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Archive for the ‘Matthew 25’ Category

On the Second Sunday of Lent, every year, no matter what the liturgical cycle, we hear the narrative of the Transfiguration.

(There is also a Feast of the Transfiguration, on August 6)

We only hear of the actual moment on the mountain, but what precedes it is important, too, and perhaps your homilist alluded to it today.

Before Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain, he had been conversing with them and the other apostles. It was the moment when he asked them Who do people say that I am?  And Who do you say that I am?  Peter had, of course, responded in faith and truth: You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. 

The conversation doesn’t end there, for Jesus continues, telling them about the way of this Messiah, his way – a way of suffering. Peter can’t believe it, Jesus rebukes him, and lets his friends and disciples know that anyone who wishes to follow him will be taking up a cross.

And then they climb the mountain.

******

"amy welborn"

I went to Mass today at the convent where my sons often serve. It was a small congregation, as usual. Sisters, friends, family members. There were two older men in wheelchairs, several children, a developmentally disabled young man, and concelebrating with the friar, a hundred-year old priest with his walker, his pillow, his handkerchief and his glass of water.

Hearts, minds and spirits bore crosses, too, not visible, but no less real, I’m sure.

Life is serious, challenging and hard. It’s rugged and scars you.

Jesus doesn’t promise a bountiful best awesome life on earth to his disciples. He promises – promises  – a cross.

Why is liturgy formal and serious?

Because life is serious.

God didn’t make it so – we did – but God enters this life as it is, as our sin has made it,  and God redeems it and takes up that Cross we have fashioned on himself.

Up the mountain.

We follow him, all of us carrying crosses and burdens, and there atop the moment we are blessed with a gift: light, love and glory.

It awaits, we are promised, but there on the mountain, we see something else. That gift isn’t just waiting ahead – it’s here now. It’s here in this Body of Christ, in the gift of Word and Sacrament, a glimpse of what awaits, an anchor and a hope.

It’s a gift that’s not dependent on us. It’s not dependent on how much we understand or know, or how well we speak or see, how quickly we can move, or how rich or poor we are.

Formality and ritual makes this clear. Redemption awaits, and it is offered to you and each of the wildly different people around you, each trudging up the mountain under their own cross, but it is one thing – the love of God – and it is sure, definite, solid and glorious.  No matter who you are or what you can do, God offers it, and offers you a chance to respond the best way you can, in whatever way your soul can move, love and say yes, it is good for me to be here.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"EPSON MFP image

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Today’s her memorial, too. A summary of her life:

Saint Catherine was born in Bologna, and appointed as the maid of honor to the daughter of the Marquis of Ferrara, for whom her father served as an aide. Catherine moved into the palace, and became best friends with her mistress, Margaret. Upon the engagement of Margaret, who wished Catherine to remain with her, Catherine instead entered the religious life. At age 14, she joined the third order of the Franciscans, who lived a semi-monastic life.

Eventually, the community to which Catherine belonged adopted the second rule of the Franciscans, joining the Order of the Poor Clares. There, Catherine lived in poverty and obedience, joyfully serving the Lord. However, Catherine felt that the rule was not strict enough in the community she served, and eventually was moved to a more austere community, where she reluctantly agreed to be Abbess.

Saint Catherine was graced with many spiritual gifts, beginning early in her religious life, and persisting until the end of her days. A mystic, she frequently experienced visions of the Blessed Mother, Christ at the hour of His crucifixion, and was tormented by visions and temptations of the Devil. All of these she passed along to her sisters, for their spiritual direction, and some she recorded in Latin, having been schooled in Latin at the court of the Marquis….

Under the direction of Saint Catherine, the community became known for austerity, service to the poor, and holiness. But Catherine, led by her joyous heart, was also a woman filled with joy, which she passed along to her sisters. They suffered gladly for Christ, eschewing wealth and comfort, but their hearts leapt and danced for joy.

She wrote a short treatise called Seven Spiritual Weapons. You can read the whole thing here, and it’s excellent Lenten (or anytime) reading.

She begins, charmingly, comparing herself to a puppy:

With reverence and sweet and gentle love, I pray that Christ Jesus will guard from the sin of unbelief anyone who comes to know of this little work which I made with the divine help and not attribute to the vice of presumption nor take amiss any error in this present little book. I am the least puppy barking under the table of the honorable and refined servants and sisters of the immaculate lamb Christ Jesus, sister of the monastery of the Body of Christ in Ferrara. I, the above mentioned puppy, wrote this by my own hand only for fear of divine condemnation if I were silent about what could delight others.

The seven spiritual weapons which she highlights are (via B16): 

1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!

 

Last summer, we spent time in both Ferrara and Bologna, and made a visit to the chapel where Catherine’s body is preserved – sitting up in a chair. Here’s a photo, and I wrote about it here. 

 

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Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. We know how it goes:

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So you should pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test,
but save us from the evil one.
‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’

Of course, we have taken Jesus at his word here and taken these prayers as literally– how we are to pray.

Although, I wonder how widespread memorization of these words are among those who aren’t Catholic? Years ago, my daughter was in a high school production of Lilies of the Field down here in Birmingham.  There’s a scene in which the sisters recite the Lord’s Prayer. They weren’t off book then, but, you know…the Lord’s Prayer. My daughter was the only one who knew it by heart, here in Bible country. Perhaps none of the other girls were church-goers at all, but it did prompt me to wonder…would evangelicals know the Lord’s Prayer as a stand-alone?

Anyway, as a memorized prayer, taking Jesus literally, the Lord’s Prayer is foundational. But it is more than that. My conscience has long been pricked by Jesus’ words here because it seems to me they go far deeper than telling me what words to say. They are about how to pray, no matter what words – or no words – I bring. They are about an attitude and approach.

So often when we think about prayer, we focus on petitions and on ourselves. We begin by spilling out our guts to God, loading up on our problems and needs. But how does Jesus tell us how to pray? By beginning in giving praise to God and acknowledging who God is. Half the prayer is that – God is Father, God is holy, God reigns. Oh, and then…may we be sustained. May we be forgiven. May we be faithful in the face of temptation.

Amen. 

Not a lot of words. No  self-centered babbling. A lot of God, not much us.

As I said, a conscience-pricker.

A bit more, on a slightly different angle, from The Words We Pray. 

"amy welborn"

 

 

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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You can read the text of the Acts of the two saints here. 

5. A few days after, the report went abroad that we were to be tried. Also my father returned from the city spent with weariness; and he came up to me to cast down my faith saying: Have pity, daughter, on my grey hairs; have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be, called father by you; if with these hands I have brought you unto this flower of youth- and I-have preferred you before all your brothers; give me not over to the reproach of men. Look upon your brothers; look upon your mother and mother’s sister; look upon your son, who will not endure to live after you. Give up your resolution; do not destroy us all together; for none of us will speak openly against men again if you suffer aught.

This he said fatherly in his love, kissing my hands and grovelling at my feet; and with tears he named me, not daughter, but lady. And I was grieved for my father’s case because he would not rejoice at my passion out of all my kin; and I comforted him, saying: That shall be done at this tribunal, whatsoever God shall please; for know that we are not established in our own power, but in God’s. And he went from me very sorrowful.

6. Another day as we were at meal we were suddenly snatched away to be tried; and we came to the forum. Therewith a report spread abroad through the parts near to the forum, and a very great multitude gathered together. We went up to the tribunal. The others being asked, confessed. So they came to me. And my father appeared there also, with my son, and would draw me from the step, saying: Perform the Sacrifice; have mercy on the child. And Hilarian the procurator – he that after the death of Minucius Timinian the proconsul had received in his room the right and power of the sword – said: Spare your father’s grey hairs; spare the infancy of the boy. Make sacrifice for the Emperors’ prosperity. And I answered: I am a Christian. And when my father stood by me yet to cast down my faith, he was bidden by Hilarian to be cast down and was smitten with a rod. And I sorrowed for my father’s harm as though I had been smitten myself; so sorrowed I for his unhappy old age. Then Hilarian passed sentence upon us all and condemned us to the beasts; and cheerfully we went down to the dungeon. Then because my child had been used to being breastfed and to staying with me in the prison, straightway I sent Pomponius the deacon to my father, asking for the child. But my father would not give him. And as God willed, no longer did he need to be suckled, nor did I take fever; that I might not be tormented by care for the child and by the pain of my breasts.

7. A few days after, while we were all praying, suddenly in the midst of the prayer I uttered a word and named Dinocrates; and I was amazed because he had never come into my mind save then; and I sorrowed, remembering his fate. And straightway I knew that I was worthy, and that I ought to ask for him. And I began to pray for him long, and to groan unto the Lord. Immediately the same night, this was shown me.

I beheld Dinocrates coming forth from a dark place, where were many others also; being both hot and thirsty, his raiment foul, his color pale; and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother in the flesh, seven years old, who being diseased with ulcers of the face had come to a horrible death, so that his death was abominated of all men. For him therefore I had made my prayer; and between him and me was a great gulf, so that either might not go to the other. There was moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, a font full of water, having its edge higher than was the boy’s stature; and Dinocrates stretched up as though to drink. I was sorry that the font had water in it, and yet for the height of the edge he might not drink.

And I awoke, and I knew that my brother was in travail. Yet I was confident I should ease his travail; and I prayed for him every day till we passed over into the camp prison. (For it was in the camp games that we were to fight; and the time was the feast of the Emperor Geta’s birthday.) And I prayed for him day and night with groans and tears, that he might be given me.

8. On the day when we abode in the stocks, this was shown me.

I saw that place which I had before seen, and Dinocrates clean of body, finely clothed, m comfort; and the font I had seen before, the edge of it being drawn to the boy’s navel; and he drew water thence which flowed without ceasing. And on the edge was a golden cup full of water; and Dinocrates came up and began to drink therefrom; which cup failed not. And being satisfied he departed away from the water and began to play as children will, joyfully.

And I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from his pains.

They are in the section of The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints called:

"amy welborn"

The last couple of pages:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

By the way, this has a listing on Amazon now – no cover art yet, but at least we know it exists and will be published!

"amy welborn"

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  • I did post a bit on Saturday, in case you don’t do Internet on the weekends, which a lot of people don’t. And good for you! Both were on fasting and the anxiety Catholics feel about our purportedly lame Latin Rite fasting regime. 
  • It was a weekend of camping, piano and basketball. Older kid went camping, younger one had two piano performances, plus a basketball game. Lost the game, ending the season, but I don’t think anyone’s crushed. Time to move on.
  • Piano. First performance was part of his obligation as a scholarship awardee from his music academy – they must do some extra performances during the course of the year, mostly in retirement facilities: two at Christmas, two in the spring.

 

(In which I finally learn how to embed Instagram here..because it’s code, I had assumed that you did it in the HTML editor, but no…you do it in the visual editor and it magically works…)

For more on Nathaniel Dett, go here. 

When I was trying to post the whole performance on Facebook, it wouldn’t let me, saying I was trying to post music or a performance under copyright to someone else. So I took “Beethoven” out of the description, and no problem.

  • We went to Mass at a parish I’ve only been to once before. It’s in a part of town far from my regular routes (but close to where one of the performances was, and the timing worked out perfectly). I was struck once again by now-familiar course of liturgical life:

 

  • When we strip down ritual to mostly words, we still carry the intuition that these words must mean a great deal, but since the ritual has been denuded of its dramatic elements and only has the most minimal level of symbolic material and gesture, the burden of conveying that meaning is all in the words now, and how the words are uttered. So the celebrant, in his person and in his manner, must convey all that was previously conveyed in what surrounded him. And what we are left with is a celebrant who might try to do this in  the most urgently deeply meaningful manner that, indeed, might move some in the congregation, but might tempt others to laugh, and give one more reminder to humbly stifle that inner liturgy critic, please. It’s Lent, after all. 

 

 

  • Martineau’s writing style is straightfoward and honest. Very accessible, even almost two centuries later. I will definitely be writing about this book when I’m finished, but some observations for now:
  • It was a six week-voyage across the sea. I am preparing for a trip to London in a few weeks.It will take us 9 hours or so to get across. That still astonishes and humbles me. People of Martineau’s era had much more challenging material and physical lives, but seemed to accomplish so much more. What’s my problem?
  • Martineau cannot get enough of the sea. She speaks of every night before retiring to her cabin, of having to go say goodnight to the sea. I think the following passage is a good example of her writing, and her ability to capture scenes, both natural and human.

Our afternoons were delightful; for the greater number of the forty-two days that we were at sea, the sun set visibly, with more or less lustre, and all eyes were watching his decline. There was an unusual quietness on board just about sunset. All the cabin passengers were collected on one side, except any two or three who, might be in the rigging. The steerage passengers were to be seen looking out at the same sight, and probably engaged as we were in pointing out some particular bar of reddened cloud, or snowy mountain of vapours, or the crimsom or golden light spattered on the swelling sides of the billows as they heaved sunward.Then came the last moment of expectation, even to the rising on tiptoe, as if that would enable us to see a spark more of the sun; and then the revival of talk, and the bustle of pairing off to walk. This was the hour for walking the deck; and, till near teatime, almost the whole company might be seen parading like a school. I never grew very fond of walking on a heaving floor, on which you have to turn at the end of every thirty paces or so; but it is a duty to walk on board ship, and it is best to do it at this hour, and in full and cheerful company.

After tea the cabin was busy with whist and chess parties, readers, and laughers and talkers. On damp and moonless evenings I joined a whist party; but my delight was the deck at this time, when I had it all to myself, or when I could at least sit alone in the stern. I know no greater luxury than sitting alone in the stern on fine nights, when there is no one within hearing but the helmsman, and sights of beauty meet the eye wherever it turns. Behind, the light from the binnacle alone gleams upon the deck; dim, shifting lights and shadows mark out the full sails against the sky, and stars look down between. The young moon drops silently into the sea afar. In our wake is a long train of pale fire, perpetually renewed as we hiss through the dark waves.

Once she landed in America, she spends the first part of her travels in New York – city and state. Her observations are fascinating. Just a couple of random citations to give you taste.

She rides a canal boat and is extremely irritated at the gaggle of Presbyterian ministers who take over the boat:

We suffered under an additional annoyance in the presence of sixteen Presbyterian clergymen, some of the most unprepossessing of their class. If there be duty more obvious than another on board a canal boat, it is to walk on the bank occasionally in fair weather, or, at least, to remain outside, in order to air the cabin (close enough at best) and get rid of the scents of the table before the unhappy passengers are shut up to sleep there. These sixteen gentlemen, on their way to a Convention at Utica, could not wait till they got there to begin their devotional observances, but obtruded them upon the passengers in a most unjustifiable manner. They were not satisfied with saying an almost interminable grace before and after each meal, but shut up the cabin for prayers before dinner; for missionary conversation in the afternoon, and for scripture reading and prayers quite late into the night, keeping tired travellers from their rest, and every one from his fair allowance of fresh air.

This is very funny. I’ve never thought of rocking chairs as a Newfangled Contrivance, but I guess they were:

In these small inns the disagreeable practice of rocking in the chair is seen in its excess. In the inn parlour are three or four rocking-chairs, in which sit ladies who are vibrating in different directions, and at various velocities, so as to try the head of a stranger almost as severely as the tobacco-chewer his stomach. How this lazy and ungraceful indulgence ever became general, I cannot imagine; but the nation seems so wedded to it, that I see little chance of its being forsaken. When American ladies come to live in Europe, they sometimes send home for a rocking-chair. A common wedding-present is a rocking-chair. A beloved pastor has every room in his house furnished with a rocking- chair by his grateful and devoted people. It is well that the gentlemen can be satisfied to sit still, or the world might be treated with the spectacle of the sublime American Senate in a new position; its fifty-two senators see-sawing in full deliberation, like the wise birds of a rookery in a breeze. If such a thing should ever happen, it will be time for them to leave off laughing at the Shaker worship.

I hasten to add that Martineau, in general, is a very generous-hearted and open-minded traveler. She has her critiques (and more in Society in America, which I will be picking up next), but they are rare. It’s just that they are amusing, which is they way life usually goes, isn’t it?

Just a few other random observations: She is generally appalled by the behavior of fellow Englishmen as she encounters them in the United States. She feels sorry for Canada, which suffers greatly, in her estimation, in comparison to the United States, and she blames her own country for this. She spends a lot of time at Niagara Falls, even venturing behind the falls – which you can do today, of course (I’ve done it), but I had not idea that kind of tourism at Niagara was established so early. And at one point in her journey – traveling across New York state – she connects with others from her sea voyage, and she is the only woman among a group of men and – those who would caricature the past – this is no big deal. 

As we surmounted the hill leading to our hotel, we saw our two shipmates dancing down the steps to welcome us. There certainly is a feeling among shipmates which does not grow out of any other relation. They are thrown first into such absolute dependance on one another, for better for worse, and are afterward so suddenly and widely separated, that if they do chance to meet again, they renew their intimacy with a fervour which does not belong to a friendship otherwise originated. The glee of our whole party this evening is almost ridiculous to look back upon. Everything served to make a laugh, and we were almost intoxicated with the prospect of what we were going to see and do together. We had separated only a fortnight ago, but we had as much to talk over as if we had been travelling apart for six months.

The Prussian had to tell his adventures, we our impressions, and the Southerner his comparisons of his own country with Europe. Then we had to arrange the division of labour by which the gentlemen were to lighten the cares or travelling. Dr. J., the Prussian, was on all occasions to select apartments for us;. Mr. S., the Dutchman, to undertake the eating department; Mr. H., the American, was paymaster; and Mr. O., the German, took charge of the luggage. It was proposed that badges should be worn to designate their offices. Mr. S. was to be adorned with a corncob. Mr. H. stuck a bankbill in front of his hat; and, next morning, when Mr. O. was looking another way, the young men locked a small padlock upon his button-hole, which he was compelled to carry there for a day or two, till his comrades vouchsafed to release him from his badge.

Here she describes the view from the (now gone) Catskill Mountain House. I’m breaking it up into paragraphs not in the original for ease of reading. Martineau was a devout, deeply spiritual (obviously) Unitarian.

The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very, early, and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings too small to be otherwise distinguished; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky-mountains, and left the cool Sabbath tobrood brightly over the land.  

What human interest sanctifies a bird’s-eye view! I suppose this is its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a champaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gay carpet. To the rustic it is less bewitching than a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not? As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires, and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life; an epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries.

On the left horizon are the Green Mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there, where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts sending up their Sabbath psalms; praise which he is too high to hear, while God is not.

The fields and waters seem to him to-day no more truly property than the skies which shine down upon them; and to think how some below are busying their thoughts this Sabbath-day about how they shall hedge in another field, or multiply their flocks on yonder meadows, gives him a taste of the same pity which Jesus felt in his solitude when his followers were contending about which should be greatest. It seems strange to him now that man should call anything his but the power which is in him, and which can create somewhat more vast and beautiful than all that this horizon encloses. Here he gains the conviction, to be never again shaken, that all that its real is ideal; that the joys and sorrows of men do not spring up out of the ground, or fly abroad on the wings of the wind, or come showered down from the sky; that good cannot be hedged in, nor evil barred out; even that light does not reach the spirit through the eye alone, nor wisdom through the medium of sound or silence only.  He becomes of one mind with the spiritual Berkeley, that the face of nature itself, the very picture of woods, and streams, and meadows, is a hieroglyphic writing in the spirit itself, of which the retina is no interpreter. The proof is just below him (at least it came under my eye), in the lady (not American) who, after glancing over the landscape, brings her chair into the piazza, and, turning her back to the champaign, and her face to the wooden walls of the hotel, begins the study, this Sunday morning, of her lapful of newspapers. What a sermon is thus preached to him at this moment from a very hackneyed text! To him that hath much; that hath the eye, and ear, and wealth of the spirit, shall more be given even a replenishing of this spiritual life from that which to others is formless and dumb; while from him that hath little, who trusts in that which lies about him rather than in that which lives within him, shall be taken away, by natural decline, the power of perceiving and enjoying what is within his own domain. To him who is already enriched with large divine and human revelations this scene is, for all its stillness, musical with divine and human speech; while one who has been deafened by the din of worldly affairs can hear nothing in this mountain solitude.

Substitute: phone for lapful of newspapers and once again…plus ca change. 

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Reprint from last year, but still timely. 

A most interesting sermon from Blessed John Henry Newman on the First Sunday of Lent – which has always featured the Temptation in the Desert as its Gospel.

In this sermon, Newman speaks of the consequences of fasting – quite honestly, as it happens. For, he acknowledges, we are often assured of the good fruit of fasting. But as he notes, it was his fasting that exposed Jesus to the possibility of temptation. So it is with us. That is – it’s not all roses:

THE season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts for forty days, in memory of our Lord’s long fast in the wilderness. Accordingly on this day, the first Sunday in Lent, we read the Gospel which gives an account of it; and in the Collect we pray Him, who for our sakes fasted forty days and forty nights, to bless our abstinence to the good of our souls and bodies.

We fast by way of penitence, and in order to subdue the flesh. Our Saviour had no need of fasting for either purpose. His fasting was unlike ours, as in its intensity, so in its object. And yet when we begin to fast, His pattern is set before us; and we continue the time of fasting till, in number of days, we have equalled His.


temptation of Christ
There is a reason for this;—in truth, we must do nothing except with Him in our eye. As He it is, through whom alone we have the power to do any good {2} thing, so unless we do it for Him it is not good. From Him our obedience comes, towards Him it must look. He says, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” [John xv. 5.] No work is good without grace and without love.

(Source)

….

Next I observe, that our Saviour’s fast was but introductory to His temptation. He went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, but before He was tempted He fasted. Nor, as is worth notice, was this a mere preparation for the conflict, but it was the cause of the conflict in good measure. Instead of its simply arming Him against temptation, it is plain, that in the first instance, His retirement and abstinence exposed Him to it. {6} Fasting was the primary occasion of it. “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterwards an hungered;” and then the tempter came, bidding Him turn the stones into bread. Satan made use of His fast against Himself.

And this is singularly the case with Christians now, who endeavour to imitate Him; and it is well they should know it, for else they will be discouraged when they practise abstinences. It is commonly said, that fasting is intended to make us better Christians, to sober us, and to bring us more entirely at Christ’s feet in faith and humility. This is true, viewing matters on the whole. On the whole, and at last, this effect will be produced, but it is not at all certain that it will follow at once. On the contrary, such mortifications have at the time very various effects on different persons, and are to be observed, not from their visible benefits, but from faith in the Word of God. Some men, indeed, are subdued by fasting and brought at once nearer to God; but others find it, however slight, scarcely more than an occasion of temptation. For instance, it is sometimes even made an objection to fasting, as if it were a reason for not practising it, that it makes a man irritable and ill-tempered. I confess it often may do this. Again, what very often follows from it is, a feebleness which deprives him of his command over his bodily acts, feelings, and expressions. Thus it makes him seem, for instance, to be out of temper when he is not; I mean, because his tongue, his lips, nay his brain, are not in his power. He does not use the words he wishes to use, nor the accent and tone. He seems sharp {7} when he is not; and the consciousness of this, and the reaction of that consciousness upon his mind, is a temptation, and actually makes him irritable, particularly if people misunderstand him, and think him what he is not. Again, weakness of body may deprive him of self-command in other ways; perhaps, he cannot help smiling or laughing, when he ought to be serious, which is evidently a most distressing and humbling trial; or when wrong thoughts present themselves, his mind cannot throw them off, any more than if it were some dead thing, and not spirit; but they then make an impression on him which he is not able to resist. Or again, weakness of body often hinders him from fixing his mind on his prayers, instead of making him pray more fervently; or again, weakness of body is often attended with languor and listlessness, and strongly tempts a man to sloth.

Therefore let us be, my brethren, “not ignorant of their devices;” and as knowing them, let us watch, fast, and pray, let us keep close under the wings of the Almighty, that He may be our shield and buckler. Let us pray Him to make known to us His will,—to teach us our faults,—to take from us whatever may offend Him,—and to lead us in the way everlasting. And during this sacred season, let us look upon ourselves as on the Mount with Him—within the veil—hid with Him—not out of Him, or apart from Him, in whose presence alone is life, but with and in Him—learning of His Law with Moses, of His attributes with Elijah, of His counsels with Daniel—learning to repent, learning to confess and to amend—learning His love and His fear—unlearning ourselves, and growing up unto Him who is our Head.

Here is another Newman sermon on the First Sunday of Lent. In this one he tackles a different issue: the relative laxity of “modern” fasting practices.

It is quite predictable that at the beginning of every Lent, the claimed laxity of Catholic fasting and abstaining is decried – I’ve seen it all around Facebook this year, and I’ve done it, I’ve thought it, too.  We’re weak in comparison to past generations, Latin Rite Catholics are amateurs when compared to Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox.

Well, critics have been saying the same thing for about four hundred years, it seems. The Middle Ages was Peak Fast for Latin Rite Catholics and it’s been downhill ever since, they’ve been saying for centuries.

But is it really?

Newman makes the same observation – about the decline in physical demands – but has a different take:

I suppose it has struck many persons as very remarkable, that in the latter times the strictness and severity in religion of former ages has been so much relaxed. There has been a gradual abandonment of painful duties which were formerly inforced upon all. Time was when all persons, to speak generally, abstained from flesh through the whole of Lent. There have been dispensations on this point again and again, and this very year there is a fresh one. What is the meaning of this? What are we to gather from it? This is a question worth considering. Various answers may be given, but I shall confine myself to one of them.

I answer that fasting is only one branch of a large and momentous duty, the subdual of ourselves to Christ. We must surrender to Him all we have, all we are. We must keep nothing back. We must present to Him as captive prisoners with whom He may do what He will, our soul and body, our reason, our judgement, our affections, {64} our imagination, our tastes, our appetite. The great thing is to subdue ourselves; but as to the particular form in which the great precept of self-conquest and self-surrender is to be expressed, that depends on the person himself, and on the time or place. What is good for one age or person, is not good for another.

Even in our Blessed Lord’s case the Tempter began by addressing himself to His bodily wants. He had fasted forty days, and afterwards was hungered. So the devil tempted Him to eat. But when He did not consent, then he went on to more subtle temptations. He tempted Him to spiritual pride, and he tempted Him by ambition for power. Many a man would shrink from intemperance, {68} of being proud of his spiritual attainments; that is, he would confess such things were wrong, but he would not see that he was guilty of them.

Next I observe that a civilized age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue. It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one’s family, or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honour, and so on.

Such is this age, and hence our self-denial must be very different from what was necessary for a rude age. Barbarians lately converted, or warlike multitudes, of fierce spirit and robust power—nothing can tame them better than fasting. But we are very different. Whether from the natural course of centuries or from our mode of living, from the largeness of our towns or other causes, so it is that our powers are weak and we cannot bear what our ancestors did. Then again what numbers there are who anyhow must have dispensation, whether because their labour is so hard, or because they never have enough, and cannot be called on to stint themselves in Lent. These are reasons for the rule of fasting not being so strict as once it was. And let me now say, that the rule which the Church now gives us, though indulgent, yet is strict too. It tries a man. One meal a day is trial to most people, even though on some days meat is allowed. It is sufficient, with our weak frames, to be a mortification of sensuality. It serves that end for which all fasting was instituted. On the other hand its being so light as it is, so much lighter than it was in former times, is a suggestion to us that there are other sins and weaknesses to mortify in us besides gluttony and drunkenness. It is a suggestion to us, while we strive to be pure and undefiled in our bodies, to be on our guard lest we are unclean and sinful in our intellects, in our affections, in our wills.

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And then more from With Mother Church: The Christ Life Series in Religion, a vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook:

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The Warden is the first of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels, books which are primarily focused on the clergy and their families of the fictional town.

The plot is simple. From Goodreads, because I hate summarizing plots. I must have had a traumatic experience in fourth grade or something.

“The Warden” centers on Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity who is nevertheless in possession of an income from a charity far in excess of the sum devoted to the purposes of the foundation. On discovering this, young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he regards as an abuse of privilege, despite the fact that he is in love with Mr. Harding’s daughter Eleanor. It was a highly topical novel (a case regarding the misapplication of church funds was the scandalous subject of contemporary debate), but like other great Victorian novelists, Trollope uses the specific case to explore and illuminate the universal complexities of human motivation and social morality

Reading Trollope, first of all, will disabuse a reader of the notion that in past eras, clergymen and church affairs were considered off-limits for satire, mocking and criticism. Of course this is not the case, and has never been, but Trollope’s treatment of religion is "amy welborn"particularly instructive because he is so straightforward in presenting the humanity and politics of the world of the church (of England in this case, of course).

The Warden is much shorter than most of Trollope’s other work, and more focused, although the political and journalistic world of London comes under scrutiny as Mr. Harding travels there to make his case. I earlier highlighted Trollope’s evisceration of the press in his chapter “Mount Olympus.” 

I want to highlight just a few quotes from The Warden, passages which I particularly appreciated either because of their insight into human behavior or high satirical quotient. In the first, “the doctor” is the Archdeacon of the Cathedral, who is also Mr. Harding’s son-in-law. He is determined that the threat against Harding’s position is no less than a threat against the privileges of the entire Church of England, and must be stopped.

Having settled this point to his satisfaction, the doctor stepped down to the hospital, to learn how matters were going on there; and as he walked across the hallowed close, and looked up at the ravens who cawed with a peculiar reverence as he wended his way, he thought with increased acerbity of those whose impiety would venture to disturb the goodly grace of cathedral institutions.

And who has not felt the same? We believe that Mr Horseman himself would relent, and the spirit of Sir Benjamin Hall give way, were those great reformers to allow themselves to stroll by moonlight round the towers of some of our ancient churches. Who would not feel charity for a prebendary when walking the quiet length of that long aisle at Winchester, looking at those decent houses, that trim grass-plat, and feeling, as one must, the solemn, orderly comfort of the spot! Who could be hard upon a dean while wandering round the sweet close of Hereford, and owning that in that precinct, tone and colour, design and form, solemn tower and storied window, are all in unison, and all perfect! Who could lie basking in the cloisters of Salisbury, and gaze on Jewel’s library and that unequalled spire, without feeling that bishops should sometimes be rich!

I love this passage, in which Trollope is taking the language usually used to express how beautiful and orderly church architecture leads the mind to consider the glory and nature of God and turns it around.

A minor character, Sir Abraham Haphazard, will be the defender of the Church’s privilege in the House of Lords, but he is also busy with another cause:

Sir Abraham Haphazard was deeply engaged in preparing a bill for the mortification of papists, to be called the “Convent Custody Bill,” the purport of which was to enable any protestant clergyman over fifty years of age to search any nun whom he suspected of being in possession of treasonable papers, or jesuitical symbols: and as there were to be a hundred and thirty-seven clauses in the bill, each clause containing a separate thorn for the side of the papist, and as it was known the bill would be fought inch by inch, by fifty maddened Irishmen, the due construction and adequate dovetailing of it did consume much of Sir Abraham’s time. The bill had all its desired effect. Of course it never passed into law; but it so completely divided the ranks of the Irish members, who had bound themselves together to force on the ministry a bill for compelling all men to drink Irish whisky, and all women to wear Irish poplins, that for the remainder of the session the Great Poplin and Whisky League was utterly harmless.

Again, great, (if heavy-handed!) satire, not only on British anti-Catholicism, but on the ways of politics, so often centered not on direct discussion of policy, but on misdirection and throwing up false flags for distraction and disturbance of enemy forces.

Having gone through this Mr Harding got into another omnibus, and again returned to the House. Yes, Sir Abraham was there, and was that moment on his legs, fighting eagerly for the hundred and seventh clause of the Convent Custody Bill. Mr Harding’s note had been delivered to him; and if Mr Harding would wait some two or three hours, Sir Abraham could be asked whether there was any answer. The House was not full, and perhaps Mr Harding might get admittance into the Strangers’ Gallery, which admission, with the help of five shillings, Mr Harding was able to effect.

This bill of Sir Abraham’s had been read a second time and passed into committee. A hundred and six clauses had already been discussed and had occupied only four mornings and five evening sittings; nine of the hundred and six clauses were passed, fifty-five were withdrawn by consent, fourteen had been altered so as to mean the reverse of the original proposition, eleven had been postponed for further consideration, and seventeen had been directly negatived. The hundred and seventh ordered the bodily searching of nuns for jesuitical symbols by aged clergymen, and was considered to be the real mainstay of the whole bill. No intention had ever existed to pass such a law as that proposed, but the government did not intend to abandon it till their object was fully attained by the discussion of this clause. It was known that it would be insisted on with terrible vehemence by Protestant Irish members, and as vehemently denounced by the Roman Catholic; and it was justly considered that no further union between the parties would be possible after such a battle. The innocent Irish fell into the trap as they always do, and whiskey and poplins became a drug in the market.

Ending on a far simpler note, I love this tight observation of John Bold, who is pursuing this suit about the hospital, for no particular reason except, as we might say today, “Because Reasons” and with no real thinking through of the consequences to those he is professing to help:

And the Barchester Brutus went out to fortify his own resolution by meditations on his own virtue.

I think that’s a good nudge for a penitential Lenten Friday, myself….

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