Immaculate Conception

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th.

Immaculate Conception by Murrillo

Immaculate Conception by Murrillo

Bartolome Esteban Murillo painted several versions of The Immaculate Conception–I like this one the best.

The United States Bishops consecrated the nation to the Immaculate Conception in 1954.

immaculate_conception_piola.jpg (74909 bytes)

Domenico Piola, Genoa

Piola fills his painting with the salvation story: The sinless daughter, crowned  by God the Father with stars as Queen of the Universe;  Eve, with the apple of temptation, is overshadowed Mary, full of grave; Satan defeated by the cross of Christ’s crucifixion.

Tiepolo’s enigmatic Immaculate Conception is a favorite, the expression seems to communicate an intense awareness of the sorrow and joy to come–and the solemnity of the eternal significance.

She stands on the earth crushing the dragon, the lily of purity carried by her angel…

Jose Ribera’s grand and flourished Virgin foreshadows her title Mother of the Church, as she stands above the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Next, El Greco’s depiction of the Immaculate Conception:

In Martino Altomonte painting, the action of conception takes place in the heavens, Mary, free of original sin,  stands upon the earth, crushing the head of the dragon and the apple of temptation, his tail entwines the world.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez:The Immaculate Conception c. 1618

Velasquez’ Virgin stands in dark endless cosmos…on a rising moon, crowned with stars, her presence illumines the world that awaits her intercession.

Zurbaran’s Immaculate Conception crushes the dragon-headed snake with its sin-poisoned apple.

Catechism of the Catholic Church,# 492:  The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.” The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.”


Cardinal Dolan, Prayer of a Righteous Man

In the months ahead, Cardinal Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,  must have the wisdom of Solomon.  The Church in America faces severe trials over the HHS mandate  which assaults our constitutional right to religious liberty.

Please pray for our shepherds.

Archbishop Charles Chaput and other US bishops have called for a rosary novena to begin on the Feast of the Archangels, September 29- October 7, Feast of the Rosary and the Victory of the Battle of Lepanto.

Christopher Hitchens, I wish I’d known you personally

A very public anti-God figure, journalist, author and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens, has a vicious form of cancer.  Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great gave an interview to Anderson Cooper that is worth viewing.

Hitchens notes that people are praying for him, and that some are praying he will “suffer and die.”

How ghastly.

Others, he admits, are praying in a more charitable manner, if–to his mind– without effect.

Oddly, the fellow enrages me or engages me–I enjoy Hitchens when I can mentally block the vulgarities he employs.  I cannot fathom how his famed intellect was seduced by Socialism, though it can indicate an idealistic hope for a better world. His attack against Mother Teresa is crude and unwarranted.  His excessive life style is one my Southern Propriety finds oppressive, even slavish. I cringe, yes, when he resorts to what many Christians think is blasphemy ( he cannot mean it if he does not in fact believe there is a God).

But on the whole I find him to be a St. Paul-like figure–an energetic  mind, a man very proud of his native talent, not shy about his certainties and possessed of a certain type of humor that amuses even when one disagrees with his premise.  I wish I had known him personally.

I’d like to know the off camera Hitchens. I imagine we could find areas of interest just shy of “religion” that would fill a couple of hours over a plate of risotto ai carciofi.  But I’d forfeit my dinner with Christopher Hitchens if I could offer my chair to Hillaire Belloc. Wouldn’t that be an intriguing conversation?

Perhaps, in view of Belloc’s  heavenly residence, I might arrange an evening for  Hitchens with that incredibly “lightsome” soul,  James V. Schall, S.J. of Georgetown University.    What Mr. Hitchens would enjoy is an erudite exchange with good minds melded to good souls. No “religious” topics, of course.  And none needed, because, after all, to Schall and Belloc, any and everything interesting is “of God.”

Somehow, despite my own adamant and nearly (?) smug orthodoxy, I’m not moved to pray for Mr. Hitchens’ conversion. I do not want to see him humbled or in any manner flattened into a desperate last minute- hedge-your-bets-Pascalian repentance.  I do not want the man’s chemo weakened, cancer ravaged “half demented” mind pushed to submit to an evangelist’s zealous belt notching.   It is not that I don’t wish his salvation. I do.

But a man who has spent decades as an “anti-theist” and who thinks that belief in God is the loss of individual freedom cannot be reached by a last minute assault on his freedom to reject God.  I believe God is a Lover.  I pray that  Hitchens can assent to his “aha!” moment, that he can see that ineffable beauty, the Love of God Himself,  that permits, for love’s sake,  Hitchens’ freedom  to rail against the very source of his freedom.  God never wanted a host of puppets; bobbing their mindless wooden noggins, they’d be utterly uninteresting. St. Paul was not uninteresting.  Perfect Love took the risk that man’s freedom entails–rejection.

I want for Mr. H  that recognition of a pattern that is of its own exquisite perfection after all, when seen from the distance.

And so… I pray that the most curmudgeonly saints in heaven–and there are quite a few!–come quickly to the side of  Mr. Hitchens, whose guardian angel will surely welcome their unique intercession for this most stubborn of charges.

Book of Hours

Few people keep Easter as the octave that it is.  Simply, we should celebrate for the full eight days, from Easter Sunday through the Sunday we now celebrate as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Some years ago one of my sisters sent me a lovely small book published by the British publisher, Phaidon Press Limited. Its title is Descent. It is described as “An intimate survey of images of the Descent from the Cross.”  The book is perhaps 5″ by 6″ and thus fits in one’s hands easily. There are two others in the series, Annunciation, and Crucifixion.

I mention this set of books because for me they offer a very personal means of meditation and –somehow–a sense of the whole Christian community that has “kept Easter” for 201o years.  These volumes are reminders of the imagery that our forebears in the faith found compelling.

All of this puts me in mind of the Book of Hours.  According to the Frick Fine Arts Library,

“From the large number still surviving, we know that the Book of Hours was the most popular book of the Middle Ages. Books of Hours were produced throughout Europe, but were especially popular in France and Flanders. These manuscripts were modelled on the Breviary used by the clergy, but in a shortened form and were used by the laity for their daily devotions. The core of the Book of Hours is the Hours of the Virgin divided into eight parts to be said at different times or hours of the day. The eight “hours” of prayer are matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, vespers and compline. Several other prayers and texts accompany the Hours of the Virgin.”

The illuminations from some of the more famous Book of Hours are breathtaking in their beauty, content and sense of Divine Order.  And the  colors! How exquisite– particularly the intense blue derived from ground lapis lazuli.

Of course, in a book of hours, the  illuminations are not limited to Easter themes, but depict the lives of the saints, the liturgical seasons, great feast days and even local life including the harvest or a wedding–again underscoring the Medieval worldview that all human endeavors can and should be sanctified.

Here is an endearing image of St. Francis and St. Clare preaching to creatures. Notice the stigmata on his foot.

St Francis

As Easter draws to a close and we journey toward Pentecost, I put away the eggs and images of new life. But I leave out the small books of  illuminations that remind me that each hour of the day was once passed in “ordinary” work and life by the Blessed Virgin and her son, who is both Man and God. Because Christ did not shrink from “ordinary” human activities, He sanctified those same daily chores, those same family gatherings, the same passing of the seasons.  One might say that Jesus “saved”  us from ordinary work, renewing  human acts  as worthy of our time. As Easter people we too can sanctify our daily lives by offering every moment to Christ our Savior.

A blessed Easter Octave to all!


My  yearly irritation has been renewed–neighbors whose tree and symbols of  Christmas are on the trash heap by

6 a.m. December 26th.


The twelve days of Christmas are lost to modernity, apparently.  Like most of you, I am at warp speed visiting with relatives and students home for Christmas break and this may be fortunate for it means I have too little time to rant at length on this topic. But please, lovely Christian people, please “keep Christmas” all the way to the Epiphany.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You’ll find a wondguadalupeerful post on this feast at Tea at Trianon.














Few know that Our Lady of Guadalupe  is the patron of The Americas, including the United States.

We are in dire need of prayer for our nation— we are  under merciless assault. Our prayers must be for our nation and  for American Catholics whose faith has become  so lukewarm that our peril is all the greater, for the Book of Revelation reads, “because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” The context of this verse is the address to the people of Laodicea :


“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: `The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “`I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18


Does that not describe America today?  A now deceased American archbishop once told Pope John Paul  II that  American was rich and that Vatican rules might have little effect here.    We have become smug and lukewarm. Let’s start anew this Christmas.

Here is a prayer by Pope John Paul II to Our Lady of Guadalupe from

John Paul II’s Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church!, who from this place reveal your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection, hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.
Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church; hold us always with your loving hand.
Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the Bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole people of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in the faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.
Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children.
Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.
We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth.
Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever.

His Holiness John Paul II
Mexico, January 1979. Visiting Her Basilica during his first foreign trip as Pope.

Bishops’ last word

Bishop Ochoa of El Paso:

In our nation, "abortion and
euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they
directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the
condition for all others" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a
mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent
human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that
violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally

Abp Burke:

It is not my intention to engage in partisan politics. I wish that both of
the major political parties in the United States of America were more
coherent regarding the right to life. The Democratic Party, however
has, over the years, put forth and defended a political agenda which is
grievously anti-life, favoring the right to procured abortion and
"marriage" between persons of the same sex. One can legitimately
question the wisdom of the decisions taken in the war in Iraq, but war
in itself is not always and everywhere evil, as are, for example,
procured abortion, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and the
so-called "marriage" of persons of the same sex. Engagement of the
nation in a war cannot be placed on the same moral level as the nation
making laws which permit the wholesale killing of the unborn or the
artificial generation of human life or experimentation on embryonic
human life or "marriage" between persons of the same sex.

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, NOV. 3, 2008 ( There’s a new wind blowing in the college of bishops, and it’s strong and courageous, says the director of Human Life International.

Father Thomas Euteneuer drew attention to the more than 50 bishops who have issued pro-life voting guidelines in this election year in his weekly newsletter, published Friday.

“Faithful Catholics in the United States have been both stunned and gratified by the recent show of episcopal strength in dealing with the heretical nonsense of ‘Catholics’ in public life who clearly misrepresent the Church’s teaching on vital issues,” he said. “The trend is truly heartening. Let’s pray that it continues.”

Father Euteneuer made special mention in his letter of two California bishops: Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, and Auxiliary Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Diego.

Addressing a September conference of the National Association of Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries, Bishop Soto gave a presentation of Church teaching that reaffirmed sex as an act between a man and a woman within the context of marriage.

“When sexual intercourse is taken out of this iconic, sacramental context of the complementary, procreative covenant between a man and a woman,” he said, “it becomes impoverished and it demeans the human person.”

“Married love,” the bishop added, “is a beautiful, heroic expression of faithful, life-giving, life-creating love. It should not be accommodated and manipulated for those who would believe that they can and have a right to mimic its unique expression.”

Father Euteneuer said the “organizer of the conference actually apologized to the attendees for the talk,” although “Bishop Soto made no apologies.”

The president of Human Life International praised Bishop Cordileone for being “the strongest champion of the legal effort to define marriage as between one man and one woman to combat the radical homosexual lobby in California.”

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