Monday, February 27, 2017

The End of Shrovetide

In honor of the last two days of Shrovetide, I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show today and tomorrow to talk about Confession and Pancakes with Annie Mitchell. Today at 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central during one of the two "local" Ohio/Kentucky hours and tomorrow during the national EWTN hour (TBD). Listen live here today and here tomorrow.

Lent starts Wednesday so there's just two more days for spiritual and practical preparation for the 40 days of fasting, praying, and almsgiving. Here is a good source for a description of this season:

Shrove Tuesday is the last day of what traditionally was called "Shrovetide," the weeks preceding the beginning of Lent. The word itself, Shrovetide, is the English equivalent for "Carnival," which is derived from the Latin words carnem levare, meaning "to take away the flesh." (Note that in Germany, this period is called "Fasching," and in parts of the United States, particularly Louisiana, "Mardi Gras.") While this was seen as the last chance for merriment, and, unfortunately in some places, has resulted in excessive pleasure, Shrovetide was the time to cast off things of the flesh and to prepare spiritually for Lent.

Actually, the English term provides the best meaning for this period. "To shrive" meant to hear confessions. In the Anglo-Saxon "Ecclesiastical Institutes," recorded by Theodulphus and translated by Abbot Aelfric about AD 1000, Shrovetide was described--as follows: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do in the way of penance." To highlight the point and motivate the people, special plays or masques were performed which portrayed the passion of our Lord or final judgment. Clearly, this Shrovetide preparation for Lent included the confessing of sin and the reception of absolution; as such, Lent then would become a time for penance and renewal of faith.

While this week of Shrovetide condoned the partaking of pleasures from which a person would abstain during Lent, Shrove Tuesday had a special significance in England. Pancakes were prepared and enjoyed, because in so doing a family depleted their eggs, milk, butter, and fat which were part of the Lenten fast. At this time, some areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory (d. 604), writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: "We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs." These were the fasting rules governing the Church in England; hence, the eating of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Here is a recipe for pancakes from the Tudor era: specifically, from The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin from 1588:

To make the pancakes:

Take new thicke Creame a pinte, four of five yolks of Egs, a good handful of flower, and two or three spoonfuls of ale, strain them altogether into a faire platter, and season it with a good handful of Sugar, a sooneful of Synamon and a little Ginger: then takea frying pan, and put in a little peece of Butter, as but as your thombe, and when it is molten browne, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the furthesr side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hole your pan aslope, so that you stuffe may run abroad all ouer all the pan, as thin as may be: then set it to the fyre, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is bakes, then turne the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.

After one Tudor housewife starting making her pancakes, she heard the church bells ring and ran to church, carrying the frying pan with a pancake in it, still wearing her apron, and tying a scarf around her head--and that's how the tradition of Pancake Races began. Since 1950, ladies in Olney, England and Liberal, Kansas (USA) have competed in the International Pancake Day races!

Two more days to decide what you're going to "do" and what you're "not" going to do during Lent: turn off TV, stay off facebook, go to Stations of the Cross on Friday, etc. Two more days to make your Lenten reading selection: a day by day devotional or a classic. During the Septuagesima season, I started reading a book of meditations by St. Ephrem the Syrian:

A collection of hymns, compiled from the writings of St. Ephraim by Bishop Theophan the Recluse. This book, which long constituted one of the favorite sources of reading for monastics in prerevolutionary Russia, has become our best-seller. A beautiful book.

This collection of hymns, compiled from the writings of St. Ephraim by Bishop Theophan of Poltava, was long considered one of the favorite sources of reading for monastics in prerevolutionary Russia. Printed on Bible quality paper, especially case-bound.

I bought my copy at Eighth Day Books, but it seems to be temporarily (I hope) out of print!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

PPS: Love for Quinquagesima Sunday

From Blessed John Henry Newman's sermon on "Love, the One Thing Needful":

Love, and love only, is the fulfilling of the Law, and they only are in God's favour in whom the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled. This we know full well; yet, alas! at the same time, we cannot deny that whatever good thing we have to show, whether activity, or patience, or faith, or fruitfulness in good works, love to God and man is not ours, or, at least, in very scanty measure; not at all proportionately to our apparent attainments. Now, to enlarge upon this.

In the first place, love clearly does not consist merely in great sacrifices. We can take no comfort to ourselves that we are God's own, merely on the ground of great deeds or great sufferings. The greatest sacrifices without love would be nothing worth, and that they are great does not necessarily prove they are done with love. St. Paul emphatically assures us that his acceptance with God did not stand in any of those high endowments, which strike us in him at first sight, and which, did we actually see him, doubtless would so much draw us to him. One of his highest gifts, for instance, was his spiritual knowledge. He shared, and felt the sinfulness and infirmities of human nature; he had a deep insight into the glories of God's grace, such as no natural man can have. He had an awful sense of the realities of heaven, and of the mysteries revealed. He could have answered ten thousand questions on theological subjects, on all those points about which the Church has disputed since his time, and which we now long to ask him. He was a man whom one could not come near, without going away from him wiser than one came; a fount of knowledge and wisdom ever full, ever approachable, ever flowing, from which all who came in faith, gained a measure of the gifts which God had lodged in him. His presence inspired resolution, confidence, and zeal, as one who was the keeper of secrets, and the revealer of the whole counsel of God; and who, by look, and word, and deed encompassed, as it were, his brethren with God's mercies and judgments, spread abroad and reared aloft the divine system of doctrine and precept, and seated himself and them securely in the midst of it. Such was this great servant of Christ and Teacher of the Gentiles; yet he says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal ... I am nothing." Spiritual discernment, an insight into the Gospel covenant, is no evidence of love.

Another distinguishing mark of his character, as viewed in Scripture, is his faith, a prompt, decisive, simple assent to God's word, a deadness to motives of earth, a firm hold of the truths of the unseen world, and keenness in following them out; yet he says of his faith also, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Faith is no necessary evidence of love.

A tender consideration of the temporal wants of his brethren is another striking feature of his character, as it is a special characteristic of every true Christian; yet he says, "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Self-denying alms-giving is no necessary evidence of love.

Once more. He, if any man, had the spirit of a martyr; yet he implies that even martyrdom, viewed in itself, is no passport into the heavenly kingdom. "Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Martyrdom is no necessary evidence of love.

I do not say that at this day we have many specimens or much opportunity of such high deeds and attainments; but in our degree we certainly may follow St. Paul in them,—in spiritual discernment, in faith, in works of mercy, and in confessorship. We may, we ought to follow him. Yet though we do, still, it may be, we are not possessed of the one thing needful, of the spirit of love, or in a very poor measure; and this is what serious men feel in their own case.

Let us leave these sublimer matters, and proceed to the humbler and continual duties of daily life; and let us see whether these too may not be performed with considerable exactness, yet with deficient love. Surely they may; and serious men complain of themselves here, even more than when they are exercised on greater subjects. Our Lord says, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments;" but they feel that though they are, to a certain point, keeping God's commandments, yet love is not proportionate, does not keep pace, with their obedience; that obedience springs from some source short of love. This they perceive; they feel themselves to be hollow; a fair outside, without a spirit within it.

I mean as follows:—It is possible to obey, not from love towards God and man, but from a sort of conscientiousness short of love; from some notion of acting up to a law; that is, more from the fear of God than from love of Him. Surely this is what, in one shape or other, we see daily on all sides of us; the case of men, living to the world, yet not without a certain sense of religion, which acts as a restraint on them. They pursue ends of this world, but not to the full; they are checked, and go a certain way only, because they dare not go further. This external restraint acts with various degrees of strength on various persons. They all live to this world, and act from the love of it; they all allow their love of the world a certain range; but, at some particular point, which is often quite arbitrary, this man stops, and that man stops. Each stops at a different point in the course of the world, and thinks every one else profane who goes further, and superstitious who does not go so far,—laughs at the latter, is shocked at the former. And hence those few who are miserable enough to have rid themselves of all scruples, look with great contempt on such of their companions as have any, be those scruples more or less, as being inconsistent and absurd. They scoff at the principle of mere fear, as a capricious and fanciful principle; proceeding on no rule, and having no evidence of its authority, no claim on our respect; as a weakness in our nature, rather than an essential portion of that nature, viewed in its perfection and entireness. And this being all the notion which their experience gives them of religion, as not knowing really religious men, they think of religion, only as a principle which interferes with our enjoyments unintelligibly and irrationally. Man is made to love. So far is plain. They see that clearly and truly; but religion, as far as they conceive of it, is a system destitute of objects of love; a system of fear. It repels and forbids, and thus seems to destroy the proper function of man, or, in other words, to be unnatural. And it is true that this sort of fear of God, or rather slavish dread, as it may more truly be called, is unnatural; but then it is not religion, which really consists, not in the mere fear of God, but in His love; or if it be religion, it is but the religion of devils, who believe and tremble; or of idolaters, whom devils have seduced, and whose worship is superstition,—the attempt to appease beings whom they love not; and, in a word, the religion of the children of this world, who would, if possible, serve God and Mammon, and, whereas religion consists of love and fear, give to God their fear, and to Mammon their love.

Please read the rest here. In today's Gospel, Jesus foretells of His Passion in Jerusalem and then heals a blind man. John Keble's poem for Quinquagesima:

SWEET Dove! the softest, steadiest plume
In all the sunbright sky,
Brightening in ever-changeful bloom
As breezes change on high;--

Sweet Leaf! the pledge of peace and mirth,
"Long sought, and lately won,"
Bless'd increase of reviving Earth,
When first it felt the Sun;--

Sweet Rainbow! pride of summer days,
High set at Heaven's command,
Though into drear and dusky haze
Thou melt on either hand;--

Dear tokens of a pardoning God,
We hail ye, one and all,
As when our father's wak'd abroad,
Freed from their twelvemonths' thrall.

How joyful from th' imprisoning ark,
On the green earth they spring!
Not blither, after showers, the Lark
Mounts up with glistening wing.

So home-bound sailors spring to shore,
Two oceans safely past;
So happy souls, when life is o'er,
Plunge in th' empyreal vast.

What wins their first and finest gaze
In all the blissful field,
And keeps it through a thousand days?
Love face to face reveal'd:

Love imag'd in that cordial look
Our Lord in Eden bends
On souls that sin and earth forsook
In time to die his friends.

And what most welcome and serene
Dawns on the Patriarch's eye,
In all th' emerging hills so green,
In all the brightening sky?

What but the gentle rainbow's gleam,
Soothing the wearied sight,
That cannot bear the solar beam,
With soft undazzling light?

Lord, if our fathers turn'd to thee
With such adoring gaze,
Wondering frail man thy light should see
Without thy scorching blaze.

Where is our love, and where our hearts,
We who have seen thy Son,
Have tried thy Spirit's winning arts,
And yet we are not won?

The Son of God in radiance beam'd
Too bright for us to scan,
But we may face the rays that stream'd
From the mild Son of Man.

There, parted into rainbow hues,
In sweet harmonious strife,
We see celestial love diffuse
Its light o'er Jesus' life.

God, by His bow, vouchsafes to write
This truth in Heaven above;
As every lovely hue is Light,
So every grace is Love.

Lent begins this Wednesday, March 1!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Earl of Essex and the Gunpowder Plot

The latter years of Elizabeth I's reign were the scene of a great conflict between her last favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex and her principal secretary William Cecil, Baron Burghley, ending in the former's execution on February 25, 1601.

Essex rose quickly at Court after the death of Elizabeth's long-time favourite, his step-father, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. He was about 21; she was in her early 50s. She granted him many honors and he disobeyed her direct orders many times, but it was his unfortunate performance in Ireland that got him in such trouble that he dared plot against his mentor.

He went to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, charged with putting down the revolt of the Catholic Lords of Ulster in 1599. Essex did not lead his 16,000 forces very well, and seemed more bent on developing his personal popularity by knighting many soldiers. He negotiated a truce with Hugh O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone with unfavorable terms for England. Hearing that the Queen was displeased with him Essex left his post and returned to England to make sure she heard his side of the story. He ended up in house arrest for a time and was stripped of his Court offices.

Once he was released, he hoped to be back in her good graces. Because he could not regain one of the lucrative monopolies he had formerly held, Essex panicked and led a poorly designed rebellion against Elizabeth. At his treason trial on February 19, 1601 one of the charges laid against him was that he tolerated religious dissent (i.e. Catholics) but he said that Catholics were making up evidence against him! He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Tudor Society provides this description of his execution and his last words:

At just before 8am on the 25th February 1601, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was brought out of the Tower of London and walked to the scaffold. He was wearing a black velvet gown, black satin doublet and breeches and a black hat, which he took off as he climbed up onto the scaffold so that he could bow to the people gathered. He then made a speech acknowledging "with thankfulness to God, that he was justly spewed out of the realm", and said:
My sins are more in number than the hairs on my head. I have bestowed my youth in wantonness, lust and uncleanness; I have been puffed up with pride, vanity and love of this wicked world’s pleasures. For all which, I humbly beseech my Saviour Christ to be a mediator to the eternal Majesty for my pardon, especially for this my last sin, this great, this bloody, this crying, this infectious sin, whereby so many for love of me have been drawn to offend God, to offend their sovereign, to offend the world. I beseech God to forgive it me – most wretched of all.
After praying that God would preserve the Queen and asking the crowd to join him in prayer, he begged God to forgive his enemies. He then removed his gown and ruff and knelt at the block, looking up at the sky and saying the Lord's Prayer. After forgiving the executioner, who knelt in front of him, Essex repeated the Creed and then took off his doublet, as it was covering his neck, to display a waistcoat of scarlet, the colour of martyrs. He laid himself on the block, stretched out his arms and prayed, "Lord be merciful to Thy prostrate servant… Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." After repeating two verses of Psalm 51, he could take no more and cried out, "Executioner, strike home!". The executioner swung his axe to behead Essex, but, unfortunately, it took three blows to sever his neck. When the deed was finally done, the executioner held the head aloft, shouting, "God save the Queen!"

Re: the charges of favouring Catholics (i.e., being lenient with them): One of the Earl's main conspirators was a Catholic, Sir Christopher Blount, who was educated at Louvain by William, later Cardinal, Allen. He had been a member of the Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester's household--in spite of Leicester's staunch Calvinism--and he married Leicester's widow, the Earl of Essex's mother, Lettice Knollys Devereux Dudley, aka the Countess of Leicester, the title she kept after marrying Blount. Since Elizabeth I had never been pleased with Leicester and Lettice marrying, since he was HER Favourite, she was not happy that Lettice was happily married again. Blount would be executed on March 18, 1601.

As this website points out, however, there were several other Catholics engaged in the plot:

Amount the handful who supported Essex either openly or covertly were the seven Catholics mentioned here: Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, John and Christopher Wright, Thomas Percy, John Grant and Francis Tresham. Robert Catesby, even though he had been previously arrested on suspicion in 1596 during an illness of Queen Elizabeth - a stomach complaint at first diagnosed as a catholic attempt to poison her - was imprisoned after being wounded during the short battle at Essex house. He was released later on payment of a fine of £3000. Francis Tresham only escaped a charge of treason by a bribe of £1000 to Lady Catherine Howard. In addition, some payment was probably given to Egerton and the Lieutenant of the Tower, Lord Thomas Howard, before the pardon could be procured. Records of Sir Thomas Tresham indicate the reverberation of Francis' incarceration. He was forced to sell a number of properties in order to come up with the £2000 fine. It has also been questioned whether he assisted in paying some of Robert Catesby's fine also. The others were fined lesser amounted depending on the degree of participation with Essex.

Those seven--and others--would then participate in the Gunpowder Plot at the beginning of James I's reign. Had the Earl of Essex promised them leniency with the Recusant Laws if his coup succeeded? 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ernest Dowson, Gone with the Wind!

Ernest Dowson died on February 23, 1900. The Poetry Foundation sums up his life and work:

Ernest Dowson lived in London, worked at his parents’ dry-docking business, and was a member of the Rhymers’ Club with W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons. Dowson’s poems trace the sorrow of unrequited love and are the source of the phrases “gone with the wind”[*] and “days of wine and roses.” [**] He also supplied the earliest written mention in English of soccer. Both of Dowson’s parents committed suicide, and Dowson, who rarely had a fixed home, died at the age of 32.

Note that Dowson became a Catholic in 1892. This article discusses the conversions of the fin-de-siecle poets and writers of the Decadent school. Of Dowson, the author says that in one letter:

 . . . Catholicism appears as a way—perhaps the only way—of escaping the mediocrity and vulgarity that according to Dowson characterise the world he lives in:
I am so tired of Anglican condescension and Latitudinarian superiority; where Rome is in question. That, and the vulgarity of the dogmatic atheists, and the fatuous sentimentality of the Elesmere people et hoc genus omne: I am afraid, my dear, I am being driven to Rome in self defence. Vulgarity, sentimentality, crudity: isn’t there an effectual protest against it all? I confess Our Lady of the Seven Hills encroaches on me, in these latter days.
Dowson denigrates the Anglican Church, in particular the Broad Church (Latitudinarians, as he calls them, suggested that the Church should re-examine traditional Christian teaching in the light of Biblical criticism and abandon positions that appeared as incompatible with modernity), clearly marking his preference for the unshakeable dogmas of Catholicism. It should be noted that he does not explicitly mention the Catholic Church, but “Rome,” which he also calls “Our Lady of the Seven Hills,” referring simultaneously to the Virgin Mary and to the ancient Latin city. Catholicism is attractive precisely because it is Roman, i.e. foreign. In opposition to a Church that defines itself as national (Church of England), the Catholic Church appears as alien, exotic, and hence uncorrupted by Victorianism.

*From the third stanza of "Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae":

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

**From Vitae Summa Brevis" (1896):

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

He wrote this poem about Carthusian monks, and it certainly reminds me of the Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London, as Prior John Houghton and his monks tried "To dwell alone with Christ, to meditate and pray" and were instead pulled from their cloister to face trial, execution, and starvation:

Through what long heaviness, assayed in what strange fire,
Have these white monks been brought into the way of peace,
Despising the world’s wisdom and the world’s desire,
Which from the body of this death bring no release?

Within their austere walls no voices penetrate;
A sacred silence only, as of death, obtains;
Nothing finds entry here of loud or passionate;
This quiet is the exceeding profit of their pain:

From many lands they came, in divers fiery ways;
Each knew at last the vanity of earthly joys;
And one was crowned with thorns, and one was crowned with bays,
And each was tired at last of the world’s foolish noise.

It was not theirs with Dominic to preach God’s holy wrath,
They were too stern to bear sweet Francis’ gentle sway;
Theirs was a higher calling and a steeper path,
To dwell alone with Christ, to meditate and pray.

A cloistered company, they are companionless,
None knoweth here the secret of his brother’s heart:
They are but come together for more loneliness,
Whose bond is solitude and silence all their part.

O beatific life! Who is there shall gainsay,
Your great refusal’s victory, your little loss,
Deserting vanity for the more perfect way,
The sweeter service of the most dolorous Cross.

Ye shall prevail at last! Surely ye shall prevail!
Your silence and austerity shall win at last:
Desire and mirth, the world’s ephemeral lights shall fail,
The sweet star of your queen is never overcast.

We fling up flowers and laugh, we laugh across the wine;
With wine we dull our souls and careful strains of art;
Our cups are polished skulls round which the roses twine:
None dares to look at Death who leers and lurks apart.

Move on, white company, whom that has not sufficed!
Our viols cease, our wine is death, our roses fail:
Pray for our heedlessness, O dwellers with the Christ!
Though the world fall apart, surely ye shall prevail.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Just A Week Before Lent

Just a week before Lent and The National Catholic Register has posted my latest blog, in which I discuss Muriel Spark's Memento Mori and St. Thomas More in the Tower:

Muriel Spark was a convert to Catholicism from Scottish Presbyterianism and started writing novels after joining the Church. Her most famous novel is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, made into an award-winning movie in 1969. (Remember “Jean” sung by Rod McKuen?) Memento Mori, however, was Spark’s first great success as a novelist.

The characters in the novel, all in their seventies, begin to receive phone calls with the brief message: “Remember you must die”.
Memento Mori. They each respond to this statement differently: with fear, anger, resignation, even acceptance. The plot of the novel is the investigation into who is making the calls; the theme of the novel is old age and death. Dame Lettie Colston reacts with increasing paranoia, disconnecting her phone and secluding herself in her home. She rejects the advice of a Catholic convert, Jean Taylor, who is confined to her bed in a nursing home: "It is difficult for people of advanced years to start remembering they must die," she says. "It is best to form the habit while young." Through the depiction of several characters in her novel, Sparks makes clear that the virtues and vices of youth stay with us as we age. We don’t become angels just because we get older; we have to work at becoming saints through God’s grace at every age.

And St. Thomas More in the Tower:

Just a few years ago, I began to study St. Thomas More’s “Tower Works”, especially the spiritual treatises and meditations he wrote about Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden (The Sadness of Christ) and His Passion and Death. Thomas More had been forced into his retirement home: the Tower of London. He knew that he would never leave the Tower alive. He had always prepared for a happy and holy death by trying to live a happy and holy life.

As Thomas Cromwell and others tried to convince him to take the Oath that Henry VIII demanded after he broke away from the universal Catholic Church and the Vicar of Christ, they also tried to get him to say why he would not take the oath. He protested that he was beyond that now: “I had fully determined with myself, neither to study nor to meddle with any matter of this world, but that my whole study should be upon the passion of Christ and mine own passage out of this world.” When they reminded him that his monarch had the power of life and death over him, More replied: “And I am dying already, and have since I came here, been divers times in the case that I thought to die within one hour, and I thank our Lord I was never sorry for it, but rather sorry when I saw the pang passed. And therefore my poor body is at the King’s pleasure, would God my death might do him good.”

Please read the rest there and share if you like! It's gratifying to a writer to see the number of shares one of the blog posts get!

And if you missed the Register Radio episode during which I talked about "Septuagesima, Shrovetide, and Pancakes", it's available here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

St. Robert Southwell, SJ, Pray for Us!

His story, from the Jesuits in Britain website:

One of the forty English martyr saints, Robert Southwell is widely known for his poetry. Born around 1561 at Horsham St Faith and brought up in a family of Norfolk gentry, he boarded at the English College at Douai but studied at the associated French Jesuit College of Anchin. When applying for entrance into the Society in Rome, he was only admitted after having written a heartfelt appeal against a first refusal.  He eventually joined in 1580. After ordination in 1584 he served as prefect of studies in the English College in Rome.  Two years later he was sent at his own request on a mission to England, where he secretly went from one Catholic family to another.  Notably, in 1589 he became domestic chaplain to Lady Ann Dacre, whose husband, Philip Howard, was then imprisoned and would remain so until his death in October 1595. Southwell himself was arrested after six years of missionary work and was held in prison for more than three years, suffering severe deprivation.  Finally, he was executed at Tyburn on 21 February 1595. With 39 others, including Philip Howard, he was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. His feast is 1st December. 

Upon the Image of Death

Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eke that saith
Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed's head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
Which is my only usual seat,-
All these do tell me I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
And many of my mates are gone;
My youngers daily drop away,
And can I think to 'scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
Could 'scape but death laid him along;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
Of Alexander's dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Caesar's fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can 'scape but he must die?

If none can 'scape death's dreadful dart,
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to 'scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Misery and Mercy

I am not a music critic so I cannot judge the performances on this CD according to a professional jargon; my response is emotional and/or devotional. The 80-plus minutes of this music, all dealing with psalms or prayers of misery and mercy, is spread over two CDS. You can hear samples here, here, here, and here. Scattered Ashes: Josquin's Miserere and the Savonarolan Legacy compiles great Renaissance polyphonic renditions of Psalm 50 and 30 with Fra Savonarola's meditations on those prayers for mercy, written while he was in prison before his public execution for heresy.

The BBC Music Magazine liked the CD set very much in June, 2016:

Despite his condemnation of earthly pleasures, the iconoclastic Dominican friar Savonarola inspired a surprising legacy of musical outpourings. Among these 'scattered ashes' are the Latin motets recorded here, based on the psalm meditations he wrote whilst imprisoned awaiting execution. After his death, Renaissance composers across Europe, of the stature of Byrd, Gombert, Josquin, and Lassus, carved musical monuments from his words - ironically, in the polyphonic idiom against which the friar had railed because it charmed the senses and obscured the words. Savonarola's texts are deeply penitential in quality, yet the music on these two discs ranges from austere to luxuriant, urgent to serene. Magnificat's director Philip Cave shape's poised, subtly expressive and finely balanced readings from the vocal ensemble he founded a quarter of a century ago. His measured tempos reflect the predominantly contemplative tone of these works, and the sable hues and unwavering timbres of his singers are aptly evocative of Savonarolan sobriety. Fleeting visions of light illuminate the pervasive melancholy, notably in the radiant performance of Palestrina's Tribularer, si nescirem. Here, and throughout the programme, are constant allusions to Josquin's hauntingly introspective motet Miserere mei, Deus, echoes of which turn and return like obsessive memories. By offsetting single voices with the richer sound of the full ensemble, Cave throws sections of this statuesque motet into high relief- and to vivid effect.

If nothing else, this CD set introduced me to Josquin des Prez's Miserere which is so different from the Allegri Miserere with all its secret cache. With its haunting repetition of the prayer "Miserere mei, Deus" throughout the text of the psalm, it is quite effective. I enjoyed the variety of polyphonic styles on the first disc most of all, but the entire set is perfect listening for Lent. The liner notes are excellent, providing an overview of European court history and highlighting William Byrd's version of one of Savonarola's prayers, Infelix ego in the context of Recusant England. Beautiful!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

PPS: Endurance for Sexagesima Sunday

From Blessed John Henry Newman:

That trouble and sorrow are in some especial sense the lot of the Christian, is plain from such passages of Scripture as the following:—For instance, St. Paul and St. Barnabas remind the disciples "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Again, St. Paul says, "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." Again, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him." Again, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." Again, St. Peter, "If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God; for even hereunto were ye called." And our Saviour declares, that those who have given up the relations of this world "for His sake and the Gospel's" shall receive "an hundred-fold" now, "with persecutions." And St. Paul speaks in his own case of his "perils," by sea and land, from friend and foe, without and within him, of the body and of the soul. Yet he adds, "I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities." [Acts xiv. 22. Rom. viii. 17. 2 Tim. ii. 12; iii. 12. 1 Pet. ii. 20. Matt. xix. 29. Mark x. 30. 2 Cor. xi. 30.]

To passages, however, like these, it is natural to object that they do not apply to the present time; that they apply to a time of persecution, which is past and over; and that men enter the kingdom now, without the afflictions which it once involved. What we see, it may be said, is a disproof of so sad and severe a doctrine. In this age, and in this country, the Church surely is in peace; rights are secured to it, and privileges added. Christians now, to say the very least, have liberty of person and property; they live without disquietude, and they die happily. Nay, they have much more than mere toleration, they have possession of the whole country; there are none but Christians in it; and if they suffer persecution, it must be (as it were) self-inflicted from the hands of each other. Christianity is the law of the land; its ministry is a profession, its offices are honours, its name a recommendation. So far from Christians being in trial because they are Christians, those who are not Christians, infidels and profligates, it is they who are under persecution. Under disabilities indeed these are, and justly; but it would be as true to say that Christians are justly in trouble, as to say that they are in trouble at all. What confessorship is there in a man's putting himself in the front of the Christian fight, when that front is a benefice or a dignity? Rulers of the Church were aforetime marks for the persecutor; now they are but forced into temporal rank and power. Aforetime, the cross was in the inventory of holy treasures, handed down from Bishop to Bishop; but now what self-denial is there in the Apostolate, what bitterness in Christ's cup, what marks of the Lord Jesus in the touch of His Hand, what searching keenness in His sacred Breath? Of old time, indeed, as the Spirit forthwith drave Him into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, so they, also, who received the Almighty Comforter, in any of His high gifts, were at once among the wild beasts of Ephesus, or amid the surges of the sea; but there are no such visible proofs now of the triumphs of God's grace, humbling the individual, while using him for heavenly purposes.

This is what objectors may say; and, in corroboration, they may tell us to look at the feelings of the world towards the Church and its sacred offices, and to judge for ourselves whether they have not the common sense of mankind with them. For is not the ministry of the Church what is called an easy profession? Do we not see it undertaken by those who love quiet, or who are unfit for business; by those who are less keen, less active-minded, less venturous than others? Does it not lead rather to a land of Canaan, as of old time, than to the narrow rugged way and the thorny couch of the Gospel? Has it not fair pastures, and pleasant resting-places, and calm refreshing streams, and milk and honey flowing, according to the promise of the Old Covenant, rather than that baptism and that draught which is the glory of the New? Facts then, it will be said, refute such notions of the suffering character of the Christian Church. It suffered at first,—suffering was the price of its triumphing; and since that, it has ceased to suffer. It is as truly in peace now, as it was truly in suffering then;—one might as well deny that it did suffer, as that it is in peace; and to apply texts which speak of what it was then to what it is now, is unreal, offends some hearers, and excites ridicule in others. This is what may be said.

Yet is it so indeed? Let us look into the Bible again. Are we to go by faith or by sight?—for surely, whatever conclusions follow from what we see, these cannot undo what is written. What is written remains; and if sight is against it, we must suppose that there is some way of solving the difficulty, though we may not see how; and we will try, as well as we can, to solve it in the case before us.

Please read the rest here.

Today's Gospel is the parable of the sower and the seed. Here's John Keble's poem for Sexagesima Sunday from The Christian Year:

FOE of mankind! too bold thy race:
Thou runn’st at such a reckless pace,
Thine own dire work thou surely wilt confound:
'Twas but one little drop of sin
We saw this morning enter in,
And lo! at eventide the world is drown’d.

See here the fruit of wandering eyes,
Of worldly longings to be wise,
Of Passion dwelling on forbidden sweets:
Ye lawless glances, freely rove;
Ruin below and wrath above
Are all that now the wildering fancy meets.

Lord, when in some deep garden glade,
Of Thee and of myself afraid,
From thoughts like these among the bowers I hide,
Nearest and loudest then of all
I seem to hear the Judge’s call:
"Where art thou, fallen man? come forth, and be thou tried."

Trembling before Thee as I stand,
Where’er I gaze on either hand
The sentence is gone forth, the ground is curs’d:
Yet mingled with the penal shower
Some drops of balm in every bower
Steal down like April dews, that softest fall and first.

If filial and maternal love
Memorial of our guilt must prove,
If sinful babes in sorrow must be born,
Yet, to assuage her sharpest throes,
The faithful mother surely knows,
This was the way Thou cam’st to save the world forlorn.

If blessed wedlock may not bless
Without some tinge of bitterness
To dash her cup of joy, since Eden lost,
Chaining to earth with strong desire
Hearts that would highest else aspire,
And o’er the tenderer sex usurping ever most;

Yet by the light of Christian lore
'Tis blind Idolatry no more,
But a sweet help and pattern of true love,
Shewing how best the soul may cling
To her immortal Spouse and King,
How He should rule, and she with full desire approve.

If niggard Earth her treasures hide,
To all but labouring hands denied,
Lavish of thorns and worthless weeds alone,
The doom is half in mercy given
To train us in our way to Heaven,
And shew our lagging souls how glory must be won.

If on the sinner’s outward frame
God hath impress’d his mark of blame,
And even our bodies shrink at touch of light,
Yet mercy hath not left us bare:
The very weeds we daily wear
Are to Faith’s eye a pledge of God’s forgiving might.

And oh! if yet one arrow more,
The sharpest of th’ Almighty’s store,
Tremble upon the string‹a sinner’s death‹
Art Thou not by to soothe and save,
To lay us gently in the grave,
To close the weary eye and hush the parting breath?

Therefore in sight of man bereft
The happy garden still was left,
The fiery sword that guarded shew’d it too;
Turning all ways, the world to teach,
That though as yet beyond our reach,
Still in its place the tree of life and glory grew.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Choosing By Its Cover (A Book Review)

I admit that I selected this book because of its cover, featuring a well-selected detail from the mosaics in Ravenna's baptistry. I think the paperback is out of print from Sophia Institute Press but still has the Kindle edition available:

From that eternal moment when He created time, through each prayer, confession, and consecration in the Church today, the Lord of the Universe has been working toward one principal goal: the salvation of our souls.

Indeed, so great is the dignity of mankind, and so relentless is God’s love for us, that everything He makes and does leads us into eternal communion with Him.

The Mystery and Destiny of the Church, Dominican Sister Rosena Marie explores the reality of God’s loving intervention in creation, and illuminates His millennia-long plan for redeeming it: the plan that we have come to call “Salvation History.” Beginning with mankind’s appearance as the “crowning glory of creation” and subsequent estrangement from the Creator through the Fall, she shows how God has tirelessly prepared the way back to our original destiny. 

By calling Noah, Abraham, Moses — all the patriarchs and their kin — into a covenantal relationship with Him, God begins to re-claim his people, and to make Himself their God once more. He gives them a Law to teach them, Manna to feed them, blood to protect them; He gives them sacrifices to expiate their sins, judges and kings to govern their nations, and prophets to chastise and call them to repentance. Directing a silent tableau of the whole mystery of salvation, He leads His people through exile, slavery, wandering, and finally, deliverance.

Then at the appointed time, He enters creation Himself, recapitulating and completing the work of previous ages, and ushering in the new Age of the Church. In that Church, the promise made to the Jews is extended to all humanity — where slain lambs once saved Israel, the Lamb once slain now saves all mankind.

Sister Rosena Marie takes the Church’s founding and structure, its sacraments and its teachings, and the evangelistic mission it carries out unto this day, and explains the part they play in God’s plan for our salvation.

That part is the Mystery of the Church.

Its Destiny is our own destiny: death, judgment, the passing of all things, and life eternal with Christ. Let these pages draw you deeper into that mystery, and guide you more surely towards that destiny.

I thought it was interesting that Sister Rosena used a "seven day" pattern to trace Salvation History--not an Eighth Day pattern with the Eighth Day being the last day of that history. As Eighth Day Books has long quoted Jean Danielou's The Bible and the Liturgy:

The number eight was, for ancient Christianity, the symbol of the Resurrection, for it was on the day after the Sabbath, and so the eighth day, that Christ rose from the tomb. Furthermore, the seven days of the week are the image of the time of this world, and the eighth day of life everlasting. Sunday is the liturgical commemoration of the eighth day, at the same time a memorial of the Resurrection and a prophecy of the world to come. . . . 

She divides the "week" of Salvation History 1) from Adam to Noah; 2) from Noah to Abraham; 3) from Abraham to David; 4) from David to Babylon; 5) from Babylon to Christ; 6) from Christ to the end of the time; 7) from the end of time to all eternity. She covers Old Testament and New Testament history, although she does not present an extended analysis of Jesus's life and teachings. She defends the hierarchical structure of the Church and provides an excellent overview of the Sacraments, concentrating on the Holy Eucharist. Sister Rosena offers her opinions on how to reconcile the story of Creation in Genesis with scientific theories of human evolution, and also cites Church teaching, especially Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis. In the last section of the book, she provides an excellent explanation of time and eternity. The book does not have an Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat, which surprised me. Nevertheless, I found it to be a well-written--that is, concise, precise, and thoughtful--and fascinating book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Another Victim of Titus Oates' Perjury

Today is the feast of St. Claude de la Colombiere, SJ who died on February 15, 1682. In a way, he is a victim of the Popish Plot, according to this biography published on the Jesuits in Britain website:

Claude found himself sent to England, to London where, seventy years after the Gunpowder Plot, there was still hostility to Catholics. Claude was sent to be Chaplain to the Duke and Duchess of York, both Catholics. The Duke was the younger brother and heir-presumptive of the reigning King Charles II; the Duchess, Mary of Modena, was a devout Catholic. As King James II & VIIth, he would become the last Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland until deposed in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. Charles II had granted the couple special permission to maintain a chapel in St. James’s Palace. English Jesuits were still, in those days, in considerable disarray and English Catholic priests would not have been permitted to occupy such a prominent posting. Fr Claude was given a modest apartment in the Palace and moved in on October 13th, 1676.

Fr Claude found it difficult from the beginning. That first London winter seems to have been severe. Perhaps imprudently, he would not hear of any extra heating in his sparse apartment. He admits to finding London cuisine inedible. Physical hardship was not the worst of his unhappiness. The morals of the Restoration era (broadly 1660 – 1710) were lax and louche, as the contemporary literary evidence shows. Claude was distressed by what he saw but he refused to harangue; instead, he returned again and again, in his preaching, to the Eucharistic love of Christ’s heart. Another biographer notes that “he breathed good will” and that there was “nothing of Savonarola about de la Colombiere”. Fr Claude’s spiritual diary of that time records an increasing devotion to St Francis de Sales; in Claude’s preaching we find a similar emphasis on the tenderness of God’s mercy, and an amazement at the contrast between God’s unlimited love and the boundless ingratitude that people show in return. This would surely have recalled, for Claude, those spiritual conversations and discernments in the Pray-le-Monial days.

Trouble lay ahead. Seventeenth-century London was an ambiguous place and not safe for Catholics, especially Jesuits. An entirely fictitious conspiracy, dreamt up by one Titus Oates, gripped both the English and Scottish kingdoms between 1678 and 1681. Catholics, it alleged, were plotting against the life of Charles II. The Jesuits in England were to carry out the “Popish Plot” (there had been a popular, hysterical assumption that the Great Fire of London in 1666 had been ignited by the Jesuits). Oates claimed to have attended a meeting, in a pub on The Strand, which discussed the Jesuits’ tactics. Caught up in this wave of frenzy, Claude was denounced by someone whom he thought he could trust. Imprisoned in November 1678 in an unheated filthy dungeon, he suffered a rapid deterioration in his health. Claude was charged with traitorous speech against the King and parliament. He was deported back to France and, seriously ill, slowly made his way back to Paray. There, his health broken and after one final meeting with St Margaret Mary, he died, 41 years old, on February 15th 1682.

Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Claude in 1992.