wife of George IV, whom he privately married in 1785 when he was still only the Prince of Wales. George had many ladies in his life, but his great love was undoubtedly Maria Fitzherbert, a devout Catholic widow who would not live with him outside of wedlock. They were together for many years. The marriage was considered illegal by the British government; an heir to the throne could not marry a Roman Catholic or without the King's permission. George eventually had to make a political marriage with a German princess, against his will. It was a legal marriage in England but was considered invalid by Rome; Maria was told by the Pope that she was the prince's true wife. However, because of his philandering, she had to seek a separation from him in 1811. He died in 1830 with Maria's miniature portrait around his neck.

Speaking of British monarchs and Catholics, Roman Miscellany has a great post about the last years of James II. Share

The World on Fire

The Washington Post
has a review of a new book by Jay Winik about the Age of Revolution called The Great Upheaval. The review is not totally favorable, but the book still sounds interesting (to me, anyway.) To quote:
On November 9, 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the legislative chambers in the Palais Royal in Paris and ended years of republican government in France by instituting what amounted to a military dictatorship. When someone shouted in protest, "And the constitution?" the general retorted, "You yourselves have destroyed it."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Carlton House

In the summer of 1811, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) hosted a stunning reception for the exiled Princess Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, the daughter of murdered Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, as described in the novel Madame Royale. The party took place at the Prince's opulent London residence, Carlton House. There the Duchess of Angouleme had the dramatic encounter with her cousin Louis-Philippe. The banquet was held in the famous gothic conservatory, shown below. Carlton House was demolished in 1827 by the aging George IV.


The French Revolution and the Church

My kind of article. Some of the main characters from my novels are mentioned here, including Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Talleyrand. The Church dies but rises again. To quote:
At one point Pope Pius VI warned King Louis XVI that he was leading France into heresy and error by approving the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. This warning from the Pope was the beginning of this truly believing and pious French King's total alienation from the Revolution; all along he had tended to fight harder against the revolutionary measures imposed on the Church than against those curbing his own royal power. In the end, of course, the King's opposition to the Revolution brought him death on the guillotine; King Louis XVI truly was a martyr for his Catholic faith.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Book Review: Waking Rose: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman. Chesterton Press, 2007

The definition of a fairy-story -- what it is, or what it should be -- does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible.

~J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories." Tree and Leaf.

Fairy tales reflect patterns of human thought and experience, reborn anew for each generation. I have always loved them. The origins of the well-known fairy tales are lost in antiquity. Gradually the myths of Greece and Rome combined with the medieval folk-tales and romances to blossoming into classic stories, which in the Renaissance began to be written down.

In the seventeenth century French aristocrats such as Madame d'Aulnoy began to designate them as contes de fée, "fairy-tales." They were not stories for small children but for teenagers and adults. Many of the most beloved stories would be almost unrecognizable to us today if we heard earlier versions of them, for they were filled with gruesomeness, murder, cannibalism. One can just see peasants swapping such stories around the hearth, gleefully frightening each other on long, cold winter evenings.

Later, after the Enlightenment and French Revolution, as the Romantic Age dawned, the stories were collected and rewritten by the Brothers Grimm. The original Grimm renditions were a bit morbid; they were eventually translated and reworked by the Victorians into the children's stories with which most of us are familiar. Disney recreated a few of the most famous stories in animated films, keeping to the basic plot lines, more or less.

Such tales involved horror, but also beauty and splendor. They spoke of tragedy and loss, but also of redemption and triumph. There was overwhelming evil, but it was countered by persevering heroism, and always, true love conquered all. Fairy tales have been vehicles by which people of all ages have faced their fears and anxieties. As Dr. Jonathan Young wrote in Inside Journal magazine (Fall 1997):
The ancient tales have their own lives, each with unique, eccentric qualities. Part of the richness is that the same story will have different lessons for each person who listens. Stories can be like the Holy Grail, which, when passed from person to person, let them drink what they alone desired. Also, when we come back to the same story after a time, it will tell us new things. Stories can speak to us in several ways at once. The practical aspects of our personalities appreciate the assistance they provide in prudent decision-making. Our playful child-like energies find the stories to be gr eat fun. The quiet, spiritual side is grateful to have some time invested in reflection.
The very talented Regina Doman, in her "fairy-tale novels," has taken some of the popular stories and re-imagined them for our time. I would hesitate to classify them as books for teenagers alone, since I at forty-five years old could have easily read Waking Rose at one sitting, and would have, had not other duties called. Indeed, my only problem with the book is that I could not turn the pages quickly enough or read as fast as the suspense compelled me to do.

I am truly impressed with Regina's ability to tackle difficult issues and ugly situations in a tasteful manner. She can create a poignant, heartrending scene without doing violence to people's sensibilities, as too many contemporary writers do. Especially in a book for teenagers, this is a good thing, since they will be inspired, intrigued, but not horrified out of their minds. And yet she addresses contemporary issues and situations which our youth today must face, from the point of view of a contemporary man and woman. In a way, Regina has returned the story of "Sleeping Beauty" to its original form. Waking Rose is not a tale for little children to be read at bed time, but a story for young adults about other young adults who conquer insurmountable odds with faith and courage.

The hero in Waking Rose is a deeply wounded young man who must learn to let go of his past and "waken" to love. Like many modern people, he flees from commitment, having experienced too much suffering to want to risk the self-donation that love demands. It is interesting that he is nicknamed "Fish" since the fish is a symbol for Christ. The young man must ultimately sacrifice everything for his beloved, enduring great pain to save her. The novel shows young men being chivalrous for the sake of young ladies, who are, indeed, ladies. Very refreshing to read!

Waking Rose induces laughter as well as tears. At one point "Fish," who is a convert, becomes exasperated with all of his Catholic friends, and says: "I feel as though I am surrounded by crazy people. Prophetic nuns, wild activists, recovering psychopaths, pseudo-anarchists, and a Catholic boys' club with a medieval obsession. And the problem is, these are all the people who are supposed to be on the side of God." (Waking Rose, p.281) I think anyone who has been Catholic longer than five minutes has sometimes felt exactly the same way. In Regina's skillfully woven tale, the old conte de fée of the "Sleepng Beauty" merges into the horrors and struggles of our century, with all its potential for heroism and triumph. Highly recommended, I would especially suggest Waking Rose as a wonderful Christmas gift for teenagers and young adults.

(*Waking Rose was sent to me as a gift by the author Regina Doman. Thank you, Regina!)


Switzerland, Farewell!

The land of "Heidi" is not what it used to be. Mr Seiyo sent me an essay of his, recently published in the Brussells Journal. To quote:
As Swiss post-war prosperity grew, so has it demand for working hands, and its disincentives to native labor due to ever-growing entitlements. The great influx of foreign labor started in the 60s, and it worked spectacularly well. Italian waiters, and Spanish or Portuguese seasonal workers, and Serb engineers and secretaries did their jobs well, paid their taxes, respected law and order, meshed reasonably well in the culture, and either sprouted roots and were allowed to naturalize, or returned to their home countries, there to enjoy their pot of Swiss earnings.

But the West's toxins were seeping in. Since the 1970s, feminism, leftism, neurotic self-loathing, boredom with the staid Swiss lifestyle, material plenty with a deep safety net, have undermined traditional Swiss virtues such as prudence, circumspection, respect for tradition, patriotism, self-reliance, devolution of power, and a fanatical devotion to quality work.

Switzerland succumbed to statism, with the liberal-left activities of the federal government undermining the proud conservatism of many of the cantons that make up the Swiss Confederation. The Swiss public sector has grown proportionately larger than in any other developed country, and the country of erstwhile hard work and thrift is now classified as an "extreme welfare state" (2).



Cottage Living Magazine has some decorating ideas. Share

11,000 Virgins

Today is the feast of St Ursula and Companions. St. Ursula has always intrigued me, and was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages, although she was since been banished from the Roman calendar. There were most likely only 11 virgins, not 11,000, which is part of the problem. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful story. Share

Cardinal Merry del Val

Of Irish, Scottish, and Spanish descent (oh, what an interesting combination) Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val was a dynamic figure at the Vatican in the early 20th century. Here is a biographical account. He also wrote the famous Litany of Humility.

O Jesus meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blessed Charles of Austria

Tomorrow is his feast. Here is a biographical account, and another here.

Reduced to poverty, he lived with his family in a very humid house. He then fell fatally ill and accepted this as a sacrifice for the peace and unity of his peoples.

Charles endured his suffering without complaining. He forgave all those who conspired against him and died April 1st 1922 with his eyes turned toward the Holy Sacrament. On his deathbed he repeated the motto of his life: “I strive always in all things to understand as clearly as possible and follow the will of God, and this in the most perfect way”.



Women can't live without them. (Via Lew Rockwell) To quote:

The very idea of my needing a handbag is puzzling. How is it that men, of whom I am the equal in all other respects, seem to be well served by their back pockets or (if they’re European) sleek little manpurses? Why can’t I manage as well? All I have to carry is lipstick, eyeliner, pressed powder, reading glasses, sunglasses, small perfume spray, sunscreen, Kleenex, small brush, tic tacs, chocolate bar, small sewing kit, liquid soap, wash-n-drys, address book, key chain (with nine keys, three of which I have no idea what they open), and a wallet (containing charge cards, check book, pictures of children, membership cards, and cards that are stamped for one cup of coffee at a shop I’ll never visit again). When my children were small, I also carried crayons and coloring books, fruit snacks, and a change of underpants.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Human Qualities and Apostolic Charity

It is not sufficient to love souls in the secret of our heart, working and sacrificing ourselves for them; this love must also be manifested exteriorly by an agreeable and pleasant manner, in such a way that those who approach us may feel themselves loved, and consequently encouraged to confidence and to trust. A rude, brusque or impatient manner might even cause some to go away offended, and perhaps, even scandalized. The apostle may well have a heart of gold, rich in charity and zeal, but if he maintains a rough and sharp exterior, he closes access to souls, and considerably diminishes the good he could realize. The saints, while being very supernatural, never neglected these human qualities of charity. St. Francis de Sales liked to say that, as more flies are attracted with a drop of honey than with a barrel of vinegar, so more hearts are conquered by a little sweetness than by rough manners. And St. Teresa of Jesus, who wished her daughters to be united by the bond of pure supernatural charity, did not believe it superfluous to make recommendations of this kind: "The holier you are, the more sociable you should be with your sisters...." (The Way of Perfection) This is very useful advice for anyone who wishes to win souls for God.

~from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD. Share

The Canticle Review

The following review of Trianon and Madame Royale by Genevieve Kineke originally appeared in the May/June 2007 edition of Canticle magazine. Genevieve perceived the conflicts, issues and mysteries which lie beneath the action and historical incidents of my novels. She is the author of The Authentic Catholic Woman, which was reviewed on this blog.

Here is what Genevieve has to say about Trianon and Madame Royale:

But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting down in the markets who, calling to other children, say, “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; We sang a dirge and you did not beat yourselves” (Matthew 11: 16-24).

This Scripture came to mind as I waded through the tragic story of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, and her only surviving child, Marie-Thérèse, known as Madame Royale. What fragments we know of the former are brief and almost wholly negative, so we must be grateful to Elena Maria Vidal, who has provided two beautiful books, exhaustively researched and yet completely accessible for those who wish to understand the events from a very personal perspective.

So many fundamental questions are raised by the events surrounding these heroic women. What is the justification for a hereditary monarchy? What is the relationship between the Church and secular authority? What are the responsibilities of the rich in the face of poverty? What is the relationship between patriotism and Christian duty? Can authentic charity and humility adequately counteract lies and innuendo? How does hypocrisy undermine the ability to evangelize? What is the Christian response to depravity and evil – and how does one protect children from it? Why do people take glee in the suffering of others – even when that suffering will not change their own status?

And yet the most important question is simply this: how does a woman embrace authentic femininity and motherhood in the most trying of circumstances?

Marie-Antoinette, an Austrian princess was wed to the Dauphin of France in 1770, and each, being conscientious and well-formed Catholics, strived to serve the other and France according to the will of God. Forces were already combining against them, stirring the masses to despise a foreign influence on the throne, to question the monarchy as an institution, to envy the nobility for their money and influence, and to rebel against the Church as a “repressive” structure. These forces represented various and competing interests – the Masons who despised the Church, the poor who wanted food and jobs, and various rival factions within the nobility who simply wanted more power.

The result was the unleashing of years of tumultuous fury – a fury which ultimately swallowed many of its own instigators, and which has not subsided to the present. With such enemies conspiring against the institutions of Church and crown, there was nothing the royal family could have done to change events. Marie-Antoinette was exasperated over accusations of extravagance for her silk gowns, yet likewise was attacked for putting the silk manufacturers at risk if she wore muslin. When she attempted to live a life of dignified transparency, she was accused of promoting opulence, yet when she retired to a preferred life of simplicity and shelter, she was suspected of subversive decadence – for why else would she avoid the public eye?

Her trials underscore one basic tenet in life – that one cannot choose a course of action to please others, rather all decisions must be made solely to please God. The changing winds of public opinion and unpredictable responses of others are hardly stable indicators of anything. Conversely, we are thus reminded not to impugn the motives of others, for we cannot know them, nor can we truly understand their trials and challenges. We must presume that all operate in good faith, according to the lights available to them – and we are called to respond consistently with love. God alone will judge in the end.

The overarching backdrop of this heartrending story is that none of us can choose the circumstances into which we are born, and yet those unique circumstances are the very proving ground of virtue, our own gymnasium of charity. All married women are called to support their husbands – whether princes or private citizens, to form their children to be saints according to their state in life, and to create sanctuaries of holiness amidst the this “vale of tears.” Marie-Antoinette and Marie-Thérèse each did that in the most trying of settings. They clung to the sacraments, prayed diligently for the cup of suffering to pass, and yet drank it dry rather than deny God or family. While the Church in France was reviled and bled, they stood firm as living icons of the martyred bride.

The answer to the most important question stated above is simply: only with God’s grace. Both women were faithful to that in desperate and tragic circumstances. Their lamps shone brightly in the contemporary gloom, consoling their own husbands who endured scorn and political intrigue, and well as Jesus, the Bridegroom, Who was defiled on every altar. Their success was ultimately in fidelity – despite the visible outcome, and stands as a stark lesson to all of us. Since they didn’t stoop to dance to capricious pipes out of season, they will, no doubt, rejoice to celestial hymns of praise at the nuptial feast. That we could all be so blessed.