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Friday, November 30, 2012

Saints of Scotland.....

make a major debut in this month of November. First, we meet a pious queen from an exiled royal family who managed to tame her brutish husband and his rowdy court. Second, we learn about the origin of the Scottish saltire and how it is connected to a Jewish fisherman who died on an X-shaped cross. Take a look:

St. Margaret of Scotland

     St. Margaret was an Anglo-Saxon princess who was raised in the court of St. Edward the Confessor in England. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, she and her family intended to sail to mainland Europe and take refuge there. But a storm blew their ship off course, and they landed in Scotland instead. They were rescued by King Malcolm III, who fell madly in love with the beautiful young Margaret and subsequently married her.

    Although the king could be rough and violent, Margaret's pious and refined nature softened his attitude towards life. She had a positive effect on the Scottish court, cultivating holiness and gentility among the courtiers. She also inspired her husband to show clemency to captured Englishmen who became prisoners during various Anglo-Scottish conflicts. Her private life was replete with acts of charity and constant prayer. 
   Margaret founded several churches, including the Abbey of Dunfermline which was built to enshrine her greatest treasure, a relic of the true cross. She also was known to sew beautiful priest's vestments with her own hands. A synod was held with her support, and various matters were settled including a regulation of Lenten fasting and reception of Easter Communion.

    She and her husband had six sons and two daughters. Her youngest son became King David I of Scotland, and her daughter, Edith, became queen of England when she married King Henry I of England. Both were renowned for their piety and saintly conduct.

    As Margaret lay on her death-bed, she learned that her husband and son, Edward, had been killed in yet another war with England. In response, she murmured:  "I thank You, Almighty God, for sending me so great a sorrow to purify me from my sins." She was buried at the high altar at Dunfermline, and her feast is celebrated on November 16th. She is a beneficial advocate for Anglo-Scottish relations.

St. Andrew the Apostle

     According to the New Testament, St. Andrew was the brother of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. Both were fishermen in the region of Galilee in Judea. Andrew was originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, but when John pointed out Jesus of Nazareth as "the Lamb of God", Andrew became the first follower of Our Lord. He promptly inducted his brother, Simon Peter, into the ranks of the faithful ("We Have A Pope!" ;-). He is also depicted as the one who lead the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus, providing the means for the miracle of multiplication.

    Tradition states that after the death and resurrection of Christ, Andrew traveled to Asia Minor and Greece as a missionary. He was arrested by the Roman authorities and condemned to death, making him one of the earliest martyrs of the Christian Church. He was crucified on an X-shaped cross to which he was tied instead of being nailed. Hence, he became famous not so much for his role as a fisher of fish, but rather as a fisher of men.

    Some time in the 4th century, St. Rule is said to have taken some bodily relics of St. Andrew from Constantinople to a Pictish settlement on the east coast of Scotland ("the ends of the earth", as far as Rule was concerned!) Like the relics of Margaret of Scotland, Andrew's remains in Scotland were presumably destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. However, other relics from mainland Europe which supposedly belonged to St. Andrew were sent to the Catholic Scottish community during the 19th and 20th centuries to make up for loss. 

    The origin of the St. Andrew's Cross design, which graces both the Scottish Saltire flag and the Union Jack, dates back to a legend told about the Battle of Athelstanford between the Picts/Scots and the Northumbrians in 832, A.D. The Pictish leader, Angus McFergus, had a dream of the saint before the encounter, and during the battle, an X-shaped cross appeared in the sky, encouraging the Picts/Scots to drive the Northumbrians from the field. From that time on, the image of a white X on a blue background became the banner of the Scottish nation. The feast of St. Andrew is celebrated on November 30th. He is patron saint of Scotland, Russia, and Greece.

St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Andrew the Apostle, Ora Pro Nobis!!!

St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Andrew the Apostle


Friday, November 23, 2012

Here are a few announcements.....

that have accumulated over the past few weeks and that I've been meaning to post.

    First, I wish to announce that Rae-Rae and Rosie, the team of clever British teenagers who ran the blog HMS Hitchenbrook, have each started a new blog of their own. Rae-Rae continues to explore important aspects and fascinating incidences that took place in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail on "The Great Cabin". Of couse, Lord Nelson still looms large as the guiding star for the project. Here's the link for it:

    Rosie has branched off into the broad scope of the Long 18th Century in Britain, France, and beyond. Full of colorful characters from monarchs to musicians, she calls it "The Macaroni Club" in honor of 18th century ladies and gents who really knew how to dress! Here's the link to that:

    Next, I wanted to extend an exuberant congratulations to GWright, my friend from Glasgow, Scotland, and his new bride upon their wedding! They recently returned from their honeymoon in Italy, and I'm still looking forward to oppurtunity of seeing some of their pics from there. Cheers, to ye both, and may you be blessed abundantly in your new married life :-)

    Also, I wanted to ask you all to please pray for the soul a dear friend of our family, Steve B., who passed away this week, the day before Thanksgiving. He suffered from kidney failure some 30 years ago and endured many operations and painful procedures, including having a kidney transplant and a finger amputated. He was being kept alive through dialisis and recently decided to go off of it. He was a truly courageous and Christ-like man who showed love to all those who he met. He used to be both a teacher and a musician, playing Country Music and Gosepl hymns in a band. He was like an uncle to me. Many people will mourn his loss.

     On another note, I would like to say that a certain commenter chose to rudely bash my post about the qualities of a soul-mate and remain anonymous. As I have said in the past, my readers have every right to disagree with me and I welcome respectful dialogue about our differences. However, crude and insulting comments will not be approved. Further, anonymous comments will not be approved unless a name/username is given below letting me know who you are.

    Thanks for reading the announcements! God Bless!

"Hear Ye, Hear Ye...."

The Musical Moods from Middle Earth.....

behind Sir Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is intricately multifaceted to match the proportions of the epic tale. The plot, based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, is full of depth, complexity, wondrous romance, and striking realism. What starts out with a romp through a peaceful hobbit shire quickly progresses into a life or death struggle to destroy the One Ring, symbolizing all that is attractive and desirable about sin. The characters go through personal transformations and gain experience while at the same time loosing their innocence. Mythic cultures of elves and men are well-developed, and ancient nations hold their own with individual identities and histories. Love, loyalty, courage, hatred, insanity, betrayal, magic, mysticism, and the unseen force that is Providence all come to the fore, and the symbolic nuances conveying Tolkien's strong moral orthodoxy are endless. 

     To create a musical score for this production would be daunting to say the least. Nevertheless, the creative genius of composer, orchestrator, and conductor, Howard Shore, ensured that a lush instrumental tapestry would be woven to capture the essence of the main characters and concepts. This would be top-rate material, complete with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the haunting vocals of Enya, Sheila Chandra, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Emiliana Torrini, Renee Fleming, Annie Lennox, and many others. Working as a team, they successfully capture the spiritual undergirding of the story and transport the viewer into a mythic realm of serene beauty and shocking brutality.

    Among my favorite musical clips from the score is “The Shire Theme” which is introduced in the beginning of the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, when we first meet young Frodo in the peaceful countryside, reading a book under the shade of a tree. The theme reappears many times over the course of the trilogy, indicating feelings of nostalgia for the simple way of life the hobbits left behind on their quest to destroy the Ring and the cause for which the hobbits are willing to sacrifice everything: to preserve the true, the good, and the beautiful in the world. The theme also represents the solidarity and deep loyalty of the hobbits, especially in the case of Sam and Frodo. At the end of the first film, when the Fellowship is broken and Frodo decides to continue his quest alone, Sam insists on following him to the bitter end, and threads of the Shire theme are weaved through the larger piece called "The Breaking of the Fellowship".

     The romance between Aragorn, the exiled king of Gondor, and Arwen, the elf maiden, is also a major source of musical inspiration. This proves to be one of the softer aspects of the story, but it is also interlaced with a sense of peril and otherworldliness that make the romantic scenes surreal and haunting. In the movie number one, Aragorn and Arwen are shown meeting on a vine-draped bridge in the Elvish city of Rivendell. As a pristine waterfall cascades behind them, Arwen gives Aragorn her star-shaped necklace as a token of undying devotion, and the two kiss for the first time in the trilogy. The Elvish lyrics of "Aniron (I Desire)" is sung by the Celtic/New Age music sensation Enya, whose familiarity with the Irish language no doubt made Tolkien’s mythical, Celtic-influenced language more accessible for her.

    Isabel Bayrakdarian picks up where Enya left off in the second movie, The Two Towers, with another Elvish song, "Evenstar", which correlates with a dream Aragorn of has of Arwen while he is on his way to Helm's Deep with the people of Rohan. After being wounded in battle, Aragorn experiences another vision of Arwen giving him the strength to live, accompanied by the song, "Breath of Life", sung by Sheila Chandra. In the third film, The Return of the King, Aragorn and Arwen are joyously reunited after the war, and auspicious occasion which is hailed with another set of haunting Elvish vocals sung by Renee Fleming within the larger musical piece appropriately dubbed "The Return of the King." As could be expected, there’s a lot of kissing for the finale.

    The Kingdom of Rohan and its heroic warriors on horseback, the Rohirrim, play a major part in turning the tide of battles. Their culture is similar to that of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking kingdoms from the Dark Ages, and their deeds equal that of the great sagas from Northern Europe. The musical themes for Rohan are stirring and rhythmic, emulating the thunder of galloping hooves. When the kingdom is first introduced in The Two Towers, a simple Norwegian fiddle tune is played. Later, when the Rohirrim ride to aid the kingdom of Gondor in The Return of the King, knowing that death may be their only prize, the simple tune is woven into an elaborate arrangement of strings and horns called "Ride of the Rohirrim", making their do-or-die mission come of pulse-pounding life. It is my personal favorite piece of instrumentals from the trilogy.

    The forces of evil have their own musical themes as well. Dark and foreboding French horns accompanied by strange pounding noises introduce the race of orks, bred by the traitorous wizard, Saruman, in the fortress of Isengard. This theme is first played in The Fellowship of the Ring when the hideous mutated elves slither out of mud holes beneath the earth, slaves to their masters and slaves to themselves, motivated only to cause pain out of hatred for all that is beautiful in the world. The theme is repeated throughout the trilogy to hail the approach of orks. The Black Riders, corrupted men who have lost their faces and are neither dead nor alive, are also major forces, especially in movie one. They are usually announced by eerie choral chanting in Elvish and the sound of screeching horses. To some extent, they are the opposite of the gallant Rohirrim and examples of the fate which will befall all men if they are possessed by the One Ring.

    And finally, the Ring itself has many voices, as does Gollum, formerly Sméagol, a slave of the Ring's life-sucking power. An eerie violin tune indicates the combination of appeal and peril that the Ring embodies. In The Two Towers, it is played as Frodo finds himself drawn to the power of evil and massages the Ring with his finger. In The Return of the King, the contrast between the innocent life that Sméagol enjoyed and the life of slavery that he would soon come to know is brought to life by the care-free music that precedes his cousin Deagol's plunge into the lake and discovery of the Ring. Then the eerie violin tune crawls across the score as Sméagol kills his cousin for possession of the Ring and begins his transformation into the hideous Gollum. His loss of identity makes him nothing more than a shriveled shell and a symbol of what Frodo might become should he succumb to the power of the Ring.

    As the plot reaches its climax at the end of movie three, an intense choral piece called “The End of All Things” electrifies Frodo's climb up Mt. Doom with a sense of intensity and foreboding should his mission to destroy the Ring fail. Again, the violin theme of the Ring is played, Frodo's resolve suddenly falters, and he claims the source of power for himself. But there's one more act to the drama. Gollum, reluctantly spared from death by the hobbits had has harassed and betrayed, leaps out of the shadows and tackles Frodo to the ground. In the ensuing struggle, Gollum and the Ring fall into the fires of Mt. Doom, and the ever-faithful Sam yanks Frodo from the brink of falling in himself. The haunting vocals of Renee Fleming hail the arrival of the eagles who rescue the two hobbits from the lava-soaked mountainside

    Lest we forget a few other iconic songs from the films, Enya’s “May It Be” from The Fellowship of the Ring serves as the ultimate LotR theme, arranged as a type of prayer for grace and courage in the midst of loneliness and despair, assuring that “a promise lives” within each of us, and that no matter how insignificant we feel, we can stand up to evil and assure that “the shadow’s call will fly away.” In the extended version of The Two Towers, we get a special treat when Eowyn sings a lament in Old English at her cousin’s funeral. Her emotionally taught voice seems to reach out from ages past, especially since words are adapted from the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, a work of literature near and dear to Tolkien’s heart. At the end of the movie, “Gollum’s Song” by Emiliana Torrini tells of Sméagol’s sorry plight as he struggles in vain to break free from the bondage and darkness. His pathetic refrain cannot help but draw sympathy: “Don’t say I didn’t try.”

    The Return of the King contains two memorable songs. The first one is “The Edge of Night”, a simple yet deeply haunting lament which the hobbit Pippin sings at the court of Gondor for the steward, Denethor. The camera flashes back and forth from the court to a suicidal charge that is being launched against an ork-held stronghold, with Denethor’s son Faramir at the head. The lyrics make it clear that “there are many paths to tread” away from home, and that the mission to conquer darkness with take them all through “mist and shadow, cloud and shade.” The second song of note from final film is “Into the West”, sung by Annie Lennox at the finale. It is a beautiful testimony to all those who have fought the good fight and have won the race, and a belief in a Brighter World to come: “Don’t say we have come now to the end/White shores are calling; you and I will meet again.” 

    In an age when pop music and fan flicks are pathetically simplistic and lacking in taste, it is satisfying to be able to listen to a movie score that takes the essential themes of human existence and brings them to our consciousness with emotionally-charged music and haunting vocals. The frailty of man, the quality of mercy, and power of Providence all play their part to demonstrate the core of courage and the mystery of love at the heart of Tolkien’s epic. With a classical flavor yet a very original approach, the musical moods and penetrating plot of The Lord of the Rings trilogy will no doubt serve as a source of inspiration and enjoyment for generations to come. 


"The End of All Things"


Saturday, November 17, 2012

The qualities of a soul-mate.....

are often hard for young ladies to find in the opposite gender these days. Frumpy, sullen, and totally self-absorbed, many YAMs (Young Adolescent Men) strut about shopping malls and supermarkets decked out in ratty tee-shirts, dingy jeans, and cheap earrings stuck through their nostrils and ear lobes. Some of them parade around hand-in-hand with their “girl-friends”, massaging them in inappropriate places in full public view. Sometimes these “couples” even stop off at the Family Planning shelf and chat about which Birth Control methods will work the best for them. It’s thoroughly disgusting and distressing.

    That’s the worst case scenario. Next on the list are your random home-grown YAMs who seem to enjoy tormenting girls by refusing to enter into intelligent conversation with them. Instead, they’ll mutter such marvels of thought as “Yah,” “Nah”, “I guess”, “Sure”, “Bye”, and then pull out their game-loaded, gizmo-gadget cell phone and start plugging away at it! When there is more than one of them in the same room, they are even more intolerable. They start making imbecilic jokes, jumping on each other’s heads like Billy-goats, swinging around blunt objects, and behaving like juvenile delinquents fresh out of kindergarten. All logic and yearning to pursue the finer things in life seem to vanish in a twinkling. In short, they become neanderthals.

    Moving on, we come to the intellect YAMs who have an encyclopedic attitude towards life in general and girls especially. They seek to “analyze” the female species from a distance, and yet show a serious lack in social graces when they actually interact with them. Their perspective on romance is a black-and-white textbook diagram strictly designed to avoid unpleasant encounters. Sometimes they get so caught up in their own contemplations, that polite conversation gets bogged down in the morass of their minds and it takes great determination on the part of the other party to stick with it and stay on even footing. 

    Next, we come to the talky-talky YAMs who think they are king of the hill. They suffer from the “Big Man Syndrome” and want to prove their manliness by showing off and exagerating their circumstances. They say they want to emmerse themselves in guts and glory, watching violent films and wrestling around because they claim it's “a guy thing.” This attitude often comes off as rather annoying and lacking in sensitivity. I will grant that boys have a different make-up than girls and are naturally more aggressive. But I don’t think that being highly combative is necessarily “a guy thing”; it’s all in the personality type. Furthermore, I think they misread the female mind many times by trying to be excessively “macho” as opposed to more genteel and understanding.

    Then, finally, we meet the friendly, intellectual, polite, and thoroughly delightful YAM….who is sadly undependable. It’s a hit-and-miss operation; first you see them, then you don’t. They mean well, but they have so much on their plate they can’t keep with it all. Hence, instead of merely communicating less, they often drop off contact all together and it becomes a pleasant rarity when you finally relocate them for a brief spat. Trying to get them involved in long-term projects is usually a futile effort. They are a bit like puppies to which you throw a stick, but something along the route catches their attention and they bound after it instead of bringing back the stick.

    Now I’m not saying that the young men who fit into the categories above are “bad kids”. Even the first category often consists of those who simply lack love in their lives and are seeking it in all the wrong places as our modern society dictates. I remember once encountered a black-clad, earring-wearing youth in an antique mall when we both started studying an old guitar standing up in a booth. I was intimidated by him at first, but then we casually struck up a conversation, and he surprised me by being much friendlier than his appearance would have had me believe. It made me feel sad, because I could tell he was something of a lost soul. There are many others like him.

    The bad-attitude Billy-goats, the black-and-white intellectuals, the guts-and-glory warriors, and the puppies-after-a-stick usually have good hearts, too. They just get caught up in either themselves or their surroundings and forget that other people are observing them....especially the ladies! Okay, so maybe I expect too much. Maybe I'm thinking too far ahead. Supposedly, girls mature faster than boys. But somehow I just can't picture these guys "maturing" in less than a decade, which is when most of them will be off and married. I can't help but wonder about my prospects for finding a soul-mate.

    All girls, no matter who they are, day-dream about Mr. Right. It makes sense; after all, unless we plan on joining a convent or something, we are going to have to tie the knot with someone and hunker down for better or worse. We might as well try to figure the type with whom we can be most compatible as a spouse. The results of these contemplations for many girls often turn into a composite character of Robin Hood, Aragorn, King Aruthur, and few hundred others that randomly come to mind. For me, there is something a definite shape coming to mind about the type of man I would like to share my life with someday.

   First and foremost, I want to marry a practicing Catholic, orthodox in his beliefs, but not too far to the right or left. I want him to have a devotion to Our Lady and the Saints as well the Sacraments. I would also like him to be a political conservative, but also with a true sympathy for the plight of the poor. I would like him to be passionate in his love of country and devotion to good causes. I would want him to love history and view it with a balanced perspective. His love of all things British, I hope, would match my own. I also hope he would like animals and nature, as I do, but also be understanding about my allergies!

    I would want him to be on good terms with my parents since I am an only child and we have a very close-knit relationship. I would also hope he would be open to starting a small family of our own, but be understanding about my own health conditions and my inability to cope with a large family. I would also hope he would be understanding my own modest sensibilities and respect them. Personality wise, I would like him to be kind-hearted, humble, considerate, balanced, and intellectually-minded. On the flip side of the coin, I would like him to be passionate about the fight against evil in this world and courageous when called to stand up for the truth. Also, I would like him to be a responsible worker, but also know how to enjoy light-hearted fun. As a wife, I would have to learn to give back the fullness of my love and be considerate to the needs of my husband. That's not even counting all the effort that goes into running a house and raising a family! It comes down to giving all I can, as best I can.    

    So these are dreams that dance in my brain every now and again. I know full well that no man in the world will ever be perfect nor fill every desire in my heart. That place is rightly set aside for Our Lord Jesus Christ alone. However, I do believe that having a soul-mate, joined in purpose and love with you, is one of the most beautiful things on earth. So pray for me in my journey to seek out my vocation, and I will do the same for all of you on the same path.

Someday, perhaps.....;-)


Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Aragorn's Victory Song".....

is a foray into Aragorn's thoughts as he leads his troops against the forces of Sauron before the Black Gates of Mordor so that Frodo can have a chance to destroy The One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. If you are an LotR fan, no further explanation is necessary. If not, suffice to say, the gentleman in question is really up against it, outnumbered by a hoard of hideous beasts and risking total destruction. He's sticking his neck out in hopes of saving the world, even though he deeply longs for his girlfriend and is having a hard time coming to grips with the possibility of never seeing her again.

Aragorn’s Victory Song

I see a fire behind your eyes
That darkness cannot quell;
As ashes from the mountain rise,
You’ll storm the gates of Hell
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

The ancient lava from the earth
Is cool beside the flame
That burns within a faithful breast
And earns a man his fame
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

The Evening Star shines on my path,
Her voice rings in my ears,
Her kisses, gold, rest on my lips,
Her eyes are free from fear
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

These visions are my only guide
Through haunted, sleepless nights
When cold and hunger choke the soul
And swallow heaven’s light
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

I see the doors of Sauron’s hall
Open wide, like jaws;
They seek to grind the worth of man
And banish all our laws
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

The silver stroke of death is near,
And it may well claim me,
But He who calls the sun to rise
Will shape my destiny
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

The hall beyond these mortal bounds
Will open wide to me,
And there where light is never dimmed
I’ll spend eternity
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

To fight for love of all that lives
And challenge fickle fate
May prove to be our secret power
And triumph over hate
Mornie Utulie, Horo!

Let the howl of wolves be heard
And the clash of shattered shields;
We’ll show the world how gallant men
Can die but never yield!
Mornie Alantie, Horo!

 * "Mornie Utulie" means "darkness has come" in Elvish; "Mornie Alantie" means "darkness has fallen" in Elvish; "Horo" is a Gaelic word without any definite translation used as a refrain in many Irish and Scottish songs; here, it is used as a battle-cry, similar to "onward!"

Aragorn from Lord of the Rings