Thursday, May 3, 2007

Saints meme

In response to Sarabite:

Four favorite saints:

1. St. Maria Goretti. I was baptized at St. Maria Goretti Church in New Orleans East and have always had a particular affection for her life story, in all its macabre details (it says something about my psychology inchildhood). When I wasn't determined to become the pope (not out of belief in women's ordination, but solely out of firm conviction that God was reserving the papal crown for me), I really hoped to die a martyr at the age of 12. What could be better than to be stabbed multiple times and then forgive one's would-be rapist while having the names of the Blessed Virgin and Our Lord on your lips? My mother was concerned. But though my 13th year passed without major event, she's still a favorite saint - one of those who showed such remarkable piety at an early age.

2. Two Italian St. Catherines: (I'm cheating) St. Catherine of Siena and St. Catherine of Genoa, born one century apart, and both writing Dialogues. (I can't turn my nose up at St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Catherine Laboure either - there's something about the name Catherine...)

3. St. Joseph: Here's a man who could have been considered all sorts of crazy for listening to what a voice/angel is saying to him in his dreams about his pregnant betrothed carrying the Messiah. And yet he goes along with it. Gullible and faith-filled can appear awfully similar to the undiscerning. But he also showed compassion in not turning Mary over for an offense that was punishable by death before angel voices had whispered to him. There's a wonderful painting of the Holy Family on the Flight to Egypt - it's one of those technically awful paintings that incorporates overly enthusiastic Catholic devotion where Christ is a blond, rosy cheeked sleeping cherub, the Blessed Virgin wears pink and blue and gazes loving down at his cute blond curls, and St. Joseph, curly gray beard flying, wraps his arms around them both while looking with grim determination - steely blue eyes - into the wind that is causing his locks to flow behind him. It sounds like the description of the cover of a Harlequin romance novel and I think it's somewhat inspired by that aesthetic, and yet it conveys better than any I've seen the importance of St. Joseph - his protection, his strength, his leadership, of the Holy Family. And according to tradition, he died in the arms of both the Virgin and the Lord (he is the patron of departing souls). What could be better?

4. St. Stephen, St. Cecilia, St. Agnes, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, St. Anastasia, St. Lawrence... (I'm really cheating!): I like the early martyrs, that's all. And I've always felt bad for St. James the Less/Little.

Favorite Blessed: Fra Giovanni da Fiesole better known as the Blessed Fra Angelico. At his beatification in 1982, in the words of John Paul II:

"Angelico was reported to say, "He who does Christ's work must stay with Christ always." This motto earned him the epithet "Blessed Angelico," because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The work directly above is Madonna with Angels and Sts. Dominic and Catherine (c 1435) Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome; the one below is Christ in Limbo (c 1440), San Marco, Florence.

Someone who should already be blessed: Henriette Delille, a Creole woman in New Orleans who defied the placage system and persevered over a great deal of discrimination to found a religious order (being mixed race, she wasn't allowed to join a white convent) for mixed race and black women, the Sisters of the Holy Family, who ministered to and educated slaves and urged them to be baptized, and have educated and catechized countless black Catholics in southern Louisiana for the past 150 years. She once wrote, "I believe in God. I hope in God. I love and I want to live and die for God."

Someone who should be canonized (who is most likely not going to be):

I'm surprised some rather unscrupulous French pope hasn't canonized Abbot Suger of St.-Denis yet. And wouldn't his canonization now be utterly scandalous to those who advocate separation of Church and State? He did take the criticisms of St. Bernard of Clairvaux to heart in his own personal dwellings, at least, but give him sainthood for his role of inspiration and patron of Gothic art. (To the left is a picture of the Abbey Church of St.-Denis. In his words:

Thus, when--out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God--the loveliness of the many colored gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the Universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner.

Marvel not at the gold and the expense but at the craftsmanship of the work. Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, to the True Light where Christ is the true door.

And since plastic artists are so under-represented in th
e calender of saints (compared to the number of saints who wrote words about God, why not all those who created images of God?), Pietro Cavallini, come on down too for sainthood.

The mosaic is The Annunication (1291) at Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome; the fresco is The Last Judgment (c 1294) at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome.

And Sarabite knows I have no friends and I communicate with no one.

Monday, April 30, 2007

St. Catherine of Siena, a day late

You are rewarded not according to your work or your time
but according to the measure of your love.

Strange that so much suffering is caused because of the misunderstandings of God's true nature. God's heart is more gentle than the Virgin's first kiss upon the Christ. And God's forgiveness to all, to any thought or act, is more certain than our own being.

I see that You have endowed Your vicar
by nature
with a fearless heart;
so I humbly, imploringly beg You
to pour the light beyond nature
into the eye of his understanding.
For unless this light,
acquired through pure affection for virtue,
is joined with it,
a heart such as his tends to be proud.

Today again let every selfish love be cut away
from those enemies of Yours
and from the vicar
and from us all,
so that we may be able to forgive those enemies
when you bend their hardness.

For them, that they may humble themselves
and obey this lord of ours,
I offer You my life
from this moment
and for whenever You wish me to lay it down
for Your glory.

Paintings by Beccafumi (c. 1486-1551). The Stigmatization of St. Catherine (1515) and The Miraculous Communion of St. Catherine (1513-1515); note the angel offering her the Host. And check out a website all about her.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)

I've been so wrapped up in thesis final drafts and presentations that I failed to notice, until today, the death on April 27th of cellist and conductor Rostropovich. Requiescat in pace.

Rostropovich's performance of Bach's Cello Suites was my first exposure to both this cellist and Bach's compositions for cello. Although Casals' interpretation is superior in my view (Casals actually taught Rostropovich's father), this is the recording that I think sums up what Rostropovich is all about, in the way that sometimes it's in a work that isn't the most natural or easiest fit that one sees the greatness in an interpretative artist, whether musician, actor, or dancer. In the Cello Suites, you can hear his warmth, his power, his use of texture and color, and most importantly, that ability to wear one's heart on one's sleeve that characterizes all great artists: the generosity. (And the cello he is playing is absolutely gorgeous in tone.)

Also check out Rostropovich's performance of the Brahms' Cello Sonatas (he draws a connection between Bach and Brahms that usually goes unnoticed), and I guess his recordings of Dvorak, if you like Dvorak.