Mary as guide to Jesus

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This is to share two gems that I have discovered resp. rediscovered recently. Both text are on Mary and both have to do with St. Bernard of Clairvaux whom the Church commemorates today.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 20 August 1153)  was born to the French nobility and joined together with four of his brothers and 25 friends the Benedictine abbey of Citeaux at the age of 22; his father and another brother joined soon after. Imagine the eyes of the abbot when 30 young and not so young men came and asked to be admitted as monks. It surely was an incredible moment!
He founded and led the monastery of Clairvaux which soon had over 700 monks and eventually 160 daughter houses. He served as adviser to the French kings, he attended the Second Lateran Council and fought the Albigensian sect (a Gnostic sect). He preached in France, Italy, and Germany. He was the spiritual adviser to Pope Eugene III, who had originally been one of his monks. He was canonized in 1174, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII. The two greatest loves of his life were Jesus and Mary.

Here is the text:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal. [1]

Around hundred years later, Dante Alighieri would write his “Divine Comedy”. In the last Canto (Paradiso, Canto 33), Dante, led by Beatrice (representing theology), through the celestial Spheres, finally arrives at the highest of heaven. And here St. Bernard comes into play: He asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to obtain from the Trinity the grace for Dante to contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty. Here is the text (in the translation by Allen Mandelbaum):

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Mary and the Trinity [3]

Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,fixed goal decreed from all eternity,
you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope.

MG_Mandorla_Seckau

Our Lady in Seckau [4]

Lady, you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—
may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own vision
more than I burn for his, do offer you
all of my prayers—and pray that they may not

fall short—that, with your prayers, you may disperse
all of the clouds of his mortality
so that the Highest Joy be his to see.

This, too, o Queen, who can do what you would,
I ask of you: that after such a vision,
his sentiments preserve their perseverance.

May your protection curb his mortal passions.
See Beatrice—how many saints with her!
They join my prayers! They clasp their hands to you! [2]

And her intercession was successful for Dante. It will also be successful for us.

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[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily II on the text “Missus est”

[2] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso Canto 33, 1-45 on Digital Dante

[3] Siegel, Jane. “Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia.” Digital Dante.New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017.

[4] The picture of Our Lady is in the Benedictine Abbey in Seckau, Upper Styria, Austria. It is very small, made from alabaster and dates back to 1200. The frame is made by one of the monks in the second half of the the 20th century.

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Maria Kirch

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On 29 December 1720, the German astronomer Maria Kirch died in Berlin. Her father, a Lutheran pastor, believed that she deserved an education equivalent to that given to young boys of the time. From by her father and her uncle, she learnt mathematics and astronomy going on to study with and work together with the amateur astronomer Christoph Arnold. Through Arnold she got to know the astronomer Gottfried Kirch and despite the fact that he was 30 years older than her they married. Kirch was official astronomer of the Berlin Royal Academy of Science and her and Maria ran the Academy’s observatory together for many years. In 1702 she became the first woman to discover a comet but the credit for the discovery was given to her husband. When Gottfried died in 1710, Maria applied for his position arguing correctly that she had done half of the work in the past. Despite her having published independently and having an excellent reputation as well as the active support of Leibniz the Academy refused to award her the post. She worked in various other observatories until 1717 when her son was appointed to his father’s position, Maria once again becoming the assistant. Despite having more than proved her equality to any male astronomer Maria never really received the recognition she deserved. However, she was admitted by the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

Idea for this post: The Renaissance Mathematicus, Sorry Caroline but you were not the first, Maria was.

Pope Francis: The Holy Spirit and the Care for Creation

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Pope Francis said today, during the General Audience:

The Holy Spirit nurtures hope not only in the heart of men, but also in all creation. The apostle Paul says that even creation “waits with eager longing” for liberation and groans and suffers as in the pain of childbirth (cf Rm 8:20-22). “The energy capable of moving the world is not an anonymous and blind force but the action of the ‘Spirit of God… moving over the face of the waters’ (Gn 1: 2) at the beginning of the Creation” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 31 May 2009)

litter in Nature

And he continued:

This too leads us to respect creation: one cannot besmirch a painting without offending the artist who created it.

Let the upcoming feast of Pentecost find us harmonious in prayer, with Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. And may the gift of the Holy Spirit make us abound in hope.

read the whole text: General Audience, 31 May 2017

Picture in the Header: Detail from the St. Marc’s Cathedral in Venice

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Wer bin ich” – “Who am I”

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Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich träte aus meiner Zelle
gelassen und heiter und feste
wie ein Gutsherr aus seinem Schloss.

Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich spräche mit meinen Bewachern
frei und freundlich und klar,
als hätte ich zu gebieten.

Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir auch,
ich trüge die Tage des Unglücks
gleichmütig, lächelnd und stolz,
wie einer , der Siegen gewohnt ist.

Bin ich das wirklich, was andere von mir sagen?
Oder bin ich nur das, was ich selbst von mir weiß?
Unruhig, sehnsüchtig, krank, wie ein Vogel im Käfig,
ringend nach Lebensatem, als würgte mir einer die Kehle,
hungernd nach Farben, nach Blumen, nach Vogelstimmen,
dürstend nach guten Worten, nach menschlicher Nähe,
zitternd vor Zorn über Willkür und kleinlichste Kränkung,
umgetrieben vom Warten auf große Dinge.
Ohnmächtig bangend um Freunde in endloser Ferne,
müde und leer zum Beten, zum Denken, zum Schaffen,
matt und bereit, von allem Abschied zu nehmen.

Wer bin ich? Der oder jener?
Bin ich denn heute dieser und morgen ein andrer?
Bin ich beides zugleich? Vor Menschen ein Heuchler
und vor mir selbst ein verächtlicher Schwächling?
Oder gleicht, was in mir noch ist, dem geschlagenen Heer,
das in Unordnung weicht vor schon gewonnenen Sieg?

Wer bin ich? Einsames Fragen treibt mit mir Spott.
Wer ich auch bin, Du kennst mich, Dein bin ich, o Gott.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Juni 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) war einer der herausragenden deutschen Theologen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Er wirkte unter anderem als evangelischer Pfarrer in Berlin und gehörte zur ‘Bekennenden Kirche’. Er entschied sich zum Widerstand gegen Hitler; er wurde 1943 inhaftiert, und 1945 – in den letzten Kriegstagen – zum Tode verurteilt und hingerichtet. Sein Lebenszeugnis und seine Schriften  prägten und prägen viele Menschen.

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Who am I? They often tell me,
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me, I am yours, O God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, June 1944 [1]

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[1] translation by Thomas Albert Howard

John Henry Newman’s Prayer for the Church – that only exists in German

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Hint: It was falsely attributed to him

Some years ago, in troubled times, I found this prayer by Bl. John Henry Newman:

O Gott,
die Zeit ist voller Bedrängnis,
die Sache Christi liegt wie im Todeskampf.
Und doch –  nie schritt Christus mächtiger durch diese Erdenzeit,
nie war sein Kommen deutlicher,
nie seine Nähe spürbarer,
nie sein Dienst köstlicher als jetzt.Darum lasst uns in diesen Augenblicken des Ewigen,
zwischen Sturm und Sturm,
in der Erdenzeit zu Dir beten:O Gott,
Du kannst das Dunkel erleuchten,
Du kannst es allein!

(Kardinal John Henry Newman)

O God,
the time is full of distress,
the cause of Christ is like in agony.
And yet – never did Christ walk more powerfully through this time on earth,
Never was His coming clearer
never His proximity more noticeable,
never His service more precious than now.
Let us then in these moments of the Eternal,
between storms,
in this time on Earth pray to you:
O God,
You can illuminate the darkness,
You can do it alone!(Cardinal John Henry Newman)
[translation mine]

It gave me a lot of peace, and took me on a path of discovery, since a friend had already suggested that I read his autobiography “Apologia pro vita sua”. Within, I learned to know a personality who in the depths of his heart was always reaching for the truth. He was someone with a profound piety, the gift of friendship and pastoral care, apostolic zeal, and a high intellectual capacity. He started out as an Anglican clergyman, where he wrote the wonderful poem known to Anglicans and Catholics alike entitled, “Lead, kindly light”, when feeling lonely on his way back to England from Rome. Upon his return from this Continue reading

William Paley: “There must be chance in the midst of design”

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Did William Paley really say this?

paley chance

On 25 May 1805 William Paley died. He is best known for his work “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature” in which he compared God to a watchmaker. When I found this quote shared on twitter and facebook by The Economist on occasion of the anniversary, I asked: “Did he really say this?” YES. But only as a premise to be contradicted.  So, in fact:   NO. He did see chance only as an appearance of chance, like the accidental coincidence of two designed events, or chance as the result of the ignorance of the observer. [1]

We should acknowledge that in his time, chance and randomness had not yet the same importance as in our times. He knew nothing about radioactivity or Brownian notion. He did not know about DNA and random mutations.

Continue reading

Medieval Polyptych – from the Passion of Christ to Pentecost

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Alte Galerie

This altarpiece is in the Alte Galerie, Graz, Styria. In the middle ages, winged altars served the purpose to explain the bible to the faithful (printed books came later). Often, panels were painted on the front and the back and could be folded according to the liturgical season (displaying the Passion of Christ in Lent and other scenes from Christ’s life during the rest of the year).
I liked this particularly because it brings Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection and Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost into a unity.