Friday, April 30, 2010

Miracle Man

I’ve been remiss in blogging this week. No reason in particular – just general busyness, as well as some evening workouts at the new gym.

But, before too much time passed, I did want to record my little brush with Church history. At a luncheon Monday to promote the Newman Legacy Project, I met (and received a blessing from) Deacon Jack Sullivan of Marshfield, MA.

The miraculous healing of this joyful and self-effacing gentleman (pictured above) paved the way for John Henry Newman’s beatification this September.

Here is Deacon Jack’s story from an article by Jonathan Wynne-Jones published last November in The Telegraph:

Lying in a hospital bed in Boston, Massachusetts, barely able to lift his head, Jack Sullivan was in such pain he was struggling to breathe.

There had been complications with the operation on his back. Doctors had warned that he would be left paralysed unless he underwent surgery, but on opening him up they discovered his spine had been so severely ruptured that protective fluids had leaked out.

Devastated and desperate, his hopes and plans for the future fading, Sullivan prayed to Cardinal Newman. He had turned to Newman after once watching a documentary about the Anglican cleric who had converted to Roman Catholicism in the 19th century, finding his life inspiring.

Almost immediately, the pain disappeared and he felt a surge of strength in his body. Pulling back the sheets, he tentatively felt for the floor with his toes – and then walked upright for the first time in months.

A Boston hospital might be an unlikely setting for one of Catholicism’s most significant events of the past decade, yet his healing has been hailed as a miracle by the Church. It has prompted the first papal visit to the UK for 28 years and paved the way for Britain’s first saint since 1982.

This week, Sullivan begins a tour of England, following in the footsteps of John Henry Newman, the cardinal he turned to in his darkest hour. He has been invited here by the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, who believes that the American’s visit is an important antidote to growing scepticism in Britain around issues of faith.

“His presence and testimony will help us to understand more deeply the power of prayer and the importance of intercession to those who can pray for us in the presence of God,” says the archbishop.

It is set to ignite a debate between those who consider miracles to be little more than figments of superstitious and confused minds, and those who firmly believe that they are the work of God.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Sullivan concedes that there will be many who doubt his claims – even his wife was initially unconvinced – but hopes that others will be encouraged by his story.

“For some heavenly reason, I was selected. I don’t know why, because I’m not unusual in any way. I’m just an average guy,” he says.

A chief magistrate at Plymouth District Court in Massachusetts, the 71-year-old has become living proof to millions of Catholics that miracles can happen to anyone, anywhere.

His debilitating back problems began in 2000, when a CT scan revealed a succession of spinal disc and vertebrae deformities, compressing the spinal cord and nerves and causing stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the blood vessels, in his legs.

At the time he was training to become a deacon in the Catholic Church and was deeply upset that he would be unable to finish the course. Hunched over in his armchair at home, struggling to come to terms with his plight, he stopped flicking through the television channels to watch a documentary on Newman.

Feeling compelled to pray to the cardinal, he asked for the courage to confront his challenges and to somehow overcome his disability so that he could become a deacon.

The following morning he awoke virtually free from pain and able to walk, leaving doctors baffled. Scans had shown significant problems with his spine.

“I continued to pray to Newman every day after that. I was so grateful. I couldn’t believe what had happened.”

Having been told by doctors that the bulges on his spine were no longer visible on X-rays, Sullivan experienced further pain the following year, forcing him to undergo surgery.

It was his healing from this operation, in 2001, which surgeons had told him would take months of recovery, that was this year confirmed by the Catholic Church as a miracle.

Sullivan says there can be no other explanation. “I had been in agony for days. The expectation was that I’d be unable to walk for a long time, if at all, but after I prayed to Newman I immediately felt an intense heat. I felt joy and confidence.

“I said to the nurse that the pain had gone. I then walked up and down the corridors, with the nurse struggling to keep up with me.”

Discharged from hospital the same day, he returned home where he sat down to write to the Birmingham Oratory. His letter set in motion a long and complicated process that only finished this summer, when Pope Benedict XVI decreed that what had happened could only be explained as a miracle. The announcement was made in a formal proclamation by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican department responsible for examining claims of a cure.

There is none of the frenzied celebrations whipped up by “televangelists”, who cry that a miracle has occurred as they lay hands on believers before theatrically pushing them to the floor.

Such claims are rare and precious in the Catholic Church, which requires a thorough investigation including interviews with any witnesses and all relevant medical documents.

There is then a series of tests that the case must pass, beginning with analysis by the Congregation’s panel of medical experts, the consulta medica, before rounds of voting on the validity of the miracle.

If it is passed by the consulta medica, the case goes to the Theological Consultors, who consider the spiritual dimension of the claim. A verdict that concludes there has been a direct link between healing and the invocation of a “servant of God” is passed to cardinals and bishops for another vote, before the case finally reaches the Pope.

Although Sullivan’s case took eight years to complete, it was aided by the fact that doctors who treated him were plain baffled by his recovery.

Referring to his improvement the first time he prayed to Newman, Dr Robert Banco, chief of spinal surgery at the New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, wrote: “Because of this persisting and severe stenosis, I have no medical explanation for why he was pain-free and for so long a time. The objective data, CT, myelogram, and MRI demonstrated that his pathology did not at all change, but his symptoms [pain] improved drastically.”

After the second healing, he told Sullivan that the recovery to his spine was so complete that the 71 year-old now had the lifting capacity of a 30 year-old. “With the tear in your dura mater, your condition should have been much worse,” he said. “I have no medical or scientific answer for you. If you want an answer, ask God.”

While Dr Banco was willing to testify at the tribunal investigating what had happened, Sullivan says that his wife, Carol, was initially reluctant.

“She didn’t believe it at first,” he says. “She thought there must be some explanation. 'You must heal fast,’ she said to me. But she realised after the second event that it was definitely a miracle.”

Dr Peter Saunders, general secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship and a former surgeon, stresses that claims of miracles should be treated with caution, but says that as a scientist with a faith, he would not rule them out.

“It is hard to say whether it [Jack Sullivan’s cure] is inexplicable enough to be declared a miracle. I believe God can do anything He likes. I don’t think there must always be a natural explanation.

“I can’t exclude the possibility of a divine footprint, but as a I scientist I would want to see the evidence.”

Others are not so open to such a possibility. “Show me the pictures,” says Jonathan Lucas, a consultant spinal surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, London.

“I just don’t believe it. I’m very sceptical about the idea of miracles. Spinal surgeons often pray to God because the risks are very high. If you get it wrong, you can cause catastrophic damage and potentially paralyse. But I think it was just a lucky day at the office for these surgeons.”

According to Mr Lucas, the spinal problems suffered by Sullivan can occur in about 3 per cent of adults. He admits that a period of recovery would be expected following complications during surgery, but said that if the operation had gone well he should have been able to walk within days.

While he has not seen the medical documents that were presented to the Vatican’s medical council, his comments are likely to be shared by many who see such beliefs as an anachronistic relic from the Middle Ages.

However, Alain de Botton, the philosopher and author, argues that we shouldn’t rush to be so dismissive. “Atheists who mock miracles frequently miss that they actually tell us something interesting about human beings,” he says. “They aren’t merely nonsense. They tell us that someone is struggling with something big, that they have been subject to an intolerable strain that has led them to this belief. There are moments when reality is so bleak that we want and need it to be a miracle.”

He continues: “The belief in miracles tends to be the province of desperate people. They are either very short of money or very ill.”

Yet de Botton suggests that all of us believe in miracles to some degree, whether it’s finding that cancer has vanished or wanting to believe that a loved one hasn’t died.

Rather than scorn Catholics who hold to this view, he says that there is something admirable about such faith.

“Anglican tradition has downplayed miracles. Ever since the Enlightenment, it is something they have found very embarrassing, whereas for Catholics it is mainstream.”

He says that in some ways the belief in miracles, such as the cure of Jack Sullivan, should not come as such a surprise. “They are nothing next to the miracle that is at the heart of Christianity, the belief that Jesus is the son of God.”

The photo above is from The Telegraph.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sacrilege or Tribute?

Saturday night, I was in the East Village at Solas on 9th Street for my friend Katie's birthday shin-dig.

Mid-party, the DJ played the rap/dance track by Sharam called "She Came Along" that sampled from the late great Patsy Cline's "Strange."

For your consideration:

Sacrilege? Tribute? I kind of like it, I think.

Here's the original:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Third Day

Poem for a Sunday night in the middle of Eastertide:

The immovable stone tossed aside,
The collapsed linens,
The blinding angel and the chalky guards:
All today like an old wood-cut.

The earthquake on the third day,
The awakened sleeper,
The ubiquitous stranger, gardener, fisherman:
Faded frescoes from a buried world.

Retell, renew the event
In these planetary years,
For we were there and he is here:
It is always the third day.

Our world-prison is split;
An elder charity
Breaks through these modern fates.
Publish it by Telstar,
Diffuse it by mundovision.

He passes through the shattered concrete slabs,
The vaporized vanadium vaults,
The twisted barbed-wire trestles.

A charity coeval with the suns
Dispels the deep obsessions of the age
And opens heart-room in our sterile dream:
A new space within space to celebrate
With mobiles and new choreographies,
A new time within time to set to music.

-- Amos Niven Wilder (1895-1993), from "Grace Counfounding" (1972). Copyright by Fortress Press.

He was the brother of the playwright Thorton Wilder.

The photo above is by Leo.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Of Shepherds and Chickens

This morning, I took the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station to Hicksville, NY, to exhibit for my gig at the Long Island Catholic Men's Conference. Hundreds of men attended this annual event, held at Holy Trinity High School.

Among the conference speakers was Rich Donnelly, a Steubenville native and one-time coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Donnelly described his vibrant Catholic childhood that included being an altar boy and holding pretend Masses with Italian bread. But, he later hid his faith, even going to great lengths to ensure his teammates didn't discover that he went to Mass during spring training.

He spoke of how his life was impacted by the death of his daughter, Amy, at the age of 17 from a brain tumor. (For chills, read this story about Amy's saying "The chicken runs at midnight.")

Donnelly recalled that he once refused to go outside and play ball with Amy while he was watching a game on television. Noting how that moment came back to haunt him the night of Amy's death, he urged the men to spend more time with their children.

I went to the conference's closing liturgy in the high school auditorium. It was the vigil Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Easter or "Good Shepherd Sunday." (This Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations.)

The Gospel proclaimed at Mass was a short passage from John Chapter 10 that includes these reassuring words of Jesus:

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish."

For background and reflections on this Sunday's scripture readings, visit A Concord Pastor, Blue Eyed Ennis, Fran and Deacon Greg.

Flashbacks: Fourth Sundays of Easter 2009, 2008 and 2007.

The image above is "The Good Shepherd" or "Le Bon Pasteur" by James Tissot. It's from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Friday, April 23, 2010


This afternoon, some co-workers and I went to a funeral home visitation in Yonkers. On our way back to the office, we heard the end of a chill song on the car radio.

Me: "Is that Dave Matthews?"

Co-worker: "No, can't be. Sounds like a mix between Dave Matthews and John Mayer."

We were way off. An Internet search later revealed the tune to be "Kandi" by the U.K. band One EskimO.

Here it is for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend."


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mountain View

I'm writing today from Las Vegas, NV. I'm here exhibiting for my gig at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL). It's an annual gathering (74 years running) of Catholics who lead religious education programs for dioceses and parishes.

Las Vegas was an interesting choice for this year's host city. At first glance, "sin city" doesn't offer many opportunities for prayerful contemplation.

But, admist the glitz, I may have found one.

From my 21st floor room at Bally's, I have a fine view of the nearby mountains. And, while I am by no means an early riser, my body is still on Eastern Standard Time. So, this morning, I was able to watch the sun rise over those peaks.

The photo above is from here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Come, Have Breakfast

Today is the Third Sunday of Easter. In the Gospel proclaimed at Mass today, the resurrected Jesus appears to some of the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.

At one point in the account from John Chapter 21, Jesus (who had seemingly prepared a charcoal fire) said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”

I love that. It's very real. Jesus understood their hunger and wanted them to eat.

God understands our hungers, too. He gets us. And he wants to nourish us.

Fran and Mike have posted reflections inspired by today's Gospel.

Flashbacks: Third Sundays of Easter 2009, 2008 and 2007.

The image above is "Christ Appears on the Shore of Lake Tiberias" or "Apparition du Christ sur les bords du lac de Tibériade" by James Tissot. It is one of five images Tissot created to illustrate this Gospel passage. These paintings are part of the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Speaking, Revealing, Changing

In her latest WSJ column, Peggy Noonan provides Catholics with some important food for thought:

... Once, leaders of the Vatican felt that silence would protect the church. But now anyone who cares about it must come to understand that only speaking, revealing, admitting and changing will save the church.

The old Vatican needs new blood.

They need to let younger generations of priests and nuns rise to positions of authority within a new church. Most especially and most immediately, they need to elevate women. As a nun said to me this week, if a woman had been sitting beside a bishop transferring a priest with a history of abuse, she would have said: "Hey, wait a minute!"

If the media and the victims don't keep the pressure on, the old ways will continue. ...

The image above of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican is by Greg. That night, the lights were on in the papal apartments.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Midnight Train

The weekend begins.

Some juice for the journey:

Hat-tip: Jim

Familiar Places

I ended a two-year-plus relationship this week. But this goodbye was a healthy one -- very healthy, in fact.

Wednesday evening, I had a final workout at the McBurney YMCA on 14th Street near 6th Avenue. The Y had been my gym since a chilly Saturday afternoon in February, 2008, when I decided to do something about a New Year's resolution to shed some pounds.

I had an excellent experience at the Y. Its friendly people, modern facility, clean workout spaces and good equipment were the perfect fit. (I loved the personal TVs in the cardio machines on which I watched every episode of "Family Guy" ever made.)

And, my membership did pay off -- over the past two years, I've lost about 30 pounds.

I even remained a Y member after I moved last year from near 14th Street to Little Italy.

But, as this past winter dragged on, I decided it was time to work out closer to home. There's a new 24-Hour Fitness at Houston and Crosby. I think I have been wooed by its better hours and shiny new-ness.

As I take my leave, I have decided to honor the McBurney YMCA by using a song of farewell for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend."

The late great Billie Holiday is in the house with "I'll Be Seeing You." ("YMCA" would have been too obvious.)


An aside: Did you know "I'll Be Seeing You" has a rarely-used opening lyric? Megan Mullally does:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Totality

Quote of the day:

"For a Christian, his Christian existence is ultimately the totality of his existence. This totality opens out in the dark abyss of the wilderness which we call God. When one undertakes something like this, he stands before the great thinkers, the saints, and finally Jesus Christ. The abyss of existence opens up in front of him. He knows that he has not thought enough, has not loved enough, has not suffered enough."

-- Karl Rahner, S.J. (1904-1984), as quoted in an article today at Commonweal

The Easter Vigil image above is from here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

R.I.P. Dixie Carter

The actress Dixie Carter died Saturday at the age of 70. May she rest in peace.

Here are two fun clips of Carter playing Julia in the 1986 - 1993 CBS sitcom "Designing Women":

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Best Sauce

I walked home from the gym tonight. It's a fairly long walk but quite do-able on a nice spring night.

Around 9 p.m., I was strolling south on LaGuardia Place, checking out the Kimmel Center window displays, when a young man with a guitar called out to me, "Hey, mister, want to hear a song?"

I stopped. "Sure," I replied.

The young man began to strum his guitar and, seemingly, created a tune on the spot. (Lyric: "Do you like living in New York City?")

The young man and his band, Plastic Fantastic Lover, had been making music in Washington Square Park. They were packing up their van before heading to Long Island for a spaghetti dinner made by one their mothers.

"My mom makes the best sauce," said this particular band member (a Brooklyn native).

Before we went our separate ways, the band gave me a CD with some of their music.

Here's a sample:

Sunday, April 11, 2010


In the liturgical year, today was the Second Sunday of Easter. Catholics also know today as "Divine Mercy Sunday."

The Gospel at Mass on this Sunday is always the account of Doubting Thomas from John Chapter 20. To read the passage, see my posts for this Sunday in 2009, 2008 and 2007.

I went to the 12:45 p.m. Mass today at the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in Soho/Nolita. In his homily on the Gospel passage, Monsignor Donald Sakano looked at how Jesus repeatedly said "Peace be with you" to the disciples behind the locked doors.

He noted that the phrase is the English translation of the Hebrew (or perhaps Aramaic) greeting "shalom," which can carry a meaning greater than what many English speakers may take from the word "peace."

For other good thoughts on Doubting Thomas, pay a visit to A Concord Pastor, Deacon Greg, Fran and Mike.

An aside: I am praying for the people of Poland following the air plane crash early Saturday morning in Russia that killed that nation's president, first lady and many other Polish leaders.

It's impossible not to observe that this tragedy occurred on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. This new observance was placed on the Church calendar by a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, who was inspired by the writings on divine mercy by Poland's Saint Faustina.

And, while the actual calendar dates differ, John Paul II also died on an eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. This year is the fifth anniversary of his death on April 2, 2005.

The image above is "The Disbelief of Saint Thomas" or "Incredulité de Saint Thomas" by James Tissot. It's from the collection of the Brooklyn Musuem of Art.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Joyful Music

This week, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) convention. It was the fourth time I exhibited for my gig at this large annual gathering of Catholic educators.

Minneapolis is a good small city. In fact, I think the flavor and architecture of its Downtown has quite a bit in common with the 'Burgh. (This was my second visit to the Twin Cities. I was last there over New Year's 2001-2002 for an NCSC conference.)

The Easter Week Masses at the convention were very good. I was grateful for local high school ensembles that provided joyful music at each.

The liturgical music composer David Haas was on hand for Wednesday's Mass. Haas' tune "You Are Mine" has become a standard for many Catholics.

Below is one Dominican sister's live take on "You Are Mine" for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend." (Some words of Henri Nouwen are in there as well.)


Monday, April 05, 2010

Of Best Friends and Hardy Souls

Peggy Noonan's Friday-Saturday WSJ column included some wise observations about the Church and the sexual abuse crisis.

Those attacking the press should consider these words from a daughter of the Church:

... In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."

But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press — the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe — has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.

Without this pressure — without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts — the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.

In fact, the press came late to the story. The mainstream media almost had to be dragged to it. It was there waiting to be told at least by the 1990s, but broadcast news shows and big newspapers weren't keen to go after it. It would take months or years to report and consume huge amounts of labor, time and money — endless digging through court records, locating victims and victimizers, getting people who don't want to talk to talk. And after all that, the payoff could be predicted: You'd get slammed by the church as biased, criticized by sincerely disbelieving churchgoers, and maybe get a boycott from a few million Catholics. No one wanted that.

An irony: Non-Catholic members of the media were, in my observation, the least likely to want to go after the story, because they didn't want to look like they were Catholic-bashing. An irony within the irony: Some journalists didn't think to go after the story because they really didn't much like the Catholic Church. Because of this bias, they didn't see the story as a story. They thought this was how the church always operated. It didn't register with them that it was a scandal. They didn't know it was news.

It was the Boston Globe that broke the dam, winning a justly deserved Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Some blame the scandals on Pope Benedict XVI. But Joseph Ratzinger is the man who, weeks before his accession to the papacy five years ago, spoke blisteringly on Good Friday of the "filth" in the church. Days later on the streets of Rome, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported, Cardinal Ratzinger bumped into a curial monsignor who chided him for his sharp words. The cardinal replied, "You weren't born yesterday, you understand what I'm talking about, you know what it means. We priests. We priests!" The most reliable commentary on Pope Benedict's role in the scandals came from John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, who argues that once Benedict came to fully understand the scope of the crisis, in 2003, he made the church's first real progress toward coming to grips with it.

As for his predecessor, John Paul the Great, about whom I wrote an admiring book which recounts some of the scandals — I spent a grim 2003 going through the depositions of Massachusetts clergy — one fact seems to me pre-eminent. For Pope John Paul II, the scandals would have been unimaginable — literally not imaginable. He had come of age in an era and place (Poland in the 1930s, '40s and '50s) of heroic priests. They were great men; they suffered. He had seen how the Nazis and later the communists had attempted to undermine the church and tear people away from it, sometimes through slander. They did this because the great force arrayed against them was the Catholic Church. John Paul, his mind, psyche and soul having been forged in that world, might well have seen the church's recent accusers as spreaders of slander. Because priests don't act like that, it's not imaginable. And he'd seen it before, only now it wasn't Nazism or communism attempting to kill the church with lies, but modernity and its soulless media.

Only they weren't lies.

There are three great groups of victims in this story. The first and most obvious, the children who were abused, who trusted, were preyed upon and bear the burden through life. The second group is the good priests and good nuns, the great leaders of the church in the day to day, who save the poor, teach the immigrant, and, literally, save lives. They have been stigmatized when they deserve to be lionized. And the third group is the Catholics in the pews — the heroic Catholics of America and now Europe, the hardy souls who in spite of what has been done to their church are still there, still making parish life possible, who hold high the flag, their faith unshaken. No one thanks those Catholics, sees their heroism, respects their patience and fidelity. The world thinks they're stupid. They are not stupid, and with their prayers they keep the world going, and the old church too.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

They Remembered

Happy Easter!

Last night, I took part in the Easter Vigil Mass at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. I was blessed to serve as a Godfather and sponsor for an adult entering the Church.

The Easter Vigil can include up to nine scripture readings (as well as many Psalms) that survey some of salvation history. Last night's Gospel passage was the Easter morning account from Luke Chapter 24.

It's another passage in which we see strong women taking the lead:

At daybreak on the first day of the week the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.

They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.

They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”

And they remembered his words.

Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others.

The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.

For excellent Easter homilies, visit A Concord Pastor and Deacon Greg.

Flashbacks: Easter Sundays 2009 and 2008.

The clip above is by Godzdogz.

Friday, April 02, 2010

It Closes the Distance

Why did there need to be a Good Friday?

One man's reasoning:

“We hear Christ tell the scribes and the Pharisees that he has not come for the well but for the sick, and he gives a list that is confirmed on every page of the Gospel: the blind, the deaf, the leprous, the palsied and the lame. These are the ones whom the disciples are to recruit by the wayside; it is through them that Christ makes his way with one miracle after another.

… To read the Bible literally, one would even think that God’s love for us increases in direct proportion to our shortcomings, that he is grateful to us for this cross that we ask him to bear because it closes the distance from him to us. … ”

-- Paul Claudel, d. 1955, from “I Believe in God, A Meditation on the Apostles’ Creed.”

The painting above, "Jesus in the Sepulchre" or "Jésus dans le sépulcre," is by James Tissot. It is the property of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.


“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Good Friday

The image above is "What Our Lord Saw from the Cross" or "Ce que voyait Notre-Seigneur sur la Croix" by James Tissot. It is from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

From the museum:

In the most memorable, and even notorious, of Tissot’s images, Christ looks out at the crowd of spectators arrayed before him: Mary Magdalene, in the immediate foreground, with her long red tresses swirling down her back, kneels at his feet, which are clearly visible at the bottom center of the composition. Beyond her, the Virgin Mary clutches her breast, while John the Evangelist looks up with hands clasped.

The artist here adopts the point of view of Christ himself. Few painters have conceived a composition this daring. In his audacity, however, Tissot remains true to his artistic vision: ultimately, the image is an exercise in empathy. Its point is to give viewers, accustomed to looking at the event from the outside, a rare opportunity to imagine themselves in Christ’s place and consider his final thoughts and feelings as he gazed on the enemies and friends who were witnessing, or participating in, his death.


The Sacred Triduum has commenced.

This evening, I went to the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Manhattan's West Side.

In accord with the somber tone of the night watch, here for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend" is a performance of "Miserere mei, Deus" by Gregorio Allegri (1582 - 1652).


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Not Machines

Thomas Merton
provides some food for thought as Lent 2010 comes to a close:

We prescribe for one another remedies that will bring us peace of mind, and we are still devoured by anxiety.

We evolve plans for disarmament and for the peace of nations, and our plans only change the manner and method of aggression.

The rich have everything they want except happiness, and the poor are sacrificed to the unhappiness of the rich.

Dictatorships use their secret police to crush millions of men under an intolerable burden of lies, injustice and tyranny, and those who live in democracies have forgotten how to make good use of their liberty.

For liberty is a thing of the spirit, and we are not longer able to live for anything but our bodies.

How can we find peace, true peace, if we forget that we are not machines for making money and spending money, but spiritual beings, sons and daughters of the Most High God?

Yet there is peace in the world. Where is it to be found? In the hearts and minds of men and women who are wise because they are humble – humble enough to be at peace in the midst of anguish, to accept conflict and insecurity and overcome it with love, because they realize who they are, and therefore possess the freedom that is their true heritage.

These are the children of God. We all know them. We do not have to go to monasteries to find them. They are everywhere.

They may not spend their time talking about peace, or about God, or about Christ our Lord, but they know peace and they know God, and they have found Christ in the midst of battle. They have surrendered their minds and their wills to the call of Christ, and in Him they have found reality ...

– from "The Monastic Journey" as quoted on pages 41 and 42 of "Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton" (Ave Maria Press)

(Note: I added most of the paragraph breaks in the text.)

The photo above is by John O'Brien, who I met through Scott Spiegel.

An Artist-Believer

Regular readers of this blog know I've had a major interest of late in the works of James Tissot.

Karen Sue Smith of America magazine has the goods on this 19th century French "artist-believer":

Hat-tip: Tim Reidy