Category Archives: Caravaggio

Betrayal…


-“Taking of Christ”, Caravaggio, c. 1602, oil on canvas, 133.5 cm × 169.5 cm (52.6 in × 66.7 in), National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

We are all betrayed at some point(s), in some way(s), in our lives. We even betray ourselves; granted, hopefully, optimistically, in an unconscious way. We certainly betray others, consciously or not.


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“There are two great betrayals in the Passion of Christ by two of Christ’s very apostles: Judas and St. Peter. Only one now has the title “saint” before his name.

Why did Judas betray Christ? It was not a spontaneous decision, but had a long-built foundation. He had been defrauding the poor, deriding Mary’s gift of perfumed oil. Judas sought out the Jewish authorities to ask their price for his betrayal; he was not recruited. Only after all this did “Satan enter into him” (Jn 13:27).

This was all at Judas’s initiative, and the foundation for betrayal had been laid long before. When Christ named Judas as his betrayer, via a shared morsel of bread, Judas asked, “surely it is not I?” And Jesus replied, “you have said so.” Judas chose this; he had been working towards this choice for a long time. Judas said so, not Jesus.

What about the other betrayal, that of Peter? Peter sinned in three moments of weakness and cowardice. His good intentions, shown at the Last Supper, fell away in three acts of denial. Like Judas, he turned traitor. But unlike Judas, Peter had not laid a foundation of unfaithfulness; there was only original sin and human weakness. Peter’s will to sin was his own initiative, but a spontaneous and unplanned initiative.

Betraying Christ is only too common: “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But some men repent and are raised back to spiritual life, while some abide in the darkness of death. A crucial difference between Peter and Judas was the foundation in their hearts that supported either good or evil, built by many acts over a long period of time.

When we sin, does it rest on a foundation for sin or for repentance? Today, on Spy Wednesday, the plot is set in action that will end in one way on Good Friday and in another way during the Easter Vigil. We know that there will be heroism and tragedy and cowardice and redemption, and that the foundations built in the secret places of men’s hearts will be made known. It is a drama of which we are not spectators, but participants. Ask yourself then—have you followed Judas or Peter? What foundation are you building in your heart?”

Love, & repentance, true contrition to those I have betrayed & to my God,
Matthew

Conversion


-“The Conversion of St Paul” on the road to Damascus, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600/1601, oil on cypress wood, 237 cm × 189 cm (93 in × 74 in), Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, You have created me for Yourself; grant that, with all my strength, I may tend toward You, my last end.

MEDITATION

In…Ezekiel 34:11-16, we read: “For thus saith the Lord God: Behold I Myself will seek My sheep, and will visit them … and will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day…. I will bring them to their own land, and I will feed them in the mountains of Israel…. There shall they rest on the green grass.” This is the program which the Lord wishes to accomplish in our souls during the holy season of Lent, in order to lead us by means of it to a life of higher perfection and closer intimacy with Him. He stretches out His hand to us, not only to save us from dangers but also to help us climb to those higher places where He Himself will nourish us.

The point of departure which will make the realization of this divine plan possible is a new conversion on our part: we must collect our powers, desires, and affections, which have been scattered and are lingering in the valley of the purely human; putting them all together, we must make them converge on God, our one last end. In this sense, our Lenten conversion should consist in a generous determination to put ourselves more resolutely in the way of perfection. It means a new determination to become a saint. The desire for sanctity is the mainspring of the spiritual life; the more intense and real this desire is in us, the more it will urge us to pledge ourselves totally. In this first [full] week of Lent, we must try to arouse and strengthen our resolution to become a saint. If other efforts in the past have been unsuccessful or have not entirely reached the goal, this is no reason for discouragement. Nunc coepi–“now have I begun,” or rather: “now I begin”; let us repeat it humbly, and may the experience of our past failures make us place our trust in God alone.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord of my soul and my only good! Why do You not wish that the soul should enjoy at once the consolation of arriving at this perfect love as soon as it has decided to love You and is doing all it can to give up everything in order to serve You better? But I am wrong: I should have made my complaint by asking why we ourselves have no desire to arrive at it, for it is we alone who are at fault in not at once enjoying so great a dignity. If we attain to the perfect possession of this true love of God, it brings all blessings with it. But so [stingy] and so slow are we in giving ourselves wholly to God that we do not prepare ourselves to receive this benefit…. So it is that this treasure is not given to us in a short time because we do not give ourselves to God entirely and forever…. O my God, grant me the grace and the courage to determine to strive after this good with all my strength. If I persevere, You, who never refuse Your help to anyone, will strengthen my courage until I come off with victory. I say courage, because the devil, with so many obstacles, tries to make us deviate from this path” (cf. St. Teresa of Jesus, Life, 11).

Grant, O Lord Jesus, by the infinite merits of Your passion, that I may be converted to You with all my heart. Do not permit me to be discouraged by the continual return of my egotistical tendencies, or by the incessant struggle which I must maintain against them. Make me clearly understand that, if I wish to be completely converted to You, I can never make peace with my weaknesses, my faults, my self-love, my pride. Make me understand that I must sacrifice everything to Your love, and even when I have sacrificed everything I must still say: “I am an unprofitable servant,” O Lord, because everything is as nothing, compared with the love which You deserve, O infinitely lovable One!”

Blessed Lent,
Matthew

Aug 29 – Jn 3:30, “I must decrease.”

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-“Salome with the Head of John the Baptist”, by Caravaggio, National Gallery, London, c. 1607–10

At nearly 50, it starts around 45 in my experience, one does begin to experience diminishment.  No longer the energy.  Little health problems/deviations begin to pop up here and there.  We spend more time with medicine, doctors, and treatment.  These physical diminishments, so quickly do they arrive in our life.  Life IS short.  But, truth be told, I can begin to feel them already.  In youth, energy was boundless, physical activity, motion, play, exercise, was effortless, if not skilled.  We return to Him from whence we came.  We surrender ALL to Him Who first gifted us.  Thank you.  Thank you, is all I can say.  The shadow of the cross begins to encroach.

“Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” [MARRIAGE!!!!] Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.   Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”  -Mt 14:3-12.

-by Fred, aka Aquinas, Etc.

“It is the feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, and it is easy to think of lots of politically-oriented things to say, and to prod myself to the same sort of courage that John had when it came to telling people what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. They needed to hear truth, and John gave it to them in its unvarnished wholeness, shirking nothing. But it seems too easy to me to mumble about speaking truth to power; I live in a day and age where power neither wants nor needs to listen to anybody. This is in part because (or so I imagine) power is invested so much in listening to what everybody says at all times anyway.

There is another aspect of the life of St. John the Baptist that strikes me as more compelling today, and it is summed up in these words that John spoke: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It is easy for pride and attention-seeking to put themselves forward into the spotlight, most especially in an era characterized by spotlight-seekers who crave their fifteen minutes of fame. It is a lot more difficult, maybe, simply to bloom where I am planted.

It is a difficult thing to me to distinguish where personal ambition leaves off and zeal for the truth begins. Why do I wish to put myself forward? Why do I think that I must push myself into the public forum? What pomposity it feels like. Who am I but a dead dog? Is it not better to do those things at hand? I do not know whether God calls me to speak publicly for Him, but I know for a fact that He calls me to be a faithful husband, a good father. I know this because this is the vocation He has given me in marriage. This is not to say that there are no other forms of service I may offer to God, but why do I hope to offer them? Is it the humility of the servant heart or the vainglory of ambition that drives me to dissatisfaction with my place in the world? That question answers itself, doesn’t it?

A less-easy question for me to answer is to know that to which God actually calls me. Maybe the answer rests not in the things I’d like to do or think I can do but rather in that vocation I mentioned. If I must decrease like St. John the Baptist, then why am I thinking about how I can increase (even for what seem like good reasons)? Lord, help me to decrease like St. John.”

Love,
Matthew

The fullness of Truth…

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-“The Incredulity of St Thomas”, 1602, Caravaggio, 107x146cm, oil on canvas, Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany

constantiussanders
-by Br Constantius Sanders, OP

“I recently read an article which sought to reveal similarities in the thought of two famous philosophers, one of whom was Catholic, the other a Deist (someone who denies that God continues to act upon the created world). The author’s stated goal was to show adherents of the Deist philosopher that they could come to see how Catholic thought was, in some sense, not dissimilar from their own. Curiously, the article presented itself purely as a philosophical exercise. However, it was really an exercise in apologetics, or the practice of demonstrating the reasonableness of certain beliefs. This specific kind of apologetics seeks to allow persons to come to acknowledge the beliefs of Catholics without having to radically change their own.

Since St. Paul at the Acropolis, the Church has sought to use non-Christian thought as a starting point or instrument to preach the truth. Possibly the greatest example of this is St. Thomas’s utilization of Aristotelian thought to teach theology. However, the above-described apologetics seems to be a fundamentally different project. St. Thomas used Aristotle because he believed that Aristotle taught true things. But what about the practice of adopting a system of thought not because one considers it true, but because it can be useful? Can one rightly adopt certain philosophical tenets in order to better reach a certain audience?

In one sense, yes. We do this all the time. We discuss the Faith differently with different audiences. We try and become all things to all people. One does not begin to teach the Faith to children (unlike seminarians) by opening with a discussion of epistemology. Instead, we seek to teach in a way that people will understand, assuming the level of our audience. Beginning with truths that our audiences agree on, we can move forward in understanding and knowledge.

However, there is also a mode of apologetics that does not seem to be acceptable. This would be to accept certain things that are false and gravely harmful in order to preach the Gospel. One should not assume the tenets of a materialist (someone who denies the existence of spiritual things) in order to preach the Gospel. It would be impossible to preach the fullness of Truth while failing to affirm the existence of such fundamental things as the immateriality of God, the angels, and the soul. It is similarly difficult to hold the doctrine of the Real Presence of the Eucharist by transubstantiation without a belief in the existences of substances or the reality of the physical world outside ourselves.

In our time, many philosophical truths that the Catholic Church holds to be rationally evident, such as the ability to recognize objective moral values, are no longer held by many individuals. There can be a temptation to try and tailor the Faith to fit these understandings. After all, it seems like we could be much more popular with the culture at large if we adapted the Faith entirely to their system of thinking. However, I doubt that the end product would much resemble the Catholic Faith. While we should seek to communicate effectively, this does not mean that the content of the Faith should be sacrificed in the process.

Apologetics should be moderated by a commitment to the fullness of the Gospel, practiced with the understanding that one is trying to convert the other via arguments based upon shared principles, without sacrificing anything fundamental. We cannot sacrifice truth and still preach the fullness of Truth. Instead, we should seek to communicate, person-by-person, the person of Jesus Christ and all that this entails. Although this takes on different modes, the goal remains the same. While we may wish to find common ground with all different sorts of groups in order to maintain a certain standing in society, certain truths cannot be abandoned for the sake of popularity. After all, the Faith is not even ours to begin with. So, is comparing systems of thought a true mode of preaching? Possibly (leaving aside questions of its limited effectiveness), but only under specific constraints and with the recognition that this form of apologetics must be guided by a special concern to maintain the Faith that has been handed on to us.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 21 – St Matthew

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-Caravaggio, The Call of Matthew, ~1600, Oil on canvas, 322 cm × 340 cm (127 in × 130 in), Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

from: www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

“…but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I ​​am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”

The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].

Pope Francis continues his reflection and says, jumping to another topic: “I do not know Rome well. I know a few things. These include the Basilica of St. Mary Major; I always used to go there. I know St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s…but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighborhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio.

That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.””

Love,
Matthew

Freedom for Excellence!!!!

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)

Saul’s Conversion, Caravaggio, 1601, Oil on canvas, 230 cm × 175 cm (91 in × 69 in), Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (of sin) (Gal 5:1)

In 21st century America, we understand the freedom as an absence of coercion or restraint.  This was not always how this word has been understood.  Christians have understood freedom as freedom for the good,  the Freedom for Excellence.

As a catechist, I am strongly of the opinion, the crises of our age are directly related to a crises of catechesis. Our modern concept of “freedom to/of” suggest, wrongly, that the beauty of freedom is a vacuum of restraint.  Rather than,”You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32), the modern concept of freedom proposes, “You will ignore the truth, and the ignorance will make you free?”

Freedom of indifference (free will) (William of Ockham) provides the ability to do anything one likes, to feel a lack of constraint. Freedom for excellence1, on the other hand, is the freedom to do good. It can develop and grow over time.

Everyone has freedom of indifference when playing the piano. Even if you’ve never had a single lesson, you can sit down and hit any key you wish. But only the trained musician has freedom for excellence, the freedom to play beautiful, sophisticated music. Similarly, everyone has freedom of indifference to throw a basketball toward a hoop, but only an experienced player has freedom for excellence, freedom to shoot and score consistently.

Freedom to achieve the goal of human life is aided and enhanced through revelatory instruction—what to do and what to avoid, or law/constraint. Natural law, that which is plainly evident from nature, enables all to do good and avoid evil. Revealed law is an additional grace that specifies for the individual conscience even more clearly the good to be done.

John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk, our “conscience is the voice of God . . . a messenger of Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ.”

Conscience has dignity and rights because of its relationship to truth, a truth to which we owe allegiance. Conscience does not create values; it inquires zealously into what is true.  Recall my layman’s fascination for Pilate’s query, albeit mockingly lacking sincerity, “What is truth?” Jn 18:38.  More important than what we are free from is what we are free for:  to live the truth in love, both now and forever.

The human person, or moral agent, is a unity of body and soul, not soul alone. What a person does with his or her body partially constitutes who he/she is and whether he/she is moving toward increased virtue or vice.

As Thomas Aquinas wrote, to analyze the morality of an action, we have to look at the means, motive, and circumstances (Summa Theologiae I-II.18).  All three elements of an action must be good for the action to be good, just as to be a good airplane pilot, the pilot must see well, have flying experience, and be sober. Two out of three is not enough and is likely tragic. An otherwise good act motivated by greed, hatred, or cruelty is not a good act. Likewise, there are situations in which the motive is laudable (say, to express and reinforce love), the means is good (for example, spouses making love), but the circumstances are wrong (making love in a public park at noon).

The moral life involves the challenge to live a life of holiness to a heroic degree – such as the saints have done. Obedience to the truth about the human person —a pursuit of deep happiness and freedom—cannot be achieved through human power alone…

Freedom…even for…the Cross?  Explain the Cross and you will know, imho, all necessary to understand, at least, Christianity.  Spend a little time, slowly…this week, I humbly suggest, with the Cross.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t turn away.  Don’t rush to Easter.  Just be at the foot of the Cross and relish the radiance and joy of its meaning, splendor and purpose.  I think, doctor, I’ll take my own advice, too.

Love,
Matthew

1  Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

Catholic denial – 9/18/09

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-The Denial of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio, circa 1610, oil on canvas
H: 94 cm (37 in) x W: 125.4 cm (49.4 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

When I joined Voice of the Faithful two years ago, I did so with trepidation, for a number of reasons.  What followed was an in depth, profound, overwhelming and disturbing education in the subject of pedophilia and pederasty.

I drank information from the fire hose in emails, new articles, and more recently, published works and media.  I have met and talked intimately with countless survivors, befriended many, attended conferences, listened to expert speakers on the topic, participated in protests and “actions” drawing attention to the matter, and watched trials, heard heart ripping victim impact statements, and the sentencing of dissociated, unrepentant perpetrators.  I have written to one priest in jail offering the kindness of correspondence, a breviary, or rosary.  I never heard back.

This work is not for everyone.  If someone asked me today about joining VOTF, I would respond to them, “How strong is your faith?  No, REALLY, how STRONG is your FAITH!?”

It has been and continues to be an education I never wanted and still do not wish I had or wish to continue receiving.  But, I have grown in my awareness and knowledge of how this crime is perpetrated, what the danger signs are, what the effect on the victim is and what it takes to survive this horrific betrayal and violation of trust, and how long that can take to come to terms with so much, and never fully.  I want Mara, our future children, God willing, and every other child to grow up in a safer world and Church.  That is why I do it.  Jesus will ask me, in my particular judgment, I am absolutely convinced, what I did about this, and I am intent on having the best answer I can.

Witnessing the psychology of my fellow lay Catholics during this period of my education in this sin has been equally troubling and profound.  “Isn’t that over?  Isn’t that somebody else’s problem?  What does that have to do with me?  I didn’t do anything?  You’re a troublemaker!  You hate the Church!  We don’t want your kind in ministry!  How can you call yourself a Catholic?  Those people just want money!  Don’t ruin my Sunday happy time/place!” and so on.

Everyone I know in Voice of the Faithful were/are some of the most dedicated, passionate Catholics you could hope to find.  Every VOTF member held every title in the Church you can think of, yes, even bishop.  But, as well, now every member of VOTF bears another title even before their prior ministerial one, “former”, and rarely by their own choice.  It is an odd and ironic feeling I have during the Prayers of the Faithful when as a Christian community we pray for the downtrodden, the maligned, those in misery, those treated unjustly, the unfortunate, and I think to myself, “Hey, I just left them an hour ago!”, and it usually was the official church, laity or ordained, who did the mistreatment?  What Twilight Zone have I wandered into now?  And, Fr. Rod Serling just gave the homily.

Every one of the victims was sure the Church would “do the right thing” when they shared their pain.  They were, instead, victimized all over again.  A friend of mine, Rick, a survivor, showed me the window of the room in rectory where it happened when he was a child, one day when we were driving by.  He wasn’t even Catholic to begin with.  He was a Lutheran boy, but got so excited about the beauty of the Mass, he believed it all had to be true.  Rick is an old man now and not in good health.  He drives a cab.  Rick will die in his cab, I am sure.  He is a hero and a friend of mine.  I am so blessed.  This is not a Catholic problem.  It is a human sin.

I have heard so many rationalizations in hopes of not having to deal with the truth of it all from my fellow Catholics, I could not number them for you.  I have heard the equivalent of the below many times before.  Recently, another hero of mine, Deacon T, put what he heard in an email.  I get THE BEST emails!:

“A meeting of the deacons of the Archdiocese of Chicago was held Sept 9th.  Mostly a non-event as most of the meetings are with a set agenda. It was devoted mainly to the new evangelization effort in the Archdiocese called Catholics Come Home.

At the end of Bishop Rs’ remarks he opened to questions. Benign questions from the deacons. As the last question to him I asked, “Since we deacons received, in our email boxes, copies of talking points regarding the Bishop G’s deposition, and the recent law suit alleging racial discrimination against black abuse victims, should we expect more letters from Rev. C on sex abuse matters?”

The question seemed to catch him flat footed and he paused for quite some time. He said the letters were to counter the media coverage of these events  and to clarify the truth on the issues. He didn’t elaborate beyond that. I  didn’t think it appropriate to debate fallacies in the letters with him in  that forum.

However, as the meeting concluded, Deacon J, the vicariate king deacon, commented on the Catholics Come Home program. He said we must not be afraid of tough questions from lapsed Catholics who come forward. He specifically expounded on  divorce/annulment issues. Then he spoke about clerical sex abuse. He teared up  when he said he himself was abused when he was 7 by a coach. He then expounded  on how to deal with angry Catholics’ questions about abuse:

  • He said the incidence of abuse by Protestants is a higher % than by priests (projection).
  • He said how horribly painful it was for priests who are wrongly accused (reverse effect).
  • He said the reason people level allegations against the Church is because the Church has so much money (plausible ulterior motive).
  • He said many people come forward are not abused and implied they do it for the money (people are dishonest).

This could not go unchallenged.  As the meeting closed I went to him privately and expressed sympathy for the abuse he suffered. I asked if his statements to the group are the answers we should give to questioning Catholics. I said we look like fools if we say the Protestants are worse than we are. I said that dog doesn’t hunt.

He pointed out (like reading from the talking points) about how much more we know now than we did in the 60’s,  70’s… I mentioned all that went out the window with the McCormack matter. At  this point he was visibly shaken, though honestly this wasn’t my intent. I  mentioned to him my personal and diaconal experiences in sex abuse matters in  Tulsa, Ft. Worth and here in Chicago and said things  haven’t changed that much.

He said there were “mistakes  made”. I reminded him (though I’m not sure he knew) that man over there, pointing to Bishop R, who was still in the room, withheld information from the Cardinal that would have prevented further abuse, according the Cardinal’s own testimony, “I was not aware.” The people are angry with the hierarchy.  At that point he turned to others who were waiting to talk with him, and I don’t know if they heard what we were saying.

Net-net, deacons are in denial or unwilling to confront what they know is wrong. They are uninformed to any depth on this subject and are not challenged to learn the complete truth.  Bishop R doesn’t want to talk about it.

As I walked out I went to Bishop R and introduced myself and reminded him I’ll be seeing him again on 9/20 at the St. Thomas Becket 40th anniversary Mass, where I’ll be his deacon of the Mass.”

May God have mercy on us all!  Our Lady of Sorrows, come to our aid!

Love,
Matthew

Nov 25 – St Catherine of Alexandria, (282-305 AD), Virgin & Martyr, Co-patroness of the Order of Preachers & “The Sopranos”

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-Gaudenzio Ferrari, “The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria”, c. 1500~1550, oil on panel, 334 cm (131.5 in) x 210 cm (82.7 in).

Christians have always venerated the saints and martyrs since the inception of the Church.  We have evidence of this from 1st century scratchings on the walls of the catacombs.  “Vincent, you are in Christ, pray for Phoebe.  Paul and Peter, pray for Victor.  Sentianus, in your prayers, pray for us, for we know you are in Christ.”

This Summer (2007), Kelly and I, in honor, or mourning, if you prefer, of the ending of the HBO series “The Sopranos”, watched the entire series from beginning to end in the vacuum of Summer television programming.

In addition to being entertaining, I felt there might be therapeutic, for my wife, and practical, to me, benefits in helping my Midwestern born and raised wife understand that not all of her new husband’s volatile (relative to the Midwest) personality traits were his fault alone, but that some were certainly environmental and cultural and “from the water”, as they say, of his youth as a waif growing up in “Joisey”.

The plot of the series and the actions of its characters made perfect practical sense to me.  Tony Soprano is my hero, along with Jesus Christ; a study in contrasts, I realize.  I mean, really, how else or otherwise are you efficiently supposed get your point across? Negotiate?  🙂

While Kelly did gain an appreciation of her husband’s native State and its people, culture, and ways, as we watched the series, she still confessed there are many things she does not understand about me.  Join the club.  The mystery is the joy.  To know is to love.  You gotta’ problem with ‘dat?

We now regularly greet each other at home with “how you doin’?”  Or, “fuggettaboutit”.

I must confess, seasons 1-3 are my favorites.  I think success altered the tone of the plot after that.

In season three, episode twelve, Carmela and Meadow are touring the Met in NY, and stand before the painting “The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria” by Giuseppe (alt, Jose’ de) Ribera, 1648.  Carmela begins to weep and the plot moves on.

I love the story of St Catherine of Alexandria. See…and you wondered how I was going to tie in “The Sopranos” to St Catherine of Alexandria, didn’t you?  Oh, ye of little faith. 🙂

Alexandria, the historically great Egyptian city (a rival to Rome itself in nearly all aspects in the ancient world, and exceeding it in some) at the mouth of the Nile was founded by Alexander the Great.  In the ancient world, Alexandria was traditionally a center of great learning, both pagan and Christian. The “Library of Alexandria”, before it burned, was sibling to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Its Christian activities centered around the great church founded, according to tradition, by the Apostle Mark, with its catechetical school, the first of its kind in Christendom.

Saint Catherine lived at the end of the third century A.D. and the beginning of the fourth.  Catherine was born of a patrician family of Alexandria. She was the daughter of Constus, Governor of Alexandria, Egypt.  From childhood Catherine had devoted herself to study and through her reading she had learned much intellectually of Christianity.  She declared to her parents that she would only enter into marriage with someone who surpassed her in reputation, wealth, beauty and wisdom.

Catherine’s mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual advisor – a monk who lived in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Catherine, the monk said that he knew of a Youth who surpassed her in everything, such that “His beauty is more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world—this however did not diminish but rather added to the inexpressible loftiness of his lineage.”

At this point, Catherine had not yet been baptized, but prayed all night and was granted a vision the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus. But the Child turned His face away from her saying that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person—not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Catherine returned again to the monk deeply saddened. The monk lovingly instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the mystery and sacrament of holy baptism.  Again, Catherine had a vision of the Mother of God with her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring—a wondrous gift of the heavenly Bridegroom – a mystical marriage.

The account of Catherine’s life continues that shortly afterwards, at the age of eighteen, Catherine presented herself to the Roman Emperor Maximinus Daia who was in Alexandria celebrating a pagan feast day, but who also was carrying out a persecution of the Christians. She admonished him for his cruelty and demanded that he cease the persecutions.

Astounded and insulted at the young woman’s audacity, but lacking the training and intellectual skills necessary to debate with her, Maximinus detained her in his palace and called for fifty of his best scholars to try to trip her up in her beliefs, either to make her apostatize against Christianity or commit a heresy against the Roman pagan religion so that she could be put to death. Contrary to what Maximinus expected, she managed to convert his scholars with her eloquence and knowledge of both religion and science.  Maximinus was so outraged he had all fifty of them burned alive and Catherine scourged and put in prison.

The empress, Faustina, however, heard of the extraordinary young woman and stole secretly into the prison in the company of the Roman general Porphyry.  They listened to Catherine, were converted and baptized, but were both executed by Maximinus when he discovered what had happened.

The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor.  Maximinus, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame by becoming his wife. Catherine gave him an angry refusal.  Infuriated, Maximinus ordered Catherine to be broken on a spiked wheel. Yet at her touch, the instrument of torture was miraculously destroyed.

Seeing no alternative, Maximinus ordered her beheaded. She died in the year 305 A.D.

Her final words are recorded as:  “O Jesus, good King, I await the sword for Thy sake; do Thou deign to receive my spirit, and to show mercy to those who honor my memory.  Come, My chosen one, come; enter into the bridal chamber of thy Spouse.  Thou hast obtained the grant of thy petition, and it shall be well with them that praise Thee.”

Her body was carried to Mount Sinai where a monastery and church were later built by the order of the Emperor Justinian. Interestingly enough, the site where Catherine’s body was found is also believed to be the site of the burning bush seen by Moses.

Eleven centuries later, when Jeanne d’Arc, a twelve year old illiterate French farm girl claimed to hear three voices telling her to drive out the English from France and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation and did, Joan, at her trial for heresy after being captured by the English, claimed Catherine’s voice was one of those she heard.

In the Eastern Church, the following hymns (troparion) are used as part of the Liturgy of the Feast of St Catherine of Alexandria:

Greek usage (Tone 5)

Let us praise the all-lauded and noble bride of Christ,
the godly Catherine, the guardian of Sinai and its defense,
who is also our support and succour and our help;
for with the Holy Spirit’s sword
she hath silenced brilliantly the clever among the godless;
and being crowned as a martyr, she now doth ask great mercy for us all.

Slavic usage (Tone 4)

Thy lamb Catherine, O Jesus,
Calls out to Thee in a loud voice:
I love Thee, O my Bridegroom,
And in seeking Thee, I endure suffering.
In baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in Thee,
And died so that I might live with Thee.
Accept me as a pure sacrifice,
For I have offered myself in love.
By her prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

File:Michelangelo Caravaggio 060.jpg
-Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio, c. 1598, oil on canvas, H: 173 cm (68.1 in). W: 133 cm (52.4 in).

File:José de Ribera 056.jpg
-The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Giuseppe Ribera, 1648. Catherine kisses an infant Jesus, who is held by the Virgin Mary. In the background are Saint Anne and Saint Joseph.

File:Ring Sinaya.jpg
-ring of St Catherine given to pilgrims who visit Mount Sinai

Tradition has it that Catherine appeared three times in visions during the early days of the Order of Preachers.  She was one of the Virgins (along with St. Cecilia) who accompanied the Blessed Virgin Mary when she gave Bl. Reginald the scapular.  She also accompanied the Blessed Virgin in the vision in which St. Dominic saw the Virgin Mary sprinkling the brethren while they slept.

Lastly, she again accompanied the Blessed Virgin, along with St. Mary Magdalene (co-patroness of the Order of Preachers), during the transitus of the miraculous image of St. Dominic to Soriano.  It might seem that not only has the Dominican Order chosen her as patroness, but you might even be able to say that she herself has chosen to watch over the Friars Preachers in a special way.

O God, you gave the law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai, and through your holy angels, wonderfully put in that same place the body of the blessed Catherine, your virgin and martyr; grant, we beseech you, that by her merits and intercession, we may reach that mountain which is Christ.  Through Christ our Lord.

Love,
Matthew