Lent is a time when we are conscientious of growing in holiness. We give something up or we do something positive. While these activities are all good, I think it might be helpful to hear some words from St. John Henry Newman's on perfection (another way of saying holiness):
Tassel of the Cloak
Today, February 11th, is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and it was worth reflecting a bit on this Marian apparition. Briefly, in 1858 the Virgin Mary appeared to a fourteen year old girl in the small town in southwest France. A spring of water miraculously formed where the Blessed Mother spoke, and to this day pilgrims travel to Lourdes to drink and bathe in this healing water.
Towards the end of his life Mark Twain wrote The Diaries of Adam and Eve. The first part of the book is written by Adam; the second by Eve. Accounts of God's creation, life in the Garden of Eden, the fall, and life outside of Eden are given from two different perspectives. Adam's writing is simple and obtuse. He is annoyed at first by Eve's constant pursuit of him. He writes, “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don't like this; I am not used to company...I wish it would not talk; it is always talking.” Later on Adam cannot figure out what new animal his sons, Cain and Abel, are. “I was going to stuff one of them for my collection,” he records, “but she is prejudiced against it for some reason or other; so I have relinquished the idea, though I think it is a mistake.”
Students looking for purpose can learn from the life of Winston Churchill. Arguably the greatest political figure of the 20th Century, they may not realize, had a difficult upbringing. Born prematurely, suffering from a speech impediment, and inclined to depression, Churchill was essentially rejected and scorned by his parents. He performed poorly in school and passed the entrance examination into the Royal Military College only after his third attempt. When his father, Lord Randolph, died when Winston was 21, he left only debts. Yet the ‘Last Lion’ persevered. Churchill did not let his family and environment hold him back. He did not allow the wounds he suffered as a youth handicap him. He pushed himself, believed in himself, and would not accept defeat. He made himself bound and determined, like a bulldog. Here is a quote from Lord Churchill:
Baudouin of Belgium abdicated the throne in 1990. It was not for any ignoble cause or selfish pursuit that the King stepped down from his position of authority. King Baudouin abdicated because he was pro-life. The Belgian Parliament had passed a law allowing abortion and he could not add his signature to the bill as required by procedure.
As a priest leaves the sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, processing to whatever altar he is going to celebrate Mass, he is immediately confronted by a very large mosaic. The work was completed in 1604 by Cristoforo Roncalli and is titled "The Punishment of the Couple Ananias and Saphira." The scene is a portrayal of what occurred in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias lies to St. Peter about money he had obtained from the sale of property and, because of that lie, immediately drops dead. His wife Saphira, not knowing what has happened to her husband, likewise lies to the Apostle and she too dies. It is almost a scene out of Greek mythology.
The American transcontinental railroad, built between 1863-1869, is one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind, and there are many spiritual lessons to take away from the story of its construction. It involved many moving parts. There were land surveyors to map the route across the plains, over the Rocky Mountains and through the Sierra Nevada. There were engineers to set the grade so flat track could be laid, not to mention build bridges and tunnels. Brawn was needed to clear away earth and spike the rails. There were Chinese, Irish, freed slaves, Union and Confederate veterans, and many other typical Americans who supplied the manpower. Then there were investors and financiers, running the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Corporations and ensuring there were enough funds to supply material for building the track and to pay the laborers. There were also lobbyists and politicians to ensure the government supported the endeavor in ways it needed. There were entertainers and saloon-keepers along the track to keep the laborers satisfied after hours, and priests to be sure they were not too satisfied.
Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to Mary the Mother of God. He once told the story during a Cabinet meeting of an Italian captain whose ship was punctured when it struck a rock. The captain set his men bailing water while he said a prayer to a statue of the Virgin Mary in the bowel of the ship. The water continued to pour in and it appeared the vessel would be lost. The captain, in a fit of rage at not having his prayers answered, seized the statute of Mary and threw it overboard. Suddenly the leak stopped and the ship was able to sail safely into port. When docked for repairs, the Virgin Mary statue was found stuck head-first in the hole.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. He survived the war and went on to write, among other books, Man's Search for Meaning. In this classic text, Frankl argues that finding meaning in one's life is the cure for many neuroses.
Logotherapy, the form of treatment that Frankl founded, focuses on the patient's future. Whereas psychoanalysis is retrospective and introspective—trying to discover the cause of a patient's neurosis—logotherapy attempts to help the patient find meaning in his life, for someone who has something or someone to live for lives well.
A new title for Mary, and one that is quite expedient, is "The Silent Mother."
Striking in the Gospels is the silence of Mary. After several significant scenes, we find the Blessed Mother rather reserved. When the Angel Gabriel announces to her that she will conceive and bear a son, she simply says, “Be it done unto me.” The angel departs and there are no more words we hear spoken by Mary. Nothing is recorded of her during the birth at Bethlehem, and when Simeon prophesies during the Presentation of the Temple that a sword of sorrow will pierce her heart, Mary does not respond. Likewise in the face of suffering, the Blessed Mother walks silently alongside her son through Jerusalem to Calvary. Nor did Mary ever respond and take offense at her son’s sayings. There is no rebuttal from the Blessed Mother after the finding in the temple when Jesus says, “Did you not know I must be at my father’s house?” At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry during the wedding feast of Cana, Mary ignores the quip, “Woman, what is it to me? My hour has not yet come.” Nor does she retort when, asking to see her son, Jesus responds, “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother.”
A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together though a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old beautiful tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No...why?”
“Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut down long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”
Molecules and compounds were the topic of discussion when I popped into our school's science lab one day. A molecule is two or more atoms of an element chemically joined together. A compound, conversely, is when the two or more conjoined atoms are of different elements. Sodium chloride (NaCl), for example, would be a compound. Sodium and chloride combined form salt, salt being the whole or end result. Complementarity, two different elements fitting to complete a whole, is the spiritual principle at hand.
I read recently Burr by Gore Vidal, a 1974 novel that centers on the infamous early American figure, Aaron Burr. Burr is known to history as a scoundrel. He shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, was tried for treason when his plot to become king of the west was uncovered, and was removed as Vice President of the United States. If murder and treason were not enough, he was also an adulterer.
There is a unique and special and secret identity to each of us, and this is what will remain in heaven. T.S. Eliot's poem, The Naming of Cats, captures it well:
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
More in this category:
- A Beautiful Piece
- Bee Sweet
- Christopher Columbus
- I love this bar.
- Priests of the Civil War
- The Odyssey
- You Are My Sunshine
- Water Boys
- Don't be Evil
- Fat Man
- Just One Cookie
- Missing Pieces
- Vice or Virtue
- MacArthur the Anti-Christ
- The Noonday Devil
- Chinese Catholic Church
- The Heart is Alive
- Adrift But Not Lost
- Is one the loneliest number?
- Let Go and Let God
- Shadow of His Wings
- Curds and Whey
- Onward and upward, stat!
- La Belle Dame
- Finishing Last to be First
- Laugh and God Laughs With You
- One Nation, Under God
- Dawn of a Red Day