Tassel of the Cloak

Tassel of the CloakGod is in everything, be it sports or music or history or business or wine-making or church or whatever. Everywhere we look there is a spiritual metaphor to be found. Some metaphors may be hidden, some overt. I will attempt to point them out to you. That is the purpose of these laconic reflections. They are mostly intended to be fun and interesting. Perhaps, though, the reflections will provide you some guidance. Perhaps they will lead you to see everything through a spiritual lens, thus appreciating Catholicism all the more. When Jay Cutler throws a Hail Mary at the end of the half, might you move beyond your frustration with the Bears' offensive ineptitude and think of the Blessed Mother? Just an example.

These reflections will only be an introduction to deeper spiritual and theological truths. Hence the title, The Tassel of the Cloak. When David cuts off the tassel of Saul's cloak and shows it to him (cf. 1 Sam 24), Saul realizes that David is not his enemy. That moves them into a new relationship. Likewise, the hemorrhaging woman's grasping of the tassel on Christ's cloak in Luke 8:44 opens the door to her healing and conversion. The tassel was merely an entryway. The mundane anecdotes and simple spiritual lessons I provide are, in my opinion, the tassel. There's much more to Christ's Cloak. I hope you will experience it. So, please, go ahead and "Touch the Hem of His Garment." That is, by the way, the title of a Sam Cooke song.

Thank You, President Washington

The Constitutional Convention got off to a slow start in May 1787.  Having met already for a week, on Sunday, May 20th, the group decided not to work, but instead to attend a religious service.  Interestingly, they decided on a Catholic Mass.  There were no Catholics present in the group (the Catholic delegate, Daniel Carroll, from Maryland, had not yet arrived in Philadelphia).  Besides, Philadelphia held the country's largest Episcopalian church and, this same week, the city was hosting a national convention for the Presbyterian church.

Catholics, up to this point in the American colonies and the young American nation, had been overtly persecuted.  Catholics were forbidden from voting or holding public office.  John Jay, who would go on to become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, procured a law in New York maintaining the ban on Catholic participation in politics.  In Massachusetts, it was a capital offense for a priest to preach or celebrate Mass publicly.  

When asked why they attended Mass, George Mason, a Protestant, wrote: "it was more out of Compliment than Religion, and more out of Curiosity than Compliment." Ah, the curiosity of Catholicism! Something that still draws people today.

Mason went on to describe what the experience was like: "While I was pleased with the Air of Solemnity so generally diffused through the Church, I was somewhat disgusted with the frequent tinkling of a little bell, which put me in mind of the drawing up of the curtain for a puppet-shew."  I guess the altar bells are not for everyone!

Nonetheless, the experience was powerful that enough George Washington led a group of Protestants the following Sunday once again to Catholic Mass at St. Mary's Parish in downtown Philadelphia.  His message was clear: bigotry against Catholicism would no longer stand.  Thank you, President Washington.

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Three Stairways to Christ

The Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883 and designed by John Roebling, is a cable-suspension bridge.  There are two towers connected by horizontal cables.  The cable lines run to the land, ending at an anchorage. Emanating down from the horizontal cables are vertical cables that hold up the deck bridge.  Weight transfers from the cables to the towers, which is then transferred down to the ground.  In the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, two large pine boxes, called caissons, were floated down the East River.  When the limestone towers began to be constructed on top of the caissons, they sank until they reached the bottom of the river.  Workers were able to enter into these boxes to dig into the bedrock to allow the caissons to sink even further and form a solid foundation.  They were then filled with brick and concrete.  Everything rests, essentially, on these two pillars.

An interesting aside: vaulted chambers were built into the ramped anchorages at the ends of the bridge.  Situated within limestone and maintaining a perfect temperature of 60 degrees, these vaults became perfect wine cellars.  In fact, the city rented these cellars out to liquor vendors.  On the Manhattan-side entry into one of the vaults was a shrine to the Blessed Mother with a statue of Mary.  It was called the Blue Grotto.

Saint Catherine of Siena was no stranger to bridges.  She invoked the bridge as an image of Christ.  Our Lord is the span between heaven and earth, and the soul must traverse Christ to reach God. There are three stairways on this Christ-bridge.  One stairway is our detachment from sin, the second is the practice of the virtues, and the third is the loving union with God.  May we marvel at Christ, just as we do the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Running the Race

At the start of the 20th Century, less than one percent of the population practiced any sporting activity.  Sport was used only as a form of military training or as a pastime for the upper class.  To increase participation in sports for the health of society, and help promote the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympics, called upon the Vatican for an endorsement.  Pope Pius X readily agreed.  "All right," responded the Pope to an audience, "if it is impossible to understand that this can be done, then I myself will do exercise in front of everyone so that they may see that, if the Pope can do it, anyone can do it."

Over a century later the vast majority of the population exercises.  Pope Francis, the present Roman Pontiff, had this to say in audience: 

In rugby one runs towards a goal. This word, which is so beautiful and so important, makes us think about life, because all our lives lead towards a goal. This search is tiring, and requires commitment and struggle, but the important thing is not to run alone. To arrive at the goal we need to run together, the ball is passed from hand to hand, and we advance together, until we reach the goal. And then we celebrate!

Sports are not only good for our health—Saint Paul spoke of "running the race" (1 Cor 9:24) and the need to present our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Rom 12:1)—there are also moral and spiritual lessons sports instill, as Francis suggests. So, when enjoying the Super Bowl, perhaps we can be grateful to the Church to whom we owe, in part, its popularity.

 

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Father Emil Kapaun

Father Emil Kapaun quickly enrolled as military chaplain following his ordination in 1940.  After serving in WWII, he found himself in Korea as a Captain with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army.  When his group was overrun by the Chinese on November 2, 1950, Kapaun ran from foxhole to foxhole, lifting men out so they could retreat, giving Last Rites to others who had been mortally wounded, hearing confessions over gunfire, and, in several cases, dragging men to safety at the casualty collection point.  He ran back and forth across 'no-man's land' and at last determined to stay behind with the wounded men who could not be transported.  He used his preaching skills to negotiate the removal of a few more soldiers and was finally forced to a POW camp, though not before stepping in front of Sergeant First Class Herbert Miller, who was about to be executed by a Chinese soldier.  Miller was spared and Father Kapaun began the 87-mile death march to prison.

Kapaun carried men on his back during the march and when the depleted group arrived, the chaplain did not rest, but set about building fires, purifying drinking water, obtaining scraps of food, and tending to the sick and dying.  He rallied the whole group, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to pray the rosary together.  He prayed individually with men, baptizing a few into the Catholic faith, and gave homilies to the group.  The Chinese guards ordered him to stop and, when he refused, he was stripped naked and forced to stand on a block of ice for several hours.  Worn down, he was left to die alone, which he did on May 23, 1951.  His body was thrown into a mass grave.  This Medal of Honor recipient is an icon of the priesthood and hero in the Catholic Church and United States.

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The Gates of the Netherworld

The Holy Spirit moved mysteriously over the "waters" of the Piedmont region in Northern Italy over several decades in the 19th Century.  This was a tumultuous time for the church.  The pope had been imprisoned, the Papal States were confiscated by the new king of Italy, and the rise of nationalism led to the outright persecution of the clergy, parishes, and Catholic schools.  This was particularly the case in Germany with Otto von Bismarck.  The heresy of Jansenism had a negative impact on people, and there were still lingering anti-Catholic sentiments from the French Revolution.  The general population was skeptical of Catholicism.  God thus responded, producing a number of saints.  Never has there been so many saints from one area (around Turin) during one period of time.  Pope Francis has referred to them as the 'social saints.'  We have Saints John Bosco, Joseph Cafasso, Leonardo Murialdo, Luigi Orione, and Joseph Cottolengo.  There are others on their way to sainthood, such as Bruno Lanteri, Francis Faa di Bruno, and the 24-year-old Pier Giorgio Frassati..

Saint John Bosco, the "apostle to the youth" and founder of the Salesian Order was known for his great smile and exceptional love for all people.  Saint Joseph Cafasso was Bosco's close friend and the one who inspired Bosco with his pastoral visits to the suffering.  Saint Murialdo founded the Society of Saint Joseph, which looked after delinquent children, and Saint Orione, who was an apprentice to Bosco, founded the Hermits of Divine Providence, which tended to the poor and sick.  Saint Cottolengo likewise opened a home for the sick and orphans.   These holy priests won back the people's hearts to Catholicism and proved true Christ's claim that "the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail against the Church."

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