For All the Saints, Cyril of Alexandria

Today we celebrate the feast day of Cyril of Alexandria, a Doctor of the Church.  Like Athanatius before him, he defended the dogma of the Incarnation of Our Lord against the heretical ideas of Nestorius, who had gained a substantial following with his beliefs that denied that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.

As we have discovered while reading Belloc’s The Great Heresies, we have been realizing that attacking the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation is a generally accepted principle among heresiarchs who attack the teachings of the Church. That God became a Man is mind-blowing when you think about it. If it isn’t, maybe you haven’t spent enough time thinking this through.

Thankfully, Cyril thought it through and wasn’t about to let Nestorius have his way. The result of these controversies was the Council of Ephesus, held in the summer of the year 431. You can read more about this important meeting at the Catholic Encyclopedia. Below is an example of Cyril’s rhetorical ability as he explains why Our Lord must have been both fully human and fully God.

Surely it is quite obvious and unmistakable that the Only-begotten became like us, became, that is, a complete man, that he might free our earthly body from the alien corruptions which had been brought into it. He descended to become identical with us, in respect of the conditions of life, accommodating himself through the unity of Word and flesh: he made the human soul his own, thus making it victorious over sin, coloring it, as it were, with the dye of his steadfastness and immutability of his own nature. By becoming the flesh of the Word, who gives life to all things, this flesh triumphs over the power of death and destruction. He is, so to speak, the root and the first fruits of those who are restored in the Spirit to newness of life, to immortality of the body, to certainty and security of divinity, so that he may transmit this condition to the whole of humanity by participation, and as an act of grace.

Cyril also was clear in his argument that the Blessed Mother is the Theotokos or Mother of God as he so clearly and reasonably argues below. Note the high regard he has for Athanatius, who had successfully fought against a similar heretical threat presented by the followers of Arius.

That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the mother of God fills me with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers.

In the third book of his work on the holy and consubstantial Trinity, our father Athanasius, of glorious memory, several times refers to the holy Virgin as “Mother of God.” I cannot resist quoting his own words: “As I have often told you, the distinctive mark of holy Scripture is that it was written to make a twofold declaration concerning our Savior; namely, that he is and has always been God, since he is the Word, Radiance and Wisdom of the Father; and that for our sake in these latter days he took flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.”

Again further on he says: “There have been many holy men, free from all sin. Jeremiah was sanctified in his mother’s womb, and John while still in the womb leaped for joy at the voice of Mary, the Mother of God.” Athanasius is a man we can trust, one who deserves our complete confidence, for he taught nothing contrary to the sacred books.

The divinely inspired Scriptures affirm that the Word of God was made flesh, that is to say, he was united to a human body endowed with a rational soul. He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves.

It is held, therefore, that there are in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a deified man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form. We are assured of this by Saint Paul’s declaration: When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.

As Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman would say of him,

Cyril was a clear-headed, constructive theologian. He saw what Theodoret did not see. He was not content with anathematizing Nestorius; he laid down a positive view of the Incarnation, which the Universal Church accepted and holds to this day as the very truth of Revelation. It is this insight into, and grasp of the Adorable Mystery, which constitutes his claim to take his seat among the Doctors of Holy Church. And he traced the evil, which he denounced, higher up, and beyond the person and the age of Nestorius. He fixed the blame upon Theodore of the foregoing generation, “the great commentator,” the luminary and pride of the Antiochene school, the master of Theodoret; and he was right, for the exegetical principles of that school, as developed by Theodore, became little less than a system of rationalism.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, pray for us.

YIMC Bookclub Meeting Notice!

Heads up Book-clubbers!  I’m postponing the meeting until next Thursday for the next chapter of Belloc’s The Great Heresies. The reason? Well, it is two-fold.

A) This is a long chapter, very involved, and will need to be read a few times. That and nobody volunteered to take it up.  B) I have a high school chum who is passing through my town on his way while moving to Maine from Texas.

So, if you read the chapter already, bear with me and save up your thoughts for next Thursday. Also, if anyone would like to volunteer your reflections on this chapter, shoot me an e-mail (available on my profile).

Because The Church Has Room for Everyone, Including Andy Warhol

Most of us who have heard of Andy Warhol think of him as the avant-garde filmmaker, as the celebrity with wild hair and big glasses who frequented Studio 54 in the 1980s, as the father of Pop Art, or as one of the most influential visual artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Now, we can also think of him as a devout Catholic. Warhol, who was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928 to Slovakian parents, died in 1987 from complications of gallbladder surgery. During his childhood, Warhol would walk with his family each Sunday six miles from their home in Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhood to Saint John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. Unbeknownst to all but those closest to him, Warhol as an adult returned to the faith of his youth. His journey reminds me of what Christ told his apostles: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? Christ’s invitation is for all of us.

Last weekend, my family visited the Brooklyn Museum to see an exhibit of his work called “Andy Warhol: the Last Decade” which documents the Christian-themed art he created in the final years of his life.The museum was quiet and nearly empty, giving us time and space to contemplate his artwork. The lack of visitors was ironic, given that in 1999 the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit “Sensation!” included a piece by British painter Chris Ofili that  depicted the Blessed Mother covered in elephant dung and surrounded by pornographic images. That exhibit drew large crowds and a storm of controversy.

I wanted to share some of the artwork that moved me last weekend and to encourage readers within driving distance to visit this exhibit, which runs through Sept. 12. I don’t mean to suggest all the artwork in this show is suitable for children or that it hews to religious orthodoxy. One piece, called Oxidation, was created by combining urine with copper metallic pigment, Blessedly, only my husband realized that at the time because he is the one of us four who actually reads the labels next to artwork.

The final year of his life was Warhol’s most profilic. He produced an estimated 3,500 pieces of art. Here is a self-portrait. This piece is part of a series of paintings of camouflage in various colors and sizes. What was the artist hiding? Until his death, few knew that Warhol was a daily Mass attender at the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side of  Manhattan. He also was a regular volunteer at church homeless shelter in Manhattan. Were these camouflage paintings an effort to reconcile his public persona with his private faith? 

Warhol was commissioned to created a modern version of  Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It sits in a gallery across the street from Da Vinci’s masterpiece in Milan. After Warhol’s death, art historian and curator Jane Dillenberger discovered by combing through galleries and private collections in Europe and the United States that he had produced more than 100 drawings and paintings inspired by Da Vinci’s work. The painting in the Brooklyn Museum show is monumental, covering an entire wall of exhibit space.

“Warhol’s contribution was so important. He was incredibly prolific,” Dillenberger said in a 2001 radio interview. “The number of works he created is beyond imagination. He created the biggest series of religious works of any American artist.”

Warhol created this small paint and silkscreen work in 1987, using Sly Stallone as a model for the bodybuilder. (Interesting, Stallone also has returned to the Catholic faith.) Other versions of this work include a silkscreen of Christ beside it.

This painting was my favorite. I am not an art critic or historian. Some have suggested this painting was inspired by Orthodox Christian Easter eggs and that Warhol managed to animate the sacred through this painting. I do know these eggs – with their playfulness, color and exuberance – make me feel hopeful for Andy Warhol.

Law And Grace (A Few Words For Wednesday)

I discovered a new Catholic poet yesterday and added a selection of his work to the YIM Catholic Bookshelf. His name is Aubrey Thomas de Vere. I don’t recall how I discovered him actually, because it really wasn’t my doing, I just found him in the Treasure Chest, so to speak. I remember seeing that he had dedicated a book of poems to Cardinal John Henry Newman, though,  so I sat up and took notice.

He is an Irish poet of some renown, having lived in the 19th Century, dying early in the Twentieth in 1902. According to the citation in the Catholic Encyclopedia, “a critic in the Quarterly Review of 1896 says of his poetry, that next to Browning’s it shows the fullest vitality, resumes the largest sphere of ideas, covers the broadest intellectual field since the poetry of Wordsworth.”

That is pretty heavy duty talent to be compared to. I think upon further examination of his gift, you will find it an accurate statement.  De Vere himself has the following words to say about his poems on sacred subjects,

Poetry, like every other authentic Art, finds, of course, her proper place among the Handmaidens of Religion. Her service, however, is twofold — direct and indirect: and when, without venturing to claim the title of sacred poetry, she yet treats directly on “sacred subjects,” she may too often be charged with intruding into a region more elevated than her own.

To Poetry commonly belongs rather the refracted and coloured beam than the white light ; and the humblest is often the highest offeringwhich she can lay on the Altar. In illustrating that divine beauty which still hangs in broken gleams around a fallen world;—in tracing a love more than human which lives within the human affections;—in cherishing justice and truth as the foundations unremoved amid the fleeting pageantry of outward things;—and in thus inculcating fidelity to the righteous cause, especially when obscured or trampled down;—in doing these things, Poetry discharges a moral function, auxiliary to a higher teaching than her own: and thus much, ‘without departing from her subordinate sphere, she cannot but do in proportion as her inspiration is pure, and her purpose sincere.

In extenuation, then, of attempts which may be condemned as rash, I have only to observe that the sacred subjects touched on in the latter portion of this volume, belong, for the most part, rather to the border land of Religious Philosophy and Art, than to Religion, properly so called.

Which means his work is art alone and not the orthodox poetry of, say, St. Ephrem. Here is an example of one of De Vere’s poems on the sacred.

Law And Grace

It is not true, that unto us, enrolled
Within Christ’s band, the Law exists no longer:
But this is true; that we, who sank of old,
Oppressed beneath that armour’s weight of gold,
Sustain it now in glory, being stronger!

The Form remains: but is a form no more
To eyes inspired, that see
Through bondage Liberty;
And, in His earthly shape, their God adore.
To Love, all things are Love:
To Grace, all things are Grace:
And humble Faith can never move
In an unholy place!

Within, but not beneath, the Law we dwell.
That wall, of old our prison’s circuit, now
(Girding the citied mountain’s sovereign brow)
Is but the bulwark of man’s citadel.
Large views beyond are given:
Safe views of all the earth ;
and healing airs of Heaven.

Within the Temple of the Law we stand ;
As once without it stood
That awe-struck multitude ;
And on the marble Tables lay our hand.
There, like the Priest of old, our God we meet :
And stand up boldly by the Mercy-Seat.

De Vere also wrote a sonnet with the same title as well,

Law And Grace

Yes, I remember: once beneath a yoke
We walked, with jealous pride and painful fear:
Then a stern footstep sounded ever near;
And, when that Presence dread His silence broke,
Austere and cold as if a statue spoke,
Each marble sentence smote upon my ear;
Yet ” Thou shalt not” was all that I could hear—
So swiftly from its trance my spirit woke.
The sun was rising. Floods of light divine,
Golden, and crimson on the mountains played.
I saw the village spire like silver shine:
Eolian music filled the echoing shade:
And I could hear, through all the murmuring glen,
Music of moving Gods come down to live with men.

Which did you prefer? Version A or version B? You can read more of Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s poems here.

Because Christ Keeps Calling To Me

This morning was one of those mornings. Nothing went well at home after the boys left for school and I felt bogged down by minutiae. Folding seemingly endless laundry, preparing for a teacher-training class tonight, mopping up from a bloody nose one of my sons had on the kitchen and bathroom floors, hauling in a huge bag of dog food from the back of the van, losing a piece of writing I had spent hours on, making sure I had paid for my sons’ summer camps, realizing we didn’t have phone service because we had forgotten to pay the bill, seeing one son had left a book on the couch that he was supposed to bring to school and on and on. I was irritable. I was self-involved. I really just wanted this part of the day to be over.

Then Christ intervened. A little after 12 noon, I pulled out of the driveway to drop my son’s book off at school. My mind filled with my own to-do list, I turned on the radio, barely listening as I turned a corner to  head  downtown. The sight before me woke me up. In the humid summer air, an elderly man was wheeling an even older man down the street. I thought: these are the faces of Christ, breaking into my life. And suddenly, I became aware of the song that was playing.

It was the Moody Blues’ song: Tuesday Afternoon. Tuesday afternoon, I’m just beginning to see, now I’m on my way. It doesn’t matter to me, chasing the clouds away.”

Christ was calling to me. I realized that, but I chose not to listen. I thought – well, the DJ put that song on because it is Tuesday afternoon. Of course he did. And I have seen that pair before, traveling down the street. This is all a coincidence.
I kept driving toward my son’s school. As I turned another corner, I saw another person in a wheelchair. This time, it was a young boy, waiting at a bus stop with his mother. The tune on the radio was heading into its final refrain: “Something, calls to me. The trees are drawing me near, I’ve got to find out why? Those gentle voices I hear, explain it all with a sigh.”

About half an hour later, I was sitting in my parish center with my School of Community friends. We take turns reading out loud from various CL writings. Part of the passage from Fr. Julian Carron’s writings that I was asked to read today said this: “Life challenges us! …I am more and more glad that I have been spared nothing and that I must face the same issues as everyone else, because this is the opportunity for me to verify the faith and to grow in coming to terms with everything that happens.”

See the painting by Marc Chagall above? Christ is part of our time and also beyond it. I pray I will listen when He calls and that an awareness of His presence graces me with peace and gratitude.

For Thoughts Such As This From St. John Climacus

Since I became a Catholic, I run into thoughts and words from the saints that sometimes just stop me in my tracks and cause me to consider and re-consider my way of living. Here is an example from The Ladder of Divine Ascent written by St. John Climacus (or “Of the Ladder”).

A man who takes pride in natural abilities— I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them — this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.

And there are men who wear out their bodies to no purpose in the pursuit of total dispassion, heavenly treasures, miracle working, and prophetic ability, and the poor fools do not realize that humility, not hard work, is the mother of such things.

The man who seeks a quid pro quo from God builds on uncertainty, whereas the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches.

I was that man in the first sentence for an awfully long time. Now, I need to ensure that by trying to leave that first person completely behind, I don’t become the person John describes in the second sentence as well. Because as he states in the third sentence, expecting the Lord to scratch my back only if I scratch His is silly, especially when I consider how deeply in debt I really am.

St. John Climacus, pray for us.

Would You Believe The Who? (Music for Mondays)

The Who, the bad boys of rock n’ roll. I can hear some of you saying You’re kidding, right Frank?! You think there is any redeeming quality to any of the music these artists have produced? Well, if you ask me, my answer is a resounding Yes! Keep in mind, the beautiful thing about art is it is subject to personal interpretation. So I can truthfully say that some of the hit songs of this particular band have always struck me as spiritual.

Don’t try to explain to me that Pete Townsend and company are a bunch of sinners up to their neck in filth, etc. I’m not saying they are perfect.  I’m not saying that they are Catholics, and I’m not saying that all their songs, especially their most recent stuff, pass muster for the faithful. But hey, here’s an idea, let’s pray for them!

Then, bear with me as I present you with a few of their tunes that I always feel inspired by. Because as Webster said once, “being Catholic is like walking around with a blazing torch in your hand, one that illuminates everything you encounter, at least for me. So everything is a good subject for YIM Catholic, because Jesus Christ is everywhere, all the time.” Indeed, is that not what Allison wrote about yesterday? As Our Lord said in the Gospel reading yesterday, “who do you say that I am?” So let’s see what good I can find from the work of this famous rock n’ roll band with the name from Our Lord’s query.

First up, from their 1967 Album “The Who Sell Out,” I Can See For Miles.  Sure, on the surface it’s a love story gone wrong.  But from a different perspective, one gained standing on the foundation of Scripture coupled with riding on the shoulders of the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I feel this way when confronting “the deceiver” day to day.

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I’m Free, from the rock-opera Tommy. Maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, but this is how I feel when I let go of the tiller and hand myself over to Our Lord. Sure, it’s hard not to try and grab the wheel back from time to time. But I notice that whenever I do the driving, I don’t get this feeling. This version of the song is from Tommy, the movie and rich in symbolism.

If I told you what it takes
to reach the highest high,
You’d laugh and say ‘nothing’s that simple’
But you’ve been told many times before
Messiahs pointed to the door
And no one had the guts to leave the temple!

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See Me, Feel Me. From the closing scene of the movie Tommy as well. Have you ever felt like this as you contemplate Our Lord and Savior? Maybe Roger Daltrey is singing about the sun, but when I sing it, it’s about The Son. This scene reminds me a bit of Psalm 121 and I think of Mary the sister of Lazarus when hearing these words,

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet

Have a look:

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If you have an hour(and change) to kill, you can watch the entire rock-opera Tommy as performed live in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheater in 1989 at the link here. Low resolution video, and lots of guest stars too(Stevie Wynwood, Billy Idol,Patti Labelle, Phil Collins, and Elton John). Be advised, some ‘R’ rated lyrics when Billy Idol comes aboard.

The Seeker. Recorded after Tommy, and it seems to be another unintentional spiritual hit, with me anyway. According to the link (see title), Pete Townsend says “it sounded great in the mosquito-ridden swamp I made it up in, Florida at three in the morning, drunk out of my brain.” He didn’t like it much, it seems. Which goes to show that it doesn’t always matter what the artist thinks, but how one percieves the art. Well, their agent must have liked it! There God goes again, writing straight with crooked lines.

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From the rock-opera Quadrophenia (1973),  Love Reign o’er Me. This album was also made into a movie in 1979 and stars a bunch of unknowns and one Gordon Sumner, aka, Sting. I never saw the movie, never had the time. But this song became a hit, and I would venture to put forth that the reason it did so well is that it strikes a chord with listeners, universally. Another catholic hit with a small ‘c.’

Only love,
Can bring the rain,
That makes you yearn to the sky.
Only love,
Can bring the rain,
That falls like tears from on high.

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Won’t Get Fooled Again (1971). We don’t waste much time and energy on politics here at YIM Catholic. This classic song pretty much sums up why. Vote, don’t throw in the towel, but also don’t forget to “get down on your knees and pray”too. For as the Psalmist says,

I put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save. (Psalm 146:3)

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From their latest album (2006) Endless Wire. So Pete Townsend saw Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and was inspired to write a few songs. Maybe not in a good way. This one is called Two Thousand Years. Remember what I said earlier about their later stuff? It’s definitely not orthodox as Pete is still struggling with the concept of organized religion. Like you haven’t, right? That’s why I said pray for them.

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From the same album, It’s Not Enough. Because He requires all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, which for some may seem to be asking too much. But like Our Lord says in yesterday’s Gospel reading,“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” 

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I hope you enjoyed these selections. Pax Christi and see you next Monday.

Thanks to the Letters of St. Paulinus

I was so intrigued by researching the life of Saint Paulinus of Nola for his feast day. He is beloved, in part, because of his correspondence with such heavy hitters as Jerome and Augustine. I just had to find some of the poems and letters he wrote. This was easy. I merely clicked on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf you see on your right, and typed in Paulinus. What a treasure awaited me.

Among the jewels I encountered were letters Paulinus wrote to Sulpicius Severus. The men had much in common; both were from wealthy families, grew up in France and converted to Christianity and a life of ascetism after enduring losses. In fact, they converted the same year – 389. As Paulinus found solace in the Church after the loss of his newborn son, Sulpicius was drawn to the faith after the death of his wife shortly after their marriage. The Church later recognized both men as saints. Here are two excerpts from a letter.
What I love about these passages are the extended metaphors; Saint Paulinus compares fields to our souls. Imagine receiving such a letter as this. 
But the field which you are does not bristle with thorns, nor is it dry with sand, or rough and bare with rocky places, where the seed that falls is choked, left uncovered or scorched. No, you are the field which God blessed with the dew of heaven and fertility of the earth. So your tongue is bedewed with the word of God, and your heart, which God finds fertile, receives the seed and multiplies it in spiritual harvest, so that with your  fruit the Reaper fills His hand, and He that gathereth sheathes, His bosom. It is God himself who is referred to here,  for He is both Sower and Reaper of the Word in us. He is also the hand, the right hand of God, which we fill with good works;  He is also the bosom of Abraham in which we find rest as rewards for our works.”

And later in the letter he writes: 
May the same Lord become for our food the sweet grape, which was hung for us on the lever of the cross, showing us and allowing us to taste the fruit of the promised land so that we may no longer seek after the poor growth of the uncultivated fields, amongst which we risk plucking also the noxious cluster of wild vines. This certainly happened to me when my soul, whose culture is the word of God, was rough with the thorns of worldly cares. I yearned for this present life, so short in years and barren in good, and amongst my  meaningless actions, I gathered harmful sins like poisonous grass amongst wild grass, and so I admitted death to the cauldron of my body or my heart. But thanks be to God, who has delivered me from the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord. As He mingled the strength of His spirit  with my weakness,  my bitter wickedness and barren uselessness were transformed to sweetness and fertility.”

For All the Saints: Paulinus of Nola

St. Paulinus was born to an aristocratic Roman family in the fourth century after Christ but his saintly life is revered to this day, particularly in southern Italy, where he is remembered for his devotion to the poor.

(Pictured here is La Festa dei Gigli in Nola, where several large statues in honor of the saint, placed on towers, are carried upon the shoulders of the faithful around the city.)

Two aspects of Paulinus’ life intrigue me. First, the writer’s correspondents are a who’s who of fourth century saints : Martin of Tours. Jerome, Ambrose  and, most notably Augustine. Second, my paternal grandparents grew up a stone’s throw from Nola, in a region beset by wrenching poverty and natural disasters. Nola sits outside Naples on the plain between Mount Vesuvius and the Appennines.

It’s a place that for centuries has been overrun by invaders and victimized by natural disasters. Archeological evidence indicates of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Nola between 1700 and 1600 B.C. The list of foreign occupiers is long: Oscans, Samnites and Romans. Residents defended themselves against Hannibal and Spartacus. Add to the mix destructive earthquakes and you get a sense of what it meant to live in Nola. Tragically, the city now is under the control of the Camorra, the largest and oldest criminal organization in Italy.

Against this backgroup, Paulinus emerges as a  regional folk hero. One story about Paulinus was that in 409 A.D. when the Huns of North African overran the Italian Peninsula, Paulinus fled the city with its children, preventing them from being taken as slaves. A widow whose only son had been captured by the Huns asked Paulinus to find him in North Africa and bring him home. St. Paulinus embarked on the expedition, and when he found the widow’s son, tried to barter with the king for his safe return. The king refused to be swayed until Paulinus offered himself in place of the child. The king accepted, and Paulinus became his personal slave.”

“Known for his ability to portend the future, Paulinus warned the king of impending danger to his kingdom. The king was so grateful that he granted him his freedom. Paulinus accepted with one caveat: he wanted to bring home all of the Nolese men who had been enslaved during the raids. The king acquiesced, and sent Paulinus and the men back to Nola on the boat of a Turkish sultan who had heard about Paulinus’ virtues.”

Upon his return after two years, the people of Nola greeted him with lilies (gigli) in their hands. After his death, they brought boquets of gigli to the church. This grew into the tradition of a towering spire of lilies.

While the historic truth of this particular story is unclear, we know Paulinus began his life wealthy and his wealth doubled when he married a Spanish woman named Theresia. He became governor of  Campania in southern Italy. While there, he was impressed by the devotion to St. Felix of Nola, who had been martyred a century earlier. Paulinus built a hospice for the poor near St. Felix’ shrine and built a road for pilgrims travelling to it. He converted to Christianity at age 35. “The man without Christ is dust and shadow, ” he wrote upon his conversion.  He and his wife moved to estates they owned Spain  After much difficulty conceiving children, Theresia finally bore a son, who died within a week of birth. Paulinus was 36 years old.

Two years later, both Paulinus and Theresia decided to consecrate themselves to God. They gave away all their land and riches. Paulinus became a monk. At age 56, he became a Bishop. His poet’s heart shifted focus “To my mind the only art is the faith, and Christ is my poetry,” he wrote.

Pope Benedict XVI tells us “Paulinus’ poems are songs of faith and love in which the daily history of small and great events is seen as a history of salvation, a history of God with us.” His devotion to the poor was deep. He offered a portion of his monestary so the poor would have homes.

This passage from a letter to Augustine makes me want to read a book of Paulinus’ letters and poetry. “It is not surprising if, despite being far apart, we are present to each other and, without being acquainted, know each other, because we are members of one body, we have one head, we are steeped in one grace, we live on one loaf, we walk on one road and we dwell in the same house” 

The kinship Nolans feel for this man continues. Immigrants from this region of Italy carried their traditions with them when they came to the United States. Below is a clip from the Festa dei Gigli  in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, in which men hoist a five-ton spire and process through the city streets, mirroring the festivities in St. Paulinus’ adopted hometown of Nola. Columbia University student Taylor Napolitano, whose account of St. Paulinus’ life I earlier quoted, gives a captivating account of this tradition in Brooklyn, when “against all odds and perhaps their better judgment, that Heaven touches Brooklyn.”

Thoughts on the Gospel Reading for Today

Yesterday afternoon my family and I visited a parish community in a most unbeautiful place: the church and its elementary school sit beside an interstate highway clogged with traffic. Within the parish boundaries are a slew of strip shopping malls, trailer parks and 1960s era ranch houses and Cape Cods. When we entered the sanctuary we saw it was was no great shakes either—a converted 1950s gym with a worn rug on the floor and wooden pews that had seen better days.

The priest who celebrated the Mass began it by telling us that the Mass would be reverent but brief because  the church’s annual carnival was going on in a nearby baseball field and the carnival volunteers needed to return to their duties.The cantor proceeded to sing softly and off key. A mentally disabled man sitting near us was four or five lines behind the rest of us during all songs and responses.

Despite of, or perhaps because of, all the ordinariness of this unassuming parish, I felt the Holy Spirit making its presence known. The miracle and mystery of our Eucharistic Lord was present. And what helped me greatly was the priest’s explication of the Gospel reading for this Sunday in Ordinary Time. Jesus asks the Apostles two simple questions.

Until yesterday, I never really had contemplated what happens after Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd. He and his disciples head off in a boat. First they go to Dalmanutha, a village on the Sea of Galilee, where Pharisees attempt to test His divinity. They move on to Bethsaida, another fishing village, where Christ makes a blind man see. They travel further and Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Then, He asks them an even tougher question: “But who do you say that I am?”

Who is Christ? The priest told us we can talk about his miraculous birth. We can talk about his torturous death and glorious resurrection. But who, exactly, is Christ? How do we go about explaining Him to others?

And then the priest told us to look at the person standing near us, someone we do not know. This is Christ. As Christians, we must learn to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. And we must be the face of Christ to all we encounter as well. This is our task. As followers of Christ,our words, but even more powerfully, our actions must reflect Christ. When we look in a mirror, whose face shall we see?

This summer, in School of Community, we are reading some works by the leader of Community and LiberationFr. Julián Carrón. The priest’s homily called to mind an excerpt from the readings: if the fact of Christ’s victorious presence, “remains only at the level of piety or devotion, it would be as if it never happened,” Fr. Carrón writes, “as if it did not contain enough substance of reality to change life, to make a mark on life; and then we would be shaped by everything else, which overwhelms us, which confuses us, which discourages us, which keeps us from breathing, seeing, touching the novelty that the risen Christ has introduced and continues to introduce in our lives.” 

I am Catholic because God makes Himself known in every soul we encounter. And because wherever we travel for whatever reason, we can be the face of Christ to others.