Friday, December 3, 2021

King Richard

Richard Williams serves as a coach to his daughters Venus and Serena, who will soon become two of the most legendary tennis players in history.

I came hoping for to see Will Smith in a good movie for a change – and that's what I got! We know how Venus and Serena Williams' stories turned out but here is the person who planned their careers and motivated them. 

Not being interested much in tennis I had never heard of their father, Richard, or his publicity grandstanding. Watching the story unfold was fascinating, even as we also gradually saw that Richard was anything but perfect. Yet, even with all his flaws, he still achieved his goal for his daughters. 

 It is too long but Will Smith delivered an outstanding performance reminding us that he really can act. Overall a movie that kept us captivated the whole time.

Immaculate Conception Novena: Day 4

Thirteenth century Madonna with Child in the Italo-Byzantine style
Lord our God, you were pleased to bring joy into the world through the Incarnation of your Son. Grant that we who honour his Mother, the cause of our joy, may always walk in the way of your commandments with our hearts set on true and lasting joy in you. (Prayer over the Gifts, Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Christ is our principal reason for happiness. He removes every trace from sadness from our hearts. Our Lady is truly the Cause of our joy, since her cooperation in the economy of salvation makes it possible for Christ to enter into us.

...The Blessed Virgin can show us how to be the cause of joy for others in our family life, at our place of work and in all our social contacts, our most casual encounters with acquaintances, our interviews and business trips. The brief duration of our meeting with neighbors does not matter ... Our own original source of joy is God, to whom the Blessed Virgin leads us.

On this fourth day of the Novena in honour of the Immaculate Conception we can examine the quality of our joy. Can others find God through our cheerful disposition? Are we uplifting -- do we bear charm not harm for those with whom we come into contact every day? Today we can offer Our Lady a firm and sincere resolution: May we make the way lovable and easier for others, since life brings enough bitterness with it already. Our cordiality is a way of imitating the blessed Virgin, who smiles on us from heaven as we brighten up the way of holiness for our fellow men. She encourages us to discover her Son in others.

Here is the novena for the fourth day.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Jacek Malczewski - Self Portrait With Palette

Jacek Malczewski - Self Portrait With Palette
Via Gandalf's Gallery

I feel as if this is the very embodiment of insouciance.

Immaculate Conception Novena - Day 3

Mary and Jesus Under a Palm Tree (Middle Eastern)
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; because He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid (Entrance Antiphon, Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

...The Blessed Virgin gives us a perfect example of how to fulfill the Will of God by our complete availability. How unfortunate it would be if, in one way or another, we were to try to exercise our own caprice in the matter. We can best cooperate with the Lord through our complete dedication when we allow him free rein in our life.

Here is the novena for the third day.


Arabic Madonna and Child by Albert Aublet, 1898.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021


December, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry
In the forest of Vincennes, fabled for its game, a wild-boar hunt has caught a boar which is being torn apart by the boarhounds. In the background is the Chateau de Vincennes, long a residence of French royalty.

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Julie tries to high-five a flippered Delfein. Scott reads St. Zenobius' instructions to the atheist doctor on the spaceship.

 A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast,  Episode 271: "The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke and "Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens" by Jo Walton. It's my Christmas reading choice. Jo Walton's story is a satisfying light to shine upon Clarke's seminal story — if you are a Christian. Join us!

What Else I'm Reading for Advent — 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas

I came across this free at Amazon when cruising for Christmas holiday books back in 2010. It proved to be a very good series of reflections and suggestions for how to make December more meaningful leading up to Christmas. In short, it is a Protestant-style Advent book. Gosh, that is a long time ago and I think I've read it every year.

What makes this different is that the author focuses on linking the spiritual meditations and activities to the familiar holiday songs and things all around us. It was amazingly effective thanks to that and a nice complement to the Catholic Advent reflections that I normally use.

One caveat: the author is not as careful with some of his research as he could be. Just from my general knowledge I spotted two places where he subscribed to popular Christian wishful thinking in the origins of items, namely the candy cane and the Twelve Days of Christmas. We've all come across these in those emails that get sent around every year and then been discredited via Snopes or some other myth-buster site. He uses them effectively nonetheless as there is no harm in reflecting on those items using those faith-focuses. It is just that it would be nice if the author had fact checked better. This also made me a bit wary in trusting some of his other seemingly convenient stories such as that of the Christian origin of the evergreen tree for Christmas. It may be true but if he got the other things wrong, how can I know unless I check all these other facts too?

Regardless, this does not detract too much from the value that these reflections have for the regular Christian who is trying to keep his head in the midst of the regular bombardment of advertising and flurry of activities.

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.)

Monday, November 29, 2021

What I'm Reading for Advent — The Art of Advent by Jane Williams


I really love Jane Williams' art/devotional books books so I've used this book for Advent for a few years now. (Others of hers I can recommend are Faces of Christ: Jesus in Art, Angels.) Every day of Advent I find food for thought and inspiration. Sometimes the art leads to other reflections than directly on the painting but it is the way that Williams opens up the art, connecting it with Advent, that I love most.

Here's a bit on the Holman Hunt painting, Light of the World.

Holman Hunt's picture is full of symbolism, all of it taking us more deeply into Advent reflection. There are three light sources in the painting, but they all cluster around Jesus. Behind him is the dawn light, struggling to make its way through the dark woods, towards that central figure. Then there is the lantern that Jesus is carrying, a bright, homely light to welcome wandering travelers. And finally, there is the light that shines around Jesus' head, his own inner brightness, from which the other lights take their meaning. Behind Jesus are threatening, twisted trees, shedding rotting fruit to the ground. They are the trees that Adam and Eve ate from, and the tree on which Jesus dies, and all our long family trees, waiting to be lit up and filled with life again. The lantern that Jesus is holding throws a reddish light back on to his cloak, which makes it look similar to the wood of the door. After all, Jesus said that he is the door or the gateway (John 10:7). So we have two doorways, facing each other, as we wait to see whether one will open to the other. ...

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Advent Comes ... and With It Comes the New Church Year

The Son of Man is coming, and we are to look forward, get ready, and keep plodding as we watch for the light, for our deliverance, for Jesus Christ.
Everybody knows, even those of us who have lived most unadventurously, what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes toward the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think, with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, within five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come. They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only shows, now, like a will-o'-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last into the perfect day.

This attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children, permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill that we should still be looking forward; getting on for two thousand years, now, since the first Christmas Day came and went, and we must still be looking forward. So she encourages us, during advent, t take the shepherd-folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves traveling with them at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.
R.A. Knox, Sermon on Advent 1947
quoted in In Conversation with God, Vol. 1, Francis Fernandez
With Advent the liturgical year begins in the Western churches. We switch to a new book of the gospels for Mass reading. In this year (Year C) it will be Luke who will instruct us every week.

Before Christmas we spend time in contemplation and preparation for the coming of Christ on three levels: as memorial of his incarnation as the babe in Bethlehem, to his coming with grace in our souls, and in looking forward to when he comes as the Judge at the end of time.

Those who celebrate Advent do so with various private devotions during this time. Some read a specific book to think about, some go to regular adoration, some try to avoid excessive focus on Christmas preparations, and such things.

I like this Advent Litany which may be helpful as we school ourselves to wait in patience to wait for Our Lord and contemplate what that means.
Advent Litany

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world.
Come, Lord Jesus.

You are light in our darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Son of God, save us from our sins.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Son of Mary, deepen our love.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Bring hope into the lives of all people.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Give your peace to all nations.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Be the joy of all who love you.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Bring unity among all who believe in you.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Bless us as we gather here in your name.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Lord Jesus, stay with us always.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Let us pray:

May Christ give us his peace and joy,
and let us share them with others.
All peace and glory are his for ever.


Friday, November 26, 2021

The Little Street

The Little Street (1657–58), Johannes Vermeer

After reading a new book ...

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books ... Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.
C.S. Lewis, “On the reading of old books,” God in the Dock