I went looking for a good video of this old gospel hymn, "Give Me Jesus", tonight after I heard it on the radio sung by somebody while I was driving. The recording that I heard on the radio was not sung by Jessye Norman, but I'm glad I found the video of her singing it. The words to the hymn are "You can have all the world. Just give me Jesus." I was missing some of those old hymns while I was driving.
I have heard her twice singing live. Once was in a concert in San Francisco. She did about 8 encores, and I think the first 5 or 6 had been rehearsed knowing that her audiences would demand them. It was well worth staying to the very last bow. The other time I heard her sing live was in 1987, when she played the part of one of the prioresses the first time I saw Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Met. You just can't beat Jessye Norman.
I've been thinking I would like to see that opera again. When I first saw it, it troubled me a lot. I was still Presbyterian at the time. I didn't know much about the French Revolution and thus didn't understand it. Three years or so later, when I saw it again, it was becoming my favorite opera. I first switched to Anglican in 1997, about 7 years later, and Catholic about 7 or 8 years after that (4 or 5 years ago). But I haven't seen Dialogues of the Carmelites since I became Catholic. So I really am thinking about going to Munich next April or June to see it again, and to plan a trip around it. We shall see.
At today's midday Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI spoke from his vacation in Valle D'Aosta. Drawing from the Gospel reading for Mass, Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes, in this Year of Priests, the Holy Father said that priests can identify with the Apostles, who asked, "Where can we find bread for all these people?" The Lord answered, he said, that "by putting into his 'holy and venerable' hands the little that they
are, priests become instruments of salvation for many, for all!" The Pope also mentioned the importance of grandparents on this feast of St. Joachim and St. Anne.
Benedetto XVI Forum also has an English translation of the Pope's homily at Friday evening's Vespers in Aosta, in which he spoke about the personal nature of choosing God, the need to make God known to the world, God's omnipotence, and how God's forgiving and transforming power differs from the world's concept of power. The homily included this portion about the Cross and forgiveness:
"To forgive is not to ignore but to
transform, so God had to enter into this world to oppose this ocean of
injustice, much greater than that of goodness and love. "That explains the Cross, and from that moment, against
that ocean of evil, there now exists an infinite river that will always
be greater than all the injustices of the world, a river of goodness,
of truth and of love."
This post is taken from part of an e-mail that I sent a couple of month ago to someone who wrote to me about the Catholic view of celibacy. He was apparently a Protestant. The lives of St. Elijah and St. John the Baptist came up in the course of the e-mail exchange, as part of the Biblical foundation for monasticism. He asked me where the Bible says Elijah was a hermit or that Elijah didn't have a wife. I have revised and added a few things here to my response.
St. Edith Stein, in an article titled "On the History and Spirit of Carmel (in The Hidden Life, ICS Publications), wrote, "Elijah stands before God's face because all of his love belongs to the Lord." It
is a reference to I Kings 17:1 ("As the LORD the God of Israel lives,
before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years,
except by my word.") Scripture does not mention his parents,
a wife, or children.
The Catholic Encyclopedia page on Hermits mentions St. Elijah, St. John the Baptist and Jesus as precursors of the hermits of the Early Church. St. Elijah and St. John the Baptist, of course, were precursors of Jesus, and the hermits' lives imitated the life of Jesus first and foremost.
I Kings 17 describes the Lord telling Elijah:
"Leave here, go east and hide in the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan. You shall drink of the stream, and I have commanded ravens to feed you there. So he left and did as the LORD had commanded. He went and remained by the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan. Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the stream. After some time, however, the brook ran dry, because no rain had fallen in the land. So the LORD said to him: "Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have designated a widow there to provide for you."
Elijah was alone in the Brook of Cherith. God provided a widow to provide for him in Zarepath, rather than a wife.
From there, he went to Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18). There, we read:
"So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and informed him. Ahab came to meet Elijah, and when he saw Elijah, said to him, "Is it you, you disturber of Israel?" "It is not I who disturb Israel," he answered, "but you and your family, by forsaking the commands of the LORD and following the Baals."
Elijah mentioned the people and their families who followed the Baals, so families were not being left out of the writing. But there is no mention of Elijah having a family. He is always described as alone. At Mt. Carmel, after the prophets of Baal were slain, we read, "But the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, who girded up his clothing and ran before Ahab as far as the approaches to Jezreel." Again, this would be a difficult environment for him to have traveled with a wife and children.
In I Kings 19, after Jezebel threatened Elijah, we read:
"Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day's journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: "This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers."
So, Scripture specifically mentions that he left a servant, but does not mention a wife or children. If he had had a wife with him, it would have been natural there for Scripture to say that he left his servant and family.
Also, in I Kings 19, Elijah is sleeping alone in the desert and eating what God provides. "He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again." Then, "he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb."
Matthew Chapter 3 describes St. John the Baptist in a similar vein:
"In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: "A voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'" John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey."
Like Elijah, John the Baptist was "crying in the desert", wearing what God provided and eating what God provided. The description of both of them in Scripture is similar to the lives of the hermits of the Early Church.
In their poverty, they foreshadowed Jesus's own way of life. In St. John's Gospel Chapter 1, people asked John the Baptist if he was the prophet Elijah returned to life, and he said he was not. The prophecy said to have been fulfilled by John the Baptist is from Isaiah 40:3: "A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord." Luke 9:58 tells us that Jesus said of himself, "the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."
Jesus was never married. Luke
6:12 speaks of Jesus going into the mountain and spending all night in
prayer. He spent 40 days in the desert, tempted by the devil.
The Desert Fathers of the Early Church were known for following Christ's way of life in many ways. St. John the Baptist, Elijah, and the early desert hermits were linked together by the Early Church at least as far back as the Fourth Century. John Cassian mentions it in writing about the Desert Fathers in the fourth century. In Chapter IV of his Conferences, John Cassian wrote:
"This practical life then, which as has been said rests on a double system, is distributed among many different professions and interests. For some make it their whole purpose to aim at the secrecy of an anchorite and purity of heart, as we know that in the past Elijah and Elisha, and in our own day the blessed Antony [St. Anthony of the Desert] and others who followed with the same object, were joined most closely to God by the silence of solitude."
In Chapter VI, Cassian wrote:
"So then there sprang from that system of which we have spoken another sort of perfection, whose followers are rightly termed anchorites; i.e., withdrawers, because, being by no means satisfied with that victory whereby they had trodden under foot the hidden snares of the devil, while still living among men, they were eager to fight with the devils in open conflict, and a straightforward battle, and so feared not to penetrate the vast recesses of the desert, imitating, to wit, John the Baptist, who passed all his life in the desert, and Elijah and Elisha and those of whom the Apostle speaks as follows: "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts, in mountains and in dens and in caves of the earth."
Early monasteries and groups of hermits were established early in Church history in the places associated with Elijah. St. Catherine's Monastery (Orthodox Church) on Mt. Sinai is near the
place where Elijah is said to have spent 40 days and 40 nights
communing with God. Christian Hermits began to settle there in the
There was a group of them on Mt. Carmel by 570 a.d., when they were mentioned in writing, and probably much earlier. The well of Elijah on Mt. Carmel was also the location of a much later church by Latin-speaking hermits who settled there during the Crusades (the beginnings of the Catholic Church's Carmelite orders).
So, I told the person who wrote to me about celibacy, that marriage is a calling, and that celibacy is also a calling, and it is honorable and just as natural. To say that either is natural does not mean that it is easy. Both require the Holy Spirit's power, and neither works well if limited exclusively to what is "natural.
The Holy Father began his reflection at today's midday Angelus with words of gratitude to those who have cared for him, expressed their wishes, and prayed for him in his injury, as he is recovering from a fall and wrist fracture. He greeted the local people and thanked them for their welcome.
He then spoke of the economic difficulties affecting the region as a result of the current financial crisis, including a lack of adequate employment. He said, "Providence always helps those who do
good and work for justice. It helps those who do not think only of
themselves, but also of those who are worse off than they are." He also spoke of the importance of education and vocational training for the future of the region.
While I have been writing about the growth and flight of doves as they symbolize the spiritual life, here are a few links to sites that talk about the growth of real life doves from hatchlings to mature doves in flight. The linked sites primarily discuss the European turtle dove and its North American cousin, the mourning dove.
Matthew J. Cook's website includes his account of a pair of mourning doves that built a nest in his flower box 8 years ago. He watched their two eggs hatch and watched the chicks develop from hatchlings to fledglings. That took about 2 weeks. After the sad loss of the mother bird and one chick, he watched the remaining fledgling dove on an early flight as it left its mother's nest for good.
Here is another web page, I don't know whose, with pictures of mourning doves from the day a female mourning dove arrived to build a nest on someone's balcony to the day the mother dove and two babies flew away, all in the course of 27 days.
The Western European turtle dove may have been the kind that St. Teresa of Avila had in mind when she wrote about doves. There is a Bird Channel page about European turtle doves. It is called "a swift and powerful flyer".
There is even a Turtle Dove Blog with a story about rescuing a turtle dove egg, apparently dropped in someone's yard by a crow that had stolen it from its mother's nest.
And here is a page from BioWeb about European turtle doves' mating practices. They generally court between May and July. If they form a pair, they will build a nest. When the female lays her eggs, both male and female will care for the eggs, and both will care for and feed the young birds. It takes about 14 days from hatching to fledging. Its migratory pattern is shown on another BioWeb page. They arrive in Europe, northern Africa, and Turkey, among other places, in the spring, where their young are born. They may remain there until around August. Then they and their young migrate to Africa for the winter. Their habitat ranges from the edges of the forest to the desert.
Avibirds European birdguide online has a migration map and description. Turtle doves from Iberia (Spain and Portugal) and southwestern France enter Africa through Morocco. They may cross the Balkans, Italy, Tunisia, Libya, the Sahara, or the Mediterranean.
Interestingly, St. Teresa of Avila's description of the young bird as a nestling and fledgling, essentially covering the first four mansions, would be about the first two weeks of a dove's life. When it learns to fly, it is a strong flyer. Migrating with the adult birds to Africa for the winter, the chicks will fly north again in the spring to court, mate, nest, and begin the process anew.
The Song of Songs aludes to that process in Chapter 2:11-12, saying "For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land." David aluded to the dove's winter flight in Psalm 55:7-8 when he said, "If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and find rest. Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert."
For today's Feast Day of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne, here is a video of the finale of Francis Poulenc's opera "Dialogues of the Carmelites". I saw it twice at the Met some time ago and would love to see it again. The Archives at ICS Publications has the real history of the deaths of the Carmelites of Compiège at the guillotine in 1794 under Robespierre.
You can't tell much of the story from this opera production if you don't already know it, so here is a summary of what is happening in the opera, which is a fictionalized version of the history: As Paris is threatened during the French Revolution, a young woman named Blanche, from a family of the nobility, decides to enter a Carmelite convent partly because she is afraid of what is going on in the world.
The prioress tells her that, in Carmel, she will not escape her problems but will confront them. When an aging prioress dies while it is Blanche's turn to be with her, Blanche is horrified as her fear of death overwhelms her. Yet, she is told, the suffering of their prioress' death will make death easier for someone else.
In the Carmel of Compiègne, which is near Paris, they are close to the center of the Revolution. Her brother tries to persuade her to leave, but she will not do so. As the Revolutionaries take control, in what was as much an anti-Catholic revolution as it was a pro-Democratic revolution, the nuns and their priest confront the reality that they will face death at the guillotine if they continue living in their community. They hide their priest, as many of the Paris clergy were guillotined, and help him to escape.
When they initially vote on whether to remain in community, they decide that they will not do so unless the vote is unanimous. They agree that the vote will be anonymous, but when one vote comes back against it, they all suspect that it was Blanche's fear of death that was to blame. But another novice comes forward and says it was her vote, and not Blanche's. She changes her vote, which makes it unanimous. Blanche then becomes terrified and flees. As her family is gone, she takes a job working as a servant for the Revolutionaries who now live in what was her family's home.
In the final scene, shown here, the nuns sing the Salve Regina as they go together to the guillotine. The Revolutionaries' bloodthirsty act of vengeance against such innocent people will shock the nation and help to bring an end to the killing of priests and religious. Blanche stands in the crowd, watching as her sisters go to the guillotine singing. The new prioress comforts them and blesses them as they walk to their martyrdom. In the end, the younger nun who had initially voted against the martyrdom is the last one remaining, and she becomes frightened as she is left to go to the guillotine alone. It is too late to change her mind. Blanche comes out of the crowd and walks with her as they both go to the guillotine.
Poulenc set the tempo at a disturbing rhythm, which lends itself more to rock music than to opera. In this production, the rhythm is somewhat syncopated, with the stress on the second and fourth beats of the measure (rock) instead of the first and third (classical). The guillotine falls at odd times, unexpectedly, to illustrate the unpredictability of our own deaths and death's proximity to each of us.
Maestro Kent Nagano (my favorite conductor) recorded the opera with the Opéra de Lyon. He conducted one of the two Met performances that I saw, which was (of course) my favorite of the two. He will conduct it in March and April 2010 with the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, with two more performances as part of the Munich Opera Festival in June 2010.