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Tassel of the Cloak

Spiritual Desolation

"Magnificent Desolation."  Those were the first words spoken by the second man on the moon as he stood on the new terrain.  And more striking than the first man's words they are. True progress for mankind is ultimately in the spiritual and moral realm, and sometimes we advance through desolation and darkness.

Desolation, or desolatio, has the Latin word for sun, solis, in its root.  The sun is darkened or declined in this style of prayer. We do not feel the warmth of God.  Prayer is, instead, flat, dry, and difficult.

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The Virgin of Macarena

I was reading recently through my old political science notes from college and came across this quote by the comedian Jon Stewart about public opinion. “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people," he wrote, "it wasn't that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.”

Macarena, of course, was the 1993 song by the Spanish group Los del Rios that remained on Billboard's top spot for fourteen weeks and the top 100 chart for sixty weeks.  It was named "the most successful song of 1996," achieved number 7 on Billboard's All Time Top 100, and was called by VH1 "the number 1 Greatest One-Hit Wonder of All Time."

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Free of Worldly Possessions

I was horrified when we watched a YouTube video during the pandemic on how to make a facemask.  The individual cut and destroyed a tee-shirt.  Other than books, my one material attachment is to tee-shirts.  Chicago Blackhawks championship shirts, a Saint Juliana Men's Club Golf Outing shirt, a Mark Grace Chicago Cubs shirt (he's the real 17), a Grateful Dead tie-dyed shirt, an Archdiocese of Chicago shirt, and so on.  I don't collect knickknacks and I really don't take pictures. The tee-shirt under my Roman Collar that I wear every day is the one way to "express myself," so the prospect of destroying one is abhorrent to me.  Cutting up an old pillow-case would have been more sensitive.

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Remakes of the Soul

Red Red Wine by UB40 came on Spotify recently, prompting a discussion amongst a group of us of what constitutes a good music remake.  The song, of course, was originally written by Neil Diamond.  The UB40 version is totally different and enjoyable in its own way, making it, in my opinion, a successful remake.  The Joe Cocker remake of the Beatles' classic With a Little Help from My Friends, is another example.  All Along the Watchtower, first by Bob Dylan and then Jimi Hendrix, is great as well. 

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The Art of War Against Sin

 

"Every battle is won or lost before it is fought," says Sun Tzu in The Art of War.  It is the preparation prior to the commencement of the action, as well as the condition of the military-industrial complex of the nation, that will determine the overall outcome of the war.  This is why Horatio Nelson, as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence on October 21, 1805, did not send detailed instructions to his fleet, but the simple reminder: "England expects that every man will do his duty."  He knew the tactical work had already taken place.

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The Probiscus Monkey

A parishioner recently showed me pictures from a trip to Southeast Asia, one of which included a proboscis monkey.  I had never before seen or heard of this animal endemic to Indonesia.  I almost thought the picture was joke, like this was man dressed as a mascot, so funny and unique looking the animal was with its height, potbelly and long nose.  I wondered if instead of bananas the species eats bratwursts and drinks Coors Lights.

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Reverence God on Labor Day?

One of the ways we reverence God is by properly celebrating holidays. 

When we reverence someone or something the most fundamental thing we do is pause and acknowledge.  If we are before a revered object and continue checking our phone, we are unconsciously stating the object before us is not that significant.  We fill ourselves with what we think is necessary, and we continue on the path—more a rut—of self-absorption. 

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Luigi and Marie Beltrame Quattrocchi

Retreat is a term we do not like. We think of it as failing or quitting, with an accompanying sense of shame. Surrender, which of course is linked to retreat, is also very difficult.

But it is to the ideal of surrender that we are called in the spiritual life. We are called to retreat. We are not to be like Ulysses S. Grant, who famously wrote in May 1864 to the War Department of his plans to do anything but retreat against Lee's army. "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer," he said. Christ surrender on the cross. So too are we.

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Angel of Auschwitz

It is in the midst of terrible suffering that God brings forth tremendous graces.  It was seen in the year 261, when a plague broke out in Alexandria and a group of Christians tended to the sick and dying when no one else would.  They were executed for this heroic deed and later canonized.  The Martyrs of the Plague of Alexandria, as they are called, have been praying for us.

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The Holy Virgin Kisses the Face of Jesus

The most famous of James J. Tissot's religious paintings, which reside in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, is What Our Lord Saw from the Cross. But my favorite of Tissot's is The Holy Virgin Kisses the Face of Jesus Before He is Enshrouded on the Anointing Stone. A cumbersome title, I know, but a painting worth meditating upon.

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Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, the greatest American inventor, was skeptical of the existence of the soul and its immortality.  He compared it to the reproduction of sound. "Yet no one," he said, "thinks of claiming immortality for the cylinders or the phonograph. Then why claim it for the brain mechanism or the power that drives it? Because we don't know what this power is, shall we call it immortal?"  Edison went on to say, on another occasion, "I have not reached my conclusions through study of tradition; I have reached them through the study of hard fact.  Proof! Proof! That is what I have always been after; that is what my mind requires before it can accept a theory as a fact."

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The Pentecost

In praying with artwork on this monumental feast day, I particularly like Jean II Restout's Pentecost (Louvre: Paris, France, 1732). First and foremost is because of the prominence of Mary. She stands in the center atop the altar of the upper room, which is here pictured as a Romanesque courtyard. Interestingly, the scene resembles Raphael's School of Athens. The Church, with Mary beside her son in the instructor's chair, is the new school.

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Frankenstein

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is actually a fitting Easter season novel. Victor Frankenstein is a doctor, scientist, philosopher and inventor. His creation has no name. It is just called 'the monster.' While the creature may look hideous, its brain is actually quite advanced. It appreciates beauty in nature and the love among family members. It reads significant texts like Paradise Lost, knows the Bible, and speaks eloquently. A far cry from the Hollywood ogre grunting for brains.

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The Power and the Glory

Graham Green's 1941 novel, The Power and the Glory, centers on an outlaw Catholic priest in 1930s rural Mexico. It received the Hawthornden Prize in British literature and was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. Today, men studying for the priesthood read the story and priests, like me, reread it throughout their lives.

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