St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions

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Here is an older post from 2014. Some background of these saints from another post is here

 

One of the things that is so memorable about Andrew Dung-Lac is that he was born a poor pagan Vietnamese. His catechesis was coupled with food and shelter, and then baptism. He was not born into Christianity, and the country he lived in was not historically Christian, and he was ethnically Vietnamese. Why do these points interest me? To start, Andrew became a priest, and taught catechism. That was a step up from the impoverished life he was born into, but does not begin to explain this person’s character. Andrews’s character and spirituality come out after the first time he went through imprisonment and persecution for his Christian faith. That persecution was under the emperor’s directive, and was wide spread; though Andrew was able at first to gain freedom with the support of his congregation. This is the part where this priest’s character and spirituality are revealed. After that persecution the priest changed his name, modified his location, and continued his mission. After imprisonment, how easy would it have been for him to simply remove his collar and blend in amongst his countrymen? He was ethnically Vietnamese, so blending in would have been easy. The persecutions going on in that country were among the most brutal in history, yet he did not remove his clerical collar, and to me that speaks volumes about the extent the Holy Spirit descended onto that priest. At his baptism he was initiated into the faith with water, at his first persecution was proof positive that he had received that Spirit. As he continued preaching and baptizing people into the faith, those persecutions continued and they were directed at Christians with unspeakable brutality. Andrew continued with his mission until he was beheaded for the faith at the age of forty-four. His story contains examples of the three types of baptism, that one of water, of the spirit, and by blood. The brutality towards Christians in that country at that time were horrendous. Andrews’s story is easy to tell because it is a brief biographical sketch of a single person. There were one hundred and seventeen martyrs, and each had their own unique story, though I am certain they all had that desire to live and die for their faith and preach the gospel of Christ. It was that faith that defined them, not their ethnicity or social standing. They were European and Vietnamese, Priests, Religious, and Lay people: all placing their faith in Christ. Their story of faith is remarkable and unforgettable.

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Saint Cecilia, patron of music

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Recycled from 2014

Today is the memorial of Saint Cecilia, an early Roman saint, virgin, and martyr of the Church. Briefly Cecilia was a vowed virgin who was married and wished to keep her virginity. She told her husband of an angel which he asked to see, and to which she replied he needed to be baptized. He did see that angel who spoke to him and gave him red roses and white lilies, as a reward for Cecilia’s love of chastity. Her husband Valerian then had his brother converted to the faith. When the prefect, Almachius, heard of the conversions he ordered them imprisoned and put to death. Cecilia’s tomb was found in 822 and her body incorrupt was transferred to a church bearing her name. The sculptor Stefano Maderno carved a sculpture of that body precisely as it was found when the cypress coffin was opened. It now adorns her tomb.

Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of composers, music, musicians, musical instrument makers, poets, and singers. She is the patron of a few others, but these are the ones of interest to me. I think about her and music especially concerning liturgical music. I think of her as I think of a small debate goes on about that sacred music, and I think about the saint and those listed that she is the patron of. One of the arguments that is taking place regards the types of musical instruments fitting for liturgy. There are those that embrace the organ as the instrument of the church, and they feel that this instrument has a special place in the churches. I cannot argue that the pipe organ is strongly associated with liturgical music, but the limiting the instrumentation of the Church to that solitary instrument leaves me a bit divided. It is a grand instrument of the Church, and much sacred music has been composed for it.

 Saint Cecilia though would have never heard music from that instrument, the organ occurs in history probably 1000 years after her death. That is the part that leaves me divided. Cecilia is frequently pictured holding a lyre, and that instrument is related to the harp, and then the violin and guitar. Lyres and tambourines were instruments of the Old Testament. Plainsong and Chant were the foundation of early Christian music. The organ actually occurred late in the Churches musical history. I think of Saint Cecilia too when I think of continents that have no equivalent to that Church organ, but instead have their own assortment of musical instruments. I wonder, what is the traditional music for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church? What are the musical instrument traditions of those devout Catholics in places like Korea, China, India, and the South Pacific?

When thinking of that patron saint of music, and instrument makers I do think of the roles of sacred and secular music, and I do think of how music should be applied to the liturgy. I also think of how it is misapplied. I wonder why it is that the popular styles of Church music are not played before and after the liturgy, and why plainsong and chant have diminished during the liturgy, and why the pipe organ fell out of favor for a time. I also wonder why the concertina, and the violin, and the renaissance recorders are used little during Mass, and why the folk guitar is so popular.

oud_frontI add the picture of the oud because it is the ancient instrument of the Middle East that eventually became the L’Oud, and then the Lute, and then the guitar. According to legend the instrument was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. String instruments have a long history in Middle Eastern cultures and religions. Ouds, harps of varying kinds, percussion instruments (doumbek), cymbals, tambourines, and wind instruments such as the Moroccan Oboe all play a part in religious celebrations. Arguably they are the original instruments of the Church. Some might have a spittle flecked nutty, but this is the modern guitars ancestry in the Church. For the lyrics, and style of the contemporary, that’s another story. 

John, the beloved disciple

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Many of the icons of Saint John show him with a chalice, and frequently that chalice has a snake emerging from it. The imagery relates to a tale that the evangelist drank from a chalice poisoned by a snake yet was unharmed due to the blessing he gave that potion before drinking it.

The chalice is an important part of this apostles imagery, but I think only partially because of that story. It was John who was with Jesus at the agony of the garden when he said let this cup pass from me, but not my will but thy be done. John was one of the inner circle, witnessing the transfiguration. He stood at the foot of the cross with Mary when Jesus said behold your mother and behold your son. As that chalice held the suffering of Christ that John witnessed at the garden, he also held that vision of the transfiguration. He was in charge of protecting Mary, and of receiving her guidance and wisdom. Mary is that model of the Church, and the one who carried the Christ. Hers was the faith that proclaimed the greatness of the Lord at the incarnation, and the one who maintained that faith throughout Jesus ministry. Hers was the message of Gods joy, and when Jesus said behold your Mother; that joy was placed in charge of John. In a way that chalice that is associated with John is not simply the poisoned cup, but is also that cup of Christ’s suffering, and of the Joy signified through wine.
It is the chalice that contains the messages of Mary, as mother of the Church. It is a symbol, of apostolic succession as the priesthood, and can rightly be looked at as a combined symbol of the ministry Christ’s Church. Johns symbol, that chalice reminds one of that saints ministry role in the Church as a guardian of knowledge, and as teacher. In the Christmas narrative, Jesus is told of being laid in a manger. Later in the story, he will take wine and pour it in a chalice  and say this is my blood. That is the chalice that John holds. The Christmas narrative tells of the birth of Christ, Johns story reminds us of the reason. The manger held the body, and the chalice holds the blood.

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Gaudette (third Sunday, advent)

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Here is a lightly read post from several years back
Rejoice is the underlying theme of the third Sunday of Advent as it is the pivot of this season where the mood shifts from waiting to a joyful anticipation. To take from some of the earlier readings of the week; it is that joy of the lost sheep knowing that the Shepard is coming to free him from the thickets, and it is the Joyful knowledge announced to the flock that they have not been abandoned even though at times they feel alone. In John the Baptists asking if Christ is the one, or should they expect another; it is the Joy of Christ’s Yes! To feel the full power of the Rejoice though, one has to look at the sorrow of a lost sheep abandoned among the thorns and the flock abandoned without its Shepard. The rejoice is the knowledge that God has not abandoned creation, and that God does come to those in trouble. This third Sunday of Advent can highlight a joyful expectation when faced with a feeling of hopeless abandonment. An illustration comes with first verse of a popular hymn that begins to make its appearance on this Sunday:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
R: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
shall come to thee o Israel !

To the ancient Jews that exile was the Babylonian exile, though for anyone today exile is many things; from financial abandonment, to the exile of an outcast of society, to the battlefield solder and returning veteran, or a person struggling with illness and handicap, or those struggling through relationships, homelessness, drug addiction. The list is great. These or any of the many life struggles, often lead  to isolation; and a persons outlook indeed turns to Joy when those people know that someone cares. Perhaps one of the lessons of Christmas is to give someone abandoned in life a reason to rejoice? There is rejoicing in knowing that you are not abandoned, Christmas is that Joy in knowing that God does not abandon us. If God does not abandon us, should we abandon others? In this season of merchants gifts, here is one of Gods gifts to us, specifically Gods concern for us, and perhaps that gift should be passed on to others? Might a command of this third Sunday be to seek out one of the lost sheep of our society? Emmanuel after all means God is with us. God does not abandon us. Rejoice, and give another a reason to do the same.

Max Kolbe

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 This is a recycled post from 2014. Maximillian Kolbe’s memorial is on the fourteenth of August.

Whenever Maximillian Kolbe’s day comes around, any comments seem like they can wait. That day becomes a moment of silence. Max was that friar at Auschwitz who volunteered his life for the sake of another prisoner who had a family.  When I was reading that first mass reading from Ezekiel, God instructs that prophet to dig a hole in the city wall and exit through it as if he was in exile. Since Max’s sacrifice was so great, any readings had to be taken in context with his story.
What could crawling through a hole have to do with Max Kolbe? All of Ezekiel’s action throughout that story serve to pronounce the sins of these people, and bring them to repentance. The thought that constantly returned was both Ezekiel’s and Maximillian Kolbe’s actions in response to another’s sins. As a common saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Many times people are called to action. In thinking about Max Kolbe though, one cannot put aside yesterday’s news to focus on an event that occurred a half century ago. That event should serve as a model on similar events of today.
When thinking of Max Kolbe’s actions, my mind of course is drawn to that WW2 prison, and that horrible act towards Europe’s Jews. The contemporary event follows that movement of those people into modern Israel, and the resultant conflicts that are occurring throughout the mid-east. Again focusing on Max Kolbe’s actions for the protection of another, my eyes ae drawn towards the current persecution of religious minorities in Iraq. By viewing that conflict through the imagery of Ezekiel and Kolbe, what does one learn? For one, can one overlook the obvious? Both were well aware of the events around them. While they both were active participants in those events, is it necessary to participate in an event to observe it?
I can read news accounts of the Iraq atrocities without being there. How important is that vigilance and observation? Max Kolbe and Ezekiel might remind us to be well aware of our surroundings. There stories though highlight the need for actions to current events, and what defines an action? Is it necessary to stand in front of a bullet? Is it necessary to be the town crier? What actions can an ordinary citizen take towards injustice, and persecution, and suffering? Many have and can write elected officials. Many can and have written commentaries bringing an issue to people’s attention. Both are important ways to at least bring about a dialogue on behalf of others. Many can and should offer prayer on the refugee’s behalf. Their plight should not be slighted or forgotten. Many can and should offer material assistance to those in need. Meeting a person’s material needs is a concrete action to meet very real needs of a person’s suffering. Food, shelter, clothing, medicine, water. They are all as effective to saving another’s life as was Max Kolbe’s. Perhaps one way to honor Max Kolbe for his efforts on another’s behalf is to intervene for another? Perhaps offering some material support for the persecuted religious minorities of Iraq might be a good start?