Category Archives: Saints

The Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

During the season of Advent our thoughts turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are three ways in which the mother of God is often portrayed in iconography.

According to tradition, Saint Luke the Evangelist became the first iconographer when he painted the Mother of God from life. Known as the Hodigitria, Greek for “she who points the way,” the icon depicts Mary looking directly at the viewer while gesturing toward her son, the Christ-child — literally guiding the faithful toward salvation. A powerful reminder of God’s human incarnation, the subject also serves as a metaphor for the ability of icons to make the divine present on earth.   Subtle alterations to the Hodigitria led to numerous variations, while miraculous visions inspired entirely new Mother of God icons. Here you’ll find examples of the Hodigitria, in which the Mother of God looks out solemnly while the Christ-child delivers a blessing. In Icons of the Sign, the Mother of God raises her hands in prayer. In the Umilinya, or Tenderness, icon, Mary lovingly presses her cheek to her son’s. With more than 450 accepted ways of depicting her, the Mother of God is the most varied, and perhaps most popular, icon in the Orthodox tradition. (Text from the Chrysler Museum).

This icon depicts the Mother of God with her arms extended and hands raised in a gesture of prayer and receiving — what is known as the orans pose. A youthful Christ appears in a circle at her chest representing her womb. Her “sign” gesture and the icon’s symbolism together refer to a biblical prophecy from the book of Isaiah: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” (Text from the Chrysler Museum).


This icon depicts the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would become the Mother of God. Typically, this icon only shows the Mother of God, Gabriel, and a red cloth draped over the architecture, which indicates the scene is taking place indoors. Here the Mother of God stands on a cushion, a symbol of her purity. (Text from the Chrysler Museum).

Saint John Paul II had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary which filled him with love for the Akathist Hymns written the early centuries extolling the Mother of God. May this ancient hymn lead you to deeper love for the Virgin Mother.

The icon exhibit at the Chrysler will only be open until January 11, 2016.

On December 19 from 1 to 3 pm, in the Kaufman Theater in the Chrysler Museum, there will be an event: “Sound of the Saints: Celebrate St. Nicholas and the holiday season with an enlightening Saints and Dragons presentation and a special choral performance. The Rev. George Bessinas of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral presents an illustrated talk about Orthodox traditions involving icons. Following his presentation will be a musical performance, in English and in Greek, from the cathedral’s chanters, choir, and youth choir.”

Lima, Peru, Day 1

There are more posts from Germany and Austria to come, but for now I am traveling in Peru along with Father Tom Mattingly. Tuesday, January 20, 2015: It was a short night. We arrived at our hotel at 2 o’clock in the morning. We got up to a great hotel breakfast and had to go to the migration office because someone lost their migration card… The migration card is something very important in Peru, to avoid 18 percent sales tax. It was 2 hours that we will never get back again, but the people were helpful and very friendly. They went out of their way to help us maneuver through a bureaucratic maze.


From the office we went to Plaza de las Armas, the central square in the old city. It is a beautifully landscaped plaza, bordered by the cathedral, the bishop’s palace, the governor’s palace, and the central post office. We were relieved to see such a beautiful side of Peru because the areas we had seen so far were rather run down.

Governor's Palace

Governor’s Palace



We walked to the Convent of Santo Domingo and were able to get in the church before it closed down for the afternoon.


Entry into Dominican monastery

Entry into Dominican monastery



One of the side altars was dedicated 1 of the 2 favorite saints of a Lima, Martin de Porres, who spent his life and died in this monastery. We were surprised to see his skull in a glass case on the altar.

Tomb of Martin de Porres

Tomb of Martin de Porres

Looking ftom his chapel to a fresco of one of his miracles

Looking from his chapel to a fresco of one of his miracles

After leaving the church we took a tour of the monastery and Museum. There is a chapel in the monastery dedicated to Saint Martin in the room that served as the infirmary where he had worked. His grave in this the room contains his body but not his head.

There was another chapel in the monastery, below the order’s chapter room, dedicated to Saint Rose of Lima, Lima’s other favorite saint. She dedicated her body to the monastery before she died, but her head is interred in the church of Saint Rose, built where her family home had been.

Tomb of Saint Rose of Lima

Tomb of Saint Rose of Lima

We were impressed by a 17th century library in the monastery full of ancient volumes. I was happy to see a volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy displayed in the library.

Chant book in monastery

Chant book in monastery

Everywhere walls where covered in decorative tiles from Spain, frescoes and wood carvings.

1609 Tiles in Monastery with Moorish imfluence.

After the Convent of Santo Domingo we returned to the central square to find lunch. We settled on a meal of “the best ceviche in the world” according to the waiter, and a bottle of the local white wine, also the “best in the world” according to the same waiter. It was delicious, and delightful to watch the activity in the area. Next to our table was a group of Italian nuns.

It has taken some time getting use to the rate of change. The Peruvian sol is 3 to 1 US dollar, making the listed prices 3 times higher than we would expect. We had several instances of sticker shock before we got used to it.

Saint Rose of Lima's hermitage.

Saint Rose of Lima’s hermitage.

We only had time to visit one more church before we wanted to get back to the hotel, so we walked to the church of Saint Rose of Lima. The church was closed for the day but we were able to walk around the ample courtyard. Under class was the small house she and her brother had built and where she had spent her life. Father Tom was thrilled to be able to purchase medals at a small gift shop there. Although the church was closed there were many people there, a sign of her importance to the people.





We returned to the central square to catch a taxi back to the hotel. It was scary to experience Lima traffic, but we arrived back safely.

After a rest, we walked about 20 minutes from the hotel to the Pacific Ocean. The walk took us pass high end shops. casinos and 5 star hotels. The road ended in a park that looked down a steep cliff to the ocean. There was a complex of shops, restaurants and parks that took advantage of the wonderful view.

We decided that an appropriate way to end the first day would be to try the local cocktail, the Pisco sour, made from the local liquor, pisco. We felt affirmed in our decision as we found a two for one happy hour at a restaurant overlooking the ocean. A long but rewarding day.

Unterwegs mit Hildegard

On the way with Hildegard. Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was recently declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict. She had a broad knowledge of the Bible, theology, philosophy and natural history. Her rich knowledge of the church fathers and the desert fathers of Egypt were an inexhaustible source of inspiration and formed the basis of her work. God granted her visions which she set down in the book called the Scivias. So, inspired by this saint, I set about exploring her life in Bingen.

Just as Saint Hildegard held the people of her day spellbound so too I am held spellbound by her as I walk the streets of Bingen and reconstruct in my mind her life.





At age 14 she she was given over to Jutta of Sponheim to receive an education.

After a long and bitter dispute in Disibodenberg in 1150 she moved her abbey to Rupertsberg which is accross the river Nahe from Bingen. The Abbey was destroyed by the Swedes in the 30 years war. Here is a model.

Although little remains today of the abbey there are some excavations so you can stand under her monastery church.

When the abbey was destroyed by the Swedish Protestants the sisters escaped with her relics which are today housed in the church of Eibingen. The second monastery Saint Hildegard established in Eibingen across from the first monastery in Bingen. This was destroyed in the bombings but rebuilt (and houses her relics).

In 1165 she moved across the Rhine river and resettled the monastery of Eibingen. Today the parish church remains.

Monastery of Saint Hildegard built in 1904. It is a very active benedictine monastery. They are lovely and observe the office in Latin chant.

In 1803 the convent at Eibingen was disolved in the course of secularization. Bishop Blum was driven from his office by the Prussian State and given refuge by Prince Karl in Bohemia. His successor worked with the Prince to revive the old convent in Eibingen. And he built the new convent so in 1904 moved from Prague and in 1908 the abbey was vested with all the privileges of the former Abbey of Hildegard.

The interior is striking.

So thanks to the efforts of Prince Karl the monastic tradition of Saint Hildegard flourishes where it all begin. Spending these days walking through the streets in Bingen and Rudesheim and through the surrounding countryside was a moment where I felt the presence of this holy woman who had such a passionate love for God and the world he created.

Model of monastery at Rupertsberg


A relief (color) of Hildegard dying.

The sisters work their vineyards and sell their wine along with religious goods.


Day 29. Tuesday, September 23, 2014.
Feast of St. Pius of Pietrelcina
We were so excited last night that it was hard to sleep. We were up and ready to go about a hour earlier than we had planned, so it was dark for the first hour of the last leg of our Camino. We stopped for breakfast and captured the moment with a photo.

We looked forward to the Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy), where pilgrims saw their first glimpse of the cathedral of Santiago. We were disappointed that there is no longer a view due to urban sprawl. There is only a monument whose artistic merit escaped us. We prayed morning prayer on the mount.

We continued on the remaining 4.5K down the mountain, through the city, to the cathedral square. We met a number of pilgrims on the way. It was about 11:15am when we arrived. We stopped to take pictures and orient ourselves to the area.
There is a pilgrims’ Mass every day at 12:00 noon. We had said it was not important to attend the Mass when we arrived, but when it became a possibility we moved heaven earth to do it, finding our hostal to deposit our bags and rushing back to the cathedral for Mass.

The cathedral is undergoing renovation so it took us a few minutes to figure out which door to use. The pews were packed so we had to stand in the transept with a partial view of the sanctuary. The gospel was about Jesus saying “Whoever hears my word and acts on it is mother and brother and sister to me.” It was powerful to hear this proclaimed in the midst of the cathedral packed with pilgrims. We were treated to a blessing by the butofumerio, the monstrous thurible attached to the ceiling of the cathedral which almost touches the ceiling in its arc when it is hoisted in the air and swung by eight men through the transepts of the church. You could see the fiery coals as the smoke billowed throughout the church. We plan to concelebrate the Mass tomorrow.

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Ironically, in our excitement and exhaustion we forgot all about hugging the statue of the saint (Santiago). We plan to rectify this as soon as possible.

After Mass we rushed to the pilgrims’ office to show our credentials and receive our Compostela. We received it after a two hours wait in line.

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We were exhausted and tired and rushed to eat and then to take a nap. We are getting a second wind as we write this closing line.

Camino Day 28, Pedrouzo

Day 28. Monday, September 22, 2014. Pedrouzo.  18K to Santiago.

It is obvious that we have hiked out of summer and into fall. The mornings are cooler and we no longer face the relentless heat under the scorching sun. This morning we could see our breath as we started out. Mist laid in the valleys. The noonday temperatures were comfortable.

There is decidedly a new energy as we near Santiago. The pilgrims seem more relaxed. The thunderstorm couldn’t dampen the spirits of pilgrims at the little tavern last night. This morning there were no pushed departures with people bumping around in the dark of the wee hours of the morning, waking everyone. At the rest stops we call out to the various groups of pilgrims passing by, people who have become familiar to us over these weeks. They greet us as well. There are few strangers at this stage of the journey.

The scenery is beautiful as ever, but we have become familiar with the meadows and hedgerows, the groves of eucalyptus trees with their fragrant aroma, the small stone churches with their double bell towers, the ups and downs of the rutted paths. We were grateful that the rain of last night had passed into a fine morning but the storm had left mud and puddles. At times there was no avoiding muddying our boots.

We stop often along the way, partly to savor the time we time we have left and partly to fill the remaining spaces in our pilgrim’s passports with sellos (stamped seals) they give. Two sellos are required per day in Galicia to attain the Compostela that acknowledges the completion of our pilgrimage.

It was a relatively short and easy hike to Pedrouzo. We arrived before lunch. We didn’t want to press it too much today. We want our last leg of the journey to be enough to challenge us but not enough that we will be exhausted when we arrive.

We talked along the way about how crazy we are to have taken on this journey. What possessed us to spend these four weeks pounding the trail, sleeping in bunk beds in rooms full of people we didn’t know, risking blisters and bug bites and back spasms? It has been a crazy adventure but we have been undeniably blessed.
We wonder how it will be when we see Santiago… first from the Monte de Gozo (Mountain of Joy) where we catch our first glimpse from a distance, then as we join other pilgrims in the final kilometers to the city. There is a pilgrims’ Mass at the cathedral at noon but we are not sure we will make it tomorrow. We look forward to two full days to savor Santiago and to venerate the tomb of St. James.






Come Unto Me through Word and Sacrament

“Come unto me all ye who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.”  How do we come to Christ? Christ invited us to come to him through word and sacrament.

The living Christ invites us to be refreshed at the altar. When we come to him in living faith and receive the sacrament with living faith, he will give us the rest that is needed in the midst of the inevitable turmoil and adversity that everyone must face in life.

The living Christ also invites us to come to him, to ponder and be refreshed in his Word through the Scriptures, whose deeper spiritual meaning is mediated through our 2000-year-old tradition animated by the Holy Spirit, promised to us by Jesus, who said “I will send you the Holy Spirit, and he will lead you into all truth.”

Since Jesus has so kindly given us this invitation, this way to know him, then we should consider the ongoing study of the scriptures essential to the life of every Christian, for the leading of a full Catholic life.

There is a new study group beginning here, coming out of a recent meeting I had with two young women in the parish who really want to make this parish a center for young adult ministry. It was very exhilarating. Ann Bowie who will conduct this study is well qualified to do so. She did her undergraduate degree in Classics at the University of Virginia, and then pursued her theological degree at the University of Notre Dame. I admire their initiative, their enthusiasm, and their willingness to say “Father, we have an idea. Give us your blessing, and we will make it happen.”  This all fits into the context of the invitation of Our Lord to come to him. Ann spoke with such conviction as she extended this invitation to all the young adults of the city:

“Join young adults at Saint Benedict Catholic Church for a Bible Study of the Psalms every Sunday at 7 pm at the parish starting Sunday, July 13. Discussion in this Bible study will be grounded in the magisterial teaching of the Church as the study leader will be reading and sharing Augustine’s famous commentary on the Psalms as a basis for learning and discussion of the Biblical text.

One of the most read works in the Middle Ages, Augustine’s commentary on the Psalms is a window into the Church’s figural way of reading the Old and New Testaments as well as the man whom Dante hailed as the supreme Christian poet, King David. As the Book of Sirach describes him,

‘In all that he did he gave thanks to the Holy One, the Most High, with ascriptions of glory; he sang praise with all his heart, and he loved his Maker.’ (Sirach 47:8)

An ancient Christian poem says of David and his Psalms,

‘Be silent, Orpheus; thy lyre throw aside, O Hermes. The tripod at Delphi hath sunk into oblivion forevermore. For us David doth now play the Spirit’s lyre, The hidden things of God’s mysteries he revealeth; A multitude of ancient wonders he narrateth; Of the Creator of creation, doth he move one to sing.’

Come delve into the hidden things of God’s mysteries and sing in thanksgiving of the Creator of creation at Saint Benedict’s, Sundays at 7 pm starting July 13!”

Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Window in Saint Benedict Parish, Richmond, Virginia.

When we listen to the text “Come unto me,” Jesus invites us to come to him through the scriptures. It reminds us of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who dedicated his whole life to the study of scripture. Saint Gregory the Great understood the role of scripture in the life of the Church because that is how we come to Jesus. And so he says, “For us to search out the depth of the Scripture is to contemplate the good things of eternity.” And his whole career as Pope was not only to nourish the biblical culture of the clergy but also the laity through preaching and fostering the reading of the sacred scripture among the laity. But he continues: “Simple believers often have a deeper understanding of the Bible than the learned, because it is really the measure of our good works that shows how deeply we have gone into the mystery of the things of eternity.”

The wonderful text of the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time is an invitation to come to Jesus through Word and Sacrament.  “For although you have hidden these things from the wise and the clever you have revealed them to the little ones.”

We have received a beautiful 2000-year-old tradition guided by the Holy Spirit, unfolding the truth of Jesus. So we are not like the learned who set themselves above the tradition; but rather, like little children we set ourselves within in the tradition, so that the hidden things of the kingdom will be revealed. Pope Saint Gregory the Great’s quote is very beautiful indeed, for us to search out the depths of the scripture is to contemplate the good things eternity, that is those hidden things, those good things of eternity.

Robert Southwell, Poet, Witness, Saint

To be a martyr is to be a witness. A man who wishes to witness will bring forth treasures he has from his storehouse, to spend them on behalf of his Master. When those treasures consist of Holy Orders, an education with the Jesuits, a brave spirit, and the imagination of a poet, the result is a Saint Robert Southwell, a priest and a writer of prose and poetry. One of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, he was executed in 1595, for the alleged crime of treason.

His writing was circulated and was popular in his lifetime. Some was probably set to music. (Modern composers including Benjamin Britten still set some of his works to music. See parts of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols). His writing influenced English writers of the time, probably including Shakespeare. He was a missionary in England for six years before he was arrested. Once imprisoned, he was treated cruelly, left in the Tower for three years and tortured thirteen times.

Finally his execution date was set. From “They Died at Tyburn”: ‘Arrived at Tyburn he made the sign of the Cross as well as he could with his manacled hands, and then began to speak to the people in the words of the Apostle”: “Whether we live, we live to the Lord, or whether we die, we die to the Lord; therefore, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”‘

Many were grieved at his execution, possibly including queen Elizabeth. He seems always to have been determined to place all of his life, including his literary gifts, into the service of Christ, as a witness. Here in this season of Advent, enjoy this poem by Southwell.

The Burning Babe
By Saint Robert Southwell

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat,
such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames
which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind
that it was Christmas day.

Please see these links for more poems and information on Robert Southwell, SJ, poet and martyr:  – A good essay