looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

Candlelight Carol

“I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out”
The Apocrypha II Esdras 14:25

DSCN2700
(sunset out of Julie’s back door / 2013)

Years ago, 1987 to be exact, I bought a little CD, (yes they had them back them), that I have actually worn out. I had to buy a new copy last year. I think I just saw it in a music store, intrigued by the cover, I wanted to give it a try. If you’ve been a reader of this little blog of mine, you most likely know how much I love Illuminated Manuscripts and the art of Medieval Europe as well as the Renaissance. The cover jacket of the CD is a reproduction of the Adoration of the Magi taken from the Book of Hours by Boucicaut which was the initial draw for me to reach for this soon to be tiny treasure in my world.

The CD is entitled the Christmas Night – Carols of the Nativity / The Cambridge Singers / The City of London Sinfonia / conducted by John Rutter. The theme of this album is centered around the birth of Christ. The words and music of the 22 carols span more than six centuries. The music is pure joy to my heart. It echoes of a different time, harkening to a time of innocence that is both ancient and magical—despite a few of the songs more current inception, all maintain the style which is based on Gregorian chants, early French organum and courtly music of long ago.

The voices of those singing is what I think of when I think of the adoration offered by the cherubim and seraphim—tender, otherworldly, reverent, and of a holiness that goes beyond comprehension.
The lyrics of many of these songs, when read, then heard, are so painfully profound and yet tenderly sweet.

When I was in college, studying Italian Renaissance Art History, I was always deeply moved when studying Bernini’s statue of the Ecstasy of St Teresa (Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome). I’ve written about this statue before. St Teresa had written very vividly about the visions she had received from God:
Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form…. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire…. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.

bernini_st_teresa_avila

Teresa’s mystical words were beautifully and vividly captured by Bernini in such a powerfully visual, as well as visceral sculptural marvel. Bernini’s massive work appears lighter than air as Teresa appears to almost levitate, as the Angel gently takes hold of her cloak. Bernini captures the very moment the angel pierces Teresa’s heart. To gaze upon the statue is to be afforded a glimpse of something beyond words. The pain and yet utter and complete ecstasy captured in the expression of Teresa’s face is both consuming as well as tremendously immense, as we, the viewer, feel as if we are witnessing something that perhaps we should not be privy to as it is almost too private, too intimate and entirely too personal.

The music of this CD is, to me, similar to witnessing the consuming flame of Teresa’s heart. Something that goes almost beyond me and of my mere earthly comprehension. There are several songs, hymns, arrangements on the CD that pull at my heart, transporting me to somewhere else. One of the many tracts of the CD that I find to be so moving is tract 10, the Candlelight Carol. To read the words is moving yes, but coupled by the musical arrangement and heavenly voices—it is simply beautifully overwhelming:
Candlelight carol
This was written in response to a commission
from the Church of the Assumption,
Pittsburgh, in 1984. Originally for the organ, the
accompaniment was later scored by the
composer for flute, oboe, harp and strings,
in which version it is performed here.

How do you capture the wind on the
water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure the love of a
mother,
Or how can you write down a baby’s first
cry?

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and starglow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born.

Shepherds and wise men will kneel and
adore him,
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their
Saviour,
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.

Candlelight, angel light, firelight and starglow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born.

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger:
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay.
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation:
A child with his mother that first Christmas
Day.

Words and music: John Rutter

The words are tender and sweet as they depict the intimate connection between new born and mother–and yet we, the listener, already know that there is a weight of an unseen heavy burden which lies upon this tiny little figure held gently by a loving mother. Mary, no doubt, pushes deep down and away those words proclaimed to her by the Angel who had visited her 9 months prior–“that she would give birth to a son who she is to name Yeshua (Jesus) who will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Troubling words for any young mother.

How could such a burden ever be for this tiny and most vulnerable new being who Mary now holds so close to her breast? How does one measure the love of a mother, how can one write down a baby’s first cry? How can words ever describe such? Mary must think that perhaps, if she holds him close enough and tight enough, she can always protect him, shielding him from this “proclamation.” How Mary’s heart must have been so conflicted on that particular night so long ago which witnessed a World forever changed.

To think of Mary as any new young mother who meets the small “burden” she has carried, loved, nurtured in utero, and now delivered for the first time, is something I think we often don’t consider in realistic terms. Imagine having the knowledge that your child, your very first newborn, has something about him that is not like other babies. Those who have given birth to children with special physical needs do understand this weight of worry. The joy of meeting someone you have loved and nurtured yet never met for the past nine months, knowing that the life ahead is to marked with hardship and difficulty can be overwhelming– and yet, the very first moment of meeting and of holding overshadows that worry and dread. It is pushed aside momentarily as you cradle, holding and loving, something so terribly sweet that the moment is almost too painful to your heart. Overflowing with a deluge of emotion.

It is such thoughts and emotions, as well as others, that the music of this CD helps to bring to a level of conciseness that, I personally, do not often have when I think of the holy little family so very long ago. I tend to put them—Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, on a level other than my own–that somehow the burden of carrying and delivering a child for Mary, was not as it is for us today. But the truth of the matter is that is was much more difficult for Mary. It’s just that I don’t think we often think about Mary in those terms. The words from this tract help me to ponder more of the reality verses the often perceived fairy tale of that life changing event.

May you, during this time of Advent, find through song or visual image, a connection that perhaps you never realized before, to that magical and yet life changing night so very long ago. May you ponder the mysteries that a young family were burdened by which, down through the ages, have come to touch both you and I. Mystery, wonder, and awe. . .lay ahead for all of us as we are all connected to that first moment when Mary held her tiny new born son in her arms. We are all present, then and now.
This is your true Christmas gift.