Friday, December 31, 2010

The True Artist

I recently stumbled on a blog by Deacon Daniel Varholy, the president of the website Corpus Christi Watershed, and I am very much liking what he has to say. He is very sympathetic towards the heart of the artist - a kindred spirit, I suppose - and has some beautiful advice for us to keep in mind as we work, especially when we become discouraged by the ugliness of the world.

"True artists by nature are sensitive to beauty, and they seek to do something beautiful for the Lord as an offering to try to give answer to the problems of pain and sin that mar the beauty of creation. It is heartbreaking to witness pain and ugliness if we do not see with them a sense of redemption and hope. Yet it is precisely out of this cry of heartbreak that the Lord hears our prayers: 'The Lord hears the cry of the poor. | The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; | And those who are crushed in spirit he saves' (Ps 33: 19). "

To read the rest of Deacon Varholy's blog post, please click on the link below:

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best Teachers

I recently purchased a collection of poetry by Robert Frost titled You Come Too, published in 1959. I intend to give it as a Christmas present, but before giving away the forward caught my eye. The forward is written by a man by the name of Hyde Cox, who as a young man was acquainted with Robert Frost. Cox has some passages and phrases that particularly caught my eye.

For example, as he describes his relationship with Frost, I couldn't help but recall a certain professor of mine. Going to a university, you take classes from a variety of teachers. Some are good, some are bad, some are fickle graders, lax graders, fair graders, etc. Some are dry, some are engaging. Each one has their quirks, faults, and virtues. But the best teachers, to me, are those for whom you especially want to apply yourself. These teachers care deeply about what they teach and about passing on their knowledge to the next generation. They want you to do well and they inspire you to give them your best. When my professor sees his students apply themselves and that they are serious about music and their studies, you are no longer just a student. You have earned his respect and are considered a colleague. Cox puts this far better than I do, however, when he speaks of Robert Frost:

"With certain people older than yourself you feel that something is expected from you that you cannot give. With [Robert Frost] it is otherwise. In his company you will find yourself giving forth the best you have in you. You are all attention. You feel that he is letting you in on secrets, and he is so natural a teacher that when he says 'You come too' you go willingly. When he teaches you something, he makes you believe that you thought of it yourself. He makes you feel that you knew it all along."

Poulenc's Litanies of the Blessed Virgin

This piece was performed by the University Chorale this semester and I found it so intriguing, I had to post it here. The Litanies a la Vierge Noire were composed by the French composer Francis Poulenc in 1936 after a friend and fellow composer died in an automobile accident. The circumstances under which Poulenc was composing this piece are quite apparent as one listens to its performance and reads the text. One can hear the composer grappling with death, grief, despair, and hope as Poulenc alternates between sharp dissonances and piercing harmonies. When I listen to it, it reminds me of the tragedies and horrors of the Second World War, which is why I posted an image of the railroad in winter at Auschwitz beneath the translation. I'm almost certain that when I see Auschwitz, Poulenc's Litanies will be sounding in my head. To listen to a recording, click on the link below.
Litanies a la Vierge Noire
1936, Francis Poulenc


Lord, have pity on us.
Jesus Christ, have pity on us.
Jesus Christ, hear us.
Jesus Christ, grant our prayers. 
God the Father, creator, have pity on us.
God the Son, redeemer, have pity on us.
God the Holy Spirit, sanctifier, have pity on us.
Holy Trinity, who are one single God, have pity on us. 
Holy Virgin Mary, pray for us.
Virgin, queen and patron, pray for us.
Virgin, whom Zacchaeus the tax-collector made us know and love,
Virgin, to whom Zacchaeus or Saint Amadour raised this sanctuary,
Pray for us, pray for us. 
Queen of the sanctuary, which Saint Martial consecrated,
And where he celebrated his holy mysteries,
Queen, before whom knelt Saint Louis
Asking of you good fortune for France,
Pray for us, pray for us.
Queen, to whom Roland consecrated his sword, pray for us.
Queen, whose banner won the battles, pray for us.
Queen, whose hand delivered the captives, pray for us.
Our Lady, whose pilgrimage is enriched by special favours,
Our Lady, whom impiety and hate have often wished to destroy,
Our Lady, whom the peoples visit as of old,
Pray for us, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, pardon us.
Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, grant our prayers.
Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, have pity on us.
 Our Lady, pray for us,
To the end that we may be worthy of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Great Antiphons of the Octave Before Christmas

If you have a devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours, you may find this intriguing - and even if you don't have a devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours, you may still want to read and learn a thing or two! The "Great Antiphons" also known as the "O Antiphons" (titled as such because each antiphon begins with the exclamation "O!" began this Friday. The Great Antiphons are seven antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, and are said during the octave preceding the vigil of Christmas. Each one of these antiphons addresses Christ by one of the titles given Him in the Sacred Scriptures. These antiphons are wonderful meditations to help us prepare for the coming of Christ. In the words of the great liturgist, Dom Gueranger, "Let us enter into the spirit of the Church; let us reflect on the great day which is coming; that thus we may take our share in these the last and most earnest solicitations of the Church imploring her Spouse to come, to which He at length yields."

The First Antiphon, December 17th
O Sapientia, qun ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, 
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; 
veni, ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, 
reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things sweetly 
come and teach us the way of prudence.

The Second Antiphon, December 18th
O Adonai, et dux dominus Israel,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti :
veni ad redimendum nos in barchio extento.
O Mighty Lord and leader of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush,
and on Sinai gave him the law,
come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

The Third Antiphon, December 19th
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur: 
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people,
kings stand silent in your presence,
whom the nations will worship:

come to set us free, put it off no longer.

The Fourth Antiphon, December 20th
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel,
who open and no one shuts, who shut and no one opens:
come and bring out the captive from the prison-house, 
him who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The Fifth Antiphon, December 21st
O Oriens, 
splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: 
vei, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra.
O Dayspring, 
splendor of Eternal Light and Sun of Justice:
Come, and enlighten those that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death. 

The Sixth Antiphon, December 22nd
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, 
lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem di limo formasti.
O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations,
You are the cornerstone that binds two into one.
Come, and bring wholeness to man whom you fashioned out of clay.

The Seventh Antiphon, December 23rd
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, 
exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: 
veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
Emmanuel, Our King and Lawgiver,
the expectation of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

For more on the Great Antiphons, please see Dom Mark Daniel Kirby's blog, Vultus Christi, and the blog New Liturgical Movement. The painting is Murillo's The Annunciation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beata - A Song from Heaven

God reveals himself through music in so many ways, from the magnificence of Mozart's Requiem or a Bach Cantata to the still, soothing melodies of chant. I'm just beginning to discover what a vast treasury of beautiful music the Church holds, especially for the season of Advent. 
Take, for example, the Gregorian chant Beata Viscera Mariae Virginis, so appropriate for the coming of the Lord on Christmas (read the Latin, then see the translation below). This particular chant, when sung by the skilled voices of the a capella choir, Chanticleer, is a gem among gems. This is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard and will ever hear this side of eternity. Please take the time to listen to the link that I have posted below: to be still, and to know that He is God.

Chanticleer, Beata (Plainsong).
Can be found on the album Chanticleer: Sound in Spirit released 2005.


Beata viscera Mariae Virginis,
quae portaverunt aeterni Patris filium.


Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary
that bore the Son of the everlasting Father.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

O Sleeper, Awake

Taken from a friend's former status on Facebook. This reminds me of the J.S. Bach Cantata Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme, which is based on Jesus' parable of the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25:1-13.

"I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated."

-Jesus speaking to Adam, an Ancient Easter Homily.

"The Valiant Never Taste of Death But Once"

During the fall semester, my school's drama department put on two one-act plays. Now usually the one-acts tend to be the highlight of the semester, at least for my friends and I, so I was very excited to see them. This semester they put on The Sniper and The Valiant. Both of them were very well done, and both had a priest as a key character. The Sniper was a dark story about how a poor man's losses during the evils of World War II drove him to despair and death, despite the urgings of his priest friend. The acting was quite good, but the story over all was very sobering and grim. The second one-act, The Valiant by Holworthy Hall and Robert Middlemass, also had a dark ending, but it was much more uplifting.
The Valiant takes place about a half hour prior to a murderer's execution. The scene opens on the Warden and the prison chaplain discussing the prisoner. Due to the amount of publicity this case has received, thousands of letters have been written and phone calls made asking who this man is. The two men decide to bring the prisoner to the Warden's office to try one last time to discover the man's identity. But the prisoner, James Dyke, is determined to take his secret to the grave. No one knows who he is or where he came from, and he plans to keep it that way. But as he waits his fate on death row, a strange young woman comes to the prison requesting to see him. As the Warden questions her, the audience learns that she has come with the hope of finding her long lost brother.
What struck me about the play was the main character, James Dyke. He is a fascinating individual. As the play unfolds, we learn that neither the hardened warden nor the gentle chaplain desire his death. There is no doubt that Dyke is guilty. However,not only does Dyke fully and unabashedly admit that he is guilty, but he also admits that he does not regret his crime. He truly believed that his victim deserved to die. He planned the deed well and executed it with precision. Dyke knew the consequences, and he is perfectly willing to live with them. As the warden and the chaplain speak with Dyke, you see Dyke's character, that he is a man of honesty, courage, and integrity. He is a tragic hero who does not seem to deserve such a fate. But Dyke is noble and heroic, unafraid to face death.
The arrival of the young woman, Josephine Paris on the scene proves even more Dyke's noble spirit. She is a beautiful young lady of pure spirit, determined that he is her brother. Dyke is sorry to disappoint Josephine, but throughout the conversation he shows her nothing but honor. Dyke denies that he has ever met or known her, but both characters derive a great deal of comfort and consolation from the few minutes they have together. Dyke has not seen a woman in several months, and towards the end of the visit, he gently requests that he might say good bye to Josephine the way he would say good bye to a mother or daughter. "I had forgotten how much women are like angels," he says softly.
The play concludes with a stirring line from Shakespeare as Dyke is lead to his death: "Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once."

The Cloister Cemetery in the Snow

Monastery Graveyard in the Snow- Caspar David Friedrich, 1817-1819.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

J.S. Bach

"I thought this art was dead, but I see that in you it still lives." - Johann Adam Reinken to Johann Sebastian Bach after his audition in Hamburg at St. Jacobi's Church in 1720.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Conditor alme siderum

A seventh century hymn for Vespers for Advent.

Conditor alme siderum
aetérna lux credéntium
Christe redémptor
ómnium exáudi preces súpplicum

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.

Qui cóndolens intéritu
mortis perire saeculum
salvásti mundum languidum
donnas reis remedium.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
should doom to death a universe,
hast found the medicine, full of grace,
to save and heal a ruined race.

Vergénte mundi véspere
uti sponsus de thálamo
egréssus honestissima
Virginis matris cláusula.

Thou camest, the Bridegroom of the Bride,
as drew the world to evening tide,
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.

Cuius forti ponténtiae
genu curvántur ómnia
caeléstia, terréstia
nutu faténtur súbdita.

At whose dread Name, majestic now,
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
and things celestial Thee shall own,
and things terrestrial Lord alone.

Te, Sancte fide quáesumus,
venture iudex sáeculi,
consérva nos in témpore
hostis a telo perfidi.

O Thou whose coming is with dread,
to judge and doom the quick and dead,
preserve us, while we dwell below,
from every insult of the foe.

Sit, Christe rex piissime
tibi Patríque glória
cum Spíritu Paráclito
in sempitérna sáecula.

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Purpose of a Musician

Karl Paulnack Welcome Address

Below is an excerpt from a welcome address given to parents of incoming students at The Boston Conservatory on September 1, 2004, by Dr. Karl Paulnack, director of the Music Division. My professor sent this to me at the beginning of the semester. It seems that this man has given up hope on religion and now relies on art alone to heal the world. But he does offer some good insight as to what the role of a serious artist or a serious musician really is. Serious musicians are not entertainers but healers of the soul, similar to how doctors are healers of the body. Musicians are instruments (no pun intended) through which God moves and heals the human soul.

One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, "you're wasting your SAT scores!" On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940 and imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose, and fortunate to have musician colleagues in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music? And yet—even from the concentration camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."

In September of 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. On the morning of September 12, 2001 I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, on the very evening of September 11th, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

Very few of you have ever been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but with few exceptions there is some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings—people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way. The Greeks. Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in a small Midwestern town a few years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier—even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute cords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?"

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. The concert in the nursing home was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

Original link:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Budding Musician

I am currently in the process of writing a research paper about the illustrious Johann Sebastian Bach and came across this story about him as a child. It's rather pleasing in a nerdy sort of way that I am able to recognize the names of two out of the three composers whose works were featured in the book of clavier pieces.

"The love of our little Johann Sebastian for music was uncommonly great even at this tender age. In a short time he had fully mastered all the pieces his brother [Johann Christoph Bach, an organist and former student of Pachelbel] had voluntarily given him to learn. But his brother possessed a book of clavier pieces by the most famous masters of the day-Froberger, Kerl, Pachelbel-and this, despite all his pleading and for who knows for what reason, was denied him. His zeal to improve himself thereupon gave him the idea of practicing the following innocent deceit. This book was kept in a cabinet whose doors consisted only of grillwork. Now, with his little hands he could reach through the grillwork and the roll the book up (for it had only a paper cover; accordingly, he would fetch the book out at night, when everyone had gone to bed and, since he was not even possessed of a light, copy it by moonlight. In six months' time he had these musical spoils in his own hands. Secetly and with extraordinary eagerness he was trying to put it to use, when his brother, to his great dismay, found out about it, and without mercy took away from him the copy he had made with such pains. We may gain a good idea of our little Johann Sebastian's sorrow over this loss by imagining a miser whose ship, sailing for Peru, had foundered with its cargo of a hundred thousand thaler. HE did not recover the book until after the death of his brother."

-From the Obituary of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Horse

"Do you give the horse his strength and endow his neck with splendor? Do you make the steed to quiver while his thunderous snorting spreads terror? He jubilantly paws the plain and rushes in his might against the weapons. He laughs at fear and cannot be deterred; he turns not back from the sword...Frenzied and trembling he devours the ground; he holds not back at the sound of the trumpet."
Job 39:19-25

Monday, October 4, 2010

On The Feast Of St. Francis Of Assisi

"I lean me against the Cross of Christ, and there I will fasten me." -St. Catherine of Siena

"The world shrinks from showing us the real Francis: a man drawn into the embrace of Crucified Love and marked by Love’s own wounds; a man who went about weeping uncontrollably and saying over and over, 'Love is not loved! Love is not Loved!'

The vocation of Saint Francis himself began with an image: the crucifix of the church of San Damiano. Speaking from that crucifix, Christ himself said, “Francis, go repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” The vocation of Saint Francis was ratified when he himself became an image of Crucified Love, an icon written by the Holy Spirit in fire and in blood.

Thomas of Celano, Saint Francis’ first biographer, writes that, “In truth there appeared in him a true image of the cross and of the passion of the Lamb without blemish who washed away the sins of the world, for seemed as though he had been recently taken down from the cross, his hands and feet were pierced as though by nails and his side wounded as though by a lance” (First Life, 112). We become what we contemplate."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Another Passage from C.S. Lewis' Introduction to St. Athanasius' "On The Incarnation."

"None of us can fully escape this [blindness of the twentieth century], but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about hte past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."

On The Old Books

A Passage from the Introduction by C.S. Lewis to St. Athanasius' "On The Incarnation."

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about 'isms' and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Whenrever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself. Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why-the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed 'at' some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ('mere Christianity'...) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one until you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. ..."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Beauty That Wounds & Heals

"The Beauty That Wounds & Heals" By Fr. Gabriel Gillen, O.P.
The Dominican Province of St. Joseph

When you walk in, you look up. In the afternoon, the stunning gothic nave is suffused with soft blue-and-red light from the magnificent stained-glass windows. Your eye is attracted - intrigued - by the intricate gothic stonework, the images in the windows, and the rich details of the rood, the high pulpit and the side altars. The noise of the city recedes, and for a moment you might think you have stepped into a small French gothic cathedral. Irresistibly, your eye is drawn toward the sanctuary, to its splendid marble high altar and the impressive reredos behind it. Before it hang seven oil lamps, burning in vigil before the Presence in the golden tabernacle. I'm told that Grace Kelly called this church - St. Vincent Ferrer - the best place to pray in New York City. I concur.

This week I've been visiting St. Vincent's, and I've been watching how people behave when they walk in. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a representative of almost every social class in New York: the upper East Side matron, tastefully (and expensively) attired, kneels and lights a candle; a waitress on her way to work prays on the sanctuary steps; a middle-aged man, bowing his bald head, prays before the Blessed Sacrament. In walks a young couple carrying backpack and camera: tourists. Clearly, they are not used to being in a church, but what happens next is fascinating. Their voices fall to a whisper, and their bold tourist-with-a-guidebook posture is transformed into the humble stance of pilgrims entering a holy place. The man folds his hands. The woman gazes upward.They are tourists no more.

"It's hard to reach some young people these days," a priest friend of mine said recently. "But I think the key is beauty. If you're trying to evangelize them, beauty does a lot of the work for you."

Pope Benedict XVI would agree. He has written eloquently on the connection between the truth of the faith and beauty, and the pressing need to restore beauty to the center of the Christian experience. "Today we are experiencing, not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions," he wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. We are losing the deepest dimension of the experience of true beauty - that beauty is more than something pretty or pleasing, it is not merely glamorous or an aesthetic experience; rather, it can draw us out of ourselves and give us a glimpse of the True; it makes us long for it and love it, even though we do not fully understand it.

Imagine the young couple I saw in church this week as they enter a typical museum. They would quickly acquire the audio guide, or they would stand mesmerized in front of an interactive computer display. Blinded in a blizzard of didactic instruction, they might well miss the real beauty before them.

Entering St. Vincent's, or any really beautiful church, is a very different experience (or, at least, it ought to be). A living gothic church is a place of mystery. Its art is pleasing, and it certainly aims to teach with its images - indeed, to communicate saving truths - but it is not simply didactic. It gives knowledge not through words, but by drawing us into contemplation of the mysteries of the faith. It seeks to bring us into contact with those very realities, through the experience of beauty. And encountering these deep realities with longing is an excellent beginning of prayer.

Why is it that beauty evokes in us a longing, a nostalgia - even a kind of pain?

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "Through the appearance of the beautiful we are wounded in our innermost being, and that wound grips us and takes us beyond ourselves; it stirs longing into flight and moves us towards the truly Beautiful, to the Good in itself."

Truly beautiful art, though experienced through our senses, can open our inner eyes to a vastly more beautiful realm. The most beautiful things cannot be seen, touched, or heard: they are the beauty of truth, the beauty of love, the beauty of the kindness and joy of the saints (think of the gentle smile of Mother Teresa) - and ultimately, the beauty of our God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son for our sake.

The face of Christ must have been the most beautiful face that ever existed, as the Gospels suggest. Looking into that face, the Apostles walked away from their homes and their livelihoods to follow Him. With a glimpse of that face, crowds followed Him and sought to touch Him. Moved by the love of that face, the sinful woman bathed His feet with tears of repentance and dried them with her hair.

High above the nave of St. Vincent's, where it joins the sanctuary, there is an ornate wooden cross. From it, the face of Christ looks down on His people. We gaze upon that face which still attracts us though it is beaten, crowned with thorns, spat upon, and reviled - for our sake. In that beautiful face - the face of Truth itself - is our salvation. As Psalm 80 says: "Let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved."

"We must learn to see Him," wrote Cardinal Ratzinger. "If we know Him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of His paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know Him, and know Him not only because we have heard others speak about Him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ Himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom His own light becomes visible."


Sunday, September 19, 2010

At This Altar

" 'At this ... altar let innocence be in honor, let pride be sacrificed, anger slain, impurity and every evil desire laid low, let the sacrifice of chastity be offered in place of doves and instead of the young pigeons the sacrifice of innocence.' (Taken from the Consecration Of The Altar.)

"While we stand before the altar, then, it is our duty so to transform our hearts, that every trace of sin may be completely blotted out, while whatever promotes supernatural life through Christ may be zealously fostered and strengthened even to the extent that,
in union with the immaculate Victim, we become a victim acceptable to the eternal Father."

Taken from Article 100 of Pope Pius XII's Mediator Dei.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Preaching The Beautiful

A preacher is someone whose life is dedicated to sharing and proclaiming the truth - the truth that is Jesus Christ. While the truth speaks very powerfully to the mind, the heart must also be addressed. Pope Benedict has pointed out that beauty is the language native to the human heart. He once said: "The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of an arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes so that we can see the truth more clearly." The Holy Father insists that truth and beauty belong together and that they must be presented together. He does so because he knows how much man needs both truth and beauty in order to appreciate and live the fullness of the Christian life. God is not only true; He is also good and beautiful.

Beauty serves the sacred liturgy by expressing the honor and glory due to the Triune God we worship, as well as by appealing to our own hearts and convincing us of the Truth that we encounter in the sacred liturgy. Pope Benedict writes, "I think that the great music born within the Church is an audible and perceptible rendering of the truth of our faith. In listening to sacred music - suddenly we feel: it is true!" The preacher, in his mission to communicate the truth of the Gospel, finds an indispensible ally in the power of beauty to move human hearts to embrace the fullness of the truth. As the Holy Father once exclaimed upon hearing a piece of sacred music: "Anyone who has heard this knows that the faith is true!"

A passage from the Article "Preaching The Beautiful," An Interview with Brother Michael O'Connor, O.P.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


During the summer I was able to rekindle some of my artistic abilities. This is among the fruit of my artistic rejuvenation, a pastel drawing of the mystical Pegasus sweeping across the starry sky. The inspiration for this drawing was that my room mate and I wanted a "wing" theme in our room (literally), so after browsing the internet for anything and everything "wingsical," I thought a Pegasus would be appropriate. There was one particular picture that really struck me, but it was tiny! So I decided to take matters into my own hands. This is the finished project. The first picture was my inspiration.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Alone And Pensive

Alone And Pensive
By Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)

Alone and pensive, the deserted fields
I measure with steps deliberate and slow;
and my eyes I hold in readiness to flee
from a place marked by human footsteps.
No other defense I find that can save me
from the peering eyes of people;
because when laughter and cheer are spent,
from outside can be read my inner flame.

So I have come to believe that mountains and beaches
and rivers and woods know of what fibers
is made my life, hidden from others.
Yet paths neither so rough nor wild
can I find were Cupid does not seek me always
to debate with me, and I with him.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Turtle Dove

The Turtle Dove By Sophie Anderson.

Funeral Of A Viking

Funeral of a Viking By Sir Franck Dicksee. 1893.

"The viking's body was laid on a pyre in his longship, covered in treasure and decorated with flowers and thorns, the emblems of sleep. His ship was set aflame and pushed out to sea where it shone brightly, before sinking into darkness."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Finding Shelter

Butterfly by Dave Matthews Band

You are like a butterfly:
A Caterpillar's dream to fly.
So bust out of this old cocoon,
And dry your wings off,
Go ahead, and fly!

It's always such a lonely loom,
It's sudden like a broken bone,
And your luck won't always come along
So dry your tears away,

Go ahead and fly!

Dry your tears away,
Don't you... cry!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Mystery Of Jesus Christ

Passages from the book, The Mystery of Jesus Christ by F. Ocariz, L.F. Mateo Seco and J.A. Riestra, which I am reading for my Theology of Christ course this semester. Want a taste of what I'm studying? Check out the beauty of the study of First Truth!

"The profession of faith-Jesus is the Christ-is a resume of the Christian faith."

"What identifies the Christian is nothing other than identification with Christ. From this it follows that the Church's mission is simply that of preaching the truth about Christ and changing people into Christ."

"The Church lives his mystery, draws unwearyingly from it and continually seeks ways of bringing this mystery of her Master and Lord to humanity-to the peoples, the nations, the succeeding generations, and every individual human being-as if she were ever repeating, as the Apostle did: 'For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Cor. 2:2)'.
-Redemptor hominis.

"The question...of who and what Jesus Christ is is the key question which neither theologian nor believer can avoid."

"It is Christ himself that man should search for, and not some 'image' of him, more or less beautiful, more or less touching.'

"The salvation-bearing reply to this question comes to us from 'on high' (cf. Mt. 16:17), for it is a response of faith, which is beyond man's natural powers; faith is a gift while being at the same time in conformity with reason, a reasonable service.

" 'Whoever seeks Christ without the Church, putting his trust in his own insight and what goes by the name of criticism, deprives himself of all possibility of finding the living Christ. Only the living comprehends and affirms the living.' In fact, 'without hte living Church, the Gospels, and, indeed, the entire New Testament would be simply a more or less stirring literary composition, raised, it is true, high above all other religious literature, even the Old Testament, but all the same just a body of writing robbed of the breath of life, the fresh inspiration of flesh-and-blood reality.' "

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Angel Of Music

A passage from Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera.

" 'Little Lotte thought of everything and nothing. Her hair was gold as the sun's rays and her soul as clear and blue as her eyes. She wheedled her mother, was kind to her doll, took great care of her frock and her little red shoes and her fiddle, but most of all loved, when she went to sleep, to hear the Angel of Music...'

"While the old man told this story, Raoul looked at Christine's blue eyes and golden hair; and Christine thought that Lotte was very lucky to hear the Angel of Music when she went to sleep. The Angel of Music played a part in all of Daddy Daae's tales; and he maintained that every great musician, every great artist received a visit from the Angel at least once in his life. Sometimes, the Angel leans over their cradle, as happened to Lotte; and that is how there are little prodigies who play the fiddle at six better than men at fifty, which, you must admit, is very wonderful. Sometimes, the Angel comes much later, because the children are naughty and won't learn their lessons or practice their scales. And sometimes, he does not come at all, because the children have a wicked heart or a bad conscience.

"No one ever sees the Angel; but he is heard by those who are meant to hear him. He often comes when they least expect him, when they feel sad and discouraged. Then their ears suddenly perceive celestial harmonies, a divine voice, which they remember all their lives long. Persons who are visited by the Angel quiver with a thrill unknown to the rest of mankind. And they cannot touch an instrument or open their mouths to sing, without producing sounds that put all other human sounds to shame. Then people who do not know that the Angel has visited these persons say that they have 'genius.' "

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where Is The Horse & The Rider?

A song Aragorn recites about Rohan in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers:

Where now the horse and the rider? where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harp-string, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning?
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

A section of this song is sung by King Theoden in Peter Jackson's version of the film in an eerie scene which takes place in the king's chamber prior to the Battle of Helm's Deep.

Where is the horse and rider,
Where is the horn that was blowing
They have passed like rain on the mountain
Like wind in the meadow
The days have gone down in the West,
Behind the hills, into Shadow...

The Hostage By Edmund Blair Leighton

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Living A Life

A Passage from "Sometimes" By Mary Oliver.

Instructions For Living A Life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell me about it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Poem For The Organist

For those of you who may not know, I am studying to become an organist. Although when I was in high school I vowed that I would never become an old lady church organist, that is now my current life plan. What happened? I realized the beauty and complexity of this, the King of Musical Instruments (in the words of Pope Benedict XVI). It is an incredibly intimidating creature, but once mastered, its tones can strike awe and fear into the most brazen of souls, but it can also soothe the qualms of those souls weary of the burdens of this world. Anyway, this is my poem.

The Lost Chord
By Adelaide A. Procter

Seated one day at the Organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I do not know what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then ;
But I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an Angel's Psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit
With a touch of infinite calm.

It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife ;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.

It linked all perplexéd meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence
As if it were loth to cease.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the Organ,
And entered into mine.

It may be that Death's bright angel
Will speak in that chord again,
It may be that only in Heaven
I shall hear that grand Amen.