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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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Time certainly does fly, doesn’t it?

Not too long ago, our Honduras trip was in the future, and we were ready and excited to go …and then we were in the midst of it….and now…we’ve been back over a week.

 

How did that happen??

If you’re interested in all the posts I’ve written on the trip, go here. 

Advent is just about here – still time to order resources, especially if you go the digital route. Here’s a post on that. 

If you’re interested in ordering signed (or unsigned!) books as gifts from me…go here. 

Advent Resources

— 2 —

Thanksgiving was quiet here. College Kid is back and in and out. Daughter and son-in-law will be dropping by on Friday. College Kid returns for the final sprint on Sunday, then M and I head out to see new Grandson/Nephew for a couple of days (a longer return trip will be happening after Christmas, when College Kid can come, too).

Dinner was fine, but neither it nor the prep were Instagram-worthy. No turkey this year – I wanted to give College Kid food that he’s not getting and that he’s missing at school, so we did flank steak (this recipe – my standby).

 

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Lots of Christmas shopping lists out there highlighting small businesses – here’s a good one focused on Catholic shops

— 4 —

Latin is not useless – and there are reasons to study that go beyond vocab boosting:

The frail argument offered by the usefuls has, for decades, helped to prop up shaky pedagogical and rhetorical methods, only adding fuel to the fire of the uselesses. The structure won’t hold anymore. No, the study of Latin—demanding, challenging, exhausting, and, like a good hike through the mountains, restorative in and of itself—must not be treated like a cognitive boot camp. Next we’ll be going to the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum to sharpen our vision and to La Scala to improve our hearing. Divers and ballerinas have beautiful physiques, no doubt, but they’ve built those muscles so they can dive and dance, not to look at themselves in the mirror. When we study Latin, we must study it for one fundamental reason: because it is the language of a civilization; because the Western world was created on its back. Because inscribed in Latin are the secrets of our deepest cultural memory, secrets that demand to be read.

One other minor contention against the usefuls and the uselesses: Latin is beautiful. This fact undergirds all that I will be saying in these pages. Beauty is the face of freedom. What all totalitarian regimes have most strikingly in common is their ugliness, which spreads to every aspect and form of life, even to nature. And by the adjective “beautiful” I mean to say that Latin is various, malleable, versatile, easy and difficult, simple and complicated, regular and irregular, clear and obscure, with multiple registers and jargons, with thousands of rhetorical styles, with a voluble history. Why give ourselves practical reasons for encountering beauty? Why impede ourselves with false arguments about comprehension? Why submit ourselves to the cult of instant access, of destination over journey, of answers at the click of a button, of the shrinking attention span? Why surrender to the will-less, the superficial, the defeatists, the utilitarians? Why not see that behind the question “What’s the point of Latin?”—perhaps posed unassumingly—rests a violence and an arrogance, an assault on the world’s richness and the greatness of the human intellect?

I would like to put the reader on guard against one more noxious cliché. Even among specialists one hears the term “dead language” thrown around. This characterization arises from a misconception of how languages live and die, and a hazy distinction between the written and the oral. Oral language is linked immediately with the idea of being alive. But this is a bias. Latin, even if it’s no longer spoken, is present in an astounding number of manuscripts—and writing, particularly literary writing, is a far more durable means of communication than any oral practice. If, therefore, Latin lives on in the most complex form of writing we’ve yet imagined, namely literature, is it not absurd to proclaim it dead?

Latin is alive, and it’s more alive than what we tell our friend at the café or our sweetheart on the phone, in exchanges that leave no trace. Think of it on an even larger scale. In this very moment the entire planet is jabbering, amassing an immeasurable heap of words. And yet those words are already gone. Another heap has already formed, also destined to vanish in an instant.

It’s not enough that the speaker is living to say that the language he or she speaks is alive. A living language is one that endures and produces other languages, which is precisely the case with Latin. I’m not referring to the Romance languages, which were born from spoken Latin, or to the massive contribution of Latin vocabulary to the English lexicon. What I mean to say is that Latin qua literature has inspired the creation of other literature, of other written works, and, as such, distinguishes itself from other ancient languages: those that, even with a written record, are truly dead on the page, since they served in no way as a model for other languages.

 

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I thought this was good:

This also means, though, that if we are going to become missional parishes, and make forming disciples our main emphasis, the Sunday liturgy cannot be our sole focus. It can’t be our “main event.” It can be the place where disciples come to grow in holiness and be sent on mission, (Ite Missa est), but it can’t be the main way we attempt to accomplish our mission to evangelize. It is a way, in the Church’s theology, that we disciple and catechize those who have already made that intentional decision to follow Jesus, since the sacramental economy is not accidental to the Christian life, and, mainly through the homily, it can be a way that we do missional formation and evangelization, but it isn’t primarily how we as a Church have ever primarily, initially made disciples through the work of pre-evangelization and evangelization.

The Mass isn’t ever going to be very good at pre-evangelization, which is what most people in the earlier discipleship thresholds need. The Sunday service at your local evangelical church is always, always going to be able to put the “cookies on the bottom shelf” more effectively than the Mass is. While we both have Sunday worship experiences, the target audience of ours is very different and, I guess what I am wondering is…maybe that is okay?

To me, this is good news because, frankly, in refining the focus of the Mass, we still do not lose our missionary mandate as parishes, so we have to figure out how to do that elsewhere. Outside of some small tweaks with how we approach hospitality and welcoming, or the homily, etc., nothing about the way the liturgy is crafted is ordered with non-believers in mind. It is inherently for disciples, to move them deeper into the mysterium tremendum. It serves the mission in the sense that it sanctifies disciples to prepare them for mission but it’s purpose is not to speak to non-disciples in a way that impacts them and moves them through the thresholds. Even the best tweaks we can make to the Sunday experience will still not allow for the Mass to actually comprise the sum total of our evangelistic efforts, if we want to be missionally impactful in our communities.

If parishes DO want to be more missionally effective, they then have to get really serious about Thinking Outside of Sunday.

 

— 6 —

 

If you haven’t read Madeleine Kearns’ NRO cover piece on “The Tragedy of the Trans Child” – here it is. An excellent summary of much of the current situation. 

 

— 7 —

 

Good saints coming up next week – including St. Nicholas, so be sure you check out the Saint Nicholas Center in time!

I’ll be in Living Faith on Tuesday – so go here to check that out. 

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

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Coming to you from this morning’s office:

Sorry, not a coffee drinker, and a helpful young man in the convenience store dug behind all the regular bottles to find me a couple of Sabor Ligero – Coca-Cola Light, which is what you find outside the US instead of Diet Coke. You can also find Coke Zero, but I prefer the non-sweetness of this – which is not as perversely satisfying as the metallic mouth feel of Diet Coke, but hey. #GratitudeNovember or whatever.

Today’s the second day of Spanish school. I stayed at the school all morning yesterday, but there’s no need – so here I am back at our B & B, watching French tourists come and go.

All right – let’s do Monday:

Refresher: Kid #5, about to turn 15 next week has a long-standing interest in MesoAmerican civilizations, especially the Maya. It inspired past trips to the Yucatan and Guatemala. He is homeschooled, studied Spanish in 8th grade in school, has been doing his best on his own at home (mostly via this Great Courses and other random videos and reading, at the moment, El Hobbit.) But of course he needs more, and it seemed to be a good idea to combine the two interests – see a set of ruins he’s long wanted to visit and take a week of intensive Spanish study.

I had originally looked into Antigua, Guatemala, simply because I wanted to go there, but after thinking about it and considering options, it seemed as if the setting of Copan would give us more opportunities for after-school activities in the afternoons. There is a IMG_20191111_084415.jpglot to do around Antigua (not so much archaeological sites, but natural and cultural), but most of them seem to call for more than an afternoon. So, I was thinking, “We can do a week in Antigua, and then go to Copan”…I thought…why not just go to Copan for the week? As it turns out, there are a couple of well-regarded and reviewed Spanish language schools here, and so far – on day 2 – it seems to be working out well.

Monday morning, we rose, ate the typically well-prepared breakfast here at the B & B, then walked the six blocks or so to the school, located off the central square. It’s on the rooftop of a building housing a restaurant, a dental practice and some other businesses. He was introduced to a teacher, took a placement test, and then spent the next few hours learning how much he had to learn!

Humbling…

We then dropped our stuff off at the B & B, and ate lunch at a place recommended to us by our Copan guide – Cafe San Rafael – a lovely space centered on locally-made cheeses, as well as coffees (of course). It was more expensive than the typical local fare (full meal, for example, the previous night, for  both of us for 135 Lempira – about $5.50 USD), but worth it.

Then we took a mototaxi – what you’d know, more generally, as a “tuk-tuk” – they don’t Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 10.36.09 AMcall them that here – the prevalent mode of transportation in these parts – up  about 2 km to Macaw Mountain, a nature reserve originally started for birds that had served their usefulness to their owners as pets. You can read about it here. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of town – we’d seen the flock of Macaws that fly freely at the ruins (and will see them again today) – and these guys are mostly in cages because they are being bred and trained to fly (those hatched in captivity), but still, it was a pleasant afternoon.

Back to town in a mototaxi, a rest, then out to get tickets for a Saturday excursion (we were originally going to leave Saturday, but decided this day-long excursion would be worth it), then dinner here – it was good – I had chicken, son had beef, with typical accompaniments. Monday Night Football en espanol on television, a cat wandering about. I prefer the more street-food stuff – the dishes cooked under tents in nooks and crannies  throughout town – and we have and will have plenty of that – but it’s nice to have a break from that to eat an actual enclosed space, as well!

Then a stroll into the center where we saw the pernicious influence of the USA in…Christmas decorations! On November 11! Ah, well…then to this small archaeological museum to fill out our Copan knowledge. Across the way, the church doors were open, so we went over to peek in and saw a man speaking to a fairly large group of folks – some sort of educational or mission activity I suppose. Children were racing around outside and since we obviously do not look native to these parts, were shouting, “Hello!” to us – one little boy (and I mean little – he was probably no more than 6 or 7) – was especially determined, so we took a few minutes for him to practice his English  – of which he was very proud – with us –  he could count to twelve, he knew all the greetings, and could tell me, when I asked him – gato? CAT! perro? DOG!

Back to the room…homework time for one of us, and me, reading John Lloyd Stephens on Copan. I have at home, for some reason, just the second volume of his great work – I think I got it when we first started on this path, and it’s the second volume that deals with the Yucatan. What I hadn’t realized was that Copan was actually the first ruins he encountered, the first place that revealed to him that maybe everything we thought we knew about this part of the world is wrong….It’s absolutely fascinating reading. 

Off-topic – Older Son is working his way through Billy Wilder’s oeuvre. Check it out here. 

Later!

(Don’t forget Instagram!) 

 

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From 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict on St. Matthew:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

amy-welbornThis is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!'”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

St John Chrysostom makes an important point in this regard: he notes that only in the account of certain calls is the work of those concerned mentioned. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called while they are fishing, while Matthew, while he is collecting tithes.

These are unimportant jobs, Chrysostom comments, “because there is nothing more despicable than the tax collector, and nothing more common than fishing” (In Matth. Hom.: PL 57, 363). Jesus’ call, therefore, also reaches people of a low social class while they go about their ordinary work.

Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus’ call: “he rose and followed him”. The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew’s readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.

The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.

Remember that all of Benedict’s General Audience talks on the apostles, including this one, 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 from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols – the symbols of the evangelists:

EPSON MFP image

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Well, hey. If you only come here on Fridays, please stay a while and check out my previous posts. You might be interested in my account of the various Triduum liturgies I attended here in Birmingham or the page I’ve started collating much of the more substantive writing I’ve done on books.

The collage below (click on each image for a larger version) features images from my books related to recent and near future liturgical commemorations and highlights – saints, Scripture readings, seasons:

 

Divine Mercy (this coming Sunday), St. Mark (4/25), Mary Magdalene (Gospel accounts), Easter, last page of entry on St. Thomas’ encounter with Jesus (this coming Sunday), the Road to Emmaus, St. Catherine of Siena (Monday).

For more on these books, go here. 

I also have copies of all of them except Heroes here, as well as The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days (great Mother’s Day gift!) Go here to order if you’d like a personalized copy! 

 — 2 —

From the Catholic Herald: “What Happens when Celebrities Walk to Rome:”

 

They have their joking and bantering moments, but they grasp the deeper meaning of pilgrimage: a journey of discovery into the soul, as well as a physical challenge surrounded by inspiring scenery.

Each of the characters has a back story: most touching was Les Dennis’s feeling for the Ave Maria, because his mother had sung it as a young girl in Liverpool Cathedral (but she left the faith when a priest refused to baptise her child born out of wedlock – a very wrong clerical decision, surely). Dana didn’t say a lot, but when she spoke to illuminate a wayside shrine to Our Lady, she was so patently sincere in her faith that the whole group seemed moved.

The pilgrims have a sense of awe that they are following in the footsteps of so many who went before, on the same route, from Canterbury to Rome (although in this instance, they started off in Switzerland). They are also in the tradition of Chaucer, where adventure was part of the journey too.

And The Road to Rome has another striking dimension: in these Brexity days of adversarial debate and shouty political arguments, here’s a genuinely European experience which is about crossing frontiers in peace, discovery, spirituality and merry companionship.

— 3 —

Sohrab Ahmari on the Sri Lankan martyrs:

“He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” but “he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-9).

By that stark measure of discipleship, Sri Lanka’s slaughtered Christians have amply proved themselves. On Sunday, they filled their churches in Colombo to greet the Risen Jesus only to fall victim to Islamist savagery. The Christians of Sri Lanka lost their lives for the sake of the Lord – simply, beautifully, radically – and even now their wounds are glorified like his.

The question the Sri Lanka massacre, and others like it in places such as Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq, pose to Christians in the West is: what have we sacrificed for the faith lately? What have we suffered for the suffering God?

A friend of mine likes to say that “there are no Styrofoam crosses”. If you’re handed a real cross, you will recognise it by the heavy weight, by the pieces of wood that splinter off and prick your hands as you try to carry it.

–4–

From First Things, a fascinating exchange between French writers Michel Houellebecq and Geoffroy Lejeune. 

Geoffroy Lejeune: I have been going to Mass every Sunday for the last thirty years and have experienced almost all the liturgical styles. I frequented some charismatic meetings, notably with the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, and like you I saw people dancing, singing, speaking in tongues—in short, giving themselves over to all the effusions that we thought were reserved to Americans alone. I have to admit that a form of joy reigns over these assemblies that is sometimes a bit worrisome, because certain members seem possessed (their behavior during so-called “evenings of healing” leads one to believe that this mystery can only be experienced if one is in bad shape). And I have never felt farther from God than on these occasions: I was eighteen years old, I was neither sickly nor depressed, and I ended up believing that, because I was unable to sob uncontrollably or pour out my feelings into a microphone in front of people I didn’t know, I was simply not made for the faith.

There is a wound that ought to be treated by the Church: the wound of not knowing God, or of not knowing how to find him. In the 1960s, when the Beatles were making the world dance, the Church asked itself how to continue to announce the gospel. In 1962, it called the Second Vatican Council. Wags remarked that the cardinals arrived there by boat and left by plane: The institution had just entered modernity. In drawing closer to common mores, in speaking the language of its time, the Church believed it could maintain its tie with the faithful who were thrown off balance by the liberal and sexual revolutions.

The changes, notably, concerned liturgy: Latin was abandoned, ornamentation was simplified, and the priest turned toward the congregation. Parishes invested in synthesizers, and girls began to keep the beat in the choir. But the drama of style is that it goes out of style. Sixty years later, the synthesizers are still there, and the girls too, but they have grown old, and their voices quaver—even the priests can no longer put up with them. Only the dynamic parishes of the city centers escape this liturgical impoverishment, but even there on a Sunday one can hear a guitarist trying his hand at arpeggios, and recall this cruel reality: He’s no Mark Knopfler.

This race toward modernity is an obvious failure, and the churches are considerably emptied as a result. Before Vatican II, one-third of French people stated that they went to Mass every Sunday. In 2012, this number had fallen to six percent, the sign of a major cultural upheaval.

The phenomena are probably linked: The Church tried to conform itself to the world at a moment when the world was becoming uglier.

Well, that doesn’t actually represent an “exchange” – but you can click back and read it for yourself. I read Houellebecq’s Submission a couple of years ago and wrote briefly about it here. I’m looking forward to reading his new novel, which will be published in English in the fall.

–5 —

If you have followed the story of the Notre Dame fire, you have probably picked up on the fact that what we see of Notre Dame includes a great deal of restoration. Here’s an article detailing centuries of work, destruction, and rebuilding:

What many don’t realize is that the majority of what one sees when one looks at Notre-Dame’s west façade is a modern restoration. The French Revolution badly damaged the symbol of the hated monarchy, robbed the treasury, and threw many of the art and artifacts contained therein into the River Seine. The 28 statues of biblical kings on the west portal were beheaded, even as the flesh-and-blood Louis XVI had been; the majority of the other statues destroyed; and the building itself used as a warehouse.

While Napoleon Bonaparte restored the building to the church in 1802, Notre-Dame was still half-ruined. Victor Hugo’s bestselling 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris (better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) drew attention to the cathedral’s plight.

 

— 6 —

Alabama prisons are terrible. Our governor wants to “fix” the problem by building more. A Republican state senator argues for a different approach – from a Christian point of view.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of a key prison oversight committee, and a longtime advocate for justice-system reforms, describes himself as appalled by the report’s findings. And, from his bully pulpit at the Statehouse, he’s been doing some preaching about it.

In comments to AL.com and to NPR, Ward has wondered aloud how a proud Bible-believing state can countenance such shameful prisons in its midst.

“No one in this state should read this report and just roll their eyes,” Ward said to AL.com. “It’s a disgrace to our state. I know everyone says, ‘They are criminals’ and ‘Who cares?’ We profess to be the most Christian state in the country, but no Christian would allow their fellow man to be treated the way that they are said to be treated. That may not be the popular view, but it’s the truth.”

 

 

— 7 —

Son who writes on film (and writes fiction) has a bunch of recent posts:

Jean de Florette

The Lord of the Rings

Silent comedies. 

Harold Lloyd, I think, was closer in style to Buster Keaton than Charlie Chaplin. All three’s movies were primarily made up a series of gags, but Lloyd was more interested in stunts and laughs (like Keaton) than narrative cohesion (like Chaplin).

Still, his comedy remains distinct. Where Keaton was The Great Stone Face, Lloyd was extremely expressive. He also had very boyish looks as opposed to Keaton who kind of looks like he could have just been a stuntman. Lloyd was also probably as daring as Keaton was. It’s the combination of boyish innocence in his face along with the outlandishness of his stunts that makes Lloyd my personal favorite of these three.

 

 

 

 

 

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— 1 —

How about some good news? One of the very few good reasons to pay any attention to Instagram is the Humans of New York account. It never, ever fails to put life into perspective, sharing stories of strength and hope, as well as reminding us of the weight and burdens every soul we meet is carrying.

The past couple of weeks, the account has been posting stories from the Special Olympic World Games, being held in Abu Dhabi. Really, go check it out. 

 — 2 —

More good news:

What happens when you give a Franciscan $1 million?

He gives it away.

At least that’s what Brother Peter Tabichi, OFM, plans to do with the $1 million prize he won March 23, which came alongside the 2019 Global Teacher Prize, which he received at a conference Saturday in Dubai.

“This prize does not recognize me but recognizes this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything,”  Tabichi said.

The brother is a science teacher at a school in rural Kenya.

— 3 —

On building a “thinking Church:”

Aquinas has extremely pertinent thoughts on how to understand the unity of learning, he then adds, offering an answer to young people trying to join the dots of what they know.

“We’ve gone into places like Harvard and MIT, and what we’ve seen is that people who are absolutely expert at, say, natural sciences or law, are deeply tantalised by the idea of having a deeper understanding of reality,” he says, describing how students and academics take part in annual conferences on cam puses and in nearby monasteries, where they learn about the Catholic intellectual tradition and begin to engage with it, changing spiritually as they do.

All told, he says, the institute reaches about 15,000 people in person, with a further million people around the world listening to the conferences online.

“I think Aquinas is a resource that we can tap into today, that allows us to speak directly to our contemporaries and to our contemporary questions,” he says, noting that “questions that we have in our own sceptical era about whether there’s any fixed knowledge or truth than can be obtained universally are issues he deals with in a direct way that are extremely compelling and very profound”.

Fr Thomas was in Dublin last month to speak at St Saviour’s Priory on the need for Catholic intellectuals and in UCD on the theme of when religious belief is irrational, and it’s striking that he believes the Scriptures are themselves very clear on religious irrationality.

“On the harmony of faith and reason and the question of irrational belief, the most severe critiques of religious irrationality are in the Bible itself, in that you’ll find them in the Old Testament prophets, who were the most severe critics of superstitious or irrational religion or morally disoriented religious practice,” he says. Noting how excoriating the prophets could be of superstition, idolatry, human sacrifice, hypocrites and those who fabricate God on their own terms, he says “they’re very severe on almost every front and they’re equal opportunity offenders – they go after everyone”.

–4–

A pastor reflects on new life in his parish:

The other day a priest who had served 10 years ago at Star of the Sea remarked on the parish’s “amazing revival”. Mass attendance has been growing annually at 12 per cent, and income has more than doubled. We’ve planted flowers and shrubs, installed new lighting, restored the marble sanctuary and flung the doors wide open to the city. The parish school begins an Integrated Classical Curriculum (consisting of grammar, logic and rhetoric) this autumn, and parishioners are caring for the homeless and advocating for the elderly and unborn.

Mother Teresa famously said, however, that “we are called not to success but to fidelity”. Success and fidelity are essentially different categories, motivated as they are by different ends. While not demanding success, the Lord does expect the fruit of fidelity. His first command, to “be fruitful”, has never been abrogated, and “every branch that does not bear fruit will be cut off” (John 15:2). Christ promises 30, 60 and a hundredfold fruit to those who faithfully sow his Word. There is a way of measuring the revival of a parish, but it is not “success”. It is fruitfulness.

–5 —

Eve Tushnet on some reading on medieval Eucharistic piety:

Alongside the Crucifixion, the Eucharist–and specifically the Real Presence, the literal transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ–was one of the aspects of Catholicism which first drew me to the faith. I could tell you that it was because the Catholic doctrine seemed most responsive to the Gospels; I wrote a paper, back when I was the only atheist in my History of Christian Doctrine section, arguing that Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, when you consider His insistence in the face of horrified disbelief in John 6:52 – 57, wasn’t simply a metaphor like “I am the vine.” But I have to admit that I loved (and love!) the doctrine of the Real Presence largely because it’s visceral, bizarre, bloody-minded. It seems like the kind of overturning, catastrophic, violent thing the God of Exodus and Good Friday would do–the kind of awful thing our world and our actions would require of Love. It is hardcore.

When I was sick with stress and unsure if I’d really go through with baptism and confirmation, Eucharistic Adoration steadied me and got me through it. I’ve found Adoration deeply consoling, especially because you don’t have to worry about whether you’re able to receive Communion. Nothing’s required of you except your presence. There’s nothing you have to pray or do–just be there. The Mass is the corporate prayer of the Church but there are times when you want an intimacy, a bridal chamber for yourself and Christ, without dealing with your neighbor or your place in the community. Venturing into extreme anecdata, I’ve written a bit about the atttraction the Eucharist holds for those on the margins of the Church due to poverty or stigmatized sexuality.

So I picked up Miri Rubin’s study Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture with great interest this Lent. I’ve gnawed through this tome 20pp at a time and found a great deal to love in it, despite some disagreements with her framing of the issues. Rubin delves deep into all kinds of records and evidence–not only theology and hagiography but wills, church financial records, the annotations and marginal illustrations in prayerbooks; parody, superstition, miracle tales, and more. I loved her willingness to seek out everybody’s responses to the Eucharist, not just the “official” ones. I loved her attention to the ways that people use even our most meaningful cultural touchstones–no, actually, especially our most meaningful cultural touchstones–for a variety of all-too-human purposes, economic and political and emotional. One of Rubin’s theses is that the Eucharist grew steadily in cultural presence, and Eucharistic piety rose to a fever pitch, throughout the second half of the Middle Ages–but that this piety called forth responses, criticisms, heresies. Every doctrine gives people a vocabulary with which to articulate their resistance to it, or to the people who promote it.

— 6 —

Writing thing:

“Christ-Haunted George Saunders” from First Things:

Unwittingly, Saunders offers up a crucial question that Catholic art—in implicit imitation of the practice of penance—would do well to evoke: “This hurts, yes . . . but what is hurt?” In the gospel story, the cross darkens the disciples with these same grotesque questions; through the bloody wounds of Christ, the queries continue to pierce, pulsing past even the divine comedy of the resurrection.

Despite his pluralistic syncretism, then, Saunders’s life and works remain Christ-haunted. Which other living writer of such stature speaks reverently of the Latin Mass and the traditional Catholic practice of “offering it up”? As Saunders demonstrates, it is worth watching out for writers of repute who, even if they might not be able to recite the Nicene Creed in good conscience, are marked by their inherited, cultural Catholicity.

And Movie/Writer Son on:

Au Revoir des Enfants 

The priests and teachers of the school have taken in three Jewish boys in an effort to hide them from the authorities. Julien has trouble connecting with people easily partially because he’s so terrified that an errant word on his part, or on the part of another boy, could give away not only himself but the two others.

There’s a great moment in the latter half of the movie that highlights the difference in how Julien and Jean approach the world. All of the boys in the school have been sent out as two separate team to find a treasure. Julien gets separated from his team but finds the treasure on his own. Alone with night approaching, he looks around and finds Jean nearby.

Julien Quentin: I found the treasure. All by myself.
Jean Bonnett: Are there wolves in these woods?

Julien’s mind is on play. Jean’s is on the danger that surrounds him at all times.

— 7 —

Laetare Sunday is coming:

From Pope Benedict XVI in 2007:

Only a few more remarks: the Gospel helps us understand who God truly is. He is the Merciful Father who in Jesus loves us beyond all measure.

The errors we commit, even if they are serious, do not corrode the fidelity of his love. In the Sacrament of Confession we can always start out afresh in life. He welcomes us, he restores to us our dignity as his children.

Let us therefore rediscover this sacrament of forgiveness that makes joy well up in a heart reborn to true life.

Furthermore, this parable helps us to understand who the human being is: he is not a “monad”, an isolated being who lives only for himself and must have life for himself alone.

On the contrary, we live with others, we were created together with others and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life.

The human being is a creature in whom God has impressed his own image, a creature who is attracted to the horizon of his Grace, but he is also a frail creature exposed to evil but also capable of good. And lastly, the human being is a free person.

We must understand what freedom is and what is only the appearance of freedom.

Freedom, we can say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil and thus also to lose freedom and our dignity.

Dear friends, we are in the Season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. In this Season of Lent, the Church helps us to make this interior journey and invites us to conversion, which always, even before being an important effort to change our behaviour, is an opportunity to decide to get up and set out again, to abandon sin and to choose to return to God.

Let us – this is the imperative of Lent – make this journey of inner liberation together.

Every time, such as today, that we participate in the Eucharist, the source and school of love, we become capable of living this love, of proclaiming it and witnessing to it with our life.

Nevertheless, we need to decide to walk towards Jesus as the Prodigal Son did, returning inwardly and outwardly to his father.

At the same time, we must abandon the selfish attitude of the older son who was sure of himself, quick to condemn others and closed in his heart to understanding, acceptance and forgiveness of his brother, and who forgot that he too was in need of forgiveness.

And you know this:

EPSON MFP imageEPSON MFP image

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More Lent from smart people here. 

I wasn’t planning to do another post on this theme, but then I ran across these two homilies of Basil the Great, which are not widely available in English. So I thought I’d toss them out there.

This translation is one made by one Kent Berghuis for his doctoral dissertation Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach. The entire dissertation is available online here. The sermons themselves are in an appendix here.  Berghuis uses some colloquial speech in the translation, as well as contractions – which you usually don’t find in writings of this sort. But as I read it, it did give me a better sense of the homily as a spoken piece, rather than simply ancient writing.

While getting filled up does a favor for the stomach, fasting returns  benefits to the soul. Be encouraged, because the doctor has given you a powerful remedy for sin. Strong, powerful medicines can get rid of annoying worms that are living in the bowels of children. Fasting is like that, as it cuts down to the depths, venturing into the soul to kill sin. It is truly fitting to call it by this honorable name of medicine.

2. “Anoint your head, and wash your face.”The word calls to you in a mystery. What is anointed is christened; what is washed is cleansed. Transfer this divine law to your inner life. Thoroughly wash the soul of sins. Anoint your head with a holy oil, so that you may be a partaker of Christ, and then go forth to the fast.

“Don’t darken your face like the hypocrites.”A face is darkened when the inner disposition is feigned, arranged to obscure it to the outside, like a curtain conceals what is false.

An actor in the theater puts on the face of another. Often one who is a slave puts on the face of a master, and a subject puts on royalty.  This also happens in life. Just as in the production cast of one’s own life many act on the stage. Some things are borne in the heart, but others are shown to men for the sake of appearances. Therefore don’t darken your face. Whatever kind it is, let it show.

Don’t disfigure yourself toward gloominess, or be chasing after the glory of appearing temperate. Not even almsgiving  is of any profit when it is trumpeted, and neither is fasting that is done for publicity of any value. Ostentatious things don’t bear fruit that lasts through the coming ages, but return back in the praises of men.

So run to greet the cheerful gift of the fast. Fasting is an ancient gift, but it is not worn out and antiquated. Rather, it is continually made new, and still is coming into bloom.

I’ll bet you’ve never thought of this as one of the benefits of fasting: it gives everyone a break! Actually – there’s some, er, food for thought. Because for …some of us, planning Lenten meals can be an occasion of stress, can’t it? So why not listen to Basil here? While his rationale might be different than yours, since you probably don’t have servants and are not personally slaughtering animals, perhaps there’s still a point of wisdom to take away – and that wisdom has to do with simplicity.

Who makes his own house decline by fasting?  Count the domestic benefits by considering the following things. No one has been deserted by those in the house on account of fasting.There’s no crying over the death of an animal, certainly no blood. Certainly nothing is missed by not bringing an unmerciful stomach out against the creatures.

The knives of the cooks have stopped; the table is full enough with things growing naturally. The Sabbath was given to the Jews, so that “you will rest,” it says, “your animal and your child.” Fasting should become a rest for the household servants who slave away continually, all year long.

Give rest to your cook, give freedom to the table keeper, stay the hand of the cupbearer. For once put an end to all those manufactured meals! Let the house be still for once from the myriad disturbances, and from the smoke, and from the odor of burning fat, and from the running around up and down, and from serving the stomach as if it were an unmerciful mistress!

Even those who exact tribute sometimes give a little liberty to their subjects. The stomach should also give a vacation to the mouth! It should make a truce, a peace offering with us for five days. That stomach never stops demanding, and what it takes in today is forgotten tomorrow. Whenever it is filled, it philosophizes about abstinence; whenever it is emptied, it forgets those opinions.

 8. Fasting doesn’t know the nature of usury. The one who fasts doesn’t smell of interest tables The interest rates of fasting don’t choke an orphan child’s inheritance, like snakes curled around a neck. Quite otherwise, fasting is an occasion for gladness.

As thirst makes the water sweet, and coming to the table hungry makes what’s on it seem pleasant, so also fasting heightens the enjoyment of foods. For once fasting has entered deep into your being, and the continuous delight of it has broken through, it will give you a desire that makes you feel like a traveler who wants to come home for fellowship again. Therefore, if you would like to find yourself prepared to enjoy the pleasures of the table, receive renewal from fasting.

 

 

Who has received anything of the fellowship of the spiritual gifts by abundant food and continual luxury? Moses, when receiving the law a second time, needed to fast a second time, too.If the animals hadn’t fasted together with the Ninevites, they wouldn’t have escaped the threatened destruction.

Whose bodies fell in the desert? Wasn’t it those who desired to eat flesh? While those same people were satisfied with manna and water from the rock, they were defeating Egyptians, they were traveling through the sea, and “sickness could not be found in their tribes.” But when they remembered the pots of meat, they also turned back in their lusts to Egypt, and they did not see the Promised Land. Don’t you fear this example? Don’t you shudder at gluttony, lest you be shut out from the good things you are hoping for?

 

He speaks a lot about drinking…in colorful terms. Also note that the Lenten fast at this time in this place was apparently five days – perhaps the week or so before Holy Thursday?

 

The athlete practices before the contest. The one who fasts is practicing self-control ahead of time. Don’t approach these five days like you are coming to rescue them as if they need you, or like somebody who is trying to get around the intent of the law, by just laying aside intoxication.  If you do that, you are suffering in vain. You are mistreating the body, but not relieving its need.

This safe where you keep your valuables isn’t secure; there are holes in the bottom of your wine-bottles. The wine at least leaks out, and runs down its own path; but sin remains inside.

A servant runs away from a master who beats him. So you keep staying with wine, even though it beats your head every day? The best measure of the use of wine is whether the body needs it. But if you happen to go outside of the bounds, tomorrow you will feel overloaded, gaping, dizzy, smelling rotten from the wine. To you, everything will be spinning around; everything will seem to be shaking. Drunkenness brings a sleep that’s a brother of death, but even being awake seems like being in a dream.

Basil’s Second Homily on Fasting is at the same site, but I’ll also link to this site – which gives a version that’s a little easier to read. 

Basil begins this homily by likening his task to that of a general rousing his troops for battle. He cites all the benefits of fasting, particular in contrast to greed and licentiousness. Over and over, in different ways he points out that those who indulge themselves are weighed down, slowed down and weakened. He also addresses that desire we have to feast before the fast, working mightily to discourage overindulgence, particularly drunkenness.

 If you were to come to fasting drunk, what benefit is it for you?  Indeed if drunkenness excludes you from the kingdom, how can fasting still be useful for you?  Don’t you realize that experts in horse training, when the day of the race is near, use hunger to prime their racehorses?  In contrast you intentionally stuff yourself through self-indulgence, to such an extent that in your gluttony you eclipse even irrational animals.  A heavy stomach is unconducive not only to running but also to sleeping.  Oppressed by an abundance of food, it refuses to keep still and is obliged to toss and turn endlessly.

And finally, he describes various groups and categories of people and points out how each of them can approach fasting in the most fruitful way. It’s a stem-winder of a sermon! No one’s off the hook!

Are you rich?  Do not mock fasting, deeming it unworthy to welcome as your table companion.  Do not expel it from your house as a dishonorable thing eclipsed by pleasure.  Never denounce yourself to the one who has legislated fasting and thereby merit condemnation to bitter penury caused either by bodily sickness or by some other gloomy condition.  Let not the pauper think of fasting as a joke, seeing that for a long time now he has had it as the companion of his home and table.  But as for women, just as breathing is proper and natural for them, so too is fasting.  And children, like flourishing plants, are irrigated with the water of fasting.  As for seniors, their long familiarity with fasting makes a difficult task easy.  For those in training know that difficult tasks done for a long time out of habit become quite painless. As for travelers, fasting is an expedient companion.  For just as self-indulgence necessarily weighs them down because they carry around what they have gorged themselves with, so too fasting renders them swift and unencumbered.  Furthermore, when an army is summoned abroad, the provisions the soldiers take are for necessities, not for self-indulgence.  Seeing that we are marching out for war against invisible enemies, pursuing victory over them so as to hasten to the homeland above, will it not be much more appropriate for us to be content with necessities as if we were among those living the regimented life of a military camp?

 

Take fasting, O you paupers, as the companion of your home and table; O you servants, as rest from the continual labors of your servitude; O you rich, as the remedy that heals the damage caused by your indulgence and in turn makes what you usually despise more delightful; O you infirm, as the mother of health; O you healthy, as the guardian of your health.  Ask the physicians, and they will tell you that the most perilous state of all is perfect health.  Accordingly experts prescribe going without food to eliminate excessive eating lest the burden of corpulence destroy the body’s strength.  For by prescribing not eating food to eliminate intemperance, they foster a kind of receptivity, re-education, and fresh start for the redevelopment of the nutritive faculty.  Hence one finds the benefit of fasting in every pursuit and in every bodily state, and it is equally suitable for everything: homes, fora, nights, days, cities, deserts.  Therefore, since in so many situations fasting graces us with something that is good in itself, let us undertake it cheerfully, as the Lord said, not looking gloomy like the hypocrites but exhibiting cheerfulness of soul without pretense.

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