Saturday, February 27, 2016



Why is the burial narration so important in the life of Jesus? It proves that Jesus was buried by not one but two influential, respected men who could testify to His death.

His death could also be verified by the Galilean women who prepared Jesus' body for burial since they were well-known and trusted by the disciples of Jesus. These witnesses would be important so that the first Christians could not be accused of concocting the story of the Resurrection.
Who were these important  men who buried Jesus?

First we have Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a rich, influential man, a member of the Sanhedrin. He is described as ‘looking for the Kingdom of God’, and perhaps believed he had found it in Jesus.  Mark's gospel says Joseph had to 'gather up his courage' to ask for Jesus' body. It was risky for him to defend or protect Jesus as it could have serious consequences in his social, religious and political life.
Entombment of Christ- Fernando Botero (Columbia)

"Now there was a man named Joseph . He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,  who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." Luke 23:50-56

Nicodemus brought spices for the burial, powdered myrrh and aloes, about 70lbs in modern weight, a very costly amount. There is no explanation as to why he gave so much. But John tells us Nicodemus came to hear Jesus under cover of darkness, as if he were afraid; perhaps he was now trying to make up for this fearfulness.  So two men, who as far as we know have not been with Jesus in His three years of ministry, were the ones to come through at the end. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose but  they stepped forward and arranged the burial.

Gwyneth Leech- NY

"Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds' weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there." John 19:39-42

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Oswaldo Guayasamin- Ecuador

V. Perlrott-Csaba (Hungary1912)

On HOLY SATURDAY, there is no liturgy at all.  The Church wants us to have a day of quiet and reflection on what happened yesterday. But tonight, this vigil of the Resurrection, we will gather in darkness, a darkness that represents all that we should have been reflecting on after Jesus' death.  And  in that darkness, a fire is lit, which represents for us Christ our Light. We can rejoice that death has no final victory over us.

Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. But today is a day to put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. The "good news" we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. (St. Benedict tells us we must daily keep death before us-  especially death to self). To contemplate Jesus' body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face.

Slav Krivoshiev - Bulgaria
As we behold the body of Jesus in the tomb today, and as we contemplate the mystery of our death, we prepare our hearts to receive the Good News of life.  We know that tomb will be empty and remain empty forever as a sign that our lives will not really end, but only be transformed.  One day, we will all rest in the embrace of Jesus, who knows our death, and who prepares a place for us in everlasting life.

France Kralj- Slovenia

 Our reflection on this holy Saturday, and our anticipation of celebrating the gift of life on the vigil night, can bring immense peace and joy, powerful freedom and vitality to our lives.  If we truly believe that death holds no true power over us, we can walk each day in the grace being offered us.

           Ivanka Dymyd- Ukraine

Monday, February 22, 2016


I recently came across  and interesting but unknown woman who  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta called her "Spiritual Powerhouse."  JACQUELINE de DECKER was  a social worker born in Belgium to one of Antwerp's most influential families- one of nine children. She had a great desire to work with Mother Teresa and in 1947 walked half way across India to join, the as yet, little known nun and her order of Missionaries of Charity.

But the Lord had other plans for her and  a chronic, debilitating illness forced her to return to Antwerp for what she thought would be a brief  treatment. It was discovered that she had a severe disease of the spine which  would necessitate a number of operations.  By 1980, Jacqueline had undergone thirty-four operations for her illness, which was never given an official medical label. She called it GGD, or 'God-Given Disease'.

The news of her future was so dreadful to her that she contemplated suicide, but in the autumn of 1952 she received a letter from Mother Teresa:

'Today I am going to propose something to you. You have been longing to be a missionary. Why not become spiritually bound to our society which you love so dearly? While we work in the slums, you share in the prayers and the work with your suffering and your prayers. The work here is tremendous and needs workers, it is true, but I also need souls like yours to pray and suffer. '

Jacqueline took up the task of promoting this apostolate of prayer and self-offering among the sick, linking each person who became a “Sick and Suffering Co-Worker” with an individual Missionary of Charity. From the beginning of her work, Mother Teresa welcomed and sought the help of lay persons.
M Fida-Husain (India)

Eventually those attracted to her and her work formed a group called the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. Coming from all religions, nations and walks of life, these men and women share in Mother Teresa’s aim to quench the thirst of God for love and souls by seeking to give Him their love and to bring His love to every person with whom they have contact, especially the poorest of the poor, and, above all, those most needy in their own families.

 As the number of Missionaries of Charity grew to over two thousand so too did the number of sick and suffering co-workers.

From her home in Antwerp Jacqueline managed to co-ordinate the Link for the sick and suffering, as well as look after the welfare of some 2,000 prostitutes.

" Everyone and anyone who wishes to become a Missionary of Charity, as carrier of God's love is welcome. But I want especially the paralyzed, the crippled, the incurables to join, for I know that they will bring many souls to the feet of Jesus. The Sisters and the Brothers will each have a co-worker who prays, suffers, thinks, writes to her/him and so have a "second self". We shall be able to do great things for the love of Him, because of you." (Mother Teresa)

M.F. Husain (India)
More of her life can be read in Kathryn Spink's Autobiography of Mother Teresa.

Jacqueline De Decker died on Friday, April 3, 2009. I am sure she is counted among the saints, many who suffer for the souls of others, many we will never know about!

M. F. Husain (India)

Friday, February 19, 2016


Angeles Ballester- Spain
Alena Antonova
A common theme in many religious paintings, the 'Lamentation Over the Dead Christ' is not a Biblical theme at all. It does not appear in any of the New Testament gospels, and only emerged as a devotional image during the 11th century. Famous Lamentations include those by Giotto , Botticelli, Carracci, and Rubens.

As the depiction of the Passion of Christ increased in complexity towards the end of the first millennium, a number of scenes were developed covering the period between the death of Jesus on the Cross and his being placed in his tomb.

The accounts in the Gospels concentrate on the roles of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, but specifically mention Mary and Mary Magdalene as present. The Deposition of Christ, where the body is being taken down from the cross, shown almost always in a vertical or diagonal position still off the ground, was the first scene to be developed, appearing first in late 9th century Byzantine art, and soon after in Ottonian miniatures. The bearing of the Body, showing Jesus' body being carried by Joseph, Nicodemus and sometimes others, initially was the image covering the whole period between Deposition and Entombment, and remained usual in the Byzantine world.

The Entombment of Jesus, showing the lowering of Christ's body into the tomb, was a Western innovation of the late 10th century; tombs cut horizontally into a rock face being unfamiliar in Western Europe, usually a stone sarcophagus or a tomb cut down into a flat rock surface is shown.

Jean Pollet - France

From these different images another type, the Lamentation itself, arose from the 11th century, always giving a more prominent position to Mary, who either holds the body, and later has it across her lap, or sometimes falls back in a state of collapse as Joseph and others hold the body. In a very early Byzantine depiction of the 11th century, a scene of this type is placed just outside the mouth of the tomb, but around the same time other images place the scene at the foot of the empty cross - in effect relocating it in both time (to before the bearing, laying-out and anointing of the body) as well as space. This became the standard scene in Western Gothic art, and even when the cross is subsequently seen less often, the landscape background is usually retained.

Most Lamentations focus on the passionate grief being expressed by the mourners.

Lyuba Yatskiv -Ukraine
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, "It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God's great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man's salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe" and that "Christ's stay in the tomb constitutes the real link between his passible state before Easter and his glorious and risen state today."
Paul Aizpiri - France

Friday, February 12, 2016


Boris Ansfeld- Russia

In this YEAR of MERCY I want to take another look at Lent, especially in Holy Week. It seems to me that during Lent, we have always been focused on walking with Jesus in His Passion.  We almost race thru HOLY SATURDAY in our hurry to get to Easter, thus by-passing a very important mystery, and one I want to emphasize this Lent -  that of the Descent from the Cross and the Lamentation of the Women. This Lent, we need to find the ways we can be present to Christ, in others, as we help them in their suffering into a new life.

After the mystery of Holy Thursday and the sorrow of Good Friday comes the silence of Holy Saturday. On this day the Church watches. She waits. The stone has been rolled over the entrance of the tomb and the guards stand watch lest the body of Jesus be stolen.

Holy Saturday is the space of unknowing, of holding death and life in tension. By being present to Jesus on this day we may more readily be able  to help others who are perhaps more disoriented in this fast-paced modern world in loss and darkness than ourselves.  Holy Saturday is the quiet, silence and darkness before we can really experience the light of our risen Christ.
Lamentation- Judyta Bil- Canada

Holy Saturday is perhaps the day we live most through the year. It is the day of hope- not the miracle of the Holy Thursday, not the tragedy of Good Friday and not the joy that is so overwhelming in the Resurrection. Rather it is day which is transition between sorrow and joy, pain and death. Since much of our lives rest in that space between loss and hope, our lives are full of Holy Saturday experiences.

Lamentation- Fernando Alves- Brazil

What I love about so many of  the modern scenes depicting Holy Saturday, is the lack of people-  the masters tended to add what looks like a whole town, when this should be a quiet, pensive time. Holy Saturday is all about the fallen Christ and his Mother and the few that hung around- not the masses who condemned Him.

While some of these artists may not be as "great" as the Masters, I feel through colors and lines, they portray as much emotion if not more than past artists and in many cases through their own "passion".
The Entombment of Christ- F. Alves

Sunday, February 7, 2016


It amazes me how in the literary world themes go in cycles.  Within the past few years there has been a run on books relating to WWII especially people who helped saved the Jews and others escaping Nazi terrorism.

At present the theme is nursing on the battlefields of past wars, and in keeping with our YEAR of MERCY theme  I have presented some well known and lesser known books and TV series about the women who bravely volunteered.

This year we have MERCY STREET a PBS American period medical drama television series. It is set during the Civil War and follows two volunteer nurses from opposing sides- New England abolitionist Mary Phinney and Confederate supporter Emma Green. I find the acting for the most part poorly done, but the history is interesting.

Mary, a widow, is sent as new head nurse to an Alexandria (VA) hotel owned by the Southern Green family which is repossessed as a Union military hospital, much to the family's  disliking.
Inspired by memoirs and letters from real doctors and nurse volunteers at Mansion House Hospital, this new drama reveals the stories of those struggling to save lives while managing their own hardships.

Annie Bell- Note they did wear their long dresses
To depict a realistic and accurate account of this era, the writers and producers collaborated with historians and medical experts, including James M. McPherson who is an American Civil War historian who received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom. Shauna Devine, who wrote Women at the Front:Hospital Workers in Civil War America was also an advisor.

Interesting to note from her work as many as 20,000 women worked in Union and Confederate hospitals during America's bloodiest war. The women were black and white, and from all social classes, serving as nurses, administrators, matrons, seamstresses, cooks, laundresses, and custodial workers.

Field Hospital

Military protocol and society "correctness"  banned women from field hospitals, thus nursing duties continued to be assigned to men. But with the increasing numbers of casualties and the overburdening of facilities, gender-related strictures on nursing broke down and spurred the nation’s women into taking immediate and decisive action to help correct the situation. Leave it to women!

We saw in a past Blog how religious orders sent trained nurses to  staff field hospitals near the front. Within a few months of the war’s onset, some 600 women were serving as nurses in 12 hospitals.

Nuns who volunteered 
There is very little written record of their service though a few of the more famous names left accounts, including Louisa May Alcott, Jane Stuart Woolsey (widow of a prominent industrialist) and Katherine Prescott Wormeley, who with noted landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted and the Rev. Henry Bellows, played a role in the work of the United States Sanitary Commission, a civilian agency set up to coordinate the volunteer efforts of women and men who wanted to contribute to the war effort. The Commission was a volunteer affiliate of the Union Army.

 At the beginning of the war, nurses were merely volunteers who showed up at military hospitals. But after Battle of Bull Run, Clara Barton and Dorethea Dix organized a nursing corps to help care for the wounded soldiers. Clara  established an agency to supply soldiers and worked in many battles, often behind the lines, delivering care to wounded soldiers on both sides.

The Sanitary Commission

One critic of this new TV series stated that women of this period did not speak out as it was not "lady-like", so he felt in part the series did not ring true. He must not have read of Dorothea Dix
and all she did in the Civil War to help the wounded. In April 1861, Dorothea  assembled a group of volunteer female nurses, staging a march on Washington, demanding that the government recognize their desire to aid the Union’s wounded. Throughout her life Dorothea begged biographers to de-emphasize her Civil War years. But in 1983, long after she was dead and could not protest the well-deserved honor, she was featured on a U.S. postage stamp.

These women may have lacked professional training but they labored tirelessly to bring aid and comfort to the sick and wounded soldiers on both sides of the fighting.

Mansion House

Women on the battle front

Thursday, February 4, 2016


For Christmas I received some interesting books related to birds.  One of my favorites is BIRDS IN A CAGE by Derek Niemann. Birding in the 1940s was not the popular passion it is today and field guides were not that common or were poorly done.

"In the summer of 1940, lying in the sun, I saw a family of redstarts, unconcerned in the affairs of our skeletal multitude, going about their ways in cherry and chestnut trees." Soon after his arrival at Warburg POW camp, British army officer John Buxton found an unexpected means of escape from the horrors of internment. Passing his days covertly watching birds, he was unaware that he, too, was being watched. Peter Conder, also a passionate ornithologist, noticed Buxton gazing skywards. He approached him and, with two other prisoners, they founded a secret birdwatching society.
Peter Conder

This is the amazing and inspiring story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, the four POWs overcame hunger, hardship, fear and boredom. Their quest would draw in not only their fellow prisoners, but also some of the German guards, at great risk to them all. Derek Niemann draws on original diaries, letters and drawings, to tell of how four men were bonded by their wartime experience which propelled them into the giants of postwar wildlife conservation.

There were relatively few things that inmates could do, but each of them had noticed birds around the camp, and - despite the absence of binoculars - they had started to record what they saw. In particular they noticed the spring migration of 1942 with a daily log being kept of every bird seen over a period of almost two months. In addition Buxton focused his attention on the Common Redstart.

George Waterston

Their interest in birds attracted the attention of security guards who suspected them of plotting an escape plan.  Some of the inmates thought that they were an odd group. All but Barrett were later moved south to another camp in a wooded valley at Eichstätt where Conder studied the Goldfinch and Waterson focused on the Wryneck  (a type of woodpecker); the latter study totaling an astonishing 1200 hours of observation for him and his "assistants".

 Eventually the men were split up before the War ended in 1945 but all returned home safely.

All wrote papers for British Birds at various times and each made his mark on bird study in a different way. By chance they each joined a different regiment in the Second World War, and by tragic coincidence, all found themselves imprisoned at different places during that war, having been captured in Germany, Norway, France, and Greece respectively.
John Barrett

In their own ways each of the four men went on to make their own impressions on the world of ornithology and bird conservation. John Buxton became a teacher and academic and wrote up his studies of the Common Redstart. John Barrett became the warden of Dale Fort Field Centre in Pembrokeshire (Wales) and wrote highly-popular guides to seashore wildlife. Peter Conder became the warden at nearby Skokholm, eventually joining the RSPB staff in 1954 and becoming its Director General. George Waterston also ended up on the RSPB staff and is widely accepted as the man who made sure that the Osprey was successfully reintroduced to Scotland in the 1950s.

Peter Conder

Peter Conder
The great value of this book is that it brings together the story of what these men experienced. These are stories that have rarely been told, as each of them remained relatively tight-lipped about their experiences - even to close family.

All four died a long time before Derek Niemann had the idea for this book, but despite having never met any of them he has brought to life their different attitudes and experiences with great ease.
Their legacy lives on.  A good read- even for the non-birders!