Daily Update: Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Epiphany of the Lord (Traditional) and Andre Bessette

Today is the traditional date of the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Magi came to Bethlehem to adore the new-born Messiah, as related in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.Today is also the Optional Memorial of  Saint André Bessette, Religious (died 1937). And today is also the birthday of Brian, one of the former Assembled (1981).

The observance of Epiphany had its origins in the Eastern Christian Churches, and was a general celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Western Christians have traditionally emphasized the “Revelation to the Gentiles” mentioned in Luke, where the term Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great (King of Judea), who sought to kill him. Christians fixed the date of the feast on January 6th quite early in their history; the earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus. Prior to the reform of 1955, when Pope Pius XII abolished all but three liturgical octaves (which were later whittled down to two liturgical octaves, those for Christmas and Easter), the Roman Catholic Church celebrated Epiphany as an eight-day feast beginning on January 6th and ending on January 13th, known as the Octave of Epiphany. In the 1970 revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th for countries where the feast is a Holy Day of Obligation. In other countries, it is celebrated on the Sunday after January 1st. Christmastide ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the Sunday after Epiphany, unless Epiphany was celebrated on January 7th or 8th, in which case it is the Monday after Epiphany. The New Orleans Mardi Gras season opens on this date; while there will be parades and balls during the whole period, the major action begins two weeks before Mardi Gras Day itself (the day before Ash Wednesday). The major local SouthWestCentral Louisiana custom associated with Epiphany is that one begins to eat King Cake on this date and continues to do so until the end of Mardi Gras. A King Cake is a cinnamon-roll like cake inside with sugary icing with traditional Mardi Gras colored sprinkles on the outside, and with a tiny plastic baby doll placed inside; whoever gets the doll has to buy the next King Cake. (And I will note that, flouting custom, you’ve been able to get King Cakes this year since Christmas.) Today we also honor Saint André Bessette, Religious (died 1937). Born in 1845 near Montreal, Canada, he was the eighth of twelve children; when his parents died, he was adopted at age twelve by a farmer uncle who insisted he work for his keep. Over the years he worked as a farmhand, shoemaker, baker, blacksmith, and factory worker. At 25 he applied to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross; he was initially refused entrance due to poor health, but he gained the backing of Bishop Bourget, and was accepted. Becoming doorkeeper at Notre Dame College, Montreal, he at times also served as sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. He spent much of each night in prayer, and on his window sill, facing Mount Royal, was a small statue of Saint Joseph, to whom André was especially devoted. He had a special ministry to the sick. He would rub the sick person with oil from a lamp in the college chapel, and many were healed. Word of his power spread, and when an epidemic broke out at a nearby college, André volunteered to help; no one died. The trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. By his death, he was receiving 80,000 letters each year from the sick who sought his prayers and healing. For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother André and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph on it, and soon after, the owners yielded, which incident helped the current devotion to Saint Joseph by those looking to buy or sell a home. André collected money to build a small chapel and received visitors there, listening to their problems, praying, rubbing them with Saint Joseph’s oil, and curing many. The chapel is still in use, and he was canonized in 2010.

Last night I got a robot call from my oncologist’s office confirming my appointment on January 7th (more anon), and our LSU Men’s Basketball team, in a home game, beat #9 ranked Kentucky by the score of 85 to 67 (more anon).

I had set my alarm clock, but did not wake up until 10:15 am. I started the Weekly Computer Maintenance, did my Bathroom Devotional Reading, then got very angry at Richard for what I thought was him shullbitting me by saying that LSU had beaten #9 Kentucky (I had not seen the score of the game yet). I was very apologetic when he showed me the morning paper with the news that yes, LSU had indeed beaten Kentucky. I then ate my breakfast toast and read the morning paper. I then finished the Weekly Computer Maintenance and started the Weekly Virus Scan.

Richard and I both left the house in separate vehicles (Richard went to Super 1 Foods and got stuff to barbeque). I went to the Hit-n-Run and purchased my Powerball and Louisiana Lotto lottery tickets for tonight’s drawing. I then went to Lafayette, and at the Lafayette Public Library – Southside Branch I returned Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs. At 1:45 pm I reached Barnes and Noble, and while putting in some comfy chair time I did my Internet Devotional Reading. I then purchased the 2016 Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide. At the Wal-Mart at Ambassador Caffrey I purchased a King Cake and some other items that I needed.

I arrived home just at 4:30 pm, and settled down to watch Jeopardy! Our snail mail brought us a Christmas Card from Richard’s niece Laurie in Texas (the daughter of his sister Bonnie in Texas). I also put the large Mardi Gras wreath that our friend and co-worker Deborah made for us last year on the back of our front door. Richard lit a fire outside, and we sat out on the back porch by the fire, with our cats wandering by every so often. Richard then barbequed steaks, and we had that for dinner along with box mashed potatoes, steamed fresh broccoli, and (for me) canned sweet potatoes; I ate my dinner in front of the computer. And I will now end today’s Daily Update, and take a hot bath while eating some King Cake and doing some reading. Our New Orleans Pelicans are now playing a home game with the Dallas Mavericks; I will record the score of the game in tomorrow’s Daily Update.

Tomorrow is the Optional Memorial of Saint Raymond of Peñafort, Priest (died 1275); being the day after the traditional date of the Epiphany, it is also Distaff Day (and if my five or six Loyal Readers and my Army of Followers do not know what a distaff is, they will find out in tomorrow’s Daily Update). I have my appointment with my oncology clinic in Opelousas at 9:45 am; Richard will go with me, and after my appointment we will go down to Lafayette, eat lunch, and see a movie. On our way home I will get my salad supplies, and once home I will make my lunch salads for Friday and Sunday and start taking down the Christmas decorations (except for the crèche, which will come down on Monday). And tomorrow evening our LSU Women’s Basketball team will play a home game with Ole Miss (the score of that game will be recorded in my Friday Daily Update).

Our Parting Quote on this traditional date of Epiphany comes to us from Roger Boisjoly, American mechanical engineer, fluid dynamicist, and aerodynamicist. Born in 1938 in Lowell, Massachusetts, he earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He was known in his field as a crackerjack troubleshooter who had worked for companies in California on lunar module life-support systems and the moon vehicle. In 1980 he accepted a cut in pay to move with his family to Utah to deepen his involvement in the Mormon religion and to join Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the Space Shuttle program. During an investigation of an SRB from a shuttle flight in January 1985, he found that the first of a system of two O-rings had failed completely, and that some damage had been caused to the second O-ring. His investigation found that the first O-ring failed because of the low temperatures on the night before the flight had compromised the flexibility of the O-ring, reducing its ability to form a seal. The temperature at launch had been only 50 °F, the coldest on record. The first rubber O-ring had formed a partial seal, but not a complete one, but the second O-ring had held. Boisjoly wrote a memo to his superiors at Morton Thiokol in July 1985 noting that if the faulty performance of the 0-rings in low temperatures was not addressed, a catastrophic event could occur during the launch of a Space Shuttle, most likely on the launch pad. Following several further memos, a task force was set up (including Boisjoly) to investigate the matter, but after a month Boisjoly realized that the task force had no power, no resources and no management support. In late 1985 Boisjoly advised his managers that if the problem was not fixed, there was a distinct chance that a shuttle mission would end in disaster. No action was taken. Following the announcement that the Challenger mission was confirmed for January 28, 1986, Boisjoly and his colleagues tried to stop the flight. Temperatures were due to be down to 30 °F overnight, and Boisjoly felt that this would severely compromise the safety of the O-ring and potentially lose the flight. The matter was discussed with Morton Thiokol managers, who agreed that the issue was serious enough to recommend delaying the flight. They arranged a telephone conference with NASA management and gave their findings. However, after a while, the Morton Thiokol managers asked for a few minutes off the phone to discuss their final position again. Despite the efforts of Boisjoly and others in this off-line briefing, the Morton Thiokol managers decided to advise NASA that their data was inconclusive. NASA asked if there were objections. Hearing none, the decision to fly the STS-51L Challenger mission was made. Boisjoly was quite relieved when the flight lifted off, as his investigations had predicted that the SRB would explode during the initial take-off. However, unknown to him, in the first moments after ignition, the O-rings failed completely and were burned away, resulting in the black puff of smoke visible on films of the launch. This left only a layer of aluminum oxide (a combustion product) to seal the joint. At 59 seconds after launch, buffeted by high-altitude winds, the oxide gave way. Hot gases streamed out of the joint in a visible torch-like plume that burned into the external hydrogen tank. At about 73 seconds the adjacent SRB strut gave way and the vehicle quickly disintegrated, with the loss of all the astronauts aboard. After President Ronald Reagan ordered a presidential commission to review the disaster, Boisjoly was one of the witnesses called. He gave accounts of how and why he felt the O-rings had failed. For his honesty and integrity leading up to and directly following the shuttle disaster, Boisjoly was awarded the Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1988. After the commission gave its findings, Boisjoly found himself shunned by colleagues and managers and he resigned from Morton Thiokol, taking with him 14 boxes of every note and paper he received or sent in seven years and becoming a speaker on workplace ethics. On May 13, 2010, he donated his personal memoranda (six boxes of personal papers, including memos and notes from congressional testimony) to Chapman University in Orange, California. (died 2012): “It was approximately five minutes prior to the launch as I was walking past the room used to view launches when Bob Ebeling stepped out to encourage me to enter and watch the launch. At first I refused, but he finally persuaded me to watch the launch. The room was filled, so I seated myself on the floor closest to the screen and leaned against Bob’s legs as he was seated in a chair. The boosters ignited, and as the vehicle cleared the tower Bob whispered to me that we had just dodged a bullet. At approximately T+60 seconds Bob told me that he had just completed a prayer of thanks to the Lord for a successful launch. Just 13 seconds later we both saw the horror of destruction as the vehicle exploded. We all sat in stunned silence for a short time, then I got up and left the room and went directly to my office, where I remained the rest of the day.”

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