Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2014

imageChristmas: Unwrapped or Unravelled?

Christmas has enjoyed a rather convoluted history in America, contrary to the prevailing notion that we’ve always celebrated it, and that we’ve always celebrated it in this particular way.  The truth of the matter is, that hasn’t been the case at all.  To cite but one example, the Puritans in 17th-century New England forbade any and all observance of Christmas.  For them the feast was a painful reminder of lingering Catholic piety within the Church of England.  They had fled that sort of thing once already, and they were not about to let something like that stain their pure Christian polity.  For that reason, Christmas was declared — by law — to be a workday.

Needless to say, over time the Puritans have lost most of the battles when it came to Christmas, but ironically they may finally win the war.  They’d be miffed at the thought that nearly everyone gets Christmas day off, but we’re not that far from the day when “post-Christmas sales” will begin on Christmas Eve.  And if that ever happens, then the Puritans can take heart.  They labored under the notion that Christmas was a religious feast, and it never dawned on them that it might become the alpha and omega of the mercantile calendar.  It’s odd that they did not see that coming, but there you have it.  Quite unexpectedly, modern merchants might very well transform Christmas into what it once was, just another workday.

imageBesides its role as the high feast of our consumer economy, Christmas has also assumed an outsized role as the barometer of family health.  This time of year pundit after pundit parades before the cameras to assert that “Christmas is all about family!”  And if I as a Christian beg to differ ever so slightly, I’ll concede the point from a social point of view.  For better or for worse, Christmas today looms large as a social experience, and in some circles it can have the feel of a test or even a battle.  So it is that while some families emerge from Christmas with bonds of love and affection deepened, still others can point back to the moment at the Christmas table when the faultlines in the family cracked wide open for all to see.

To that very point a Christmas Eve talk show devoted quite a bit of discussion.  A panel of three wise men had summoned a psychologist to explain why Christmas had become such a perilous time, and they asked what family members could do to avoid a total meltdown.

imageHis formula was quite simple.  Key family members — and the hosts of the feast in particular — should draw up a game-plan for the gathering.  They should set ground rules for topics that are off-the-table for discussion, and they should reel in any violators of this verbal truce.  In any family there’s bound to be differences in political opinion, he noted.  It’s important to call a time out if those passions threaten to drag the family into civil war.  The same is true for families split down the middle by sports loyalties.  He didn’t delve into religion, perhaps because he naively assumed that in much of America religious indifference has sidelined religious differences as a source of friction.  But that sort of thing still exists, and so it was worth at least a comment or two.

It later dawned on me that the psychologist had borrowed from the talk show industry and applied its models to his analysis of family dynamics at Christmas.  With a nod to the coach who pounds the game-plan into the team, he urged family members to get on the same page to make this meal a great success — or at least avoid the worst.  With an eye to the diplomats who negotiate treaties and cease-fires, he encouraged thoughtful family members to regulate the dinner conversation, as if they were stepping through a mine field.  If you want a happy ending, that’s some of what it takes.

imageHe concluded with one startling point that likely insured he will not get a repeat invitation for an interview next Christmas Eve.  When one panelist asked how the Christmas feast had descended to all this, his answer was succinct.  “We’ve lost the art of conversation.”  In short, we’ve absorbed from the media a steady diet of arguments over sports and politics, and we can’t have a thoughtful conversation over much of anything anymore.  Even the weather.  As a result, social encounter has devolved into confrontation, rather than an occasion to bring people together in mutual understanding and respect.  That’s why Christmas can be such a tough time for the family, he concluded.

His words were words of wisdom, to me at least.  Christmas demands some preparation, but if we make it a parallel of last-minute shopping, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see our family celebration of Christmas unravel.  If, on the other hand, we put in a solid year of preparation, including all the conversation and listening and respect that’s necessary to build human relationships, then something wonderful might happen next Christmas.

imageSo there we have our marching orders for the new year.  With an eye to next Christmas, starting now we should work to deepen our relationships with one another.  Maybe then we won’t need a last-minute game plan to make Christmas work.  With solid preparation, we might very well unwrap the Christmas we’ve always imagined.

Notes

+Christmas Eve and Day were the highlights of the last week at Saint John’s Abbey.  We began with Vespers on the 24th, and the Mass at 10 pm was preceded by a concert given by the Abbey Schola and the Saint John’s Boys Choir.  Some 1,000 joined us for the liturgy.  For an overview of the evening, please visit the Christmas Gallery.

+This year a few members of the Abbey Schola provided the music for the Christmas greeting in the picture below.  It is an excerpt from the Salve Regina, and it is a musical setting composed by an 11th-century monk from the abbey of Reichenau in Germany.

(I apologize if this link is not operating.  It is new to me, and not everything works the first time around – especially for non-techies like myself.)

 

 

Read Full Post »

imageThree Days Left

Nothing motivates quite like a deadline.  And for those who get things done well in advance of the due date, I only feel pity.  They know nothing of the thrill of a drop-dead end-time.  Nor do they ever experience the burst of creativity that comes with the intense pressure to get something done, preferably yesterday.  No, it has to be a tedious existence when you finish something days before it’s due, and then have to sit there with nothing to keep you busy.  How sad.

As for me, I’m firmly in the ranks of the procrastinators.  I recall many a college paper that crunch time transformed from a C into a C+.  What a thrill.  But mostly I recall the day when I adopted an entirely new philosophy of life.  It was the day I turned in my PhD dissertation.  That day it dawned on me that the only thing better than perfect is done.  That was a game-changer.

imageChristmas is one of those deadlines that separate the sheep from the goats; or to be more precise, those who got cards mailed and shopping done weeks ago, versus those who desperately count on the twelve days of Christmas to be there when they need them. The only thing left for the former is to defrost the Christmas dinner and serve it. For the latter, Christmas dinner has yet to be planned.

Procrastinators experience this season in an entirely different way.  While their peers are reading novels and sipping hot chocolate, the rest of us are crazy-busy at the mall or at airports.  Still others are begging special favors from the FED-EX and UPS people.  Mainly we sit in traffic or wait in long lines, vowing that next year will be different.  But of course it never is.

The good news is that there are still three days standing between us and Christmas.  For some of us that’s all the time in the world.  That’s even enough time to reflect on what all this mess was about in the first place — Advent.  Remember the voice crying in the desert?  Well, the good news is that John the Baptist has not given up on us.  He’s still out there crying in the desert, reminding us that there’s plenty of time to do something, anything.

imageThere’s no time and little point in writing a long essay on the cosmic significance of what John had to say.  I don’t have the time to write it, and scarcely anyone has the patience to read it.  So here’s the abbreviated version.

First, with his words and with his finger John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, whose sandal he was unworthy to unfasten.  Whether this upset his mom, who probably wished better for him, is irrelevant.  John did not strive to be #1, because it was all about Jesus.  Apart from Jesus he might have been the #1 prophet of his day, but what would be the point of that?  John drew his meaning from Jesus, and that was the relationship to which he called all who listened to him in the desert.

The second point that strikes me is John’s choice of the desert as the setting for his sermons.  In the desert there are none of the usual distractions.  There you face a fundamental reality of life.  If you are alone in the desert, survival becomes an issue.  If you stand with others, you could very well flourish.  And that’s what John taught.  Alone they could do little or nothing.  But building a relationship with God and neighbor might allow you to flourish.  The choice is ours to make.

So what do we do with three days left in Advent?  Well, in the spirit of John the Baptist, I encourage you to consider two things, neither of which will take much time.

imageFirst, do something for yourself.  Let your mind wander out into the spiritual desert to pray for a moment.  Read something from the Bible, or select one of the readings from the Mass of the day or a Psalm.   Read it, and for a few minutes mull over what it has to say to you.  Ignore the mall and the advertising, both of which will still be there when your mind comes back to pseudo-reality.  But in the serenity of a moment clear your mind of clutter and find out how soothing a bit of peace can be.

Secondly, take a moment to do something for Jesus.  I’ve always been fond of Mother Theresa’s words of exhortation:  “Do something beautiful for Jesus.”  This need not be a big deal, but even a minute or two in which we pay attention to the needs of a fellow human being can work wonders for the other person, and it may impact our own soul as well.  In doing so we may actually discover that Jesus lives in our neighbor.  What a wonderful surprise that could be.

The good news is that neither of these suggestions takes much time, and they’re not all that difficult to do.  But the return on our puny investment of time and energy can be enormous.  So between now and Christmas Day, give it a shot.  And if it works, try it again after Christmas — unless of course you have other plans.  But even if you do, God and neighbor will be standing by, just in case you change your mind.

imageNotes

+On December 15th I celebrated Mass and spoke to the San Francisco area members of the Order of Malta.

+On December 17th I attended a Lessons and Carols Service at the Cathedral in Los Angeles.  Afterwards I attended a dinner hosted by Archbishop José Gomez, at which he thanked the many people who sit on archdiocesan boards and volunteer in the ministry of the archdiocese.

+On December 21st the monks of Saint John’s held an Advent service of Lessons and Carols, in place of our usual Sunday vespers.

image+Recently I completed John Rhöl’s Kaiser Wilhelm II: a concise life (Cambridge University Press, 2014.)   As promised, it was a concise life, and I found myself speeding along and wishing it were longer.  It ended way too soon, and I would have enjoyed learning a lot more about this fascinating and troubled individual.  On the other hand, this was an abridged version of the author’s magisterial 4,000-page biography, which must have included everything the kaiser ever ate, did or said.  I don’t think I want to know that much about him, so I will content myself with the concise life.

+There’s more than one way to tell the Christmas story, besides words.  The first photo in today’s post is a stained-glass Annunciation, made most likely in Cologne in the mid-fifteenth century.  It’s now housed in the Cluny Museum in Paris.  The next photos continue the story, this time in stone.  They are from a tympanum at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Read Full Post »

image“Make Straight the Way of The Lord” — John the Baptist

“Eric, look out the window!”

The voice pierced the silence of the house as I sat reading in another room.  But curiosity got the better of me, and I opened the blinds.  And there it was: a huge truck wedged into an impossibly tight cul-de-sac.  Truly this qualified as one of  those things you don’t see every day.

It took nearly two hours for the driver to extricate himself and the truck, but not before he had done some serious damage.  For one thing, he tore up a major chunk of someone’s lawn, and he chewed up the sprinkler system for good measure.  He also grazed a mailbox, sheered off part of a hedge and some branches in a tree, crumbled the pavers in a driveway and clipped off a standing pipe.  All in all it was great entertainment, unless you were the owner of the lawn or the driver.  That poor driver sweat bullets the entire time, and it was no comfort to him that he had kept us amused for half the morning.  To be honest, I thought it was a scream; but ultimately I had to feel sorry for him.  There but for the grace of God — and a B+ in high school geometry — went I.

imageLeft unanswered was one simple question.  Why would a perfectly sane and seasoned driver ignore warnings and steer an extra-long rig filled with cars into a cul-de-sac that was impossibly small to manage?  There was no way on earth he could make that turn.  But he must have thought he could defy the laws of geometry by will-power alone.  He couldn’t, of course, and for his hubris he paid a hefty price.

Why any of us do stupid and irrational things is hard to understand.  Perhaps it stems from the overweening self-confidence that assures us we can do all things.  Perhaps we think we are exempt from the rules that govern normal society.  Or perhaps it boils down to the pride that says the laws of common sense exist for others but not for me.  I’m above all that, after all.  I am the center of the  universe and am bound by no constraints.

imageIn my personal journal of wonders, this qualified as one of the “great moments in trucking history,” and its timeliness could not have been better.  On the Third Sunday of Advent John the Baptist steps onto the stage, and the question in everyone’s mind is his identity.  Who is he?  What has he come to do?  Is he the savior, or is there somebody else?

In short order John provides the answers.  His work points to another who is yet to come.  Life is not about him, but his life does have meaning because with his finger he points to God who is walking in their midst.  And, he concludes, “make straight the path to the Lord.”  That, by the way, was the advice the neighbors had given the truck-driver.  “Go straight down the this boulevard and stop.  But don’t you dare turn right into the street with the cul-de-sac.”

John the Baptist points to a fundamental choice we all have to make.  On the one hand the gravitational pull to an egocentric life is almost irresistible.   But the sooner we make room in our lives for other people, the better off we’ll be.  The sooner we allow God to tip-toe into our lives, the more quickly our lives begin to fill with wonder and beauty.  And the sooner we look for the direct path to God, the less likely we’ll be to wander off onto the byway and into the impossible cul-de-sac.

imageThe Bible is replete with stories of people who found themselves lost in  the desert, or built their houses on sand, or ignored the voice of God whispering in their ear.  Common to them all was the assumption that they did not need God.  God could add little value to their lives.  God was for the weak, but not for the strong and independent.  But soon enough they all discovered that they were not masters of the universe, despite the self-flattery that tickled their ears.

Basically that’s what John the Baptist said to his crowds, and it’s what he says to us as well.  We can try to hack our own path through the jungle of life, or cut corners through somebody else’s life, but those lead metaphorically and literally to some dead-end.  But if, on the other hand, we recognize our kinship with our neighbor and with God, we might very well find that the path to God is a lot easier than we thought.  If we can hear the voice of God speaking through John the Baptist, it’s also possible to hear God in our neighbor, telling us to take the high road.

We may get side-tracked now and again, but with the help of God and the support of our friends, we’ll never get stuck in a cul-de-sac.

imageNotes

+On Sunday afternoon, December 14th, the abbey hosted our Latino neighbors from parishes from around central Minnesota, in celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Abbot John presided at the Mass.

+There are a variety of ways to celebrate Advent, and across Europe the Christmas Market is among the most visible.  Little villages of shops sprout up in town squares, selling everything from food to gifts to Christmas decorations.  What makes them particularly pleasant is the unhurried nature of these gatherings.  Entire families go and take their time to browse, eat, and visit with neighbors and friends.  In this gallery I’ve provided photos that I took at a particularly impressive Christmas Market in Vienna, in the square that fronts the Town Hall.  It’s likely the biggest and best in the city, but it has competition in many other neighborhoods.

+In addition to the three photos of the truck in the cul-de-sac, I’ve included two that allow a glimpse into the festive character of Vienna in the Advent season.  Of course they have no monopoly on decorations, but in this season of Advent the center of the city is especially bright.  It helps them pull through the longest and darkest days of the year.  After New Year spring may not be just around the corner, but at least the days begin to lengthen.

image

Read Full Post »

imageThe Sacred is in the Details

Every now and again even monasteries must tend to the little things in the daily routine.  As any astute observer of human nature can tell you, the devil is always in the details; and left untreated for long enough, little things morph into the big deals that come back to haunt us.

In that spirit the abbot posted a note last week, listing three appointments to responsibility within the community.  For the next six months Fr. Bob will be acting choirmaster, while the current monk-choirmaster is away on sabbatical.  Second, Brother Paul-Vincent will work with monks when they read or lead the prayers at the liturgy of the hours.  And rounding out the triad, Fr. J.P. will serve as the “in-house pronunciation guide.”

The abbot didn’t have to justify any of this, but he hinted at its importance anyway.  For one thing, he noted, we simply couldn’t get by for six months without a choirmaster.  As for the quality of our public reading, most of us could always do a bit — or in a few cases a lot — better.  We’ve come a long way since the 12th century, when Saint Bernard could preach to and be heard by 10,000 people.  Today, with the marvels of modern technology, we’re lucky to hear anything at all.  And as for proper pronunciation, perfection is always something for which to strive, but its achievement can be a mixed blessing.  Perfection would certainly better the tone of our prayer, but could we live with the trade-off?  Over the years we’ve compiled a short list of celebrated howlers and bloopers made by unprepared readers.  Could we live without that mirth?  There’s something to be said for spontaneous and pure laughter, even at prayer.  So I’m not sure we’re quite ready to sacrifice all that.

imageSo what does all this mean in practice?  Well, on the day of the note-posting, Fr. Bob spoke to the community about the quality of our singing and our cadence in the recitation of the Psalms.  He opened with the observation that while it’s true that individually we are each great singers, we can’t always say that about some of the monks sitting on either side of us.  (Mirth.)  He didn’t reveal the names on his list, “because we all know who they are.”  (More mirth.)

Compounding that, there are monks who are never happy with the pace, and so they take it upon themselves to speed things up or slow things down.  Innocent parties who prefer to go with the flow find themselves caught in the middle, not quite knowing how to handle the situation.  And then there’s the larger issue of our collective recitation.  The monks on the abbot’s side of the choir invariably sing too fast, while those on the prior’s side (my side, incidentally), tend to keep to a perfect pace.  How does a good choirmaster deal with these and a myriad other issues?  “Gently,” says Fr. Bob in more candid moments.

imagePublic reading is something even Saint Benedict found to be a problem, and he warned that “not just anybody should take up the book and read.”  I agree totally with that, and to that end I long ago compiled a list of monks who should not read in public, ever.  I’m sure most every monk would concur with my selections; but since the abbot is hesitant to go that far, he promises help to those who need it.  In brief, he wrote, if someone’s reading is “too fast, to slow, too soft, too anything,” then they can expect a helpful visit from Br. Paul-Vincent.

I have to confess that the appointment of the “in-house pronunciation guide” took me by surprise, and not because we don’t need such a person.  We most definitely do.  For one thing, we have a number of monks for whom English is a second language.  Then there are the monks for whom English is not a second language.  For years I’ve pointed out that Sweden and Minnesota are alike in so many ways, save that in Sweden everybody speaks better English.  So never underestimate our capacity for improvement when it comes to our public reading.  Still, Fr. J.P.’s appointment leaves unfilled the post of “out-house pronunciation guide.”  We’ve never had such an official, but perhaps the abbot anticipates the spread of potty-mouth English in years to come.  It’s best to be prepared, I suppose.

imageOne can argue that there are enough problems in the world and in the monastery, and we shouldn’t nitpick over this sort of stuff.  True enough.  One could also argue that we should be grateful that people bother to show up for prayer at all, and leave them in peace.  And that too is true enough.  But Saint Benedict suggests that everything we do has a sacred character, and anything worth doing is worth doing well.  And so it is that we need to pay attention to the little things, and not just because they can morph into big problems when we neglect them.  Because it’s also true that the little things, done well, become the foundation for a life well lived.

It seems to me that whether you live in a monastery or not, this principle applies.  So if we want the world to be a better place, the place to begin is with ourselves.  And if we start there, the best approach is to reach for the low-hanging fruit.  Focus on the least of things and go from there.  That, it seems to me, is how we develop good friendships, good marriages, and good relationships with the Lord.  Sure, it’s safe to say that other people, and even the Lord, are willing to overlook and even forgive a lot.  But why test their patience?  Why not bring out the best in ourselves each and every day?  It can only help, I think.

It’s safe to say that choir practice and attention to reading will always be remedial actions.  Twenty years from now a new abbot will post a list of new appointees who will tend to these same old challenges.  But such is life for everyone.  It’s why we get up each day to begin life anew.  It’s why we work for improvement and pray for continued growth.  It’s what makes life such an adventure as together we search for the Lord.

imageNotes

+On December 4th and 5th I attended meetings of the Board of Trustees of Saint John’s University.

+On December 6th Bishop Donald Ketler visited the Abbey and ordained Brother Nickolas Kleespie to the diaconate.  This coming semester Brother Nickolas will work as deacon in Saint Joseph Parish, in Saint Joseph, MN.  For those unfamiliar with the geography of central Minnesota, this is three miles from the abbey, and monks from the abbey have staffed this parish forever.

+In the days following Thanksgiving the decorating crew swung into action, putting up greens and ornaments all over the place.  Pride of place belongs to The Great Hall, where the photos in today’s post were taken.  Their preparations culminated in a Christmas concert on December 5th.  But on the 4th the Trustees were privileged to hear a private concert, as student choirs rehearsed for performances on campus and at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, on December 6th.

image

Read Full Post »

imageBe Watchful.  Be Alert.

You have to wonder what in the world the disciples were doing when Jesus pushed them to “be watchful.  Be alert.”  (Mark 13: 33).  Had they dozed off during one of his parables?  Had their minds wandered?  Did they assume that, as the ultimate insiders, there was nothing more to learn?  We’ll never know.  But I’m guessing they’d grown a little smug and thought they had nothing to worry about.  Life with Jesus was good.

Whether these words rattled them or not, we’ll also never know.  But one thing seems clear.  This was not an invitation to sit back, relax, and coast through life.  Jesus expected a little more out of them than waiting around for their turn to sit at his right in the kingdom.

What Jesus wanted from his apostles matters to us as well, since this gospel passage inaugurates the season of Advent.  And therein is a dilemma.  Is Jesus trying to scare us to death with talk about burglars breaking in when we least expect them?  Is he trying to make us paranoid with the thought that the loss of everything dear to us is just around the next corner?  Or does he recommend that his disciples and we dial down on the alarmism, but open our minds just a tad to what is going on around us?  It strikes me that we have two options here.  We can hit the panic button, or we can buckle down and tend to the quest of becoming Christian.

imageA popular stereotype of monks is that we are a dour and depressing lot.  People assume that we must worry constantly about our salvation, and that best explains why we spend all that time in church.  And Saint Benedict doesn’t help our public image when he tells  his monks to “keep death daily before our eyes.”  Who wouldn’t panic at the thought that today may see the end of everything.  I know I’d be anxious as heck at the thought that by nightfall I would pack it all in and face the grim reaper.

Most monks I know simply can’t and won’t live that way.  None of us can sustain that sort of emotional intensity for very long, because we’d either despair or go crazy.  On top of that, confreres who are like that are tough to live with.  That’s why we usually encourage them to search for God someplace else.  Life has enough difficulty without somebody constantly telling us that it’s going to hell in a hand-basket.

With all due respect, neither Jesus nor Saint Benedict were trying to have a little fun at our expense.  They did not intend to cry wolf and scare the daylights out of us, hoping to induce radical change in our behavior.  Instead, they both hoped we’d keep on searching for God, day in and day out.  No matter how boring it might seem.

imageThis point may be tough to tease out, but I think it goes something like this.  For those who expect salvation to be a personal big-bang moment, when God hits us on the head, they’re generally disappointed with the results.  Even Saint Paul, and even Martin Luther, had to deal with the realities of a long life after they fell from their horses.  Life proved too long to put all their eggs in the basket of a split-second conversion experience.  Life went on, and on.  And unlike so many other things for which life is too short, when it comes to the search for God, one life is more than long enough.  It’s a relationship that waxes and wanes through the years.  And like a marriage or a friendship, it’s something that requires regular investment.

So if Advent is an invitation to buckle down and be about our Father’s business, what exactly should we do?  Well, like New Year’s or Lent, one or two resolutions can be enough to nourish our relationship, at least for this interlude in our lives.  And as this passage from the Gospel of Mark suggests, our focus should be on the Lord in our midst.

imageOn the assumption that we should keep our eyes peeled to see Christ where we least expect him, I’ve decided to address one of my many pet peeves where my vision could use some improvement.  I know this sounds a little jaded, but one peeve results from years of experience with taxi drivers in New York.  If ever again a driver asks how to get where I hope to go (as two of them did recently), I’ve decided to take the question philosophically rather than literally.  “Let’s pray about this together, and I’m sure we’ll find the way.”  That’s definitely better than what I said two weeks ago, and on a few other occasions as well.  And the benefits of this approach?  I lower my blood pressure, and the driver is transformed before my very eyes.  He’s no longer the thief in the night, trying to lead me on a long and expensive diversion.  Instead, I realize that maybe he’s only trying to do the best he can.  In such a person it may be tough to see Christ at first.  But if you squint, it’s a real revelation when you finally spy Christ at the wheel of your taxi.

That, I submit, is the invitation Jesus puts to us in Advent.  This is no time to panic because we’ve not seen his face for ages.  Rather, it’s a few weeks when we buckle down and focus on someone who’s been there all along.  And so, if there are people on your list in whom you least expect to find the Lord, be watchful, and be alert.  The Lord may have been in them all along.  What a surprise to realize that — all this time — we’ve be gazing on the image of God.

imageNotes

+The monks of Saint John’s celebrated Thanksgiving with the customary festive meal.  Unlike in past years, however, the monks did everything, including the preparation of the refectory, the cooking, and the clean-up.  This gave the regular kitchen staff the day off, though from them it required an act of faith that we would not destroy the kitchen in their absence.  Actually, we are blessed to have several monks who have accomplished skills in the kitchen, and the meal was a great success.  At the end of the day the kitchen was in mint condition, much to everyone’s relief.

+On November 29th the University football team played its second game in the Division III national play-offs.  Sadly, they lost to Wartburg College, thus ending the season.  It was a great season though, and the final loss did come with a silver lining:  no more games in the cold of winter.  The winner gets to go on and freeze another day.

image+Over Thanksgiving I finished reading a book that I’d worked on for a while: The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders, by Peter Heather (Oxford University Press, 2013.)  As a medieval historian I found the narrative immensely interesting, as Heather traces the evolution of a new empire in the West and the development of the papacy from the 5th to the 12th centuries.  I had read a favorable review of it in The Wall Street Journal, which suggested its accessibility to the general reader.  It is accessible, but the novice historian will find the array of names of barbarian chiefs and kings bewildering.  The popes under discussion are slightly more familiar.  This is a terrific book for its narrative of how the Church and empire in western Europe became what it became.

+The prophet Isaiah shows up early in the readings for Advent, and the first photo in today’s post is of “Saint Isaiah”, from Oliva Cathedral in Gdansk, Poland.  The other photos are from the cathedral in Metz, France, which was near the epicenter of the Holy Roman Empire.

+In the post of 24 November I included a gallery of images of the Abbey church.  This week I’ve included selected photos of the Abbey church in use.

image

Read Full Post »