The Exterminating Angel, also known as Guardian Angel, is a sculpture by Josep Llimona dated in 1895. Built on the ruins of an ancient cemetery which in turn was built on the remains of an old church of the fifteenth century. The Exterminating Angel is the “Angel of the bottomless pit” who reign over locusts that devastate humanity “not marked on the forehead with the seal of God” (Revelation 9:11). (Credit: Andrés Suárez García)
My mother was a gifted psychic who never believed her talent was a big deal. She scoffed at poseurs and charlatans, was highly suspicious of the use of spirituality for profit, and reserved a deep respect for Catholic nuns and Catholic schooling. Never a churchgoing person, she had a profound faith in the power of her plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a gift from my father to her before their wedding), and an unswerving belief in the principle of Poetic Justice in the world. She never called it karma, but she maintained, to the end of her life, that eventually we all get our just deserts.
I have been thinking a great deal about my mother during this crisis of abduction and hostage taking of immigrant children by the US government. I remember distinctly the day at the Havana airport when we left Cuba in 1961. At the enclosed glass-area that led to the Pan American airplane, my mother and my aunt were taken away by female guards to be body-searched (Castro militias were looking for unauthorized money or jewels leaving the country). To this day, I remember the fear that engulfed me as I was left by myself with my young sister (I was 7, she was 6) in the departure area. (more…)
British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore, 1945, by Leslie Cole. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Somewhere in Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, the Irish Sage reminds us that when a stupid man does something he is ashamed of: he always claims it is his duty to do so. In our miserable times, when a shameless man or woman does something dreadful that they enjoy, they always claim the law commands them to do so, even when no law exists to that effect. And when they engage in acts of perverted humanity, actions that can only arise from the diseased topographies of the soul, they claim—in an inversion of the classic serial killer excuse—that God made them do it!(more…)
“Christ at the Column” by Caravaggio, oil on canvas, circa 1607. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The torture-house run by Gina Haspel in 2002 was code-named “Cat’s Eye” (Adam Goldman, New York Times, March 13, 2018), evoking images of the Orwellian poster that haunted Winston Smith in 1984 (“Big Brother is Watching You”) and of the Ministry of Love and Room 101. At this site (before Haspel ran the prison), a Qaeda suspect by the name of Abu Zubaydah was water-boarded 83 times. A medical officer recorded the beginning sessions of Zubaydah’s “water-cure”:
“The sessions accelerated rapidly progressing quickly to the water board after large box, walling [slamming prisoner against wall], and small box periods. [Abu Zubaydah] seems very resistant to the water board. Longest time with the cloth over his face so far has been 17 seconds. This is sure to increase shortly. NO useful information so far…. He did vomit a couple of times during the water board with some beans and rice. It’s been 10 hours since he ate so this is surprising and disturbing. We plan to only feed Ensure for a while now. I’m head[ing] back for another water board session.[i]
A common thread in discussions of “enhanced interrogations” by our politicians is the widespread assumption that the times after 9/11 were a “dark period” in our history, an aberration, an exception to our usual humane treatment of prisoners of war, political prisoners and even common prisoners.
“The Virgin And Child Surrounded By The Holy Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens, oil on panel, 1618. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
O sing him a song that is new,
Play loudly, with all your skill.
From the Liturgy of the Hours on the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, celebrated by Christian Churches on December 28, comes this reminder in an antiphon to the Psalms of the Catholic Common of Martyrs: “These are the first of mankind to be won for God and the Lamb; innocent, they stand before the throne of God.” It is a reference that combines an allusion to the Children’s Massacre in Matthew 2:16 with the white-robed martyrs of the Book of Revelation:
These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (KJV, Rev 14:4-5)
To reprise what has happened in Revelation up to this point: the Beast has been enthroned on the earth by the Dragon; the Beast was also given power to make war with the saints and overcome them. (more…)
“Birth of Jesus with Visiting Magi” by Heinrich Hofmann, circa 1900. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
You’d wake up in the morning wondering if they were still there but you didn’t want to meet them, afraid of the magic of their passage still infusing the lighted Christmas tree in the living room, down the hall from the doorway of your bedroom.
Christmas toys were small, peremptory tokens that fulfilled a duty since you went to an American school in which instruction took place in English. Both Cuban and US holidays were observed. They’d told you all about Halloween and Santa Claus coming to your house with gifts on Christmas Eve. We had no problem taking small toys from Santa Claus, but the important ones—bicycles, Lone Ranger costumes and fake Peacemaker revolvers, Tonto action figures, Zorro’s secret hideout (a miniature plastic mountain), were brought by the Three Magic Kings on January 6. (more…)
“Examination of a Witch” by Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Once upon a time, true Christians walked upon the American continent, and their religion was for them a living principle and a source of joy. One thinks of the indefatigable work of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in defense of the American Indian; the nightly dance rituals of American Shakers and their sober house furniture pieces—crafted so that angels could be received by saints. One witnessed how Martin Luther King guided an entire generation of civil rights leaders through the desert wasteland of mid-century America. (more…)
“Archangel Raphael and Tobit and the dog” by David Ghirlandaio, circa 1484-1486. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
According to Jorge Luis Borges in his History of Angels (1926), “primitive angels were stars.” In the Book of Job (Borges continues), the Lord speaks out from the whirlwind about the genesis of creation: “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (KJV, Job 38:7). The “German speculative theologian” Richard Rothe (1799-1867) affirms that angels have the attributes of intellectual force and free will. They are also capable of “working wonders, but not miracles. They cannot create from nothing or raise the dead.”(more…)
“Abraham Serving the Three Angels” by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1646. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Abram went forth with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, following his Lord’s command, into the land of Canaan. He was 75 years old. Abram’s wife was barren, therefore Lot was to Abraham as if he were the son of the old chieftain. There was a famine on the land, and for a time Abram dwelt in Egypt and became rich. Returning from Egypt, Abram and Lot separated: Abram raised his tent in the plain of Mamre in Hebron; Lot went to dwell on the plain of Jordan, next to the city of Sodom.
When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to him and ratified their covenant, changing Abram’s name to Abraham, and that of his wife to Sarah.
In the desert, during the worst time of the day, heat seeps through your pores, dries up the organs of the body and distempers the rational mind creating a blur of vision, which gives way to mirages. (more…)
“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” by Alexander Louis Leloir, 1865. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
When Jacob was journeying to the land of his father and kinsmen, he met the “angels of god” in a place called Mahanaim. When he was informed that this brother Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, Jacob was “greatly afraid and distressed,” for there was past enmity between Jacob and his brother. He sent his people and their retinue ahead. On the night when he passed over the ford Jabbok, he sent his wife, his servants and his eleven sons to cross over the brook and remained alone (KJ Gen., 32:2 and 7).
Then Jacob “wrestled” with a man until the “breaking of the day.” The man did not prevail against him, but touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and caused it to come out of joint. Still Jacob persisted, until at the first sight of dawn, the man asked to be released from their struggle. And Jacob said: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” (KJ Gen., 32:24-26).
The man replied: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Jacob received the blessing from the strange man, for “he blessed him there.” Only then did he realize he had wrestled with an angel: “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” He called the place Penuel, and as he passed from it “the sun rose upon him and he halted upon his thigh” (KJ Gen., 32: 28-31).
What lessons can be learned from the wrestling match between Jacob and the angel? (more…)
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt” by Luc-Olivier Merson, 1880. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the Catholic pantheon, the cult of Saint Joseph has three aspects: head of family, worker, and dreamer. In the gospel of Matthew, during the days of the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph three, perhaps four times (KJ Matthew, chs. 1-2): (more…)