Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
They come from the much-loved poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, written by Thomas Gray in 1750. The two lines state a simple truth, I think, not only about certain flowers but about many acts and deeds and even people. The point is made straightforwardly but oh, so poignantly.
Last night as I was walking home, I couldn't help but be struck by two bright objects in the night sky. They appear to have been Jupiter and Venus, making an all-time great simultaneous appearance. If you haven't seen them yet, I highly recommend a trip outside tonight. Caution: this is a very limited engagement!
According to the legend, the lion, from whose paw St. Jerome had removed the thorn, remained with Jerome for the rest of his life. He therefore appears in paintings that depict scenes from Jerome's later life.
Here are two paintings that show Jerome returning to his monastery accompanied by the lion. The other clerics are afraid and some of them flee:
It's Lent and so I wanted to find some artworks on a penitential theme. One possibility would be St. Jerome in the Desert, which a number of artists have painted. My attention has been temporarily turned away from that subject, however.
According to legend, while St. Jerome was in the desert, a lion came to him for help. The lion had somehow gotten a thorn in his paw, which pained him very much. It would have been logical for St. Jerome to be afraid of the lion. He overcame his fear, however, in order to help the poor animal by removing the thorn from his paw.
The scene in which Jerome removes the thorn has been painted quite often. In looking over those works, I found myself comforted by the sight of such a kind act. Given the bereavement which my family has recently undergone, I feel that we are much more in need of kindness and comfort than we are of penitence. (Others may differ!) I therefore hope to post links to paintings of this scene in the next few days.
Here are three works in which the lion holds out the injured paw, imploring Jerome for help. Some artists place this scene in the saint's study while others, in keeping with the legend, set it in the desert:
My father has now been gone for nine days. The world has continued on, scarcely noticing his absence. My own wish is not to resume normal life just yet. I want to stay with my grief, to stay with his memory, for yet some time.
As part of that effort, I've been trying to recite the Mourner's Kaddish each day. I am not Jewish, my father was not Jewish, and yet this feels right to me.
I was pleased to find this short article about the experience of three daughters in saying Kaddish for their father during the first eleven months after his death. My experience won't be the same, since I will not be part of a kehillah. Still, I hope that saying Kaddish will help me to stay for a longer time with my father's presence and memory.
During the week of February 21st, my family and I knew that my father was dying. He passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, February 27, exactly one week ago today. In the last week, then, we have been attending to funeral arrangements, an obituary, visits, a wake, a funeral, and finally a burial.
During the first few days of the week which we knew would be his last, we sought to make my father comfortable. I tried to reassure him that we would remain with him, and would make sure that he had everything he could possibly need. He seemed comforted by this reassurance and he seemed to enjoy the presence of his wife and various, shifting combinations of his six children in his room. It was a level of company and activity which had once been normal for him but rare in recent years.
After those few days, he slept more and seemed to recede from us. Although I occasionally tried to offer the same reassurances, they no longer felt right. He no longer seemed there to receive them. My speaking directly to him seemed, in fact, almost to agitate him, as though I were calling him away from a task he needed to complete, from a direction in which he needed to go.
At that point, however, I still had a need to speak. And so I turned at last to the religious tradition in which we had all been raised. I found some Catholic prayers for the dying and took them to my father's room. In the afternoon, I placed my hand on his unconscious shoulder and read:
I commend you, dear Daniel, to the almighty God. I give you over to the care of Him whose creature you are.
A bit further on, the prayer continued:
When, therefore, your soul shall depart from your body, May the glorious armies of the Angels meet you. May the court of the Apostles receive you. May the triumphant band of glorious Martyrs come out to welcome you. May the splendid company of Confessors clad in their white robes surround you. May you meet with a blessed rest in the embrace of the Patriarchs.
Near the end, the prayer continued:
Let the heavens be opened to him. Let the angels rejoice with him. Let the archangel St Michael conduct him, for you have appointed him chief of the heavenly host. Let the holy Angels come out to meet him. Let them bring him to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.
The final words were these:
Into your hands, Lord, we commit the spirit of your servant Daniel. (Luke 23.4)
O Lord Jesus Christ, receive his spirit (Acts 7.59)
Holy Mary, Mother of grace, Mother of mercy, defend him from the enemy and receive him at the hour of death.
These were the words and thoughts in which my father had been schooled from his earliest days, as indeed I had been myself. They seemed just right for the solemn occasion on which I recited them. If my father was able to hear them, I am sure they comforted him. Whatever my belief, or even the state of my belief, I have to say that they comforted me as well.
I hope that the heavens were opened to him, that the Archangel Michael conducted him, and that the Angels brought my father to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.