Franz Werfel, who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1890 and died in Beverly Hills in 1945, wrote a wonderful book in 1941, entitled The Song of Bernadette, telling the story of a young impoverished peasant girl who, in 1858, is attracted by the apparition of a beautiful lady at a cave at Lourdes in France while gathering wood with her two sisters. The book became a New York Times bestseller for a year and was turned into a movie in 1943, directed by Henry King, for which Jennifer Jones, acting as Bernadette, received an Oscar Award. The beautiful lady does not tell her name, only says she is the Immaculate Conception.
The Immaculate Conception (“free of sin”) of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, and daughter of Joachim and Anna, is a dogma of the Catholic Church that developed over the centuries. It is not to be confused with the conception of her son, Jesus. This occurred after overshadowing of Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit and is celebrated by the “Annunciation” and “Incarnation of Jesus Christ” – on March 25, nine months before December 25. Mary’s immaculate conception appears in the Quran and Muslims also accept the virgin birth of Jesus. This has little to do with radical Islamic elements attacking Christian centers and displays this time of the year, which stems from their hatred of what Christianity represents as opposed to their literal interpretation of Quranic dictums. But the satanic way Christianity is attacked nowadays by fellow citizens in the US and elsewhere in Europe is no less demonic.
I saw the movie about Bernadette first at my Jesuit boarding school in the fifties and remember being moved by it. Lourdes has since been a pilgrims place where miracles took place to “prove” the veracity of Mary’s existence as a critical element of Christian belief. The movie starts with the statement: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.” It’s an appropriate summarization of the state of mind of believers and non-believers on this subject. Personally, I never felt comfortable with the doctrine that virginal conception was identified as “sin,” and that both Mary and her son had, therefore, to be conceived by supranatural means.
I was dismissed from a theology class when at the age of 17 I asked why it was considered “sin” if a man and a woman, even if “holy,” had sex in marriage to conceive children. But then, I was born from a very Protestant family and converted to Catholicism at 10, only because my mother told us to. Martin Luther departed from the Catholic doctrine by stating that Mary was conceived the natural human way (“in sin of sinful parents”), but he also said that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit who “purified [Mary] so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood.” Lutherans may adhere to this modified doctrine but, as I understand it, most Protestants do not. I considered it more a mythological concept, as the natural sexual relationship between man and woman remained taboo for so many centuries and a subject one did not “talk or write about.” It remained a matter of utmost hypocrisy until erotic literature exploded in the sixties.
Martin Luther – Credit: law2.umkc.edu
Whatever the doctrine, the birth of Christianity is what is relevant. The world has evolved and Christianity with it, but Christmas remains a central feature of our Western Civilization based on Judeo-Christian principles as expressed in the Ten Commandments. At the later stage in our life, we notice the differences of how we practiced our religion then and now. But the nativity scene is still a pivotal scene of the year. It tends to be overshadowed by the commercialized gifts craze, but in many families, it remains of paramount religious importance and so are the Christmas carols.
Those who minimize that importance or even combat it in the name of “free speech” are the quintessential scrooges and humbugs of the season. On the other hand, I noticed many more people wishing me a “Merry Christmas” this year, seemingly unfazed, which seems to emanate from a ubiquitous relief that a new wind is blowing from Washington D.C.
For this reason, The Song of Bernadette remains a movie befitting the holiness of this season. We should be thankful to Franz Werfel for having written his book, to Henry King for having made a wonderful picture of it, to Turner Classic Movies for showing it again these days, and to the Holy Mary for having brought Jesus Christ to the world, and nursed him to the man who founded our worldwide Christian community.
Merry Christmas to you all! This is Togetherness Time!
PS: A moving story ending at Christmas:
ENCHANTING THE SWAN: Grad students and musicians Paul and Fiona fall in love when they perform The Swan and agree to marry, but paternal evil blocks their love until The Swan chants their blessing at Christmas. A moving story of inspiring love and music you want to read.
I was 5 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. At that time Nazi Germany had already occupied whole continental Europe, including Holland, for a year and a half. I didn’t hear about Pearl Harbor until US soldiers liberated us in 1945 and told us about it. I didn’t envisage the horror of Pearl Harbor and the national significance of December 7 until I saw the pictures in musea when I arrived in the US in 1974. The vivid memories of seeing bombs exploding on Schiphol airport in May 1940 when I was 4 1/2 were the ones that had primarily occupied my mind.
At liberation, we also heard the awful stories of the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942, when Allied ships, including several American, British, Australian and Dutch warships (which were berthed at the Marine base at Surabaja in the Dutch Indies) fought a Japanese invasion under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman. The Dutch Government in exile in London was one of the first to join the US after Pearl Harbor and declare war on Japan. Japan, short of natural resources, immediately set out to expand its realm in Asia by overpowering Singapore and Malaysia, and Borneo and Celebes of the Dutch Indies, to secure itself of abundant oil supplies. Next was the largest island, Java, of the Dutch Indies, which it approached from the island of Bali it had already occupied.
The allied fleet endeavored to stop the Japanese from invading Java, but the Japanese ships were much better armed with heavier cannons and super torpedos that had a reach of 25 miles. Its air force was superior. The more powerful Japanese fleet, which proved much better trained in sea battle at night, destroyed many of the allied ships. Two Dutch light cruisers, De Ruyter, Karel Doorman’s flagship, and the Java, were sunk and Karel Doorman perished with his ship. Several other Dutch warships sank, including the destroyers De Kortenaer and Witte de With. More than a 2300 sailors, including over 900 Dutch sailors, lost their lives.
Dutch Archive pictures
Thousands of Dutch families, who lived in the Dutch Indies, were imprisoned in Japanese concentration camps, where many were tortured and died. The Dutch never regained full control over the Dutch Indies, and the Japanese invasion meant the end of its colonial power. After the war, a bloody and cruel independence war erupted in the Dutch Indies, which ended in 1949 when Indonesia became independent. Thousands of Indonesians fled to Holland when the independence war started and were lodged with Dutch families to recover and find a new life. A father with three sons stayed with us.
Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Java Sea show some serious common lessons: In both cases, the enemy was much better prepared and armed. In Holland, this led to building a much stronger fleet after the war. Then, under cover of a powerful ally, the US, efforts to keep up a fierce military power slowed down, a pattern followed by many European countries. The lessons learned were soon forgotten.
Fast forward to 2016. While it is said that the American military is the best in the world, the political will to keep up its strength has repeatedly been undermined by several American administrations: Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama emphasized social programs over military strength. 9/11 constituted the second attack on American soil. More than 2400 sailors were killed at Pearl Harbor and close to 3000 people lost their lives during 9/11. The latter was a terrorist attack, but many say it could have been prevented had America been better prepared and kept its eyes open.
A new type of war was added to our human inclination to destroy each other. It took a long time to recognize that there is no real difference between “formal war” and “informal war”: both intend to destroy Western Civilization and its religious and philosophical democratic principles. The expansion of radical Islamic fascism signifies the same threat as German Nazism and Japanese Imperialism did, as do the threats of dictatorial regimes like Russia, China, and Iran.
Come 2017; the world is no better place. The Chinese military is spending trillions on military strength and expansion of its territory by building military islands in the China Sea, helped by the greed of the American market buying its goods and borrowing its money to cover its national debt. Russia invades the Crimea and controls eastern Ukraine, without a significant Western response. Iran undermines the Middle East through proxy wars and support of terrorism, causing tremendous civilian suffering in Syria.
The weeks after 9/11 with jets patrolling the skies aided by nearby refueling airplanes gave me that depressing feeling from WW II that we were at war again, and unfortunately we are. Osama’s escape from Afghanistan felt like Hitler’s escape from several coups against him. The indefatigable US Ops finally caught him, but when they did, the harm was already done: Sunni Radicalism had spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and even the Far East.
I sat on the fence about the US invasion of Iraq. I could understand it from a defensive point of view: Sadam used similar bluff as Hitler did, he had invaded Kuwait beforehand, he built nuclear facilities and was working on replacements after the Israelis bombed the first one. He continually launched scuds at Israel and did use poisonous gas on the Kurds. Sadam smartly removed everything concerning weapons of mass destruction to where it came from and used the gullible self-destructing US and world media to accuse the US. Although the US invasion was badly implemented, after the surge things began to shape up in Iraq. At the World Bank, we noticed a slow but steady increase in a willingness to restore a badly retarded administration to modern normalcy. Despite internal religious strife, administrators became more responsive to stable government. Northern Iraq regained calm and even became prosperous again. When the reconstruction effort ended, I had good hopes that it might take off (see my blogs “Iraq: A Hands-on Effort to Rational Thought,” (9/13/2014); “Iraq: From Western Dream to Fragile State”; (8/23/2014), and “Don’t Cry For Me, Iraq.” (8/11/2014).
Credit: Fox News
The change in American policy under Obama destroyed all that with one swipe. Al-Zarkawi, the Sunni anti-Shiite leader from Jordan, had begun a fierce fight against the American occupation. Although US Ops were able to exterminate him, his force remained active underground. If invading Iraq may be considered a mistake, leaving it abruptly meant compounding that mistake. When the US military left Iraq, Sunny radicals quickly regrouped and despite their internal differences, created ISIS. The rest is history.
As a WWII kid, I hate war with a vengeance, but also know there will always be enemies as there will always be bullies in school. We have to be prepared to be strong enough to scare them off and defeat them. If we don’t, they’ll take us to the cleaners. Administrations like the Obama-ones open us up to being overpowered like Nazi Germany and Japan’s then Imperialism did to the Western World.
I am sleeping a bit better after the recent national elections. There is much hope things will change.
Credit: Canada Journal – News of the World
In my opinion, the political left of the US has done enormous damage to the fighting spirit and courage of this country. America may be divided (God knows why. Such a great place to live!) but as a foreign guest in the US, I pray they never come back to power. I don’t complain about placing competent generals to head security and military positions. Their decisiveness will keep me from lying awake at night about the future of my American kids and grandkids. We have to stay vigilant to protect our way of life and that of others that share it. Signs in Europe indicate that things are changing there as well.
And if you don’t like my saying these changes are good changes, that’s too bad. Let the other side of the American divide have a chance to show their resolve to make America better and “Great Again.”
It was 10 PM when I sat at my kitchen table, just home from a delightful concert at the Kennedy Center, having a late night snack with a good glass of wine. Suddenly, I had company. A mouse trotted by, lifting its nose, saying “Hello” in its funny mouse way. Shoot! It’s this time of the year again. It’s getting cold outside, and the tricky migrants sneak in, through invisible holes, fissures and garage doors. Well, it’s only one I thought. I called him Max, thinking it was a “he.”
Next evening I sat down again at the kitchen table, watching the late-night news while sipping from a night cap, and this time, handsome Max came by with a friend I named Maxie. Same greeting. Even their tails wagged.
“Anything to eat?” was the clear meaning in their eyes. I always make sure the floor is bereft of crumbs, so I could understand their frustration. Feeling good, I shared two pieces of real Dutch cheese. For American mice, this must have been an exceptional treat, because they scurried away with it into a corner so fast I could hardly follow them. That made me curious. I noticed a tiny open space between a wall and a molding on the freshly installed parquet flooring.
I figured they had taken shelter in an adjacent storage room underneath the kitchen, which is my wife’s safe-space area I am not allowed to enter. Since I am a coward, I did not mention it to her.
It was a foggy Saturday. I lit the fireplace downstairs in the rec-room, put on Brahm’s piano concerto #2, and sat down with a warm cup of tea. Unwittingly, I glanced at the basket where I keep old newspapers (mostly The Washington Post I don’t read anymore for obvious reasons). To my surprise, I saw Max’s and Maxie’s whole family snugly ensconced in snips of paper, snoozing or fast asleep. They seemed to like the music.
This got me a little bit concerned. I admitted that I had a nice warm house and understood the plight of mice in the cold. But they seemed overly content, making babies by the dozens which had all to be fed. From what? I explored the basement, which is another area my wife designates as storage room and inspected the laundry space. I found chunks of wool which seemed to be pulled from a cushion. Low and behold, the remnants led me to a half-open cupboard where a bag of rice was torn with snippets all over the place. Max and Maxie had taken over this second storage room as well. A further inspection took me to the garage, which is full of carton boxes with wooly Christmas dolls. It turned out Maxie’s breeding house.
So I was obliged to inform the Missus of the mice invasion. “What!” And then a whole speech of why I didn’t tell her before, didn’t I have any sense of East West Home Best, all the diseases they bring in, the damage they do to the house, especially your antique heirloom furniture, etcetera, etcetera. I was ordered to call a pest removal service on the double. Well, that’s not easy on a Saturday. Going back to the fireplace to finish my tea, Max and Maxie and their children and relatives had gone into hiding because of the loud exchange of views. No wonder. Words about deportation from their newfound habitat had scared the hell out of them.
The Pest service rang the bell.
I looked at the guy and asked if they hadn’t forgotten to put the “M” in front of the “ICE” on his shirt.
“Huh?” was the answer.
I opened the garage and pointed to the temporary headquarters of Max and Maxie. “Where are you going to taken them?” I asked.
“Huh?” the agent said.
“I mean, what are you going to do with them?”
“You don’t want them in your house, do you?” he said, looking at me as if I were the dumbest idiot he’d ever met. I probably was.
“No worry. We’ll take them across the street where they came from. Over there,” he said, pointing to the row of houses. “There, they gave them poisonous food. You, I understand, gave them Dutch cheese, that’s what your missus said. Blows my mind.”
“Well, there’s this thing of compassion, you know.” I knew the argument wouldn’t stick.
“Compassion?” he scowled. “Do you think they’ll feel compassion for you once they’ve taken over your place?”
“So what do I do if they try to come back again?” I got really upset with the idea of having to sleep with mice crawling through my house and occupying the bathrooms when I needed to go.
“Build a barbed wired wall around your house, okay? We can do that for you!”
I retreated from the garage and let the MICE PATROL do their work. Max and Maxie left with their siblings and offspring under loud protest.
I wasn’t around to hear it. We built the wall and lived happily ever after.
SOME WOMEN I HAVE KNOWN – Piano John confuses playing sheet music with playing between the sheets
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ENCHANTING THE SWAN : Grad students and musicians Paul and Fiona fall in love when they perform The Swan and agree to marry but paternal evil blocks their love until Christmas shows their blessing. A moving story of troubled love and inspiring music you want to read.