Friday, December 31, 2010

Tonight marks the beginning of the year of Our Lord, 2011. Or to some it may only be the eleventh day of Nivôse, and if you do not celebrate the solemnity of the Virgin Mary, you might still celebrate clay, as tomorrow is its festive day in the calendar of the French Republic.

However wrong the thinkers of the 'Enlightenment' may have been, their clarity of their words, the stunning quality of their rhetoric, and the rational consistency of their principles are a thing to be admired. While in today's world we are dominated by dullards void of even catchy phrases who adhere to the unimpressive creed of the PC Church, the people of that powdered, stockinged era at least heard men debate with confident appeals to reason, men who dared to pursue truth, and when they thought they had their quarry, would proclaim the news with virile

Even though they were murderers, usurpers, irreverent, and hypocritical, I must applaud the French Revolutionaries for having the intellectual honesty to create a new calendar when they ousted God from their nation's government. The godless of today however merely wish to change the initials AD without doing the work of writing their own calendar. One need merely visit this page or this page or even this page to see that there is no separate calendar for CE proponents apart of AD proponents. My pronouncements are of course no great import either to those who revere authority, as I have none, nor to those who don't, but I
call this sort of appropriatation laziness.

The argument that our world is global, ergo one should not offend non-Christians by referring to the years as either His or before His time on Earth is disingenuous. I do not worship the god Thor, but the name Thursday does not offend me, anymore than the other days of the week do. I do not believe in a two-faced god called Janus, but I shall not sulk tomorrow when the first page of my calendar confronts me with the name 'January.' The existence of previous forms of belief do not threaten me as a Catholic; why do secularists find them so threatening? Alas,
pursuing that line of thought would veer into the mucky domain of the ad hominem, so let us maintain our course.

Perhaps there is something in the argument that a more universal system of dating is needed, a geopolitical one. Fair enough. But the BCE/CE system is not such a new system. It is still based on the Gregorian calendar! While some may deny that this is an attempt to deliberately distance the remnants of Christendom from Christ, the underhandedness of textbook authors proves otherwise.

Experts admit that Era Vulgaris and Anno Domini amount to the same dating system, CE's proponents in education often assert that the BCE/CE system is different from the BC/AD system. I remember cracking open a high school history book to be informed that Christ was born in either 5 BCE or 6 BCE without so much as a footnote explaining that the same discrepancy exists within BC/AD.

With no logic to support such 'scholarly' pettishness, one can only conclude that it is indeed deliberate propaganda. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that one should not attempt to inculcate children against the beliefs of their parents, even if the parents are not Catholic. The atheists and agnostics today (at least the political ones in publishing) seem not to be as liberal-minded as the Angelic Doctor, seeing that they often flout not only parental convictions, but even the conventions of anthropology. See
Carol Delaney's (an anthropologist) pronouncement below:

But our calendar, itself, relates to a specific history. The Western calendar, which for all intents and purposes has become the world calendar...dates from the year of Christ's birth. It is--insert current year--AD (Anno Domini, in the year of Our Lord). Some people have begun to use CE (common era) instead of AD as a more "politically correct" form...I find CE a euphemism because the common era still begins with Christ's birth and, thus, conceals the political implications.

(Carol Lowery Delaney, Investigating Culture: An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology)

Enough wishful thinking, please. These are the facts: the Gregorian calendar was instituted by a man named Gregory, who believed as the head of a Church of millions that a new era began when the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. If one wants a calendar for Era Vulgaris, one will have to make such a calendar and define what he means by 'Vulgaris.' Intellectual honesty entails either swallowing 2011 AD or perhaps cheerily wishing someone the beginning of a pleasant décade 11 tomorrow, though for some reason, I just don't see too many being eager to celebrate the latter occasion.

Happy New Year's Day!
Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let us learn from her, the Lady of Advent, to live our daily duties with a new spirit, with the sense of a profound waiting, one only the coming of God can quench. _His Holiness, Benedict XVI

For the lyrics of the above conjoined hymns with an English translation, you may visit one of my previous posts. One of the advantages of being a Catholic, as was admitted to me even by a modern, pluralistic priest, is that we salute two new years. Two chances to make a new beginning.

It was with immense alacrity that I introduced my Advent wreath to my catechism students in our little basement sessions before Mass. I had expected them to be surprised, but not bewildered. Be they American, Polish, English, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, or French, none were familiar with the tradition. Remembering the trouble it had taken me to find appropriately coloured candles, I was hardly surprised at it being a novelty to Poles, but I was unsettled that the same was true for Americans, where Protestants also celebrate the custom. When asked to guess what the wreath was, many opined that it was a menorah.

I do have a menorah: a strikingly beautiful one given to me by an affluent Jewish couple from Memphis, Tennessee. It is not the traditional candelabra we so often see, but a golden relief of the city of Jerusalem. Eight Maccabean soldiers holding torches provide the places for the candles, while the ninth shammas holder stands above them on a street step. I love that the servant stands above the others--yet another echo in the past of what was to be fulfilled in the future. Alas, I cannot post a picture of this beautiful thing, as its weight barred me from taking it to Poland.

At the first Novus Ordo Mass of Advent, the Prayers of the Faithful caused me a little pang, as we remembered the Jews, who would be celebrating Hanukkah on Wednesday. The thought was charitable, but not charitable enough. We did not pray for the Jews' menorah to be entwined with our wreath.

As the Advent season unfolds, we observe two Sundays of sombre purple, with a third of jubilant rose, followed by another of purple. It was oddly asymmetrical to my students that rose should be third and not first or last (how children love reason and order!). I explained that the third week, commencing with Gaudete Sunday, is when we contemplate how our awaiting of the Messiah is nearly over. As when one waits for the visit of a favourite relative, or his coming to the head of the queue, or a sign on the road indicating the nearness of his destination, a wave of giddiness and vindication washes over him. Though this joy will subside into sobriety again, as he still has some way to go, this is a natural and universal experience of man. It is the delight of Wednesday's end: 'I have come to the midpoint; I can endure the rest of the week.' Or of scaling half the mountainside: 'My strength has sufficed me thus far; it shall sustain me that far again.' After walking halfway through dark Mirkwood, the sojourner knows he is walking out.

But one must know what one's destination is and where and when it is to experience this elation. Otherwise one's waiting is sheer misery. I remember shivering at the West Warsaw train station that does not mark each platform with the train coming or its destination. It does not necessarily follow the designations of the timetable either. All changes were announced in hurried Polish, and if my train did come that night I missed it. Hours and hours in the darkness, I waited. I finally comprehended the sentiment behind a proverb I had till then thought rather trite: 'That's a long wait for a train that don't come.' I am more apt to use that metaphor now.

In true charity then, a Catholic ought to remember in his prayers this Advent especially those who wait without any forseeable end to their waiting. They need not be in suspense any longer.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Today is the feastday of Matka Boska Ostrobramska, which is translated as Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, but would be more literally rendered: the Mother of God of the Sharp Gate. English has a habit of diluting powerful titles with more sentimental or comfortable phrases, but this one especially perplexes me, both because of the decision to translate 'ostro' (aštra in Lithuanian, perhaps derived from the Latin 'asper') in this way, and why the Gate was called this to begin with. Having asked knowledgeable persons and having read the scant resources available, I am left to speculate; though undoubtedly a well-versed etymologist could provide me with a perfectly rational chronology of events that led to such a naming.

This past Saturday, I had opened Tolkien's The Hobbit, and the work cast its ever potent spell on me as the world of the grand, epic, and sublime clashed with that of the humble, comfortable, and simple. Poor Bilbo had not known, just as Tolkien had not yet discovered, that the universe of The Silmarillon had at last converged on that of Farmer Giles of Ham.

It was the same I believe for the then yet sleeping giant, G. K. Chesterton, on his visit to the Vilnius in Lithuania via Poland. The journalist from the land where the battles of ideas had already been fought and quite definitely concluded (as he himself discovered later) had wandered into a realm where the Faith was still a contender amongst the forces of modernism. Cultural tradition was still too vital a character to be patronized, and Bolshevism was not the agnostic, neutered pet of the drawing room, nodding by the fire, but a godless wolf panting and circling outside the gate. There was Polska, the bulwark between the new barbarity and the decadent remains of Christendom.

The still unCatholic Chesterton was driving about in Wilno with an engaging Polish lady, when he was suddenly told to stop the car on a wide open street. This woman with whom he shared a common tongue, who was well conversant in his British culture, suddenly was the emissary of a very different world, a stranger:

As we walked under the arch she said in the same colourless tone; "You take off your hat here." And then I saw the open street. It was filled with a vast crowd, all facing me; and all on their knees on the ground. It was as if someone were walking behind me; or some strange bird were hovering over my head. I faced around, and saw in the centre of the arch great windows standing open, unsealing a chamber full of gold and colours; there was a picture behind; but parts of the whole picture were moving like a puppet-show, stirring strange double memories like a dream of the bridge in the puppet-show of my childhood; and then I realised that from those shifting groups there shone and sounded the ancient magnificence of the Mass.
(G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography)

This was the picture he saw, though plated over with the golden robes that typically adorn beloved icons.

She is the Lady of the Sharp Gate simply because that was the name of the gate in which her protective image had been placed. But that which has a commonplace explanation may also have a deeper, and truer, extraordinary one. My name means 'lamb' in Hebrew and my surname means 'blood' in Gaelic. It was not my parent's intention to link my name with the Blood of the Lamb, but I have always had a special ardour for that devotion. Hence, the meaning of my name is a very special gratification to me.

On his visit to Vilnius,
Chesterton keenly felt a cleavage between this reality and the Great Reality. The distinction between dawn and darkness is often quite sharp. It begins with that band of colour, ruddy and lemon toned, against indigo darkness and only later melts into a pleasing softness of iridescent hues.

I glance now at my own image of the icon so kindly brought me from Wilno itself. Dazzlingly resplendent in her plated gown, she leans dolefully over the upturned crescent of a silver moon, before which stands a crucifix. Her hands, crossed over her breast, cannot embrace him, as she merely looks on.

By far, it is the mose engimatic representation of Our Lady I have ever seen. Sweet, maternal, and beautiful as ever, but so distant and melancholy. Neither her hands nor eyes are turned towards her erring children, but lost in contemplation. As I probe this mysterious image with my carnal eyes, I cannot but sigh and wonder how many sharp awakenings I must endure before the Dawn finally illumines my soul.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On the horizon gleamed a magenta sun whose glory seeped like molten gold along the lines of lavender grey clouds. It would have been lovely if that gentle mist could but have lingered a few hours into our journey. In truth, it was the least it could do after the mischief it had caused in the night. I glanced at the clothes I had washed and left to dry the night before, now thoroughly drenched, and made my decision. 

There was nothing clean amongst my clothes, except the deep blue skirt I was wearing and the white top into which I would change along the way. Both of those items would be dirty before the day's end. Furthermore, we would have the day's Mass in Częstochowa, not along the way. Pecuniary issues further helped to settle the question. I would go back to Warsaw that very night, and what I had accomplished in nine days would be undone in a matter of three hours.

Music seeped into the morning air as I listen
ed to our wake-up playlist for the last time. I hardly understood a word of the first song, but I laughed every time. It probably did wonders to squash any sort of grouchiness that may otherwise have arisen from weary pilgrims deprived of coffee.

Tents were being collapsed, and many were donning their white and blue or white and black garb for the entrance to Jasna Góra. Our Lady's icon
would likely be wearing the Diamond gown, and she would be beautiful in her queenly attire, though my personal favourite was either the Millenium dress or the Totus Tuus robe. More people were hastening to pack in flurries of white, blue, and black when Piotrek sleepily strolled by in a T-shirt and pair of shorts.

'Not getting dressing yet?'

'Wha'? oh no, no. These people are crazy,' he gestured drowsily, yet demonstratively, towards the pristinely decked out individuals, 'by the time we get there, they will all be sweaty and dirty, they'll look like drunks--' Whereupon Piotrek illustrated his point with characteristic economy and humour by leaning against a fence that turned out not to be very well supported.
Bittersweet gaiety brewed within me as I reflected with pleasure on the past eight days and then on the fact that this ninth was the last. I supposed I would enjoy the first bath I had on returning home, but it did not seem so superior to bathing in a shed with a basin of water for washing one's self. I had missed cooking, but what I had been eating was of so little account on the journey that I could hardly say I pined for the activity. My bed...well that was a thing I looked forward to with relish, though again not every night had been uncomfortable, especially when surrounded with the best company.

It had all been nine days of reality, and Reality Itself is what Catholics worship. The Earth was a thing barren and unyielding until man made it his own with effort; every day was a weary journey, water did not rush from a natural spiggot that man might easily clean himself. A distance of nearly two hundred miles could not be covered by man's natural powers in three hours. Life, away from the inventions of modernity, was in essence more like what we had been taking part in on our odyssey through the plains of Poland--a daily, physical exertion alongside
clear-eyed people, with God so close and present that one could feel His warmth through the veil of matter.

* * *
With backsides saturated with the heat of the sun, we slowly mounted the hill to St. Pio of Pietrelcina's sanctuary. Alas, it was disheartening to see the church devoted to a holy man of such a traditional bent was a monstrously abstract edifice. When I looked to see how others were reacting, I saw they were all facing away from the church in one direction. With a gawkish stare, I followed their gaze. Then I saw it, and I am sure I must have blanched in spite of my sun-burned visage.

In the distance was the seat of the Queen, the spire of the Bright Mountain. At last, it stood within our view! Eight and a half days of walking,
and now we were nearing journey's end. We crossed ourselves and broke out in a joyous Salve Regina.
(thanks Krzysztof! :)

Descending the hill, we made towards our last stop, and all took to the water closets to put on Our Lady's colours. I regretted my infantile grasp of Polish quite passionately as we convened in the open field to hear Father Grzegorz's final address. Many times passing through encampments we could heart priests bantering and chit-chatting on the microphone as they addressed the groups. Though there was no fault in this, it did mean that the cleric was not always saying something one ought to heed.

With our priests it was different. As someone had pointed out to me earlier, every word they said was meant to either inform or instruct. Not a syllable was wasted. Thus, I knew that as he was speaking to us in the glare of the sun, he was not going on about anything trivial or obvious,
and I deeply wished that I could understand him. When he finished, we all lined up to have the event commemorated in film.
Now the last six miles (nine and a half kilometres) began. I was asked if I wished to carry a flag. Having but held one on the entire journey, I eagerly accepted. I was presented with the larger standard of Lech's white eagle, and I was to stand on the left of the procession while Our Lady's standard, an indigo field emblazoned with golden fleurs-de-lys, was upheld on the right of it.

Andrzej, a doctor who had lived in New York, was standing next to me and observed with good humour that I was carrying a strictly Polish standard and chivalrously offered to relieve me of it when it grew too heavy. I knew that it would eventually as I tried to balance it upright in the wind, but I purposed to carry it as long as I could. Commencing our march in prayerful song, we made towards Jasna Góra.

As we walked the longest trek of our journey, I took a moment to look meditate on the icon's history. St. Luke had been listening to the
Gospel as told by Our Lady. A Greek very likely raised according to the empirical wisdom of Galen and Aristotle, an enemy of Oriental mystery, particularly when it came to the health of man's body, he must have sat with flabbergasted awe before her--the Mother of the Great Healer, He who had cured both flesh and spirit.

The pious doctor would have listened to the soft-spoken, regal woman with zealous docility rather than hurling thoughtless, importunate questions at her. As Simeon had prophesied:

Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. (Luke II:34-35)

Her heart had been brutally stabbed, but ours would be exposed. Therefore when she stated each event of the Gospel in her simple way, he would not have pressed her for her thoughts at the time. Allowing her contemplations to remain a mystery, he merely recorded:
But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. (Luke II: 19)

So it is when one contemplates the icon he painted. Her beautiful eyes are heavily-lidded, as on Juan Diego's miraculous tilma, as in the paintings of the sainted Fra Angelico. Her fair mouth is closed, as she stares out towards us, her right hand gesturing to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

One of two paintings made by the hand of the Evangelist, this one sojourned from Jerusalem to Constantinope to Bełz to the Pauline monastery in Poland where she now resides. Yet, as venerated as she is
by the Polish people, her image was not to have any more peace than she had had on Earth. On her way to Poland, the army carrying her image was attacked by Muslim Tartars. Perhaps it was a random shaft, or a way of showing his disdain for the Divinity of Christ, but one archer left a mark in Our Lady's face. A horizontal scar in the centre of her cheek.

The Easter of 1430, a band of Hussite ruffians, whether for reasons of heresy of simply those of greed, stormed her chapel, stripped her image of the decorative gown adorning it
, slashed her beautiful face twice, broke it in three places, and left it in bloodied mud.

Restoration was a gruelling, comprehensive process undertaken in Krak
ów. The restorers decided to leave the two long slashmarks stretching from her jaw to just under her right eye as a reminder.
Thirty-six years later, the King of Bohemia attacked the Bright Mountain. This convinced the Polish monarchs to begin fortifying the famous Marian shrine. Thus it became a Fortalitium Marianum.

Almost two centuries later, General Muller of the army of the King of
Sweden, with a force of 3,000, was standing without the monastery calling upon it to yield. With only 170 soldiers, 20 noblemen, and 70 monks at his disposal, the abbot refused to surrender. Thinking to take the 'henhouse' quite easily, the general found himself exceedingly humiliated when forty days of fighting, resulted in victory for Our Lady and defeat for him. This miraculous success encouraged the entirety of Poland to halt the Swedish deluge. A year later, it was vowed that Our Lady of Częstochowa would be crowned Queen of Poland. With a papal blessing, this coronation took place in 1717 A.D.
A few miles into our trek, I ceded the flag. Even in the midst of my elation, impatience was beginning to burn inside me. As I cheerily waved to the onlookers, I could imagine the horrified expressions that would have met such a procession in my native land.

That moment I tried to see Our Lady as our separated brethren see her, devoid of her universal maternity and queenship. I found the exercise
only intensified my devotion to her. If she was not given to us as our Mother, if she was not crowned Queen of Heaven, then imagine the debt the human race owes her! If any of the sacrifices she made had been asked of an ordinary woman, the hardest heart would feel the greatest attachment to such a creature. The sacrifice of a stranger is less expected and not even required, whereas that of a mother is.

In all fairness and with the keenest desire for Christian unity, I can never concede the Protestants any ground concerning Our Lady. This woman was chosen from all time to bear the God-man. The Angelic salutation is the only instance in Scripture were a heavenly emissary praised the
recipient in such terms. Where God nods, I kneel.

She carried the burden of Simeon's prophecy, and that sooth-saying priest himself implied the necessity of her pain for the salvation of souls. My heart has been laid bare before God, and so that could be, her Immaculate Heart was pierced with a sword. Contemplating her as she is, merely human,
provides one with the justification of glorifying her.

* * *

The sun was fittingly seated above the monastery when we stood before the Claro Montana. The entire body of pilgrims was trembling with weary excitement as we set foot on the mile long Aleja Najświętszej Maryi Panny (Avenue of Our Most Holy Lady). It seemed to me as if we no longer walked, but were drawn. Our bodies ached, our foot were blistered, our bellies empty, and our mouths parched, but in view of the Marian Shrine, the setting sun drew us by the force of its gravity.

G. K. Chesterton remarked in one of his stories that it is the privilege of
gods to fall upwards and not downwards. As children of God, it did appear now, and most fittingly, that we were not climbing, but falling uphill--uphill towards the Bright Mountain.

Forth we slowly came, pausing to accept and return the salutation of Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz. He stood with the mayor, another bishop, and a Pauline father or brother on a balcony above the avenue. In response to his kind reception, we sang the Salve Regina, which he joined with evident gusto and sincere affection.

Then it was a matter of waiting. A yard forward, then stopping again and again and again. The sun dyed the dome of heaven with a golden hue as we inched closer and closer. I felt my ankle swell to double its size as we
stood waiting, apparently the effect of inactivity after so much motion. It seemed an age before we were kneeling in the dirt, saluted by an emissary of the shrine, then on our feet again to at last enter Our Lady's chapel.

Linking hands to hold our group together, we entered the Gate of Victory then passed through the narrower Gate of Mourning. Weaving through the shrine's lanes, passing the entrance to the grand Basilica, we turned to the right and processed down the centre aisle of the Chapel.

I was weeping when I looked for the fifth time upon her face, seeing it for the first time as I should. I, a weary, dirty child that wanted her mother, yearning to know what she ought to do to please her, and too often blind to that maternal hand gesturing towards the Child on her arm. She was staring at me now, with a beautiful visage that might have belonged to
any race on earth, with eyes that might have been swollen by weeping. Clemency is in her face, yet this merciful, tender nature only renders it the more hungry to see souls turn to her Son.

And He looks on us with a gesture of benediction, a face disposed to illuminate and to save. One however cannot gaze into their faces together. If one meets eyes with the image of Christ, hers gazes out into the beyond, into the masses of those who do not yet love Him. If one meets her eyes, she abjures the onlooker to contemplate Him. She that is not is turned perfectly towards Him that Is.

There is one mitigating consolation on contemplating the Passion of the Christ, and that is the presence of His Mother throughout His sorrows. It is our consolation when we fail to live as good Christians, that somewhere in Heaven is a creature that has never displeased God, but loves Him perfectly. That was my greatest token of gratitude as I knelt before that immemorial icon; it remains so as well.

I do not know how long we remained before the image before proceeding to the penance chapel where we had Mass. As I knelt waiting for Mass to
begin, I fell asleep in the feverishly warm room. Happily, the beginning of Mass more than roused me from drowsiness and, but for the homily, I could savour all of the Sacrifice. In conclusion to the Vigil Mass of the Assumption was the O prima Virgo prodita:

O prima, Virgo, pródita
O Virgin who of all God's work E Conditóris spíritu, From His creating breath came first,
Prædestináta Altíssimi
Predestined in thy womb to bear
Gestáre in alvo Fílium;
The eternal Son of God most high.
Tu perpes hostis fémina
Thou art the woman fore-ordained
Prænuntiáta dæmonis,
Victorious o'er man's enemy,
Oppléris una grátia
Uniquely filled with heaven's grace, Intamináta orígine. Unblemished in thine origin.
Tu ventre Vitam cóncipis, The life by Adam's sin extinct, Vitámque ab Adam pérditam, That Life thou didst in thee conceive,
Diæ litándæ Víctimæ
Clothed with man's flesh and perfected
Carnem minístrans, íntegras.
A Host divine for sacrifice.

Merces piáclo débita
Death, once the wages owed to sin, Devícta mors te déserit, In its defeat deserteth thee;
Almíque consors Fílii
Thou, consort of thy dearest Son,
Ad astra ferris córpore.
In body to the stars art raised.

Tanta corúscans glória,
Higher, resplendent, glorious, Natúra cuncta extóllitur, Woman most perfect doth ascend: In te vocáta vérticem Our human nature doth in thee Decóris omnis tángere. The peak of every beauty reach.

Ad nos, triúmphans, éxsules,
O Queen triumphant, turn thine eyes Regína, verte lúmina, On us exiled from heaven and thee
Cæli ut beátam pátriam,
With thee to help us may we reach
Te, consequámur áuspice.
The happiness of home in Heaven.

Jesu, tibi sit glória,
O Jesus, who wast Vigin-born, Qui natus es de Vírgine, May every glory be to Thee, Cum Patre et almo Spíritu, The Father, and the Spirit so kind,
In sempitérna sæcula.
Throughout the ages evermore. Amen. Amen.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Moje oczy łzy wylewają
bezustannie dniem i nocą,
Bo wielki upadek dosięgnie
Dziewicę, Córę mego ludu,
klęska przeogromna.

And thou shalt speak this word to them:
Let my eyes shed down tears night and day,
and let them not cease,
because the virgin daughter of my people
is afflicted with a great affliction, with an exceeding grievous evil.
(Jeremias 14: 17)

The Mass which was said early that morning--scented with incense and fallen apples--was in commemoration of martyrs Ss. Hippolytus and Cassian. The former was dragged to death by horses and the latter pierced to the heart by his students' styluses. The Matins following (quoted above) spoke of the same, wretched pain that the world in its envy seems forever bound to inflict upon those whose stakes are beyond its corporal sphere. Having watched Richard Curtis's Green Party video (entitled 10:10, no pressure) where Leftists gleefully blow up human beings, including children, who dissent from their postmodern faith, it seems more and more likely that an era of martyrdom is upon us.

In that Friday morn
ing's brilliant sunshine, I was inwardly shivering under the sombre shadow of the the weeping prophet, when someone drew my attention to the church. 'Look at the birds on top of the roof!' I glanced up.

Out of Africa, where Eden has long been obscured from human vision, stood three emissaries of good cheer on the church's ridgepole. In Poland, the stork is seen as a sign of good Providence, and this common wisdom is well supported by science. For the stork, though it eats nearly anything, is especially fond of frogs. As many know, the frog is the first victim of any imbalance in the environment. Its sensitive form is easily wharped or extinguished by any sort of poison in
the water. Where frogs abound, the surroundings are the most pure. Where they abound, the storks come: the symbol of benevolence and fertility.

I sighed. Impending persecution or a new springtime? Sorta scriptura or popular tradition? Then I had to smile, for I had unconsciously slipped into amateurish soothsaying. It were better not to look for portents of the future at all.

Testing my feet, I decided that evening it would be time to get the blisters lanced and my digits wrapped. Scores of fellow sojourners were already walking about with their feet bound like those of a mummy's--the bandages either peeking above their boots or bulging through their sandals. One surely must have seen the same sight in the Middle Ages.

The whistle came, and we were off again. Our Marian cross, seated above fresh flowers and grasses bobbed on before us through the street and into the rocky paths of the fields. When the mist burned away and left is helpless before the sun, the noble gentlemen directing the traffic of our group often had to beg us to run. Yet no matter how parched the mouths, I found that many had the strength to sing one song, which progressed in magnificent steps as do The Twelve Days of Christmas, one layer falling upon another in a grand procession and in the end exploding like the blast of a trumpet:

A ty żaczku nauczony, któryś jest ze szkół wybrany powiedz co jest:
dwanaście, dwunastu Apostołów, trzynasty Pan Jezus,
jedenaście, jedenastu proroków,
dziesięć, dziesięć przykazan boskich,
dziewięć, dziewięć, chorów anielskich,
osiem, osiem miłości boskich,
siedem, siedem Sakramentów,
sześć, sześć grają lelyji przenajświętszej Maryi,
pięć, pięć ran cierpiał Pan,
cztery, cztery listy ewangelisty.
trzy, trzech patryjarchów,
dwa, dwie tablice Mojżeszowe,
jeden, jeden Syn Maryi co w Niebie Króluje jest na ziemi Pan.

You educated students, tell me what is:
twelve, twelve apostles, thirteenth is Our Lord Jesus.
eleven, eleven prophets,
ten, ten commandments,
nine, nine choirs of angels,
eight, eight beatitudes,
seven, seven Sacraments,
six, six lilies of the most holy Virgin Mary,
five, five wounds of the Lord,
four, four gospel letters,
three, three patriarchs,
two, two stone tablets of Moses,
one, one son of Mary who reigns over the heavens and the earth.

* * *
Later, we were told to take out our weapons. The first of our daily rosaries began, and I recalled that it was the thirteenth of August. Ninety-three years ago today, Our Lady was to appear to the the three little seers of Fatima. But the children did not come. The mayor of Vila Nova de Ourém had abducted them and through various means of pathetic bullying attempted to make the young shepherds deny what they had seen. Three simple children were threatened with all sorts of outlandishly brutal punishments (though those familiar with the Spanish Civil War know that the Socialists are more than capable of torturing the innocent faithful), and yet they refused to divulge any secrets or to deny the veracity of their visions.

Surely the Queen of Heaven knew the plight of her little ones and their forced captivity, yet she still went to Cova de Iria. There was thunder and lightning, the sound of her guard making its way to the holm oak. The world about it shimmered with an iridescent glow, and a soft cloud hovered above the tree. There was the Mother of God waiting, and the conniving of men had detained three of her servants from honouring her visit.

Six days later, Our Lady appeared to them in a field different from their appointed place. She assured them that miracle she promised would take place on the thirteenth of October would still occur, though it would be lessened due to their absence.

* * *
The Vega of Lyra hung perpetually faithful in the shadow of the Northern Cross that night. I could not take my eyes off her as I winced my way in mummified feet towards our encampment. I had been sitting amongst the old and the young, all with aching or weeping feet when the Appeal to Jasna Góra (Apel Jasnogórski) was sounded:

Maryjo, Królowo Polski,
Maryjo, Królowo Polski,
jestem przy Tobie, pamiętam,
jestem przy Tobie, pamiętam,

Mary, Queen of Poland,
Mary, Queen of Poland,
I am by your side, I remember,
I am by your side, I remember,
I am keeping watch.

I wondered what 'keeping watch' meant in that song. Against the ruffians who assaulted her image in the past or those of the present day? When I arrived in the farmyard, I saw that Gaweł, an intriguing fellow pilgrim with a Confederate flag pinned to his pack, had saved me some protein from the supper I had missed. I was introduced to a young man entered the seminary in the coming year and took a moment to contemplate the young priests in our group.

One seminarian had asked me earlier in the day about the Traditional Movement in America. I found myself obliged to report that aside from a brilliant remnant, which truly has no equal anywhere else in the world, there were few places in the States where one could find a pious Mass. 'But the hope,' I had said, 'is in the future. Our side is reproducing and the apostates within the Church are not.' This was certainly the truth in the case of religious vocations as well. Young men entering the religious life were more and more drawn to the virility and majesty of tradition.

It is strange to think how the anti-Church did its best to avoid the propogation of its kind within Holy Mother Church in every vein aside from ideology (which itself needs people to espouse it to remain alive).

Compline began and the swelling of each verse we sang smothered the unsavoury thoughts of Church politics as the earnest words of the tormented king rang in my ear: O Lord, the God of my salvation: I have cried in the day, and in the night before Thee. (Psalm 87: 2)
Thursday, October 7, 2010
....Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

From Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton

"A truce to business! Our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given the Catholic army."_Pope Pius V

The Pope who was in his chapel before day or battle broke also knew of the triumph of the Holy League's navy before word of herald arrived. Thusly he spoke to his cardinals and broke off every order of the day to offer thanksgiving for the deliverance of Christendom from the infidel's chains of fleshly bondage and the spiritual rape of Kismet.

At the dawn of that day, 7 October 1571, Don Juan of Austria--the noble, young leader of the Holy League's fleet--sailed forth in the formation of a cross, with the rowers in the galleys sweating to push the ships forward. Ali Pasha's forces glided towards the defenders with ease, a favourable wind in that navy's sails. Don Juan's plans were for fighting at close quarters, but it seemed that the enemy's vessels were to have the advantage of impacting his. At the same time however, as Don Juan was grimly testing the air, the Pope was on his knees praying the rosary, and later in the day the wind changed. As if blown by God Himself, the impetus blew forth the galleys of the cross. The Muslim flag returned so obligingly to Istanbul in 1965 and once held in the basilica of Mary Major was the trophy offered to our Lady for the stunning victory she procured over the barbarous hostiles.

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth:

He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the depths: When He established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: When He compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when He balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with Him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times;

Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. Now therefore, ye children, hear me: Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord:

But he that shall sin against me, shall hurt his own soul. All that hate me love death. (Proverbs 8: 22-36)

Cited above we have the Lesson from the Mass dedicated to our Lady on this day in gratitude for her intercession in 1571 A.D. Forever is her name woven with that of Wisdom's. Forever is she the most beloved creature of God, and hence her rosary is a most powerful weapon. One wonders how many amongst the Holy League's forces thought of their holy beads when they saw the Christian slaves break through the oarships' decks, swinging their chains against their cruel masters.

The rosary came about thanks to the most common and tenderly devoted believers. In the Middle Ages, the poor man who could obviously not attend the Liturgy of the Hours was offered this alternative while he plowed his fields or tended to his daily business. He might say 150 Ave's, in honour of the 150 Psalms, while meditating on the mysteries of her Son's life and of hers. Thus, the rosary was born, Mary's Psalter.

When St. Dominic asked for her assistance against the Albigensian heresy, she offered him the rosary as one of the many ladders the children of men might climb to Heaven, but one that had the advantage of being held by her.

It is the finest bouquet that could ever be presented to a loved one; this chain of devotion has healed infirmities, spared the lives of atomic weapon victims, and saved souls. On this day, it saved Europe from the Turkish slaughter. No spirit can withstand the chains of love, no subject dare stand before the Queen beloved by her King, and no conqueror may despise the Mother of God without abandoning wisdom. She was in His Mind's Eye before all things--the being who loves Him perfectly though not incarnate with Him. The one unblemished creature, full of grace, that renders for us the devotion and passion due to God.

His love for her moved Him to crush the world's mightiest empire, battle after battle. What may we not ask in our moment of desperation? For the noose is tightening, and we can expect a much worse fate in our spoilt, slavish age than those who at least knew what it was to work, to fight, and to love.
Friday, September 24, 2010
I had happily finished the dishes that bright Thursday morning and was marching back to the barn to pack my things before breakfast, when I bumped into Anna Karolina.

'Going to Mass?' she asked me.

'Oh, yes, but where is it?' I could have kicked myself for being caught unawares yet again.

'Behind the...' she gestured towards the barn.

'Dziękuję bardzo!' I replied and ducked inside to get my mi

(thank you for the picture, Krzysztof :)

Rushing through the line of bushes surrounding the barnyard, I stopped short. Beyond that line of green brush was the blue dome and the brilliant sun of Heaven. My soul just then abandoned Earth and fell upwards into that blue. Gazing at the white altar, where presided the candidly robed priest, my heart knew but one truth: we had launched from this temporal realm into the timeless. We were falling towards infinity.

It was St. Clare's feastday, and having read the Collect, I found myself again beside her tomb, wet and cold after a downpour in Assisi in the middle of January. St. Clare, as pristine and aloof as the moon, had mortified her body to the brink of starvation. She had spared no pity for her flesh, forcing it to strive to its utmost to unite with the dignity of her soul. When she died, Earth had already burnt away from her, and my soul shivered with awe and delight as I read the Mass's Tract, imagining the ardent passion with which God must have seized upon her spirit entering His kingdom:

Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father's house. And the king shall greatly desire thy beauty; for he is the Lord thy God, and him they shall adore. And the daughters of Tyre with gifts, yea, all the rich among the people, shall entreat thy countenance. All the glory of the king's daughter is within in golden borders, Clothed round about with varieties. After her shall virgins be brought to the king: her neighbours shall be brought to thee.

They shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the king. Instead of thy fathers, sons are born to thee: thou shalt make them princes over all the earth. They shall remember thy name throughout all generations. Therefore shall people praise thee for ever; yea, for ever and ever. (Psalm 44)

The sun was was yet more blinding, and then chimed the Offertory:

Ádstitit regína a dextris tuis The queen stood on thy right hand,
in vestítuto deauráto... arrayed in gold...

If such might be said of St. Clare, how much more so of her whose shrine for which we were bound?

* * *
I smacked my arm and slayed another mosquito. They had grown more savage since we had passed through Chałupy. This one had been glutted on my blood, and I took a little sardonic pleasure in the fact that what the devilish, flying mite had stolen from me would not be used to feed her progeny.

But, oh, I could imagine neither St. Francis nor St. Clare even bending a joint in their finger against any being of Creation. And it was troubling, for as God is Sum Qui Sum, everything in so far as it exists is good. Yet, when that ugly parasite was designed, what was its purpose? What place could it have had in Paradise before the Fall?

It was time for us to stop, though I would just as soon
have kept walking to outpace the insects with such rapacious bloodlust. And I did so, but in the direction of the pines rising from their green velvet cushions. Having gained some reprieve, I caught a glint of brilliant silk sparkling in the air before me. Gently laying my finger upon it, I traced its way back to the resplendent web it upheld.

Even the spider, in the light of the scorching sun, was beauteously transfigured. Its grotesque form seemed now to be two brilliant hands joined at the thumb, with eight nimble fingers stretching from its body. Eager to spin, pining to weave. Perhaps, these scourges of Creation
, either flitting or crawling, were once beings as beautiful and precious as the pixies of myth.

* * *
The announcement was greeted dispiritedly when at the end of the journey we were told that no swimming in the creek would be allowed. Apparently it contained dangerous bacteria, though there were still those who swam illicitly. One of these brethren found the current to be the more threatening aspect of the water, as it nearly swept him away. There were of course many hands to catch him.

Those who had brought their tents found that night to be a mortification to their spines. The farmyard's air was imbued with the jolly fragrance of apples, but at the price of the ground being littered with the bulging fruits, ready to irk the back or the side of anyone sleeping outside the barn. And when night fell, and we all came together for Compline, the insects I had attempted to romanticize earlier emerged in massive ranks from the tall, damp grass to feed on the pilgrims. Stabbing through any seam, loose weave, or hole, they glutted themselves even through our clothing, and I shamefully resorted to using my modlitewnik as a fan to ward them off.

'Zachowaj mnie, Boże, bo chronię się do Ciebie,'
the fifteenth Psalm began, 'Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put trust in Thee.'

It was well nigh impossible for me to concentrate on the Psalm without linking it to our mundane dilemma. The itching was horrible, and for some odd reason mosquitoes have always had a preference for me. My mental distraction only increased on reading:

Nie będę wylewał krwi w ofiarach dla nich.

I will not gather together their meetings for blood offerings.

It could have been a joke. Sometimes humour plays well into diabolical arts, and it was with a weary sigh that I confided my unfit, distracted offering of prayer to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

It was only later in the night that the reading from St. Paul's epistle returned to me--offering some solace and hope concerning my fleshly aversion to pain and irritation:

Sam Bóg pokoju niech was całkowicie uświęca, aby nienaruszony duch wasz, dusza i ciało bez zarzutu zachowały się na przyjście Pana naszego Jezusa Chrystusa.

And may the God of peace himself sanctify you in all things; that your whole spirit, and soul, and body, may be preserved blameless in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 5: 23)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ujrzały wszystkie krańce ziemi
zbawienie Boga naszego.
Wołaj z radości na cześć Pana, cała ziemio,
cieszcie się, weselcie i grajcie.

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God.
Sing joyfully to God, all the earth;
make melody, rejoice and sing.

An echo of the psalm sounded in my ears as I set down my bag in Paradise, as the name is translated in English. There was an announcement in which Mass and something about two hours was mentioned. Marzena informed me that as Mass was already going on in the church, our group would have to wait our turn. I immediately glanced at the tea and coffee table. Plenty of time to take some of that and preserve the Eucharistic fast!

My fleshly self was so gladdened on receiving the Java that my soul could not find the power to be saddened at the worldly attachments of her earthly counterpart. As much as I appreciated the fragrant cup of Earl Grey's brew I received every morning, the difference between the leaf of Camellia and the bean of Coffea was like that between the companionship of cat and the fellowship of man.

Sipping my prized kawa bez cukru i bez mleka, I surveyed Paradyż Las with more enlivened appreciation and a greater certainty that Paradise herself would be quite like this. Away from the whirl of larger cities, in these lovely villages surrounded by fields as though by an ocean, one could feel as though he were on an island--on the verge of massive infinity.

Turning from the fair coloured, stucco shops and houses to the magnificent stone sanctuary, I could not deny that I was in a 'thin' place. The dimension between time and eternity was a thin veil in realms like this, and a mere flutter could whip the ephemeral wall away. The portal to Heaven might part at the whim of a zephyr.

I smiled, remembering the fear eternity had inspired in me as child. The grandeur, glory, and might of God so ravished my imagination with its extremes like fire and chill: beauty and truth, justice and mercy, feasting and fasting, and heights of inspiration coupled with depths of certainty. But after such moments of transcendence, tears often clouded my eyes. Lying in my bed at night, I would wonder about my family, my friends, my pets, and how they would react at the impending martyrdom I was constantly imagining, wondering if beautiful, immaculate Heaven could tolerate something as comfortable and dirty as a fireplace or a mossy log. I feared the loss of the homely in gaining my eternal home.

Leaning against the wall of the sanctuary, now open to layman as freely as it had lovingly and jealously guarded its religious so long ago, I conjured in my head the now familiar image of Plato, depicted in swirling, Raphaelite robes, and Tolkien, clad in a decorative waistcoat, and British tweeds. The grand philosopher spoke of the presence of absolute Good in all good things, and I recalled again that no good things would die. Tolkien gestured with his pipe to a painting of his, The Last Homely House, and I recalled that man's destiny lay somewhere between the cozy Hobbit and the fae Elf.

Here in this Polish village where--with a family for companionship--I could easily live out my days, I felt no cleavage between the two realms. I wonder still whether this blessed unity is an aspect
of Polish genius in particular or of Slavic genius in general.

* * *
The forests and their loose, sandy trails gave way to a more rough and wild terrain as we progressed. Snaking slowly along the narrow trail in single file was a necessity amongst the brambles over the rising and falling ground.

It was nearing four o'clock in the afternoon, and I wondered that we had not yet stopped for lunch. I was not too concerned, knowing that we had to atone for the longer time our group spent in Paradyż, but my stomach was beginning to cry out in protest. It was then that those ahead stopped altogether. It was rather confusing and a trifle irritating as there was no visible impediment before them.
As we waited, pilgrims strayed one after another from the path and began to reap a savoury harvest from land long lain fallow. Jagoda, forest berries, lay hidden amongst the little sprigs of bushes all along the ground, and I gladly joined the picking, observing how two of the valiant children accompanying us--a brother and sister of 8 and 6--were eagerly dying their mouths indigo with their feasting. I can only hope, not having any way to check at the time or later, that I did not do the same.

Looking up, I saw that a branch of our party shot off in another direction from the trail, taking a level, but rather meandering, route towards the forest. I was not long puzzled though when I saw those remainin
g on the main trek taking their shoes off. There was nothing for it, but to plod through the marshy trail which was cool with shade in some parts, and warm from the sun in others, while soft, slimy, and squishy everywhere.

Rather enjoying this development, I commented in bad Polish that this wading was quite refreshing. I received a comment back in good English, 'Did you see that dead fish floating by your leg?' My querulous stomach wrenched a little, and I quickened my pace.

Arriving on the other side, we took another break amidst suspiciously Celtic-looking mossy mounds. Approaching them was not advisable as massive anthills lurked about them, and the ants wound everywhere in their continual lines. It took a great deal of searching to find a spot where they did not bite so fiercely.

When we were roused to resume the journey, someone inquired when lunch might be taking place, and we discovered that it had already been held. I couldn't but laugh at my folly, though the hole in my stomach was suddenly more palpable. How the others who had
also missed it reacted, I don't know.
* * *
Hours later at the farmstead, I was glancing about a darkened tool shed, trying to make certain I had left nothing behind after my washing. My bare feet were swiftly covered in soft, powdery dirt as I strode back to my bag, but it mattered not. I was happily clean, had the benefit of a banana and a slice of watermelon in my stomach, and I had learned I was assigned to washing dishes the next morning. It warmed me no little bit to think I was actually assisting in the pilgrimage rather than only taking part.

I studied the image of the Sacred Heart, crowned and sceptered, that sat on the windowsill under the carport where I planned to bed that night. Checking the barn earlier, I saw that there was no more space and with a few humourous thoughts concerning the Scriptural passage--'no room at the inn'--I made my bed next to the car, for fear of rain falling or chickens' droppings if I slept in the open unprotected.

After supper, I finally got to meet the brave young souls who thereafter wished to be known as Frodo and Pippin, the boy and girl respectively. As most well-behaved children, they had appeared shy and quiet when I had encountered them before. As they grew more at ease, I had noticed more exuberance and cheer on their part. They were wild with enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings and took great pleasure in practising their English by telling me the characters and scenes they liked. They very sweetly bestowed the name 'Arven' on me before being called away.

Having befriended a small black and white kitten, I was able to indulge my affinity for felines, and I probably laughed more than was fitting for a pilgrimage at the stories I was told, oddly as funny when told in Polish before I understood them as they were translated, while occasionally Piotrek forced me to repeat Czech phrases, apparently a very useful thing to do while one is struggling to learn Polish.

When compline was called, I feared some of the joviality might linger on in my mind to distract me, as is often the case with my indulgent train of thought, but as we concluded the hymn, I recognized enough of Psalm 125 to be completely drawn in:

Gdy Pan odmienił los Syjonu,
wydawało się nam, że śnimy.
Usta nasze były pełne śmiechu,
a język śpiewał z radości.

Mówiono wtedy między poganami:
„Wielkie rzeczy im Pan uczynił”.
Pan uczynił nam wielkie rzeczy
i ogarnęła nas radość.

Odmień znowu nasz los, Panie,
jak odmieniasz strumienie na Południu.
Ci, którzy we łzach sieją,
żąć będą w radości.

Idą i płaczą
niosąc ziarno na zasiew,
lecz powrócą z radością
niosąc swoje snopy.

When the lord brought back the captivity of Sion,
we became like men comforted.
Then was our mouth filled with gladness;
and our tongue with joy.

Then shall they say among the Gentiles:
The Lord hath done great things for them.
The Lord hath done great things for us:
we are become joyful.

Turn again our captivity,
O Lord, as a stream in the south.
They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy.

Going they went and wept,
casting their seeds.
But coming they shall come with joyfulness,
carrying their sheaves.

It was in such a spirit that I went to my bed on the pavement. I had drifted into that misty state between waking and dreaming, when one of my pilgrim sisters spotted me, and began speaking to me too quickly for my sleepy head to comprehend. I tried to excuse myself, when I heard an exuberant voice say: 'Is that Rachel?' A moment later, Piotrek's head, upside down from where I lay was in my face.

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm trying to sleep,' I said, hoping I didn't sound grouchy. Confession was not available to me after all.

'Well, there is a space for you at the place where they store hay. Here, I'll help you move your things.'

I bit my tongue and got my things together, fully expecting to say 'I told you so' on going back to the packed barn. It's a good thing I had bit my tongue, or later I would have had to put my foot in my mouth for there was a second barn. 'Room for me after all,' I thought with a smile.

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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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