My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On Tolkien's Desk, Lewis's Wardrobe and Relics, Both Secular and Sacred

J.R.R. Tolkien's cover design and signature.
Film director Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings
fame), plans to start filming "The Hobbit" 
tomorrow, featuring an all-star cast, including 
a reappearance of Elijah Wood as Frodo. 
I'm longing to revisit J.R.R. Tolkien's desk on which he wrote the Hobbit and C.S. Lewis's elaborately-carved wardrobe that inspired his imaginings of a passage into mythical Narnia.

Wheaton College's Wade Center
There's talk of yet another Narnia movie
in the works, adapted from C.S. Lewis's 
book "The Magician's Nephew."
Both artifacts are displayed in Illinois, in Wheaton College's Wade Center. I brought my children here about a year ago, and stood transfixed by

Tolkien's little eight-drawer student desk. I imagined the aging Catholic author, who looked like a Hobbit himself, dipping his quill pen to create his epic personification of good versus evil. 

I gently swung the elaborately carved wardrobe door (we're allowed!) and knew C.S. Lewis had touched the same weathered panels. I felt goose-bumpy awe being in such close proximity to objects used daily by these visionaries. (Click on this link for images of desk and wardrobe:

My great-great grandmother's Pennsylvania
Dutch shawl.
Antiquities always stir in me deep curiosity and reverence. In a cedar chest, I store a wedding shawl worn four generations ago by my great-great grandmother. I study the rich paisley patterns, and imagine the young woman who draped her shoulders with  the luxurious cloth for her nuptials.

Perhaps it's no surprise, in a world where we frame photos of loved ones, scrapbook memories, and pay memberships to historical museums, that the Church has always cherished its relics.

St. Therese of
Lisieux with
her jumprope.
We have proof of Christians venerating relics back to the 2nd Century.

Relics come in all shapes and sizes:
* Saint Helena found the True Cross, venerated today in Rome's Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
* Many say Veronica's veil is housed in a tiny Capuchin church in the Abruzzi Mountains, three hours' drive from Rome. This "Shroud of Manoppello" is made of byssus, or "sea silk," an ancient cobwebby material on which no image could be painted -- and yet, Christ's face is clearly discernible. 
* Thought to be the burial cloth of Jesus, the Shroud of Turin, has been held since the 16th Century in St. John the Baptist Chapel in Turin, Italy. Scientists studying the cloth have converted to faith. Its next public viewing is scheduled for the year 2025.

This old postcard from the 
spectacular shrine of St. Anne
de Beaupre shows one of three
major relics of the Blessed 
Virgin's mother.
In an era that disparages "clutter," that proliferates reality television shows like "Clean House," in which featured families sweep into garage sales and garbage bins nearly every sentimental nick nack and prized possession to obtain sleek, fashionable living spaces, what role can relics play?

We're tactile people and some things are worth saving. In Assisi, Italy, I saw the actual silver-threaded gown St. Clare wore when she forsook her noblewoman's life for the Church. Her lavish golden curls were still preserved nearly 800 years after they were shorn. Through these and other artifacts, the impetuous young woman who clung with supernatural strength to an altar railing when her father tried to drag her away from her vocation, leapt into life for me. Like a family preserving a prized baptismal or wedding gown, is the Church cherishing its saints' relics.

I know many people who have been deeply touched by relics. A friend just wrote me from Arizona telling how she saw two thorns from Jesus' Crown of Thorns in Rome at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. "When in Rome, go there!" she urged. On March 24, 2011, the Daily Mail Reporter released the news that another thorn from Jesus' Crown, once kept by Mary Queen of Scots, is going on display at the British Museum in London in an exhibit called "Treasures of Heaven."  

Contemporary people need relics, I'm convinced! I've had innumerable brushes with these blessed objects, leaving me more convicted about my faith every time. For example, abundant St. Therese of Liseux artifacts housed in The National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, Illinois, have drawn me to a deeper feeling of connection with this saint. I helped run a Catholic Little Flowers Girls Club for nine years, and learned to love St. Therese, patroness of the club. My children and I enjoyed repeat visits to the Darien shrine, since it includes St. Therese's chair and playthings, plus her hand-drawn maps, and innumerable other items from her daily life .

The National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, IL, offers the largest collection of this saint's relics outside of Lisieux, France. A rare oil painting of Therese, sacred vessels and a velvet tablecloth this saint handled during her time as sacristan  are on loan from France through October of 2011.

At times, the gloves of Padre Pio have circulated through area churches attended by mysterious heavenly scents and miraculous healings. My husband and I experienced a profound prayer experience when the gloves of this Italian mystic visited Assumption Church in Ashkum, south of Kankakee, about a dozen years ago.

Canada's breathtaking shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre.
Incorrupt body of Saint John Vianney 
(1786-1859), entombed above the main 
altar in the basilica at Ars, France. 
Photo by Herwig Reidlinger
On a 3,000-mile round-trip pilgrimage, my husband and I, and our three children (aged four through 12), drove up along the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the remote shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupre north of Quebec City. My family was flabbergasted at the immensity of the shrine and its three major relics of the Blessed Virgin's mother, St. Anne. These gifts were presented from 1670 A.D. through 1960 A.D., from two bishops and a pope: a portion of a finger bone, a four-inch portion of the saint's forearm, and another segment of arm bone.

We attended St. John Cantius
Church in Chicago for five years. 
One of the best samples of sacred
architecture in the city, the 
100-plus year old church is
chock full of sacred art and 
Our former church, St. John Cantius Church  in Chicago, houses impressive collections of "first-class" relics from saints such as John Cantius and John Vianney, the Curie d'Ars. Fragments of these saints' bones, plus a small particle of the True Cross and many other relics, were exhibited in a special room off the main church until the room recently closed for renovations. Scheduled re-opening is in about two years. Still on display by the elevator near the sacristy of this baroque-style church is a glass case with relics, and two large plaque reliquaries featuring 500 male and 500 female saints, including Doctors of the Church and early martyrs.

Father William de Salvo of Saint Isaac Jogues Church  in Hinsdale, Illinois, once associate pastor of my current parish, is known for bringing his vast relics collection with him to his various parish assignments. They make appearances on feast days, adding to the solemnity of the occasion.

Stone panels depict the story of the Martyrs of
Thailand, from Our Lady of the Martyrs of 
Thailand Shrine in Mukdahan Province, Thailand.
I've even found saints' relics hidden amongst collections at Chicago's Art Insitute. I offer up a quick prayer when I come upon a reliquary in such an unlikely location.

Finally, when covering a story about Catholic Extension Society's 1991 Lumen Christi Winner Agnes Ryan, the inspiring friend to missionaries and Milwaukee resident gave me a first-class relic of one of the Seven Blessed Martyrs of Thailand. The bone shard of 23-year-old Sister Lucia Khambang, killed by police December of 1940 for defending her faith, is mounted under a gold seal and signed by Archbishop Lawrence Khai of the Thare-Nongseng Archdiocese. Pope John Paul II named the seven martyrs "Blessed" the same month and year my husband and I married -- October of 1989.
Image from the Shroud
of Turin

So, while literary artifacts generate admiration from fans, and antiquities encourage reflection on the past and its peoples, religious relics touch even more deeply. They stir our imaginations and prompt us to explore stories of saints and events from our Catholic heritage. They generate awe and spur us to deeper prayer. As blessed objects, they offer us heaven's touch on earth.
Veneration of relics is "encouraged by the Church out of honor for the bodies of the saints...and to satisfy the universal instinct of mankind to treat with affection and reverence the material souvenirs of those whom we love." -- A Catholic Dictionary, Edited by Donald Attwater

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Fabulous book...was the author just having an imaginative
romp, or drawing analogies?

Know the story? The little town of Chewandswallow gets deluged by storms of deliciously prepared but supersized food. Residents have too much on their plates dodging gargantuan macaroni noodles, patio-table-sized hamburgers and mounds of mashed potatoes that engulf the town.

A funny image came to mind last night. I imagined myself in Chewandswallow, dodging mammoth meatballs and running out from under tarp-sized pieces of toast -- because life feels just like that! Don't we often have too much to digest, bite off more than we can chew, and are served up humongous portions of liver and onions when we'd rather eat steak?!

Enjoyed the
movie, too
Surprises in life, whether good or bad, can come in torrential storms.

"Wow, this evening's foodshower piled peas waist high. I've been shoveling peas for hours. So and so can't be mad at me not returning her call."

"Uh-oh, with gallons of tomato soup streaming from the sky, I can't run that errand."

"That t-bone's blocking the driveway. Grocery shopping will have to wait!"

Attack of the killer donuts...
Even when our lives are tidied, neatly swept and our tables are set, some unexpected event often pulls the tablecloth out with a "whisk." Some days, the china remains standing, other days, it shatters to the floor with a crash.

Sometimes it's legitimate to say "All Done" and walk away from the table. Other times we're forced to sit and finish our veggies.

But I digress. If any of us go a few days not returning calls or emails, if we can't make an appointment to visit a distant friend...let's not blame each other. We might be dodging those flying lambchops...

Follow this link to learn more about "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs":