Happy Arbor Day! I guess the date varies from year to year, depending on the optimal conditions for tree planting. It so happens that this festival of tree planting has ecclesiastical origins, as I learned in Joan Maldoof’s delightful little book, Treepedia: A Brief Compendium of Arboreal Lore. Turns out, “In 1805 a Spanish priest initiated the first modern celebration of tree planting, called the fiesta de arbol.” A bit more research revealed that the precise location of the first Arbor Day was Villanueva de la Siera, Spain. The event began with the ringing of church bells and Mass, followed by the characteristic planting of trees–then a party. Viva España! The first official American celebration of the event came on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska. Today, according to Maldoof, it is celebrated in more than forty-three countries. Happy planting!
Month: April 2022
I was thrilled to get the news this week that my essay “Angels in Innsbruck” was selected by Dappled Things as the winner of their 2021 Jacques Maritain Prize for Nonfiction. Dappled Things is a wonderful literary journal, the only one I know of with the explicit mission of publishing Catholic literature. They’re both online and in print; the print journal features some really beautiful artwork and is well worth the subscription.
To celebrate the occasion, I thought I’d post a few pictures from my summer in Innsbruck to go along along with the essay. First the angels in the Jesuit church…
And then a few pictures of beautiful Innsbruck.
When I reached the end of the station pilgrimage the last time around, I was struck by the details.
For the sacramental theologian such as myself, there’s a deep lesson in the details of the journey. The Son of God’s Incarnation meant entering fully into the reality of human life, with all its diverse moments of suffering and disappointment, of hope and joy, of sometimes just getting by. The Passion narrative is the most vividly detailed part of the Gospels, and the Resurrection stories too, though reflecting the discombobulation of that utterly unprecedented event, also retain the sort of vivid details that stick out in one’s mind even when the world has just gone outside-in. Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener. Jesus eats a bit of fish. The sacraments depend on the details of the Lord’s life, too, on what he ate at his last meal.Continue reading “Bernini’s beads”
Today’s reading from the Office of Readings put me in mind of the fresco of Christ’s descent into the limbo of the patriarchs in the chapter room of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Note the demon crushed under the doors of hell at Christ’s feet and the other bewildered devils on the right. (Don’t feel sorry for them.) It’s what the Middle Ages had instead of superhero movies.Continue reading “Holy Saturday”
Pontius Pilate, postmodern man
I was recently reminded of a post I wrote on the old Whosoever Desires blog eleven years ago. It was prompted by controversy over Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ, but the questions it asks are perhaps still worth considering this Spy Wednesday as well…
Nathan’s post on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ last year generated a lot of discussion and ended with an intriguing question: “Why does Pilate always get so much empathy from us?”
It would be easy, at this point, to start tossing around charges of anti-Semitism, charges which would allow us to feel a certain measure of moral superiority over those less enlightened than ourselves. Then we could pray like the righteous Pharisee, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, anti-Semites like Mel Gibson over there” (Lk 18:10).
Throwing around such charges is a way of doing precisely the same thing that blaming the Jews for the crucifixion once did: deflecting guilt from ourselves. I would suggest a far more troubling answer to the question, “Why do we empathize with Pilate?”
Because Pontius Pilate is the character in the Passion who is most like us.Continue reading “Pontius Pilate, postmodern man”
Leo the Great on the Passion
“True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity.
“The earth–our earthly nature–should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer…. No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance… Everything that he did or suffered was for our salvation: he wanted his body to share the goodness of its head.
“First of all, in taking our human nature while remaining God, so that the Word became man, he left no member of the human race, the unbeliever excepted, without a share in his mercy. Who does not share a common nature with Christ if he has welcomed Christ, who took our nature, and is reborn in the Spirit through whom Christ was conceived?
“Again, who cannot recognize in Christ his own infirmities? Who would not recognize that Christ’s eating and sleeping, his sadness and his shedding of tears of love are marks of the nature of a slave? …
“The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours. If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory.”
Leo the Great, Sermo 15
Office of Readings, Thursday, 4th Week of Lent
Rome’s Cosmatesque floors
Italy is such living sculpture that one could easily fill a coffee table book with pictures of otherwise mundane objects that, here, have have taken on artistic flare. You could fill a profitable day just searching out interesting door knockers or doorways, drinking fountains or the weeds that sprout from rooftop tiles. We owe much of this picturesqueness to the medieval spirit that allowed craftsmanship and creativity to flourish on a human scale–and which has become less common in our age of planned obsolescence and Made in China.
Making the station church pilgrimage this year, I’ve been looking at the ground. I wrote before of the marvelous Cosmatesque floors in so many of Rome’s churches. This style is named after the Cosmati family, the medieval craftsmen who made use of Rome’s overflow of broken marble to turn what would otherwise have been refuse into charming and sometimes Escher-esque designs. It’s especially appropriate that the Cosmati’s work paves Christian churches, where sins are absolved and, picking up the fragments left by our mistakes, we are reminded that, with the help of grace, we can still manage something beautiful.
So here’s a slideshow of a handful of Rome’s graceful floors…