Women at the foot of the cross

I recall reading in a biography of Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice and palliative care movement, that she had been struck by how many women were pioneering and influential in the care of the dying throughout the centuries.

This is something that I contemplate whenever I look at religious art depicting the women at the scene of the Crucifixion.

In his letter on the dignity and vocation of women, John Paul II wrote:

Indeed, the Gospels not only describe what that woman did at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper; they also highlight the fact that women were in the forefront at the foot of the Cross, at the decisive moment in Jesus of Nazareth’s whole messianic mission. John was the only Apostle who remained faithful, but there were many faithful women. Not only the Mother of Christ and “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene” (Jn 19:25) were present, but “there were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him” (Mt 27: 55). As we see, in this most arduous test of faith and fidelity the women proved stronger than the Apostles. In this moment of danger, those who love much succeed in overcoming their fear. Before this there were the women on the Via Dolorosa, “who bewailed and lamented him” (Lk 23:27). Earlier still, there was Pilate’s wife, who had warned her husband: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream” (Mt 27:19).

It is interesting to consider the impact that art can have on the imagination and also on forming a person’s sensitivity to his or her role to play within a society.

Deaths worth remembering

Today’s the anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Thomas More who was executed for refusing to swear the Oath of Supremacy.

I find it interesting to note that this 1535 oath began with the words, “I [name] do utterly testifie and declare in my Conscience, that the Kings Highnesse is the onely Supreame Governour of this Realme, and all other his Highnesse Dominions and Countries, as well in all Spirituall or Ecclesiasticall things or causes, as Temporall […].”

In a collection of More’s correspondence written before his death, Father Alvaro De Silva writes in the introduction that More used the word conscience more than 100 times throughout these letters.

More would not say with the solemnity of assertion that he “declares in his conscience” something he believed to be false.

Now conscience is not a word that has widespread resonance and people are not usually asked about what they “declare in their Conscience.”

Yet, there is a reason why the deaths of martyrs are worth remembering long beyond the memory of the powerful people who martyred them.

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He knew how to suffer

Today is the anniversary of the death of a Polish poet named Cyprian Kamil Norwid.

Unfortunately, Janusz Korczak was right when he said, “The world is deaf to the names of many great Poles.”

I first learned about Norwid through reading texts and addresses by John Paul II since the pope quoted him often. Then, when I moved to Lublin, I found more traces of Norwid – from schools bearing his name, to collections of his works in bookstores, to the statue of him on the university campus.

It was during an address in 2001 that Pope John Paul II told representatives of the Institute of Polish National Patrimony: “I honestly wanted to offer my personal debt of gratitude to the poet, with whose work I have been bound by a deep spiritual kinship since my secondary school years.”

He went on to acknowledge that, “Norwid’s poetry was born from the travail of his difficult life.”

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A Patient’s Fight to Be a Protagonist

Today is the 40th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s longtime secretary, was in Rome today marking the occasion and remembering cradling the pope as he felt “his body slip as if paralyzed and fall into my arms.”

The cardinal also reflected, “Today, 40 years after that event, and 16 years after his death, I think with fear of what it would have been like if we had lost him in St. Peter’s Square back then. How poor and different the world and our homeland, Poland, would have been without his witness of faith and doctrine, without his indications and his warnings in the face of the dangers and turmoil that can threaten us in today’s world.”

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To the Tomb of a Teacher

On this date in 2008, Mieczysław Albert Maria Krąpiec OP, passed away.

I learned about this man as I gradually also learned how to pronounce his name.

This Polish priest-professor was a former rector of my university and is considered the founder of the Lublin Philosophical School – the most notable proponent of whom became Karol Wojtyła/Pope John Paul II.

It was in my very first week of classes that a professor of mine named Fr. Maryiniarczk spoke in an earnest yet convivial manner about this tradition saying, “The Lublin Philosophical School prepared, amid a very harsh time, an understanding of the human person and of reality. We aim to continue in this tradition of realistic philosophy. Metaphysics is concerned with discovering the content of being, not a conception of being and not merely a definition of concepts. We do not try to grasp a theory of man, but rather to understand man himself. This is part of what is meant by the approach called existential Thomism – an integration of truth and experience in our lives.”

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Unflinching from the sacrifice

I’m thankful to a friend who reminded me that today is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and who, accordingly, suggested that I devote today’s post to her.

Gianna was an Italian Catholic pediatrician and mother of four. She is known for refusing life-saving medical interventions that would have resulted in the death of her fourth child with whom she was pregnant at the time.

While it would have been morally licit for her to opt for the interventions in an attempt to save her own life, since the loss of her child would have been wholly unintended and inadvertent, Gianna was willing to die in order that her unborn child might live.

How someone comes to such a decision with faith and courage is almost never momentary happenstance. As John Paul II put it– that Gianna knew how to offer her life as a sacrifice was the crowning of an exemplary existence.

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Canadian Student Discovers his Online Course is Taught by a Deceased Professor

This evening over dinner, my friend and housemate shared a news story from a month ago about a university student in Montreal who was surprised to discover that his current art history professor had, in fact, already been deceased for two years.

Aaron Ansuini had been following an online course through Concordia University when he Googled the professor to find his email address but instead found his obituary.

The university says the prerecorded material was in no way meant to be deceptive. Nevertheless, the student’s Twitter thread recounting his surprise amassed hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.

He wrote:

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This World Day of the Sick

In 1993, John Paul II inaugurated the World Day of the Sick to be celebrated each year on February 11th. He wanted the annual day to serve as “a special occasion for growth, with an attitude of listening, reflection, and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness” and he specifically addressed all those who are sick, calling them “the main actors of this World Day.”

What did he mean by this?

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“Take risks, not care.”

Canon Andrew White, formerly the vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, has a chapter in his memoir titled, “Don’t Take Care; Take Risks.”

I’ll admit that I usually say, “Take care” to someone before hanging up the phone or getting out of an Uber. Nevertheless, the first time I heard the motto, “Don’t Take Care; Take Risks”, it struck me as better and truer.

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