Monday, September 23, 2019

St. Pio's Feast Day

I will stand at the gates of Heaven and I will not enter until all of my spiritual children are with me.
Today is St. Pio's feast day. I just love this guy, an Italian priest who knew how to throw his head back and laugh, who would scold a famous actress for being shallow, who suffered the stigmata for over 50 years, who knew (and could see) his guardian angel from the time he was a tiny child, who could bilocate and read souls, who was one of the greatest saints in living memory ... and who I share a birthday with (although his was 70 years earlier - May 25).

Finally I have found the original photo which attracted me to him when I was leafing through a book of saints in our church's library ... it communicates a sense of joy and light-heartedness that was striking. I thought, "Now there is someone I could talk to...that is what a real saint should look like."

Deacon Greg Kandra has, in years past, featured a homily he gave focusing on Padre Pio and tells this story which reflects the saint's fine sense of humor and irony.
One of my favorite stories about him happened during the early 1960s.

Italy was in crisis. The Red Brigade was sparking violence in Rome, and it was considered dangerous to travel around the country. For protection, people began carrying pictures of Padre Pio.

During this time, Padre Pio had to leave his village to visit Rome, and one of the other friars asked him, “Aren’t you worried about the Red Brigade?”

“No,” he said. “I have a picture of Padre Pio.”
Here is an extremely brief and incomplete look at the saint, which nonetheless is not a bad summary.
While praying before a cross, he received the stigmata on 20 September 1918, the first priest ever to be so blessed. As word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. Reportedly able to bilocate, levitate, and heal by touch. Founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920's he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.
You can read more about Padre Pio here

And, finally, back to the humor factor, we all know that The Curt Jester is all over the holy humor thing. I proffer this little gem from his fertile imagination.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Hannah and Rose discuss Tashan ...

... about a man who works in a call center and is drawn into underworld intrigue by a beautiful woman. This film is directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya with songs by Vishal–Shekhar.

This movie was my introduction to stars Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, and Anil Kapoor. I love all of them.

Listen at the website or get it from iTunes.

Saints Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and Companions

The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land.
St. John Paul II, canonization Mass in Seoul
Excerpted from the Saint of the Day, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.
The first native Korean priest, Andrew Kim Taegon was the son of Christian converts. Following his baptism at the age of 15, Andrew traveled 1,300 miles to the seminary in Macao, China. After six years, he managed to return to his country through Manchuria. That same year he crossed the Yellow Sea to Shanghai and was ordained a priest. Back home again, he was assigned to arrange for more missionaries to enter by a water route that would elude the border patrol. He was arrested, tortured, and finally beheaded at the Han River near Seoul, the capital.

Andrew’s father Ignatius Kim, was martyred during the persecution of 1839, and was beatified in 1925. Paul Chong Hasang, a lay apostle and married man, also died in 1839 at age 45.

Among the other martyrs in 1839 was Columba Kim, an unmarried woman of 26. She was put in prison, pierced with hot tools and seared with burning coals. She and her sister Agnes were disrobed and kept for two days in a cell with condemned criminals, but were not molested. After Columba complained about the indignity, no more women were subjected to it. The two were beheaded. Peter Ryou, a boy of 13, had his flesh so badly torn that he could pull off pieces and throw them at the judges. He was killed by strangulation. Protase Chong, a 41-year-old nobleman, apostatized under torture and was freed. Later he came back, confessed his faith and was tortured to death.
I found the above excerpt at Catholic Culture which has more info including activities.

There is also a whole page on the Korean Martyrs at Wikipedia, which I found fascinating.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war you cannot win, you dn't want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don't want a Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can't, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end.
This is about the conversation no one wants to have — as we grow older and frailer or face incurable disease (no matter our age) — how do we cope? What should we ask our doctors and our loved ones in order to try to ensure the best outcome, under circumstances in which "complete cure" may not be possible? This book looks at all sorts of situations, from the person in a senior care home who needs a sense of purpose to a young mother with terminal cancer.

I read this at the urging of my daughter whose book club had discussed it. As other reviewers have noted it can be depressing. However, so are some of the circumstances in which we may find ourselves by the end of our lives. It is worth pushing through to the end because author Atul Gawande works through the physical difficulties of aging and disease to look at what makes us have our best days. I especially appreciated the questions he asks to help people identify what's most important to them when their world has narrowed because they are on their way out of it. How do we finish our story in the way that is most meaningful to us?

At the end I was in tears, but they were good tears. This is a thoughtful and honest book which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Camille Monet and a Child

Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil
Claude Monet, 1875
via WikiPaintings
There is a lot of information about the painting at the link, but nothing about what I love most in this painting — the child's rapt concentration on the book. That is so lifelike, so what I know from being around little ones and I love the way Monet is able to evoke it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Aliens and working at a fevered pitch

What you need to know before reading this: Gwedif is an alien. The narrator is human.
Gwedif pulled up to me as we walked. "I wish we had more time," he said. "This happened with Carl too. Barely time for introductions, and then off to decide the fate of our peoples. If nothing else, we've learned that you humans thrive on crisis."

"Anything worth doing is worth doing at a fevered pitch," I said.

"I don't know about that," Gwedif said. "I think the first place I'll go when I visit your planet—really visit your planet, I mean, not that little trip I took earlier—I think I'll go visit a monastery. Those people seem to have the right idea. Slow meditative spiritual contemplation."

"I think most of the monasteries these days are either making chant CDs or boutique wines," I said.

"Really?" Gwedif said. "Well, hell. What is it with you people?"
John Scalzi, Agent to the Stars

Garden at Sainte-Adresse

Garden at Sainte-Adresse ("Jardin à Sainte-Adresse"), 1867, Claude Monet

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Christ’s Baptism by John by Woonbo Kim Ki-chang

“Christ’s Baptism by John”  by Woonbo Kim Ki-chang, via J.R.'s Art Place
I really love the portrayal of Jesus in different cultures. Also, check out those angels! Simply wonderful. The common elements and the cultural adaptations show the universality and personal connection of Christ with the world and each of us. And it pulls me closer too.

Check the Korea Times article for info about the artist and his work. See many more of his paintings, including portrayals of Christ at artnet.

The Abyss and the Bridge to God

To confess your sins to God is not to tell him anything he doesn't already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.
Frederick Buechner
So perfectly worded.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

I was drawn to this book because I have sensed the lessening of feeling in observing the anniversary of September 11 as the years have gone on. This is natural, as I know from my own lack of interest in Pearl Harbor Day which was so long before I was born. However, 9/11 wasn't quite 20 years ago and I still feel vivid remembrance every year. So I was really interested when I read a review in the paper, featuring excerpts of the people's oral stories which make up the text.

By presenting people's experiences in chronological order, with no other commentary other than that needed to place a context for orientation, this is that unusual creation - an unbiased history. They are grouped in logical sequences so that a section from people evacuating the North Tower will be followed by a section from firefighters gearing up and then one from air traffic controllers struggling to understand what just happened. In this way, the sequence of events unfolds so that the day begins to make sense in a way it didn't when events were unfolding before our eyes.

I was fascinated by the parts behind the scenes such as on Air Force One or the air traffic controllers or inside reporters thoughts, which were new to me. But the entire thing was gripping and conveyed the reality of just what an act of war that terrorist attack was - in a way that I couldn't take in when I was one of those watching in confused horror on that fateful day, struggling to come to grips with what was happening.

This book brought back my familiar feelings from that time while stitching together events and giving me the broader understanding through which I could both understand better and honor more fully the incredible losses and heroism we experienced. All through using only these oral testimonies. Extraordinary.

ALSO: My daughter Rose commented that the description sounded like the style used in World War Z by Max Brooks. That hadn't occurred to me but she's right, it is very similar.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

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.

It is rare that I relate to the daily reading in Magnificat from the saints who wrote a really long time ago. I always read them though because you never can tell just when something is going to hit you right between the eyes.

As did this, which I read some years ago when I still had a subscription, from Saint Symeon the New theologian (died 1022):
... For Christians the cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ who was crucified; all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the cross; and all our exaltation and all our glory are in the humility of God, who humbled himself to such an extent that he was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling, and with extreme reverence. For the image of the cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.

Therefore the demons also fear the image of the cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the cross depicted even in the air, but they flee from this immediately knowing that the cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God...

Those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom... To the degree of the reverence which one has toward the cross, he receives corresponding power and help from God. To him may there be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.
Just a little something to remind me not to make the sign of the cross automatically, as so often happens, I am very sorry to say. I must be heedful of what that sign has cost and what that sign means for me in my relationship with 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. Here's where I found it online (you have to have a Yahoo login to get to it).

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.