Monthly Archives: March 2022

The First Sacred Heart Oratory

The first little place of prayer dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was in the choir area at the Visitation convent of Paray-le-Monial. It was created and decorated by the novices of Paray-le-Monial, and the walls were painted by Sister Marie-Nicole de la Faige des Claines, the youngest of the novices. (Other walls in the convent were painted by Sr. Marie-Anne Cordier, and there were many other artistic nuns in the place.)

This page on the history of Paray-le-Monial includes a look at the first oratory, at 6:16. It looks beautiful and dignified. Obviously today’s artists could take some inspiration from the work of these women of the past.

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A “New” Sainthood Cause

Father Willie Doyle (aka William Doyle, S.J.) served as a heroic military chaplain in WWI, after facing a crippling nervous breakdown and PTSD in his early priestly life. He also secretly performed many acts of reparation and penance for the sins of bad priests, as an important part of his own spiritual life. He died saving two Protestant soldiers, at the cost of his own life.

So obviously this is relevant to modern Catholics.

Despite much devotion to his memory, and even many reported miracles, his cause was not taken up at the time by the Jesuit order, probably because his service in the UK army as an Irishman was deemed too controversial. This too is relevant today, sadly.

The Father Willie Doyle Association was just given ecclesiastical approval in Ireland. You can read a good article about him here, as well as watch an EWTN interview about him.

There’s a recent biography that uses his private papers in depth. There’s also an older biography by Alfred O’Rahilly, which is available to read on Hathitrust.

O’Rahilly was a personal friend of Doyle’s. He was also a pretty interesting guy himself. He started out as a Jesuit novice, but discerned his way out. His field was physics, and he was a college professor at the University of Cork who wrote a “controversial” book on electromagnetics. (Basically, he ended up on the losing side by opposing Maxwell and Einstein, but no idea if the book was well-argued otherwise.) He advocated Irish independence, and was imprisoned for it briefly in 1921. He co-wrote a draft constitution, and served briefly in the new Irish Dail (Congress/Parliament). He became president of the University of Cork in later years. He was also a devout Catholic who had a close relationship with his nun sister, and eventually he went back to the Jesuits and became a priest after his wife died.

Yup, he’s the sibling of the Irish language/literature O’Rahillys, Thomas Francis O’Rahilly and Cecile O’Rahilly. (And this is not surprising, as they descended from a filidh family.)

But back to Doyle….

Doyle came from a well-to-do family, and his father was an official in Dublin’s High Court. They had several servants and did a lot of entertaining. But Willie was an unusually thoughtful and kind kid, and had a habit of sneaking into the kitchen in the early morning after big dinner events (since his parents didn’t make the maids do all the dishes before going to bed), and doing all the dishes himself.

  1. He was handy and observant, since this wasn’t part of his chores.
  2. Holy crud, he must have been quiet and sneaky. Especially with six other kids in the house.
  3. He got himself up early. Really early.

One of the maids remembered fondly how he helped her settle into the house, carrying her things when she arrived, showing her how to do various tasks that she had never been taught to do, and also doing several tasks himself that she had forgotten, so that she wouldn’t get into trouble.

Needless to say, this was not what usually happened in houses with servants!

Also, while still a kid, he made it his business to know all the poor people in the area, and to help them out however he could, either with money or with offers of help. On one occasion, he managed to get all the materials to clean and whitewash all the walls of an old lady’s entire house, and then finished by scrubbing all her floors. He got home a little late, but his servant friends knew all about it and made sure he didn’t miss dinner.

But he also was a fun guy to spend time with, which was why people liked him; he did his charity lightly, and didn’t make people feel bad. He was their friend, so of course he would help them. He played cricket and other sports, and he also played piano and banjo.

His dream during his Jesuit novitiate, though, was to do missionary work and become a martyr, to the point that he secretly wrote out a pledge (using his own blood for ink!) to die for Christ and the Virgin Mary. (Which is super emo, of course, but also really really manly and cool. I mean, if you can’t be young and idealistic when you’re setting out in life and discerning, when can you be edgy and idealistic?)

And it turns out that God took him up on it, so the whole crazy Irish blood oath thing must have pleased Him! It reminds me a lot of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s dream as a kid. (And apparently St. Margaret Mary Alacoque did the same thing as a young novice, so Doyle was imitating one of his heroines. Maybe that makes it a crazy French blood oath instead! Heh!)

He was sent to several Jesuit-run schools, where he was assigned to ride herd on the kids. Just as he had been able to get to know everyone in his little town, he apparently managed to know all the boys, help them, and organize all kinds of fun and enrichment, despite lack of time and money and his own chronic ill health. His cheerfulness and sense of humor carried everything, and the toboggan he had built at Stonyhurst was apparently famous among the kids.

But he wasn’t content with himself, even though he was popular with kids and warmly approved by his co-workers and superiors. He constantly criticized himself, but also planned and executed his own betterment as a scholar and believer. That’s probably the secret of his vast energy — he didn’t just brood; he did something about it. He also ended up finding a way to intensify his prayer life without taking away from his time for work and study — making a Holy Hour. This helped him a lot, and he warmly recommended it to others.

There’s lots more to his short but busy life, so check out the biographies. The O’Rahilly book is very insightful about the Old School way that Jesuits used to form novices, and about Ignatian spirituality in general (as well as how Doyle applied it). Good stuff, which will be useful when the current-year Jesuit silliness passes away and is forgotten.

Through prayer, voluntary self-denial and suffering, and constant dedication, he found himself able to get a sense that he could pour God’s grace out of him as if he were a cup, onto people in great need and trouble. And apparently people felt this themselves.

(I suspect this is what happens when a charismatic or charming person gets very deep into God, making himself a holy conduit, just as singers and performers find things not of themselves mysteriously pouring out onto those who need them. It’s a gift for others’ good, but it has to be cultivated by hard work on oneself.)

Although his work in missions and in preaching retreats was greatly praised, he was constantly tormented by depression and stage fright. (Which is interesting, since he was naturally so social.) But it really is hard work to expose your heart in front of an audience like that… and honestly, one suspects that Satan did not like Fr. Doyle doing such work, and helping out souls en masse.

Fr. Doyle was a big advocate of encouraging lay adults who worked for a living to come to retreats and re-examine their lives. I suspect that this is also something we need today. He wanted to institute retreat houses for this purpose… but the one house that was acquired in Ireland for this, during his lifetime, was burned down by suffragette arson! (Yup, UK and Irish suffragettes were freaking terrorists, unlike US suffragettes who were mostly sane and law-abiding. And Republican.)

The O’Rahilly book also explains the origins of the “pagan babies” remarks that one often hears. There was a French charity called the Association of the Holy Childhood, which was dedicated to saving abandoned babies in pagan countries, baptizing them, educating them, and finding them adoptive Christian homes or raising them to adulthood. In Ireland and other countries, this charity was enthusiastically supported by people of all ages. UNICEF and other secular charities seem to have taken over, while the old groups that cared about “pagan babies” are mocked.

Fr. Doyle wrote two popular and effective pamphlets during his lifetime, one called Vocations and the other Shall I Be a Priest? Obviously this led to a lot of contacts with people interested in priesthood and the religious life. Doyle did not just advise them; he did his best to find homes for anybody he thought had a real religious vocation. He even found American convents that would receive a girl with a prosthetic wooden leg, and another girl with a paralyzed hand. (This was unusual, because monastic life was rigorous; those who were ill or disabled could rarely stand up to all the work and harsh conditions.)

Doyle suggested that it would be a good idea for people to “adopt” a prospective priest, brother, sister, nun, etc., by donating money to pay their extra expenses. This would remove obstacles to vocations. There are some charities today which help pay off student debts for such people, which is a similar idea.

Doyle liked to occasionally look for God’s will not just by random opening of the Bible, but even by random opening of devotional books! And O’Rahilly defends this, as being part of the long Christian devotional tradition of seeking God’s will by opening oneself to Providence, through what only looks like chance. Obviously you have to be prudent about this kind of thing, but it’s not superstitious when done in the right way, with prayer. (And it does fit into Celtic traditions of spirituality, yuppers.)

Doyle’s spirituality was dedicated to a lot of different things, but he particularly took trouble to pray before the Blessed Sacrament (even and especially when it was “dry Adoration,” without particular feelings), and to say thousands of mini-prayers every day. (“Aspirations” is what they are called — one line prayers, which can easily be said mentally as one wishes.) One of his many favorites was “Blessed be God for all things,” which seems to have been associated with his Little Way of dealing with disappointments and physical illness. Eventually this seems to have evolved into quick re-orientation of his thoughts toward God, so that basically he was always praying and recalling God’s presence, even while working hard and fully paying attention to others. Counting stuff like that is not great for people whom it would worry and strain; but Doyle seems to have found it satisfying, like playing a casual videogame. It’s all in the individual personality.

I could keep writing. O’Rahilly’s book is very rich, and the Doyle Association’s website and blog are full of good things.

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Deuteronomy’s Underground Railroad

Among the many things not mentioned in most US History classes, the rationale of Underground Railroad participants is not usually mentioned. Of course most of them were devout Christians of various denominations, and of course most of them were also patriotic Americans who believed that the abolition of slavery was the only way. But people forget that a lot of their reasons were specifically religious.

For example.

Of course, the big religious reasoning was “remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” Any Jewish or Christian person would potentially remember this.

But the specific verse against the Fugitive Slave Act was in Deuteronomy 23:15-16 — “You shall not hand over the slave who flees to you, to his master. He shall dwell with you in whatever place pleases him, and shall rest in your cities. Give him no trouble.”

Now, Paul’s letter to Philemon reasons a little differently. He does send a slave back… voluntarily… with the idea that Philemon should be shamed into treating his brother Christian like a brother, and not like a slave. And the letter emphasizes both Philemon’s personal obligations to Paul, and the many connections that his slave has now, with influential Christians, including a saint like Paul. It was “handling things inside the family,” with a lot of hidden strings that would have been obvious to Philemon, even if not to us. Paul did not hand over anybody to the Roman government for secular punishment; and he was pretty much binding Philemon not to do anything bad, on pain of being considered wicked and cruel by others in the Church.

But the Fugitive Slave Act was secular and dealt with distant persons, often in states that had different laws which were crueller than in other states. (For example, Pennsylvania explicitly declared that all people on its soil were free.) So going back to Deuteronomy, and dealing with the South as if it were a place of pagan cities, probably seemed like an obligation.

It also explains why the creation of free settlements for former slaves must have seemed like an obligation for many churches.

Now, the interesting thing is that a lot of non-school resources about the Underground Railroad do mention Deuteronomy 23:15-16. Not as many as you’d think, but quite a few. But it’s usually denominational histories or Jewish history resources, not academic historical resources. Older academic works do mention the verse prominently, because obviously that’s a big motivation!

So I just think that’s interesting. Don’t you?

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Perchta = Berchtentag = La Befana = Epiphany

Yes, it’s yet another “pagan goddess” that is actually the Spirit of Epiphany.

She’s been misinterpreted as a “pagan goddess of weaving” because she would interrogate the girls as to whether they had done all their weaving chores during the year. If they had, they got presents. If not, there was a threat of having their innards taken out. (Because Germans.)

In many places, Holda or Berchta would watch the kids secretly, all through Advent and Christmas, to make sure that they were spinning adequate amounts of thread despite all the exciting holiday goings-on (and probably, cold hands and feet).

She also interrogated everyone as to whether they had eaten meat on Epiphany Eve (a no-no on the eve of great Christian feasts, back in the day – she liked people to eat fish and porridge), and she would punish anyone who dared to do work on the feastday itself, or on the feast of St. Thomas, December 21. (Another no-no, as holy days were days of rest. And threats were needed, because Germans.) Finally, Perchta punished anybody who had mistreated the farm animals throughout the year, and especially during Advent and Christmastime, because Germans like a little crime and punishment with their holidays.

Remember, Epiphany was the big holiday of choice during long stretches of Christian history, and Germany was more influenced by Eastern Christianity than a lot of other parts of Europe.

There were many similar Catholic German holiday and fasting spirits, such as the spirit of Lent, the spirit of the four sets of Ember Days throughout the year (Quantembermann, Quantemberca, Frau Faste, and many more). And most of them were running around punishing people who didn’t fast, or who did break the obligatory rests and feasts.

So yeah, another “ancient pagan” figure that’s as ancient and pagan as a cathedral and a crucifix.

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Dialects of Languages Aren’t Bastardized

I recently saw a discussion of “gabagool,” which is how a lot of New Yorkers and New Jersey people pronounce “capicola.” Many of the commenters seemed to think that “gabagool” existed because New Jersey people were too stupid to hear, and pronounce, “capicola.”

But in a lot of Southern Italian dialects back at the time Italians were immigrating to the US, “gabagul” or even “gabagulu” was a pretty decent transcription of the dialectal word for a certain kind of meat. It’s a word that is just as old as “capicola,” and has just as much right to exist.

And since those dialects in Italy are often dying out (under long hostile pressure from the Italian central governments), it’s important that Americans still remember, even if their dialectal Italian sounds like “old people” or “rural people” to most Italians today.

(The same thing is true of a lot of Italian-American cuisine. You see Italian cooking YouTubers being snide about American versions of Italian food, but often they are (inadvertently) deriding the way that poor rural Italian people cooked, and how they chose to integrate new ingredients into an American fusion style. And no, I don’t want some Italian person mocking regional American pizzas, either.)

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Gonna Point Out the Obvious

From the beginning of time, there have been plenty of humans who are just not terribly interested in courting, sex, and reproduction, except possibly in the medical sense. This seems to be a feature and not a bug, because the numbers of such people do not vary much.

(Whereas unusual sexual attractions tend to vary a lot in frequency of occurrence, according to the culture and historical moment; and in animals they are clearly associated with factors like overpopulation or stress on the mother during pregnancy.)

Being someone not terribly interested has often historically been associated with high-trust positions in family and society, because such persons are usually pretty stable. Sometimes they are regarded as particularly holy. (Sometimes not, though. It depends a lot on how much families rely on marriage placement as a way to make family money or gain lands.)

This point has been muddied a lot in anthropological studies, because the markers used to show that someone is “not playing” have often been interpreted as signs of same-sex attraction. (And not vice versa, for the most part.)

For example, I remember learning about “berdaches” in Dakota/Lakota life, and being told that they were men who dressed and lived like women in every way, with the implication or explicit declaration that they had sex that way. But a lot of online traditional Lakota/Dakota claim that when puberty hit and these men were not interested, it was only then that shamans investigated. At this point, these men were actually supposed to have been sent to the tribe by the Creator in order to live without having sex, and that they were signs of favor like the white buffalo. (Women did not always marry, and could live with relatives without having sex, but never were designated as signs in this way.) If anyone, man or woman, had sex with this kind of person or raped him, the whole tribe would suffer. (Which is definitely not what I learned in anthropology class, and in retrospect, it’s interesting that there were never any direct quotes from research papers about this topic.)

So I find it interesting that, after all these attempts to insist people were having sex when they weren’t, we have now spent the last five or ten years having the uninterested be designated as part of the alphabet people movement.

It’s very likely that the uninterested actually outnumber those who call themselves every other letter of the alphabet in this movement. It’s very likely that they are being used, frankly, as well as milked for funding. After all, they’re the reliable ones who are not distracted easily by sexual drama.

It’s also very likely that when this movement adds a P for p*dophile, the resulting discredit to every other alphabet letter will be visited upon the heads of the uninterested, and that they will be less likely to be able to defend themselves. Absence of evidence is difficult to prove absolutely.

OTOH, in current climate, it seems likely that the T’s will attempt to jettison everyone else, and the uninterested will find themselves the second group (after the L’s) to be thrown out of the whole movement. This would probably be lucky for them.

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