Our Granddaughter, Eva, Comes to God’s Rescue

Mike's Moons

While in Rome last July our family experienced a “private” tour of the Sistine Chapel. Our daughter, Maggie, had arranged it for us. “Private” meant we were able to jump the line when the Vatican Museum opened at 8:00 a.m.  So we and about a hundred other people had approximately an hour in the Chapel before the real crowds arrived. Our guide was a competent, vivacious, funny and energetic young Italian called Sara.

Before entering the museum Sara prepared us by showing printed images of what we were about to see. One was a Michelangelo detail of the creation of the sun and moon. One part showed a frontal human image of God creating the spheres of light. God is fully clothed as a 16th century gentleman.

Next to the frontal image is a view from behind. And God’s naked buttocks stand exposed. When Sara pointed that out with a reference to the two “moons” in the painting, everyone laughed at her joke.

However Eva, our six-year-old granddaughter would have none of it. She just frowned. She said emphatically with a pout, “I don’t think that’s funny.”

Now that was funny – and quite charming: Eva defending God’s dignity!

What Makes Great Art Great? The Matisse Chappelle du Rosaire de Vence

Matisse Chapel

While visiting the French Riviera to visit a generous donor to Peggy’s Women and Gender Studies Program, we ended up in the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence designed by Henri Matisse. Our very warm host accompanied us there. Peggy and I were anxious to go, since experiencing the Matisse cut-out display at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) last winter.

A very able docent explained the chapel to our group of perhaps 30 people. The windows were very like the cut-outs we had admired in the MOMA..

Matisse Windows

The altar was made to resemble bread. Notice the painting of St. Dominic on the right.

Matisse Altar

The stations of the cross on the chapel’s back wall were spectacular – stark black and minimalist, each numbered.

Matisse Stations

Bright chasubles were displayed outside the chapel in a small museum.

Matisse chasuble

We learned that during an illness, while in his 80s, Matisse had advertised for a young, pretty nurse to care for him. The woman who won the job was quite plain, but also served (the docent told us) as Matisse’s “chaste model.” She later became a Dominican nun. And Matisse designed, built and adorned the chapel in her honor.

Matisse Sister

It was our great honor to absorb it all.

For me it all raised questions about art. What is it really? What is the nature of beauty? What does Matisse have to teach us about that?

What do you think?

Our Family Trip to France & Italy


I’ve been off line for a while . . .

A week ago Peggy and I returned from almost three weeks in Europe. The two of us spent a couple of days in France, near Nice on the Cote d’Azur. Then it was on to Italy and Cinque Terre, where we had a marvelous time in Monterosso.

Next we travelled to Rome where we joined our daughter, Maggie, her husband, Kerry, and their four children – along with our son, Patrick, Peggy’s brother, Artie, his wife, Mary, and their three children, along with another niece. In all we were a group of 15 – 16 when a longtime friend of Maggie also joined us towards the end of our trip.

Our group spent three days in Rome. Afterwards we drove to Tuscany where we spent ten days in a villa in the little town of Panzano. (The photo above shows the villa where we stayed.) From there we did day trips to Florence and Pisa. But mostly we just enjoyed the unparalleled beauty, peace and quiet of the Chianti wine country.

Finally, Maggie and her family, Peggy and I spent three days on the beach on the island of Elba.

Throughout the magical days, we ate marvelous meals in restaurants of many kinds, as well as sumptuous repasts prepared by Maggie and Peggy at “home.”

It was all a wonderful experience.

But we’re all still recovering – I in more ways than one. Towards the end of our first day in Rome, I slipped and fell down three marble steps outside a restaurant where our large group ate its first meal together. I was wearing my Croc sandals and it had just rained. I felt like I was walking on ice. Just before I slipped, I was thinking, “I could easily fall down these stairs; I’d better be careful.”  Before I knew it, I was flat on my back. I jumped up right away though claiming that I was ok. That wasn’t exactly true.  Now, weeks later, my left shoulder is still sore, though the large black-and-blue mark that side of my body has finally disappeared.  I’m still not able to do my morning exercise routine as normal. But I’m lucky I didn’t break anything.

If most of this sounds wonderful, it’s because it was.

However, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

Here’s an exchange I overheard in Cinque Terre. Hot and sweaty, we had just disembarked from the ferry that takes tourists past all of Cinque Terre’s five villages scattered along the mountainside.

Husband: Remind me again why we’re doing this.

Wife: Yeah, why are we doing this?

Husband (frustrated and testy): Because we need to see the five villages!

Wife: Can you tell one from the other?

Personally, I could relate to the couple’s weariness, frustration and touristic overload. That kind of sight-seeing is not at all my cup of tea. I prefer what Peggy and I ended up for the next two days – vegging on the beach under big umbrellas.

(Next Posting: Visiting the Matisse Chapel in Vence)

How to Be Pro-Life and Not Just Pro-Birth

Joan Chittister

Recently, Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister, grabbed some headlines when she took on the hypocrisy of the “pro-life” crowd.

She wrote,

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Sister Chittister’s point is well-taken. Being truly pro-life means joining reluctant mothers in the sacrifices they routinely make to see that their children are fed, properly housed and educated. So claiming to be pro-life while campaigning against food stamps, universal health care, Head Start, and subsidized housing is disingenuous to say the least. It also seems incompatible with defunding Planned Parenthood, our nation’s largest provider of sex education – probably the most effective, non-intrusive birth control measure of all.

And it’s significant that such reminders come from a woman. Women after all are the ones who primarily bear the burden imposed by the narrow pro-birth demands made mostly by men. Women alone are capable of bringing unwanted pregnancies to term. They are the ones who usually end up raising children as single parents.

Meanwhile, it is primarily men who insist that women fulfill responsibilities men themselves cannot fulfill on the one hand, and can easily evade on the other. The men include most prominently celibate Catholic clergy and an overwhelmingly male U.S. Congress. In biblical terms they are (to use Jesus’ words) “experts in the law” who “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry” and which the “experts” themselves “will not lift one finger” to lighten (LK 11:46). It’s no wonder so many women see pro-birthers as militants in a war against women.

But it’s even worse than that. If abortion is the crime they allege, pro-birthers are criminal accessories. They are co-abortionists. This is because their anti-life policies which deny reluctant mothers sex education, good jobs, decent wages, maternity leave, free child care, programs like Head Start, and subsidized food and housing create an anti-life culture. And that in turn drives desperate women to terminate unwanted pregnancies that will effectively impoverish them.

If lawmakers and religious leaders really care about life and want fewer abortions, they need to create a pro-life culture that invites bringing pregnancies to term. Most obviously, this means that it’s unjust for women to be left holding the bag. In particular it means:

  • Recognizing that the absolute prohibition of abortion endorsed by many Christians is not universally accepted.
  • Realizing that abortion as already restricted (to the first two trimesters) by the Roe v. Wade decision is about as much restriction as possible in such a pluralistic context.
  • In that light, having Christians adopt a prophetic, persuasive approach to limiting abortions rather than a legal coercive one.
  • This means that committed Christians would themselves refuse to abort unwanted fetuses, that they would support others in following suit, and (above all) that they’d promote pro-life measures across the board including anti-poverty legislation, but also advocating war resistance, elimination of capital punishment, and strict environmental protection legislation.
  • Supporting sex education programs like those offered by Planned Parenthood.
  • Changing the patriarchal teaching of the Catholic Church about birth control.