Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Day Off

Today is Veteran’s Day/Memorial Day/Armistice Day, so it’s a day off on campus. As an added bonus at my school, it’s also St. Martin’s Day and he’s one of our patrons. One of the unspoken perks of going to a Catholic university is we have several Holy Day that are school holidays. We pretty much get half of Holy Week off. Today I’ll be powering through homework and then I have a paper staff meeting.

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Back From the Motherland (this time for real)


Hello faithful readers, as you know from either closely following this blog or by the last two posts I have been away in Tanzania for quite some time now. Well now I’m back. We arrived back in America on Thursday, but the 24+ total hours of traveling had left me to exhuasted to write a new post until just now.

To briefly recap what I had said we’d be doing earlier (click on the tag “Tanzania” for more) we went to go stay and help out a Benedictine convent. I baked bread, helped schoolchildren with Enlgish reading skills, organized medical records at a village clinic, and extracted sunflowerseed oil. I helped at the orhpanage once, but found the kids to be far more energetic for me to keep up with; though there were two other team members who were with them for the duration of our stay and are now in full maternal mode for them. Everyone on the team grew very connected with many indiviudals we met, alas because I have Asperger’s Syndrome I by and large did not. It’s not that I didn’t try, it takes me much longer to develope bonds and we simply didn’t have enough time. As the trip loomed towards the inevitable end everyone dreaded leaving, but I was more then ready. However by the last week I was beginning to feel a closeness with the people we met, and now I wish that perhaps the trip was longer so I would have had more time for that. Whatever the case, I was the only one who didn’t shed a tear during goodbyes.

This being subsaharan Africa, of course we saw lots of animals. Zebras, giraffs, elephants, baboons, antelope, gazelles, wildebeast, city monkeys, and weird black birds with white torso that make a very annoying sound. No lions or rhinos, but we did have an opportunity to pass throuh a reserve known for those two. We elected not to because it would have added three hours to our already 16 hour Jeep ride from Dar es Salaam to Songea. Songea is a small city about an hour from the convent, and once a week we would go there to buy supplies, check the internet, and get a much needed change of scenery. At the internet cafe I tried to post updates for you guys but the internet was way to shitty to get anything done. It took me like twenty minutes to check my email.

Overall I would say this trip is probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. So far, anyway. I did, saw, and experienced far too much to be shared in one post, so expect more information in the near future.

You can find more pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Saint-Martins-University-Service-Immersion-Programs/1428976637321287?ref=stream (as you scroll down eventually you will begin to see more and more pictures from unrelated trips)


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Creature of the Night

I feel like shit when I wake up every school morning. I put off actually getting out of bed and getting dressed as late as I can, and then I grab my backpack and head to class. MWF I go to the campus coffeehouse and drink a tall iced mocha, something which I get so regularly the baristas don’t even ask what I want anymore. That caffeine is needed to get me through those days, which are the short class days for me this semester. On Tuesdays and Thursday I have class all day, but a don’t need my mocha until after my first period. I had considered giving up caffeine for Lent, until I realized that would be more like giving up staying awake during class for Lent.

I fare much better during evenings. Then I feel calm, alert, and focused. That is when I get most of my work done, especially since I’m done with MWF classes at noon and spend most of the afternoon hanging out with friends. Actually I don’t have any school today and I didn’t on Friday, because of Easter Monday and Good Friday. One big perk of going to a Catholic school that they don’t tell you about is that every Holy Day is a Holiday. We get so many days off and three day weekends are fairly common, and four day weekends are not unheard of.



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Simeon the Stylite: A Shape Poem

A pious man

By the name of


Sat alone on a pole

Because he wanted to grow closer to God

Free from all our world’s temptations

Holy               And free from all want            Holy

Life                         Oneness with YHWH                       Life

That is what he wanted

So he sat on that pole

Holy                   Life

Holy                   Life

Holy                   Life

Holy Life                     Holy Life

But rather predictably The Dark One reared His ugly head

And tried to tempt the Most Holy Simeon

“C’mon get off!”

“C’mon get off!”

“I know you want to!”

 “But you’re a good hermit!

“I know you want to!”

“Just get off!”

“Just get off!”

“Are you cool?”

“I don’t think so!”

But Simeon never got down from his pole

And that’s the way our story ends!

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Review of Purgatorio

I have just finished reading Purgatorio, the second part of The Divine Comedy. While Inferno was excellent, I found Purgatorio to be even better. Purgatorio is a much more tangible setting than Inferno was. Inferno was mostly just very creative fire and brimstone, but Purgatorio is about Dante’s ascent up a mountain; which is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. Purgatorio is an island mountain at the bottom of the globe, which in the Comedy’s cosmology is the only land in the Southern hemisphere. It is where the dead souls go to atone for their sins, with a terrace for each sin and every one is easier to climb than the last becuase the burden of Sin gets lighter and lighter. If you have already read Inferno and ejoyed it, read Purgatorio. I wouldn’t reccomend reading Purgatorio with having read Inferno first, but I imagine that its possible. As I said in my review of the former work, the Divine Comedy provides a lapidary summary of Late Medieval thought. Unfortunately I will not be able to move on the Paradiso, the last part. We don’t have time to do so and the course is now on The Faerie Queen, but I intend to read Paradiso once I can. Purgatory is excellent, I can’t stress enough how much of a shame it is that people only read Inferno.

purgatory procession beatrice

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Inferno: A Review

I have finished reading Inferno. No not the Dan Brown novel, I read the original poem by Dante Alighieri. It is easily the most rewarding thing I have read in quite some time. Reading it is part of a school course as I did is probably the best way to read such a work, that way the full meaning (interpretation anyway) of the text is dissected. That is necessary because of The Divine Comedy is a culmination of roughly five hundred years of Catholic thought. It was written during the hight of the Gothic era, though many view Dante’s work as the first step towards the Renaissance. Of course, eras are divided much later after the fact and when one starts and ends is a matter of opinion and not fact.

Much is made of the elaborate layout of Hell in the poem. While that is rather fascinating I find the language of the poetry to be what makes it so amazing. Every canto and tercet is meticulously written, and the lines are worded brilliantly. No wonder Dante’s output of writing became the basis for modern Italian and made Florence and Tuscany the center of Italian culture.

As much as I hated getting to the end it was comforting to know that the next item on the course was Purgatorio, the second part of the Comedy. We have read the first three cantos and so far so good. Hardly anyone has read Purtatorio, let alone Paradiso (the last part); which I think is a shame because Inferno is merely the first part of the sequence. It would be akin to read the Fellowship of the Ring and giving it praise and meticulous attention without bothering with The Two Towers and Return of the King.

If you decide to read it, make sure you pick up an annotated copy; you probably won’t know the names of 90% of the individuals appearing in it or alluded to. The edition I read was Mark Musa’s translation for Penguin Classics, although apparently they now have a more recent one.

Geryon barque Minotaur



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My First Fast Begins Today

Like I said recently, I decided to answer Pope Francis’ call to dedicate Saturday to fasting and prayer for Syria. I have just finished eating dinner and I don’t plan to eat again until Sunday. My school’s chapel had a vigil today which I attended and I will be going to the daily mass tomorrow. I am not Catholic, I am baptized in the Presbyterian Church, but Francis called out to people of all denominations and faiths and I am glad to participate. Things like this are exactly the reason why I highly admire him.

While it is my goal to go without eating tomorrow, I’m not sure if I can make it. I’ll try. However there are certain things that I know I can go a day without. See you all Sunday.

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Architecture During the Romanesque Era

When the millennium turned Europe was beginning to leave the Dark Age and enter what many consider to be Medieval times (though some lump the two together). A cornerstone of Medieval progress was the development of Romanesque period art and architecture. Romanesque work originated as imitation of Imperial Roman architecture and was an attempt to restore Europe to it’s pre-Fall glory. Defining characteristics were rounded arches and vaults. The movement actually took influences from a wide variety of sources, leading to much regional diversity. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Romanesque buildings are how they ambitiously combine several different art forms, making Romanesque churches into a form of master art. Every visible part of the building was a potential art space, meaning even practical architectural elements could double as sculpture. Columns are a perfect example of Romanesque art because they are an obvious influence from Greco-Roman architecture and Medieval builders built upon past usage of columns and used and integrated sculpture into the practical design. Portals (the area around the main door) are another important element that were turned into sculpture:

cathedral sculpture Judas Christ in his majesty 

Romanesque art is also responsible for many innovations that were unheard of in Roman times. Stained glass windows are one of the most important examples as for many they are synonymous with Medieval art. The colorful, two dimensional, windows provide a nice counter to the often colorless (granted some were painted but it has faded away) and three dimensional sculptures. The art remained important well into the Renascence and there was revival of stained glass in Victorian times which continues to some extent today. Most of the examples I could find were Gothic or later, but here are some Romanesque stained glass windows:


During the Romanesque period almost anything could be made into art. The diversity is stunning with each building different than the next. Depending on the location influences (aside from namesake Roman) could include Celtic, Saxon, Islamic, Norse, Mozarabic, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, or Byzantine just to name a few. Visual style aside, all Romanesque art is unified with common elements. The chief of these is a Biblical worldview, or more accurately the Biblical worldview endorsed by the Catholic Church. Close examination of most pieces will reveal the most common theme are Biblical stories, depictions of extra-Biblical Saints are also popular. The reason for this was to make the content of the Bible accessible for the illiterate. Scholars have dubbed this the “Poor Man‘s Bible” and it can be seen in sculptures, stained glass, and murals (which I have chosen not to write about as they are not uniquely Romanesque). Local flavor can be seen in depictions of that areas rulers and history. We can also see much about how Medieval people saw the world in their depictions of grotesque beasts meant to protect the building from evil. Taken as a whole, Romanesque cathedrals and churches can be viewed as elaborate art museums, because they showcase the contemporary art in a region represented by almost every form of art.





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My nomination for Person of the Year

I nominate Pope Francis. Though he has not been Pope for even six months, Francis has proven to be truly exceptional. In rejecting most of the pomp and ceremony synomymous with the Papacy, he has made it clear that he is sincere in his actions. When I first heard that he would be performing Easter Mass in a juvanile hall, I was very impressed that he would do it there and not Sistine Chapel; and I was further impressed to learn that as Cardinal of Buenos Aires he made it a personal tradition to perform Easter Mass in such places.

After Hugo Chavez’s death many people wondered who would fill the void and speak for Latin America, and I think that Francis will become that spokesman. A major reason why he was chosen was because he’s from Argentina, as Latin America is where most Catholics are located. Being from the Western Hemisphere alone makes his election a huge milestone; granted his parents were immigrants from Italy; a country that has had way too many Popes.

What I find most impressive about Francis is his dedication to the poor, consistantly stating that helping the poor should be a priority of the Church. Its too early to tell now, but hopefully he will manage to turn the Church into a new direction. Child labor and wage slavery (the subject of my post from yesterday) are something he has consistantly condemned, along with human trafficking. If you have travelled to Latin America and witnessed these things first hand, as I have, you will see things that will never leave your heart. I have been very happy to see Francis speak out against such evil has made me very happy, it is good to know that there are some people of power addressing it. I just hope he will do the same for a certain problem his Church has been having, I don’t think I need to specify what.

In terms of influential Argentines, Francis now shares a legacy with Juan and Eva Peron, Che Guevara, and Jorge Luis Borges. Each one has left a lasting impression on the world, all for very different things. Just a little bit of trivia.

Anyway, all of these things about Francis have convinced me that he will be a very influntial figure in years to come; and that is a major criteria for Time’s Person of the Year. My runnerup is Edward Snowden, but he came in the spotlight even later.


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The Book of Kells: Ireland’s Million Dollar Book

One of the most exciting developments in “Dark Age” art are the illuminated manuscripts produced by the monasteries. After the fall of Rome there was a huge risk of Classical books being destroyed (which sadly happened with many works). To prevent this knowledge from being lost, monks decided to make transcriptions and occasionally translations of books so they would be accessible even if the original was lost. Rather than merely create carbon copies of the copied works, monks decided to elevate the practice of producing the book itself into an art. Such projects were known as illuminated manuscripts, and were characterized by calligraphic text accompanied by lavish illustrations. These required extensive use of a wide variety of pigments, which made the production very expensive. It was also very time consuming, generally spanning several years and requiring several dedicated contributors. All of these factors meant that each illuminated manuscript was unique, they might be copies of the same book (generally the Bible or a Classical work) but for all intents and purposed they were different. While there are many illuminated manuscripts, the most famous is a vellum copy of the Four Gospels known as the Book of Kells.

The origin of the Book is matter of debate, it may have been produced in Scotland or Ireland or started in the former and produced in the latter. The most first element of the Book one would notice are the elaborately interlaced abstract designs that are familiar in Celtic art. Closer examination reveals that some of these designs are not abstract at all but in fact depict people and animals or are letters. These show a strong Germanic influence from the contemporary Norse, as well as Goths and Vandals who were very important in the Roman Empire’s last days. Two of the most important contributors have been identified as a Celt (either a Scot or Irishmen) and another who may have been Arab, Italian, or even Armenian (Lincecum). That makes it very clear that the book is a synthesis of cultures which showed the Dark Ages were actually quite productive. It has been proposed that the monks served as models for Apostles and other individuals appearing in the pages, as was a common practice for scriptoriums for the time (Lincecum).

Pages like these show that the Book of Kells is timeless and can be appreciated without reading the many analysis that have been written about it. While it is the most notable illuminated manuscript, it is by no means the only masterpiece in the field. The field flourished well into the Middle Ages but declined after the printing press debuted. However the tradition is continuing today with St. John’s Bible, an ongoing project which I have been lucky enough to see in Santa Fe while it was touring there. Like the Book of Kells, St. John’s Bible mixes different cultures into one, this time providing a Postmodern take on illuminated manuscripts. Such a project makes it clear that while illuminating the Bible has outlived its usefulness, it is a lasting contribution to culture that is still worth doing. You can visit the St. John’s Bible here: http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/

Works Cited: 

Book of Kells. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells 

Lincencum, J. B. (2000, August 27). Lincecum’s Book of Kells Page. Austincollege.edu. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from artemis.austincollege.edu/acad/english/jlincecum 

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