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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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

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

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

Riu, riu chiu…

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

Translation:

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

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

River, roaring river…

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

River, roaring river…

And the Kingston Trio:

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

It’s a good day to download a free e-book on Mary – Mary and the Christian Life, which I wrote a few years ago, and is now out of print…you can have it!  Go here for the pdf download.

Also, today is a good day (as is every day!) to think about the rosary.  

Now for the good stuff, from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about…a few selections from “Father Benedict” – on this feast.

2005:

In Mary shines forth the eternal goodness of the Creator who chose her in his plan of salvation to be the mother of his Only-begotten Son; God, foreseeing his death, preserved her from every stain of sin (cf. Concluding Prayer). In this way, in the Mother of Christ and our Mother the vocation of every human being is perfectly fulfilled. All men and women, according to St Paul, are called to be holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love (cf. Eph 1: 4, 5).

Looking at Mary, how can we, her children, fail to let the aspiration to beauty, goodness and purity of heart be aroused in us? Her heavenly candour draws us to God, helping us to overcome the temptation to live a mediocre life composed of compromises with evil, and directs us decisively towards the authentic good that is the source of joy.

2007

What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as mother! A mother resplendent with beauty, the transparency of God’s love. I am thinking of today’s young people, who grow up in an environment saturated with messages that propose false models of happiness. These young men and women risk losing hope because they often seem orphans of true love, which fills life with true meaning and joy. This was a theme dear to my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, who so often proposed Mary to the youth of our time as the “Mother of Fair Love”. Unfortunately, numerous experiences tell us that adolescents, young people and even children easily fall prey to corrupt love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, lure them into the deadends of consumerism; even the most sacred realities, like the human body, a temple of God’s love and of life, thus become objects of consumption and this is happening earlier, even in pre-adolescence. How sad it is when youth lose the wonder, the enchantment of the most beautiful sentiments, the value of respect for the body, the manifestation of the person and his unfathomable mystery!

2008

Dear friends, in Mary Immaculate we contemplate the reflection of the Beauty that saves the world: the beauty of God resplendent on the Face of Christ. In Mary this beauty is totally pure, humble, free from all pride and presumption.

2009

On 8 December we celebrate one of the most beautiful Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. But what does Mary being “Immaculate” mean? And what does this title tell us? First of all let us refer to the biblical texts of today’s Liturgy, especially the great “fresco” of the third chapter of the Book of Genesis and the account of the Annunciation in the Gospel according to Luke. After the original sin, God addresses the serpent, which represents Satan, curses it and adds a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gn 3: 15). It is the announcement of revenge: at the dawn of the Creation, Satan seems to have the upper hand, but the son of a woman is to crush his head. Thus, through the descendence of a woman, God himself will triumph. Goodness will triumph. That woman is the Virgin Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ who, with his sacrifice, defeated the ancient tempter once and for all. This is why in so many paintings and statues of the Virgin Immaculate she is portrayed in the act of crushing a serpent with her foot.

Luke the Evangelist, on the other hand, shows the Virgin Mary receiving the Annunciation of the heavenly Messenger (cf. Lk 1: 26-38). She appears us the humble, authentic daughter of Israel, the true Zion in which God wishes to take up his abode. She is the shoot from which the Messiah, the just and merciful King, is to spring. In the simplicity of the house of Nazareth dwells the pure “remnant” of Israel from which God wants his People to be reborn, like a new tree that will spread its branches throughout the world, offering to all humanity the good fruit of salvation. Unlike Adam and Eve, Mary stays obedient to the Lord’s will, with her whole being she speaks her “yes” and makes herself entirely available to the divine plan. She is the new Eve, the true “mother of all the living”, namely, those who, because of their faith in Christ, receive eternal life.

2010

The mystery of the Immaculate Conception is a source of inner light, hope and comfort. Amidst the trials of life and, especially, the contradictions that man experiences within and around himself. Mary, Mother of Christ, tells us that Grace is greater than sin, that God’s mercy is more powerful than evil and it is able to transform it into good. Unfortunately, every day we experience evil, which is manifested in many ways including relationships and events, but whose root is in the human heart, a wounded, sick heart that is incapable of healing itself. Sacred Scripture reveals to us that the origin of all evil is disobedience to God’s will and that death has the upper hand because human freedom has yielded to the temptation of the Evil One.

But God does not fail in his plan of love and life: through a long and patient process of reconciliation he prepared the new and eternal Covenant, sealed in the Blood of his Son, who in order to offer himself in expiation was “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). This woman, the Virgin Mary, benefited in advance from the redeeming death of her Son and was preserved from the contagion of sin from the moment of her conception. Therefore, with her Immaculate Heart, she tells us: entrust yourselves to Jesus, he saves you.

2011

The expression “full of grace” indicates that marvellous work of the love of God, who through his Only-Begotten Son incarnate who died and rose again, wanted to restore to us the life and the freedom, lost by original sin. Because of this, since the 2nd century both in the East and the West, the Church invokes and celebrates the Virgin who with her “yes” brought Heaven closer to earth, becoming “Genetrix of God and nurturer of our life”, as St Romanus the Melodus expressed it in an old song…

2012

The light that shines from the figure of Mary also helps us to understand the true meaning of original sin. Indeed that relationship with God which sin truncates is fully alive and active in Mary. In her there is no opposition between God and her being: there is full communion, full understanding. There is a reciprocal “yes”: God to her and her to God. Mary is free from sin because she belongs entirely to God, she empties herself totally for him. She is full of his Grace and of his Love.

To conclude, the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary expresses the certainty of faith that God’s promises have been fulfilled and that his Covenant does not fail but has produced a holy root from which came forth the blessed Fruit of the whole universe, Jesus the Saviour. The Immaculate Virgin shows that Grace can give rise to a response, that God’s fidelity can bring forth a true and good faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of the things I have noted about Pope Francis from the beginning is what I might call the presentism of his remarks and, I’ll extrapolate from that, viewpoint. His homilies and addresses tend to follow a pattern: there’s a Scripture or theme of the day, and then the Pope tells us what he thinks about it all, and his thoughts tend to center on a few dependable themes: his definition of mercy; his understanding of “the peripheries,” what he calls “legalism”, walls, and the characteristics of a good Christian. He tends to pick out a quality highlighted in the Scripture of the day, talk about it for a bit, and then conclude that “if you do X you are a good Christian” or “if you don’t do X you can’t call yourself a Christian.”

There’s not a lot of attention paid to the depth and breadth of Catholic experience, past and present. It seems to be at best, irrelevant to the present moment or at worst, an obstacle to authentic faith in the present moment.

It’s an interesting method, since most people involved in teaching Catholic Stuff take a slightly different approach: Beginning with a teaching, doctrine or practice and explaining how this truth expresses the Real, whether we see it clearly in this present moment or not. Freedom  = realizing who I am in this Big Picture, that this is Real Life, not the burdens that my own sin and and a sinful, limiting, narrow world lay on me.

Bottom line: Is this deep, wide, broad, rich, complex Catholic Thing the doorway to meet Jesus, or is it an unnecessary obstacle to encountering him?

It’s an important question. Asked, of course, frequently in the past, and answered with reform within the Church when deemed necessary as well as tragic and unnecessary Reformations spinning into division and schism at other times. But even with the understanding of the necessity of reform and moments of clarification within the Church, what remains consistent is a fundamental stance that Me (or the Pope or bishop or anyone) and Scripture and what I Guess I’ll Define as the Holy Spirit Right Now is not sufficient for doing the Catholic Thing. 

Which, of course, is the fundamental issue underlying the disputes over Amoris Laeticia, very well laid out by Carl Olson here. The now-famous dubia presented by the Four Cardinals address specific questions, but more importantly request clarification on the continuity of what is being presented in the present moment with what has been taught as true in the past.

Not unreasonable, in a Catholic context.

So back to Ambrose.

We have just finished the Year of Mercy, and so sin and repentance and reconciliation have been in the air. These issues are also at the forefront of these AL questions. So as I explored some corners of St. Ambrose’s work last night, I settled on a treatise that seemed appropriate: On Repentance.

As is the case with most theological writings of the Patristic era, On Repentance was St. Ambroseprompted by a problem and a challenge. Specifically, here, it was against the Novations, who were a very interesting heresy/sect, which you can read about here.  

(Short version: Novatian was a 3rd century theologian and anti-Pope who believed that those who had apostasized could not be reconciled by ordinary means and must be rebaptized. His followers were widespread, sometimes co-existed, even peacefully with orthodox Catholics  – one of their bishops attended the Council of Nicaea – but they preached an increasingly strict line on reconciliation, grew further and further apart and eventually died out in the early 7th century, it seems.)

So the reason you might want to look at what Ambrose has to say to the Novations is that he is writing against rigorism and in favor of the full embrace of the sinner in God’s mercy – he emphasized the “gentleness” with which the sinner should be treated – but at the same time, expresses what repentance means.  There is no sense of halfway measures. Jesus invites, “Come follow me.” And the repentant sinner does so, like the apostles leaving everything behind – at once. 

So, the point being: these are not new issues. The particulars of reconciliation have changed from Ambrose’s time, but not the general framework, and certainly not the understanding that we are doing is bringing Jesus’ work of reconciliation into the lives of people now. 

Some passages I’m highlighting, some because they bring out these theme, and others because they are moving and lovely:

(Formatting – I don’t have time to fix it. The hyperlinks are all in the New Advent page.)

37. We see how to repent, with what words and with what acts, that the days of sin are called days of confusion; for there is confusion when Christ is denied.

38. Let us, then, submit ourselves to God, and not be subject to sin, and when we ponder the remembrance of our offenses, let us blush as though at some disgrace, and not speak of them as a glory to us, as some boast of overcoming modesty, or putting down the feeling of justice. Let our conversion be such, that we who did not know God may now ourselves declare Him to others, that the Lord, moved by such a conversion on our part, may answer to us: Ephraim is from youth a dear son, a pleasant child, for since My words are concerning him, I will verily remember him, therefore have I hastened to be over him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.

39. And what mercy He promises us, the Lord also shows, when He says further on: I have satiated every thirsty soul, and have satisfied every hungry soul. Therefore, I awaked and beheld, and My sleep was sweet unto Me.Jeremiah 31:25-26 We observe that the Lord promises His sacraments to those who sin. Let us, then, all beconverted to the Lord.

 

66. Show, then, your wound to the Physician that He may heal it. Though you show it not, He knows it, but waits to hear your voice. Do away your scars by tears. Thus did that woman in the Gospel, and wiped out the stench of her sin; thus did she wash away her fault, when washing the feet of Jesus with her tears.

This is beautiful, as Ambrose begins by drawing an analogy between the raising of Lazarus from the tomb and the raising of the sinner from his or sin, and then moves into a prayer related to his own surprising call to ministry:

70. Nevertheless if we are unable to equal her, the Lord Jesus knows also how to aid the weak, when there is no one who can prepare the feast, or bring the ointment, or carry with her a spring of living water. He comes Himself to the sepulchre.

71. Would that You would vouchsafe to come to this sepulchre of mine, O Lord Jesus, that You would wash me with Your tears, since in my hardened eyes I possess not such tears as to be able to wash away my offense. If You shall weep for me I shall be saved; if I am worthy of Your tears I shall cleanse the stench of all my offenses; if I am worthy that You weep but a little, You will call me out of the tomb of this body and will say: Come forth,that my meditations may not be kept pent up in the narrow limits of this body, but may go forth to Christ, and move in the light, that I may think no more on works of darkness but on works of light. For he who thinks on sinsendeavours to shut himself up within his own consciousness.

72. Call forth, then, Your servant. Although bound with the chain of my sins I have my feet fastened and my hands tied; being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at Your call I shall go forth free, and shall be found one of those sitting at Your feast, and Your house shall be filled with precious ointment. If You have vouchsafed toredeem any one, You will preserve him. For it shall be said, See, he was not brought up in the bosom of the Church, nor trained from childhood, but hurried from the judgment-seat, brought away from the vanities of this world, growing accustomed to the singing of the choir instead of the shout of the crier, but he continues in the priesthood not by his own strength, but by the grace of Christ, and sits among the guests at the heavenly table.

73. Preserve, O Lord, Your work, guard the gift which You have given even to him who shrank from it. For I knewthat I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by Your grace I am what I am.

Go All In. No halfway measures:

But I have more easily found such as had preserved their innocence than such as had fittingly repented. Does any one think that that is penitence where there still exists the striving after earthly honours, where wine flows, and even conjugal connection takes place? The world must be renounced; less sleep must be indulged in thannature demands; it must be broken by groans, interrupted by sighs, put aside by prayers; the mode of life must be such that we die to the usual habits of life. Let the man deny himself and be wholly changed, as in the fable they relate of a certain youth, who left his home because of his love for a harlot, and, having subdued his love, returned; then one day meeting his old favourite and not speaking to her, she, being surprised and supposing that he had not recognized her, said, when they met again, It is I. But, was his answer, I am not the former I.

He ends:

We have then learned that we must do penance, and this at a time when the heat of luxury and sin is giving way; and that we, when under the dominion of sin, must show ourselves Godfearing by refraining, rather than allowing ourselves in evil practices. For if it is said to Moses when he was desiring to draw nearer: Put off your shoes from off your feet, Exodus 3:5 how much more must we free the feet of our soul from the bonds of the body, and clear our steps from all connection with this world.

It’s the age-old tension, not new to anyone who ponders these things: God enters the world, and therefore our lives, through matter and flesh like our own. This is the moment for which we prepare during Advent, after all. We are creatures, and we know God through creation. But when we begin to love creation – even other people, even good healthy relationships –  with the kind of love properly reserved to the Creator, we are starting to wobble, wander and stray.

In that very rich landscape in which we know the transcendent through the immanent, and in which we are weak sinners, strengthened by grace and journeying towards home with the Lord, we live in tension. But this tension is just that – a tension between what seen and unseen, between what is imperfect and what is whole. It  is not, however, incoherent, as it is to say on the one hand, that we must be All In, but on the other..it really doesn’t matter that much.

 

 

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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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It is apt that people are starting to talk about Silence around the time of the feast of St. Francis Xavier, who introduced  Christianity to Japan in 1549. Here is a good, short summary of the two years he spent there. 

You can read in more detail about his time in Japan here, in the old biography and letter collection I cited in the last post. The chapter to which this link will take you contains the biographer’s summary as well as a letter from Francis Xavier to the Society back in Goa…which is well worth your time.

As I noted in the previous entry, Francis Xavier’s mission method encompassed all of the works of mercy – which is the traditional Catholic way of evangelization. These days, the a_xavier_2006sp2“instruct the ignorant” part of the works of mercy is often ignored, downplayed or disparaged, for various reasons: The specifics of religious truth are too complicated, are an obstacle to the Big Picture Truth that Jesus Loves You, or maybe even actually aren’t that true at all – not in the sense of being false but in the sense of not mattering very much, all things considered. 

But Francis Xavier, S.J., put “instruct the ignorant” front and center when it was called for – as in when those he was seeking to bring to Christ lived out of false belief systems. For him, understanding their beliefs and then relentlessly tearing them down was an essential work of mercy. Yes, he accompanied them….pointing out their errors and inviting them to the fullness of the truth with every step he took alongside them.

First, Xavier’s detailed explanation of the mission field that he found: his take on Japanese society and culture, and in particular religious practice. What he found was a system of sects, whose members were called bonze. The beliefs of these sects were rooted in Chinese beliefs and had evolved into an elaborated eternal life insurance profit-making scheme.

(Forgive the formatting – I cut and pasted from the text at the archive.org site and don’t have time to reformat. Basketball game.)

At the 
same time, the bonzes and the bonzesses, when preaching to 
the people about these laws, persuade them that profane per 
sons, occupied with worldly business, are unable themselves to- 
observe these five precepts ; but that they themselves are ready 
to make satisfaction for all the evil or inconvenience which 
may happen to them in consequence of breaking them, on con 
dition of the people giving them convents, yearly revenues, and 
money for all necessary uses : in short, of paying them every 
kind of honour and homage.

Xavier found the Japanese to be highly intellectual and interested in engaging in theological conversation – so that is what he did.

We used to preach twice a
day, and after the sermon there was always a good long dis
pute concerning religion. Thus we were continually occupied
either in preaching or in answering questions. Many bonzes
were often present at the sermons, and a great number of
others, both of the common people and of the nobility. The
house was always full of men, so full, that at times some were
shut out for want of space. Those who asked us questions
pressed them so well home, that the answers we gave enabled
them thoroughly to understand the falsehood of their own laws
and founders, and the truth of the Christian law. After dis
putes and questionings for many days, they at last began to
give in and betake themselves to the faith of Christ.

And when you read his account of the discourses, what you discover is…not much has changed. Human beings still fall into the same errors we always have, and we also have the very same questions about faith.

Xavier’s angle with the bonze – the weakness in their system he discerned – was that they had no Creation account or philosophy.

The Japanese doctrines teach absolutely nothing concerning 
the creation of the world, of the sun, the moon, the stars, the 
heavens, the earth, sea, and the rest, and do not believe that 
they have any origin but themselves. The people were greatly 
astonished on hearing it said that there is one sole Author and 
common Father of souls, by whom they were created. This 
astonishment was caused by the fact that in their religious tra 
ditions there is nowhere any mention of a Creator of the uni- 
verse. If there existed one single First Cause of all things, 
surely, they said, the Chinese, from whom they derive their 
religion, must have known it. For the Japanese give the Chinese 
the pre-eminence in wisdom and prudence in everything relat 
ing either to religion or to political government. They asked 
us a multitude of questions concerning this First Cause of all 
things ; whether He were good or bad, whether the same First 
Cause were the origin of good and of evil. We replied that 
there exists one only First Cause, and He supremely good, with 
out any admixture of evil.

And he answered their very natural questions about God’s timing: If this is so great and so true…why is this the first we’re hearing of it?

Before their baptism the converts of Amanguchi were greatly 
troubled and pained by a hateful and annoying scruple that 
God did not appear to them merciful and good, because He had 
never made Himself known to the Japanese before our arrival, 
especially if it were true that those who had not worshipped 
God as we preached were doomed to suffer everlasting punish 
ment in hell. It seemed to them that He had forgotten and as 
it were neglected the salvation of all their ancestors in permit 
ting them to be deprived of the knowledge of saving truths, and 
thus to rush headlong on eternal death. It was this painful 
thought which, more than anything else, kept them back from 
the religion of the true God. But by the divine mercy all their 
error and scruple was taken away. We began by proving to 
them that the divine law is the most ancient of all. Before re 
ceiving their institutions from the Chinese, the Japanese knew 
by the teaching of nature that it was wicked to kill, to steal, to 
swear falsely, and to commit the other sins enumerated in the 
ten commandments, a proof of this being the remorse of con 
science to which any one guilty of one of these crimes was cer 
tain to be a prey. We showed them that reason itself teaches 
us to avoid evil and to do good, and that this is so deeply im 
planted in the hearts of men, that all have the knowledge of 
the divine law from nature and from God the Author of nature 
before they receive any external instruction on the subject. If 
any doubts were entertained on the matter, an experiment might 
be made in the person of a man without any instruction, living 
in absolute solitude, and in entire ignorance of the laws of his 
country. Such a man, ignorant of and a stranger to all human 
teaching, if he were asked whether it were or were not criminal 
to kill, to steal, or to commit the other actions forbidden by the 
law of God, and whether it were right to abstain from such 
actions, then, I say, this man, so fundamentally without all hu 
man education, would most certainly reply in such a manner as 
to show that he was by no means without knowledge of the 
divine law. Whence then must he be supposed to have re 
ceived this knowledge, but from God Himself, the Author of 
nature? And if this knowledge is seen among barbarians, what 
must be the case with civilized and polished nations ? This 
being so, it necessarily follow that before any laws were made 
by men the divine law existed innate in the hearts of all men. 
The converts were so satisfied with this reasoning, as to see 
no further difficulty; so that this net having been broken, 
they received from us with a glad heart the sweet yoke of our 
Lord. 



One more:

The bonzes are persons of acute mind, and are very fond 
of studying, especially what relates to the future ; they are fond 
of considering what will happen to them, what will be their 
end, and all questions of this nature. There were some of the 
bonzes who, in the course of their meditations, had come to 
believe that there was no way of saving souls in their system. 
They argued in this way : It is necessary above all things that 
there should exist a single origin of all things ; now, in their 
books there is not a word on the subject, for there is a won 
derful silence in them all as to the creation of the universe; 
and therefore if any of their predecessors were acquainted with 
this first principle a thing not confirmed by any authority, 
written or traditional they must have kept the knowledge to 
themselves and hid it from their descendants. 

Now, men of this sort were wonderfully delighted with the 
divine law. One of them embraced the faith of Jesus Christ 
at Amanguchi, after being many years in the university of Ban- 
dou, where he had a flourishing reputation for learning. Before 
we came to Japan he had thought of becoming a bonze; after 
wards he changed his mind and married. The reason he as 
signed for this change was, that he had seen the falsehood and 
emptiness of the Japanese religions, and therefore did not be 
lieve in them at all, but he was bound to pay his homage to 
the Author and Creator of the universe. Our Christians were 
overjoyed at his accession, for he was and was thought to be 
the most learned man of the city.

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(He’s in it)

 

For an in-depth exploration, as well as a look at some of his letters, go to archive.org to this 19th century biography, in two volumes. (Of course his life and letters are published elsewhere, and in modern versions, but this is…free. )

What you will read about was a man who made tremendous sacrifices to travel across the world, endure great hardship….to teach fisherman and little kids the Creed.

Now think.

Why did he do this? Why did he think it was worth his life?

It seems, according to much of the current conversation in the air about how to spread the Good News which is not to be done by “proselytizing,” but rather by accompanying, that he was mistaken in his approach.

Was he?

Yes, the question of this encounter between Christian creed and various cultures is not uncomplicated. The question has rightly occupied Asian, African and European theologians for decades, and for literary shorthand versions, consider Black Robe and Silence.  Missionaries were not infallible. They made mistakes, they allowed themselves to become compromised, they were short-sighted.  All of that is true.

Even so – and not dismissing those questions – the 21st century observer who is anxious to diminish the importance of the particulars of belief in favor of a purportedly more pastoral engagement – who seems to believe that Jesus is more authentically and powerfully offered and encountered without much concern for the doctrine, and indeed that the specific articulation of belief functions more often than not as an obstacle to encountering Christ (for this is the essence, really of much of the direction of the current conversation ) – has a responsibility, as a Catholic, to engage this question in the context of the whole of Catholic tradition, which includes a lot of people making tremendous sacrifices, not only to live out the corporeal works of mercy, but the spiritual works as well.

Was Francis Xavier doing it wrong? What was the point – having the memorization of credal formulations and prayers, and baptism as the central focus of his missionary work? That model of “making them Christians” in this way…was it wrong?

Well, to explore the question requires us to go beyond simplistic categories, and to ask interesting, serious questions about the deeper spiritual dynamic that is engaged by this process of – dare we say it – making disciples –  the thinking behind it, and the cultural context.

It would require us to look to the past and..wait for it…engage in..dialogue, to listen and be willing to learn. It might even require…humility.

I and Francis Mancias are now living amongst the Christians of Comorin. They are very numerous, and increase largely every day. When I first came I asked them, if they knew anything about our Lord Jesus Christ? but when I came to the points of faith in detail and asked them what they thought of them, and what more they believed now than when they were Infidels, they only replied that they were Christians, but that as they are ignorant of Portuguese, they know nothing of the precepts and mysteries of our holy religion. We could not understand one another, as I spoke Castilian and they Malabar ; so I picked out the most intelligent and well read of them, and then sought out with the greatest diligence men who knew both languages.. We held meetings for several days, and by our joint efforts and with infinite difficulty we translated the Catechism into the Malabar tongue. This I learnt by heart, and then I began to go through all the villages of the coast, calling around me by the sound of a bell as many as I could, children and men. I assembled them twice a day and taught them the Christian doctrine : and thus, in the space of a month, the children had it well by heart. And all the time I kept telling them to go on teaching in their turn whatever they had learnt to their parents, family, and neighbours.

Every Sunday I collected them all, men and women, boys and girls, in the church. They came, with great readiness and with a great desire for instruction. Then, in the hearing of all, I began by calling on the name of the most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and I recited aloud the Lord’s Prayer, the Hai/ Mary, and the Creed in the language of the country: they all followed me in the same words, and delighted in it wonderfully. Then I repeated the Creed by my- self, dwelling upon each article singly. Then I asked them as to each article, whether they believed it unhesitatingly ; and all, with a loud voice and their hands crossed over their breasts, professed aloud that they truly believed it. I take care to make them repeat the Creed oftener than the other prayers ; and I tell them that those who beUeve all that is contained therein are called Christians. After explaining the Creed I go on to the Commandments, teaching them that the Christian law is contained in those ten precepts, and that every one who observes them all faithfully is a good and true Christian and is certain of eternal salvation, and that, on the other hand, whoever neglects a single ore of them is a bad Christian, and will be cast into hell unless he is truly penitent for his sin. Converts and heathen alike are astonished at all this, which shows them the holiness of the Christian law, its perfect consistency with itself, and its agreement with reason. After this I recite our principal prayers, as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and they say them after me. Then we go back to the Creed, adding the Our Father and the Hail Mary after each article, with a short hymn; for, as soon as I have recited the first article, I sing in their language, ^ Jesus, Son of the living God, grant us the grace to believe firmly this first article of your faith : and that we may obtain this from you, we offer you this prayer taught us by yourself^ Then we add this second invocation : ‘ Holy Mary^ Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, obtain for us from your most sweet Son that we may believe without hesitation this article of the Christian faitlu We do the same after all the other eleven articles.

We teach them the Commandments in the following way. After we have sung the first, which enjoins the love of God, we pray thus : ^ Jesus Christ, Sou of the living God, grant us the grace to love Thee above all things ; and then we say for this intention the Lord’s Prayer. Then we all sing together, ‘ Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, obtain for us from your Son the grace to observe perfectly the first of His Commandments ; and then we say the Hail Mary. So we go on through the other nine, changing the words of our little invocation as occasion requires. Thus I accustom them to ask for these graces with the ordinary prayers of the Church, and I tell them at the same time that if they obtain them, they will have all otherthings that they can wish for more abundantly than they would  be able to ask for them. I make them all, and particularly those who are to be baptized, repeat the form of general confession. These last I question after each article of the Creed as it is recited, whether they believe it firmly ; and after they have answered yes, I give them an instruction in their own language explaining the chief heads of the Christian religion, and the duties necessary to salvation. Last of all, I admit them thus prepared to baptism. The instruction is ended by the Salve Regina, begging the aid and help of our Blessed Lady.

As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing : often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.

The fruit that is reaped by the baptism of infants, as well as by the instruction of children and others, is quite incredible. These children, I trust heartily, by the grace of God, will be much better than their fathers. They show an ardent love for the Divine law, and an extraordinary zeal for learning our holy religion and imparting it to others. Their hatred for idolatry is marvellous. They get into feuds with the heathen about it, and whenever their own parents practise it, they reproach them and come off to tell me at once. Whenever I hear of any act of idolatrous worship, I go to the place with a large band of these children, who very soon load the devil with a greater amount of insult and abuse than he has lately received of honour and worship from their parents, relations, and acquaintances. The children run at the idols, upset them, dash them down, break them to pieces, spit on them, trample on them, kick them about, and in short heap on them every possible outrage.

I had been living for nearly four months in a Christian village, occupied in translating the Catechism. A great number of natives came from all parts to entreat me to take the trouble to go to their houses and call on God by the bedsides of their sick relatives. Such numbers also of sick made their own way to us, that I had enough to do to read a Gospel over each of them. At the same time we kept on with our daily work, instructing the children, baptizing converts, translating the Cate chism, answering difficulties, and burying the dead. For my part I desired to satisfy all, both the sick who came to me themselves, and those who came to beg on the part of others, lest if I did not, their confidence in, and zeal for, our holy religion should relax, and I thought it wrong not to do what I could in answer to their prayers. But the thing grew to such a pitch that it was impossible for me myself to satisfy all, and at the same time to avoid their quarrelling among themselves, every one striving to be the first to get me to his own house ; so I hit on a way of serving all at once. As I could not go myself, I sent round children whom I could trust in my place. Tliuey went to the sick persons, assembled their families and neighbours, recited the Creed with them, and encouraged the sufferers to conceive a certain and wellfounded confidence of their restoration. Then after all this, they recited the prayers of the Church. To make my tale short, God was moved by the faith and piety of these children and of the others, and restored to a great number of sick persons health both of body and soul. How good He was to them ! He made the very disease of their bodies the occasion of calling them to salvation, and drew them to the Christian faith almost by force !

I have also charged these children to teach the rudiments of Christian doctrine to the ignorant in private houses, in the streets, and the crossways. As soon as I see that this has been well started in one village, I go on to another and give the same instructions and the same commission to the children, and go I go through in order the whole number of their villages. When I have done this and am going away, I leave in each place a copy of the Christian doctrine, and tell ail those who know how to write to copy it out, and all the others are to learn it by heart and to recite it from memory every day. Every feast day I bid them meet in one place and sing all together the elements of the faith. For this purpose I have appointed in each of the thirty Christian villages men of intelligence and character who are to preside over these meetings, and the Governor, Don Martin Alfonso, who is so full of love for our Society and of zeal for religion, has been good enough at our request to allot a yearly revenue of 4000 gold fanams for the salary of these catechists. He has an immense friendship for ours, and desires with all his heart that some of them should be sent hither, for which he is always asking in his letters to the King.

There is now in these parts a very large number of persons who have only one reason for not becoming Christian, and that is that there is no one to make them Christians. It often comes into my mind to go round all the Universities of Europe, and especially that of Paris, crying out every where like a’ madman, and saying to all the learned men there whose learn- ing is so much greater than their charity, ‘ Ah ! what a miiltiude of souls is through your fault shut out of heaven and falling into hell . Would to God that these men who labour so much in gaining knowledge would give as much thought to the ac- count they must one day give to God of the use they have made of their learning and of the talents entrusted to them ! I am sure that many of them would be moved by such considerations, would exercise themselves in fitting meditations on Divine truths, so as to hear what God might say to them,^-* and then, renouncing their ambitions and desires, and all the things of the world, they would form themselves wholly according to God’s desire and choice for them. They would exclaim from the bottom of their hearts : ^ Lord^ here am I ; send jue whithersoever it shall please Thee, even to India /’^-^ Good God ! how much happier and how much safer they would be ! With what far greater confidence in God’s mercy would they meet their last hour, the supreme trial of that terrible judgment which no man can escape ! They would then be able joyfully to use the words of the faithful servant in the Gospel : ‘ Lord, Thou gavesf me five talents; behold, I have gained beside them other five. They labour night and day in acquiring knowledge, and they are very diligent indeed in understanding the subjects which they study ; but if they would spend as much time in that which is the fruit of all solid learning, and be as diligent in teaching to the ignorant the things necessary to salvation, they would be far better prepared to give an account of themselves to our Lord when He shall say to them : ‘ Give an account of thy steiuard- ship.’^”^ I fear much that these men, who spend so many years in the Universities in studying the liberal arts, look more to the empty honours and dignities of the prelature than to the holy functions and obligations of which those honours are the trappings. It has come to this pass, as I see, that the men who are the most diligent in the higher branches of study, commonly make profession that they hope to gain some high post in the Church by their reputation for learning, therein to be able to serve our Lord and His Church. But all the time they deceive themselves miserably, for their studies are far more directed to their own advantage than to the common good. They are afraid that God may not second their ambition, and this is the reason why they will not leave the whole matter to His holy will. I declare to God that I had almost made up my mind, since I could not return to Europe myself, to write to the University of Paris, and especially to our worthy Professors Cornet and Picard, and to show them how many thousands of infidels might be made Christians without trouble, if we had only men here who would seek, not their own advantage, but the things of Jesus Christ. And therefore, dearest brothers, ‘ pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send forth labourers into His harvest.’

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— 1 —

I’m over at Catholic World Report with yet another article on Women and the Reformation. Just a bit of what I wrote in the Catholic Herald piece is repeated there. Most of it is new.

Part of what I wanted to communicate in the piece concerns the Reformation narrative most of us have absorbed. It’s a false narrative, people.

Reading A Short Chronicle will open the eyes of anyone under the impression of the Reformation as a movement that coursed along powered only by the finer spiritual sensibilities. If Geneva came under the power of the Reformation at this moment, it did so less because of “seekers” finding a spiritual home, but because the citizens were threatened and bullied, a destructive battle was fought, and the Catholics lost.

But then to get to the women – when you engage with this material, it really gets you thinking, not only about the distant past, but the recent past and the present.

Plus, do get over there and read about Jeanne de Jussie and the Geneva Poor Clares, and, if you want to read more, her Chronicle is well worth your time and even your money. As I read it, I couldn’t help but envision it in cinematic terms – it could be an intense, riveting film in the right hands.

— 2 —

Speaking of persecution of Catholics, as you probably know, Scorsese’s adaptation of Endo’s Silence is due to be released in a few weeks. I don’t imagine those of us in flyover country will see it until after Christmas, but here’s the trailer. 

I’m thinking that this film will inspire many to read the novel, either as individuals or as part of a book group, and so to help out, I’m going to be pulling together a study guide over the next week. I’ll have a page for it over at my website, and then will put it together as a downloadable document free for anyone to use. So look for that!

Beginning to talk about it a bit here…

 

— 3—

Alabama store in Jerusalem

Isn’t this crazy? An Alabama – themed shop in Jerusalem. (That’s Father Mark of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word). Here’s the story – the owner studied engineering at UA and lived in Tuscaloosa for ten years before returning to Jerusalem..

 

 

— 4 —

Check this out – a great resource from the Rector of our Cathedral, Fr. Jerabek: 

I am pleased to announce the release of a resource I developed several years ago, now to a wider market. It is a basic bilingual catechism (Spanish/English). This resource meets a pastoral need that I have encountered over and over again: in working with Latino immigrants, I have found that a very large number of them have little formal education in the Catholic faith. Many come to the Church as adults to make their first communion — some, even, to be baptized! When faced with pastoral situations such as this, it is helpful for the pastor or catechist to have a basic resource to put in their hands: something that can be a sort of “springboard” for learning what is needed for sacramental preparation and personal spiritual growth. I have also found that many individuals who already have their sacraments enjoy this resource for “brushing up on the basics” of their faith.

16501053_cover

— 5 —.

One of my favorite blogs is A Clerk at Oxford – check out her post on an 10th-century Advent homily:

This brief fragment is full of rhetorical flourishes and ornamental prose which it’s difficult to convey in translation; it would be very effective when read aloud, as homilies are of course meant to be. There’s a particularly lovely string of parallel phrases describing Christ: ealles folces Frefrend, 7 ealles middangeardes Hælend, 7 ealra gasta Nergend, 7 ealra saula Helpend ‘all people’s Comfort, all the world’s Saviour, all spirits’ Preserver, all souls’ Helper’.

— 6—

Feast of St. Francis Xavier coming up tomorrow. St. Nicholas this week – you still have time to do some preparation -check out the St. Nicholas Center! 

And, Catholic institutions…please stop having “Breakfast with Santa.” Please.  It’s so much better, and not hard to have Breakfast with St. Nicholas instead.

Also, I’ll be in Living Faith a couple of days next week – check out the website, where they post the devotionals on a daily basis. 

— 7 —

Still hankering for a family devotional? Get this one instantly for only .99!

And don’t forget…Bambinelli Sunday.  It’s coming…

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

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Over the next few weeks and months, we will be hearing much about Shusaku Endo’s great novel Silence, and, of course, of Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, which was screened this week in Rome.

This is a novel that is very easy to misunderstand, and I am very interested to see what Scorsese does with it. By saying “easy to misunderstand,” I am not suggesting that there is only one way to “understand” or interpret the novel, though. Not at all. I do think that Silence Endothere are unquestionable misinterpretations, however, and most of them come out of a lack of awareness of the Japanese, particular Catholic, as well as personal context  out of which Endo was writing.

In other words, you can’t fruitfully read Silence if your only frame of reference are 2016 culture wars and ecclesiastical and theological divisions. Silence is not about that. So forget it.

So yes, I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks – this very short piece I wrote years ago for Ligouri still stands up. As I say in the beginning, it was so short because that was the mandate from the magazine – write 540 words….oy.

Anyway, what I am working on is a study guide for the novel. I am doing this just for myself and anyone else who is interested, and I’ll make it available as soon as I finish it – hopefully next week. It will be amended once I see the film, but I did want to put something out there sooner than that. I’m sure that many parishes and other groups will be using Silence as a group study focus over the coming months, so I just wanted to join the fray and put what I hope will be a helpful resource out there. It will just be a free download – no signing up for mailing lists required!

Anyway, this is accidentally pertinent. In doing all that reading for women and the Reformation, I came across this really interesting article in a book on early modern women and religion. 

“Women Apostles in Early Modern Japan, 1549-1650” by Columbia Theological Seminary historian Haruko Nawata Ward tells stories that we don’t usually hear, as our focus on Japan during this period is, naturally enough on martyrdom. You can probably access much of the article by searching Google Books – since you probably don’t want to pay $150 for a copy..

Anyway, Ward uses documents from missionaries to tell the stories:

Working in the difficult environment of Japan, and always understaffed, the missionaries relied heavily upon laity in the work of evangelization. They quickly recognized women’s contributions and the importance of collaborating with women in their shared apostolic mission. …

…The best known of these was Naito Julia, a former abbess of a Buddhist nunnery, who was inspired by Jesuit missionaries and established a society of Christian women catechists called the Miyaco no bicuni (Nuns of Miyako). Women catechists’ success in converting people is well documented by the Jesuits; however, because of their success the government banished the Miyaco no bicuni from Japan in 1614. The Jesuits continued to record the history of these women, who became contemplatives, during their exile in the Philippines until 1656.  ….Women catechists of Julia’s society took the three vows of virginity, poverty and obedience under the supervision of two Jesuits. Following the Jesuit model, these women were active evangelists, preachers, teachers catechizers, baptizers, pastoral leaders, and religious debaters. 

The details of the community’s life were recorded by Jesuit Juan de Salazar after the group had been exiled to the Philippines. He felt it was important to preserve their history.

Usually she taught non-Christians Christian doctrine, catechizing them so that they would be converted to our holy faith and be baptized, and at the same time, she attended to the teaching of Christians, instructing them so that they would be ready to confess and receive the holy sacrament. And she was so busy with these holy ministries that regardless of her deep desire to retreat so as to make the [spiritual] exercises of our father Saint Ignatius, she was seldom able to obtain them from the fathers of our Society because they were continuously sending her to evangelize in various kingdoms, cities and private houses where our own could not go. 

Moreover, the Jesuits granted Julia full authority to baptize on their behalf. Salazar explains that Japanese noblewomen of the highest rank would not speak with men, not even Buddhist clergy. Julia opened the door for the conversion of these women: not only was she a noblewoman of royal blood which allowed her access to other noblewomen, but she was also gifted with intelligence, prudence, and versatile knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and was thus able to differentiate “false” Buddhist teachings from the “true” teachings of the Catholic faith. Julia was apparently very successful at this task: “Convinced by the reasoning of Lady Julia, many ladies of Japan with their daughters and families accepted our holy faith and received baptism by her hand because we [the Jesuits] were not able to administer it. 

Incidentally, traditional barriers between the sexes throughout Asia were a major reason that Protestant denominations began sending women as missionaries to the continent during their great missionary century, the 19th.

This cultural reality also sheds light on the purpose of female “deacons” in the early Christian church. There is certainly ambiguity about this role as it was lived out in the Church, but what is consistent is that it was not at all the sacerdotal diaconate related to the presbyterate and episcopacy, and existed so that women could be ministered to in certain ways in a culture in which the taboos against male and female interaction outside the family were strong.

In 1613, Julia and her companions were arrested, publicly humiliated (stripped naked in public) and tortured. They would not renounce their faith, so the shogunate expelled them from Japan. They arrived in Manila in 1615, and lived there, in a different way of life: enclosed now, rather than active, but dedicated to prayerful support of the Jesuit missions.

The Society saw to it that the women received adequate donations to sustain themselves, noting that they ‘only cared about the greater glory of God and obtaining the greatest happy progress for the Province and our Society of Jesus, whom they, like a sweetest mother, keep i the most intimate part of their hearts.’ 

She tells the story of many more, some martyrs and some beatified and canonized. As I said, I read this article in an anthology, but Ward has a book on the subject Women Religious Leaders in Japan’s Christian Century, 1549-1650.   

As I keep saying in my very boring way…if you want to stay sane in the Crazy Present Moment…read history. It helps. It really does. 

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