“You must change your life.”

Rilke’s poem “The Archaic Torso of Apollo” ends with the famous lines, “[…] for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.”

This speaks to the way that we are admonished and summoned by an encounter with beauty and order.

On this feast of St. Jerome, I was re-reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter on the Anniversary of the Death of St. Jerome which was published last year.

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Not just façades

The other day I was attending a lecture by a scholar who is interested in architecture.

He spoke about why he considers façades to be the most important aspect of architecture given that this is what gets projected outward into the public realm.

Perhaps there is something neighbourly and civic-minded in this view.

Still, upon reflection, I think that the beauty of houses, buildings, tombs, and churches depends largely on the reverence shown toward what is inside.

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Suffering in the Spotlight

I have been captivated by a recent audition on America’s Got Talent.

It is worth every second of your next seven and a half minutes to watch it, here:

Since watching Nightbirde’s audition a few times, I have also watched a couple interviews that she has given in recent days, checked out these podcasts between her and Virginia Dixon, and perused some of her blog posts.

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The beauty of deeds without repayment

This evening my friend shared a story with me about a couple she knows.

The couple is in their 80s and both the husband and wife are undergoing the loss of their memory.

This couple has been married for more than sixty years and they have three adult children.

One son and one daughter, who each have families of their own, have been committed to caring for their aging parents in the home in which they had all spent their life together as the children were being raised.

In an effort to preserve the routine and normalcy of family life, and in order to avoid needing to put the parents into a long-term care home, the adult son and daughter have developed a ritual of care.

Every single day, for the past six years, the daughter arrives to the home at 11:00 a.m. to serve her parents lunch.

And every single day, for the same six years, the son has arrived at 5:00 p.m. to serve dinner to his parents and then to open the door to the personal support workers who then take over in assisting with the parents’ care into the evening.

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Having something at stake

This weekend I read Sohrab Ahmari’s new book The Unbroken Thread. While there is much upon which I could comment and that I plan to discuss with friends, for the purpose of this post I refer ever so briefly to his final chapter on death.

In this concluding chapter, Ahmari raises his twelfth question of the book: What’s Good About Death? (The other day an excerpt of this chapter was published, here.)

Throughout this section, Ahmari largely discusses Seneca, a Stoic philosopher who said, “Whoever doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to live.”

In considering why this is, Ahmari explains:

Here is why: The state of being alive—fully alive—is possible only in relation to an endpoint, death. It is the certainty of an end to life that allows us to appreciate sacrifice, heroism, love, beauty, the kind of virtuous life a man like Seneca lived of the self-sacrificing death of a Maximilian Kolbe. As any decent novelist or screenwriter knows, if there is nothing at stake in the story, the story is boring. If there is no final terminus to life, life loses its vitality, its zest, its drama.

What is good about death is that its inevitability means that there is always something at stake in life.

The vulnerability of life increases its preciousness; the risk in life increases the adventure.

This “goodness” of death does not diminish grief or sorrow, though. Instead, it makes the drama of human responses to death intelligible, meaningful, and even capable of pointing beyond themselves to realities transcending this-worldly concerns.



Could there be a more beautiful farewell?

Today a friend and colleague of mine shared this incredibly moving video in which a priest who has received a terminal diagnosis bids farewell to the priests, seminarians, and women religious surrounding him with prayer and affection.

With birds chirping, the sunlight shimmering, and a gentle breeze blowing, it seems like Heaven was smiling upon this tender and profound occasion.

Father Michael Kottar speaks briefly saying, “In case I die…” What he chooses to say next reveals the clarity of a person of faith approaching death with a sense of what matters ultimately.

Watching the eyes of Fr. Kottar’s young listeners receiving his words with such ardour and brightness makes an impression. We have the sense that the future of which he speaks is being entrusted into good hands.

Art guarded with your life

Leonardo da Vinci died on this date in 1519 and so today I am recalling the occasions on which I have had the opportunity to view some of his paintings.

One experience that especially stands out was when I saw the Lady with an Ermine painting at Wawel Castle and Cathedral in Poland. There was a long line to see this painting and only a few museumgoers at a time could enter the room in which the painting was exclusively displayed. Once my friends and I finally crossed the threshold and entered the room containing the painting, we noticed the armed guards attending to it.

This was several years ago when Islamist terrorists were wreaking havoc and attacks were a high threat in Europe. I thought about the armed guards and how it was that they were defending this artwork with their lives, particularly when there was a real threat of terrorism in key sites epitomizing our civilization.

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What would you do with a longer life, anyway?

I just finished re-reading Leon Kass’s splendid essay, “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?

I was reminded of that 2001 piece when I read this interview published yesterday about Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput’s new book Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living.

Leon Kass begins his piece by exploring the primacy of life in Judaism and our wider culture’s interest in prolonging life and forestalling death.

Then, he raises some questions:

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At the End of Life, the Artist is Necessary

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “clinical” may denote “expressing no emotion or feelings” or “showing no character and warmth.” The sentence that is given to illustrate its meaning is this: “We were going to paint our kitchen white, but we decided that would look too clinical.”

Do you ever wonder why hospitals and doctor’s offices are so drab? Why does there seem to be so little attention paid to aesthetics? What impact does this have on doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors?

One day, Cecily Saunders, the British pioneer of modern-day hospice care, was “magnetically drawn” to an oil painting in a gallery window. She was so taken by it that she parked her car and entered the gallery moments before they were closing on the last day of the exhibition. Cecily Saunders moved eagerly from painting to painting. The blue Crucifixion had been the piece to catch her eye from the window, but the piece she impulsively chose to purchase was of ‘Christ Calming the Waters.’

The following day, she wrote the following to the artist, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko:

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Does your education fix your mind on eternal life?

In the chapter on Hope in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses the paradox that “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

I certainly observed this during my studies and travels throughout Europe during which I was continually struck that the most beautiful art and architecture was made by people who believed in the immortality of the soul whereas materialists always seemed to produce the most ugly and bland structures and stuff.

There is something about looking forward longingly to the world to come that makes us more effective in this world than we could possibly be otherwise.

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