Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Catherine of Siena to Pope Gregory: Be a man or resign!

Today is the glorious feast day of the prolific St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was a 14th century philosopher, theologian, Third Order Dominican, and one of four women proclaimed Doctor of the Church. I had the profound privilege to visit and pray at Catherine's tomb last November while in Rome for the close of the Year of Faith with Pope Francis. Catherine's remains (well, everything except for her head, which is in Siena) are kept at the gorgeous basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.

Lately, we've been studying Catherine's profound spiritual letters in my Lay Dominican community. There are many quotations attributed to her, but this one in particular, or some variation of it, is one of the more ubiquitous ones:
If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire...
The quotation is slightly modified from the original text which is taken from a series of letters from Catherine to Stefano di Corrado Maconi, a noble of Siena, Italy. The original Italian is actually this:
Se sarete quello che devete essere, metterete fuoco in tutta L'Italia, non tanto costi
... roughly translated:
If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy, and not only yonder.
As with Catherine's other letters, this letter is illustrative of Catherine's careful attention for the spiritual well-being of others. Just look at how she opens this particular letter to Maconi:
Dearest son in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious Blood: with desire to see thee arise from the lukewarmness of thy heart, lest thou be spewed from the mouth of God, hearing this rebuke, "Cursed are ye, the lukewarm! Would you had at least been ice-cold!" This lukewarmness proceeds from ingratitude, which comes from a faint light that does not let us see the agonizing and utter love of Christ crucified, and the infinite benefits received from Him. For in truth, did we see them, our heart would burn with the flame of love, and we should be famished for time, using it with great zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls. To this zeal I summon thee, dearest son, that now we begin to work anew.
Her spiritual writings were extremely effective, as was her correspondence with the Pope Gregory XI in Avignon (emphasis mine):
Most holy and sweet father, your poor unworthy daughter Catherine in Christ sweet Jesus, commends herself to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you a manly man, free from any fear or fleshly love toward yourself, or toward any creature related to you in the flesh; ... [God's] will, father, is this, and thus demands of you. It demands that you execute justice on the abundance of many iniquities committed by those who are fed and pastured in the garden of Holy Church; declaring that brutes should not be fed with the food of men. Since [Christ] has given you authority and you have assumed it, you should use your virtue and power: and if you are not willing to use it, it would be better for you to resign what you have assumed; more honour to God and health to your soul would it be.
Wow! See that? Catherine to Pope Gregory: "Step up and be a man! ... or resign!"

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Chelengk

Most folks don't know what a chelengk (or çelenk) is. I didn't either until a few years ago. But according to Prof. Wikipedia, it's this:
A chelengk was a decoration of the Ottoman Empire... It was a jewelled aigrette consisting of a central flower with leaves and buds, and upward-facing rays. In modern Turkish, a çelenk is a wreath or garland, a circular decoration made from flowers and leaves, usually arranged as an ornament.

Lord Nelson sporting his chelengk
A specially-made chelengk was awarded to Horatio Nelson by Sultan Selim III in honour of the Battle of the Nile in 1798. This was the first time that a chelengk was conferred on a non-Ottoman. The usual seven rays were augmented to thirteen, as described in a contemporary letter:

The Aigrette is a kind of feather; it represents a hand with thirteen fingers, which are of diamonds, and allusive to the thirteen ships taken and destroyed at Alexandria, the size that of a child's hand about six years old when opened;

In Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series of novels, Captain Jack Aubrey is awarded a chelengk by the Sultan after capturing two rebel ships. His chelengk was worn, like Nelson's, on his dress uniform hat and contained hidden clockwork, so that the diamond strands shimmered in the sun.
I'm fascinated by the bit about 'hidden clockwork' that caused the strands to move about the center. You can be sure that if I had a chelengk, I would be wearing it on a regular basis.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why does all nature smile

Why does all nature smile mysteriously on feast days? Why is the heart filled at these times with a wonderful lightness that is incomparable to anything on earth; how is it that the very air at the altar and in the Church become light bearing? This is the breath of Your grace, the glow of the light of Tabor; the sky and the earth are singing at these times in praise: Alleluia!

Kontakion 9, Akathist of Thanksgiving
Forgive me for "going East" today, particularly in breaking the Western "No-Alleluias-During-Lent" Rule. Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, and I haven't blogged since last June. Wow!


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