I’m Dreaming of a Blue Advent

Many lose sight of Advent amid the Thanksgiving-Black Friday-anticipated Christmas-commercial season. How can Advent hold its ground against this materialistic intrusion? Some regard Advent as “Little Lent.” After all, at least where I live it wears the hand-me-down purples of the penitential weeks between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Perhaps Advent needs its own distinguishing color to express its unique role in the Liturgical Year?

What is Advent anyway? It might be considered the season of Isaiah and joyful Psalms; a time of expectation and reassurance to those who faithfully await the coming of the promised one; a tender season of resting in the arms of our loving mother. Advent emphasizes joy and anticipation, not fasting and penance.

Some Christian denominations, including Roman Catholic parishes employ blue vestments during Advent. The web page of Saint James Episcopal Church of Richmond, Virginia explains this choice:

“Following the tradition of the Sarum Rite (an old English rite), Blue is the color for Advent. During the Middle Ages, when blue was an expensive color to reproduce, purple was often used instead. This is why you still see some churches using purple in Advent. Also, purple was used by churches that followed the Roman rite as opposed to the Sarum Rite. Theologically, however, blue is the proper color for this season, because Blue is the color of the Blessed Virgin, and Advent is all about Mary as we await with her the arrival of the Incarnate God. Blue is the color of hope, expectation, confidence, and anticipation. These are all adjectives which describe the season of Advent.”

Indeed Advent has a Marian flavor. It includes the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. It presupposes the cooperation of Mary in the incarnation and the nativity. So blue, a Marian color would fit the season.

Here in the North Temperate Zone, Advent coincides with the longest and darkest (and sometimes coldest) nights of the year. As darkness replaces light some humans suffer depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder). A sure cure for SAD is light, celebration, and a promise of better days. Again, dark blue skies connect with the theme of Advent. From those heavens comes the brightest and warmest of all gifts–the greatest reason to shed SAD in favor of JOY.

May the building joy of the Advent season culminate in your most glorious Christmas, ever!

RSVP

How do you separate the spirit of Advent from the Christmas rush?

In what special ways do you observe Advent’s joyous season of expectation?

Do you believe that the color (purple, blue or __________) of vestments’ would underscore Advent’s unique place in the Liturgical Calendar?

Text-(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Winter/alcohol ink on yupo(© 2013 Nancy Ann Mulcare)

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The Chronicles of Xan, Part I: Shadow in the Dark (Second Edition, OakTara Publishers 2013) by Antony Barone Kolenc

The Chronicles Trilogy unfolds during Lent of 1184 AD. The author invites the reader to feel, see, hear, taste and smell life as it was. The smells aren’t always pleasant. With the Rule of Saint Benedict as their guide the monks of Harwood Abbey and the nuns in the adjacent convent “Prayed and Worked” as they lived out the liturgical rhythm, threw themselves into their ministries, labored in the fields or scriptorium, advancing toward a richer personal and communal peace; order and mutual love. Well, almost; Brother Leo was quite agrouch and would argue with almost anyone. Despite his outbursts, charity and peace prevailed.

Bandits violently sowed discord as they raided nearby Hardonbury Manor. They killed or scattered the serfs. A dark robed figure rescued the bleeding and unconscious thirteen-year-old Xan. He regained consciousness in the Abbey’s infirmary and slowly entered the communal life of the monastic orphanage. Brother Andrew became his teacher and father figure; Sister Regina, Xan’s confidant and mother figure. Lucy, also a young teen from the convent befriended Xan opening the possibility of intimacy in their relationship over time. Xan confronted the bullies of the orphanage and won friends among the younger boys.

Soon a frightful mystery consumed the orphan boys: they spied a dark clad figure, perhaps death itself who stalked the monastery. The orphans wondered, “Who is this dark stranger?” Xan no less frightened than the others, earned respect for his bravery and wisdom as he and his young friends sorted through the evidence in search of the missing clue to the mysterious shadow and its close association with death.  Meanwhile Xan’s life and that of the entire community suffered from the complex church vs. state conflicts that threatened lives at the monastery. With each chapter Xan grew as a person preparing for his future path.

The Chronicles of Xan fall into the category of Juvenile Fiction, mainly because Xan the protagonist and his young friends carry the story. The young reader can identify with the heroics and wisdom of Xan as well as his everyday problems: dealing with a bully, weighing his feelings toward a girl friend, considering his future and the major problems he faced as an orphan. Xan, like modern young adults and persons of all ages, pondered questions such as, “Why does God permit suffering?” Why does God punish me?” “Is there a God?” “How do we find happiness in an imperfect world?” “How can I forgive those who murdered my parents?” Fortunately for Xan, the greater monastic community had embraced him, offered him security, education, acceptance and guidance as he sought solutions to these troublesome questions.

Antony Kolenc has skillfully woven a story that will satisfy people of all ages. He maintained a high level of suspense, laid out tempting clues along with the red herrings, while he educated his readers. For instance he used dialog rich in phrased likely used in 1148 AD. He defined modern terms that originated in medieval times and carefully described the world in which Xan lived and worked. Kolenc researched the details of the monastic life as it played out during the reign of England’s Henry II with the aid of Dr. Jennifer Paxton, an expert in Medieval History, to insure that the second edition of Shadow in the Dark met his high standards.

The Chronicles demonstrate practical spirituality. Through Xan the readers are challenged to live out their beliefs and turn toward God for answers to their own troublesome questions. Although Shadow in the Dark meets the definition of Juvenile fiction, this adult enjoyed it and benefited from it.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Race with the Devil by Joseph Pearce

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Raised in the Shire, he left its tranquility for an adventure that brought him through battles, dungeons and peril until he found an immense treasure. To possess it, he fought a monstrously evil dragon. We speak not of Bilbo Baggins, but noted Catholic biographer Joseph Pearce.

To know the identity of author Joseph Pearce, you must first meet Joe Pearce, just as you must first encounter Saul of Tarsus to fully understand the greatness of Saint Paul. Like Paul, Joseph Pearce endured more than one beating, stoning (actually they used bricks) and imprisonment. Teresa of Avila equated humility and truth. Through Race with the Devil, Pearce opens his early life to the world, revealing pain, promise and God’s hand in his miraculous transformation.

If you judge a book by its cover, particularly the dust jackets of Pearce’s 2012 Saint Benedict Press publications, Candles in the Dark and Bilbo’s Journey, beware the photos, rich in Hobbit-like dimples and engaging smile. This impression clashes with the cold, determined, mask-like face that stares from the cover of Race with the Devil. When first I viewed this image, I wondered as to the subject’s identity. Imagine my shock at the subtitle: “My Journey (What, this is an autobiography?) from Racial Hatred (This can’t be the noted Catholic author that I’ve read.) to Rational Love.” In this amazement, I share, but in reverse order, the impression of Abbot Richard Yeo, OSB, who in the year 2000, “seemed genuinely astonished that (Pearce) had not only become a Catholic but had written books such as Literary Converts and (his) biography of Chesterton of which (the Abbot) was clearly familiar.” Although mine appears the mirror image of the Abbot’s shock, we both rejoice that “God can indeed mould the most unpromising of clay.”

Pearce dedicated his conversion story to the memory of his father, Albert Arthur Pearce, who taught Joseph to love his heritage, to fistfight-observing the Marquis of Queensberry rules, to appreciate English literature and to educate himself throughout his life. Albert also reinforced powerful nationalistic sentiments and bigotry, all of which played a part in Joseph’s life and set the tone for Race with the Devil.

At the age of sixteen, Joseph founded, published, edited, distributed and wrote for the Bulldog, the newspaper of the Young National Front, an auxiliary of the National Front, a “white supremacist organization that demanded the forced removal of all non-whites from the United Kingdom.” Joseph’s precocious achievement brought notoriety and, if not awards, two all-expenses-paid prison terms. Pearce opposed the immigration of Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis and others. (Observe that in Candles in the Dark, Joseph embraced the Jamaican people and the ethnically diverse members of the Missionaries of the Poor.)

His anti-Catholic sentiments brought him “across the sea to Ireland,” not to Galway Bay, but Belfast, “On the twelfth of July when it yearly did come…”* to march with Orangemen, “to the sound of the drum.”* Unprepared for the deadly “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Joseph nearly became a “statistic.” Many of his friends in the Orange Order later died in that conflict.

Pearce made both friends and enemies. As political positions changed some friends became enemies. In Race with the Devil, Joseph reaches out to his former friends, apologizing for infractions even as small as failing to return a borrowed book or record. Thanks to Albert’s influence, Joseph learned to say something nice even about his enemies, such as the Irishman who broke his nose. The kindness of strangers deeply impressed the young Pearce: the policeman who loaned him the price of a ticket to a Chelsea football match, an adversary who after a heated radio debate, invited Joseph to lift a pint at his favorite pub, as well as the American Jewish attorney who resigned from the British equivalent of the ACLU, when that organization refused to let him defend the anti-Semite Pearce

While still sixteen, Joseph, now a full-time employee of the National Front, commuted four-hours, round-trip each work day. If Hobbits lived in burrows, Pearce spent nearly the equivalent of a day each week in the “Tube.” He read his way back and forth beneath London, completing the mandatory list of White Supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist tomes. Although still a teen, Joseph’s critical thinking skills kept him from swallowing the entire bait and hook. His reading extended to Orwell to whom Joseph gives credit for part of his conversion. In contrast to Orwell’s bleak, inescapable despair, Joseph considered Alexander Solzhenitsyn a hero who continued to hope despite his confinement in the Gulag Archipelago. In time it was Solzhenitsyn who read the works of Joseph Pearce, opening the door to Joseph’s writing Solzhenitsyn’s authorized biography.

Conversion to Catholicism snuck-up on Joseph Pearce about the time of his second imprisonment. Solitary confinement, like the hours spent riding in the “Tube,” afforded Joseph time for spiritual reading, including two of Newman’s conversion stories, the works of Tolkien, Chesterton and others. Joseph emerged from the chrysalis of prison with his wings not quite ready for full flight. Nourished by the liturgy and a devotion to Our Lady, he still waged many a battle before his acceptance into the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent participation in the Catholic Literary Revival.

Like Bilbo, the dragon slain, Joseph had returned home with treasured faith, but the journey’s not quite done. It may be Joseph’s task to train a Frodo or a host of Frodos to meet and best even greater evils and rescue and share far more glorious treasures. I eagerly anticipate the sequel to Race with the Devil which may well flow from the pen of one of those fortunate few who now studies with this Catholic Literary Giant, Joseph Pearce.

*Modified from “The Old Orange Flute.”

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane’s Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea, by Sr. Immolata Reida, SSpS

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane's Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

This time-capsule, written in 1946 and published for the first time in 2013, transports the reader to the first half of the twentieth century. The author recreates the language, values and simplicity common to that time. The reader observes as the “Greatest Generation Ever,” grows to maturity.

Inez Maier, born in 1906, the baby of the family, although innocence personified, loved mischief. She viewed each boundary as a challenge, whether it was the fence around her family’s property or the Pacific Ocean. Her parents, often the last to find out, struggled with her early explorations.  The focus of her life sharpened when a missionary sister visited Saint Michael’s School. Inez decided that she too would become a missionary sister. In preparation she collected money for the missions (including the pot from her father’s weekly poker game). Inez strengthened her soul, body and mind through prayer, especially a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; exhausting manual labor and diligent study, especially geography.

As a young girl, she favored horses, dogs, turtles and snakes over dolls. She cared little for fashions, but socialized, engaged in pranks, plays, practical jokes and proved an effective matchmaker. Never one to remain silent she challenged adults when she observed injustice or impropriety. Her academic and parish achievements earned her a New York State Regents Scholarship and an unsolicited Diocesan offer of a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America in hopes that she would later work for the Rochester Diocese. Instead, she completed a year of nursing school as she waited for admission to the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters. In an effort to keep busy following her high school graduation, she single-handedly conducted the census for a new parish, exposing her to the need for missionaries in her own town.

During her years of religious training, Inez enjoyed a more complete participation in the liturgical life of the church. Along the way she practiced patience, a virtue that would support her for the rest of her life. She took the religious habit and the name Sister Theophane, SSpS, in honor of a recently beatified Vietnamese martyr and dreamed of her eventual departure for the foreign missions. Patiently she accepted an assignment to teach in the American home missions. The classroom proved more difficult for her, than she or her superiors imagined. They assigned Sr. Theophane to the completion of her nursing training and eventually she was asked to pack for work in Papua New Guinea, arriving there in 1935.

The photographs added to the original manuscript by the editor, Gregory J. Maier, one of her nephews, demonstrates how Inez emphatically embraced her role as missionary. Back straight, clothed in the traditional habit and veil, she sat upon a spirited horse or the seat of an outrigger canoe. She traveled hours to and from mission stations in every kind of tropical weather imaginable. She was often soaked from rain, river crossings, rough seas or sweat. She loved it. If the horse was afraid to cross a swollen, crocodile infested river, Sr. Theophane dismounted and led him across. She then led him back and remounted. Now that she had taught him not to fear, they crossed together.

She found that despite ceaseless and difficult labor, progress in the missions often proved elusive. Local customs and traditions, including a brutal indifference to the suffering of neighbors and even family members, challenged the imagination. Sr. Theophane remained focused and joyful. She would rejoice if after a difficult and dangerous journey she could bring a soul to the Lord, in the minutes before his or her death.

She demonstrates her attitude toward her calling in her description of a mission building:

“It’s a load of fun to live in such a weird house. The whole thing shakes at every step you take; all sorts of insect life enjoy the hospitality of the bush material, and funny little animals fall out of the roof quite often…. This is the life!”

She had fallen deeply in love. She loved her congregation, accepting every difficult, dirty and inconvenient assignment. When her Sisters came to the end of a difficult day, she helped them finish their tasks. When people at the mission stations needed medical assistance in the middle of the night, she gave up her sleep to ride horse-back in the rain or paddled over miles of open sea to reach them in time. Even as a prisoner in stifling hot solitary confinement, she amazed her Japanese captors with her ability to sing joyfully.

“She had always given herself entirely.” As she matured spiritually, “Her laugh was even more joyous…. Her strong soul had become mellow under the anvil of suffering. The beautiful work of the Lord, which she had tried so hard and successfully to hide, was shining through. Sister Theophane could no longer conceal the fact that she was constantly in communion with God.” Sister Theophane never grew old. She died in 1944, a victim of “friendly fire.” Her last words quoted the apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” spoken as she reached toward the wound in her chest.

Through “Selfless,” the reader listens to Sister Theophane, often through quotations from her many letters and the testimony of her confreres within the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters.  You might say that she was just an ordinary nun. She founded no order, started no movement nor did she perform miraculous deeds. What made her so special was that she gave herself joyfully and completely through her love for God and for her neighbors, giving herself especially to those who had no previous opportunity to hear the gospel and see the good news in action. This book resonates with happiness, love and innocence. It might appeal to mature young adults looking for their mission in life and to persons of every age who seek happiness through collaboration with the Holy Spirit. An understanding of the mystery of Sr. Theophane’s devotion to her Lord and her God require prayer and reflection. I have been blessed to have received the opportunity to read “Selfless” and begin the process of internalizing its message. I recommend it to all.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

About that cat…

Image                                                                                                                                                                                                                         …the black and white cat in the picture up there. His name was Tripper, not because of a kinship with the Gore family. No, his favorite way of getting one’s attention was to amble between that person’s ankles. I’d say that his strategy could be effective from Tripper’s point of view or annoying and hazardous from my perspective. It came as a total surprise the first time he tried to trip me because we hadn’t been formally introduced. For some reason, my back yard duties brought me outside on a sunny afternoon. Tripper, a regal, that is magnificent and king-sized feline crossed the property line and made right for me. He immediately began his stagger-inducing shin slalom.

My first impression was that his beautiful and healthy appearance suggested he had a home and could never be a stray. It seemed that he must belong to a neighbor. As the weeks and then months ticked away, he still tripped his way through the back yards. The neighbors thought he was mine and I thought he was theirs. We were all mistaken. This became apparent as September rolled around. Tripper had lost weight and was frequently found inside my garbage can. A bald spot formed on his spine just above the base of his tail. Decision time had arrived. Should my wife and I take him in or call animal control. While discussing this weighty issue with Nancy Ann, Tripper joined us. Nancy Ann sat on the top step leading to our deck. Tripper climbed the several steps, snuggled next to Nancy Ann and put his head on her lap. We had a pet. He adopted us.

The photo shows Tripper sitting in a flower pot. Note the leaves: catnip. I grew it for him. I guess he liked it. Note the gaze. No, he wasn’t under the influence. He’d look you straight in the eye. There was nothing shifty about this guy. Tripper rarely raised his voice. He was into non-verbal communication. In other words, he had us well trained. He stayed with us for about ten years, a well behaved, quiet, affectionate member of the family. As time went by, he stopped climbing trees, not because he lacked claws. It seemed to be too much for him. He had a bit of hip dysplasia early on, but this condition faded away after a few days in an animal hospital. Toward the end, the classic signs of diabetes suddenly and forcefully appeared. The hip dysplasia returned with a vengeance. He lost control of his bowel and bladder and wouldn’t come into the house. Nancy Ann remembers opening the kitchen door for Tripper. He put his chin on the threshold, but would not enter.  We knew it was time for him to go. I kept looking into his eyes as the vet administered the final anesthetic. Tripper was buried just beneath the spot where his catnip grew. He can never be replaced.

This piece is dedicated to my Sensei: Leslie Lynch.