Thursday, April 30, 2009


Although it has already been discussed here and here, now that I have seen the 2008 film Doubt, during a 12 hour flight across the Pacific, I will throw in my two cents. Meryl Streep was great as Sr. Aloysius, but then I expected nothing less. The other performances were strong as well, with Philip Seymour Hoffman exuding all the classic unctuousness of a predator. I would have suspected him, too. It was Sr. Aloysius' sacred duty to protect her students; she handled the situation well.

However, in my years of attending parochial school and later as a lay teacher at a girls' academy run by nuns, I never saw a sister shriek across the schoolyard the way Sr. Aloysius does in the movie. I never saw a nun strike a child at Mass. I know such things happened but not in my experience. Now the nuns who taught us at St. John's in Frederick may have raised their voices but they did not shriek and usually they could maintain order just by a glance. The sound of the Sr. Mariana's heels clicking down the corridor was enough to send a shiver of silence throughout the school. Most nuns whom I have known have been able to command respect without histrionics. I think it has something to do with the discipline of the religious life; striving to master oneself makes it easier to master others.

Also, real nuns are not afraid of what anyone thinks. They do not mince words; they will tell you what you need to hear if they think it is for your own good, which is a terrifying prospect indeed. The good effect of this is that if you have been around nuns long enough, you can lose your own inordinate fears of what people think. In this regard, the portrayal of Sr. Aloysius was on target.

My main criticism of the film is that there was not a single admirable male character to counterbalance the creepy priest with long fingernails, the indifferent bishop, and the father who beats up his little boy. I wish they had shown at least one positive clerical character to give lie to the idea that the Catholic Church was infested by perverts. It is such an insult to the majority of priests who have given their lives to serve God's people.

The breviary with the green covers bothered me, especially since the camera kept focusing on it. Certainly it would not have been terribly difficult to find a black breviary with red edged pages such as was used at the time. The producers must think we are ignorant of our own religion.

And I did not understand why Sr. Aloysius was weeping about having "doubts" at the end of the film. The only matter for doubt in her regard was when she said to Fr. Flynn that she was going to expose him, even if it meant sending her own soul to hell. Perhaps she said it just for effect...I was taught never to make a risky statement about the afterlife, especially about one's potential damnation, never. It was one of the aspects of Doubt that struck a bizarre note in an otherwise excellent production. Share

Haydn and the Habsburgs

Here is a compelling article from History Today about Joseph Haydn and the German nation. (Via Joshua Snyder) Share

Mother's Day is Coming!

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

~Christina Rosetti, "Sonnets are full of love" (1881)

Mother's day is right around the corner (May 10). Toronto artist Gabriela Delworth has some gift-wrapping inspirations. As for gift ideas, please do visit our sponsors.

The fragrance people at Tuccini are offering a 5% discount to readers of Tea at Trianon from now until the end of May, coupon code: TUC5MAY.

Flowers are 10% off for readers of this blog, with the code ZK-8978, and gift baskets, as well.

There are also coffees, cheeses and chocolates.

Thanks to those who have already supported this site by patronizing our sponsors!

(Artwork courtesy of Hermes) Share

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Lawn Police

After a cold and rainy spring, we finally had four days in a row of sunshine, the effect of which has been to make our grass spring up almost over night. My initial reaction was delight that the grass was finally showing signs of activity, until I saw a neighbor glaring at the dandelions and clumps of onion grass in our yard. Uh-oh. We unfortunately did not dash out to tend to it.

Then the day before yesterday, while we were having school, I saw a truck from the Borough parked outside the house, and one of the workers carefully measuring our grass. Yes, that is what they do around here, measure people's grass; if it surpasses a certain height (the exact number of inches eludes me at the moment) then the offending homeowners are fined. We do not know if someone reported us or if it was random stop by the lawn police.

As one might guess, the lawns of our neighbors are manicured to perfection, pumped with so many chemicals to create an almost unnatural shade of green, excessively pruned and prim and utterly devoid of charm. The houses are ranch-style from the seventies, as utilitarian as can be imagined, and ugly as sin. The lawns are maintained at great effort and expense, which is so strange since no one is ever seen sitting in the front if their homes, enjoying the result of such costly maintenance; it is all just for show.

Not that I do not enjoy gardening myself, I do. However, in the last few years, things have gotten a little out of hand in some of the flower and herb beds, which seems to bother our neighbors more than it bothers me.

Such bourgeois obsession with lawn care is completely alien to me. When I grew up in Maryland our house was at the end of a long driveway, surrounded by dense woods, on a back country road. Even had we lived in view of the road, it probably would not have kept my father from leaving his canoe in the front of the house, where it could be more easily loaded onto the top of the car for frequent outdoor excursions. While we did have a front yard, sort of, the pine trees created dense shade; the grass never grew very tall. Along the sunny side of the house, my mother made a sloping rock garden with bonsai trees, rhododendrons, and a profusion of petunias and marigolds. No grass to cut there. As for the lawn in the back of the house, it was surrounded by woods and pasture. There were dogwood, sassafras, oak, maple, and plenty of pine. Some trees were draped with wild roses and honeysuckle, which would bloom in June. Often, in the spring, we would let the horses out to graze in the lawn, which made for a rather lumpy effect, but why let such lovely grass go to waste? And we were outside a great deal; it was a place of beauty, mostly due to the rusticity.

Now I live in the most conventional of middle class neighborhoods, where lawn maintenance is enshrined in law. Not that a yard should become a wilderness, and there are times when the municipal authorities should intervene. However, for a city to pay people to measure the grass of private citizens in order to discern whether or not the yard offends is a bit much. But, unless I like paying fines, cutting the grass as soon as it gets an inch beyond the designated height must be a priority, because such is life in "Happy Valley." Share

Bishop Pompallier

The Catholic Church in New Zealand was established by means of the apostolic efforts of Jean Baptiste François Pompallier. Bishop Pompallier went to evangelize Oceania with the support of Queen Marie-Amélie, a great-niece of Marie-Antoinette's. As a missionary, Pompallier had remarkable success with the Maoris, learning the Maori language and converting one of the Maori chiefs, all within six months of his arrival in New Zealand. According to New Zealand History Online:
Bishop Pompallier was born in Lyons, France, in 1802. He was consecrated Bishop with responsibility for Western Oceania (including New Zealand) in 1836. He arrived in New Zealand in 1838, and by the mid-1840s had established a number of Catholic missions. By 1843 the French missions claimed about 45,000 Maori converts.

The position of the French mission was precarious. Relations between Britain and France were tense at this time, most British settlers were hostile, and the English Church Missionary Society was making inroads. These difficulties were worsened by isolation, lack of resources, and disruption caused by the wars. Most of the French missions failed – except in the north, where a Catholic influence was maintained.

Pompallier was sympathetic to Maori concerns, and for his time, he had an enlightened view towards Maori culture. He was at Waitangi when the Treaty was signed on 6 February 1840, and asked Lieutenant-Governor Hobson for his promise to protect the Catholic faith. This pledge is sometimes referred to as the unwritten "fourth article" of the Treaty, and is said to protect and recognise not only major western religions, but also Maori custom.

In 2002, the Cardinal Archbishop of Wellingtion said the following words about bishop Pompallier's legacy:
If asked to set down what really matters in our lives, surely most of us would have the gift of the Catholic Faith high up on the list.

Then if we were to ask ourselves: "How did we come by this gift of faith?” we may mention our parents or a teacher, a priest or a friend. But how did they come by it? How did our faith get here to our country, to our region?

166 years ago the then Pope appointed a young French priest, Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier, to be head of the Catholic mission to Western Oceania. He was only 34 years old and was placed in charge of a vast area. The story of his travel from France, his stopping off on various places on the way (in Tahiti, Tonga, Wallis and Futuna, Rotuma) makes fascinating reading.

He arrived early January 1838 in Aotearoa New Zealand and worked for thirty years to bring the Catholic faith to the people of this land. He was helped by Maori won to the faith before his arrival, priests and brothers of the Society of Mary, immigrant Catholic families from England and Ireland, Sisters of Mercy, and other Religious. He was quick to learn both English and Maori. He founded missions in 16 different places throughout the length of our country.

He had a close relationship with many Maori leaders. Few New Zealanders, including Catholics, know about the contribution made by Bishop Pompallier at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. There he insisted that a clause be added which would guarantee the right of religious freedom for all.

After thirty years of hard work - old, sick and tired - he returned to France and was buried near Paris. Yet he had left behind a pearl of great value, the gift of Faith.

In 2002 the remains of Bishop Pompallier were returned to New Zealand where he had worked under very difficult conditions for the salvation of souls.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Changeling (2008)

Since Air New Zealand offers a variety of film choices for each passenger, I decided to catch up on some movies, including Changeling, the recent drama directed by Clint Eastwood. It is a heartrending story, almost painful to watch. The measured increase of suspense made it mesmerizing, however, as well as the authentic sets and truthful, stirring performances. Angelina Jolie was able to capture the graceful and modest bearing of a lady of the era, quite a feat of acting for a contemporary woman. After a few seconds I even forgot it was Angelina in the role of Christine Collins, an agonized young mother whose son has disappeared.

Based on a true story, the actual circumstances of little Walter's disappearance were much more grisly than shown in Changeling, which deals with the tragedy in a restrained manner; otherwise, it would have been a horror flick. It was unspeakably sad just to see the story from the mother's point of view. Sad, but not depressing, since Christine's resolve not to give up on the search for her son, in spite of extreme measures taken against her by the LAPD, is almost uplifting to watch. She refuses to exchange truth for lies at great cost to herself, and in the end is proved to be right, while those who live by lies are at last inextricably caught in their falsehoods. When the love of a mother is rooted against the most grotesque forms of evil, the love shines forth in spite of the darkness around it, and ultimately has the upper hand. At least, that is what the film said to me. Share

Susan Boyle

I think she's just darling, as cute as can be. Here is a beautiful article about her which sums it all up. (Via Feminine Genius) Share

Monday, April 27, 2009

Saint Nuno

The great champion of Portugal and devoted servant of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been canonized. According to Pope Benedict:
The seventy years of his life take place in the second half of the 14th Century, and the first half of the 15th Century, which saw that nation solidify its independence from Castille and extend through the Oceans - not without a particular design by God -, opening new routes which would lead to the arrival of the Gospel of Christ unto the ends of the Earth.

Saint Nuno considers himself an instrument of this higher design, and engages himself in the militia Christi, that is, in the service of testimony that every Christian is called to give to the world. His characteristics are an intense life of prayer, and an absolute trust in Divine help.

Even though he was a superlative soldier and a great leader, he never let his personal gifts be placed above the supreme action which comes from God. Saint Nuno made an effort not to place obstacles to the action of God in his life, imitating Our Lady, to Whom he was most devoted, and to Whom he publicly ascribed his victories. At the end of his life, he retired to the convent of the Carmel [Lisbon], which he had ordered to be built.

New Friends from Down Under

Among the many remarkable people I met at the Eucharistic Convention were two Australians, Fr. John Flader and Sr. Trish Franklin. Sometimes moments of grace come to us in the form of consecrated persons, whose witness cannot help but move the soul. One evening our generous hosts took us all out to a lovely Japanese restaurant in Takapuna. I was blessed to have a fascinating conversation with Fr. Flader, who is actually an American and a Harvard graduate, now Director of the Catholic Adult Education Centre of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia. Father is also a member of Opus Dei and he knew Saint Josemaría Escrivá. Like his spiritual mentor, Fr. Flader gives clear instruction in matters of faith and morals while witnessing to the truth and beauty of the Catholic teaching.

Sr. Trish is a dynamo who works with the poorest of the poor in Vietnam. I had a long talk with her about many things, and her insights into the problems of life are both wise and shrewd. She takes care of many impoverished and incapacitated children, who suffer from blindness and other ills. As she is quoted on the Convention website: "I don't think I could do this work without my faith, without turning to God every day in prayer. I don't think I'd have any resources if I didn't have faith and prayer." The Loreto-Vietnam Australia Project does phenomenal work, if anyone is looking for a charity in which their donation would go directly to the poorest. Share

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dining in Public

Madame Campan describes how Marie-Antoinette found the custom of dining in public to be such a mortification:

One of the customs most disagreeable to the Queen was that of dining every day in public. Maria Leczinska had always submitted to this wearisome practice; Marie Antoinette followed it as long as she was Dauphiness. The Dauphin dined with her, and each branch of the family had its public dinner daily. The ushers suffered all decently dressed people to enter; the sight was the delight of persons from the country. At the dinner-hour there were none to be met upon the stairs but honest folks, who, after having seen the Dauphiness take her soup, went to see the Princes eat their bouilli, and then ran themselves out of breath to behold Mesdames at their dessert.

Very ancient usage, too, required that the Queens of France should appear in public surrounded only by women; even at meal-times no persons of the other sex attended to serve at table; and although the King ate publicly with the Queen, yet he himself was served by women with everything which was presented to him directly at table. The dame d’honneur, kneeling, for her own accommodation, upon a low stool, with a napkin upon her arm, and four women in full dress, presented the plates to the King and Queen. The dame d’honneur handed them drink. This service had formerly been the right of the maids of honour. The Queen, upon her accession to the throne, abolished the usage altogether. She also freed herself from the necessity of being followed in the Palace of Versailles by two of her women in Court dresses, during those hours of the day when the ladies-in- waiting were not with her. From that time she was accompanied only by a single valet de chambre and two footmen. All the changes made by Marie Antoinette were of the same description; a disposition gradually to substitute the simple customs of Vienna for those of Versailles was more injurious to her than she could possibly have imagined. ~Memoirs of the Court of Marie-Antoinette by Madame Campan

(Artwork courtesy of Trianon de la Reina) Share

Sacred Music

Fr. Mark explains what the Vatican Council did and did not change. It has always seemed to me that the GIRM is ignored for the most part in parishes. As Father laments:

I am astonished at the number of clergy and professional musicians in the service of Catholic churches who are ignorant of the proper place of hymnody in the Catholic liturgy. With the exception of the Gloria and the Sanctus (hymns in the very broad sense of the term), and of the Sequences sung for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and Our Lady of Sorrows, hymns, as such, are entirely foreign to the celebration of Holy Mass. In the Divine Office, however, there is a metrical hymn at every Hour. Hymns, then, properly belong to the Liturgy of the Hours, while sung dialogues, antiphons, psalmody, and acclamations belong to the Mass.

The standard hymn singing that characterizes Protestant (or protestantized) worship is performed in a relatively uniform and congregational manner. The liturgical chant of our Catholic tradition, on the other hand, privileges the responsorial, dialogical, antiphonal and acclamatory modes of performance. These, being among the most effective forms of actual sung participation, manifest more adequately the mystery of the Church as a Eucharistic organism of different members, characterized by "the order of symphony, an order in liberty and in love." The way we sing at Mass effectively shapes one's understanding -- or misunderstanding -- of the Church, of the priesthood, and of the hierarchical ordering of the liturgical assembly. A protestantized approach to music at Mass will inevitably engender a protestantized ecclesiology.

Sing the Liturgy Itself

A composition that does not belong to the liturgy and lead more deeply into the mystery celebrated, even though it be sung with full-voiced enthusiasm by all, cannot be qualified a true expression of conscious and active participation in the liturgical action. Active participation implies that the assembly is singing the liturgy itself, beginning with the dialogical chants, acclamations and refrains.


Real Changes

Fr. Mark quotes from the great Dominican, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange:
The modern spirit of unbridled pleasure leads inevitably to destruction, as is only too evident from the past two wars. No genuine peace has resulted, precisely because men have refused to see the meaning of divine chastisements and to return to a life which is both naturally upright and Christian. And so the Holy Ghost has implanted in many souls the seeds of genuine and fruitful reparation....

But what is required is a careful study of the actions and ambitions of the saints, whether they were founders of Orders or excellent secular priests; and this study must be undertaken not in any mere historical or theoretical frame of mind but from a practical point of view. Neither must we neglect the perennial teaching of the Church and the Popes about the religious life and the priestly life. . . . We will then discover the real changes that have to be made, in a spirit of faith, trust in God, and self-diffusive charity.

The Very Reverend Father R. Garrigou-Langrange, O.P.
The Priest in Union with Christ, pp. 67-69
The Newman Press, 1952

Several of the books of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange are available HERE. Share

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I found In-Sight, the new novel by Gerard Webster about a real estate scam in a small Florida town, to be a highly enjoyable read. I was hooked on the first page by the vivid characters who at first seem to be entirely unconnected with each other. It is gradually revealed how they are linked in several mysterious ways. The title is suitable since the author displays a shrewd insight into the workings of human nature, especially the destruction wrought by addictive behaviors. On the other hand, it is also demonstrated how "tough" love can set the stage for the healing of inner wounds. The mystery of iniquity and the mystery of divine grace strive with each other for mastery of the various characters, with individual free will determining which will triumph.

The plot centers around syndicated columnist Ward McNulty, who has managed to break free of his embarrassing, working class Catholic parents so as to enter into a sophisticated, glamorous world of cocktail parties, career politicians, and celebrities. His own celebrity status has acquired for him the favors of lovely anchorwoman Carrie Hope, who is as seduced as Ward is by the allure of power and wealth. Ward is trying to help a group of businessmen and politicians realize their scheme of buying out all the residents of a small island, which they plan to turn into a multimillion dollar resort. When Ward discovers that he will be working against his own family, his conscience is awakened.

Furthermore, the determination of the magnates turns increasingly sordid, as they try to smear the local parish priest when he gets in their way. The only person who can save the priest and the residents from disaster is the lawyer Bob Rohrbach, a man of unflinching integrity. He is also in love with Ward's sister Beatrice. Bob is a man who will not be stopped, who fears neither small town intrigues nor big time crooks; therefore his adversaries must plan how to remove him.

As the drama unfolds, the reader is shown the sleazy underside of certain corrupt business and political schemes, as well as the far-reaching influence of even one person of integrity, be that person a brilliant lawyer or a simple cleaning lady. Sacrificial love is the only power which will overcome the forces of selfishness and greed, and this is illustrated in a heartrending manner at the end of the novel. Fast paced with never a dull moment, In-Sight is fiction that, while highly entertaining, provokes reflections about life and death, and about those mysteries of heaven and earth which surround us unseen.

(*In-Sight was sent to me as a gift from the author.)

Court Pomp

There is a new exhibit at Versailles about 18th century court apparel. Thanks to Lauren for the scoop! Share

Friday, April 24, 2009

Supremacy and Survival

Supremacy and Survival - How Catholics Endured the English Reformation
Faith of our Fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!
~ Fr. Frederick William Faber, 1814-1863
Supremacy and Survival by Stephanie Mann provides an overview of the history of the persecution of Catholics in England, beginning in the sixteenth century, as well as the later Catholic revival. Narrated with clarity and insight, Mann draws from a variety of scholarly studies on the Reformation, making the book an excellent introduction to the story of the fall and subsequent rise of the Catholic Church in the British isles. While the book was a refresher course for me about an epoch I have always found fascinating, the way in which Mann synthesizes the information into a coherent and flowing analysis gave me a deeper understanding of the sequence and significance of events.

The extent of the literacy and vigorous participation of English Catholics in the life of the Church before the break from Rome is highlighted. (pp. 6-10) Certain aspects of Mary Tudor's tragic, difficult life and disappointing reign are likewise poignantly presented. For instance, Mary, upon her succession to the throne, had to deal with people such as Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who had worked for her parents' divorce. Mary loved children and had extensive charities, possessing the common touch, an ability to go directly to her people and be at ease among them, an essential Tudor trait. However, her education had been interrupted by the upheavals of her youth; she was afflicted by ill health, including raging headaches. (p. 42) Her Spanish marriage was her undoing; it brought foreigners into England, which did not go over well. Neither did the burning of the heretics, but in that Mary acted no differently from other European monarchs. Nevertheless, one of the themes of the book is that Catholicism came to be seen by the English people as being connected to foreign powers and therefore distinctly anti-English and dangerous.

The reign of Elizabeth is approached in a balanced manner, emphasizing the greatness of the Virgin Queen as a ruler while showing her cynical approach towards religion. As Mann states:
We do not know what Elizabeth's personal religious convictions were. She acted like a Protestant under her half-brother Edward, then seemed to accept Catholicism under her half-sister Mary. Like her father, she opposed both Puritan and Catholic dissent; but she rejected Catholic teachings he would have accepted, especially the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. Henry VIII would never have walked out of Mass as she did when the Host was elevated at her coronation. In fact, he would have executed anyone who did such a thing. Nevertheless, Elizabeth wanted the pomp and ritual of the Church of England service.... Yet she also employed the services of her own pursuivant and torturer of Catholic priests, Richard Topcliffe. Religion was part of her public role as Queen of England. Elizabeth was politic in her expression of it. (p.54)
It was during the reign of Elizabeth that embracing the Church of England became the measure of one's patriotism, as Catholicism came to be identified more and more with the enemies of England. The courage and martyrdom of some the most famous saints are covered, enough to give the reader a sense of the ordeals to which many people were subjected when they refused to deny their Faith.

Mann is able to follow the complexities of the various sects who strove for power within and without the Church of England, as well as delineate the various stances on theological issues. The rise of Puritanism is skillfully traced, leading to its temporary ascendancy after the execution of Charles I. The brutality of Oliver Cromwell's forces in Ireland is described in the context of the general hatred towards Catholics. Throughout the entire book, it is told how the Irish people repeatedly suffered at the hands of the English invaders, due to the Irish refusal to renounce Catholicism. Cromwell summed up the general attitude by saying his slaughter of so many Irish men, women and children was "the righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches." (p. 99)

As one decade led to another, the Church of England increasingly became an establishment church for those who wished to be socially acceptable. I think that Mann expresses it quite accurately when she says:
Religion became a matter of behaving well, not praying well or believing well. Under the control of the state, the Church of England did not build new churches to accommodate the shifting populations nor did it repair the existing ones.... The Church of England's latitudinarian moderation could satisfy the mind but it could not reach the heart. (p. 117)
Supremacy and Survival would make a worthwhile addition to any high school or university course of study, in that it offers a solid background of the period, as well as providing an extensive bibliography for further reading. On a spiritual level, the book inspires courage when recounting the sufferings of those who are our brothers and sisters in the Faith, those who valued truth and fidelity over life itself.

Booker T. Washington

He has been unfairly maligned, according to an article by Dylan Hayes on "The Soul of Booker T. Washington." (Via Joshua Snyder) To quote:

A former slave, Southern patriot, neo-agrarian capitalist, and founder of the famed Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington is perhaps the most unfairly maligned figure in American history. In an age where revisionist history has become the norm, and consensus accounts are usually viewed critically, the standard appraisal of Washington has largely stayed the same. Heavily influenced by Washington’s primary ideological rival W.E.B. Du Bois (a man Washington once offered a job), these histories always seem to paint Washington as an accommodationist of the worst aspects of the post-Civil War South—and often as an outright opponent of his people.

The recent book “Up From History” by Robert Norrell attempts to fill this void, and to a large degree, is successful. Though Norrell is clearly sympathetic to Washington, he does not pull punches that need to be thrown and his overall assessment provides the reader with a detailed and rich portrait of a complex and decidedly conservative figure, who for nearly twenty years was the unquestioned “leader” of his race in the United States....

More importantly however, is the fact that Booker was not calling for a State-enforced segregation policy. He was not calling for segregation at all. Washington was simply noting that blacks didn’t need whites to define their lives or black worth. The lives of African-Americans, and their quality, should be defined by black men, for black men, and integrationist schemes that would dilute this integral independence were counter-productive. It is true that Booker was ultimately an integrationist of sorts, but he was not an “accommodationist.” While the difference is a matter of degree—that difference is a chasm—too large to ignore and worthy of its own category.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mary Stuart on Broadway

There is a new rendition of Schiller's Mary Stuart now playing on Broadway. Here is an article about the costumes. Share

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Home Again

Rangitoto Island

After a very long journey, I am home at last. I left New Zealand on the evening of Tuesday April 21 and when I arrived in Los Angeles twelve hours later, it was technically the same day. In fact, it was still Tuesday when I flew out of Los Angeles at 10:40 pm. Although recovering from a double dose of jet lag I want to jot down a few memories of my trip before they begin to fade.

I stayed at the Spencer on Byron Hotel; from my room I had a stunning view of Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is a relatively young volcano, now extinct, and beautiful to gaze at across the bay. One of the most compelling aspects of the trip was the fact that in New Zealand the month of April is equivalent to September in Pennsylvania, with the crickets chirping nostalgically, and the leaves beginning to change. While I could always intellectually grasp the difference of the seasons in the southern hemisphere, to experience autumn during the Easter octave must be one of the most unusual experiences of my life.

On the other hand, the Eucharistic Convention has to be one of the most well-organized events I have ever participated in. I was treated like royalty, and for this I must thank John and Beth Porteous, whose kindness and generosity made it possible for me to travel to the other side of the world. I must also thank Nicholas and Gabrielle Reid, who opened their home and family to me, in those hours when I was not busy at the convention. I have always found spending time with the people of a country to be more enlightening and inspiring than trying to see a great deal of sites all at once. Gabrielle was my guardian angel, who got me wherever I needed to go, picking me up at the airport in the wee hours, and giving me a great deal of support and encouragement as I prepared for my talks. Nicholas is a poet and historian, the author of several books, who also writes the program notes for Opera New Zealand. I thoroughly enjoyed the lively discussions about politics, opera, and history that I had with the Reids. They took me to Kelly Tarlton's to see the penguins, the sharks and the stingrays, then to the Auckland museum where there was a fascinating exhibit on the Maori culture. Auckland is truly the "City of Sails" and someday I would like to return in the summer, since there is so much to explore there. Share

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hello from Auckland!

The Eucharistic Convention is almost over, and I must say that it has been a grace-filled experience. What a marvelous thing it is to come to the other side of the world and find brothers and sisters who share the same faith, the same values, the same traditions, but then that is the beauty of our holy Catholic faith. I was a bit under the weather at first; jet lag can be a bit like postpartum depression in that one feels weepy and overwhelmed. However, everyone at the convention was so welcoming and reassuring that I made a speedy recovery. It was an honor to meet some of the other speakers, namely Bishop Patrick Dunn, Fr. John Flader, Sr. Trish Franklin, and Dr. Mark Miravalle. All of the talks have been incredibly inspiring, along with the prayer and fellowship. The Masses have been Gregorian chant as well as some magnificent polyphony, worthy of a major basilica. The rosary was chanted each day in Latin during the Holy Hour~ how beautiful! The teas and lunches catered by the Filipina ladies were quite delicious. The time has sped by; when not participating in the devotions, I have been having some amazing conversations with people from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds. It has been an experience of such powerful faith that it would be impossible for me to come away unchanged. I am also happy to say that my talks were well-received and opened up many interesting discussions. Overall, I have learned more than I have taught, and have received so much more than I have given. Share

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I am leaving for New Zealand today and so will not blogging much for the next ten days or so. The trip will make a lovely Easter retreat. It is also a pilgrimage in which I will be joining fellow Christians in worshiping our Eucharistic Lord. There will be plenty of time for reading on the plane and so I will have some more books to talk about when I return. Please pray for me.

"If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea:
Even there also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." Psalm 138: 9-10

(Artwork courtesy of Art Renewal) Share

St. Malachy and Fr. René Thibaut

"But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." 2 Peter 3:8

"But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone." Matthew 24:26

After I shared some reflections about the famous “Prophecy of St Malachy” a month or so ago (see The Prophecies of St. Malachy, Part 1 and Part 2) a reader sent me a book entitled La Mystérieuse prophétie des papes by Fr. René Thibaut, S.J. (Namur: Bibliothèque de la Faculté de philosophie et lettres,1951, Imprimatur: June 28, 1945, Et. Jos. Carton de Wiart) Fr. Thibaut (1883-1952) was a Belgian Jesuit and scholar who made a study of the list of popes attributed to St. Malachy. Fr. Thibaut’s research reveals that there is a great deal more to the Prophecy than I had ever imagined. It is a penetrating treatise which, because of the author’s vast knowledge of Church history and Sacred Scripture, both informs and inspires. The middle of the book is devoted to charts tracing the date of Easter over the years, and the leap years, as well as various ciphers, anagrams and acrostics with which, as Fr. Thibaut demonstrates, the list of Popes is imbued. Fr. Thibaut’s analysis becomes complex at that point although he explains his conclusions with clarity.

Fr. Thibaut maintains that the Prophecy of the Popes is a genuine prophecy. However, the identity of the actual prophet remains unclear. The author of the Prophecy is probably not St Malachy but someone who wrote under the name of the great Irish saint in order to honor him. (p.7) Fr. Thibaut insists that the Prophecy is not meant to worry or disturb but to reassure the faithful about the Providence of God during even the most difficult of times. It is a sort of litany which celebrates the glory and triumph of the universal Church throughout the ages under the leadership of the Roman pontiffs. (p.24) It was a mistake for people of the past (and present) to use the list of popes in order to predict who the next pope would be, for that was never the intention of the original author. (p.20) Neither is it meant to herald the imminent end of the world, because "of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone." (Matthew 24:36)

According to Fr. Thibaut, the papal legate Nicholas Sanders (1530-1581) may have brought a primitive document containing the Prophecy to Rome during the reign of St. Pius V. Sanders spent a great deal of time in Ireland, which continued to be Catholic in spite of Elizabeth I. Sanders wrote De visibili Monarchia Ecclesiae in which he states that the reigns of the popes are the best “measure of time.” (pp. 23-24) Fr. Thibaut believes that the Prophecy, eventually made public by Wion in 1595, has qualities which indicate an older document of Celtic origin, namely due to the word play and the use of numbers in the various anagrams and acrostics. (p.92) Reading Fr. Thibaut’s explanation of the complex patterns of words and numbers embedded in the list reminds me of the intricacy of the Celtic knot work designs in the Book of Kells and other Irish illuminated manuscripts, albeit the intricacy is in numbers and letters rather than designs.

Of the 111 titles describing all the popes and anti-popes from 1143 to the present, Fr. Thibaut says that while the first 71 titles have been subjected to the tampering of a forger, the last 40, which cover the years 1572 to 2012, are untouched. The year of 2012 is repeatedly emphasized as coinciding with the last Pope on the list, called the “Glory of the Olive.” Fr. Thibaut demonstrates the calculation of the year 2012 on a series of charts. The last 40 popes of the genuine part of the prophecy span four centuries with an average of eleven years per reign, and so he calculates 440 years from 1572. 1572 +440 =2012. (pp. 22-23) Fr. Thibaut shows how the year 2012 keeps appearing in other calculations as well. He also insists that it will only be in the year 2012 that it will become clear whether his interpretation of The Prophecy is correct or not. (p.101)

Fr. Thibaut says that 2012 signifies the end of an era in the history of the Church, recalling how other eras have come and gone. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 marked the close of an era, as did the fall of Rome in the fifth century. The fifteenth century saw the end of medieval Christianity with the Reformation. (p.22) The Revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the World Wars of the twentieth century were events which manifested the judgment of God as well as signaling changes for the Church and the world. (pp. 88, 92, 96)Throughout such stages, the Church has been guided by the successors of St. Peter. (p. 22)

Speaking of St. Peter, the list concludes with the following phrase: "In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people.” Fr. Thibaut explains how “Peter the Roman” does not signify a future pope calling himself “Pope Peter II” but rather Petrus Romanus symbolizes all the Roman pontiffs since St. Peter, for the Church has continually undergone persecution of some kind. (p.25) The destruction of Rome will not necessarily follow immediately after the end of the era in 2012, but may come at a later date. (p.21) Nevertheless, Fr. Thibaut surmises that it is not unthinkable that at some point in the future the Popes may change their residence and govern the Church from somewhere other than the city of Rome. (p.22)

The final pope on the list is given the title Gloriae olivae, “The Glory of the Olive.” Fr. Thibaut says that the olive represents the people of God whom His judgment will glorify. (p.97) Once again, Fr. Thibaut insists that the Prophecy is genuine since so often in the last 400 years the titles have accurately described a pope and his reign, too many times for it to be pure chance. This is discussed in great detail and perhaps will be the topic of a future blog post. (To do full justice to such an exhaustive work is beyond the scope of one or two blog articles.) Fr. Thibaut ends by saying: L'année 2012 dira si, oui ou non, le prophête a vu clair. (p.101) That remains to be seen.

(More reflections on Fr. Thibaut's book, HERE.) Share

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Jewels of France

Paris Atelier offers an extensive post on the jewels of royal and imperial France. I am always struck by how Marie-Antoinette, in spite of her reputation, is usually shown wearing only a few discreet pieces. Her daughter, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, is portrayed below.



Margaret discusses the quest for order and serenity. She expresses it all so well, saying:
If your house is a mess, it likely means that there is some sort of problem that needs to be addressed. Maybe you are a pack rat. Your husband does not pick up after himself. Perhaps your children are not trained to be responsible for their things. Superfluous possessions are beginning to possess you. Maybe your home is touched by illness or major life change. You don't manage your time wisely. Sentimentality is a burden; not knowing what heirlooms to part with and what ones to keep is daunting. Your computer or television are draining your energy and your time. Organization isn't your strong point. Or, you have succumbed to sloth. If you are unsure where to begin, there are literally thousands of posts online about housekeeping routines, cleaning, organization and decluttering. Whatever the cause of your unkempt home, there are bound to be solutions for your situation. You just have to be willing to make the effort to implement them.

The state of your home and your housekeeping (or lack thereof) is between you and God. You know if you are slothful. You know if you are procrastinating. You know if you have a genuine excuse for a messy house.

The goal should be cleanliness and order, not sterile, stark perfection. A Christian home should feel warm and welcoming - lived in. We are not trying to win 'House Beautiful' awards. Out of respect for God, our families and guests, our homes should be healthfully clean and picked up.

A Day in the Life


Lauren describes how Empress Maria Theresa spent her days. Share

Monday, April 13, 2009


The noble's daughter was set to do all the drudgery of the house, to attend the kitchen fire, and had naught to sleep on but the heap of cinder raked out in the scullery; and that is why they called her Cinder Maid.
~from "The Cinder Maid" by Joseph Jacobs
Cinderella is perhaps the most universal of fairy tales, one that has variations in many cultures over the course of several centuries. The experience of having a stepmother was not uncommon in the days when women sometimes died in childbirth and so the story of the "Cinder Maid" resonated deeply with past generations. Today, with the high rate of divorce and remarriage, young people often find themselves living in the same house with a step-parent, which even in the best situations can offer challenges for everyone involved.

On the most basic level, Cinderella is a tale of injustice and suffering inflicted upon an innocent by an older person whose job should have been to nurture and protect. The innocent is aided by forces from beyond this world, leading to final vindication; in this manner the story fulfills the very natural hope of those who have endured any type of material misery or abuse. As is the case with other fairy tales, the older versions are darker and much, more violent, with the triumph of the heroine being the result of struggle, not merely handed to her on a platter. The wicked stepsisters are grotesquely punished in the older tales whereas in the newer renditions they are shown mercy. According to Heidi Anne Heiner of Sur La Lune:
Although a reference to the story exists in 16th century German literature, the next written version of the story comes from Charles Perrault in his Contes de ma Mere L'Oye in 1697. From this version, we received the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage, the animal servants, and the glass slippers. Perrault recorded the story that was told to him by storytellers while adding these touches for literary effect. Some scholars think Perrault confused "vair" (French for "ermine or fur") with "verre" (French for "glass") to account for Cinderella's admittedly uncomfortable footwear. This theory has been widely discredited now. Most scholars believe Perrault intended glass slippers as Cinderella's footwear. Perrault's version has a more humane ending than many versions of the tale with Cinderella finding husbands for her sisters. The sisters are left poor, blind, maimed, or even dead in many versions of the tale.

The Grimm Brothers' German version, known as Aschenputtel, or Ash Girl, does not have a fairy godmother. The heroine plants a tree on her mother's grave from which all of the magical help appears in the form of a white dove and gifts. At the end, the stepsisters' eyes are pecked by birds from the tree to punish them for their cruelty. Perrault's version is considerably more forgiving than this version.

The concept of having a fairy godmother calls to mind good friends who have intervened in times of serious need in my own life. In Cinderella the maiden's helper, be it the fairy godmother or the tree on her mother's grave, always has supernatural connotations, suggesting the Divine intervention behind the scenes. Among the many films that have been made based upon the Cinderella fairy tale, my two favorites are the Czech version made in the 70's, and The Glass Slipper starring Leslie Caron.

(Artwork from Art Passions) Share

Carlton House

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


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Disappearance of Song

Anthony Esolen explores the use of song in John Ford films, saying:
Men and women, in Ford's movies, are titanic mysteries, kings and queens walking the earth in ordinary garb; endlessly fascinating to one another and so powerful in their masculinity and femininity that talk of equality misses the beauty and the danger altogether. How can you talk of equality when you encounter a whirlwind and an earthquake? The marriage of such creatures is always an unadulterated good, as it portends both creation and procreation: a farm, a village, a culture, and children.
Notable, therefore, in Ford's movies is song. I don't mean simply music; I don't know whether any of the scores he commissioned can come up, say, to the haunting music of Miklos Rosza in William Wyler's Ben-Hur. But while nobody does much singing in that biblical epic, in the work of Ford -- which, as I've suggested, is irrepressibly biblical and epic no matter where it is set -- people are forever singing. How Green Was My Valley is a tapestry of Welsh hymns and folk tunes: "Cwm Rhondda," "Men of Harlech," and "Bryn Calafria" are the three I happen to know, though there are many others.
Why are the people singing? Because they have something to sing about. They sing their union as a people. They sing their faith. They sing the beauty of man and woman, as they gather to celebrate (with good strong drink) the wedding night approaching. They sing for the birth of children.

The Paschal Mystery

The Pasch of the Lord is the heart of the liturgy.
Through the sacred liturgy, the Paschal Mystery irrigates and transforms all of human life, healing those who partake of the sacraments and drawing the Church, already here and now, into the communion of the risen and ascended Christ with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Because it is the heart of the liturgy, the Pasch of the Lord is the heart of theology, and the heart of Christian piety as well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Little Dorrit (2008)

Little Dorrit

We have been watching Little Dorrit on PBS and enjoying it immensely. Since there is not enough time this week to gather my thoughts about it, I was glad to see that Jane Austen's World has an excellent and detailed article about Dickens' novel as well as descriptions of life in the debtors' prisons of old England. To quote:

Once a man of substance, William Dorrit (played by Tom Courtenay) tried to live with some dignity inside the high spiked walls, but much of his self-consequence came at the expense of his youngest daughter, Amy (Little Dorrit), who devoted her young life catering to her father. “In his deepest heart he knows that he’s made an utter mess of his and his beloved children’s lives, but he would never openly admit to this failure. For his sake, the family all keep up the pretence of respectability.” ( BBC) Even at his lowest ebb, William Dorrit finds comfort in the title of “Father of the Marshalsea.” He adheres to social standards, blinding himself to his son’s Edward’s dissolute lifestyle and daughter Fanny’s less than acceptable career as a dancer, and dines in state on the food that Amy has set aside from her own repasts.

The family’s ability to come and go from prison within the curfew hours so surprised me that I wanted to research the topic. Only the debtor remained imprisoned. In reality, as Dickens attests, life inside those walls was not much worse than life outside it - for the destitute. The friendship between Amy and John Chivery was genuine. John performed his duties with humanity, and Amy recognized that the Assistant Turnkey was simply following orders.

Little Dorrit
is available through BBC America.


Portress of the Holy Mysteries

Our Lady opens the gate. To quote Fr. Mark:
Today’s Roman Stational Church is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. We go, in spirit, to this ancient church of the Mother of God, asking her to be present to us as we prepare to cross the threshold into the Paschal Triduum. We go to the suffering Christ, to the Crucified, to the Risen One with and through his most holy Mother. The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ’s Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. We will return again to Saint Mary Major for the Mass of Easter Day to sing our joy to the Mother of God — Regina caeli, laetare! — and to share in the joy that was hers at the resurrection of Christ. By framing the Paschal Triduum between two stations at the church of Saint Mary Major, the Roman liturgy suggests that the mystery of Christ is given us enveloped in Mary. Mary, like the Church, embodies and contains the mystery of Christ.

5 Myths about 7 Books

Here are the answers to five common arguments Protestants often give for rejecting the seven Catholic Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. Share

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Madame Moitessier

Inès Moitessier, nèe de Foucauld, was twice painted by Ingres, immortalizing her as one of the beauties of the age. According to The National Gallery website:
Marie-Clotilde-Inès de Foucauld was born in 1821 and married Sigisbert Moitessier, a wealthy banker, in 1842. The portrait is influenced by the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. The pose, with the hand touching the cheek, is derived from an ancient Roman fresco of a goddess, from Herculaneum. This may suggest that for Ingres Madam Moitessier represented the ideal of classical beauty. The National Gallery's 'Portrait of a Lady' by Titian may have inspired him to add the profile in the mirror.

Ingres believed that portraiture was a less elevated art form than history painting. When first asked by Moitessier in 1844 to paint his wife, Ingres refused. On meeting her he was struck by her beauty and agreed. The picture was left unfinished and after seven years the sitter complained.

In 1851, Ingres painted a standing portrait (National Gallery of Art, Washington) before returning to the seated portrait which he finally completed in 1856. The original intention had been to include the sitter's daughter Catherine, but she had grown up by the time Ingres came to complete the portrait.
Madame Moitessier was also the aunt of Charles de Foucauld, later known as Blessed Charles of Jesus. As a boy, Charles was particularly close to his cousin Marie Moitessier, the daughter of Inès. The marriage of Marie to the Comte de Bondy in 1874 was one of the events which precipitated Charles' loss of faith as a youth. Inès and Marie both prayed for the wayward Charles and encouraged him to seek the counsel of Abbé Huvelin, who reconciled him to the Church. Marie de Bondy was later the benefactress of Charles' apostolic endeavors in North Africa.


The Tuileries: A History

Catherine Delors offers her first installment of posts about the amazing history of the Tuileries Palace. Share

The Templars and the Shroud

New evidence. (Via Platonic Shift)

The Knights Templar, an order which was suppressed and disbanded for alleged heresy, took care of the linen cloth, which bears the image of a man with a beard, long hair and the wounds of crucifixion, according to Vatican researchers.

The Shroud, which is kept in the royal chapel of Turin Cathedral, has long been revered as the shroud in which Jesus was buried, although the image only appeared clearly in 1898 when a photographer developed a negative.

Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, said the Shroud had disappeared in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century. Writing in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Dr Frale said its fate in those years had always puzzled historians.


Monday, April 6, 2009

The Code of Chivalry

Here is a picture of a squire making his vigil before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the grace to measure up to the code of chivalry, as was the custom before being knighted. There was no set code of chivalry for the medieval period; it changed according to region and century. However, here are some codes which were attributed to the Emperor Charlemagne:
To fear God and maintain His Church.
To serve the liege lord in valor and faith.

To protect the weak and defenseless.

To give succor to widows and orphans.

To refrain from the wanton giving of offense.

To live by honor and for glory.

To despise pecuniary reward.

To fight for the welfare of all.

To obey those placed in authority.

To guard the honor of fellow knights.

To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit.

To keep faith.

At all times to speak the truth.

To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.

To respect the honor of women.
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal.

Never to turn the back upon a foe.
And here is one issued at the beginning of Charlemagne's reign:
Love God Almighty with all your heart and all your powers.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

Give alms to the poor as ye are able.

Entertain strangers.

Visit the sick.

Be merciful to prisoners.

Do ill to no man, nor consent unto such as do, for the receiver is as bad as the thief.

Forgive as ye hope to be forgiven.

Redeem the captive.

Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the widow and orphan.

Render righteous judgment.
Do not consent to any wrong.

Persevere not in wrath.

Shun excess in eating and drinking.

Be humble and kind.

Serve your liege lord faithfully.

Do not steal.

Do not perjure yourself, nor let others do so.

Envy, hatred and violence separate men from the Kingdom of God.

Defend the Church and promote her cause.

Did all knights follow such codes? Certainly not, but many did, such as Saint Louis IX, Saint Ferdinand of Castile, and Blessed Nuno. The code of chivalry was intended to keep military men from indulging overmuch in pillage and rapine, by encouraging the protection of ladies, peasants and monastic houses. Some of it must have worked, since both the rich and poor traveled a great deal in the Middle Ages, going to various pilgrimage sites throughout Europe, and even to Jerusalem. The Knights Hospitaller had the duty of caring for sick pilgrims and guarding pilgrims on their way. Were all knights saints? No, there were corrupt people then, just as there are now. But that does not mean the system was all bad. Saints such as Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola were inspired by the codes of chivalric conduct and tried to apply the ideals to the religious orders which they founded. This is especially evident in St. Teresa's spiritual masterpiece The Interior Castle.

With the rise of industrialization and the fading of the old aristocracy, the Victorians were enthralled with the old Arthurian legends and the days when Knighthood was in flower. Did they over-romanticize? Yes, probably. But many young people were inspired with ideals, which is one of the purposes of great art and literature.