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Pope Benedict farewell

With humility he came to the papacy, and with humility he left.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI bade farewell to the public world today.  I’m still taking it in.  The Church is pope-less for a time.  Sedes vacans.  While I was watching videos of his departure from Vatican City, I felt awe at the fact that I was witnessing such an historical moment.  I also felt a touch of sadness.  But I know Papa Benedict will be a great prayer-warrior for the Church and the world, and I am grateful for that.  I hope and pray that this gentle scholar–that is how I will always remember him most–will enjoy serenity and some refreshment for the rest of his days.  I hope he will continue to bless us with his writing as well.

At the same time, let us pray very hard for the cardinals who will be in the upcoming conclave.  As Papa Benedict himself said in his farewell address to them, the future pope is among them.  We must pray for their discernment, for their careful attention to the voice and motion of the Holy Spirit.  In addition to praying for the college of cardinals as a whole, perhaps you might want to adopt a cardinal and pray for him in particular.  I am praying for my adopted cardinal, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary.


I finally made it over to the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University to see their marvelous exhibition of some of the illuminated manuscripts that were taken from the Vatican to Toledo, Spain during Napoleon’s occupation of Rome.

What a blessing that these books–some of them from the early Middle Ages–were saved and preserved in all their original beauty and splendor!  The details, the colors, and the gold leafing were so vivid, almost as if the books were brand new.

The artistry and imagination that went into them is truly mind-blowing.  Part of the exhibition was a short film about how manuscripts were made–how animal skins were turned into vellum, how inks and quills were made and used, how the writing was done so neatly, how the books were bound and ornamented.  I can’t even imagine doing such work by hand.

Among many other things, I got to see an early 15th-century Dominican breviary, made for a community of nuns.  The illumination that was displayed included a little picture of St. Dominic handing books to some nuns.

If you are in or near Dallas, you really should visit the exhibition if you haven’t already!  It runs through April 23.  Click the banner for more info.

At a recent general audience, Pope Benedict was speaking about the Church’s ability to constantly renew and reform herself and the society around her in every time and place, and he used the example of the Mendicant Orders that arose in the 13th century: the Dominicans and Franciscans.

Aside from my joy that the Holy Father spoke about Dominicans, it also gave me great joy to hear him speak about the Medieval Church and Medieval Saints.  It was a very different age, of course, and yet I always find that it resonates with me.  I don’t think it was as different as we may think today.  The word “medieval” has a connotation today that is far more negative than it deserves.

In fact, the Medieval Church was dealing with some of the same issues our modern Church faces: issues such as the role of the laity, the universal call to holiness, the relationship between faith and reason, and the necessity of the Church’s voice in the academy and in society at large.

Not a few lay faithful, who lived in greatly expanding cities, wished to practice a spiritually intense Christian life. Hence they sought to deepen their knowledge of the faith and to be guided in the arduous but exciting path of holiness. Happily, the Mendicant Orders were also able to meet this need: the proclamation of the Gospel in simplicity and in its depth and greatness was one objective, perhaps the main objective of this movement. … They dealt with themes close to the life of the people, especially the practice of the theological and moral virtues, with concrete examples, easily understood. Moreover, they taught ways to nourish the life of prayer and piety. … Hence it is not surprising that the faithful were numerous, women and men, who chose to be supported in their Christian journey by the Franciscan and Dominican Friars, sought after and appreciated spiritual directors and confessors.

Thus were born associations of lay faithful that were inspired by the spirituality of Sts. Francis and Dominic, adapted to their state of life. It was the Third Order, whether Franciscan or Dominican. In other words, the proposal of a “lay sanctity” won many people. As the Second Vatican Council recalled, the call to holiness is not reserved to some, but is universal (cf. “Lumen Gentium,” 40). In every state of life, according to the needs of each, there is the possibility of living the Gospel. Also today every Christian must tend to the “lofty measure of Christian life,” no matter what state of life he belongs to!

Ha, did you see that? He linked the 13th century with Vatican II! One of the things I love about being a Lay Dominican is that I am indeed part of a tradition that traces itself all the way back to the 13th century, and yet it remains incredibly relevant and up-to-date. I do sort of wish that the Holy Father had mentioned that these religious third orders still exist and still provide a powerful means for people to seek out the “lay sanctity” that has been talked about so much since Vatican II. We hear lots about “lay sanctity” today… but not nearly enough about the religious third orders. I think we need to work on that.

The greatest thinkers, Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, were mendicants, operating in fact with this dynamism of the new evangelization, which also renewed the courage of thought, of dialogue between reason and faith. Today also there is a “charity of and in truth,” an “intellectual charity” to exercise, to enlighten intelligences and combine faith with culture. The widespread commitment of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the Medieval universities is an invitation, dear faithful, to make oneself present in places of the elaboration of learning, to propose, with respect and conviction, the light of the Gospel on the fundamental questions that concern man, his dignity, and his eternal destiny. Thinking of the role of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the Middle Ages, of the spiritual renewal they aroused, of the breath of new life that they communicated in the world, a monk says: “At that time the world was growing old. Two orders arose in the Church, from which it renewed its youth, like that of an eagle” (Burchard d’Ursperg, Chronicon).

Through the example of the great saint scholars, the Holy Father is calling us to bring our faith into the academy, to “combine faith with culture.”  I can’t help but think that this is a much taller order today than it was in the Medieval period.  I constantly struggle with it.

As a Catholic, and particularly as a Lay Dominican, I consider it my duty and also my right to carry my faith wherever I go–to carry it as a lantern that casts its light around me and before me and upon everything and everybody I come in contact with.  If I did not do so, I would risk not only losing my way, but also losing myself.  And yet there is at least a little part of me that has been manufactured by a very secularist society and a secularist educational system.  And a little voice that always tempts me to keep my faith shut up in a box… to keep my lantern hidden away, my light beneath a bushel basket.

I’m sure the Medieval scholars had their own struggles and challenges–although I can’t imagine that secularism was one of them.   No, secularism is the great challenge of our era.  The challenge for the future Saints now living among us.  Facing it will come down to heroic virtue.  To conviction and to courage.  To God’s grace transforming that little part of us that has been manufactured by our society.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading the full address.  The Dominican Province of St. Joseph (eastern U.S.) has a full translation at their blog.

I just finished watching  A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.  It’s a beautiful documentary with powerful historical footage as well as interviews with both Christian and Jewish scholars and writers and the priest who is in charge of Pope Pius’s cause for canonization.  It gives the origins of the “black legend” that arose around the pope in the early 1960’s and how this legend  is soundly refuted by basic historical facts.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how I admire Pope Pius XII and wish for his canonization as soon as possible.  Seeing him in action and hearing his voice was very moving.

I’ve already posted evidence that he was an animal lover.  Here’s some more:

Pope Pius XII with bird

The Holy Father had expected the Holy Spirit to be a bit more impressive in person.

(Yes, I know…  But we just passed Pentecost, and there’s something irresistable about captioning photographs of popes with animals!  I suspect that both Papa Pacelli and the Holy Spirit would be amused.)

Anyway.  I highly recommend this video.  (I learned of that photo from the video, btw.)

Lately I’ve come across some posts in the Catholic Blogosphere about the perils of our English Catholic ancestors.

My Dominican brethren at Godzdogz post about a visit to the recusant house, Mapledurham, near Reading:

The house has several hiding holes in which priests would hide from the authorities during penal times, and we were all most impressed at how cleverly constructed these hiding holes were. They boasted many ingenious features that allowed the priest, among other things, to look out into the grounds of the house and to escape when the coast was clear. The hiding holes must have served their purpose for there is no record of a priest ever being captured at Mapledurham!


The house boasts many other interesting features, including a bureau that hides an altar, complete with tabernacle and candlesticks inside. All of this made for a very enjoyable day, particularly as we were blessed with fine weather. The house is well worth a visit, it would interest anyone but is of particular interest for Catholics of course, being such a good reminder of how much our ancestors in the faith suffered and struggled to remain true to the faith of the Catholic Church during those dark years.

Thank God for that, but you can imagine the anxiety and anguish, both of the priests and those who sheltered them?  Although they may have been fortunate to escape physical punishment, their suffering was no less real or difficult to bear.  They suffered white martyrdom.

Father Blake of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Brighton celebrated his 25th anniversary of ordination on 12 May, which is also the feast day of the English Carthusian martyrs–men who suffered red martyrdom.  From Father Sean Finnegan’s homily on the occasion:

John Houghton, together with two other priors from the North, went to speak to Thomas Cromwell, the King’s strong arm man in religious matters. We can be sure that with his lawyer’s training, St John tried everything to make it possible to take the oath of allegiance to the King, without, however, compromising principle. Nothing availed, however, and all three were arrested, the charge being that —and I quote — ‘John Houghton says that he cannot take the King, our Sovereign Lord to be Supreme Head of the Church of England afore the apostles of Christ’s Church’, which rather makes it sound as if the apostles had also usurped what was the King’s rightful position.

In any event, he was condemned, of course—Cromwell had had to threaten the jury with treason charges themselves in order to achieve it, and the three priors together with a Bridgettine priest and a secular priest were all dragged to execution together. St Thomas More, by now in the Tower of London, watched them from the window of his cell setting off, and commented to his daughter who was visiting that they looked just like bridegrooms going to their wedding, a comparison that St John Fisher was also to use on the morning of his own death.

King Henry was insistent that the priests should be executed in their religious habits, to teach other religious a lesson, one presumes. This meant that after St John was cut down from the gallows, still alive, to be butchered, the thick hairshirt he wore under his heavy habit had to be cut through by the executioner, who had to stab down hard with the knife. And then, finally, as the executioner drew out St John’s still beating heart before his face, he spoke his last words: ‘Good Jesu’ he said, ‘what will you do with my heart?’

Father Timothy Finegan also shares the story, illustrated with paintings from the Chapter House at Parkminster.

In this picture you can see one monk hanging while another forgives the man who is about to execute him.

Carthusian martyrs

The stories of the English martyrs always give me a rather sound shaking.  They are a powerful safeguard against complacence.  The mad, cruel, and unjust persecution of good and blameless men like St. John Houghton and his Carthusian brethren, not to mention St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, and many other English Catholics began with the lust and arrogance of just one man, and the crookedness and/or cowardice of his supporters.

How capricious temporal powers are!  How tenuous the position of our Church and ourselves in this world!  Things can shift in any direction at any time.   Who would believe that St. Thomas More would fall from being Chancellor of England to having his head cleft off?  Who would believe that St. John Fisher would be the one and only bishop to remain true to the Catholic faith?  Who would believe that such innocent and holy monks could be found guilty of treason?  Who would believe it if it weren’t a fact of history?

And what about us?  We here in the 21st century, in the U.S. and elsewhere in the western world–do we really imagine that we are safe?  We Catholics are not safe in this world.  We never have been and never will be.  If we are fortunate, we may be spared the red martyrdom of those Carthusian martyrs.  But to escape martyrdom completely is impossible for a devoted Catholic.  We will always be dealt wounds by this world, to some or other degree.  We all, without exception, have our crosses to bear.

But far from calling us to fear and anxiety, the stories of the martyrs call us to fortitude, steadfastness, and ultimately victory!  May they be always in our hearts and minds as we are always in their prayers.

I read something about this a while back, but this article provides more details about what Pope Pius XII planned to do in the event that he was kidnapped or arrested by the Nazis.

Pope Pius XII told senior bishops that should he be arrested by the Nazis, his resignation would become effective immediately, paving the way for a successor, according to documents in the Vatican’s Secret Archives.

The bishops would then be expected to flee to a safe country – probably neutral Portugal – where they would re-establish the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and appoint a new Pontiff.

In the event of his capture, he wanted to be divested of the only thing that gave him any value to the Nazis.  Pretty heroic, if you ask me!

May he be canonized soon.  And may his prayers be with us!

Many thanks to John C. Wright for sharing these links by James Franklin:

Myths about the Middle Ages

The Renaissance Myth

Franklin’s thesis is that “the ‘Renaissance’ was a period when thought declined significantly, bringing to an end a period of advance in the late Middle Ages.”

My friend and co-parishioner, Julie, is reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe at her excellent literary podcast site, Forgotten Classics.

You really need to go and listen to it.  Really.  Now.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read the book, so listening to Julie read it is my first real exposure.  And no, that scene in The King and I doesn’t count!  I had no idea what an American treasure I’d been missing out on.

The story is exciting, heartbreaking, clever, and sometimes very funny.  It was originally written and published as a serial, so there are all kinds of cliff-hangers.

But what really captures me is that it is real.  It’s human.  And it’s about real history.  Julie gives lots of wonderful background information that helps bring the story to life and impress on us the realities it describes.  Naturally, there has been plenty of debate, criticism, interpretation and re-interpretation aimed at the story and its author.  But I, coming “fresh” to this story, just find it very real, powerful, and humanly satisfying.  It goes straight to my heart.  And the bit of background info that is constantly in my mind and that resonates most with me is that former slaves testified that the story provided an accurate portrayal of what life was like for them and in the world around them.  One cannot be unmoved by that!

Even if you have read the book, I recommend listening to it.  Julie does such a fantastic job with the reading.  Even if she hadn’t remarked on it herself, I could easily imagine that it would be very difficult to read… what with the offensive language and the vernacular dialect and the intense emotion of the story.

Walther von der Vogelweide from a medieval manuscriptInspired by talking about music with an old friend of mine, I rediscovered this beautiful medieval song: “Palästinalied” (“Palestine Song”) by the great German poet, Walther von der Vogelweide (ca. 1170-ca. 1230), a contemporary of St. Dominic.  It’s actually a song I learned back in the mid-90s, where  I often heard it played in the goth clubs I frequented (!).

This song is written in the vernacular Middle High German.  I read a translation sometime back, and if memory serves, the song tells of a crusader coming to the Holy Land.  He is stricken with wonder and devotion at the fact that this is the land where God became man, where He was born, lived, worked, taught, suffered, died, was buried, and was resurrected.  Basically, the poet was making a case for the Crusade, that Christians had a right to the Holy Land.

[UPDATE]: I did find one modern English poetic translation, though apparently not of the entire poem:

Now my life has gained some meaning
since these sinful eyes behold
the sacred land with meadows greening
whose renown is often told.
This was granted me from God:
to see the land, the holy sod,
which in human form He trod.

Splendid lands of wealth and power,
I’ve seen many, far and near,
yet of all are you the flower.
What a wonder happened here!
That a maid a child should bear,
Lord of all the angels fair,
was not this a wonder rare?

Here was He baptized, the Holy,
that all people might be pure.
Here He died, betrayed and lowly,
that our bonds should not endure.
Else our fate had been severe.
Hail, O cross, thorns and spear!
Heathens, woe! Your rage is clear.

Then to hell the Son descended
from the grave in which He lay,
by the Father still attended,
and the Spirit whom none may give a name:
in one are three,
an arrowshaft in unity.
This did Abraham once see.

When He there defeated Satan,
ne’ er has kaiser battled so,
He returned, our ways to straighten.
Then the Jews had fear and woe:
watch and stone were both in vain,
He appeared in life again,
whom their hands had struck and slain.

To this land, so He has spoken,
shall a fearful judgment come.
Widows’ bonds shall then be broken
and the orphans’ foe be dumb,
and the poor no longer cower
under sad misuse of power.
Woe to sinners in that hour!

Christians, heathen, Jews, contending,
claim it as a legacy.
May God judge with grace unending
through his blessed Trinity.
Strife is heard on every hand:
ours the only just demand,
He will have us rule the land.

I love that first line: “Now my life has gained some meaning.”  Today, many people have this view of the Crusades as this horribly corrupt, unjust war, a disgrace to Western civilization.  And I don’t deny that there were instances of corruption, injustice, and disgrace (the sacking of Constantinople comes to mind).  But I think the poem suggests the deeper, purer motivation–the Holy Land was precious and of great importance to the medievals and to their religious and spiritual lives.  They had a deep-seated love and reverence for it, as the land where God became man.  They needed it and longed for it.  It was the very heart of the world to them.  It was worth holding, keeping, protecting, fighting for, and dying for.  I can understand these sentiments; they resonate with me.  I can also understand how they could be lost on many people today. [END UPDATE]

What makes the Palästinalied especially exciting is that the original melody seems to have survived as well, and I think it’s a real beauty!  I’ve heard several modern renditions, some more beautiful than others.

Here is an instrumental version, with the straight melody and drums beating out a steady march. Click on the play button in the black box at top right.

Here is a version by a group called Unto Ashes.  It has simple instrumental accompaniment and harmonization:

And here is the very modernized version by a group called Qntal, which they played in the goth clubs.  So of course, the music is more synthesized, with more harmony and rhythm added in.  But the vocals are beautiful, the melody still takes precedence, and even with the electro-gothish stylings, you still get the medieval feel:

If you click through to the Youtube page for this last video, in the information box, it gives the M.H. German lyrics and what looks like a translation into modern German.  In case that helps anybody.

So, there’s our medieval culture lesson for today.

Maybe it’s just me, but medieval culture should be very near and dear to the hearts of western Catholics.  It’s such a tremendous part of our heritage and patrimony.  It wasn’t a perfect age–what age is?–but I would consider it a golden age.  I think the medievals strove for perfection.  That’s what all Catholics in every age should be doing.  No matter how bad or difficult or dark an age we live in, and no matter how outnumbered we are, we can always strive.  I would say that it’s every Catholic’s duty to strive for perfection–all through the grace of God (that has to be understood–I’m no Pelagian!).  Personal perfection first, and then who knows, you might bring bits and pieces of society along with you!

Nothing annoys me more than Catholics (usually in the political arena, as candidates and as voters) who try to excuse themselves from this striving by throwing up their hands and saying, “Oh, it’s no good, we’re never going to make this a Catholic nation, people won’t support us if we practice our faith, and then we’ll never be able to accomplish anything, it’s just useless, I tell you, blah blah blah.”  Giving into despair is no excuse, people!  Strive as though your very life depended on it!  Your eternal life just might.

But I digress… My point being to suggest that our modern society–and individuals–could really stand to have some good old medieval boldness and crusading spirit injected into them.

I mentioned a while back the missal my dad gave me.  I thought I’d post some pics!  I don’t own a scanner; these were taken with my camera. Click to see larger versions.

As you can see by the creases, this dear little book has been around for a while!  It is still in pretty good shape, overall, though.

If you want to see a really good image of the left-hand page with the diagram, you can find one here.  It is well worth taking a look at, as it illustrates how we relate to God during the Mass.  It’s a reminder that the Mass is not all about us.  It’s not just the priest and the congregation, but it’s us and God and all of Heaven!

The beginning of the Last Gospel, a part of the Mass not included in the current ordinary rite.

This next one is not part of the missal, but is a card I found laid in:

On the back it says:  “Remembrance of investiture as domestic prelate to His Holiness Pope Pius XII of Right Reverend Monsignor John Christopher Marsh by His Excellency The Most Reverend Charles P. Greco, D.D., May 29th, 1947, ordained to the Holy Priesthood December 21st, 1924.  PRAY FOR ME.”

I found a little information about Msgr. Marsh online.  He worked in Northern Louisiana, first at Bastrop, then Mansfield, and later at Monroe.  May God rest his soul.

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