Paul Koudounaris is not a man who shies away from the macabre. Though the Los Angeles-based art historian, author and photographer claims that his fascination with death is no greater than anyone else’s, he devotes his career to investigating and documenting phenomena such as church ossuaries, charnel houses and bone-adorned shrines. Which is why, when a man in a German village approached him during a 2008 research trip and asked something along the lines of, “Are you interested in seeing a dilapidated old church in the forest with a skeleton standing there covered in jewels and holding a cup of blood in his left hand like he’s offering you a toast?” Koudounaris’ answer was, “Yes, of course.”
At the time, Koudounaris was working on a book called The Empire of Death, traveling the world to photograph church ossuaries and the like. He’d landed in this particular village near the Czech border to document a crypt full of skulls, but his interest was piqued by the dubious yet enticing promise of a bejeweled skeleton lurking behind the trees. “It sounded like something from the Brothers Grimm,” he recalls. “But I followed his directions—half thinking this guy was crazy or lying—and sure enough, I found this jeweled skeleton in the woods.”
Koudounaris could not get the figures’ twinkling eyes and gold-adorned grins out of his mind. He began researching the enigmatic remains, even while working on Empire of Death. The skeletons, he learned, were the “catacomb saints,” once-revered holy objects regarded by 16th- and 17th-century Catholics as local protectors and personifications of the glory of the afterlife. Some of them still remain tucked away in certain churches, while others have been swept away by time, forever gone. Who they were in life is impossible to know. “That was part of this project’s appeal to me,” Koudounaris says. “The strange enigma that these skeletons could have been anyone, but they were pulled out of the ground and raised to the heights of glory.
Via Tom McDonald at Patheos
Who captures the joy and hope of heaven better than Louis Armstrong? "I want to be in that number" says Deacon Greg.
‘How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints," C.S. Lewis. Monotonous Sinners and Sparkling Saints.
The saints are unique because they are ordinary people who have allowed an extraordinary power to bring them to their full potential. The saint is fascinating because she is the person she was created to be; and the more we become who we are, the less we will be like anybody else. The saint has no time for role models. She cannot spend time pretending to be someone else because she realizes it is the work of a lifetime to become oneself.
Msgr Charles Pope meditates on the Christian view of death, And Death is Gain…
It is fitting at this time that we ponder the passing glory of things and set our gaze on heaven where joys will never end.
He embeds a video of a beautiful a cappella spiritual Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world. I know this spiritual well, having sung it with Mystic Gospel choir that I sing with every winter. Singing it filled with me with the confidence of faith and hope that the slaves who wrote must have felt. YouTube video here
Bishop Agustín Román -- the retired Miami auxiliary revered as the "godfather" of the Cuban exile community on these shores -- died Wednesday night at 83.
Expelled from the island at gunpoint alongside some 130 other clerics in the wake of the Castro Revolution, Román served as the exile's spiritual "beacon" in South Florida since the late 1960s, when he was charged with building the National Shrine to Cuba's patroness, the Caridad de Cobre. Named the US' first Cuban bishop in 1979, he continued to live in a one-room apartment at the Ermita -- built facing Cuba on Miami's Biscayne Bay -- following his 2003 retirement, and died there just before he was to teach an evening catechism class in a new facility on its grounds that bears his name.
Famed for an example of deep humility, tireless spirit and simple wisdom, the prelate (who never stopped perceiving himself as the "peasant" of his boyhood) made national headlines in 1987 after defusing an outbreak of riots in US prisons led by Cuban detainees. Having cared for many of the rioters' family members over the years of their confinement -- a witness that, so it's said, led the men to drop their weapons at the mere sight of him -- Román reportedly declined Hollywood overtures to buy the rights to the story for a film.
"He was a saint to me," said Silvia Gonzalez, 66, who went to school with Román in Cuba and had since kept in touch. "He devoted his entire life to God. He never even took a vacation."
Gonzalez last saw Román at a Mass during Holy Week.
"We've lost someone who was tremendous," Gonzalez said, her eyes filling up with tears. "But from Heaven, he'll be with me -- and all Cubans."
A humble, gentle man with an iron will and a steadfast moral compass, he was viewed by older Cuban exiles as a champion of freedom and faith
JOAN OF ARC was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father’s flocks. But type her name into Amazon’s search engine and you get more than 6,000 results. France’s national archives include tens of thousands of volumes about her. She has been immortalized by Shakespeare, Voltaire, Twain, Shaw, Brecht, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Rubens; more recently, her life was fodder for the CBS television series “Joan of Arcadia.”
What is it about Joan of Arc? Why is her story of enduring interest more than a half a millennium after her birth?
Illiterate and uncouth, Joan moved purposefully among nobles, bishops and royalty. So intent on vanquishing the enemy that she threatened her own men with violence, she herself recoiled at the idea of bloodshed. To avoid having to use her sword, she led her army carrying a 12-foot-long banner emblazoned with the words Party of the Kingdom of Heaven. Witnesses said she was luminous in battle, light not glinting off her armor so much as radiating from the girl within. Her enemies spoke of clouds of butterflies following in her wake, a curiously beatific report from men who said she was in league with the devil.
In the aftermath of combat she didn’t celebrate victory but mourned the casualties; her men remembered her on her knees weeping as she held the head of a dying enemy soldier, urging him to confess his sins. Her courage outstripped that of seasoned men at arms; her tears flowed as readily as any other teenage girl’s.
Wikipedia's short bio
Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" (French: Jeanne d'Arc, IPA: [ʒan daʁk]; ca. 1412 – 30 May 1431), is a national heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. A peasant girl born in eastern France who claimed divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court, and burned at the stake when she was 19 years old. Twenty-five years after the execution, Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is – along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux – one of the patron saints of France.
Joan asserted that she had visions from God that instructed her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne.
One of the great classics of silent film is The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Th Dreyer . Many call it a masterpiece.
A restored version was released in 1985. The faces are extraordinary, the editing amazing and Maria Falconetti is luminous as Joan in what some call the "greatest performance in the history of film".
Not many know that Mark Twain was fascinated by Joan of Arc . He wrote, " She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced."
Under a pseudonym, he wrote Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte,
Twain said "I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others need no preparation and got none." You can read it for free online.
But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be measured by the standards of all times without misgiving or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them, judged by all of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached by any other mere mortal.
When we reflect that her century was the brutallest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest and fine and delicate when to be loud and course might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honourable in an age which had forgotten what honour was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both - she was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and bestialities.
Ever since I learned about the Lily of the Mohawks, she has fascinated me. I learned much more about Kateri Takakwitha, daughter of a Mohawk war chief and a captured Christian Algonquin mother, in this article by Brian Fraga.
She will be the first American Indian saint.
During a Dec. 19 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree recognizing the miracle needed to canonize Blessed Kateri, whose intercession is credited with the miraculous healing of a Washington state boy who had been afflicted with a flesh-eating bacteria.
The young future saint’s parents gave her the name Tekakwitha, which means “she who puts things in order” or “she who advances or opens the way before her.”
In 1660, when Tekakwitha was 4 years old, smallpox, most likely originating from a nearby Dutch settlement, swept through the Mohawk settlement, killing many members of the tribe, who had never been exposed to the disease.
Tekakwitha’s father, mother and a young brother died in the epidemic. Tekakwitha also became deathly ill, but she was nursed back to health by the Mohawk matrons. However, the disease damaged her sight and scarred her face.
“Her prayer life was so strong and very deep,” said Sister Kateri Mitchell. “She is definitely a model for us of what it means to be a follower of Christ. She radiated that. She lived out her strong convictions and her strong relationship with God to follow that sacred path one day at a time, despite her own weaknesses.”
Watercolor by Dorothy M. Speiser
In time, she took vows as a woman religious.
However, a year later, she fell fatally ill. She died on Wednesday of Holy Week, April 17, 1680. Her last words were Iesos konoronkwa (“Jesus, I love you.”).
Those gathered around her said her body suddenly took on a brilliant radiance. The mourners watched in astonishment as the scars disappeared from her face.
Jesuit Father Pierre Cholenec, a witness at her deathbed, later wrote that at the time of her death Kateri’s face, “so disfigured and so swarthy in life, suddenly changed about 15 minutes after her death, and in an instant became so beautiful and so fair that just as soon as I saw it (I was praying by her side) I let out a yell, I was so astonished....”
More on Father Pierre Cholenac's testimony
....and I sent for the priest who was working at the repository for the Holy Thursday service. At the news of this prodigy, he came running along with some people who were with him. We then had the time to contemplate this marvel right up to the time of her burial. I frankly admit that my first thought at the time was that Catherine could well have entered heaven at that moment and that she had -- as a preview -- already received in her virginal body a small indication of the glory of which her soul had taken possession in Heaven. Two Frenchmen from La Prairie de la Magdeleine came to the Sault on Thursday to be present at the service. They were passing by Catherine's cabin where, seing a woman lying on her mat and with such a beautiful and radiant face, they said to each other, Look at this young woman sleeping so peacefully and kept going. But, learning the next lminute that it was a dead body, and that of Catherine, they returned to the cabin and went down on their knees to recommend themselves to her prayers. After having satisfied their devotion for having seen such a wonderful scene, they wished to show their veneration for the dead girl by constructing then and there a coffin to hold such cherished remains
From an interview by Kathryn Lopez of Father George Rutler, Priest Walks among the Dead
Lopez: Is there a literal cloud of witnesses?
FATHER RUTLER: I do not know how people see in Heaven, without biological eyes, but their vision is better than 20/20. They see the essence of each other. Whatever that essence is, we can only surmise that it is akin to what was seen by Jesus when he looked into the hearts of men. In that sense, the “cloud of witnesses” consists of people who have become with inexpressible vividness what they were meant to be in this world.
Lopez: “It is an indictment of our time that [saints] are largely ignored, almost self-consciously so by our schools”?
FATHER RUTLER: No explanation, sociological or psychological or anthropological, can adequately explain how saints get to be saints. They are the evidence of divine grace, and to acknowledge their existence is to acknowledge that grace. So most of our schools prefer to destroy the evidence. Thus the greatest people who ever lived are treated nervously or ignored altogether. This is the biggest and most blatant lacuna in our curricula. For instance, how many Ph.D’s have ever heard of St. Lawrence of Brindisi? Yet, a good case may be made for saying that there would be no Doctors of Philosophy today, and no civilization at all as we know it, had it not been for him.
Lopez: What’s the most important lesson these people all helped impress upon you?
FATHER RUTLER: They only proved to me the doctrine of the greatest doctors of souls from Basil to Augustine to Newman: Each human soul is worth more than the entire universe.
Lopez: Is the main point of your book to love one another?
FATHER RUTLER: Yes, of course. But it is much easier to love one another than to like one another. I am happy that we are not commanded to do the latter.
He was the brilliant young French geneticist who discovered the cause of Down syndrome
and one day, he decided, “I cannot accept abortion,” not because he is Christian, but because he knows as a geneticist that life starts at conception. And he had to say it. He had to protect the ones whom they want to kill, who are too young to protect themselves.
So he started this fight as a scientist, saying, “I have to tell the truth. I’m not judging anyone; I’m not saying anything else besides the truth of the science, and I have to testify about that.”
I remember it so clearly. I was 10 years old, and, one day, he came home for lunch. The day before, on television, there was a movie about a family where a woman had a child with Down syndrome, and she wanted to abort, and she couldn’t do it then.
After, there was a debate about abortion of the diseased children, and a boy came to his consultation with his mom, and he was crying, and my father said, “Why are you crying?” And his mother said, “He saw the movie, and I couldn’t stop him crying,” and then he jumped in my father’s arms, and he was only 10 with Down syndrome. He said, “You know, they want to kill us. And you have to save us, because we are too weak, and we can’t do anything.” And [my father] came back home for lunch, and he was white, and he said, “If I don’t protect them, I am nothing.” That’s how it started.
And then his career came down. He didn’t have money for his research. He was like a pariah, and so on, but he accepted that because he thought he was doing that which was his duty.
Remembering Jerome Lejeune, now declared a "Servant of God" whose cause for sainthood is now being postulated.
The last days of St Bede the Venerable, whose feast day is today
How much he was beloved by them is made manifest by the touching account of the saint's last sickness and death left us by Cuthbert, one of his disciples.
Their studious pursuits were not given up on account of his illness and they read aloud by his bedside, but constantly the reading was interrupted by their tears.
"I can with truth declare", writes Cuthbert of his beloved master, "that I never saw with my eyes or heard with my ears anyone return thanks so unceasingly to the living God." Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John.
In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished,
"Thou hast spoken truth", Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father."
And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.
Called "The Father of English History:, he wrote the first history of the Church in England in 731.
In numberless ways, but especially in his moderation, gentleness, and breadth of view, Bede stands out from his contemporaries. In point of scholarship he was undoubtedly the most learned man of his time. A very remarkable trait, noticed by Plummer (I, p. xxiii), is his sense of literary property, an extraordinary thing in that age. He himself scrupulously noted in his writings the passages he had borrowed from others and he even begs the copyists of his works to preserve the references,
Pope Benedict's remarks on St. Bede last year
Following the "realism" of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person "not only a Christian but Christ." In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is "self-generated," or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes "Mother of God," participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different "states of life":