Thoughts on “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

It’s always good to catch a movie at the theater, (weather permitting), during the week of the Christmas Octave. As I’ve mentioned many times before, Christmas Day is 8 days straight and the season continues to at least after the Epiphany (Three Magi/Wise Men/King’s Day, January 6 this year). The weather was in the 50s so I figured why not. I saw it, accompanied with the help of room, and with a friend, and his son, who had been wanting to see it and was free last Saturday afternoon. Thanks be to God!

Star Wars Rise of Skywalker
Promotional image of “The Rise of Skywalker,” found on Flickr.

Nostalgia swelled up again as the title scrolled down the screen accompanied by John Williams’ famous score. (I will try not to give away any spoilers). It was a good movie, enjoyable, very satisfying conclusion to the series. Well at least I hope it’s a real, definitive conclusion. They should just leave it alone. In the words of the little safety cone looking droid, “no thank you,” to anything further. I’m saying this because I don’t want the risk of anymore bad Star Wars movies. And I think the last one, “The Last Jedi,” was inarguably the worst of them ever. i mean it was a total parody making fun of Star Wars. A complete joke that can’t even hold a candle to “The Phantom Menace.” I digress. The Rise of Skywalker, while admittedly not the best Star Wars movie (that distinction goes to either a New Hope or Empire strikes back – – I can’t decide), was a good movie, enjoyable, with plenty of quotes from the previous movies of course, because it has to have something to fall back on.

As I watched it I was pleased with the way it kind of corrected the misdirected trajectory of “The Last Jedi.” For example, towards the end of Episode 8, it seemed that the rebel forces went down to just a handful as did the leadership of the “First Order.” Not exactly, according to Episode 9. Also, the question of who Rey’ s parents really, really are is really answered. And how does Kylo Ren will really feel about that “ridiculous” helmet/ mask. Speaking of Kylo/Ben Solo still very much believes in the Force and depends on it contrary to what he seemed to be telling Rey in Episode 8. The movie kind of actually knows where it’s going in terms of the plot. Still, the story and writing is kind of sloppy I think.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I will say that there is much redemption in “The Rise of Skywalker.” And there are some good themes:

My friend Mike, picked up on something that had occurred to me as well. The Jedi and all the good guys don’t defeat the Sith and evil forces in isolation. The main character needs the rest of the supporting team to take down the bad guys and this concept applies to the other side as well. This is true of all the Star Wars movies. No one does anything strictly on one’s own power and sole efforts, without the assistance of others, not even Han Solo. This idea, echoed in the movie, is pronounced in the belief of the “Communion of Saints.” Even in death, there is no separation from being in communion with those gone before you. In the case of Star Wars, Jedi ghosts. In the case of reality, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus, especially death, because he defeated death definitively. In Christ, the head of the body, all the members are united whether living on earth, heaven, or purgatory. We can help each other out. Just as the Jedi ghosts offer assistance to the struggling living, the Saints in heaven help out the saints on earth.

One scene that is etched on my mind and will remain so, is seen towards the end. The battle is dire, like Frodo on Mount Doom dire, and it’s up to one person (kind of, but not in isolation) to put an end to the dark forces (for how long in this case, I have no idea. Again, hopefully forever.). It seems that all the evil combined, that we have ever known since in New Hope is being harnessed against someone who is outmatched. But all the good that we have ever seen in the Star Wars movies is also at work. This power flows through the heroic Jedi. We see the idea that one Jedi can possibly have all the power of all the ones who went before. Truth there is to this idea:

Anyone who is is in Christ through baptism, bearing his name, has his life and power flowing through him. We have the Gift of the Holy Spirit, a Divine Person, not a interpersonal force, flowing in us. He unites us, as branches, to the Vine who is Christ. A Christian is united to the rest of the body, through and in the Head. Christ lives in us, including those who went before us. And Christ is one. Therefore all who are in him are one in him, in a real sense. We are one in him and his power that flows in him. All the power of all who preceded us in Christ is ours as well. We can do all things in and through him.

Life in Christ is the gift of God for us at Christmas. We are given a share in the Divine Nature by his sharing in our human nature. By his human birth, our humanity is elevated. The surpassing power is from him; we can do all things through him. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. (Psalm 19).

Let the Sun Shine!

Everybody who knows me knows that I get cold very easily. When winter starts coming through, I begin to basically hibernate. I don’t go outside at all when it is anywhere from 43° to 32°F or lower. Unfortunately, I am forced to miss Holy Mass on Sundays several times. Bundling up works, which is what I do even in the lower 50s, but only to a certain extent. Many layers, and I’m still cold. How cold? My body temperature has been known to drop to 92° with me functioning normally. Call me Iceman.

I’m not at all a fan of the winter weather. And today’s the first day of winter, December 21 I miss the sunshine.

In the summer, I am known to sit outside for hours, soaking up the sun so to speak. For as long as I can, I just stay there avoiding any semblance of shade until it gets too humid or my face and hands feel like they are burning off. But I just can’t get enough of the sun. I feel energetic and strengthened by the sun. I am like Superman who gets his energy and strength the sun. One glimpse of a ray of sunlight makes me extremely happy.

I often ask Alexa for weather updates. She politely obliges and tells me that it’s 30 something degrees outside and that there will be plenty of sun but then she adds – – “enjoy the sunshine!” I think she’s mocking me.

I am writing this reflection on the first day of winter, December 21. It is the last Saturday of Advent, the second and final stage of preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is the day that the Church cries out:

O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

Traditional O Antiphon, O Dayspring or O Oriens

During the eight days right before Christmas, there is a series of antiphons which are sung or chanted at evening prayer or vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. I believe I have written a little bit about them before, here on this blog. Anyway, these antiphons are called the O Antiphons, and they are each based on a messianic prophecy found in Book of Isaiah, for example, the one for today:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.

Isaiah 9:1

The O Antiphons also make up the verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

I really love praying on these titles which are ultimately fulfilled in the long expected Divine King, Jesus the Christ or Messiah. The all antiphons supercharged last-minute preparation for Christmas as they express our longing for a Savior. As I am particularly missing the sunshine today because it is cold and dark, I am reminded that it is Jesus who is warmth and light. He is the light shines in the depths of darkness, including the darkness within, illuminating it with the radiance of his life. The darkness cannot fathom or bear the light that he brings and Is destroyed under his brilliance:

“For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”

Malachi 4:1 – 2

For all those who receive the Light, the Light changes them into himself, strengthening them to shine it onto others. That is why he who said, “I AM the Light of the World” can say to us, “You are the Light of the World.” This is what we long for, for the true light to come into  the world and enlighten, transform, and elevate us, we who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. And one day, the day that will never end, when the cold and chill are done away with, these words will come to pass:

And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:5

Come Lord Jesus!

Gratitude: The Secret of Happiness

“if you have enough breath to complain about anything, you have more than enough reason to be thankful for something.”

– Mattie Stepanek

That is one of my favorite quotes. Considering that the one who said it had to use a ventilator in order to breathe, it’s all the more powerful. Mattie was grateful for his life in the midst of his circumstances and remained joyful. He wasn’t a complainer. And there was much that he could have complained about. After all, he was raised by his mother who had the same disease in adulthood, lost several of his siblings when they were very young, had to use a wheelchair, needed a ventilator, etc. But he wasn’t given to complaining, rather, he spent more time giving thanks. Gratitude. That was  Mattie’s secret as to why he was joyful and not bitter.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where it’s difficult not to complain. Reflecting on my own life, it’s usually when I’m faced with some kind of perceived injustice or slight against me or people I’m sympathizing with, or some difficulty or imagined difficulty I’m having. I’m so blessed and privileged to even be able to have the ability to complain—- I can breathe, I have life. It’s when I take a moment to stop and realize this, the strong feelings of wanting to complain start to subside and everything falls into perspective.

It’s important and necessary to be thankful. We can hardly live on this earth without being people of gratitude because there’s always something we can complain about. We will go completely crazy thinking about the difficulties and whatnot. Looking at it more positively, we have to have this “attitude of gratitude” in order to appreciate life. Hopefully we will eventually begin seeing blessings all around us to the point of seeing them even behind the difficulties and suffering.

Ultimately, who is it that we are thankful to if not to God “from whom all blessings flow.” Everything we have is a gift, including that next breath we take. Our very existence is a gift to us. Our talents, treasures, abilities, friends, families, and even the selfless good works that we do our gift to us from God. Sometimes some non-Catholic Christians get it twisted and think that Catholicism teaches that we ourselves are responsible for our good works and can even earn our salvation through them. That is not what Catholic Christianity teaches. Not all. On the contrary, we believe that God gives us the grace to do good works in order to cooperate with him in his saving plan. Not only that, he shares his glory with us in making us his children – – this is the principle behind our understanding of Saints with a capital S. There is much to be thankful for. How immeasurably generous God is to us!

On Baseball and the Value of Learning New Things.

Over the past week, thanks to the Washington Nationals playing in the World Series, I’ve learned more about baseball than I’ve ever known before. I never thought I could actually enjoy watching baseball but here I am. (Of course there is something else to be said about being at a game at a ballpark… It’s fun even if you don’t pay attention or understand how the game works. I went to my first baseball game just a couple of years ago with my friend Mike and his family).

At National’s Park, September 2017

As an adult, I have discovered joy in learning new things. From getting to understand, even if it’s a basic level of understanding, everything from philosophy to chess, you find a certain enrichment to your life. It can be learning a new language or a new skill, there is a thrill in discovering something you enjoy. That’s one of the beautiful things about life. It’s so true to say that we learn something new every day. Only in learning something new can you discover a particular field or subject that you enjoy.

I have enjoyed learning new things in general. St. Paul talks about being all things to all men. (First Corinthians 9:22). If you are acquainted with a variety of fields of knowledge and different topics, you have some fuel to connect with all kinds of different people. This is very invaluable people who are considered to be introverted like me (although labels don’t do justice to human beings was so much more than labels).

Baseball is a sport that I didn’t enjoy watching on TV. “It’s a long and boring game,” I used to think. But that was largely because I didn’t understand how the game actually works. Now that I’m getting to learn about the rules of baseball, I find that I like watching it. The thing is, there is a learning curve to everything, some of them are steeper than others. Baseball is not a straightforward sport like soccer, nor is it quick paced like basketball. Nor is it super hyped up as American football. It takes effort to bring about the gameplay of baseball, at least I found it to be this way in my case.

I think that the game is very cerebral and requires a lot of precision and planning ahead. The pitcher has to think about the way to throw the ball so as to make the batter strike out. He also has to think about the possible trajectory of the ball if it is hit. A homerun must be avoided at all costs. Depending on the trajectory and how far the ball will go, infielders or outfielders will have to be able to catch the ball so as to get players before they can reach a base. There is a lot for the pitcher to consider and ultimately the game can all come down to this one person. But that’s not to say that it is not very much a team sport requiring every player to give 100% and to cooperate with fellow teammates. Sometimes, sacrifice is required. A batter may allow himself to be tagged out in order that his teammate can make it to the next base or run all the way to home plate and score.

An interesting comparison to the spiritual life is that the object of the game is to make it home and take as many people there with you. There’s probably a whole lot more. Also, an analogy that Bishop Robert Barron uses when speaking about the beauty of Catholicism: rather than begin with the rules of baseball, begin with showing them the beauty of the game and then they will want to play, and in order to play, they will learn how the rules work – – – and having played the game, they will know.

When I learned that the Nationals won the playoffs, making it to the World Series, I resolved myself to pay attention and actually watch. As I write this, I’m watching game six and hoping that they can force a game seven to win the thing. (Best of seven). [Update: October 30, sure enough they beat their opponents, the Houston Astros and there will be a game seven. Pretty exciting. Amazingly, the Nats seem to do better on the road. They lost every home game of the Series.] 

After watching game one, there was a lot that I didn’t understand. But I really wanted to get the game. So, I did the only logical thing I could and went online to learn how baseball works. Thanks to YouTube, I learned the basics. Also, to give a shout out, my friend Nick cleared some things out for me. In coming to understand, I have grown in appreciation.

Game seven is tonight, you know I’ll be watching.

First Baseball Game, September 2017

Surrendering to Win the Victory.

Happy October. Not an excuse but I’ve been busy taking in an extensive course on the the entire Bible… I hope to share about it soon. In addition, I’ve been working on some graphic design and I’ve been writing things here and there, on Facebook, on Quora. Yes, I’ve been posting on social media which is free but I’m paying for the domain name and hosting for the neglected blog. How ironic. And wouldn’t you know, it figures. My apologies if I got that song playing in your ears…

I think that part of the reason why I hesitate to write anything here is because I’m afraid of the results falling short of my standards and expectations… I dread the “failure” to effectively communicate everything that I want to get across. Ultimately, this doesn’t matter because we are “called to be faithful, not successful.” (St. Mother Teresa). What is given to me to do, I must do (especially when I don’t feel like doing it). At the very least, what I write will be better than the professional writer who writes nothing. No matter the seemingly poor quality of it. What is required is my faithfulness to it. As GK Chesterton famously wrote, “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

This past week provided examples of great Saints who lived the surrender of fidelity. They were faithful to what they were called to, to the very end. These are two of the most popular Saints in the Church, known throughout the world… And yet, according to the world’s standards they were not exemplary models of greatness but pitiable examples of weakness.

St. Francis of Assisi (Feast day, October 4) was called to serve Christ by living out a witness to radical poverty. He was called to resemble Christ, to the point of receiving the stigmata, the five wounds of his Lord. St. Francis had to surrender everything that stood in the way of his mission, from his earthly inheritance to the clothes on his back, and beyond. He was the Joyful Beggar in the streets crying out, “Love is not loved!”

More than 700 years, St. Therese lived a life of surrender in a different way. Of course, she was also called to resemble Christ… But in her own way. She knew that she could not be great in the way that St. Francis was great, or St. Teresa of Avila, or St. John of the Cross. She was too little and could only offer little things. But she could love. While St. Francis’ stands out for material poverty, St. Therese stands out for spiritual poverty. (Not that these two kinds of poverty are mutually exclusive).

These two were different but they they pursued the same end, the all consuming and all-encompassing love of God. They both wanted to be great and became great while living out true humility and real surrender to the will of God.

In my own life, I want to be like St. Francis but I must be more like St. Therese because I am a littler still than she was. And then it seems that I must go the way of physical poverty. I’ve been noticing that it’s getting harder for me to do certain things even on my laptop which I basically use for everything. Recently, I had to surrender some very simple tasks I had volunteered for. Wasn’t easy but it had to be done.

All this leads me back to the beginning of the post. Not only must I surrender the things I cannot do, and the things that are not called to do; I must also surrender the things I can do, the things I am called to do to the Providence of God. He will take care the results. The results are not up to me, but at the same time this does not mean that I should get sloppy, that I should do things haphazardly. Not at all. I must do all that is in my power to do, the rest is up to Him. I have to do my best, regardless, because this is about love. And love is not a feeling… It’s an act of the will, to show up even when I don’t want to and do my best however I can.

I don’t know about this post itself… Being a perfectionist, I can add to it but then I would just keep delaying it. It’s not supposed to be the best thing ever blogged, and I am okay with that.

Let the King Ascend and the Spirit Descend!

The first part of the title of this post comes from a hip-hop song by De La Soul in honor of J-Dilla, late great beat maker. While the song does not have to do with the Ascension of Christ which we celebrated last week, maybe there are some echoes of truth in it, and I don’t think looking too hard. The last verse of the song has a line that goes, “the will of God was To give the man wings and to ascend to make music to blend with the King of Kings.”

Jesus Christ ascended to heaven on his own Divine Power, in other words, he was not assumed. Because he has ascended, the members of the Head await the day when we will all be taken up to where he is and to share in his reign, to make music to praise God (Definitely not playing harps and floating on clouds as disembodied souls). This was and is the will of God.

The Ascension necessitates and leads up to today’s great Feast of Pentecost. It is the 50th day of the Easter season, the culmination of the events of the Exodus, the completion of the Paschal mystery by which Jesus delivered us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. And he gives us the ability to be transformed into him, to be partakers of his Divine Nature through grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit who always makes him present.

At Mount Olivet , before he ascended, Jesus was asked by the disciples if the long-awaited messianic kingdom of God would be established and the Davidic line would finally be restored. He answered that ““It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1). In other words, “just wait and see what happens when you receive the Holy Spirit.” The kingdom of God inaugurated at Pentecost, the birth of the Church, which is the kingdom of God. Once empowered, the Apostles and disciples of Jesus are to be leaders and ambassadors to all the nations building up the kingdom and introducing the reign of Christ.

The mission of Christ now becomes the mission of all the Members united to his Body. This is the work of the Holy Spirit which began at Pentecost. And we enter into this mystery on this day. We receive the gift of the Holy Ghost who was manifested in tongues of fire.

About the Ascension and the connection with Pentecost, St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.  But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

Ephesians 4:4-8

St. Paul quotes a line from Psalm 68,

Thou didst ascend the high mount,
leading captives in thy train,
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.

Psalm 68:18

Actually, it looks like he got it wrong! It says that he, Jesus Christ who is God, ( whom the Psalm is alluding to), received gifts – – – not that he gave gifts. So which is correct? Ephesians or the Psalm? St. Paul continues by explaining the gifts he is talking about:

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11 – 13

These gifts are contained in the gift who is the Holy Spirit. He equips us to build up the kingdom of God through individual and communal transformation into Christ himself. And the thing is, once we are transformed, once we begin to cooperate with the will of God by cooperating with the Holy Ghost who enables us to keep and do the will of God, we become gifts to Jesus! And he receives us as his gifts. This is why Jesus prays, “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 NABRE).

Happy Pentecost!

The Visitation of the Holy Theotokos

I just found this awesome image and I thought I should share it. Apparently this image of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin St. Elizabeth is painted, or written, on a wall from Timios Stavros Church in Pelendi, Cyprus.

This icon depicts Mary as the Theotokos, the God bearer. Jesus Christ became incarnate in and of her through the power of the Holy Spirit. God dwelt among us, in the flesh, first living in the holy womb of Mary for 9 months.

Being impelled by Christ living within her, she makes haste to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, as we read in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Not only does she wish to share her joy of receiving such a tremendous gift, she wants to help her cousin with her pregnancy. Elizabeth is an older woman so she would certainly need some assistance.

The whole scene is so brilliant and, can I say it, pregnant with joy… Literally. What a beautiful detail that Saint Luke points out—the pre-born infant, St. John the Baptist, leaps in his mother’s womb at the presence of Mary and Christ Child dwelling within her! He recognizes who is in his midst. This is followed by Mary’s jubilant praise for God “‘who has done great things for her.” As a result, “all generations [call her] blessed.”

I could probably say more and go on. But I think that’s pretty much all I have for now. Just one more thing, the Visitation makes me think of the great work that the Sisters of Life do to support pregnant women in need, “because God lifts up the lowly.” They are very much icons of Mary, who in turn is an icon of the Church.

I’m reminded of a quote I just read:

“I never think of the Visitation to Elizabeth without thinking of some pregnant woman who needs our prayers.”

– Servant of God Dorothy Day

Powerful Silence

Today is a day of great silence. The whole world is in silence. God has died, in his human nature. What a great mystery! God has submitted to death on the cross at the hands of human beings. The depths of his love, mind blowing. In his crucifixion, Jesus Christ, the new Adam has reversed the disobedience of the first Adam, and thus destroyed the curse of sin and death. While his body lays in the stone cold tomb, he has descended to Hades to liberate the souls of the just who have long awaited for the gates of heaven to be opened to them.

It’s great day of silence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about silence since I was hospitalized again in February. This year, thankfully, I was very much aware of my time there. I wasn’t delirious the whole time! It was good to see my friends, the nurses and techs again. Yes, there was noise, there was constant activity— but there was silence and there was peace as well. I’m thankful for the experience. In a mysterious way, I feel that it was a second chance for me to really profit from being in the hospital (because I lapsed into a kind of ingratitude a month or two later). Many graces were poured out for me personally and for those known and unknown, as they were last year as well. And it wasn’t lost on me that the Vatican meeting on the sexual abuse crisis was happening while I was in the hospital. I believe God wanted me to be in the hospital so I could pray and offer sufferings for the cause. My prayer is that I don’t forget the experience.

While I was there, some nights were very difficult. Because I was fully aware, I was also conscious of the pain from being in one position. The nurses would check up on me but it would seem that I was sleeping because my eyes were closed! I had to wait until they would actually come into the room. So, as I lay there unable to speak or move, I offered it up to the best of my ability. I really felt that Jesus was there with me. I felt that I was with him on the cross. He was nailed to the tree unable to move. And, he exhibited such a humble patience and a loving acceptance to the Will of the Father. “He opened opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter… ” (Isaiah 53)

Titian - Christ and the Good Thief - WGA22832
Christ and the Good Thief by Titan

I believe that the “Good Thief” who was crucified alongside Jesus recognized something of his Divinity. He saw power, he saw that this was Someone who had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. St. Dismas, as he is now known, saw that this was indeed a King who was going forth triumphant into his kingdom. The other thief, the “Bad Thief” didn’t raise his mind upward but rather look down and cried out that the man crowned with thorns should take him down from the Cross with him. But the other thief looked heavenward and believed that Jesus was going to heaven and he wanted him to take him up with him. And he was rewarded for his faith when Jesus looked at him said, “Truly, I say to youtoday you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23).

As I lay there on the cross of the hospital bed, I saw myself as the “Good Thief,”  and interiorly whispered the words, “Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom! ”  He was right there in my midst. Even though it was painful, my heart was filled with joy because I knew he heard me. God may seem silent but he always hears us If we cry out to him from our heart. What a blessed silence that afforded such an opportunity!

 The hospital was not a prison, it was a desert where I could find God in silence.  It was preparation for entering into Lent. 

 “The Power of Silence,” by Cardinal Robert Sarah was a book mentioned to me by my sister while I was in the hospital.  Our modern world is in such dire need of  silence, silence in which the voice of God can be heard in the recesses of the heart. As she read me the introduction during the last week of my hospitalization, I was touched by the example of the dying monk who had multiple sclerosis and was confined to his bed, unable to move or even speak. All he could do was smile. This young Carthusian brother’s witness of silent love inspired the Vatican Cardinal to write the book.

 One of the quotes from the book: “The real men of God have no fear of death, because they are waiting for heaven.”

Resurrection (24)

Icon of the Harrowing of Hell

 And so, on Holy Saturday, the world in silence awaits the return of the King, the Resurrection and the Life! Christ our God is victorious over the gates of death. He will rise, never to die! Praise to His Name! 

Have a wonderful Easter!

The Beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris

Facade of Notre-Dame de Paris - 2018-06-23

Yesterday while I was checking my email, I noticed a reference to Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris burning. “That couldn’t be right,” I thought to myself as I scrolled through my messages. But then I did a Google search. In my horror, I saw images of smoke and bright orange flames enveloping the Cathedral. “Oh no!” I called out for mom to quickly turn the TV on.

George Weigel was on with Brian Williams of MSNBC pointing out that this fire was especially tragic because it happened during Holy Week. He mentioned that this profoundly affects people in a way that a fire on the Eiffel Tower could not. The next guest, on phone from Paris, said that the fire hurt all people of the city and of the whole world, including non-Catholics like herself.

What is it about this building that affects both Catholics and non-Catholics alike? Why were people so distraught that it was almost destroyed, reacting as if somebody were dying?

In August of 2000, my family and I found ourselves in Paris. The purpose of our trip to France was actually to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Had we known that Paris was seven hours away from Lourdes, things might have turned out a bit different! Thankfully we did not plan well; instead, we chose to rely solely on Divine Providence and the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a result, we received so many blessings, especially getting to see Notre Dame Cathedral.

As the train to Lourdes was unavailable for three days, we had the opportunity to do some sightseeing in the capital city of France. Of course, we had to see the historic Gothic church we had heard so much about. On a nice sunny day, we set out on our journey. We didn’t have a map but somebody in the hotel we were staying (another unexpected blessing giving us an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower) said that it was right around the corner. A few hours later, we saw arches and flying buttresses and mistook the church dedicated to St. Severin as Notre Dame Cathedral! It was a beautiful church with ornate stained glass windows— but it wasn’t the Cathedral. My sister pulled out her trusty book of French phrases and managed to ask passersby where the it was. “Just keep following the Seine,” “Follow the river, you can’t miss it,” “You’re getting closer,” were the only responses we got. Eight hours later we were at our destination.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! We were right in front of the stone facade that was nearly a thousand years old! Notre Dame Cathedral in all its splendor. There was such a long line of people waiting to get a glimpse of the interior. As we waited our turn, I marveled at the artistry, all the intricately sculpted figures from the Bible. Finally we were inside and the first thing I saw was a sign reminding visitors to maintain modesty, covered shoulders, and a sense of reverence. The Cathedral was dark at first. But then there was the brilliant rose stained glass window! I looked up and marveled at the sheer beauty of it. How did they even get it in place? The next thing we knew, Holy Mass was about to begin. It was the Vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a great grace to be at this church on the solemnity of its namesake, Our Lady!

For as long as I live, I will never forget the experience. I’m so grateful that I was able to see the Cathedral back then. So it was sad to see that it was on fire now. Thankfully, the main rose windows, some artwork, and relics were saved. Many people all over the world are relieved. What is the answer to my question—what explains the attraction?

In the Gospel reading for Monday, the day of the fire, Judas complains that Mary wasted the costly aromatic ointment by pouring it on the Lord’s feet. He said that it could have been sold with the money given to the poor. I’ve heard some people complain that the Catholic Church has so many grand buildings and treasuries of artwork. Like Judas, they say that these things should be sold and money could solve the problem of poverty. But I think that the fire on Notre Dame Cathedral refutes this argument.

Buildings like the Cathedral have a transcendent quality that reminds us that we have eternal souls. They reflect the beauty of God and of his creation. Notre Dame Cathedral gives a glimpse into the reality of heaven. It is fitting Temple of Almighty God. People don’t appreciate beauty and the purpose of good art. Beauty points us to Goodness and Truth. Truth is articulated and goodness is exemplified through beauty. It speaks to our human desires. Beauty is its own argument.

I think of all the countless souls who have had conversions at Notre Dame. Had it been sold, some of these souls could have actually been lost. Generations and generations of people have been able to appreciate the church.

There is so much “art” that dehumanizes us. Buildings are cold, sterile, and uninspired cubes that only serve utilitarian purposes. But who says that utilitarian things can’t be beautiful too? I took a class on the Way of Beauty taught by British artist, David Clayton and I learned so much. Beautiful works of art, architecture, sculpture, poetry, and music lift us up. They humanize us. We can appreciate these things unlike animals. We are different. We have immortal souls with faculties to appreciate beauty. And I think this is why everybody, universally, seems to love Notre Dame Cathedral.

Thoughts on “Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner - The Annunciation.jpg
By Henry Ossawa Tanner, Public Domain, Link

One of my favorite religious paintings is the “Annunciation,” by Henry Ossawa (1859-1937) was an internationally renowned African-American painter and the son of a African-Methodist Episcopal bishop. He painted several paintings of Biblical themes. I read that he painted the “Annunciation” after a trip to Egypt and Palestine.

This painting is such a beautiful work of realism.

The angel:

Where other artists have painted the Archangel Gabriel as a human being with wings, Tanner painted him as a beam of pure radiant light reminiscent of a lightsaber. Indeed, angels have no bodies. What an awesome site it must’ve been for Mary to have beheld. I’m sure she must have been in awe but not frightened out of her mind as some may have been at the sight of an angel. God is bright, living Light which casts out all darkness and is fitting that his messenger should exhibit this quality. The light permeates the whole room with a radiant glow.

The Virgin Mary:

She looks very Jewish, Middle Eastern. Mary has the look of simple, quiet wonder. Her humility shines! Again Tanner comes through with a realistic depiction. I can’t help but think it is like looking in to the actual historical event. It must’ve looked almost like that in reality. Mary’s clothes are also very Middle Eastern looking. There is a detail to the right that I really love. Traditionally, artists have always depicted the Blessed Virgin wearing a blue mantle— and there it is, very much present in this painting!

The entire room looks very historically accurate for a first century Palestinian dwelling. You can also see the jars and such.

I’m not sure if I shared this elsewhere on this blog but I sure should have: in Exodus of the Old Testament, the glory cloud, the Shekinah, came over (“overshadowed” is the Biblical term used) the tent of meeting, the holy place where God (depicted as the cloud) dwelt. Mary is the new tent of meeting, the new tabernacle in which God dwelt for nine months. The Holy Spirit – – God – – overshadowed her, and God the Son, Jesus, was conceived in her womb. Appropriately, in Lourdes there was a tent for Eucharistic Adoration. I had just finished reading from Exodus to Deuteronomy prior toLourdes… So symbolism was not lost on me. As for the indoor Eucharistic Adoration chapel, the tabernacle was in the form of a golden pillar which symbolized a pillar of fire. By night, God took this symbol to lead and guard the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt. I’m kind of reminded of this by the depiction of the Archangel Gabriel as a column of light.

As I am writing this in honor of the Annunciation (March 25), I am also reminded of another image of Our Lady and the conception of Christ: that of the Burning Bush. God spoke to Moses through a bush that appeared to be on fire but yet was not consumed by the flames. This is a type, a symbol that foreshadows Mary. God overshadowed her as he did the bush, she conceived Jesus and gave birth to him while her virginity remained intact, unconsumed. I love this image and have an icon depicting this hanging on my wall. Maybe one day I will write a post about the Burning Bush icon. I believe that I read somewhere that a large icon hangs in a Russian fire department in Moscow or another large city, maybe St. Petersburg.

This painting of the Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner is a powerful window into the moment at which Mary gave consent to become the Mother of God. The intensity of what is happening is captured by the light that pervades the image. I think it’s the warm light, the realistic details of first century Palestine, and the sweet humility of Mary that really make this painting one of my favorites. We owe a debt of gratitude to Tanner for this beautiful work of art.