Because A Reader Asks A Question I Cannot Answer

Dear Readers: The post “God Takes Care of Little Ones with Guardian Angels” from last spring is the most widely read of all the posts on our site. Yesterday, a reader asked a question I (Allison)  have not been able to answer, despite struggling overnight with it. I’m republishing my post, along with her question in the hopes that someone with more wisdom than I can answer.

Victoria asks: I am of the “Angel of God…” generation. I still pray to my guardian angel but the idea of a guardian angel is probably the one thing in Church teaching that I have a problem with. I can accept that there are angels because they are in the bible but if they are guardians, where are/were they when little children are being sexually abused? I would really like an answer to this one.

The original post is here.

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For All the Sacramentals, The Vestments (Part II)

Prior to finding Fr. Sullivan’s book The Visible Church, there is no way that I would have learned about the priestly vestments that will be discussed below. So again, for the clergy in the audience, this is nothing new.

But for the rest of us, unless you are a player of the Facebook game called Priestville (I kid you not!), you’ve probably never heard of most of this stuff. As for me, I don’t have time for fun and games like that.

Some of the articles described below are vestments, and therefore they are sacramentals, and some aren’t. Perhaps the ones that aren’t are optional? I really have no idea. But I do like the symbolism of some of these articles.

There is a lot of gear here, but luckily there is no quiz at the end. So relax and let’s have a look,


A Priest’s Vestments. The vestments worn by a priest at Mass are the amice, the alb, the cincture, the maniple, the stole and the chasuble. At certain other services he uses the cope, the humeral veil and the surplice.

The cassock, or “soutane,” the black gown worn by a priest, is not a vestment. It is the priest’s ordinary garb, and in Catholic countries is worn on the street as well as indoors. The Roman collar worn by the clergy (usually with a “rabbi” or stock attached) is not a vestment. The cap worn by priests, known by the Italian name of biretta, is also not a vestment. Its upper surface is square, with three wings—one at the front, another at the rear, and a third at the right side. This peculiar form comes from the fact that the biretta was originally a soft flatcrowned cap; the removal of this from the head caused it to be compressed into folds, especially on the right side, because the right hand is generally used for that purpose; and after a time these folds were sewn together, forming wings—with none on the left side, except in the case of the cap of a Doctor of Sacred Theology, whose dignity is indicated by a fourth wing.

The Amice. This is an oblong piece of white linen, with strings or ribbons by which it is fastened around the shoulders. The name comes from the Latin “amictus,” a wrapper. This vestment has been in use since about the year 800. Formerly it was worn covering the head, and certain religious orders still use it in this way until the beginning of the Mass. It symbolizes a helmet, protecting the priest against the assaults of Satan.

The Alb. This is a long linen gown, extending from the neck to the feet. The lower part is often made of lace. It is a survival of the old Roman dress called the toga. The name is derived from the Latin “alba,” white, and the color, of course, denotes purity.

The Cincture or Girdle. This is a doubled cord which binds the alb closely to the body.

Alb & Cincture

Its name, in Latin, is “cingulum,” a girdle. It may be of the same color as the vestments, but among us it is usually white. It is made of braided linen or of wool, with tassels, and symbolizes continence.

The following vestments vary in color from day to day, according to the object for which the Mass is offered or the festival on which it is said.

The Maniple. This is a small vestment of peculiar shape, worn on the left forearm.
It was originally a handkerchief. The name comes from the Latin “manipulum,” meaning something carried in the hand, a small bundle, a handkerchief, a sheaf of grain; and therefore this vestment is considered symbolical of good works. It is the special badge of the order of subdeaconship.


The Stole. This is a long narrow vestment worn around the neck, and ends hanging down in front. At Mass, the ends of a priest’s stole are crossed, and fastened thus by the cincture. At other services the ends are not crossed. A “preaching stole” is often ornamented with tasseled cords connecting the ends. A deacon at a Solemn Mass wears a stole diagonally, from his left shoulder to his right side. The stole came into use as a vestment about the fourth century, and was originally a robe or cloak, which is the meaning of its Latin name “stola.” It was probably adapted from the court uniform of Roman, judges, and hence signifies authority. It is also a symbol of immortality and of the yoke of obedience.

The Chasuble. This is a large vestment worn on the shoulders and hanging down in front and behind. The rear portion is often ornamented with a large cross. The name comes from the late Latin “casula,” a little house. It was originally a large mantle or cloak with an opening for the head in the centre, and had to be raised at the sides to allow the hands to be extended beyond it. The assistants at the Mass helped the priest by holding it up, and a trace of this practice still remains at Solemn Masses, where the deacon and subdeacon hold the edges of the priest’s chasuble, and at ordinary Masses, chasuble, where the acolyte raises it slightly at the Elevation. It symbolizes protection, preservation from evil—a spiritual suit of armor.

Next time, the Vestments-Part III

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For All the Sacramentals, The Vestments (Part I)

Today, the series on Sacramentals continues with the vestments worn by the clergy. As a rookie Catholic, I understood some of the significance of the vestments, the colors, etc. But if I had to take a quiz and answer the question, “True or False: Are vestments a sacramental?,” my answer would have been a guess, and I would have gotten this one wrong.

Now if the quiz would have been about Marine Corps uniforms, from Dress Blues, to Service (Greens), and Utilities (what you may know as “cammies”) etc., I would have passed with flying colors.

Speaking of colors, that is what Fr. John F. Sullivan’s first lesson on vestments is about. What do they mean? Ponder no more, as Fr. John will make it clear. After this lesson, you will be ready for the quiz.


Vestments are garments worn by the ministers of religion while performing their sacred duties. They are sacramentals, being blessed by the Church to increase devotion in those who see them and those who use them.

The word “vestment” is from the Latin vestimentum, signifying simply clothing. In every religion the priest has had a distinctive dress; just as others who hold positions of dignity or of authority wear a uniform or badge, so does the minister of God.

Among the Jews every detail of the vestments used in the worship of God was provided for by divine command. In the Catholic Church these details have always been prescribed by church law, and many changes have been made at different times in the number and form of the priestly vestments. During the first four centuries there were no special vestments; the clergy wore their ordinary garb, flowing robes and long cloaks, at the Church’s services; but gradually these were altered and ornamented until they became vestments as we have them now.

The Colors of Vestments

The Church ordinarily uses five colors, and each has its meaning. The Mass is offered for many purposes and in honor of many classes of saints; and each of these is symbolized by the color of the vestments worn during the Holy Sacrifice.

White vestments denote purity, innocence and glory. They are worn on the feast of the Holy Trinity and on festivals of our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of Angels and of all Saints who were not martyrs.

Red is the color of fire and of blood. Vestments of that color are used in Masses of the Holy Ghost, such as on Pentecost, to remind us of the tongues of fire which descended upon the Apostles; on the feasts of the Holy Cross of our Lord, and on the festivals of all Saints who shed their blood for their faith.

Purple, or violet, is expressive of penance. It is used during Lent and Advent (except on saints’ days), and on the sorrowful feast of the Holy Innocents.

Black is the color of mourning. It is worn at all Masses of Requiem, and on Good Friday.

Green denotes the growth and increase of our holy Church, and is also a symbol of hope.
It is used on all days during the year that are not saints’ days, except in Lent and Advent.

Gold vestments may be used as a substitute for white, red or green—not for purple or black.

Rose-colored vestments, when obtainable, may be used at the Solemn Mass on the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), and the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), because these Sundays are somewhat joyful in the midst of penitential seasons, and the rose-color is less penitential than the purple.

Next time, the “Priestly Vestments.”

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For All the Sacramentals, Holy Water

Yesterday I shared the Sign of the Cross with you, and today I promised an explanation of Holy Water. I’m glad I found this little book The Visible Church by Fr. John F. Sullivan. And not just for trivial pursuit question ammunition either.

You see, RCIA class is very good, but there is a lot of material to cover in a relatively short period of time. So Fr. John’s book is really helpful to me. Show of hands—who knew there are four distinct kinds of holy water? All you priests put your hands down! For the rest of us, Fr. John explains this sacramental,

Holy Water

Holy Water is “water blessed by a priest with solemn prayer, to beg God’s blessing on those who use it, and protection from the powers of darkness.” It is a very important sacramental of our Church.

Water is the natural element for cleansing, and its symbolical use to denote interior purification was common in many ancient religions—the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others; and it is so used by the Brahmins of India, the American Indians and other pagans of the present time. Among the Jews, the laws of Moses (contained in the books of Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament), enjoined the sprinkling of the people, the sacrifices, the sacred vessels, etc.; and our Church has imitated many of these Jewish practices.

There is a tradition that holy water was used by the Apostle St. Matthew, but this is uncertain. It is traced by some to the early part of the second century, and its use became common somewhat later.

The Kinds of Holy Water.

There are four kinds, each blessed in a different manner. They are as follows:

1. Baptismal Water, which is blessed on Holy Saturday, and may also be blessed on the eve of Pentecost. The Oil of Catechumens and the Holy Chrism are mingled with it. It is used only in the administration of Baptism.

2. Water of Consecration, or “Gregorian Water”, so called because its use was ordered by Pope Gregory IX. It is used in the consecration of churches, and has wine, ashes and salt mingled with it.

3. Easter Water, so called because it is distributed to the people on Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter. A part of this water is used for the filling of the baptismal font, to be blessed as baptismal water; the remainder is given to the faithful. In some countries this water is used by the clergy for the solemn blessing of houses on Holy Saturday.

4. Ordinary Holy Water, blessed by the priest for the sprinkling of the people before Mass and for use at the door of the church. It may be used also for the blessing of persons and things, in the church and at home. Salt is mingled with it—a custom which goes back probably to the second century.

Therefore the only varieties of holy water that directly concern the faithful are the water blessed on Holy Saturday and that blessed at other times. They are sanctified by different formulas, but their value and uses are much the same.

The Uses of Holy Water.

It is used in nearly all the blessings of the Church’s ritual, in the ceremonies of Matrimony and Extreme Unction, in the giving of Holy Communion to the sick, and in services for the dead. For use in church functions it is generally contained in a bowl-shaped vessel with a swinging handle, provided with a sprinkler.

The “Asperges” (pronounced, “as-per-jays”), This is the sprinkling of the people on Sundays before the principal Mass in a parish church. It takes its name from the first word (in Latin) of Psalm 50, of which the opening verse is recited by the priest and sung by the choir at this ceremony during the greater part of the year: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.”

This practice goes back to the ninth century. It is intended to renew in us every Sunday the memory of our Baptism, and to drive away all distractions during the Mass. In this ceremony, the holy water need not actually touch every person in the church. The whole assembly is blessed together, and all receive the blessing, even though the water may not reach each individual.

The custom of placing holy water at the church door in a “holy water font” is very ancient—probably dating back to the second century. Among the Jews a ceremony of purification was required before entering the Temple, and the Catholic practice may have been suggested by this.

In the Middle Ages it was customary to use holy water only when entering the church, and not when leaving it—to denote that purification was necessary before entering, but not after having assisted at Mass. At the present day holy water may be used both on entering and departing, especially as an indulgence is gained every time it is used.

The Blessing of Holy Water

This is usually done just before the principal Mass on Sunday, but may be done at any other time. The priest reads several prayers, which include an exorcism of the salt and the water, after which the salt is put into the water in the form of a threefold cross, in the name of the Persons of the Trinity. An exorcism is a prayer intended to free persons or things from the power of the Evil One.

The Symbolism of Holy Water

Water is used for cleansing and for quenching fire; salt is used to preserve from decay. Therefore the Church combines them in this sacramental, to express the washing away of the stains of sin, the quenching of the fire of our passions, and the preservation of our souls from relapses into sin.

Salt is also a symbol of wisdom. , Our Blessed Lord called His Apostles “the salt of the earth,” because they were to instruct mankind.

The Indulgence

There is an indulgence of one hundred days for using holy water. Pius IX renewed this in 1876, under these conditions:

1. The sign of the cross must be made with the holy water.
2. “We must say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
3. We must have contrition for our sins.
4. For this, as for any indulgence, we must be in the state of grace.

Next time, the Cross and the Crucifix.

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For All the Sacramentals, The Sign of the Cross

As a convert, when I was first considering becoming a Catholic, some of the little physical things Catholics did were of interest to me. I would think, why do they do that? The Sacramentals were mysterious to me.

I found a little book by Fr. John F. Sullivan entitled, The Visible Church. Published in 1920 as a text book for Catholic schools, it’s perfect for a beginner like me. 

In it he explains these sacramentals. Today I present you with the first one in his book and one which I didn’t even consider an official sacramental. As it turns out, it is the most important one. Take it away Fr. John,

The Sign of the Cross

The Sacramentals are objects set apart and blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin.

The Sign of the Cross is the most important of the Sacramentals, being a symbol of our deliverance from the power of Satan, and an emblem of God’s mercy manifested through the crucifixion of our Saviour on the cross of Calvary.

It consists in making a movement, with the hands or with some other object, in the form of a cross. The ordinary method of making the sign of the cross is as follows: Put the right hand to the forehead and to the breast, and to the left and the right shoulder, saying: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The words and the action form a summary of our faith. We say: “In the name”—not “names”—expressing thus the unity of God. We mention the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, thus showing our faith in the Blessed Trinity. The cross itself, made with the hand, manifests our belief in the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Saviour, and shows that we regard Him not only as God but as man—for unless He possessed a human nature He could not die.

By making the sign of the cross and saying the words twe may gain an indulgence of fifty days—granted by Pope Pius IX in 1863. If we use holy water to make the sign, we may gain an indulgence of one hundred days.

The use of the sign of the cross in Catholic worship probably goes back to the time of the Apostles. In those early days it was usually made very small, by a slight movement of the finger or thumb, so as not to attract the attention of pagan persecutors.

The triple sign of the cross was common in the Middle Ages, but is not now used except at the beginning of the Gospels at Mass. It is made by marking the forehead, the lips and the breast with a small cross, using the thumb; and it reminds us that we should worship God with our minds, our lips and our hearts.

The sign of the cross is used in the administration of all the Sacraments, in all of the Church’s blessings, and at the beginning and end of public and private prayers. In the ceremonies of Baptism it is made fourteen times; in Extreme Unction, seventeen times. In the blessing of holy water it is made twelve times. In the Mass it is used in various ways no less than fifty-one times.

Tomorrow’s topic: Holy Water

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Because All of the Big Questions Have Been Answered

As I discover the Psalms anew, I am reminded of St. Augustine’s saying about the Church: “late have I loved thee.” When I was younger, see, and when I thought I knew everything, I used to skip these sacred, inspired, and often times prophetic, poems.

Nowadays, I turn to them and find comfort and instruction.

A few days ago I shared a kind letter that Thomas Merton wrote a 6th grader, and noted that being kind is one of the traits of a Christian. I have written also on being meek, and how John C.H. Wu has helped me see that character trait in a more positive, and more approachable light.

Below is a sample of what I mean. It is Psalm 15 written by David. As psalms go, it is a short one. The kind that readily lends itself to lectio divina, and even simple memorization. Short, and yet full of practical wisdom for walking along the Way. Keep in mind that this is the Holy Spirit speaking to us, in an informal question and answer session,

A psalm of David.

LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy mountain?

Are not these questions key? Because once you come to the realization that you are one of God’s children, you wonder if you are worthy of such a position. What must I do to be a child of the Most High? The Holy Spirit answers,

Whoever walks without blame,
doing what is right,
speaking truth from the heart;
Who does not slander a neighbor,
does no harm to another,
never defames a friend;

So far, so good until I realize that I have slipped in all of these areas. Yes, I can look in the mirror and note that even I have slandered a friend in the past, not to mention those whom I have disagreed with who were not my friends. And often I used the text from the next few lines as my self-righteous reason why,

Who disdains the wicked,
but honors those who fear the LORD;

Of course, to do this honestly, and justly, I find that I must disdain myself before I turn the spotlight on others. I remember a line from Psalm 14, “Not one does what is right, not even one.” Yes, I recall painfully, this “one” is definitely me. And in the next line, as I recoil in horror, the Holy Spirit reminds me not to flee from the responsibility of self-examination. Because I must be one,

Who keeps an oath despite the cost,

and one who

lends no money at interest,

instead of always asking “what’s in it for me?” whenever I am asked to help, or give of my time, talents, and scanty treasure. And all the while, though I like to think that I would never do such a thing, I must remember to be one who

accepts no bribe against the innocent.

By this point, the realization dawns that alone, left to my own self-interest, I will fail in keeping any of these seemingly simple precepts. Instead, I will be doing what Qoheleth observed when he was inspired to write,

Then I saw that all toil and skillful work is the rivalry of one man for another. This also is vanity and a chase after wind.

Despite the best intentions of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Coming back, then, to the conclusion of this psalm, I know that only through God’s grace will I be one who can be counted as one that,

Whoever acts like this
shall never be shaken.

Do you know why I don’t spend much intellectual horsepower in this space writing about the “big questions” of the day? It is because all of the big questions have been answered already. As Christ Himself said, on more than one occasion, “He that has ears, let him hear.” What is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers. In simple terms, and on a personal level, stop spinning your wheels and get going.

Thinking through the Psalms allows me to hear the answers to what I so deftly ignored for so long. And that is, the Church has the answers, even as we Church members falter in following Her precepts. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, instructs us to pray the Psalms and provides them for us in a format that is suitable for this purpose.

As for me and this blog, with the help of God’s grace, I’ll just continue to stay on this narrow,and winding, pilgrims path. Because though I once worshipped my prideful self, now I remind myself often to pray,

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

With an understanding that, “there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”

Update: Peter Kreeft agrees.

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Thoughts On Beauty from Sick Bay On A Tuesday

Have you ever heard of François Villon? I never had, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about him. I’m home sick, drinking coffee and later on I’ll be dipping into the medicine chest for the “sniffling, sneezing, coughing, so you can rest medicine.” But first, I want to share with you what, in my unlettered opinion, is the Best. Preface. Ever. Written.

It’s all my friend John C.H. Wu’s fault, you know. For Christmas, I ponied up all of my cash Christmas gifts and bought John’s close to impossible to find The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. Since I’m effectively confined to quarters, I started reading it a bit and began noting whatever references he made to other authors, adding their works to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

John is well read, and by reading my friend John, he points me to a lot of good stuff. That’s what friends do for one another, right? So I chased down a reference to a book written by one Pierre Champion, SJ entitled The Spiritual Teaching of Father Louis Lallement. By doing a search of the authors name, I was pointed to a book that quoted him, where I found this preface written by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, the author of a ton of books, including the one made into a movie a few times,  The Blue Lagoon.

Take a look at this and tell me what you think.

Preface to François Villon, His Life and Time, (1431-1463)
By Henry De Vere Stacpoole

Traveling in France you may often get a glimpse of something that England cannot show you—a chateau with slated roofs and towers pointed each like a witch’s cap.

The outline of a Chinese pagoda would not strike upon the retina more strangely than the outline of this veritable figure of stone, ambushed in valley or crouching on hill-top, and showing to the broad light of day the roofs that rose and the towers that took form when Amboise was building and before Bussy was a man. You pass on, the chateau fades from sight, but the picture of it will remain for ever in your mind. You have seen the Middle Ages.

My object is to present to you Francois Villon, one of the strangest figures in all literature, and one of the greatest of French poets. Were I to attempt to reach him immediately and entirely through the MSS. of the Bibliotheque de la Sorbonne, or the Bibliotheque Nationale, or the Archives of the Cote d’Or, and were I to take you with me, we would both be half asphyxiated by the stuffy smell of parchment, and we would part company, or arrive at our journey’s end cross and tired and without finding Villon.

You cannot find a man through manuscripts, unless they are in the handwriting of the man. Archaeologists and museum hunters may tell us all about a man’s surroundings, his companions, his status in life, and his morals, as they appeared to his contemporaries, but to find the man one must find the man, and we can only find him through the expressions of his mind. And that is why so many dead men are so utterly dead. They have left nothing by which we can weigh them as men. Literary men fall under this freezing law no less than others, simply because the large majority of them leave on paper their ideas, fancies, inventions, and so forth, but of themselves little trace. Villon had the magical power of turning himself into literature, and that is why I propose to rob archaeologists and students and all sorts of people on our road, so that we may find out in what sort of country Villon lived and something of the extent of his genius, but to discard or almost to discard these when we come to estimate Villon as a man—to discard everything but the literature which holds his mind and heart, and, almost one might say, his body.

Stand with me, then, on this French road in the year 1914 and, forgetting books and manuscripts for awhile, let that chateau with the pointed towers touch you with its magic wand. All those modern houses crumble to dust, the railway-track vanishes, mule-bells strike the ear, pilgrims pass, their faces set towards Paris, and troops of soldiers, soon to be disbanded and to join the ranks of the unemployed, the labourers, the mendicants, and the robbers.

It is the year 1431. War is smouldering in the land; only a few short months ago Jean d’Arc was burned at Rouen. Henry VI of England, his archers and men-at-arms, are advancing away there to the west slowly towards Paris. Paris is starving. Charles VII, recently crowned, is King of France but as yet only in name, and over the whole broad land the spirit of the dead Maid is welding together the Armagnacs, the Poitevins, the Bretons, and the Burgundians to form the French nation.

Side by side with this creation of a people is going forward—or soon to go forward—the creation of a national language.

Up to this, France has spoken almost entirely in stone; up to this the architect has been the man of letters; up to this all those scattered tribes, Angevins, Poitevins, Burgundians, Armagnacs, and Bretons, have found expression for the genius that lives in man, not in verse or prose or painting, but in the pointed arch and shrill spire, the cathedral, fortress, and chateau.

We are in the land of the gargoyle. That chateau before us is the mind of the Middle Ages epitomised in stone, severe, narrow-windowed, armed, and above all fantastic. When we reach Paris along that road on which the pilgrims are straying, you will see that chateau broken up and repeated in a thousand different forms, you will see its pointed roofs in La Tournelles, its weathercocks on the Hotel de Sens, its towers on the Bastille, its portcullis as you cross the Petit Pont, and its fantasy everywhere.

And what you see here and what you will see in Paris is not a collection of stones cemented by mortar, but the carapace of the mind of the people. You are, in effect, looking at the literature of France in the year 1481.

As I have hinted before, France has not learned to express herself fully in poetry or prose. She has not yet learned properly to write, the mind of the people is pregnant with artistic speech, but as yet it can only murmur in verse and in tapestry or cry out in stone, yet even in these tapestries you may see the prefiguration of French literature, and even in these stones.

Over there at Bourges you will find the first verse of Villon’s Ballade of Jean Cotart, not yet to be written for thirty years, on the main porch where Noah lies drunk and naked, and you will find his ballade of the Contredicts de Franc Gontier hinted at in the sculptures of the Salle des Cheminees of the Palais de Justice in Paris. You will find Rabelais everywhere, from the Abbey de Bocherville to the Church of St. Jacques de la Boucherie, though Rabelais is not yet to be born for many and many a year. Grim humour, gross humour, fantasy and a vague gloom, arising from the skull which is the basis of Gothic art, are found everywhere; we find facades that sneer, porches that criticise, bas-reliefs filled with pointed stories, a whole literature petrified and inhuman. The attempt, in fact, of the human mind to express itself in stone.

To Villon, who was born last month, will fall the high mission of helping to give the human mind expression in speech. The mocking verses of his Testaments will give voice to the spirit of mockery whose expression can now only be found chiselled in the lavatory of the Abbey de Bocherville, or in the sculptures of Guillaume de Paris; his tenderness, his humanity, his tears can be found as yet nowhere, for stone cannot give expression to these.

Leaving aside the genius and directness of vision of this man who has just been born into the world—or rather perhaps because of them— Villon’s highest mission will be to tell future ages that the inhabitants of the land of the gargoyle were living and human beings, not mediaeval figures. That will be the highest mission of one who, with Aristophanes and Homer, holds the position, far above all royal positions, of a world-link—the man whose destiny it is to be ever living in a world ever dying.

So, standing here on this French road in the year 1431 before that isolated chateau and under its spell we may gather some hint of the rigid world into which our poet has just been born, some idea of that huge edifice of stone which Art has constructed as a mode of expression for the dreams and the humours of man, and which has turned into a sarcophagus for the corpse of thought—a sarcophagus to be shattered by the voice of that infant over there in Paris and by the voices of others still unborn.

Trust me, I’ll be reading more of Stacpoole’s book on François Villon. How could I not?

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To Pray for the People of Egypt

Back when I was really young, and when I knew everything, I was stationed in Cairo, Egypt. I was one of the Marine Security Guards at the U.S. Embassy there, back in the mid 1980′s.

The War on Terror had begun, for me anyway, when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was blown up. [Read more...]

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Because There Is No Statute Of Limitations On Truth

You may have missed this piece in the Washington Post yesterday about the historian accused of altering a document signed by President Abraham Lincoln. I work in an archive and I know that among historians and archivists, altering historic documents is just plain wrong. After all,

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. (Luke 16:10)

The document in question was that of a Presidential pardon for a Union soldier who had been court-martialed and sentenced to be executed for desertion. The accused historian is Thomas P. Lowry, M.D., a psychiatrist by trade and an amateur historian who “discovered” this document 13 years ago while on a visit to the National Archives in Washington D.C.

Dr. Lowry, for a reason that only he knows, altered the document so that the date would read 1865 instead of 1864. He has admitted this, but he can’t be prosecuted. The statute of limitations for his crime is only 5 years, and that has long passed by. As the Washington Post article explains, Dr. Lowry became famous for the find of this last charitable act President Lincoln accomplished before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. You can read the Post article for yourself and watch the video on YouTube (see below) as well.

After this “find”, Dr. Lowry proceeded to write a bunch of books about the Civil War, all mostly from the seamier side of the event. After all, as any Madison Avenue executive will attest to, “sex sells.” Check out the titles,

Love and Lust: Private and Amorous Letters of the Civil War- Thomas P. Lowry

Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War- Thomas P. Lowry

Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Outright Fools: The Courts-Martial of Civil War Union Colonels- Thomas P. Lowry

Tarnished Eagles: The Court-Martial of Fifty Union Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels- Thomas P. Lowry

Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition- Thomas P. Lowry

The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War- Thomas P. Lowry

Tarnished Scalpels: The Court-Martial’s of Fifty Union Surgeons- Thomas P. Lowry

The Civil War Bawdy Houses of Washington, D.C.: Including a Map of Their Former Locations and a Reprint of the Souvenir Sporting Guide for the Chicago, Illinois, G.A.R. 1895, Reunion- Thomas P. Hardy

Utterly Worthless: One Thousand Delinquent Union Officers Unworthy of a Court-Martial- Thomas P. Lowry

Confederate Heroines: 120 Southern Women Convicted by Union Military Justice- Thomas P. Lowry

The Attack on Taranto: Blueprint for Pearl Harbor- Thomas P. Lowry

The Clitoris- Thomas P. Lowry

The last book on this list possibly was his first effort, prior to the “find,” and was published back in 1976. A catchy title.

The outrage of this act, the changing of a “4″ into a “5″ has produced over 120 comments on the article at the Post. Comments such as,

the issue for historians is the duty we have to be ethical and beyond reproach when we access and utilize archival material…in a moment of ethical weakness he altered a historical document for personal gain.

And this one from my own place of employment,

Here’s a story of a noted researcher who changed an important Lincoln document at the National Archives to make it more historically significant so he could advance his career. Now, everything he has done must be called into doubt and his reputation is ruined.

And as one of my friends opined,

Tampering with history is something I’ll never understand. It’s like desecrating something sacred.

Which is exactly why am I writing about this. Because the bottom-line is we, as people, don’t trust those of us who alter historical documents to serve their own purposes. We know that this is just flat wrong. Which is why when I found out that Martin Luther added the word “alone” after “faith” in his German translation of Romans 3:28, my “this guy is a stinker” alarm went off.

Good news though! Even Martin Luther didn’t change the original manuscripts of the Sacred Scriptures, because he was working off a copy anyway. But still, a guy who adds a word, or two to his translation to make a point is someone I’m leery of. Especially when he also physically removes seven (7!) books from the Canon of Holy Scriptures altogether. The Canon had stood sacrosanct for over 1100 years before he decided to remove a few documents. In an archive, just like anywhere else, that is stealing. Even the original King James Version of the Bible contained the books Luther eventually removed.

Again, I’m not saying I’m perfect (Heaven knows I’m not) but I’m definitely not lining up behind the guy who added words and pitched books from the Bible that didn’t meet his own specifications either. You may say, “So what if these books had been in the Canon and had even been in the Jewish Canon when Christ pitched His tent among us. So what! Luther ain’t Lowry, and Lowry ain’t Luther.”

Well often times, actions speak louder than words, don’t they? And sometimes people with underlying motives in a hurry cut corners, or fabricate things in order to push their own agenda. Charles Péguy said it well when he stated,

He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers.

Good advice, that. Thankfully, there is no statute of limitations on truth.

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For Faith In Action: The March For Life (Part I)

This ain’t no school bus, gang.

Chapter I: Mission Impossible? Not When It’s a Mission from God

What possesses a man to embark, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, on an unplanned trip that will take 36 hours, 1000 miles of driving, and absolutely no idea how he will pull it all off? Faith and prayer is what I chock it up to. That, and having a wonderful wife. Oh, and did I mention I took my entire family with me, and at a moments notice?

I just felt like we needed to be at the March for Life, is all. [Read more...]

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