Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Trip to Charlotte

Thomas More and I took a lovely day-trip to Charlotte, NC with our friend whom we shall call "Chris Talks." (I would use his confirmation name--he was confirmed with TM and Myself--but as it is "Mary" I will avoid gender ambiguity.) As I have already said, it was a lovely day-trip, with much edifying conversation about Catholic Things (i.e. St. John of the Cross or Thomas a Kempis?), at least until I drank 1.3 glasses of wine at dinner, at which point I became tipsy and decided that I had "opinions" about "Things." Our poor waiter overheard some of my "opinions" and decided that I was dissing Catholics. "What's wrong with Catholics?" he asked. I looked at him blankly...  "umm...Nothing! I love Catholics! I am a Catholic!"
Of course there are plenty of things "wrong" with Catholics...especially me. God be gracious to all us Pompous Papists. His mercy be on our sinful souls!

Here are some pics:

Thomas More

                                                               Chris Talks (or "Mary"!)                                    

                                                                  Mary of Egypt (Me!)




We found this picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on a wall (???). Chris Talks said a brief prayer. Sacred Heart of Jesus--be our heart!

Saturday, August 15: Feast of the Assumption

All the other *real* Catholic bloggers wrote about the Feast of the Assumption last Saturday, when that illustrious feast was actually celebrated (and NOT on Sunday, mind you). I, on the other hand, was blogless last Saturday. Once I got blogged, I scheduled my Assumption comments for August 22, one week after the feast. But yard sales, houseguests, and trips to Charlotte (pics coming) kept me from my task.

Now, in a moment of repose, I would like to recall this lovely feast, which I celebrated sans husband while on a trip home to Kansas City. I attended Mass on Saturday at the gorgeous restored parish, Old St. Patrick’s Oratory in KCMO, pictures found here

(At their website you can read about St. Pat’s fascinating history. After many years of near-vacancy and neglect, the parish was recently resurrected as a Latin Mass community with the dedicated support of Bishop Robert Finn. Though I am what one would call a “Mad Trad,” I have a deep and growing respect for the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I plan to blog about this at some point as I have many strong and more or less well-informed opinions regarding the liturgy.) 

Back to Our Lady of the Assumption:

One of the texts I heard at Mass is found in Revelation 12: 

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the  moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of birth.” And later: “She gave   birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished…

On this Day and with this reading Christians are allowed to witness the ultimate glory of Our Lady, who appears in the heavens as a perfect picture of the Christ-redeemed Church—and indeed of Christ-redeemed Reality. How fitting, how right, that Mary who was with Christ from the beginning—in His conception, birth, agony, death--should be with him in his Resurrection. How right that she should be Assumed, taken up/into the glory of already-redeemed/being-redeemed eternity. 

Mary is Our Lady, our pattern of righteousness who shows us how to be Christ-followers and Christ-bearers through the agony of life and the suffering of a death, which, united with the death of Christ, leads inevitably to the resurrection! In her holy person, Mary shows us this:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will   sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

Before I came into the Church, the mystery of Mary was completely hidden from me. In fact, I considered “Mariolotry” to be one of the main reasons why I could never become a Catholic. 

At Christmas-time in 2005, my soon-to-be-husband (not-yet-Thomas More) gave me a book written by the illustrious Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (recently made Pope Benedict XVI). The book in question is entitled Mary: The Church at the Source. (Purchase via Amazon here.) I opened this book with all the correct Protestant reservations (i.e. “I will not be swayed by the papist wiles! They will not convince me that I should worship a mere woman!”). But when I cracked the cover I found these words:

"We must become a longing for God. The Father’s of the Church say that prayer,             properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God. In Mary this petition has been granted: she is, as it were, the open vessel of longing, in   which life becomes prayer and prayer becomes life. Saint John wonderfully conveys this process by never mentioning Mary’s name in his Gospel. She no longer has any name except “the Mother of Jesus”. It is as if she had handed over her personal dimension, in order now to be solely at his disposal, and precisely thereby had become a person."

With this simple explaination “a sword pierced my soul.” I suddenly saw Mary as "the whole creation...groaning in the pains of childbirth," as humanity's desire for Christ, as my own hope--full of pain and joy. Could she become my spiritual mother? under her guidance could I make my whole life a prayerThis was what I had been looking for—in the midst of spiritual dryness, in dismay and my vague frustration with churches, pastors, theologies, controversies…in every prayer, in every action, in every denial or assertion: I want to become a longing for God

As I read Balthazar's and Ratzinger's book, Mary took her place in my inchoate theological consciousness: Christ incarnate, with us, with one woman, in her, beside her, before her. Mary participates intimately with the act of incarnation which takes place “not by the conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God” (Athenasian Creed). She is what we to must become: with Christ, in Christ, bearing His sorrows, bearing His precious Body in ours, bearing the Church. Mary is nothing but the Theotokos—the God Bearer. Like her we also must become nothing but God-bearers. If Mary posseses any holiness, it is Christ holy in her. If we are holy (sanctified) it is for the same reason. This is why we follow Mary—because she leads us always to her Son.

For this reason Mary can never stand between a man and God. She acts only as a doorway: open to Christ. For, as Bl. John Henry Newman (another Anglican convert!) explains:

…the Catholic Church allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial, no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator. It is face to face, "solus cum solo," in all matters between man and his God. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude.

Mary Assumed into Heaven,

Ora Pro Nobis.

Lead us to your Son.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Thomas More"

To protect the identity of the innocent (and, in this case, the super-sexy) from the slavering hoard of my *avid readers,* I am using pseudonyms for any real human being who I mention. Therefore I become “Mary of Egypt” and my saintly husband becomes “Thomas More”. For the curious, these are our confirmation names. I will do a little thinger on St. Mary of Egypt at a later date. This post is dedicated to Thomas More—the saint and the saintly spouse. Here is Spouse:

 And here is the Saint. 

Quite a resemblance, yes?


For those of you who have the leisure time to read the (extensive) New Advent article on St. Thomas More, it is here. For those of you who DON’T, here is my abridged version:  

Thomas More was born in 1477 and was executed for treason in 1535. He was a lawyer, statesman, brilliant writer and scholar, faithful layman and devoted husband and father. He was, beginning in 1529 the Lord Chancelor of England and close friend and advisor to Henry VIII. Records indicate that the king was a frequent guest at More’s Chelsea home, often arriving unbidden at dinner time, and he was known to “walk in the garden with his arm round More’s neck, enjoying his brilliant conversation.” Despite their close relationship, More refused to endorse Henry’s divorce and remarriage to Anne Boleyn. After Parliament promulgated the proclamation ordering the clergy to acknowledge Henry as “Supreme Head” of the Church, More attempted to resign his chancellorship. His request was not granted. However, More’s continued opposition to Henry’s actions—especially his defiance of papal supremacy in regard to his marriage/divorce—led to quick loss of royal favor. In 1532 he was allowed to resign as Lord Chancellor and went into retirement, dedicating his time and energy to writing and spiritual exercise. In 1534 the Act of Succession was passed, requiring those called upon to acknowledge any child of Henry and Ann to be the legitimate heir to the throne of England. Added to this Act was a clause which rejected “any foreign authority, prince or potentate.” When More was called to Lambeth in order to take the oath, he refused and was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. During the first part of his encarceration More gave himself up to prayer, study, and writing (many letters and an (unfinished) treatise on the Passion of Christ). Later, he was deprived of all books and writing materials, though he managed to write a few letters to his wife and daughter using scraps of paper and a piece of coal. In July of 1535 More was convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on 6 July on Tower Hill, his head first being parboiled and then exposed on London Bridge. His last words were: “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Thus St. Thomas More. My lovely husband is also quite saintly, though I pray that he will not be called to be beheaded. I am sure that, if he were, he would demonstrate the grace and bravery of his patron. My Thomas More might not be Lord High Chancellor of England, but he does exhibit some similar qualities to that illustrious Englishman. For example, this statement, made in 1519 by the Great Erasmus, could describe either man:

To begin then with what is least known to you, in stature he is not tall, though not remarkably short. His limbs are formed with such perfect symmetry as to leave nothing to be desired. His complexion is white, his face rather pale though by no means ruddy […] The eyes are grayish blue [or grayish green…] a kind which betokens singular talent […] It is said that none are so free of vice. His countenance is in harmony with his character, begin always expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even and incipient laughter and, to speak candidly, it is better framed for gladness than for gravity or dignity, though without any approach to folly or buffoonery [excepting the above photograph]. He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend […] When he finds any sincere and according to his heart, he so delights in their society and conversation as to place in it the principle charm of life […] in a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More.


Beyond these saintly characteristics, "Thomas More" has many important features that make him ideally suited to be my husband. Namely, a passion for good food, good coffee, good music, and traveling. He is also dedicated to serving Christ and Christ’s Church (hurrah!). He is also very, very patient. Which is good, because he is married to me. 

Eggplant Lasagna with Parsley Pesto (and Pistachios)

I received this recipe from a dear friend who has recently departed the Winston-Salem area in order to pursue Greater Ends: to save lives and make the world a better place. She is wonderful. To protect her identity I will call her Dr. Wonderful. Here she is with her lovely husband Mr. Wonderful (who will, we trust, become Dr. Wonderful in the relatively near future—as soon as the PhD is phinished): 

Anyway. Dr. Wonderful made this recipe last Lent, when Thomas More and I were attempting to refrain from the flesh of all living things—inspired by some E. Orthodox friends (i.e. Great Fast). We had good intentions, but we couldn’t seem to cut all animal products out of our diet. We somehow justified the eating of fish, shrimp, chicken broth…and pepperonis…and bacon… We’ll do better next year.

Anyway. Dr. Wonderful made this FULLY VEGETARIAN and DELICIOUS dish for us, which was wonderful of her. Because I miss Dr. and Mr. Wonderful and because there is a profusion of local eggplant these days, I decided to make it for myself. The recipe is originally from Gourmet and can be found at Epicurious here. I also made zucchini bread, which is very comforting.

For the “nuts” called for I followed Dr. Wonderful’s lead and used pistachios: 

Pistachios are very beautiful, I noticed, once hulled. They are a striking combination of bright green, olive green and an almost magenta pink. Here is the finished product.

And here is Thomas More enjoying the Finished Product:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's This?

If one hath a blog, what must one put in it? Should it have a single thesis? Be dedicated to one interest or location, directed to a specific person or audience? What, in fact, is a blog? It’s nature, my intention, the framework of the structure, the frontier of this artificially constructed cyber-reality? I know the hipsters-of-Academe are, even as we speak, theorizing “the Blog”… “Where is the Body in the Blog? How do we position the blog in the discursive community? Are there boundaries—are they permeable? Can we blog Beowulf??” For more of this please see the very smart Medievalists over at In the Middle. Much too smart for me, really. 

So…digression. The question for this post is: what is my blog ABOUT? What is it FOR? I am a baby medieval scholar, yes. But not of the scholarly or theoretical temperament, really, though I enjoy perusing my bit of Derrida and translating my bit of Beowulf (“Hwaet!”). I am not motivated enough, educated enough or disciplined enough to follow those over at ITM or the Babel Working Group. And I begin more and more to identify myself with the creation of/participation with art, specifically poetry—and with prayer, which all good work (and all good poetry) should be. “Ora et Labora”—work and pray, as St. Benedict said.

Can blog be prayer?? Hmm…

Which brings me back to my question again. I have many interests—things which I can (and will, with God’s grace) blog about. For instance, cooking/eating:

Food is a blessing from God. We are able to manipulate the “fruits of the field” with our human hands, to nourish ourselves and those we love. For someone who writes things that make

 no sense (frequently) and run in circles (always) and does stupid things like blog in her head, and talk to herself—for this person cooking is a blessedly tangible, physical, complete action. I MADE that meal. I get to eat it. YOU get to eat it. We get to keep being alive because we ate it. No one ever eats my poems (I don’t think) or stays alive because of my poems (“for poetry makes nothing happen” said W.H. Auden—which is a whole other topic for blog comment). Yes, food is good. Thus food will probably make an appearance in my blog.

Another thing I like is Names. Specifically proper names for Humans and Dogs. My imaginary Humans are named Hugo, Imogen, Conrad, Iris, Isidora and Jemima. My imaginary dogs are Maud, Gary, Mars, Muffin and Becky. I like to look at Baby Name Blogs which are frequented by very smart people who have very interesting thoughts. Here are my favorites: Appellation Mountain, Baby Names Wizard, You Can’t Call it It. One can build an entire blog on baby names alone, and the theory of naming, the sociology and psychology of naming…etc. I might blog about names at times: my mixed motives for my (slight) name obsession being 1.) Poets like words: why is that word attached to that thing? Is that thing different because it belongs to that word? And 2.) blossoming maternal instinct accompanied by ridiculously premature stroller envy (note: Bugaboo). 

Yes, I might blog about names from time to time. Names are dear to my heart because they are the most poignant and personal type of word and words really are my thing (sound of words, look of words, music of language…). We give names to things we love. The Brits name their houses. I used to name trees. We give our most beloved people extra names. My dog, for example, has a fancy name: Winter’s Duke of Marlborough. We call him Marley, and Marles, and Marbles, and Poopoo, and Marleyboo, and Presh-Presh, and Stinky, and Marshy, and Moo. And he has his own song that we sing to him: “Oh Marley is a Friend…a Frieeeeeend!” Yes, yes. Gag me, I know. It’s revolting. But I might as well add Marbles to the list of things to blog about. Here he is:

Back to words and names… We give those most dearly beloved many names—and these names indicate both our own devotion as well as some particular aspect of the beloved. Which brings me at last to the foundation and the real purpose of this blog—and of everything else in my life, I pray. This being: the Holy Trinity as we know Him/Them through the Holy Catholic Church, through the love of the Theotokos, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. 

This is the great mystery, the greatest source of passion, of interest and fascination in my life. Therefore, my Sentimentality Alarm begins to buzz even as I broach the subject. “woop woop! Jesus?? You attempt to describe religious passion without sounding trite…artificial…overdramatic? Careful!! He might start to look like this” How dare I put my grubby blog-paws on the Mystery? How dare I sully the glory of Divine Love? Well. This is a good question. One I will continually try to answer. Should I speak? Should I keep silent? I hope that I am not serving my God poorly by blogging here. I know I cannot adequately name his precious face.

Despite my anxiety and the awareness that religious language at it best often falls into sentimentality, and despite my awareness that even perfectly honest, intelligent and straightforward descriptions of religious passion and devotion fall like blobs of the worst sentimental goop on the ears of the non-religious—despite these things, I still endeavor to make the following statement:

I humbly dedicate this blog (along with my life) to the service of the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And because all poor souls attempt to name (and name again) those we love the most, I will end this shamefully lengthy post by including the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:


Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed in the womb of the Virgin Mother by the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, united substantially with the word of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, holy
temple of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Divinity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father is well pleased, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, rich to all who invoke Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, saturated with revilings, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, crushed for our iniquities, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, made obedient unto death, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord,
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
V. Jesus, meek and humble of Heart.
R. Make our hearts like unto Thine.

Let us pray

Almighty and everlasting God, look upon the Heart of Thy well-beloved Son and upon the acts of praise and satisfaction which He renders unto Thee in the name of sinners; and do Thou, in Thy great goodness, grant pardon to them who seek Thy mercy, in the name of the same Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, world without end.


Is There a Blog?

I have been blogging in my head for some time. This is (as you can imagine) an extremely frustrating and pointless activity. In my imaginary blog I am brilliant. My audience is, of course, receptive and adoring and includes my blog idols (see links) and I develop meaningful blog relationships and dialogues and I get a book deal. Once I post my imaginary post, when the dream ends and when I wake…reality is a pale, frail thing. I remain---blogless.

Beyond this wishful blogging, I have made several actual attempts to fulfill my intra-web ambition, attempts which are in fact only dry heaves onto the pavement of the blogosphere. There exist, in the meshy wilderness of the World Wide Web, multiple vacant or nearly vacant blog addresses which I have created in fits of blog-desire. I create these little blips in cyberspace. I have great hope for these little blips. They will grow to become big blips with meaningful influence. Then I lose my password. I forget the username. I forget which server I used to create the little blip. So all my little blogs are lost somewhere out there…where? Poor little blogs. If you find them, please bring them home.

To this shameful lack of dedication and organization, add the deeply ambiguous feelings that I harbor for the internet in general. And computers in general. And anything that requires plugging in and has buttons in general. I like books. They are stable, attractive on the shelf, smell nice, can be kissed and carried, or torn up…or thrown at walls… and do not make strange whirring noises or burst spontaneously into flames like some laptops I have known (this actually happened to me once). Yes, I like books.

And then, specifically—there are blogs. “Blog…is an unlovely word, and an unlovely idea,” someone once told a dear friend of mine when he announced the creation of his blog. And I tend to agree; something of aesthetic grace and graceful humility is lacking in the blog. Why should anyone (specifically ME) presume to start a blog? How narcissistic am I to believe that anyone will read (or should read) what I have to say? Do I have anything to say? We will see.

“But wait!” I say to myself, “I am a writer—or I spurt little word-things sometimes. As a poet I presume (or will presume in future) upon an audience. I will offer my little verse-y things to critical, ignorant, love-starved, love-satiated eyes. And these eyes will (I pray) read with kindness, or at lease interest.” And I realize as I speak in my head to myself about myself (bad, bad habit)—I realize that I am afraid. Afraid of an audience, stagefrightened. Afraid to fail. So this is why I am going to keep writing and sending my little poem things off to magazines in order to build my collection of rejection letters. And this is why I am going to try…to blog. I do this knowing that my audience here will probably consist of my mother, my husband and a few friends. Which is a very good first audience, don’t you think? Surely it is good for the writer to write (write anything), right?