Thanks to Salvador Dalí

Until recently, all I knew about Salvador Dalí was that he created this painting. I have seen it—smaller than I expected—many times at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I hadn’t realized that Dali, known for weird surrealist paintings such has this one, had reverted to Catholicism in midlife. Born on this day in Catalonia, Spain, he had been raised Catholic but had turned to atheism as a young adult. He painted this picture, The Persistence of Memory, when he was 27 and in the full embrace of atheism. Even then, however, he was contemplating how time is a fluid concept, something anyone who believes that God exists beyond space and time has mulled.

Dali died in 1989. I am heartened to know that he died in full Communion with the Church. To celebrate his birthday, I wanted to share some of his religious artwork. I never studied art history, and so I was delighted to discover these works in my journeys through cyberspace.

The Church has a tradition of  cherishing artists. Pope John Paul II said: “Beauty is the vocation bestowed on the artist by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent”. Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation as poet, writer, sculptor, musician, and actor feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it to service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.”  To be sure,  Dalí was an oddball.  This formidable 20th-century artist didn’t have a conventional childhood. He was born nine months after his older brother, also named Salvador, died. When he was five his parents took him to his brother’s grave and told he was the reincarnation of his brother. Imagine how difficult it would be to grow up with that misperception.

What a blessing that our Church and our God has room for everyone. We are all misfits in our own way, aren’t we? As Flannery O’Connor wrote: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”  I pray that Salvador Dalí, who gave the world the gifts of his artistic talent, found comfort and solace in the Church. Here are some samples of paintings that reflect his faith.

This 1946 painting is called “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.” It is in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Here Dali depicts the supernatural temptations of Desert Father Saint Anthony the Great as he sojourned through Egypt.

This painting from 1951 is “Christ of Saint John of the Cross.” It is based on a design by the 16th-century Doctor of the Church. It is in Glasgow’s St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.

In 1954,  Dalí painted “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus).” It  is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Finally, given that we will celebrate the Feast of Ascension on Thursday, I thought I would finish this art tour with Dalí’s painting, “The Ascension of Christ.” It is in a private collection.

Thanks to Our Lady (Music for Mondays)

This post is by Allison Salerno.
I’d guess that Mary, the poor unmarried Jewish teenager who 2,000 years ago agreed to bear the Son of God at considerable personal risk, is the most famous woman who ever lived. Certainly, she is the most remarkable. We Catholics dedicate the month of May to her – not because we worship her or think she gives us salvation. We honor Mary because she is in heaven, reigns as its queen, and can pray for us. Always, she leads us to her son.

So it’s no surprise that Catholics throughout the ages have sung songs dedicated to Our Lady, who is the mother of us all. I thought it would be fun to share a few. (Along with a photo of a work by contemporary sculptor Enrique de la Vega.)

Blogger Lee Strong posted this tune by The Thirsting, a five-piece Catholic alternate/rap/rock band from Vancouver, Washington. The group largely plays gigs on the West Coast and in the Midwest. I hope they would consider a visit to New Jersey!

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Danielle Rose, whose work I discovered this winter, created an entire CD of musical reflections in varied styles to all 20 mysteries of the Rosary. Danielle Rose now is Sister Rose Therese, living in a convent near Amarillo, Texas and no longer performing professionally. Here is her tune from her “Mysteries” CD, using the same prayer but radically different style than The Thirsting: Hail Holy Queen.
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Paul McCartney, who was baptized Roman Catholic, has said this piece is about the memory of his mother, Mary McCartney. Take a look at the joy and longing in the faces of the audience members and see how this work of art transcends a son’s struggle to honor his mother.

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Bono, whose father was Roman Catholic, was raised Anglican and married in the Anglican Church. The lead singer of Ireland’s U2 rock band says “Magnificent,” is based on Mary’s Magnificat.

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Okay, I had to slip Joan Baez in. She isn’t Catholic; her parents were drawn to Quakerism and she has said “Singing is my religion.” Her rendition of the Blessed Mother’s life is, as like all her work, spectacular.

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The faithful have been singing about and to Our Lady for hundreds of years. Saint Ambrose of Milan, a Doctor of the Church, lived in the fourth century. He is widely credited with writing one of the most ancient hymns to Mary. Here it is, sung by a schola at the Basilca de San Marco in Saint Ambrose’s hometown.

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Because Here in Nashville, God Is With Us in Our Deepest Need

Guest post by Julie Cragon

Nashville has pulled together as a family. This is due, in no small part, to the prayers of the faith-filled and the Holy Spirit working through our hands and feet.

Last Saturday, I sat in this very spot at St. Mary’s Bookstore and worried as creeks and drains began to fill due to the heavy amounts of rain. By late in the day, we were hearing of families pumping out basements due to flooding. Soon, stories of flooded basements turned into stories of moving furniture from first to second floors, which became stories of evacuations and boat rescues and then stories of total losses and even deaths.

On Thursday,  I went with two of my daughters to the St. Cecilia Motherhouse for an evening of prayer in their beautiful chapel, the center of their convent. I needed this time to listen in prayer and to contemplate the lives of those who could not come this night due to the recent flooding in Nashville. For me, it was pure peace amidst the storm.

Here in Nashville, people sought shelter and comfort from neighbors, and churches, and schools. Areas all around Nashville were affected in one way or another as every river and creek overflowed. The Cumberland River finally spilled over into downtown Monday, causing major damage to our businesses. Story after story began pouring in to the bookstore. Four employees were displaced from their homes by the flood. Everywhere people were gathering to help and everyone has played a part, be it by corporal or spiritual acts of mercy.

Those who can, tear out, and dig out, and clean. People work extra shifts for the families who need to stay home. Food and clothing and other necessities were donated in huge quantities. We attended funerals and buried our dead. Priests still are celebrating Masses despite the massive energy they are using to attend to the spiritual needs of our communities. Many took in families or took care of children so others could go work. Moms are substituting for our teachers and our principals. 

On Thursday night, as the Dominican Sisters prayed back and forth from one side of stalls across the aisle to the others, I was engulfed in the peace of Jesus Christ. Their movements, their complete full waist bows during any mention of the Trinity, the sprinkling of holy water and the candle lit procession to the Tabernacle occur every evening in their convents throughout the U.S. and now in Australia. Together with priests and sisters and brothers and many lay people throughout the world they pray the Liturgy of the Hours. They pray for us, for the world, for the victims of the flood. In this small monastic-like place, this group of Dominican Sisters make a difference.

Life goes on. There are still those in hospitals who need to be visited and they are. People are still dying of illness and old age. The elderly need to be cared for, and they are. I haven’t talked to one person who has not physically or spiritually done something for someone else this week. People are tired and tempers are short and yet we are still coming together every day to care for one another and to love one another and to be a family. 

Here’s a small example. I’ve been more worried than usual about not doing enough for the survivors. They’re everywhere. The father of a  lifelong family friend  is dying from cancer and today the family is meeting at his house to decide about care and hospice and so on. A coworker texted me last night and said she’d like to cook for the family. I texted back this morning to say that I was going to leave them some bagels when I got his newspaper and I’d taken over something for them for lunch. She had made chicken salad and we were on target for me to run by at 8 before work. I got plenty of bagels to include everyone so I dropped some off for my children and I took some in for her family. She handed me the chicken salad and a brown bag lunch for me for today.  As we swapped meals I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly how I’d like to describe Nashville: one hand feeding another, one heart loving another, one family, one faith, one. 

And then, just now, another incidence of God working through us. After I wrote these words this morning,  I opened a box at work to check in new merchandise. Inside were bracelets with a silver charm that reads, “Many Hearts, One Family” and the latch reads, “together.”  What a nice connection to our week here.

To Redeem My Past

If Catholicism were only about getting into heaven, then it would be only about the future. I’m sure there are skeptics who look at our faith this way, as a means of racking up brownie points for the afterlife. In fact, however, I chose to become a Catholic mostly for what it does for my present. It changes my life, day by day. It makes me happier, here and now. What I didn’t know then, and what has taken two years to begin to understand is, being a Catholic also changes my past.

I am not talking about confession, though that is an obvious place to start this discussion. My first, general confession before I was received into the Church began a process of absolution and of letting go. A weight was lifted from my shoulders, mostly from stones that surprised me. The obviously bad stuff I had done had not been such a burden. What most buoyed my heart was absolution for things I had been less aware of, if also haunted by, like being a bad father or an ungrateful son. I have written elsewhere that it was the Fourth Commandment that stuck hardest in my craw—my failures to honor my parents, as well as personal failures that made me a parent not worth honoring.

But I do not mean confession when I say that Catholicism is changing my past, and I do not even mean forgiveness, although that is an important way of changing one’s past. What I mean is something like forgiveness, or perhaps it is a pathway to forgiveness. 

My business is memoirs: I help people write their stories. Sometimes that story might involve a whole family or even an institution, which is why I now find myself deep into the final stages of writing the history of a large Boston institution, the Massachusetts General Hospital. (It’s also incidentally why readers of this blog are reading fewer posts by yours truly in recent weeks.)

Now, you would think that someone who effectively had ghost-written sixty books (I have, though none on the scale of the MGH project) would have no trouble writing his own memoir. But over the past couple of years, I have come to the shocking realization that there are things in my past life—major things—that I cannot write about, or at least should not. This is because to write about them truthfully would create a scandal. Although this may sound confusing and abstract, and I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, it is actually a very real quandary. Imagine a doctor who could not use his skills to save his own life. That is me and memoirs. I cannot tell my own story. Not all of it, anyway.

Let me be clear: I believe that there are some things that we should take to the grave with us. I do not side with the tell-all school of memoirs that has been such a rage in the past twenty years of mainstream publishing, from fine-lit efforts like Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club to the latest, stupid tell-all destined for ten minutes on Oprah and then, once the publisher’s receipts are counted and the author’s vanity sated, Oblivion.

What do you do when there are things in your past that cannot or should not be told? My experience as a Catholic has taught me this: you redeem them. Redemption is one of those big, ponderous religious words that I’m not sure even most Catholics understand, though we use them freely enough. I want to propose a new reading of the word. To redeem is to reconsider, rethink, re-deem. As a Catholic, one redeems the past by viewing it through the lens of one’s faith. Here’s an example.

I once knew someone whose actions toward me had mixed motives, or so I’ve come to believe. This person did some very good things, and some pretty bad. But when I review (re-view) the trail of events that stretch from my first meeting with that person to this present day, I see many steps along the way that led me toward the Catholic Church, bread crumbs leading Hansel and Gretel out of danger and safely home.

I am happier today than I have ever been in my life. Some of this is seeing my children safely on their own roads home. A big part is being married to Katie, and happily, after 25 years. But the greatest ingredient in my happiness is my Catholic faith, without which everything else would reflect a paler light. And without that person’s mixed influence on my life, I might never have become a Catholic.

When I can look at my past—all of it, good, bad, indifferent—and not just imagine but begin to understand that every person, every incident led me here, I can only be grateful, and for all of it. I am, in some sense of a difficult word, redeemed.

Because We Need to Count Our Days

Whenever I take our younger son to the barber shop, I’m reminded of time’s passage and the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90: “Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”  Something about this barber shop, which I have been taking our sons to for a decade now, makes me reflect on the unfolding of time. I took Lucky for a haircut last weekend. What a privilege it is to watch our children grow up.

I first started going to this barber shop, then called Santo’s Barber Shop after a long-deceased owner, in our small town’s central shopping district when our older son was three. Now 13, he shuns the place, connecting it with the crewcuts of his early years.  Instead,  he has me take him to a stylist in a unisex salon who can work with his kinky hair.

But Lucky, who is ten and a half, doesn’t mind the $12 haircuts. The first time I took Lucky to the barber shop, he was three, and his bright blond ringlets reached to his shoulders. The barber propped a wooden board between the arms of the metal chair so our son could sit at a good working height, where the barber could easily reach him. The vinyl cape covered his body. I stood behind the barber, anxious for my son to keep still so as not to be cut by the razors or scissors. He sat as still as a statue as his blond ringlets fell to the tiled floor. These days, I don’t hover behind the barber. I read a magazine, eavesdrop on conversations, or knit.

Our visits to what is now called “Everybody’s Barber Shop” are infrequent; Lucky gets a couple of crew cuts a year. He lets his hair grow out until it covers his ears (as in his picture here). Last weekend, for the first time, he told me he wanted just a trim, and not a crewcut. So that is what he got. He reached another milestone in this visit. For years, Angela, a longtime employee and now the owner, handed him a lollipop as he left. “You’re too old for lollipops now,” she told him last Saturday in her rich Hungarian accent. Lucky nodded, as if he had understood all along that this moment would materialize.
To enter a barber shop is to witness a man’s world. My husband prefers to go to the barber shop alone; it’s his Saturday morning male time. I’d never entered a barber shop until we started raising sons. The men arrive, nod to the barbers and take their seats in the row of five ripped vinyl chairs in the back. They might pick up a magazine from a table or work on a crossword puzzle. The men don’t talk until it’s their turn at the chair and the barber begins his work. The conversation between customer and barber seems to continue where it left off during the customer’s last visit. They talk about the Mets or the Yankees, about a daughter’s new job or a friend’s failing health. Angela owns the shop and she behaves like the male barbers. She nods a lot and speaks few words. She knows what questions to ask to keep a customer chatting.

My favorite former newspaper boss, Chuck Paolino (who happens to be a Catholic deacon), has blogged about the beauty of barber shops. “Places like that barber shop have always interested me because of the role they play in a community that transcends the immediate purpose of their existence,” he writes.

Time passes. Little boys outgrow crewcuts and lollipops and grow into young men. God’s hand is everywhere in this unfolding. When St. Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, where he had ministered for years: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.

May these words serve as a guide on how to count our days.

Because I Can Always Go to Mass

Drink too much last night? You can go to Mass this morning. Argue stupidly with your spouse about matters that seem trivial in the new day’s light? Christ awaits you in the Eucharist. Thrashing over a problematic relationship or a financial problem? Somewhere right now a priest is saying Mass. Pinwheeling through life without a clear sense of direction at work, at home, in love or friendship? The church door is unlocked somewhere near you, and Mass is about to begin.

It is a glorious spring morning in Massachusetts, and this train of thought rumbled through my brain as I parked my car on Cabot Street and looked up at friends entering St. Mary’s ahead of me. Daily Mass is not an obligation. It is not something you do for “extra credit” and it never quite feels like “just a habit.” It is an anchor to windward, a dependable oasis, the place I’m always glad I came back to.

This morning I kept looking around for my friend Bob, who wrote a couple of touching comments on a recent post of mine that has caused some heartache (the post, not Bob’s comments). Bob wasn’t there. (He runs his own business, has three young kids and a wife who works too—under the circumstances, who could possibly have the time? But he’s often there anyway, in the back on the left.) I particularly wanted to see him this morning, but others were there, and it was good to see them: Frankie G. in the front row as always, beside Chris and just ahead of Phyllis and Henry. Jolyne and Ferde and Heidi just behind me. And Dottie at the other end of my pew, and Flo and Maria directly across the center aisle. I love seeing Bill and Joe and Tom, and Lorrie, John, and Patty too. Brothers Tony, Frank, and John are usually side by side behind me to the left, but Frank was AWOL today. (He’s serving at a 9 a.m. funeral Mass.) And others. Many others. Morning Masses at 7 a.m. in Beverly draw between fifty and a hundred people, a tribute to Father Barnes and also to the Catholic bloodlines of Beverly, which has been favored by many, many Irish and Italian families over the past couple of centuries. I honestly consider each of the “regulars” a friend.

Becoming a Catholic is just absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me. And daily Mass, with the friendship we all share, is the one place each day where I am truly fed.

Because We Must Love One Another

At the end of our lives, what will matter? Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross tells us, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” But what is love?
When Christians talk about love, we’re not just talking about the thrill of an infatuation or the warm affection between spouses. “Love, first and foremost, demands commitment and sacrifice,” my parish priest reminded us on Sunday. God so loved the world . . . that what? He gave his only Son, knowing the man would be crucified for our sins, not His. God is that committed to us. God’s love never leaves us. And so we must pour out that love to others. It is a struggle to love my neighbors with the kind of effusive love God has for us.

One of the most stunning places I see this kind of love is with missionaries. Why would people, for example, forsake their home country and their families to tend to AIDS orphans in Phnom Penh? The picture here is of those children, who are cared for by Maryknoll Sisters, including Sister Mary Little. She says: There is something about these people that makes me not ever want to leave them. There is a text in the bible where God says, ‘You are engraved on the palm of my hand.’ Well, I feel the Khmer people are engraved on the palm of my hand, in my heart actually, and I can’t imagine being any place else.” 

But most of us are not called to the religious life and don’t work as missionaries. We have to walk the path of life God has set out for us, loving each person we encounter—in our families, in our neighborhoods, on a clogged freeway, or at the deli counter. As Christians, this is not optional. Sunday’s Gospel reading told us of Jesus’ Last Supper, when he gave his apostles a new commandment. ”Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Loving as God loves us means loving our enemies, the people who have disappointed and betrayed us. It means understand that all the people we will ever encounter during our time on earth are redeemable and deeply loved by God. The Holy Eucharist, in particular, helps us to live out the memory of Christ on earth.We partake of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity. He becomes part of us. If we reflect on His sacrifice, we are compelled to act as Christ does. God, through His Church, helps to love as He does, and thus to follow the most difficult and radical of the ancient commandments.

“The Habit of Perfection” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Twice in the past week I said or wrote something deeply embarrassing—hurtful words about someone else that I have regretted with a stab in the heart. The first time was with someone very close to me. The second was in a recent post. In the first case, my embarrassment led to a reconciliation with the person involved: we have never been closer. It is too early to predict what will happen in the second case, but I’m praying about it. Meanwhile, I’ve taken a vow of silence.

Yeah, I know, you’ve probably heard that one before, especially if you know me personally or have hung around this virtual soapbox for any length of time. Like many people with a certain minor gift of eloquence, I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. I get too smart for my own britches, and my mouth runs all the same, and then I feel awful about it.

Which is why I’ve chosen another poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., for this week’s installment. I suppose it is about taking literal vows; but it has a lot to say to all of us, especially me, and right now.

The Habit of Perfection
Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shelled, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

Introducing the YIMCatholic Bookshelf

Back in January, I wrote a post named Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a title I borrowed from a book written by physicist Richard Feynman. The photo you see here accompanied that post. As I wrote then, finding things out about Catholicism is a pleasure for me.

It was probably late 2007 when I discovered Google Books.  There you will find previews of books, what they call “snippet views” or “limited previews” that have a clock running on them (I guess?) and missing pages. But there is also a category called “full view.” I really liked that because I could read the whole book for free! 

That and the fact that I’m frugal (cheap, broke, or stingy depending on who I’m dealing with). I hear Kindle is great and there is even an i-Phone Kindle application too.  But I have neither device, so they might as well not exist.  I also don’t have an unlimited budget for buying books either (stingy, er, frugal) whether hardbound, paperbound, or electronic.

To make a long story short, I noticed that I could “add” books to an electronic shelf over at Google Books. So I starting building it and promptly named it the YIM Catholic Bookshelf. I sent the link to Webster and in a split second, he put it in the sidebar as a “value-added” resource for those who happen to stop by our humble blog.

Here are a couple of things to share about the Bookshelf:

A) Only books available in “full view,” with every single page available for you to read, will ever rest on our shelf. So far there are over 300 volumes awaiting your perusal. And I am constantly adding to it as well (like just now during my lunch break).

B) The “library” is fully searchable. This is a handy feature that I used when I was doing the Divine Mercy Novena posts. Want to know about purgatory? Plug the word in the “search my library” box under the portrait of our patron, St. Joan of Arc, and instantly 60 books appear with a reference to “purgatory.” Within each book there may be as few as one citation or as many as 40 in any given volume. Give it a try!

C) You can search for a person, a place, or a thing in the entire library as well as individually in any single volume. Interested in converting to Catholicism? Search “Catholic converts” and thirty (count ‘em, 30!) volumes will pop up. Or maybe you are interested in the Rosary (40 volumes!), Augustine, Belloc, Baring, Benson, or Chesterton—all the way to Utopia. All points in between are at your disposal as well. Come and see! Just click on the portrait of Our Lord on the sidebar and find a comfy chair.

D) For the books that are no longer protected by copyright, you can click the “view plain text” button on any volume and cut and paste passages into your posts, e-mails, love letters, etc.  Just don’t forget your footnotes! You can also send a link to the the book, page, and even an exact paragraph of any book on the shelf to anyone with an e-mail address. Send it to someone around the world at the speed of light. Just fasten your seatbelt first!

Which leaves me wondering: What if there had been Google Books when I was going to college? Sheesh! And note this: I haven’t read every book that sits on the shelf. But I intend to spend a lifetime trying. And you can join me too, because at the YIM Catholic Bookshelf, the light is always on and we never charge “over-due” fees.

Now, if I could just figure out how to put a free Starbucks in here, it would almost be heaven.

It’s Only Rock and Roll II (Music for Mondays)

Happy Monday people! It’s raining in my neck of the woods, how about yours? I’ve come up with 5 religious (or near religious songs) that did well on the charts. They still sound good today too and always make me think of the divine. Some more than others for sure and maybe none of them for you. Either way, if nothing else, they may help you see that the divine is always at work and still breaks in upon the secular just to remind us of that fact.

Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, Crossroads. A cover of the classic written (and first performed by) Robert Johnson. Of course, the legend is that Robert Johnson, who rocketed to fame and then died at age 27, sold his soul to the Devil. I suppose we will all know the truth about that one day. In the meantime, these two have some good, clean,fun with the song that helped Cream make it into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy, save me if you please.

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The Police, Secret Journey. I always liked this tune by the Police. From their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine. The West frowns upon monks and figures they are wasting time and accomplishing nothing. Catholic Christians know better, right? Right!? A very unique sound that the Police (Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland) were known for.
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The Police again, and from the same album too. Spirits in the Material World. C.S. Lewis once said, “we are souls, we have bodies.” Forget theology for a few minutes and just enjoy the tune.
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George Harrison, My Sweet Lord. I know, I know, the chorus chants “hare Krishna” at the end. That doesn’t mean I have to! I just keep singing hallelujah instead.
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Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. If this doesn’t make you think of Our Lord, then I don’t know what will.

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

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