Monday, February 20, 2012

Memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris

The Putting on of Ashes
From the Initial "M" in the Introit of the Mass of Ashes on Ash Wednesday
From the Missal à l'usage de Saint-Didier d'Avignon 
c. 1370
(Made in Naples, South Italy)
f. 333-360  f. 040v
Avignon - BM - ms. 0138 

For many non Catholics, the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of Catholics will appear very strange.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy says this about the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, emphasising the antiquity of the practice:

"125. In the Roman Rite, the beginning of the forty days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The use of ashes is a survival from an ancient rite according to which converted sinners submitted themselves to canonical penance.  
The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God.  
Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent. The faithful who come to receive ashes should be assisted in perceiving the implicit internal significance of this act, which disposes them towards conversion and renewed Easter commitment."

There are two alternative formulae said by the priest who places the ashes:

The first, from the Book of Genesis: "You are dust and to dust you shall return" (Memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris) (Gen 3: 19); the other is  "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1: 15), 

For many centuries, the Roman Liturgy on Ash Wednesday took as the Gospel reading Mk 6:1-6, 16-18, which presents Jesus’ teaching on the inseparable elements of  almsgiving (mercy), prayer and fasting

In one of his Discourses, Saint Peter Chrysologus wrote:
""These three things, prayer, fasting and mercy, are a single thing, each drawing life from the others. Fasting is the soul of prayer and mercy the life of fasting. Let no one divide them, because alone they do not survive" (Saint Peter Chrysologus, Discourse 43: PL 52, 320).

(See also the Apostolic Constitution PAENITEMINI  (17th February 1966) by Pope Paul VI)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cano`s Crucifixion

Alonso Cano (1601 – 1667)
The Crucifixion (1640 circa)
Oil on canvas
130 cm x 96 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Recently the Pope devoted two of his catecheses on the words and  prayers of Jesus on the Cross

In the first on 8th February 2012 he looked at the account of the prayers in Mark and Matthew

In the second on 15th February he considered the account in the Gospel of St Luke

The words of Christ are recorded by Saints Mark and Matthew in a mixture of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic:
"And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”(Mark 15:34).  
“Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Luke relates three last words:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34
To the Good Thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43
“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)

Cano`s Crucifixion is a Marcian version of the event

The scene is one of enveloping darkness, loneliness, isolation and silence.

The darkness is ambiguous

In his earlier talk, the Pope said:
"Even the cosmos takes part in this event: Darkness envelops persons and things, but even in this moment of darkness, God is present; He does not abandon.  
In the biblical tradition, darkness has an ambivalent meaning: It is a sign of the presence and action of evil, but also of a mysterious presence and action of God, who is capable of vanquishing all darkness.  
In the Book of Exodus, for example, we read: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Lo, I am coming to you in a thick cloud’” (19:9); and again: “The people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (20:21). And in the discourses of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts: “The mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud and gloom” (4:11); you “heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire” (5:23).  
In the scene of Jesus’ Crucifixion, darkness covers the earth, and it is into the darkness of death that the Son of God is plunged in order to bring life by His act of love"

Cano`s painting is a meditation on those desolate and heartrending words “Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

On the face of it, Jesus is afflicted by the sense of abandonment by his Father, a feeling of the utter confusion and total emptiness in the face  of  apparent failure of his mission and therefore of his life.

Where was the Father in the depth of his humiliation, at the moment when all seemed to be irretrievably lost?

The Pope said of these words:
"When faced with the most difficult and painful situations, when it seems that God is not listening, we need not fear entrusting to Him the entire weight of what we carry in our hearts; we need not fear crying out to Him in our suffering; we must be convinced that God is near, even when He appears to be silent. 
In repeating from the Cross the opening words of the psalm:  
“Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46);
 in crying out in the words of the psalm, Jesus is praying in the moment of man’s final rejection, in the moment of abandonment.  
However, He is praying the psalm in the awareness that God the Father is present, even in this hour when He feels the human drama of death.  
But a question arises in us: How is it possible that so powerful a God does not intervene to rescue His Son from this terrible trial? 
It is important to understand that Jesus’ prayer is not the cry of one who goes to meet death in despair, nor is it the cry of one who knows he has been abandoned. 
In that moment, Jesus makes His own the whole of Psalm 22, the great psalm of the suffering people of Israel, and so He is taking upon Himself not only the tribulation of His people, but also of all people who suffer under the oppression of evil -- and, at the same time, He brings all of this before the heart of God Himself, in the certainty that His cry will be heard in the Resurrection:  
“The cry of extreme anguish is at the same time the certainty of an answer from God, the certainty of salvation -- not only for Jesus Himself, but for ‘many’” (Jesus of Nazareth II, p. 214)."

In other words, these words are an affirmation that the Father existed and he was his Son who wished only to do his will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Christ Blessing the Children

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
Christ Blessing the Children, c. 1535 - 40
Oil and tempera on beechwood
83.8 × 121.5 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Nicolaes Maes 1634 - 1693
Christ Blessing the Children
Oil on canvas, 206 x 154 cm
National Gallery, London

Benjamin West  1738 - 1820 
Christ blessing Little Children
Oil on canvas
116.6 x 214.9 cm 
The Royal Academy, London

The works above are based on
‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.’
(Mark 10:13–16)
As well as 
'Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 19:13-14).

"1  Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander;  2  like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, 3 for you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter: 2: 1 -3)

Cranach`s painting is one of the most popular and enduring images produced by his workshop during the Reformation. The theme is unknown before Cranach the Elder

Over twenty variants were produced by his workshop. One of them is in The Metropolitan in New York

Often the painting had a legend in block capitals:
It is overtly didactic

The theme is distinctly Lutheran: only an unspoiled childish belief in God, as revealed in Christ, can prepare the way for sinful mankind to achieve redemption. 

Salvation and grace are free. They are not earned by works or labour. 

The figure of Christ is pushed to the front of the picture-plane and the powerfully characterised heads of the Apostles, owe more to Dürer  than to Raphael

Also notable are the figures of the women. These are not passive women. They are ordinary women, energetic, forcing their ways forward in wanting their children to be touched by Christ

The children are babies. A subtle or perhaps not too subtle refutation of those who at the time rejected Infant Baptism

Now Catholics can look at and appreciate these works and find inspiration in them

Cranach the Elder was Luther`s PR man. His works were essential to the success of the Lutheran Reformation. He was Luther`s best man at his wedding. 

The theme invented by Cranach was popular throughout Northern Europe in the centuries after Cranach as can be seen by the works by Maes and West above.

However it is worth pointing out  at the same time as he was producing such didactic works and maintaining good relations with Luther and his family, Cranach had good professional relations Catholic patrons, including Luther's bête noire, Cardinal Albrecht, the archbishop of Mainz. He and his workshop produced typically "Catholic" pictures. These are not pot boilers but works of great spiritual depth

In his time there was always hope on both sides  that the Lutherans and the rest of the Catholic Church would eventually reunite. The split was not at that time irrevocable. 

Indeed Cardinal Albrecht had even sent Luther's bride a wedding gift.

But perhaps the importance of Cranach and his work is a sign that although art can be used to highlight differences and schisms,  art can also transcend differences of theology and unite and bridge differences between people of different faiths or of no faith

Cranach`s message is still a strong one. But it is not just an image. It is a call to make the image real.  Cardinal Dolan of New York in his talk to the College of Cardinals made this clear in this, the Year of Evangelisation:

"[T]he New Evangelization is about love. 
Recently, our brother John Thomas Kattrukudiyil, the Bishop of Itanagar, in the northeast corner of India, was asked to explain the tremendous growth of the Church in his diocese, registering over 10,000 adult converts a year. 
“Because we present God as a loving father, and because people see the Church loving them.” he replied. 
Not a nebulous love, he went on, but a love incarnate in wonderful schools for all children, clinics for the sick, homes for the elderly, centers for orphans, food for the hungry. 
In New York, the heart of the most hardened secularist softens when visiting one of our inner-city Catholic schools. When one of our benefactors, who described himself as an agnostic, asked Sister Michelle why, at her age, with painful arthritic knees, she continued to serve at one of these struggling but excellent poor schools, she answered, “Because God loves me, and I love Him, and I want these children to discover this love. ...
 [A]s a newly-ordained parish priest, my first pastor said to me as I went over to school to teach the six-year old children their catechism, “Now we’ll see if all your theology sunk in, and if you can speak of the faith like a child.” 
And maybe that’s a fitting place to conclude: we need to speak again as a child the eternal truth, beauty, and simplicity of Jesus and His Church"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cooperation not confrontation

HM the Queen speaking at Lambeth Palace, London

As the Administration in the USA continues to pursue its own idiosyncratic approach to Church-State relations, the United Kingdom is showing signs that it wants a much closer role for religious bodies in the public sphere.

First, there has been a successful two day official visit by a UK Government delegation headed by a Cabinet Minister to the Vatican.

The official communique has been issued.

Unlike in the USA at present, the talks between the Vatican and the UK Government  were lengthy, deep and wide-ranging.

The communique is here

L`Osservatore Romano  also printed as an editorial a statement by the leader of the delegation, Baroness Warsi. It was entitled: "Common Objectives"

In it amongst other things she wrote:

"At the heart of the Queen’s government’s policies, at home as well as overseas, is concern for the support and promotion of fundamental rights and values, underpinning democracy, and sustaining a culture of social, economic and political responsibility, from communities on the ground to the level of government. Expressed through faith, these are also the priorities of the Holy See. Through the Caritas Internationalis network and Catholic NGOs in particular, and their vital work in aid relief, education and healthcare, the Holy See touches the lives of millions of people. 
Our bilateral talks will of course see discussions on hard power questions, from giving impetus to this year’s multilateral talks on an Arms Trade Treaty and small arms proliferation, to the future of the Middle East. From Britain’s efforts to help bring peace and hope to Somalia and the Horn of Africa after years of civil war and under-development, to the impact of the Eurozone crisis on European societies, structures and politics, including in the United Kingdom."

It is no coincidence at the time of the meeting HM the Queen delivered a strongly worded speech to leaders of Britain's nine main religions at Lambeth Palace, London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury

She chose to make her speech on the first public occasion marking her Diamond Jubilee which is surely significant

The Telegraph said:

"[S]he highlighted the importance of faith in society and the "critical guidance" it offered in life. 
"The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated," she said.  
"Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country."  
The monarch, speaking at the first public event to mark her Diamond Jubilee, said that Church was "woven into the fabric of this country" and had helped to build a better society.  
It has "created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely", she added. 
Cooperation with religious bodies  not confrontation now at last appears to be the religious policy of the United Kingdom

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Secularism: The beginning of the turn of the tide in Britain ?

The present government of the United Kingdom has embarked on a concerted campaign to warn of the dangers of eroding the importance of religion in society

Of course, the United Kingdom is much further down the secularist road than the United States 

Baroness Warsi, the chairman of the Conservative Party,  said that British society is under threat from the rising tide of “militant secularisation” reminiscent of “totalitarian regimes"

The Baroness  made clear she was not calling for religious leaders to have the final say on government and social matters. 

Today she led a British delegation to the Vatican. It was the largest ministerial delegation from the United Kingdom to the Vatican 

Tellingly she said:

"My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; when states won’t fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.  
It seems astonishing to me that those who wrote the European Constitution made no mention of God or Christianity. When I denounced this tendency two days before the Holy Father’s State Visit in September 2010, saying that government should “do God”, I received countless messages of support. The overwhelming message was: “At last someone has said it”.  
That so many people felt moved to write showed just how uneasy they were at the rising tide of secularism.  
For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.  
That’s why in the 20th century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes" 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dickens 2012

Robert Braithwaite Martineau 1826-1869 
Kit's Writing Lesson 1852
Oil on canvas
Support: 521 x 705 mm 
Frame: 736 x 910 x 88 mm
Tate Britain, London

Martineau was articled to a firm of solicitors, but abandoned law in favour of art

This picture depicts a scene from The Old Curiosity Shop  by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870)  whose bicentenary was this week

The tragic heroine of the novel Nell Trent, lives with her maternal grandfather in his shop of odds and ends. 

Her only friend is Kit, an honest boy employed at the shop, and whom she is teaching to write

Leading the celebrations for the bicentenary of Dickens` birth, Prince Charles laid a wreath on the author's grave in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey where he was buried in 1870

There are now numerous exhibitions and disiplays celebrating the great event all attempting to explain and illustrate the greatness of Dickens and his works:

The British Library, London :  Dickens in Context

The Museum of London:  Dickens and London

His novels and other works can be downloaded and read at

Dickens is a humourist, a master of the grotesque.Some of his most famous characters and his settings are both believable and utterly fantastical. His stories are filled with the comic and tragic, the redeeming and destructive, and the mysterious and forthright

Therein lies his great genius.

He held strong views, views in many ways which were not of his time and were timeless and universal.

Perhaps another writer of the "Grotesque", Flannery O`Connor, has explained why Dickens used the grotesque and why it was such an important part of his writing:

"“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” 
― Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood 

And Dickens is still shouting to us today and will for many centuries to come.

Here he writes about a favourite entertainment in early Victorian Britain: the watching of a public execution. In 1849, he witnessed with 30,000 other people the public execution in Central London of two criminals, the Mannings, for murder. The experience as the letter which he wrote to The Times below left him disgusted and revolted. Frightened to upset the mob in the light of the disruptions caused by the Chartists and the events of 1848, the authorities did not stop these events for another twenty years:

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Political Mandate

Antoine Caron
The Arrest and Supplication of Sir Thomas More 
Oil on wood
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Château at Blois

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has been providing a fascinating running commentary on a controversy in America: the plan to force Catholic employers to provide free contraception and abortion  coverage in employee healthcare plans

It is only now beginning to be reported in the United Kingdom

On the other side of the Pond, there is a sense of mounting mystification and incomprehension as to why the American administration has gotten itself into an untenable position. And attempting to behave in a patently immoral way

And that in a country where contraception and abortion are freely available at the expense of the state on the NHS for very many years

Since when has there been a "super-right" to have contraception and an abortion at the expense of the employer ? And which "right" outweighs the genuine  religious and conscientious objection of the employer to provide this ? 

The arguments put forward on behalf of the Administration`s policy seems to border on sloganising and the juvenile. Their arguments lack depth and insight.

It has been depicted as a battle between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church. However other religious leaders from other religious denominations have strongly objected to the issuing of the new regulations.

Passages from the Encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII on Church and State including the rights of the citizens and the duties of Catholic politicians have been quoted in the Catholic blogosphere.

But perhaps more attention should be given to more modern Church documents.

It is full of quotations from one of the main documents of Vatican II and was written by a man who was at Vatican II, helped implement Vatican II and spent his life standing up to tyranny and despotic governments

It is a positive message extolling a paradigm of how a politician of whatever faith should act

For those who base their faith and religious practice on what they perceive as doctrine derived from Vatican II, it must come as uncomfortable reading in the present controversy

And in truth there`s not a cigarette paper`s difference between what Blessed John Paul II wrote and what Pope Leo XIII wrote. 

"The life and martyrdom of Saint Thomas More have been the source of a message which spans the centuries and which speaks to people everywhere of the inalienable dignity of the human conscience, which, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is "the most intimate centre and sanctuary of a person, in which he or she is alone with God, whose voice echoes within them" (Gaudium et Spes, 16).  
Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good. Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.  
And even outside the Church, particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples, he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person. ... 
Given his inflexible firmness in rejecting any compromise with his own conscience, in 1534 the King had him imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was subjected to various kinds of psychological pressure.  
Thomas More did not allow himself to waver, and he refused to take the oath requested of him, since this would have involved accepting a political and ecclesiastical arrangement that prepared the way for uncontrolled despotism.  
At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded ... 
In this context, it is helpful to turn to the example of Saint Thomas More, who distinguished himself by his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice.  
His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue 
Unwavering in this rigorous moral stance, this English statesman placed his own public activity at the service of the person, especially if that person was weak or poor; he dealt with social controversies with a superb sense of fairness; he was vigorously committed to favouring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young.  
His profound detachment from honours and wealth, his serene and joyful humility, his balanced knowledge of human nature and of the vanity of success, his certainty of judgement rooted in faith: these all gave him that confident inner strength that sustained him in adversity and in the face of death. His sanctity shone forth in his martyrdom, but it had been prepared by an entire life of work devoted to God and neighbour. ... 
What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality. As I have already had occasion to say, "man is created by God, and therefore human rights have their origin in God, are based upon the design of creation and form part of the plan of redemption. One might even dare to say that the rights of man are also the rights of God" (Speech, 7 April 1998).  
And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience which is "the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul" (Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 58), even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time.  
In the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council notes how in the world today there is "a growing awareness of the matchless dignity of the human person, who is superior to all else and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable" (No. 26). 
The life of Saint Thomas More clearly illustrates a fundamental truth of political ethics.  
The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power. Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature." 
(Blessed Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter issuing the Motu Proprio declaring St Thomas More the Patron of Statesmen and Politicians 31st October 2000)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Pope at Dover

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 
Dover circa 1825
Watercolour on paper
support: 161 x 245 mm
Tate Britain, London

Waterloo Crescent & Esplanade, Dover
Photographic print
The British Library, London

In his recent address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  Pope Benedict appeared to have a "Dover Beach" moment

He said:
"As we know, in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of being extinguished, like a flame that has lost its fuel. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense, that constitutes the Church's greatest challenge today. The renewal of faith, then, must be the priority in the work of the whole Church in our time."

First published in 1867, Arnold`s words were probably written much earlier:

"The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world"

Arnold and Victorian Christianity were greatly affected by the great convulsions of their time and society: the rise of  Darwinism, the undermining of the certainity of faith by science such as the rise of geology,  the Industrial revolution and its massive economic effects, the rise of Liberalism (political and economic), Imperialism, clashes between Church and State. Old certainties were no longer certain.

Arnold`s prescription was a call to Love and to the Light amongst the Darkness and Violent Discord:

"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night"

One of Benedict`s remedies is the forthcoming Year of Faith:

"It is my wish that the Year of Faith contribute, with the cordial collaboration of all of the People of God, to making God present again in this world and to opening to men the way to faith, to entrusting themselves to that God who loved us to the end (cf. John 13:1), in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  
The theme of the unity of Christians is closely connected to this task. ... 
[I]ndifferentism is caused by the opinion, which continues to spread, that truth is not accessible to man and that it is thus necessary to limit ourselves to finding rules for a praxis that would be capable of improving the world. And in this way the faith would be replaced by a moralism without any deep foundation.  
The centre of true ecumenism is instead the faith in which man encounters the truth that is revealed in the Word of God. Without the faith the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of "social contract" that is agreed to because of a common interest, a "praxeology" aimed at creating a better world.  
The logic of Vatican II is completely different: the pursuit of the complete unity of Christians is a dynamism animated by the Word of God, by the divine Truth that speaks to us in this Word"

Monday, February 06, 2012

Sixty Years On. More please

David Dawson, Lucian Freud painting the Queen (2001)
United Kingdom Government Art Collection, London

In the United Kingdom we are starting the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee  of HM The Queen.

She is the second longest reigning British Monarch. We hope that she will break the record of her ancestor, Queen Victoria by many years

When she began her reign in 1952, Harry Truman was President of the USA. 

For most Brits  have never known a Monarch other than Queen Elizabeth and  most would agree with the commentator in The Daily Telegraph who wrote:

"How lucky we are to have the Queen as head of state, for to be a subject of Elizabeth II is to have won first prize in the lottery of life.  
In 1993 US Senator Pat Moynihan noted in his book Pandaemonium that “there are today just eight states on earth which both existed in 1914 and have not had their form of government changed by violence since then.”  
Elizabeth II is queen of four of them (the others being Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa and the USA)."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Pablo Picasso
La Mort de Casagemas
Oil on wood panel
0.270 m.  x  0.350 m
Musée Picasso, Paris

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.

 She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

As witnessed by Ware, the top five regrets are :

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The readers of The Guardian responded with a list of their regrets:

Here are some:

Speakman Not enough sex. 
Bliad I regret not looking after my teeth when I was younger. 
Glasstreacle Spending too much time on the internet. 
Ripplic Should have come out sooner, my family hate me but at least I'm living my life. 
kymonca Leaving that evening without saying "I love you". 
Oviller I lose count of the amount of times where I've not liked someone, really liked someone, thought someone was bad for me and not expressed these feelings at all and regretted it. 
UnknownGunman Breaking someone's heart. 
NomNomme Spending your dying hours regretting stuff, although your life was relatively nice and comfortable compared to most of the world's population. 
Jackanapes I wish I'd had more confidence. 
PatriciaInOttawa I wish I hadn't married so young and I wish I had studied and worked abroad and had more adventures before marrying. 
roastpudding My biggest regret would be if I don't manage to see a large proportion of the amazing things there are to see and experience around the world. 
callumgg Not spending enough time taking things slow. I never stop to look at things, even when I have the time. 
Ignatiusgrant Not becoming a rock star. 
esarbee Meeting my wife!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Chagall’s Spiritual Universe

In Lucca, the Church of St Christopher is hosting an exhibition entitled Chagall’s Spiritual Universe

It finishes on 11 March 2012

The venue is a beautiful Romanesque Church in the old city. It dates from the 12th century

Here is a view of it.

Here below  is one of Chagall`s works in the exhibition

Friday, February 03, 2012

The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane

H. Siddons Mowbray 
1858 - 1928
Gethsemane 1915 - 25
Oil on canvas
 35 x 34 7/8 in. (89.0 x 88.7 cm) 
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Mowbray was born of English parents in Egypt. Orphaned when young, he was brought to the United States by his uncle and aunt. He became a naturalised American,
Mowbray moved to Paris in 1878 to study with Leon Bonnat, one of the leading European academic painters of the time

The apse, ceiling, and lunettes of the Rotunda of the McKim building in New York City were designed and executed by Mowbray The paintings of the Rotunda's dome  inspired by Raphael's famous vault decorations for the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican 

President Wilson appointed Mowbray the fifth painter member of the National Commission of Fine Arts in 1921

In the early 1920’s, he turned from murals  back to easel paintings with scenes from the Life of Christ of which Gethsemane is one composition, Other scenes from The Life of Christ have been gifted by his family to the Smithsonian

In his recent catechesis on The Prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane the Pope said that in regard to the narrative of Jesus in the Garden

" Nowhere else in sacred Scripture do we gain so deep an insight into the inner mystery of Jesus as in the prayer on the Mount of Olives” (Jesus of Nazareth II, 157)"

He went on:

"After the invitation addressed to the three to remain and watch in prayer, Jesus “alone” turns to the Father. The Evangelist Mark tells us that,  
“going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (14:35). 
Jesus falls face to the ground:  
It is the prayer posture that expresses obedience to the Father’s will -- a total, trusting abandonment to Him. It is a gesture that is repeated at the beginning of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, as well as at monastic professions and diaconal, priestly and episcopal ordinations in order to express in prayer, and also in a bodily way, the complete entrustment of oneself to God, and reliance on Him.  
Jesus continues by asking the Father that, if it were possible, this hour might pass from him. 
This is not only the fear and anguish of a man faced with death; it is the inner turmoil of the Son of God, who sees the terrible flood of evil that he must take upon himself in order to overcome it, to deprive it of its power. 
Dear friends, in prayer we too must be capable of bringing before God our struggles, the suffering of certain situations, of certain days, the daily undertaking of following him, of being Christians, and also the weight of evil that we see within ourselves and around us, so that he may give us hope, that he may make us feel his closeness and give us a little light on the path of life. 
Jesus continues his prayer:  
“Abba! Father! All things are possible to thee; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). 
In this appeal, there are three revealing passages. At the beginning, we have the double use of the word that Jesus uses to address himself to God:  
“Abba! Father!” (Mark 14:36a). 
We are well aware that the Aramaic word Abba was used by a child to address his father, and that it therefore expresses Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, a relationship of tenderness, affection, trust and abandonment. 
 In the central part of the appeal there is a second element: the awareness of the Father’s omnipotence -- “All things are possible to thee” -- that introduces a request in which the drama of Jesus’ human will in the face of death and evil again appears:  
“Remove this chalice from me.” 
But there is a third expression in Jesus’ prayer, and it is the decisive one in which his human will adheres fully to the divine will. Jesus, in fact, concludes by saying forcefully:  
“Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36c). 

In Mowbray`s deceptively simple image, all this is conveyed clearly, concisely and powerfully In his meditation on the Passion, Mowbray far surpasses anything  painted by him when he was the Painter of the Gilded Age.