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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For St. Valentine's Day: Transforming Love

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

The Enchanted Cottage is a romantic fantasy movie produced by Harriet Parsons for RKO, released in 1945. It stars Robert Young, Dorothy McGuire, Herbert Marshall, and Mildred Natwick, with brief and devastating appearances by Spring Byington.

Herbert Marshall, as the blind composer John Hillgrove, and Mildred Natwick, as the widowed proprietor of the Enchanted Cottage, Abigail Minnett, know the secret of the transforming power of love. He can't see it but he can sense it; she can't see it but knows it's true--only the outside world, including Spring Byington as Violet Price, can't appreciate what love has done for Oliver and Laura.

Oliver Bradford (Robert Young) has been disfigured and disabled by injuries sustained in World War II. He has broken off his engagement and fled his family for the "honeymoon cottage" in New England. Laura Pennington (Dorothy McGuire) is plain, awkward, and lonely and comes to work for Mrs. Minnett. Oliver and Laura begin to love each other, marry, and take up their residence in the honeymoon cottage. When they see each other, he is handsome and whole and she is beautiful and sophisticated. Hillgrove writes a tone poem to celebrate their love and how it has transformed them. He has helped Oliver gain perspective about his wartime injuries by describing his own experience, since he was blinded by wounds suffered in World War I.

The saddest moment comes when Oliver's mother, Violet, and her husband (his step father) visit and the couple's faith in their transformation is shaken by her lack of perception. Hillgrove tries to prepare her, but she is too insensitive. She is a warning to the audience: this is a fragile fantasy and Mrs. Minnett has to put the fantasy back together for them. She admits that she can see no change in their appearance but has felt the enchantment of their love. Mrs. Minnett tells them they can be confident in their love and their transformation, declaring that she knows that if her husband (who died in World War I) returned to life, he would find her beautiful. 

So Oliver and Laura decide that they can go listen to the tone poem John Hillgrove has composed for them, even though "there'll be people there".

You can listen to the Lux Radio broadcast; unfortunately, neither Herbert Marshall nor Mildred Natwick are in the cast, but Young and McGuire are. The radio broadcast reminds us of the World War II setting, as the narrator discusses the men returning from war and needing help and time to heal, and after the broadcast, the need for fat and grease! Housewives can turn in their drippings and receive ration tickets for meat! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Shakespeare's Political Stage

The Wall Street Journal posts a review of Peter Lake's new book about Shakespeare's history plays (subscription required). A couple of quotes, good and bad:

The beautiful poetry and powerful drama of Shakespeare’s plays are what first enchant us, but we should not neglect their intellectual substance, especially their political themes. With “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage,” Peter Lake takes up the history plays in particular, offering subtle and insightful readings and showing us that politics was indeed a central concern of Shakespeare’s. He also shows the ways in which Shakespeare used his plays to respond to the continuing changes in the Elizabethan political scene.

A professor of history at Vanderbilt University, Mr. Lake focuses on kings, queens and princes rather than on peasants, workers, apprentices, vagabonds, fugitives and the other “marginalized” groups that are the darlings of the so-called New Historicists, who have dominated Shakespeare criticism for decades. After so many studies by amateur historians in literature departments, it is a relief to see a trained historian at work on Shakespeare. . . .

The reviewer, Paul A. Cantor, notes that Shakespeare is reflecting on Elizabethan politics, not just the history of Plantagenet England. For example:

In Mr. Lake’s attempts to relate the plays to Elizabethan politics, he often convincingly demonstrates that Shakespeare was reacting to particular incidents or to the developing controversies of his day. His analysis of the Puritan elements to be found in the character of Falstaff is genuinely eye-opening. He shows that Falstaff appropriates “distinctively puritan modes of discourse for his own corrupt purposes.” Trying to get Prince Hal to join him in a highway robbery, Falstaff sounds just like a Puritan preacher as he enlists the help of a friend to persuade the heir apparent: “God give thee the spirit of persuasion and him the ears of profiting, that what thou speakest may move and what he hears may be believed.”

More generally, Falstaff’s efforts to invert the values of the conventional political world—to have “thieves” renamed “men of good government”—call to mind precisely the tendencies Shakespeare’s contemporaries criticized in the Puritans. Mr. Lake writes: “A central strand in contemporary anti-puritan polemic held that the puritan platform for further reformation in church and state would, if implemented, in fact, turn the world upside down,” much as Falstaff wants to do. Here Mr. Lake is able to draw upon solid historical evidence. But be forewarned: If you don’t already know what a Lollard was or who John Wycliffe was, you’re going to have a hard time following the argument.

That last sentence gives you the hint of the problem with the book, according to Cantor: The author doth presume too much, methinks (or rather, hethinks):

At 650 densely packed pages, “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage” can be a daunting read. It is extremely repetitious and could have been reduced by about a third of its length without much loss of content. Mr. Lake writes a clear, jargon-free prose, but his style is not exactly graceful, and he plunges readers into all sorts of historical controversies without offering sufficient background or instruction, neglecting to explain, for example, the fine points of Christian theological disputes or the complexities of the Lancaster, York and Tudor dynasties. And as with all studies of Shakespeare’s histories, Mr. Lake’s could have used a genealogical chart or two, to help a novice reader tell all the Richards, Henrys, Edwards and Marys apart. Nevertheless, anyone interested in Shakespeare should make the effort to read this book. Even someone intimately familiar with the plays will discover much that is new, from details of historical background to interpretations of specific passages.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

PPS: Present Blessings for Septuagesima Sunday

For Septuagesima Sunday from Blessed John Henry Newman:

Gloom is no Christian temper; that repentance is not real, which has not love in it; that self-chastisement is not acceptable, which is not sweetened by faith and cheerfulness. We must live in sunshine, even when we sorrow; we must live in God's presence, we must not shut ourselves up in our own hearts, even when we are reckoning up our past sins.

These thoughts are suitable on this day, when we first catch a sight, as it were, of the Forty Days of Lent. If God then gives us grace to repent, it is well; if He enables us to chasten heart and body, to Him be praise; and for that very reason, while we do so, we must not cease rejoicing in Him. All through Lent we must rejoice, while we afflict ourselves. Though "many be called, but few chosen;" though all run in the race, but "one receiveth the prize;" though we must "so run that we may obtain;" though we must be "temperate in all things," and "keep under our body and bring it into subjection, lest we be castaways;" yet through God alone we can do this; and while He is with us, we cannot but be joyful; for His absence only is a cause for sorrow. The Three Holy Children are said to have stood up in the midst of the fire, and to have called on all the works of God to rejoice with them; on sun and moon, stars of heaven, nights and days, showers and dew, frost and cold, lightnings and clouds, mountains and hills, green things upon the earth, seas and floods, fowls of the air, beasts and cattle, and children of men,—to praise and bless the Lord, and magnify Him for ever. We have no such trial as theirs; we have no such awful suspense as theirs, when they entered the burning fiery furnace; we attempt for the most part what we know; we begin what we think we can go through. We can neither instance their faith nor equal their rejoicing; yet we can imitate them so far, as to look abroad into this fair world, which God made "very good," while we mourn over the evil which Adam brought into it; to hold communion with what we see there, while we seek Him who is invisible; to admire it, while we abstain from it; to acknowledge God's love, while we deprecate His wrath; to confess that, many as are our sins, His grace is greater. Our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head; yet even the hairs of our head are all numbered by Him. He counts our sins, and, as He counts, so can He forgive; for that reckoning, great though it be, comes to an end; but His mercies fail not, and His Son's merits are infinite.

Let us, then, on this day, dwell upon a thought, which it will be a duty to carry with us through Lent, the thought of the blessings and mercies of which our present life is made up. St. Paul said that he had all, and abounded, and was full; and this, in a day of persecution. Surely, if we have but religious hearts and eyes, we too must confess that our daily and hourly blessings in this life are not less than his. Let us recount some of them.

The Gospel today is the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Matthew, Chapter 20. The same website offers a poem by John Keble, Newman's great Oxford Movement friend:

THERE is a book, who runs may read,
Which heavenly truth imparts,
And all the lore its scholars need,
Pure eyes and Christian hearts.

The works of God above, below,
Within us and around,
Are pages in that book, to shew
How God himself is found.

The glorious sky embracing all
Is like the Maker's love,
Wherewith encompass'd, great and small
In peace and order move.

The Moon above, the Church below,
A wondrous race they run,
But all their radiance, all their glow,
Each borrows of its Sun.

The Saviour lends the light and heat
That crowns his holy hill;
The saints, like stars, around his seat,
Perform their courses still.

The saints above are stars in Heaven-
What are the saints on earth?
Like trees they stand whom God has given,
Our Eden's happy birth.

Faith is their fix¹d unswerving root,
Hope their unfading flower,
Fair deeds of charity their fruit,
The glory of their bower.

The dew of heaven is like thy grace,
It steals in silence down;
But where it lights, the favour'd place
By richest fruits is known.

One Name above all glorious names
With its ten thousand tongues
The everlasting sea proclaims,
Echoing angelic songs.

The raging Fire, the roaring Wind,
Thy boundless power display:
But in the gentler breeze we find
Thy Spirit¹s viewless way.

Two worlds are ours: 'tis only Sin
Forbids us to descry
The mystic heaven and earth within,
Plain as the sea and sky.

Thou, who hast given me eyes to see
And love this sight so fair,
Give me a heart to find out Thee,
And read Thee everywhere.