For All the Saints: Clare of Assisi

When I was nineteen I stood before what seemed to be the incorrupt body of St. Clare in the crypt of the basilica in Assisi bearing her name. Her body was covered only with a thin gauzy veil, and it looked whole to me. Now, I gather, it is no longer deemed to be incorrupt. But the impression, and the inspiration, have not gone away.

I was on a year off from college, seeing the world on a Eurail pass. (For three months, and $95, you got to sleep upright and vibrating anywhere in Europe.) I was neither a Catholic nor a practicing Christian, having left the Episcopal church-going of my youth in the rearview mirror. My companions and I pulled into Assisi one morning and soon found ourselves—stiff of back, sleepy of eye, and for all that dumbfounded—in front of the body of a woman who had died over 700 years before. It is still one of only two or three indelible impressions from those three months on the railroad.

This morning’s reading from the Office, for the memorial of St. Clare, has a striking image. In a letter from Clare to Blessed Agnes of Prague, the saint writes of Christ as an unclouded mirror: “For he is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.”

Queen and bride of Jesus Christ, look into that mirror daily and study well your reflection, that you may adorn yourself, mind and body, with an enveloping garment of every virtue, and thus find yourself attired in flowers and gowns befitting the daughter and most chaste bride of the king on high. In this mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable love are also reflected. With the grace of God the whole mirror will be your source of contemplation. . . . 

It strikes me now that the body of St. Clare was a mirror for me too: a view into what lasts and doesn’t. In the sanctity of Francis’s friend is an image of what I can be, and in her body, not so incorrupt after all, is what my body will be soon enough. Looking at St. Clare lying in her crypt was like being suspended between heaven and earth.

Because I Want Original Cream of Wheat, Not Quick or Instant

My great-grandfather was one of the founders of the Cream of Wheat Company, which began in the midst of an economic depression in 1892. George Bull was a wheat farmer in Grand Forks, ND, who used some old milling equipment to create a form of porridge from refined middlings, the best part of the wheat. He sent a case of the stuff stamped “Cream of Wheat” to his broker in New York along with a carload of wheat, and the agent wired back:

“Forget wheat. Can’t sell. Send carload Cream of Wheat.” An American brand was born.

When I was a child outside Minneapolis–St. Paul, my dad was vice-president, then president of Cream of Wheat, following in the footsteps of his own father and grandfather. (The company had long since moved to this milling center on the Mississippi.) As son of an officer of the company, I had to eat a lot of Cream of Wheat, lumps and all. I also served as an unofficial beta tester of Quick and Instant and even some weirdly flavored experimental varieties of Cream of Wheat, as the firm struggled to expand its product line and escape its fate as a one-trick pony. It never did so. In 1961, CW was sold to Nabisco and we followed Dad’s career to the New York area.

Sticking to my ribs today is not only the residue of a carload of Cream of Wheat swallowed in childhood but also a conviction that there are things that are more real than others, more original, closer to the source: “original Cream of Wheat,” from the heart of the grain.

This helps explain why I am a Catholic today.

This weekend, on vacation up country, I had a chance to attend two church services in succession: Catholic mass celebrated by a priest followed by an ecumenical Protestant-ish service led by a barefoot minister.

Let me be fair: The pastor in question is the soul of kindness, compassion, and ecumenism. She talked at length of the accidental burning of a religious building in a nearby town, and urged our prayers. She gathered six children into her lap and shared her love and kindness, with a bit of old time religion. She chose her own reading, from Revelation, which did not mention Jesus, and developed the theme beautifully in a fifteen-minute sermon that had everyone nodding their heads and mmm-mmming along. It was a moving community experience and occasionally powerful theater.

It was also a pale shadow of something else, something original, something we know as the liturgy. There was a cross without corpus on the table, a table that filled in for an altar, where the bread, wine, and grape juice were laid out for a symbolic “communion.” Behind the table stood the choir and behind the choir was a mural of a mountain scene. On the surrounding walls was not one image or symbol of Christian worship. At one point (can’t say exactly when) we said the Lord’s Prayer, the common denominator of all Christian worship, but everything else was improvised, everything to me was like Quick or Instant, even if it took longer than Father Tom’s full-length Sunday Mass at the bottom of the mountain. 

I am no final judge of such things, as our Protestant readers are sure to remind me, but I do know my cereal. This may have been cereal, but I can promise you it was not Original Cream of Wheat.

As Flannery O’Connor said famously of the Eucharist, “If it’s a symbol, then to hell with it.”

From the Treasure Chest: Challoner’s “The Morality of the Bible-Genesis”

Although I didn’t do any writing while on vacation, I was able to do a little reading. I “discovered” another modern Catholic writer that I would like to get to know better.  His name is Richard Challoner, whom you see here in the portrait.  This particular portrait of Richard hangs in the Archbishop’s House at Westminster Cathedral.

It’s a pity that the blog that was hosted there is no longer active. There is a great post all about Richard that was written by a priest there. Having recently visited the Library of Congress, and Thomas Jefferson’s personal library located there, I was motivated to continue adding virtual book selections to our humble YIM Catholic Bookshelf. And today is the feast day of St. Lawrence, patron of librarians and archivists, so what better day than this to share more books with you?

Somehow, and I honestly don’t recall how,  I stumbled upon Challoner’s work and immediately added fifteen of his books to the shelf. What with our limited budget here, but with books that are free, this was easy to do. No need to get Webster’s approval.

The book below was published in 1762 and re-published in 1827.  Its full title is The Morality of the Bible: Extracted From All of the Canonical Books, Both of the Old and New Testament. It’s subtitle is For the Use of Such Pious Christians As Desire to Nourish Their Souls to Eternal Life With Daily Meditating On The Word of God. You know, as well as I do, that they just don’t title books like this anymore.

As a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism, I enjoy reading the Bible. I’m not afraid of touching mine, and as my wife can verify, I don’t get lost between it’s covers. Geographically speaking, I know my way around the Scriptures and I don’t need the table of contents or the handy side tabs to find passages.

In case I get labelled as a “holier than thou” type, let me just say that in no way am I claiming that I completely understand everything I’m reading there. Alone, no one else does either.  I don’t care if you have a PhD. in theology, you alone don’t know enough, and you never will. If you haven’t figured that out yet, then you have been kidding yourself. I’m not going to argue with you though, I’m just stating the facts.

But I’m not saying “throw in the towel” either. Not by a long shot. Read scripture and study the Word.  We are called to do so, and contrary to popular belief, we are encouraged to do so. And this isn’t something new either, as these quotes of St. John Chrysostom prove:

To become adult Christians you must learn familiarity with the scriptures(On the Letter to the Ephesians – Education of Children).

But what is the answer to these charges? “I am not,” you will say, “one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.” This is what has ruined everything, your thinking that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do. Those who are placed in the world, and who receive wounds every day have the most need of medicine. So, far worse even than not reading the scriptures is the idea that they are superfluous. Such things were invented by the devil.[Second Homily on Matthew, section 10 (which is sometimes labeled as section 5.)]

Want to see more saintly quotes on the importance of reading scriptures? See what the actual “holier than thou types”, from St. Augustine to Pope Benedict XIV, have to say on the matter here. As for me and other “needier than thou” types, let’s just say that Challoner’s little book is a good start to help you summon the courage to dive in and to start reading the Bible on your own.

Sure,  this book is old and may be lacking in the most up to date teachings of the Church. But it won’t be very far off, and Challoner keeps it pretty straightforward. In the preface, he states:

The word of God has been of old the great meditation book of the holy fathers and other saints: and these pure souls illustrated by the light of the Spirit of God, have discovered in almost every page of this heavenly book (where there is not one iota or tittle without its meaning, St. Matt. v. 18.) in its mystical sense many excellent lessons of life, and documents of divine wisdom; for the bringing on the spiritual man to all perfection.

But as the generality of Christians are not capable of penetrating so far into the profound depths of the more obscure and mysterious parts of the sacred scriptures; much less of making themselves perfect masters of all the sublime contents of these divine books: for which the whole life of the best capacities would hardly suffice; though wholly employed in study and meditation: we have endeavoured in the following sheets, for the benefit of the commonality, to abstract from every part of these sacred writings, what appeared to us the most plain, and the most intelligible; the most instructive, and the most affective; adapting the whole as much as possible to every capacity; in order to make the meditation on the divine word, both very easy and very profitable to all Christians of a good will: industriously avoiding all such hard and obscure passages, as might be liable to be wrested by the unlearned and the unstable to their own perdition (2 St. Peter, iii. 16.) and passing by all such as might rather exercise the brain, than enlighten the mind and enflame the heart: which is the great business of meditation and mental prayer.

Sheesh, they wrote with huge paragraphs back in the day! Again, for more instruction, there are other resources for you if, and when, you need them; your Parish priest, a deacon, or a pastoral associate, for example, will be more than willing to answer any questions you may have. And the Cathechism, and all of the helpful commentary in your thicker Catholic Bible, is there to help as well. And don’t forget the resources on our YIM Catholic Bookshelf, too.

Here is Challoner’s first chapter, which naturally covers the book of Genesis. Take a look, and see what you think. I know what I think—This will be a great resource to help my children become as familiar with the Scriptures as I am.

School’s in!

GENESIS.

Chapter I. Verse 1. &c.;

‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And God said: be light made, and light was made: and God saw the light that it was good.’

See, my soul, how all things readily obey the great Creator: he speaks the word, and they are presently made; and they spring forth out of nothing, at his command: and all that he makes he sees to be good, and nothing that he makes is evil. And why wilt not thou obey his word? How long wilt thou resist his commands? How long shall evil (which is no part of his creation) have dominion over thee whom he created good, for himself the sovereign Good?

v. 31. ‘And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.’

Each part of the creation, and every single creature was good: but all of them together were exceeding good, nothing being wanting to make the whole absolutely perfect. O great Creator, glory be to thy name! Let the whole creation bless thee for ever.

Chap. ii. v. 3. ‘God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he had rested from all his work.’

This day of God’s rest, sanctified by him, has a mysterious allusion to the everlasting rest or sabbath, into which he will introduce all his true servants, after the six days labors of their mortal life. (Hebr. iv. 4. 5. 9. 11.)

v. 9. ‘The Lord God brought forth of the ground, all manner of trees—the tree of life also in the midst of paradise.’

This tree of life, by eating of the fruit of which man would have lived for ever, was an illustrious figure of our Lord Jesus Christ, by feeding on whom, we are brought to everlasting life. (St. John vi. 50, 51, 52, &c.;)

Chap. iii. v. 17, &c.; Mark the sentence of man’s punishment for sin:

‘Cursed is the earth in thy work: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee—in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken, for dust thou art and into dust thou shalt return.’

Of this curse, the just punishment of man’s fall from God by sin, we still feel the weight, in this earth (of flesh) which we carry about with us, in the thorns and thistles of our disorderly inclinations, and the labour and toil with which we must suppress them, &c.; And this remembrance of our extraction and the necessity of our returning to our original dust, is here inculcated, to teach us to know ourselves; to be ever humble; and to be always prepared for our journey hence.

Chap. iv. 9, 10. ‘The Lord said to Cain—What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.’

O sinner, what hast thou done, when by thy scandals, or by thy drawing any of thy neighbours into sin, thou hast murdered that poor soul ? Will not thy brother’s blood, in these cases, cry aloud to heaven for vengeance against thee?

Chap. v. v. 5. ‘Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he died:’

and so of the other patriarchs; the account of whose long lives is still concluded with these words, “and he died.” And how small a difference will there be by and by, between the longest and the shortest life? Since a thousand years before the eyes of the eternal Truth are but as yesterday, which is past and gone, Psalm lxxxix. 4.

v. 24. ‘Enoch walked with God, and was seen no more, because God took him.’

Happy they who make it the business of their life to walk with God, by keeping themselves in his presence,” by a spirit of recollection; and by a constant attention to please him ! such as walk with him tn this manner, he will take to himself in a happy eternity.

v. 29. ‘He called his name Noe (Noah), (or comforter) saying this same shall comfort us, from the works and labours of our hands on the earth which the Lord hath cursed.’

Our true Noe, or comforter, sent us from heaven, is the Son of God, who comes to comfort us under all our labours; to bless the works of bur hands; and to change into a blessing in our favour, the curse laid on us for sin.

Chap. vi. 3. ‘God said: my spirit shall not remain in man for ever, because he is flesh,’(enslaved to carnal sins, and therefore shall be destroyed.)

Mark how by the sins of the ‘flesh, the spirit of God is sure to be taken away, from the carnal man; and a deluge of evils of course will overflow his whole soul.

v. 6. ‘Noe was a just and perfect man in his generations: he walked with God.’ v. 22.

And Noe did all things which God commanded him. Behold the way to all happiness: ’tis by doing thus we shall escape the dreadful deluge, which threatens all the sinners of the earth.

Chap. viii. 21. ‘The imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from their youth.’

O the dismal consequences of original sin! Good God deliver us from ourselves.

Chap. xii. 1, 2, 3. ‘The Lord said to Abram. Go forth out of thy country: and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house; and come into the land which I shall shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation: and I will bless thee, &c.; and in thee shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.’

Happy they who follow God, when he calls them, from the midst of sin and iniquity, as it were out of their native land, to shew them the fair regions of virtue and devotion, in order to bless them there; and from thence to translate them to an eternal inheritance in his kingdom above. This is that great grace of vocation, the corresponding with which is the way to heaven. This “following” God is the fundamental point of Christian morality.

Chap. xiv. v. 18, 19, &c.; ‘Melchisedech the King of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God, blessed him, and said, blessed be Abram, by the most high God, who created heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God by whose protection the enemies are in thy hands.’ “And he gave him the tithes of all.”

Behold here a most ancient and a most illustrious figure of Christ, our great king and priest; and of his sacrifice. See Heb. vii. &c.;

Chap. xv. 1. ‘Fear not, Abram, I am thy protector, and thy reward exceeding great.’

My soul he will be so to thee, if thou also wilt seek him as Abram did, in the simplicity and sincerity of thy heart. (Wisdom i. 1.)

v. 6. ‘Abram believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice.’

Happy faith, which, joined with obedience and devotion, made Abram the special favourite of heaven.

Chap. xvii. v. 1. ‘I am the Almighty God: walk before me, and be perfect.’

The shortest way to all perfection is to walk before God, and in his presence; with a constant attention to please him.

Chap. xviii. v. 17, &c.; ‘The Lord said: can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do seeing that in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed? For I know that he will command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, and to do judgment and justice.’

See here the duty of fathers and masters, &c.; And see also how true it is that the ‘Lord is good to them that hope in him; to the soul that (sincerely) seeketh him.’ (Lamentations iii. 25.)

v. 27. ‘I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am but dust and ashes.’

Learn my soul thus to humble thyself in thy addresses to God in prayer.

v. 32. ‘I beseech thee, said Abraham, be not angry, O Lord, if I speak yet once more: what if ten just men shall be found there?(viz. in Sodom) I will not destroy it said the Lord for the sake of ten.’

Of what service then are the just to the whole commonwealth(?); Since ten of them might have even saved Sodom.

Chap. xix. 14. ‘Lot spoke to his sons in law (the men of Sodom) that were to have his daughters: and said: Arise, get ye out of this place; because the Lord will destroy this city: and he seemed to them to speak as it were in jest.’

So when the servants of God threaten the wicked with the judgments of God, which are hanging over their heads, their words make no more impression upon them than if they were in jest; till the wrath of God coming on a sudden and when they least expect it, hurries them away and plunges them into a miserable eternity.

v. 26. ‘Lot’s wife looked behind her and was turned into a statue of salt.’

Instructing us, how dangerous it is after being delivered from the Sodom of iniquity and sin, to look back, by a relapse, or by the affection to sin, towards that miserable city.

v. 33. ‘Abraham called upon the name of the Lord God the Eternal’

behold one of God’s names, the most expressive of his divine essence.

See Chap. xxii. The ready obedience of Abraham, when he was sent to offer up his son Isaac in sacrifice; as well as the obedience and resignation of Isaac, who was then a young man in the flower of his age, and yet offered no resistance. And mark the blessing-entailed upon them both, in consequence of this intended sacrifice; alas! how often have we been called upon, to offer up, as it were, in sacrifice, some darling object of our affections; or some unhappy passion, which ties us down to the earth: and yet we never have had the courage to make this offering; and for want of this compliance have deprived ourselves of God’s special blessing, and have perhaps the great work of God yet to begin.

Chap. xxiv. v. 63. ‘Isaac was gone forth to meditate in the fields,’ &c.;

Learn, my soul, from the patriarchs and all the other saints this holy exercise of meditation: and let it be thy daily employment.

Chap. xxv. v. 8. ‘Abraham died in a good old age, having lived a long time, and being full of days: and was gathered to his people:’ (the people of God, who were gone before him)

Where note, that he in a particular manner is said to have lived a long time, and to have been full of days; and yet both his father, and almost all his ancestors lived to a greater age than he. (Gen. ii.) But Abraham’s time was long, and his days were full indeed, by the good use of his time, and by his constant attention to please God in all things. O let our days, my soul, be full in this manner.

v. 34.’Esau eat and drank, and went his way, making little account of having sold his first-birth right.’

A figure of unhappy sinners, who for the sake of gratifying for a moment, their carnal or sensual appetite, sell their title to the inheritance of the first born whose names are written in heaven, and forfeit their father’s benediction; and make little or no account of this greatest of all miseries. See Heb. xii. 16, 17.

Chap. xlv, v. 4. &c.; ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Be not afraid: and let it not seem to you a hard case that you sold me into these countries: for God sent me before you into Egypt, for your preservation—Not by your counsel, was I sent hither, but by the will of God, &c.; And Joseph blessed all his brethren, and wept upon every one of them.’

O admire and adore the wonders of divine Providence, in the whole history of Joseph; and imitate the charity, purity and humility of this holy patriarch.

Chap. xlvii. v. 9. ‘The days of my pilgrimage (said Jacob to king Pharaoh) are one hundred and thirty years, few and evil; and they are not come up to the days of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’

Thus these holy men looked upon themselves as pilgrims upon earth; longing for their true and heavenly country. Heb. xi. 13, 14, 15, 16. Such ought to be the sentiments and dispositions of all good Christians.

Chap. xlviii. v. 15. ‘God, in whose sight my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk,’ &c.;

Said Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph! O my soul how happy shall we be, if we also take care to walk in this divine presence, like these ancient saints!

Chap. xlix. v. 6. ‘Let not my soul go into their counsel, nor my glory be in their assembly.’

Say thou my soul the same of the counsels of the ungodly: and of all the assemblies of the workers of iniquity. v. 10. ‘The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda—till he come that is to be sent (Shilo the Messiah) and he shall be the expectation of nations.’ v. 18. “I will look for thy salvation O Lord.”

Illustrious promises of the coming of the Son of God, for our salvation: who also in the blessing of Joseph v. 26 is called “the desire of the everlasting hills,” as being longed for as it were, by the whole creation.

Chap. l (50) v. 19, 20. ‘ Can we resist the will of God, said Joseph to his brethren, you thought evil against me; but God turned it into good, &c.;’

O how often does he deal thus with us, by drawing good out of our evils ! O blessed be his name!

Challoner’s book in it’s entirety may be found on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

To Anne Rice, With Love (Music for Mondays)

I’ve been on vacation since July 28th. On July 29th, you let the world know you are leaving the Church, and Christianity, in “the name of Christ.” Soon thereafter, the whole blog-o-sphere was on fire with “what it all means” posts. The one I liked, I posted on our Facebook page.

But I was on vacation, see, and sorry—I wasn’t going to write a post about you pulling a “crazy Ivan” and leaving the Church. I promised my wife that I wouldn’t post, and I’m a man of my word. Besides, there was too much to do and too much to see in Washington D.C. Like seeing the museums of the Smithsonian, the Marine Corps War Memorial, the Capitol, the White House, and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. All worthy of future posts. But in the back of my mind, Anne, I still thought of you.

And I remembered you again when I came across the passage in Genesis where Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. I’m sure you are familiar with this story Anne, because it comes right after Abraham had bargained with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah if he could find 10 righteous men in them.

But he still persisted: “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?” “For the sake of those ten,” He replied, “I will not destroy it.”(Genesis 18:32)

It appears that when taking the census, Abraham came up short, because the city was destroyed in the very next chapter. One family, that of a fellow named Lot was found, and they were warned to get out of town with one condition…don’t look back.

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.(Gen 19:26)

Anne, this all happened a few chapters after the flood (like déjà vu all over again). But maybe you believe everything in the Bible is allegorical. Some is, some isn’t. You have to trust the Church to lead you in this, but that is where you and I part company, see?  Now, Paul and Barnabus parted company too and the world didn’t end. But Barnabus never left the Church either.

Anyway Anne, this is getting long. The thing is, I drove to D.C. and drove back, as it takes about 8 hours(one way) from where I live. In my old van, without satellite radio, the reception goes bad on the radio, so we threw some cassette tapes into the stereo (I said it was old!) and these songs came up on the course of our drive home. They reminded me of you again, and here they are.

Depeche Mode, Personal Jesus. I don’t know if this is what you have in mind Anne, but it is a far cry from what Marie of the Incarnation did.

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Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit.  “Overboard and self-assured? That’s what it seems like to me. Oh, and “a denial” too. But don’t you fret, because stronger people than us have denied Christ (just ask St. Peter).

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Stevie Wonder, Higher Ground. Then this came on, Anne, and I thought: “Sheesh!—I wish Anne could hear this old tape (recorded in 2005), because maybe this is what she is thinking?!”

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Elton John, Rocket Man. But then Elton John came on and sang this Bernie Taupin song that made me think you are going to be “burning out your fuse up (t)here alone,” if you aren’t careful. Anne…you’re not being careful—it’s lonely out in space!

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Blondie, Heart of Glass. Seriously, this came on next. Anne, I hope you don’t feel like this!

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Simple Minds, Don’t You Forget About Me. It’s weird, Anne, but the next song on the loop that reminded me of your situation was this one. Sure, the tune is from the movie “The Breakfast Club”, but now, in this context, it means something different to me. “Will you recognize Me? Call My name? Or walk on by…”

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Journey, Seperate Ways. I’m not making this up!

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U2, Mysterious Ways. Do you really think you have the Church all figured out Anne? You know, Thomas Aquinas had a personal revelation experience and afterwards,  he never wrote a single word again. He said everything he had ever written prior to that experience was like so much straw. She moves in mysterious ways Anne.

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One day you will look back
And you’ll see where
You were held 

how by this love
while you could stand there
You could move on this moment
Follow this feeling

Ok, that is all of the songs that I heard on my drive home yesterday that made me think of you. This last one, I heard today on the way back from work.

Madness, Our House. It’s crowded, it’s loud, it’s a house full of sinners. And trust me, “She’s the one (you’re) going to miss in lots of ways.”

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Come back soon Anne! We’ll leave the light on for you.

For All the Saints: Edith Stein

 

Guest Post by William “Mac” McCarthy
My dormitory neighbor from 40+ years ago, who posted on 
the Martyrs of Compiègne in July, is back with some powerful material on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born to a Jewish family and still widely known by her given name of Edith Stein. I’ll pass along the material just as Mac sent it to me—only lacking his careful footnoting. There’s a lot here for reflection and inspiration:

“We are travelling East,” Last Letters from a Martyr

St. Edith Stein, 1891-1942, feast day August 9, also called Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, brilliant German philosopher, Catholic convert, Carmelite nun . . .The Nazis killed her at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, for being a Jew. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and named Patroness of Europe along with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden in 1999.

The walls of our monasteries enclose a narrow space. To erect the structure of holiness in it, one must dig deep and build high, must descend into the depths of the dark night of one’s own nothingness in order to be raised up high into the sunlight of divine love and compassion.

Not every century produces a work of reform as powerful as that of our Holy Mother (Saint Teresa of Avila, 16th century). Nor does every age give us a reign of terror during which we have the opportunity to lay our heads on the executioner’s block for our faith and for the ideal of our Order as did the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne [martyred at the Paris guillotine, July 17, 1794]. But all who enter Carmel must give themselves wholly to the Lord. Only one who values her little place in the choir before the tabernacle more highly than all the splendor of the world can live here, can then truly find a joy that no worldly splendor has to offer.”—Edith Stein, Laetare Sunday, March 31, 1935

Seven years after she wrote those words, Edith Stein had to “leave her little place in the choir before the tabernacle” to ride away with two S.S. officers. A week later, she was put into a gas chamber at Auschwitz.

Edith Stein was the youngest of eleven children in a devout Jewish family. She was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, Germany (Prussia), now Wroclaw, Poland. Her father was a lumber merchant who died before her second birthday. Her mother, Auguste Stein, a strong woman, took over the business and it prospered. Throughout her life, Edith remained a devoted daughter, beloved sister and favorite aunt.

Highly intelligent, Stein earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy, summa cum laude, at the University of Freiburg in 1916 under Edmund Husserl. Husserl was the founder of phenomenology, an analytical approach to human consciousness. Husserl considered Stein his best doctoral student, and she was his personal assistant for a time. Her own original research and writing in the field was cited by well known scholars, such as Max Scheler. Largely because she was a woman, Stein was unable to obtain a position as a university professor. Nevertheless, she remained an active and influential philosopher all her life. Her later scholarly writing focused on knowledge and faith.

In 1921, during a summer stay at the home of some philosopher friends, Stein picked up and read the Autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582, Spanish mystic, founder of the Order of Carmelites Discalced, and Doctor of the Church). Stein was profoundly moved by St. Teresa’s message that the search for God is no mere intellectual exercise but rather a relationship of love and complete surrender. After studying Catholic teachings in the catechism and the missal, she was baptized on January 1, 1922.

From 1923 until 1931, Stein taught and lived at the secondary school and Catholic teachers’ college of the Dominican Sisters in Speyer, Germany. Then she taught at the Pedagogical Institute in Munster until 1933. In those years she translated works by John Henry Cardinal Newman and Saint Thomas Aquinas into German. It was said she could read and understand Latin just as quickly as she could German.

She also spoke to women’s groups all over Germany about the role of women in modern society. Stein was convinced that the challenges women faced in the professional world were best addressed by spiritual and intellectual reflection. Her message was grounded in the power of faith. She was an unpretentious, but captivating speaker.

Like the saint who had inspired her conversion, Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein had a natural, warmhearted amiability. The abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Beuron, who was her spiritual director in the years before she entered Carmel, described her as follows:

“I have seldom met a person in whom so many and so laudable characteristics were united. At the same time, she remained entirely a woman with tender and almost motherly sensitivities. Mystically gifted, she was unpretentious with simple people, scholarly with scholars, a seeker with seekers, l would almost say a sinner with sinners.”

In 1933, Stein lost her teaching position in Munster. Hitler and the National Socialist Party had forbidden Jews to teach. On October 14, 1933, she entered the Carmel in Cologne. She had long desired to enter the Carmelite Oder, but previously put off such a step, largely out of consideration for her elderly orthodox Jewish mother, who would be crushed by a separation from her daughter. Now, her options were Carmel or emigration. That year, she wrote, “There’s nothing to regret about the fact that I can’t continue to lecture. To me a great and merciful Providence seems to be standing behind it all.” Dr. Edith Stein became Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce—Teresa Blessed by the Cross.

After the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938, there was no avoiding the danger from the Nazis. Edith Stein worried that she was endangering the lives of her fellow sisters in Cologne. She was granted permission to transfer to the Carmel in the village of Echt in the Netherlands and arrived there on December 31, 1938. Her older sister, Rosa, who had converted to Catholicism in 1936, joined her there in July of 1939. Rosa lived in a guest room. She served as the portress for the convent and then as an extern sister who had contact with the outside world.

“Rosa, come, we are going for our people.”—Edith Stein to her sister, at the front gate of Carmel Echt, shortly after 5:00 in the afternoon, Sunday, August 2, 1942

In the early 1940’s, Father Jan Nota was a young Dutch Jesuit scholar assigned by his superiors to help Edith Stein ready her book, Finite and Eternal Being, for publication. It had been previously set for publication in Germany in 1936, but anti-Jewish laws had prevented that. His last visit with her provides a happy glimpse of Edith Stein only twenty-four days before her death:

I saw Edith Stein for the last time on July 16, 1942. That is the day the Carmelite Order celebrates as its patronal feast, “Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” in commemoration of the first Carmelite friars who, back in the thirteenth century, established their life of prayer in the mountains near Haifa. When I arrived at the convent (Carmel Echt), Edith Stein asked me to deliver a homily at the Holy Hour. I felt a little nervous, having never preached in public since my ordination, but Edith Stein directed me to some beautiful Scripture texts found in the Carmelite Office and helped me to put the sermon together. In fact, she almost wrote it herself. Yet she did it all in a friendly, unassuming way, happy to have me take her suggestions. It occurred to me that Edith Stein’s intellectual talents had in no way impaired the feminine side of her personality. She was anxious that I take back enough food for the return journey. She loved to show me pictures of her family, and of Husserl and Scheler too.—Father Jan Nota, S J.

Ten days later, on Sunday July 26, the Dutch Catholic Bishops’ letter of protest against the persecution of the Jews was publicly read in all Catholic parishes. The public reading infuriated the Nazis, who took it as an act of defiance. They had previously forbidden public protest by Dutch churches. In retaliation, the Nazis went back on their promise that “Jewish Christians” would be left unmolested. They decided on death for all “Catholic Jews.” As an extra cruelty, they rounded up their roughly 300 “Catholic Jew” victims on August 2, the next Sunday following the letter’s public reading.

The Nazis came for Edith and Rosa Stein at five in the afternoon. The sisters were gathered in the chapel for meditation. It was Edith’s turn read at the beginning of the meditation, and she had to stop when the prioress sent for her. Two S.S. officers stood at the Carmel grille and told her she had five minutes to pack her things. After hasty farewells and requests for prayers, Stein went out and joined Rosa, who was waiting at the convent gate. The street had begun to fill with local residents who were incensed by the round up. Rosa was upset, and Edith took her by the hand saying, “Rosa, come, we are going for our people.” She meant the Jewish people. They walked hand in hand to the corner where a van waited. It all took just a few minutes.

What follow are Edith Stein’s last letters, written July 24 thru August 6. The first two, written before the S.S. came for her on August 2, discuss her efforts to emigrate with Rosa to Switzerland. The last letters were written from a Nazi detention center in the Netherlands.

Letter (in French) to the Prioress of Carmel Le Paquier, Switzerland

Echt, July 24, 1942
My dear Reverend Mother,

Today we received your good letter. I thank you with all my heart for being willing to accept me as a member of your dear family—yours and that of all my dear sisters. I am unable to tell you how touched I am by your goodness and even more that of the Good God. You will understand it even better after you have heard the history of our lives and that of our family. We will now see if it is possible to get permission to leave the Netherlands. But it will probably take much time—months I suppose. I shall have to be content with such a promise.

Our dear Reverend Mother and my sister Rosa will add a few lines. Again, a thousand thanks, my dear Reverend Mother, and the expression of my respectful love in Jesus Christ.

Your very little and humble, unworthy,
Sr.Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, OCD

Letter to Auguste Perignon, a former teaching colleague in Speyer, Germany

J.M.
Echt, July 29, 1942
Pax Christi!
Sincere thanks for your kind note. R.I.P. for your dear brother. You will be grateful that he has found release. Since you are informed about us, I need only tell you the latest: Switzerland wishes to open its doors to my sister Rosa and myself, since the only cloistered monastery in our Order in that country—Le Paquier in the Canton Fribourg–will receive me, and a Convent of the Third Order Carmelites an hour away (from the Carmel), my sister. The two houses have certified, to the aliens’ office of the police, that they will provide for us for our lifetimes. The big question remains: will we be given permission here (by the Nazi occupation forces) to leave (the country). In any case, it will probably take a long time. I would not be sad if it did not come. After all, it is no slight matter to leave a beloved monastic family the second time. But I will accept whatever God arranges. Will you please tell them in Speyer and Kordel about this and ask for prayers?
To you and all who continue to think of me, cordial greetings. In Corde Jesu, your
Teresa Benedicta a Cruce

Letter to her Prioress at Camel Echt

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 4, 1942

Dear Mother and Sisters,

During the past night we left the transit-station A. (Amersfoort) and landed here early this morning. We were given a very friendly reception here. They intend to do everything possible to enable us to be freed or at least that we may remain here.* (*In the margin at this point in the letter is written, “Aug. 5: Is no longer possible.”)

All the Catholics are together and in our dormitory we have all the nuns (two Trappistines, one Dominican), Ruth (Kantorowicz), Alice (Reis), Dr. (Lisamaria) Meirowsky, and others are here. Two Trappist fathers from T. (Tilburg, Holland)) are also with us. In any case, it will be necessary for you to send us our personal credentials, our ID cards, and our ration cards. So far we have lived entirely on the generosity of others. We hope you have found the address of the Consul and have been in touch with him. We have asked many people to relay news to you. The two dear children from Koningsbosch (Annemarie and Elfriede Goldschmidt) are with us. We are very calm and cheerful. Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within. Sincerest greetings to all. We will probably write again soon.

In Corde Jesu, your B.
When you write, please do not mention that you got this.

(Enclosed in this letter were a note to the Carmel from her sister Rosa and a message to the Swiss Consulate in Amsterdam that said, “Enable us as soon as possible to cross the border. Our monastery will take care of travel expenses.”

Letter to her Prioress at Carmel Echt

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 5 (1942)

My dear Ones,

A R.C. nurse from A. (a Red Cross Nurse from Amsterdam) intends to speak today with the Consul. Here, every petition (on behalf) of fully Jewish Catholics has been forbidden since yesterday. Outside (the camp) an attempt can still be made, but with extremely little prospect. According to plans, a transport will leave on Friday (August 7). Could you possibly write to Mere Claire in Venlo, Kaldenkerkeweg 185 (the Ursuline Convent) to ask for our (my) manuscript (of The Science of the Cross) if they have not already sent it. We count on your prayers. There are so many persons who need some consolation and they expect it from the Sisters.
In Corde Jesu, your grateful
B.

Letter to her Prioress at Carmel Echt

JM

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 6, 1942

Dear Mother,

A Mother Superior from one of the convents arrived last evening with suitcases for her child and now offers to take some short letters along. Early tomorrow a transport leaves (Silesia or Czechoslovakia??).

What is most necessary: woolen stockings, two blankets. For Rosa all the warm underwear and whatever was in the laundry; for us both towels and wash cloths. Rosa also has no toothbrush, no Cross and no rosary. I would like the next volume of the breviary (so far I have been able to pray gloriously). Our identity cards, registration cards (as Jews), and ration cards.

A thousand thanks, greetings to all, Y.R.’s grateful child,

B.
(P.S.) 1 habit and aprons, 1 small veil.

The letter of August 6, 1942, was the final letter. Early on Friday, August 7, at the railway station in Schifferstadt, Germany, a woman in dark clothing inside a sealed transport hailed the stationmaster who was standing on the platform. She identified herself as Edith Stein and asked him to pass her greetings and a message to friends who lived there. The message was, “We are travelling east.”

The transport carrying Edith and Rosa Stein arrived at Auschwitz on Sunday, August 9. All the women and children as well as most of the men were immediately gassed. They were buried in a mass grave.

None of the Jewish Catholics mentioned in Stein’s letter of August 4 survived Auschwitz. Alice Reis was a nurse. She had converted to Catholicism in 1930. At her baptism in Beuron, Germany, the godmother standing next to her was Edith Stein. Stein first met Ruth Kantorowicz in Hamburg when Ruth was three years old. In 1934, they became friends when Ruth joined the Catholic Church. Kantorowicz was also a Ph.D. From 1935 on, she often typed Stein’s manuscripts. When the Nazi’s came for her on August 2, she was living at the Ursuline Convent in Venlo and had been typing Stein’s manuscript for The Science of the Coss. That is why Stein’s letter of August 5 discusses a manuscript being sent to her from that convent.

All the accounts of survivors from the detention camp in the Netherlands that mention Edith Stein agree on her remarkable calm and leadership in the camp. One survivor’s account was as follows:

It was Edith Stein’s complete calm and self-possession that marked her out from the rest of the prisoners. There was a spirit of indescribable misery in the camp; the new prisoners, especially, suffered from extreme anxiety. Edith Stein went among the women like an angel, comforting, helping, and consoling them. Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and had sat moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children. Edith Stein immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.

Thanks to Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc

Cradle Catholics who grew up in the tumultuous years following Vatican II, my husband and I as children learned virtually nothing about saints. Greg told me yesterday morning he first heard of Joan of Arc from a Brady Bunch episode; I learned a bit about her in my high school church youth group, but dismissed her as a nut case.

I’ve been curious about Joan of Arc ever since I read about her in Father James Martin’s My Life with the Saints earlier this year. So I rented Victor Fleming’s 1948 movie on Netflix. I recommend this movie to anyone who wants to learn some basics about this remarkable saint. Older children and teens can also learn a lot about St. Joan by watching this movie.

When this movie came out, Fleming (at left)  already was well known for directing the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. He was a sought-after director during Hollywood’s Golden Age. His Joan of Arc, which garnered seven Academy Award nominations and two Academy Awards, stars Ingrid Bergman as Saint Joan and José  Ferrer as the beleaguered King Charles VII of  France. While Joan of Arc marked Ferrer’s Hollywood debut, the film turned out to be Fleming’s last. He died at age 59 of a heart attack shortly after Joan of Arc’s release.

Over the course of several days, Greg and I and our 10-year-old son have been watching Joan of Arc on our wide-screen TV. We finished it up yesterday. To be sure, the Technicolor movie is pure Hollywood – obviously painted backdrops, heavy use of dramatic lighting and an emotional musical score to underline key moments in St. Joan’s life and martyrdom. Nonetheless, the movie is a good introduction to this remarkable saint and I am grateful we’ve been able have our son meet her. 
The movie makes it clear the illiterate peasant girl’s motivations to overcome English occupation of French soil were purely spiritual. I hungered for still more information about this holy woman and military leader.  I’ve ordered Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, based on the recommendation of  blog reader Anujeet. Mark Twain, a devout unbeliever, spent 12 years researching Joan of Arc and another two years writing about her.  His conclusion? “She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.” 

Dear readers, I will keep you posted as I make my way through Twain’s book. In the meantime, I wanted to share a wonderful prayer to St. Joan of Arc. 


In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.









Because Hundreds of Miles from Home, I Still Belong

A reader who uses the handle bo_leggs made a comment on Webster’s post  Wednesday that hit home with me. The post was about churches that close down in the summer months. bo_leggs wrote: “One of the big differences between Catholics and Protestants is that a Catholic belongs to every Catholic Church in the world. Protestants belong only to their local church.” This is one aspect of the faith lifelong Catholics such as myself might take for granted. But as Frank wrote last year, going to Mass on vacation is easy.

I visited Toronto for a few days last month, tagging along with my husband, Greg, as he attended a conference at the University of Toronto. While he attended his conference,  I walked for miles, exploring Kensington Market,  Koreatown and the Art Gallery of Ontario. One morning, I felt called to attend Mass. It happened to be the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted a corner of contemplation amid the bustling big city.

A few blocks from the Holiday Inn where we were staying is The Newman Centre Roman Catholic Student Centre and Parish at the University of Toronto. I arrived early for the 12:15 p.m. Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which sits beside the center. The church, built in 1926, was small and simple, with lovely stained glass windows and contemporary artwork. (Pictured above)The choir stall sat behind the altar and there were no kneelers. In some ways, the building reminded me of an Anglican church. 

About 20 of us gathered to worship; most folks came alone and I discovered Canadians, or these Canadians at least, bow and do not shake hands at the sign of peace. We stood and bowed instead of kneeling during the consecration. Otherwise, the liturgy was what I have experienced my entire life. The Dominican priest celebrating the Mass, Fr. Marcos Ramos, OP, spoke about St. Mary Magdalen and the important role that she and other women of the early Church played in telling the Good News of the Resurrection. And he reminded us to remember to look for Christ in the people we encounter. 

When Mass was finished, I asked some parishioners in the foyer for directions to the building where my husband’s conference was being held. A young man offered to walk me a few blocks to the building. “I’m heading in that direction.”  We chatted as we walked and I learned he was a native of Ontario and preparing to attend law school at the University of Alberta. This encounter felt ordinary but in truth it was extraordinary  because we had nothing in common except the faith we share. 

Because the Church offers the fullness of God’s truth, it is a universal church. It exists in all over this earth and in the heavenly realm as well. Perhaps those other worshipers attend Mass at this church on the University of Toronto campus every day. I was passing through. Those differences didn’t matter. I felt a deep sense of belonging because we all were sharing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As the Newman Centre’s website states: “Each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, it is our most intimate union with the Lord. In Communion we share in the life and work of Christ. This meal unites us with every other believer around the table. Each of us, as we absorb the body and blood of Christ, is empowered to bring some share of his life to all we meet.”

Thanks to the Friends I’ve Made Through CL

The other night, I hosted a potluck for the fledgling faith-sharing group forming here in Central New Jersey. The foods were as eclectic as we are: I offered a pasta and eggplant dish my husband had prepared; G., who grew up in Ecuador, brought plantain empanadas he had spent hours preparing; P. brought desserts in the style of her native Paraguay; our parish priest brought a Key Lime pie; and A. brought a scrumptious walnut cake prepared by his wife. A young professor of Italian from Florence joined us late and enjoyed all our goodies.

A year ago, I didn’t know most of these folks. Now here we were, gathered to share a meal, watch a short movie about AIDS in Uganda, and talk about how Christ can help us realize there is more to our lives than the sum of our problems.

Christ shows Himself through the people we encounter, including my new friends in the Communion and Liberation movement. I learned about Communion and Liberation (CL) from reading on this blog about Webster’s enthusiasm for this lay ecclesial movement. I am not a fan of joining groups and it took me a long time to attend a School of Community, CL’s weekly catechesis. CL’s purpose is “the education to Christian maturity of its adherents and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all the spheres of contemporary life.” 

I have a long way to go. I am by far the oldest member of the School of Community and consider myself the least mature spiritually. It’s a tribute to the Holy Spirit that I have learned so much from folks 10, 20, or more years younger than me. The biggest thing I have learned so far from these new friends is how much I have engaged in dualism—considering my religion as over here and the rest of the world, which rarely matches my ideals, as over there. I am learning Christ infuses our entire world, not just the sheltered world of parish life or my own private prayers and thoughts. This insight has made me much less harsh in my judgments of others. I am learning we’re all redeemable, even me.

Anyway, back to that potluck. As I tidied up from the gathering, I considered what varied paths led me and my CL friends to this place and time. How good God is to put before me friends who help me journey toward my destiny.

Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor.
If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! 
For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up.

My Favorite Book (A Few Words for Wednesday)

This weekly slot was meant to feature poetry and has done so until today. But yesterday afternoon I picked up my favorite book again for the fourth or fifth time, and I can’t imagine writing about any other “Words” right now. You may know Norman Maclean (left) as the author of the story behind the movie “A River Runs Through It.” My favorite book is Norman Maclean’s other book.

“A River Runs Through It” has the best first line and the best last lines of any book I’ve ever read, except maybe Maclean’s other book. A slightly fictionalized memoir of growing up in Montana with a Presbyterian-minister father and a troubled brother (played by Brad Pitt in the Robert Redford movie), “A River Runs Through It” begins:

In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing. 

It ends, following the death of the author-narrator’s brother, a superb fisherman:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.

I am haunted by Young Men and Fire, Maclean’s other book, published posthumously in 1992 after Maclean had spent the last fifteen years of his life researching and writing a story that had haunted him since he was in his 40s. He died at age 87.

The story is the Mann Gulch fire, and both the fire and the haunting are summed up beautifully in the opening lines of Young Men and Fire:

It was a few days after the tenth of August, 1949, when I first saw the Mann Gulch fire and started to become, even then in part consciously, a small part of its story. I had just arrived from the East to spend several weeks in my cabin at Seeley Lake, Montana. The postmistress in the small town at the lower end of the lake told me about the fire and how thirteen Forest Service Smokejumpers had been burned to death on the fifth of August trying to get to the top of a ridge ahead of a blowup in tall, dead grass. 

Maclean says “the East” but means Chicago. For forty years he was a revered professor of English at the University of Chicago and wrote only scholarly works until his retirement in the 1970s. Then he set out to do what most of my memoirs clients do, nothing more, nothing less: set down a few stories for his children. The result was A River Runs Through It and Other Stories—three in all, including the fabulous title “Logging and Pimping and ‘Your Pal, Jim.’” While the title story concerns Maclean’s family life as a child and young man, the other two pieces in the book are about his forest experiences in late adolescence. He fought fires in the West when he was only fifteen, so the story of thirteen college-age boys dying in “a blowup in tall, dead grass” was something he always identified with.

This will be a very long post if I don’t set some limits to it. So let me do two more things only: tell you why I love this book so much and give you part of the ending of the book. You’ll have to read Young Men and Fire to read all of the ending.

Young Men and Fire is a work about young men by an old man who stood where the young men stood and fought fires as they did. MacLean wrote, “The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.”

Young Men and Fire is the work of a man who never stopped searching for the meaning of existence. Maclean dedicated his retirement years to reconstructing what happened to the young Smokejumpers from the moment they landed full of youthful confidence “up gulch” from the fire to the final moments when, the fire having “blown up” and rushed toward them on a steep hillside in high flammable grass on the hottest of August days, they scrambled desperately for the ridge where they knew the fire would wane. Only two young men and their leader made it alive. Did the leader’s “escape fire” (you’ll have to read the book) cause the deaths of some of the fallen? And what did the fallen experience as they fought for their final breaths in a fire that suffocated them before it burned them?

Maclean offers a beautiful answer to the latter question:

Although we can enter their last thoughts and feelings only by indirection, we are sure of the final act of many of them. Dr. Hawkins, the physician who went in with the rescue crew the night the men were burned, told me that, after the bodies had fallen, most of them had risen again, taken a few steps, and fallen again, this final time like pilgrims in prayer, facing the top of the hill, which on that slope is nearly east. Ranger Jansson, in charge of the rescue crew, independently made the same observation.

The evidence, then, is that at the very end beyond thought and beyond fear and beyond even self-compassion and divine bewilderment there remains some firm intention to continue doing forever and ever what we last hoped to do on earth. By this final act they had come about as close as body and spirit can to establishing a unity of themselves with earth, fire, and perhaps the sky. 

This is almost but not quite the end of Young Men and Fire. You will have to read it yourself to reach the final lines. They will hit you like a haymaker.

The best way to tell you how much I love this book is this: On one of our final trips together, my father, then an old man, and I traveled to Great Falls, Montana, to see my uncle (Mom’s brother), a retired rancher. In our rental car, I set out alone one morning along the road that winds south with the Missouri, until I reached what are known as the Gates of the Mountains, the place where the Missouri flows northward out of the Rockies and from there onto the Great Plains. One of the first gulches inside the Gates is Mann Gulch. Just downriver (north) of Mann Gulch, I hopped a charter boat and asked to be dropped off upriver at a place where I could climb into Mann Gulch. I was dropped at the mouth of Meriwether Canyon, and I then climbed the side of Meriwether to a place where I could look into Mann. Here is the picture I took from that vantage point:

The far hillside is the one up which the young men raced against fire.

Norman Maclean wrote two great books in his last twenty years, his seventies and eighties. I am now 59, and if I can write one book half so good as either of these before I’m done, you can punch my ticket. But even if I don’t write one good book, I want to live my last years as Norman Maclean did, searching for the truth—and as the young men did too, facing the top of the hill, “nearly east.”

Because of Trinitarian Love

The other night, my husband and I  listened on the family computer as our son, hundreds of miles from home, DJ’d an alternate-rock radio station. Not quite 14, our son had never been on the radio before; the stint is part of a camp he’s attending for high schoolers interested in communications. We could hear how nervous he was, and how joyful, too.

For me and Greg, raising our sons means imbuing them with all the love and faith we can, and then offering them opportunities to fly on their own. We strive, most imperfectly, to reflect in our family life the Trinitarian nature of our God.


Unlike Jews and Muslims, Christians do not see God as a solitary figure; God is three co-equal persons in one. God gave His son everything; including His own divinity. When Christ ascended, he left us the Holy Spirit. Each person of God is co-equal, co-powerful, and co-eternal. This Triune God reflects the way we humans thrive; not in isolation, but in community. And I believe it reflects the way God wants us to love our children; to lead them down the paths of their own destinies toward Him.

Every human being who ever lived was willed into existence by this Triune God. His immeasurable love calls us to live in relationship with one another. Like the Trinity, we are distinct persons and yet we are inseparable from one another. 


The central truths of our faith are not easy to fathom. Lance McNeel, a Catholic painter from Texas, uses abstract art to illuminate them. (His painting, The Blessed Trinity, is above)  “While abstraction does not create the same degree of narrative detail as that found in classical artwork, I believe that it can provide a more powerful image to describe the mysteries that we as humans cannot understand intellectually.”.A pastoral letter last year from the United States Conference of Bishops put it this way: “… like the Persons of the Trinity, marriage is a communion of love between co-equal persons, beginning with that between husband and wife and then extending to all members of the family.”

And so it was our child, after talking on air about the weather in Maine and his reflections on a Chiddy Bang  song he had just discovered, called home.


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