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….also called Nathanael.  From B16:

We have no special information about Bartholomew; indeed, his name always and only appears in the lists of the Twelve mentioned above and is therefore never central to any narrative.

However, it has traditionally been identified with Nathanael:  a name that means “God has given”.

This Nathanael came from Cana (cf. Jn 21: 2) and he may therefore have witnessed the great “sign” that Jesus worked in that place (cf. Jn 2: 1-11). It is likely that the identification of the two figures stems from the fact that Nathanael is placed in the scene of his calling, recounted in John’s Gospel, next to Philip, in other words, the place that Bartholomew occupies in the lists of the Apostles mentioned in the other Gospels.

Philip told this Nathanael that he had found “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1: 45). As we know, Nathanael’s retort was rather strongly prejudiced:  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1: 46). In its own way, this form of protestation  is  important  for  us.  Indeed, it makes us see that according to Judaic expectations the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village as, precisely, Nazareth (see also Jn 7: 42).

But at the same time Nathanael’s protest highlights God’s freedom, which baffles our expectations by causing him to be found in the very place where we least expect him. Moreover, we actually know that Jesus was not exclusively “from Nazareth” but was born in Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2: 1; Lk 2: 4) and came ultimately from Heaven, from the Father who is in Heaven.

Nathanael’s reaction suggests another thought to us: in our relationship with Jesus we must not be satisfied with words  alone. In  his  answer,  Philip offers Nathanael a meaningful invitation:  “Come and see!” (Jn 1: 46). Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience: someone else’s testimony is of course important, for normally  the  whole  of  our  Christian life begins with the proclamation handed  down  to  us  by  one  or  more  witnesses.

However, we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus; in a similar way, when the Samaritans had heard the testimony of their fellow citizen whom Jesus had met at Jacob’s well, they wanted to talk to him directly, and after this conversation they told the woman:  “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world” (Jn 4: 42).

Returning to the scene of Nathanael’s vocation, the Evangelist tells us that when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” (Jn 1: 47). This is praise reminiscent of the text of a Psalm: “Blessed is the man… in whose spirit there is no deceit” (32[31]: 2), but provokes the curiosity of Nathanael who answers in amazement:  “How do you know me?” (Jn 1: 48).

Jesus’ reply cannot immediately be understood. He says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig  tree,  I  saw  you” (Jn  1: 48).  We  do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is obvious that it had to do with a decisive moment in Nathanael’s life.

His heart is moved by Jesus’ words, he feels understood and he understands: “This man knows everything about me, he knows and is familiar with the road of life; I can truly trust this man”. And so he answers with a clear and beautiful confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1: 49). In this confession is conveyed a first important step in the journey of attachment to Jesus.

Nathanael’s words shed light on a twofold, complementary aspect of Jesus’ identity: he is recognized both in his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the Only-begotten Son, and in his relationship with the People of Israel, of whom he is the declared King, precisely the description of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either of these two elements because if we only proclaim Jesus’ heavenly dimension, we risk making him an ethereal and evanescent being; and if, on the contrary, we recognize only his concrete place in history, we end by neglecting the divine dimension that properly qualifies him.

We have no precise information about Bartholomew-Nathanael’s subsequent apostolic activity. According to information handed down by Eusebius, the fourth-century historian, a certain Pantaenus is supposed to have discovered traces of Bartholomew’s presence even in India (cf. Hist. eccl. V, 10, 3).

In later tradition, as from the Middle Ages, the account of his death by flaying became very popular. Only think of the famous scene of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel in which Michelangelo painted St Bartholomew, who is holding his own skin in his left hand, on which the artist left his self-portrait.

St Bartholomew’s relics are venerated here in Rome in the Church dedicated to him on the Tiber Island, where they are said to have been brought by the German Emperor Otto III in the year 983.

To conclude, we can say that despite the scarcity of information about him, St Bartholomew stands before us to tell us that attachment to Jesus can also be lived and witnessed to without performing sensational deeds. Jesus himself, to whom each one of us is called to dedicate his or her own life and death, is and remains extraordinary.

The apostles are often portrayed in art with the means of their death, so you do see Bartholomew holding his flayed skin.  As Benedict mentions, the most well-known is the depiction in the Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

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Also impressive is the huge statue in St. John Lateran. It stands in the central nave, along with representations of all the apostles. 

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Remember that all of Benedict’s General Audience talks on the apostles are available in book form. 

Here’s the study guide I wrote – it’s out of print, the rights revert to me – so feel free to use if you like. An idea for a free parish study group – use the talks from the Vatican website, and then this study guide – there you go!

And take a look at this post from the Clerk of Oxford blog on some medieval traditions, with this lovely and true reflection:

This story suggests all kinds of interesting things about memory and oral transmission in eleventh-century England, and the way traditions were perpetuated within communities; it’s unusual to have such specific details of the means by which knowledge was transmitted from one generation to another. Young Eadmer, listening to Edwin and the others tell their story, was not very different from the children at St Bartholomew’s who ran the other day to receive their currant buns, watched over by their elders; one purpose of such ceremonies is to imprint their memory on the younger generation, specifically in this case the principle of St Bartholomew’s ancient tradition of charity. The elders were once children themselves, and one day the running children may be the watching hospitallians in their wheelchairs. With stories, current buns and biscuits, we ensure that our children know about the past so that one day they will remember and acknowledge it as we do.

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Fascinating:

Construction on the Church of St. Dismas began in 1939.  It was the brainchild of Fr. Ambrose Hyland (1900-54), the chaplain of the facility, who had previously celebrated Mass in the prison auditorium, which he thought was “not adequate” for their needs, said Fr. Bill Edwards, chaplain of the facility 2002-11. Fr. Hyland went on to “put his heart and soul into building the church, which created a good environment in which the inmates could worship.”

Materials and funding for the church were donated; gangster “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962) was an inmate at Clinton in the 1930s and donated red oak for the pews. Other significant donations include two angel carvings said to be from the flagship of explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521). The angels were donations from the Magellan family.

Inmates supplied labor to build the church, trained by prison guards, volunteers and other inmates. Among the most notable was forger Carmelo Louis Soraci, who used his talents to create the structure’s colorful stained glass windows, modeling faces after the inmates he knew.  Soraci’s contribution led to his being freed from prison in 1962. Deacon Bushey told the North County Catholic, “It’s really a beautiful church, and the vast majority of the population will never see it.”

Other notable features include a Lourdes grotto located outside the church.  The structure was dedicated in 1941, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

See the slideshow here

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Elsewhere in the state of New York:

A New York City public arts program has said it will not build a statue in honor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, despite the saint receiving the most nominations in a public poll. 

She Built NYC was established in June of 2018 under the patronage of Chirlane McCray, wife of New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, to create more statues of women around the city of New York. The public were asked to nominate women for a potential statue and the campaign received over 2,000 votes for over 300 eligible women.

The results of the nominating period were published in December, with Mother Cabrini receiving 219 nominations – more than double the number received by second-place finisher, Jane Jacobs. 

Despite the public vote, the New York Post reported on Aug. 10 that the selection committee, led by McCray and former New York deputy mayor Alicia Glen, had excluded the first American saint from the planned statutes, instead choosing to honor Rep. Shirley Chisolm, Katherine Walker, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Billie Holiday, and Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias. They received the third, fifth, seventh, 19th, 22nd, 24th and 42nd-most nominations, respectively. 

LGBT rights activists Johnson and Rivera were biological males and will be featured together in a single statue. Both were self-identified “drag queens” and co-founders of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The pair received a combined 86 nominations.

So….two men will be recognized as notable New York women.

Got it.

I keep telling you….

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Some of us may not give two figs about college football, but it’s always great to see SEC Shorts back in business:

 

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Learn to read, you know, books again:

But what does this science have to do with the discussion surrounding modern, digital culture? Wolf outlines three major concerns with the way digital media affects the malleable neurology of our reading brain. The first is the way in which it encourages our novelty bias. Already wired to give primary attention to new signals in our environment, a feature which protects us in the event of danger, it takes concentrated effort and time to teach the brain to focus on letters and words. However, the scrolling and constantly updating sound bytes of the internet split our attention. As Wolf describes it, “In multitasking, we unknowingly enter an addiction loop as the brain’s novelty centers becomes rewarded for processing shiny new stimuli, to the detriment of our prefrontal cortex, which wants to stay on task and gain the rewards of sustained effort and attention.” As we give into this rhythm of reading, we lose what she calls cognitive patience. Not only do we struggle to focus our attention on the page, but we fail to spend time with the content of our reading. The digitally-trained brain has a harder time pausing to digest the meaning and implications of what has been read. In this way, the highest purposes of reading, self-reflection and the pursuit of wisdom, are lost. 

Her second concern addresses the substantive nature of the page. The physical dimension of print provides readers “a knowledge of where they are in time and space” and “allows them to return to things over and over again and learn from them.” She calls this the recursive dimension of reading. Screens do not have quite the same “thereness” as hard copy. The words disappear as we scroll, and we therefore lose the sense of their permanence. In early years the recursive dimension is especially important as children experience repeat encounters with a book. Wolf says, “It involves their whole bodies; they see, smell, hear, and feel books.” 

Such repetition allows them to develop the quality which comprises her third concern: background knowledge. Human beings can only acquire insight by comparing new concepts with those they already know. Wolf recounts her attempt to read Ethiopian children a story about an octopus. They had never seen or heard of such a creature and could not comprehend the context in which the story took place. For modern children of the West, Wolf sees a similar problem: “That environment is providentially rich in what it gives, but paradoxically today, it may give too much and ask too little.” 

 

–5 —

Today, I’ve got a post up about St. Rose of Lima – worth your time, I think. I hope!

As well as an earlier post on St. Bernard here and here. 

Also check out a post earlier this week on what the television shows Dead to Me and After Life say about death, loss and grief. 

Finally, take a look at our Cathedral rector’s post on Mass options: “The Options that Divide Us”

Yes, the multiplicity of options that I listed above are legislated by the Church, and so are legitimate variations: I am not disputing that. What I am pointing out is the way that they have led, in practice, to a subjective approach that has contributed to our being divided into camps. We may well choose certain options, and legally — but we may choose them for the wrong reasons. And we often have done so.

The way forward, which I think will help us to achieve better unity within our worship, is two-fold:

  1. Realize, through liturgical education, that worship calls us out of ourselves and challenges us – it is not something we create based on personal tastes or questions of efficiency or convenience;

  2. Seek always those options that are in continuity with what was done by our ancestors.

 

— 6 —

And we’re off. It’s college move-in day this weekend, followed by Son #5 and I doing some gallivanting for a week or so. We’ll be heading to a spot that I’ve never seen before, so do check back in for posts on that. As well as Instagram, of course.

Be sure to check back in to see how my big plans about Being Educated in the car go in reality…

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2020 Devotional available. 

Son’s new novel available.

Son posts film thoughts every day during the week – here’s his take on the new Dumbo. 

 

For more Quick Takes go visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

 

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Sorting out St. Rose of Lima can be a challenge.  Perhaps you know the basics – what I knew for most of my life: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

Digging deeper,  I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Quartet in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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Thursday

Yeah, not a lot of digesting or bloggy consistency lately. We are very busy, ramping up the homeschool and prepping for college departure. So here we go:

Watching:  Main thing was the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I’d wanted to read it together over the summer, but somehow, shockingly, that didn’t happen. So this would have to do. Quite delightful, but then you already knew that.

Last night was Marty – the 1956 film starring Ernest Borgnine as a mid-30’s, lonely Bronx butcher who finally might have found a lady-friend. The film’s origins were in television – it was originally an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse, starring Rod Steiger. The movie version isn’t padded very much – it runs less than ninety minutes. I’d seen it years ago. It’s still an affecting little film, but one might still be tempted to wonder…Best Picture? Really? But looking at the other nominees, it makes more sense, with Mister Roberts the closest logical competitor.

A couple couple of points about Marty:

  • It’s less depressing than I remembered. I’d thought it ended on a down note, with Marty ultimately discouraged/prevented from getting back in contact with the girl he’d met, and somehow, I thought that iconic bit of dialogue Waddya  wanna do tonight Marty? I dunno – waddya wanna do Angie? ended it. Why did I think that? Just shows you how our personalities (in my case – dark, I suppose) impact memory.
  • It was nice to experience a world on film where Catholic things were just taken for granted as part of that world – with an understanding of how it works. The events of the film take place over the course of little more than twenty-four hours – from a Saturday through a Sunday night, and the main time marker for everyone is going to Mass. I’ll talk to you after Mass tomorrow. Can I call you after I go to Mass at ten? Well, I go to the 11:30, so wait until then. Come on, Ma, we’ve got to get to Mass. Are you going to go to Mass with us? No, I went two hours ago. 

Between Pride and Prejudice and Marty, you have an interesting survey of constraints on male-female relations – by society, culture, economics, family and law, informal and formal. It all can seem silly and even unjust, and much of it certainly was, and indeed, what would literature be without the story of love determined to defy those constraints? But we’re fooling ourselves, it seems to me, if we think that the 2019 Western model is any less defined by boundaries and constraints that are limiting, in their own ironic way.

Oh, one more watching: I introduced them to Fawlty Towers, which was a hit.

Listening: Same as always – Prokofiev, Brahms, Haydn, Bach.

Reading: Not enough. I’m just having a hard time focusing. Read a couple of short stories, that’s all.

Writing: Had an essay accepted by an online publication, but I don’t know when it will appear. Still waiting on a couple of other things. Film writer/fiction writer son wrote about Dumbo here. He has an interesting take. 

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It’s that time of year

…time for school. Let’s do some school notes:

Just remember – no matter where your kid is in school – at home, private, public – no choice you make is carved in stone. It might be tremendously difficult to change for a lot of reasons, and might require all sorts of sacrifices, and any change should be given deep, careful consideration and not made in haste – but no. Just because you’ve enrolled junior in Our Lady of Holy Blue Ribbon Achievement for Kindergarten – it doesn’t mean he has to stay there through 8th grade, or even through October. If it’s awful and wrong and there’s something in you that’s wondering – Should five -year olds really be having an hour of homework every day? – get out and do something else.

 

The Loyola Kids Books

Loyola books

 

The Prove It Books – Youth Apologetics

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The Words We Pray – for adult discussion groups

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Picture books for children.

 

A 2020 Devotional for parish and school staff. 

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Some of these are available through my bookstore.

 

 

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Today, it’s Bernard of Clairvaux, via Benedict XVI, Pius XII, and Thomas Merton.

And no, “Doctor Mellifluus” is not the title of a film starring Vincent Price.  It means, “the honey-sweet doctor.”

Starting most recently and moving backwards – from a 2009 General Audience, part of the lengthy series Benedict offered as a catechesis to the whole world on great men and women of the Church.

Today I would like to talk about St Bernard of Clairvaux, called “the last of the Fathers” of the Church because once again in the 12th century he renewed and brought to the fore the important theology of the Fathers. We do not know in any detail about the years of his childhood; however, we know that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, into a large and fairly well-to-do family. As a very young man he devoted himself to the study of the so-called liberal arts especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics at the school of the canons of the Church of Saint-Vorles at Châtillon-sur-Seine; and the decision to enter religious life slowly matured within him. At the age of about 20, he entered Cîteaux, a new monastic foundation that was more flexible in comparison with the ancient and venerable monasteries of the period while at the same time stricter in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was sent by Stephen Harding, the third Abbot of Cîteaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young Abbot he was only 25 years old was able to define his conception of monastic life and set about putting it into practice. In looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard firmly recalled the need for a sober and measured life, at table as in clothing and monastic buildings, and recommended the support and care of the poor. In the meantime the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and its foundations multiplied.

In those same years before 1130 Bernard started a prolific correspondence with many people of both important and modest social status. To the many Epistolae of this period must be added numerous Sermones, as well as Sententiae and Tractatus. Bernard’s great friendship with William, Abbot of Saint-Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century, also date to this period. As from 1130, Bernard began to concern himself with many serious matters of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason he was obliged to leave his monastery ever more frequently and he sometimes also travelled outside France. He founded several women’s monasteries and was the protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, of whom I spoke last Wednesday. In his polemical writings he targeted in particular Abelard, a great thinker who had conceived of a new approach to theology, introducing above all the dialectic and philosophical method in the constructi0n of theological thought. On another front Bernard combated the heresy of the Cathars, who despised matter and the human body and consequently despised the Creator. On the other hand, he felt it was his duty to defend the Jews, and condemned the ever more widespread outbursts of anti-Semitism. With regard to this aspect of his apostolic action, several decades later Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In the same period the holy Abbot wrote his most famous works such as the celebrated Sermons on the Song of Songs [In Canticum Sermones]. In the last years of his life he died in 1153 Bernard was obliged to curtail his journeys but did not entirely stop travelling. He made the most of this "bernard of clairvaux"time to review definitively the whole collection of his Letters, Sermons and Treatises. Worthy of mention is a quite unusual book that he completed in this same period, in 1145, when Bernardo Pignatelli, a pupil of his, was elected Pope with the name of Eugene III. On this occasion, Bernard as his spiritual father, dedicated to his spiritual son the text De Consideratione [Five Books on Consideration] which contains teachings on how to be a good Pope. In this book, which is still appropriate reading for the Popes of all times, Bernard did not only suggest how to be a good Pope, but also expressed a profound vision of the Mystery of the Church and of the Mystery of Christ which is ultimately resolved in contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. “The search for this God who is not yet sufficiently sought must be continued”, the holy Abbot wrote, “yet it may be easier to search for him and find him in prayer rather than in discussion. So let us end the book here, but not the search” (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808) and in journeying on towards God.

I would now like to reflect on only two of the main aspects of Bernard’s rich doctrine: they concern Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His concern for the Christian’s intimate and vital participation in God’s love in Jesus Christ brings no new guidelines to the scientific status of theology. However, in a more decisive manner than ever, the Abbot of Clairvaux embodies the theologian, the contemplative and the mystic. Jesus alone Bernard insists in the face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time Jesus alone is “honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)”. The title Doctor Mellifluus, attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ “flowed like honey”. In the extenuating battles between Nominalists and Realists two philosophical currents of the time the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth. “All food of the soul is dry”, he professed, “unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt. What you write has no savour for me unless I have read Jesus in it” (In Canticum Sermones XV, 6: PL 183, 847). For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!

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Then Pius XII, who wrote an encyclical on St. Bernard on Pentecost, 1953:

6. From these words it is clear that in his study and his contemplation, under the influence of love rather than through the subtlety of human reasoning, Bernard’s sole aim was to focus on the supreme Truth all the ways of truth which he had gathered from many different sources. From them he drew light for the mind, the fire of charity for the soul, and right standards of conduct. This is indeed true wisdom, which rides over all things human, and brings everything back to its source, that is, to God, in order to lead men to Him. The “Doctor Mellifluus” makes his way with care deliberately through the uncertain and unsafe winding paths of reasoning, not trusting in the keenness of his own mind nor depending upon the tedious and artful syllogisms which many of the dialecticians of his time often abused. No! Like an eagle, longing to fix his eyes on the sun, he presses on in swift flight to the summit of truth.

7. The charity which moves him, knows no barriers and, so to speak, gives wings to the mind. For him, learning is not the final goal, but rather a path leading to God; it is not something cold upon which the mind dwells aimlessly, as though amusing itself under the spell of shifting, brilliant light. Rather, it is moved, impelled, and governed by love. Wherefore, carried upwards by this wisdom and in meditation, contemplation, and love, Bernard climbs the peak of the mystical life and is joined to God Himself, so that at times he enjoyed almost infinite happiness even in this mortal life.

After this encyclical was released, Thomas Merton was enjoined by his superiors to write a brief book introducing the saint and the encyclical to American readers. It’s called, The Last of the Fathers: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Encyclical Letter Doctor Mellifluus. 

I’ve read it on Scribd (and in order to read it you must have an account) and cannot cut and paste excerpts.  But just know that it’s a good, brief introduction to Bernard’s life and writings, and Merton’s treatment of the preaching of the Second Crusade is particularly helpful.  I’ll be non-lazy and actually type out an excerpt, which is Merton’s summary of Pius’ summary of one aspect of Bernard’s approach.  First, the encyclical:

In the following words, he describes most appropriately the doctrine, or rather the wisdom, which he follows and "amy welborn"ardently loves: “It is the spirit of wisdom and understanding which, like a bee bearing both wax and honey, is able to kindle the light of knowledge and to pour in the savor of grace. Hence, let nobody think he has received a kiss, neither he who understands the truth but does not love it, nor he who loves the truth but does not understand it.”[7] “What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff up. And love without learning? It would go astray.'[8] “Merely to shine is futile; merely to burn is not enough; to burn and to shine is perfect.”[9] Then he explains the source of true and genuine doctrine, and how it must be united with charity: “God is Wisdom, and wants to be loved not only affectionately, but also wisely. . . Otherwise, if you neglect knowledge, the spirit of error will most easily lay snares for your zeal; nor has the wily enemy a more efficacious means of driving love from the heart, than if he can make a man walk carelessly and imprudently in the path of love.”[10]

And then, as Merton puts it:

The Holy Father then proceeds to distinguish the wisdom of Saint Bernard from true and false philosophy, reminding us that the only philosophy Saint Bernard despised was the false ‘curiosity’ which could not lead to the true knowledge of God because it blinded us to our need for His merciful love.

Opposed to this curiosity, the science that ‘puffeth up’ because it is without charity, is the true theology which Bernard loved with the most ardent devotion. This theology, as the Holy Father points out in three succinct quotations from Saint Bernard is a wisdom rather than a science. It is not only a perception of the divine truth by understanding but an embrace of that truth by love. Both these elements of knowledge and love are absolutely essential for true wisdom, for ‘What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff us up And love without learning? It would go astray.’ This is one of those many instances in which Saint Bernard’s Latin loses all its character in translation. The original must be seen to be fully appreciated: ‘Quid faceret eruditio absque dilectione? Inflaret. Quid absque eruditione dilectio? Erraret.’

Saint Bernard, the Doctor of Mystical Love, must necessarily be a defender of truth and of learning. God Himself is wisdom. Therefore He can only be loved fittingly if He is loved wisely. Neglect of knowledge leads love into error, and the enemy of souls has no more efficacious way of drawing God’s love out of our hearts, Saint Bernard says, than by inducing us to seek Him without the light of intelligence. 

Also – many today still turn to St. Bernard’s words on humility and pride. Msgr. Charles wrote about this a few years ago in a way that’s very helpful and relatable to the present moment. 

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A bit more on St. Bernard of Clairvaux, this post centered on one of his writings – De Consideratione . It is really a set of letters written to Pope Eugenius III by the saint. Here’s some background before we get to the quotes.

St. Bernard was the great Cistercian preacher, reformer and theologian. From a Benedictine website:

Bernard’s spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations…Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. …

In 1145, one of Bernard’s students and a fellow Cistercian was elected Pope, taking the name Eugenius III. These were quite tumultuous times for the papacy. A very, very short version:

Eugenius was elected on the same day Lucius II,  his predecessor,  died – killed, a contemporary historian tells us, in the midst of a battle against opponents of the bernard-clairvaux-2pope’s temporal power. Elements of Roman society – primarily merchants and craftspeople – had been attempting to resuscitate the Roman Senate and diminish papal temporal powers. This was an intense, years-long struggle which came to involve other European rulers. After Lucius’ death, the conclave gathered and elected a Cistercian monk who had Bernard of Clairvaux behind him, an indication, I suppose, of what they thought it was going to take to fix the mess.

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And so Bernard wrote this treatise for his student over several years, advising him on how to conduct himself as Pope. It reflects all of these controversies and tensions, but at the core of it is a very simple call: remember you are dust.

So why care about these almost 1000-year old words of advice to a pope? A few reasons, I think.

First, Bernard was a spiritual writer giving spiritual advice to a man seeking to maintain his focus on Christ and the essence of his vocation in a landscape in which his office had been corrupted and temptation to give in to that corruption was strong. I think that’s a tension many of us experience: how do I keep my eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of distractions and temptations? How do I know when to act, when to listen, when to withdraw, when to engage? How many times have you thought, You know, I could be a much better Christian if I were in different circumstances…..

Well, then.

Secondly, it’s just interesting and always valuable to see the mess the Church  – and the papacy – has been in the past.  While it can certainly be scandalous and challenging to understand, it also..helps us understand. It can help us distinguish between rock and sand in the present moment.

Third, it gives us a look at some papal criticism. Yes, Bernard was a saint, spiritual master and Eugenius’ spiritual father, in a way, so he had standing. But even if none of us stand in that position to this or any other pope or even bishop, it’s helpful to read and study what Bernard says to Eugenius – what he deems fair game for challenge and examination, how he goes about it, and what he thinks it’s important to warn Eugenius about.

You can find the text here.

One more thing: sometimes when people allude to historical problems with the Church and papacy, it becomes a silencing weapon: Calm down! See! The Spirit always brings us through!  Well, here’s the thing: The life of the Church is not a performance with the Holy Spirit pulling strings and waving wands, and the rest of us watching from the audience.  The Holy Spirit works to preserve the Church through reformers, annoying critics, weird historical events and who knows what else.

Learning a bit of history does not offer any prescriptions for the present, nor does it define the present moment in either positive or negative ways. What I hope learning a bit of history does is disrupt, challenge and point us toward reform.

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These first two quotations certainly specifically apply to the distractions of the papal office, but also can apply to any of us. Have peace from distractions, but don’t make peace with them. Meme-worthy, Bernard!

The second quote intrigues me as he advises Eugenius to not get complacent – you might feel all right now, but don’t take that for granted.

I desire indeed that though shouldst have peace from distractions, but I do not want thee to make peace with them, that is, by learning to love them: there is nothing I fear more for thee than this.   1:1

Rely not too much on thy present disposition for there is nothing in the soul so firmly established as that it cannot be removed by time and neglect. A wound grows callous when not attended to in time and becomes incapable of cure in proportion as it lose sensibility. Furthermore, pain that is sharp and continuous cannot long endure : if not otherwise got rid of, it must speedily succumb to its own violence. mean to say : either a remedy will soon be found to assuage it, or from its continuance a state of apathywill result. What disposition cannot be induced, or destroyed, or changed to its contrary by the force of habit and usage ? How many have come by use to find pleasure in the evil which before inspired only horror and disgust ? 

After a while, when thou hast become a little accustomed to it, it will not appear so very dreadful. Later on it will shock thee less; later still it will have ceased to shock thee at all. Finally thou wilt begin to take delight in it. Thus, little by little, mayest though proceed to hardness of heart and from that to a loathing for virtue. And in this way, as I have said, a continuous pain will soon find relief either in a complete cure or in utter insensibility.  1:2

Some firm reminders of what humility means – and remember the political and social context, which involved the question of the pope’s role:

That thou has been raised to the pinnacle of honour and power is a fact undeniable. But for what purpose hast thou been thus elevated? Here is a question that calls for the most serious consideration. It was not, as I suppose merely that thou mightiest enjoy the glory of lordship…..Consequently let us likewise, that we may not think too highly of ourselves, always bear this in mind ,that a duty of service has been imposed on us, and not a dominion.  2:6

Go forth into the field of thy Lord, and consider diligently with what a wild luxuriance of thorns and thistles it is covered even today from the ancient malediction. Go forth, I say, into the world, because the world is the field that is committed to thy care. Go forth, then, into this field, not however as the owner, but as the steward, in order to supervise and look after the things wherof thou shalt one day have to render an account. Go forth, I repeat, with the two feet, as it were, of attentive solicitude and solicitous attention…. 2:6

For where is the man to whom something is not always wanting? Indeed he who considers that he is wanting in nothing proves himself thereby to be wanting in everything. What if thou art the Sovereign Pontiff? Dost thou think that, because thou art supreme in authority, thou art likewise supreme in every respect? 2.7

Can there be any doubt that thou art more a man than a bishop? ….Thinkest thou that thou didst enter the world wearing the tiara? Or glittering with jewels? Or clothed in silk? Or adorned with plumes? Or bespangled with gold? No. If, then, from before the face of thy consideration thou wilt with a breath, so to speak, blow away these things as morning mists that quickly pass and disappear: thou shalt behold a man, naked and poor, and wretched and miserable; a man grieving that he is a man, blushing for his nakedness, lamenting that he is born, complaining of his existence..and hence living in alarm. 2:9

Whenever thou rememberest thy dignity as Sovereign Pontiff, reflect also that not only wert thou once, but that thou art still nothing better than the vilest slime of the earth.  2:9

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He offers various pointers for the Pope as an leader of an organization and of his own household, observations which are startling in their continued applicability. First – the problem of leaders believing too easily what they are told by those who surround them.

The fault to which I refer is excessive credulity, a most crafty little fox, against whose cunning wiles I have never known any of those in authority to be sufficiently on their guard. Hence the indignation which they so often exhibit without any reasonable cause; hence the frequent verdicts given against the innocent; hence also the condemnations pronounced against the absent. 2:14

Then…how to speak.

Thy lips have been consecrated to the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is unlawful for thee now to use them for jesting, and a sacrilege to have them thus habitually employed…Observe that it is not jests or fables but the law of God that is to be sought from the mouth of a priest. 2:13

An interesting complaint about how supplicants use the Pope to their own advantage, bypassing the local authorities, going straight to the Pope, telling their side, and then waving the flag of papal approval:

“…has recourse to thee, and returns in triumph ,boasting of thy protection, whose avenging justice he ought rather to have experienced.” 3.2

How the Pope should relate to his household. Before this, Bernard tells Eugenius to trust the details of the household to others, but…

But keep informed of ….the character and conduct of each member of thy household. Thou shouldst not be the last to know the faults of thy domestics, which, as I have reason to believe, is commonly enough the case with bishops…charge thyself personally with the discipline of thy house…

….I would not have thee to be austere in thy manner, but only grave. Austerity is wont to repel the timid, whereas the effect of gravity is to sober the frivolous. …Be the Pope in the palace, but at home show thyself more as a father. Make thyself loved, if possible, by thy domestics; otherwise let them fear thee. It is always good to keep a guard over thy lips, yet not so as to exclude the grace of affability.  4:6

I do love the distinction between austerity and gravity and his observation on the effect of both. So wise and still true.

Now here is a great quote. Fascinating. First, Bernard lets loose on “the Roman people” who have been giving popes such fits. Hmm. He might want to work on his accompanying skills.

But then..the second part of the quote is applicable to all of us..well, me at least. These are very wise words about how we should view our own efforts in relation to God’s will and power. Stick that in your Ministry Fruits Evaluation Pipe and smoke it.

But what shall I say of thy people? They are the Roman people! I cannot express what I think of them more briefly and forcibly than by giving them this title. What fact has been so well known to every age as the arrogance and pride of the Romans? They are a people who are strangers to peace and accustomed to tumult; a people ferocious and intractable even until now; a people that know not how to submit whilst resistance is possible. Behold thy cross…..nevertheless do not lose heart. What is required of thee is not the cure of the patient but the solicitous care of him. “Take care of him,” said the Good Samaritan to the innkeeper, not “cure him” or “heal him”.[what follows are several Pauline references to the point that ‘success’ is not the goal, for we don’t know what ‘success’ means in God’s eyes, but rather our dedication and labor] .   I beseech thee, therefore, to do what is thy part. As for the rest, God will be able to accomplish what appertains to Him without any need of thy care and solicitude. Plant, water, spare no pains, and thou has discharged thy duty. It belongs not to thee, but God to give the increase whenever it pleaseth him. 

Finally, this, which is just beautiful:

We must still go on seeking Him Who has not yet been sufficiently found and Who can never be too much sought. But perhaps it will be more becoming to seek Him, yea, and more easy to find Him, by fervent prayer than by argumentation. Therefore let me now put an end to the book, although not to the seeking. 

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