The Right Hand of God

29 July 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Bible, Global Catholic

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The Dextera Dei, the Right Hand of God, is portrayed on the north face of Muiredach’s Cross, the largests of the stone “high crosses” at Monasterboice in Co. Louth, just north of Dublin. The Hand of God is shown resting on a round carved disk; underneath it two snakes intertwine three human heads. 

The monastery was founded around 520 A.D.  The cross was carved in the 10th century, and is dedicated to an abbot of Monasterboice, Muiredach mac Domhaill. His death is recorded in 923 A.D.

I was in the presence of the cross on a cold, bright spring morning. The ground was still wet with dew. I remained standing by the Right Hand of God long after the other members of my group moved away.  I studied, and looked, and counted, but I couldn’t crack its mystery.

Since I returned home, I have not been able to find any discussion of the iconography of this part of the cross. Are the roots of the artwork in the ancient Irish symbols for the sun, victory and divinity?  The Old Testament? The New Testament? All three? The images portrayed have their roots in both traditions: Life, Death, Kingship, Victory, Divinity. Snakes could symbolize the ancient native religion, Satan or fallen angels.

The location of the cross was in an ancient grove had its own meaning. That gently sloping knoll served as a sacred place to the local people well before the arrival of Christian missionaries and monks.

There are referrences to “right hand of God” throughout the Bible. As the messiah, Jesus is supposed to be seated at the Right Hand of God. 

But the cross of Muiredach pays as much attention to David as it does Jesus, so I think the origin for the symbols come from one of his stories or psalms. 

In my first attempt as a Biblical art detective, I propose the inspiration for the carving comes from Psalm 109.  It begins: “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at might right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.”

Fran Sorin: Exploring Spirituality in the Garden

26 July 08 | Posted in Friends, Garden, Spirituality

“After a few hours of sweating with dirt all over me and insects buzzing around the upper half of my body, I may begin to get a sense of being in tune with nature.” 

“It’s at these moments where I take note of a worm that is maneuvering its way out of the dirt or a butterfly that lands silently on a bush next to me.”

“With subtlety and a total lack of self consciousness, I come out of myself, look around, marvel at the majesty of what I am experiencing and begin to take note that I have entered some type of altered state of consciousness.”

Read the whole article here.

Fran Sorin is recognized as one of America’s leading gardening experts. fran-sorin.jpg

Catholics Thinking Outside the Bottle

22 July 08 | Posted in Food, Lifestyle, Sin Bin, Stewardship, U.S. Catholic

Sr. Janet Corcoran, vice president of mission service at Marian Medical Center in Santa Clara, CA, is just one of the Catholic voices spreading the gospel that bottled water, however convenient, is environmentally, economically and politically wrong. “It’s a matter of getting people to think more consciously about what they are doing,” she said. Her column, “Environmental Tips from a Green Franciscan Sister” is published in a hospital publication.

Concerns about bottled water are bubbling up in Catholic organizations, adding clout to a growing number of municipalities and secular organizations concerned about the issue–with women religious strongly in the lead.

Numerous women’s religious communities are banning bottled water at their motherhouses, retreat houses and conference centers, and some are substituting refillable water bottles for the throw-away kind at sponsored events.

Bottled water has become a lighting rod for several environmental-social justice issues surrounding water. bottledwater.jpg

There is a negative environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles. I see plenty of those on the beach–used and left by fishermen (both native born and Spanish-speaking immigrants) to wash out into the ocean. There is the oil used to make plastic bottles.  And lastly, the prize of the ownership and access to good water, especially for developing countries. Like energy resources–oil, gas, coal–water is now being privatized by corporations.

The United Nations  estimates that more than 1 billion people currently lack access to safe drinking water and that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will not have access to drinking water.

Some Catholic groups have borrowed information and ideas from Think Outside the Bottle, a major non-religious player in the anti-bottled water movement.

The organization has launched a web-based campaign that provides information and support. In addition to inviting individuals to sign a pledge to boycott bottled water, the program urges people to send postcards to corporations challenging corporate control of water, to attend stockholders’ meetings and mount other forms of pressure on corporate executives.

I guess what this means for me is to stop buying Poland Spring at Staples or the supermarket, and fill the empties with tap water.

I love Poland Spring. It’s easy to tote to the gym or have in the car. Water in refillable plastic bottles tastes vile.  This is going to be a tough one.

The Tragedy of Prince Nuada

19 July 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Stewardship

A new movie starring my favorite comic character, Hellboy, is currently playing in theaters across the U.S.  Hellboy and the Golden Army, directed by Guillermo Del Toro,  has the same kind of fantastic monsters as Pan’s LabyrinthThere is also the same clash of realities – Christian and pagan.hellboy26.jpg

How can I not love Hellboy,? He’s such a contradiction – a demon who wears a wrist rosary. Kind, brave, implusive, born a demon but raised a man, he is loyal to his friends and his mission. He make messes and gets in fights, but picks himself up and keeps at it.

In Golden Army, Hellboy comes up against Prince Nuada, an elf prince who wants to destroy mankind for making such a mess of the earth and laying waste to the environment.  One of the creatures Nuada summons as a tool of destruction is an Elemental. This green force of nature terrorizes and tries to destroy a neighborhood, but after a terrible inner struggle, Hellboy finally kills it. As it dies, its blood and body blanket the streets and buildings with beautiful flowers and vegetation. Instead of cowering, the people and their other-worldly protectors walk among the flowers, enchanted. gdt-hellboy-diary-elemental.jpg

Hellboy finally succeeds in overcoming Prince Nuada, but at the cost of realizing his own mission also relies on death and destruction. He walks away from it, deciding to live for the joy of living, not following orders to destroy things that are different. prince_nuada.jpg

The film is an entertaining fable of good and evil. But it also can be seen as a darker allegory of the struggle between Christianity and paganism, a spirituality rooted in nature. Nature has some fearsome ways to retaliate, if humanity hurts it too much or tries to dominate at its expense. 

Christianity has a lot to learn about life, nature and natural law from paganism. Chiefly, don’t try to kill things you don’t understand or are afraid of. Much to our surprise, there may be flowers in the blood and body.

The Pope’s Green Message at World Youth Day

17 July 08 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Vatican

Environmentalism is emerging as one key theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Australia for World Youth Day.

Even before he left Rome, the pope struck a “green” note.  In a message to the people of Australia and the youth from around the world converging on Sydney, Benedict listed environmental concerns among the global phenomena faced by young people. pope-australia.jpg

“They see great damage, done to the natural environment through human greed,” the pope said in his message, released July 4. “They struggle to find ways to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another.”

The pope was asked by an Australian journalist about religious indifference in his country. Benedict replied that while religion does face something of a crisis in the Western world, various forces today illustrate the need for religious faith — among them, environmental challenges.

“In this historical moment, we begin to see that we do need God,” the pope said. “We can do so many things, but we cannot create our climate. We thought we could do it, but we cannot do it. We need the gift of the Earth, the gift of water, we need the Creator; the Creator re-appears in His creation. And so we also come to understand that we cannot really be happy, cannot be really promoting justice for all the world, without a criterion at work in our own ideas, without a God who is just, and gives us the light, and gives us life.”

Among other things, Benedict XVI sees the environmental movement as a promising route for the recovery of a strong sense of “natural law,” meaning the idea that moral limits to human behavior are inherent in nature. In fact, the pope believes ecology could hold the key to teaching young people about Christian morality.

If people are willing to accept that idea about the environment, Benedict may hope they will be more open to the claims of natural law in other areas of life, like sexuality and gender.