Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brideshead: Read the Novel

The following article was originally published in the English periodical Catholic Life and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

"Read the novel; don’t see the film"

by Eric Hester

As well as being a Catholic headmaster for twenty-four years, Eric Hester was also a chief examiner in English Literature. This article is as lightly altered version of one published in a Catholic periodical a few years ago. Eric Hester writes that the new film version of Brideshead Revisited has not yet been released in England but he is disturbed by that he has read of it: “The film version seems to have abandoned the main theme of the book, “the operation of divine grace." At the end of the novel the central character has clearly become a Catholic and the novel ends optimistically. The film, apparently, has Ryder rejecting the Catholic faith. In the novel, the relationship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian is not a homosexual one but one of an intense friendship between two young men, not uncommon in those times in England and not unheard of even today; the film makes the relationship an explicitly homosexual one. I urge people not to see the new film but to read the book, which is arguably the greatest Catholic novel in English. The English television version of a few years ago is still obtainable on DVD; it is a faithful adaptation of the novel with some fine acting.

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is on anyone’s list of the great novels of the twentieth century. It has never been out-of-print since it appeared and it was made into a very successful television series with a most distinguished cast. Yet Catholicism is the main theme of the novel. As Waugh said of it: “Its theme – the operation of divine grace on a group of divers but closely connected characters – was perhaps presumptuously large, but I make no apology for it.” He considered it his greatest achievement.

The novel opens its narrative chronologically later than its main events with the hero and narrator, Charles Ryder, in the British army in the Second World War. This prologue is deliberately gloomy and satirical. Ryder says of the camp in Scotland, “Here love had died between me and the army.” With the hopeless junior officer Hooper, he moves the men on the train to a different camp and then Ryder becomes aware of the new camp to which they have moved at night. Hooper says: “I’ve just had a snoop round. Very ornate, I’d call it. And a queer thing, there’s a sort of R.C. Church attached…You never saw such a thing.” Ryder replies in those famous words that still cause me to tingle: “Yes, Hooper, I did. I’ve been here before.”

Only then do we have the first real chapter as the flashback begins. It is still not the beginning chronologically. Brilliantly, Waugh gives us first Ryder’s original visit to Brideshead and only later his meeting Sebastian and then details of the boyhood of Ryder. The first-person narrative is used, in a way that only a genius can, to reveal, through the consciousness of Ryder, the events of the novel. Constantly, we are learning things from the past, given to us at the right time not in any simple order. It is perhaps the best constructed novel in the English language and I do not exempt the novels of Dickens, Jane Austen or Henry James. Indeed, of novels in other languages that I know, or which I have read in English translations, I can think only of Proust’s great novel as superior to it in construction.

Gradually we are introduced to the Marchmain family, whose Catholicism is central to their life. Does this aristocratic background render the novel difficult or rarefied? Not a bit. I have always found that it appeals to Catholics of all backgrounds not least to American Catholics. The family background enables Waugh to concentrate on his theme of “the operation of divine grace” in a way that a family like that portrayed, say, in some of the gloomy novels of D.H. Lawrence would not. Charles Ryder says to the girl Cordelia, “Does your family always talk about religion all the time?” and is told, “Not all the time. It’s a subject that just comes up naturally, doesn’t it?” Ryder says elsewhere, “Often, almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance word in his conversation had reminded me that he was a Catholic but I took it as a foible, like his teddy-bear.”

The Oxford University chapters are still classics in their own right and the phrase “Brideshead set” is used for the group of people on whom Waugh is assumed to model some characters. The novel is, I believe, still read avidly by present-day undergraduates trying to glimpse what university life was once like. Of course, it is a fictitious portrayal of a jeunesse dorée. Waugh himself had had a good time at Oxford and we know from other writers such as John Betjeman, who like Waugh left without taking a degree, that the 1920s was a golden age of that carefree but energetic group. Waugh has Charles Ryder comment on education when he was swotting up for exams that he needed to pass to stay in his college: “I did (pass) after a week in which I forbade Sebastian my rooms and sat up to a late hour, with iced black coffee and charcoal biscuits, cramming myself with the neglected texts. I remember no syllable of them now, but the other more ancient lore which I acquired that term will be with me in one shape or another to my last hour.” Ryder (Waugh) says of Oxford and youth - “Oxford in those days was still a city of aquatint. In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman’s time; her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days – such as that day – when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft air of centuries of youth.”

And one reason for the book’s remarkable success is surely its portrayal of youth. Waugh has Ryder exclaim: “The languor of Youth – how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections of Youth – all save this – come and go with us through life. Those things are part of life itself; but languor – the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding – that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it.” Yet the novel itself is not particularly a young person’s book. Like the good wine that Waugh liked to imbibe, it becomes better with age, that is the age of the reader.

As with all Waugh’s novels, there is some glorious humour. My own favourite part is where Charles Ryder, then an impoverished art student in Paris, is being entertained by the materialistic Canadian member of the nouveaux riche, Rex Mottram. It is simply a meal described with the accompanying conversation but the ironic humour makes it memorable.

More famously, Brideshead has two great Catholic emotional scenes for which Waugh felt he should almost apologise in his 1959 Preface. “I have been in two minds as to the treatment of Julia’s outburst about mortal sin and Lord Marchmain’s dying soliloquy. These passages were never, of course, intended to report words actually spoken.” Well, I think they are both brilliant. The death of Lord Marchmain, I used to read as a young teacher in senior school assemblies and it always went down very well producing that absorbed air of total concentration which is, alas! rare at school assemblies. As I became an old head master I had to stop reading it because it made me embarrassingly lachrymose. Lord Marchmain, the sinner and very lapsed Catholic convert is dying. He refuses to see a priest but when he is literally on his death-bed his daughter brings the priest who anoints him and gives him conditional absolution, unconscious as the old man is. Waugh, in one of the great scenes of literature, describes what happens though the eyes of the sceptical Charles Ryder who is nevertheless moved to pray: “I suddenly felt the longing for a sign, if only of courtesy, if only for the sake of the woman I loved who knelt in front of me praying, I knew for a sign…I prayed more simply; ‘God forgive him his sins’ and ‘Please God, make him accept your forgiveness.’ ” We the readers wait, too, for Lord Marchmain to make a sign of repentance and then Waugh, through Ryder carries on: “Suddenly Lord Marchmain moved his hand to his forehead; I though he had felt the touch of the chrism and was wiping it away. ‘O God,’ I prayed, ‘don’t let him do that.’ But there was no need for fear; the hand moved slowly down his breast, then to his shoulder, and Lord Marchmain made the sign of the cross. Then I knew that the sign I had asked for was not a little thing, not a passing nod of recognition, and a phrase came back to me from my childhood of the veil of the temple being rent from top to bottom.”

After that, Waugh with more genius, switches the final pages of the book back to the Second World War. We are never told directly that Charles Ryder has become a Catholic but we are left in no doubt that he has from such phrases as “I said a prayer, an ancient, newly-learned form of words.” The novel finishes with a junior officer saying to Ryder, “You’re looking unusually cheerful today.”

Apart from all its other virtues, Brideshead would be a classic just for its style. If it as if Waugh were incapable of writing a cliché, or any kind of syntactical or grammatical infelicity. But that is only to express his negative qualities. Positively, he writes English that is a model for any prose writer: clear, precise, varied, appropriate and with every word used seeming at the same time to be both surprising and inevitable. Yet there is never any showing off of language, no virtuoso effects. All is beautifully ordered and controlled.

The television version can still be obtained on DVD. It is remarkably faithful and has impressing casting, with the two great actor knights of the Twentieth Century – Sir Laurence Olivier as Lord Marchmain and Sir John Gielgud as Charles Ryder’s father. Yet I beg people, as always, not to see the DVD until the novel has been read at least once. For you will want to read it again and again and have it around for dipping into. Those who like it can freely go on to all the other novels. The Sword of Honour trilogy is also set in the Second World War and there are those who regard it as even greater than Brideshead. It has been adapted for television twice, and for radio as well. A Handful of Dust is grimmer and has some similarity of theme, the unfaithful wife, for example. There are good lives of Waugh and his letters are published. The best introduction to the man, though, is his autobiographical novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.

Waugh was a celebrated and great convert. However, he became very upset by the changes brought about following, but not ordered by, the Second Vatican Council. Those who want to know about his sad last years can read about it in the book A Bitter Trial edited by Scott Reid and published by the St Austin Press. He died on Easter Sunday. One never knows what will happen on the day of judgment but let us hope that it carried some weight for him to be able to say that he had written the greatest English Catholic novel.

Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin, the long dramatic poem by Pushkin is the inspiration behind Tchaikovsky's romantic opera. There is also the wonderful 1999 film starring Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler. As for the opera, it is Tchaikovsky's most famous, and was a favorite of Tsar Nicholas II, who interestingly gave his two oldest daughters the same names as the Larina sisters in Eugene Onegin, Olga and Tatiana. Although the background behind the writing of the opera is a bit on the lurid side, the story itself is highly edifying, about a wife who resists temptation and remains faithful to her aging husband. It also shows how even a dissolute character such as Eugene Onegin possesses a certain code of honor, for he returns Tatiana's love letter so that she will not be compromised. The lively waltz from Eugene Onegin is truly one of the most tremendous tunes for dancing ever written. I also love the polonaise, once played at the court of the last Tsar. Share

How to Dress Your Man

Some practical tips from Christa Taylor. Share

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Madame Royale at the Parc Monceau

Whenever I watch the film Gigi, I watch for the scenes of the Parc Monceau. I am reminded of when Louis-Philippe sought to entertain his cousin the Duchesse d'Angoulême in those very gardens, originally designed for his notorious, revolutionary father Philippe d'Orléans. The Parc Monceau was in the English style, like the gardens of Trianon; while Marie-Antoinette was criticized for her gardens, Orléans was not. According to Wikipedia:
The park is unusual in France due to its English style - its informal layout, curved walkways and randomly-placed statues distinguish it from the more traditional, French-style garden. It also includes a collection of scaled-down architectural features - including an Egyptian pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch windmill, and Corinthian pillars. A number of these are masonic references, reflecting the fact that Philippe d'Orléans was a leading freemason.
Here is an excerpt from the novel Madame Royale describing the meeting in the Parc Monceau of the two cousins whose parents had been enemies:
An outdoor repast was prepared beneath a small, almost intimate pavilion, with few attendants, so that the meal was casual and delightful. Swans glided amid the water lilies on the lake. They conversed about their mutual relatives, and after the dessert, she strolled through the June splendor with him, listening to the anecdotes of the small children he had left behind in Sicily with his wife. She discerned that his mind was on something else and he kept regarding her as if he wanted to ask her something....Then Thérèse found herself combatting subtle feelings of jealousy towards Marie-Amélie, as the complete picture rose before her of what a superb husband and father Louis-Philippe must be, in spite of his leftist political convictions. She realized she was confused, not only by his charm, but by his questioning dark eyes. Annoyance flashed through her. After all, an abyss lay between them, and the shadow of the guillotine. She broke off their conversation rather abruptly, asking for her carriage to be sent for, leaving Louis-Philippe befuddled and offended. She departed rather ungraciously, after coldly consenting to be the godmother of the new Orléans baby, expected in September.

~ from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter 13,"Ghosts"

St. Lucius, King of Britain

Who was he and did he really exist? Share

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ô Richard! Ô mon roi!

Marie-Antoinette was a patroness of the opera; one of her favorite composers was André Grétry (1741-1813). Grétry was a staunch supporter of the throne and the Queen was godmother of his daughter, Antoinette. One of his most popular operas was Richard Coeur-de-Lion, which debuted at the Comédie-Italienne in 1784. Blondel's aria Ô Richard! Ô mon roi!, sung in honor of the imprisoned English crusader king, became the royalist anthem during the French Revolution. It is often forgotten that many of the French people continued to honor and love the sovereigns in spite of the many troubles and the tidal wave of revolutionary propaganda. The knowledge that they had some loyal subjects encouraged Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to stay in the country in 1789 when they probably should have departed.

Here are the words of first stanza of the aria, in French and English:
Ô Richard! Ô mon roi!
L'univers t'abandonne;
Sur la terre il n'est donc que moi
Qui m'intéresse à ta personne!
Moi seul dans l'univers,
Voudrais briser tes fers,
Et tout le reste t'abandonne!

O Richard! O my king!
The Universe abandons you!
On earth, it is only me
Who is interested in you!
Alone in the universe
I would break the chains
when everyone else deserted you!
Ô Richard! Ô mon roi! was sung by the Flanders regiment and the Royal Bodyguards at a banquet at the Versailles opera house on October 1, 1789. The Bodyguards were holding the banquet to honor the regiment which had been brought to Versailles to protect the Royal Family due to the recent disturbances. Madame Campan describes the incident thus:

The King had the Flanders regiment removed to Versailles; unfortunately the idea of the officers of that regiment fraternizing with the Body Guards was conceived, and the latter invited the former to a dinner, which was given in the great theater of Versailles, and not in the Salon of Hercules, as some chroniclers say. Boxes were appropriated to various persons who wished to be present at this entertainment. The Queen told me she had been advised to make her appearance on the occasion, but that under existing circumstances she thought such a step might do more harm than good; and that, moreover, neither she nor the King ought directly to have anything to do with such a festival. She ordered me to go, and desired me to observe everything closely, in order to give a faithful account of the whole affair.

The tables were set out upon the stage; at them were placed one of the Body Guard and an officer of the Flanders regiment alternately. There was a numerous orchestra in the room, and the boxes were filled with spectators. The air, “O Richard, O mon Roi!” was played, and shouts of "Vive de Roi!” shook the roof for several minutes....

...What was my astonishment at seeing the King, the Queen, and the Dauphin enter the chamber!...The enthusiasm became general; the moment their Majesties arrived the orchestra repeated the air I have just mentioned,...on all sides were heard praises of their Majesties, exclamations of affection, expressions of regret for what they had suffered, clapping of hands, and shouts of “Vive le Roi! Vive la Reine! Vive le Dauphin!” It has been said that white cockades were worn on this occasion; that was not the case; the fact is, that a few young men belonging to the National Guard of Versailles, who were invited to the entertainment, turned the white lining of their national cockades outwards. All the military men quitted the hall, and reconducted the King and his family to their apartments. There was intoxication in these ebullitions of joy: a thousand extravagances were committed by the military, and many of them danced under the King’s windows....
As the Queen had feared, the appearance of the Royal family at the dinner was distorted by the gazettes, and was seen as being an attack on the National Assembly. On October 5 the palace was invaded by rioters, and Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth and the children were taken to live at the Tuileries in Paris. In four years the king and queen would both be dead, with Madame Elisabeth soon to follow, and the children left to languish in prison. Ô Richard! Ô mon roi! continued to be sung by royalists; the words were sometimes changed to Ô Louis, Ô mon roi. As for Monsieur Grétry, although he lost all of his property during the Revolution he did not lose his life, and continued to be honored for his music. Share

Dorian Leigh...and Pancakes

Dorian Leigh, one of America's first supermodels, passed away earlier this month. Dorian was said to be the inspiration for "Holly Golightly" in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. She led a stormy and often scandalous life until her son's suicide in 1977 triggered a religious conversion. Dorian also ran a catering business and wrote two cookbooks. According to Under the Gables:
As her modeling career drew to a close, she cultivated another of her talents: cooking. Having moved to Paris in 1959, she studied at the Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris and opened a successful restaurant, Chez Dorian, in southern France. In the 1970s she returned to New York, where she set up her own catering business and, according to her son, worked with Martha Stewart, developing recipes.

When one of her sons committed suicide at the age of 21 in 1977, Ms. Parker became a born-again Christian and, one presumes, mended her ways. She wrote an autobiography, published in 1980, called The Girl Who Had Everything. "I really wrote it for Kim [her deceased son], who will never read it. But perhaps other Kims and their parents may learn from my unhappy experiences."

She published two cookbooks, Doughnuts and Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes. It is hard to imagine two cookbooks more at odds with being a supermodel. From the introductions to the recipes in Pancakes, it seems that Ms. Parker did ingest each kind she writes about. A native of Texas, she dedicates the book "To my sisters, Florian, Georgibell, and Suzy, in memory of those Texan women, our valiant forebears."

If you love pancakes, and I do, this is the book for you. Ms. Parker includes a short history of pancakes and their ubiquity in civilized life over the ages and personal reminiscences of pancakes cooked by her father (who disapproved of her modeling), and offers recipes for three types: breakfast, savory, and dessert. They all looked great to me!

Immortal Beloved

Monsieur de Brantigny discusses the mystery of Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved." Here is the original letter:
...Good morning, on July 7 Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits - Yes, unhappily it must be so - You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in V is now a wretched life - Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men - At my age I need a steady, quiet life - can that be so in our connection?...

More HERE.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Masters of Modern Manners

Catherine Delors has recently written beautifully about an exhibit on the eighteenth century French artists Boucher and Chardin at The Wallace Collection in London. As Catherine remarks:
... The Chardins are amazing. In Lady Taking Tea, (above) the red lacquer of the table stands out against the dull greyish-beige background, strangely shifting the emphasis to the subdued lady. Is she Chardin's ailing wife, pondering the frailty of human existence and the pr ospect of approaching death?

Chardin's subjects don't look at us, or even in our direction. They are often pensive profiles, absorbed in the quiet dignity of the most menial tasks. Chardin suffuses everyday life with understated emotion. He is a worthy successor to Rembrandt, and his Cellar Boy (to the above left) brings to mind the power of Watteau's Gilles and eerily anticipates some portraits by Soutine.

On July 20, The Catholic Times ran an article on the exhibit by retired headmaster and freelance journalist Eric Hester, reprinted here with permission from the author. Mr. Hester explores the connections between art, faith, and culture.

"Exhibition emphasizes collection of manners"
by Eric Hester

The Wallace Collection is one of the least known of the great London art galleries. It is smaller scale, but contains some of the world’s masterpieces and it has been said that its exhibitions, like this one, are like great chamber music.

Boucher? Was he not the one who did those erotic paintings? He certainly did some, but they are not in this exhibition, which is founded on just two pictures: his "A Lady on her Daybed" and Chardin’s "Lady Taking Tea." Again, in England Chardin is not so well known as he ought to be, with the National Gallery having only three of his pictures; he is often thought of as a painter merely of still-lifes but he did so much more. In fact, as in the pictures in this exhibition, Chardin was a very moral painter and he especially liked the motif of the idea of discipline or the benefits of education and training as is well shown here. Paul Johnson, the celebrated Catholic columnist in The Spectator says of Chardin in his most readable and educational book, Art, a new history, that he was “an ultra-realist who added a metaphysical dimension."

The emphasis of the exhibition is of manners in the broadest sense. Chardin’s "Lady Taking Tea" (above) is a haunting picture, the subject said to be the painter’s wife when her health was declining. She has a distant look in her eye and an air of melancholy. By contrast, Boucher’s lady is a forward piece, gazing out from the canvas at us with a bold stare and appearing to be not all that she ought to be. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the Wallace Collection to juxtapose these two pictures. Others are exhibited, too, to give us a real insight into the times.

Chardin’s "Morning Toilet" (below) ought to be celebrated as a great picture of Catholic domesticity. It depicts a mother getting her little daughter ready, attending to her hair while the girl has her muff in her hand. And where is the girl going? To Mass. The nearby chair has a missal all ready, and the clock has the time of ten past nine. The candlestick on the little side table makes it look like a possible altar. It is sometimes suggested that in the eighteenth century most of France was already waiting for the Revolution, agog to follow Voltaire and Rousseau in their anti-Catholicism. This exhibition supplies part of the evidence that this is the opposite of the truth. The heart of France was Catholic and supported tradition: the Revolution when it came was alien, just as was the Reformation in England.

Chardin’s "The House of Cards" makes an interesting study since it is thought to have been a pendant to "A Lady Taking Tea" and so the two are reunited for the first time since the eighteenth century but it has great interest in itself. It is another moral picture with a young man assembling the usual house of cards, which most of us have done, but he seems to be reflecting on his life: is he a gambler who has lost? Are the cards a metaphor for other things at stake?

Nowhere does the genius of this exhibition show itself more than in the choice of prints of Hogarth to contrast with all this French rococo “froth”: stages from, “Marriage a la mode” and “the Harlot’s Progress." Here, the pragmatic and satirical English Hogarth makes fun of French decoration. By this brilliant juxtaposition, one sees more into all the pictures concerned. And there are even teapots on display to show the importance of tea drinking at the time. I was fortunate enough to hear a brilliant lecture on the exhibition by a French lady who seemed to have a thorough understanding of the history of French Catholicism as well as of the artists. These lectures are every Thursday and Saturday at one o’clock.

This exhibition and the whole of the Wallace Collection would make an excellent part of any day out in London for a family. The exhibition and the lecture, which are free, go on until 7th September.

Jean-Baptiste Chardin  - The morning toilet


Good For You

With money growing tighter for many families, there have recently been some helpful articles on how to eat healthy and delicious meals on a budget.

~Back to basics. To quote:

In a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,016 adults, 46% said the higher cost of food is creating a financial hardship. They said they have noticed an increase in the cost of milk, fruits and vegetables, meat, bread and eggs.

"The biggest problem is the food prices are not going to go back down," says Phil Lempert, one of the nation's top trackers of supermarket trends ( "Traditionally, we've seen an increase, and it comes back down as the commodities come back down," he says. "I don't think we are going to see that."

Often when food prices increase, the first items that grocery shoppers leave out of their carts are the healthful foods — fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats, says Adam Drewnoski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Instead, they buy more calorie-dense foods loaded with sugar or fat, such as sweetened cereals, packaged macaroni and cheese, and noodles to fill hungry stomachs, he says.

It doesn't have to be that way, Drewnoski says.

~11 Best Foods. They are:
  1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
  2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
    How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
  3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
    How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
  4. Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
    How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
  5. Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Just drink it.
  6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
  7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
    How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
  8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.'’ They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
    How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
  9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,'’ it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
    How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
  10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
    How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
  11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
    How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Le père humilié

Don Marco discusses the spiritual struggle at the heart of parenthood today. People forget that Louis Martin, who will soon be beatified, struggled with mental illness.
The Evil One pursues the same agenda today. He seeks by every means to humiliate the father and to disfigure the face of fatherhood in society. John Saward, in his splendid book, The Way of the Lamb, The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, writes: "The modern western world seems to have declared war on the family in all its members. It is destructive of the child, disparaging of the mother, and derisive of the father. Feminism, now complacently installed as the worldly wisdom of the West, tends to regard fathers as oppressive monsters . . . . All that is male, even the masculine pronoun, offends the feminist rulers of this age. Sometimes it seems as if the head of every father is veiled in shame, un père humilié."


Rejection of the mother was, if anything, even more vicious. The years immediately following the Second Vatican Council saw a widespread critique of the consecrated woman as sponsa Verbi -- bride of Christ -- and a decline in practices of devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. The anti-motherhood propaganda of radical feminism, based on the lie that motherhood limits a woman's freedom to be herself, combined with the rejection of Humanae Vitae to cast suspicion on every expression of maternal authority and spiritual motherhood.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blessed Titus Brandsma

Here he is in his prison uniform. Blessed Titus was a towering intellect as well as a man of humor, wit and sanctity. He stood up to the Nazis; they put him in Dachau and performed experiments upon him. Before he died, he handed his rosary to the prison nurse and she was converted. He is a saint for our time.
Although neo-paganism no longer wants love, history teaches us that, in spite of everything, we will conquer this neo-paganism with love. We shall not give up on love. Love will gain back for us the hearts of these pagans.

~ Bl. Titus Brandsma, from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours

Lincoln and the Art of Oratory

How did Abraham Lincoln become such a brilliant public speaker? Under the Gables investigates the little log school house where the future president studied for a time, saying:
What produced Lincoln’s awesome command of the English language? While Lincoln said his time in a classroom totaled no more than one year, a peek inside that log-cabin schoolroom gives some idea of the culture that produced the sixteenth President. In 1815, at the age of six, Lincoln first went to school in Knob Creek, Kentucky. The schoolmaster was Zachariah Riney, a native of Maryland, who came to Kentucky to teach students spanning many ages in a one-room school with a dirt floor and without windows.

The primary text in Mr. Riney’s classroom was Dilworth’s Speller: A New Guide to the English Tongue, produced in 1740 by Thomas Dilworth, an English schoolmaster. The rudiments of reading were taught with the alphabet and words such as rat, rate; rid, ride; rot; rote; van, vane. But the content of the reading focused on morals and maxims with short sentences such as: “Amend your way of life,” “I love the humane,” “Uplift the lowly,” “Brevity is the soul of wit.” As one educator has noted: “Except for mathematics, the child who mastered old Dilworth, dog-eared, worn, and re-covered with oilcloth or gingham though it might be, learned more of writing and speaking than is often taught in the first ten years of public education today.”

Morals made up the writing exercises, along with sentences written for each item on lists of synonyms, homonyms, and antonyms.

Here are some helpful public speaking tips:
No grammatical garnish or oratorical flourish can add as much to a speech as good character. The very hint of hypocrisy will doom even the most eloquent speech. Conversely, when you are virtuous, honest, and earnestly committed to that which you speak of, this inner-commitment will tinge each word you utter with sincerity. The audience will feel the depth of your commitment and will listen far more intently then when they know it is mere claptrap.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Good St. Anne..."

"...send me a man." That is a prayer that an Irish lady in Lourdes told me to say to find a husband. It worked, and the rest is history. Everybody needs a Jewish grandma. There is no need too small or insignificant for St. Anne concern herself with; she is at home among the pots and pans, in the garden, the grocery store, and especially in the labor and delivery room. I can even see her standing in the living room in the middle of a family fight, trying to intervene. She is powerful with God. Her shrine in Quebec is among the most beautiful in the world.

St. Anne, Beauty of Judea, Mother of the Virgin, pray for us!

Don Marco offers a wonderful meditation in honor of Saints Anne and Joachim.

(Artwork by Leonardo da Vinci) Share

Tea and Sympathy

Here is an article on a lovely tea room which sounds like a great place to visit when in New York City. Share

Martha and Mary

Steve Skojec has provoked a lively discussion with his article entitled "The Well-Sheltered Catholic." It encourages Catholics to engage the culture rather than turning their backs on it. There was some disagreement as to how much we should be "in the world." I agree that we should engage the culture but everyone is not called to become involved in the same way and to the same extent. It seems to me that in the history of the Church there have always been diverse personalities and vocations. Isn't it the same today? Some people are called to engage the culture head on, like the Apostles in the market place, and they have unique talents which help them to be effective. Others, like the monks of the desert, retreat from the world in varying degrees, creating an atmosphere conducive to peaceful work and prayer. The Church needs both Martha and Mary.

If some of our homeschooling families feel the need to more or less retreat a bit from the mainstream, then they have to follow the call. In their own way, they are building the Kingdom.

I think it is important, no matter what, to strike the right balance between engaging the world and being seduced by it. Similarly, it is easy to fall into Manicheanism and start seeing everything as bad. It is also easy to fall into the less desirable aspects of the culture. There have always been Christians who told dirty jokes; likewise there have always been people like St. Paul who enjoined Christians to avoid such things (Ephesians 5:3)

I think it is important to engage the culture but not necessarily on its own terms. How much and to what degree perhaps depends on the individual and their call and their gifts. Some are called to wage the battle in the front lines, in the big city, in the center of the action. Perhaps others are called to be a contradiction to the world just by creating a garden where children can safely play--or by going off to a backwoods parish in the mountains. All genuine vocations are necessary, and none are to be despised.

Here is the original interview with Barbara Nicolosi which inspired some of the discourse on InsideCatholic. She makes some excellent points. To quote:
There are gifts that come through the arts that you don’t get in sports or anything else. Sports can stretch you physically and teach you about socials and morals and things like that. The arts can refine your soul. They make you a person of decorum. They make you a person of detail and sensitivity. And we need ladies and gentlemen again. We’re so surrounded by vulgarity and crassness and barbarism.

Friday, July 25, 2008

St. James the Greater

This is the day to make a mystical pilgrimage to Compostela, to kneel at the tomb of the son of Zebedee, the tomb of Santiago, whose name was the battle cry of Spain. Share


They were introduced into France by Marie-Antoinette. According to Catherine Delors:
The etiquette required the King and Queen to take some of their meals in public, in front of the courtiers and visitors. Anyone decently dressed was admitted in Versailles, and many came to the Palace to watch the royal couple eat.

The Marquise de La Tour du Pin, who was a lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette, attended those occasions. She notes in her Memoirs that “the King ate with a hearty appetite, but the Queen did not remove her gloves, nor did she unfold her napkin, in which she was very ill-advised.”

Marie-Antoinette literally did not touch her food. This attitude was construed as a mark of contempt for the assembly. The Queen thus unwittingly reinforced her image as a distant, haughty woman.

But those were the meals she took - or rather did not take - in public. Did Marie-Antoinette enjoy food in a more private setting? Let us listen to what Madame Campan, her First Chambermaid, says in this regard:

“[Marie-Antoinette] usually ate nothing but roast or boiled poultry and drank nothing but water. The only things of which she was particularly fond were her morning coffee and a sort of bread to which she had grown accustomed during her childhood in Vienna.”

So Marie-Antoinette, for breakfast, her most intimate, pleasurable food moment, preferred coffee. And what is Madame Campan referring to when she speaks of that sort of bread? Well, croissants, of course!

Homeschooling Seen as Threat

Some reflections. (Via Colleen Hammond.)
You are looking at some of the estimated 2 million children being home schooled in the U.S., and the number is growing. Their reputation for academic achievement has caused colleges to begin aggressively recruiting them. Savings to the taxpayers in instructional costs are conservatively estimated at $4 billion, and some place the figure as high as $9 billion. When you consider that these families pay taxes to support public schools, but demand nothing from them, it seems quite a deal for the public.

Home schooling parents are usually better educated than the norm, and are more likely to attend worship services. Their motives are many and varied. Some fear contagion from the anti-clericalism, coarse speech, suggestive behavior and hedonistic values that characterize secular schools. Others are concerned for their children’s safety. Some want their children to be challenged beyond the minimal competencies of the public schools. Concern for a theistic world view largely permeates the movement.

Indications are that home schooling is working well for the kids, and the parents are pleased with their choice, but the practice is coming under increasing suspicion, and even official attack, as in California.

Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Blessed Martyrs of Guadalajara

There were many atrocities perpetrated upon priests and religious in Spain during the bloody Civil War of the 1930's. In 1936, three Carmelite nuns were shot. Today is their feast, and here is their story.

"Soeur Espagne, sainte Espagne... tu as choisi!
Onze évêques, seize-mille prêtres massacrés... et pas une apostasie!"

~ Paul Claudel, "Aux martyrs espagnols"


Some reflections on Myers' hatred of God.
Now some forms of insanity are morally innocent due to organic troubles with the brain or body, or because of some sort of trauma. But others are chosen and willed. The choice to go out of one's way to blaspheme Jesus Christ, purely for hate's sake, is one of them. And, as with all sins, the sin itself is the punishment, because you then have to organize your life around defending the indefensible, and you become bricked round in the furnace of your own irrational hatred. The hatred breeds lies like, "I'm just exercising freedom of expression."

No. You are committing theft, vandalism, and incitement.


Batman... and Brideshead Bungled

Jeffrey Tucker reviews The Dark Knight. I'll try to see it.
Additionally, the Joker has a trait that we tend to see in evil people. He carries around with him a peculiar assumption, never really questioned. He assumes that everyone else is secretly as bad as he is. Anything that appears otherwise, he believes to be a façade. It is a mask that must be ripped off. In seeking confirmation for this assumption, he entertains himself by putting people in impossible situations that will reveal their core corruption. He revels in pushing people who think they are good into embracing their inner evil. Hence his obsession with ripping off Batman's mask. He must show the world that Batman is as bad as he is.

In pursuit of this confirmation, he is as clever as the devil. He has pressed the city government into evacuating people by means of two boats, one with prisoners and another with regular citizens. He gives a detonator device to the drivers of each ship. He says that he is performing a social experiment. The idea is that each detonator blows up the other ship. If you press the button to blow up the other ship, your ship will be saved. If you do not press quickly, your ship will likely be blown up because surely the people on the other ship will press first. So we have here the classic case of the prisoner's dilemma without the mathematics. It is a raw test of the capacity of others to commit unspeakable crimes in their own self-interest.

As for the remake of Brideshead Revisited, it sounds very disappointing. More HERE. Share

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lilith (1964)

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful-- a faery's child.
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

~from "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats

Turner Classic Movies ran Lilith the other day, oddly coinciding with our parish summer festival. Not that our summer festival is anything like the one shown in Lilith. Based upon the novel by J.R. Salamanca, Lilith depicts a young woman afflicted with schizophrenia and the dangerous spell she casts on those around her. Keats' poem about the "beautiful lady without pity" figures prominently in the book, which explores the mystery of mental illness in far greater depth than does the film. The film is also heavy with nihilism as opposed to the pure tragedy of the novel. Although I must say that Jean Seberg was perfectly cast as the dangerous and beguiling Lilith, possessing the right balance of spritely charm and flaky malevolence needed for such a role.

Both book and film take place in Rockville, Maryland, just down the road from where I grew up. The movie was filmed on location in Rockville; it is fascinating to see what the town looked like before it became a parking lot for Washington, D.C. commuters. The festival scene was shot at an actual parish picnic, that of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Barnesville, Maryland, which is also the site for the drama of the novel. I used to attend that particular picnic in the early 80's and once helped with serving the chicken dinner. (There is still a "Fair" there every summer, according to the parish bulletin.)

When Lilith was on last week, I watched for the glimpse of my friend Joanie's mother, who was caught on film, standing under a tree watching the jousting tournament with some other local people. Jousting is the official state sport of Maryland and figures prominently in the plot of Lilith. It is amid the wholesomeness of the picnic that Lilith's depravity is first exposed, but Vincent, the protagonist played by Warren Beatty, is too smitten to notice, and soon after falls under her thrall.

Most of action of book and film takes place at Chestnut Lodge, a famous clinic for the mentally ill and a landmark in Rockville. The character Vincent is a young Korean War veteran who goes to work as an aid at the clinic. Although he has no formal training, Vincent sincerely wants to help the patients, and his concern and empathy win him the trust of the doctors. He is permitted to take the seriously ill Lilith on outings, and she appears at first to be making progress in his care.

Unfortunately, the doctors and Vincent himself underestimate Lilith's bewitching and seductive charm. They are disarmed by her childlike and innocent manner. So is the viewer/reader likewise deceived, even to the extent that one begins to question if she is really insane at all. Lilith, however, is genuinely psychotic. Vincent betrays his trust and becomes sexually involved with her. Once Vincent becomes her lover, he also becomes her slave, which means playing into her derangement rather than foiling it. The more she indulges her whims, the more divorced she becomes from reality, dragging others along with her into the pit.

What is remarkable about the story is that Lilith's various aberrant behaviors, which in 1964 were considered quite shocking and indicative of her madness, are things which now certain segments of society are trying to convince us are normal. Her narcissism, her self-deification, her lack of boundaries (especially where sexuality is concerned) are traits which, when combined, once put someone in the mental hospital. Today such conduct is regarded by some as part of having a free spirit. It raises the question as to whether an entire society can degenerate into psychosis. If so, then increased self-indulgence is clearly not the path to healing.... Share

Cohabitating Brides and Grooms

Some advice.
Many pastoral agents feel caught between Scylla and Charybdis, fearing that demanding the couple's separation before marriage might dash any hopes of re-evangelizing them during the marriage preparation course. For this reason some might be tempted to turn a blind eye to cohabiting couples.

Here the Latin adage "Suaviter in forma fortiter in re" (gentle in form, firm as to principle) comes into play.

When a couple request a Catholic wedding it is necessary to inquire as to their motives. When the motives are genuinely, even if imperfectly religious, it should be gently but firmly explained that being married in the Church, more than a pretty social event, is a lifelong binding pact between them and God. It thus requires serious spiritual preparation, and the couple should be encouraged to take the commitment fully aware of what is required.

Any diocesan policies should be explained right from the beginning. While the Church is almost always willing to conduct a sacramental marriage so as to at least give the couple the opportunity of returning to the sacraments, many dioceses and pastors are wont to refuse cohabiting couples the full panoply of a religious wedding and insist on a discreet private service.

This is done out of respect for, and to emphasize, the essentially religious nature of the sacrament of holy matrimony so that it is never reduced to the social sphere.

While marriage preparation courses have several goals in preparing the couple for married life, it is gravely incumbent that the couple reach a clear understanding of the commitments toward fidelity, permanence and openness to children. These commitments are essential to celebrate a valid wedding in the Catholic Church. Otherwise the wedding should not proceed, since no pastor should ever risk witnessing a probably invalid marriage.


Gifts from a King

Louis XVI gave gifts to Thomas Jefferson as recorded at Monticello. (Thanks to Richard and The Wilson Revolution Unplugged.) Share

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Saint Mary Magdalen

In the materialistic society in which we must work out our salvation, we have forgotten, if we ever knew at all, what it is to truly fall in love with God. The woman of Magdala, the courtesan of the Roman resort, knew the unhappiness and degradation of being exploited and used. The love of the Son of God, restoring her human dignity with His words and glance, caused her to throw herself at His feet, even as she shattered the jar of alabaster. With the precious ointment she gave her entire self in a complete oblation.

...And the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. (John 12:3) The fragrance of her repentant love continues to emanate throughout the entire Church, the house of God, especially in the person of the consecrated religious, and all those who kneel in awe before the Blessed Sacrament.

The ancient tradition of the church tells of how the Magdalen, after Our Lord's Ascension into Heaven, went to the South of France and lived in solitude and contemplation in a cave on a mountain. It is that region in which was born the culture of chivalry and courtly love. St. Mary Magdalen was named the patroness of lovers, not of unsanctified love but of chaste love, of the love that requires sacrifice, unselfishness and renunciation in which to thrive. She represents the spiritual love which enhances the beauty of the union of bride and groom, that union which foreshadows nothing less than the union of Christ with His Bride the Church in the Paradise of eternity.

In the Litany of the Saints, St. Mary Magdalen's name appears before the list of all the virgins, so highly prized is her humility and repentance by the Church. May she pray for all woman and girls who are being exploited and for our society, enslaved by its worship of license, a license which is opposed to true freedom. May she pray for my ongoing conversion, and accept this small virtual votive light for all the intentions I offer her today.


Loss of Innocence

Catherine Delors has an interesting post on the painter Fragonard. As I try to emphasize in my novel Trianon, all was not sweetness and light in the days before the French Revolution. There was a great deal of corruption, especially under Louis XV, which sowed the seeds of violent Revolution. Share

The Pope in Australia

Scott Richert sums up the Holy Father's journey to Australia. Share

Monday, July 21, 2008

Azilum, Pennsylvania

Last September, while driving north on a winding road through the mountains of Pennsylvania, we passed through an isolated little town called Towanda. I had no idea at the time that right outside Towanda is a place called Azilum (Asylum), founded in 1793 by French exiles, mostly aristocrats. I had heard of Azilum before but did not realize it was there, in the middle of nowhere. If it is in the middle of nowhere now, what must it have been like in the 1790's? It must have been pretty rugged. Anyway, it is Azilum where, according to a charming but unverified legend, royalists planned to bring Marie-Antoinette and her children, had her friends been able to persuade her to escape. Since the queen found it impossible to escape without both of her children and her sister-in-law, she remained in prison and was killed in October 1793.

Azilum stood out among other primitive settlements since the French emigrants seemed determined to make the village as attractive as possible. According to an article in American Heritage Magazine:
The land was plowed by teams of oxen. Grain was planted, maples were tapped for sugar, flax was raised, a gristmill was built (a lady gave her skirt for the first piece of bolting cloth), and icehouses, barns, and sheds sprang up. In all this activity there was a pride in accomplishment and an astonished joyin discovering a new skill. No aristocrat, priest, or officer in France of the ancien régime had soiled his hands either with trade or with manual labor. Ladies had always known how to do charming embroidery, but they had never made their own clothes. The will to overcome old prejudices and master the art of survival shone bravely in these early days of Azilum.

The pioneer spirit was there, but the town that was emerging was not at all like those erected by earlier settlers. Its inhabitants were determined to make it pretty as well as utilitarian from the start. Their houses were constructed of interlocked logs, but they were two stories high, with large windows and shutters that folded back (a letter in Aristide’s best English asks a Philadelphia merchant to send “50 pairs of hinges for the Window shuters”). The émigrés painted the shutters black with white trimmings, and soon individual taste added a transplanted poplar, a weeping willow, flowers, or lawns. Tree branches at the river’s edge were lopped off to allow a house a charming vista of water. Madame Sibert’s domaine consisted of a main house with two smaller side pavilions for kitchens, connected to the main building by covered passageways. The pretty stream flowed through her grounds, nine hundred apple trees were planted in her orchard, and huts for her slaves lined the riverbank.

The infamous Talleyrand was among many nobles who passed into Azilum in the 1790's. (Talleyrand also stumbled into a settlement further south which he dubbed "La Belle Fonte" "beautiful fountain," now known as Bellefonte, where our parish church is.) In spite of the hardships, there were also dancing and festivities at Azilum, and the ladies would wear their jewels. As is recorded on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission website:

Life at Asylum was not entirely a monotonously grim battle with the wilderness. The volatile, fun-loving French found time for picnics, for boating and sleighing parties, for dances in the pavilion on Prospect Rock, and for staging plays in their theater. "La Grande Maison" was the scene of gay assemblies and dinners in honor of notable visitors such as Talleyrand, Louis Philippe, who was later king, and his princely brothers, and Liancourt. Jewels and richly embroidered silk gowns were worn by the ladies on these festive occasions, and their male escorts were but a shade less dazzling in their satin knee breeches, colorful coats, and buckled shoes.

But Asylum was not to endure. There was latent and at times open dislike of the colonists by some Americans, aggravated by the wartime edicts of the French government that after 1795 resulted in seizure and confiscation of American ships and cargoes. The income of the colony's founders from French sources had been cut off, costs were high; titles to lands of the Asylum Company, formed as a speculation in a million acres of surrounding county, were disputed; and Morris and Nicholson went into bankruptcy for the sum of ten million dollars. Times were hard and money tight.

There is not much there anymore. I do not know if Azilum merits a trip for itself, but if we ever happen to be in the neighborhood again, we might stop by. The scenery is breathtaking; it is incongruous to imagine someone like Talleyrand wandering through those mountains, totally out of his element, but gallant all the same.


Historical Accuracy in Fiction

Yesterday Revisited has some thoughts on how the integrity of historical figures should be respected when writing novels. I could not agree more. Just because it is fiction does not mean it is a free-for-all. To quote Susan Higginbotham:
I'm not the sort of purist who goes ballistic when someone in a historical novel wears slashed sleeves a century before they were fashionable (though I'd rather not see such sartorial blunders, which are easy enough to avoid), but I do believe firmly that historical novelists should depict real people as accurately as possible. I harp a great deal on one pro-Richard III novel where William, Lord Hastings is portrayed as drugging and raping a virgin peasant girl, who later dies of the effects of the drug. Such a depiction, which has no justification in the historical record, is, simply put, character assassination.

Veiling the Sacred

Jeff Culbreath has a beautiful post on the meaning and mystery behind the veiling of women at Mass. It is a practice deeply rooted in Scripture and Tradition. Many people seem to have some scruple about veiling themselves when the other women in the church are bare-headed. To me, it is important to follow one's conscience, not what the people around one are doing or not doing. I do not judge the women who choose to go bare-headed and I hope they are not judging me, but if they are, that is their affair. As for imitating those around me, if I did that, I would not be living a Catholic life.

Ladies often say to me: "I wish I were brave enough to wear a mantilla." Dear Ladies, it requires courage to face death and to shed one's blood for the Gospel. It does not require courage to wear a piece of lace or a beret on one's head. For some, it may be a matter of overcoming human respect. If you are drawn to head coverings, then WEAR one and do not worry about what other people think. Share

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Green Dolphin Street (1947)

For those who like movies about nuns, Green Dolphin Street is one of the best. The nuns appear only on the periphery, but it is a vital periphery, encircling the characters throughout the duration of their adventures with a sense of the mystery of Providence. I confess to having not yet read the novel by Elizabeth Goudge so cannot compare it with the film. Lana Turner and Donna Reed play the daughters of a wealthy but devout merchant and his wife on one of the Channel Islands in the 1830's. Monsieur and Madame Patourel did not originally marry for love but come to share a great devotion for each other that supersedes any lost youthful passion. Lana is cast against type; instead of the usual femme fatale, she portrays Marianne, the more practical and plainer of the sisters. Donna is Marguerite, the ethereal beauty of the family, who eventually finds in herself a strength she did not know she possessed. The knowledge does not come until she is ground into the dust, which in this case is the sand of the beach.

Both sisters are smitten with the dashing, hard-drinking William Ozanne (Richard Hart). How typical for teenage girls to be goofy over such a weakling pretty-boy while ignoring the rough and ready, hard-working Timothy Haslam, portrayed by Van Heflin. Timothy nourishes a secret, lifelong love for Marianne, and pulls many strings on her behalf throughout the story. After getting in trouble with the law, Timothy is forced to flee to New Zealand where he reinvents himself. He earns the respect of the Maoris, who dub him "Tai Haruru." William ends up in New Zealand, too, after a series of mishaps, and becomes the business partner of Tai. In a drunken stupor, William writes to Marguerite (Donna Reed) asking her to become his wife, but he mistakenly scrawls her sister's name instead. He is heartbroken when it is Marianne who travels half way around the world instead of Marguerite; Tai forces William to marry her. Marianne, blissfully unaware of the mistake, embarks on a stormy life in the wilds of New Zealand. She fights constantly with Tai, although he delivers her from one calamity after another. She soon realizes that she loves him, but is resolved to stay with her husband no matter what.

Meanwhile, back home on the Island, both the old parents have died, and Marguerite is left alone and heartbroken. She becomes trapped in a smugglers' cave by the incoming tide, and must struggle upward through a steep tunnel. The scene captures magnificently the abandonment of a soul in agony. She finds herself in the monastery garden on the top of the mountain. A new spiritual journey has begun.

It is during final scene of the nuns' clothing ceremony that the characters find peace and resolution which their choices in life, most of which occurred seemingly as the result of accidents. But is there really such a thing as an accident for those who believe in God? That is the question the film seeks to answer.... Share

St. Elias the Prophet, Leader and Father of Carmelites

"Elias the prophet stood up, as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch....Blessed are they that saw thee, and were honored with thy friendship." (Ecclesiasticus 48: 1, 11)

"Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things." (Matthew 17:11)

The greatest of the Old Testament prophets is Elias (Elijah.) The life of St. Elias can best be described by two phases which he often used: "As the Lord liveth, in Whose sight I stand" (3 Kings 17:1), and "With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts." (3 Kings 19:10) Whatever his exterior activities, the prophet remained aware of the constant presence of God. He possessed an unflagging desire to serve his Lord, even in moments of darkness and discouragement. (3 Kings 19: 4, 14)

Elias, called "the Thesbite," first manifested himself during the three year drought and famine by which the God of Israel punished His erring people, who had been led into idolatry by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. (3 Kings 17:1) Described as "a hairy man" (4 Kings 1:8), he usually could be found praying in remote desert and mountain retreats. It was in the solitude of Mt. Horeb that he experienced the majesty of God, not in fire or earthquake, but in the serenity of a "whistling of gentle air." (3 Kings 19:12) His usual haunt seems to have been Mt. Carmel, where he had the famous contest with the 450 prophets of Baal. (3 Kings 18:19) He defeated them by calling down fire from Heaven (3 Kings 18:38), setting the precedent for those who wish to follow in his footsteps as "Carmelites," whose role is to pray for the fire of graces, especially in times of crisis for the Church.

It was also on Mt. Carmel that Elias, deep in prayer, sent his servant to scan the horizon for rain. Finally, after looking seven times, the servant reported "a little a man's foot arising out of the sea." (3 Kings 18: 43-44) Tradition holds that Elias knew the cloud to be a sign of the coming of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. "Henceforward, Carmel was sacred in the eyes of all who looked beyond this world." (Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol. XIII)

St Elias came to have many disciples called the "sons of the prophets." (4 Kings 2:5) This group was seen as being the origin of the Carmelite order, since for generations to come, holy men and hermits would seek to live a life of solitude and prayer in imitation of Elias and the "sons of the prophets." Elias chose Eliseus (Elisha) to be his successor. (3 Kings 19:19) In a remarkable and moving scene, Elias is mysteriously assumed into heaven, riding in a fiery chariot. Before the dramatic departure, Eliseus begged Elias for a double portion of his spirit (4 Kings 2:9)

As Elias is carried away in the whirlwind, he bequeathes to Eliseus his mantle, along with his "double spirit." (4 Kings 2:13) Eliseus continued the work of fighting idolatry, working many miracles which surpassed those of his master. Can the mantle of Elias be seen as prefiguring the brown scapular, which symbolizes the spirit of prayer and penance, the spirit not only of Elias, but of Mary?

The history of Elias the prophet does not end with his assumption, for he makes an appearance in the New Testament as well. He and Moses converse with Jesus at His Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor (Matthew 17:3), as witnesses of the divinity of the Son of God. Afterwards, the Apostles question Our Lord about Elias. "Why then do the scribes say that Elias must come first?" (Matthew 17:10) They refer to the prophecy of Malachias: "Behold, I will send you Elias the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Malachias 4:5) Jesus assures them that Elias has preceded him in person of the John the Baptist (Matthew 17:12), who had the "spirit and power of Elias." (Luke 1:17)

However, Our Lord makes it clear that "Elias indeed shall come and restore all things." (Matthew 17:11) According to the scripture scholar Fr. Herman Kramer: "'John the Baptist did not usher in the great and dreadful day of the Lord,' as was foretold of Elias. That day will be the destruction of Antichrist...." (Fr Herman Kramer, The Book of Destiny, 1975)

Most of the early fathers of the Church identify Elias as one of the "two witnesses" in Chapter 11 of the Apocalypse, who do battle with the Antichrist. The two witnesses are martyred by the son of perdition, but their resurrection and ascension into Heaven ushers in the final defeat of "the beast." (see Apocalypse 11) The exact manner in which such cryptic prophecies will be fulfilled remains to be seen. It is interesting, however, that Carmelites have always used red vestments on July 20 in honor of the martyrdom of Elias that is to come. Share

The Bourbon Crypt in Nova Gorica, Slovenia

The resting place of the last of the Bourbons is in the Franciscan Monastery of Konstanjevica in Nova Gorica in Slovenia. Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, is buried there, with her husband and cousin, the Duc d'Angouleme, as well as her uncle Charles X. Also in the crypt are the princess' nephew Henri V, his wife Marie-Thérèse de Modena, and his sister Louise d'Artois, the widowed Duchess of Parma. The exiled French royal family first came there in 1836 to escape the cholera epidemic which was sweeping Europe and stayed at the Coronini Palace in Nova Gorica, as is described in the novel Madame Royale. Seventeen days after their arrival, Charles X died of cholera on November 6, 1836. He was buried in the nearby monastery, where later a special crypt for the family was constructed. Share

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Actually, her birthday is tomorrow, the feast of Elias the prophet. (Almost every member of my family was born on a Carmelite feast day. It is uncanny.) It is hard to believe that my feisty and beautiful mother is one year short of seventy. The descendant of Spanish conquistadors, Chinese pirates, and Alabama Confederates is more energetic than ever, still driving like a bat out of hell. I will never forget clutching my rosary while riding with her on the Baltimore beltway during a driving rain storm, as the "Love-Death" from Tristan and Isolde resounded from the stereo. The Four Last Things flashed before me as she speedily but deftly wove in and out of traffic.

The above picture is forty years old; she always read aloud to us. It is definitely from my mother that I received a love of books, poetry, opera, painting and traditional liturgy. Share

The Pope in Sydney

It was breathtaking to watch the Pope sail into Sydney harbor. More HERE and HERE.

Is there a connection with St. John Bosco's prophecy? (Via Spirit Daily)

Saturday morning Papal Mass at the Cathedral. Magnificent. Share

Chief Sitting Bull

There are many things in this article that I never knew about the famous Native American chief. Share

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Duchesse de Berry's arrival on the coast of France in 1832

Here is a painting of the stormy arrival of Caroline, Duchesse de Berry, on the coast of France in her attempt to regain the throne for her son Henri V. She ended up being chased by the army all over Brittany disguised as a peasant boy. She was captured in a farmhouse where she had been hiding in a chimney, and was almost burned alive. She was incarcerated in the fortress of Blaye where she gave birth to a daughter, as is told in the novel Madame Royale. Share

Beyond Heroic

Feminine Genius reports on Ingrid Betancourt.

UPDATE: A pilgrimage to Lourdes. Share

Remembering the Tsar

A sad anniversary. (Via The Western Confucian.)

For tears, here is a tribute to the four Grand Duchesses, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, with clips from actual footage of the Imperial Family, as well as from films made about them. (Thanks, Richard.)

UPDATE: Photos from Russia. Share

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Exiles by Ron Hansen is a novel which examines the mystical ties between the challenges experienced by poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins and the deaths of five German nuns in sea disaster. Hopkins' poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland" is woven into the narrative. The first chapters of the book I found riveting for the realistic descriptions of Hopkins' life with the Jesuit scholastics; it was so beautifully written that every line needed to be savored. However, as the book progressed, other than the harrowing scenes of the sinking ship, it became more like a biography of Hopkins and less like historical fiction. Perhaps the author was trying to convey the sense of dryness and desolation of Hopkins' soul, I do not know.

The nuns are introduced in what resembled colorful Wikipedia entries so that the five women sort of ran together for me. The sisters are endearing, nevertheless; they are taken away from us just as we are really getting acquainted with them. They reminded me of nuns whom I have known in my own life. However, my dear nun friends would not quite approve of a sister looking at herself naked in the mirror, as Sister Henrica does in one rather odd scene. Not that the body is bad or shameful, but nuns are not supposed to be preoccupied with themselves, and looking at oneself naked in the mirror conjures up all kinds of thoughts, "I'm too fat, I'm too thin, I'm ugly, I'm beautiful" and most of the old-fashioned nuns were striving to be beyond all that.
Perhaps European nuns in the nineteenth century had a different view of things, but I doubt it.

It is also out of place in Catholic art or literature for a nun to be shown nude, simply out of respect for the vocation of the bride of Christ. Our Lady, female saints, and nuns are generally not depicted in their nakedness, with a some exceptions, such as Eve, of course. The description in Exiles was in no way lewd or erotic; maybe the author wanted to demonstrate the sister unknowingly preparing for her baptism of pain and death. It was just one short paragraph, but a strange one.

The novel delves into the heart of self-offering to God and the utter immolation that is the result. The sisters die a violent death; Hopkins' death is slower but, like the nuns' final end, is caused indirectly by his consecration of himself in the religious life. One wonders if in the mysterious spiritual order of things, the sacrifice of the nuns obtained for Fr. Hopkins the grace to persevere in his vocation, to endure the contradictions of community life, the rejection by his parents, and the misunderstandings of his peers. Hopkins the poet was moved by the news of the passing of five women whom he had never met, moved enough to write a poem about them. Surely from Heaven they prayed for their spiritual brother, so that like them he died giving after giving his all. Hopkins was solitary but not alone, his sisters mystically stood at his side, even as Our Lady and the holy women stood at the foot of the cross of Christ. In spite of its unevenness and quirks, Exiles conveys the reality of the Communion of Saints, a reality which lies hidden behind the storms and sorrows of this world.

InsideCatholic continues the in-depth discussion of Exiles. Share