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The Annunciation In Three Movements

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

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“Let Nothing Trouble You”: The Feast of St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila, by Francois Gerard. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Teresa of Avila, by Francois Gerard. Photo credit: Wikipedia

“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end . . . Hope, O my soul, hope. You can know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes away quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain and turns a very short time into a long one.”St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila)

A Closer Look at Breezy Point

Photo credit: Dina Temple-Raston/NPR

A few weeks ago I posted some options for people who might want to help out with the devastation in the states affected by Hurricane Sandy. One of the aid efforts listed was a community fundraising project for the Breezy Point neighborhood started by a young college student, Matthew Petronis. To get the word out about the grass roots effort in Breezy Point and to practice the important skill of writing solid questions to discover information, my high school English students collaborated on a series of interview questions to which Matthew graciously responded. one tiny violet is pleased to host the results of the student interview below.

Where were you when Hurricane Sandy arrived and what was your reaction to news of the devastation?

When Hurricane Sandy arrived I was in my dorm room at college (Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C). I found out about the devastation the morning after the hurricane arrived. I woke up and went on face book and saw all the devastation and homes demolished through videos and pictures.

What inspired you to help raise money for your community?

It wasn’t really an inspiration, it was more of instant reaction. I sat in my room feeling terrible for my community and I thought to myself, “No use sitting here sobbing. How can I create a way to help and keep my friends positive?” Breezy Point is a town where everyone helps each other out in any situation. This was my way of helping out.

There is a ticker on your website counting down the days remaining to reach the fund goal of $500,000. Why the time limit? And how will the funds raised be used to assist Breezy Point residents?

There really is no limit to days or money raised. I just put it on the page to see how much we could raise in 90 days. As for the fund goal, the sky’s the limit — we will take anything we can get. The funds will be used to help all of the victims of the hurricane. Many people have insurance on their homes, but are receiving little to nothing for them. And some people don’t have insurance at all. This fund will go directly to aiding them in the rebuilding process and to helping Breezy Point rebuild as a community.

How are you keeping up with your classes at CUA in addition to juggling this fundraising project?

I have learned through my life to handle the cards you’re dealt. I never expected this to happen, so I’m just handling it like I’ve handled everything in my life. I have always played sports and been a part of clubs from middle school and up. Playing sports and participating in after school activities has taught me to juggle multiple things at once and still maintain myself in my studies.

Where is your home in relation to those that sustained the most damage in Breezy Point? Was your home damaged as well and to what extent?

My home is on the west side of Breezy, closest to the jetty that divides Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. My home was severely flooded and the deck around my home was torn apart.

It has been three weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit. How are things looking in your neighborhood now? Are schools and churches or businesses operating? Give us some sense of how people are coping, especially with winter and the holidays approaching.

Every one in Breezy is holding their own. No businesses are open due to lack of power or clean water. The Red Cross and many other organizations have done their part to help and spirits are high with all the support.

What place in Breezy Point holds special memories for you that you would most like to see rebuilt and why?

The field in the center of Breezy. It was where all my CYO sports were held and it was a safe haven to many who wanted to get away from school work or anything else going on in their lives.

What are your religious views and did they play a role in your decision to help your community?

I am Christian and my beliefs helped me all along the way and have not stopped. I have been taught to do what is right and when help is needed, you find a way to help in any way possible.

What has been the most difficult struggle you’ve experienced since helping to organize this project?

I haven’t had any struggles so far and do not plan on having any in the future because everyone in the U.S has been so supportive and I don’t see that slowing down in the near future.

God can make good come out of any situation or tragedy. What good has resulted from Hurricane Sandy? What lessons have you learned from your experience that others might benefit from?

Although my town was destroyed, things like this make my community even stronger than it was before. If this has taught me anything it’s to always stay positive, don’t give up, and that someone out there wants to help you.

This interview was conducted by Michelle Hall, Rebecca Plaster, Misha Johnston, Marissa Sigala, and Matthew Boucher, who would like to thank Matthew Petronis for his time in answering the questions.

For information about the Breezy Point Fund or to donate click here.

Beautiful Book Pick: Sarah’s Key

Every once in awhile, some one stumbles upon something that is a revelation to her, something that forces her to rethink a singular event. That event can no longer be viewed as just happening to a large group of anonymous people. Now it is seen as having happened to one person, a person with a name, a heart, feelings and a life who was changed forever by that singular event. Thus, it can be said that some of the best historical fiction focuses on unexplored, uncomfortable, or even secret events that really happened. Examining history through the lens of little explored — or selectively forgotten  — events provides an opportunity to rethink what we already know, and ponder more deeply what still lies hidden from our view.

In her novel Sarah’s Key, Tatiana De Rosnay confronts the difficulties involved in bringing these historical secrets to light. She turns the spotlight on a significant but little explored event that many in France, and the world, would likely prefer to forget: the  cooperation of the French police with Nazi demands for the deportation of French Jews during WWII that resulted in what has come to be called the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.  It’s a can’t-put-it-down read that forces us to examine the everyday injustices that we participate in, either by direct cooperation or simply by not speaking or acting out against them.

The plot turns on Julia Jarmond, a 40-ish American journalist living in Paris, assigned to cover the commemorative anniversary of the Roundup for an American Paris weekly. In the beginning of the novel, short chapters alternate deftly between the past — specifically, July 1942, following one anonymous family, and more particularly the daughter of that family, through the Vel’ d’Hiv — and the present, in which we become acquainted with Julia and the unusual circumstances that end up making her the perfect, the only, person who could truly write this story. Somewhere near the middle of the novel, the parallel lines of the lives of these two women converge in an intense conflagration.

Deportation of Jews from France/ Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The anonymity of the Jewish family who are victims of the roundup underscores the intensely essential, but often forgotten fact, that history happens to individual human beings. The acts of individuals or collective groups have astonishing and often irreparable and horrific consequences in the lives of everyday people. This is a reality glossed over by the sweeping, impersonal, and biased narratives of history books throughout the world. Every character tellingly has a name in the 1942 portions of the novel, except the “girl” and her family. “The girl” is at once no one to those who wish to exterminate her, but is in every sense SOME ONE to those who love her. This nameless “girl” lived through an atrocity no one wants to think about or remember. She lives, breathes, feels, and believes and she has a story to tell, a promise to keep, and a difference to make. 

From the very beginning, Julia encounters many obstacles to completing her assignment — her husband, Bernard, and his family refuse to condone her research as worthwhile and make every effort to discourage her completely from proceeding. In addition, much historical evidence of the Roundup has been conveniently wiped away: the buildings in the area of the Velodrome and the Velodrome itself have all been razed, articles and pictures are hard to come by except through one Jewish agency who still seeks to find and name all those missing in the Holocaust, and the majority of witnesses are deceased. No one, it seems, thinks the Vel’ d’Hiv worth remembering or worth writing about. On top of everything, Julia struggles with a disintegrating marriage and the feeling that she is fading, disconnected from who and what she thought she’d become. The assignment, despite its difficulties, renews her sense of purpose and her joy in her vocation while presenting her with the challenge of puzzling out and asserting an individual identity from amidst a group that would seek to annihilate it.

There are two holocausts personified in the novel. The Jewish holocaust is juxtaposed against another holocaust, no less morally problematic and reprehensible. Julia is forced to choose either to confront or to participate in this modern-day atrocity.  The juxtaposition of moral choices and the individual’s participation in murder through lack of defiance or failure to speak weighs the holocaust of one generation against that of another with very disturbing parallels, which Julia fails to see (at least early on). While she is confused and repulsed by those who stood by and failed to do anything to save those who were rounded up and deported during the Vel’ d’Hiv, she herself fails to recognize the moral turpitude of her own situation until it is nearly too late. This is a theme that pervades the novel from beginning to end: It is easier to go with the flow, to do nothing that will cause commotion, to simply give in and cooperate. It is easier to ignore, to forget……. The saying that history repeats itself is never more true than in this fact: we often fail to take the lessons from history and apply it to ourselves, to our own society or personal situations; hence, what seems innocuous and gradually asserts itself as the moral norm is really the germ of some past nefarious deed reincarnating itself under another form, with the same devastating effects.

If there is any fault with the book it might be that the ending is a little too tidy or predictable, and there are places in the last quarter of the book where the writing slips into sentimentality or a reliance on easy plot devices. But these minor technicalities are forgiveable and do not take anything away from the main action of the novel — Julia’s growth and catharsis through this intimate and personal encounter with individuals who were previously “dead” in their anonymity — an anonymity forced upon them because their experience was too horrible to look upon or contemplate, because there was no one who could or would help them live with what had happened to them —  and whom she fearlessly and purposely brings back to life through uncovering and giving voice to their secrets, secrets that belong not only to them, but to all of humanity. In doing so, Julia uncovers and admits her own secrets, and looks deeply in to the places where her own life is most at risk, bringing everything in to the light and changing herself and those who know her profoundly.

Beauty Take-Away: This novel really brings the inherent dignity of the human being into sharp focus against others who have total disregard for this dignity. One view is beautiful and divine; the other is dark and devolves into the utter blackness of despair. It is not an easy novel to read — there are times when it is excruciatingly painful to go on to the next sentence. But the imminitable dignity, beauty, and gift of human life is present on every page. Ultimately it is a novel of hope and faith and a belief in God. De Rosnay weaves a story of life out of the ruins of the culture of death. This is a rare occurrence in mainstream fiction today and it is what makes Sarah’s Key so worth reading.

About the film: Read the book first. As in all cases, the book is better. The film is not unsuccessful, but it fails to reach the depth of insight the book accomplishes and glosses over some of the major conflicts that weigh so heavily in the development of Julia’s character in the novel.

Our Lady of Sorrows

“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk 2:34-35)

O Mary . . . a terrible sword has pierced your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave, because it is with Jesus.  Sweet Mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my sacrifices be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guard it. –Prayer of St. Faustina to the Sorrowful Mother (Diary 915)