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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

—1 —

Yeah, I start out each week thinking…this will be the week I blog every day and it will be substantive and awesome…and then I don’t.

The culprits this week? College Kid heading back to school for the spring semester, then getting back into Homeschool High School in a We’re Really Serious About This, Guys kind of way, music matters (practicing for church job/intensifying Brahms practice because Guess What, that’s going to be performed on the 26th – better get on that; and then heading back to jazz lessons after a two-month break…); conversations about a project or two, and of course the ever-present Trip Planning: South Florida and NYC at the moment.

And then there are the zillion interesting events that occur every day, which I try to shut out, but which find their way back to my attention – got to read the analyses and laugh at the memes….arrgh.

Thinking all the while, I have Things to Say…maybe I should write the words down.  But then events speed by so quickly, the moment passes, and, with some issues, I think, Does the world really need one more opinion drifting through the air? Nah. Probably not. 

But I promise   – that Young Pope/New Pope piece will be coming. As I said on Twitter, I may be hesitant to invite the boring yet totally predictable disapproval of my failure to disapprove of these programs, but really, after watching them, I can’t say that much of anything dramatized there is any less crazy or outrageous than the current Vatican shenanigans we’re blessed to enjoy here in the 21st century.

— 2 —

What’s going on the homeschool? Let’s make a list, quickly.

  • Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – he’s read it before, but we think it was probably at least 2 or 3 years ago, and, as Twain himself said, it’s not a children’s book. Tom Sawyer is – but this isn’t.  Hope to get that done by the end of next week, then back to the ancients with The Odyssey.
  • Also read “The Destructors” by Graham Greene this week. If you’ve never read it – do.It’s here.And here’s a good pdf study guide. 
  • Religion: Read big chunks of the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges, read Ruth today. Will read the appropriate material in this book for greater depth,and then start 1 Samuel next week. My favorite!
  • History: He does his own thing, which jumps between various ancient cultures and the World Wars. Next week, we’ll do a bit of Florida history in prep for a trip.
  • Biology: Still in the class taught by a college prof in the local Catholic homeschool co-op.
  • Math: Geometry via AOPS. We’ve settled down – after jumping between Counting, then a bit of Algebra II (quadratic equations) – and committed to Geometry for the rest of the school year. Right Triangles were the subject this week.
  • Music: That competition I wrote about before, which will happen over the next few months, with performance, technique and music literature analysis components. At least one Brahms performance coming up, and I’m starting to hear that there will be a jazz recital.
  • Latin: Chapters 17/18 of Latin for the New Millenium, then, per the tutor’s advice, he will hit “pause” on the text, and do focused vocab and grammar review in prep for the National Latin Exam, which he’ll take with a local group in the beginning of March.
  • Spanish: He works on his own, mostly with  Great Courses. We’re starting to think about another week in a Spanish-speaking country, maybe in the spring. Probably Costa Rica or Antigua, Guatemala.
  • Other: Fraternus, Nazareth House (catechist for developmentally disabled youth), serving dinner at a local woman’s shelter ever few weeks; probably getting back into boxing soon. Plus, of course, the church organ job.

 

— 3 —

This is a really good article from a secular publication (Cincinnati Magazine) on how the family of one of the Covington Catholic kids– one who wasn’t even in Washington, but was accused and doxxed – responded. It’s very inspiring.

When asked if he’s fully moved on from the doxxing, threats, and attacks, Michael says, “It sticks with me a little bit, but not really too much at all.” That said, it “has made me a lot more skeptical of social media. That, and the media, too. [It] just makes me look into facts behind different stories rather than just taking their word for it.”

Did the whole experience ruin his senior year of high school? “Even though all this happened, I would say this was probably my favorite year at CovCath,” he says, citing how the sense of brotherhood he’d always felt there somehow strengthened, in spite of everything.

Given all the Catholic undertones, there are lots of biblical stories that could speak to the lessons this whole event imparts. But maybe the moral of this particular story is better interpreted through the work of an extraordinary writer who lived and died long before the internet and social media were even invented. Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, built a successful secular career writing fictional stories in the 1950s and ’60s about self-righteous people who ultimately became the very things they despised. O’Connor’s fiction was often misinterpreted as dark, for the tragic ends her characters almost always met, but in truth her overwhelming message was that healing and grace could, and often did, come from suffering and evil.

On Wednesday, January 23—the same day the Hodges hit rock bottom and Pamela came up with the idea to do a fund-raiser—the college lecturer who’d initially helped spread Michael’s name online posted a 252-word apology on her Facebook page that garnered little attention. Turns out, Andrew had reached out to her directly, explaining how the misinformation she’d helped spread had devastated the family. In the post, the lecturer took full responsibility for what she’d done, writing, “I am horrified at my own behavior as there is a child out there trying to live his life and was wrongly identified. I am now a party of the cause of his fear and misery…I am now guilty of behaviors I normally disdain. It is wrong. I did wrong to this young man.”

She is only one person of the thousands who rushed to condemn Hodge, Sandmann, and their peers. And yet, through O’Connor’s lens, maybe her bold example, paired with the GoFundMe and the way the CovCath boys grew so strong together, is nothing short of a beacon of hope.

— 4 —

“American Pilgrimage” by Stefan McDaniel, in First Things:

 

Back on the road, in between sung Latin rosaries and hymns, I got to know my brigade. They were disturbingly wholesome. Almost everyone was from an intensely Catholic family, yet no one, it seemed, was here out of inertia. Some had come on pilgrimage to mark a new, deliberate seriousness in their life of faith. One woman told me that her traditionalist community had shunned and slandered her after a broken engagement and she was here in part to ­reevaluate her beliefs.

Vehicular traffic was scarce, but wherever we encountered it we stopped it or slowed it down. Many motorists honked and waved encouragement; many scowled, some defying our Romanism with choice Anglo-Saxon words; and many (perhaps the greatest number) fixed us with confused stares.

We carried on till lunch, which we took at a pleasant park. A moment to rest was welcome, but it allowed our legs to freeze up. As we limped back to the road, I didn’t see how I could do this for two more miles, let alone two more days.

Near 3 p.m., we began the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. I had always disliked this devotion, but to my surprise I joined in the recitation now with tremendous feeling. Physical pain, that concrete ­experience of my own limitations, softened my heart and brought home my need for mercy.

We arrived at our first bivouac as night fell. After setting up our tents, we were served a restorative dinner. Inhaling a good but peppery soup, I forgot my pain and delighted in the motley humanity at table with me: the Melkite priest, the man with the honest-to-God Mayan wife, the former Pentecostal sporting Carlist symbols and dressed like an alpinist. Chaucer could not have assembled a better cast.

The next morning, a Saturday, we heard Mass and began walking in the light drizzle under a gray sky—melancholy weather, but perfect for hard walking. Having used up our store of Catholic songs, my brigade turned, at my instigation, to the great common national treasury, freely mixing sacred and profane. After we had sung “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” back-to-back (thus healing sectional divisions once and for all), we calmed down with the Joyful Mysteries.

Though we had returned to devotional themes, I remained in a reverie of patriotism. I realized that I had shaken off an anxiety that had clung to me for years. Like many Catholics of my generation, I had long wondered how I might rightly love America, having renounced the commercial, individualistic social philosophy called “Americanism.” Now, meditating on our North American Martyrs, I embraced their dream of a new Catholic civilization to be planted right here, in this land we were traversing, using their methods of husbandry: to respect, study, and refine existing virtues and institutions and order them to the Prince of Peace. What vision could be grander, or better inspire private and public virtue? Where should we find nobler Founding Fathers to revere and to imitate?

 

— 5 –

I was very glad to see that one of my favorite blogs, Deep Fried Kudzu, seems to be back after a hiatus. Ginger, a local, travels about the South and beyond – her interests are in food, literature, art and roadside oddities. Her notes and photos have guided my own explorations ever since we moved here. I’m glad she’s back.

 

— 6 —

After seeing 1917 (which we’re seeing this weekend),Bishop Barron writes a piece that I endorse 100%. He articulates what I’ve long thought – in all of our hand-wringing about the West’s loss of faith, we can blame scientism and positivism and rationalism and Communism all we want – and sure, why not? – but what about the impact of this:

For the past many years, I have been studying the phenomenon of disaffiliation and loss of faith in the cultures of the West. And following the prompts of many great scholars, I have identified a number of developments at the intellectual level—from the late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment to postmodernism—that have contributed to this decline. But I have long maintained—and the film 1917 brought it vividly back to mind—that one of the causes of the collapse of religion in Europe, and increasingly in the West generally, was the moral disaster of the First World War, which was essentially a crisis of Christian identity. Something broke in the Christian culture, and we’ve never recovered from it. If their Baptism meant so little to scores of millions of combatants in that terrible war, then what, finally, was the point of Christianity? And if it makes no concrete difference, then why not just leave it behind and move on?

 

— 7 —

Went to the movies tonight at our newish local art-house place, which is in the basement floor of our local food hall, which is in turn on the ground floor of a condo development which is all in a building that used to be a department store, back in the day.

The movie? Rififi – a 1955 French heist movie – very good, with a spectacular 30-minute dialogue-less set piece of, well, a jewelry store heist. That, plus the final outcome (spoiler alert) which highlights, as the best heist movie outcomes always do, the emptiness of all that hard work for ill-gotten gain, made it a satisfying couple of hours.

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

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It’s the feast of the Holy Family, of course, but it’s also the memorial of St. Thomas Becket. 

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints in the section “Saints are people who tell the truth.”

amywelborn2

Here’s the last page of the entry, so you have a sense of the content.

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I’m not taking a stand on that specifically because there’s plenty of related verbiage out there, and most gravitate towards the view that confirms their political views anyway.

But here’s an slightly off-topic take.

Consider this:  for a few decades now, the mainstream view of the narrative in question, among Biblical scholars and those formed by them in seminary and divinity school (which would be most those preaching and teaching at most of you)  is that…wait for it…

none of it actually happened  anyway. 

Right?

Am I right?

Brown, Fitzmyer, Meier, etc., etc.

Now, I don’t want to get simplistic about this. It’s not a matter of Modern Skeptical Absolutism v. Literalist Absolutism. The question, for most scholars and their students is not as simple as: it’s all history and that’s why it’s valuable or it’s all myth and only valuable as such.

Subtle distinctions were made and teased out: the Gospel narratives are testimonies of faith rooted in experience, not 20th century histories, and should be treated and studied as such. There is a difference between exploring what the Gospel writers and their Paperback Jesus of History, Christ of Faith Bookcommunities were pointing to Christologically and saying that one or the other dogma can be “proven” historically. This is what drew questions about Brown and others, most famously,  about the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection. They’d say, “The normal methods of historiography can’t prove that these things happened. They’re in another realm of experience.” And it would be interpreted as “These scholars are saying that the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection weren’t historical events that occurred in the temporal sphere.”

Which sometimes they weren’t – and sometimes they were.

One person’s subtlety is another’s obfuscation.

But through the massive popularity of Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah  – THE authority on the infancy narratives from the time of its original publication in 1977 to perhaps the present –  historical skepticism gained the upper hand over more nuanced theological goals. Brown was “conservative” in a sense –this piece is a fair-minded treatment of his work, I think, but this conclusion, from another paper, authored by a (self-defined) non-conservative scholar, captures the essence of Brown’s project from a (liberal) critical perspective. This fellow says that Brown tried to have it both ways – to undermine the historicity of the infancy narratives, but at the same time saying that the essential Christological truths being communicated weren’t dependent on that historicity.  Brown himself says that the historical-critical method has cast doubt on the historicity of the events in the narratives, and that his project is to show that even if there are questions about historicity by 20th century standards, that doesn’t diminish their value to faith. Dawes disagrees, saying,

In pursuing this question I shall take Raymond Brown’s study of the infancy narratives as exemplary. Let me begin by avoiding some possible misunderstandings. I am not questioning the results of Brown’s exegesis. I shall assume that his results are substantially correct, that he has identified what the authors of these narratives intended to convey to their audiences. In his respect, I greatly admire Brown’s indefatigable detective work. Nor do I wish to dispute Brown’s generally negative judgments regarding the historicity of these stories. He produces excellent reasons to believe that there probably were no magi, that there probably was no star, and so on. I have no personal difficulty with these conclusions. What I wish to dispute is Brown’s assumption that these negative conclusions regarding historicity have no theological significance, that we can embrace the theological significance of these stories while no longer believing that the events they relate really occurred.

I am aware that I am not the only person to question this assumption. There are theologically conservative commentators—with whom I otherwise have little in common—who raise similar concerns. Their conclusion would be that we must regard these stories as reports of actual events, for they would otherwise lose their religious significance. I think that such commentators have sound theological instincts, but I have no desire to embrace their conclusion. I agree with Brown that for the most part we cannot regard these stories as historically accurate. But if it is true that the religious significance of these stories depends on their historicity, what follows? 

Point: There was hedging and tentative language, but honestly, the weight of Catholic Biblical scholarship for the past few decades has assumed that the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke have very, very limited value as history.  It’s a pastiche, a midrash composed, not from the memories of those who were there, but from a mix of Jewish tradition, messianic prophecies and concerns of the communities out of which and for whom the narratives were produced.

And it filtered down, of course.

Consider this summary page from the very popular high school textbook by Thomas Zanzig, Jesus of History, Christ of Faith. 

“In fact, in their infancy narratives, Matthew and Luke may have moved beyond historical concerns altogether, focusing instead on insights into the origins of Jesus that only people of faith would be concerned about.”

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Again, let’s not be simpletons about this.  Catholic Biblical interpretation has never been stuck in bare-boned literalism and historicism. That’s not what this is about. In terms of the Flight to Egypt, of course – as the Fathers long observed – the entire narrative in Matthew evokes the life of Moses, beginning here. We observe that, we meditate on it – but does that invariably drive us to conclude that Matthew wove the tale from threads he spun himself, divorced from historical events? It might surprise you to know how many would say “yes.”

So this is simply my typically over-long way of pointing out something that struck me as, well, ironic.

I mean – if we’re characterizing the Holy Family as refugees…does that mean we’re back to saying that the Flight to Egypt actually happened?

Great!

 

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

Here’s a helpful video that someone put up with subtitles. 

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

Here’s my book on Mary, available in a Kindle version for .99:

 And for even more substance from a homily hB16 gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

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Another great saint.

 B16 spoke about him at a General Audience in 2009.

It’s very appropriate that John’s feast falls during Advent, during our preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation.

(I have re-paragraphed it for ease of reading. Also bolded some key points.)

John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700.

He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, “In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?… But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?… And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?… And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible” (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90).

We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith.

John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply “dead”. Numbering, for example, those "amy welborn"whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: “First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57: 15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God’s presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82[81]: 6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19: 2)” (III, 33, col. 1352 a).

After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: “God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)” (II, 2, pg 94, col. 865a). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: “We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man’s capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future” (ii, 29, pg 94, col. 964c).

Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, “should be strengthened and renewed” by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in “being”, but also in “well-being” (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, pg 94, col. 981).

With passionate eagerness John explains: “It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life…. So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)”…. It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: “he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example…. And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended… to his servants… achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God” (III, 1, pg 94, col. 981c-984b).

We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives.

More from Ellyn von Huben at Word on Fire

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Blessed Miguel Pro is in the  Loyola Kids Book of Saints under, “Saints are people who create.”

(Click on images for readable versions)

From our 2018 visit to Mexico City and Puebla – the church where Miguel Pro’s relics can be found – except it was Holy Thursday morning that we stopped by, so while the church was open, the museum was not:

 

 

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Settled in our new place…

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(If you followed me on Instagram, you would have heard those church bells ringing the Angelus…)

We had a leisurely sleep-in – no Spanish class to go to! – and then did some shopping in town, including at the amazing, labyrinthine indoor market – I won’t pretend it was “charming” in a way that a tourist-oriented market would be, but it was certainly an experience – stalls selling everything under the sun from shoes to rope to food jammed together – you think you’re done, and well,there’s another corner with another wall stuffed with purses or bags of spices…

El Merced is a gorgeous colonial-era church which, it seems, like most churches around here, is not open except during Masses. This is too bad (but I’m sure they have their reasons – which are probably, I’m guessing about crime, vandalism and the value of 350-year old carvings.)

I got a shot of the exterior from the locked gate and wondered why the door was open. We went across the street for a bit, and while we were there, workmen came out of the church bearing some chunks of wood,unlocked the gate, continued out, and left the gate unlocked. That was our chance! I sped up to the church, peaked in, told M to watch to make sure we didn’t get locked in the property, took photos, saw a young man standing at another door that led to a garden, asked him, “Aqui, okay?” He shook his head. “No okay?” He nodded. I had M as him when the church was open. “Domingo.” Okay, then – well, at least I got some photos…

 

Another stop was at the park, where M had a long conversation with Frankie, who approached us as we sat on the park bench, playing with a golf ball. I don’t know why he wanted to talk – sometimes children approach us, seeing that we are not Honduran, IMG_20191118_103232.jpgwanting to speak English. He didn’t, and I kept waiting, I admit, for a request for money..but it never came, and we passed him later in town, him striding jauntily down the street on his own, waving to us cheerily as he passed. So I supposed he was just friendly? For he was – and clearly very smart. M got most of what he said – and when he had trouble, Frankie made a great show of being in despair – shaking his head, and holding it in his hands. What we understood was that he liked Star Wars, Legos, Groot, snakes and Jackie Chan. The only English he spoke was when telling us how many Lego sets he had at home – “One, two, three….” all the way up to ten.

More Spanish practice came here – a shop featuring homemade preserves and sweets. There was lots to sample of the salsa, preserves, and pickled everything from yucca to some sort of egg to various chilis and beyond. The lady running it was very kind and took several minutes to talk with M.

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No lunch – we had a big, late breakfast – and then it was off to more hot springs, this one featuring a zipline over a river. The springs were not nearly as attractive as the Luna Jaguar springs back in Copan, even more so because the major pool was closed for repairs. Ah, well – those who ziplined enjoyed it!

 

Back here, rest, and a dinner at a place that was fine – run by several women with a couple of children zipping about – but we were confused by the massive bed of fried plaintains under the meat. We couldn’t imagine anyone eating all of that…

Tomorrow: the mountain. Yikes.

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