Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mosaic of the Annunciation Inspires Contemplation of Future Ministry

This is the second essay of two from Writing in the Humanities, a college-one course taught by Sister Hilda Kleiman, O.S.B., that are published on the MAS Journalism Blog this semester.   Both essays are on the mosaic of the Annunciation; the first essay was written by Huong Dinh.

Angelus Domini Nuntiavit Mariae:  An Essay in Response to the Mosaic of the Annunciation
by Luis Trujillo

The story of the Annunciation of Christ’s incarnation is the turn of the tide for humankind; it is the beginning of the story of salvation. The desire to make iconography a part of my future ministry is planted in my heart, and I will bring it with me into my  future parish, so that the effect of the icon may also speak to others as it does for me. It causes great joy in my heart to set eyes on art that honors the great mercy of God, in this case the specific event of the Annunciation portrayed in the mosaic which rests on the walls of the building with the same name at Mount Angel Seminary.

Religious art has been my favorite; it is amazing that people share that talent with others. Sister Hilda told us once that “iconography [making it] is a form of prayer itself.” Thoughts that run through my mind when looking at the icon of the Annunciation include a desire to know more about the spirituality of Mary. How is it that God chose her out of all the women in the world of all ages?  This may be a question Catholics and non-believers might ponder if an icon were to hang in the walls of my parish one day. It could spark that curiosity, without a doubt the work of the Holy Spirit.

The factor that surprised me the most is the attractive composition, which is leading me to the meditation of Holy Scripture.  In the mosaic the Archangel Gabriel and the Mother of God are in conversing postures, and  the Gospel of Luke (Lk 1:29) tells us of his salute to her and honors her with the prayer of the Hail Mary; this gives us an opportunity to reflect on the beautiful salutation and even recite it. The genius in the composition is that the Archangel Gabriel (starting from the left) is pointing upwards to the heavens while looking at Mary as he is delivering his message which comes from above. Mary then is open armed, looking up to the heavens, reminding us of her full and confident fiat to God in heaven. 

Heaven is portrayed as an opening with parting clouds and the Holy Spirit descending in dove form holding the book of Gospels. This image is also described in the Gospel according to Matthew where Jesus is baptized by St. John (Matt 3:16). If we follow the pattern from the Archangel on the left to Mary on the right and up to the center where the Holy Spirit is portrayed we see that it forms an invisible triangle among the three major figures; this is amazing because triangles are often signs of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity could be interpreted in this icon as God the Father in the word (the book of Gospels) God the Holy Spirit (in the Dove) and God the Son (incarnate in Mary’s womb).

One other surprise I found was that Mary has her vision towards the heavens. This leads me to meditate in my own personal life on where I have my eyes set. Do I like Mary have my trust set in God like she did before and after the Annunciation? Her posture directs the attention from her back to God in the heavens, which is what we should do if God favors us with any gifts, whether it’s having a wonderful piece of art like the Annunciation or creating one. I would encourage my parishioners to explore iconography because of its catechetical and meditative elements.            

Explaining the colors worn by Mary could be a homily on its own. An example is she wears purple only worn by royalty and highly favored priests. This information is treasure for a believer because why would you not want to have Mary represented in the colors that do her venerability justice? Is an icon in a parish not the perfect way to represent that? I cannot help but to wonder what magnificent effect it would have on people having the knowledge that there is a reason behind the colors portrayed in the garments of Our Lady. That awe helps drive my desire to bring iconography into my priesthood. The richness of the colors worn by Mary are full of meaningful doctrine. One of my favorite colors is red. Mary in the mosaic wears a red garment which signifies earthliness and life. The colors give an evangelizing testimony; in a church the effect would be that of bringing people to communion with Him. 

Thoughts that ran through my mind were of God giving the author and the many artists great talent, making their work serve the purpose previously explained to each individual who rests eyes on the masterpiece.  I attribute this thought in great part to the devotion I have to Angels, in this case the Archangel Gabriel. The importance of the colors on his garment and of course his important role in the plan God has for humankind are interrelated. Gabriel is wearing a green garment that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. How appropriate that he would wear the color of the one who sent him. Also very appealing of Gabriel is that God chose him to send the plan of salvation to Mary. I feel reverence towards his obedience and willingness to be the messenger of God.             

The study of this mosaic has awakened the thought of wanting to explore more with iconography; it is wonderful to think that such a creation might inspire others as the icon of the Annunciation has inspired me. This is surely a hope and a prayer that I want to take with me and make it a part of my future ministry. If a picture can say a million words I would want an icon that speaks a million words of God. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Mosaic of the Annunciation Teaches Obedience

This post is one of two essays from this semester's Writing in the Humanities, a course taught by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB, that will be published on the MAS Journalism blog.  Huong Dinh is a college-one seminarian studying for the Diocese of Oakland.

The Virtue of Obedience: The Mosaic of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Huong Dinh

The newest building at Mount Angel Seminary is named Annunciation.  There is a huge mosaic of the scene of the Annunciation that stands at the entrance on the left side of the lobby.  The mosaic is bright, but surrounding it is a neutral background.  This mosaic has a high ceiling above with two lights and two skylights, and it usually attracts people when they enter the building.  I have never seen anything like it before, and it is a very beautiful mosaic.  Moreover, the mosaic shows Mary as an example of obedience in her heart by her saying yes to God's will.  This virtue is so necessary to me as a seminarian because it helps me accept feedback from my formation director to practice and become a good priest in the future.

First of all, the main figures of the mosaic are the Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The initials PX TB above the halo of the Archangel Gabriel are the Greek initials for the Archangel Gabriel, and the initials MO OV above the halo of the Blessed Virgin Mary are the Greek initials for the Blessed Virgin Mary.  According to the Gospel of Luke, the Archangel Gabriel is a messenger of God.  God sent him to proclaim the good news to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would carry the Son of God.  At that time, Mary was about fifteen or sixteen years old, so she was probably afraid when the Archangel Gabriel told her that.  The news was so unbelievable to Mary, but with a strong faith she was willing to accept God's will.  Her faith is an example of complete obedience and trust in God's will even though she did not understand it.

Secondly, at the top of the mosaic, there is a circle where the Bible is placed on top of a small table with a dove standing on the Bible.  I think the circle symbolizes heaven, the dove the Holy Spirit, and the Bible is Jesus because it talks about his life.  The bottom left figure on the mosaic is the Archangel Gabriel, and the bottom right figure is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary stand across from each other.  Although they are talking to each other, their eyes see upwards to heaven, which means they are faithful servants of God, and they always listen to God's will.

Their postures are very peaceful.  The Archangel Gabriel bends a little at his knees, his left hand holds a scroll, and his right hand points towards the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Those gestures mean that he comes from God, and he blesses the Blessed Virgin Mary because she will be the Mother of God.  His wings point in the opposite direction.  One wing points directly to heaven, and the other is swiftly behind him.  In the same way, the Blessed Virgin Mary holds a spindle in her hands as if she is working on her daily job.  She stands at the door of her house, symbolizing her openness to the Holy Spirit coming into her life, just as I am through my formation at seminary.

Finally, the background of the mosaic is gold.  That impresses me because it is used in numerous areas and in the halo of the Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Gold usually symbolizes the light of heaven and eternity.  It makes me think that the mosaic takes place in the presence of God. Gold also gives me a feeling of glory and divinity.  As I am a seminarian, I must too take into responsibility the task of carrying the glory of God and his Church.  Therefore, I must be obedient to the teachings of the Church.

Besides the background color, there are many colors that appear in the mosaic.  The Archangel Gabriel's wings have mixed some colors together, but the main color is blue.  Blue also appears in the circle at the top of the mosaic.  Blue is the color of the heavens and of divinity.  The Archangel Gabriel has a various range of greens on his garment.  Green is the color of the Holy Spirit.  In the mystery of the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit works through the Archangel Gabriel and the Incarnation of the Son of God.  This mystery helps me to reflect when God calls me to follow him.  I had a desire to become a priest when I studied at a university in Vietnam.  At that time, I was confused about my vocation although I heard God's call because I was not sure if it was God's voice or my inner voice.  Finally, with the Holy Spirit's guidance, I had the courage to answer God's call, and as a result I am a seminarian now.

The Blessed Virgin Mary has dark red on her cloak and purple on her dress.  Purple in iconography is a symbol of virginity and power.  In this mosaic, purple means the virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Besides that, red is symbol of sacrifice and royalty.  The red cloak that the Blessed Virgin Mary wears means she really sacrifices herself to say yes to God, to allow God's will to work on her.  Due to her obedience, the promise that God promised to his people in the past was fulfilled.  The promise is God will send his Only Son to save his people. Although God has power upon Mary, he still respects her free will.  This reminds me of John 3:30 which says, "He must increase, but I must decrease."  This means to me that I have to sacrifice myself by picking up my daily cross and allowing God to work in me like Mary.

In conclusion, as Catholics, I think that we all are very familiar with the mystery of the Annunciation.  This mystery presents the Blessed Virgin Mary's readiness to answer God's call through the Archangel Gabriel.  I was able to understand more deeply about the mystery of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary who encourages me to say yes to God's will.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Students Use Shakespeare to Ponder the Meaning of Love

The conversation about A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear continues with another essay by one of the students from the fall semester Shakespeare class, taught by Dr. Creighton Lindsay.  Daniel, a Pre-Theology student studying for the Diocese of Boise and one of the MAS Journalism students, wrote a story on the trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this fall.

Evidence of Love
by Daniel Miller

No subject has captivated more writers, poets, musicians, and individuals than love. No story seems complete without a romantic aspect attached. No playwright composes without a touch of passion involved. Shakespeare is no exception. Indeed, his writings surge with statements on love – its power, folly, breadth, depth, and enduring mystery. In King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the treatment of love is varied – familial and somber in the first, romantic, witty, and fanciful in the other. What emerges is an understanding of love parallel to Roman Catholic teaching: The sense that feelings may be fleeting, but to love completely is to act and positively will—often sacrificially—the good of another.

The eyes play a critical role in Shakespeare’s depiction of love. Eyes act as a gateway to love, but beyond initial attraction, using the eyes (or any senses) as a guide invites foolishness. The four young lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream find themselves in confused love triangles as they circle through a forest enchanted by mischievous fairies that place potion on their eyes, casting spells that create attraction to mistaken partners. In King Lear, Gloucester loses his eyes because of his ongoing allegiance to Lear. In his blindness, Gloucester feels hopeless, but his son Edgar’s devoted love helps his father experience some semblance of clarity late in the play. Gloucester remarks, “Our means secure us, and our mere defects / Prove our commodities” (IV.i.21-22). The eyes may be a fit pilot for trudging through the forest and the storm, but as Gloucester and the Athenian youths learn, love needs other bearings.

For a fleeting moment, Helena grasps the deceiving nature of love through the senses when she says, “Love can transpose to form and dignity. / Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; / And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” (I.i.239-241). However, before she can end her soliloquy, she hatches an inane plot to tell Demetrius that Hermia is running away, which she somehow thinks will invite him to choose her instead. Helena, like many of the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, cannot escape from irrationality despite acknowledging how flighty love seems when driven by the senses.

Had the retiring monarch had a comparable rational epiphany in the first scene of King Lear, the tragic plot could have been conceivably avoided. Instead, Lear invests deeply in hearing the flattering (or unflattering) expressions of love from his daughters in the first scene. Whereas Goneril and Regan offer sweet but unsubstantiated complements, the daughter Lear loves most, Cordelia, does not charm but is truthful in her expression of affection. Lear exiles Cordelia, setting into motion the rapid downfall of his kingdom and personal life. Even with his faithful servant Kent imploring him to think otherwise, Lear is stung by Cordelia’s lack of flattery and disregards what he knows to be authentic love from his favored daughter.

Repeatedly, Shakespeare emphasizes the madness of sense-driven love. Oberon and Puck trick the fairy queen Titania into becoming infatuated with the ass-headed Bottom. The sly Oswald maneuvers into a potential position of power as he brokers his services between Goneril and Regan. Lear and Gloucester think they have lost the love of their children because of mistaken perception and calculated deception, and they wander in the dark stormy night searching for meaning, for direction, for love.

Where is lasting love to be found? It must be rooted in action, says Shakespeare. The symbols of steadfastness are Kent, Edgar, and Cordelia in King Lear and Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kent and Edgar go in disguise to keep vigil over their loved ones after they are banished. They suffer humiliation, being thrust into stocks and forced into begging. They endure a driving storm, persist through depravity, and never leave the side of King Lear and Gloucester. Eventually, Cordelia hears of the plight Lear has undergone at the hands of her sisters, and she takes arms to rescue her father. The love of these characters is expressed in the concrete. For the majority of the play, King Lear and Gloucester do not realize the love their allies express, but Kent, Edgar, and Cordelia show fidelity where Oswald, Goneril, Regan, and Edmund offer deceit through their empty words. Catholic teaching reinforces action over feelings. Jesus similarly compels his followers to action if they are to abide in Him. “You are my friends if you do what I command you…This I command you: love one another” (NAB, Jn. 14.14, 14.17, emphasis added). The Catechism of the Catholic Church builds on Christ’s teaching: “By his deliberate actions, the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience” (1700).

The abiding characters of King Lear sacrifice their own good for the wellbeing of the beloved. This is most poignant when the depleted Lear holds the dead Cordelia in his arms, bemoaning his lack of vision in understanding her love for him. He is so intensely demoralized that he falls to his own death beside her. The sacrificial nature of Cordelia’s death and the innocent, ultimately triumphant role of Edgar conjure echoes of Christ’s suffering.

Conversely, Theseus can muse on the essence of love. He is distant from the whimsical happenings in the forest, and when he hears the tails of the Athenian youths, he labels their experiences as shaped by the fog of love’s intoxication. “Lovers and madman have such seething brains, / Such shaping fantasies that apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends. / The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact” (V.i.4-8). He does not downgrade the power of love, but he warns of its transient condition.

In a subtle nod to the state of humanity, Shakespeare leaves Demetrius under the spell of love at the conclusion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He and Helena marry and would seem to have a happy future ahead. But in some ways this unbroken spell reinforces the mystery love inherently carries. Though we may chase it, express it in song, play, film, and art, though it may be rooted in action and choice rather than sound or sight, we never grasp love entirely. Shakespeare knew love’s nature, but even more so, he understood that love remains ever elusive.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000. Print.

New American Bible.  Revised Ed.  Washington, D.C.: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 2010. Online.

Shakespeare, William.  King Lear.  Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.  Print.

- - -. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Print.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shakespeare Students Reflect on King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Below is another essay from this semester's Shakespeare course, which is taught by Dr. Creighton Lindsay.  The Shakespeare students saw both of the plays discussed by Paul Grandi at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in September.

Paul, a college seminarian for the Diocese of Tucson, also published an essay from the course Theoretical Issues in Literary Studies.

The Foolish Necessity of Hope
by Paul Grandi

Dreams have always been a fascination for humanity.  Despite being uniquely personal to each individual, they always seem to elude any efforts of explanation. Oftentimes we say that, when trying to remember dreams the next morning, they slip away from our memory, like water escaping through cupped fingers. Nightmares, on the other hand, can stubbornly stay with us long after we have awakened. The strangeness of the half-remembered dream is nothing compared to the terror that remains after a nightmare, especially when the nightmare preys on existing fears and anxieties of which we might not even have been aware.  

This dichotomy between dream and nightmare is similar to the contrasting portrayal of the supernatural in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. One is the comedic dream of supernatural interference – the other is the tragic nightmare of supernatural silence. It is possible to conclude that Shakespeare, through his opposing portraits of the supernatural in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear, seeks to show his audience the folly, and yet the necessity, of man’s belief in something other and higher than himself, challenging playgoers to  examine their view of the heavens.

In Dream, the supernatural world of the fairies and sprites feels ethereal and light – comedic, even – in such a way that makes it hard to take them seriously, showing that it is perhaps folly to rely on any supernatural help.  The very first contact that the audience has with the supernatural in Dream is Robin Goodfellow – “a shrewd and knavish sprite” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.1.34) who engages in mischief and trickery.  As the play goes on, Robin is indeed the source of much of the comedy, as he “mistakenly” anoints the wrong pair of lovers. Oberon, the king of the fairies, tells him “Of thy misprision must perforce ensue / some true-love turned, and not a false turned true” (3.2.92-3). This “mistake” leads to the famous conflict in the forest between the four youth. Oberon’s noble intentions –to turn the love of Demetrius from Hermia to Helena and thereby solve the problems of the mortals –turn into quite the entertainment for Robin Goodfellow and the audience yet cause much emotional turmoil in the mortal characters, showing the potential folly of trusting in supernatural powers. 

Knowing that the play is set in Greece, it harkens, in a way, to the Greek religions where the gods would affect mankind through their internal conflicts, like the way Titania and Oberon’s fight affects Bottom and the players, and their occasional “incompetence,” like Robin anointing the wrong youth. In Dream, the “supernaturals” do indeed have power, and they do interfere with the lives of mortals, but their interference, though clumsy and apt to do more harm than good,  is comical, and they themselves are not intimidating. Mankind would be foolish to trust in such creatures for salvation or help, but they are entertaining. The fairies make the audience smile and laugh, rather than cause unsettlement. Their antics feel like a pleasant dream, albeit a strange one.

In Lear, on the other hand, the supernatural is absent except in the prayers, curses and imaginations of the play’s characters. As the tragedy unfolds, the supernatural entities remain silent and mysterious, and a terror akin to that felt in a nightmare grows in the audience. At the beginning of the play, Edmund, frustrated at the limits of his birth and customs of society, laments “Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law / My services are bound” (King Lear 1.2.1-2). In another scene, Lear cries “You heavens, give me that patience…I need! / You see me here, you gods, a poor old man / …If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts against their father, fool me not so much / to bear it tamely” (2.4.313-18). These are two of many references in the play to a higher power, whether it is the “gods” or “nature.” The characters constantly cry out to them, either cursing them as Edmund does or petitioning for patience and pity like Lear. Never is there any kind of clear, definite answer. 

This is a world without direct miracles and interventions, more similar to our own than the world of Dream, and thus more present and terrifying to the audience. Even in the famous storm that Lear imagines is of supernatural origin (“Let the great gods,” he says, “That keep this dreadful pudder o’er our heads / Find out their enemies now” (3.2.53-54), there is no way of knowing that the storm is from the gods. If, however, it is – and there are in fact supernatural powers at work in King Lear – one has to question their benevolence as they witness the play’s descent into the bloodbath of tragedy. The innocent Cordelia, the repentant Lear “more sinned against than sinning,” (3.2.63-64), both die. Edmund, try as he might to scheme himself out of “nature’s law” ends up beaten and killed by his “legal” brother. Shakespeare leaves his audience purposefully in doubt as to the reality of the supernatural. If the gods exist, then the play seems to cry “shame on them!” for their refusal to stop the present tragedy. What hope has mankind if the great beings in the heavens have no pity or care for the mortals below? How terrifying, how nightmarish it is to think that man suffers at the whims of fickle deities who allow tragedies like King Lear, or hurricanes like Katrina, or attacks like September 11 to happen – or, perhaps even worse, that man suffers at the hands of no one but himself.

When compared side by side, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear present two very different views of the supernatural. In one play, the supernatural is overwhelmingly, and in a sense ridiculously, present, but hardly believed in, and rarely invoked. In the other, supernatural help is constantly sought and never received. However, despite overall opposition, the plays each contain a reference to the other. There is a scene in the middle of Dream where Hermia wakes up screaming from a nightmare where she “[thought] a serpent ate [her] heart away” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.2.156). As wonderful as it perhaps might be to think that there is a world of fairies and elves and supernatural deities, there is a slight allusion by Shakespeare to the fact that belief in the supernatural can sometimes feel like more of a nightmare than a dream, as is the case in King Lear. At the end of the tumultuous events of that tragedy, the audience might feel as Hermia does. They might feel like screaming. Perhaps they are “quaking” with fear because they are terrified at the prospect that Lear is a mirror of humanity, and that they are just like the characters in the play, crying out to a silent heaven, while the gods above chuckle at the folly of man. 

Shakespeare does not leave us there, however. One of the famous scenes of King Lear is when blind Gloucester is led to what he believes to be the edge of a cliff where he throws himself off (though there is in fact no cliff from which to fall), unable to bear the torments of the world any longer, crying out to the gods, believing that it is part of their “opposeless wills” that he die (King Lear 4.6.44-51). In a sense, he is living a nightmare – specifically, the nightmare of the play, where the gods have lost all desire for those who have been good and righteous to succeed – and he wants to end it. When Edgar tricks him into thinking that he has fallen and survived, he tells him to “think that the clearest gods…have preserved thee” (4.6.90-1) and Gloucester, believing thus, is restored to hope. His nightmare has become a dream.

The most terrible thought here is the belief that the gods are silent and cruel. The power of nightmares to frighten lies in the fact that they are not real – they can thus play with the world and create beliefs in us to which we might never subscribe in reality. If, however, a nightmare succeeds in placing within us fear that stays with us long after we wake, then every waking moment becomes frightening and incapacitating. Regardless of the reality, if mankind believes that they are without hope - that there is no benevolence in the heavens – then we are like Gloucester, and will inevitably fall off the cliff in despair.  Edgar’s simple gift to Gloucester – the gift of hope – changes the color of the final hours of his life, and it can change the color of our lives too. Shakespeare seems to say hope is essential. It would be better, in his view, to live in the strange world of Dream, with its ridiculous fairies, or to live in the dark world of Lear, endlessly crying out in hope to a silent heaven, than to choose despair and fall, fall, fall to our deaths.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Students Learn to Connect Through Literature

The following essay by Paul Grandi is from LI 419 - Theoretical Issues in Literary Studies, which is taught by Dr. Creighton Lindsay.  This course is required of those college seminarians who double major in philosophy and literature. Paul is studying for the Diocese of Tucson and also serves as in the Mount Angel Seminary Writing Center.

Literature as Connection
by Paul Grandi

Years ago, when I was still in high school, I turned in a first draft of an essay to my Advanced Placement Language and Composition teacher, confident that it was a well-written paper and that I had only a few minor tweaks to make before turning in the final draft.  Great was my surprise when I checked my grade a few days later to find out that I had received a "C."  According to my teacher, I had forgotten one crucial aspect - a defining aspect, some might say - the "universal connection."  I had failed to answer the question "so what?" in my essay.  I had not connected the essay to any potential readers.

Paul Grandi

Learning about the "universal connection" proved to be one of the most important lessons about writing that I have ever been taught.  Roberts, in his discussion about the definition of literature, sees this aspect as one of its defining characteristics.  Literature is more than just words on a page or even the world created by them - it is the connection it holds with humanity.  According to Samuel Johnson, it is therefore the task of the author to foster that connection in his own work so that its implications go far beyond itself.  When viewed side by side, Roberts' and Johnson's respective discussions about the meaning of literature work together to establish that literature, by its very nature, has influence on the world outside itself, acting as both a lens and a mirror for humanity.

Johnson's quote about "the task of the author" shows his belief that an author is more than a storyteller. He writes, "The task of an author is . . . to teach what is not known . . . to recommend known truths by his manner of adorning them" (Johnson).  According to Johnson, an author is, in a sense, a teacher - his task is to teach, to impart knowledge, to give wisdom "by his manner of adorning them."  Johnson believes that the author has a unique power to pass on truths through his medium.  More than that, though, Johnson sees the author as one who must "vary the dress and situation of common objects, so as to give them fresh grace . . . [and] spread such flowers over the regions through which the intellect has already made its progress, as may tempt it to return, and take a second view of things hastily passed over."  For Johnson, an author is also a guide through the realms of human knowledge, a caretaker of the vast grounds of the human intellect and soul, whose task is not merely to write about truths but to connect them with the larger body of the human race.  In short, an author's task is to dress his work in relevance to humanity.  He must make his work matter to those who are going to read it.  When an author succeeds in this, then literature can fulfill its potential, which Roberts elaborates on.

As Johnson writes about the task of the author, so Roberts writes about the task of literature, emphasizing its power to affect the lives of the readers and the way they view the world. Roberts begins his definition of literature by saying "Literature helps us grow, both personally and intellectually" (Roberts). Right from the beginning, he establishes that literature is active.  He goes on, using a variety of verbs: "[Literature] provides . . . it links us . . . it enables us . . . it gives us . . . [it] shapes us . . . it encourages us . . ." etc.  The verbs are all personal - literature is reader-centric.  It affects change; it does things to "us," the readers.  "Literature," Roberts says, "shapes goals and values by clarifying our own identities, both positively, through acceptance of the admirable in human beings, and negatively, through rejection of the sinister.  It helps us shape our judgments through the comparison of the good and the bad."  Roberts believes in the power of literature to form us.  In his view, we - the readers - discover ourselves in literature the same way we discover ourselves by looking in a mirror.  Through reading about the human person in countless situations and settings, we learn about the human person.  We learn about ourselves.

However, literature does more than that, according to Roberts - not only does it help us learn how to view ourselves but also the world around us.  He writes, "[Literature] provides the comparative basis from which we can see worthiness in the aims of all people, and it therefore helps us see beauty in the world around us . . . it enables us to develop perspective on events occurring locally and globally, and thereby gives us understanding and control."  Literature gives us a lens which which to see the world - it helps us sculpt our opinions about all the things that come into our attention every day.  It makes us think about ourselves and the world, thereby helping us "grow, both personally and intellectually."  Literature, according to Roberts, helps define us - "it makes us human."

Looking at Johnson and Roberts, one might see literature as a sort of high school classroom.  The students enter on the first day, their minds notebooks to be written in.  Perhaps their is something written there already - preconceived opinions, knowledge that has already been obtained, etc.  No matter - the students still open their notebooks and look expectantly up at you, the teacher, as the class begins, preparing to write down whatever you might tell them.  You have a clear task ahead of you.  Like any good teacher, you know your subject because you have spent much time studying it, and you know exactly where you want to take your students.  You introduce them to the subject, starting with the basics and then work your way up to the details, challenging your class to think critically along the way.  At the end of the year, you hope your students have learned something.  Even if they forget the date of the constitutional convention, how to factor polynomials, or what organelles are inside an animal cell, you hope that you have impacted their lives because it is really the road of life that you have been leading them down all along.  In the midst of your curriculum you have sought to make your knowledge relevant, to impart life lessons to your students.  Essentially, you seek the universal connection.

As an author you take the human person as your subject and the imagination as your playground.  Through your life-long study of humanity, you grow into Johnson's vision: you see hidden paths, the ones forgotten.  You discover paths never before examined.  You find ones that would be useful to explore once more.  Through your studies, you become a teacher; in your journeying, you become a guide - a guide who can, and therefore must, accomplish the monumental task that Roberts sets before you: Change the world!  Challenge us! Show us the depths of our evil and the heights of our greatness!  Make us look in the mirror!  Make us think!  Make us dream!  Above all, be relevant, for if in reading we are changed then in writing you must change us.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gratitude and The Journalist's Prayer

Toward the end of the semester the MAS Journalism class started using this prayer to begin class.  It comes from Saint Bride's Church, the spiritual home for journalists in London and for those who work in the media worldwide.

The Journalist's Prayer

Almighty God, strengthen and direct, we pray, the will of all whose work it is to write what many read, and to speak where many listen.  May we be bold to confront evil and injustice; understanding and compassionate of human weakness; rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives and the slanted word which corrupts.

May the power which is ours, for good or ill, always be used with honesty and courage, with respect and integrity, so that, when all here has been written, said, and done, we may, unashamed, meet Thee face to face, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Many people have supported the work of MAS Journalism this semester, including:

The administration of Mount Angel Seminary, including Monsignor Joseph Betschart, President-Rector of Mount Angel Seminary, and Dr. Creighton Lindsay, the Academic Dean of the College.

Our guest speakers: Dr. Jodi Kilcup, Director of the Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary Development Office, and Steve Ritchie, Director of the Benedictine Foundation of Oregon and freelance sports reporter.

The participants in our press conferences: Ms. Victoria Ertelt; Mr. Jim Sisley; Fr. Ralph Recker, O.S.B.; Fr. Terry Tompkins; Fr. Jacob Stronach, O.S.B.; Dr. Andrew Cummings; Ms. Beth Wells; Dr. Elizabeth Farley; Fr. Theodore Lange; and Alex Woelkers.

Those who reviewed and offered feedback to our journalism students, including Daniel Miller and Paul Grandi.

The students, staff, and faculty of Mount Angel Seminary who participated in interviews and photography for the MAS Journalism Blog.

All of our readers among the seminary and hilltop community, the alumni of Mount Angel Seminary, and the friends of Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary.

The Christmas Break and Spring 2014

During the Christmas break, the MAS Journalism Blog will publish essays from a variety of courses at Mount Angel Seminary, as well as updates about the journalism practicum that will be offered in the spring.  We look forward to sharing with our readers new projects that help us share the good news about Mount Angel Seminary!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Vows We Make, The Life We Live: A Photo Essay on the Rule of St. Benedict (RB)

by Brother Lorenzo Conocido, O.S.B.

We come to the monastery to seek for one thing –
to seek Christ,
“Friend, what have you come for?” (RB 60:3). This is etched on the transept switchboard door. This is the first official entry of the new postulants. Br. Joseph Long, the senior of the class, knocks on the door signifying the postulant’s desire to live in the monastery. (2013)

So that we may learn how to love like Christ.
“The younger monks, then, must respect their seniors, and seniors must love their juniors” (RB 63:10). New postulants – Br. Hoan, Br. Cory, Br. David and Br. John at the reception of new postulants. (2013)

We come to listen with the ear of our hearts 
to the Word of the Lord.
“After the Work of God, all should leave in complete silence and with reverence for God, so that a brother who may wish to pray alone will not be disturbed by the insensitivity of another” (RB 52:2). Here, Fr. Paschal Cheline devotes his lectio divina in the silence of the oratory during the break between Vigils and Lauds in the morning.

 We seek to work in the School of the Lord’s Service…
“Suscipe me, Domine!” The full text is: “Accept me, O Lord, as you have promised, that I may live, and disappoint me not in my hope.” This is the petition of a monk during his solemn profession. Fr. Jonah Wright and Br. Deacon Basil Lawrence during their solemn vows in 2011.

 And to learn how to support ourselves 
with the work of our hands.
“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods of manual labor as well as for prayerful reading” (RB 48:1). Fr. Martin Grassel is the Abbey procurator and also an adjunct professor at the Seminary. This photo was taken in 2012 when he brought the first batch of beer he brewed that became the inspiration of the Abbey’s “Benedictine Brewery” coming up in Summer 2014.

We come to celebrate meals together…
Br. Ambrose (RIP 2012) the caretaker of the former Russian Museum, sits with Fr. Bede, a former Science teacher, during the monks’ BBQ at the monastery back garden. (2011)

 …to care for our sick brothers before all else,
“Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ” (RB 36:1). Br. John Paul Le serving meals with our infirm monks at the monastery coffee room.

and to delight in each other with the true affection as brothers.
Croquet is one of the favorite games of the Abbey monks during summer time. Br. John Vianney, Br. Mariano, Br. Marinus and Br. Jesus Maria enjoy their recreation time at monastery back garden.

 To welcome every guest as Christ…
“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ” (RB 53:1). Br. Simon giving a tour to a group of students from Canada who visited the monastery and sang at the Abbey. (2012)

So that they may welcome us in their hearts.
“Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received” (RB 53:15). Br. Gregory, who assists in the Abbey Retreat House, talks to one of the visitor discerners during the summer Discernment Retreat in 2012.

We seek to an ongoing conversion of our lives
The vow of "conversatio" is a promise to daily follow the monastic way of life, which is very much about conversion. Abbot Gregory and Br. Jesus Maria during the “Kiss of Peace” on his simple vows in 2011.

so that we may learn to climb the ladder of humility.
The Rule has a rather long chapter on humility, which according to St. Benedict is the virtue that a monk should strive for, to “reach the summit of humility” (RB 7:5). Fr. Jerome (RIP 2012) was a professor and spiritual director at the Seminary who was very loved and respected by his students and his confreres.

To die to ourselves…
“Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die” (RB 4:44). Fr. Odo Recker, the Abbey’s Subprior, Vocation Director, and Novice Master, places a pall during the solemn profession of Fr. Jonah and Br. Deacon Basil signifying the death of the former self.

so we may live for others.
Br. Cyril Drnjevic leads the monks and seminarians in prayer during the Life Chain at Salem in 2011.

We extend the invitation of the Lord, “Come and see!!!”
Fr. Odo giving a tour of the Abbey buildings during the quarterly discernment retreats for men who are interested in becoming a monk.

So we can touch more lives.
Martin Moreno and Fr. Paschal – photo taken during the 2013 graduation. Fr. Paschal was a former Vice Rector and is now back in the monastery as the Junior Master while continuing to teach Liturgy in the Seminary.

No matter what the season is, we will run forward...
“Run while you have light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you” (RB Prologue). Fr. Liem Nguyen, one of the Seminary’s formation directors, walking towards the church to pray the Divine Office. Photo taken in January 2013 when a week of low temperatures froze the hilltop grounds.

…towards the Work of God,
St. Benedict tells us to "prefer nothing to the work of God" (RB 43:3). The daily rhythm of praying the psalms in the Divine Office. The monks starts their day with Vigils, the Office of  Readings, at 5:15 am.

and come together to 
celebrate the greatest meal ever prepared.
The conventual Mass, the Eucharistic Celebration, is the high point and center of the monastic day. Photo taken during the diaconate ordination of Br. Deacon Basil in December 2012 with Archbishop Emeritus John Vlazny of the Archdiocese of Portland.

We compete with one another in obedience…
The good zeal of monks in RB 72 says that an “unfeigned and humble love” must be given to their abbot. Abbot Gregory and Prior Vincent Trujillo, the two top heads of the Abbey on the latter’s Jubilee of Ordination in September 2013.

…to glorify God in all things,
“The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community” (RB 4:78). The inscriptions on the monastery back garden read “Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur” U.I.O.G.D. Deus (That in all things God may be glorified). This reminds every monk that all is for the glory of God. In the photo is Br. Deacon Teresio Caldwell, the Abbey choir master, spending quiet time at the monastery back garden.

so that He may bring us all together to everlasting life.
“Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners” (RB 73:8). This is the last chapter of the Rule. Funeral service of  Br. Maurus Kreutzer in October 2013.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Many Sides of Fall: A Photo Essay

by Frank Villaneuva

The Fall Elements

The Abbey Promenade on an early morning in October 2013.

With the blue sky and lush green grass this photo could be mistaken as a hot summer day, but the trees seem to tell a different story.  They have been stripped of their blanket of leaves.

Look at the airplane screaming across the sky.
Snapped at 6:30pm, October 6, 2013.

The mixture of orange, yellow and brown leaves
nestled on a bed of lush green grass.

The fog on the hilltop.


Frank Villanueva, College-Four seminarian for the Diocese of Honolulu, and Fr. Ralph Recker, O.S.B., in front of Triple Falls, Multnomah County, Oregon.

Frank Villanueva is dwarfed by the cascading Multnomah Falls.

 Seminarians Experience Fall

Daniel Miller, Pre-Theology II seminarian for the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, smiles in the emergency room while waiting for stitches from a run-in with a goal post at a soccer game against Reed College.

Frank Villanueva, setter and coach for the MAS Guardians volleyball team, frowns after having to visit the emergency room from a fall he had taken at the Guardians first match against Deportivo Salem in 2012.

The Seminarians for the Diocese of Honolulu smile during the first winter snow in 2011.  (from left to right: Romple Emwalu, Ahn Vu, Hung Le, EJ Risinto, Frank Villanueva, Emmanuelle Del Castillo, Alfred Guerrero.  Front row: David Soares) 

The Hawaiian seminarians pretend to sleep under a tree at Mount Angel Seminary.  (back row: Emmanuelle Del Castillo, Ace Tui, Ahn Vu, Dario Rinaldi, front row: Frank Villanueva, Romple Emwalu)

Falling in Love with Seminarian Frank Villanueva's Parents, Joe and Judy

27-year- old Jose Villanueva wraps his arms around his 19-year-old girlfriend Judith Bandmann as the young couple poses in this 1958 photo taken in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Jose is falling in love with this beautiful beach babe as the couple spends a day at Bellows Beach in Hawaii.

The young couple gets married at Holy Family Catholic Church in Honolulu, Hawaii, on June 21,1958.

Joe and Judy Villanueva kiss at their wedding reception at a family home in Honolulu.

This kiss reveals the couple's unending love at the celebration of their 55th Anniversary at their family home in 2013.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Oregon Autumn: Mount Angel's Colors

Photos and captions by Jesus Gonzalez

As the weather changes, we start to see a change in the Abbey's background colors. The leaves are changing, and as always we get many visitors that come up to see. As the leaves blanket the ground all around the hilltop, let’s look at some pictures.

Here is St. Anselm Hall. The clear skies give it a chilly fall feel.

The Guardian Angel by the monastery looking up the sky.

The pathway to the hilltop is colored with green, orange and red leaves.

The Abbey Church

The side of the monastery

The Bell Tower

In the Abbey Church, people came to visit and take pictures of the vibrant colors.

In St. Anselm Hall, the bright red leaves complement the red brick and roof.

Along the walking path to the Abbey Cemetery, although some trees lost their leaves, the grounds are still green.

On the side of the Abbey Monastery, we can see the many different colors.

Looking out of the Guest House lounge area, the valley has patches of many different colors.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus statue is surrounded by many fallen leaves.

The bells by the Abbey Church look out on the Willamette Valley.

Late in the fall, everything is so bare only theses last leaves stayed on this tree.

The hilltop is home to more than just seminarians. This tree was occupied by a bird until the winter stripped it of its leaves. This is by the Damian Center.