Friday, June 26, 2015

Forgiveness in South Carolina

The example of the good people of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina does make an impression. Their act of forgiveness is being hailed as a demonstration of  Christian virtue, a living out of their faith.  But glib praise for their actions is just talk if there's no understanding of the nature of forgiveness.  It's as easy to say I'm sorry and not mean it as it is to say I forgive you and not mean it.

Fr. Koterski, Jesuit priest and professor at Fordham University extemporized on the subject of forgiveness one evening several years ago at a lecture he was giving on another topic.  Fr. Koterski cautioned first off about forgiveness being offered prematurely.

Forgiveness is not a matter of excusing or dismissing a wrong and one shouldn't feel an obligation to forgive if there's no forgiveness in one's heart. Forgiveness comes from assessing and working through the wrong that was suffered, resulting finally in an interior transformation in the heart of the wronged party. There is relationship to Fr. Koterski's explanation of forgiveness. The wronged party needs to make a good faith attempt to repair the damage that was done even if it was the fault of the other party. The wronged party will seek to elicit 'something better' from the offender, appeal to the good in his soul.   The offender, too, should show a willingness to repair the relationship lest the wronged party simply be manipulated by an empty apology.

To date, Dylan Roof has shown no remorse.  While the victims' relatives may be fulfilling their half of the forgiveness relationship, without the murderer's contrition,  their forgiveness may be incomplete if not simply, well, not forgiveness.

Another caution in the Church's teaching of forgiveness, explained  here,  is not to confuse forgiveness with loving one's enemy.  The former relies on relationship.  The latter relies on our individual ability to see the face of Christ in those who harm us.

St. Maria Goretti, the 12 year old girl who was repeatedly stabbed by her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli, with whom she did have a relationship, uttered her forgiveness before her death saying, "Through love of Jesus, I forgive him with all my heart."   Alessandro is said to have replied that that was impossible.  Some six years into his prison sentence, however, Alessandro came up with his half of the bargain. He repented, asked forgiveness of Maria's mother and spent the rest of his life in a Capuchin monastery. He also testified at the beatification hearings for Maria's cause for sainthood.

Those relatives of the victims in South Carolina may well be saints or saints in the making.  St. Maria Goretti aside, however, their expressions of forgiveness less than a week after the murders seem premature.  Rather, I think what they're giving voice to is their Christian duty to love their enemy, to turn the other cheek. Maybe that's the first step in forgiveness.  Their message to the murderer is admirable and is certainly a worthy public expression of their private faith.  Perhaps Dylan Roof, like Alessandro Serenelli, will one day say I'm sorry and mean it making forgiveness in this callous crime complete.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Tango Interlude

Sitting under the clock (or that black plaque on the wall)  is your writer who had earlier played two tangos on the piano in the corner while her tango friends danced beautifully.  Two professionals performed a bit later in the evening and here they are.

We also saw a tango milonga performed last night by a male/female couple though I don't see the video up yet.  Read about the tradition of men dancing with men in tango here or here.  Be sure to watch the video of the De Fazio brothers dancing a tango milonga.  I've copied it for you below.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


This past year as a catechist a mini theme of my young charges' classes was to review the saint of the day.  A favorite question was always,  Is there a saint with my name?

It's sometimes hard these days to find a saint namesake, especially for the girls.  Very few medieval parents thought to name their daughters Harper, Tiffany or Brooklyn.  To my surprise, however, when I opened my Big Book of Women Saints today, I discovered a St. Audrey.  

My oldest sister is Audrey.  I've always been puzzled as to how my parents came up with the name.  It seemed so formal, maybe British, not exactly old-fashioned, but obscure, nothing like my sister.  Aside from Audrey Hepburn and Audrey Meadows, who would be an Audrey?  

Audrey or variously Ethelreda, Ethldreda, Ethelthryth, Editrudis, was an East Anglian princess who wished to devote her life to God.  However, she was married off at a young age and was given  the Isle of Ely as a wedding present.  When the first husband died, Audrey was again married off by her royal parents for purposes of political alliances. Audrey chose  to live chastely with her new husband as she had with the previous and troubles and a miraculous escape ensued.  Audrey returned to her island and founded a monastery there of which she was the abbess.

Some accounts of the saintly Etheldreda-Audrey tell that she died of a tumor on the neck due to her early love of necklaces. I don't think my sister will have to worry about that, since I've never known her to wear even the most modest necklace. (On the other hand, neither did my sister ever receive an island as a present.)  It's not that we read about saints with our name as a horoscope to predict our future. It's more that we can let our imagination run free for a moment to wonder over the fact that we share something as fundamental as our name with a figure of virtue and holiness distant from us in time and historical setting by hundreds of years.

Audrey's body was found to be incorrupt after her death in 679 A.D.  Butler reflects on Audrey in this way:  "The soul cannot truly serve God while it is involved in the distractions and pleasures of the world.  Etheldreda knew this, and chose rather to be a servant of Christ her Lord than the mistress of an earthly court."

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pope Francis According to Brian Lehrer

As always, Fr. Rutler doesn't disappoint with his article in Crisis about the Pope's ecology encyclical. Fr. Rutler writes, " there is a double danger in using it [the encyclical] as an economic text or scientific thesis."  

Having just listened to Brian Lehrer discuss the encyclical with Professor Christiana Peppard at Fordham University it's clear that the mainstream media will misuse, misunderstand and bungle badly what the Pope has written.

Whatever one may think of him, Pope Francis is at least a Catholic with a fairly good chance of getting to heaven.  Brian Lehrer on the other hand is an East Coast intellectual with a radio program. His knowledge of the faith is such that his follow-up show on the encyclical will consist of a phone-in to learn if and what parishioners will have heard from the pulpit on Sunday regarding climate change.  For Lehrer, apparently, this will reveal a significant truth about the Church.

Given the Brian Lehrers of the world, it's up to us Catholics not to engage in the "double danger" Fr. Rutler writes about.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law regardless of which side wins Brian Lehrer's papal encyclical phone-in derby on next week's show.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

London Grove Tomato

The London Grove Tomato 
It's not everyday I'd write about a tomato.  But this is a tomato that my late father developed, and, for some time now, I've been crusading to fix the London Grove Tomato's provenience properly in Chester County, Pennsylvania gardening history.  

The London Grove Tomato, until recently known mostly to patrons of the London Grove Plant Sale in Kennett Square, PA and others in those environs, has begun to appear on a few websites with a strikingly dissonant description.  For example, on the Happy Cat website,  the London Grove Tomato is described as  “A very old and rare Quaker Heirloom from friends of ours here in Chester County,” 

The London Grove Tomato appears on other websites with similar descriptions.  Amishland Heirloom Seeds says it’s also called the Rabbit’s Foot Tomato.  The newsletter of Buy Local Buy PA writes that the London Grove Tomato is said to have been in the “London Grove Quaker community for about 100 years.”  Wow.

My father, Leo Robert Daiuta, is generally acknowledged as the person who created this tomato and then began selling it at the London Grove Plant Sale in Kennett Square, PA, hence the eponymous name.  If the London Grove Tomato is 100 years old, my father must have been going on about 150 when he died this past August 2014 at the actual age of 92.

While my father is no longer here to answer questions about the tomato, I do have jotted down a little history of the tomato as he gave it to me back in 2008.  My account has been corroborated by others in the London Grove/Kennett area, though, absent their corroboration, I'd be quite confident that my accounting is about as accurate a one as you'll get.

My father was a first generation Italian who grew up in West Chester, PA and after marrying my mother, they moved to Kennett Square in 1947.  In the early 1950s both he and my mother, neither of them previously Quakers, joined the London Grove Monthly meeting in Kennett Square, PA hence my father's (and the tomato's) connection with the Quaker community in the area.

A Quaker provenience for the lovely London Grove Tomato is shaky.  At least part of the reason the London Grove Tomato exists at all is because my father, a zealous gardener, wanted to grow the “paste tomato” that he remembered his mother using and that his father or a neighboring uncle probably grew in a small back yard in West Chester.  If the London Grove Tomato is anything, it’s maybe Italian-Quaker though it's more definitely Italian-American, just like my father.

As for the age of the London Grove Tomato, I don’t think my father would put it at much more than 40 years old.  As he told it to me, in the mid 1970s, my father asked a cousin in Italy to bring him the seed for the Corno di Vaca tomato, a long, hollow tomato in the shape of a cow’s horn that the Italians used to make tomato paste.  The hollowness of the tomato was  a minus in my father’s mind and so he set out to come up with something more to his liking, deciding to cross the Corno di Vaca with a Rutgers.  

My father was an engineer by training and an incurable inventor by nature.  He sought to modify or re-create nearly everything that crossed his path.  The tomato may have been just one more of his projects to pass the time, but given the intentional care he gave to this project over a period of growing seasons, I suspect he had a particular result in mind.  That he saw his new creation as finito is evidenced at least in part by the fact that my mother staged several photo shoots of the tomato on our back patio!  Her photo shows the familiar cow horn shape with a shining, unblemished and smooth red skin.  Now that’s a tomato!

As people enjoy the London Grove Tomato it occurs to me they might want to forego romantic images of industrious Quakers tilling the soils of Chester County, PA 100 years ago.  Rather, I would hope they’d picture the stalwart Romans of the early days of the Republic with their love of the plow and the earth and their pride in all that honest sweat and toil could produce from their land. This is after all a tomato of Italian origin, from an Italian-American whose "backyard" garden covered a half acre of land and yielded a harvest to feed our family for the entire year and then some. The original farm to fork kind of thing you might say. 

The newer generation of farmers, those at Happy Cat and Amishland as for-instances, might be said to farm as part of a whole philosophy of life defined by an ideology of food or a politics of gardening.  Their outlook might be said to draw from or encompass the slow food movement, the farm to table (or directly to the fork) push, the enjoinders to eat fresh and local and organic, to embrace tradition, to preserve the environment, to eschew the military-industrial complex while you're at it.  And, even in the 21st century, to get back to the earth, a place apparently not yet reached since the journey there began in the 1970s.  Still, one would think these philosopher-farmers would be interested in accuracy. When I sent a message to Happy Cat Farms saying that their description of the London Grove Tomato was off, I got a response that said:"Hello,Sorry but it is you who is wrong, but thanks for writing. Happy cat."  Alas, their dissonant description of a "Quaker" London Grove Tomato remains on their website.  

By now there are probably many variations on the original Corno di Vaca (which itself may have many different names) that the Italian immigrants of the late 19th century brought over to the U.S.  In fact, in Staten Island, NY, I’ve seen an accidental cross between the Corno di Vaca and a cherry tomato.  While there may be other Italian Luther Burbanks out there the only one I know of is my father.  I’m very proud of his Italian heritage and I think of the semi-Italian London Grove tomato as a part of his legacy.  

May the London Grove Tomato live on! And may my father rest in peace.  And, Buon Gusto as you eat tomatoes this summer, especially should you sample the fine London Grove Tomato.