This Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. It was on this feast day that I first went to Mass, ten years ago now. I remember it, partly because I wrote about it. When Fr. Paul de Maat in Middelburg raised the chalice, I was ‘profoundly awed’, and could only think in brief lines from The Anathémata and traditional prayers.
Ten years later, I myself was raising the chalice – the first time in this church that this chalice was used, a chalice that I inherited from a predecessor in faith and in priestly ministry.
More precariously than he knows he guards the signa…
Some fragments from the current time:
Yesterday was the first meeting of a group intended for thirty- and forty-somethings. It would not have started without an Italian couple, who have kindly, but regularly and persistently reminded me that such a group was lacking in our community. Through an accident of circumstance, it is now called the Panettone group. Mention was made of an Italian celebrity who could recite passages from the Divina Commedia for hours on end (without repeating himself, obviously). Hence the title.
For a reading group that meets this Thursday, I have started reading a modern book for young adults, inspired by Dante: Bianca come il latte, rosso come il sangue (White as milk, red as blood). It is about a normal 16-year-old boy, called Leo (I didn’t make this up), who likes to play football, grows nervous in silence, and who is deeply in love with someone called Beatrice.
The teachers have nicknames. The religious education teacher is a celestial priest who is well-versed in the Bible and whom Leo calls Gandalf. When a girl in class who is somewhat of a teacher’s pet makes a reference to Gollum, ‘Gandalf’ says, ‘I don’t know who this Gollum is, but if you say so, I believe it.’ And Leo reflects inwardly, ‘Gandalf doesn’t know Gollum, it seems absurd, but that’s how it is.’
This is too subtle to be merely a joke or an absurdity.
But there are many subtleties in the book. Leo attends a school named after a character from Mickey Mouse. In English known as Horace, the Italian name is of course Orazio (‘There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio…’)
The new, young, and enthusiastic philosophy teacher is inspired by a movie called in Italian L’attimo fuggente (The Fleeting Moment) but known in English as Dead Poets Society (wink, wink).
And in the same (short) chapter, there is another ‘wink’ moment that even rhymes with this one:
Leo in latino significa “leone”. Leo rugiens: “leone ruggente”.
(Leo in Latin means ‘lion’. Leo rugiens: ‘roaring lion’.)
This time the author basically spells it out. Leo rugiens is a phrase from 1 Peter 5, which returns in the prayer of the Church every Tuesday night at Compline: ‘Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.’
Leo does not seem particularly active in the resistance, but he is not spectacularly failing either.
As the title makes clear, colours are very important in the book. Red and white run through it as recurring themes. White is associated with silence, emptiness, infinity. Red is associated with overwhelming impressions, passion, love. ‘Beatrice is red,’ Leo grandly proclaims. But what he does not know (and what, so far, I have only gleaned from the summary) is that Beatrice suffers from leukemia: a Greek word (leukon haima) that means ‘white blood’.
It’s so good to read truly intelligent young adult novels.
(Leo also says: ‘Silvia is blue, like all true friends.’ The city of Delft has a big blue heart in the city centre. I feel quite at home here.)
Well, that’s enough about the book. Today I talked to someone who watched at a deathbed last week. And now my eye has fallen on the obituaries in the newspaper. I don’t usually read the paper, but scanning through it, I noticed a couple of things.
Firstly, there are many completely unfamiliar names among the youngest generation. Kayleigh and Kenza, Vaan and Keet, Vayènn and Lovis – next to the more reassuring Sven and Rik, Maarten and Tessa, Guus and Dirk.
Secondly, it is a common occurrence for deceased family members to be included in the obituary. But this is indicated in different ways; I see four in one newspaper. The traditional cross symbol is one. But another (a child) has a star. One obituary contains two different ways: a 96-year-old woman has a son with the words ‘(in loving memory)’ affixed to his name, but her great-grandson has a butterfly symbol in the same place.
Thirdly, there is another strange symbol that occurs in two different obituaries. Kira, Tessa, Britt, and Foxy have a dog’s paw after their name. Apparently the pets are so much part of the family that they are included, mostly in the absence of other children.