Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Passion and the Child Jesus...

This morning at vigils, I read the account of the martyrdom of St. Joseph Cho Yun-Ho, a Korean martyr from 1866. He died, after great torture, following his father St. Peter Cho Hwa-So, beaten to death in front of his mother on this date, December 23, 1866.

Immediately after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the blessed Stephen, martyr. On the 28th we celebrate the massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Never be surprised at suffering and death amidst the wonderful celebrations of Christmas, the Divine Child, carrying His cross in this painting, indicates the way that leads to eternal life.

Pray the Divine Infant Jesu will succour those condemned to death in these days celebrating His sacred Nativity...especially those who will be murdered or commit suicide, and our men and women involved in combat or defense...ah! And most especially our dear brothers and sisters and children in the military!

Pray the Infant Jesus to manifest Himself to these - He simply must do it if we ask Him. (The little Jesus is always most obedient and in His humility, He does what He is asked to do. Have great confidence in the Infant Jesus!)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Ecstasy of Christmas...

The mystery of the Bambino Jesu.
Pictured, "St Francis receiving the stigmata", El Greco
I looked everywhere for a painting of St. John of the Cross dancing in ecstasy with the Infant Jesus - I could find nothing. Perhaps I should paint something - I did so once and sold it without documenting it, therefore it is lost forever.
At Christmas I often meditate upon the birth of Christ in company with St. Francis of Assisi and St. John of the Cross...both saints who easily became enraptured with the Divine Infant in the arms of the Immaculate Virgin Mother. This painting of Francis somehow conveys to me the mystical grace of such an ecstatic meeting with the Bambino.
Today there remains the charming custom to wait until Christmas eve to place the Bambino in the manger, this is good for liturgical situations, or families who wish to bring the mystery of the night alive for their children - yet I never wait, in fact I always have the Bambino displayed in a little nicho, or shrine, all year - at Christmas he comes out in a special display.
Reflecting on the spirituality of John and Francis, I find it interesting that modern taste deems Francis light of heart, all sort of warm and fuzzy, while John is considered dark, and forbidding, too ascetic and severe for ordinary taste. That is silly. Francis may have been more severe than John in many respects. Nonetheless, both were balanced, spiritual men, passionately in love with the Divine Infant Jesus.
By the way, St. Francis did not invent the creche, he popularized it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas - A Marian Feast

I once read where the celebration of the Nativity was largely a Marian feast in the early centuries.
In fact, Candlemas, once known simply as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, was also understood to be primarily a Marian feast, albeit, never losing the focus upon Our Lord's presentation in the temple.
After the Second Vatican Council, the emphasis was changed and the feast was designated as "The Presentation of the Lord". The reform dictated that every liturgical celebration be Christological in focus, as if it hadn't been before? In retrospect, some of the reforms emanating from the Council seem an attempt to take away from devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Most likely to satisfy the 'separated brethren' of the protestant reform, as if the Catholic Church had previously exaggerated devotion to the Blessed Virgin. How strange, since the Orthodox esteem and honor Our Lady far more eloquently and devoutly than anyone else, except for the Latin rite - up until Vatican II.
I wish someone more learned than I would discuss this subject - if they have not done so already, say Don Marco, or Fr. Zuhlsdorf, yet maybe Athanasius should do it.
I've always been disappointed that some of the feasts of Our Lady have been downgraded - or suppressed, while others have had the focused changed. On December 18 there once was a commemoration of "The Parturition of the Blessed Virgin Mary" a feast in anticipation of the Nativity, now obviously supressed.
At least the Church continues to refer to the Marian character of Advent - perhaps only the Hispanics really understand it, with the devotion of Posadas.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Carol - Part III

The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come!

"The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

'I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?' said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

'You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,' Scrooge pursued. 'Is that so, Spirit?'

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit pauses a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

'Ghost of the Future!' he exclaimed, 'I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?'

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

'Lead on!' said Scrooge. 'Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!'" - Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
(I could see who it was - it was Billy Crystal dressed up (see picture) at the 1998 Oscars! I so wasn't scared!)
Since the Spirit doesn't talk - I'll quickly relate what transpired...
So I could hear all of this canned laughter coming from an auditorium. Someone was giving a speech or something - and he was reading from my writings - yes - even this blog!
"And here," the speaker dryly reads, "he states that he doesn't believe in Global Warming and he goes on to poke fun at The NCCB!" (Roars of canned laughter.)
Someone from the press shouts out, "He claimed he knew who would be the next Archbishop!"
(More Canned laughter - in stereo this time.)
"Then this guy, with his tattered old Polo shirts and corduroys, claims to be the arbiter of taste and fashion!" (Rolls of canned laughter in surround sound.) The speaker then presents a photo of an old, fat, balding man with a W.C. Fields nose, up on the screen behind him - the studio looked like Oprah's set at Harpo - it was really, really nice.
"Here he is ladies and gentleman, Mr Terry Nelson!" (Real laughter this time!)
OMIGOSH! It was me! They were making fun of my writing and blogging and, and, the way I look and dress.
"How does it feel, Mr. Nelson?" said the phantom - looking straight into my face with that horrid Billy Crystal drag visage! Then he pointed that horrible hand, it wasn't bony, as in the story, it was a chubby, well manicured hand with a huge diamond pinkie ring. (Billy is getting to look kinda Jewish. I hate pinkie rings!)
There we were, in front of a gallery, gone out of business because they had an exhibition of my art. The gallery owner was using my paintings to heat his loft upstairs - burning them in his fireplace - throwing vodka on them to make them explode in delightful multi-colored flares!
"How could I be so stupid as to show these paintings? They are all so derivative, mediocre, and just plain stupid!" The gallery owner told his wife - who looked remarkably like Roseanne Barr - still quite fat even after surgery.
Re-runs of Hollywood Squares was on the TV his wife was watching, while casually munching on nachos, and Jim J. Bullock was doing an impression of me - he even used my name. Was the entire world mocking me? Couldn't I stop it?
The Spectre of death pointed to a morgue wherein doctors were examining a body, which looked a lot like Harrison Ford to me. I heard the one pathologist, who bore an unmistakable resemblance to George Clooney, state emphatically, "OMIGOSH! I guess he wasn't a hypochondriac after all! Look at this kidney damage, and the cancerous stomach - what is this prostate - it looks like a rotten orange! Oh my gosh! These lungs are are like tar pits."
"Look at the heart, it's all whithered like a rotten old shoe, hard as a rock!" Proclaimed another pathologist - he was definitely Dr. Drake Ramore! (Joey from "Friends" for the pop-culture impaired.)
"The brain is as small as a peanut!" Declared the nurse - who so was Nurse Diesel from "High Anxiety". (Sorry - I'm casting this as I write.)
"All righty then!" I said to the Ghost, "I am so out of here."
And the Spectre laid his chubby little hand on my shoulder, the diamond in his pinkie illuminating a headstone in a cemetery. I had to move forward, discovering it was just a resin headstone, patinated to look like stone. (How cheap and tacky is that?)
I collapsed in laughter when I read the inscription, "Terry Nelson - 1978-2007: He was No Damn Good" (That's what my mom and dad always told me, I thought that was sweet.) Beneath was a quote, "See, I told you I was sick!" With one of those dreadful smiley faces.
I looked at Billy Crystal in disbelief, recalling the Dickens story wherein Scrooge uttered these lines:
'Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,' said Scrooge. 'But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!' - A Christmas Carol
And finally I awakened to white noise on my TV, within my darkened chamber, the wind howling outside, the shutters banging. The clock radio suddenly burst forth with Burl Ives', "Holly Jolly Christmas" - I covered my head with the pillow and wished I was dead. This next week, the last before Christmas, is just going to be a bitch if you're in retail! Kching!
Happy Holidays to all! God bless us everyone! Remember, life is just one big sitcom!

Blessed Angela of Foligno

Franciscan tertiary and penitent.
One of the best things about the article in the Catholic Spirit regarding blogs and sins against the 8th Commandment, was the fact that they mentioned Blessed Angela of Foligno.
The book, "Saints Behaving Badly" may have been their source for details of her life. The writer, Thomas Craughwell does an excellent job presenting various saints who were sinners - these are my favorite kinds of saints. It gives us all hope, knowing that "Saints are sinners who keep trying."
Before Craughwell's book, and the focus in the Spirit's piece concerning Angela as a gossip, I had never heard of that before as being one of her chief faults. Although in reading her book, "The Divine Consolations" I do recall a moment she relates how after a certain homily she was highly critical of a priest, for which the Holy Spirit chastised her for that sin of the tongue. (I cannot find the passage at present however.)
That anecdote always stayed with me though - and I know I have sinned in like manner over the years. However Angela's life of sin, prior to her conversion involved much more than gossip. She was very vain, self indulgent, and of course a sensualist, or hedonist. There was a mysterious sin she could not bring herself to confess, while continuing to receive the sacraments. Most speculate she had an affair, while I wonder, having grown up in an Italian neighborhood, which had a local 'strega' or witch who performed abortions, maybe Bl. Angela had committed a sin related to that? (After all, she had a few children already - who subsequently died, along with her husband and mother, one after another in quick succession. That was during her conversion process that the Lord took her family away.) We will never know, since she and her confessor, as well as the Holy Spirit has never revealed to us what the sin was. Rightly so, since it is none of our business.
Regardless, Angela considered her sins so grave she did "penance as long and as hard as life itself". She lived in poverty after having given away her great wealth, performing her penance publicly whenever she could, until her confessor inclined her to greater discretion. She also was elevated to great mysticism and devotion - hence the only book we have of her, "The Divine Consolations of the Blessed Angela of Foligno". What we know of her life is more or less contained in this volume. I esteem it next to the works of St. John and St. Teresa, and have read and re-read it for a couple of decades now. I have three volumes of the same book, one in Italian, and two different versions in English. I'll have to go back and find where her chief fault was gossiping.
Thanks to the Catholic Spirit for calling attention to both the Blessed Angela, and the vice of gossip and detraction. The article will certainly help me to be a better man and writer - I hope.