Where in the World?

In due time, you can expect that I will wax rhapsodic. But until then, I share a bit of photographic quizzery, for fun. 



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St. Thomas More’s Prison Cell in the Tower of London

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For a pilgrimage earlier this year, I made arrangements to visit the cell in the Tower of London where St. Thomas More was imprisoned as he underwent trial for refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy imposed by King IMG_0560Henry VIII.

St. Thomas is my patron saint in Confirmation, and today (June 22) is his optional memorial.

Although the Tower of London was used to detain the King’s prisoners from time to time, it is not a prison per se. Rather, it was (and is) a secure location belonging to the Monarch, which, in addition to quarters for guards and officers, also provides cells for certain “special” prisoners. Usually, such prisoners would be brought in upon a boat from the Thames through the “Prisoner’s Gate”, and then marched from there to their cell within the Tower complex.

St. Thomas, due to his status and rank, qualified to be imprisoned there, in relative “comfort” compared to the prison of the time for commoners of the realm.

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The ancient (original) door to St. Thomas’ cell

As he first arrived at the Tower in April 1534, he had some privileges which his guards and examiners slowly stripped away. For example, he was permitted a writing table and chair, sufficient light and supplies for writing, books (in particular his breviary), as well as reasonably warm clothing.

Within the cell itself, not atop a “tower” IMG_0548but actually quite close to ground level, which had open windows overlooking a moat ringing the Tower, there was a  cavernous arched roof, and lack of heat and exposure to the elements would have been a tremendous discomfort, particularly in the damp London winter.

The rest of the time, if it were more temperate, the open cistern the served as the cell’s “bathroom” would emit noxious fumes and gases back into the cell from the collecting sewage below.

Over time, as St. IMG_0551Thomas remained obstinate and his handlers grew impatient and frustrated, “privileges” were removed; no more books for reading, no more paper and ink for writing, the spartan furnishings were taken away, food become less frequent and plentiful, and finally, the very clothes warming his body were stripped from him.

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The “privy”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas would sometimes catch a glimpse of his daughter Margaret from outside the window. No doubt, he was aware that he was not the only one of his family sacrificing to defend what was true. Positions for sons and sons-in-law evaporated as St. Thomas had lost the king’s favor, his “friends”, and became a political pariah. No more prestige for anyone connected to the More family, but rather the opposite — infamy. The

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Steps to the cell door, from within

Crown would take possession of his land holdings and turn his wife Alice out of their home. All of St. Thomas’ income was lost as well.

Despite his rhetorical prowess, St. Thomas is most impressive (to me) because he withheld from making any public statements about the situation of the King’s marriage. He avoided the controversy, and deftly navigated — deflected — from taking a position. IMG_0535Ultimately, even his silence caught up with him, until his silence became a source of condemnation.

 

St. Thomas is perhaps too frequently cited as the outspoken herald for religious liberty, when the opposite was really true. He was inchoate prudence and restraint when it came to stating his convictions. How often do we (somewhat impetuously) “jump the gun” in “taking a stand”? Here, in our particularly troubled times where freedom of religion is assailed, St. Thomas serves as a fitting guide and witness. He managed to do more for much longer because he let himself be guided in prayer to the Lord regarding when and how to act and speak.

It was only once the jury (after just fifteenIMG_0564 minutes) found him guilty upon hearsay that he put to rest the question of his “guilt”. Only then did he once for all make known that the king could not become head of any “church of England” and that the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine was true and binding upon him.

Shortly thereafter he was taken from his cell to Tower Hill (nearby) and beheaded. He said to the crowd that he “died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Also, retaining his (sometimes ribald) sense of humor to the end, and having become rather hirsute from his time locked up in the Tower, St. Thomas swept his profuse beard away from the path of the ax — saying, “This [my beard] has not offended the king!” — lest it fall the way of his head.

Surprisingly, throughout his imprisonment, and despite his high station, St. Thomas’ enjoyed a popularity among the people. He was respected — perhaps he developed a reputation for fairness over a long and distinguished legal career, or shrewdness, or managed to avoid giving offense unnecessarily, but he was beloved. His bodily remains came to be venerated very shortly after his execution, though he was not canonized until 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

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St. Thomas’ Tomb in the Tower Chapel Crypt

In today’s Office of Readings, we find part of a letter written to St. Thomas’ daughter, Margaret, while he was imprisoned in the Tower (from the English Works of Sir Thomas More, London, 1557, p. 1454):

Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he had taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God. Either he shall keep the king in that gracious frame of mind to continue to do me no harm, or else, if it be his pleasure that for my other sins I suffer in this case as I shall not deserve, then his grace shall give me the strength to bear it patiently, and perhaps even gladly.

By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains  of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And if he permits me to play Saint Peter further and to fall to the ground and to swear and forswear, may God our Lord in his tender mercy keep me from this, and let me lose if it so happen, and never win thereby! Still, if this should happen, afterward I trust that in his goodness he will look on me with pity as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh and endure here the shame and harm of my own fault.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.

 

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Painting of St. John Fisher arriving at the “Prisoner’s Gate” at the Tower


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Monument on Tower Hill

 

Today’s Collect:

Father, you confirm the true faith
with the crown of martyrdom.
May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More
give us the courage to proclaim our faith
by the witness of our lives.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

In Quartermaster’s Domain, the words “Pellets”, “Electric” or “Gas” are Anathema

When it comes to true, honest barbecue, the surest sign (and only advertising required) that it is the “real deal” is the smoke that announces itself. In culinary terms, the white smoke of barbecue is the “Habemus papam” of carnivores. If you stand outside “Joe Bob’s World Famous Texabamalina BBQ” and do not smell delicious vapors wafting forth somewhere overhead, you have arrived at a den of thieves and house of liars and you should quickly run, run away. 

Since such places are few and far between, and since I live in a state that produces a passable tri-tip but pork not so much, I am my own pit master. But, let’s be fair. There’s the way it has always been done (TM) and then there’s the way to cheat and pretend. 

Exhibit A:


I’ve written of this beast before. I make pizza in it. It’s a mess. I bought it for $200 five years ago and can’t find another one. When it finally falls apart I’ll search for the rough equivalent or move on to a cut open metal barrel. 

There’s two sides for cooking. Doors on the front for adding fuel. No gas, no pellets, no electricity. You start a fire on one side, you tend it, you can fit 4 shoulders on the other side, or 6 racks of ribs. 


Yesterday (Saturday) I started it around 1pm and smoked three racks of ribs for 6 hours. At 8:00pm I put on four pork shoulders, an checked the coals and wood every 90 minutes through the night (well, I check it at three-hour intervals overnight). Twenty hours later (with temps on the meat side ranging 200-225) the shoulders are done. 


Meanwhile, I feel like I’m on vacation. Shortly we’ll eat like (medieval) kings. 

Cheers. 

Expansion

We are now a household of eight. Suddenly there are multiple coffee drinkers. As such, behold:


The Bialetti Moka Express 12-cup stovetop espresso machine. Still made in Italy. The Moka comes in an array of sizes. This largest size borders on absurd. It is massive. 

I have one big cup of coffee each morning. It’s about 4 shots of espresso with an equal volume of milk. With the 12-cup, it’s possible to make at least three of those. 
Usually the daily pot of coffee is gone or nearly gone the same day. But, I won’t deny that I sometimes allow a day to pass and then I drink what’s left the next morning. It’s not bad. 

Admittedly, I am not the sort of connoisseur of coffee as, say, Beer. Day old beer left on the counter isn’t good in Antarctica. 

So I drink the stale coffee from this thing and I don’t really wash it either, with soap or in the dishwasher. The water that passes through the machine is blistering hot and the aluminum takes up the heat from the stove. 

I rinse it really well between each use and I periodically wipe out the upper part of the pot with a damp cloth. I would be especially concerned about running it through the dishwasher, with the possibility of parts getting warped and the detergent anodizing and pitting the metal. 

A Moka is a great prepper item. With a few of these on hand, provided you have beans, water, and heat, you’ll make coffee for a decade or longer. Great for camping too. 

Speaking of stocking up, one can never have too much Juan Ana coffee on hand, particularly when buying in bulk is key to getting a great deal on shipping. 

Extra coffee from San Lucas Atitlan in your pantry supports a Catholic mission in Guatemala that helps families grow coffee on little one or two-acre plots. The mission supplies the plants to the families, buys the beans back at harvest time, roasts the beans and packages them for sale. The farmers receive more than fair trade prices.

ACTION ITEM: Dew Drops Little Flower Fundraising Matching Campaign September 1 to 3

Xian-Man-Le-e1472533908285While in China this summer, we visited Dew Drops Little Flower several times. We met the founders of Little Flower and a lot of the people involved in its operation.

I experienced first-hand the loving care provided to abandoned children by this amazing organization. And, I got to meet and interact with some of the children and babies who live there.

Dew Drops Little Flower receives abandoned babies and children, most of whom have serious, disfiguring, debilitating, or life-threatening conditions, and provides them with a home, love, food, clothing, medicine and medical care. A lot of the children would die without the care they receive at Little Flower. They work to coordinate medical treatment for these children, and provide the funding for that treatment.

IMG_1862Dew Drops operates on a shoestring budget and relies upon monetary assistance from donors and gifts of things like diapers, medicine, supplies, baby formula and food, clothes, etc. Through generous donations and the prudent use of their resources, they save (and change) lives.

In the weeks leading up to our visit, the “word went out” that we could bring donations with us, and boxes of various things started to arrive at our house. One corner of our dining room was stacked with dozens of boxes up to the day before we left. We took all of those shipments and packed them into one huge suitcase for our flight to Beijing.

Today through September 3 there is a special fundraising campaign that will allow donations to be matched by Tencent Public. You can easily donate through Paypal by clicking here. You can set up a one-time or monthly donation. Please consider helping this worthy organization.

China Pilgrimage Series: Our Lady of Graces in Bansishan

Recently, my oldest son and I returned from a pilgrimage and mission trip to the People’s Republic of China. I hope to share (in a series of posts in the coming weeks) some of what we saw and experienced.

Shanxi Province 

IMG_2067The capital city of Taiyuan is approximately 514 km west of the city of Beijing, with a population of 4 million (source: Wikipedia), and seat to the Archdiocese of Taiyuan and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (source: UCANews).

Relative to other provinces in China, the treatment of the Catholic Church there is somewhat more relaxed. For example, there is very little distinction between that “above-ground” Patriotic Association Church and the otherwise “underground” Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

One small clue that this is so can be found in the picture below, outside the Cathedral. A great many churches in China are obscured by a wall or have some barrier between them and the facing street. Here, however, the very short fence is used to stand posters about the teachings of Catholicism, and on the public sidewalk there were two tables, with stools and umbrellas, with an array of Catholic tracts for passers-by.

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Bansishan 

One of two official pilgrimage sites in the Archdiocese of Taiyuan is Our Lady of Grace Portiuncula Basilica on Bansishan (a mountain). (Source: UCANews). Approximately 100 km north of Taiyuan and 1760 meters above sea level, pilgrims access the Basilica by ascending a winding narrow dirt road that is punctuated by Stations of the Cross monuments carved in stone. (Source: UCANews).

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According to local tradition, Mary appeared at Bansishan in 1783 and opened the eyes of a blind child. A Franciscan bishop built a church on the site, and another Franciscan bishop later rebuilt it. (Source: UCANews).

IMG_2106While many pilgrims, particularly the local Chinese Catholics, make their 10 km ascent to the Basilica on foot, we made our way aboard a small bus that gasped and choked from overheat when we arrived. I’m glad that I didn’t know that at least once before a coach loaded with pilgrims has overturned on the rugged road, but miraculously, passengers received only minor injuries. (Source: UCANews).

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Atop the mountain sits the Basilica. Thousands of pilgrims make their way there on August 2 each year to receive the “Portiuncula Indulgence”. This year, for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the doors of the Basilica have been designated as one of nine holy doors within the Archdiocese. When they were first opened on January 13, “more than 10,000 Catholics, coming on foot or in long lines of vehicles braved the freezing weather of minus 16 degrees Celsius at the pilgrimage site.” (Source: Sunday Examiner).

While the government of the Shanxi Province treats the Church more diffidently than elsewhere in China, it’s not as though Bansishan hasn’t been through its share of upheavals. In 1966, it was demolished by the Red Guards. It was rebuilt beginning in 1988. (Source: sacredarchitecture.org). As recently as 2008, the local government has interfered with pilgrims making their way to the shrine. On May 24 of that year, “thousands of police” blocked the access road to stop the pilgrims from reaching the Basilica, who were forced to return home. “According to eyewitnesses, the police forces greatly outnumbered the pilgrims.” (Source: asianews).

IMG_2120Further up the mountain, which we hiked, is a rosary garden currently under construction, as well as a golden statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the crest. While atop the mountain, at the foot of the Sacred Heart statue, our pilgrimage group prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before we wended our way back down the mountain for our return to Taiyuan.

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A culling of links

14768069492_581f144c67_oIt’s been a busy few weeks/months. Lots and lots of work. And then a whole array of new church activities. I pray for you, the readers of this blog, and I hope that you have all received many blessings, joys and consolations from Our Lord. Anyway, I’ve got enough time to provide some of the links I’ve been meaning to share here:

Much more to follow in coming weeks and months, as soon as time permits! Hopefully your Easter Season was fruitful, and may you receive many graces from the upcoming Feast of the Most Holy Trinity!