Monday, June 30, 2008

Fabiola

Fabiola, Cardinal Wiseman's fine historical novel of the early Christian martyrs, paints a vivid portrait of the life of the early Church in Rome. A work of fiction, it should not be seen as a definitive account of the life of any particular martyr, although actual martyrs are characters in the story. It does capture the spirit of the age of the great Roman persecutions, of the dread and glory of Christian life in those times. According to New Advent:
It was during [a] visit to Rome that Wiseman projected, and commenced to execute, the writing of by far the most popular book that came from his versatile pen -- the beautiful romance of "Fabiola", which was meant to be the first of a series of tales illustrative of different periods of the Church's life. The book appeared at the end of 1854, and its success was immediate and phenomenal. Translations of it were published in almost every European language, and the most eminent scholars of the day were unanimous in its praise. All this greatly consoled the cardinal when troubled and harassed by many vexations, and a spirit of new cheerfulness and courage breathes from a sermon preached by him in May, 1855, dwelling in thankfulness and hope on the revival of Catholicism in England.
The plot involves several characters, but the protagonist is Fabiola:
The heroine of the book is Fabiola, a young beauty from a noble Roman family. She is spoiled by her father Fabius, who cannot deny her anything. Fabiola seems to have everything, including a superior education in the philosophers, yet under the surface, she is not content with her life. One day, in a fit of rage, she attacks and wounds her slave girl Syra, who is a secret Christian. The proud, spoiled Roman girl is humbled by Syra's humility, maturity and devotion to her in this situation, and a slow transformation begins, which finally culminates in her conversion to Christianity, brought on by Syra and of her own cousin Agnes, whom she adores and dotes on.
The novel includes accurate descriptions of the catacombs, of the ordeals of the arena, of Roman customs, both pagan and Christian, all of which make it a superb educational resource, as well as a thrilling, inspiring and heartbreaking story. Share

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul



For the last few days I have been thinking on and off of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, whose martyrdom is celebrated today in the universal church, and of how two men with such different personalities would come to share a similar fate. St. Peter was a robust and practical fisherman from a small town. St. Paul was more cosmopolitan, a scholar, a pharisee, and a Roman citizen. They were both killed in a public and grisly manner far, far from their homeland. One was crucified, the other was beheaded.

How easy it would have been to have retired to some safe corner somewhere where they would not have bothered anyone! To just give up preaching, and writing all those letters, and generally harassing the pagans and correcting lax Christians...surely they had already done and suffered enough! Didn't they have a right to live their own life, and find some peace and quiet? After all, they had given up all for God, and now they were old...why couldn't they obscurely die in bed?

Ask St Peter, as he was fleeing from Rome, where Nero was burning Christians at his garden parties, and suddenly he ran into Our Lord, Who was walking along the Appian Way in the opposite direction.

Quo vadis, Domine? "Where are you going, Lord?" asked St Peter.

"To Rome, to be crucified again," Jesus replied. And St. Peter knew what he had to do...he had to go back. He was arrested and crucified, upside down, at his own request, for he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Master. He was always deeply humbled by the memory of his past denial.

Here are some words from the ancient and beautiful hymn for this feast, "What fairer light?"
Rejoice, O Rome, this day; thy walls they once did sign
With princely blood, who now their glory share with thee.
What city's vesture glows with crimson deep as thine?
What beauty else has earth that may compare with thee?
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St. Thomas Garnet

Fr. Nicholas has a moving post on the English priest and martyr. To quote:
Noli fugere, Don’t run away! We often think of the English Martyrs – in fact, of most saints – as flawless heroes who never wavered in their faith and in their actions. They were heroes most certainly but a large part of their heroism was the way that grace triumphed despite our frail human nature. The temptation to run away, to escape the terrible death of hanging, drawing and quartering would have been a natural human reaction for Garnet and the other martyrs. So too would be the temptation to reach a compromise or accept the offers that were normally made promising clemency and even preferment in return for conformity in matters of faith. The martyrs probably lay awake in their prisons at night struggling with these temptations and fears. But the English Martyrs realised that God’s truth was more important than their personal well-being and safety. They lived and died according to the words of our Gospel: ‘do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.’ The martyrs were prepared to go through great bodily suffering if it meant the preservation of the spirit.
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Almsgiving of Marie-Antoinette



Madame de la Tour du Pin, a lady-in-waiting of Marie-Antoinette, recorded in her spirited Memoirs the daily activities at Versailles, including the rumors and the gossip. Her pen does not spare Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, which is why I find the following account to be of interest. Every Sunday, Marie-Antoinette would personally take up a collection for the poor, which the courtiers resented since they preferred to have the money on hand for gambling. The queen supported several impoverished families from her own purse. As Madame de la Tour du Pin describes:
We had to be there before seven, for the Queen entered before the chiming of the clock. Beside her door would be one of the two Curés of Versailles. He would hand her a purse and she would go around to everyone, taking up a collection and saying: "For the poor, if you please." Each lady had her 'écu' of six francs ready in her hand and the men had their 'louis.' The Curé would follow the Queen as she collected this small tax for her poor people, a levy which often totaled as much as much as one hundred 'louis' and never less than fifty. I often heard some of the younger people, including the most spendthrift, complaining inordinately of this almsgiving being forced upon them, yet they would not have thought twice of hazarding a sum one hundred times as large in a game of chance, a sum much larger than that levied by the Queen.
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Summer Reading

InsideCatholic has a list of books great for summer reading. I am pleased to say that Trianon is among those recommended, thanks to Mary Jo Anderson, who writes:
Trianon: A Novel of Royal France, written by Elena Maria Vidal, sweeps one into the streets of Revolutionary France. This sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI has been meticulously researched, yet its history is offered as lightly as a one of Proust's Madeleines. Marie and Louis lean on their faith, grow in courage, and provide images of love and hope in a time of unremitting horror. This historical novel is suitable for older teens, too.
It is highly probable that Mary Jo's Scottish ancestors and mine fought beside Robert Bruce at Bannockburn. She is certainly in the front lines of the culture war today. Her book would also make great summer reading. Especially if one plans to conjure up any lively debates with one's left-wing relatives, while visiting on the porch, drinking margaritas, then have the book on hand (or better yet, commit it to memory!) Seriously, this is a summer before a general election. Now's the day and now's the hour.

There are some novels and biographies which I am looking forward to dipping into this summer for the first time, including Ron Hansen's Exiles, Regina Doman's The Midnight Dancers, C. W. Gortner's The Last Queen, and Alison Weir's The Children of Henry VIII.

Currently I am plowing through The Fate of the Romanovs by Greg King and Penny Wilson. Anyone interested in the controversial end of the last Tsar and his family should read it. Even if one does not agree with all the authors' views and conclusions, their research is highly compelling and sheds light on the humanity of the most enigmatic and tragic of royals. The book should convince once and for all that snippets in the mainstream press are no place for gaining reliable information about the circumstances of the infamous murder. Many facts have been romanticized and glossed over throughout the years so that few media representations about the case are reliable.

If anyone has other books to recommend that would be good for reading on vacation, let me know. Share

Friday, June 27, 2008

Romeo and Juliet (1968)


Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.

~Prologue of Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet

As a child we had an eight-track tape of the soundtrack of Franco Zefirelli's 1968 film Romeo and Juliet. It included most of the dialog from the movie, which is how my siblings and I came to be familiar with Shakespeare's most famous tragedy. At one point we saw the film, either on television or in the theater, and I recall it making Renaissance Italy come alive for me, with all the heat and dust and violence. Watching Zeffirelli's production as an adult, I am again awed by the perfection of every scene, the authenticity of the sets and costumes- it was filmed on location in Italy- and the skill of the actors who communicate with subtlety and power every nuance of emotion. It is impossible to say which scene is most beautiful; I suppose it is the banquet scene, with the dancing, the swirling gowns, the laughter, the torchlight, and the first fateful glance.
What is a youth?
Impetuous fire.
What is a maid?
Ice and desire.

A rose will bloom,
it then will fade
So does a youth.
So does the fairest maid.
The theme song forms the background to the meeting of the lovers, whose passion seems to flare up out of their very innocence, and made all the more intense when the two discover that their parents are enemies. How glorious when Romeo runs in ecstasy through the morning light to Friar Lawrence's cell and herb garden. We are reminded how religion was such an integral part of life back then. (Herbs were a big part of life, too.) And then the wedding scene is among the most haunting of all film weddings. The pair kneel surrounded by a soft light, in an ancient church with a mosaic floor. (They did not have pews and kneelers, people just knelt on the floor.)

The death scene I could see a thousand times and still cry. It is amazing how Shakespeare's lesson on the destructive force of hatred and vengeance have meaning, not only after the decades of my life, but after the many centuries since it was written. The impact of evil, any evil, clung to by parents will effect their children, no matter how much they try to protect them. Share

An Anglican Thomist

Here is an article by Fr. George Rutler. Share

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Marie-Amélie of Naples



In 1809, the exiled Louis-Philippe married the Neapolitan princess, Marie-Amélie, a niece of Marie-Antoinette. Born at Caserta, Marie-Amélie was twenty-seven years old when she wed. Of her many sisters she was considered the plainest, and it was expected that she would become a devout old maid. It was totally unexpected that Louis-Philippe, the exiled, radical Duc d'Orléans, the son of a revolutionary, would fall in love with the pious, reserved and dignified Marie-Amélie. They were a completely devoted couple all of their lives; he never cheated on her,as far as anyone can know. They had ten children, and when the monarchy was restored in 1814, Louis-Philippe brought his growing family back to France, where his vast estates had been restored to him by Louis XVIII. However, Louis-Philippe's liberal principles were a barrier between him and the older branch of the Bourbon family. It was a shame, since Marie-Amélie and Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte had much in common and would have been great friends had politics not divided them so, as is told in the novel Madame Royale.

When Charles X, who had done nothing but shower favors upon Louis-Philippe, was overthrown in 1830, Louis-Philippe became the Citizen-King. Marie-Amélie was styled "Queen of the French." Unlike her husband, she was very conservative and the Revolution of 1830 was a horror to her. Nevertheless, she made the best of it, and as queen tried to support the Church as much as she could, patronizing religious and charitable institutes. Most of all, Marie-Amélie was a loving mother and grandmother, thoroughly taken up with her family. After her husband was overthrown and died in 1850, Marie-Amélie lived on in England, where she passed away in 1866.

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Summer Fête for Marie-Antoinette

Here is a fascinating post on the Paris exhibit by designer Claudia Strasser. Share

The Eighth Commandment and Pius XII

John Zmirak has some commentary on lying in general and on Pius XII in particular.

You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.”

This commandment seems innocuous enough. On its face, it only prevents us from telling malicious falsehoods damaging to others. Okay, we’re not really thrilled about that—especially if we’re active in politics—but we can understand it, and grudgingly agree. But like most other elements in Divine Revelation, it has grown over time and extended its reach into all sorts of analogous situations, as rabbis, then bishops and popes, strove to explore all its implications for human life. It’s as if each commandment were a pebble dropped into a pond, and our job were to trace all the ripples. But that metaphor doesn’t quite work, because it makes things too easy. Ripples from a pebble flow in clear, predictable waves, and a freshman physics student should be able to account for them. The pieces of Revelation that have fallen on us from space are not inert but active, and the pool in which they plop—human life—is murky and full of dark, swimmy things. And some of them have claws. So perhaps a better image is a giant Alka-Seltzer, dropped in a swamp: Plop-plop, fizz-fizz, Oh what a morass it is!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Women (1939)



"Remember, it is being together at the end that matters."
~ "Mrs. Moorehead" in Clare Boothe Luce's The Women

The Women,
one of the many spectacular films of 1939, explores love, marriage and divorce from the strictly female point of view. Not a single male character is shown in the film, nor in the play by Clare Boothe Luce, upon which the movie was based, although the conversation constantly swirls around the husbands and boyfriends of the protagonists. While the women involved are wealthy socialites, many of their follies, sins and heartbreaks are those which pervade the lives of the female sex in every time and place. The ease of securing a divorce, however, is an issue confronting modern people; Mrs. Luce dissects with slow, brilliant cruelty the pain and devastation that goes with breaking up a family. No matter how cordial and legally effortless the parting of ways can be, it is almost impossible to escape upheaval, scandal, and tears.

The Women revolves around the lovely Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), who discovers that her previously devoted husband Stephen is having an affair with a shop girl. The gossip of her friends contributes in no small way to the destruction of the situation. The pivotal moment is when Mary refuses to listen to the wise words of her mother, Mrs. Moorehead (Lucile Watson) who begs her to ignore the infidelity and stop confiding in her friends. "They will see that you lose both your husband and your home." She also implores Mary to consider her young daughter, who must come first no matter what.

Indeed, the little girl is torn to pieces when Mary tells her that the divorce is imminent. One of the saddest scenes shows the child sobbing in private, "Oh, Mother, oh, Daddy!" knowing that the home she has known is gone forever. It is also disturbing how the daughter must later have to deal with her father's cheap new wife. Watching The Women always makes me annoyed at both Mary and Stephen for allowing their child to be exposed to such circumstances. But Mary wants to get back at her husband for hurting her more than she wants anything else. She seeks divorce on almost an impulse as pain dominates her reason. She comes to bitterly regret it.

In spite of the heaviness of the topic, The Women is fraught with humor; the dialog is one of the wittiest ever to grace the screen. And I do not think that there is single weak performance. Norma Shearer is sweetly sympathetic even when it would be nice to slap her. Joan Crawford is at her slutty best as "Crystal," the callous home wrecker. Rosalind Russell is hilarious as the gossiping Cousin Sylvia, who basically rejoices over Mary's misfortune. Paulette Goddard is the goodhearted wench who tells Mary what's what. A remake is debuting this year; it seems a little coarser and less elegant than the original, but then, of course, it is a reflection of our time.
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On Conversing With the Devil

Some advice from Fr. Hardon (via Abbey-Roads):
One strong recommendation, never engage the devil in conversation. I mean never. If you must tell the devil to depart; if you want the devil to go, you know where, tell him, but never engage him in what could even be interpreted as a friendly conversation. I have had enough experience of people foolish enough to engage in conversation with the devil who have suffered disastrous consequences as a result.
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Book Circle

Margaret Cabaniss of InsideCatholic sent me a little message yesterday about the book discussion that will be taking place the week of July 14 through 18. The topic of conversation will be Ron Hansen's recent novel Exiles. All are welcome to participate in the online forum. Share

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bannockburn



On June 24, 1314, the Scots defeated the English army by a resounding victory on the field of Bannock Burn. Vastly outnumbered and facing heavy cavalry, the Scots were led by King Robert Bruce, whose tactical skill won the day. In spite of some military successes on June 23, "The Bruce" knew that victory on St. John's Day was not a foregone conclusion. As it has been recorded:
Robert, on the other hand, was under no illusions at to what he would face the following day. Despite the high spirits flowing from the day's victories, the English army was still intact and greatly outnumbered him. His victories that day would allow him to withdraw with honor which is what he planned to do until an English knight, Sir Alexander de Seton, made his way to the Scottish camp. Brought before Robert, he told of the weak and dispirited condition of their army and pledged on his own life that if Robert was to fight the following day, he would win. Robert, therefore, has two choices if he chose to fight. He could remain with his back to the wood in a defensive position and risk being outflanked or to attack before the English could properly deploy, forcing them to fight on unfavorable ground - he chose the latter.

The Scot army rose at dawn on the 24th and by 3:45am it was light enough to see clearly. As they celebrated mass, those who had shown great courage were knighted, including Randolph and Douglas. Full of confidence from the previous day, they formed their divisions and received the order to advance.

Advancing in echelon, Douglas to the left, Randolph at the centre and Edward Bruce to the right, they poured from the wood with a cry. Robert remained with the cavalry and his own division to the flank of Edward Bruce out of sight of the English.

The English, with their split force, were temporarily stunned at the Scottish advance believing they would fight defensively and allowed them to within 100 yards before the order for them to form was given. Suddenly, the Scots halted and dropped to their knees in prayer. Seeing this, Edward sneered, "They kneel to ask for mercy." Sir Ingram de Umfraille, a Scot in English employ replied, "You say sooth now, they ask for mercy, but not of you. Those men will win or die." The king simply replied, "Be it so" and ordered the English advance.
Robert Bruce encouraged his men by a famous speech which the poet Robert Burns later immortalized in verse.
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!

Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power
Chains and slaverie!


Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn, and flee.
To the Scots, who had faced many betrayals by their own, there was nothing lower than a false friend. To be a liar and a traitor was to be a coward; to be a coward was to be a slave. But on June 24, 1314, courage and loyalty prevailed over tyranny. Share

Fashions Before the Revolution

Here are some descriptions of everyday fashions worn by French ladies in the final years before the Revolution. Simplicity and naturalness, the wearing of linen dresses and straw hats, were preferred. Share

Monday, June 23, 2008

St. John's Eve



It is St. John's Eve. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Baptist. It was a tradition in the days of Christendom to have a bonfire in honor of the saint who was a "burning and shining light." (John 5:35) In some places, they still do; my father always had a bonfire in honor of the Birthday of the Baptist. In the Middle Ages, there were St. John carols (carols were not just for Christmas), dancing, and everyone would burn rubbish and old bones as a sign of the end of the old covenant. Houses would be decorated with St. John's Wort, and young girls would sleep with wildflowers under their pillows in the hope that they would dream of their future spouse. Fish Eaters, which has the details about the festivity, also discusses how the Vespers hymn for St. John's Day is the origin for "Do, Re, Mi:"
Another interesting thing about the Feast of St. John: the Breviary's hymn for this day, Ut queant laxis -- the hymn sung or recited during the blessing of the bonfire -- is the source of our names of musical notes -- Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. The hymn, attributed to Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon, ca. A.D. 720-799), was noted by a monk to rise one note in the diatonic C-Scale with each verse. The syllables sung at each rise in pitch give us the names of our notes (the "Ut" was later changed to "Do" for easier pronunciation):
Ut queant laxis
Re
sonare fibris
Mi
ra gestorum
Fa
muli tuorum,
So
lve polluti
La
bii reatum,
Sanc
Te Ioannes.
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Praying for Our Enemies

Fr. Mark has a beautiful post, worth pondering. We are not merely recommended to forgive our enemies, we are commanded to do so. Father says:
There is a mysterious power in praying for those who have hurt us, in interceding wholeheartedly

— for those who have spoken ill of us,
— for those who have damaged our reputations,
— for those who have incited others to think less of us,
— for those who have hurt us emotionally, physically, or spiritually,
— for those who have been abusive toward us,
— for those who have cursed us,
— for those have broken our hearts, betrayed us, or rejected us.

Our Lord commands us to pray for them, not only for their sakes, but also for our own. Our own spiritual liberation, our own inner healing from resentment, hatred, and lingering bitterness is contingent upon our persevering obedience to the commandments of Christ in the Gospel.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)


“Where’ve you come from?” she asks as he sneaks into her private garden.
“From the other side of time to find you.”
“How long have you been searching?”
“Since time began.”
“Now that you’ve found me, how long will you stay?”
“Till the end of time.”

~ Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad
The Movie of the Summer for our family will undoubtedly be The Thief of Bagdad. Pure romance and pure fairy-tale, it weaves together the classic themes of true love, heroism, and friendship against the back drop of a mythical Near East. It is easy to be swept into the song of the young Thief, who wants nothing more from life than to go to sea.
I want to be a sailor, sailing out to sea
No plough-boy, tinker, tailor's
Any fun to be.
Aunts and cousins, by the baker's dozen
Drive a man to sea or highway robbery
I want to be a bandit, can't you understand it?
Sailing to sea is life for me
Is life for me
.
The cities of Bagdad and Basra figure prominently in the story; it is interesting to see names which we now hear so often used in a context other than the tragic present. Loosely based upon the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights of Queen Scheherazade, The Thief of Bagdad is a great film for children, full of unpredictable whimsy, adventure and magic. According to a recent review in The New Yorker:
The sixteen-year-old Sabu plays the title character, the right-hand urchin of a prince (John Justin), who is forced from his throne and blinded by a Wagnerian villain (the hypnotic Conrad Veidt) who also threatens to wed the prince’s true love (June Duprez). The plot moves in uneven leaps and bounds, but the royal romance is symmetrical; the prince must gain a bride and regain his kingdom at the same time, an aspect of the movie that probably appealed to nineteen-forties lads who dreamed of winning both the Second World War and a woman. (As an inspired extra, the release includes, on a second disk, Korda’s salute to the R.A.F., “The Lion Has Wings,” from 1940.)

But it’s Sabu, not Justin, who acts out the splashiest derring-do, mastering a genie (Rex Ingram) and wresting the All-Seeing Eye from the Goddess of Light. Caught in the Goddess’s palace between a fearsome spider and a gelatinous marine monster, he arouses children’s worst fears of the sky above and the sea below, only to douse those fears with a vengeance. But the film isn’t bloodthirsty, and its more idyllic conceits are as striking as the action. This is one movie fantasy that indulges our childish love of play while warning us against getting lost in playland.
The Thief of Bagdad is an entertaining film, but it is entertainment which inspires both the heart and the imagination, fulfilling the underlying purpose of all good story-telling.
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St.Thomas More



The following excerpts are from St. Thomas More's A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (Scepter Press, 2001):
If we reflect on these things and remember them well, we shall not murmur or complain in time of tribulation. Instead, we shall first take our pain patiently and see it as something of worth. Then we shall grow in goodness and see ourselves as quite worthy of tribulation. And then we shall realize that God has sent it for our own good, and so be moved to thank God for it....

Let us, then, never hope for our life to be long. We should keep it while we can, because God has so commanded, but if God so arranges that in his good graces we may go, let us be glad of it, and long to go to him. And then shall the hope of heaven comfort our heavy hearts, and out of our transitory tribulation shall we go to everlasting glory....
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A New Dual Biography

Here is a Washington Post review of a new biography about Germaine de Staël and her friendship with Benjamin Constant. To quote:
Still, Germaine de Staël was more than just a writer. She was first of all a political animal, a defender of civil liberties and Napoleon's bête noire. Her public life was completely entangled with the French Revolution and its aftermath. During the Terror she secreted aristocratic friends in the Swedish embassy. During the early days of the republic she entertained movers and shakers at her salon, helping to launch, in particular, the career of Talleyrand, a name second only to that of Machiavelli in the pantheon of Realpolitik. (When asked what he did during the Revolution and Terror, Talleyrand is reported to have answered: "J'ai survécu" -- I survived.) But early on, this formidable woman's free-thinking and liberal ideas antagonized the ambitious General Bonaparte. By the time the First Consul crowned himself emperor in 1804, de Staël had been exiled from Paris.

But she did not repine. She traveled throughout Europe -- visiting Goethe and Schiller in Weimar, studying the art of Italy -- and she established a dazzling salon at her father's house in Coppet, Switzerland. There, one might find the historian Sismondi, the scholar-intellectuals (and brothers) Friedrich and August von Schlegel (the latter penned a letter in which he promised to be de Staël's slave for life), and the most beautiful woman of her era, Juliette Récamier. De Staël's best friend, Récamier remains legendary to this day because of the magnificent portrait by Jacque-Louis David showing the classically gowned beauty reclining on a chaise lounge. While the two women were both inveterately flirtatious, Récamier bestowed her favors on no one, not even her husband: She lived in a mariage blanc -- an unconsummated marriage -- with a man rumored to be her biological father. Her mother's onetime lover had married her during the Terror as a way of insuring that she would inherit his fortune if he were guillotined. Only at the age of 40 did Récamier enter into a passionate love affair with the most famous writer in France, Chateaubriand. But that's another story.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Titania



From Shakespeare's
A Midsummer's Night's Dream:

Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;
Then, for the third part of a minute, hence;

Some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds,

Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings,

To make my small elves coats, and some keep back
The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders
At our quaint spirits. Sing me now asleep;

Then to your offices and let me rest.

(Artwork by Arthur Rackham)
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Cyd Charisse



As most people have probably heard, the lovely dancer and actress Cyd Charisse died this past week. She was originally from Texas. I had no idea. More HERE and HERE. Share

Anna Karenina and La Broderie Anglaise

Under the Gables shares some insights about Tolstoy's masterpiece. Share

Friday, June 20, 2008

The New Barbarians

Sad but true reflections. (Via Jeff Culbreath)
So how should we describe this new thing in the world, a people without roots, tumbleweeds that flit and float from fad to fad, attracted by bright toys and flashy sleaze? Postcultural, certainly, but also postbarbarian. The barbarian has not been civilized yet; but what we have now are people who used to be civilized, and that seems to me to be a different thing entirely.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ludwig II


One of the most enigmatic of all monarchs is King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) whose life and death are riddled with mystery. At nineteen years old I made a trip to Bavaria and among the main attractions were King Ludwig's castles. I had a sense that he was still so greatly loved by the Bavarian people, as if he were yet reigning. His eccentric behavior and fairy-tale palaces made him a legend in his own time. Although he is generally referred to as "Mad King Ludwig," he was never officially diagnosed. Nevertheless, the accusation of insanity was used to dethrone and incarcerate him. To this day his death is a matter of controversy. (It is strange that his captors would not let him go to Mass.) Some historians believe he was murdered.

In many ways, Ludwig was a medieval knight transplanted into the political intrigues and upheavals of the nineteenth century. In his youth he adored his cousin Sissi, and while their relationship was platonic, it was deep and lifelong. Ludwig relished stories of sublime and impossible loves. He patronized Wagner, whose music brought to life the legends of Lohengrin and of Tristan and Isolde. There is evidence that Ludwig struggled with inclinations that were at odds with his Catholic faith. He gradually became a recluse, spending a great deal of time in the mountains, venturing out only at night. While visiting his hunting lodge at Linderhof, I was told that it had been inspired by Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon.

The unification of Germany and the domination of Bavaria by Prussia in the new German Empire were difficult for Ludwig and led him to vigorously retreat into a world of his own creation. He was always loved and revered by the Bavarian people in spite of his increasingly odd behaviors. His death came as a shock to everyone and he was sincerely mourned, at least by the peasants. His castles continue to bring revenue from the many tourists who journey to Bavaria. Share

Modesty and Beauty

On the on-going theme of modesty, here is a wise and balanced article by Regina Doman, from the archives. Share

Hats for Ladies

Designer Christa Taylor discusses how to wear hats. Christa has many other excellent posts about style on her blog. She designs some great clothes, too. Share

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Death by Calumny

"This age possesses calumny, which is a much more convenient instrument of death; and it is by calumny that I shall perish." ~Marie-Antoinette

It never ceases to amaze me how people who are careful not to break the Six or Ninth Commandments, who might even scruple about using Natural Family Planning, have not the slightest reservation about violating the Eighth Commandment. The gossip, calumny, slander, and backbiting that goes on in Catholic circles is truly appalling. Lately I have run into situations where either the truth is distorted beyond recognition or outright lies are told. Because they fear the big bad world more than they trust in God, many true believers now see evil where it does not exist. There is enough genuine wickedness without inventing things about fellow Christians who love God and the Church amid many struggles.

If there were not civil laws to protect citizens against slander, it would be much worse, since I have come to the conclusion that respect for the law of God does not keep gossips from shredding the reputations of their neighbors. Women are by far the greatest culprits, I think. It must be kept in mind that slanders and lies reflect greatly upon those who spout them, and can perhaps be attributed to bitterness, backwardness, jealousy or even emotional instability.

As Father Belet writes in his book The Backbiting Tongue (Oeuvre de la Propagande, Turcoing, France, 1870) of those who abuse the reputations of their neighbors:
Two dogs gnawing on the same bone is a rare sight, practically a phenomenon. Now, if you see a backbiter and his listener in perfect agreement, the one to speak and the other to give ear, would you not say that they look exactly like two dogs gnawing on the same bone? Two evil people who analyze the behavior of a good man weigh him, sift him and grind him with their words. This is truly the equivalent of chewing bones and cracking them between one's teeth. (p.57)
In the same book it is written:
My friends, by acting otherwise- by showing less care for others' reputation than for our own- we violate the law of the Lord. The person who sets fire to his neighbor's house is sinful, but so is the man who warms himself by the heat of the burning house. If he is not an enemy, then let him carry some water to put out the fire. In the same way, we do harm not only by backbiting others, but not stopping those who backbite, encouraging them with praise and applause. A sincere friend not only avoids backbiting, but also does everything he can to bring it to a halt. A devoted brother hides his brother's dishonorable vices from others, revealing them only to those who are able to remedy them. (p.73)
On the spiritual level, what is the best response to such attacks? Prayer, of course, especially praying for those whose words have injured us. A friend who has been the victim of some slander and calumny told me how in the long run it strengthened her soul. Sometimes it is helpful to know how the saints viewed such annoyances. St. Teresa of Jesus asserted that those who belong to Our Lord will ultimately be defended by Him, saying: "Remember how the Lord took the Magdalen's part in the Pharisee's house and also when her sister blamed her?" (The Way of Perfection) In The Interior Castle, St.Teresa writes :
...The soul is rather strengthened than depressed by its trials, experience having taught it the great advantages derived from them. It does not think men offend God by persecuting it, but that He permits them to do so for its greater gain. So strong is this belief that such a person bears a special affection for these people, holding them as truer friends and greater benefactors than those who speak well of her.
It is sad but enlightening to recall that five hundred years ago people were calumniating holy nuns like the great Teresa. Anyone who is trying to do what is right should not be surprised about receiving similar treatment. Share

Teabags

They have a history. ( Via LRC) Share

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Unnecessary War

Pat Buchanan defends his new book.
The focus of The Unnecessary War is on the colossal blunders by British statesmen that reduced Britain from the greatest empire since Rome into an island dependency of the United States in three decades. It is a cautionary tale, written for America, which is treading the same path Britain trod in the early 20th century.

Andrew Cusack discusses the immorality of fighting evil with evil. Share

Music for the Queen

Marie-Antoinette still inspires after so many years.


Also from Catherine Delors, a revolutionary portrait. Share

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fanny (1961)


"CÉSAR: You know, Marius, a woman's honor is like a match. You can only use it once." (Charles Boyer in Fanny, 1961)

When my husband and I were renting a car in Toulouse, we were asked if we were going into Marseille because, if we were, we needed to purchase extra insurance. We assumed that this was because Marseille was an especially hazardous place; our plans had not included venturing there, anyway. In spite of its perilous reputation, Marseille, the ancient port city founded by the Greeks, would be fascinating to visit. Of the many films that take place in Marseille, my favorite is Fanny, based upon the musical of the same name. Both film and musical were taken from a trilogy of plays by French writer Marcel Pagnol. Leslie Caron is radiant in the title role; Horst Buchholz plays the intense Marius, torn between love for Fanny and a desire to see the world. Maurice Chevalier is Panisse, the well-to-do elderly merchant who marries Fanny and adopts her baby as his own. The best of all is Charles Boyer as César, Marius' father. In his earlier roles Boyer was so handsome and suave that it distracted from his acting abilities. As the crusty, aging owner of the waterfront café, he shines with earthy wisdom, and becomes the conscience for the other characters.

In an effort to keep Marius from going to sea, Fanny gives herself to him, to no avail. Seeing that he is aching to leave Marseille, she releases him from their engagement. He is unaware that she is with child. Fanny is covered with shame and regret. Truly resplendent is the scene in which Fanny visits the cathedral to beg forgiveness, imploring the Holy Virgin for guidance. She decides to do what will be best for the baby and marry the worthy Panisse. Panisse showers Fanny and her son with love and care. When Marius returns and Fanny is tempted to betray Panisse, she chooses honor and duty over passion. She has learned her lesson. And yet, throughout the film, her eyes convey longing for Marius and her sorrow over losing him. But all is not lost; her sacrifices are abundantly rewarded.

The film shows how the coming of a child can be the catalyst for positive change in many lives, even though the original circumstances were far from ideal. By surrendering to God, Fanny's fall from grace is transformed into a channel of blessings. Share

Twin Beds

Edwardian Promenade discusses the origins thereof. It always amuses me how in the old films it was against the Code to even suggest that a married couple might share a bed. How rapidly everything changed in the 1960's, when all boundaries in the film industry were tossed to the winds, going to the other extreme. Share

Books vs Internet

Is the internet changing the way people think? (Via Joshua Snyder) Share

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pop


Thinking of fathers that I have known, it is impossible not to recall my paternal grandfather. His name was Milton Laughland, son of the British political activist James Vint Laughland and Margaret MacDougall, a coal miner’s daughter. He combined his skills as a pharmacist with a shrewd business sense to become one of the leading executives at Burroughs Welcome and Company. We children called him “Pop.” It occurred to me that some of my younger cousins and siblings may not remember him at all. They may have no memories of Grandma and Pop's house in Scarsdale, New York, which to me was one of the most magical places in the world.

It was a spacious Tudor-revival house in a tree-shaded neighborhood near a park with a duck pond. The house was stucco with a sloping slate roof and leaded windows; we referred to it as a “gingerbread house.” Built on the side of the hill, the backyard was terraced, lined with stone walls, and perpetually damp and mossy from all the trees and shrubs. The screened porch overlooked the yard and made an ideal castle for an imaginative small girl. In the valley a train would periodically rumble past; ever after the sound of a train in the distance has been comforting for me.

My grandparents lived modestly but well. Any kind of ostentation not only would have been shunned; it never would have occurred to them, not in a thousand years. The interiors were in subdued hues, mostly greens, since Grandma said that green went with everything. The furniture was dark wood, very sturdy (as suited a family of mostly boys) and generously stuffed, especially the huge burgundy-velvet arm chair near the fireplace in the living room. Pop enjoyed sailing so there were lots of maritime objects around, paintings of sailboats, barometers and such. The shelves were lined with books and the walls with interesting prints and original drawings and paintings. There was a clock on the mantelpiece that chimed the hours, a mirror in a thick baroque gold frame, and a painting of William Laughland of Southhampton, Pop’s grandfather. In the dining room was a massive oak table and an amber-toned mirror over the sideboard, as well as shelves of plates with the coats of arms of the various Irish and Scottish clans from whom my grandparents claimed descent. The kitchen was a cheerful teal with wooden cabinets and a big pantry. Grandma made porridge, pies, chicken soup and lots of coffee.

Pop was a fun grandfather. Mine are a child’s recollections; I learned from other sources that he could be a difficult man, but I knew him only as a wonderful grandparent. He could make the most innocuous phrases sound hilarious. He sang nonsensical English music hall ditties which as small children we found immensely amusing. He was stout and seemed much taller to me than he actually was, with sky blue eyes that did not miss a trick. For all his joking and teasing he commanded respect tinged with awe. We were always on our best behavior around him. His hobbies of sailing, curling and photography we regarded as sacrosanct because if Pop liked something it added weight to its general importance in the world. Of course, the highlight of our visits to Scarsdale would be when Pop took us sailing in his boat on Long Island Sound. Sometimes the waters would be choppy and people would get sea sick but I never felt nervous or doubted that Pop was not in complete control of the boat.

My grandfather was not a religious man, and although he was married to a practicing Catholic, he had no use for the Catholic Church. Apparently before his marriage he was interested in converting but quarreled with a priest; I do not know exactly what transpired but afterwards Pop would have nothing to do with religion. He possessed, nevertheless, a high moral character, strong values and a sense of honor. My grandfather was the type of man who showed his love and devotion by providing a stable home and economic security for his wife and children, as well as whatever was needed for education, music, hobbies, travel, anything that would expand the mind or enrich the personality.

Pop’s sudden death while in his early sixties shocked the entire family. Grandma missed him terribly and prayed for him everyday. They had been about to go to England; since Pop’s retirement they had begun traveling; they had been to Spain and loved it. I was twelve and went to stay with Grandma so she would not be so alone in the big house. Grandma was going to Mass everyday, praying for him. About three years later one of my little cousins, who had been an infant when Pop died, came down one morning announcing that he had seen his grandfather in the night and that he had told him to tell us that he was "alright."

I count myself as being very blessed to have had such a grandfather and am so glad that I got to know him a little bit. May he rest in peace. Share

The Moral Standards of the Early Christians

They were very strict, which should not be surprising since they often had to face torture and death. Share

Sex and the City

How anyone with half a brain could repeatedly watch such pornographic trash is a mystery to me. Here is a review which puts the whole sordid phenomenon in perspective.
Modern feminism devalued home life, and encouraged women to abandon the home in favor of careers. In a short time, many of the morals that western culture took for granted were imperiled. Women would be like men: ambitious, lacking self-restraint, sexually promiscuous — remarkably like the women in the film. Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte have all arrived just in time to apply an upscale sense of style to a city in ruins.
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Walk on the Beach



by Joaquin Sorolla

It is a perfect day to be at the beach. Share

Life in a Renaissance Printing Shop

Author Julianne Douglas describes what it was like, based on her thorough research for her novel. Share

Camille Paglia on the Latin Mass

Some very true reflections regarding the Mass. (Via Jeff Culbreath)
Elements of New Age sensibility seem to have entered American Catholicism, which in the 1950s was already moving away from its déclassé ethnic roots and Protestantizing itself through a startling drabness of church architecture and décor. The folk songs, Protestant hymns, affable sermons, and literal hand-holding in today’s suburban Catholic churches illustrate mellow New Age principles of inclusion and harmony and reinforce the casualness of the vernacular Mass and the slackness of unpoetic contemporary translations of Scripture. Priests, meanwhile, are now being trained to be social workers; theology and learning per se are no longer as heavily emphasized. The priest, with his public performance of the mysterious Latin Mass, was once an embodiment of learning for ordinary people. Latin, which I still believe to be the basis of most strong writing in English, was intrinsic to a priest’s official identity and gave churchgoers a moving sense of historical continuity with classical antiquity, when the Christian story began. The priest, in other words, was an educator, just as university education began in the Middle Ages as training for priests.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Garden Party at Trianon



Today, St. Anthony's feast, is Marie-Antoinette's "name-day." As has been described before on this blog, Marie-Antoinette loved gardens and nature. She wanted her domain at Petit Trianon to be like a natural landscape, albeit a fabricated one. As consort of the most powerful monarch in Europe, it was expected that the queen entertain foreign visitors in grand style. Entertaining heads of state was an expensive enterprise, however, even when they visited incognito, as did Emperor Joseph II and the Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria of Russia. The French government was nearly bankrupt due to the help given by King Louis XVI to the American colonists in their war for independence from Britain. To save money, Marie-Antoinette would use her private gardens as the site of the entertainments by illuminating the gardens and having everyone wear white. She would have musicians playing amid the shrubbery, so that it seemed that the music was wafting through the gardens in an ethereal manner.

In May, 1782, the Russian Grand Duke and Grand Duchess visited as the "Comte and Comtesse du Nord." Madame Campan wrote of their visit in her Memoirs:
They were presented on the 20th of May, 1782. The Queen received them with grace and dignity. On the day of their arrival at Versailles they dined in private with the King and Queen.

The plain, unassuming appearance of Paul I. pleased Louis XVI. He spoke to him with more confidence and cheerfulness than he had spoken to Joseph II. The Comtesse du Nord was not at first so successful with the Queen. This lady was of a fine height, very fat for her age, with all the German stiffness, well informed, and perhaps displaying her acquirements with rather too much confidence. When the Comte and Comtesse du Nord were presented the Queen was exceedingly nervous. She withdrew into her closet before she went into the room where she was to dine with the illustrious travellers, and asked for a glass of water, confessing “she had just experienced how much more difficult it was to play the part of a queen in the presence of other sovereigns, or of princes born to become so, than before courtiers.” She soon recovered from her confusion, and reappeared with ease and confidence. The dinner was tolerably cheerful, and the conversation very animated.

Brilliant entertainments were given at Court in honour of the King of Sweden and the Comte du Nord. They were received in private by the King and Queen, but they were treated with much more ceremony than the Emperor, and their Majesties always appeared to me to be very cautious before these personages. However, the King one day asked the Russian Grand Duke if it were true that he could not rely on the fidelity of any one of those who accompanied him. The Prince answered him without hesitation, and before a considerable number of persons, that he should be very sorry to have with him even a poodle that was much attached to him, because his mother would take care to have it thrown into the Seine, with a stone round its neck, before he should leave Paris. This reply, which I myself heard, horrified me, whether it depicted the disposition of Catherine, or only expressed the Prince’s prejudice against her.

The Queen gave the Grand Duke a supper at Trianon, and had the gardens illuminated as they had been for the Emperor. The Cardinal de Rohan very indiscreetly ventured to introduce himself there without the Queen’s knowledge. Having been treated with the utmost coolness ever since his return from Vienna, he had not dared to ask her himself for permission to see the illumination; but he persuaded the porter of Trianon to admit him as soon as the Queen should have set off for Versailles, and his Eminence engaged to remain in the porter’s lodge until all the carriages should have left the chateau. He did not keep his word, and while the porter was busy in the discharge of his duty, the Cardinal, who wore his red stockings and had merely thrown on a greatcoat, went down into the garden, and, with an air of mystery, drew up in two different places to see the royal family and suite pass by.

Her Majesty was highly offended at this piece of boldness, and next day ordered the porter to be discharged. There was a general feeling of disgust at the Cardinal’s conduct, and of commiseration towards the porter for the loss of his place. Affected at the misfortune of the father of a family, I obtained his forgiveness; and since that time I have often regretted the feeling which induced me to interfere. The notoriety of the discharge of the porter of Trianon, and the odium that circumstance would have fixed upon the Cardinal, would have made the Queen’s dislike to him still more publicly known, and would probably have prevented the scandalous and notorious intrigue of the necklace.

In June of 1784, King Gustav III of Sweden arrived under the alias of the "Comte de Haga." Marie-Antoinette did not care for him, because of what she had heard concerning his private life. As Madame Campan relates:
The Queen, who was much prejudiced against the King of Sweden, received him very coldly.All that was said of the private character of that sovereign, his connection with the Comte de Vergennes, from the time of the Revolution of Sweden, in 1772, the character of his favourite Armfeldt, and the prejudices of the monarch himself against the Swedes who were well received at the Court of Versailles, formed the grounds of this dislike. He came one day uninvited and unexpected, and requested to dine with the Queen. The Queen received him in the little closet, and desired me to send for her clerk of the kitchen, that she might be informed whether there was a proper dinner to set before Comte d’Haga, and add to it if necessary. The King of Sweden assured her that there would be enough for him; and I could not help smiling when I thought of the length of the menu of the dinner of the King and Queen, not half of which would have made its appearance had they dined in private. The Queen looked significantly at me, and I withdrew. In the evening she asked me why I had seemed so astonished when she ordered me to add to her dinner, saying that I ought instantly to have seen that she was giving the King of Sweden a lesson for his presumption. I owned to her that the scene had appeared to me so much in the bourgeois style, that I involuntarily thought of the cutlets on the gridiron, and the omelette, which in families in humble circumstances serve to piece out short commons. She was highly diverted with my answer, and repeated it to the King, who also laughed heartily at it.
As Baroness Oberkirch relates in her Memoirs, the Swedish king was charmed with both Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, in spite of various misunderstandings. Especially he was enchanted by the illuminated gardens of Trianon, which he thought resembled the Elysian fields. A Swedish scholar once told me that the because of Louis and Antoinette, Gustav was seriously considering becoming a Catholic; I have not yet substantiated that information myself, but it would not surprise me. He certainly did all he could to save their lives, especially through his delegate, Count Fersen. Gustav said of the French king: "Louis XVI is the best and most benevolent prince in existence. His soul radiates serenity. I am filled with admiration."

(Sources: Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette, Madame Campan's Memoirs, Nesta Webster's Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution, Baroness Oberkirch's Memoirs and Antonia Fraser's Marie-Antoinette:The Journey) Share

If, then, you ask for miracles....



It is the feast of St Anthony the Wonderworker. In spite of the claims of Protestants and some modernist Catholics, it is not superstitious to ask St Anthony for help in finding lost articles. I could write a book about all the things he has found for me; things that I thought were gone forever. But it is not only in finding what is lost that St Anthony excels; he is a big brother and comforter in every kind of trial, especially in spiritual struggles. It is hard to explain to non-Catholics and "progressive" Catholics how a saint can be a friend; I would not even know where to begin. One must have trust, a child-like faith, and a sense of the Communion of Saints. The saints are our friends, our needs are their concerns and nothing is too small for their intercession.

Don Marco has written beautifully about St Anthony's bread and lilies.

Rorate Caeli has a sermon of St. Anthony's. He was a bold preacher and did not mince words.

Here is some information about St Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, one of the most amazing and overlooked shrines in the world.


Today is also the anniversary of the second apparition of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917. Our Lady told the three children that Our Lord wished to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart. She showed them her heart encircled with thorns and said: "I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God." To ponder such words in the depths of contemplation is to share in the wonder of the mystery of God's mercy. Share

Les Buissonets



Christine of Laudem Gloriae shares her photos of the childhood home of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Share

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An Opening of the Mind

Male and Female He Made Them by Mary Jo Anderson and Dr. Robin Bernhoft is an indispensable guide to fighting the culture war amid the jungles of confusion and falsehood. The book facilitates an opening of the mind to issues which concern every American. First of all, the authors discuss the goodness and beauty of marriage on the natural and supernatural levels. In viewing the love of man and woman in the light of God's purpose, revealed in Scripture and Tradition, then any contemporary attempts to distort and disfigure marriage are seen as outrageous to both human and divine law. As the authors explain:
True virtue is a life lived as a reflection of the world that we have been given and did not create ourselves. This 'given-ness' is the truth that we cannot change- and thus we choose to obey. Virtue must be both personal and public in order to give structure to society....If society rejects the intrinsic meaning and purpose of human sexuality and the conjugal embrace of male and female, it is also forced to reject life as having any meaning beyond whatever pleasure can be wrested from it. (p.104)
Meticulously referenced, based upon medical and historical research, sociological studies, and church documents, Male and Female He Made Them is replete with helpful resources and quotations. All the hard questions about marriage, divorce, and same-sex unions are succinctly tackled, making it a practical tool for engaging in serious study or debate. Written with brevity and clarity, the volume leaves no doubt that indifference to social and moral issues is not an option for Catholics. If we do not jump into the fray to defend marriage, be it through politics or education or intense prayer, then choices will be made for us, choices that will impinge upon the freedom and happiness of our children for generations to come. Share

Organic Gardening

Here are some tips. Share

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mad Juana



It is a mystery to me why all the children of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile had such difficult and tragic lives. Poor Katherine, look at what happened to her. In the light of Katherine's doomed marriage to Henry VIII, people tend to forget about her sister Mad Juana, or Juana la Loca. The torrid film from a few years ago introduced her to many; it was a film that was not too far from the truth. Juana was considered the most beautiful and mercurial of the daughters of Isabel and Ferdinand. From the moment she and her husband Philip the Handsome first saw each other they had an extremely passionate relationship. Like any wife who is deeply in love would be, Juana was destroyed to discover that Philip was unfaithful to her. It might have been more prudent for her to be kind to the mistresses rather than attacking them with scissors. Not that it would have been right to show approval, but looking the other way possibly would have been better in terms of dealing with Philip. Deep down he probably did love her, but no doubt he found her excessive preoccupation with himself to be a bore. He enjoyed the chase, and took Juana for granted.

Juana, however, was not someone who could hide her emotions, which became more obsessive. Some historians now speculate that she was not mentally ill, merely distraught over Philip, and misunderstood by the Flemish court. However, the way she turned on her mother, screaming at her in public, says to me that there was a psychological disorder of some kind. She had six children and with every pregnancy her behavior became more aberrant. As one site says:
The Spanish Sovereigns hoped that Juana's wild moods and lamentations were due to her pregnancy, but after little Ferdinand's birth in March 1503, Juana grew more frenzied than ever. She yelled at the servants and cursed the clerics. She wanted to return to her husband as soon as possible, but she couldn't leave, because hostilities had broken out between Spain and France. Queen Isabella I, fearing Philip's influence, insisted that Juana remained in Spain for a time in order to prepare for Queenship. On a cold November night Juana fled, half-clad, from the castle. When the city gate closed before her, she threw herself against the iron bars, while screaming and hurling abuses until exhaustion overtook her. She fought off all efforts to protect her against the bitter wind. She even threatened the bishop with death and torture for keeping her locked up. When her mother arrived, Juana insulted her with foul language.
I think such behavior is a bit beyond being merely headstrong and passionate. It would be interesting to read a psychiatric evaluation of Juana. Once Philip died, she really appeared to become unhinged. Her son Emperor Charles V had her locked away. It is sad, since even in those days there might have been some way to stabilize her moods. But perhaps not.

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Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane

Richard de Brantigny recalls the Nazi atrocity. Share

Court Dress



Speaking of corsets, Catherine Delors gives a description of ladies' attire at Versailles. Share

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Be Modest, Not Frumpy



We live in times when blatant immodesty is rampant. Everywhere we are bombarded with intimate sexual details of the lives of strangers. Topics which were once only discussed between married couples and their doctor are now bandied in front of children and in mixed company. The sense of shame has all but disappeared. What is more, as Our Lady of Fatima prophesied in 1917: “Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much.”

It is human nature to oscillate from one extreme to another. Lady-like clothes have been replaced by either scanty attire or boyish sportswear, as Genevieve Kineke ponders in her book The Authentic Catholic Woman:
The everyday dress of women should work to their advantage and call to mind the inherent dignity of a child of God. There is tremendous latitude in style today, but few current fashions really flatter women. From the nearly indecent clothing once restricted to red-light districts to androgynous athletic gear, young women are pushed into choosing styles that make social statements that may be far from what they have in mind. (Kineke, Genevieve. The Authentic Catholic Woman, Servant Books, 2006)
St. Paul enjoined his Christian women converts to cloth themselves modestly. "In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair or gold, or pearls or costly attire."(1Timothy 2, 9) Two thousand years later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes the words of the Apostle: “Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love…. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing.” (CCC, 2522)

However, there seems to be a trend among devout Catholic ladies to react against the gross immodesty of the general society by dressing themselves in bleak, shapeless, androgynous clothes. Modesty does not imply androgyny; a woman can be modest and feminine without being frumpy.

Let us avoid the extremes of Gnosticism. Gnostics, such as the medieval Cathars, thought that the body was bad, created by the devil. We Catholics believe the body is holy. As author Colleen Hammond wisely counsels:
Remember, it’s about moderation. Not too much one way, not too much the other. Take, for example, someone who purposely 'dresses down.' This person ignores everyday decorum and dresses in a sloppy, careless manner. Maybe this is done on purpose in an attempt to show disregard for vanity, but what people like this end up doing is drawing undue attention to themselves, which is a lack of humility. ‘Dressing down’ or looking frumpy is not a sign of holiness! (Hammond, Colleen. Dressing With Dignity, TAN Books and Publishers, 2005, p.80)
In the thirteenth century, St Thomas Aquinas tackled the various issues of women’s attire in his Summa Theologica. Exploring the question of whether devout women could lawfully use cosmetics and wear pretty clothes, the saint and Doctor of the Church stated:
A woman may use means to please her husband, lest through despising her he fall into adultery. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 7:34) that the woman ‘that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband.’ Wherefore if a married woman adorn herself in order to please her husband she can do this without sin….(Summa Theologica, Question 169, Article 2)
St. Thomas reflects in the same article that unmarried women, who feel called to the vocation of marriage, may also “lawfully adorn themselves,” as long as they, like their married sisters, avoid immodesty and vanity.

Excessive preoccupation with oneself is never spiritually healthy. Nevertheless, it is possible to be self-absorbed while lounging about the house in sweat pants. Sometimes, taking the time to look nice to please one’s spouse requires extra effort and virtue. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand says it thus:
St. Francis de Sales does tell us that pious women should be well-dressed, but this doesn’t mean they must become slaves of fashion. There’s a way of dressing which is attractive, even elegant, but at the same time modest and simple. More importantly, attractiveness shouldn’t be reserved for guests and those you meet outside the home, while you ‘let yourself go’ when you’re alone with [your husband.] (Von Hildebrand, Dr. Alice. By Love Refined: Letters to Young Bride. Sophia Institute Press, 1989, p.116)
I look at it this way-- what would it say to our daughters if we who stay home with them looked like drudges all the time? It says that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is boring, tedious, dehumanizing and slavish. It would make any girl want to run screaming from motherhood. And while it is difficult, tedious and challenging at times, it is also a joyous, creative, God-given vocation. Being a Christian wife and mother has a certain dignity; it is a gift and privilege and the girls (and boys) need to be shown it as such. How we dress can say how we feel about what we are doing, that keeping our houses going for our families is of value, and that our husbands are worth looking nice for. And the children then a get a sense of their own Christian dignity, as well.

Modesty can be feminine and attractive. Of course, we will make a mess of ourselves in the kitchen, in the garden, and chasing babies around. But a dab of lipstick goes a long way….

(From the July/August 2008 issue of Canticle)

(Photo from Peruvian Connection) Share