Tassel of the Cloak

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.


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.


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."


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.



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.


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.


The Tower of David

After an initial victory on the plains of Emmaus, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers set out to attack Jerusalem, which had become an enemy stronghold and from which the whole land was controlled.  This is where we hear mention of "the citadel."  Ah, the citadel of Jerusalem! "The sanctuary was trampled on, and foreigners were in the citadel" (1 Maccabees 3:45).


Francisco de Zurbarán's Agnus Dei


The simplicity of Francisco de Zurbarán's Agnus Dei (Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain, 1640) draws out intense emotion from the heart of the onlooker.  The 12-month old lamb is laid out on the sacrificial altar, feet corded together and neck graciously offered.  "Like a lamb led to the slaughter, or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). 


Francois de Montmorency Laval


Francois de Montmorency Laval was born to an aristocratic French family in 1623.  Renouncing his family title and estate, Laval became a Catholic priest.  After spending time in prayer and study under the incredible tutelage of Jean-Jacques Olier and future saints Vincent de Paul and John Eudes, Laval was made bishop at age 35 of New France, becoming the first bishop of Canada. 


Springtime in the Heart

Easter, an old-English word, derives from estre, which was the name of the pagan springtime God.  In German, ‘Easter’ comes from ‘east’—the point being to emphasize hope, as the sun rises in the east at dawn.  Hopefully we can make an opportunity in this ebullient season to experience a “springtime” in our faith.  If we desire it, God will grant it.  “It is always springtime in the heart that loves God,” said Saint John Vianney, the curé of Ars.


On the Way to Emmaus

Caryll Houselander once wrote,

It seems that this is Christ's favorite way of being recognized, that He prefers to be known, not by His own human features, but by the quickening of His own life in the heart, which is the response to His coming. When John recognized Him, he was hidden in his mother's womb. After the Resurrection He was known, not by his familiar features, but by the love in Magdalene's heart, the fire in the hearts of the travelers to Emmaus, and the wound in His own heart handled by Thomas.

Yes, we can know Christ through the meditation of theological truths, the unpacking of Sacred Scripture, and the sacraments, just to name a few.  But when our hearts are moved in a particular way to the good—which is to say, to God—then we are in the midst of knowing Christ. 


Nikolaus Gross

Nikolaus Gross worked as coal miner in Germany before becoming editor of the union newspaper.  Married with seven children, he actively resisted the Nazi movement, which led to the paper's suppression.

Gross was imprisoned in August 1944 and hanged on January 23, 1945.  It was reported about the execution: "Gross bowed his head silently during the blessing. His face already seemed illuminated by the glory into which he was getting ready to enter."  Nikolaus Gross was beatified in 2001.


Death from the Sky

A string of tornadoes ripped through Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania on May 31, 1985, killing eighty-nine, injuring over one thousand, and causing more than $600 million worth of damage.  "Death from the Sky" read the headline of the Erie Times newspaper the following day. 

Albion in Pennsylvania was particularly devastated by this storm.  An F5 tornado cut a two-block wide path through the town, killing twelve and injuring dozens more.  The local Catholic parish, St. Lawrence, was literally sliced in half.  The pastor, Father Robert Reilly, survived by holding on to a window frame as the rest of the rectory was blown away.