RIP, Big Frank

DiLorenzoThe man kept Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop on his desk for years. So you figure he was ready.

For all of bishop’s many kindnesses to me, I give thanks. For his few injustices against me, I right readily forgive him. May the blame not attach itself to him. I refuse to press charges.

May he forgive me for all the ways I have failed him–all of which he sees with perfect clarity now. He has much more to forgive me than I him.

He knew how to have fun. He and I had fun in his office, over straw hats, and with a desk calculator (trying to figure out how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to rebuild all the Church property within 300 yards of Orange Avenue in Roanoke). And I basically laughed in his 300-pound face when he lectured me about keeping fit.

I pray with all my heart that we will dine together in the life to come, a proper southside-Philly Italian meal, without him having to worry about his tricky digestion or his sugars. My dear departed dad was 100% clueless, and that often left me in difficult situations. But I always knew he loved me, with the desperate love of a father who wished he could guide his son, but just didn’t know how. I’m weeping right now, because I saw the same in Bishop DiLo. Resquiecat in pace, both of you, dear fathers. I owe you both.

…Richmond sede vacante is weird. For us parish priests of the diocese, I think it’s even weirder and more doleful than Roma sede vacante. May the good Lord comfort us and help us.

Little World

downtown Charlottesville mall

The other night, I reached the end of an era in my little life. I read the final words of Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. Sweet sadness overwhelmed me.

Six Barsetshire novels–all of them about the country clergy, their families, their interactions with their neighbors and doctors and benefactors. About how young people move from the county into London, and their city lives. About the scramble for suitable marriages and adequate incomes.

Trollope concludes the series with a seriously wise reflection on the clerical life, which I would like to quote at length. But I will save that for an appendix to this post.

…For five years, from 2011 to 2016, I lived in greater Roanoke, while my dear mommy lived in Washington D.C. She hasn’t driven a car in decades, but she loves to ride the train. It doesn’t take a geographical genius to figure out the perfect place for the two of us to meet for a couple days during those years: Charlottesville.

Airbnb provided us with small downtown apartments. We ate at The Nook, or Citizen Burger, or Downtown Thai. My mom shopped at Caspari while I took my daily run up the hill and around the University Rotunda.

So my first reaction to the big news of the weekend involved intimate geographic familiarity. “Emancipation Park” is not a place I read about in the news; it is where I have done cool-down stretches at the end of numerous runs.

So I have experienced an enormous amount of frustration in trying to find a straightforward and clear report of what exactly happened on Saturday and where–by which I mean: at the corners of which streets (because I know them all).

I weep because downtown Charlottesville does not in any way deserve this crushing disturbance. Downtown Charlottesville deserves to have its own quiet life, and not be the object of a news-camera spectacle.

In August of 2015, the peaceful carp pools of Bridgewater Plaza, Franklin County, Va., also became the focus of the insatiable media spectacle, because of arbitrary and cruel death. I wept then, for the same reason.

I refuse to do any grandstanding for an end to racism here on my blog, at least not today. What I want to do is: pray that downtown Charlottesville gets to return to normal life, with people eating al fresco of a summer evening, sipping Budweisers, and leaving the moral absolutes alone.

Appendix. From the final paragraphs of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series:

Before I take my leave of the diocese of Barchester for ever, which I purpose to do in the succeeding paragraph, I desire to be allowed to say one word of apology for myself, in answer to those who have accused me–always without bitterness, and generally with tenderness–of having forgotten, in writing of clergymen, the first and most prominent characteristic of the ordinary English clergyman’s life.

I have described many clergymen, they say, but have spoken of them all as though their professional duties, their high calling, their daily workings for the good of those around them, were matters of no moment, either to me, or in my opinion, to themselves…

There are those who have told me that I have made all my clergymen bad, and none good. I must venture to hint to such judges that they have taught their eyes to love a colouring higher than nature justifies.

We are, most of us, apt to love Raphael’s madonnas better than Rembrandt’s matrons. But, though we do so, we know that Rembrandt’s matrons existed; but we have a strong belief that no such woman as Raphael painted ever did exist. In that he painted, as he may be surmised to have done, for pious purposes–at least for Church purposes–Raphael was justified; but had he painted so for family portraiture he would have been false.

Had I written an epic about clergymen, I would have taken St Paul for my model; but describing, as I have endeavoured to do, such clergymen as I see around me, I could not venture to be transcendental.

The Light Moses Saw

Moses’ face became radiant after he conversed with the Lord on Mount Sinai. The very radiance of the prophet’s face terrified the people.

No surprise. When the Lord created, He began with “Let there be light.” According to some ancient rabbis, this original light exceeded the brightness of the sun by seven times. Some say the Primeval Light actually exceeded the brightness of the sun by 60,075 times.

eclipse glasses(If you’re wondering where the number 60,075 came from, you’re like me; I wondered the same thing. The only answer I could find is that it has to do with the number of possible combinations of the letters in a Hebrew word. But I really don’t know the answer.)

Anyway, we can gather that Moses, when he received the Commandments from God, got to see a light much greater in brightness than the sun, possibly the full Primeval Light. As a result, in order to avoid terrifying the people, Moses had to don a veil for his face.

This serves, I think, as an opportune time to remind you, gentle reader, that you will need solar-eclipse glasses two weeks from Monday. Very, very dangerous to observe an eclipse without them!

According to the ancient rabbis, God has preserved the full Primeval Light for the righteous in the life to come. And, as we know, the apostolic rabbi St. Paul commented on Moses’ veil in his second letter to the Corinthian Christians. St. Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit transforms us into the likeness of the unveiled glory of God, Jesus Christ.

First and Second Regeneration

full_moon_2
Purim moon tonight. One more cycle to the holy Pasch.

On two occasions during Lord Jesus’ earthly life, the Father spoke out from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son!” At Christ’s Baptism. And at His Transfiguration.

Holy Baptism. One of the seven… sacraments. The sacrament of regeneration. God generated us in the first place, in the Garden of Eden. When Satan tempted us, we fell, and we became the sinful, mortal human race that we are. Then God sent His beloved Son to re-generate us.

We enter into the re-generation process through Holy Baptism. When we get baptized into Christ, everything starts fresh–human purity restored, an open-ended friendship with God begins.

Gerard David TransfigurationYou know that Lent exists primarily as the final period of preparation for adults who will be baptized during the night before Easter. Lent primarily means the final stage of study and purification for non-Christians about to become Christians. The ancient People of God passed dry-shod through the Red Sea and marched on, toward the Promised Land; Lent exists primarily for us to integrate the stranger and the sojourner among us into our nation, the pilgrim Church.

Lent also exists to remind us already-baptized Christians about what happened to us at the font. God regenerated us there, to live as His friends, as the children of His household. We need to reach into the depths of our souls to rediscover the always-new, always-fresh presence of Christ’s truth and life. When we were baptized into Him, Jesus claimed us as His forever.

We already-baptized people, as we reach into these lovely interior depths during Lent, usually find that we need to be re-cleansed by the baptismal water. And that’s as easy as… going to confession! One ancient name for the sacrament of Confession is… second Baptism.

But, speaking of second things—what about the second time the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son!” The gospel we read at Holy Mass every second Sunday of Lent. When the Lord’s body shone with brilliant divine light, transfigured. At that moment, the human regeneration accomplished by Christ, usually invisible to our eyes, was revealed.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River was the sacrament of our first regeneration. And Christ’s Transfiguration is the sacrament of our second regeneration. Our bodily resurrection. When Christ comes again, in the glory He revealed at the Transfiguration, sin and Satan and death will no longer have any power over us. According to God’s own design, we will shine then like the stars in the sky.

Feast of the Holy Cross

holy-sepulcher
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Anyone know why we keep a Feast of the Holy Cross on September 14?  (Or on the Sunday closest to September 14, if it’s a Maronite parish?)*

On September 14, AD 335, they carried a piece of the cross of Christ in solemn procession into the newly dedicated Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Lord Jesus was crucified outside the ancient wall of the city, on the hill called…  Golgatha.  After He died, they laid Him in a nearby tomb, as we read in John 19:  “In the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden, a new tomb.  There they laid Him.”  Mount Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher stand only a few dozen yards apart from each other.

When the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the Holy Land during the 130’s, he renamed Jerusalem after himself, and he ordered that the sites of our Lord’s crucifixion and burial be covered over with earth, and then a pagan temple built there.  Hadrian hated Judaism and Christianity.  St. Dimitry Rostov put it like this in his homily for this feast:

[The Roman emperor wanted] the remembrance of the name of Jesus Christ to vanish from the earth…  The place where he was crucified and buried was made a dwelling-place of demons, so that every nation would forget Christ, and the places where Christ had walked would never serve to remind anyone of Him.

Therefore, the Holy Cross and the tomb of Christ remained buried underground for almost two hundred years.

But: one thing we can certainly say is that the Christians of Jerusalem knew precisely where they were.  We can safely say that, from the first Easter Sunday onward, not a single day passed without a Christian going to pray at the holy site.

So when the Emperor Constantine finally legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in AD 313, and when the emperor’s mother St. Helena went to the Holy Land to find the cross and the holy sepulcher, there were still Christians there, and they knew where to tell her to look.

Tenth Station of the Cross

So let’s keep this anniversary feast as an occasion to rejoice in the genuinely amazing faithfulness of Christians through all the tumults of history.

And let’s focus especially on this:  our forefathers and foremothers in faith have held on through thick and thin not because they have had so much virtue—though many of them certainly have had great virtue.  The main reason, though, is this: it’s the truth.

Our ancestors who have handed our sacred tradition down to us have simply been faithful to what they knew to be true.  The great triumphant mystery of God-made-man involves facts.  And those facts have been remembered faithfully and handed down to us primarily because they are true.

After all, that’s the only reasonable explanation for us being here together right now, dear reader.

Let’s look at it this way.  A man regarded by the authorities as a delusional political nuisance was executed as a common criminal on the outskirts of a ramshackle city, which the Romans thought of as an outpost in the outer reaches of barbarian hell.  If CNN had existed to report the news of the Roman Empire at the time, the chances that Wolf Blitzer would have mentioned this particular execution:  zero.

The executed man was buried nearby, in a tomb that did not belong to his family–His family being altogether too poor to own any tombs.  The chances of anyone making a written record about the location of the grave:  zero.

little last supperIn other words, we really cannot even imagine anything more obscure and forgettable than the death and burial of this particular man.  Innumerable men and women have died, and been buried, and have been altogether forgotten.  And by all external trappings, the Nazarene carpenter would fit into that human category, the category of the altogether forgettable.

Except for one fact:  He is God.

He rose from the dead.  He poured out His Holy Spirit.  He unites us to Himself through the Holy Mass.  He is the hope and the joy of mankind.

This is what Christians have known from Day One.  So they prayed at the sites of his death and resurrection.  They prayed there even when the worldly powers did everything to try to make them forget.

At Holy Mass, we take our place with these forefathers and foremothers of ours.  The living memory of the living God-made-man survived the ravages of Hadrian and the other Roman emperors who hated Christianity.  The tradition endured to the day when they carried the relic of the true cross into the beautiful new Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, seventeen centuries ago.  And the living memory of the living God-made-man has endured through those seventeen centuries from then until now.

We take our place beside all our forebears, who have held the faith through all these hundreds of years, and we declare with them:  We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You…

Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

————–

* Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, this Sunday I am substituting for the pastor of our local Maronite parish, while my beloved parochial vicars hold down the fort at home.

White-Hot Furnace

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the visible golden statue.  Because they insisted on worshiping the unseen God.  For this, Nebuchadnezzar cast them into the fiery furnace.

15-03-03/42Does the fiery furnace have a spiritual meaning for us?  God made us for love:  to love Him and glorify Him in His works.  This demands that we ruthlessly separate ourselves from the temptation to love and worship things that fall short of God.  Therefore, to believe means living in a kind of fiery furnace:  the furnace of divine love, which burns everything impure.

The real God–the invisible, transcendent God Almighty–can send angels to help us.  And the angel who accompanied the three young men prefigured the Son of God, Who was to come–the Angel of Great Counsel, the King of Angels.

“If God were your Father, you would love me,” saith the incarnate Christ.  Christ gives us the purity that makes living in the furnace endurable.  More than endurable:  with Christ’s grace, living in the world for the glory of the Father, loving God and nothing less than God—it becomes pure joy.  Heaven awaits.

The Claverings

Young man falls for his cousin-in-law’s beautiful younger sister. She jilts him and marries for money. Young man goes racing down the wrong career path, but along the way he finds just the right woman. Then his first love returns, a rich widow, offering him everything. A crisis ensues.

The Claverings TrollopeThe entire plot of this perfectly constructed Anthony-Trollope novel turns on this one moment: The protagonist lied in bed at home, laid up with a wicked cold. His mother offers him some advice. He takes it.

…Where does the joy of reading a Trollope novel truly lie? In the comic relief, perhaps? The Claverings has one of the funniest chapters I have ever read. A hapless, ill-educated, blue-blooded boy, cousin to the protagonist, seeks help in his love suit. From a cheap Franco-Polish con-woman, whom he believes to be a Russian spy.

Does the joy come from Trollope’s withering, righteous indictment of all the inhumane cruelty doled out by the heartless oligarchs he manages to capture perfectly? Hugh Clavering strides through the pages of this novel as one of the most believably loathesome villains I have ever encountered, the Victorian drawing-room equivalent of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Does Sir Hugh receive his just desserts in the end? I won’t spoil the novel for you. But we learn a lesson in boatsmanship: don’t go fishing off the coast of Norway in a small craft.

Maybe the deepest joy of a Trollope novel comes from the relentless struggle for honesty waged by the good guys. Henry Clavering faces an enticement to falseness–which he comes by perfectly honestly. The way all the other characters react to his predicament gives us a grand tour of all our predilections to judge our neighbor.

For my money, though, the most amazing thing about this novel is the character of Julia Brabazon. And the Way of the Cross she follows to reach a state of self-possessed kindness by the story’s end.

Now, I can’t say that I wished The Claverings had kept going longer than it does. The plot is not easy on the nerves. None of the characters sits with you like a relaxing companion (as some of the denizens of Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles manage to do).

But every single page of The Claverings is worth reading. Reading them all both delighted and instructed this particular reader. Of all the things a person can find himself addicted to, Trollope novels have got to be one of the most thoroughly healthy options.

Trollope Quote for the Summer-Reading-List Young People

My new favorite person ever, Anthony TrollopeMen and women say that they will read, and think so–those, I mean, who have acquired no habit of reading–believing the work to be, of all works, the easiest. It may be work, they think, but of all works it must be the easiest of achievement. Given the absolute faculty of reading, the task of going through the pages of a book must be, of all tasks, the most certainly within the grasp of the man or woman who attempts it.

Alas! no; if the habit be not there, of all tasks it is the most difficult. If a man have not acquired the habit of reading till he be old, he shall sooner in his old age learn to make shoes than learn the adequate use of a book. And worse again–under such circumstances the making of shoes shall be more pleasant to him than the reading of a book. Let those who are not old, who are still young, ponder this well.

The Claverings, chapter 45

Tennant Hamlet

The DVD version of the 2008 Royal-Shakespeare-Company Hamlet has found its way to the local public library, allowing me to return again to my favorite subject: Don’t cut lines from Hamlet!

I have heard David Tennant play a fun Macbeth porter and an endearing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, not to mention a vivacious Launcelot Gobbo in Merchant of Venice and a crushingly pathetic Edgar in King Lear. (He enacted all these for Arkangel Shakespeare, way before he became Dr. Who.)

But this 2008 Hamlet, for all its earnestness, will go down in history as the version in which they trimmed lines from “To Be or Not To Be…” Party foul, people.

First, however: The unforgettable and amazing thing about RSC 2008 Hamlet: Patrick Stewart’s bad-ss Claudius.

Patrick Stewart Claudius Hamlet

Scary, as in scary frightening and scary good. Claudius’ speech in III.iii, when he tries to pray, but cannot bring himself to renounce his dishonest gains; “O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven” (at 1:21, below)–as heartbreaking a literary artifact as ink has ever left behind for us. Stewart utterly nails it. You wish he could repent. But you relish that, in fact, he cannot.

Indeed, a great deal of Hamlet‘s dramatic energy comes from the fundamentally evil sexual tension between Claudius and Gertrude. The more decisive the acting in this area, the greater the energy of the performance as a whole, since everything revolves around Claudius’ and Gertrude’s sketchy marriage.

In the best movie ever made, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, Derek Jacobi convinces us that Claudius follows after Gertrude like a poor puppy who cannot resist Julie Christie’s ferocious allure. For Jacobi’s Claudius, wearing the crown seems only an undesirable corollary to his original scheme. He could just as soon do without being king. He would have killed his brother in cold blood solely to get the queen for a wife.

In 2008 RSC, though, Stewart’s dominant Claudius preys on Penny Downie’s inability to deal with all her ambivalences. This approach, though quite satisfying in many respects, has one significant problem: it does not resonate with inconvenient lines in the script. Stewart’s Claudius would make it hard for us to believe the “Hyperion-to-a-satyr” contrast between the dead king and Claudius which Hamlet draws in I.ii. (Especially since Stewart also plays the Ghost in this production.) Problem solved, though: they cut that line.

The two-hour Hamlet I saw in Staunton in April simply did not make sense as a whole, so much of the script had gone unsaid. By the time this three-hour RSC production ends, it looks a lot like Hamlet. (Though they cut the last exchange! We never see young Fortinbras!)

The problem is, in this Hamlet many of the most-important speeches don’t make sense. Editing has eviscerated them of crucial sentences. How can we have “To be or not to be..” without a “bare bodkin?” Please.

Another problem: Forgive me for generalizing, but there are two kinds of Hamlets. Skinny adolescent ones and manly ones. Shakespeare wrote a manly Hamlet. Never crossed Shakespeare’s mind to doubt that ghosts can and do appear to people. Hamlet, as written by Shakespeare, has no Oedipus Complex. He simply has to deal with what a ghost has told him. Things like that can happen, after people get murdered.

The 20th century gave us skinny adolescent Hamlets with complexes. David Tennant gives us a 20th-century Hamlet.

I thought we had moved on.

Summary: If you take the trouble to watch this RSC 2008 Hamlet on DVD, you will wish, every 1-2 minutes (except when Claudius is speaking), that you were watching Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet instead.

April 1865. by Jay Winik

My dad married a Northerner. But he could hardly be accused of having been one himself. The year I turned twelve, our family spent the muggy summer evenings reading aloud to each other Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. Huck and Jim already had become close friends to the imaginations of my brother and me, not to mention Aunt Sally and Tom Sawyer.

Winik April 1865Yes, the Washington I grew up in had become the post-WWII ‘capital of the free world.’ But I never loved my hometown for that reason. I loved, and love her still, for the same reason that Robert E. Lee loved Virginia.

The land you come from deserves and demands your loyal affection, whether that particular land lies thick with trees and hedgerows or with streets and buildings. I never had any serious interest in the halls of national and international power near the places to which I delivered pizzas during high school.

Marion Barry meant more to me during the 1980’s than Ronald Reagan ever did. During the Grant administration, they debated moving the U.S. Capitol to Kansas. If they had, I wouldn’t love Washington, D.C., any differently than I do. My hometown, south of the Mason-Dixon, originally a swamp bordered by two slave states.

Just trying to explain why the month of April, 1865, fills me more with a sense of tragedy than triumph.*

Also, the end of the Civil-War Sesquicentennial, now upon us, fills me with guilt, because I haven’t paid more attention to it. And with sadness that it’s over.

Anyway: If you share any of these feelings, or if you simply seek a short, readable book with which to begin your acquaintance with Civil-War history, read April 1865 by Jay Winik.

Continue reading April 1865. by Jay Winik”