7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

It’s the second of September’s Ember Days. Go here for more information on what that means. 

Today’s the feast of St. Matthew.

A few St. Matthew links for you.

From B16,back in 2006:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the"amy welborn"People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

From today’s Office of Readings:

There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

What strikes us about the story of Matthew is the immediacy of his response. Invited by Jesus, he simply leaves his sinful life behind. No ambiguity, no parsing of matters of subjectivity and objectivity. This perhaps is not something we are all capable of at every moment, but it is certainly a response we recognize as the ideal one, articulated by Jesus himself (Mark 10:29) and lived out by people like Matthew.

The spiritual life is a never-ending, fascinating and mysterious dynamic, it seems to me, between finding God in all things and if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother…cannot be my disciple. 



 — 2 —

This, of course, is from one of his GA talks on the apostles and which were collected in book form by various publishers, including OSV. Back in the day, I wrote a study guide for these collected talks to be used either by individuals or groups in parish discussion settings. Here’s the section on Matthew. Feel free to use!


— 3 —


Speaking of St. Matthew and speaking of parish adult religious education, maybe consider this Loyola Press Six Weeks with the Bible book on the Passion accounts in Matthew:


— 4 —

This came across one of my social media feeds, as things do, and it was very striking and sobering: “27 Photos that prove that depression has no face or mood.”  Photographs  – random, candid photos – of people smiling and having a great time, people who just a day or two after the photo was taken, committed suicide. 

Well worth pondering and prayer, and a reminder to be aware, be kind, be open and never assume. Anything.


— 5 –

Something surprising and sad: one of the earlier Catholic bloggers, Zippy Catholic, died this week in a bike accident. 

Here’s the newspaper article – quite tragic and it appears to have been a hit-and-run. 


— 6 —

Here’s something: a secret Reformation-era chapel in Amsterdam: 

One of the oldest continuously operating churches in the Netherlands is hidden away in an attic not far from Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district.

The story of how the chapel came to be starts with Jan Hartman, a German Catholic living in Amsterdam during the Reformation.

During the 17th century, Hartman, like all Catholics, was prevented from exercising his faith in public following the rebellion of the majority-Protestant Low Countries, encompassing parts of modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands, against the Catholic king Philip II of Spain. This led to hostility towards Catholics in the Dutch capital. All Catholic churches were turned into Protestant ones, and many Catholics fled the city to pursue their religious freedom.

But instead of fleeing, Hartman came up with an innovative solution to continue practicing his faith. He brought the two properties on each side of his own home and turned the attic in one of them, at Number 40, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, right near the infamous red light district, into a secret Catholic church. Fellow Catholics could access the “schuilkerk” (literally “clandestine church”) through a spiral staircase hidden behind a fake door in the living room. They would often resort to code language to share news about Mass and other services. F or instance saying “I am going to the parrot” was a way to say that Mass was going to be celebrated.

— 7 —

Finally, here’s a story about spiderwebs enveloping a Greek town, notable, not only for the very fact of it, but for this quote, which I would like to frame:

“The spiders will have their party and will soon die.”

I mean….is there a more succinct summary of life on earth?

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!


Reading: Haven’t finished The Burglar, another David Goodis novel. Hopefully tonight. Last night, I read a lengthy short story by Somerset Maugham, “Before the Party.” It’s Thursdayavailable in a volume of Maugham’s stories recently made available by Gutenburg Canada here.  Come to think of it, I probably won’t finish the Goodis tonight – I’ll probably just dip into these stories a bit more.

“Before the Party” is exceedingly dark, and, I’m sorry to say for what it reflects about my character – sort of funny. The humor lies in the ironic interplay between the horrified family members and the deadpan, deadened demeanor of the daughter who finally tells them the truth about how her husband died out in Borneo.

As this blogger notes, Maugham often writes about the impact of colonialism – it harms everyone, is his point – and this story is a clever, dark illustration of that point.

The English summer day and well-trimmed lawns are a far cry from the jungles of Borneo, but as time wears on before the party, Millicent brings the darkness of her home life in Borneo into the staid, respectable lives of her family and gets little thanks for it. Before the Partyis a clever little story for its plot but also its wisdom. Yes those in support of the Empire can attend their little ‘fact-filled’ parties and nod with enthusiasm and self-righteousness about the missions, but when the dark facts behind the glamour are uncovered, ‘decent’ people would rather not know….

Listening: My post-menopausal body and I are at war, and so back I go to daily exercise – well, not just because of that, but also because I do realize that as the mother of two teen boys with travel being a big part of our life over the next few years (we hope), I need to really be in shape for Adventure. What that means for me is also back to my BBC podcasts – conveniently timed for the beginning of a new season of In Our TimeSo this week, I’ve listened to episodes on echolocation, Rosalind Franklin, Dickens and today’s episode on Automata – which was very enjoyable, but raised a question with me. One of the historians spoke of the “Rood of Grace” (although he didn’t name it as such – I had to dig to figure out what he was talking about) – a crucifix at a Cistercian monastery in Kent on which the head moved and so on. This historian presented it as if the monastery deliberately put one over on pilgrims, presenting it as a “miracle” – while the Wiki article indicates that perhaps everyone knew it was a machine and experienced it as theater. I am not sure if the accusation that it was presented deceptively was post-Reformation propaganda or actually true. I’ll look into it.

Still obsessed with that Rameau and to the French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau. 

Also constantly listening to various piano and organ pieces – and you can regularly hear snippets of what I’m listening to on that score at Instagram, both in posts and stories. 

Yesterday, he had practice time in the Cathedral loft, which is so much better than the mostly non-pipe organ at the other church, a type of organ which I understand is termed a “toaster” by those in the know….

Writing: Working on a short story, determined to finish it this week. Wait, it’s Thursday! Yikes. Time to get on that.

Continuing to toss stuff up on Medium, but you’ve read most of it before, anyway. 

Ember Days



Today (September 19) is the first of the autumn Ember Days, observances of fasting that come four times a year in traditional Catholicism up to the Second Vatican Council, but recently brought back into focus by a couple of bishops who have called for their observance in light of recently clergy abuse scandal revelations.

An Introduction to Ember Days

Jennifer Gregory Miller has written quite a bit about Ember Days at Catholic Culture. She’d be my go-to for a quick and easy introduction, as here:

Once again, I turn to the Church’s Ember Days as an aid to looking at nature and the change of seasons and recognizing them all as a gift from God. Ember Days are a quarterly observance the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of one week of each season that “the Church is accustomed to entreat the Lord for the various needs of humanity, especially for the fruits of the earth and for human labor, and to give thanks to him publicly.” (Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 45). In addition, the Church provides us two seasons of preparation, Advent and Lent. Both seasons are a time for change of heart and renewal. But naturally the change of seasons seem to tug and encourage us for renewal and change (spring and fall cleaning, anyone?). Although not required, the traditional fasting and abstaining of these days are an external expression of turning our hearts and focusing back to God.

…The September Ember Days were one of the first Ember Days established, and they are the most prominent of the quarterly days. The Ember Days in September are outside the main liturgical seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter) and are closest to the Fall Equinox. The Church recognized the pattern of change of seasons and bringing in the harvest man needs to give thanks and renew our hearts.


An old English rhyme pointed to the Ember Days during the year:

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.The traditional dates for the Ember days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday:

  1. After St. Lucy’s feast day, December 13
  2. After the First Sunday of Lent
  3. After Pentecost (Whitsunday) (this would be during the traditional octave of Pentecost)
  4. After the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14

In 1960 under Pope St. John XXIII, the Ember Days in September were adjusted to fall after the 3rd Sunday in September. Usually this coincides with the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, but this year is an example of the Ember Days falling the next week. (See New Liturgical Movement for further explanation.) All other Ember weeks were fixed to a certain week; this change fixed the September Ember breviary readings and prayers to a particular week.

These were days of fasting and abstinence, allowing one full meal, with meat at the principal meal only, except on Fridays where complete abstinence was required. The Code of Canon Law of 1983 no longer requires the observance of these fasting and abstinence rules for Ember Days.

Formerly, priestly ordinations were performed on many of the Saturday Ember Days. There is no longer this liturgical connection in the United States, but Ember Saturdays still are a day to pray for priests.

The Ember Days also are no longer universally marked on the General Roman Calendar. In the 1969 Calendar reform (see General Instruction on the Roman Missal), the observance of Ember Days was left to the discretion of the conference of bishops, and can be adjusted and expanded. In the USA most bishops have chosen to not officially observe Ember Days, but in other countries they are observed. While Ember Days are not part of the whole community worship, personal observance at home or small communities is not discouraged.

Ember Days In the Liturgy

The older Missal contains special Mass prayers and readings for each Ember Day of the Year. The Breviary also assigns specific prayers to these days.

Because Ember Days are of ancient tradition, there are Station Churches attached to the Ember Days, each with a different focus on each day of ember week.

  • All four Ember Wednesdays were celebrated in the station church St. Mary Major. Wednesday was traditionally devoted to our Lady and in imitation of her it was a day of reflection and spiritual orientation.

  • All four Ember Fridays take place in the stational church of the Basilica of the Apostles. Father Pius Parsch says: “Ember Friday is the liturgy’s ‘Yom Kippur.’“ Friday recalls Christ’s passion and death and emphasizes conversion and penance.

  • All the Ember Saturdays take place in the stational church of St. Peter in the Vatican. Saturday is a preview of Easter, and it marks the renewal of our baptismal covenant.

And here:

Bishop Zubik is using the traditional liturgical Ember Days for the main vehicle for abstinence, fasting and a holy hour by the clergy. Ember Days are quarterly observances with three days set aside (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) to pray in gratitude for the blessings of the season and human labor, to thank God publicly. There are twelve Ember Days in all. Traditionally Embertide was also decided as a time to pray for priests, particularly those who were being ordained. Ember Days are no longer included in the Universal Roman Calendar but they are not abolished. The liturgical observance is changed, mainly observed through the local ordinary of the diocese, such as this Year of Repentance. On these days Bishop Zubik is asking for abstinence, fasting and a Holy Hour by the clergy.

Ember Days in Medieval England

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One of my favorite bloggers is Eleanor Parker who runs the “A Clerk at Oxford” blog dedicate to all sorts of intriguing Medieval information and reflection. She’s also on Twitter here. 

(Images in this section from her blog post)

She writes about Ember Days:

The origins of the Ember Days are usually explained as lying in pagan Roman custom, petitioning the gods for aid at different points in the agricultural cycle, from the seed-time to the harvest, in the height of summer and the depth of winter. By the fifth century, and perhaps before, they had been adopted for Christian use by the church in Rome, and as they gradually spread further afield they were widely observed by the medieval church. Though not much noticed today, they are a reminder of how closely linked the medieval church was to the natural world, intently attuned to its seasons and cycles, and always ready to see human life not as separate from nature or from God but as part of one organic whole, in which the natural, the human, and the divine are interrelated at the most essential level.

(I’ve written about this many times, especially in reference to the Anglo-Saxon church – a collection of links can be found on this page.)

The Ember Days were observed in Anglo-Saxon England from at least the eighth century onwards; they are regularly prescribed in lawcodes and mentioned in standard learned works on computus (the calculation of time and church calendars – a very complicated science, which was an endless fascination to mathematically-minded early medieval scholars!). Most of the images in this post come from 11th and 12th-century English manuscripts which find different ways of representing the Ember Days in diagram form – divine science which is turned into art, too.

Another and more widespread explanation of the Ember Days is provided by the Golden Legend, the hugely popular medieval compendium of saints’ lives which originated in the thirteenth century and circulated for centuries in various different Cotton MS Tiberius E IV f. 34vforms. This text offers no fewer than eight ways of understanding the four-fold pattern of the Ember Days and their relation to the four seasons of the year. Here’s what it has to say (in Caxton’s 15th-century translation):

[Go to the blog for the extended citation]

This traces eight different ways in which the Ember Days can related to patterns of human and natural cycles, encompassing interpretations moral, allegorical, seasonal, historical, scientific, and medical. Such an assortment of post-hoc explanations for the practice, provided by various authorities and supported by reference to the science of the four humours, might today raise a smile, but it’s really rather beautiful in its own way; rather than simply explaining the history of the Ember Days, as a modern preacher might, this seeks to explore deeper correspondences between the four seasons, and the fasts which mark them, and cycles of growth and death which affect everything in the natural world, including the human body. (I particularly like that in autumn ‘we fast in order to control melancholy’; that feels about right!) The various explanations are meant to complement each other, and they reflect a view of the world as essentially ordered, in which the cycles of human health, or human emotion, or natural growth and decay, are all connected to divinely-arranged patterns which shape the universe.

And here is a link to all the posts at The New Liturgical Movement on Ember Days, including today’s:

The General Instruction of the 2002 Missal contains an exhortation (and no more than that) to the effect that Rogation Days and Ember Days “should be indicated” (“indicentur”, not “indicendae sunt – must be indicated”) on the local calendars, and a rubric (I.45) that it is the duty (“oportet”) of episcopal conferences to establish both the time and manner of their celebration. Unsurprisingly, this rubric has mostly been ignored. In recent days, however, it has become impossible to ignore the hideous consequences of the almost total abandonment of any kind of ascetic discipline in the life of the Church, and the free reign which this seems to have given to the devil. As a result, some bishops have called for the faithful to fast on the Ember Days this year, among them Robert Morlino of Madison and David Zubik of Pittsburgh, along with a number of Catholic commentators. If the Church does not wish this annus horribilis to become a lasting feature of its life, a permanent and universal restoration of the traditional discipline of fasting, including the Ember Days, would be a small but important step in that direction.




Reading:  I still want to do a post on Morte D’Urban. I promise. I’ll try. But since that, I’ve Tuesdayread two other novels, neither high literature, both moderately interesting, one more than the other. I’ll talk about the less interesting one first.

The Golden Spur by Dawn Powell. How did this cross my radar? I have no idea. Dawn Powell has been a writer whom I’ve always wanted to like more than I actually do. I think I started The Locuts Have No King four or five times, but have never finished it. But somehow last week, I saw a reference to this book, which , whoever mentioned it said, was not Powell’s best, but provided a fun insight into mid-century New York City via a decent plot hook – a young man from Ohio discovers that his presumed father is not his biological father, and makes the journey to the city, armed with his late mother’s diaries of her time typing manuscripts and hanging out in the Village, of who that might be.

Eh. Yes, we meet artists and writers of varying talents and ego levels, there’s sleeping around and lots of drinking, but there’s also little depth or even much intriguing exploration of the details of that life.  I think there just might have been too many characters by half. As often happens with this kind of novel, the strongest passages are those that offer an overview, a reflection of all the author has seen and heard, all she’s filtering through to us:

Before you looked for a job or a home or a girl, Earl instructed Jonathan, you must establish your bar base in a new city, just as you would choose a fraternity on entering a university. Look them all over carefully, he counseled, every bar people mentioned in the Village area–Minetta Tavern, White Horse Inn, San Remo, Leroy, Jumble Shop–all offering their special brands of social security. Compare their advantages and disadvantages. Is this a tourist trap, a “Left Coast” hangout, or is it on the Bird Circuit, a meeting place for queers? Once you’ve made your choice, you conduct your social and business life there, since your home, mate, and job are bound to switch constantly. Make the owner or bartender your friend, use the place as a mailing and phone address, make your appointments there. Note the hours best suited for confidential talks there, the time for crashing a big party, the days when the roast beef is fresh and when it is hash; learn which barflies to duck.

Even if The Golden Spur had not recommended itself to Jonathan because of his mother’s association with it, he would have chosen it. There was, as Earl pointed out, a nice diversity in the patrons. There were the college-faculty types, superior of their kind, for had they been average they would be sucking up to their departmental chiefs over in the Faculty Club or angling for academic advancement and traveling fellowships in stuffier environments. They wouldn’t care to be caught bending elbows with the Spur’s wild artists. The Spur artists were all “modern” in that they were against the previous generation, though generations in art were not much longer than cat generations.

In season, these individuals flooded the bar Monday nights, flushed down in the preview champagne from the Upper East Side gallery openings, and on Friday nights from the show closings. The star of the occasion, at other times perhaps an inarticulate modest painter, then appeared with his brand-new claque, a tangle of patrons, dealers, and a change of blondes, himself now loud with triumph and ready to lick his weight in wildcats, which often turned out to be necessary. It’s a madhouse, everyone cried joyously on these nights, a real madhouse, let’s never go home.

let’s never go home…

..just perfectly captures the emotion of that kind of moment, doesn’t it?

Dark Passage was better, although I did get a little weary of it near the end. It’s a noir novel by David Goodis about whom you can read here. The Library of America has five of his novels collected in a single volume, although not his most well-known book, Shoot the Piano Player.

The plot? A man is convicted of murdering his wife. He’s innocent (there’s no question or mystery on that score). He escapes from San Quentin and ends up back in San Francisco. He connects with various people there, and it gets fairly complicated, but the core twist is that fairly early on, he gets plastic surgery, hoping it will prevent him from being recognized as the escaped convict whose face is all over the papers.

It was made into a movie with Bogart and Bacall very soon after it was published – perhaps even before it came out as a book, but after it had been serialized – with Goodis working on the screenplay. I didn’t watch the movie – I found the trailer painfully overdramatic, despite Bogart and Bacall – but reading the summary online, it does track pretty closely with the novel (not surprisingly – with the author involved) although some elements are softened for the screen – a suicide, for example, becomes an accidental fall. But what the movie is famed for is the fact that before the Bogart character’s surgery, the film’s POV is through his eyes, only shifting away and including his face afterwards.

Anyway, I like to read vintage noir for the same reason I read history – it’s, well – history. It gives me some insight into the past in an unassuming, more direct way. And Goodis writes well within the conventions. In particular, he excels at describing what it feels like to feel and think. He uses concrete imagery much of the time: a snake, a chalkboard, a weight – but he gets right into his character’s head and pulls you in as well, rather effectively:

He didn’t want to start all over again. He wanted to weep. He began to weep and the tears were thick spheres of wet mixing with the wet of increased perspiration. His cramped limbs were giving him pain. He measured the pain and knew that it was bad. And it would get worse, keep getting worse until finally it would blend with the pain in air-starved lungs. Once more he told himself that he was going to die here in the barrel.

Hate walked in and floated at the side of fear. Hate for the bump in the road that had caused the two barrels to slide back. Hate for the two barrels. Hate for the truck. Hate for the prosecuting attorney….

(Long, stream-of-consciousness that essentially summarizes the situation that got him there)

…It was getting awful in the barrel. Parry pushed the hate aside and replaced it with energy.

The scene of Parry’s plastic surgery – done in a back-alley office in the middle of the night – is extremely effective:

“We’re all cowards,” Coley said. “there’s no such thing as courage. There’s only fear. A fear of getting hurt and a fear of dying. That’s why the human race has lasted so long. You won’t have any pain with this. I’m going to freeze your face. Do you want to see yourself now?”

“Yes,” Parry said.

“Sit up and take a look in that mirror.” Coley pointed to a mirror that topped one of the cabinets.

Parry looked at himself.

“It’s a fairly good face,” Coley said. “It’ll be even better when I’m done with it. And it’ll be very different.”

Parry relaxed in the chair. He closed his eyes again. He heard water running. He didn’t open his eyes. He heard the sound of metal getting moved around, the sound of a cabinet drawer opening and shutting, the clink of steel against steel, the water running again. He kept his eyes closed. Then things were happening to his face. Some kind of oil was getting rubbed into his face, rubbed in thoroughly all over his face and then wiped off thoroughly. He smelled alcohol, felt the alcohol being dabbed onto his face. Then water running again. More clinking of steel, more cabinet drawers in action. He tried to make himself comfortable in the chair. He decided it was impossible for Coley to do this job in ninety minutes. He decided it was impossible for Coley to change the face so that people wouldn’t recognize it as belonging to Vincent Parry. He decided there wasn’t any sense to this, and the only thing he would get out of it was something horrible happening to his face and he would be a freak for the rest of his life. He wondered how many faces Coley had ruined. He decided his face was going to look horrible but people would recognize him anyway and he wondered what he was doing up here in this quack set-up in San Francisco when he should be riding far away from San Francisco. He decided his only move was to jump out of the chair and run out of the office and keep on running.

He stayed there in the chair. He felt a needle going into his face. Then it went into his face again in another place. It kept jabbing deep into his face. His face began to feel odd. Metal was coming up against the flesh, pressing into the flesh, cutting into the flesh. There was no pain, there was no sensation except the metal going into his flesh. Different shapes of metal. He couldn’t understand why he preferred to keep his eyes closed while this was going on.

It went on. With every minute that passed something new was happening to his face. Gradually he became accustomed to it—the entrance of steel into his flesh. He had the feeling he had gone through this sort of thing many times before. Now he was beginning to get some comfort out of the chair and there was a somewhat luxurious heaviness in his head and it became heavier and heavier and he knew he was falling asleep. He didn’t mind. The manipulation of steel against his face and into his face took on a rhythm that mixed with the heaviness and formed a big, heavy ball that rolled down and rolled up and took him along with it, first on the top of it, on the outside, then getting him inside, rolling him around as it went up and down on its rolling path. And he was asleep.

Listening: We’ve spent a lot of time listening to Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, in preparation for this past Sunday:


Now that that’s done (for the moment – he’ll play it again in competition in the spring, and it needs to be better and faster by then), we’re back to Beethoven and Liszt and some soon-to-be-determined Handel, as well as a couple of organ pieces and some jazz things and some Metallica.

As well as other things, like this rabbit trail I went down the other night:

I was  watching/listening to Spotify, to the “new releases” channel in the Classical section. Album covers come up and you’re not going to be surprised that I was stopped short by this one:

Image result for adn baroque


So, off I went, and discovered that it’s a collaboration between a pianist and a counter-tenor/dancer. The videos are just ridiculous. Is it awful of me to watch these things and be able to think nothing but, “Yes, these are Europeans doing this crap. Americans are crazy, but not this kind of crazy. This is Euro-crazy.”

Besides, I find counter-tenors creepy.

But I was intrigued by one of the pieces – nonetheless. I just liked it. Turns out it was Rameau – a section of an opera/ballet called Les Indes Galantes (The Amorous Indians) – a reflection of early 18th century fascination with non-European cultures and inspired by a 1725 visit of five Native Americans (from North America) to Paris.

The section that caught my ear was Forêts paisibles, a rondo from  Les Sauvages – you can listen to a choral presentation of it with a super-energetic conductor here.

Or this one – also choral, a little more formal, but also with a (different) energetic conductor – must be something about the piece that brings it out of them.

Very catchy.

(Interested in the lyrics? Here’s a translation – basically – we’re happy and peaceful, let’s stay that way!)

When you watch videos of modern productions, you wonder…that it’s even…allowed any more. Probably not on this side of the Atlantic, that’s for sure, although it’s a shame – it’s simply a piece of history (and lovely music). It’s not as if Rameau went to Peru and anyone received his work as anthropological reporting.

(Update: it is indeed performed – I did a search of recent reviews, and they do exist. So that’s good.)

Anyway – I dashed off to find a piano transcription, which I’ll be playing around with myself, but before that (we’re not done! One more rabbit trail!), the Rameau led me to a performance by an…intriguing young harpsichordist named Jean Rondeau who, appropriately, is playing Forêts paisibles…barefoot.

For more on Rondeau, go here.

And in this video, he’s wearing shoes, but goes full-on Jesus for this recital with a lute-player (Les Sauvages is last on their programme.)

Cooking:  I made a pork-poblano-chili verde stew, which was good, but I prefer this version, which has sweet potatoes. Also this Italian apple cake, always a hit, and this quick chocolate “wacky” cake (no eggs or milk  and leaven is provided by interaction between vinegar and baking soda) – it’s so simple, but it’s the best chocolate cake I make – especially if you use high quality Dutch cocoa powder. I’ve just recently (as in the past year) started using it, and it makes a huge difference.

Watching: The opening montage from Better Call Saul was one of the best – really superb way of showing the devolution of a relationship – with a great, mini-twist of an ending – just when you think Kim is on her way out…back she goes to Office Max, loading up that cart with markers. For some reason.

St. Hildegard of Bingen

Also today, Hildegard of Bingen, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. 

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

Three substantive talks from B16 on Hildegard.  First, two in his series of General Audiences focused on great figures of the Church:


During the years when she was superior of the Monastery of St Disibodenberg, Hildegard began to dictate the mystical visions that she had been receiving for some time to the monk Volmar, her spiritual director, and to Richardis di Strade, her secretary, a sister of whom she was very fond. As always happens in the life of true mystics, Hildegard too wanted to put herself under the authority of wise people to discern the origin of her visions, fearing that they were the product of illusions and did not come from God. She thus turned to a person who was most highly esteemed in the Church in those times: St Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I have already spoken in several Catecheses. He calmed and encouraged Hildegard. However, in 1147 she received a further, very important approval. Pope Eugene iii, who was presiding at a Synod in Trier, read a text dictated by Hildegard presented to him by Archbishop Henry of Mainz. The Pope authorized the mystic to write down her visions and to speak in public. From that moment Hildegard’s spiritual prestige continued to grow so that her contemporaries called her the “Teutonic prophetess”. This, dear friends, is the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, the source of every charism: the person endowed with supernatural gifts never boasts of them, never flaunts them and, above all, shows complete obedience to the ecclesial authority. Every gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit, is in fact intended for the edification of the Church and the Church, through her Pastors, recognizes its authenticity.

I shall speak again next Wednesday about this great woman, this “prophetess” who also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ. Thus St Hildegard speaks to us; we shall speak of her again next Wednesday. Thank you for your attention.

And, as promised….9/8/2010:

Today I would like to take up and continue my Reflection on St Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the Middle Ages who was distinguished for her spiritual wisdom and the holiness of her life. Hildegard’s mystical visions resemble those of the Old Testament prophets: expressing herself in the cultural and religious categories of her time, she interpreted the Sacred Scriptures in the light of God, applying them to the various circumstances of life. Thus all those who heard her felt the need to live a consistent and committed Christian lifestyle. In a letter to St Bernard the mystic from the Rhineland confesses: “The vision fascinates my whole being: I do not see with the eyes of the body but it appears to me in the spirit of the mysteries…. I recognize the deep meaning of what is expounded on in the Psalter, in the Gospels and in other books, which have been shown to me in the vision. This vision burns like a flame in my breast and in my soul and teaches me to understand the text profoundly” (Epistolarium pars prima I-XC: CCCM 91).

Hildegard’s mystical visions have a rich theological content. They refer to the principal events of salvation history, and use a language for the most part poetic and symbolic. For example, in her best known work entitled Scivias, that is, “You know the ways” she sums up in 35 visions the events of the history of salvation from the creation of the world to the end of time. With the characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity, Hildegard develops at the very heart of her work the theme of the mysterious marriage between God and humanity that is brought about in the Incarnation. On the tree of the Cross take place the nuptials of the Son of God with the Church, his Bride, filled with grace and the ability to give new children to God, in the love of the Holy Spirit (cf. Visio tertia: PL 197, 453c).

From these brief references we already see that theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity. I therefore encourage all those who carry out this service to do it with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflection with prayer and looking to the great riches, not yet fully explored, of the medieval mystic tradition, especially that represented by luminous models such as Hildegard of Bingen.

Finallly, from his proclamation of her as a Doctor of the Church, in 2012:

Hildegard’s eminent doctrine echoes the teaching of the Apostles, the Fathers and writings of her own day, while it finds a constant point of reference in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastic liturgy and the interiorization of sacred Scripture are central to her thought which, focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation, is expressed in a profound unity of style and inner content that runs through all her writings.

The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.

For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood: hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelization.

And if you are in a listening mood, this BBC radio edition of In Our Time focusing on Hildegard is worth your time.

St. Robert Bellarmine

..is today’s memorial.

First, an interview with Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., who has spent a great deal of his recent life translating Bellarmine into English:

Asked how he became interested in translating St. Robert Bellarmine, Fr. Baker mused that, “I had just finished translating the Sacrae Theologiae Summa [an eight-volume series on dogmatic theology, also available from Keep The Faith publications]—which is based mainly on St. Thomas Aquinas, but also brings in many of the other Doctors, too—and, since I was now back at Bellarmine Prep, I thought I’d look into the school’s namesake and discovered there was much of Bellarmine’s work that had not yet been translated into English.”

Hence the 1000-page Controversies. Fr. Baker says, “The Controversies took a full year to translate.” Contained in a single (if enormous) volume, part one deals with the Bible, part two with Christology, and the third part is concentrated on the primacy of St. Peter and the papacy.

“This is good, solid, spiritual reading,” notes Fr. Baker. “I enjoyed translating Bellarmine very much—it was very instructive and I learned a lot in the process.”

“Bellarmine really goes after the Protestants in his work [the Controversies]—he doesn’t hold back at all—in every one of his writings: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli—they were fomenting a hostile, violent environment inimical to the Catholic Church and Bellarmine was having none of it,” Fr. Baker reminds us. “So, he really refutes Calvin and Luther and Henry VIII. In fact, at Oxford and Cambridge Universities they would have classes on how to refute Robert Bellarmine, since he was so convincing in his arguments against them!”

“Bellarmine never, ever calls them ‘Protestants’—he calls them ‘Heretics.’ And he says point-blank that they [Luther et al.] are undoubtedly in hell!” Fr. Baker says.

“One of Bellarmine’s confreres in the College of Cardinals called him ‘The most learned churchman since St. Augustine’— and I’d agree with that,” Fr. Baker said. “His knowledge of Scripture and Theology—he seemed to know the entire Bible by heart, plus the teachings not only of nearly every pope, but of many bishops, too! It’s just astonishing. Bellarmine was truly a polymath.”

From a few years ago, a review essay of a couple of books on Bellarmine’s political thought:

Despite his rehabilitation in the last quarter of the 19th century, Bellarmine’s intellectual legacy remains mixed. In one respect, at least, he was a product of his time because his vision of a res publica Christiana depended on a united Christendom that could never be restored. Yet, what is easy to see, in hindsight, was not so clear in the early 17th century. On the other hand, his defiance of royal absolutism, in defense of rule of law and religious truth, is far from outdated. Indeed, the very modern assertion of state power only justified further the papal need to secure its political independence by maintaining its temporal possessions. Yet, the Papal States could not secure this independence because the pope depended on other nations for their defense. This dilemma was resolved satisfactorily when the Italian state formally recognized the Vatican as a sovereign entity in 1929. The concordat, negotiated by Pius XI, secured for the papacy, the freedom to exercise its spiritual duties. Furthermore, Bellarmine’s effort to limit spiritual and political power to their proper jurisdiction, was a continuation of, rather than a departure from, the long Scholastic tradition that formed the basis of Jesuit political ideas. As Harro Höpfl observed in Jesuit Political Thought, “In Jesuit political theory…legitimate government was limited government.” Given the modern state’s insatiable hunger for power, Bellarmine’s political philosophy has not lost its relevance.

Tutino is right to highlight the importance Bellarmine placed on papal spiritual authority. He was, in this respect, a man ahead of his time, because he saw clearly what papal spiritual power could do when unencumbered by temporal distractions. Yet, even with no temporal power, a pope, like Pius XII, thought it dangerous to confront the Nazi menace, explicitly and directly, with his spiritual authority. In a world indifferent to the Gospel, at best, and hostile, at worst, Christians oftentimes find themselves in a position of weakness and danger. For Catholics, all we possess is moral persuasion. Bellarmine may help us choose the only viable course we have left. Since it was all the Apostles had, there is reason for hope that lost ground can be recaptured, though not without some sacrifice. Tutino’s valuable study, and her handsome collection of translations, can help guide our way.

From Word on Fire:

In his time as archbishop he dedicated himself to bringing his people into closer union with God by instructing them in the faith. One biographer reports that, at a time when sermons were common in Capua only during Advent and Lent, St. Robert dutifully preached every Sunday and feast day in Capua and went to great trouble to get to the remote portions of his diocese during the week in order to catechize his congregation. Though he was recalled to Rome for service to the universal Church after only a short period of ministry in Capua, he never ceased to be mindful of the education of the faithful.

In the last years of his life he wrote several spiritual books that became immensely popular among the laity. Reportedly the most famous of these was The Mind’s Ascent to God by the Ladder of Created Things. He notes in this work how easy it is for man to forget God since he “can neither see nor easily think about him nor cleave to him in affection…” Therefore, following such masters as St. Paul, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas Aquinas, he offers a series of meditations on the works of God to help bring men to greater knowledge and love of the Creator. He demonstrates that we can come to know just how close God is to us by pondering created reality, for it is a true (though by no means comprehensive) reflection of his majesty and perfection.

From B16, back in 2011:

His preaching and his catechesis have that same character of essentiality which he had learned from his Ignatian education, entirely directed to concentrating the soul’s energies on the Lord Jesus intensely known, loved and imitated. In the writings of this man of governance one is clearly aware, despite the reserve behind which he conceals his sentiments, of the primacy he gives to Christ’s teaching.

St Bellarmine thus offers a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the word of God, that is satisfied in contemplating his grandeur, that does not withdraw into self but is pleased to abandon itself to God.

A hallmark of Bellarmine’s spirituality is his vivid personal perception of God’s immense goodness. This is why our Saint truly felt he wasa beloved son of God. It was a source of great joy to him to pause in recollection, with serenity RobertBellarmineand simplicity, in prayer and in contemplation of God.

In his book De ascensione mentis in Deum — Elevation of the mind to God — composed in accordance with the plan of theItinerarium [Journey of the mind into God] of St Bonaventure, he exclaims: “O soul, your example is God, infinite beauty, light without shadow, splendour that exceeds that of the moon and the sun. He raised his eyes to God in whom is found the archetypes of all things, and of whom, as from a source of infinite fertility, derives this almost infinite variety of things. For this reason you must conclude: whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything”.

In this text an echo of the famous contemplatio ad amorem obtineundum — contemplation in order to obtain love — of theSpiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola can be heard. Bellarmine, who lived in the lavish and often unhealthy society of the end of late 16th and early 17th centuries, drew from this contemplation practical applications and applied them to the situation of the Church of his time with a lively pastoral inspiration.

In his book De arte bene moriendi — the art of dying a good death — for example, he points out as a reliable norm for a good life and also for a good death regular and serious meditation that should account to God for one’s actions and one’s way of life, and seek not to accumulate riches on this earth but rather to live simply and charitably in such a way as to lay up treasure in Heaven.

In his book De gemitu columbae — the lament of the dove — in which the dove represents the Church, is a forceful appeal to all the clergy and faithful to undertake a personal and concrete reform of their own life in accordance with the teachings of Scripture and of the saints, among whom he mentions in particular St Gregory Nazianzus, St John Crysostom, St Jerome and St Augustine, as well as the great founders of religious orders, such as St Benedict, St Dominic and St Francis.

Bellarmine teaches with great clarity and with the example of his own life that there can be no true reform of the Church unless there is first our own personal reform and the conversion of our own heart.

Bellarmine found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius recommendations for communicating the profound beauty of the mysteries of faith, even to the simplest of people. He wrote: “If you have wisdom, may you understand that you have been created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation. This is your goal, this is the centre of your soul, this the treasure of your heart. Therefore consider as truly good for you what leads you to your goal, and truly evil what causes you to miss it. The wise person must not seek felicitous or adverse events, wealth or poverty, health or sickness, honours or offences, life or death. They are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and to your eternal happiness, they are evil and to be avoided if they hinder it” (De ascensione mentis in Deum, grad. 1).

These are obviously not words that have gone out of fashion but words on which we should meditate at length today, to direct our journey on this earth. They remind us that the aim of our life is the Lord, God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom he continues to call us and to promise us communion with him. They remind us of the importance of trusting in the Lord, of expending ourselves in a life faithful to the Gospel, of accepting and illuminating every circumstance and every action of our life with faith and with prayer, ever reaching for union with him. Many thanks.

Our Lady of Sorrows

You can see, on the right facing page, the Seven Sorrows listed, in this entry on the Immaculate Heart of Mary from the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

For more on the book, go to the Loyola site here. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from 2008:

Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

And from 2011, from a visit to Germany:

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down. Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord’s body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary’s heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

Resources related to today’s feast, because they are about Mary:

Pray the Rosary 


my now-free e-book, Mary and the Christian Life

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