Shakespeare, Art and human frailty

Visits to antique shops are like prowling around your grandparent’s attic. Some true treasures can be found by the diligent searcher among of the dusty tools, toys, furniture and books. I have a time-tested criteria for deciding if an old book is to be brought home:

  • Intact The book must be physically readable. If it cannot be read what is the point?
  • Interesting This one is not always easy to determine. Old books do not provide much information on their contents.
  • Obscure and uncommon. Why buy an old version of a book I already have on my shelf?
  • Affordable. My investment is intellectual, not monetary.

In a nice little shop in the Berkshires a book with the intriguing title of “Human Life in Shakespeare” by Henry Giles found its way into my hands.  Originally Published by Lee and Sheppard in 1868 (Boston), this small book of essays on the works of Shakespeare met the criteria and I opened it to the author’s preface:

I was holding a true treasure, the last writings of a dying man as he gifted his thoughts and insights to future generations. It was a unique testament and Henry Giles’s frailty at the end of his life accented and illuminated the art contained within.  

Henry Giles did not life long after he wrote those words.  Flipping through a few pages I came to the editors introduction to this 1882 edition:

Next to seeing a beautiful human life fade, flicker, and go out, unrecognized and unappreciated, is the sadness of seeing a beautiful book sink into the almost hopeless death of “out of print.” …This series of lectures or essays on the humanities in Shakespeare ought never to have disappeared from site in a cultivated community. … This is the rare quality that has brought Henry Giles’s book from the darkness to the dawn of another publication. It is a book of inestimable value to any one desiring a clear view, as it were, of Shakespeare’s mind and method.  

John Boyle O’Reilly

Boston Massachusetts, March 15th 1882.

So there it was… Henry Giles filled auditoriums with his lectures only to be on the verge of being forgotten less than twenty years later. Now in 2021, his greatest legacy was entrusted into my hands.

Henry Giles book was not my only encounter with Shakespeare in the Berkshires. Last week I attended an evening performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear with my daughter, my nephew and his girlfriend.  The stage at the Shakespeare and Company in Lenox was austere and brand new. In fact, this performance was the first ever on the New Spruce Theatre outdoor stage.  There are no lights, no special effects, props are minimal, none of the actors use microphones.

Artistic Director Mr. Allyn Burrows set our expectations before the performance. “This is a preview performance”, he explained. “The rain the last few days prevented us from rehearsing on this stage and in fact, it has never been performed in its entirety by this cast. We don’t know how long the play will take to finish, and do not be surprised if cast members ask for lines during the performance.”  Mr. Burrows was not apologetic, he was excited and we in the audience were also caught up in the high adventure of a performance without a safety net. If that wasn’t enough, the air was damp and cool and thunderstorms still prowled in the mountains around us.

It has been a trend the last few decades to turn Shakespeare’s plays into mega performances with A list actors, sweeping vistas and special effects. This performance was Shakespeare at its fundamental form. Our eyes, starved of overwhelming visual spectacle, no longer overwhelmed our ears allowing us to accentuate our sense of hearing. Shakespeare’s true genius as a wordsmith now becomes apparent as his prose invades our imaginations. Castles, battles, ghosts and witches emerge in our mind’s eye as Shakespeare’s careful and poetic lines create each scene for us.

From the opening lines of the play, Mr. Christopher Lloyd as King Lear did not disappoint. An accomplished actor of 82 years of age, Mr. Lloyd’s performance was not about fame or money but for the love of the art of the theater. We could feel the tension build as King Lear, who in his arrogance believed that his office and duties as king were his alone to dispense with as he saw fit. We could feel the pain of the serpent’s tooth of ungrateful daughters Goneril and Regan and the shock and horror of a tragically misunderstood Cordelia.

All objects of art are really composed of two sperate but intricately linked arts. The most obvious one is the object of art itself. For a sculptor it is the sculpture itself, for a painter it is the actual image on the canvas, for a writer like Henry Giles it is the words on a page, for a playwright like Shakespeare it is the play itself on stage. Then there is the meta-art, the art of making the art itself. Most of the time the audience is not consciously aware of this meta-art. We do not usually witness a sculptor sculpting or watch a painter painting or a writer writing.

But within this performance of King Lear we could witness both. Christopher Lloyd the actor had to contend with the damp and the cold, he occasionally had to ask for his lines, and the early evening overcast sky grew darker and visibility rapidly reduced. I admired Mr. Lloyd’s courage and determination to perform even knowing that the conditions were not optimal. As the play continued, the art of Christopher Lloyd as he created King Lear and the character of King Lear began to merge on stage. We saw the meta-art of acting merge with the art of the play. It was a very human and heroic moment. Likewise, we can visualize Henry Giles heroically compiling his essays knowing he was dying. In both cases the art of creating and the art of the object created merged into equal importance.

Nevertheless, as the darkness continued to envelop us and as the thunderstorms converged, Mr. Allyn Burrows called the performance around the second scene of the fourth act. No one seemed to mind, and the unexpected ending seem to properly cap a night of adventure. It seemed to be a fitting monument to human endurance in the face of uncertain conditions. The performance illuminated the beauty of always striving to create and expand our horizons thru art.

Postscript: As I mentioned, Henry Giles book was published by Lee and Shepard, Boston Massachusetts. Mr. Giles book looked vaguely familiar to me and when I looked for my volume of Shakespeare in my home library I found this book, also published by Lee and Shepard around the same time:

Postscript II: If you are lucky, you may still find tickets available for Christopher Lloyd in King Lear. Do not wait!

https://www.shakespeare.org/

La Troupe des Sabots (The Troup of Hooves) A French-Canadian Folktale

Author’s note: Folks tales are ubiquitous in cultures all over the world.  These deceptively simple stories that quite often feature fanciful creatures and talking animals not only entertain but pass on deep moral lessons of living virtuous lives.  Each cultures folk tales have a certain flavors stemming from their particular origins. Yet at the same time, because they speak to universal themes of the human condition, they are appreciated far beyond the land of their origin.

In this original French-Canadian folk tale, a turn of the century Quebec farm woman, with the help of the animals under her care, rediscovers the joy of a childhood adventure.

La Troupe des Sabots

Back around 1901, there was a farmer named Elphage Armand Gideon Meunier along with his wife Delia (née Gingras) and their children Adrian, Flora, Loyala, and Isala. They lived in a small village in Quebec just a few miles north of the Vermont border. On the farm with them was a strong horse named Maurice, a pig named Claude, a sheep named Henri and a goat named Isabelle. They also had two cows named Hélène and Pauline. The animals lived in a red barn. Claude, Henri and Isabelle styled themselves as “La Troupe des Sabots”.

It was a cold winter night with a full moon and Le Troupe de Sabot wanted to go sledding on Gingras hill. Claude the pig woke Maurice the horse and tied him to the cart while Isabelle the goat put the toboggan in the back.  Henri the sheep woke up the cows Hélène and Pauline. Henri and La Troupe des Sabots love foolishness, and they knew that the cows always bring plenty of foolishness with them. The cows must come along too!

The animals crammed into the cart with Maurice pulling. Maurice could easily pull the cart over the snow because Farmer Elphage put skis on the cart for the winter. Arriving at the top, the animals looked down Gingras Hill. “It’s very steep” exclaimed Hélène the cow. The La Troupe des Sabots took the toboggan and placed it on the snow. No one seemed in a hurry to get on the toboggan.

Claude the pig had an idea. “Pauline, Hélène, please stand here on the toboggan.”

 “Why?” asked Pauline the cow.

“So the toboggan will not escape and slide down the hill before we can get on, silly cow.” replied Isabelle the goat. Isabelle could see what Claude was planning to do.

“I wouldn’t do that, cows,” warned Maurice the horse. The cows, who were always trying to impress La Troupe des Sabots, never listened to Maurice. So the cows dutifully stood on the toboggan. Henri the sheep, the third member of the La Troupe des Sabots, spoke up: “Wait a minute, I have to get something important from the cart first.”

Henri the sheep took out a few bottles of dark red wine and some cigars. Henri knew that laughing at the cows is always better with red wine and a cigar.

“Claude,” said Henri, “you can inspect the hill now.”

“Ok” said Claude, “I will now inspect the hill to make sure it is safe.” While Claude was speaking, he winked at Isabelle. “Have fun girls!” Isabelle shouted, giving a firm kick to the toboggan. Maurice the horse covered his eyes as the cows howled in surprise as they slid down the hill. La Troupe des Sabots laughed and toasted the brave cows on their adventure!

“Onward my courageous girls!” cheered Henri

The cows’ cries of surprise turned into joy “It’s fun!” and then turned back to surprise when the toboggan hit a bump at the bottom of the hill. Hooves, horns and udders flew everywhere.

The cows sat in the snow in stunned silence as La Troupe des Sabots rolled through the snow laughing. Pauline and Helene joined in the fun after making sure they had all their hooves accounted for. Maurice opened his eyes and relaxed to see that everyone was fine. “We want to go again!” said Pauline.

“What nonsense this is!” Said a voice. Delia Meunier suddenly appeared out from behind the cart.

“It’s Madame Meunier!” exclaimed Maurice, “Now you are all in trouble.”

La Troupe des Sabots dropped the cigars from their mouths and hid the wine glasses behind their backs.

“Maurice, take the cart down the hill and bring back the cows and the toboggan.”

“Oui, Madame Meunier!”

“It was the cows, Madame Meunier, they made us sneak out” Isabell the goat was always trying to shift the blame.

 “Hush Isabelle, look” Isabelle’s gaze turned towards the direction of Henri’s hoof. Henri and Isabelle saw Madame Meunier looking out silently at the field below the hill.

Henri the sheep, Isabelle the goat, and Claude the pig looked at the ground beneath Gingras Hill, trying to see what Madame Meunier was looking at. Leafless maple trees reached for the full moon like dark hands. The white snow sparkled like diamonds in the moonlight. Only the newly cut toboggan trail marred the otherwise pristine landscape. All was still except for Maurice’s labored breath as he arrived at the top of Gingras Hill pulling the cart with the cows and the toboggan. La Troupe des Sabots helped the cows Pauline and Hélène from the cart and placed the toboggan on the snow.

Maurice also noticed Madame Meunier’s distant gaze over the fields below Gingras Hill.  “What do you see Madam?”  “Ah my dear Maurice, I see a young girl playing in the snow.” A confused Maurice could not see anyone.

Madame Meunier clapped her hands: “Gather around my dear ones! You must all be hungry after your mischief” She opened a bag. “Here’s warm bread and delicious cheese, a bottle of spiced caribou wine and hot maple syrup to make Tire sur la Neige” The animals cheered and formed a circle around Madame Meunier.

Everyone received a slice of warm bread with cheese on top. Maurice also had an apple because he worked harder than anyone else. Hélène the cow spoke while the animals finished their meals. “Madame Meunier, who is the young girl you saw playing in the snow? Where is she? Would she also like something to eat?”

Madame Meunier continued to look out over the field below the hill.  “Did you know that my great-grandfather Charles Gingras was the first farmer here, on this hill, one hundred and fifty years ago. That’s why it’s called Gingras Hill,” replied Madame Meunier.

“My grandfather Antoine Charron dit Cabana made a small wagon that my sister Victorine and I rode down this hill. In the spring and summer, the field would be filled with dandelions and blue irises. In winter, my friends and I would toboggan down this hill. We had a lot of fun back then.”

“As a teenager, my girlfriends and I would have picnics here with handsome boys on warm Sunday afternoons. I met Elphage here when I was fifteen. It was under this oak tree that Elphage asked me to marry him. I was nineteen then and of course I said yes.” Everyone was quiet, enraptured within Madame Meunier’s story.

At this moment, the bell of the village church of Saint-Césaire rang out. It was 6 a.m. and the sun would be rising in an hour. “Alright everyone, it’s time to go home. I must prepare breakfast for Elphage and the children. We all have a busy day ahead of us on the farm.”

“But we didn’t get to slide down the hill!” Cried La Troupe des Sabots.

“We want to slide again!” exclaimed the cows.

“I want to go back to bed” sighed Maurice.

Hélène the cow noticed that Madame Meunier was again looking out over to the field under the hill. Was she looking for the girl playing in the snow? Where is she, thought Hélène.

“Very good, dear ones. Alright, down the hill it is! Everyone on the toboggan” ordered Madame Meunier, “Maurice, bring the cart down the hill and meet us at the bottom.”

Madame Meunier was seated in front of the toboggan, in the place of honor. The cows sat down behind Madame Meunier. Hélène first and then Pauline. Claude the pig was next with Isabelle the goat behind him. Henri the sheep was the last. If something bad happened, Henri wanted to be the last one to find out. Maurice dutifully trudged down the hill, pulling the cart and muttering to himself how sleepy he was.

With a little push, the adventurers descended the hill, quickly picking up speed. A small bump made Henri the sheep fly off the toboggan. Tumbling through the air, he landed on his head.  “Hold on to the animal in front of you!” shouted Isabelle the goat. “Watch out for the bump at the bottom!” Warned Pauline. The toboggan crashed into the bump, scattering hooves, horns and fur everywhere.  

As they were all sitting in the snow, Hélène heard a young girl’s laughter and turned to look in the direction of Madame Meunier. For a moment, seated in Madame Meunier’s place, was a young girl laughing in the snow. Hélène blinked and instead of the girl, there was now Madame Meunier, still laughing in the snow.  Although not very smart, Hélène was a cow with a wise heart.  She understood now that the young girl that Madame Meunier saw out in the field was in fact Madame Meunier herself.

Hélène nuzzled her head on Madame Meunier’s lap, enfolding herself with the warmth of Madame Meunier’s laughter.

fini

Behold! I make all things new!

Happy New year Everyone! I thought we would kick start the New Year with happier thoughts… how about…Heaven!

A common perception of Heaven is filled white clouds with adorable little winged Cherubim, with a vague concept of a place of rest and peace, even eternal sleep.  We may hope to be reunited with grandparents, parents and other relatives and friends.  Our imagination  may include Dante-esque images of concentric heavenly spheres with God on his majestic throne forever inaccessible behind legions of fiery and frightening Seraphim.  Other cultures see the afterlife as a clear continuation of life on earth, only now with riches, food and the domination of other people bringing us happiness or of the emptiness of ending suffering with the annihilation of the self.

Our ultimate fate beyond life is a great mystery and our vision of it is obscured by it’s incomprehensibility and clouded by our limited imaginations.

Jesus, however, has assured us that, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

Like a good Father, God revels to us in through the Bible much of what we can expect as much as our human limitations can understand.  

Heaven will be like a wedding feast.  It will always be new and every changing. Our family will be there with us with singing, dancing and laughter.  We will never feel loneliness again as we celebrate with our family.Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” Matthew 22:4

We will not be in a vast heaven ruled by a distant and unapproachable God surrounded by a pressing multitude. We will be with Jesus personally, always. And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

Our place in heaven will be unique, created just for us and no one else. Our room in the Father’s house will be for us alone if we choose to accept it and it will be forever empty if we reject it. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. John 14:3

Our relationship with God in heaven will also be unique compared to the relationship between God and every other living thing ever created.  No other creature, angel or human, will have that particular friendship with God, ever.  Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.  John 14:23

We will be given full knowledge of our lives, of how our good actions helped ourselves and others. The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Mathew 25:40

We will be joyfully surprised to know that every one of our prayers was answered during our life on Earth. We will be amazed to understand how they were answered in unexpected ways.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luke 11:10-11

We need to be like children and leave behind our sense of self accomplishment.  In Heaven, the least is the greatest. At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Mathew 11:25

Our own sins that we have expressed contrition for and have entrusted to the love of God will no longer bring us sorrow but will instead glorify God’s Mercy. Why? Because the forgiveness of our sins will be the triumph of God’s Love. The pain of our sins, now forgiven, will be healed through The Holy Spirit in Purgatory so we can enter Heaven free of sin’s effects on our soul.  And the One sitting on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”.

Revelation 21:5

 

Postscript: The lead photograph is of Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. it  was taken by my great Florence Savoie sometime around 1950. The sunset is over South Pond on Savoy Mountain in Massachusetts and was taken by my self.  The illustration is from my new book: Pathways of Our Fathers: Two Journeys of Love, Sacrifice, and Family. This book was written by me and includes fifteen full size illustrations by renowned LA based artist Masami Kiyono.

The English version is available on Amazon here:

Pathways of Our Fathers (English)

And the French version can be found here:

Les Chemins Qui Mènent à Nos Pères: Deux parcours remplis d’amour, de sacrifice, et de famille (French Edition)

I have five copies signed by myself and Masami Kiyono to give away.  Just leave a comment here on the blog and send me an email with your address  at: cadijoe09@gmail.com  and I will be happy to send you a copy!

Other related Augustine’s Alley Blog posts you will enjoy

The Dream of Lone Tree Hill

The Truth Points to Itself

Pathways of Our Fathers: Two journeys of love, sacrifice, and family

Welcome to my first published book: Pathways of Our Fathers: Two journeys of love, sacrifice, and family

 

And in French!!

It is a collection of two stories that emphasis the importance of fathers.  The first story, The Prayer of Atsena, shows the importance of:

– Our Guardian Angel’s role in our life

– The reality of Purgatory

– The importance of praying for the souls in Purgatory

– How the souls in Purgatory in turn help us with their prayers

– And how death does not separate us from the love of our family as part of the Communion of Saints

The Prayer of Atsena: In 1916, a young childless French-Canadian couple desperately pray a for a child of their own at Sainte Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. In the Shrine they are observed by their First Nation ancestor seeking closure to his own two hundred and fifty-nine-year journey of redemption leaving all their paths irrevocably altered.

The second story is a tribute to my father framed within a re-telling of a hike he took my brother and I on as young boys.

Frankenstein Cliff: A Father’s Love from Strength: After fifty years, a middle age man returns alone to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to where his father took him and his brother hiking as young children. Standing at  the trail head with the memories of that day fading, he tries to reconnect with his father’s life of heroic virtue and love.

What makes this book unique is the fifteen color full page illustrations by Los Angeles based artist Masami Kiyono. The book is in a sense a hybrid between a traditional text only book and a full graphic novel.  In effect, the words and illustrations work hand in hand equally to tell the story.

The book is available in English and French
and French:

 

I created a video of The Prayer of Atsena using Masami Kiyono’s illustrations.

 

 

Living the Vocation of Love

Chiara Petrillo was seated in a wheel chair looking lovingly toward Jesus in the tabernacle. Her husband, Enrico, found the courage to ask her a question that he had been holding back. Thinking of Jesus’s phrase, “my yoke is sweet and my burden is light,” he asked: “Is this yoke, this cross, really sweet, as Jesus said?”

A smile came across Chiara’s face. She turned to her husband and said in a weak voice: “Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet.”

Servant of God Chiara Petrillo, January 9, 1984 – June 13, 2012

The nature of love has been debated by poets and philosophers since the beginning of history.  The ancient Greeks had six words for love:

  • Eros, or sexual passion. …
  • Philia, or deep friendship. …
  • Agape, or love for everyone. …
  • Ludus, or playful love. …
  • Pragma, or longstanding love. …
  • Philautia, or love of the self.

Myself, I once stumbled  into my own definition of love working back from quantum physics!*  Recently, I made the mistake of walking into the middle of a discussion of the nature of love: “True love“, I interjected, “will always include suffering“.  At that point, my high hopes of an interesting philosophical reflection abruptly ended when the person I was engaging stormed away, vehemently denying my premise.  Earlier, this same person said that “love is an exchange of mutual benefit between two beings.”  At that point I asked how could God, who needs nothing from us, could love us according to that definition?  That discussion didn’t last long either.

But I don’t totally blame him from walking away, suffering isn’t something we like to dwell on and at first glance it doesn’t make sense that suffering, which means pain, is intertwined with love, which brings us happiness.  Suffering and Love...   I did indirectly touch on this in an earlier post on my grandfather’s relationship with his ill wife: “I Love” A sanctifying Response to Adversity

My grandfather was not the only example of this kind of heroic love.  I’ve known my Uncle Dave for over fifty years, ever since he married my mother’s sister Phyllis.  A gentle and patient man, he always had time for us grand kids when we were growing up.  He was the adult who would literally stoop down to listen to us children, caring about what we had to say.  I never saw him impatient with anyone or angry.  If I had to describe him to someone who didn’t know him with one sentence it would be: “Uncle Dave loved his children, his grandchildren and his nephews and nieces unconditionally and as kids growing up we knew that  instinctively.” 

My Uncle David Sale lived the vocation of the meaning of true love when he took care of his wife Phyllis during her final illness.  For the last couple of years of her life my Aunt Phyllis developed a devastating and debilitating illness.  As the illness developed,  Uncle Dave took on more responsibility as a caretaker.  By watching him tenderly care for Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Dave’s  true inner strength was reveled to all.

My mother helping her sister Phyllis, November 1969, North Attleboro MA

At times, he was exhausted, other times frightened.  In the end, it was tragic to lose his wife just months after celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  Uncle Dave bore it all with patience and above all else with love.  Did Uncle Dave experience suffering?  Yes, Uncle Dave did suffer but he was never miserable.  How can that be?  The key is to understand that suffering and misery are not the same thing.  Misery is always coupled with despair, without hope.  Misery is filled with self pity and doesn’t think of others.  Quite often misery is angry and lashes out.  In the end, misery never has meaning and it is never heroic.

Suffering though, has hope and trust, it understands that all works for the greater good of those who love God and who love others.  Suffering is never inwardly focused but is always putting the needs of others first.  The suffering person is wiling to sacrifice himself, even including his life.

When I visited Uncle Dave and Aunt Phyllis during the illness, he would sometimes let his guard down just a tiny bit and confess that he was tired and a bit sad.  Even in this very human moment, Uncle Dave still radiated out inner peace, love and at a deep level, joy.  Through it all, Uncle Dave modeled for all of us how heroic suffering can be.

So how are suffering and loved linked?  Well if they are not linked then my uncle’s deep love for Aunt Phyllis and every thing he did for her during her illness would be incomprehensible.  When we are  willing to suffer for the ones we love as an act of love we participate in the very life of God, who is Love.

Without God, without Love as God, love is reduced to just an economic exchange “… of mutual benefit between two beings.”

Without God, love is incomprehensible and suffering to bring about a greater good is ultimately futile.

Without God, only misery remains when we are confronted with pain and loss.

Pain and loss in our lives is unavoidable but seen in the context of love, we can have peace and even joy in within suffering.

True love can be difficult, especially when we are called on to suffer and sacrifice for others.  Not everyone can do it or even know how to do it, and we need examples to follow and Uncle Dave was, and is, one of those examples.

Thank you Uncle Dave…

Simon and Garfunkel: Book Ends

John Michael Talbot: Eternal Light

Postscript: 

For more on Servant of God Chiara Petrillo:

Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo: Shining a Light on the Value of Life

*  I was reading once how the further you go back in time close to the Big Bang there exists higher energies and higher densities.  At these higher energies and densities the four fundamental forces collapse into each other.  Those four forces:

  1. Gravity
  2. Nuclear Strong Force
  3. Nuclear weak force
  4. Electromagnetic force

would combine into a single “super” force just after the Big Bang.  All of these forces act on particles both fermions and bosons.  As the universe cooled after the Big Bang the super force would break down into the four forces we know today. So I asked: “This primeval super force right at the Big Bang, is there a force even more fundamental than that?”  Well, it seemed to me that there should be a more fundamental force.  A force that creates ex nilo everything that which it acts upon.   At that point it seemed to me that this “creative force” was just another description of the creative attribute of God: creating all from nothing. ”  Of course, God is love, everything that exists was created out of and from love.

 

The Continuity of Time and the Event Horizon of Information

Time Stand Still

I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now
Time stands still
Summer’s going fast
Nights growing colder
Children growing up
Old friends growing older
Freeze this moment
A little bit longer
Make each sensation
A little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away
The innocence slips away
Lyrics by Neil Peart, Performed by Canadian rock band Rush

 

I recently stumbled on a remarkable video:

The TV show was called “I got a Secret” and this episode’s guest from February 8th 1956 was Mr. Samuel J. Seymour, the last living witness to the April 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Born in 1860, Mr. Seymour lived through through 4 depressions, the Spanish flu pandemic,  2 World Wars, witnessed the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, invention of aircraft, and saw President Lincoln alive.  Dying just a few months after this show was aired Mr. Seymour just missed the launching of Sputnik.  It’s a good assumption that in his long life Mr. Seymour met some young children growing up in the 1950s, some of whom would be in their 70s today.  So in the year 2020, there are people alive today who can say they knew someone who actually saw the assassination of President Lincoln, 155 years ago.

My father, who was born in 1939, remembers seeing Civil War veterans marching in parades growing up in Attleboro Massachusetts.  I remember in 1970 seeing Spanish American Veterans from 1898 marching in similar parades.  The oldest person that I ever personally met was born in 1879.  Of course, I never knew anyone born in the 1700’s but is it likely as a small child this man who was born born in 1879 did.  This would make me one degree removed from someone born in the 1700s.

Pocket watches belonging to both of my grandfather’s  paternal grandfathers

Our deep connections with the past show up in other ways.  My brother Davy was the spitting image of our Great-Uncle George Savoie (Brother Donald).  Even the way my brother smiled was an echo of our uncle who died before we were ever born.  My daughter resembles my mother’s sister.  A cousin of mine resembles our great grandfather.

My daughter and my mother’s sister taken at about the same age

 

Jim and Granny’s father Adelard St Goddard

Each of us have felt the surprising disorientation looking at family and catching a glimpse of long dead relatives .  Other times it could be just a quick look, a habit, a quirk or even they way they walk that connects them to someone long gone.  Even our talents and interests seem to circle back to our grandparents and great grandparents.

Modern technology enables us to reach even father back.  I have had the DNA tested of my mother and five of her siblings.  All of them have a small amount of native American DNA.  Our Native American ancestors all lived back in the 1600s and early 1700s and yet, 300 plus years later, they literally live on in us.  In truth, the past is always present with us.

We can run this thought experiment forward too.  I took my daughter to a Ringo Star concert a couple of years back.  The highlight was singing “We all live in Yellow Submarine” lead by Ringo himself.  I remarked to my daughter that when the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Beatles come around she can tell her grandchildren she saw one of them perform.

There are millions of people alive today that will be alive in the year 2100.  One of those future residents of the 22nd century will be the grandchild of one of those young children who met Mr. Seymour back in 1956.  Amazingly,  there will be a person alive in 2100 who will be able say that they actually met someone who knew a live witness to the assassination of President Lincoln, an event that will have occurred 235 years earlier.

All of this may tempt us to believing that the our connections to the past is durable and always accessible when we need it.  But is that so?  Much of the information about the past is lost forever behind the Event Horizon of Time.  Most historical records from antiquity have been lost with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.  Advanced civilizations have disappeared under natural disasters, disease and war.  Languages are disappearing across the world.  Recent history is not immune to this either.  Many early films have decayed or have been destroyed by fire.  Books no longer in print fall apart or just discarded.  No medium for storing information lasts forever.  This process has only accelerated in the computer age as we have gone from vinyl records to CDs to cloud based services and data streaming.  Unless that information is continuously transcribed to the latest up and coming new format or media it is inevitable that it will be eventually lost.  Within our families, we have only limited stories of our grandparents and great grandparents.  Whole lives are reduced to just a few anecdotes, if that, especially if generations don’t take the time to talk to each other.

Perhaps the truth is that some connection to our past may be durable but without our intervention and effort those connections may only be trivial and random.

What can do about it?  Value the past and our history.  Record the stories and achievements of our parents and grandparents.  Encourage our children and grandchildren to take an interest family history.  Go to the library and read good books with true stories.

Oral stories are important!  Much of the ancient knowledge we have was past down to us over thousands of years without the benefit of a written language.   Oral communications are just as important today.  My Aunt Phyllis recently passed away and during the Memorial Mass my cousin’s husband Ian gave a wonderful remembrance of his mother-in-law. The presiding priest in his homily captured the wisdom of my aunt.  Both stories illuminated a unique part of my Aunt Phyllis’s life  I am glad I was there to hear them both.

At a family gathering the night before my aunt’s funeral, my Uncle Jack held court with a group of his grand nieces and nephews, all of whom are in their twenties.  As I listened to Uncle Jack,  I took a moment to remind my nephews and nieces how lucky they were to have a Vietnam veteran share his stories.  I asked them to carry it forward forty plus years from now during the centennial of the Vietnam War and share with their grandchildren the stories of Uncle Jack.  Perhaps, in the year 2100, someone will gather around a group of youngsters and say: “My grandfather (or grandmother) knew a man who fought in the Vietnam War and here is his story..”

Make the connections, remember the past, and carry forward.

Postscript:

What is an Event Horizon? It is the one way  boundary around a black hole.  Matter, light and information can cross the boundary from the outside but nothing from within the black whole can cross over the event horizon to the outside.  What ever is within the event horizon is lost forever. But this applies to us too.  Everyday we pass through an Event Horizon since yesterday with all its opportunities are lost to us.

Uncle Jack’s story

Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Poem by Dylan Thomas

 

Plutarch the Historian acknowledges Humanity’s Ancient Enemy

Plutarch is among my favorite authors within the Britannica’s Great Books of Western Civilization Series.  His biographies of the Great Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans are filled with deeply touching observations of the human condition with its heroic virtues and tragic failings.  Like another Greek historian, Herodotus (the father of history), Plutarch will flavor his dramatic prose with observations of the cultures and beliefs of his time.  One could blog full time on the treasures Plutarch has buried in his writings.

Great Books just taken out of the box and laying on my living room floor.

I’m almost finished with Plutarch, and one of his last biographic sketches is of the Greek philosopher and general Dion.  Dion was a student of Plato and in this bibliographical sketch Plutarch describes Dion and Plato’s efforts to instill,thru education virtue and justice in a young dissolute tyrant of Syracuse,  Dion’s nephew Dionysius.

The young Dionysius himself was the son of an evil tyrant, the elder Dionysius. The elder Dionysius  deliberately withheld an education from his son out of fear that the young man would learn to love and emulate virtue, justice and love, and seeing his evil father as the man he was, overthrow him.  Not unexpectedly, Dionysius the younger took the reins of government after his father’s death terrorizing his subjects, ignoring his duties and spending his time with his friends “drinking, singing, dancing and buffoonery…”

Dion seeing his nephew “deformed and spoilt in character for want of teaching”  secured the best education he could for the boy by persuading Plato himself to be Dionysius’ teacher.  Plato saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate that nurture could overcome nature in instilling virtue.  Think Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

Tragically, Dion and Plato’s efforts were ultimately violently rebuffed.  Their failure was not in their own virtue, or their patience in trying to reach the young Dionysius but in most part to the bad influences of other older “mentors” that wanted to see the young Dionysius remain in his unconstrained and licentious condition. Why?  Mostly because they were envious of virtue but also because in his weakened nature, the young Dionysius was easier to control for their own evil ends.   Another reason was the weak and mercurial human nature of the people of Syracuse who would in turn support their tormentor Dionysius to the determent of their liberator, Dion.

The end result is universal tragedy for all.  Dionysius is only removed from his tyranny through military force.  Syracuse itself is devastated, it’s people murdered by Dionysius’  vengeful  henchmen.  Dion, for all is sacrifices in trying to save Syracuse, is betrayed by a man named Heraclides and murdered.  The grievous irony is that Heraclides betrayed Dion not once but twice before.  Dion, who believed in his heart the virtue he was taught by Plato, forgave Heraclides.  In each case, Heraclides begged Dion for his forgiveness and to spare his life.  Plutarch states that Dion, ever the optimist of human nature when lead by virtue and justice, had hoped that clemency to Heraclides would lead him to redemption.  As Plutarch explains:

The malicious humor of men, though perverse and refractory, is not so savage and invincible but it may be wrought upon by kindness, and altered by repeated obligations.

Now, almost to the end of his Lives you would think that Plutarch would have moved toward a cynical view of human nature after watching time and time again great and virtuous men fail because of their own weakness and the weakness of those around them.  Far from it.  For Plutarch and other ancient Greek Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle etc, Virtue, Truth, Justice, Love, Beauty, Benevolence and Wisdom have a reality above and independent of the ever changing whims of human fashion.  These Philosophers taught that living theses Virtues was the key to human happiness and that they are part of what we would call today the Natural Law.

As Plutarch explains, a person’s happiness comes from conforming  “his nature to the truths of virtue, and living, after the likeness of the divine and glorious model of Being, out of obedience to whose control the general confusion is changed into the beautiful order of the universe, so he in like manner might be the cause of great happiness to himself…”

So there it is: happiness comes from conforming our thoughts and actions continuously toward the Divine Natural Law of the universe.  Although few of them admitted it directly, ancient Greek philosophers knew from reason that there was an overall, singular divine Being over the universe, the source of all Good.  To read the ancient Philosophers is to understand that this belief permeates their writing.

But is human nature only to blame for our failings and self inflicted sufferings?  Nearing the end of  his book, after years of close examination of triumph and tragedy, Plutarch offers a hint that something else that maybe at work in human history:

I know not how we can avoid admitting again the utterly exploded opinion of the oldest times, that evil and beguiling spirits, out of envy to good men, and a desire of impeding their good deeds, make efforts to excite in them feelings of terror and distraction, to make them shake and totter in their virtue, lest by a steady and unbiased perseverance they should obtain a happier condition than these beings after death. 

Wow, I was shocked to read this last night from a man who wrote it at the end of the 1st Century AD.  Plutarch never mentions Christianity or Judaism in any significant detail his Lives .  And yet, the above statement could have been written by Saint Thomas Aquinas himself in his chapter on Angels and Demons in his Summa Theologica.

Here Plutarch is talking about a personification of evil active in the world.  He is not referring to the flawed Greek gods who would sometimes torment human beings.  Plutarch’s evil spirits are not  a “fill in the gap” attempt to explain natural disasters.  Reading it again we can see Plutarch makes some rather interesting claims about these evil spirits acting in our world:

  • Belief in them is ancient, even in his time
  • Belief in these evil spirits is universal among human societies
  • They are personal beings, who act against humanity out of envy
  • The frequent targets of their hatred is good people in order to discourage them from obtaining eternal happiness in the afterlife
  • That good and virtuous people need perseverance in order to over come the feelings of “terror and distraction”  that evil spirits may subject them too

This theme is echoed in the Old Testament’s Book of Job, where Satan elicits God’s permission to torment a good and virtuous man, Job, in order that Job would curse God.  Satan fails in breaking Job, but even so, Job suffers tremendously thru no fault of his own but at the hands of this evil spirit.  Saint Paul in his Epistles warns us of a personification of evil that seeks us out to devour us like a hungry lion.

Now belief in demons today seems to swing between two extremes. On one hand is an over fixation on them manifesting as extreme fear or obsession with the occult.  On the other side is the belief that evil spirits are relics of a superstitious age and are a way for people to personify the fully human evil in the world.  The better approach is to acknowledge that while much evil is of a human origin, there are beings of far greater intelligence and and malevolence that can and do act upon us.  For all of us,  that action may only be temptations to sin.  Rarer still, people maybe harassed by evil spirits, both physically and emotionally and maybe even a manifestation.  In extremely rare cases, possession.  In all situations, we can do as Plutarch implies and persevere with the understanding that as powerful as demons try to make us think they are, they can not overpower us with out our consent.

But there is an even better way: by Prayer, Confession, Mass and and Eucharistic Adoration.  I can speak from experience on this. Without going into details that some may find sensational, I will admit that I have experienced what I believe is harassment.  It was through, the Rosary, Confession, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration that it would come to an apparent end.  I also know of a family member whose honesty I trust that has told me that they experienced evil manifestations.  I mention this not to encourage fear or idle curiosity but rather to inspire a turning to God in love and trust as a small child would do with their loving parent.  Jesus in his great love for us has given us the tools to overcome and persevere to include our Guardian Angels.  Just don’t under estimate the maliciousness of our ancient, envious enemy.

PostScript:

George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”

Patrick Cassidy : Na mBeannaíochtaí (The Beatitudes I)

Patrick Cassidy : Na mBeannaíochtaí (The Beatitudes II)

 

See also: plutarch-ancient-philosopher-reflects-on-even-more-ancient-heroes-and-their-virtues

Hippocrates-on-social-justice

The Loudest Quiet Girl: Messages of Hope in a Dark World

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.– Saint Paul

It is a wonderful mystery that God has not only created us dependent on Him, but also dependent on each other.  We need each other not only for our physical well being, but for our spiritual growth.   All of us are tasked by God to drag each other over the finish line to Heaven.   Out of love for us, God will often place in our path those who can help ease our pain.  When we are open to the love of God and the love of our neighbors, tragedy can transform and heal.

Every year my brothers Pete and Patrick and I spend a “Brother’s Weekend” together as a way to remember our brother Davy who died of ALS in November of 2013.   This year we spent it in Foxboro Massachusetts and on Sunday we went to Mass at Our Lady of La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.  See National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette

Walking into the Shrine conference center before mass,  a poster featuring a portrait of a beautiful young woman caught my eye.  As I started to read it, a man quietly came up and invited me to join a presentation on his daughter, Erin Rodriques.  Erin’s parents, Abel  and Kathy Rodriques, have just published a collection of their daughter’s journal writings from her teenage years.

Erin is their only child and she died at the age of 23 on December 9th, 2013,  just months before her marriage.  I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow of Abel and Kathy.  Yet, out of our brokenness, God can craft something beautiful.  For Abel and Kathy Rodriques, that beauty was a long forgotten collection of Erin’s journal writings.

All who read Erin’s writings were stunned by the depth of her love for Jesus and compassion for others.  Erin’s style of writing was unusual: she seemed to be addressing a future reader rather than herself.  She expressed a simple, trusting love of Jesus.  Her prayer life with God was conversational, friend to friend:

“I really need to work on my relationship with God.  I am still totally religious and spread the word but I think that I have been trying too much to help others with their relationship with God that I have been barely been paying attention to mine.   I think tonight, instead of saying the Rosary, I’m going to just talk to Jesus and pray for peace, strength and help.  I know he will not abandon me.  Lord, I know you can read this and you know me better then I know myself, please know that I love you more than anything in this world and my desire for you is so strong that when I feel like I haven’t talked to you for even just one day, I feel dead. I need to remember to place all my stresses and worries into your hands and have you help me and guide me along my life’s path. I love you Lord and I need you. Please always be at my side and help me even when I do not think to ask. I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me. ”                                                                             Erin Rodriques December 20, 2005

On March 4th 2017, Erin’s mother Kathy found a previously unknown journal  that Erin started on March 14th 2014.   Inside were  letters by Erin to her Mom and Dad, written nine years before she died.  Below are some excepts from those letters.  Keep in mind these letters to her parents were written nine years before she died.  Her parents only saw them two and a half years after the accident that took Erin’s life.

For Mom:

…I love you so much! I’m so sorry for all the times I made fun of you and said you were stupid, crazy and uncool. You were really as cool as cool could be! I would ever trade you in for all the riches in the world. You are the best mom ever and I will miss you so much until we see each other again! All the times I spent with you were the best times of my life! I’ll be missing you and praying for you! Anytime the sun shines on a spring day, know that it’s me smiling and laughing.  Love you!! Love from your daughter, Erin Kate Rodricques”                               Erin Rodriques, 2004

For Dad:

Dear Dad, First I want you to know how sorry i am that I have yelled at you and treated you badly alot. It’s hard to say but, it was like the more I did, the more I loved you… I’ll always remember the great times we had together.  I can’t wait for the day that we see each other together again and all  the wonderful times we’ll have together again. I’ll be missing you alot and will always be thinking of you…                    Erin Rodriques, 2004

There’s much more to these letters and to the book as a whole.  I cannot do it justice and it’s not my place to re-tell Erin’s story.  That belongs to her parents.  I will say that Erin’s story and her journals have been a blessing to me as I deal with the loss of my brother and my father.  It certainly was not a coincidence that I had a “chance” meeting with Abel and Kathy Rodriques at La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.

So, who needs to hear Erin’s story?  All of us, but most of all our young people.  Like Erin, they are constantly bombarded with messages about how faith is “uncool” or “backward.”  This is the book for the young person in your life and it should be read together, one copy for them and one for you.  And please, talk about it and above all else, give that young person that extra hug… today.

Eventually after waiting and holding on to what little hope I did have, things worked out. My prayer life began to get stronger and I started noticing God quietly working in my life. In fact I noticed he had been working in my life the whole time but I just wasn’t opening my eyes to it.                                                                                                                                                        Erin Rodriques, late 2010 (twenty years old)

 

Abel, Erin and Kathy Rodriques

You can order the book thru Amazon in color, hardcover or kindle format: The Loudest Quiet Girl Book by Kathy Rodriques

http://www.kathyRodriques.com

Brother Donald: A letter to a grieving parent

We are on earth to earn heaven and all else really does not matter if we achieve this aim.  Brother Donald Savoie, Brother of the Sacred Heart

Brother Donald (George) Savoie with two of his sisters, Florence Savoie and Rita Savoie

On November 1st 2019, All Saints Day, I unexpectedly received a letter from saint.  It came via a cousin on the Meunier side of my grandfather Roland Savoie’s family.  The letter was from my grandfather’s older brother , Brother Donald (George) Savoie who passed away back in 1961 at the young age of 48.

It all stated that morning, November 1st;  my Meunier family cousin Nancy Conlon reached out to me on the death of her grandmother:

“I believe I met you at Charlie Meunier ‘s funereal. I misplaced your contact info. I am interested in working on my ancestry tree. Is there anyway I can link what you’ve found to my tree. Mary Lou (Bing’s wife) my grandmother passed away recently and my mother was telling me about Brother Donald Savoie writing a letter to her after Bernie her oldest child died. Which started some research on the family.”

by 11:47 PM that night I had the scan of that letter in my inbox.  The experience to be honest, was perhaps a bit unsettling.  Why? Because on all Saints Day, I received a letter from a long dead uncle,  a member of a religious order, who many consider a saint, a letter that was written as a missive of hope on the one thing we must all face: our death and the deaths of those we love.  Oh and by the way, the Savoie family had a reunion the next day November 2nd and I was able to share the letter personally with my great-uncle’s nephews and nieces.

It is too much of a coincidence.  I believe that my great-uncle Brother Donald wanted this  letter to be read by his family and others for their spiritual benefit.  The fact that it came to light on All Saints Day was intentional in order to remind us that we are part of a family known as the Communion of Saints and that our family members in Heaven still care about us and look after us.

Brother Donald in his letter makes direct and clear points:

  • Jesus grieves with us when we loose a love one
  • Heaven is our ultimate goal and nothing else will matter if we don’t attain it
  • God’s will is paramount and the ultimate good of heaven is God’s will for us
  • Sometimes an early death is a mercy in the sense that God will take us home to heaven early when staying longer on earth would only put us at risk us of failing to attain heaven later in life
  • God heals all wounds and in Heaven we will be reunited with our family members who have gone before us

THE LETTER FROM BROTHER DONALD

Sacred Heart Academy 918 Broad Street Central Falls (Rhode Island)

June 11, 1959

Dear Bing,

I had heard from Jeanette, and now from your mother, of the accident which caused such sadness in your family.   As I did not at the time (neither have I yet) your address, I prayed for the repose of his soul but without writing a letter.

Our Lord was once saddened at the sight of a widow who had lost her only son.  Our Lord cried, says the Gospel, at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.  He understands our sadness and he is sad with us.  But He gives us the reasons to hope, to be consoled.  The lives of pure and good ones, He promised us, are only changed to better ones, they are not lost forever but saved forever when death strikes them.  They now see Him face to face, without any danger of evil things or of sufferings.

We are on earth to earn heaven and all else really does not matter if we achieve this aim.  Our Lord alone judges when we have earned heaven, which we can do very early.  At times, as at the moments you are passing through, we may forget that “only important thing”, which, if successful, makes all else a success.  There is a saying which reads: “He has lived a long career in a few short years”.  Sometimes, in His mercy, God calls us before we had time to lose Him, or He calls us before certain sufferings and trials, where we would fail Him, have happened to us.

Some years ago, up in Canada, I knew a 15-year old boy very well.  He was a fine chap, only a bit hasty at times.  The Lord called him to religious life.  Soon, the parents insisted that the boy abandon his vocation.  Against God’s will, and the boy’s, they almost forced him to quit, promising him all kinds of favors if he left.   The parents substituted their will for God’s will, without realizing what they were doing.  A week later, Johnnie was riding on his new bike when a truck hit him and killed him instantly.  After quite some time, the parents realized that God’s will is always done.  God, as is His right, takes what is His and what we try at times to refuse Him.  But He graciously accepts and rewards what we offer Him, He rewards our acceptance of His will as He wants it.  And He knows better than we do what is for our good, since He loves us.

Your mother speaks about your sadness at your son’s not receiving the Last Rites.   A Saint, John Bosco, gives an answer to this. One day, as he was visiting the boys at play in his orphanage, he met a youngster to whom he asked this question: “What would you do, if you were to die in an hour?” The boy thought over the question a few seconds and said: “I would continue to play.”  And why would he change occupation since he was prepared to die well at any time.  The Lord takes when He pleases, and how He pleases.

A poor beggar women who sees her son be taken for a wonderful vacation trip by a good rich person is sad to see her son leave but happy to know that he will enjoy himself.  That is, God willing, what happened to your son.  He is happy, he has no more worries  and would like to see us happy and no longer grieving since he is happier where he is.

I am not writing you a sermon, that is not my intention.  But since religion teaches us all the above things, it is time when in suffering to remember these things.  What the Lord takes, He is entitled to and He will take good care of.  What we give Him, or accept from Him, he rewards in us and in those we have lost temporally.  What He takes he can return in one way or in another.  And he does not fail to do that.  Your son has gone to his true Home, the true Home of us all.  It is there that he awaits you.  The reunion is temporarily put off but be sure that it will come.

Hoping that it will then be a general reunion of us all, I remain

Sincerely yours in the Sacred Heart,

Bro. Donald, S.C.

Brother Donald Savoie

 

Brother Donald Letter

POSTSCRIPT and notes:

See also: Brother Donald and the Mystery of the Eucharist

Young Brother Donald recovering from Typhoid Fever

Brother Donald with his nephews and nieces. Top row from left to right, Sr Florence Savoie, sister Jeannette Savoie,  Sr Rita Savoie Sister-in- Law Claire Savoie (St Goddard), brother Roland Savoie (my grandfather) Brother Donald (George) Savoie. Siting in the center is Phileas Savoie, the father of Brother Donald and his siblings. Savoie kids, L to R: Paul Savoie, Jean Savoie, Phyllis Savoie, David Savoie, Tommy Savoie, Marian Savoie, Frankie Savoie, siting Jean Savoie

My Uncle Dave Savoie (the boy almost center in the photo above) remembers how Brother Donald would give his undivided attention to his nephews and nieces.   He would listen to what they would have to say and respect what they wanted to say.   Brother Donald was never patronizing and always loving.

My Aunt Jean Savoie,  sitting on the far right above, told me that  an outbreak of Typhoid Fever broke out in the monastery when Brother Donald was young.  His mother Isala Meunier journeyed up from Woonsocket Rhode Island to Quebec to treat him and other members of the monastery during the outbreak.

Isala Meunier, the mother of Brother Donald

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my great -uncle is an 8th great grandson of Henri Membertou.  I cannot help feeling when reading Brother Donald’s letter that I am also hearing a distant echo of Henri Membertou, who passed on his faith by oral tradition to his children who in turn passed it on to their children and onward until that wisdom came to rest within the heart of Brother Donald.

My ancestor Henri Membertou on Canadian stamp

Henri Membertou: to love and be loved

The Crucifix worn by Brother Donald in the photos above. My Thanks to my Uncle Dave Savoie for providing the photo

The Truth Points to Itself

“The Truth Points to Itself”

J Michael Straczynski ,  American screen writer quoted from his television show Babylon 5

Savoy Mountain in the Berkshires has become a place of rest, remembrance and reflection.   A couple of posts ago, I wrote a blog inspired by the Mountain’s beauty and the pictures I took of the sunset view from the top of the Mountain.  See: And then, he was Answered

I reflected on the adventures we all had here among the Berkshires with my father, my brother Davy and my grandfather Roland Savoie. The experience not only generated another blog post, but I made a decision to retire and refocus my life on finding a proper balance.   As with the traveler in the Moody Blues song “The Balance,”  I too reflected on my life up until this point and how the change begins within myself before it begins with others.

A few days ago I was again on Savoy Mountain camping with my daughter and I took this picture at sunset:

When I looked at the photograph later I immediately thought: The Truth Points to Itself.  Like the sun in the photograph, Truth is independent of human thought or acknowledgement.  It is self reverential and it’s existence is not conditional upon anything else.  I could turn away from this view and the sun and its reflection would still be there.  Like sunlight illuminating my eyes and warming my body, Truth comes from without, not from within.  It is discovered and then internalized, not created.  Truth is beauty to contemplated.  God is truth and beauty itself.

A Meditation:

Jesus looked over the crowd gathered around Himself and His disciples.

In His Divine Nature He knew them all from the moment He called them into existence so that they could share in His happiness forever.

In His Human Nature Jesus loved each of them as perfectly as one human being could love another human being.  His Heart ached at the thought of leaving them, they were His sheep, His children.  However, His time was growing short but yet He had one final gift to leave them… a way that He could always remain with them and be available to them always, from now until the end of time.

He said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink.”

Jesus pointed to Himself for emphasis, trying to help them understand.  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

On hearing it, many in the crowd said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

Since He loved each of them perfectly, He felt the pain of their rejection as perfectly as a human being could feel pain.  This pain of being rejected by those He loved was a foreshadowing of His Passion to come.  Jesus felt no anger, He didn’t berate them for leaving, after all, He respected their freedom, but it broke His Heart to see them go.

He turned to the Twelve, there was sadness in His voice, not reproach: “Do you want to leave too?”  The Apostles didn’t know what to say and they didn’t fully understand either.  Some of them looked at the others leaving, they knew many of them, they were friends, family, neighbors.  They also felt a sadness at their abandonment.  The Lord continued to look at them with a mixture of sadness and love, awaiting a response.  Dumbfounded, the Apostles turned to Simon Peter as they always have when they didn’t know how to respond.  Peter looked down as he kicked a small stone in the sand, giving himself time to find the rights words.  Wisdom he didn’t have, at least not yet.  However, when he looked back up, he did have conviction: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Some last thoughts…

I have heard it said from time to time that  “The Eucharist is a pointless Catholic doctrine.  After all, isn’t Jesus present everywhere, what’s so special about the Eucharist?”   Or “There really isn’t a need for me to go to Church since I can worship God anywhere since He is everywhere. ” 

It is true that Jesus, as God, is present everywhere in the universe but that was certainly true when Jesus walked around Palestine 2,000 years ago .  It is also true that 2,000 years ago Jesus could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He just waved His hand and cured every ill person in the world and forgave everyone’s sin all at once without having to deal with people one on one.  In his Divine nature Jesus could have done that but He didn’t.   However, the Gospels tell the story of a Jesus that intimately interacted with those around Him in His full  Divinity  AND Humanity.   How many of us, when we read of Jesus visiting Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary wish we could have also lived 2,000 years ago and sat at His feet listening to Him as Mary did.  That one on one time with Jesus was so desired by Him and Mary that Jesus would not let anyone or anything take that away from her.

But Jesus wants the same thing for us!  Through the Eucharist we too can visit and sit with Jesus in His full Divinity and Humanity.  The experience is just as real and personal as if we too lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

Although everyone in the world during Jesus’s earthly ministry were in the presence of God only those who interacted with Jesus directly were miraculously transformed, forgiven or cured.  Now, in every Catholic Church, we have the same opportunity to experience Jesus as His Apostles did since He is present in the Tabernacle in His full Divinity and Humanity.

It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Holy Mass.

Saint Padre Pio (1887-1968)

Because the unexamined life isn't worth living