Tag Archives: Jesus

Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 14, 2017

0 Comments

Resurrection

After Jesus died and his body was placed in the tomb, he could have ascended to heaven without appearing to anyone.  But Jesus rose and he appeared to his disciples, and he did so for a number of very important reasons.

Triumph and Victory.  The Resurrection was emphatic proof that Jesus had decisively and convincingly conquered sin and death.

Glorification.  God raised Jesus to glorify him.  God was pleased that Jesus had become obedient, even unto death on the Cross, and to praise him, God greatly exalted him with the name above every other name (see Phil 2:8,9).  Furthermore, the Father bestowed additional glory upon his Son by exalting him with a place at his right hand (Acts 2:33).

Fulfillment.  Jesus had foretold that he would rise from the dead:  “And three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31; see also Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33).  When Jesus rose, he proved that all that he had promised was reliable and true.

Reconciliation.  The disciples estranged themselves from Jesus when they fled and abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest (see Mt 26:56 and Mk 14:50).  Moreover, they did not testify on his behalf at his trial, were absent during the crucifixion, and when it came to being faithful friends, they were miserable failures.  Jesus rose so he could forgive them and reestablish a positive relationship with them.  Reconciliation was such an urgent necessity that only moments after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said,   “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26), words that are tantamount to “I forgive you.”

Teaching and Re-instruction.  The disciples were still confused about Jesus’ true identity.  “They doubted” (Mt 28:17).  Jesus rose and appeared to Cleopas and Simeon on the road to Emmaus to reinterpret for them all that referred to him in the scriptures (Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:45).  For forty days Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3b).

Faith-Strengthening.  After Jesus died, the faith of his disciples continued to waver.  Seeing is believing!  The risen Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, “Look at my hands and my feet” (Lk 24:39) to confirm and strengthen their faith.  Jesus showed himself to Thomas (Jn 20:27) so that, with faith strengthened, he could make his profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).  “For many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31; see also Acts 10:41 and 1 Cor 15:5-8).

Commissioning.  Jesus rose to commission his disciples. He told them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations,” “baptizing them,” and “teaching them” (Mt 28:19,20).  He also instructed Peter [and the others] to “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15), “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).

Reassurance.  Jesus rose so that he could reassure his disciples that even though he would ascend to heaven and be physically absent, he would always be their constant companion:  “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).

Continue reading...

Worry not

February 24, 2017

0 Comments

SermonMount

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry, not once, not twice, but three times (Mt 6:25,31,34).  Repetition is the key to learning and it places greater emphasis.  Jesus wants to drive a major point home.

We worry about many, many things.  Jesus mentioned some of our main worries:  our life in general, what we are to eat, what we are to drink, our body, and clothing.  The list could be expanded to include worries over family and friends, child safety, germs, a medical condition, our reputation, the burden of the workload, unfinished jobs, the house, the car, the weather, road conditions, traffic, getting to work on time, troubles at work, the economy, job security, taxes, health insurance, and the threat of terrorism.

A worrier is nervous and stressed out, anxious and troubled about this, fretting and stewing about that.  Worries can grow increasingly larger and become overwhelming.  A troubled thought can escalate into a preoccupation and then into an obsession.

Worry is not helpful.  Jesus asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:27).  Worry does not add to the length of life, and in many instances may actually subtract from it.  Worry can lead to high blood pressure, circulatory problems, digestive disorders, skin conditions, and a weakened immune system.

Jesus knows that everyone worries, some to a greater degree, others to a lesser degree, but all worry.  Worry is pointless and unproductive.  It burns energy with nothing to show.  Worry poses a serious threat to a wholesome and holy life, because for the worrier, concerns for worldly things can become all-consuming while the spiritual realm receives little or no attention.

Jesus offers a three-part plan to balance our lives properly:  have faith, seek first the kingdom of God, and live in the present moment.

Have faith.  It is an act of faith to trust in God.  If God is so great as to give us the gift of our life, we can trust that God will also give us what we need to sustain our life.  God does not give and then pull back and stop giving.  God is reliable and dependable.  God gives and continues to give, and we can count on God to provide for us.

Seek first the kingdom of God.  First is the key word.  Jesus wants God to be our first thought.  If we are to be preoccupied with anything, it should be with God.  Our desire should be a close relationship with God, to learn God’s will, and then to dedicate ourselves to carrying out God’s will.  Our predominant thought should be to live a life that is pleasing to God.  When we are righteous and live according to God’s ways, peace and serenity follow, and worries vanish.

Live in the present.  Jesus wants us to focus on the here and now.  Worries are distractions.  They diminish our ability to be fully engaged in the moment at hand.  Whether it is a person, a conversation, a task, or an activity, what is happening right now deserves our full and immediate attention, and when we are alert and concentrate, when we live in the present, we are doing our best, the quality of life improves dramatically, and peace and tranquility follow.

Continue reading...

The Path to Spiritual Greatness

February 10, 2017

0 Comments

SermonMount

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus is our Master Teacher, and his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) contains one kernel of truth after another.  He began with his spiritual ideals, his eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), and then explained how his disciples are salt and light (Mt 5:13-16).  The third topic of his sermon was “the law and the prophets,” the commandments, and Jesus declared, “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19b).

The Commandments.  The commandments are laws, statutes, decrees, or ordinances given by God to guide people in their relationship with God and neighbor.  The most famous commandments are the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17 and Dt 5:6-21).  The entire Mosaic Law is not only the Ten Commandments, but all 613 precepts contained in the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus consolidated or simplified this long and detailed list into the Great Commandment, love God and neighbor (Mt 22:34-40).  Jesus commands us to obey his entire gospel which is summed up by his New Commandment, “love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

Obeys and Teaches.  Jesus has a two-part directive when it comes to the commandments:  obey and teach, which is equivalent to good deeds and good words.  Jesus does not follow the usual order, “words and deeds,” but rather, “deeds and words” because actions speak louder than words.  Moreover, good example is easier to see and understand, and without obedient good deeds, any words of teaching ring empty.

Others.  Others are children, the impressionable, and new converts, as well as non-believers.  It includes everyone.  Jesus is concerned about our influence on others.  Our faith is supposed to be lived in a public manner.  Those who give bad example and lead others in the wrong direction are considered the least, while those who give good example, lead others in the right direction, and teach the commandments are the greatest.

Jesus and Moses.  Jesus was in step with Moses who had given a similar instruction to the Israelites.  When it came to teaching, Moses directed the adults to “keep repeating them (i.e., the commandments) to your children.  Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 5:7), and when it came to obedience, Moses ordered them to “bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (Dt 5:8).  With the commandments constantly in heart and mind, they would surely obey.

Teachers of the Faith.  It is the duty of all Christians to obey and teach the commandments, but for many Christians, to teach the commandments and impart the faith is a major aspect of their vocation:  parents with their children, catechists with their formation students, the RCIA team with the candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation, teachers or professors with their pupils, coaches with their athletes, mentors with their understudies, and priests with their parishioners.  The path to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to guide others in the right direction, to both give good example and teach the commandments.

Continue reading...

Jesus, model teacher for instructors and catechists

September 1, 2016

1 Comment

JesusSermonMT

Summer vacation is over, and another school year is about to begin.  Instructors are headed to their classrooms, and catechists are headed to their faith formation groups.  The main focus of education rightfully belongs on the students, but it is also a high priority to reflect on the role of those who facilitate the learning process, teachers and catechists.

In education, a teacher who is experienced, highly effective, and an expert at training new teachers is a “Master Teacher.”  Jesus explained that these attributes belong to him when he told his disciples, “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am” (Jn 13:13).  Christian teachers who wish to excel in their ministry would be wise to take their cues from the greatest teacher of all.

Love all the students.  It is difficult to love every student.  Some resist.  Others are slow.  Peter was impulsive.  James and John wanted the best positions, the others were indignant, and they squabbled among themselves.  Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot would betray him.  The disciples had their shortcomings.  Every student does.  Yet, Jesus loved each of them, and his authentic love for his learners was the single greatest secret to his success.

Pray for your students.  Jesus prayed for his disciples, and teachers should pray for their students.  Prayer not only asks God’s grace and blessing for the students, it also has a transforming effect on the teacher’s disposition toward their students.

Ask the Holy Spirit for help.  The Holy Spirit came down on Jesus at his baptism before he began his public ministry as teacher, and the Spirit gave him wisdom, insight, inspiration, energy, and courage.  Teachers should pray to the Holy Spirit for the guidance and understanding they need to carry out their ministry.

Prepare; study before teaching.  Jesus may have lacked a formal education, but he had an inquisitive mind, and he learned from others and on his own.  Mary and Joseph homeschooled him.  He was in the custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Lk 4:16) where he was taught by the rabbis.  He went to the Temple in Jerusalem where he sat “in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk 2:46).  From the way that he quoted Scripture, it is evident that he spent long hours in study and memorization with the books of the Bible.  Teachers who follow the example of Jesus do their homework.  They study before they teach, and they come to class with a well-prepared plan.

Use a variety of methods.  Jesus taught with lectures such as the Sermon on the Mount.  He was fond of storytelling with his parables.  He frequently taught large groups, but there were a number of occasions when he pulled his disciples aside for small group learning, and he also taught individuals as a tutor.  An assortment of approaches keeps learning interesting.

Be patient and kind.  The disciples were confused when Jesus taught in parables and asked, “Why do you speak … in parables?” (Mt 13:10).  Jesus did not get irritated.  Instead, he patiently explained his imagery (Mt 13:18-23; 36-43).  Many students do not comprehend the first time.  Jesus shows how to treat slower learners with extra kindness and provide additional instruction.

Continue reading...

Peace or division, which is it?

August 11, 2016

0 Comments

Holy Spirit dove

Stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Henning, Minnesota

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51).  His words were difficult to understand.  He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next.  Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?  How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?

Jesus placed an enormous value on peace.  He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace.  He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony.  He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).

Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5).  When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14).  When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48).  Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50).  Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5).  On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33).  After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace.  He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.

How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b).  Jesus hates conflict.  So do we.  Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble.  But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry.  When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?”  Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart.  Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.

The divisions are multigenerational.  Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53).  In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues.  Conversations can be heated.  Feelings often are hurt.  This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.

Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not.  Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.

Continue reading...

Somebody’s knockin’ at your door

August 4, 2016

0 Comments

JesusKnocking

Somebody is knocking at your door, and that somebody is Jesus!  Jesus is not your typical visitor.  The usual guest comes at a prearranged time, but not Jesus.  Jesus gets to do whatever he wants, which means that he can come on any day at any time, either today, tomorrow, or a day in the distant future.

If we have dinner guests scheduled, there often is a mad rush to get everything ready by their arrival time.  It would look terrible if there were piles of dirty clothes on the floor, a sink full of dirty dishes, old newspapers on the living room floor, empty pop cans on the tables, and dust on the countertops.  And it would be terrible if there was nothing to offer them:  no beverages, hors d’oeuvres, meal, or dessert.  So we spring into action on a cleaning frenzy as a white tornado roars through the house, and we go on a shopping spree to be sure that the refrigerator and cupboard are fully supplied.  Then, after our guests leave, the mess gradually reappears.

Jesus wants to come over as our guest, and Jesus wants to have dinner with us, but he refuses to be pinned down when it comes to a day and time.  He is a free spirit.  He comes and goes as he pleases.  He is unpredictable.  There are some things that we know for sure, others left uncertain, as Jesus promises, “You can be absolutely sure that I will be coming over to your place, but I just don’t know when yet.”

This leaves us in a quandary.  If Jesus could come knocking anytime, it means I have to be ready all the time, which means that the house has to be clean all day, every day, and it rarely is.  There is a pile of junk here, a mess there, and while I like the house clean, I’ve gotten used to some clutter, it doesn’t bother me all that much, and I don’t want to put that much effort into cleaning.

These are all spiritual figures of speech.  The house represents each person.  The door represents the entrance to a person’s mind and heart.  The dirt and junk represents sin.  A sparkling clean house represents being in the state of grace.

Jesus is a kind and compassionate house guest.  It may seem impolite that he is unwilling to announce his arrival time, but it actually is a blessing.  His delay gives us more time to go on a cleaning frenzy, to sweep out sinful behaviors, vacuum up bad habits, and dust off rough edges.  It is time for the strongest and most concentrated cleanser, the Blood of Christ, which washes away our sins, and for the “white tornado,” the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which confers absolution and restores the sinner to the state of grace.

The delay also gives the homeowner ample time to stock the refrigerator and the cupboard, not with groceries, but with good deeds:  love shared, sacrifices made, food and drink provided, clothes distributed, strangers welcomed, the troubled visited, assistance delivered, donations and alms given, and prayers offered.

Jesus wants us to come to a “new normal” with our homes.  He would like them to be clean and well-stocked all the time, and he would like us to be so irritated with dirt when it appears that we remove it right away.  Somebody’s knockin’ at your door!  That somebody is Jesus!  He wants to come into a clean house!

Save

Save

Continue reading...

The Newborn Jesus: The Firstborn Son

December 18, 2015

0 Comments

NativityFLFirstborn Son.  In Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas, he explained that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son” (Lk 2:7).  In the original Greek text, Luke used the Greek word protokos, and the New American Bible translates it “firstborn son.”

The Firstborn Controversy.  The word “firstborn” has been the cause for much debate.  There are some who claim that Jesus is the first son born to Mary, that she remained a virgin until the conception of Jesus, but that after the birth of Jesus, Mary had relations with Joseph and she had four additional sons:  James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (see Mk 6:3).  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches that the Blessed Mother is the “ever-virgin Mary,” a virgin before the conception of Jesus, and that she remained a virgin for the rest of her life, and that Jesus was her only son (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), No. 499).  Moreover, the Church holds that “James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus,’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary’ (Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf Mt 27:56)” (CCC, No. 500).

Firstborn, A Christological Term.  In this context, “firstborn” does not refer to Jesus’ birth order.  Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere, a Catholic biblical scholar, believes that protokos would be better translated “firstborn of God” rather than “firstborn son [of Mary],” and that “firstborn” is a way to describe the supreme importance of his birth.  Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15); “the first born into the world” (Heb 1:6); “the firstborn of the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), the one who has primacy over all.  “Firstborn” means that Jesus is “the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.  God from God, Light from Light, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” (Creed, Council of Nicea, 325 AD).

Firstborn, Jesus, the New Israel.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Chosen People Israel is God’s firstborn son.  God said, “Israel is my son, my firstborn” (Ex 4:22).  Jesus is the New Israel.  Salvation came through the Chosen People Israel, and now salvation comes through the newborn Jesus, the firstborn of Israel.

Firstborn Male, A Special Jewish Designation.  Every Jewish firstborn male had the birthright (see Gen 27:7b,27-29), the right of inheritance from his father.   The first-born was entitled to a double share of the inheritance (Dt 21:17).  Jesus inherited everything from his Father, his co-equal as a Person of the Trinity.  “The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him” (Jn 3:35).  It was Jewish tradition that every firstborn male was consecrated to God (Ex 13:2,12,15).  God said, “Every firstborn is mine” (Num 3:13a).  “I consecrated to me every firstborn of Israel … they belong to me” (Num 3:13c). Subsequently, after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son Jesus to the Temple, and according to the law of Moses, which stipulated that “every male that opens that womb shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Lk 2:23; see Ex 13:2,12), Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to Simeon to consecrate their newborn and firstborn son to almighty God (Lk 2:22-38).  Thus consecrated as “firstborn,” Jesus stands not only as the firstborn of Mary and Joseph, but as the firstborn of the human race, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Continue reading...

Jesus, the great high priest

October 7, 2015

1 Comment

THE SECOND READINGS OF WEEKS 27-33, YEAR B, FROM THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

A Continuous Reading.  The second readings for Weeks 27 through 33 of Year B, the final portion of the church year, all come from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Their selection follows the liturgical principle of Lectio continua, Latin for “a continuous reading,” a series of Scripture texts all taken from the same book of the Bible in sequence.  While the first reading at Mass usually is selected to compliment the gospel, the second reading has no intended connection to either and stands on its own.  The texts chosen for the second reading are those judged most significant in a book or, as a group, work together to unfold an important spiritual concept.

The Letter to the Hebrews.  The letter itself is peculiar because so little is known about it.  For many years the author was thought to be St. Paul, but that proposition has been disproved due to differences in literary style and theological content.  It is not so much a letter as a long written homily intended to instruct and encourage.  The intended audience, “the Hebrews,” is also unclear.  Generally “the Hebrews” is another term for “the Jews,” so it may be directed to Jewish converts to Christianity, or to Jews who were contemplating conversion, or to Gentile Christians who could benefit from a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Theological Thread.  A thread is a theme that is woven through a series of chapters of a book of the Bible; two or more readings on a particular Sunday, a horizontal thread; or a sequence of readings over a number of consecutive weeks, a vertical thread.  The thread that connects the seven consecutive readings from Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus.

Week 27B, Hebrews 2:9-11.  The first passage explains the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ priesthood:  “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).  Jesus was perfect so his self-offering was a perfect sacrifice.  It is the work of a priest to consecrate, to make holy, and Jesus consecrates or makes every person holy before God (Heb 2:11).

Weeks 28B and 29B, Hebrews 4:12-13 and 4:14-16.  Chapter 4 goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest from whom nothing is concealed (Heb 4:13); he is all-knowing, omniscient.  He is the wise priest whose word is living and effective (Heb 4:12).  He is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), not only human, but a priest who came down from heaven, the Son of God, a divine high priest.  Because he was tempted and knows first-hand the struggles of the human condition, he is a compassionate priest, approachable, merciful, and helpful.

Week 30B, Hebrews 5:1-6.  Jesus is not a self-appointed priest but was sent by his Father (Heb 5:5).  His priesthood is eternal, not like other priests who serve only for a time.  It is the duty of a priest to offer sacrifice for sin.  Temple priests offered animals, Jesus offered his own body; Temple priests were sinners and offered sacrifice for themselves, Jesus was sinless and offered sacrifice for the human race.

Week 31B, Hebrews 7:23-28.  This passage repeats key points made previously about Jesus’ priesthood.  His priesthood is eternal, it “remains forever,” it “does not pass away” (Heb 7:24).  He is a priest who is “holy, innocent, and undefiled” (7:26) which enables him to make intercession on our behalf.  He is the priest who has the power to save us (Heb 7:25).

Weeks 32B and 33B, Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:11-14,18.  These texts highlight the glorious nature of Jesus’ priesthood.  Jesus now reigns as the exalted priest in the sanctuary of heaven, seated forever at the right hand of God, revered because he offered himself in sacrifice, not multiple times, but once, to perfect and sanctify, to remove sin once and for all, so that when he returns a second time at the end of the age, he will bring the gift of salvation.

Continue reading...

Madonnas and memory

April 8, 2015

0 Comments

Raphael's The Conestabile Madonna

Raphael’s The Conestabile Madonna

Lessons in history and humanity plus drama, unconditional love and insight into one of the most difficult to understand of all diseases — Alzheimer’s — make Debra Dean’s “The Madonnas of Leningrad” a superb, satisfying read.

There’s a sampling of an art appreciation class, too, and brief, maybe too brief snatches of modern family dynamics. But those glimpses into contemporary life form the perfect background to better contrast with the values of the Russians who survived — and even those who didn’t survive — the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II.

Da Vinci’s The Litta Madonna

With the war there is starvation and death and ruin, to be sure, but tremendous self sacrifice, too, and life, life so valued, life so amazing, captured so well in one scene, where women who have survived the siege learn that the story’s protagonist, Marina, is expecting and, after a winter of death, line up to touch her stomach and to feel the baby kick in her womb.

A tremendous sense of irony pours from the pages. In the godless Soviet Union the invaluable art collection of the Hermitage Museum, including precious images of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child, is crated and trucked away to be saved from ruin or confiscation by the approaching German army.

At the suggestion of another Hermitage tour guide, young Marina, who later in life cannot remember the names of her own family members, commits to memory of all these wonderful madonnas — the Rubens, the da Vinci, the van Dyck, the Rembrandt and more — storing in her “memory palace” not only the details of the works and the stories they tell but even where they hung on the walls of the czar’s former Winter Palace.

It’s an act of mutual benefit. Not only does Marina save the memory of the art to share with those who may never have the chance to see them, but doing so gives her a reason to live, to survive at a time when bombs, cold, starvation and illness take the lives of thousands during the siege.

van Dyck

van Dyck’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

And, while this isn’t an outwardly religious novel, as the situation worsens for those freezing, starving, cowering from the bombs and removing the corpses of those who die each day, even a strict non-believer decides a little prayer couldn’t hurt.

“The Madonnas of Leningrad” is not a new book. Published in 2006, it garnered a number of honors. But as timely as the topic of Alzheimer’s is, you would think someone would make a movie of this terrific story.

If you choose to read the book — and even if you don’t — you’ll find images of some of the famous works of art named within at this website, along with excerpts of how they were described in the book. Start googling the paintings and you could lose several hours of your day!

Dean also mentions the Jordan Staircase in her novel. Here’s why:

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

The Jordan Staircase in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

Continue reading...

Story of Jesus perfect for 4-to-8 year olds

May 12, 2014

0 Comments

Jesus coverLittle children run to Jesus on the cover of this Eerdmans Book for Young Readers, a wonderful image to draw the target age group — 4-to-8 years — into the story of Jesus’ life.
Benedictine Anselm Grün’s retelling of Gospel events is true to Catholic teaching, from the visitation through the nativity and more than a half-dozen highlights of New Testament stories up through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The translation by Laura Watkinson keeps the language simple and age-appropriate, and Giuliano Ferri’s colorful artwork adds to the storytelling, bringing to life the calling of the disciples, for example, the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Supper.
Parents and teachers will find “Jesus” an excellent choice reading to children in a home schooling setting or early faith formation.

Continue reading...