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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

— 1 —

I usually have on ongoing, running file of “7 QT” items that I can pull from quickly when the time comes. But not this week. I’m in recovery/anticipation mode, from one Big Event to Another. Therefore, distracted.

2

I did cook last night, though! For the first time in a while. We are going to be on the road for a bit taking a kid to college soon, with much eating out, and I started to feel guilty about that. So I cooked – Chicken Tetrazzini from the Fanny Farmer cookbook. My mother used to make Turkey Tetrazzini all the time after Thanksgiving, and it’s one of the few cooking “traditions” I seem to have followed. This is the recipe, basically – I layer it a bit more.

 

— 3 —

When in doubt, talk about homeschooling. Honestly, there is so much on other topics I’d like to write about, furious as I am about so many things in the world pretty much constantly – but here I am, with Stuff To Do today…and so no brain space in which to tackle it. Sorry for the lameness. I’ll be blogging over the next couple of weeks – some scenic blogging of a place I’ve never been the last week of August – but I fear the Seriousness, such as it is, won’t return until around August 30 or thereabouts.

-4–

So – homeschooling. Going okay. We’ve been in about halfway mode because of the wedding as well as the fact that his neighborhood friend goes to a school that doesn’t begin until next week.

But he’s been chugging away at his Latin. He’s gone through chapter 7 of Latin for the New Millenium (goal: finish book I by early November, start prepping for the National Latin Exam, but also start book 2), and taken the tests the tutor has sent. I’m passing on tests 4-7 today to the tutor, he’ll look at them, and that will be the basis for the meeting this weekend.

Math – after leaving Saxon, things are going great. He’s finished chapter 1 of the AOPS Counting and Probability book and we are reviewing Algebra, just spot checking through the AOPS Introduction to Algebra book. (The first part of that book is Algebra I – the second Algebra II.)

Spanish he is tackling on his own. He is doing Spanish II, using various resources. I am going to trust him on this one.

–5 —

Forthcoming:

– The Iliad.  We listened to the In Our Time episode on the epic. I’m going to be downloading two books to listen to on our many, many upcoming hours in the car: Derek Jacobi’s recording of Fagles’ translation (we have the hard copy to, to follow along) and, per the advice of a commenter, this class on the archaeological dimensions 

As I said to someone – be carefully what you casually mention to me. As in – if you casually mention “Maybe I’ll read the Iliad and the Odyssey” – I Am On It. 

 

— 6 —

Shakespeare for the fall has been engaged: Alabama Shakespeare in Montgomery is doing Hamlet in September and Atlanta Shakespeare is doing King Lear a couple of months later. So there you go – besides our Iliad/Odyssey – our literature for the fall.

Atlanta is also doing Julius Caesar – which he studied and saw a couple of years ago. But we will probably revisit for a bit and head over there to see it. Can’t have too much Shakespeare! And I do love Julius Caesar. Their favorite memory from that production, which is a very intimate space, was related to Caesar’s body being on a bier right next to our table – and try as he might, the actor playing the supposed-to-be-dead Caesar – sneezed.

He’s also reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and plans to dive into the Simarillion. 

— 7 —

Yeah, okay. That’s it. Very sorry for the lameness.

Remember:

2020 Devotional available. 

Son’s new novel available.

Son posts film thoughts every day during the week – here’s his top Bergman films. 

Here’s his post on the future of home video.

Streaming is the desolate wasteland of our future, and we are seeing its effects now.
“How can that be?” some of you may be asking. “I can watch whatever I want by just selecting it from a menu!”
I’ve always been wary of streaming, but the original reasons for that originated from an element of the luddite in my soul that I can’t quite get rid of. I wanted physical media, and I couldn’t imagine other people wanting something else. Well, I get the appeal of streaming now, but I’ve seen the limitations and they worry me.
They aren’t technical limitations. The technology will only continue to improve. We’re even at the point where we can stream 4K UHD image with HDR over the Internet. Streaming and physical media are largely at a par in terms of technical delivery.
No, the problem goes back to that which Stephen Prince told my class about how studios want to make their money. Studios have seen physical media profits plateau and begin to fall. They see the future as streaming, and they love the idea because suddenly they have more control over media. No longer will they have to manufacture and then say goodbye to the film once a consumer purchases it. No. Instead, a consumer will purchase, at best, a license for the film that gives them access to the film within the terms of the contract. If the studio wants, it could pull the movie completely. Or change it. Something similar happened when Microsoft recently closed down its eBook store. All licenses expired automatically and everyone lost access to their books. Consumers won’t have to rely on themselves to keep their media in good shape anymore. They’ll have to rely on movie studios staying in business and continuing to provide access.

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

 

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First, from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

(What is below is the end of the story. The structure of every story is the same – a retelling, then an specifically Catholic application, Scriptural references, a reflection prompt and a prayer.)

amy-welborn3
Bellini Transfiguration
It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
  Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.
Sermon of Anastasius of Sinai. Office of Readings

 

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From: The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

 

And here we go with chapter 4 of Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies.  This chapter covers the earliest stages of patristic thinking about the saint. It’s shorter.

(Why do this? Because her feast is Monday – July 22.)

I hope what you notice that one of the things I try to do here (and in everything I write along this line, as well) is to help the reader understand not only Mary Magdalene herself, but broader  epistemological matters as well. How to read the Bible. How to understand early Church History. It’s one thing to throw factoids at people. It’s important in the long run, however, to open them up to the greater issues of, not just what to know, but how to know – especially about religious matters – in a culture in which they are told, repeatedly, that all knowledge, especially about religion, is fundamentally uncertain, relative, and ideological.

For previous chapters:

Chapter one: Introducing Mary Magdalene in the Bible

Chapter two: Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection

Chapter three: Mary Magdalene in Gnostic writings

For the entire book, available for Kindle for .99 – here. 

While Gnostic writers were — or perhaps weren’t – – writing about Mary Magdalene, favored student of the Gnostic Jesus, orthodox Christian writers had a few things to say as well during those early centuries of Christianity.
She didn’t dominate the scene, but a few thinkers found her an intriguing figure, helpful in understanding the nature of faith and redemption. She’s represented in art from the period as well, most often in her role as “myrrhophore” — one of the women bringing oils and spice to Jesus’ tomb.

It’s that theme that we see most frequently: Mary Magdalene as faithful disciple and witness to the empty tomb, and then, digging a little deeper, Mary as the New Eve and Mary as the Church, symbolized with power and passion in the Old Testament Song of Songs.

Those who think that the Gnostics were more appreciative of Mary Magdalene than were orthodox Christians who were perhaps busy demonizing her might be in for a surprise. Many early Church Fathers had no problem identifying Mary Magdalene in quite exalted terms: “Apostle to the Apostles” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles,” titles which may be now neglected in the West, but which remain her primary identification in Eastern Christianity to this day.

‘Come, My Beloved’

It might be helpful, before getting to Mary herself, to set the scene. When we talk about the “early Church” and the “early Church Fathers” and their writings, what exactly do we mean?

For the purposes of this chapter, “early Church” means Christianity up to the late sixth century, at which point we start creeping into the early Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, as they are quite unfairly called.

During this period, Christianity spread throughout the Middle East, into Africa, far into Europe, and even into India. The time began, of course, with most of that area (with the exception of India) as part of the Roman Empire, where Christianity was illegal. By the time the sixth century rolled around, the old Roman Empire had collapsed, new kingdoms and empires had taken shape, and Christianity was not only legal in all of them, but was the established religion in most as well, a situation that would last until the rise of Islam in the eighth century.

By the end of the first century, a basic church structure of presbyters (priests) and bishops was beginning to evolve (we can even see this in the New Testament: for example, in the First Letter of Paul to Timothy). The religious landscape was not the same as it is today: there were no seminaries, no universities, and of course, no publishing houses or religious newspapers. But there were theologians, spiritual writers, and bishops, who wrote and preached. Many of their works have survived and are available in English — even on the Internet — today.

Most commonly, the texts that we can read that give us an idea of what these Christians were thinking and how they believed and practiced their faith are:

  • Defenses of Christianity against skeptics and heretics.
  • Commentaries on Scripture.
  • Catechetical instructions.
  • And not coming from individuals but from church communities were liturgies and,beginning in the fourth century,
  • decrees from gatherings of bishops.

So you see, although there is much we don’t know, a great deal of evidence has survived that gives us an excellent picture of Christian life in its first five centuries of life. It is not as mysterious and ambiguous as some claim. Christian thinkers were seeking to deepen their understanding of the Gospel, in the context of a culture that was extremely hostile to them, as well as intellectually and religiously diverse.

There’s a good reason people still read the writings of these early Church Fathers. Their situation was not that different from ours. They were dealing honestly and tenaciously with the most fundamental aspects of Christian faith, and they were trying to make them understandable to a world that, while skeptical, was obviously deeply in need of Christ. Two thousand years is a long time — but not long enough for human nature and humanity’s need for Christ to change.

These early Christian writers viewed the literal truth of Scripture — in which they firmly believed, by the way — as a starting point. From that factual level, they routinely set off exploring nuance, making connections, and discovering useful analogies and allegories. Patristic writing is extremely rich in that way.

So for them, Mary Magdalene was more than a woman at a tomb, just as Jesus had been more than a man on a cross. In Jesus, all of history is redeemed and all of creation is reconciled to God.

Into this richness step ordinary men and women like you and me, people like Peter, Levi, John, and Mary. As they live and move in Jesus’ shadow, listening and responding to him, they, too, become more. Their actions evoke other figures’ responses to God’s out-stretched hand. Their doubt, faith, sin, and redemption become more than just their own, as we look at them and see echoes of our own lives and, in fact, of the whole human story.

So, for example, when some of these writers meditated on Mary Magdalene, they saw her responding to the Good News of redemption and eternal life — in a garden. It recalled another scene, at the beginning of salvation history, also in a garden in which a woman and a man disobeyed God, and humanity fell. And so, for some, Mary Magdalene became a sort of New Eve, long before the title had attached itself to the Virgin Mary.

For example, St. Cyril of Alexandria, who lived in the fifth century, said that because of Mary Magdalene’s witness at the empty tomb, all women were forgiven of Eve’s sin (Haskins, p. 89). St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nyssa also made the connection:

“She is the first witness of the resurrection, that she might set straight again by her faith in the resurrection, what was turned over by her transgression.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa,Against Eunomius3.10.16, quoted in The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, by Jane Schaberg [Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002], p. 87).

The image of a woman grieving and waiting in a garden evoked another image for Christians: that of the great love poem in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Song of Songs (also known as the Canticle of Canticles or Song of Solomon).

The third-century Christian writer Hippolytus made a great deal of this in his own commentary on the Old Testament book. He brings in not only Mary Magdalene but also the other women reported at the tomb in the various Gospels, and sometimes in confusing ways. The female image, rooted in specific figures, becomes more generally symbolic but, with Mary Magdalene as one of them, echoes the deep desire of the bride in the Old Testament book, her desire for her beloved, as they seek Jesus at the tomb:

“ ‘By night, I sought him whom my soul loveth’: See how this is fulfilled in Martha and Mary. In their figure, zealous Synagogue sought the dead Christ. . . . For she teaches us and tells us: By night I sought him whom my soul loveth.” (Hippolytus,third century, quoted in Haskins, p. 61)

Finally, writers during this period cited Mary Magdalene for her witness at the tomb and sharing the Good News with the apostles. Hippolytus, who was also a bishop, referred to her as “Apostle to the Apostles.” Other Church Fathers also praised Mary for her role as a witness, some holding that through her example, all women are honored and, in a sense, redeemed.

A fourth-century Eastern poet named Ephrem used this image, although, confusingly to us, he conflates Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the following (as we saw in the last chapter, this was a characteristic of Syrian Christianity in this period):

“At the beginning of his coming to

earth A virgin was first to receive him, 

And at his raising up from the grave

To a woman he showed his resurrection.

In his beginning and in his fulfillment

The name of his mother cries out and is present.

Mary received him by conception

And saw an angel at his grave.”

(Quoted in Haskins, p. 90)

In this early period of Christian reflection, theological and spiritual writers worked in a relatively simple garden. Scripture — both Hebrew and Christian Testaments — was their primary source. Their sense of who Mary Magdalene was and of her importance for Christians was derived completely from that. She was historically significant because she was the first to see the empty tomb and the Risen Christ. Her role evoked other women in other gardens, and another layer of reflection was woven, celebrating Mary Magdalene as a New Eve or as representing the Church as the expectant bride seeking her bridegroom, Christ — but all because of what the Christian tradition had testified about her role in the events of the Resurrection.

The story of Mary Magdalene obviously does not end here, for at this point — the fifth and early sixth centuries — some images, quite familiar to us today, have not yet appeared. What of the penitent Magdalene? The prostitute? The evangelizer of the French?

Where these came from we shall soon see, as we enter the Middle Ages, a period of intense creativity and legend-building, in which the evidence of Scripture was revered, but popularly viewed as only the beginning to far more interesting tales.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why did early Christian thinkers refer to Mary Magdalene as the “New Eve?”
  2. Why did they connect Mary Magdalene to the Song of Songs?
  3. What do you think of this approach to interpreting Scripture? Do you find it helpful or not?

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June is dedicated in a special way to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Mary’s heart – the Immaculate Heart of Mary – is the focus of August).

In a time and culture in which hardly any of us understand what love actually is, in which dehumanizing hate and contempt dominate public discourse, a daily prayer (you can find some here) focused simply on love might just have surprising power.

In a church culture which often reflects contemporary values that emphasize achievement and self-actualization and fulfillment by doing the Next Big Amazing Thing in Your Very Big Amazing Life, a daily prayer centered on opening ourselves to sharing the love pouring forth from the heart of Jesus in just ordinary ways might provide a welcome refocus as we get our bearings for summer.

Here are the pages on the Sacred Heart from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Click on each image for a larger version.

As you can see, the structure of the book is: for every entry, the left-hand page features a beautiful illustration and a brief definition. On the facing page, you will find a longer explanation, suitable for older children.

More about the book – and the others in the series – here. 

 

 

 

 

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— 1 —

Thursday evening, I dragged the boys to the Independent Presbyterian Church – wait, no, don’t worry, no budding Calvinism here – for a production featuring the choir of that church and the UA-Birmingham  music department.

It was The Three Hermits, a one-act opera by American composer Stephen Paulus, based on a Tolstoy short story. Here’s the text of the story. 

It was a nice production in such an interesting space. The event put me back in full Teachable Moment mode, in which I was able to yammer on about Tolstoy, Russian Orthodoxy, Calvinism and the Reformed tradition and even a little bit of Birmingham history – I held back on Walker Percy, though.

(His parents were founding members of this Independent Presbyterian Church, led by a minister with more interest to matters like the Social Gospel than was found among the mainstream Birmingham Presbyterians at the time. By the way – the link takes you to an article on Percy in the magazine for the wealthy neighborhood in which he grew up – Mountain Brook. It’s a recent article, and I’m glad to see it, for now I can finally identify the house in which the family was living when Walker’s father committed suicide. I had never been able to figure out which house it was. Their first home no longer exists – it was torn down as part of neighborhood-ripping road construction.)

 — 2 —

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I don’t know what John Calvin would think of this church. 

The large IPC choir sang from a loft on the right, the organ was in its place in the center loft, which also functioned as the hermits’ island, the orchestra was on the ground level over to the left and the rest of the action happened in the sanctuary, with the pulpit functioning nicely as a well, the lookout pulpit on a ship. Most of the voices were quite good, with one weakness. Best were the hermits, the bishop and his mother.

Given that it’s Tolstoy, the original scenario would suggest, you know, Orthodox religious all ’round, but here they all became Roman. Which was fine – the point is still made, although productions doing Catholic Things would do well to always have an actual Catholic be a part of Tech Week to double check accuracy on that score. They did fine, with one except – at one point a non-cleric makes the sign of the cross over himself with his hand sideways, as a cleric blessing others would do.

It’s an interesting little opera – called a “church opera” in some descriptions I read. A few steps up from a “church musical,” with far finer music. The strongest elements were the choral elements and then the exchanges between the bishop and the hermits in which he is attempting to teach them how to pray the Lord’s Prayer (the point of the story being his pride and blindness to the strength of the hermits’ faith, as “simple” as it seems to him).

An hour of quality music, well done, in a lovely church, free, five minutes from home – not a bad Thursday evening! Still time to finish Calculus homework and practice Liszt, which of course is super important to everyone.

— 3 —

Weeks of insanity begin…now. 

Over the next six weeks, we have:

Eighth grade Passion Play; Eighth grade class trip to Nashville; Eighth grade research paper and oral defense; Eighth grade exams; Eighth grade appreciation dinner; Eighth grade graduation; Senior Guys Trip to (of all places) Boston; 3 AP exams; High school awards night; High school baccalaureate Mass, High school graduation; law school graduation; 3 piano competition performances; 1 piano recital; jazz piano lessons; pipe organ lessons; practice for all of those;

Right after Eighth grade graduation, former Eighth Grader immediately transitions to high school and begins with Latin, Spanish and Algebra II/Geometry tutors (that’s the trade-off when you’re going to spend part of the “school year” in places like Moab and Yosemite and Palenque and Guatemala and Thailand and Cambodia and Spain and such. Yeah, while you’re in town? You’ve got to do school, Son. )

Add several orthodontist (although one is just a retainer check now and hopefully the other will have the wires and brackets stripped soon, too) and dermatologist appointments, and really, thank God – seriously  – thank God this 58-year old single mom is fit and healthy (for the moment).

–4–

Speaking of school and such, if you didn’t read Caitlyn Flanagan’s take on the college admissions scandal – scoot over to the Atlantic and do so. I don’t agree with her final, final take – it’s too narrow – but it the sharpest writing you’ll find on the mess, penned by a person who actually worked with families like this, both as a teacher and then, yes, as a guidance counselor.

–5 —

From First Things: “Pro-Life Liturgy: How the Orthodox Tradition Teaches That Life Begins at Conception” – 

 

When we sing hymns of the Annunciation, when we gather for a weekday liturgy to remember Righteous Anna’s Conception of the Mother of God, when we kiss the icon of the Conception of St. John the Baptist as he stands next to his parents, and when we receive the Eucharist that was borne through the royal doors with the Annunciation icon, we experience the truth that each one of us is fully a person from conception. And we celebrate the fact that we are, as soon as we are conceived, unique, irreplaceable, and infinitely valuable.

Our liturgical experience furthers our encounter with reproductive and medical technology today. The language of bioethics is insufficient to us as Christians because it, by design, attempts to keep pace with the ever-changing scientific understanding of prenatal development. The liturgy offers another way of knowing, one that will never be subject to revision. Through the experience of worship, we embody an integrated truth: that the nature of creation is ineffable and that conception is inseparable from the advent of a new person.

Conception is akin to a sacrament of the Church. As in a sacrament, the Holy Spirit, and not just the workings of humans, is involved. And as we do not seek to explain the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and the blood in the Eucharist, we need not square current embryology with the creation of a human person. Leaving this veil on the mystery of the creation of a new person untouched does not deny the biological mechanics of the union of a sperm and an egg and the development of an embryo after fertilization. Instead, we honor the coexistent but higher reality, the more mysterious one, of the beginnings of a human person. 

— 6 —

And now for something completely different: from the NYT – an op-ed suggesting that we don’t need more tech in our cars (aka the self-driving car) – we need to be more engaged with our cars and our driving – hence, we should bring back the manual transmission. 

I mean – not that it’s gone. One of our cars is a stick and teaching my son to drive it was certainly harrowing, but I’m very glad that’s what he’s driving – for all the reasons this writer suggests and more.

But there’s one feature available on some cars today that can increase a driver’s vigilance instead of diminishing it — the manual transmission.

A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially in city driving where a driver might shift gears a hundred times during a trip to the grocery store….

….When I bought that first five-speed BMW, my dad cautioned me about safety, thinking that driving a stick would be more distracting and less safe. He was wrong. Though research on the safety of manual transmissions is scant, one study on the driving performance of teenage boys with A.D.H.D. revealed that cars with manual transmissions resulted in safer, more attentive driving than automatics. This suggests that the cure for our attentional voids might be less technology, not more.

I’m not gearhead, but I do think that driving a manual transmissions deepens your understanding of what is actually happening to your car while you drive it.

It also might be a theft deterrent – I read, on one of the local neighborhood discussion boards – of someone’s account of an attempted carjacking, abandoned because the car was a stick, and the would-be thief had no idea how to drive it….

Also, speaking to the cell phone issue – I have a friend here in town who has many kids. They’ve been doing new drivers pretty constantly for probably almost ten years now. She said they always have their new drivers drive a manual transmission because it makes it impossible for them to text and drive. Smart!

 

— 7 —

Image result for the man who killed don quixote banner

 

My Movie Son on:

Paisan

The Thin Red Line

Why the bridge sequence in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly hurts the movie

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Stardust

 

 

Get your gift books! Do!

First Communion

 

 

 

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

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A few years ago (several…more than ten….), I wrote a few back-of-the-book one page pieces on Franciscan-related saints for Steubenville’s Franciscan Way magazine. Here’s one on today’s saint, Benedict the Black. You can see that all those years ago, I looked askance at the self-fulfillment- passions-n-dreams bandwagon. It just ain’t the Gospel, folks.

 

 


 

 

In the modern world, we make much of personal initiative. The praiseworthy person, we’re told, is one who goes out there, sees what he wants, and grabs it. Our drive for action, our motivating center is supposed to  be  all about expressing   our personal vision.

Have we forgotten how to listen? For it seems to me that a really complete life isn’t about us charging through, imposing our lovely selves on a breathlessly waiting world. No, isn’t it more about watching the world, listening  to  it,  sensing  needs,  and  responding  in kind?

The saints seem to tell us  this is so, among them, St. Benedict the Black.

St. Benedict has been called “the Moor” at times, but while his parents were indeed African, they  were not, in fact, Moors (an ethnic group from western Africa). Over time,  he came to be called “the Moor” as a mistranslation of the nickname he earned during his life, “il moro santo ,”which means  “the  black saint.”

stbenedictblackBenedict’s parents converted to Christianity after they were brought from Africa to Sicily as slaves. Their owner promised to free their oldest son when he reached manhood, so on his eighteenth birthday, Benedict was released from slavery.

He took work as a day laborer,  and working in the fields one day, he was subjected to mockery from a passer- by, who insulted his race and the fact that his parents were slaves. Benedict responded  to  the  taunts,  not  out   of revenge or anger, but in the spirit of Christ who calls us to love our enemies.

Benedict’s  response  drew  the attention of a hermit named Lanzi, who was living in loose association with others nearby in the spirit of St. Francis. He told those who had spoken the harsh words, “You ridicule a poor black now; before long you will hear great things of him.” He invited Benedict to join him and his associates. Benedict listened and responded. He sold what possessions he had, gave the money to the poor, and joined the hermits.

The group of hermits moved several times over the years. When Lanzi, the group’s superior died, they elected Benedict to replace him. In 1564, however, Pope Pius IV ordered all groups of hermits to either associate themselves with an established religious order or disband. Benedict joined the Friars Minor of the Observance and became a lay brother at a friary in Palermo, where he was given the  role  of cook.

The  mid-sixteenth  century  was a time of great upheaval in the Church. The Franciscans had, of course, engaged in many reforms and realignments already over the course of the order’s 300-year life. Benedict’s convent was already part of the stricter element of the order—the Observants, and in 1578, it voted to participate in more reforms to bring it even  closer to the Franciscan ideal. Benedict was elected guardian of the convent—the one who would oversee the   reforms.

Since he could neither read nor write, and was not even a priest, Benedict was initially unhappy with his election, but in the end, bound by obedience, had no choice but to  listen and accept. He might not have seen his own gifts as particularly suited to this office, but his brothers obviously did, and their call to Benedict proved a wise one. Benedict led the reform with wisdom and prudence. He responded in the same way to the next call—to be novice master—saying yes to God’s call through the needs of his community. His reputation for holiness spread beyond the convent walls as well, as he directed his energy towards helping the poor.

At last, his administrative duties at an end, Benedict requested and was granted a return to the friary kitchen. There he spent the rest of his days, not only helping to nourish his brothers, but also sharing the love of Christ with all who came to him for help. The poor and the sick flocked to the friary kitchen, knowing that there they would meet the compassion of Jesus, working through the hands and heart of Benedict, a holy man who would listen to them speak of their needs and would always respond.

We all have our plans, it  is true. We can’t help but make them. But when we listen to God’s voice as he speaks through a world in need, we might hear hints that God has some- thing else in mind. Something even better.

 

 

 

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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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