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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Feast of the Annunciation...

is an important day in the Catholic Liturgy. It is the day we commemorate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in the Womb of the Virgin Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit. (As a note from a proud Marylander, it is also the anniversary of the landing of  Lord Baltimore's Catholic English colonists on the shores of Maryland in 1634). There are some beautiful words I would like to share from St. Catherine of Sienna (d. 1380), Doctor of the Church, stigmatic, and papal counselor, reflecting on all this things...

Oh transformed love
Of Lord God servant and creator created
Too much a dark thing it appears
Seeing God so humbled
Thinking of your greatness oh my Lord
The heart lowers itself in the body I shake so
Seeing you mortal man being God
Enclosed in the womb of a poor young girl
My faith turns to nothing
Thinking of your greatness so removed
If not it appears that ease opposed
Crying out God, God, y ou are crazy
And then with enflamed desire
You go searching for who the young woman is
Who in herself enclosed this true Word
With the eyes of the mind a girl
I see she is closed in a cell
Alone worthy of having him
Such a humble daughter
Who joined the lover to the loved
And I looking at this holy Virgin
In whom I see no flaw
Looking at her from her dead down to her feet
So the more I look at her the more she gives me delight
Pregnant in appearence
She shows me and is always with eyes lowered
And I her servant she makes
And I find myself bound by her love.
I see well what commodity and the cost of you
The price that cost you when
The good Jesus was put on the cross for you
In order that he pay for you the infernal banishment
To the heart goes sighing
Looking up at Jesus on the cross and strongly languishing
She looks at the shed blood
With which you were repurchased from death. 

"Hail, Full of Grace..."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Paddy's Day Poetry...

from two of Ireland's silver-tongued rebel sons: Thomas Davis and Robert Dwyer Joyce, respectively. Whatever your politics may be, you can't doubt that these guys had a special flare for inspirational romantic poetry, and few could top their class of balladeers. So enjoy these two pieces...

The Flower of Finnae

By Thomas Davis

Bright red is the sun on the waves of Lough Sheelin,
A cool, gentle breeze from the mountain is stealing,
While fair round its islets the small ripples play,
But fairer than all is the Flower of Finae.

Her hair is like night, and her eyes like grey morning,
She trips on the heather as if its touch scorning,
Yet her heart and her lips are as mild as May day,
Sweet Eily MacMahon, the Flower of Finae.

But who down the hill-side than red deer runs fleeter?
And who on the lake-side is hastening to greet her?
Who but Fergus O'Farrell, the fiery and gay,
The darling and pride of the Flower of Finae?

One kiss and one clasp, and one wild look of gladness;
Ah! why do they change on a sudden to sadness? -
He has told his hard fortune, no more he can stay,
He must leave his poor Eily to pine at Finae.

For Fergus O'Farrell was true to his sire-land,
And the dark hand of tyranny drove him from Ireland;
He joins the Brigade, in the wars far away,
But he vows he'll come back to the Flower of Finae.

He fought at Cremona-she hears of his story;
He fought at Cassano-she's proud of his glory.
Yet sadly she sings Siúbhail a rúin[80] all the day,
'Oh! come, come, my darling, come home to Finae.'

Eight long years have passed, till she's nigh broken-hearted,
Her reel, and her rock, and her flax she has parted;
She sails with the 'Wild Geese' to Flanders away,
And leaves her sad parents alone in Finae.

Lord Clare on the field of Ramillies is charging-
Before him, the Sacsanach squadrons enlarging-
Behind him the Cravats their sections display-
Beside him rides Fergus and shouts for Finae.

On the slopes of La Judoigne the Frenchmen are flying
Lord Clare and his squadrons the foe still defying,
Outnumbered, and wounded, retreat in array;
And bleeding rides Fergus and thinks of Finae.

In the cloisters of Ypres a banner is swaying,
And by it a pale, weeping maiden is praying;
That flag's the sole trophy of Ramillies' fray;
This nun is poor Eily, the Flower of Finae.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

By Robert Dwyer Joyce

I sat within the valley green
Sat there with my true love
And my fond heart strove to choose between
The old love and the new love
The old for her the new that made
Me think on Ireland dearly
While soft the wind blew down the glade
And shook the golden barley

Twas hard for mournful words to frame
To break the ties that bound us
But harder still to bear the shame
Of foreign chains around us
And so I said the mountain glen
I'll seek at morning early
And join the brave united men
While soft winds shook the barley

Twas sad I kissed away her tears
Her arms around me clinging
When to my ears that fateful shot
Came out the wild wood ringing
The bullet pierced my true love's side
In life's young spring so early
And there upon my breast she died
While soft winds shook the barley

I bore her to some mountain stream
And many's the summer blossom
I placed with branches soft and green
About her gore-stained bosom
I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse
Then rushed o'er vale and valley
My vengeance on the foe to wreak
While soft winds shook the barley

Its blood for blood without remorse
I've took in Oulart Hollow
While to her grave my love's cold corpse
Where I full soon may follow
Around her grave I wander drear
Noon, night, and morning early
With breaking heart whene'er I hear
The wind that shakes the barley

The Emerald Isle...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Our journey home...

from the SAR contest in South Carolina was filled with an aura of historical remembrance. First off, we were playing a CD of fife and drum music which we picked up at King’s Mountain National Park, and I felt a bit as if the van we were traveling in was a time-tunnel. And in spite of the previous day’s let down at the contest, I was feeling quite contented, with a bag full of souvenirs, including a stuffed owl, a Robin Hood figurine, various postcards, peanut butter pretzels, and a small peach pie. Life was good!

    But I must admit, a ten hour trip tends to be filled with a sense of potential boredom and stiffness in the legs, even with rest points. Beyond this, there are aspects of peril, especially when huge mountains and heavy rains are involved. Crossing over the border from North Carolina to Virginia, we found ourselves in just such a case. It was fairly unnerving peering out the window and seeing the misty chasm just below the mountain road we were driving on. I have never been a fan of heights or the feeling of having ones ears pop, and as a sufferer of vertigo, all this was compounded.
    Since we had spent a far amount of the day sight-seeing in South Carolina, we found that darkness fell before we had made nearly as much time as we would have liked. Even though we did make our way into Virginia, civilization still seemed like a distant dream. The rain was slashing and the trees swaying as we pulled into the little town of Buena Vista, a lonely refuge at the bottom of a monster mountain. The feeling was something distinctly out of Scooby Doo. The only two buildings visible from the road were a shadowy motel and a dilapidated gas station. 

     Too creeped-out to pull into the former, we decided to ask directions in the latter. The custodian lady confirmed our suspicion that there was little in the way of civilization in the area, except for a Food Lion Supermarket said to be a ways down the road. We also got to see her swat away a giant flying monster-bug from the swamp, that she related could indeed bite! Observing the sinister looking motel, we decided in favor of self-preservation and drove along the windy roads to reach the promised Food Lion. The electronic lights behind the chain’s carnivorous mascot beamed forth as a beacon of hope.

     We flagged down a young couple in the parking lot, and received confirmation that the motel in town was not exactly a safe bet. They directed us onward to life and health in the tourist town of Lexington, Virginia. It was a long ride on a rainy night, but it was definitely worth it, and we checked into a lovely Wyndham hotel in which we were able to get a discount from the amiable clerk named Greg. When he heard me quietly singing to myself as I deliriously wandered about the empty lobby, he encouraged me to “show my stuff” and sing “Amazing Grace” which I did! Only in the south, thought I…;-)

    Across the street, there was a TGI Friday’s still open, so exhausted as we were, my father and I stopped by for a bite. I can’t tell you how good fried chicken tenders and curly fries taste after long hours of driving through a seemingly endless rainy night! Then we returned to the hotel and discovered to our delight that our room was a world superior to the one in the Holiday Inn in Greenville. It had a homey feel, with warm and welcoming colors, soft, fluffy beds, and a fairly spacious bathroom.

    The next morning, we also discovered that our TV actually worked (wonder of wonders, judging from our past hotel experiences) and channels were actually fun to watch! We spent the beginning of the next morning taking it easy and enjoying the Andy Griffith Show (again, a southern icon) and an Animal Planet program, and then went down to the lobby to enjoy a delicious breakfast of waffles, bagels, yogurt, donuts, and juice. I am now officially addicted to electric waffle makers! After getting our stuff out of our room, and taking some photos in the lovely interior, we headed off to see the sights in Lexington.

     One of the main attractions was Washington and Lee College. Steeped in history, this is the resting place of Robert E. Lee who served as the superintendent after the fall of the Confederacy. His pristine example of duty and dignity is legendary, and it did much to heal the wounds of the Civil War as both north and south came to respect him as a distinctly American hero. As our tour guide informed us, his work at the college was just as important to history as his prowess on the battlefield. Oddly enough, the general’s crypt is right next to the gift-shop…a rather strange positioning for a man of such high station if I do say so myself!

     Nevertheless, in the chapel above, in which Gen. Lee himself often worshiped, did have a marble carving of him laid out. The architecture had a wonderful olden-day feel, and was filled with a sense of serenity. I can’t help but think God was in that place, the symbol of a nation’s reunion. I thought about Britain, and how much she needed a reunion. I thought back on the lion and the unicorn carved in Maj. Ferguson’s gravestone on King’s Mountain, and dreaded that they should ever be separated. I prayed the referendum, the political civil war, would claim the life of that great land. Going back outside, we followed tradition and threw some pennies on the grave of Traveler, Gen. Lee’s beloved horse.

    Before moving on from Washington and Lee, I must touch upon a controversy which had recently taken place there involving the use of the Confederate flag. Of course, this controversy is pretty wide-spread across the country, and particularly heated in the south. We have all had the eye-brow-raising experience of a pick-up truck with the Stars-and-Bars flapping proudly beside the antenna or planted in a hay-bale in the trunk. I even had a particularly unique experience of seeing some sort of protest by Southern Independence People in the main street of Hanover PA, and how it was broken up by police.

    But besides these weird manifestations, the larger question remains: is there any time when the Confederate flag may be flown in an appropriate context? I believe so, especially in a place like Washington and Lee. Anyone who knows anything about the Civil War must admit its sheer complexity, and claiming that the Stars and Bars is merely a symbol of slavery does it a great injustice. It was a symbol of rebellion and state’s rights, an issue that was bound to surface in the union with slavery or no. It was a symbol of a vision of an independent nation that never came about, and yet gave rise to amazing heroism and determination that characterizes the South as an entity.

    Looking at this memorial to General Lee, I can’t think of a more appropriate place where the flag that he fought under should be able to be flown with honor, not as a symbol of rebellion, but of the diversity that makes up the union. To me, it represents the southern heritage that makes up an integral part of the American identity. Perhaps like the Jacobites in Britain, it is the Confederates of America who tap into that rebel streak that distinguishes a people from a government. Even through their loss on the battlefield (one that I am honestly relieved took place), they have managed to win over a part of the national imagination. In that sense, the Stars-and-Bars is not just a part of their story, but mine as well, and everyone who is an American. I do hope it will be used appropriately and with respect to all involved in the ongoing story, living and dead.    
To Be Continued...

Washington and Lee College

Sunday, March 1, 2015

For St. David's Day....

I'm posting this classic Welsh hymn, "Cwm Rhondda", named after the Rhonnda Valley in South Wales where it became popularized. The Welsh lyrics are attributed to the famous Welsh Methodist hymnist, William Williams Pantycelyn, known alternately as the Charles Welsey or the Isaac Watts of Wales. They were first published in 1762. It's a set classic for Royal Weddings and British Military Ceremonies!

"Cwm Rhondda" (a.k.a. "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer")

Welsh Lyrics
Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch,
Fi, bererin gwael ei wedd,
Nad oes ynof nerth na bywyd
Fel yn gorwedd yn y bedd:
Hollalluog, Hollalluog,
Ydyw'r Un a'm cwyd i'r lan.
Ydyw'r Un a'm cwyd i'r lan

Agor y ffynhonnau melus
'N tarddu i maes o'r Graig y sydd;
Colofn dân rho'r nos i'm harwain,
A rho golofn niwl y dydd;
Rho i mi fanna, Rho i mi fanna,
Fel na bwyf yn llwfwrhau.
Fel na bwyf yn llwfwrhau.

Pan yn troedio glan Iorddonen,
Par i'm hofnau suddo i gyd;
Dwg fi drwy y tonnau geirwon
Draw i Ganaan -- gartref clyd:
Mawl diderfyn. Mawl diderfyn
Fydd i'th enw byth am hyn.
Fydd i'th enw byth am hyn.

English Lyrics
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more.

Open thou the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream shall flow;
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer
Be thou still my strength and shield.
Be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell's destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan's side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.
I will ever give to thee.

William Williams Pantycelyn Cardiff City Hall from flic
William Williams Pantycelyn