Friday, December 1, 2023

The Long Weekend, Super Sunday, or Double Christmas — how will you do Mass this Dec. 25?

 Because Christmas is on Monday this year, that means we've got two days of mass in a row — both the Sunday mass and the Christmas (holy day of obligation) mass.

The Pillar looks at all the options I never thought of in this post. Truly it is a dizzying intellect that considered and clarified these options for us.

My Patron Saint for 2024 — Blessed Frederic Ozanam

Frederic Ozanam
founder of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society

Choosing a special patron saint for a new year is an old custom that has found favor again in some spots. You can choose a saint who interests you or it can be a name drawn from a hat of potential saints (one is really leaning on divine inspiration at that point) or picked at random (try the saint's name generator). The idea is that one is being directed (with help) to become more aware of specific areas in life where special guidance might be necessary. 

I've done this, off and on, since 2006 and had every sort of saint from Vitus to Francis Xavier to Justina to J.R.R. Tolkien (not a saint, I know, but a devout Catholic whose writing I focused on that year).  The new Church year begins with Advent next Sunday so I have been giving some thought to who I'll be spending the year with.

This year I was intending to choose Saint Vincent de Paul. Looking him up on his saint day I was fascinated by the breadth of experiences he'd had, up to and including being kidnapped by pirates. However, Frederic Ozanam stepped in and nudged me into realizing that he's already influencing my life in small ways that make a big difference. First of all, I joined the Saint Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP) in May and began hearing about him. I didn't care much, to be truthful, because I didn't know much about any of the people associated with the society. And no one could seem to do more than relate a few quick stories of his life. I asked about books and no one knew of any. 

So I continued in careless ignorance until I was coming up with spiritual material for the team couples in a Beyond Cana retreat that we were helping get started. I was surprised to come across him in 30 Days with Married Saints which gave me a nice insight into his home life. More recently a fellow attendee at the Ozanam Orientation for SVdP brought up a collection of Ozanam's letters. I was really interested in how to get a copy and she pulled it out of her backpack, saying, "So you're the one I brought this for!" 

Reading the letters I've been struck by his gentle ways of giving advice, taking criticism, and his boundless enthusiasm. I began considering how I could act similarly since I have a tendency to rush in, all guns blazing. Truly, this description from the Catholic Encyclopedia has come across to me: During his life he was an active member and a zealous propagator of the society. With all his zeal, he was, however, tolerant. 

Reader, that's when I chose him for 2024! We got about a month's head start but that's what it took to make me sit up and pay attention. I'm looking forward to his guidance in the next year.

Immaculate Conception Novena: Day 2

Mary and Jesus (Chinese)
Before God made known his coming into the world in the fullness of time, He prepared Mary as the suitable creature within whom He would dwell for nine months, from the moment of his Incarnation until his birth in Bethlehem. Evidence of God's power and love show forth in his creation. Mary is the House of Gold, the new Temple of God, and is adorned with so great a beauty that no greater perfection is possible. The grace of her Immaculate Conception, including all the graces and gifts God has bestowed on her soul, are directed towards the fulfillment of her divine maternity.

Here is the novena for the second day.

Virgin and Child with angels by Le Pho

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Rereading: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez-Carvajal

The last of the commentaries I'm highlighting for anyone who wants to begin the new Church year looking deeper into Scripture. This one covers every day of the yearly liturgical calendar, not just the Sunday masses as the other series do. It has been formational in my life as a Catholic.

I first reviewed this in 2004, way back when I began my blog. When someone brought up A. Sertillanges the other day, I realized I knew the name well and had read many quotes by him — in this series. So I wanted to remind everyone of how wonderful it is.

This seven-volume set gives you brief (five to six pages) meditations for every day of the Church’s entire liturgical calendar, including feast days and each of the three cycles of Ordinary Time on Sundays. Author Francis Fernandez-Carvajal makes generous use of the writings of the great saints as he brings you focused and moving meditations on themes taken from the Mass readings for that day, the liturgical season, and more. This work is rich and extensive enough to serve as your spiritual reading for a lifetime, as it helps you relate the particulars of the message of Christ to the ordinary circumstances of your day. Each volume is small enough for you to carry it to Adoration or some other suitable place for meditation. The whole set comes with a handsome slipcase that prevents wear-and-tear on the individual volumes.
I have been reading this series most mornings for 20 years and have yet to find a devotional that is better or more complete.

I especially remember the summer that my in-laws rented a house on the Galveston beach and I eagerly awaited the time each day when I could sit on the porch. The waves beat on the beach, the wind blew sand in my hair and salt like perfume, the gulls cried, and I would dive into this devotional for the daily reflection. It formed my life, slowly and surely, into  the kind of Catholic I am today.

Following the daily Mass readings, topics range from the sacraments and virtues to family interaction and friendship. The sensible and down-to-earth writing is enhanced by quotes from saints, Church Fathers, popes, cross-references with other scripture than in the day's readings, Church documents, etc. I especially enjoy the fact that this was translated from the original Spanish, meaning that things applying to my daily life and problems are exactly the same things faced by people in Spain, or, indeed, around the world.

Even after so many years of reading these books, there often is new food for thought and for "conversation." Also, I realize how much I have been formed as a Catholic by the overall message about living daily life by sharing our small joys and sorrows with Christ. One could do much worse.

There is a boxed set but I bought these one at a time as I went through the church year. The books cover Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, ordinary time, and have two special volumes for special feasts and saint days.

Immaculate Conception* Novena: Day 1

As has become tradition over the years, let's say the Immaculate Conception Novena together to get us in the proper frame of mind as we approach that feast day.

I always like to begin this novena with images that remind us about some of the happiest mother-child moments — tickling and giggling together.

Master of the Winking Eyes, Madonna and Child, ca. 1450

Mary's purpose is to show us her Son. She always points the way to Him. I have never known her to fail me whenever I have asked her to show me Jesus. I will be posting something each day as this is a very worthy Advent contemplation.
Mary constantly showers down graces and favours on the faithful, and so has won the prerogative all-powerful intercessor. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Christians know that they can reach God through his Mother. She is our shortcut — the most direct path to God for us. Our love for her is shown in our continually coming up with new ways of expressing affection for her. We begin the Novena leading to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception by trying to offer Our Lady something special each day.

Our Lady's appearance is the first ray of dawn that shines forth in the world. She rises over the horizon and is the forerunner to the brilliant splendour of salvation that will enter the world through Jesus Christ.

Here is the novena for the first day.

An ivory carving ca. 1275–1300 from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

* The Immaculate Conception is a belief in the Catholic church, as well as some Protestant denominations, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was protected by God from the original sin during her own conception. Since she subsequently lived a life completely free from sin, this makes her perfectly pure. The idea of the Immaculate Conception is often confused with the doctrine of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth of Christ. The Immaculate Conception was defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854 and consecrated by Pope Pius XII in 1942. However, this tradition had existed within the Catholic church for more than a millenium. Eastern Orthodox Christians do not believe in the Immaculate Conception, because they have a different view of the original sin from Catholics, and in their tradition, it would be unnecessary for Mary to require divine purification from this. The majority of Protestants reject the idea because it is not explicitly stated in the Bible.  (Description from Olga's Art Gallery.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Food for the Soul: Reflections on the Mass Readings by Peter Kreeft

Here's another set of commentaries to consider as the new Church year begins on Sunday. I originally ran this review when there was just one book available but now there's one for each of the Church's three year cycle.

Peter Kreeft has a different style than the John Bergsma books I recommended yesterday, but I love these too. We're going into Year B, if you are wondering which to get.

In Food for the Soul, the first book in a three-part series, philosopher Peter Kreeft invites the faithful—clergy and laity alike—to a heart-to-heart relationship with Christ the Word through the Word of the Scriptures.

Moving through the first reading, second reading, and Gospel reading for each Sunday and other major liturgical celebrations throughout the lectionary cycle, Kreeft brings the Mass readings to life with his trademark blend of wit and wisdom, challenging readers to plant their souls in the rich soil of Scripture and sharpen their minds with the Sword of the Spirit.

As Peter Kreeft himself says, this book is intended to help priests and deacons make their boring or bad homilies better. In his inimitable style, Kreeft offers reflections on each of the Sunday Mass readings, excepting the psalms (which I wish he'd included). These amount to a series of mini-homilies on each reading and I like them a lot so far.

Reading these made me think of Fordyce's Sermons*, which Jane Austen mentioned in her books. She was making a joke because of the topic of the sermons chosen, but I always thought it was a great idea to make sermons available for people to read at home or to give pastors something they could read if they weren't good writers or engaging speakers. Not everyone can do everything well after all.

Kreeft's style of commentary is quite different from John Bergsma's commentary so the two work together well. If I could only have one, I'd pick Bergsma's book but that is just a matter of taste. Luckily, that's a choice I don't have to make! I'll keep reading both to prepare for Sunday Mass.

Available directly from Word on Fire or I got mine from Amazon.

*Sermons to Young Women (1766), often called Fordyce's Sermons, is a two-volume compendium of sermons compiled by James Fordyce, a Scottish clergyman, which were originally delivered by himself and others. Fordyce was considered an excellent orator, and his collection of sermons found a ready audience among English clergy and laity alike. It quickly became a staple of many Church and personal libraries.

The Praterallee in Autumn

The Praterallee in Autumn, Olga Wisinger-Florian
via J.R.'s Art Place

 We're still not really in autumnal tree mode here in Dallas. And what we've got looks pretty scraggy. So I'm feasting my eyes on true autumn woods.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Scott and Julie are invited to an Edward Lear costume party. Julie dresses up as an old man with a beard. Scott dresses up as an owl. And they danced by the light of the moon.

In Episode 321 of A Good Story is Hard to Find, Scott and I discuss a mystery with many layers: The Feast by Margaret Kennedy.

The Word of the Lord: Reflections on the Sunday Mass Readings by John Bergsma

As the new Church year begins on Sunday, I'm rerunning this review of a commentary series that has stood me in very good stead for three years now. I just love these. We're going into Year B, if you are wondering which to get.

In The Word of the Lord series, biblical scholar Dr. John Bergsma provides commentary on each Sunday's selection of readings. Whether you are a homilist seeking insight into the meaning of difficult scriptural passages or a Catholic desiring a deepened understanding of the readings you hear at Mass, The Word of the Lord series is an invaluable guide.

This series delights me by focusing on the readings from a deep connection to scripture that isn't held specifically to the excerpts that the liturgy is using. Bergsma's background as a Biblical scholar comes to the fore in identifying unifying motifs and intriguing connections that you don't see a lot of the time. I splurged on it and it is truly wonderful for anyone who loves Bible study and the Sunday Mass liturgy.

The Solemnities and Feasts book (red cover) supplements Bergsma's commentaries on the Sunday readings for years A, B, and C. There are a number of important days that aren't regular Sunday Mass days — such as Christmas or Ash Wednesday! Nonetheless we gain a lot from having commentary on the readings. This book fills that need.

Nonchaloir (Repose)

Repose, John Singer Sargent
I love this for that fabulous dress. As always.

The National Gallery of Art has some interesting information including this tidbit.
The woman in Repose is Sargent's niece, Rose–Marie Ormond. In keeping with his newfound preference for informal figure studies, Sargent did not create a traditional portrait; rather, he depicted Rose–Marie as a languid, anonymous figure absorbed in poetic reverie. The reclining woman, casually posed in an atmosphere of elegiac calm and consummate luxury, seems the epitome of nonchalance—the painting's original title. Sargent seems to have been documenting the end of an era, for the lingering aura of fin–de–siècle gentility and elegant indulgence conveyed in Repose would soon be shattered by massive political and social upheaval in the early 20th century.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Worth a Thousand Words: Looking Glass Rock

Looking Glass Rock
taken by Valerie, ucumari photography
Isn't this splendid? Be sure to click through on the link so you can see it full size.

Valerie says:
Rising to 3,969 feet, Looking Glass Rock is comprised of exposed Whiteside granite that was formed approximately 390 million years ago. Geologists refer to it as a "pluton," a big ball of granitic rock that would have become a volcano had it not cooled before it reached the earth's surface. The name "Looking Glass" is derived from its appearance when rainwater freezes on its surface and reflects the sun like a mirror.
I can only imagine how breathtaking it would be to see that view in person, with all the surrounding sounds and scents and the breeze on your skin.

A Fine Fount of Admonition

This was not the first time that Mr. Bulstrode had begun by admonishing Mr. Vincy, and had ended by seeing a very unsatisfactory reflection of himself in the coarse unflattering mirror which that manufacturer's mind presented to the subtler lights and shadows of fellow-men; and perhaps his experience ought to have warned him how the scene would end. But a full-fed fountain will be generous with its waters even in the rain, when they are worse than useless; and a fine fount of admonition is apt to be equally irrepressible.
George Eliot, Middlemarch
It's easy to think of Middlemarch as all serious but there are little bits of humor scattered throughout.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Solemnity of Christ the King

It's the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year — so are we ready for Christ the King?

Here's a repost which I always enjoy reading every year. I hope you do too!

As the visions during the night continued,
I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him,
He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13-14
Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 for the universal church in his encyclical Quas Primas. He connected the denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism. At the time of Quas Primas, secularism was rising, and many Christians (including Catholics) began to doubt Christ's authority and existence, as well as the Church's power to continue Christ's authority. Pius XI, and the rest of the Christian world, witnessed the rise of dictatorships in Europe, and saw Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders. Just as the Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was at a low point, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning, when the feast was most needed. In fact, it is still needed today, as these problems have not vanished, but instead have worsened.
I was surprised when I looked through my archives and didn't see any comments about the Solemnity of Christ the King. Perhaps that is because I haven't really appreciated it much until over the past year. That is partly because one can only absorb so much at a time and although I converted in 2000, that is not really such a long time ago.

It also signals an internal conversion, which we all undergo in one way or another for our entire lives. I recently caught myself saying, "His majesty" and meaning God. That made me happy for two reasons, the first of which was because I never understood how St. Teresa of Avila could be somewhat sassy to God and still call him "His majesty" ... and now I did understand that much more.

The second because I feel much more that I am a daughter of the king. That would anyone happy, wouldn't it? To discover that they come from royalty, albeit a royalty that reigns in order to render humble service. Certainly I feel I have a bit better understanding of my place in the scheme of things overall and my gradually deepening relationship with my king who rules through love.

The above image of Christ the King comes from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. I was captivated when I discovered it. The strength and confidence of this image of Christ fills me with joy. For a discussion of the symbolism included, read Msgr. Charles Pope's piece Awesome or Awful? Here's a sample:
... let’s look a little closer at Christ’s face (at Left). Look closely at his eyes. Notice that the one on the right (from our perspective) is more rounded and serene than the one on the left that is narrower and piercing. Notice also that the right eyebrow is more arched and peaceful and the one on the left angled and downward in a severe look. Now take your hand and cover the left side of the face and see that he is more serene and then cover the right side of the face and see that he is severe. This is very common in Eastern Iconography which likes to present both the Justice and Mercy of God on the face of Christ. It is subtle but it is meant to be otherwise we’d have a weird looking face. On the Day of Judgement there will be mercy seen by those who have shown mercy and severe justice to those who have been severe (Mat 5:7; Mat 7:2; James 2:13) for Justice and mercy are alike with him (cf Sirach 5:7). Looking into his eyes I am reminded of the stunning text from Hebrews which says of Christ: No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. (Heb 4:13)
This solemnity is also the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday begins Advent and the new liturgical year for the Church. That means gospel readings on Sunday will generally be from the Gospel of Mark.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Ginkgo Trees in Hyanggyo

 Ginkgo Trees in Hyanggyo

I recently discovered there is a tall and lovely Ginko tree one block over from us. I'd always admired the never-failing golden foliage in the fall but never stopped to examine the leaves. When I drove my mother by to see it, her attention to detail (especially where plants are involved) allowed her to identify it within a minute. I was astonished. I always thought of Ginko trees as being something exclusively Chinese, or more generally Asian. Perhaps they had a few in California? But now the sheer exotic nature of this tree makes it even lovelier to me.

No Room to Swing a Cat

Mrs. Crupp had indignantly assured him that there wasn't room to swing a cat there; but, as Mr. Dick justly observed to me, sitting down on the foot of the bed, nursing his leg, "You know, Trotwood, I don't want to swing a cat. I never do swing a cat. Therefore, what does that signify to ME!"
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Dickens has some of the most amusing characters and dialogue of anyone. Not an original observation, of course, but he continually cracks me up.