How Pilgrimage Changes You

On my visit to the Holy Land in May of this year to film for our next production on the Holy Father’s pilgrimage, we went to the Church of the Synagogue, which I hadn’t seen on my previous visit in 2011.

Filming in the courtyard of Nazareth's Church of the Synagogue

Filming in the courtyard of Nazareth’s Church of the Synagogue

Here, it is believed, is where the event from Luke 4:15 happened, when Jesus read from the scroll:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

After this, the people of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff.

Throughout my trip, I encountered sacred site after sacred site. Usually, I was rushed and had a lot to do every day.  I always tried to allow myself to enter into the history of the sacred sites, but at the end of the day, this was not a pilgrimage. I was there to work.

This was very different from the pilgrimage to the Holy Land we filmed in 2011, with Select International Tours and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Sure, I worked that, too, but I was given the opportunity to pray and enter into the sites more then than I was this May.

The difference between the two experiences makes me think back to an experience I had at the Church of the Synagogue in May. At one point, I was in the interior of the Church when Patrick, one of our other cameraman, came in. “Diana!” he said, “come outside! There’s a woman out there who knows you!”

It seemed inconceivable that anyone in Nazareth would know me, but I went outside anyway. As Patrick had been filming the exterior of the church, a small group from England walked in hoping to visit the site. As often happens whenever we film, the pilgrims asked Patrick what we were filming, and he told them we were filming for a production called The Faithful Traveler.

“Oh, I love that show!” one pilgrim said. “I watch it whenever it’s on!” And so Patrick came to introduce me to her.

Me and Jean

Me and Jean

Her name was Jean and it was her birthday! Jean was so lovely. (Jean! If you’re out there! Get in touch!)

We chatted for a bit and then I asked her and her group if they’d like to be in our show. They agreed, excitedly.

The cameras rolled and they told me about what they’d seen, that it was their last day in the Holy Land, and they would be going home later on that day. As I looked around at their smiling faces, it occurred to me, and I said so on camera, that from then on, all of those people who had heretofore been complete strangers now shared a bond that only others who had been on the same pilgrimage could understand. They’d go home, I told them, with their 8,000 or so pictures, and they’d try to show their families, but after, oh, the 1,500th photo, their family members would get bored and not understand the fire that they had within. Try as they might to explain how going to the Holy Land had changed their lives, had changed the way they looked at the world, read the Bible, looked at one another, or even at themselves… no one would understand. Except for those who had done the very same thing.

Now, I’m blessed. I get to share my experiences with you through The Faithful Traveler. But let me tell you something: the footage we used to produce The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land is about 1/4th of what we filmed over those 10 days. The footage I will use on my next production, and the next, and the next will be just a fraction of what I film. The same goes for stories. You might hear a lot of them, but how can I tell you everything? There’s just so much! And some of it, well… it’s hard to put into words. You just have to experience it for yourself.

Those who have walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, up Croagh Patrick barefoot, or up the walkway in Fatima on their knees know the feeling.


Pilgrims walking to the Basilica of Fatima on their knees

Those who have dunked in the waters at Lourdes, touched the foot of St Peter in Vatican City, or prayed before the tomb of any saint… they know, too.

Going on pilgrimage is special. It changes your heart and it changes your mind. But going on pilgrimage with others changes the way you see other people. I can’t help but think that God likes that. His Son did, after all, tell us that it was pretty important to love our neighbor.

My friend, Denise Bossert, just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and she experienced some of that, too. I saw it in her Facebook pictures–she grew closer to a group of strangers. They prayed together. They prayed for one another. They prayed over one another. Their individual concerns became group concerns. Like the bag of prayers Denise brought with her, they all had bags of prayers in their minds, prayers for other people. It’s caused them to grow together, from a group of individuals to a group united. United in FAITH.

In May, the theme of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage was “That they all might be one.” Perhaps this is one way of doing that in the microcosm of our lives: going on pilgrimage with others and experiencing the joys and sorrows of it all, and coming out of it stronger than we went in, because going in we were alone. Coming out, we are part of a team.

I know it might be a rather jarring comparison, but the one experience I have had that helps illustrate this point is when I went to Graceland in Memphis. For those of you who don’t know it, Graceland was Elvis Presley’s house, and it’s now a museum.

I was visiting a friend in Memphis and decided to go to Graceland. I went by myself because my friend had a job and I was the tourist. I was so excited. I really like Elvis, so seeing his house was really something I’d longed to do. When I went inside and walked room by room, I was astounded by the things I saw. I’ve forgotten many of them over the years, but the one thing I remember the most was the Jungle Room.

Graceland's Jungle Room

Graceland’s Jungle Room

When I saw the Jungle Room, I felt a mixture of amusement and sadness. A witty remark was on the tip of my tongue, but I had no one to share it with. Every laugh, every snarky remark, everything that I had to offer, I kept inside. I’ll never forget that experience. Experiencing some things alone is good. I can appreciate that. But some things are better when you experience them with others.

Pilgrimage is like that, I think.

This is coming from someone who had never gone on any kind of group tour before my Holy Land trip. Yet I long to do it again and again.

So I am. I’d like to invite you all to join me on my next pilgrimage to the Holy Land in April of 2015. It will change your lives.

Watch The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land series online or purchase a DVD set of the six-episode series here.

Our group from 2011

Our group from 2011

The Witness of Example: The Case for Canonizing Married Couples

Chester and Eileen Bellard picture by Nikki Barbre

Chester and Eileen Bellard
picture by Nikki Barbre

Three days from now–November 19, 2014–would have been my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary. They did not quite make it to that milestone. Both of them passed away this summer, he on July 28 and she on August 14, just seventeen days apart. Both were ninety years old, and they lived independently in their home together, against all odds and against all advice, until the stroke that took Paw Paw hit him six days before he died. Granny was admitted to the same hospital the next day. They died as they had lived: together.

It was, of course, a very difficult time for our family, but it also gave us cause to reflect on the beautiful witness of their life: sixty-nine and two-thirds years of a marriage so finely-honed, they made it seem effortless. Among the vast pile of stuff in their house, my mother found quite a few love letters. They are written, for the most part, on unlined white tablet paper and say things like, “To Eileen, I love you, Chester,” and sometimes, “This letter good for one trip to Las Vegas.” (They always won on the slot machines. Alas, I did not inherit that gene.) However, the most enduring testament to my grandparents’ love, I think, is the fact that all three of their children and all six of their grandchildren are married, and none has ever been divorced. A thousand other factors have contributed to that record, but I am confident I speak for all of us in saying that Granny and Paw Paw’s example certainly helped. We all grew up knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that such a marriage was possible, and we all wanted what we saw.

In fact, the children of parents in stable marriages are statistically far more likely to form stable marriages themselves. This is one of only many advantages studies have shown for the children of married vs. unmarried parents, but it is arguably the most important, because it is the one that breaks the cycle. If a child of divorced or unwed parents can find a way to live in sacred spousal union, then future generations of that family will be more likely to do the same.

In this time of history, when Holy Mother Church is seeking (some might say, desperately seeking) ways to pastor a world of blurred lines and broken homes, we know that we must help people overcome the educational, economic, and emotional struggles that often accompany non-traditional family structures. We know we must extend spiritual support to families of all configurations: a ministry so difficult, the bishops just held an Extraordinary Synod to try to figure out how to accomplish it. Still, it seems to me that we are overlooking one of the simplest and most effective things the Church could do to strengthen families, both in this generation and the next: we could leverage the power of example. The Church cannot wave a magic wand to bless every child with grandparents like mine, but it has the power to take the light of holy marriage out from under the bushel basket society has shoved on top of it, and show us saints.

The scriptures are filled with holy couples, husbands and wives who could not fulfill God’s plan except in communion with each other. Mary and Joseph are the pinnacle of such witnesses, but we also have Anne and Joachim, Ruth and Boaz, Tobit and Sarah, and on and on, all the way back to Adam and Eve. Yet, apart from these scriptural saints, the Church has never, in two thousand years, canonized a married couple together. Saints Isidore and Maria de la Cabeza were canonized separately, on the basis of individual miracles. A host of other married people have been recognized as saints, but without their spouses. (In fairness, not all of their spouses were saintly.) Yet surely, God did not cease to use marriage to work his will in human lives after the Biblical era. Surely, we can find couples to exemplify for this muddled generation the hope that marriage is as potent a path toward godliness now as it was when Zechariah’s child leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. We teach our children that a Christian has only one calling: to become a saint. How can we expect them to enter marriage as a means toward that goal if no marriages ever win the crown of sainthood?

Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini

Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini

The good news is, the road toward the canonization of couples is already half-paved. Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Therèse de Lisieux, have been beatified, along with Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini. It is a start, and a good one. One thing you and I can do to advance the vocation of marriage is to pray for the intercession of these holy men and women, and for their canonization. But we must also work to divest ourselves of the mentality that martyrdom, virginity, founding a religious order, and spiritual writing are the only paths to sainthood. We should acknowledge individual spouses blessed with holiness (Thomas More, Elizabeth Ann Seton), but we must not fail to see the Cross of Christ being lived within marriage itself[i], its grace efficacious for both husband and wife.

The crisis of vocations in our church is not limited to celibate vocations. The number of marriages celebrated in the church in 2013 was less than half the number in 1965. The two trends are not only linked by a societal turning-away from the faith; they are intrinsically linked in the life of the Spirit. “Whoever denigrates marriage also denigrates the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent.”[ii] Without vocations to holy marriage, we will continue to see a decline in vocations to priesthood and religious life because the two are halves of the same whole, both of them necessary for the health of the Body of Christ. Yet how will future generations know what a holy marriage is unless we show them? Documents and teachings are necessary and good, but they will never inspire human hearts the way that watching Granny and Paw Paw live their vows inspired mine.

Only God can award the crown of sainthood, and the Church should not lower the bar for canonization to create a “quick fix” of sainted couples. It is not necessary; if marriage is truly a sign of Christ’s love for His Church, then it cannot fail to produce miracles. We need only learn how to look for them. It is imperative that we demonstrate to the world that the ideal of Christian marriage is neither outmoded nor unattainable. If the Church shifts its focus from the abstract sanctity of the sacrament to the actual saintliness of real married lives, we might discover how much of the pastoral heavy lifting could be lightened by the strength of good examples. Not everyone has earthly grandparents like Chester and Eileen to emulate, but we can all become the spiritual children of Louis and Zélie, Luigi and Maria, and the countless others whose names we have yet to learn.

[i] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1615.

[ii] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1620, quoting St. John Chrysostom

The Silver Age

Deep in our hearts, we love winter. Not the way we love snowflakes and sleigh bells and warm woolen mittens, which isn’t really deep at all, nor even the way we love ice skates and snow days and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. All these things are good, but it is not for their sake that we love winter. Our love for winter is patient, it is kind; it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way; it does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Like love, winter can come suddenly, in an October snowstorm that leaves us stunned and helpless, not knowing where to turn or what to do. Or we can recognize the signs from far off, in the falling of the leaves, the rising of the Pleiades and the turning of Arcturus, the cry of the wild geese on their journey south, and the wind that comes down the valley to rattle our windows late at night.

If we say that we love winter for what she is, we must choose our words with care. Winter is a high-maintenance relationship. Winter asks much of us; sometimes too much of us. Winter asks if we are really going to wear that shirt with those pants, and then tells us to put on a sweater and a heavy coat. Winter knows that we are tired of shoveling snow and that we miss the beach. Winter tells us not to hate her for being beautiful, and we know she is right. Every year we try to tell winter that it’s over. Winter always takes us back.

Winter always takes us back. As children, we were instructed by winter in the difficult and delicate virtue of hope. In the heat of summer, we learned to look forward to the winter wind that would send us scurrying to the coat closet for our scarves and hats. In the autumn downpours and as the last leaves fell we learned to look forward to the first falling flakes of snow, slow at first, hesitant and shy, then a sudden flurry and a whirl of white to snare and captivate even the hardest of warm-weather hearts. We hoped for snow and we believed in its return, though we knew neither the day nor the hour. After the fire of the autumn leaves, it was a still small voice: and when it came, it was a gift as free and undeserved as the grace of God, and bearing the same trademark.

For winter is also the season of faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It is the season of the seven virtues and the school of wisdom. We were not made for winter; the garden of Eden was not a winter garden. Winter was made for us: as a trial, and as a test, and as a promise. Winter reminds us that we are fallen, and that we are weak. It reminds us that our existence is contingent on the music of the spheres and the mercy of God. To accept the mercy of God in all of its myriad and difficult forms is to begin to seek out and define the nature of our peculiar relationship with him, and to set ourselves on the road that leads to his country. If we would look for him, we might search for him as the three kings did, and find him in winter; in the time when he seems most willing to be found by us, though in the most unlikely of places. In spring, summer, and fall the world clamors for our attention, but winter says: quiet down. Listen up. Look beyond.

We love winter because we are not afraid to live in the past when it is our future also; because we are not afraid to give up what we will receive again; because faith, hope, and charity abide, these three, but the greatest of these is charity. We love winter because opposites attract, and because power is made perfect in weakness. We love winter because the first snowfall will make us all children again, if only for a day, and because we are not to vain to admit that we are also another year older than we were the last time around. We love winter because it is telling us our life, and because the next best thing to the Golden Age is the Silver Age.

Now we must be patient, for winter, like love, like snow, like grace, like the end of the world, will come in its own time and in its own way. Pray that it does not catch you without a hat. In the meantime: Quiet down. Listen up. Look beyond. Put on a sweater. Close the window, if you must, but don’t forget to glance out of it once in a while. Perhaps the first snowflakes are already on their way.


Calling Young Catholic Songwriters (And Congratulations, Ally!)

logoFor the musically inclined among you, Pontifical Mission Societies has launched its 2014 Song Contest for Young Catholics. There are two divisions, the Adolescent category for high school students and the Young Adult category for ages 18-29. This year’s contest is based on the theme “I will build my church.” Young Catholics are asked to submit original songs on the theme before May 24, 2015. For entry form and more information, you can click here.

PMS has also released recordings of last year’s winners for free download. The Young Adult winner is Isabella Rose for “Go Make Disciples” and the Adolescent winner is my friend and all-around awesome young woman, Alessandra Rincon, for “Ignite in Me.” After more than a year of watching her alternately bite her nails and bounce with excitement, it is my honor to share her recording with our Dappled Things audience. You can also download both songs here, and there is a web chat with both winners.


Alessandra Rincon

Congratulations, Ally and Isabella, and good luck to all of you who might enter!

Quotes for Election Day

EuripidesI don’t know about you, but I always seem to leave the voting booth with my eyes closed and my upper lip curled from the stench of… well, you know. Since misery loves company, I decided to console myself with the electoral cynicism of greater minds than mine.

From Winston Churchill:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

And T.S. Eliot:

An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

Abraham Lincoln:

Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.

However, it turns out that when you search for quotes about “election,” you also get things like this:

I have not yet elected to bestow the grace of my saliva upon another human being. I have never… kissed anyone. ― Laini Taylor, Night of Cake & Puppets


Okay, the Greeks invented this democracy stuff. Surely, they couldn’t have been jaded about it back when it was still all shiny and new?

In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it. ― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. ― Aristophanes, The Knights

“When one with honeyed words but evil mind Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.” ― Euripides, Orestes

So why, exactly, did we come back several thousand years later and decide that these guys had it right? Oh, well, too late. No roundup of cynicism would be complete without Douglas Adams:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. ― The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


All right, enough patriotic wallowing. Let’s get out there and rock the vote!

On a lighter note: National Novel Writing Month.


Between the solemn tone of All Saints/All Souls and the passing of Brittany Maynard, the past few days have called forth some deep responses. Not to distract from these serious themes, but perhaps in the spirit of ars longa, vita brevis, I note that National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) is now underway. I’d like to invite a discussion, dear reader: are you, or have you in the past, written a November novel? What was the experience like for you? Grab a cup of tea and let’s talk it over in the comments while we avoid making our daily word count together. When you’re almost ready to buckle down again, read Dave Eggers’ 2010 pep talk over at the NaNoWriMo site (strong language alert):

Knowing there are thousands of others out there trying to do the same, who are using this ridiculous deadline as cattle-prod and shame deterrent, means [redacted strong language], you better do it now because you know how to write, and you have fingers, and you have this one life, and during this one life, you should put your words down, and make your voice heard, and then let others hear your voice.

Then get to work. Like I’m going to do, after I fold this [redacted strong language] laundry.

[image: “A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch,” Henriette Browne, 1870-74]

Three Poems for Brittany Maynard

Perhaps like me, you met the news of Brittany Maynard’s suicide today with the same shock, sadness, and guilt (yes guilt) that shook me when I heard this poor woman had killed herself. Like many thousands of others out there, our family had been praying for Brittany, and we hoped that God’s grace would soften her heart, fill it with joy for the dignity of her own life and the meaning of suffering revealed in Christ. I keep thinking I could have done more. She must have received thousands of letters daily (I should have sent one). If I had taken the time to write her, I might have sent along the three works of poetic genius below. I would have asked her to read them aloud and in order. No doubt she would have seen in them a movement from a celebration of death to a rage against death to a joyful confidence in the death’s own death.

The first poem, A.E. Housman’s “To An Athlete Dying Young,” lauds the athlete who dies (whether accidentally or not) before age outlives the quickly wilting garland of victory–a sign for the vigor of youth. The athlete is praised largely because he will never suffer the pain of being defeated, of being forgotten, of being a has-been. Housman captures the real, tangible fear the human soul has for the corruption of the body and the fickleness of fame. He captures as well the vain temptation to praise death as savior from these realities, for if the fame of the dead-in-youth lives on, it is but among shades who have mostly worn out their own. Shallow praise indeed to be adulated by the weakest of the weak, those whose only greedy wish is to have died as young as you. The poem at once creates an idol of physical health and popular renown while acting the lighthouse against their shoals.

The second, Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” begs his dying father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Thomas, falling to the opposite side of the mean, does not foolishly praise death but foolishly overstates and dignifies its power by his too-impassioned resistance. “Wise men,” “good men,” “wild men,” “grave men,” “and you” must do more than resist; all these rage. Perhaps were death a great injustice it may rightly demand rage, but it is on final count the fall’s just desert; the God of life patiently withholds it on account of his mercy yet only duly delivers when death arrives. Dylan illumines, though, the innate inclination to continue being what one is, as one is: a creature in the image and likeness of life, light, truth, goodness, and beauty itself (i.e., God). Dylan’s rage remembers the indelible dignity and value human life and the grave and disdainful, yet deserved disorder of death. Ultimately, though, Dylan’s rage serves an idol, the idol of temporal, material life, or if not that then the idol of man’s indomitable spirit. The poem displays a confidence but not yet the right kind.

Finally, John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnet 10),” finds the true mean between rage and praise, the rightful place of peace in the face of man’s foe defanged. Donne denounces death; it is impotent, the pawn of the vicious and of chance, readily imitable, and ultimately mortal itself. Death, once a wall, has become a door opened to those who share in Christ’s resurrection. Donne opens for us a horizon onto death that allows the Christian confidence to see it for its temporary necessity yet its enduring evil. Though Donne sees in death a door, he does not loose sight of death as the enemy it truly is. In this balance Donne navigates the narrow way between “Athlete Dying Young” and “Do Not Go Gentle.” Death is no friend, but it is not so great an enemy as deserving the full passion of rage. Death, it seems, deserves a defiant laugh (and a bit of a scold). Death is laughable not for its impotence to cause intense pain, suffering, and fear. No, death’s comedy is its error, its pride. Death dies in a moment while the eternal life the faithful already possess remains and reaches fullness in saecula saeculorum.

We need neither the foolish celebration nor the desperate raging against such an enemy. We need instead the peaceful confidence of sharing in the life of the one who once conquered and will definitively destroy death on the last day. Read with me now, and pray with me that Brittany’s soul opened onto a horizon of humble Christian confidence, even if only with her dying breath.


To An Athlete Dying Young  —  (by A. E. Housman)


The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.


Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.


Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.


Eyes that shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers

After earth has stopped the ears.


Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.


So set, before its echoes fade,

The fleet foot on the sill of shade,

And hold to the low lintel up

The still-defended challenge-cup.


And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girl’s.



Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night —  (by Dylan Thomas)


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 grieve 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.


Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnet 10) — (by John Donne)


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die.




The Sountrack for All Souls Day

I’ve been a fan of the Dias Irae, the traditional chant for the dead, since I first became aware of it and its bone-chilling beauty. Due to its unfortunate state of disuse in the liturgy, that did not happen until sometime around my college years, but as the video below makes clear, I had been hearing it many time before without knowing it. This fascinating video tracks the history of this amazing chant, especially as it has embedded itself deeply within popular culture, so that for Westerners at least, it can truly be considered the sountrack for the dead.

The music, of course, is haunting, but in case you’re wondering, here are the equally amazing lyrics in Latin and English. As I said, it is both appropriately bone-chilling and beautiful:

1 Dies iræ, dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Day of wrath and doom impending.
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending.
2 Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.
3 Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through earth’s sepulchres it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.
4 Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Judicanti responsura.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
5 Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgement be awarded.
6 Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
7 Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
8 Rex tremendæ majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.
King of Majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!
9 Recordare, Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuæ viæ:
Ne me perdas illa die.
Think, kind Jesu, my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
10 Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.
Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
11 Juste Judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis,
Ante diem rationis.
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere the day of retribution.
12 Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!
13 Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
14 Preces meæ non sunt dignæ;
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
15 Inter oves locum præsta.
Et ab hædis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.
With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.
16 Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.
17 Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis,
Gere curam mei finis.
Low I kneel, with heart’s submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.
18 Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Ah! that day of tears and mourning,
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgement must prepare him,
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.
19 Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.
Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.

How to Identify a Good Book


 Recently, I waxed eloquent (turgid, you say?) on my attempts to read only Good Books to my children. I focused mainly on The Little Prince, which I consider to be a perfect book if there ever was one, but would like to say more about what criteria we might look for in other books to be able to identify them as “Good.”

We’ve all heard of the Great Books. Perhaps the most common list has been prepared by Mortimer Adler. If you just now took a glance you might agree that it is hardly a reading project to jump into unprepared. How in the world can a person profit from the writing of Aristotle and Plato without any prior formation in the culture that produced them? This is precisely the problem that John Senior identifies in The Death of Christian Culture.

zoolander read good

noted genius and male model Derek Zoolander also is aware of our plight

In the essay appended to the end of the book entitled “A Thousand Good Books”, Senior writes,

 The Great Books movement of the last generation has not failed as much as fizzled, not because of any defect in the books – ‘the best that has been thought and said,’ in Matthew Arnold’s phrase – but like good champagne in plastic bottles, they went flat.

 The reason? It is because we are no longer schooled in a culture of virtue. Our education has no idea anymore beyond materialism and is content to teach our children functional skills alone. The children are cogs to be fit into an economic machine. Because of this, the imagination is discounted. Fairy tales are a waste of time when we can have our children instead reading functional texts about being successful in life, right? The problem, though, is that without a well formed imagination, a person will have difficulty in holding abstract concepts in the intellect. Senior elaborates when earlier in the book he writes,

Unless the mind achieves its perfection in the making of conceptual judgments, religion and philosophy cannot be understood…to put the intellect first, we must have restored the imagination.

Classical education, especially in the tradition of John Henry Cardinal Newman, understands this and so has as its idea friendship with God. A child is educated in order to know his true purpose in life, to find God, to know him, and to be happy with him forever. Education is aimed at making a person into a saint. The virtues are a mirror reflecting the divine essence and so take a central place in any good education. Gentlemanly behavior is encouraged. A bedrock of culture and tradition is cultivated. Newman’s idea has much in common with the medieval and the classical Greco-Roman cultures. When compared to modern education, the entire purpose is different.

Senior explains how recent developments in education have changed our ability to appreciate the Great Books,

To change the figure, the seeds are good but the cultural soil has been depleted; the seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas thrive only in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, and adventures: the thousand books of Grimm, Anderson, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest.

We cannot simply retreat to Aquinas with no prior preparation and assume that all will be well. This would be your classic pearls-before-swine situation. For instance, I have many a time heatedly denounced certain books and musicians only to discover later that I simply was not ready for them yet. I am sure it was quite embarrassing. Our children reject food that we prepare for them all of the time because their little palates are not yet developed enough to realize that the grass-fed burger with caramelized onions, bleu cheese, and arugula we have served them is any way superior to a bag of fast food fries. It means more food for me and I like that, but still… let’s be generous, here.

The Great Books are like seeds falling in dead soil. They starve for lack of nutrients, having become for us the work of dead, white grandfathers and representing now only a stale tradition long since passed away. How can we amend the soil? Is it possible to cultivate our reading habits so that the Great Books may put forth living branches again? Senior writes,

Of course, the distinction between great and good is not absolute. Great implies a certain magnitude; one might say War and Peace and Les Miserables are great because of their length, or The Critique of Pure Reason because of its difficulty. Great books call for philosophical reflection; good books are popular, appealing especially to the imagination. But obviously some authors are both great and good, and their works may be read more than once from the different points of view – this is true of Shakespeare and Cervantes, for example.

As an armchair Thomist, I might attempt to stammer forth the explanation that the human intellect learns through the senses. In order for the intellect to do its job, our senses must first give it raw material to work with, ideally with an imagination full to the brim of wonder and beauty, heroism and virtue, adventure and adversity. These are the qualities we look for in Good Books. They cultivate the imagination so that the intellect has the building blocks necessary to interact with and appreciate the Great Books.

I pray that through the way I am teaching them to read, I am giving my children some idea that their true dignity is the soul, that life is a grand adventure, that they have been made to endure forever, and that true happiness is gathered up in the virtues, crowned by faith, hope, and charity. In such a way is a saint made.


 Here is an online resource already gathering up the list that John Senior put together of 1000 Good Books divided by grade level. He admits that there are certain to be oversights and the actual list is sure to be far more expansive. This is an excellent starting point, though.





Dappled Links

Since my post on native plants, I’ve delved deeper (ha) into gardening. I found a kindred spirit in this essay: Memory and Plants. Thomas Rainer’s blog takes garden talk to a more literary level than most: “But the gardener understands the cruelty of April. The derivation of the word April can be traced as far back as Varro, where the etymology, omnia aperit, literally “it opens everything” may be a reference to the opening of flowers and trees . . . . For the last few weeks I have been a witness to the openings of seeds. Birth is an act of violence. These dry brown seeds burst into life, ripping off their skins, splitting cotyledons, thrusting root into ground and stem to sky. Sometimes I lean in, expecting to hear the cries and wails of these infants.” I have been going back and reading his archives. Good stuff here, here, and here. I have been puzzled by my sudden interest in native plant gardening, but I realize it probably owes something to Hopkins and his adoration of inscape and “thisness,” for instance: “The bluebells in your hand baffle you with their inscape, made to every sense. If you draw your fingers through them they are lodged and struggle with a shock of wet heads; the long stalks rub and click and flatten to a fan on one another like your fingers themselves would when you passed the palms hard across one another, making a brittle rub and jostle like the noise of a hurdle strained by leaning against; then there is the faint honey smell and in the mouth the sweet gum when you bite them.”

From the TLS, Rediscovering Regina Derieva. A poet I’d never heard of, she was Russian, Jewish, and Catholic.

From Aeon, Freedom from Food. Much has been written about America’s tormented relationship with food, but this article, and the other articles I’ve read about Soylent, attract comments from a subculture that has reduced our food anxieties to their most Gnostic roots: “For me, it’s not the time taken, because I don’t take that much care about eating, only over doing it, it’s how disgusting eating is, considering the end result. It’s just awful to have to continue eating to sustain this body, which disintegrates in the end anyway. OK, that’s too negative, but I still find eating gross, and I over do it, substituting eating rather than addressing the things I need to address.” Most people won’t want to abandon food for a futuristic vitamin gruel, but most of us do harbor an unhealthy concept or two. Recently I’ve been battling the idea that no matter what I’m doing, I could be doing something more productive – if I’m blogging I could be doing the dishes, and if I’m doing the dishes I could be blogging. It’s pernicious and “wasting” time on planning and cooking some elaborate recipe helps me be rid of it.

A book trailer for Heather King’s new memoir. And here, more memories of her mother.