O Sacred Head

Something for the weekend.  O Sacred Head Surrounded.  The lyrics of this hymn derive from the latin poem Salve Mundi Salutare.  The authorship is open to doubt although I agree with those who attribute at least part of the poem to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, based upon stylistic similarities with portions of his other writings.    The sanctity and eloquence of Saint Bernard alloyed with the musical genius of Johann Sebastian Bach makes a potent combination indeed.

On a personal note this hymn has always moved me as no other does.  I had it played at my son’s funeral and when I depart this Vale of Tears I have requested that it be played at mine.  It reminds me that God died for me, something I find absolutely stunning.  Love and sacrifice begin and end with God, who regards each man as if there were no other.

How shall we explain the world-wide light of faith, swift and flaming in its progress, except by the preaching of Jesus’ name? Is it not by the light of this name that God has called us into his wonderful light, that irradiates our darkness and empowers us to see the light? To such as we Paul says: “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord.” This is the name that Paul was commanded to present before kings and pagans and the people of Israel; a name that illumined his native land as he carried it with him like a torch, preaching on all his journeys that the night is almost over, it will be daylight soon — let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the day-time. To every eye he was a lamp on its lamp-stand; to every place he brought the good news of Jesus, and him crucified. What a splendor radiated from that light, dazzling the eyes of the crowd, when Peter uttered the name that strengthened the feet and ankles of the cripple, and gave light to many eyes that were spiritually blind! Did not the words shoot like a flame when he said: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk”? But the name of Jesus is more than light, it is also food. Do you not feel increase of strength as often as you remember it? What other name can so enrich the man who meditates? What can equal its power to refresh the harassed senses, to buttress the virtues, to add vigor to good and upright habits, to foster chaste affections? Every food of the mind is dry if it is not dipped in that oil; it is tasteless if not seasoned by that salt. Write what you will, I shall not relish it unless it tells of Jesus. Talk or argue about what you will, I shall not relish it if you exclude the name of Jesus. Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

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Report to the Emperor-First Draft

(I post this each year on Good Friday at The American Catholic, and I thought that our Almost Chosen People readers might find it of interest.)

I thank you Marcus for taking on the onerous task of acting as my secretary, in addition to your regular duties as my aide, in regard to this portion of the report.  The Greek, Aristides, is competent, and like most Greek secretaries his Latin is quite graceful, but also like most Greek secretaries he does not know when to keep his mouth shut.  I want him kept away from this work, and I want you to observe the strictest security.  Caiaphas was playing a nefarious game, and I do not think we are out of the woods yet.  I do not want his spies finding out what I am telling the Imperator and Caiaphas altering the tales his agents are now, no doubt, spreading in Rome.  Let us take the Jew by surprise for once! (more…)

Published in: on April 19, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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April 17, 1863: Grierson’s Raid Begins

Grierson's Raid

 

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher from Illinois who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion for his crossing of the Missippi which occured on April 29-30.  Total Union casualties for the raid were minimal indeed:  three killed, seven wounded, and nine missing, with five sick left behind on the route.  Here is the report of  Colonel Grierson on the raid: (more…)

Charles Van Doren Dies

Charles Van Doren of quiz show infamy has passed away at age 93.  It now seems almost quaint, but most Americans were genuinely shocked back in the Fifties to learn that many of the quiz shows they were watching on television were fixed, and that Charles Van Doren, scion of a family of intellectuals, who had achieved fame and fortune by his appearances on the show Twenty-One, had gone along with the cheating which had allowed him to win.  Van Doren initially vigorously denied cheating, but sang a different song when the evidence became overwhelming.  When he appeared before a Congressional committee he was contrite:

I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. The fact that I, too, was very much deceived cannot keep me from being the principal victim of that deception, because I was its principal symbol. There may be a kind of justice in that. I don’t know. I do know, and I can say it proudly to this committee, that since Friday, October 16, when I finally came to a full understanding of what I had done and of what I must do, I have taken a number of steps toward trying to make up for it. I have a long way to go. I have deceived my friends, and I had millions of them. Whatever their feeling for me now, my affection for them is stronger today than ever before. I am making this statement because of them. I hope my being here will serve them well and lastingly.

I asked (co-producer Albert Freedman) to let me go on (Twenty-One) honestly, without receiving help. He said that was impossible. He told me that I would not have a chance to defeat Stempel because he was too knowledgeable. He also told me that the show was merely entertainment and that giving help to quiz contests was a common practice and merely a part of show business. This of course was not true, but perhaps I wanted to believe him. He also stressed the fact that by appearing on a nationally televised program I would be doing a great service to the intellectual life, to teachers and to education in general, by increasing public respect for the work of the mind through my performances. In fact, I think I have done a disservice to all of them. I deeply regret this, since I believe nothing is of more vital importance to our civilization than education.

Van Doren received accolades from some for finally coming clean.  However, Congressman Steven Derounian (R.NY) was having none of it:

“Mr. Van Doren, I am happy that you made the statement, but I cannot agree with most of my colleagues who commended you for telling the truth, because I don’t think an adult of your intelligence ought to be commended for telling the truth.”

Being fast on one’s feet intellectually, and the glibness that usually accompanies that ability, tend to be vastly overrated in our society.  Simple honesty, that base foundation for all the virtues, vastly underrated.

April 9, 1865: Lee Surrenders

 

It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884

 

 

 

And so the great Civil War ended.  Oh, not immediately.  The surrender process throughout the Confederacy would take until June, and skirmishes would be fought.  But with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, no one, except perhaps Jefferson Davis, north or south, doubted that the Civil War had ended with a Union victory.  At Appomattox Lee and Grant, with the ways in which they both behaved at this all important event in American history, planted the seeds of American reunification.

Lee, as ever noble, viewed surrender as a painful duty, and trusted in Grant to give just terms.  Grant, who would forbid the firing of cannon salutes in celebration of the surrender, gave as his main term that the Confederates simply go home and get on with their lives, agreeing to them taking with them a horse if they claimed one to help with the spring planting, and specifying that Confederate officers would retain their side arms so that he would not have to accept Lee’s sword in token of surrender.

 

 

The best account of the surrender is Grant’s, contained in his memoirs:

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.   
  What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. 
  General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form. But this was not a matter that I thought of until afterwards.   
  We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army. I said that I meant merely that his army should lay down their arms, not to take them up again during the continuance of the war unless duly and properly exchanged. He said that he had so understood my letter.  (more…)

April 15, 1865: Death of Lincoln

Death of Lincoln

Due to an assassin’s bullet, the story of Abraham Lincoln came to an end one hundred and fifty-four years ago.  Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, noted in his diary the last few hours of our sixteenth president:

 

 

“The President had been carried across the street from the theater to the house of a Mr. Peterson. We entered by ascending a flight of steps above the basement and passing through a long hall to the rear, where the President lay extended on a bed, breathing heavily. Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more. Among them I was glad to observe Doctor Hall, who, however, soon left. I inquired of Doctor Hall, as I entered, the true condition of the President. He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer.

The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there. After that his right eye began to swell and that part of his face became discolored.

Senator Sumner was there, I think, when I entered. If not he came in soon after, as did Speaker Colfax, Mr. Secretary McCulloch, and the other members of the cabinet, with the exception of Mr. Seward. A double guard was stationed at the door and on the sidewalk to repress the crowd, which was of course highly excited and anxious. The room was small and overcrowded. The surgeons and members of the cabinet were as many as should have been in the room, but there were many more, and the hall and other rooms in the front or main house were full. One of these rooms was occupied by Mrs. Lincoln and her attendants, with Miss Harris. Mrs. Dixon and Mrs. Kinney came to her about twelve o’clock. About once an hour Mrs. Lincoln would repair to the bedside of her dying husband and with lamentation and tears remain until overcome by emotion. (more…)

Published in: on April 15, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Triumph of the Cross

In Hoc Signo Vinces

(This is my regular post for Palm Sunday which I repost each year.  Have a happy and blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD THY KING will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 10 And I will destroy the chariot out of Ephraim, and the horse out of Jerusalem, and the bow for war shall be broken: and he shall speak peace to the Gentiles, and his power shall be from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the end of the earth.

Thus did the prophet Zechariah, writing half a millennium before, predict the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  How many such glorious entrances into cities have there been over the ages?  Every civilization I am aware of has such ceremonies, either parades in peace time or entrances of conquest or liberation in war time.  The Romans turned this into an art form with their triumphs, with the reminder of the slave to the imperator of  fleeting human mortality: “Respice post te, hominem memento te”.

Few such triumphs have turned into utter disaster as quickly as that of Jesus:  Jerusalem at His feet on Sunday, and Christ dead on a Roman Cross before the sun had set on Friday.  Small wonder that no contemporary historian or chronicler at the time took note.  However some sort of official report probably was filed after the crucifixion.  Writing circa 116 AD, and relying heavily on official records for his history, in regard to the great fire at Rome under Emperor Nero Tacitus states:

“15.44.2. But, despite kindly influence, despite the leader’s generous handouts, despite appeasing the gods, the scandal did not subside, rather the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruelest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour. 15.44.3. The originator of this name, Christ, was sentenced to torture by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified.”

Tacitus, clearly hostile to the Christians, points his finger at one of the great mysteries of history.  In human terms the Jesus movement was nipped in the bud at its inception.  Yet in less than three centuries the Roman emperor bowed before the cross.  The triumph of Palm Sunday led only to disaster, and the humiliation and death of the cross led to triumph in eternity and here on Earth.

For we Catholics, and for all other Christians, no explanation of this paradoxical outcome is needed.  However there is much here to ponder for non-believers and non-Christians.  In purely human terms the followers of Christ had no chance to accomplish anything:  no powerful supporters, no homeland embracing their faith, cultures, both Jewish and Gentile, which were hostile to the preaching of the Gospels, other religions which were well-established, the list of disadvantages could go on at considerable length.  We take the victory of Christianity for granted because it happened.  We forget how very improbable such a victory was. Even more improbable is that what began on Palm Sunday, the triumph of Jesus, has continued till today in spite of all challenges that two thousand years of human folly could cast up.  How very peculiar in mortal terms!

Let us give the last word to the patron saint of paradox G. K. Chesterton: (more…)

Published in: on April 14, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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All Glory, Laud and Honor

 

Something for the weekend.  Always a favorite on Palm Sunday, All Glory, Laud and Honor has a long history.  Theodulf was Bishop of Orleans under Charlemagne.  Running afoul of his son Louis, he was thrown into prison.   Theodulf wrote the hymn in 820 while incarcerated.  Released the same year, he died in 821 on his way to resume his ecclesiastical duties in Orleans.  The tune to which the hymn is sung was composed by Melchior Teschner in 1603.  The commonly used English translation was written by John Neale in 1851.

Published in: on April 12, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Requiescat in Pace: Colonel Richard Cole

Inevitable but sad:

Sad news—the last Doolittle Raider has died. Lt. Col. Richard Cole passed away Monday at the age of 103.

Cole was the final surviving member of the daring raid on Tokyo by carrier-launched B-25s. As I wrote for his 100th birthday in 2015:

Col. Richard Cole was the co-pilot of “Crew 1,” which means he sat alongside Col. Jimmy Doolittle at the tip of the tip of the American spear aimed at Imperial Japan. The Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, was a virtual suicide mission. It was a daring sea-launched bombing mission in the earliest days of World War II.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans were desperate to hit back, and that first hit was the Doolittle Raid. Sixteen Army Air Force B-25s took off from the USS Hornet to hit multiple Japanese cities. The plan was to fly to China because a B-25 could not land on an aircraft carrier. Only one of the 16 planes actually landed safely — in the Soviet Union. The fate of the rest of the crews was a story of heroism and sacrifice.

Many didn’t survive. Some were beheaded by the Japanese. The Japanese burned entire towns in occupied China that helped the Raiders.

Go here to read the rest.

 

 

Seventy-seven years ago 80 very brave Americans, led by Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, brought the nation a badly needed morale boost.  The War in the Pacific was going badly as defeat followed defeat.  Navy Captain Francis Low hit upon a plan to send a message, not only to the American public, but also to Japan, that the United States was not beaten and that it would strike back and prevail.

16 Mitchell B-25B bombers were placed on the carrier USS Hornet.  In great secrecy the Hornet and its escorts steamed to within 650 nautical miles of Japan when the force was discovered by a Japanese picket boat which was sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville.  Fearing discovery the Doolittle force launched immediately, some 10 hours earlier than planned, and 170 nautical miles further from Japan.

The raiders reached the Japanese Home Islands at around noon.  They had split up into groups ranging from two to four planes and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.  The raiders then planned to fly their planes into Nationalist controlled China and make their way back to the US.  Miraculously 69 of the raiders did just that.  Three of the raiders died and eight were captured.

Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following a show trial.

 

 

The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War.  Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel. (more…)

Why Did the South Lose the Civil War?

Why The South Lost the Civil War, a companion book to the earlier How The North Won, by Archer Jones, Herman Hattaway, Richard E. Berenger and William M. Still, Jr,  published in 1986  has always struck me as giving one of the worst answers to the question of “Why did the South lose the Civil War?”   The thesis of this book is that the South lost the War because of insufficient nationalism. To call this argument preposterous is to be kind. Out of a white population of nine million the South lost a quarter of a million dead and many times that number in wounded. The South kept fighting until every Southern city was controlled by the Union. A small agrarian nation, the South fought a large, industrialized nascent world power. Unbelievably the South came close to winning this unequal contest. To contend that the South failed because of lack of will is ahistoric and a contemptible insult to the brave rebels who fell under the stars and bars. A better judge of Southern will during that war was General Grant who, while attacking the Southern cause, admitted that never had men fought harder for a cause than the Southerners. (more…)

Published in: on April 11, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (9)  
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