Tassel of the Cloak

On Being Useless

Henri Nouwen provided this parable from Chuang Tzu. It's called, “The Useless Tree”:

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.


Burr and the Final Judgment

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.


The Naming of Cats

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.



Five hundred years ago on October 31st, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg, thus commencing the Reformation. The origins of the Reformation can be traced well before this event, however, and an important figure in this movement was a fellow by the name of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Without Erasmus Luther could not have arisen. Erasmus translated the New Testament into Greek and critiqued the sumptuous lifestyle of the clergy, especially of the papacy, in his satire, The Praise of Folly. He wrote about “the philosophy of Christ”, exhorting popes and all Christians, for that matter, to imitate Christ's poverty, tasks, teachings, crosses, and so on. He wrote, “Make Christ the only goal of your life. Dedicate to him all your enthusiasm, all your effort, your leisure as well as your business. And don't look upon Christ as a mere word, as an empty expression, but rather as charity, simplicity, patience, and purity—in short, in terms of everything he has taught us.”


A Beautiful Piece

The musical composition known as the fugue, from the Latin ‘fugare’ meaning ‘to chase’, is centered around one or two themes. These themes are repeated throughout the piece, but as the piece progresses, the themes, while maintaining their fundamental structure, become more elaborate. More voices and pitches enter the composition, mimicking the basic theme, though with slightly altered elements. This middle section of the fugue is referred to as the ‘development.’ The overall piece never strays from the source, yet is always evolving so as not to remain repetitive. It is almost as if the main theme is chasing the subsequent episodes. Or, it could be seen that the episodes are running away from the main theme. Fugue also derives from ‘fugere’ in Latin, meaning ‘to flee.’ The conclusion of the fugue, typically called the ‘final entry’ or sometimes the ‘recapitulation,’ contains a return to the tonic key of the main theme.


Bee Sweet

I was excited when I discovered a SJS teacher helps with the family bee farm, and even more excited when, upon reading into the honeybee, I saw the abundance of Marian analogies. “My son, eat honey for it is good” (Proverbs 24:13).

Abbe Warré, a bee-keeping monk from the early 20th Century, wrote a manual titled, Beekeeping for All. In it he writes, “the overall ruler of the colony is the common interest.” Well, fundamental to the common interest is the presence and health of the queen. Without the queen, worker bees become agitated, work less, and lose their purpose, flying aimlessly. The hive population diminishes and the colony eventually dies. The Church and the world would experience similar consequences without Mary.


Christopher Columbus

Columbus found a world, and had no chart
Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
To trust the soul's invincible surmise
Was all his science and his only art.

—George Santayana

Christopher Columbus was a deeply religious man. He spent time at a Franciscan Friary in Spain when he had all but failed in his career. It was there that he told Father Juan Perez of his vision to explore a route to the Far East. The purpose of his voyage would be “to carry the Name and doctrine of Jesus Christ into regions so distant.” Father Perez had a connection to Queen Isabelle and was able to convince the Queen to fund Columbus' expedition.


I love this bar.

Ecclesiology is the study of the nature of the Church. Whole courses are taught on just this one subject alone. Instead of teaching you a course or synthesizing the material into a short Tassel, I would rather reflect on the country music singer Toby Keith's classic, I Love This Bar. The song speaks to the make of what the Body of Christ is. Just replace ‘bar’ with ‘church’.

We got winners, we got losers,
Chain smokers and boozers.


Priests of the Civil War

We hear enough about the Civil War generals, so let us hear about some Civil War priests.

  • Fr. Thomas Ouellet marched alongside his men in the 69th New York Infantry, also known as the Fighting Irish Brigade. He marched with them into the Battle of Malvern Hill in July of 1862. He went around to wounded men on the field asking if they were Catholic and needed Last Rites. One man responded, “No, but I would like to die in the Faith of any man who has the courage to come and see me in such a place as this.”
  • Bishop William Elder, the leader of the church in Natchez, Mississippi, was a proud southerner who tended to both Union and Confederate soldiers in hospitals. He was imprisoned when he refused orders from the occupying Union general to pray for President Lincoln during Mass, saying the government could not interfere with the Catholic liturgical prayers. When Lincoln heard of the situation he agreed with Elder and ordered the prelate's release. After the war, Elder would become the archbishop of Cincinnati, a town in the North.
  • Fr. Peter Whelan of the Diocese of Charleston during the war served as chaplain at Ft. Pulaski. When the fort was captured, Whelen was offered freedom by the union officers. He refused, choosing instead to go to a New York prison with his men. He ministered to the troops in the prison camp, saying Mass and obtaining food and medicine. When Whelen was released he returned to the south only to continue his prison chaplaincy at Andersonville (named "hell on earth"), this time serving the 30,000 Union soldiers. Whelan, called "The Angel of Andersonville," died of tuberculosis contracted from his prison work.


The Confederacy was not the only opponent of William Tecumseh Sherman. Throughout his life the General also fought Catholicism. The war was a surprising one, given Sherman's connections to the Catholic Church.

Originally named Tecumseh, after the Native American warrior, a priest renamed him William at his baptism, thinking it would be better for his career. Sherman attended services as a cadet at West Point, married a devout Catholic, Ellen, and raised all their children in the Catholic faith. The Shermans even relocated to Indiana so their children could attend the University of Notre Dame. William later sent his son to Georgetown University, another Catholic institution.


The Odyssey

In Book 12 of the Odyssey we read about the Sirens. The music emanating from these women upon the island is so mesmerizing that ships are lured into the dangerous shallows and wrecked. Odysseus is provided instructions by the goddess Circe on how to avoid the trap, which he, in turn, relates to his crew: