31 March 2015

To Scotland for the Triduum and for Easter

Ever since I was a boy, I've wanted to visit Scotland for two simple reasons: to look for the Loch Ness Monster and to walk several miles along Hadrian's Wall. So it was with a childlike enthusiasm that I accepted an invitation from a priest I know in Scotland to preach at his parish on Good Friday and to take a Scottish holiday over the Easter break from studies, though I haven't made any firm plans to fulfill either of these boyhood dreams.

Since I accepted the invitation a few weeks ago, I've been keeping an eye on the weather conditions in that part of Scotland. It has been significantly colder there than in Rome this past week. As an example, today's high temperature in Rome is expected to reach 70ºF (at 10:42 a.m., it is 54º), whereas at his parish in Scotland it is expected to reach just 43ºF (which it already is now at 10:42 a.m.). Given my loathing of winter, it seems I maybe should have done a little more research. Still, it's an opportunity to which I am very much looking forward.

I am scheduled to fly out of Rome tomorrow morning, but we'll see how that goes. As longtime readers of this blog will know, I don't have a good history with airlines and weather or with flying over oceans (most of my trans-ocean flights have been delayed by as much 24 hours for weather and mechanical issues), a history which may continue tomorrow.

Last evening, the priest with whom I will be staying sent along this bit of news from the United Kingdom:
Forecasters have predicted Easter Sunday itself will be dry - but still cold and cloudy.
Temperatures will plunge to a low of -1C [30ºF] overnight and up to 5cm [2"] of snow could fall on higher ground in northern England and Scotland.

The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for ice across the top half of Britain and has said there is "potential for hazardous driving conditions".

Met Office forecaster Charles Powell said it has been wet and windy and "it is not going to get that much better soon".

He said: "We could see one or two icy stretches in northern parts of the UK. That's because we will see temperatures dropping down to maybe -1C across Scotland and the northern half of the UK" [more].
I managed to avoid snow at Christmas, but I might not be so fortunate at Easter.

Homily - Tuesday of Holy Week - On you I depend from birth

This morning I had the honor of celebration the Station Mass in the church dedicated to Santa Prisca. The homily I preached follows:

Tuesday of Holy Week

“One of you will betray me” (John 13:21). Even today, these words of our Master and Teacher cause our hearts to stop. How those ears who first heard these words must have rung and those hearts stung! It is not a statement of what might happen in some possible future, but rather a statement of fact, a statement without doubt: “One of you will be betray me.”

With the safety of so many centuries between that first dread utterance and us, we wonder: How is it possible that one who shared so many intimate moments with the Lord would betray him? How is it possible for one who watched him confound the experts and silence the powerful to hand him over? How is it possible for one who saw demons expelled, blind eyes see, and the dead live betray the Lord to his enemies? How is it possible that one who felt the warmth of his touch, who heard his voice of compassion and power, who looked upon the beauty of his face and into his eyes of love – how is it possible that such a one could hand him over to death?

Each of these questions has but one answer, an answer concealed within the manner in which the Lord subtly revealed the person of his betrayer. When the Lord handed over the dipped morsel, Saint Bonaventure says that Jesus revealed “the astounding ingratitude of the betrayer, whom so great a humility, so great a love, and so great a level of intimacy do not prevent from betrayal.”[1] Having witnessed so often the humility, the love, and the intimacy of Jesus, Judas was not prevented from betrayal because, though “having been spurred to repent in so many ways, he did not repent.”[2] Remaining ungrateful despite the intimate and humble love of the one he would betray with the false kiss of friendship, Judas did not yield to the merciful love of the Savior and so betrayed him to death; he did not say to him, “On you I depend from birth” (cf. Psalm 71:6).

“One of you will betray me.” Although we know in hindsight the identity of the betrayer, still Jesus’ words sting and hit with the force of a blunt and unexpected honesty. Why? Because the Master and Teacher might well also address these very words to each of us: You will betray me. Can we argue with or deny such a statement? Even Saint Peter, who loved the Lord with a greater intensity than the rest, who denied knowing Jesus in his greatest need, declared, “I do not know the man” – even he betrayed the Lord (Matthew 26:74).

Too often do we forget that when Peter rashly exclaimed, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you,” the others said the same, yet Peter denied knowing Jesus and none of the others died with him the next day (Matthew 26:35). Peter’s denial of Jesus is truly a betrayal and – at least subjectively – is worse than that of Judas because of Peter’s greater love and intimacy. “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus would later ask him, and he would answer – in a few more words and with deep humility – “Yes” (cf. John 21:17).

Like Judas, Peter had been spurred to repent in so many ways, and through his humility – which so often butted against his pride – he was able to do what Judas did not: Peter repented of his betrayal of Jesus, he repented because of his gratitude and said in his heart, “On you I depend from birth.” Like Peter, you and I, dear brothers and sisters, are spurred in so many ways to repentance by the workings of the Lord’s grace. If we let him, he will teach us also to say, “On you I depend from birth”.

We may betray the Lord Jesus, you and I. Indeed, I daresay we will betray him, in one way or another. How many ways will the Master and Teacher spur us to repentance in this Holy Week? When he does, we need only follow the admonition of Saint Bonaventure:

Turn, O soul, to Christ on the cross [who] with head bowed waits to kiss you, his arms are extended to embrace you, his hands open with gifts for you, his body extended to cover you, his feet affixed to stay with you, his side open to let you enter.[3]

If we follow this wise counsel of the Seraphic Doctor, then we will be able to sing with the Psalmist: “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth” (Psalm 71:5-6). Amen.

[1] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 22.30. In Work of St. Bonaventure, Vol. Vol. III, Part 2, Robert J. Karris, ed. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications: 2004), 2056.
[2] Ibid., Commentary on the Gospel of John, 13.43. In Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. XI, Robert J. Karris, ed. and trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 711.
[3] Ibid., Soliloquium, I.39. I In Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. X, F. Edward Coughlin, ed. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 261.

30 March 2015

A prophecy fulfilled

Crucifixion by Giotto
And I will pout out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

On that day there shall be fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

- Zechariah 12:10-13:1

Papal valet carries papal palm and briefcase

Remember when the Catholic media and the secular media made Pope Francis out to be the most humble man on the planet simply because he carried his own briefcase onto a plane on the way to the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro? In case you don't, here's one of the photos:

PHOTO: Telenews/EPA
Curiously, a picture was taken yesterday following the Palm Sunday Mass of Pope Francis walking with Archbishop Ganswein which shows Pope Francis' valet carrying not only the Pontiff's bag, but also his palm:

This is a photo you don't likely see in the Catholic media or in the secular media. It's also not the only one of its kind. Consider this photo taken April 29, 2014:

PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring
I am not sharing these photos with you because I do not like Pope Francis; rather, I am sharing these photos with you as a way of demonstrating why you should not simply follow the media - whether Catholic or secular - to know what Pope Francis does or says (as I have also urged here and here, and probably elsewhere besides).

29 March 2015

Selfie sticks now banned alongside weapons

Last month I shared with you the welcome news that museums around the world slowly began to ban selfie sticks for fear that paintings and artifacts might be damaged or destroyed by self-absorbed selfie takers.

Today I am happy to share with you the welcome news that festivals across the United States of America are also beginning to ban selfie sticks for fear of injury to other human beings of whom the ego-centric selfie takers fail to take notice:
In anticipation of their festival which stars [sic] April 10th, Coachella's organizers have announced that "Selfie sticks / Narcissists" are now a prohibited item, along with chains, explosives, and knives. Lollapalooza, a huge summer fest that takes place in Grant Park, Chicago, has also issued a warning to any revellers looking to bring their selfie sticks this year [more].
This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Pope Francis, Palm Sunday, and shameless selfies

I'm not shy about making known my belief that selfies and selfie sticks epitomize a self-absorbed mentality which is growing ever more pervasive around the world or that at least is losing its shame. Such ego-centrism is clearly demonstrated by pictures such as this one retweeted by Patrick Madrid:

What's more important, the photographer or the tragedy?

This bizarre and shameless self-absorption was recently demonstrated in New York following the gas explosion in the East Village, which led the New York Post to publish a critical article under the headline, "Heartless visitors mug for selfies at East Village blast site," and this cover image:
In his homily for Palm Sunday, His Holiness Pope Francis compared the way of Jesus with the way of the world:
This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.

Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the “form of a slave” (cf. Phil 2:7). In the end, humility also means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says (v. 7). This – the pouring out of oneself - is the greatest humiliation of all.

There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well [more].
How do selfies not represent the other way, the way of the world, that way that is not that of Jesus?

28 March 2015

If you think where this procession is hastening...

Beloved, to you, as people comparing spiritual things with spiritual (cf. I Corinthians 2:13), we depict the procession as representing the glory of our heavenly homeland and the passion as the way to it. If in the procession you think of the joy that is to come and the exceedingly great gladness when we will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ in the air (I Thessalonians 4:17); if with all your heart you desire to see that day when Christ the Lord will be received in the heavenly Jerusalem, the head with all his members, bearing the triumphal sign of victory, not now applauded by throngs of people but by angelic hosts, with the people of each testament crying out on all sides, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 21:9) - if, I say, you think where this procession is hastening, learn from the passion the route it takes. This present tribulation is the path of life, the path of glory, the path to the inhabited town, the path of the kingdom, as the thief cried from the cross: "Remember me, Lord, when you come into your Kingdom" (Luke 23:42). He saw going into his kingdom the one he asked to remember him when he arrived there. Therefore he too reached it; and if you want to know how short the way is, he merited to be in paradise with the Lord that same day. The glory of the procession makes even the suffering of the passion bearable, for nothing is difficult for a lover (cf. Cicero, Orator 10:33).

- Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

27 March 2015

A set of the Stations of the Cross from Kalaupapa

I do not now remember what exactly I was looking for a few days when I started looking through the many pictures I have taken in Hawai'i over these past several years, but in the process I stumbled on the stations of the cross in St. Francis of Assisi church in Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka'i. Today being a Friday in Lent, I thought it might be a good time to share them with you.

26 March 2015

Of Romans, personal space, and cake

I like personal space. I like my personal space a lot. In fact, it irritates me greatly when my personal space is violated, particularly from those who stand right at nose and keep moving toward you even as you back away from them to establish a sense of personal space.

Naturally, different people and cultures have differing notions of how much personal space to give to other people. This graphic is a bit exaggerated in terms of social space, but - for me, at least - it's fairly close:

Italians, though, seem to know nothing of personal space (which seems to be an English/Anglo notion). This causes no small amount of discomfort and frustration while walking through - and sometimes living in - the Eternal City.

I realize each morning that I would much happier in Rome if I knew nothing of personal space, but at the same time my personal space keeps my happy. It's a catch 22, as they say, because continental Europeans (or at least those who are tourists in the Eternal City) and Romans especially seem to respect absolutely no one, whether in the streets or on the sidewalks.

They will rub elbows with you as you pass each other, force you up against the side of a building, hit you with their backpacks as they turn to talk to a friend, and purposely force you into the street with oncoming traffic so they can continue talking with their friend (with whom they have conveniently locked arms and refuse to let go). The notion of a small group forming briefly into something resembling a single file line to allow another group to pass by in the same manner (which is expected and considered decent and respectful in the Midwest) is completely foreign in Rome.

This is why I keep this sign next to my door so that I see it whenever I leave my room:

In reality, it is a card sent last year by a good friend in Hawaii. I knew then that it would be a good reminder to keep before me, though it is sometimes very difficult as you're jostled and pushed all day long.

Although Romans and tourists do not respect other people on the streets and sidewalks - at least not strangers - there is one thing they do respect: food. I discovered this this afternoon as I walked back to the Casa Santa Maria carrying a cake I bought to celebrate my birthday later this evening with the priests who live on my floor:

Yes, bakeries here still wrap up your purchases for you like this. It's nice, but not always worth the wait, though today it was.

Imagine my surprise this afternoon as I made my way through the sidewalks of Rome and people walking toward my groups actually parted - just little - allow me - rather, my cake - to pass by. I wish I'd discovered this sooner, though it might get expensive after a few days.

In the end, I may just need to get one of these (though I've no idea where to look):


25 March 2015

Tolkien Reading Day: The beauty, majesty, and simplicity of friendship

The Tolkien Society has chosen friendship as the theme for this twelfth annual Tolkien Reading Day. I was unaware of this theme when I offered my suggestions for Tolkien Reading Day last week and so wish to offer a few thoughts on this theme which is so prevalent throughout the Professor's writings.

The friendship of hobbits

The theme of friendship in Tolkien's writings is perhaps best encapsulated in the four companions from the Shire: Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took.

After the hobbits have finally arrived at Frodo's new home at Crickhollow, we read this in Chapter V - titled "A Conspiracy Unmasked" - of Book I:
'Well!' said Frodo at last, sitting up and straightening his back, as if he had made a decision. 'I can't keep it dark any longer. I have got something to tell you all. But I don't know quite how to being.'

'I think I could help you,' said Merry quietly, by telling you some of it myself.'

'What do you mean?' said, Frodo looking at him anxiously.

'Just this, my dear old Frodo: you are miserable, because you don't know how to say good-bye. You meant to leave the Shire, of course. But danger has come on you sooner than you expected, and now you are making up your mind to go at once. And you don't want to. We are very sorry for you.'
Thinking he kept everything about his departure quiet and the details of his quest hidden, Frodo is a bit taken aback at this and feels betrayed by his friends and says, "But it does not seem I can trust anyone."
Sam looked at him unhappily. 'It all depends on what you want,' put in Merry. 'You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid - but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.
'And after all, sir,' added Sam, 'you did ought to take the Elve's advice. Gildor said you should take them as was willing, and you can't deny it.'

'I don't deny it,' said Frodo, looking at Sam, who was now grinning. 'I don't deny it, but I'll never believe you are sleeping again, whether you snore or not. I shall kick you hard to make sure.

'You are a set of scoundrels!' he said, turning to the others. 'But bless you!' he laughed, getting up and waving his arms, 'I give in. I will take Gildor's advice. If the danger were not so dark, I should dance for joy. Even so, I cannot help feeling happy; happier than I have felt for a long time. I had dreaded this evening.'

'Good! That's settled. Three cheers for Captain Frodo and company!' they shouted; and they danced around him. Merry and Pippin began a song, which they had apparently got ready for the occasion.
Within the friendship of these four hobbits, are not reminded of that famous passage in the Book of Sirach regarding friendship? Sacred Tradition has preserved this wisdom for us:
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him.
Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,
for as he is, so is his neighbor also (Sirach 6:14-17).
It might be said that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin took these words to heart: "Forsake not an old friend, for a new one does not compare with him" (Sirach 9:10).

Even at "the end of all things," the four hobbits clung to their friendship and remained steadfastly loyal to each other. In this, they provide a clear example for each of us to keep in our friendships.

The friendship of Jesus

The friendship shared among the four hobbits can be seen as something of a reflection of the friendship God shares with men (the analogy, of course, going so far as it goes). What do I mean?

On the night he gave himself up for us, the Lord Jesus said to those gathered with him in the upper room:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another (John 15:12-17).
"I have called you friends," he says and indeed he has.

When he spoke to the "many thousands of the multitude" who had gathered around him to encourage them in the persecutions that would befall him, Jesus addressed them as "my friends" (Luke 12:1, 4).

In calling us his friends, in bestowing upon us his divine friendship, the Lord Jesus shows the greatness of his condescension towards us by using a word of equality.

From what the Lord himself has said, his friendship must be reciprocated by us. It is not enough to simply call him a friend; rather the proof of our friendship is shown in our deeds; it is shown in the manner and depth of our love for the brethren. As Benedict XVI has said:
Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love. You all know what it is like when you meet someone interesting and attractive, and you want to be that person’s friend. You always hope they will find you interesting and attractive, and want to be your friend. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints. (Address to Pupils, 17 September 2010).
Jesus - who is our "Teacher and Lord" and, yes, our friend - has not forsaken us; we must not forsake him, either, for what greater friend, what greater treasure, can we have than he?

Within the friendship of the four hobbits we can well learn something of what it means to reciprocate friendship, about sticking close through thick and thin, even to the bitter end. More importantly, though, we can learn something from the saints, and especially from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 The friendship of Mary

The Book of Sirach, as we saw, speaks of a faithful friend as a treasure. If this is so, then Mary, even before the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel, was a friend of God. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux puts it this way:
Do you wonder why Nazareth, a small town, should be made illustrious by the messenger of such a king, and such a messenger? A great treasure is hidden in this little town - hidden, I say, from humans, not from God. Is Mary not God's treasure? Wherever she is, his heart is there also. His eyes are on her; everywhere he looks upon the lowliness of his handmaiden (Sermon Three on the Annunciation of the Lord, 7).
Mary is the faithful friend of God - his treasure - because she was unwilling to forsake him even at the bitter end. Rather, as Benedict XVI wrote in his The Infancy Narratives, "It is Mary's obedience that opens the door to God;" it is Mary's obedience that makes her the friend of God, according to the words of her Son: "You are my friends if you do what I command you."

We see also in Mary the second reciprocal aspect of friendship with the Lord that must be expressed through the love of the brethren. "From Mary," wrote Benedict XVI, "we can learn what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the sufferings of others as one's own."

Perhaps this is why Tolkien wrote that "all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded" upon Our Lady (Letter 142, To Robert Murray, S.J.). What is there that is more beautiful, majestic and simple than friendship, both among men and with God? 

Friendship is beautiful in that it is a treasure. Friendship is majestic in that God names us his equals. And friendship is simple in its unwavering loyalty.

The Great Ice Storm of central Illinois remembered - 37 years later

I was born on the 26th of March in the midst of the Great Ice Storm that all but shut down central Illinois for several days around Easter in 1978.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of that winter catastrophe, the State Journal-Register published the memories of several people who remember those days in and around Springfield well, memories that the newspaper republished a few days ago.

From the stories I've heard about the Great Ice Storm over the years and from the memories included in this article - and the accompanying pictures - I hope I never experience anything like it again and I'm very glad to remember anything of it.

I hope the Quincy Herald-Whig  will publish a similar story about those days in Quincy.