30 November 2009

On Pilgrimage

I suppose you've noticed things are a bit different on the blog here.  The changes are, in case you haven't guessed, meant to reflect my "pilgrim" status over the next three months.  I hope you'll be back to visit soon, as I'll be making regular journal entries along with some thoughtful and well-crafted photos meant to emphasize quality and not quantity.  Six other seminarians will also be posting journal entries and photos on the Official Seminary Journal, the link to which can be found above ("The Seminarian's Tale").  We're leaving on Wednesday, so good stuff will soon be forthcoming!


In the meanwhile, to tide you over until our first entry, I thought I'd share a little piece of artwork recently commissioned for a priest friend of ours. It's a bookplate, designed to be pasted into the inside front cover of a book, and identifies the owner in a distinctive way.  These were all the rage back in the day, but as we hold our books cheap these days, this sort of investment hasn't caught on.

However, the fellow in question is quite the learned man, and is an earnest lender of books.  What better gift than a bookplate?  So we thought, and indeed it turned out better than I'd hoped.  The very talented Matthew Alderman, a recent graduate of Notre Dame architecture, designed a custom drawing that we had printed using offset lithography (the same process used to print books).

The drawing is of Bishop Frederic Baraga, the first bishop of our friend's diocese.  He was known as the "snowshoe priest" during his years of working with the trappers and natives, slogging from village to village with a seemingly indefatigable fervor.  In his right hand, he holds a book entitled "Kije-Manito o Masinaigan," which if you knew Chippewa, you'd be able to translate as "The Holy Book of God," i.e. the Bible; you see, Baraga wrote the first grammar of the Chippewa language (which, interestingly enough, I was able to use to look up the Chippewa word for Bible... thanks GoogleBooks!).  The fleur-de-lis in the moon symbolizes the Mother of God, to whom Baraga had dedicated the very first church he christened in the territory, according to a vow he'd made years before.  The lily is also a common symbol of purity, and has been used in iconography for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron saint of youth as well as of the small Salvadoran village in which our friend served for three years before entering the seminary.  The national bird of El Salvador, the torogóz, is reclining at the foot of the left stave, and a small hare is poking its head up above the roof (the Salvadoran nickname for the man was "el conejo").

But the finest detail is hidden to the untutored eye.  This newly ordained priest had done a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of the saintly bishop, tracing a path from the first Mass offered in the mission to his tomb in the diocesan cathedral.  You'll notice in the snow behind Baraga are footprints leading to the treeline.  It might be hard to see, but there's a silhouette of a man standing in an opening in the trees, heading out to "follow in the footsteps" of the founding bishop of his diocese.  All in all, a rich symbolic icon of the man we know, and hopefully an encouragement to hold fast to his priestly calling and pursue excellence through the intercession of his shepherd's predecessor!

23 November 2009

Thoughts on Literature, Catholic and Otherwise

Recently, a discussion among alumni of my undergraduate institution prompted some thoughts about how Catholic literature has affected us and our maturation in the faith.  The following are my comments as they were sent out to the group.


As to how Catholic writing has influenced me, my instinct is to approach it from my current situation as a seminarian immersed in theological study.  While on vacation—as I am now—my impulse is to set aside the often speculative and abstract world of theology in favor of the particular and concrete.  My leisure time is characterized by an immersion in narrative.  While on some level I see this as "recreation," in the sense that it recharges me to return to my studies with renewed enthusiasm, there is a fundamentally more important reason that I am drawn to fiction (especially the kind of epic fiction that takes up a person's story from life till death): it is an enfleshment of the beauty, goodness, and truth that is presented through academic study. 

21 November 2009

Nothing To See Here

Human beings are weird.

Last night I was walking back to the parking garage after a huge gathering for Catholic youth at the Sprint Center in downtown KC, MO.  18,000 high school students packed into a dome right in the middle of the up-and-coming, revitalized downtown, with another several thousand connected through video link over at the convention center down the street.  They were caught up in a frenzy of light shows, music, dance-skits, and a pretty stirring talk on chastity by Jason Evert and his wife.  There were some pretty good points made about Christian virtue, modesty, and the hypersexualization of our culture, in such a way that they really did get across.

That made the recent article in the NYT on the androgynous trends in clothing all the more interesting.  The most interesting comment being:

As if in this world one could EVER find a place in which to render oneself sexually neutral.  There was a time when dressing as a child might have done that; now, it's a fixture of the porn industry that the women are to appear as young as possible.  Few would argue that the line between "adult entertainment" and "abuse" is clear anymore. 
Mingling men’s and women’s clothing, others argue, is like waving a flag of neutrality. “It’s a way of breaking down sexualized relationships, of getting people to relax,” said Piper Marshall, 24, who is an assistant art curator at the Swiss Institute in Manhattan. “I work with lots of male artists,” she added. “It’s important to find a common ground.”

The question becomes, when sex is everywhere, where do we go to hide?

11 November 2009

Shucks, that Shore is Purty

He'd ride sometimes clear to the upper end of the laguna before the horse would even stop trembling and he spoke constantly to it in spanish in phrases almost biblical repeating again and again the strictures of a yet untabled law.  Soy comandante de las yeguas, he would say, soy y yo sólo.  Sin la caridad de estas manos no tengas nada.  Ni comida ni agua ni hijos.  Soy yo que traigo las yeguas de las montañas, las yeguas jóvenes, las yeguas salvajes y ardientes.  While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and the knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations and of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned.

From Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses

01 November 2009

New Avenues of Creativity

In preparation for our class pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I'm starting up a photojournal in the hopes of offering a daily image of some of the people and places we're privileged to visit during our 10 weeks there.  In years past, most of the offerings have been a chronicle of "first-we-went-here-and-saw-this-then-we-went-somewhere-else-and-saw-some-other-cool-holy-stuff," so it's my hope to offer more of a creative window into the places we visit and our experience of them.  Of course, the more I get to know my classmates, the more fascinated with their stories I've become, so you can expect to see some portraiture as well.

One image per day with a short entry, reflection, or commentary to accompany it seems the best way to accomplish my goal.  The images I've already posted on the photoblog aren't exactly stunning, but part of this is meant to be a discipline and apprenticeship into the photographic craft.  To this end, your comments, suggestions, and feedback would be much appreciated.  As was noted in the recent Brothers Bloom:

 A photograph is a secret of a secret.  The more it shows, the less you know.

I'll continue cross-posting on this blog for those of you that are following it, but feel free to bookmark the photoblog directly.  You can find it at the link below.