Ave Maris Stella, A Poem and a Prayer

The poem below was written by a Scot by the name of John Leyden (1775 – 1811). From what I could find, Leyden was a medical doctor by trade and a Christian. He was even a minister, and according to Wikipedia,

Though he completed his divinity course, and in 1798 was licensed to preach from the presbytery of St Andrews, it soon became clear that the pulpit was not his vocation.

But he evidently had a soft spot in his heart for Our Lady as attested to by the following apologetic words of his publisher in the introduction to these verses,


Though valuing highly the principles of the Protestant faith, we cannot withhold our approval of the many avenues of thought opened up by the Catholic creed, which afford material for beautiful poetry. These stanzes with exception of a few lines are executed in Leyden’s best manner.Many avenues of thought indeed! And material for beautiful poetry? Well, Dr. Leyden was inspired is all that I can figure.  The spray in his face and the wind at his back, set his inner Catholic yearning to breathe free, aboard the good ship ironically named the St. Anthony.  Take a look at what flowed forth from his pen,

Portuguese Hymn

To The Virgin Mary, “The Star of the Sea.”
Written At Sea, On Board The Ship Santo Antonio.Star of the wide and pathless sea,

Who lovest on mariners to shine,

These votive garments wet, to thee,

We hang within thy holy shrine.
When o’er us flash’d the surging brine,
Amid the waving waters tost,
We call’d no other name but thine,
And hoped when other hope was lost.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the vast and howling main!
When dark and lone is all the sky,
And mountain-waves o’er ocean’s plain
Erect their stormy heads on high;
When virgins for their true-loves sigh
They raise their weeping eyes to thee;—
The Star of ocean heeds their cry,
And saves the foundering bark at sea.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the dark and stormy sea!
When wrecking tempests round us rave,
Thy gentle virgin-form we see
Bright rising o’er the hoary wave;
The howling storms that seem’d to crave
Their victims, sink in music sweet;
The surging seas recede to pave
The path beneath thy glistening feet.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the desert waters wild,
Who pitying hears’t the seaman’s cry!
The God of mercy as a child
On that chaste bosom loves to lie;
While soft the chorus of the sky
Their hymns of tender mercy sing,
And angel voices name on high
The mother of the heavenly king.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the deep! at that blest name
The waves sleep silent round the keel,
The tempests wild their fury tame,
That made the deep’s foundations reel;
The soft celestial accents steal
So soothing through the realms of woe,
The newly-damn’d a respite feel
From torture in the depths below.
Ave Maris Stella!

Star of the mild and placid seas!

Whom rain-bow rays of mercy crown,
Whose name thy faithful Portuguese,
O’er all that to the depths go down,
With hymns of grateful transport own,
When clouds obscure all other light,
And heaven assumes an awful frown,
The Star of ocean glitters bright.
Ave Maris Stella!
Star of the deep! when angel lyres
To hymn thy holy name assay,
In vain a mortal harp aspires
To mingle in the mighty lay;
Mother of God! one living ray
Of hope our grateful bosoms fires—
When storms and tempests pass away,
To join the bright immortal choirs.
Ave Maris Stella!

And what, pray tell, is this Ave Maris Stella? A beautiful prayer, that’s what.  Again, I’m indebted to the anonymous authors of Wikipedia for the following citation:

“Ave Maris Stella (Latin, “Hail Star of the Sea”) is a plainsong Vespers hymn to the Virgin Mary. It is of uncertain origin and can be dated back at least as far as the eighth century. It was especially popular in the Middle Ages and has been used by many composers as the basis of other compositions. The creation of the original hymn has been attributed to several people, including Saint Venantius Fortunatus.

The melody is found in the Irish plainsong “Gabhaim Molta Bríde”, a piece in praise of St. Bridget. The popular modern hymn Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star, is loosely based on this plainsong original. It finds particular prominence in the “Way of Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary” by Saint Louis de Montfort.”

It is certainly a beautiful way to ask Our Lady to pray for us. Won’t you pray this with me now?

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A Poem And A Prayer on Michaelmas

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, also known as Michaelmas. I like the calendar name Michaelmas and that this day used to be a huge festival marking the beginning of Autumn. I actually hope that this day is celebrated extravagantly still somewhere on the globe. Does anyone know?

What follows is a brief hymn penned by Blessed John Henry Newman to mark the occasion. Written in 1862, this was published in 1867 in a volume entitled Verses on Various Occasions.  

Saint Michael
(A hymn)
Thou champion high
Of Heaven’s imperial Bride,
For ever waiting on her eye,
Before her onward path, and at her side,
In war her guard secure, by night her ready guide!
To thee was given,
When those false angels rose
Against the Majesty of Heaven,
To hurl them down the steep, and on them close
The prison where they roam in hopeless unrepose.
Thee, Michael, thee,
When sight and breathing fail,
The disembodied soul shall see;
The pardon’d soul with solemn joy shall hail,
When holiest rites are spent, and tears no more avail.
And thou, at last,
When Time itself must die,
Shalt sound that dread and piercing blast,
To wake the dead, and rend the vaulted sky,
And summon all to meet the Omniscient Judge on high.




Cardinal Newman wielded a mighty pen, as this volume of poems is almost 400 pages in length. I look forward to sharing more of Blessed John Henry’s poetry with you as we make our way through the liturgical calendar.

Now, this feast day would not be complete without a prayer asking St. Michael the Archangel to pray for us and for the Church. Happily, I also found this excellent video presentation of Pope Leo XIII’s original prayer to St. Michael. Composed sometime between 1884 -1898 (I couldn’t find the definitive date), the original prayer is both longer and more soul satisfying than the short version that I am used to seeing.

Pray it along with me now (and please share it with others).

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And how about some recipes for dishes traditionally served on this feast day, courtesy of the good folks at Fish Eaters? Now this is the kind of eating, praying, and loving I can get used too. May I have seconds on the goose please?

“Sensitiveness” A Poem By Blessed John Henry Newman

Sensitiveness

Time was, I shrank from what was right,
From fear of what was wrong;
I would not brave the sacred fight,
Because the foe was strong.

But now I cast that finer sense
And sorer shame aside;
Such dread of sin was indolence,
Such aim at heaven was pride.

So, when my Saviour calls, I rise,
And calmly do my best;
Leaving to Him, with silent eyes
Of hope and fear, the rest.

I step, I mount where He has led;
Men count my haltings o’er;—
I know them; yet, though self I dread,
I love his precept more.

—Blessed John Henry Newman

The Streamlet’s Song (A Few Words for Wednesday)

—Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

I found this little poem, by a forgotten poet, in the journal whose banner you see above. How does one attempt to wrap their mind around the immensity of God and the smallness of our individual selves? If God is the ocean, than we are just streamlets…

The Streamlet’s Song.

As on its course the mountain stream
Unto the valley sped,
The echoes listened, wondering,
To what its murmurs said.
Deep in that mystic solitude
Singing, it passed along;
Around was silence, hushed repose;
This was the streamlet’s song:
“Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged, onwards,
onwards, to the sea.”

“I sing beside the peasant’s cot,
Beside the castle keep,
Mid forest gloom, neath sunshine bright,
And where the weary sleep,
Thro’ meads where flowers of varied hue
Around their perfume shed,
Thro’ rocky gorge and arid plain,
On to my ocean bed.
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither’rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“On, on, the scorching air to cool,
The earth to fertilize,
Of hunted stag the thirst to slake
Ere yet he quivering dies.
On, to refresh the warrior pale
Who, couched on blood-stained sod,
Cries,’Water from yon streamlet give,
One drop for love of God!’
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“The type am I of human life,
As down the course of years
It onward flows, mid laughter now,
Anon mid bitter tears,
Mid reckless mirth, mid breaking hearts,
On, till the sands are run,
On, till is gained the tideless sea,
On, till the goal is won,
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

—A. M. Healy

For Peace While Suffering (A Few Words for Wednesday)

From this mornings Office of Readings in the LOTH, there is the following Psalm of David. I have several family members who are elderly and ill, as you probably do too. Webster wrote recently of a friend who is suffering from an illness that is likely the door to her immortality.

But whether we depart suddenly or slowly, we will depart. Ponder then, these few words of David, where with hope and faith, the door leads us home, refreshed, and unto God.

Psalm 39
Dixi custodiam. A just man’s peace and patience in his sufferings; considering the vanity of the world, and the providence of God.

Unto the end, for Idithun himself, a canticle of David.

I said: I will take heed to my ways:
that I sin not with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth,
when the sinner stood against me.

I was dumb, and was humbled,
and kept silence from good things:
and my sorrow was renewed.
My heart grew hot within me:
and in my meditation a fire shall flame out.
I spoke with my tongue:
O Lord, make me know my end.
And what is the number of my days:
that I may know what is wanting to me.

Behold you have made my days measurable
and my substance is as nothing before you.
And indeed all things are vanity: every man living.
Surely man passes as an image:
yea, and he is disquieted in vain.
He stores up: and he knows not for whom
he shall gather these things.

And now what is my hope?
Is it not the Lord?
And my substance is with you.
Deliver me from all my iniquities:
you have made me a reproach to the fool.
I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth,
because you have done it.

Remove your scourges from me.
The strength of your hand has made me faint in rebukes:
You have corrected man for iniquity.
And you have made his soul to waste away like a spider:
surely in vain is any man disquieted.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication:
give ear to my tears.
Be not silent: for I am a stranger with you,
and a sojourner as all my fathers were.
O forgive me, that I may be refreshed,
before I go hence, and be no more.

From “The Pearl” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Today is the feast day of St. Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon and Doctor of the Church. Pope Benedict XV gave him the title of Doctor in his Encyclical dated October 5, 1920.

St. Ephrem was prolific, writing over 3000 poems and hymns during his lifetime. So why have I never heard of him? Maybe because I haven’t been paying attention. Well, I’m paying attention now because even though he wrote his poems in Syriac, they translate beautifully into English.

As I’ve written before, I really enjoy learning new things about our Church and the depth and breadth of our Catholic faith. And I enjoy sharing my discoveries with you too. Perhaps I’ve been studying the wrong poets for too long a time, but poems like this one leave me yearning for more.

Below is the Fourth Hymn of St. Ephrem’s The Pearl: Seven Hymns on the Faith translated by J.B. Morris. I think Hilaire Belloc got a kick out of reading poems like this. It left me mesmerized. After reading this, you will understand why St. Ephrem was known by the sobriquet, The Harp of the Holy Spirit.

The Pearl: Hymn Four

The thief gained the faith which gained him,
And brought him up and placed him in paradise.
He saw in the Cross a tree of life;
That was the fruit,
He was the eater in Adam’s stead.
The fool, who goes astray,
Grazes the faith, as it were an eye,
By all manner of questions.
The probing of the finger blinds the eye,
And much more doth that prying blind the faith.

For even the diver pries not into his pearl.
In it do all merchants rejoice
Without prying into whence it came;
Even the king who is crowned therewith
Does not explore it.

*****

Because Balaam was foolish,
A foolish beast in the ass spoke with him,
Because he despised God Who spoke with him.
Thee too let the pearl reprove
In the ass’s stead.
The people that had a heart of stone,
By a Stone He set at nought,
For lo, a stone hears words.
Witness its work that has reproved them;
And you, ye deaf ones,
Let the pearl reprove to-day.

With the swallow and the crow did He put men to shame;
With the ox, yea with the ass, did He put them to shame;
Let the pearl reprove now,
O ye birds and things on earth and things below.

*****

Not as the moon does thy light fill or wane;
The Sun whose light is greater than all,
Lo! of Him it is that a type is shadowed out in thy little compass.
O type of the Son,
One spark of Whom is greater than the sun!
The pearl itself is full,
for its light is full;
Neither is there any cunning worker who can steal from it;
For its wall is its own beauty,
Yea, its guard also!
It lacks not,
since it is entirely perfect.

And if a man would break thee
To take a part from thee,
Thou art like the faith which with the heretics perishes,
Seeing they have broken it in pieces and spoiled it:
For is it any better than this
To have the faith scrutinized?

The faith is an entire nature
That may not be corrupted.
The spoiler gets himself mischief by it:
The heretic brings ruin on himself thereby.
He that chases the light from his pupils
Blinds himself.

Fire and air are divided when sundered.
Light alone, of all creatures,
As its Creator, is not divided;
It is not barren, for that it also begets
Without losing thereby.

*****

And if a man thinks that thou art framed by art
He errs greatly;
Thy nature proclaims that thou, as all stones,
Art not the framing of art;
and so thou art a type of the Generation
Which no making framed.
Thy stone flees
From a comparison with the Stone which is the Son.
For thy own generation is from the midst of the deep,
That of the Son of thy Creator is from the highest height;
He is not like thee,
In that He is like His Father.

And as they tell,
Two wombs bare thee also.
Thou camest down from on high a fluid nature;
Thou camest up from the sea a solid body.
By means of thy second birth
Thou didst show thy loveliness to the children of men.

Hands fixed thee, when thou wast embodied,
Into thy receptacles;
For thou art in the crown as upon the cross,
And in a coronet as in a victory;
Thou art upon the ears, as if to fill up what was lacking;
Thou extendest over all.


St. Ephrem, Pray for Us.

You may read all seven hymns in The Pearl here.

T.S. Eliot “Choruses from the Rock” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I was wrong about T. S. Eliot, or my teachers were. As an adolescent, I was taught that Eliot’s greatest poems were his early, bleak ones: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland.” I wasn’t ready for “Choruses from the Rock,” written seventeen years after “Prufrock” and seven years after Eliot‘s conversion to the Anglican Church. I wasn’t ready to connect the dots of Eliot the Harvard boy and Eliot the old soul in search, who finally found what he was looking for in the Christian Church. Now that I’m pretty old myself, however, this strikes me as a beautiful poem:

“Choruses from the Rock”
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

You neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in southern tropics
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother.

Let me show you the work of the humble. Listen.

In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks

Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore
I have given you the power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.

And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is shall shadow
The man that pretends to be.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of
the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self seeking as always before, selfish and
purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on
the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other
way.

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.

What have we to do but stand with empty hands and palms turned
upwards in an age which advances progressively backwards?

There came one who spoke of the shame of Jerusalem
And the holy places defiled;
Peter the Hermit, scourging with words.
And among his hearers were a few good men,
Many who were evil,
And most who were neither,
Like all men in all places.

In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.

Our age is an age of moderate virtue
And moderate vice

The soul of Man must quicken to creation.

Out of the meaningless practical shapes of all that is living or
lifeless
Joined with the artist’s eye, new life, new form, new colour.
Out of the sea of sound the life of music,
Out of the slimy mud of words, out of the sleet and hail of verbal
imprecisions,
Approximate thoughts and feelings, words that have taken the
place of thoughts and feelings,
There spring the perfect order of speech, and the beauty of incantation.

The work of creation is never without travail

Light
Light
The visible reminder of Invisible Light.

O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.

Because Immanuel Is His Name

The other day I wrote a post about how small an amount of time I am committing to Our Lord. The number I came up with was shockingly small. Given the years I wandered in the wilderness, the number probably has a couple of more zeros to the right of the decimal point. But that is in the past.

One fact about Our Lord is He doesn’t keep bringing up the past and how much I neglected Him or, more accurately in my case, flat-out ignored Him. Now I think of Him constantly. Our reader Rose wrote that her spiritual director has suggested that she remember that Our Lord is only “an awareness away.” Allison suggested praying the LOTH as another way to keep our Lord before us. I rely on these two tools daily.

Webster wrote once about Brother Lawrence and his Practice of the Presence of God. So simple, so easy that it is often overlooked to just think of God. Brother Lawrence did so constantly and I have read of his practice more than once during my walks to and from daily mass.

There is no known portrait of my friend Wu Li, SJ so I’m going to have to make-do with this one. Just a portrait of a wise looking Chinese man is enough for my mind to bring Wu to life.

A few days ago, I received my copy of Jonathan Chaves’ book, Singing of the Source: Nature and God and the Poetry of Chinese Painter Wu Li. I am so thankful that Chaves translated these beautiful poems for us all. This book belongs on every Catholic’s bookshelf.

The following poem in particular has had a profound impact on me.  It is from a series entitled Singing of the Source and Course of Holy Church. These words speak of our Triune God as He is, and as He is in the Eucharist, and how thankful I feel when I partake of Communion with Him.

Utterly transcendent, His wondrous essence
was never limited to place;
to bring life to the teeming people
He showed Himself, then hid.
Effortlessly, a single standard—
a new cake baked for us;
as before, the six directions have one supreme Lord.
In the human realm, now we have
a whole burnt offering;
in Heaven for eternity is preserved our daily bread.
I have incurred so many transgressions,
yet am allowed to draw near;
with body and soul fully sated,
tears moisten my robe.

So Wu Li felt the same way as I do when partaking of the Eucharist. Thoughts of gratitude and happiness because behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He is here. God is with us and He is as Good as His Name.

Song of the Mystic (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I know of Father Abram J. Ryan (1838-1886) because he was once the pastor of the parish where I usually attend daily mass. Each day I walk by a historic marker that tells the story of this “poet, patriot, priest.” The thing is, he was a Confederate loyalist, which makes him a rebel patriot.  Thankfully, the rebels lost the war. But even the Confederate troops needed a chaplain, and that is how Father Ryan served.

Father Ryan is best know for writing the poem Conquered Banner which, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, was “read or sung in every Southern household, and thus became the apotheosis of the ‘Lost Cause.'” Lost causes are good and all, but I prefer the following poem by Father Ryan instead. It is simple, beautiful, and evokes the theme of solitude, silence, and prayer.

Song of the Mystic 
  

I walk down the Valley of Silence—
  Down the dim, voiceless valley—alone!
And I hear not the fall of a footstep
  Around me, save God’s and my own;
And the hush of my heart is as holy
  As hovers where angels have flown!

Long ago was I weary of voices
  Where music my heart could not win;
Long ago was I weary of noises
  That fretted my soul with their din;
Long ago was I weary of places
  Where I met but the human—and sin.

I walked in the world with the worldly;
  I craved what the world never gave;
And I said: ” In the world each Ideal,
  That shines like a star on life’s wave,
Is wrecked on the shores of the Real,
  And sleeps like a dream in the grave.”

And still did I pine for the perfect,
  And still found the False with the True;
I sought ‘mid the Human for Heaven,
  But caught a mere glimpse of its blue;
And I wept when the clouds of the Mortal
  Veiled even that glimpse from my view.

And I toiled on, heart-tired of the Human,
  And I moaned ‘mid the mazes of men,
Till I knelt, long ago, at an altar
  And I heard a voice call me. Since then
I walk down the Valley of Silence
  That lies far beyond mortal ken.

Do you ask what I found in the Valley?
 ‘Tis my trysting place with the Divine.
And I fell at the feet of the Holy,
  And above me a Voice said, ” Be mine.”
And there arose from the depths of my spirit
  An echo—” My heart shall be thine.”

Do you ask how I live in the Valley?
  I weep—and I dream—and I pray.
But my tears are as sweet as the dew-drops
  That fall on the roses in May;
And my prayer, like the perfume from censers,
  Ascendeth to God night and day.

In the hush of the Valley of Silence
  I dream all the songs that I sing;
And the music floats down the dim Valley,
  Till each finds a word for a wing,
That to hearts, like the Dove of the Deluge,
  A message of peace they may bring.

But far on the deep there are billows
  That never shall break on the beach;
And I have heard songs in the silence
  That never shall float into speech;
And I have had dreams in the Valley
  Too lofty for language to reach.

And I have seen thoughts in the Valley—
  Ah! me, how my spirit was stirred!
And they wear holy veils on their faces,
  Their footsteps can scarcely be heard;
They pass through the Valley like Virgins:
  Too pure for the touch of a word!

Do you ask me the place of the Valley,
  Ye hearts that are harrowed by care?
It lieth afar between mountains,
  And God and His angels are there:
And one is the dark mount of Sorrow,
  And one the bright mountain of Prayer.

Belmont Abbey College, located near Charlotte North Carolina, has an archive on Father Ryan which you can access here.

For the Art and Poetry of Wu Li, SJ (1632-1718)

Remember me and the pleasure I get from finding things out about our faith and sharing them with you? Well, I’ve been called Mister Google around these parts. But after this find, maybe it should be Doctor Google. You be the judge. [Read more…]