For Poems Like This For Christmas: “Messiah” by Alexander Pope

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Three simple, but profound words. Three words that appeal to all mankind. Catholic words are these, albeit with a small “c.” The impact that the Catholic Church, with a capital “C,” has had on the arts, though, is enormous.

The Church has unswervingly held that mankind, and the works of his hands, and mind, are to be praised and turned to the benefit of all. Because to do so redounds to the Glory of God. Since the earliest of times, the Church has encouraged sacred art for this purpose. This isn’t just my personal opinion either.

Just look in the Catechism,

VI. TRUTH, BEAUTY, AND SACRED ART

2500 The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. Truth in words, the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality, is necessary to man, who is endowed with intellect. But truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos-which both the child and the scientist discover-”from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.”

What follows is my Christmas gift to the readers of this blog. I didn’t make it, mold it, or shape it. I simply found it and wish to share it with you. In a way, it’s like when I picked dandelions and brought them to my mother when I was a child playing in a field. A worthless weed of a flower, and yet she always accepted it like I was handing her bars of gold.

In a sense, this is like a manifestation of the gifts that we bring to God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen. Worthless, and yet…priceless. After all, He became one of us in order to give us the opportunity to become like Him.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This poem by Alexander Pope, a Catholic muse non pareil, embodies the three words I began this post with. Because the promised Babe that he writes of here, brought, and still brings, these three words to life, and into our lives. Thanks be to the LORD.

The Messiah – A Sacred Eclogue

Ye nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
The mossy fountains, and the sylvan shades,
The dreams of Pyndus, and th’ Aonian maids,
Delight no more—O Thou, my voice inspire
Who touch’d Isaiah’s hallow’d lips with fire!
Rapt into future times the bard begun:
A virgin shall conceive, a virgin bear a Son!
From Jesse’s root behold a Branch arise,
Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies:
Th’ ethereal spirit o’er its leaves shall move,
And on its top descend the mystic dove,
Ye heavens! from high the dewy nectar pour,
And in soft silence shed the kindly show’r!
The sick and weak the healing plant shall aid,
From storms a shelter, and from heat a shade.
All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail
Returning Justice lifts aloft her scale;
Peace o’er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from heav’n descend.
Swift fly the years, and rise th’ expected morn!
O spring to light, auspicious Babe be born!
See, Nature hastes her earliest fruits to bring,
With all the incense of the breathing spring;
See lofty Lebanon his head advance,
See nodding forests in the mountains dance:
See spicy clouds from lowly Sharon rise,
And Carmel’s flowery top perfume the skies!
Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers;
“Prepare the way! a God, a God appears!”
“A God, a God!” the vocal hills reply;
The rocks proclaim th’ approaching Deity.
Lo, Earth receives Him from the bending skies!
Sink down, ye mountains, and, ye valleys, rise!
With heads declined, ye cedars, homage pay!
Be smooth, ye rocks! ye rapid floods, give way!
The Savior comes, by ancient bards foretold:
Hear him, ye deaf; and, all ye blind, behold!
He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eye-ball pour the day:
‘Tis he th’ obstructed paths of sound shall clear,
And bid new music charm th’ unfolding ear:
The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego,
And leap exulting like the bounding roe.
No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear,
From every face he wipes off every tear.
In adamantine chains shall Death be bound,
And Hell’s grim tyrant feel th’ eternal wound.
As the good shepherd tends his fleecy care,
Seeks freshest pasture and the purest air,
Explores the lost, the wandering sheep directs,
By day o’ersees them, and by night protects;
The tender lambs he raises in his arms,
Feeds from his hands, and in his bosom warms;
Thus shall mankind His guardian care engage,
The promised father of the future age.
No more shall nation against nation rise,
Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes,
Nor fields with gleaming steel be cover’d o’er,
The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more;
But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
Then palaces shall rise; the joyful son
Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun;
Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield,
And the same hand that sow’d shall reap the field.
The swain in barren deserts with surprise
Sees lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise;
And starts amidst the thirsty wilds to hear
New falls of water murmuring in his ear.
On rifted rocks, the dragon’s late abodes,
The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods.
Waste sandy valleys, once perplex’d with thorn,
The spiry fir and shapely box adorn;
To leafless shrubs the flowering palm succeeds,
And odorous myrtle to the noisome weeds.
The lambs with wolves shall graze the verdant mead,
And boys in flowery bands the tiger lead;
The steer and lion at one crib shall meet,
And harmless serpents lick the pilgrim’s feet.
The smiling infant in his hand shall take
The crested basilisk and speckled snake,
Pleased, the green lustre of the scales survey,
And with their forky tongue shall innocently play.
Rise, crown’d with light, imperial Salem, rise,
Exalt thy towery head, and lift thy eyes!
See a long race thy spacious courts adorn;
See future sons and daughters yet unborn,
In crowding ranks on every side arise,
Demanding life, impatient for the skies!
See barbarous nations at thy gates attend,
Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend!
See thy bright altars throng’d with prostrate kings,
And heap’d with products of Sabsean springs!
For thee Idumea’s spicy forests blow,
And seeds of gold in Ophir’s mountains glow.
See heaven its sparkling portals wide display,
And break upon thee in a flood of day.
No more the rising sun shall gild the morn,
Nor evening Cynthia fill her silver horn;
But lost, dissolved in thy superior rays,
One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze
O’erflow thy courts: the Light himself shall shine
Reveal’d, and God’s eternal day be thine!
The seas shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
But fix’d His word, His saving pow’r remains;—
Thy realm for ever lasts, thy own Messiah reigns.

I pray that you and yours have a Blessed Christmas. Amen.

The Kings (A Few Words For Wednesday)

Here is a late-breaking poem for the day. I stumbled upon it while combing through my favorite on-line library. There is all kinds of undiscovered treasure lurking in the books there. Just waiting for you to break out your torch and look around.

Ever feel like being a Catholic Christian is a battle? Sure you do, because we were never promised a rose garden, right? This poem may  either scare you straight or help you see the light. Written by Louise Imogen Guiney, my inner (and outer) warrior read this and my compass headed to true north once again.

Louise was Catholic too, born in Boston and educated in a convent school in Rhode Island. I don’t know a lot about her, but the good folks over at Poetry Foundation have a decent biography on her. The editor there writes that,

Guiney is also praised for the posthumously published Recusant Poets (1939), an anthology of poetry by Catholic authors from the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries that she coedited with Geoffrey Bliss.

I’ll be looking to see if I can find that book shortly.

The Kings

A man said unto his Angel:
“My spirits are fallen low,
And I cannot carry this battle:
O brother! where might I go?

“The terrible Kings are on me
With spears that are deadly bright;
Against me so from the cradle
Do fate and my fathers fight.”

Then said to the man his Angel:
“Thou wavering, witless soul,
Back to the ranks! What matter
To win or to lose the whole,

“As judged by the little judges
Who hearken not well, nor see?
Not thus, by the outer issue,
The Wise shall interpret thee.

“Thy will is the sovereign measure
And only events of things:
The puniest heart, defying,
Were stronger than all these Kings.

“Though out of the past they gather,
Mind’s Doubt, and Bodily Pain,
And pallid Thirst of the Spirit
That is kin to the other twain,

“And Grief, in a cloud of banners,
And ringletted Vain Desires,
And Vice, with the spoils upon him
Of thee and thy beaten sires, —

“While Kings of eternal evil
Yet darken the hills about,
Thy part is with broken sabre
To rise on the last redoubt;

“To fear not sensible failure,
Nor covet the game at all,
But fighting, fighting, fighting,
Die, driven against the wall.”

For A Change of Heart This Christmas

For some people, this time of the year is the worst of all. Why? Because Madison Avenue Stole Christmas. And we’ve even turned it into an arms race of sorts. The feast has lost much of it’s religious significance because we have allowed it to be hijacked and our wallets held for ransom. This is one of those man-made disasters that I often ask you to pray about.

Who is harmed the most by this? The poor? The rich? The middle? All of us, that’s who. My children, your children, your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Believers, unbelievers. The entire culture, and especially the culture of Christendom. This year is the year I have decided to stop the insanity and pray with thanks that the Lord came to deliver us from the nonsense of off-the-rails rampant consumerism. I think my wife has noticed. My kids were clued in last year. And don’t get me wrong. We still decorate and exchange gifts. But Black Friday and unobtainable wish lists? Fagetaboutit!

Want to know what I think about Madison Avenue’s version of Christmas? To hell with it. This year, let’s not just put Christ back into Christmas. We need to go much, much, further than that. This year, and for the rest of our lives, let’s put the Mass back in Christmass.

We can decide, you know. We have God given free will to thank for this ability. I only pray for the fortitude to celebrate this holiday as it should be celebrated. Not as an orgy to the god of material stuff, but as a recognition that God came into the world poor, lived poor, and died poor. And by doing so, he gained all. And for those of us who believe in Him, He’ll make us just like Himself. Sons and Daughters of God. That is really the only present worth anything, in the long-run. And eternity is a mighty long time, but it just might come calling tomorrow. Like in Dickens’s Christmas tale.

Yep, just another one of the paradoxes of Christianity. Live long and prosper? That might be a Vulcan tenet, but it isn’t in the New Testament. God is with us, and as a human, the God-man came from the wrong side of the tracks, see? So here is the challenge: open your heart and let Him in, and all of his fellows like Him. Peace on earth and good will to men.

So today, and the rest of this week until the Feast of the Nativity, I’ll be praying this prayer from the desert and asking the Word Incarnate for the strength to die to my self and love my neighbor as I love myself instead. Because I can’t afford a present for everybody, but I can say a prayer. One straight from the desert of my own self-righteous, self-reliant, and self-important, heart. Know your weakness.

My non-Christian friend Sun Tzu says,

If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.

I have found the enemy, and he is me. Lord Help!

A Prayer From the Desert

Lord Jesus Christ, whose will all things obey:
pardon what I have done and grant that I,
a sinner, may sin no more.
Lord, 
I believe that though I do not deserve it,
you can cleanse me from all my sins.

Lord, I know that man looks upon the face,
but you see the heart.
Send your spirit into my inmost being,
to take possession of my soul and body.
Without you I cannot be saved;
with you to protect me, I long for your salvation.

And now I ask you for your salvation.

And now I ask you for wisdom,
deign of
your great goodness to help and defend me.
Guide my heart, almighty God,
that I may remember your presence day and night.

Amen.

Watch this to find out what Christmas is all about. And a friend of mine clued me into this too: watch Linus’s hands at :44 seconds when he says “a Savior is born.” Do you see what I see?

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Because Unto Us, A Child Is Born! (Music for Mondays)

Christmas is upon us. We have passed through the 4th Sunday of Advent and in a few more days we will celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior. The mystery of the Incarnation is a profound one. As St. John writes in his gospel, and as the words parsed into English literally mean, “He pitched his tent among us.”

You don’t have to be a Marine to appreciate those words, but it doesn’t hurt. Our prayers are answered and Emmanuel comes! After all, leadership by example is always appreciated in the circles I travel in. He comes as promised and yet in an unexpected way. Poor, weak, and vulnerable. And as I hope the following music selections will show, in a very inspiring way too.

We’ll start with something from my favorite composer/priest, see the story unfold before our eyes in music and song from diverse languages and cultures, and wind this all up with a few modern classics. Rejoice!

Gloria in excelsis Deo, Et in terra pax, etc., by Father Antonio Vivaldi. Played and sung brilliantly by these anonymous folks here. Vivaldi really enjoyed fast tempo music, blasting through chords and riffs like a Shelby Cobra ripping through a road course. Blazing speed. And these good folks are up to the challenge. Baroque or bust!

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The Nativity of Jesus. I love this, simply love it. And what a great little movie! You simply can’t beat the sound track to it either. Check out these costumes! The camels! The gifts!

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Kontakion of Christmas. A brief sample of the work of St. Romanus the Melodist. Stunning and majestic. Romanus had a vision of the Blessed Virgin once. That event changed his life forever. And get this…this version is even in English.

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Christ is Born!Xristos Yennatai! St. Romanus the Melodist isn’t the only game in town either. How about this kontakion credited to a St. Cosmas. I’m not sure about that, but maybe one our Orthodox brethren know for sure. Sound off if you do. I only know one thing: it is beautiful.

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An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity). This is a wonderful compilation of images and wonderfully haunting music. I lived in Egypt for a time and learned to speak a little Arabic while I was there. Not enough to be fluent, or read it, but enough to appreciate beauty when I hear it. Christians speak Arabic,see? And they sing the Nativity story as majestically as anyone else, if not more so.

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O Holy Night, in Mandarin. What more can I say except that Christ came for the salvation of all. I only wish I could plug a video in here for every language on the planet. Christianity is spoken here!

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Christ Is Born – Hwelih Isho’, Chaldean Hymn. Beautiful iconography and art accompanies this video. Chaldean Christians have endured some of the worst persecution for the faith imaginable. In the Kingdom of Heaven, I suspect they will be rewarded greatly.

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And now to the modern and a couple of my personal all time favorites.

Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Yes, yes, the entire scene is contrived. And if Bing isn’t the “poor relation from America” then I’ll fill that role for him. These two together, singing this particular song, became an instant Christmas classic.

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Bing Crosby & David Bowie – Duet
Uploaded by beautifulcynic. – Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky by the Brian Setzer Orchestra?! So it isn’t religious. So what? I like it anyway. If it wasn’t for Christmas, Tchaikovsky wouldn’t even have bothered. Brian and his band set this classic to the boogie-woogie beat. I dare you to say it doesn’t get your toes a tappin’.

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Medley: The First Noel/ Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/ O Come, All Ye Faithful/ We Wish A Merry Christmas; Ray Coniff and his Singers. One of my wife and my favorite CD’s to be played this time of year. And though I don’t ever remember watching this special on television, I’m glad there was one and that Ray & Co. sang these great Christmas spirituals.

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Have a Blessed Christmas everyone!

For the Example and Witness of Charles Péguy

I’ve got a buddy who is a blogger, a fellow by the name of Webster Bull. You may have heard of him before, because he is the founder of the blog you are reading now. When he has the chance, or the spare time, Webster blogs occasionally for an outfit called Cahiers Péguy. [Read more...]

For Your Saturday Night at the Movies: The Sound of Music

Neophyte nun meets naval captain widower with 7 children. “Salzburg Austria in the last golden days of the 1930′s.” Unsure of Maria’s vocation, the Mother Superior of the abbey assigns her to the von Trapp household as a governess.

I held out against seeing this movie for the longest time. Until 2003 as I recall. Now it’s one of my favorites! Me and the kids know all of the tunes and break into song with the von Trapps with reckless abandon! Well, I still do anyway (how embarrassing!).

Beautiful scenery, great music, several love stories, kids that are a handful, Nazi sympathizers, the Anschluss, bosuns whistles, play clothes made from drapery cloth, Maria’s vocation problem is resolved, nuns removing ignition coils. Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Check out the trailer!

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A Few of My Favorite Things.

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An apology and The Lonely Goatherd, my favorite!

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Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more...]

Because Catholics Can Have Fun: The Nativity via Social Networks circa 2010

Father James Martin, SJ, author of My Life With the Saints, posted this on his Facebook account a few minutes ago.  I predict it will be going viral, but as of this posting, the following video only has 360 views.

Let’s ramp that number up, shall we? But just remember that Herod the Great might be on-line too. We will need to jam his access to the web for a couple of hours. I know some people.

Don’t you dare smile!

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Update! Another version with a hat-tip to Tom Peters and Brandon Vogt.

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It’s a Snow Day! (Music for Mondays)

I’ve got to tell you folks that it snowed in my little town last night. The schools closed, the courts closed, basically the whole world closed down. My kids are home, and I’m home, so we are playing in the snow.

Make fun of us Southerners all you want. But since snow days rarely come around, we’re going to make the most of it. My family just put up our Christmas tree last night too, so we’ll be decorating all day long, in between snow ball fights, hot cocoa, and such.

Here’s a good music video for the day. Enjoy!


Ticket to Ride, the Beatles.

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