Tassel of the Cloak

St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross

Many know of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), but there are many other female saints who were martyrs during WWII.

Blessed Santia Szymkowiak was a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Sorrows, also known as the Seraphic Sisters.  The Nazis overran her convent in Poznan in Poland in 1939 and Santia was conscripted as translator for the Germans.  She had a chance to escape, but chose instead to stay with her community, where she made her solemn vows on July 6, 1942. She would die the following month, having contracted tuberculosis in the prison camp.  She wrote in her diary, "Jesus wants me to be a holy religious and He will not be happy with me until I use all my strength for Him and become a saint...I have to become a saint at all costs. This is my constant preoccupation." Santia was beatified in 2002.

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Our Lady of Combermere

There is a unique statue in the Canadian woods, often covered in snow, of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Her arms are outstretched, hair and cloak blowing behind her as if she is flying through the air.  Our Lady of Combermere looks like she desires to embrace whoever is before her.  It is not uncommon for the Blessed Virgin to be given a town's name as an appellation.  For instance, she could be called Our Lady of Edison Park.  Mary, for the residents of that town devoted to her, helps with causes particular to the area.  In Combermere, a town in Ontario, the residents might turn to Mary when they are fetching water, chopping wood, or braving a winter storm.  In Chicago, we could turn to Mary to help us find work, renovate our house, care for our aging parents, or do well in school.  There is nothing too mundane for the Blessed Mother.

If you need a hug, you might consider praying, as residents of Madonna House do, to Our Lady of Combermere.

O Mary, you desire so much to see Jesus loved. Since you love me, this is the favor which I ask of you: to obtain for me a great personal love of Jesus Christ. You obtain from your Son whatever you please; pray then for me, that I may never lose the grace of God, that I may increase in holiness and perfection from day to day, and that I may faithfully and nobly fulfill the great calling in life which your Divine Son has given me. By that grief which you suffered on Calvary when you beheld Jesus die on the Cross, obtain for me a happy death, that by loving Jesus and you, my mother, on earth, I may share your joy in loving and blessing the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit forever in Heaven. Amen.

 

 

Ye of Little Faith

To people who doubt the existence of God and of Catholicism, using science as their reason, I would encourage a survey of the greatest scientists of the 20th Century.

Albert Einstein, though he did not believe in a personal God, did, nonetheless, believe in a "superior mind" and a higher order. God, to him, was a principle of intelligibility and rationality.  Einstein's colleagues, who developed quantum theory, had a more advanced image of God…

Max Planck, who was the originator of quantum theory and the domain of subatomic particles, believed not only in God and a personal God, but also in religion.  "Religion is the link that binds man to God," he said, "resulting from the respectful humility before a supernatural power, to which all human life is subject and which controls our weal and woe."

Werner Heisenberg, the originator of the matrix formulation of quantum mechanics, was an active Christian and defended the existence of the soul and the need for faith. 

Arthur Eddington, who confirmed Einstein's general theory of relativity from an astronomical standpoint and established other theories about the conception of the universe, has a chapter in his book on quantum theory titled, "A Defense of Mysticism." God draws us continually to new heights, be it in the field of art, spirituality, or science.  Our minds are not reduced to our brains.

Kurt Godel, a leading mathematician, demonstrated that the human capacity to understand the rules of mathematical principles and algorithms cannot be explained or grounded in the algorithms themselves.  This friend of Einstein said, "I am convinced of [the afterlife], independently of any theology. It is possible to perceive, by pure reasoning that it is entirely consistent with known facts. If the world is rationally constructed and has meaning, then there must be such a thing [as an afterlife]."

 

The Argument from Aesthetic Experience

The Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft has a very simple proof of God, which he calls 'The Argument from Aesthetic Experience." It goes like this: 

            There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

            Therefore there must be a God.

            You either see this or you don't.

Bach will not be the topic of our discussion.  Franz Joseph Haydn, a contemporary of Bach's, will be, however.  The Austrian composer, born in 1732 (Bach died in 1750), is known as the "Father of the Symphony." He ushered in the musical era known as the 'Classical Period,' while Bach was of the 'Baroque Period.'  Haydn was a devout Catholic.  He prayed daily, received the Eucharist, and relied on God for strength both in his work and in his life.  In fact, he once said about his relationship with Mary, "If my composing is not proceeding so well, I walk up and down the room with my rosary in my hand, say several Aves, and then ideas come to me again."

Haydn arranged 14 Mass settings.  The Missa Brevis in F is perhaps his most famous. His Missa in tempore belli (Mass in a time of war) is also worth a listen.

Mass settings in classical music are very different than the ones we hear today at Mass at a typical parish.  The five parts of the Mass set to elaborate choral and orchestral composition are the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei.  Each part could be five to ten minutes long!

Now, one would think composing the Mass over and over again (the words do not change) would eventually grow boring and monotonous, but not for Haydn.  Each musical composition was a prayer for him.  And he made the glory of his profession add to the glory of God. 

A Short History of World War I

World War I ended one hundred years ago today.  There are many anecdotes relating to Catholicism from this cataclysmic event we could invoke to inspire us.  There are also lessons from the conflict, which took 20 million lives, which we could apply to the spiritual and moral life to help us grow. With this in mind, allow me to quote at length an insight about the Great War from the historian James L. Stokesbury in A Short History of World War I

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Exercising Patience

An old eastern legend tells the story of a stranger who sought shelter for the night in another's tent. He awoke in the middle of the night and blasphemed God because he could not fall back to sleep. Awakened by the stranger's profanity, the scandalized tent owner drove the man from his home. In the morning, an angel appeared to the owner, exclaiming: "I sent a stranger to you for shelter. Where is he?" "I would not let him stay," explained the owner, "because he blasphemed God." "For forty years," replied the Angel, "God has been patient with that man. For one single night could you not bear with him?"

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Our Lady of Breezy Point

Hurricane season, which also happens to coincide with a month dedicated to the Blessed Mother, should cause us to ponder upon and pray with "Our Lady of Breezy Point."  This statue of Mary, in a neighborhood in Queens, New York, was made famous by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  Striking Cuba first, this monumental storm made its way up the eastern seaboard and landed in New York City. 

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Joyce Kilmer's Trees

Joyce Kilmer, the early 20th Century poet, is most famous for "Trees":

 

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

 

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

 

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

 

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

 

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The Crusades - Good or Bad?

Atheists and anti-Catholics often point to the Crusades.  How can the Catholic Church be the Body of Jesus Christ when it committed such awful sins? 

I do not intend to defend the Crusades here, though they are much more complicated than how opponents of the Church present them.  But let me first say Christians sin and act evilly all the time.  They do not stand for the entire Church.  The Church is not sinful because you or I sin.  Individual crusaders committed sins, but the Church as a whole should not be labeled because of them.

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Our Lady of Walsingham

I wonder if William Shakespeare was inspired by his Catholicism to make ghosts such a prominent part of several of his works.  The ghost of the title-character's murdered father in Hamlet propels the young man into action.  The spirits of the murdered victims appear in Richard III, Brutus sees a ghost on the eve of battle in Julius Caesar, and the ghost of Banquo haunts Macbeth in Macbeth

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The Old War Horse

General James Longstreet was Robert E. Lee's second-in-command.  The "Old War Horse," so named by Lee, played a pivotal role in many battles, including Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness.  One of the Confederacy's most gifted tactical commanders, Longstreet was highly regarded, particularly by southerners. 

That changed after the Civil War.  When Longstreet became a Republican and supported President Ulysses S. Grant, the once-famed Confederate general was seen as a traitor.  He was rejected and shunned by those around him.  In fact, Longstreet was literally shunned by his Episcopalian congregation.  Shunning is a practice of protestant evangelical churches.  Outcasts are banned from the community.  When the rejected Longstreet wandered into the nearby Catholic congregation, Father Abram Ryan, the priest (and also a former Confederate Army Chaplain), told Longstreet his church shunned no one.  Longstreet found his home.  He converted to Catholicism in 1877.  The "Old Catholic War Horse," in his remaining 26 years of life, was not only the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, a U.S. marshal, and the U.S. railroad commissioner, he was also a devout communicant.

The Catholic Church's openness to the troubled Longstreet is what brought the general into the faith and made him a champion of Catholicism.  

Something similar occurred with another wandering Civil War veteran.  William Frederick Cody used his marksmanship to kill 4,280 bison to supply meat for railroad workers.  The fame from this feat led him to create his traveling show, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," which toured for 24 years.  Over 2 million people from all over the world saw the spectacle.  But that wouldn't be Buffalo Bill's crowning achievement.  The day before Cody died in 1917, he asked for a Catholic priest and was admitted into the Church.  Like Longstreet, he found a home in Catholicism.

Redemption for the Loyal

The prophets in the Old Testament had to preach very difficult messages to hostile audiences.  They were persecuted. Some were even killed (see Isaiah). The Prophet Ezekiel was no different.  Preaching to the Jews in Babylon, for he had been among the group deported by Nebuchadnezzar, he was not well-received.  He had told his fellow countrymen that they had sinned and deserved this punishment.  He prophesied also that this captivity would not be short, but would last seventy years. 

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The Wedding At Cana

At first glance, The Wedding at Cana by Italian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese is a meaningless jumble of bodies.  But if one looks closely at the expansive painting from 1563, currently held in the Louvre, many messages are portrayed in the variety of figures.  This, of course, is Veronese's depiction of our Lord's first miracle when, at Mary's behest, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast (cf. John 2:1-11).

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Learning the ABCs of Prayer

Watching the children in pre-kindergarten learn about the alphabet made me recall a little parable on prayer. 

A Jewish farmer was not able to return home before sunset one Sabbath and so was forced to spend the night in the field.  Upon his return home he was met by a rather perturbed rabbi who chided him for his carelessness. "What did you do out there all night in the field?" the rabbi asked him. "Did you at least pray?" The farmer answered: "Rabbi, I am not a clever man. I don't know how to pray properly. What I did was to simply recite the alphabet all night and let God form the words for himself."

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