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I’m at home today. Sick. As in I sound like a horse/camel/walrus when I attempt to speak. The dry cough that has plagued me all week has worsened and after a night of no sleep due to coughing fits I’ve stayed home. Buster isn’t aware of this and is sleeping peacefully downstairs. So lemon tea and honey is the brew of the day along with some reading while the house is quiet.
Being thick-headed (at least more than usual) also caused me to forget that my daughter had finally lost the second of her upper front teeth. She lost the other a few weeks ago and this one has hung on, sliding around in her gumline into weird positions, and refused to budge. While eating popcorn after school yesterday it finally gave way and like clockwork the tooth fairy forgot to make her rounds last night. She’s used to it by now as the tooth fairy has been late for almost every one of her teeth. I’m just glad she hasn’t charged a late fee or I’d be broke.
Last week I began to read a book that had been on my “to read” list a long time as I have always heard good things about it. So I’ve begun to read Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. I enjoyed Undset’s biography Catherine of Siena and Lavransdatter, a medieval trilogy, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 after its three parts (The Wreath, 1920; The Wife, 1921; The Cross, 1922) were published. Undset was born to atheist parents in Demark in 1881, converted to Catholicism in 1924, and died in Lillehammer, Norway in 1949. She lived a fascinating life and it’s a shame she isn’t more widely known.
So why on earth am I reading an 1100 plus page historical novel about a fourteenth century passionate and headstrong woman in Norway? Probably because it’s a really good story, full of genuine human experiences and emotions while not romanticized, and a bit of a stretch from my normal reading faire. (Just read the reviews of the book and Amazon and you’ll get the gist.) And because, well…you’ll just have to wait to read the quote by Dostoevsky in item #4 below.
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Today is the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. A little history via Wikipedia:
St. Vincent was born in 1581 in Gascony, in the Province of Guyenne and Gascony, the Kingdom of France, to a family of peasant farmers. He had four brothers and two sisters. At an early age, he showed a talent for reading and writing. At 15, his father sent him to school, managing to pay for it by selling the family’s oxen. A good ecclesiastical career, his father believed, would enable De Paul to be financially independent and to help support his family.
He studied humanities in Dax, France, with the Cordeliers and he graduated in theology at Toulouse. He was ordained in 1600 at the age of nineteen, remaining in Toulouse until he went to Marseille for an inheritance. In 1605, on his way back from Marseille, he was taken captive by Barbary pirates, who brought him to Tunis. De Paul was auctioned off as a slave to the highest bidder, and spent two years in bondage. Ultimately, the story goes, he became the property of an apostate Christian, whose wife aided in the escape of all his slaves.
Vincent de Paul escaped in 1607. After returning to France, de Paul went to Rome. There he continued his studies until 1609, when he was sent back to France on a mission to Henry IV of France; he served as chaplain to Marguerite de Valois. For a while he was parish priest at Clichy, but from 1612 he began to serve the Gondi, an illustrious family. He was confessor and spiritual director to Madame de Gondi. It was the Countess de Gondi who persuaded her husband to endow and support a group of able and zealous missionaries who would work among poor tenant farmers and country people in general.
In 1617, De Paul founded the “Ladies of Charity” (French: Dames de la Charité) from a group of women within his parish. He organized these wealthy women of Paris to collect funds for missionary projects, found hospitals, and gather relief funds for the victims of war and to ransom 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. From these, with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, came the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (French: Filles de la Charité).
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Kidnapped by pirates. Auctioned off as a slave. Two years in bondage. Escapes. Goes right back to his studies. Sent back to France. And with the help of a wealthy woman and her husband he formed a small group that inspired Frederic Ozanam to form the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a mission that today is mirrored around the world.
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Remember as you read the following quote that when de Paul speaks if charity he is referring to charity by its other name: Love.
Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. – St. Vincent de Paul
But we love our rules, don’t we? Our squabbles and grievances used as our excuse for not doing anything to help. We generate faux outrage over the comments or beliefs of someone in order to distract ourselves from what we know needs to be done. I don’t know about you, but MAN does that get old. This happens on either side of the left-right liberal-conservative pendulum and is beyond tiresome.
We bemoan the lack of saints today in the world or worse, think that we could never be one. We’ll look in the mirror and instead of the potential to be a saint see a sinner. Guess what? All of the saints considered themselves to be the greatest of sinners. The difference often between them and us is that they see their lives reflected through the prism of God’s light and are more aware of the smudges on the window panes of their souls. Despite this they strove to do anything and everything, even at the cost of all their earthly possessions or even their very lives, to help their fellow human beings. They didn’t have time to work up a fake outrage or cluck their tongues like manic chickens. They were too busy getting things done.
When they looked in the mirror they saw not just a sinner looking back. They saw an image and likeness of God. They dared to see this. Do we?
Man is a mystery. It needs to be unraveled, and if you spend your whole life unraveling it, don’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being. – Fyodor Dostoevsky
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The following passage of Scripture was in this morning’s Morning Prayer.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)
What a different world it would be, eh?
I’m off to make some more hot tea. Until the next time…