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Also today.

First, an interview with Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., who has spent a great deal of his recent life translating Bellarmine into English:

Asked how he became interested in translating St. Robert Bellarmine, Fr. Baker mused that, “I had just finished translating the Sacrae Theologiae Summa [an eight-volume series on dogmatic theology, also available from Keep The Faith publications]—which is based mainly on St. Thomas Aquinas, but also brings in many of the other Doctors, too—and, since I was now back at Bellarmine Prep, I thought I’d look into the school’s namesake and discovered there was much of Bellarmine’s work that had not yet been translated into English.”

Hence the 1000-page Controversies. Fr. Baker says, “The Controversies took a full year to translate.” Contained in a single (if enormous) volume, part one deals with the Bible, part two with Christology, and the third part is concentrated on the primacy of St. Peter and the papacy.

“One of Bellarmine’s confreres in the College of Cardinals called him ‘The most learned churchman since St. Augustine’— and I’d agree with that,” Fr. Baker said. “His knowledge of Scripture and Theology—he seemed to know the entire Bible by heart, plus the teachings not only of nearly every pope, but of many bishops, too! It’s just astonishing. Bellarmine was truly a polymath.”

From a few years ago, a review essay of a couple of books on Bellarmine’s political thought:

Despite his rehabilitation in the last quarter of the 19th century, Bellarmine’s intellectual legacy remains mixed. In one respect, at least, he was a product of his time because his vision of a res publica Christiana depended on a united Christendom that could never be restored. Yet, what is easy to see, in hindsight, was not so clear in the early 17th century. On the other hand, his defiance of royal absolutism, in defense of rule of law and religious truth, is far from outdated. Indeed, the very modern assertion of state power only justified further the papal need to secure its political independence by maintaining its temporal possessions. Yet, the Papal States could not secure this independence because the pope depended on other nations for their defense. This dilemma was resolved satisfactorily when the Italian state formally recognized the Vatican as a sovereign entity in 1929. The concordat, negotiated by Pius XI, secured for the papacy, the freedom to exercise its spiritual duties. Furthermore, Bellarmine’s effort to limit spiritual and political power to their proper jurisdiction, was a continuation of, rather than a departure from, the long Scholastic tradition that formed the basis of Jesuit political ideas. As Harro Höpfl observed in Jesuit Political Thought, “In Jesuit political theory…legitimate government was limited government.” Given the modern state’s insatiable hunger for power, Bellarmine’s political philosophy has not lost its relevance.

From Word on Fire:

In his time as archbishop he dedicated himself to bringing his people into closer union with God by instructing them in the faith. One biographer reports hat, at a time when sermons were common in Capua only during Advent and Lent, St. Robert dutifully preached every Sunday and feast day in Capua and went to great trouble to get to the remote portions of his diocese during the week in order to catechize his congregation. Though he was recalled to Rome for service to the universal Church after only a short period of ministry in Capua, he never ceased to be mindful of the education of the faithful.

From B16, back in 2011:

His preaching and his catechesis have that same character of essentiality which he had learned from his Ignatian education, entirely directed to concentrating the soul’s energies on the Lord Jesus intensely known, loved and imitated. In the writings of this man of governance one is clearly aware, despite the reserve behind which he conceals his sentiments, of the primacy he gives to Christ’s teaching.

St Bellarmine thus offers a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the word of God, that is satisfied in contemplating his grandeur, that does not withdraw into self but is pleased to abandon itself to God.

RobertBellarmine

A hallmark of Bellarmine’s spirituality is his vivid personal perception of God’s immense goodness. This is why our Saint truly felt he wasa beloved son of God. It was a source of great joy to him to pause in recollection, with serenity and simplicity, in prayer and in contemplation of God.

In his book De ascensione mentis in Deum — Elevation of the mind to God — composed in accordance with the plan of theItinerarium [Journey of the mind into God] of St Bonaventure, he exclaims: “O soul, your example is God, infinite beauty, light without shadow, splendour that exceeds that of the moon and the sun. He raised his eyes to God in whom is found the archetypes of all things, and of whom, as from a source of infinite fertility, derives this almost infinite variety of things. For this reason you must conclude: whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything”.

In this text an echo of the famous contemplatio ad amorem obtineundum — contemplation in order to obtain love — of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola can be heard. Bellarmine, who lived in the lavish and often unhealthy society of the end of late 16th and early 17th centuries, drew from this contemplation practical applications and applied them to the situation of the Church of his time with a lively pastoral inspiration.

In his book De arte bene moriendi — the art of dying a good death — for example, he points out as a reliable norm for a good life and also for a good death regular and serious meditation that should account to God for one’s actions and one’s way of life, and seek not to accumulate riches on this earth but rather to live simply and charitably in such a way as to lay up treasure in Heaven.

In his book De gemitu columbae — the lament of the dove — in which the dove represents the Church, is a forceful appeal to all the clergy and faithful to undertake a personal and concrete reform of their own life in accordance with the teachings of Scripture and of the saints, among whom he mentions in particular St Gregory Nazianzus, St John Crysostom, St Jerome and St Augustine, as well as the great founders of religious orders, such as St Benedict, St Dominic and St Francis.

Bellarmine teaches with great clarity and with the example of his own life that there can be no true reform of the Church unless there is first our own personal reform and the conversion of our own heart.

Bellarmine found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius recommendations for communicating the profound beauty of the mysteries of faith, even to the simplest of people. He wrote: “If you have wisdom, may you understand that you have been created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation. This is your goal, this is the centre of your soul, this the treasure of your heart. Therefore consider as truly good for you what leads you to your goal, and truly evil what causes you to miss it. The wise person must not seek felicitous or adverse events, wealth or poverty, health or sickness, honours or offences, life or death. They are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and to your eternal happiness, they are evil and to be avoided if they hinder it” (De ascensione mentis in Deum, grad. 1).

These are obviously not words that have gone out of fashion but words on which we should meditate at length today, to direct our journey on this earth. They remind us that the aim of our life is the Lord, God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom he continues to call us and to promise us communion with him. They remind us of the importance of trusting in the Lord, of expending ourselves in a life faithful to the Gospel, of accepting and illuminating every circumstance and every action of our life with faith and with prayer, ever reaching for union with him. Many thanks.

And then looking back (or forward?) to Lent…one of my traditional posts: What Robert Bellarmine wants you to know about fasting:

"amy welborn"

Also today, Hildegard of Bingen, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. 

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

Who else is in “Saints are People Who Create?” – Fra Angelico, Miguel Pro & St. John of the Cross.

At the New Liturgical Movement, there’s a post about her music:

Hildegard wanted her nuns to become holy through a rich liturgical life, and so she composed at least seventy hymns (both the music and the lyrics, which is rare) for her convent, making her one of the best and most prolific composers of the Middle Ages.

One musical accomplishment in particular stands out in her corpus: the theatrical performance Ordo Virtutum. The play is groundbreaking. It is the world’s first morality play, wherein the Soul and Virtues are personified as characters on the stage. It consists of 87 different songs, all of which draw from Gregorian chant, but which depart strikingly from the centonate chant of the Roman Graduals and Tracts….

…Although the play has a simple, even simplistic, plot, it evinces profound insight into the moral psychology of a soul that turns away from God. And Hildegard’s depictions of the virtues are as counterintuitive as they are sagacious, for she characterizes the virtues as God must see them, not as sinful humans do. The lowly virtue of Humility, for example, is the Queen of the virtues, Contempt-for-the-World has a radiant zest for life, and Chastity, far from being a prude, burns to enter the King’s embrace. Ordo Virtutum is an excellent example of the artistic impact of the biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption, and likewise, of the sacred liturgy as a schooling of desire and imagination.

Three substantive talks from B16 on Hildegard.  First, two in his series of General Audiences focused on great figures of the Church:

9/1/2010:

….The Pope authorized the mystic to write down her visions and to speak in public. From that moment Hildegard’s spiritual prestige continued to grow so that her contemporaries called her the “Teutonic prophetess”. This, dear friends, is the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, the source of every charism: the person endowed with supernatural gifts never boasts of them, never flaunts them and, above all, shows complete obedience to the ecclesial authority. Every gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit, is in fact intended for the edification of the Church and the Church, through her Pastors, recognizes its authenticity.

I shall speak again next Wednesday about this great woman, this “prophetess” who also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ. Thus St Hildegard speaks to us; we shall speak of her again next Wednesday. Thank you for your attention.

And, as promised….9/8/2010:

Hildegard’s mystical visions have a rich theological content. They refer to the principal events of salvation history, and use a language for the most part poetic and symbolic. For example, in her best known work entitled Scivias, that is, “You know the ways” she sums up in 35 visions the events of the history of salvation from the creation of the world to the end of time. With the characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity, Hildegard develops at the very heart of her work the theme of the mysterious marriage between God and humanity that is brought about in the Incarnation. On the tree of the Cross take place the nuptials of the Son of God with the Church, his Bride, filled with grace and the ability to give new children to God, in the love of the Holy Spirit (cf. Visio tertia: PL 197, 453c).

Finallly, from his proclamation of her as a Doctor of the Church, in 2012:

The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.

For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood: hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelization.

And if you are in a listening mood, this BBC radio edition of In Our Time focusing on Hildegard is worth your time.

TGIT

Well, not really, because this is all just not anything to be grateful for.

We’ve not done a transpost in a while – what with travel and all – so let’s catch up. Sort of. The themes today are education, children, medicalization of normal human variation, and the farce of the “non-binary.”

First, the Australian bishops have released gender-related guidance for schools, and it’s…not bad. Really. Considering the climate down there (and everywhere) it’s actually pretty, pretty good. I can think of some nits to pick, and of course I were Queen of Australian Catholics, I’d go hotter and burn things, but that’s why I don’t work in church bureaucracies. As the Pillar has reported a couple of times, the USCCB supposedly has a statement on the issue in some stage of discussion, but has not released it. One might be tempted to get huffy about that fact, but I’m not crying about it. I think anything they would have put out in the past few years would have been terrible. I’m willing to wait as the truth about the Trans Train continues to get out there. And maybe someone asks me to contribute.

Anyway, here’s the Australian document (pdf)

Most of the following links are from a Substack called Reality’s Last Stand:

Related to schools:

From Reality’s Last Stand, a primer

Still, some people are not yet convinced that gender identity instruction is a serious problem. Gender identity lessons are marketed as efforts to reduce bullying and promote inclusion, which are laudable goals that appeal to most people. Gender activists also misleadingly package their ideas as an extension of the popular campaign for gay and lesbian acceptance.

But many people remain confused about what “gender ideology” actually says, whether it is being taught in schools, and even whether it really exists. One article in Quartz claimed that the whole idea of gender ideology is a “conspiracy theory” invented by conservatives, and even attempted to spuriously tie objections to gender ideology to opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage (both of which I personally support).

If you’ve been confused and on the sidelines of the gender education debate, this article is for you. I want to show you exactly what’s being taught to your children, so that you can decide for yourself whether you like it. We’ll examine several typical examples of gender identity instruction, and think through their implications.

While I’ve based these examples on material I’ve encountered here in New Zealand, this type of material is being promoted across the Western world.

Related to children, about the absurdity of saying that children – especially young children – can express or self-identify a particular “gender:”

With no evidence, she is connecting the baby’s action to a gendered motive. That’s her premise. You could put a onesie on a baby monkey, and it might unsnap the snap-ups. Would there be a motive in that case, or would the monkey be randomly playing with whatever his paws could reach? Her premise is crazy, right? So when she made these statements, I waited for audience laughter. But it was not forthcoming. When the camera panned the room, I saw thoughtful faces, nodding with pursed lips.

These were educated people. What had happened to their brains?

A baby is not aware until the age of seven months that he exists as a separate entity apart from his mother. And yet we are expected to believe that a mere five months later he not only knows he is separate, but he also knows he has something called a “gender” that is related to, but vastly different from, the little knobbly thing between his legs. Innately, we are to believe, the child realizes he should not have this funny little protuberance, but rather he should have nothing there. More than that, he also knows at the age of 12 months—according to the “onesie” snapper example—that the “gender” he belongs to wants to wear a garment that “flows.”

Of course, knowing this would also mean knowing that he lives in North America, and not, for example, in Saudi Arabia, where it is common for males to wear a flowing garment called a thawb. Or Pakistan, where both males and females wear the same pants-and-top combo called the Shalmar Kameeez.

So really, what a clever little tyke that was featured on that Barbara Walters special! And how lucky he is to be born in the age of snap-close onesies, instead of when I was born and there were only buttons that no infant could undo. He knows what his sex is, he knows it is different from his gender, he knows he would prefer to look like the opposite sex (whatever that is), even though at this stage of life only his genitals distinguish him from the opposite sex, and he has likely never seen any genitals but his own (and he hasn’t exactly “seen” them either). And of course he also knows that sartorial gender customs in his culture differ from cultures elsewhere. All this long before he knows what a toilet is for. And all this information he conveyed to his parents by unsnapping his onesie.

James Esses with a Twitter thread on the recently released “standards of care” put out by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

Safeguarding of children is no more. Age limits for puberty blockers, hormones or surgery are removed, as long as a child has reached ‘Tanner Stage 2’ (which can be as young as 9). There’s no requirement for a child to have taken hormones prior to surgery “if not desired”.

Parents are alienated. Healthcare professionals are advised to “challenge” parents unsupportive of medical transition. They are recommended to prescribe hormone treatment for children without parental involvement, if such involvement would be “harmful or unnecessary”.

Etc., etc.

Evolutionary biologist Colin Wright:

Why are we pretending we don’t know why kids think they’re trans?

Hospitals aren’t even hiding the fact that they are medicalizing gender nonconformity and gender variance. The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University explicitly states on their Pediatric Transgender Clinic website that their Division of Endocrinology “provides care to gender variant and transgender children and adolescents,” and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia similarly states that they offer “medical support for gender variant, gender expansive, and transgender children and youth…” The Gender Affirming Health Program at UCSF describes the “hormonal and surgical transition” considerations for “people who do not live within the binary gender narrative,” which they say includes people who identify as “genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender nonbinary.” And the Children’s Hospital of Chicago’s “Gender Development Program” says their patients include “gender expansive or gender non-conforming children,” which they define as “children and adolescents who exhibit behavior that is not typical of their assigned birth sex.”

This is insane.

If being transgender were merely a statement about one’s gender nonconformity, none of this would be particularly worrying. But that is far from the case. In reality, when a child becomes convinced they’re transgender, this usually prompts a visit to a gender clinic where they will see a “gender-affirming” therapist who will not question their cross-sex identity. Depending on the child’s age, the therapist may then prescribe puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgeries to “fix” this perceived misalignment between the child’s “gender identity” (i.e. the social roles and stereotypes they identify with) and their sex-related physical features.

From a purely ideological perspective, this redefinition of the terms boy, girl, man, and woman according to sex-related stereotypes and social roles by our institutions is regressive in the extreme, as it repudiates decades of work by women’s rights activists who fought assiduously to decouple notions of womanhood and manhood from rigid stereotypes and social roles.

But from the perspective of material impact, this overt medicalization of gender nonconformity is nothing short of a medical scandal of truly epic proportions.

James Esses on non-binariness – which honestly ticks me off almost more than straightforward “trans” does.

This is where the adults must re-enter the room. We are dealing with an ideology that engages in smoke and mirrors and refuses to be pinned down to even the most basic of definition. However, this is more than just language. This has real-world implications for the lives of our children and women alike.

More than anything, it sells us myth unfounded in reality. Because the truth of it is that, in many ways, we are all ‘non-binary’. Each and every one of us is made up of a unique mixture of masculine and feminine traits and characteristics. Nobody is 100% masculine or 100% feminine. That is part of the brilliance of human existence.

However, the message we must send to our children is that we do not need a label. We do not need irreversible medication. We do not need surgery. We are fine just the way we are.

And – related – I’ll just finish off by alerting you to the big news that SNL has added a “non-binary” cast member for this season. Here you go:

Okay, sure, yeah, whatever.

But Marlene did it better:

Of course I have much more substantive thoughts, but, yes, another family-related trip (a short one), another offspring birthday calls, so here I go.

But I’ll just end with two points:

  • The school thing is crucial. If you have the ability to be engaged with schools – public or private – do so. Protect kids from this damaging ideology.
  • The fundamental issue, it seems to me, is not even about sex. It’s about identity, belonging, and purpose, and how any sense of that apart from appearance and sexual presentation has been lost. You want to preach on this issue? Start with that. You are created on purpose. You are loved beyond measure. You’re here for a reason. Do you feel at sea? Ill at ease in this world? Not quite at home in your body?

Welcome to the human race, fallen and dysphoric, on the journey to wholeness, if we say “yes” to the Creator who knows what He’s doing, and the Redeemer who does, too.

The Religious Revolution

I noticed this book on a library bookshelf a few weeks ago, and of course I grabbed it, since it seems to be right up my alley, one more piece in the puzzle I’m constantly trying to put together about the impact of culture and society on religious belief – specifically Catholic belief, of course.

So I read it. Marked lots of pages with those sticky tabs. Skimmed through it again, took notes.

Verdict: Interesting. Challenging. A little provocative.

But also lacking the explanatory power that the title suggests, primarily because, despite the book’s wild and expansive collection of characters, the context is too narrow in every sense.

Here’s Green’s thesis:

In short, the religious sensibility and hunger is constituent to human life. This modern age is characterized by a rejection of institutional religion, the elevation of human achievement, rapidly developing technology, the expansion of the secular state and the general ability for human beings to wield more efficient control over nature and each other. If religion has been banished from public life and discourse, that hunger will still find a way to express itself, and so, Green suggests, it did – through various philosophical systems, assumptions about nature and human life and the structure and purpose of institutions – as well as the explosive popularity of Spiritualism during this period.

This is not a surprising or unique thesis. Green’s approach is unique, though, for it is not exactly linear. It’s an approach that is both intriguing and frustrating – especially if you would like some more definitive lines drawn for you by an author.

So each chapter, while organized according to a theme or concept, tosses together various figures whose relationship to the theme and to each other is sometimes clear, sometimes not. I admit that I struggled a bit at times, and also felt a little padding and reaching going on, especially in the second half of the book.

Appropriately enough, for a book focused on a large-scale historical irony (oh, you said you were rejecting religion and authoritarianism? Really?) Green delights in small-scale irony, which makes for entertaining and somewhat schadenfreude-filled reading, depending, I suppose, on your point of view:

In Shaw’s world, vivisection and inoculation were scientific barbarisms, but reorganizing society by eugenics and authoritarian control was common sense. For Shaw’s world held no contradictions or impossibilities, only opportunities for paradoxical wit and self-advertisement. (304)

I could give you a detailed summary and review, but this is not the place for that. If you are interested, perhaps check out Philip Jenkins’ review, which able points out the gaps in Green’s account – to which I would add that when Green writes: As the religious impulse flooded into all aspects of individual consciousness and collective endeavor, it sanctified all with transcendent significance…. (6)  – you just can’t help but think that a greater context that takes in medieval Christianity and the disruptions of the Reformation and the Enlightenment – would be useful here.

In short, this era transformed all the world’s leading traditions and disseminated ideas about religion that to varying degrees penetrated all of them. How, then, could anyone doubt that this was a, or the, religious revolution?

Actually, an alternative view is possible. As an intellectual exercise, look at the past eight centuries or so, and choose any half-century period. Then describe the spiritual contortions of those selected decades as thoroughly and broadly as Dominic Green has done for the later 19th century, being sure to consider all the world’s great civilizations and faith traditions. For what comparable time period could we not posit a sweeping religious revolution, and one that is transnational rather than merely European or Euro-American?

This is difficult to write because there are so many small points and interesting connections that Green makes that I would like to highlight and you might even enjoy, but I really don’t want to spend all day on it, and don’t think that’s why most of you have even read this far.

I’ll just say this:

Here in 2022 in the West, we live, think and choose within a paradigm of assumptions about meaning and purpose.  Reading or at least trying to understand, intellectual history, particularly of the past two centuries, is helpful in clarifying the non-givenness of that paradigm, to put it awkwardly.

In short, it is always good to keep asking questions, to be skeptical, to dig and to be willing to evaluate and re-evaluate what we believe and why.

In terms of our assumptions about the world, it can be enlightening to learn how many of the ideas we take for granted about human meaning and purpose in this world are the fruit of a conflation of limited, flawed scientific theories, interesting, but narrow analysis, opportunism, greed, individual personal agendas, neuroses and obsessions, the impact of technology, ambition, and the drive for self-justification and rationalization of one’s own desires.

And for more insight into that last question – I’d recommend Carl Trueman’s work, which has been edited into a new, perhaps more accessible edition here (although I would think the original was no problem for anyone.)

His memorial is today.

And…..here we go again. You know about B16’s General Audience talks on the Fathers. Well, here’s the link to the talk on Cyprian, and below it, the pages from the free pdf study guide I wrote (now out of print) for the OSV collection of those talks. Feel free to download it, share it, and use it in your parish or just for your own study and reflection. 
 
Maybe it bears repeating – why do I stubbornly insist on sharing this information about 1600-year old saints, when I should be using this space to share Inspiring Moments From Everyday Life or just ignoring this space completely and picking fights on Twitter?
 
Because….we are the Body of Christ.  And that Body of Christ isn’t just your parish, now, in 2021, or even this global church in 2021. It stretches, embraces, speaks, heals and suffers across time and space. Yes, the Spirit moves now, in this present moment, but the key to discerning whether what we’re sensing is, indeed, the Spirit, is by being immersed in Scripture and Tradition. 
 
It’s also absolutely necessary, if one is to avoid despair in the present moment. Conflict and struggle in figuring out what fidelity to Christ is right here and now has always been…a struggle. 
 
 

In the series of our catecheses on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we come to an excellent African Bishop of the third century, St Cyprian, “the first Bishop in Africa to obtain the crown of martyrdom”….

Cyprian was born in Carthage into a rich pagan family. After a dissipated youth, he converted to Christianity at the age of 35.

He himself often told of his spiritual journey, “When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night”, he wrote a few months after his Baptism, “I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me. “I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins….

“But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly” (Ad Donatum, 3-4).

Immediately after his conversion, despite envy and resistance, Cyprian was chosen for the priestly office and raised to the dignity of Bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy he had to face the first two persecutions sanctioned by imperial decree: that of Decius (250) and that of Valerian (257-258).

After the particularly harsh persecution of Decius, the Bishop had to work strenuously to restore order to the Christian community. Indeed, many of the faithful had abjured or at any rate had not behaved correctly when put to the test. They were the so-called lapsi – that is, the “fallen” – who ardently desired to be readmitted to the community.

The debate on their readmission actually divided the Christians of Carthage into laxists and rigorists. These difficulties were compounded by a serious epidemic of the plague which swept through Africa and gave rise to anguished theological questions both within the community and in the confrontation with pagans. Lastly, the controversy between St Cyprian and Stephen, Bishop of Rome, concerning the validity of Baptism administered to pagans by heretical Christians, must not be forgotten.

In these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian revealed his choice gifts of government: he was severe but not inflexible with the lapsi, granting them the possibility of forgiveness after exemplary repentance. Before Rome, he staunchly defended the healthy traditions of the African Church; he was deeply human and steeped with the most authentic Gospel spirit when he urged Christians to offer brotherly assistance to pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful – excessively afraid of losing their lives and their earthly possessions – that true life and true goods are not those of this world; he was implacable in combating corrupt morality and the sins that devastated moral life, especially avarice.

“Thus he spent his days”, Pontius the Deacon tells at this point, “when at the bidding of the proconsul, the officer with his soldiers all of a sudden came unexpectedly upon him in his grounds” (Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 15, 1).

On that day, the holy Bishop was arrested and after being questioned briefly, courageously faced martyrdom in the midst of his people.

The numerous treatises and letters that Cyprian wrote were always connected with his pastoral ministry. Little inclined to theological speculation, he wrote above all for the edification of the community and to encourage the good conduct of the faithful….

We have spoken of his thought on the Church but, lastly, let us not forget Cyprian’s teaching on prayer. I am particularly fond of his treatise on the “Our Father”, which has been a great help to me in understanding and reciting the Lord’s Prayer better.

Cyprian teaches that it is precisely in the Lord’s Prayer that the proper way to pray is presented to Christians. And he stresses that this prayer is in the plural in order that “the person who prays it might not pray for himself alone. Our prayer”, he wrote, “is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people, are one (De Dom. orat. [Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer], 8).

 

 
 
 

Ikiru

Even making these things is so much fun. Making them, I feel like I’m playing with every baby in Japan. Why don’t you try making something too?

I’ve watched a few movies over the past week. With Movie Guy son, we took in The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein (he works his way through a director or a boxed set and then writes about it. At the moment, it’s a boxed set of Universal horror films he’s watching, and writing about Fritz Lang).

Then last night, back home, I finally watched Kurosawa’s Ikiru – partly because it’s a film I should have watched a long time ago, but also because it’s been remade into a soon-to-be-released film starring Bill Nighy, called Living.

Ikiru is usually translated as “to live.”

In case you are not familiar with the plot, it is deceptively simple. I will be lazy here and just quote my son:

The story is about Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a thirty-year veteran of the Tokyo city bureaucracy given the anodyne prognosis of a mild stomach ulcer that he knows is actually a cover for stomach cancer, an effective death sentence that gives him no more than a year to live (a common practice in Japanese medicine at the time was to lie about certain terminal diseases to patients in order to save them grief). Understanding his fate, he’s left facing the life he’s led, and he realizes how little he’s actually lived.

This film is many things. It’s a meditation on the inevitability of death, and the choices we make in the face of that inevitability. It’s an invitation to live fully in the moment, and an exploration of why we don’t. It’s a critique of post-war Japan, specifically that stilted, inhumane process-oriented bureaucracy. It invites us to consider what we can do with the time we have – and what it means “to live.”

Most of all, it struck me as a meditation on distance. The distance between the possibilities and the realities of our lives. The distance between our desires and our present. The distance between human beings. The distance between institutions and the human beings they purportedly serve.

That theme of distance is underlined by the role that indirectness and the unsaid play in the film. Watanabe’s doctors do not tell him he has cancer. Instead, they reassure him he has an ulcer, but he discerns the truth because of a conversation in the waiting room with a fellow who predicts exactly what the doctors will say.

Watanabe himself doesn’t share this news with those to be most impacted by it: his son and daughter-in-law and his co-workers (his wife died many years before).

Watanabe’s life has taken the course it has, in part, because he believed it was something he owed his son, a conviction which, as the young co-worker whom he befriends for a few days points out, isn’t based on anything his son has ever asked of him, at all.

The neighborhood women who are trying to get a playground built are pushed around by the bureaucracy, never given a direct response or even engaged with as human beings with concerns and a stake in the issue.

The last third of the film takes up this theme of the limits human beings put on their self-understanding and their understanding of others in a fascinating, tone-shifting way.

We have jumped – unexpectedly – from Watanabe’s “rebirth” and his evident determination to make something of his last months on earth to, indeed, the gathering in front of his enshrined photograph the day after his death. Most of those gathered are his co-workers, and so we spend that last third listening to their conversation, illustrated by flashbacks, as they try to figure out what happened. Why did Watanabe change? What moved him to go from a paper-stamping “mummy” – the nickname a female co-worker has given him – to a proactive advocate for this playground? They don’t know all we do – about the cancer and Watanabe’s awareness and regrets – but gradually, they piece it all together the best they can, helped in part by not only tongue-loosening sake, but a visit to the shrine of the neighborhood women who advocated for the playground and a police officer who encountered Watanabe in the park the night before – and decide, in a sake-stupor – that they’ve learned a lesson from Mr. Watanabe – they won’t be controlled by the system any longer – they will use their positions to do good, no matter what boundaries must be broken!

Narrator: They did not do this.

One could see Ikiru relatively simplistically, as a celebration of the human spirit, etc., etc, but there have been more than a few films telling the story of how a person finally learned to really live fully only when faced with death.

What sets Ikiru apart, in my mind, is not only the genius of Kurosawa, the striking compositions and intriguing insight into post-war Japan, but the fact that while one thing is clear: “to live” means something more than existing and we do, indeed, have it in our power to make that choice – there is still a mystery at the heart of human life. It is hard to figure out who we are. It is almost impossible to understand other people’s motivations and life journeys. We are foolish to believe that we really get each other and to make firm judgments based on that.

Of course, this is the man who directed Rashomon, so no surprise there.

But if we are to even begin to try to understand who we and others are in this world, in this life that will, indeed end for all of us, if we are going to take any steps on that journey at all, we must get out of our self-absorbed shells, drop our assumptions, be brave, open and honest, look at each other directly, listen, and then do something.

It’s not flowers and rainbows then. The cancer will still get us, we will be forgotten and misunderstood, and the melancholy of the song Watanabe sings twice during the film persists – life is short – as does the mystery. Even the playground will fall into disuse, rust and be remade into something else down the line.

But at least we faced it. At least we noticed the other human beings in the room, listened and responded to them, bravely and honestly.

Note, too, that the journey is not about finding your passion and making it happen!

It seems…to be about something else.

From another writer:

Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount to seek first the kingdom of God, and to stop worrying about the rest. Perhaps it is in seeking the kingdom of God, today, in light of no promise of tomorrow, that even in the midst of our fear, even in the midst of anxiety and doubt, you and I find what it truly means to live and love. Watanabe found it in a playground that would not have existed without him. ….

Thursday Random

I’m back from a few days helping out with childcare. Next trip will be a very short one – an overnight to participate in celebrations for yet another offspring birthday.

(September is a heavy birthday month – two of my kids and both of my late parents’ birthdays were from 9/1-9/18).

Here’s some random:

The clinic covers a lot of ground. It has seven practice sites, provides in-person services seven times a month, and will see more than 1,500 patients this year alone. Sister Mary Lisa has assembled a network of 100 health care professionals who lend their medical expertise to the mission.

Just a discussion starter, that’s all. Not an endorsement.

For these old friends, who had made the Camino together twice before, there were a few items that were absolutely essential to bring along. 

Along with the long-distance hiker’s necessities, Bishop James Conley, 67, of Lincoln, Nebraska; Archbishop Paul Coakley, 67, of Oklahoma City; and Bishop James Wall, 57, of Gallup, New Mexico, carried a “simple Mass kit,” Conley told CNA in an interview. …

….

Along the way, Conley said there were many opportunities to evangelize, although he said he thought as many as 80% of those they encountered were not believers.

When asked why he thought they were there, Conley said, “I think there’s something in the human heart that’s a desire for a quest, something that’s difficult, that is physically demanding, but at the same time has sort of a spiritual element to it.”

“And those that we walked the Camino with that are not of any particular religious affiliation, I think do it for those reasons — it’s a challenge, it’s physically demanding, it’s painful. And at same time there is a spirituality to it,” he said.

Finally:

…the religion section made me weepy..

Our lovely Birmingham Museum of Art highlighted an Instagram story from a recent visitor.

All those sorrows…

Let’s consider the last couple of days – the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (yesterday) and Our Lady of Sorrows today)  and the Sunday Gospel from two weeks ago:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.

The question I’ve been asking for a long time, stubbornly – as in this essay – is: How do the modes of contemporary media that we use to communicate faith affect the shape and experience of faith – both of the speaker and the listener?

This, as you recall, was the question in the novel The Hack – and I spent some time exploring that and attempting to apply it to the present moment.

In short – contemporary modes of communication enable each of us to be a creator, a producer, a publisher and the star of whatever we make. It’s persona-based communication – put an attractive persona out there with a compelling personal narrative for people to get caught up in, and then they’ll hear your message.

I’ve suggested that, in looking at this landscape, we remember that a product reflects its producer’s concerns. So someone who puts a lot of time and energy into putting herself out there is (to be circular about it) probably going to be a person whose understanding of success and goal-meeting and fulfillment is – putting herself out there. Joy = creating something and getting attention for a media product and message that centers on them. Oh sure, to encourage and inspire you, but still.

Yes, I know it’s circular. But then – the process is circular. It just is.

All I’m saying is that if the Spiritual Guru Flavor of the Season is telling you to that fulfillment and joy happens when you Wash Your Face and Claim Your Awesomeness – they’re just telling you about what gets them jazzed and hoping that by…putting themselves and this narrative out there – they can make a living.

Even if it’s couched in religious or vaguely spiritual terms – bottom line, yeah, it’s marketing and trying to make a living.

Of course, this is all happening in an even broader cultural context, explored by Carl Trueman in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self . In short, in a culture centered on human beings creating their own meaning and pursuing happiness defined as self-fulfillment – definitions absorbed and baptized by almost all Christian bodies, in some way, everywhere.

So the question worth asking is – does any of this overwhelming message of self-actualization and fulfillment and worldly happiness have anything to do with the Gospel?

Not really. Not at its core. The fruit of faith can certainly be self-acceptance and peace and even worldly “success” or prosperity – as we get our lives together, try to stop being a jerk and see ourselves and the world more clearly, sure. Who knows what can happen?

But as a spiritual goal? As a test of faith? Nope.

And here we come to the issue – an important question. Or, as Paul says, the opportunity to test everything. 

In a persona-soaked spiritual landscape in a privileged, materially prosperous culture, what is lost?

From B16 in 2011:

Marian devotion focuses on contemplation of the relationship between the Mother and her divine Son. In their prayers and sufferings, in their thanksgiving and joy, the faithful have constantly discovered new dimensions and qualities which this mystery can help to disclose for us, for example when the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is seen as a symbol of her deep and unreserved loving unity with Christ.

It is not self-realization, the desire for self-possession and self-formation, that truly enables people to flourish, according to the model that modern life so often proposes to us, which easily turns into a sophisticated form of selfishness. Rather it is an attitude of self-giving, self-emptying, directed towards the heart of Mary and hence towards the heart of Christ and towards our neighbour: this is what enables us to find ourselves.

In other words, in other paradoxical words:

If this world of Passionately-Chasing-Your-Dreams-to-Set-the-World-on-Fire is not your life, if your life, in comparison, seems too quiet and humble and maybe even painful to boast about, if, on a daily basis, you put aside your own desires so you can serve others, and the current flow makes you wonder about that, prompts you to wonder sometimes if you’re actually living an “authentic” “vibrant” “fulfilling” “faith-filled” life? If you are, perhaps, putting your real, important, significant life “on hold?” If circumstances have challenged and upended your achievement-oriented goals and you’re having to spend time shifting gears, serving others and making sacrifices for them and the greater good instead of chasing your own dreams? And if this time of adjustment and sacrifice seems to be defined, most of all by words like confusion, grief, frustration and loss?

Well, hang on – and it’s not me saying this. It’s the Catholic spiritual tradition, from Jesus himself on. Be assured:

In your sacrifice and, when it comes, in your sorrow, you are close – very close – to the heart of Christ. 

And so in that, peace. 

From another perspective, Danielle Bean.

Deny yourself … Take up your cross … Lose your life … Turns out “putting your life on hold” is the Gospel. No wonder it stirs up controversy.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

…is kind of a big deal.

It’s a feast, not just a memorial. That means that there are Sunday-like three readings at Mass, rather than the usual daily two. You can read them here. 

More:

This day is also called the Exaltation of the Cross, Elevation of the Cross, Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day, or Roodmas. The liturgy of the Cross is a triumphant liturgy. When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Mother Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross.

We made the Sign of the Cross before prayer which helps to fix our minds and hearts to God. After prayer we make the Sign of the Cross to keep close to God. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross. At Baptism we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, signifying the fullness of redemption and that we belong to Christ. Let us look to the cross frequently, and realize that when we make the Sign of the Cross we give our entire self to God — mind, soul, heart, body, will, thoughts.

O cross, you are the glorious sign of victory.
Through your power may we share in the triumph of Christ Jesus.

Symbol: The cross of triumph is usually pictured as a globe with the cross on top, symbolic of the triumph of our Savior over the sin of the world, and world conquest of His Gospel through the means of a grace (cross and orb).

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14 marks one of the Ember Days of the Church. See Ember Days for more information.

From “A Clerk at Oxford” Blog:

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (‘Holyrood day in harvest’, as it was sometimes called in the Middle Ages), so here’s a fourteenth-century translation of the Crux Fidelis, a verse of the sixth-century hymn Pange Lingua:

Steddefast Crosse, inmong alle other,
Thou art a tree mikel of prise;
In brawnche and flore swilk another
I ne wot non in wood no ris.
Swete be the nalis, and swete be the tree,
And sweter be the birdin that hangis upon thee.

That is:

Steadfast cross, among all others
Thou art a tree great of price;
In branch and flower such another
I know not of, in wood nor copse.
Sweet be the nails, and sweet be the tree,
And sweeter be the burden that hangs upon thee.

From the Latin:

Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis:
nulla silva talem profert,
fronde, flore, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulces clavos,
dulce pondus sustinet.

This verse is used in the liturgy several times through the course of the year, and at different seasons its poetry will resonate in subtly different ways. This tree is like no other, and it bears at once both flower and fruit; what kind of tree you picture as you sing this verse will depend on what your eyes are seeing in the world around you. The hymn is sung in the spring, on Good Friday and at the cross’ first feast in May, and at that time of year the image of a flowering tree evokes blossom and the spring of new life; and it’s sung again at this feast in the autumn, when trees are laden with fruit (their own ‘burden’), and the image instead speaks of fruitfulness, sustenance, the abundance of divine gift. Imagery of Christ as the ‘fruit’ of the cross is common in the liturgy of Holy Cross Day, perhaps in part because of the time of year when it falls. One purpose for the image is to draw a contrast with the fruit of the tree in Eden, to link the sin and the redemption, the sickness and the remedy: as one medieval antiphon puts it, ‘Through the tree we were made slaves, and through the Holy Cross we are made free. The fruit of the tree seduced us; the Son of God redeemed us.’

I‘m sure you’ll see more at her Twitter feed today.

In 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI signed a post-Synodal exhortation for the Synod of the Bishops of the Middle East on this date. He said – and note what I’ve bolded:

There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

Source

Jump back to 2006, and the Angelus on 9/14:

Now, before the Marian prayer, I would like to reflect on two recent and important liturgical events: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on 14 September, and the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated the following day.

These two liturgical celebrations can be summed up visually in the traditional image of the Crucifixion, which portrays the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, according to the description of the Evangelist John, the only one of the Apostles who stayed by the dying Jesus.

But what does exalting the Cross mean? Is it not maybe scandalous to venerate a shameful form of execution? The Apostle Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (I Cor 1: 23). Christians, however, do not exalt just any cross but the Cross which Jesus sanctified with his sacrifice, the fruit and testimony of immense love. Christ on the Cross pours out his Blood to set humanity free from the slavery of sin and death.

Therefore, from being a sign of malediction, the Cross was transformed into a sign of blessing, from a symbol of death into a symbol par excellence of the Love that overcomes hatred and violence and generates immortal life. “O Crux, ave spes unica! O Cross, our only hope!”. Thus sings the liturgy.

In 2008, Benedict was in Lourdes on 9/14:

This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.

The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is he who will make us free to love as he loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.

Of course, this feast is related to St. Helena:

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints....first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"

And from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. I have, of course, many cross and crucifixion-related entries. One, in the symbols related to Jesus’ passion, one in the section about symbols you’d see in church, another in the section about those you’d have in your home. Remember the structure: Left-hand page has the illustration and a simpler explanation. Right-side page goes into more depth for older children.

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, about whom Mike Aquilina posts here.

It was his fame as a preacher, however, that brought him to the attention of the wider Church, and especially the imperial court. Thus, when the patriarch of Constantinople died, the emperor unexpectedly summoned John from Antioch to the most powerful bishop’s throne in the East. John declined the honor. But the emperor ordered that John be taken by force or subterfuge, if necessary, and so he was.

john chrysostom

John’s habitual honesty and integrity did not serve him well, by capital standards. He was a reformer and an ascetic, demanding much of others, but even more of himself. The clergy of Constantinople were not, however, eager to be reformed or to imitate John’s spartan lifestyle. Nor was the imperial family — especially the empress — interested in John’s advice about their use of cosmetics, their lavish expenses, and their self-aggrandizing monuments. John found it outrageous that the rich could relieve themselves in golden toilet bowls while the poor went hungry. He reached the limits of his patience when the empress went beyond the law to seize valuable lands from a widow, after the widow had refused to sell the property. (John did not miss the opportunity to cite relevant Old Testament passages, like 1 Kings 21.)

Ordinary people found inspiration, solace, and — no doubt — entertainment in the great man’s preaching. But the powerful were not amused. They arranged a kangaroo court of bishops to depose John in 403. In fact, a military unit interrupted the liturgy on Easter Vigil, just as John was preparing to baptize a group of catechumens. Historians record that the baptismal waters ran red with blood.

From today’s Office of Readings:

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.

What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.

I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.


Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!


If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web. Indeed, unless you, my brothers, had detained me, I would have left this very day. For I always say “Lord, your will be done”; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.


Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people.


You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. For what can the rays of the sun bestow on me that is comparable to your love? The sun’s light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.

And then to B16:

The first two were general audience talks.  As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time to the early Church Fathers. These were, of course, collected and published by various publishers, including OSV. I wrote study guides for their collections. The pages for Chrysostom are below, and you are welcome to download the entire pdf of the guide here – it’s a great free resource for either personal use or a study group – B16’s talks are online, this pdf is free – you’re good to go, without the ritual Catholics-charging-for-catechetical-materials-must-be-that-New-Evangelization.

So, 9/19/2007 he concentrates on biographical material:

It was here that he reached the crucial turning point in the story of his vocation: a full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated in his years at the hermitage, had developed in him an irresistible urge to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he himself had received in his years of meditation. The missionary ideal thus launched him into pastoral care, his heart on fire.

Between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, and became a famous preacher in his city’s churches. He preached homilies against the Arians, followed by homilies commemorating the Antiochean martyrs and other important liturgical celebrations: this was an important teaching of faith in Christ and also in the light of his Saints.

The year 387 was John’s “heroic year”, that of the so-called “revolt of the statues”. As a sign of protest against levied taxes, the people destroyed the Emperor’s statues. It was in those days of Lent and the fear of the Emperor’s impending reprisal that Chrysostom gave his 22 vibrant Homilies on the Statues, whose aim was to induce repentance and conversion. This was followed

by a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).

Chrysostom is among the most prolific of the Fathers: 17 treatises, more than 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and on Paul (Letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Hebrews) and 241 letters are extant. He was not a speculative theologian.

Nevertheless, he passed on the Church’s tradition and reliable doctrine in an age of theological controversies, sparked above all by Arianism or, in other words, the denial of Christ’s divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development achieved by the Church from the fourth to the fifth centuries.

His is a perfectly pastoral theology in which there is constant concern for consistency between thought expressed via words and existential experience. It is this in particular that forms the main theme of the splendid catecheses with which he prepared catechumens to receive Baptism.

Then, the next week:

Against this background, in Constantinople itself, John proposed in his continuing Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles the model of the primitive Church (Acts 4: 32-37) as a pattern for society, developing a social “utopia” (almost an “ideal city”). In fact, it was a question of giving the city a soul and a Christian face. In other words, Chrysostom realized that it is not enough to give alms, to help the poor sporadically, but it is necessary to create a new structure, a new model of society; a model based on the outlook of the New Testament.

It was this new society that was revealed in the newborn Church. John Chrysostom thus truly became one of the great Fathers of the Church’s social doctrine: the old idea of the Greek “polis” gave way to the new idea of a city inspired by Christian faith. With Paul (cf. I Cor 8: 11), Chrysostom upheld the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as such, even of the slave and the poor person. His project thus corrected the traditional Greek vision of the “polis”, the city in which large sectors of the population had no access to the rights of citizenship while in the Christian city all are brothers and sisters with equal rights. The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that it is truly by starting with the person that the city is built, whereas in the Greek “polis” the homeland took precedence over the individual who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. So it was that a society built on the Christian conscience came into being with Chrysostom. And he tells us that our “polis” [city] is another, “our commonwealth is in heaven” (Phil 3: 20) and our homeland, even on this earth, makes us all equal, brothers and sisters, and binds us to solidarity.

That same year, he issued a letter on the occasion of the 1600th anniversary of the birth of the saint:  It is well worth reading.

Of course, he also drew from contemplation of the Mystery the moral consequences in which he involved his listeners: he reminded them that communion with the Body and Blood of Christ obliged them to offer material help to the poor and the hungry who lived among them. The Lord’s table is the place where believers recognize and welcome the poor and needy whom they may have previously ignored. He urged the faithful of all times to look beyond the altar where the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered and see Christ in the person of the poor, recalling that thanks to their assistance to the needy, they will be able to offer on Christ’s altar a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Pertinent pages of the study guide. Download pdf here.

The Apostles guide is here.

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