Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

It's a solemnity! No fasting!

Leonardo da Vinci. The Annunciation.
On today's feast the Church celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation and, at the same time, the vocation of Our Lady. It was her faithful response to the angel's message, her fiat, that began the work of redemption...

The setting of this feast day, March 25th, corresponds to Christmas. In addition, there is ancient tradition that the creation of the world and the commencement and conclusion of the Redemption all happened to coincide at the vernal equinox.

As the greatest proof of his love for us, God had his only Son become man to save us from our sins. In this way Jesus merited for us the dignity of becoming children of God. His arrival signaled the fullness of time. St. Paul puts it quite literally that Jesus was born of a woman. (cf The Navarre Bible, Romans and Galatians, note to Gal 4:4) Jesus did not come to earth as a spirit. He truly became man, like one of us. He received his human nature from Our Lady's immaculate womb. Today's feat, therefore, is really in honor of Jesus and Mary. That is why Fr. Luis de Granada has pointed out: It is reasonable to consider, first and foremost, the purity and sanctity of the Woman whom God chose 'ab aeterno' to give form to his humanity.

When God decided to create the first man, he first took care to create a fitting environment for him, which was the Garden of Eden. It makes sense, then, that when God made ready to send his Son, the Christ, he likewise prepared for him a worthy environment, namely, the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin. (Life of Jesus Christ, I)

As we consider the significance of this Solemnity, we find Jesus very closely united to Mary. When the Blessed Virgin said Yes, freely, to the plans revealed to her by the Creator, the divine Word assumed a human nature: a rational soul and a body, which was formed in the most pure womb of Mary. The divine nature and the human were united in a single Person: Jesus Christ, true God and, thenceforth, true Man; the only-begotten and eternal Son of the Father, and from that moment on, as Man, the true son of Mary. ... (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 274)

There is more from this reflection featured in this previous post for this solemnity.

Annunciation by illustrator Edmund Dulac, 1916.

The Annunciation by Luc-Olivier Merson

Friday, March 24, 2023

Voting democracy and market democracy

The United States was the first to introduce voting democracy. Almost equally central to the ethos of the country was market democracy, in which ordinary people voted with their wallets and, in doing so, insured that they got what they wanted. Salesmanship, market research, advertising, the rapid response of production machinery to perceived customer requirements‚all these forms of materialism which, in their more raucous aspects, are identified as American failings or rather excrescences, are in fact central to its democratic strength. The story of Sears Roebuck, for instance, is a tale of how high-quality products, once the preserve of the rich, were humbled and distributed literally everywhere.

Paul Johnson,
A History of the American People

Iron Rolling Mill

Adolph Menzel (1815–1905), The Iron Rolling Mill

 I originally came across this when reading Paul Johnson's Art: a New History. I love these big subjects with the humanity reflected in the little scenarios around the corners, like the fellows in the bottom right having a quick meal. Click through on the link so you can really look at the details closely.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

America as a great cultural nation

That the United States, lifted up by an extraordinary combination of self-created wealth and native talent, became a great cultural nation in the second half of the 19th century is a fact which the world, and even Americans themselves, have been slow to grasp.

Paul Johnson,
A History of the American People

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, 1857, Frederic Edwin Church
via Wikipedia

I love these sorts of pieces by painters who did such a splendid job of showing North America's natural beauty. They're often called the Hudson River School or the Luminous School but Paul Johnson in Art: A New History argues that that is limiting the artists too much.

This painting reminded me of the breathtaking paintings we saw at the Hudson River School show at the Amon Carter Museum years ago. There is simply nothing like seeing these (or any) paintings in real life.

The computer can't do it justice but do be sure to click through on the link above to see the painting in as large a size as possible.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

What we lose track of in Exodus

The stories of the plague of Egypt, and the other wonders and miracles which preceded the Israelite break-out, have so dominated our reading of Exodus that we sometimes lose sight of the sheer physical fact of the successful revolt and escape of a slave-people, the only one recorded in antiquity.
Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews

Melk Staircase

Stift Melk, staircase near church, photographed by David Monniaux, Creative Commons licensing

 I first saw this gorgeous piece of architecture in Art: A New History by Paul Johnson. I could look at this all day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Julie saw hundreds of people in NYC that she's glad she doesn't know. Scott didn't notice because he was reading The Humourous Tales of E. A. Poe.

Episode 303 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast has Scott and me back with a show favorite - Flannery O'Connor! FlanneryCast 2023: The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor.

The Beheading of John the Baptist

Rogier van der Weyden, in his Beheading of John the Baptist (c. 1455-60),
transforms a horrific act into a scene of
elegance, subtle feeling and beauty-in-depth. (Paul Johnson)

This selection and the appreciation below are from Paul Johnson's Art: A New History which is an unusual window into history. This does not show us history as much as help to understand what the artist was trying to get across. It certainly helps me to understand why so many artists portrayed historical scenes with contemporary clothing and details.

If this seems like too much text to bother with, be sure at least to read the last couple of sentences. It is the essence of the thing and also may pique your interest for the rest.

... Rogier introduced many cunning innovations in presenting his work—shifting the angles, moving the main figures closer to the viewer, then pushing them back, framing them in architectural fantasies, windows and painted surrounds, devices which then become standard in northern art.

But in one respect, Rogier was faithful to his tradition. He loved detail, and it was always contemporary detail. Of his many large-scale works, the one which brings this out best is his Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist in Berlin. These three pictures convey an enormous amount of detail. Salome has certainly not been performing a dance. She is dressed in the height of Brussels fashion, c. 1450, and holds the dish to receive the severed head disdainfully, as though she was not accustomed to handling platters of any description. Every detail of her presentation is perfect. The executioner must have been done from life at a ceremonial chopping, of which there were many the artist could have witnessed. The way the man has stripped himself of most of his garments to get a perfect swing to his sword, itself rendered in fearsome detail, is unforgettable. Behind the pair and the ghoulish head, which glows with recently dead pallor, is a passageway, closely guarded, which opens in to the banquet scene itself, in the far distance but lovingly rendered so that we have a good idea of what was being eaten before the head made its entrance. The story of the head, which never failed to arouse interest anywhere in Europe for a thousand years—it was still going strong in the days of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley—is here used as an excuse for a piece of dramatised genre painting. The details told the viewers two things. First, "All this is true," and secondly, "Take note of these events, they are part of your life also."

You are a temple, you are a great cathedral

Our culture has solved many of life's problems by its wonderful science and technology, and it has attained unprecedented power and comfort and freedom from pain. Yet it no longer loves life, no longer feels gratitude for life. Its suicide rate is far higher than it is in poor, primitive cultures. It lacks lasting joy. It is in the wilderness without a temple and without the manna from heaven, without the two temples that we know: our bodies in secual intercourse and Christ's Body in the Mass. They are the two holiest places in the universe and the two places where Goid literally performs a miracle millions of times every day around the world. Whenever we procreate mortal bodies, God creates new immortal souls, and whenever our priests echo his words of consecration, he transubstantiates our bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood. ...

You are a temple; you are a great cathedral; you are God's masterpiece. Much more than that, you are God's children.
Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul: Cycle A, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Monday, March 20, 2023

Solemnity of St. Joseph

This is a Solemnity, y'all! Lent is off for today! Enjoy whatever you gave up, like it's a Sunday! In our household that means ice cream, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, and eating lunch! Plus, we just love St. Joseph.

This solemnity normally falls on March 19. However, that is a Sunday this year and no one trumps the celebration of Christ. So it is being celebrated on the Monday after. One thing we know for sure — Saint Joseph is perfectly fine with this!

Giuseppe Maria Lo Spagnolo Crespi - Death of Saint Joseph [c.1712]
Via Gandalf's Gallery
The season of Lent is interrupted by the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary. With the exception of Our Lady, there is no greater saint in Heaven than Saint Joseph. This feast originated in the fifteenth century and was then extended to the whole church in 1621. In 1847 Pope Pius IX named Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. Pope John XXIII had Saint Joseph's name included in the Roman Canon.

Here was an ordinary man to whom God granted extraordinary graces. Joseph was to fulfill a most singular mission in the salvific design of God. He experienced indescribable joys along with the trials of doubt and suffering. We recall his perplexity at the mystery of Mary's conception, at the extreme of material poverty in Bethlehem, at the prophecies of Simeon in the Temple, at the hurried flight into Egypt, at the difficulties of having to live in a foreign land, at the return from Egypt and the threat posed by Archelaus. Joseph proved himself always faithful to the will of God. He showed himself always ready to set aside his own human plans and considerations.

The explanation for this remarkable fidelity is that Jesus and Mary were at the centre of Joseph's life. Joseph's self-giving is an interweaving of faithful love, loving faith and confident hope. His feast is thus a good opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the Christian calling God has given each of us. (St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by)

In Conversation with God, Vol. 6: Special Feasts: January to June

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons
by Deacon Lawrence Klimecki
My favorite title for St. Joseph is Terror of Demons. For more about that title, read here.
The Holy Family with a Little Bird, c. 1645–1650

 I especially love paintings imagining what the Holy Family's life was like. Saint Joseph and Jesus together are particularly wonderful here.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Top o' the Mornin' to Ya: Happy St. Patrick's Day

This and that for today's optional memorial. Note - optional memorials are not celebrated during Lent, so technically St. Patrick's Day is never celebrated in the Church. Except wherever it isn't optional, such as in Ireland where it is a solemnity and national holiday.

Just a little something to keep in mind. But be of good cheer! The Solemnity of St. Joseph is coming in a few days and that calls for a big celebration!

St. Patrick is more a saint for our modern times than you might think. He dealt with pagans and arguing Christians — sound familiar?
Time and again Patrick's life was in danger from various quarters, principally from his mortal enemies the Druids; that he managed to survive them all was due to his own shrewdness and, on more than one occasion, to the special intervention of divine Providence. However, Patrick always regarded his greatest trial to be the opposition to his mission which originated within the circle of his fellow Christians in Britain and Gaul, who circulated so many scurrilous stories about him that he felt called upon to defend himself in writing; thanks to this we are fortunate enough to have his Confession, which is the main source of the details about his life.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God: Special Feasts January - June


We think of green beer for St. Patrick's Day so this linking of beer and the saints is fun.
"It is my design to die in the brew-house; let ale be placed to my mouth when I am expiring so that when the choir of angels come they may say: 'Be God propitious to this drinker.'"So said St. Columbanus.


A bit of St. Patrick's Confession which you may read it its entirety here.

1. I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

2. And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

3. Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven. ...


St. Patrick's Breastplate ... the confession above is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to have led to the glory that is this prayer.

I arise today, through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the threeness, through confession of the oneness, of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today, through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism, through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial, through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension, through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today, through the strength of the love of the Cherubim, in obedience of angels, in the service of archangels, in the hope of the resurrection to meet with reward, in the prayers of patriarchs, in prediction of prophets, in preaching of apostles, in faith of confessors, in innocence of holy virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of heaven; light of sun, radiance of moon, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth, firmness of rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me: God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak to me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to save me, from the snares of devils, from temptations of vices, from every one who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a multitude.

I summon today, all these powers between me and those evils, against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of pagandom, against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry, against spells of women and smiths and wizards, against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today, against poisoning, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so there come to me abundance of reward. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me, Christ in the eye of every one that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today, through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the threeness, through confession of the oneness, of the Creator of Creation.

(The full text of what has come to be known as St. Patrick's Breast Plate. While it's not known for sure, ancient tradition has ascribed the prayer to Patrick himself. This is an older translation.)
For Celebrating:
  • Make some Irish Soda Bread. (For other Irish recipes, check here ... I'm not into corned beef at all, but lamb? Oh yeah ...)
  • If you can't go dancing or to the pub  then watch The Quiet Man.
  • I love the idea of  Irish dancing. See, that's how you use up all that alcohol in the Guiness (you are drinking Guiness today aren't you?) ... leaping and twirling?

    We foot it all the night,
    Weaving olden dances,
    Mingling hands and mingling glances
    Till the moon has taken flight;
    To and fro we leap
    And chase the frothy bubbles,
    While the world is full of troubles

    WB Yeats, The Stolen Child


Irish Heritage: 

I have been asked if I am Irish and yes I am. I believe it was my great-great-grandfather who was named Reeves. That then lead to some thought that the surname was actually an occupation as well, which I hadn't thought of. And so it was, according to Wikipedia at any rate.

Reeve may refer to:
  • High-reeve, a title taken by some English magnates during the 10th and 11th centuries
  • Reeve (England), an official elected annually by the serfs to supervise lands for a lord
  • Reeve (Canada), an elected chief executive in counties
  • Shire reeve, an office position that originated the term Sheriff

So I come from a proud line of middle managers. Ah, tradition ...