Friday, September 17, 2021

How a Christian must follow Christ even though he does not shed his blood for him

I tell you again and again, my brethren, that in the Lord's garden are to be found not only the roses of his martyrs. In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedded couples, and the violets of widows. On no account may any class of people despair, thinking that God has not called them. Christ suffered for all. What the Scriptures say of him is true: He desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

Let us understand, then, how a Christian must follow Christ even though he does not shed his blood for him, and his faith is not called upon to undergo the great test of the martyr's sufferings. The apostle Paul says of Christ our Lord: Though he was in the form of God he did not consider equality with God a prize to be clung to. How unrivaled his majesty! But he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, made in the likeness of men, and presenting himself in human form. How deep his humility!

Christ humbled himself. Christian, that is what you must make your own. Christ became obedient. How is it that you are proud? When this humbling experience was completed and death itself lay conquered, Christ ascended into heaven. Let us follow him there, for we hear Paul saying: If you have been raised with Christ, you must lift your thoughts on high, where Christ now sits at the right hand of God.
St. Augustine, Sermo 304

The Prayer

Stanislaus Chlebowski, The Prayer

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Psalm 23 — Trusting the Shepherd

When you see yourself shepherded and guided safely by the Lord, rejoice in the words of Psalm 23.
Athanasius, On the Interpretation of the Psalms

I've become very fond of this psalm in the last year. It has the dual effects of being very peaceful and trusting, combined with acting as a promise for believers, no matter how hard times may get.

Everyone from the Church Fathers to us modern folk love this psalm and there is a wealth of commentary to dive into. I am going to share just a few comments that struck me.

An image of Psalm 23 (King James' Version),
frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home.

This simple observation cracks me up. It is so funny because it is so true.

23.1 The Lord is My Shepherd

Complete Dependence. Augustine. When you say, "The Lord is my shepherd," no proper grounds are left for you to trust in yourself. Sermon.
Psalms 1-50 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
I like the reminder from both St. Augustine and Pope Benedict XVI that being in God's company radically transforms reality.
23.4 The Valley of the Shadow of Death, You are with Me
A Lamp in a Dark Place. Augustine. As long as you remain in this present life, you are walking in the midst of vices, of worldly pressures, which are the shadow of death. Let Christ shine in your heart, who lights the lamp of our minds with the love of God and neighbor; and you will not fear any evils, since he is with you. Sermon.
Psalms 1-50 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
To speak of the "dark" valley, the Psalmist uses a Hebrew phrase that calls to mind the shadows of death, which is why the valley to be passed through is a place of anguish, terrible threats, the danger of death. Yet the person praying walks on in safety undaunted sine he knows that the Lord is with him. "You are with me" is a proclamation of steadfast faith and sums up the radical experience of faith; God's closeness transforms the reality, the dark valley loses all danger, it is emptied of every threat. Now the flock can walk in tranquility, accompanied by the familiar rhythmical beat of the staff into the ground, marking the shepherd's reassuring presence.
Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer

I always think of how I feel about being invited to the feast in the presence of enemies but not about what it means that God offers us that hospitality.

23.5 You Prepare a Table Before Me
To accept another as a guest at one's table was to set aside enmity and to assume responsibility for the safety of the guest while in your dwelling. To sit at Yahweh's table is to enjoy fellowship and communion with him. To do so "in the presence of my enemies" is to have one's special relationship to God declared publicly in a context of divine blessing and security.
Psalms vol. 1 (The NIV Application Commentary)
The Psalmist becomes the object of much attention for which reason he sees himself as a wayfarer who finds shelter in a hospitable tent, whereas his enemies have to stop and watch, unable to intervene, since the one whom they considered their prey has been led to safety and has become a sacred guest who cannot be touched. And the Psalmist is us, if we truly are believers in communion with Christ. When God opens his tent to receive us, nothing can harm us. Then when the traveler sets out afresh, the divine protection is extended and accompanies him on his journey.
Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer
Sources are here and an index of psalm posts is here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), Pietà, 1876
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many is Israel and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2:34-35
Any mother suffers when their child suffers. It is like a sword piercing their heart. Mary was no ordinary mother and her son was no ordinary son. John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, commented:
Simeon's words seem like a "Second Annunciation" to Mary for they tell her of the historical circumstances in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely in misunderstanding and sorrow ... They also reveal that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering at the Saviour's side and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.
If we stop to consider it, Mary must overcome many troubling and sorrowful circumstances through her life, beginning with trusting that Joseph will understand her pregnancy before their marriage. The circumstances of Jesus' birth, their flight into Egypt, then the trip to Nazareth where they must become established yet again, Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem, and much more are her lot. Jesus sees fit to spare her none of these experiences, including witnessing his death inflicted in the most shameful manner the Romans can invent as the result of lies and conspiracy.

It is especially appropriate that this feast day is the day after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, when Mary stood at the foot of the cross watching the death of her son, the Son of God.
Today's feast is an occasion for us to accept all the adversity we encounter as personal purification, and to co-redeem with Christ. Mary our Mother teaches us not to complain in the midst of trials as we know she never would. She encourages us to unite our sufferings to the sacrifice of her son and so offer them as spiritual gifts for the benefit of our family, the Church, and all humanity.

The suffering we have at hand to sanctify often consists in small daily reverses. Extended periods of waiting, sudden changes of plans, and projects that do not turn out as we expected are all common examples. At times setbacks come in the form of reduced circumstances. Perhaps at a given moment we even lack necessities such as a job to support our family. Practicing the virtue of detachment well during such moments will be a great means for us to imitate and unite ourselves to Christ ...

The particular circumstances are frequently the most trying dimension of sickness. Perhaps its unexpected duration, our own helplessness or the dependence on others it engenders is the most difficult part of all. Maybe the distress due to solitude or the impossibility of fulfilling our duties of state is most taxing ... We ask Jesus for an increase of love, and tell him slowly and with complete abandonment as we have perhaps so often told him in a variety of situations: Is this what you want Lord? ... Then it is what I want too.
Is this what you want Lord? ... Then it is what I want too.

That is what hit me hard about this reflection. How often in my life should I say that instead of trying to dodge around what I know I should do? Way too often is my sorry response.

Except for this last bit, everything here is either quoted directly or paraphrased from In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations, Volume Seven, Special Feasts: July - December.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Cross, Russian icon

Some time ago I read Anthony Esolen's commentary in Magnificat about the elevation of the cross from the point of view of an English monk's meditation written in the Middle Ages from the point of view of the cross itself. It has haunted me, in a good way I hasten to add, as I would come upon small annoyances and inconveniences and then remember the image of the young Hero as a warrior striding toward the cross. Shame on me if I do not at least attempt to match that valiant attitude.
For it is not a shy and effeminate Jesus, this Savior of ours, the Healer, the Chieftain. No courageous German could respect a man who did not fight. And will Christ own us, if we do not fight for him? The poet dares to make us see Calvary in a way that we are not used to -- but in a way that is right and just nevertheless. Says the cross:

Then the young Hero ungirt himself -- that was God almighty,
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.

Yes, Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane. But he took the cross to himself, suggests our poet, as eagerly as the warrior takes the battlefield, or the bridegroom takes the bride. He needs no armor here. He strips himself, he climbs. And though it all the cross, as the first and most loyal follower of the Chieftain, stands firm; trembles, but does not bow; is drenched with blood and driven through with the same spikes that pierce the body of Christ. 
Applying this to my daily life with its small and petty sacrifices, this helps immeasurably when I am reminding myself that my time is not really my own, that making a meal for a friend in need takes priority over my previous plans, and that even such a small thing is a step toward becoming a warrior in the young Hero's footsteps. It is surprising how contented one can be when embracing the cross with such an example.

This commentary is from 2008 and I repeat it here because it did me good to read it this morning. And I put the whole poem on the blog this morning so you can take it all in.


St. John Damascene is quoted in today's reading from In Conversation with God and it hit me between the eyes.
The Cross is a shield against the devil as well as a trophy of victory. it is the promise that we will not be overcome by the Angel of Death (Exod 9:12). The Cross is God's instrument to lift up those who have fallen and to support those still on their feet fighting. It is a crutch for the crippled and a guide for the wayward. It is our constant goal as we advance, the very wellspring of our body and soul. It drives away all evils, annihilates sin and draws down for us abundant goods. This is indeed the seed of the Resurrection and the tree of eternal life.
This is an attitude I must work more toward having. Author Francis Fernandez continues:
The Cross is present in our lives in different ways. It may be manifest through sickness, poverty, tiredness, pain, scorn, or loneliness. Today in our prayer we can examine our habitual disposition on coming face to face with the Cross. though hard to bear at times, the encounter with it can become a source of purification, Life, and joy if it is embraced with love. Embracing the Cross should lead us never to complain when confronting difficulties and even to thank God for the failures, suffering, and setbacks that purify us. Such adversities should be additional occasions for drawing us closer to God.

I like this commentary also, which I posted a few years ago, from Word Among Us, which comments upon the strangeness of the feast and the fact that we are reading about poisonous serpents. Good stuff.

This is short, but good. And says it all.

The cross is the hope of Christians.
The cross is the resurrection of the dead.
The cross is the way of the lost.
The cross is the saviour of the lost.
The cross is the staff of the lame.
The cross is the guide of the blind.
The cross is the strength of the weak.
The cross is the doctor of the sick.
The cross is the aim of the priests.
The cross is the hope of the hopeless.
The cross is the freedom of the slaves.
The cross is the power of the kings.
The cross is the water of the seeds.
The cross is the consolation of the bondsmen.
The cross is the source of those who seek water.
The cross is the cloth of the naked.
We thank you, Father, for the cross.

Dream of the Holy Rood, translated by Anthony Esolen

I am not a poetry lover but this might be my favorite poem of the few I do like. I just love it. As today is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, it seems a good time to publish it.

"Rood" means rod or, in this case, crucifix. This is one of the oldest works of Old English literature and is an example of dream poetry. I love that category - dream poetry. 

This translation is not easy to find and I long ago copied it into my quote journal. The place where I found it years ago isn't available anymore to general access.

Listen! When lapped in rest lay all who speak,
to me in a vision in the middle of the night
came the choicest of dreams, as I wish to recount.
Seemed to me that I saw one most splendid tree
arise into the air enwound with light,
beam-brightest, a beacon all beglazed with gold
showered upon it, with shimmering jewels
(like the five that shone up on the shoulder-span)
at its foot, on the earth — no felon's gallows, that,
but made lovely by the fore-shaping of the Lord of the hosts
who beheld it there, the hallowed, the angels,
with men the world over, and all this marvelous creation.

Wondrous was the victory-wood, and I, wounded with sins,
gashed, stained by guilt. I saw the tree of glory
robed in reverence and rays of joy,
garbed all in gold, with goodly gems
like the wrapping of lacework to honor the Ruler's tree.
Yet through that gold I glimpsed the grievous strife
endured by doomed men of old, as drops of blood sweat
from the strong side, the heart's side. With sorrow was I stirred,
shook before that sight so fair, for I saw that shimmering sign
change color and cloth, now clotted with the wet,
drenched in the running blood; now decked out in treasure.

Still I lay there a long while, beheld
raw-hearted with cares, the Healer's tree,
sign of the Savior, till I heard it speak out;
the best of all wood with these words began:

"It was years ago — as I yet call to mind —
when I was hewn down at the holt's end,
stripped up from my roots. Strong men seized me, men of hate,
carved me into a spectacle, commanded me to carry their criminals;
enemies enough bore me on their shoulders till on the bald mount they
set me,
planted me fast. Then I saw, full of heart,
mankind's Master make haste that he might climb upon me.
Then I dared not, against the dread Chieftain's words,
bend or break, when I beheld the ground trembling;
could have felled all those foes beneath,
struck them down, but I stood fast.

"Then the young Hero ungirt himself — that was God almighty —
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.
I trembled when the bold Warrior embraced me, yet I dared not bend to
the earth,
fall to the ground for fear; to stand fast was my duty.
A rood was I reared up, bore the rich King,
the Guardian of heaven; I dared not give in.
They drove me through with dark spikes, deep wounds could be seen upon
open envy-thrusts, yet not a one of them dared I harm.
They mocked us both together. I was bedrenched with blood
spilled from the side of the Man as he sent up his spirit.
On that mount I endured many agonies,
words of wrath, saw racked in pain
the God of hosts. Then a gloom fell
and clouds shrouded the corpse of the all-Wielder,
its shimmering sheen; a shadow went forth,
wan, under the clouds. Then all God's creatures wept,
lamented the King's fall: Christ was on the cross.

"Nevertheless from afar to the noble Earl
eager men hastened; I beheld it all.
Stirred I was with deep sorrows, still I bowed to the men's hands,
humbly, brave of heart. Then from the heavy torments they took him,
bore away almighty God. The battle-grooms abandoned me there,
standing spike-pierced and spattered with blood.
They led him, limb-weary, away; beheld the Lord of heaven,
stood by his body, at his head, as, tired after the great strife,
he lay to rest awhile. Then they wrought for him an earth-house,
fighting men, in sight of the killer, carved it of bright stone,
laid in it the Lord of victories. A lay of sorrow they sang him,
grieving, as evening fell. From the glorious Prince they now parted,
wearily; there he rested, few of his band of warriors near.
But we three crosses wept for a good while, standing
where we had been set, as the song went up
from the bravers of battle. The body cooled,
fair fortress of life. Then felled were we all
to the hard earth — a horrible fate!
They dug us a deep pit; but the dear thanes of the Lord,
his friends sought me out and found where I was buried,
and girt me thereafter in gold and silver.

"Now, my good man, you may hear tell
that I have borne bale-dwellers' deeds,
terrible troubles. Now the time has come
that I am honored from east to west
by men the world over and by all this marvelous creation,
beseeching this beacon in prayer. On me the brave Son of God
suffered awhile; therefore wondrous I now
tower high beneath the heavens, and have the might to heal
any man of them all who meets me with awe.
I had been hewn once as the hardest of torments,
most loathsome to men, till I lay clear
the right road of life for the race of mankind.
Listen! The Ancient of glory exalted me then
over all the wood of the forest, the Watcher of heaven's kingdom,
as he did once for his mother, Mary herself,
almighty God, for the good of all men,
granting her worth above all womankind.

"Now, my dear man, this duty I give you,
that you say to men what you have seen tonight,
unwind in words that it is the wood of glory,
the same that almighty God suffered upon
for mankind's many sins
and for Adam's ancient deed.
Death's fruit Adam tasted; but after him the Lord
rose in his great might for man's salvation.
Then he ascended to the heavens. Here he will come again
to this middle-garden to seek mankind
on the day of doom, the dread Lord himself,
amidst his angels, almighty God,
intending then to judge, for the power of judgement is his,
what every man will have earned for himself,
living here in this lean short life.
There may no man remain unafraid
of whatever word the all-Wielder shall utter;
he shall seek among the many where that man should be
who would willingly die for the name of his Lord,
taste the same bitter death he once endured on the tree.
But no man then shall need to fear
who bears in his breast the best of signs,
for he shall come, through the cross, to that kingdom he seeks,
every soul from the earth-way,
who longs to dwell with the Lord almighty."

Light-spirited then I turned to the tree in prayer,
full of heart, bold, where with few fellows
I lay alone. Leaned my mind now,
made eager for the forth-way, for it had felt many
a longing-hour. It is now my life's joy
that I may try to seek the tree of triumph
once more often than all other men,
to honor it well; my will to do that
burns warm in my heart, and my hope, my salvation is
turned right to the Cross.
For I cannot boast
of rich friends on the earth, but forth have they gone,
fled the world's joys, wished to find the King of glory,
are home now in heaven with the High Father,
dwelling in glory, and every day I look
forth for that time when the tree of the Lord,
which here on earth I have once beheld,
shall lead me away from this lean short life
and bring me where the bliss is great,
the joys of heaven, where joined for the feast
sit the folk of the Lord, and bliss is forever,
and seat me then where ever thereafter
I may dwell in glory, delighting in joys
with the holy saints. Let him who on earth
suffered once for the sins of men
on the felon's wood be a friend to me,
for he loosed our bonds, gave us life again,
a heavenly home. Hope was made new,
with blessings and bliss for those who had burned in the fire;
the Son on that journey stood victory-fast,
mighty, triumphant, when amain with a host
of spirits he came to the kingdom of God,
the one-Wielder almighty, for his angels' joy
and the happiness of all the hallows who in heaven already
had been dwelling in glory, when God almighty,
their Lord, returned to his land, his home.

In the original formatting except for where a bit of punctuation didn't translate and I was left to guess what the unicode was replacing. My guess — an "em" dash.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Nate Bargatze — a stand-up comedian who is both nice and hilariously funny

Bargatze broke out during Donald Trump’s presidency with the first of two hour-long Netflix specials. A college dropout who insists he’s too dumb to make informed decisions for himself, let alone lecture anyone else, he never talks about politics. He goes nowhere near race or identity issues. He maneuvers so gingerly around other subjects—religion, gender roles, the fracturing of America—that they feel untouched.

After reading this article in The Atlantic, I was intrigued. Bargatze sounded like the comedians I enjoyed most — Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, David Brynner — doing observational comedy without trying to skewer people.

After watching both his Netflix specials we agreed, this guy was somehow hilarious without being mean. We were all laughing out loud at things like ordering coffee and coughing in public. It was a refreshing change of pace. We may be the last people to hear about him, but in case you hadn't watched him yet, give Nate Bargatze a try. 

 I found the article via The Dispatch's daily newsletter. They're good too and not mean. Give them a try.

Dying is nothing ...

Jean Valjean, almost without ceasing to gaze at Cosette, considered Marius and the doctor with serenity. They heard these words, barely audible, come from his lips: "Dying is nothing; what's terrible is not to live."
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

The Woman in White

The Woman in White, Frederick Walker
Via Books and Art

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11, Our Choices and Making a Stand

I originally wrote this for my Free Mind column at Patheos. It is still posted there.

Two days after 9/11, my father-in-law had a massive stroke. My husband and I drove from Dallas to the hospital in Houston. Largely in shock between the double burden of terrorist attacks and personal tragedy, we were nevertheless stirred with pride at the many flags and hand-made signs we saw along the road. Tears sprang to my eyes when we passed a battered pick-up truck complete with obligatory shotgun rack and "We are all New Yorkers today" written on the rear window.

My husband said, "Those terrorists don't know what they have done. This guy would've spit on a New Yorker last week. And now he'd fight for them."

We were lucky. We didn't know anyone, then, who had died or been in the attacks. But we still suffered with the rest of the nation. It changed us as a people and as individuals.

It taught me a big lesson in forgiveness; as I expressed my forceful wish to see the people behind this attack "killed," a gentle friend from our parish looked at me with a troubled face. "I don't know," she said slowly. "But that doesn't seem right either."

I was taken aback and began to pray, even as I expressed anger. Gradually, the anger faded and the ability to forgive crept in.

Today, I mourn the 9/11 attacks as much as ever. Easy tears still spring to my eyes when I look over the old pictures, video footage, and exchange "what I was doing when I heard" stories with others.

I also think about the opportunity that we had to go forward as a people united—to bring something good out of the evil. We are more divided than ever, and ruder than ever. We squabble and complain about the red states, the blue states, the liberals, the conservatives, the Muslims, the Catholics, and on and on it goes.

Some of this is basic human nature, as old as the stories in Genesis, of brother striking brother. It seems to me, though, that some of it is Evil pushing its way into the world, and we are failing to push back for the common good. We listen to the siren call of "my way," which goes hand in hand with pride.

As always, when it comes to thinking things through, I find that others have pondered the matter so much more thoroughly than I could. Recently I picked up one of my favorite "good versus evil" books and found the words defining my thoughts.
It is said that the two great human sins are pride and hate. Are they? I elect to think of them as the two great virtues. To give away pride and hate is to say you will change for the good of the world. To vent them is more noble; that is to say the world must change for the good of you. I am on a great adventure.
Harold Emery Lauder, in Stephen King's The Stand
Twenty-three years before 9/11, Stephen King published one of his best-known and best-loved books, The Stand. It tells a tale of the United States, laid to waste when a biological weapons-grade virus inadvertently gets loose. As survivors roam the post-apocalyptic ruins, they begin to have dreams about an incredibly old holy woman, named Mother Abigail, or of a supernatural entity—Randall Flagg—who is her opponent.

Following their dreams, two communities begin to form—Mother Abigail's in Boulder and Flagg's in Las Vegas—and the stage is set for a final "stand" between Evil and God.

King has expressed frustration that so many fans call The Stand their favorite work, even though he has written scores of books since its publication.

Well, it's a heck of a book for one thing, so it's no wonder people love it. And although this is a horror novel, it is very translatable to our own lives. We no longer worry about bio-terrorism the way we did back then, but we can still relate to the scenario King paints.

In The Stand, King holds up the mirror to us. God and evil are present, of course, but they work through men, as ever, and we recognize ourselves in the pages.

Harold Emery Lauder was the quintessential misunderstood nerd, picked on in school, crossed in love, and finding power in hatred. His note could have been written by any of the terrorists who flew those planes into the World Trade Center. I imagine that, like Harold, their betrayal of innocents was the culmination of a long trail of choosing their own desires first. King shows us enough of Harold's choices—sometimes made despite the screaming of his own instincts—so that we can see a little of him in every selfish choice we make.

Harold's end is not a good one, and it is made pitiful by the fact that he is tossed aside like a worn out doll when evil is done using him for its own purposes. We cannot hold onto our anger at him because he has been misled so completely. In a similar way, when I think of those terrorists and their deliberate evil, I have a bit of that pity for them as well.

Once they were somebody's babies. I don't know what led them astray, but I lament the loss of the people they could have been.

King directly juxtaposes a rock star, Larry Underwood, against Harold.
"You ain't no nice guy!" she cried at him as he went into the living room. "I only went with you because I thought you were a nice guy" . . . A memory circuit clicked open and he heard Wayne Stuckey saying, "There's something in you that's like biting on tinfoil."
The Stand
After the plague, Larry is haunted by those words, "you ain't no nice guy"—they jump to mind whenever he contemplates a selfish or cowardly act. Ultimately, he actually becomes a "nice guy" by consistently choosing the nobler act, if only to prove those words wrong.

Larry is no different than you or me, or anyone who can see themselves with a modicum of self awareness. None of us are "nice guys" deep down because we are all stained with Original Sin. And we know it.

We have help, though, that Stephen King didn't give Larry Underwood. We have the grace of Christ, the sacrament of reconciliation, and our faith to strengthen us. Like Larry, though, we have to keep picking ourselves up and trying again. We must practice until we are more perfectly "nice guys."

9/11 has presented us with a chance to practice forgiveness over and over again. We're all in this together and lifting our thoughts (or hands) in hatred belittles us and our targets. We are Christ’s followers, charged to see Him in everyone they meet. We all have the same choice. Do we embrace Harold's way, or Larry's?
There's always a choice. That's God's way, always will be. Your will is still free. Do as you will. There's no set of leg-irons on you. But . . . this is what God wants of you.
Mother Abigail, The Stand

Have Mercy on Me Now and at the Hour of My Death. Amen.

I was "assigned" Captain Daniel O'Callaghan when Project 2,996 began. What an honor it has been every year to be allowed to bring this tribute of a fine American hero to everyone.

Captain Daniel O'Callaghan, 42, Smithtown, N.Y.

It has been a real privilege to read through the tributes of those who knew Daniel O'Callaghan and to learn about his life. Gradually this man I never heard of before has taken on real personality to me. Part of a large Irish clan, he was full of energy, loved children, loved joking around, and loved his family and job. In short, he loved life and made it better for everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.
When I was growing up, even though we didn't see the O'Callaghan's very much, it was always something to look forward to. We always had fun, laughter, jokes, & stories to tell. It didn't matter how long it had been since you'd seen each other, everyone was part of a big happy, loving family that hung together. Friends or family, it didn't matter; you were one of the family. It was wonderful.
I, myself, love the heart of someone who relished his job so ... and you've gotta love the image of those glow-in-the-dark boxers.
Though he came from a family chock-full of police officers - including six active officers and eight retired from forces in New York City and on Long Island - O'Callaghan, 42, switched to the fire department 18 years ago, after three years as a cop.

He was "born to be a fireman," said his friend and fellow firefighter, Paul Pfeifer.

His brother firefighters marveled at the constant energy displayed by "Danny O.," as he was known. "He was a ball of fire," said Pfeifer. In the engine house, he recalled, O'Callaghan "would have his pants and boots on already, like he was waiting for the next fire." And, Pfeifer said, at a fire scene, "You would turn around to see where he was, and he was already ahead of you."

O'Callaghan was also the one to provide comic relief when it was most needed. Pfeifer chuckled as he recounted one instance involving O'Callaghan and his glow-in- the-dark boxer shorts.

"We'd had a fire early in the evening that really beat the hell out of us," Pfeifer said. Most of the men were resting in the darkened bunk room, but not O'Callaghan, who never slept on the job.

"All of a sudden, he ran into the bunk room, and all you could see was the boxer shorts, jumping from bed to bed, and all you could hear was him laughing, and then he went out the door," Pfeifer said. "Everyone sat there, and was like, 'What was that?' I just said, 'That was Danny O.'"
That energy was one of Daniel O'Callaghan's main characteristics. It was mentioned time and again by all who knew him.
"Outstanding" This was always Danny's response...When I look back on it now though I realize it was his energy. It was his energy towards the two things he loved the most. His first would be his love for his beautiful family of Rhonda, Rhiannon and Connor. The other would be his other family. Being part of the NYFD. We should all be so lucky to have a loving family they we leave at home to join another that we work with.

It was his energy that could always be counted on when asked to assist in a family project or loan a hand in a task at ones home. Energy when telling a story or joke and always lighting up the place with his presence. His laugh was always robust and full of life...
Excerpts from John Caspar's tribute which was read at the memorial service
I was especially impressed by the fact that although his shift was over, he turned back to help in the emerging disaster that was September 11, 2001. That is just the kind of guy that he was. Born to be a firefighter, from a family with a history of public service.
The motto of the station, which is located in the Broadway area, is inscribed on the fire engine and fittingly reads: "The Pride of Manhattan. Never missed a performance."

It is a motto that probably befits Daniel O'Callaghan, who was not supposed to even be on duty that Tuesday. As the station was called out to the attack site, Daniel O'Callaghan was busy shaving in the station's bathroom before attending class to become a captain.

Maureen O'Callaghan was told her brother's shaving cream and clothes were found inside the station's bathroom, as he must have hurried to New York's aid with only half his face shaved, she said.
Anybody who lived life to the full the way that Daniel O'Callaghan did would also live his faith just as large.
"Much later, Anderson said, 'officials were able to identify Danny's remains in part by the Knights of Columbus rosary they found still firmly clenched in his hand.'"
I thought that I read somewhere that he was always fingering the rosary which he kept in his pocket, but couldn't find that reference again when I was looking around. Regardless, he had it when it counted most.

I think of him and feel that he had to be saying the rosary or at least thinking it in those final moments with the beads firmly in hand. I remember a friend told me that she read somewhere about someone who is devoted to Mary. That when they who stand before God for judgment they will see Mary come forward and tell Jesus, "This is one of mine" as she puts her arm around that person. Surely, from what I have read of Captain Daniel O'Callaghan's life he had no need of Mary coming forward but just as surely I feel that she was there with Jesus to greet him as he entered heaven.

I feel that I got to know Captain O'Callaghan just a bit as I searched for pieces of his life to show others. In fact, I have gotten into the habit of turning to him for intercession when in prayer. I look forward to meeting this loving, energetic, Irish firefighter if I make it to heaven myself. In fact, I'm asking him to help me get there.

My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife and young children. If I feel this way after simply reading about him then surely they must miss him sorely. My prayers are with them.

Daniel O'Callaghan was just one of the 2,996 victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, as well as the attempted hijacking of Flight 93. They are all mourned and missed. We will never forget.

2,996 is a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

2,996 volunteer bloggers
are joined together in a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
Each person is paying tribute to a single victim.

We honor them by remembering their lives,
and not by remembering their murderers.

Project 2,996 is here.

September 11: Still We Mourn

The northeast face of Two World Trade Center (south tower) after being struck by plane in the south face. Via Wikipedia

 It still hurts. I guess this date will hurt until the day I die. It feels even more personal after having visited the Flight 93 Memorial a few years ago.

These say what still is in my heart:

Piece of Flight 93 fuselage found at crash site
Via Wikipedia

Friday, September 10, 2021

Vikram Vedha — "Let me tell you a story."

Vikram is a brave and honest police inspector who is decisive about right and wrong. Vedha is a criminal who understands the grey shades between good and evil. Vikram leads an encounter* unit formed to eliminate Vedha. In the course of the manhunt, Vedha tells Vikram three stories which change his perceptions of good and evil.

This neo-noir film is a classic story of cat-and-mouse between criminal and policeman which kept us guessing, especially when Vedha's moral questions kept throwing new light on the investigation. It's an exciting thriller that also makes us think as each time Vedha says "let me tell you a story" with a wicked twinkle in his eye. We see new light shed on our judgment of the characters as Vikram is forced to reassess himself and the situation.

The movie's framework of using stories to engage two protagonists to a meeting of minds is inspired by the Indian folktale Baital Pachisi. They are also known as internationally Vikram-Betaal and are often called the vetala tales. So we can see whence the names of the film protagonasts are derived. These are ancient Sanskrit stories which made us think of the Scheherazade stories in that a framing story encapsulates a lot of other tales.  Knowing just the basic outline of the stories gave us context adding another layer of understanding and enjoyment to the movie. We could only imagine how much fun watching this must have been for Indians knowing the Baital Pachisi.

We were really impressed with the storytelling and directing from the husband and wife team Pushkar · Gayatri. We weren't the only ones. This was a really popular film and is going to be remade in Hindi, using the same directors. The cast were all good but the main stars made the film. We'd never seen Vijay Sethupathi before but his intelligent, self assured gangster with a twinkle in his eye captured our hearts at once. It is easy to see why he is so popular that his nickname from fans is "People's Treasure." (I love the way that the Indian fans love their movie stars.) We've seen Madhavan (Vikram) in other movies but he is something of a chameleon and can be hard to pick out as he ranges from a crazy college kid in 3 Idiots to the hapless love in Tanu Weds Manu to the self assured detective Vikram.

Rating — for viewers with medium to difficult Indian film experience. (It's not rocket science, but without any cultural background at all you might feel kind of lost.)

* Encounter killings are something we have been shocked to find are an accepted feature of Indian society and often featured in films as heroic. Wikipedia explains:

Encounter killing is a term used in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka since the late 20th century to describe extrajudicial killings by the police or the armed forces, supposedly in self-defence, when they encounter suspected gangsters or terrorists. In the 1990s and the mid-2000s, the Mumbai Police used encounter killings to attack the city's underworld, and the practice spread to other large cities.

There was a door to which I had no key

Illustration for Quatrain XXXII of Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyám,
1913, Rene Bull

There was a Door to which I found no KEY:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seem’d–and then no more of THEE and ME.
Quatrain XXXII of Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyám