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Monday, August 12, 2019

Judy, the Prisoner of War

Judy was the mascot of several ships in the Pacific.  She was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and taken to a prison camp.  There she met Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams who shared his small portion of rice with her. Judy raised morale in the POW camp giving alarm when poisonous snakes, crocodiles and even tigers approached.  She was smuggled out in a rice sack when the prisoners were shipped back to Singapore.  She never whimpered or betrayed her presence to the guards.  The next day, the ship was torpedoed. Williams pushed Judy out of a porthole in an attempt to save her life, even though there was a 15 feet drop to the sea. He made his own escape from the ship, not knowing if Judy had survived.  Frank Williams was recaptured and was sent to a new POW camp without news of Judy's survival.  However, stories began being told of a dog helping drowning men reach pieces of debris on which to hold.  Williams was giving up hope of finding Judy when she arrived in his new camp.  "I couldn’t believe my eyes.  As I entered the camp, a scraggy dog hit me square between the shoulders and knocked me over!  I’d never been so glad to see the old girl." They spent a year in Sumatra.  "She saved my life in so many ways.  The greatest way of all was giving me a reason to live.  All I had to do was look at her and into those weary, bloodshot eyes and I would ask myself: What would happen to her if I died?  I had to keep going."  Even if it meant waiting for a miracle.  

Once hostilities ceased, Judy was smuggled aboard a troopship heading to Liverpool.  In England, she was awarded the Dickin Medal, "the animals Victoria Cross", in May 1946.  Her citation reads: "For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness".  At the same time, Frank Williams was awarded the PDSA's White Cross of St. Giles, the highest award possible, for his devotion to Judy.  Frank and Judy spent the year after the war visiting the relatives of English POWs who hadn't survived.  Frank remarked that Judy always seemed to give a comforting presence.  Judy died at the age of 13.  Frank spent two months building a granite and marble memorial in her memory, which included a plaque which told of her life story.  

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Deep Faith of the Von Trapp Family

From The Catholic Herald
By Francis Phillips
Last month we celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart, beloved of Catholic devotional iconography (and traditional kitsch holy pictures). If the core of the Christian faith is the love of Christ, this Feast is a visible and liturgical reminder of it. In Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family (Sophia Institute Press), its author, Maria Augusta von Trapp (aka actress Julie Andrews) devotes a loving passage to this Feast, writing “As our home is called “Cor Unum” and our motto for daily life that we want to be one heart and one soul, we chose the feast of the Sacred Heart as our family feast.”
My reference to Julie Andrews is not entirely frivolous, just a reminder that almost all people who have watched that enormously popular film The Sound of Music, will have learnt what little they know of the von Trapp family from it. What they won’t learn is the deep-rooted Catholic faith and culture that lay behind the winning combination of romance, motherless children, a new governess, music and political danger that made up the essential features of the film itself.
That the film has become embedded in the western psyche is obvious from the way it crops up from time to time in the media: former MP Ed Balls has taken his family to Salzburg on the von Trapp tourist trail; TV investigator Sue Perkins has made the inevitable TV programme, critical of the matriarch behind the family’s fame; even that arch-feminist Germaine Greer is on record as crying while watching it. But this beautifully produced and illustrated book goes much deeper.
Divided into two parts, Celebrating with the Family in Heaven, containing vivid and affectionate reminiscences of pre-War liturgical celebration in Austria, and Celebrating with the Family on Earth, which is all about how the von Trapp family celebrated the Sacraments and kept a firm hold on family customs such as reading aloud, singing, dancing and home concerts, the book would make an excellent addition to a Catholic family book shelf – not least today when the milieu surrounding the faith has almost entirely disappeared, leaving families marooned on a small island of religious belief, surrounded by the vast, secular (and often hostile) cultural mainland.
In her introduction, Maria Augusta writes that “When Hitler’s troops invaded our homeland, Austria, in 1938, my husband and I felt bound in conscience to save our children from yielding to the religion and philosophy of this neo-paganism.” She continues, “When we finally reached the hospitable shores of [America], we arrived in New York City, the fourteen of us possessing a total of four dollars. Most of us knew no English and we had no relatives or friends on this vast continent. We were real refugees and we were poor.”
The many thousands of dispossessed peoples and refugees tramping the roads to new countries today will identify with this. With their combined musical gifts and the energy and entrepreneurship of the indefatigable matriarch, Maria Augusta (Captain von Trapp sensibly bowed to his wife’s superior capacity to keep the family afloat), the family eventually became the famous Trapp Family Singers of post-war America.
This book reminds us that underpinning their worldly success was their Catholic faith. For instance, writing about All Souls’ Day, the author emphasises that “in the old country, the great event of the day used to be the visit to the cemetery”. Describing in detail the Austrian cemeteries of her memory, she adds, “When the father of our family died…we started our own old-world cemetery.”
In a thoughtful chapter, The Land without a Sunday”, Maria Augusta relates how Austrian friends made a trip to Communist Russia before the War and how what shocked them more than anything else and which “seemed to be the root of all the evil” was the way the traditional Christian Sunday had been abolished in favour of constant shift-work, with factories open every day of the week in “an atmosphere of constant rush and drive.” She follows this with a long, affectionate description of “a typical Sunday in Austria…up to the year before the Second World War.”
If this sounds an exercise in nostalgia; it isn’t. It is a vivid reminder of how ancient European Christian traditions have been lost (helped by the indifference of the EU) in the ensuing decades, and of the importance of the culture surrounding faith. This culture is wide, rich, life-enhancing and humane: Maria Augusta includes songs and rounds for family singing – and of course many appetising recipes for family meals, such as lebkuchen, stollen, sacher torte and simnel cake.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Basilica of St. Peter - "Gloria" - W. A. Mozart

From my own beautiful Basilica of Saint Peter in Columbia South Carolina.

Tess Hartis, Violin and Mark Husey, Organist & Choirmaster, Esther Kim Ruder, Soprano; Aubrey Nelson, Mezzo Soprano, James Gatch, Tenor and the Gallery Choir, Basilica of Saint Peter's Catholic Church, Columbia, South Carolina

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Father Rutler: "Without Christ All Things Fall Apart"

Father George W. Rutler
If there is no objective truth, there are no heresies. For the lazy thinker, the mellow refrain suffices: “It’s all good.” The etymology of “heresy” is complicated, but it has come to mean a wrong choice. Yet, if the mere act of choosing justifies itself (as when people declare themselves “Pro-Choice”), then no choice is wrong. But we live in a real world, and so everything cannot be right. Thus, we have a new religion called political correctness, and anyone who is politically incorrect is accused of being “phobic” one way or another. Suddenly what claims to be liberal is decidedly illiberal, and what is called “free speech” is anything but free. 
   This confusion is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of creation itself. The world follows an order; otherwise all would be chaos. As God has revealed himself as its Creator, there are truths about the world that cannot be denied without illogical anarchy. Every heresy is an exaggeration of a truth. For instance, Arianism teaches the humanity of Christ to the neglect of his divinity, and Apollinarianism does the opposite. The long list of heresies with complicated names illustrates how many deep thinkers made mistakes by relying only on their own limited powers of deduction. The two most destructive heresies were Gnosticism and Calvinism, which totally misunderstood creation and the human condition. Thus, we have the romantic fantasizing of Teilhard de Chardin and the sociopathic astringency of John Calvin. 
   In the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul sets the orthodox template by raising his glorious theology to an effervescent canticle praising the mystery of Christ “who is the image of the unseen God and the first born of all creation.” This hymnody animates the Office of Vespers in the weeks of each month: “. . . for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth . . .”
   By natural intelligence, we would know God as the Designer of the universal order (Romans 1:19-20), but only by God’s revelation can we know the existence of Christ transcending time and space. By Christ’s enfleshment and the shedding of his blood on the Cross, as Saint John Paul II said, quoting Colossians, “the face of the Father, Creator of the universe becomes accessible in Christ, author of created reality: ‘all things were created through him . . . in him all things hold together.'” So Christ cannot be understood as just another wise man in the mold of Confucius or Solomon. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria proclaimed: “We do not say that a simple man, full of honors, I know not how, by his union with Him was sacrificed for us, but it is the very Lord of glory who was crucified.” 
   Without recrimination or censoriousness, but just looking around at the disastrous state of contemporary culture, logic can conclude that, if all things hold together in Christ, without Christ all things fall apart.