TSD 42: Diocletian Duo

Celebrating Sebastian & Agnes

Had a great visit to Chicago earlier this week to speak at DePaul University. I also fussed around the Loop and visited the grand old St. Peter’s, home of dozens of Franciscans and the best Confession times anywhere:

I know every parish can’t do this, but it was invigorating to see a center-city parish truly bustling with people in and out all day. Another remarkable ministry: Anyone can walk into the church and ask to talk to a priest—not necessarily for confession, maybe just for advice or spiritual direction—and one will be made available. That is being salt and light in an increasingly bland and dark world.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; and John 1:29-34.

In the readings this week we can suss out the theme of catholicity, of the universality of the call of Jesus Christ to faith and holiness. In Isaiah, we read the words of God to the prophet that presage the ministry to the Gentiles:

It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Meanwhile we get only the introduction of the First Letter to the Corinthians from St. Paul. But the salutation contains a teaching, as it is addressed

to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, in the selection from John’s Gospel, John the Baptist greets Jesus Christ with the words:

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

The grace and peace and truth and mercy and love of Christ is for everyone, and it is our duty to bring these to them.

The prophet Isaiah receiving heavenly inspiration (c. 1838), by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, mostly known for his paintings of the Napoleonic Era.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday after Epiphany. The Epistle is Romans 12:6-16 and the Gospel is John 2:1-11—the Wedding Feast at Cana. The St. Andrew Missal has some beautiful insights on this Time after Epiphany:

The Cycle of Christmas is like a magnificent drama in three acts, whose purpose is to show forth in three distinct ways the Incarnation of the Word. The first act, or Advent, shows in prophetic symbols and words the great dogma. The second act, or Christmastide, makes us see the God made man. The third act, is unfolded during the Time after Epiphany. The divinity of Jesus continues to be affirmed. It is no longer the angels of the Gloria in excelsis, nor the star of the Magi, nor even the voice of God the Father or the appearance of the Holy Spirit, as at the baptism of our Lord, but it is Christ Himself who acts and speaks as God.

Green, symbol of hope, is the color for the Time after Epiphany, as also for the Time after Pentecost. Green is, in fact, the ruling color in nature. St. Paul said that he who ploughs should plough in the hope of reaping fruits. In like manner, during this Time after Epiphany, the field of the Church, sown with doctrine ad the works of Jesus, abounds with fresh shoots giving the promise of a rich harvest. As an echo of Christmastide this season has the characteristic note of holy joy: the joy of possessing in the person of Christ a God “mighty in work and word.” (Luke 24:19)

And regarding Christ’s actions and Mary’s power at Cana, the missal says:

Mary, full of the charity of which the Epistle speaks, asks of Jesus His first miracle on behalf of the bridegroom and bride who are in trouble. Her power as Mother of God is so great that, at her request, Jesus anticipates the hour appointed for the “manifestation of His divinity” to His disciples so that He also places His power at the service of His love.

Niels Larsen Stevns Painting - The Wedding At Cana by Niels Larsen Stevns

Renaissance depictions of the Wedding at Cana emphasize chaotic revelry, which is fine and good, but I enjoy this later version by the Danish painter Niels Larsen Stevns, who was active from the late 1800s through 1940, which focuses on the quiet moment between Mother and Son.

The introit for this Mass brings out that theme of joy and adoration of the Incarnate God, taken from Psalm 65 (64):

Omnis terra adoret te, Deus, et psallat tibi: psalmum dicat nomini tuo, Altissime. // Jubilate Deo, omnis terra, psalmum dicite nomini ejus: date gloriam laudi ejus. Gloria Patri…

Let all the earth adore Thee, O God, and sing to Thee: let it sing a psalm to Thy name, O Most High. // Shout with joy to God, all the earth, sing ye a psalm to His name: give glory to His praise. Glory be to the Father…

Dom Johner writes (p. 88):

Gone are the shepherds who knelt before the manger, departed the Magi who had there adored and offered their gifts. But the spirit of adoration which animated all of them has remained. It continues to thrive in the Church. This supplies the theme for the Introits of the first, second, and third Sundays after Epiphany. Our adoration must be like mighty granite blocks, over which immense vaults raise themselves, resounding with the joyous songs of praise. We are not only to prostrate ourselves trembling before the divine majesty; each of these Introits incites us to sing and to rejoice, for we find these words prominent: adoret and psallat.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, January 20, is the Feast of St. Sebastian. It’s hard to know what to do with St. Sebastian. He’s one of the most recognizable early martyrs due to the proliferation of depictions of his, uh, athletic arrow-pierced body. (It’s hard to deny that some artists used the saint as an excuse to memorialize their own tastes in male bodies.) The truth is that there’s no evidence to support the legendary stories of Sebastian’s background or multiple-martyrdom—he’s said to have been turned into a pincushion, survived, and then beaten to death for good measure. That there was a martyr by this name in the early Church is attested, but that’s all we can say for certainty.

I became interested in using the name Sebastian first, actually, because of Johann Sebastian Bach (yes, I know he was a Lutheran). Only later did I discover that St. Ambrose popularized devotion to Sebastian—and we had already decided on Ambrose for our second child’s name, should he be a boy. He was, and he’s Ambrose Sebastian.

An extremely wholesome aspect of St. Sebastian’s legacy is that he is said to have been a very influential intercessor during outbreaks of plague—the recession of epidemics in Rome (680), Milan (1575), and Lisbon (1599) are credited to him. This depiction (1497-1499) of that intercession is by Josse Lieferinxe, once known only as “The Master of St. Sebastian.”

Tuesday, January 21, is the Feast of St. Agnes. She is something like the female counterpart to Sebastian: an early martyr whose legend is impossible to verify and who was venerated from the first centuries of the Church as an archetype of his or her sex. All accounts agree that Agnes came from a noble family and was very young at her death—around 12 years old. It is said that she prayerfully resisted the advances first of suitors, then of the rapacious soldiers sent to seize her. Fr. Butler begins his entry thus:

St. Jerom says, that the tongues and pens of all nations are employed in the praises of this saint, who overcame both the cruelty of the tyrant and the tenderness of her age, and crowned the glory of chastity with that of martyrdom. St. Austin observes, that her name signifies chaste in Greek, and a lamb in Latin. She has been always looked upon in the church as a special patroness of purity, with the immaculate Mother of God…

We also have an Agnes (our youngest), and it turns out Ambrose was influential in spreading devotion to the virgin martyr. (I just found this one out today.)

St. Agnes gesturing to the palm frond, symbol of martyrdom, and the lamb, symbol of her name, her purity, and her Lord. By Francesco Guarino, 1650.

Saturday, January 25, is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. I’ll be honest: I picked this ahead of time expecting there to be some interesting history behind the feast, but there’s little to nothing about it in all my regular sources. So I’m reduced to quoting Wikipedia:

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle is a feast celebrated during the liturgical year on January 25, recounting the conversion. This feast is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. This feast is at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an international Christian ecumenical observance that began in 1908, which is an octave (an eight-day observance) spanning from January 18 (observed in Anglican and Lutheran tradition as the Confession of Peter, and in the pre-1961 Roman Catholic Church as the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter at Rome) to January 25. In rural England, the day functioned much like groundhog day does in the modern-day United States. Supposed prophecies ranged from fine days predicting good harvests, to clouds and mists signifying pestilence and war in the coming months.

I love the chaotic chiaroscuro in this depiction by Luca Giordano (1690).

Tip Jar

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I don’t think I’m ever going to run out of these.

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Those Seven Days

Whatever you think about the controversy regarding his recent book, this is about as striking an endorsement a man can receive:

We’ve talked about Warhol in the past here, and I really want to get to this exhibition (at the museum dedicated to his work here in Pittsburgh) before it closes:

It’s everywhere…


If you’ll permit me to indulge another interest of mine: Anyone who follows hockey knows how delicious it is to see Brad Marchand fail:

As for me…

Tomorrow at midnight (that is, Saturday the 18th) is the last moment to subscribe to The Lamp magazine in order to receive the first issue in the mail. In that issue will appear my profile of Jeffrey Cristina, who spent 40 years in jail on a trumped up murder charge—and rediscovered his faith in the process. The impressive list of contributors includes Eve Tushnet, B. D. McClay, J. D. Vance, and many more. So, what are you waiting for!

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Make sure you like my writer page on Facebook to keep seeing the great #CatholicPittsburgh photos and stories from my upcoming book!

Feedback, &c.

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