Our Lady of the Whey. This is a title I have created for Mary, not to be confused with Our Lady of the Way, or Santa Maria della Strada. Mary brings us directly to her son, thus the Madonna della Strada is the fastest way to heaven. That feast day is celebrated on May 24th. Mine does not have a feast day (yet) and it deals with the process of making cheese.
Tassel of the Cloak
God is in everything, be it sports or music or history or business or wine-making or church or whatever. Everywhere we look there is a spiritual metaphor to be found. Some metaphors may be hidden, some overt. I will attempt to point them out to you. That is the purpose of these laconic reflections. They are mostly intended to be fun and interesting. Perhaps, though, the reflections will provide you some guidance. Perhaps they will lead you to see everything through a spiritual lens, thus appreciating Catholicism all the more. When Jay Cutler throws a Hail Mary at the end of the half, might you move beyond your frustration with the Bears' offensive ineptitude and think of the Blessed Mother? Just an example.
These reflections will only be an introduction to deeper spiritual and theological truths. Hence the title, The Tassel of the Cloak. When David cuts off the tassel of Saul's cloak and shows it to him (cf. 1 Sam 24), Saul realizes that David is not his enemy. That moves them into a new relationship. Likewise, the hemorrhaging woman's grasping of the tassel on Christ's cloak in Luke 8:44 opens the door to her healing and conversion. The tassel was merely an entryway. The mundane anecdotes and simple spiritual lessons I provide are, in my opinion, the tassel. There's much more to Christ's Cloak. I hope you will experience it. So, please, go ahead and "Touch the Hem of His Garment." That is, by the way, the title of a Sam Cooke song.
A Chicago Tribune article earlier this year (January 12, 2017) reported on the elevator boom in China. The country is rapidly urbanizing and, with it, immense skyscrapers are being constructed. Businesses not only want elevators, they want fast elevators to arrive at their destination as quickly as possible. The elevator at Shanghai Tower, in fact, is the fastest in the world, traveling at a speed of 45 mph. If only the Chinese knew that the fastest way to the heavens is not an amusement-park-like elevator, but Jesus Christ!
This 10-inch statue of Mary and the child Jesus was found by workers underneath the floor of a cloister in Boulaur, France. It dates back to the 13th Century. Despite the statue's mutilation and missing limbs, she is called the "Belle Dame", or Beautiful Lady. I'm grateful to a priest friend of mine who took this picture.
There are several takeaways from this simple, yet elegant piece. Notice the smile of Mary. If you want to know what joy is, look at Mary's smile. She displays deep peace and contentment. When we are in possession of Jesus, we might not be jumping with elation, but we do have joy.
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” I wonder if people following the NFL draft this past weekend noticed the application of this spiritual principle. The whole concept of the draft is based on the saying from Christ. (I'm taking this image, by the way, from a little book by James Penrice called Goal to Go: The Spiritual Lessons of Football.) The idea behind the draft selection is to create parity in the league. Teams select in reverse order of how they finished the previous season. A team that was once bad can, in theory, become good by adding quality players through high draft picks.
“But you, O Lord, laugh at them” (Ps 59:7-8).
To have a sense of humor means to be able to "see through things," as Fulton Sheen once put it. Think about it. Jerry Seinfeld points to the mundane experiences of life, like grocery shopping, and we laugh because we realize there is something behind the mere obtaining of food. Comedians see through ordinary events.
America was deeply torn after the Civil War. The fighting may have ended, but divisions had not been healed. Reconstruction, if anything, made matters worse. Policies did not quite appease the southerners, while northerners felt betrayed. And blacks in the south were not in a tremendously improved situation.
Imagine the United States of America is invaded by China. Think of the movie Red Dawn, if you've seen it. We have been conquered and most of our American culture has been banned. One day—remaining in our hypothetical scenario—an individual comes along and claims to be the leader who will free us from our oppressors. We believe him. We follow him. When it comes time to implement the plan to overthrow the invaders, our savior drops a bomb. The problem is with us, not them. We, he says, need to convert. We are shocked. We are offended. And so when the Chinese arrest our leader and sentence him to death, not only do we not object, we approve of his killing.
I'm a bit out of my element in meditating on Jesus the gardener. Full self-disclosure: when I see the flower bed outside the rectory, I see an ash tray for my cigar. Nevertheless, let me try. Our souls are an orchard and Jesus is the optimistic gardener. At least that's how I interpret the parable of the barren fig tree (cf. Lk 13:1-9).
“Indifference” by G.A. Studdert Kennedy:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
“All things, everything great and small, most ephemeral or most lasting, everything that compels men to work or dooms them to idleness, everything that calls out a moment's interest or lays the grasp upon the heart, all these things, whether men believe it or not, or even think of it, have one supreme, one eternal result: the making of character.”
These are the words of Fr. Basil Maturin. The Irishman was a convert to Catholicism, highly regarded for his ability to preach, to write, and to counsel souls with compassion, particularly students. In his early 20th Century classic, Christian Self-Mastery, Fr. Maturin reflected on how every event or experience in this life is intended to mold us to our true self. That is, if we abide by the universal principle: do what you believe right, avoid what you believe wrong. Regardless of your culture or creed, everyone must do what is good for himself. If he doesn't, then he will have a poor character and will be unhappy.
The Cellist of Sarajevo, a 2008 novel by Steven Galloway, is a brilliant read and, in my opinion, contains an image of Christ. The basis of the story is a local cellist who plays every day at 4pm, for 22 days straight, the Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni, a 17th Century composer. The cellist is unyielding in his resolve to honor the dead. He plays on the site of an attack that killed 22 people, despite mortar shells landing nearby and sniper bullets whizzing around him. In the midst of the war-ravaged city, this cellist's somber music is a beacon of light. His music allows the citizens to escape the desolate situation; to experience heaven in hell. Here, for instance, is the impact the music has on a female character of the story, a sniper named Arrow: “She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness. The notes were proof of that.”
Christ's physical body on earth was beautiful. Yet, it underwent much suffering. As a fresh baby Jesus was exposed to the cold air of Bethlehem and the hot, desert winds with bits of sand of Egypt. As a young man he labored as a carpenter and was surely cut at some point. As a man he walked hundreds of miles; slept in fields and caves; was hit by rocks in attempted stonings; smacked and scourged and suffocated and speared. Jesus's body was indeed beaten down. There is a reason in the Apostles' Creed we immediately go from “was born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” We don't want, in our Catholic faith, to give the impression that Jesus was a Greek God, never unharmed. Unfortunately sometimes artwork gives this impression. Paintings show Jesus with a perfectly groomed beard or milky white skin.