Our church has no crying room, so parents with fidgety, exuberant or otherwise discomfiting youngsters have to be creatively calming in the pews or parents must choose self-exile to the vestibule. One young father, with a teary, backward-facing toddler hoisted to his shoulder,  stumbled on a solution. Standing in the aisle between the end of the pew and the wall, dad turned to face the altar. Suddenly, the baby girl fell silent, her gaze locked onto the eyes that stared back at her from the nearest stained glass window: those of Therese of Lisieux.

St. Theresa of Liseux
Image appears on the site of St. Charles Boromeo in Picayune, Mississippi.

Then dad turned around, perhaps to see what his little girl was looking at. The spell was broken. A cry was uttered. The toddler pointed back at St. Therese and dad complied. Again content, the child renewed her silent eye-to-eye with the saint.

The little girl’s communion reminded me of my mother’s encounter with a saint. My mother was born and raised a Buddhist in Thailand. About a decade ago she started exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. She knew it, accepted it and with worried mind did all she could to prepare her family for the challenges ahead. It was during that time she told my dad of a dream she had of being on a near-empty strand with a river or the ocean nearby. The only other soul on the beach was a man with white hair. Mom said that while no words were spoken in the dream, the man told her his name was Clement and assured her that everything was going to be fine. That dream, that image brought her a great sense of peace and hope.

She related the dream to my dad and asked who this Clement might be. My dad was thunderstruck. St. Clement of Rome, a first century pope, was put to death by Emperor Trajan — tied to an anchor and drowned. The patron saint of mariners, Clement is often depicted with an anchor and in association with water. [Until then, Clement had never had a presence in a family that wears out the intercessory ears of Saints Anthony, Aquinas and More.] Why Clement? We will never know.

That incident rekindled my interest in how saints are depicted, especially in icons. A search led to a fellow blogger, Reinkat. An iconographer, Reinkat vividly describes the work: the inspiration, the prayers and struggles and most importantly, how the iconic can draw the faithful closer to the heart of God. Used to describe everything from movies, to celebrities and commercial logos, “iconic,” has lost its meaning. The beautiful works by Reinkat and others help return meaning and purpose to that which is spiritually iconic.

Which brings this post back to our church windows. These long, tall, jigsaw puzzles of colored glass and lead run from just above the floor to about seven or eight feet. They  feature nearly life-sized images of saints whose larger-than-life examples inspire us. The beauty of these images is that while abstracted, they are at our level, almost as if they walk among us. They are reminders that the sainted too were real people. Flawed people. Frustrated people. Faithful people. They are people like us, who went beyond the ordinary, who lived and died in their convictions. And through the  hands of artists, they draw us close.

Groundhogs, badgers, Christopher Lee and Candlemas

It’s funny how cultural connections are made and often begun in the most unlikely ways. For example, last night, we picked a televisual feast from Roku and as is usual for us, it was a “cult” horror movie called “City of the Dead,” starring Christopher Lee as the lead undead guy. The movie was set in a rural Massachusetts town with a perma-fog and equally permanent darkness, populated by a band of survivors of 17th century witch hunts.

In the movie, Feb. 2, which is also Candlemas, is an important day of sacrifice for these witches being the day halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. (Not to mention that it was their way to irritate the local time-wearied clergyman).

In Christianity, Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of Jesus. Pre-Christian Celts celebrated the day as Imbolc, a day linked to the gestation of ewes and lambing.

Hmmm. We wondered. Was there a link between Candlemas and Groundhog Day? Well, gosh, there is. From Projectbritain.com is this rhyme:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.”

The site also notes this German Candlemas tradition, which has been adapted in the U.S. with a groundhog subbing for the badger:
“The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day,
and, if he finds snow, walks abroad;
but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.”

Which brings us to a more local tradition — Blossom, Perry County’s prognosticatin’ groundhog. Caretaker Tamara tells us this afternoon that “Blossom did not see her shadow today. She didn’t even peek outside!” (Search our blog for “Blossom,” and you’ll see more about our little local garden-thievin’ celebrity).

The local weather was cloud and rain, and if the Candlemas rhyme is followed, agrees with Perry County Blossom that spring is en route.

We’re putting our money on our local folkways predictions no matter what that Pennsylvania whistlepig says.


In the bleak midwinter, a message of hope

For me,  “In the bleak midwinter” is one of the most hauntingly sweet, humble and hopeful Christmas songs. Gustav Holst’s melody can’t but stir the soul.  However, after years of listening to the Madrigal singers at the University of Central Arkansas perform the piece, I was finally inspired to seek out the words.  Adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti, these lyrics are as moving as their musical setting.

The beautiful YouTube’d version by the Gloucester Cathedral Choir  includes lyrics. It’s worth a look and listen.

Merry Christmas!

Poem In the Bleak Midwinter set against bleak wintry scene

The photo above was originally posted in 2010, and has become one of the most-visited posts on this blog.

Gaudete Sunday

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the next-to-last Sunday in Advent. Advent, like Lent, is a time of introspection; a time to prepare the soul and mind. Advent encompasses four Sundays in anticipation of Christmas and Lent does the same before Easter.

During three of the Sundays in Advent and Lent, the priest wears violet vestments — a symbol of penance. Gaudete Sunday is one of two holidays in the Catholic calendar where rose vestments — which symbolize joy — are worn, the other being Laetare Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent. (A nice summary on liturgical colors can be found here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/LITCOLOR.HTM)

In the West, pink is a culturally difficult color. It’s OK for women, but often taboo for men. It takes a big man to wear rose, and they don’t come any bigger than B16. Biltrix has a great photo of Il Papa in his rose vestments. (In Thailand, pink has become associated with the king.)

A trend we’ve been seeing in the pews is parishioners embracing the colors of the season. At the Saturday vigil Mass, the pews were filled with men,  women and children who had worked rose or violet into their Sunday (or Saturday) best. It’s a powerful external symbol of the inner states that  Advent and Lent are meant to touch.

Years of faith

Illustration from The New Roman Missal.*

Torn, worn, stained and faded, this New Roman Missal, published in 1936 by Benziger Brothers, Inc.,  has seen daily use for decades. It has traveled many miles in family hands over the years, but how it wound up in our family is a mystery. Inside the cover is the inscription: “For Leonard from Sophomore “C” 1945. No one’s sure — or willing to admit — to being “Sophomore C.”

A virtual encyclopedia of Catholicism, this volume of 1,852 pages contains not just the (pre-Vatican II)  Mass in Latin and English, but also “an explanation of ‘The Ecclesiastical Year and the Sacred Liturgy’; ‘Short Accounts of Certain Feasts and Brief Lives of the Saints’,” a glossary of liturgical terms, description of the beautiful illustrations and what they represent, and a collection of prayers.

Sure, there are great resources for daily prayer everywhere — in books, online and even smart phone apps. And there is some thought to retiring the Missal at the end of this Liturgical year. However no app can match the content: years of Mass cards in memory of family and friends, bookmarking key dates,  the faded ribbon in which the words “Ordinary Time” are woven, the table of moveable feasts that extended all the way to 1971, and the truly unique “Act of Reparation for Profane Language.”

The montage shows some of the illustrations and the layout of the text. The blue background is a tile of the paper that lines the inside of the covers.

This Missal was truly a work of deep faith and love for the editors who wished it to be the door to the faithful to participate in the Mass in the days when the priest faced away from the congregation. In the introduction, the Rev. F.X. Lasance writes: “All books of devotion are good at mass; it is quite right to say the rosary at mass; but the missal is preferable, being pre-eminently the product of the mind and heart of the church …”

With Oct. 11-2012-Nov. 24, 2013 being The Year of Faith, perhaps the little-Missal-that-could, should see it through.

MISSAL MONTAGE — This missal, published in 1936 and given as a gift in 1945, has seen a couple of lifetimes of use.*

*All images are copyright Benziger Brothers.

Come Holy Ghost

When it comes to church music, I have to confess to a certain curmudgeonry about hymns written after, say, 1900. Nothing against 20th and 21st century composers*, but for me there is a certain dignity, comfort and reverence found in older hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” especially when played on the kind of pipe organ whose thunder resonates in your chest like the roar of a rocket launch.

Today’s celebration of Pentecost opened with a hymn that made both the curmudgeon and the medievalist in me do cartwheels (liturgically correct inner cartwheels, of course): “Come Holy Ghost.”  Here is a hymn whose lyrics are attributed to Rabanus Maurus, a Benedictine monk of the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Rabanus belonged to what’s called the Carolingian Renaissance, one of the brief  moments of illumination in the darkness that swallowed post-Roman Europe. A teacher, poet and scholar, Rabanus was  among those  who helped pass on another spirit: the spirit of learning.

For more about Pentecost and what it means to those on the journey of faith, read Father Jason Smith’s post.

GHOST BIRD — This impression left on the living room window by a bird always reminded me of the imagry of the Holy Ghost as a dove.

*I like Ricky Manolo and Marty Haugen as much as anyone, but when one of the “old time” hymns comes up during Mass, those are the ones that engage the most voices among the congregation.

Weekly photo challenge: Journey

“Journey” is a perfect theme for Easter weekend. It’s a time of hope. It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of another for catechumens and candidates entering the Catholic church. For those celebrating Passover, it’s a journey celebrating deliverance.

There were many journeys on the mountain this week. Flocks of birds whirled in great sweeps from tree to tree. Hummingbirds returned from their central American winter sojourn. On a smaller scale, carpenter bees, bumblebees, butterflies and moths buzzed and fluttered from flower to flower. All of it a great reminder of the renewal of life from the dead of winter.

Be sure to check out the other intriguing,beautiful and challenging  interpretations of “journey” at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/weekly-photo-challenge-journey/.

Be sure to visit:






ON THE MOVE -- Flock of birds moves westward on a wide orbit from and to the same tree.
CLEARWING -- Bee colored clearwing moth visits the lavender.
IN SEARCH OF NECTAR -- Clearwing about to uncoil his proboscis for lavender nectar.
IF I WAS A CARPENTER -- Carpenter bee buzzes the lavender.
LADY IN THE LAVENDER -- Painted lady's body covered in pollen specks.