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Posts Tagged ‘monasticism’

Is it Thursday already? Well, well. A busy weekend is coming, and it involves travel. You Thursdaymight want to follow on Instagram for a taste. It’s not an exotic or novel destination, but hopefully, we’ll see new things.

Today’s the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, of course. Go here for a mega post with links to some of the many things I’ve written about St. Francis over the years. Bottom line takeaway? Read Francis for yourself. He didn’t write much. It’s all available, free. You might be surprised. 

So, on to the digest routine. Today it will be just reading:

Reading: I finished 1808: The Flight of the Emperor. How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World.  It was a decent, popular introduction to the events, but left me with many questions – there are works out there that go into more depth, but, as  I said, this serves as a good, easy-to read introduction.

(Reminder: I knew nothing about this before a couple of weeks ago, when I listened to a BBC 4 radio program on the creation of the nation of Brazil.)

Short version: Brazil was, of course, a Portuguese colony. In 1807, Napoleon was about to invade Portugal, and in order to save, if not that slip of the Iberian peninsula, perhaps the core and economic engine of the empire, the Royal Court hopped on boats and sailed across the Atlantic to Rio. All of them. Plus thousands of retainers and lesser nobility.1808 brazil They just….left.

It was certainly interesting to read about the stark contrast between aristocratic life in Portugal and the roughness of life in Rio. What’s most interesting though, as it usually is, is the inevitability of the Law of Unintended Consequences – for the ironic result of the decampment was, ironically, the independence of the colony, which came sooner than anyone could have predicted, and probably much more peaceably, because of the presence of the royal family in the land for more than a decade and the continued presence, even after everyone else had returned, of regent Pedro I.

And…then…there are the rabbit trails. My ‘satiable curiosity leads me down many, which is why sometimes it takes me longer to read a book like this than it should. Today’s rabbit trails were all about slavery – specifically slavery and religious orders in Brazil.

Ahem. [Clears throat for rant.]

History. It’s a wonderful thing. Really. What do they say? To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant? Well, not they, but Cardinal Newman, of course.

And I do agree with that. But that doesn’t mean that I also agree with the way that most religious history is presented most of the time by most well-meaning Catholics.

For the truth is, the triumphalist narrative, while not as overt as it was, perhaps before Vatican II, still reigns. That narrative which drains history of complexity and ambiguity and which lives in fear, most of all, of a secularist or (just as bad!) Prog Catholic being able to chortle See! The Church does change! 

And I get it. I taught high school, for pete’s sake.

So what passes for passing on our Church’s history is really a lot of  intense apologetics – much of which is truly quite legit – and parsing to make sure that we all understand that it wasn’t, strictly speaking and properly defined, the actual Church that was responsible for this bad thing or seemed to have maybe perhaps changed. A little bit.

But guess what? That smooth narrative isn’t real, isn’t honest, and, in the end – as we see in the present moment – makes the sins and inadequacies of the Church even more of a shock to the system and harder to deal with and understand – and, I might add – fix. 

So, take slavery. If you have only the most cursory understanding of the Church and slavery – from the sympathetic side – all you have probably heard is Bartolomo de las Casas – Church always taught slavery was intrinsically wrong – everything else anti-Catholic Black Legend Stuff. 

Well, this brief blog post isn’t about theology or ethics, but just history. And to be honest about history demands that we admit that for most of history, the Church did not present a 100% counter-cultural face when it came to the institution of slavery – although one can argue that the Catholic view of the humanity of enslaved persons was counter-cultural, yes. In a way.

I’ll just limit this to sharing what I read related to this very narrow slice of history, a couple of articles digging a little more deeply into various aspects of this issue.

“The Plantations of St. Benedict: The Benedictine Sugar Mills of Colonial Brazil.” 

-Sugar plantations which provided the economic foundation of Benedictine presence in Brazil and which were worked primarily by enslaved persons, as was the the case with most religious foundations in the New World, with the exception of those run by the Franciscans.

The author examines the economics of the system, but also makes some observations about treatment, arguing that the Benedictine plantations treated slaves more humanely than did most others, encouraging marriage and some independent economic activity.

“Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society.”

This article interested me because I’m particularly curious about how the official Church explained and co-existed with very official slavery. If you care to create a JSTOR account and log in, this article offers another, fascinating layer to the story.

“One of the most important colonial institutions which joined church and society in the Brazilian cities were the lay confraternities which were attached to churches, convents and monasteries. These voluntary associations of laymen and women joined people of all classes and races in common religious activities and social works of mercy. In colonial Brazil there were separate lay associations for different races, although these racially suggested societies might parade together during religious festivals and share side altars in a common church. Free blacks, mulattoes and slaves joined separate religious associations since the white confraternities were very exclusive and discriminatory towards the poorer non-white population. The slave confraternities of the cities of 18th century Brazil were the only lay religious associations in that society which were open to all people regardless of class, race, sex or ethnic background. However as the century wore on some of the black brotherhoods tended to differentiate among themselves according to tribal distinctions, language, social condition and the extent of assimilation in Portuguese America. The larger slave confraternities like the Rosary brotherhood usually had a more diverse membership of free and slave brothers, mulattoes, Creoles and tribal Africans, blacks and whites.”

And finally, some chunks of a book on Jesuit economic activity – chunks because I read it on Google Books, and I only had about 75% of the pertinent pages available to me that way. If you’d like to take a shot at it, go here, and start on page 502. The author lays out – I think fairly – the conflicts within the order about slavery. There were voices opposed to it – powerful ones – but in the end, practical exigencies won out.

(Click for larger version – also go to above link.)

 

 

 

(Some of you might be aware that, of course, North American Jesuits were no strangers to slavery either – a couple of years ago, Georgetown University acknowledged the role that slavery had played in its beginnings – specifically, the 272 slaves that were sold by Maryland Jesuits to get then Georgetown College out of debt.) 

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Jesuits: Rationalizing capitulation to the culture since the 17th century!

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It’s a serious question, and an intriguing one. This isn’t the first time I’ve made this observation. I have no answer – just an observation.

If we critique the contemporary Church for capitulating to culture and powers and principalities – do we bring the same critique to the past? Or do we say, “Well, we have to understand the context – what else could the Church have done? Hindsight is 20/20, you know.”

If we’re super comfortable with the Church integrating certain novel aspects of contemporary culture into belief and practice – do we bring the same approach to the Church’s actions in the past? Or do we say, “The Church was wrong and sinful and should obviously apologize.”

Just something to think about.

 

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A bit more on St. Bernard of Clairvaux, this post centered on one of his writings – De Consideratione . It is really a set of letters written to Pope Eugenius III by the saint. Here’s some background before we get to the quotes.

St. Bernard was the great Cistercian preacher, reformer and theologian. From a Benedictine website:

Bernard’s spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations…Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. …

In 1145, one of Bernard’s students and a fellow Cistercian was elected Pope, taking the name Eugenius III. These were quite tumultuous times for the papacy. A very, very short version:

Eugenius was elected on the same day Lucius II,  his predecessor,  died – killed, a contemporary historian tells us, in the midst of a battle against opponents of the bernard-clairvaux-2pope’s temporal power. Elements of Roman society – primarily merchants and craftspeople – had been attempting to resuscitate the Roman Senate and diminish papal temporal powers. This was an intense, years-long struggle which came to involve other European rulers. After Lucius’ death, the conclave gathered and elected a Cistercian monk who had Bernard of Clairvaux behind him, an indication, I suppose, of what they thought it was going to take to fix the mess.

(Image source)

And so Bernard wrote this treatise for his student over several years, advising him on how to conduct himself as Pope. It reflects all of these controversies and tensions, but at the core of it is a very simple call: remember you are dust.

So why care about these almost 1000-year old words of advice to a pope? A few reasons, I think.

First, Bernard was a spiritual writer giving spiritual advice to a man seeking to maintain his focus on Christ and the essence of his vocation in a landscape in which his office had been corrupted and temptation to give in to that corruption was strong. I think that’s a tension many of us experience: how do I keep my eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of distractions and temptations? How do I know when to act, when to listen, when to withdraw, when to engage? How many times have you thought, You know, I could be a much better Christian if I were in different circumstances…..

Well, then.

Secondly, it’s just interesting and always valuable to see the mess the Church  – and the papacy – has been in the past.  While it can certainly be scandalous and challenging to understand, it also..helps us understand. It can help us distinguish between rock and sand in the present moment.

Third, it gives us a look at some papal criticism. Yes, Bernard was a saint, spiritual master and Eugenius’ spiritual father, in a way, so he had standing. But even if none of us stand in that position to this or any other pope or even bishop, it’s helpful to read and study what Bernard says to Eugenius – what he deems fair game for challenge and examination, how he goes about it, and what he thinks it’s important to warn Eugenius about.

You can find the text here.

One more thing: sometimes when people allude to historical problems with the Church and papacy, it becomes a silencing weapon: Calm down! See! The Spirit always brings us through!  Well, here’s the thing: The life of the Church is not a performance with the Holy Spirit pulling strings and waving wands, and the rest of us watching from the audience.  The Holy Spirit works to preserve the Church through reformers, annoying critics, weird historical events and who knows what else.

Learning a bit of history does not offer any prescriptions for the present, nor does it define the present moment in either positive or negative ways. What I hope learning a bit of history does is disrupt, challenge and point us toward reform.

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These first two quotations certainly specifically apply to the distractions of the papal office, but also can apply to any of us. Have peace from distractions, but don’t make peace with them. Meme-worthy, Bernard!

The second quote intrigues me as he advises Eugenius to not get complacent – you might feel all right now, but don’t take that for granted.

I desire indeed that though shouldst have peace from distractions, but I do not want thee to make peace with them, that is, by learning to love them: there is nothing I fear more for thee than this.   1:1

Rely not too much on thy present disposition for there is nothing in the soul so firmly established as that it cannot be removed by time and neglect. A wound grows callous when not attended to in time and becomes incapable of cure in proportion as it lose sensibility. Furthermore, pain that is sharp and continuous cannot long endure : if not otherwise got rid of, it must speedily succumb to its own violence. mean to say : either a remedy will soon be found to assuage it, or from its continuance a state of apathywill result. What disposition cannot be induced, or destroyed, or changed to its contrary by the force of habit and usage ? How many have come by use to find pleasure in the evil which before inspired only horror and disgust ? 

After a while, when thou hast become a little accustomed to it, it will not appear so very dreadful. Later on it will shock thee less; later still it will have ceased to shock thee at all. Finally thou wilt begin to take delight in it. Thus, little by little, mayest though proceed to hardness of heart and from that to a loathing for virtue. And in this way, as I have said, a continuous pain will soon find relief either in a complete cure or in utter insensibility.  1:2

Some firm reminders of what humility means – and remember the political and social context, which involved the question of the pope’s role:

That thou has been raised to the pinnacle of honour and power is a fact undeniable. But for what purpose hast thou been thus elevated? Here is a question that calls for the most serious consideration. It was not, as I suppose merely that thou mightiest enjoy the glory of lordship…..Consequently let us likewise, that we may not think too highly of ourselves, always bear this in mind ,that a duty of service has been imposed on us, and not a dominion.  2:6

Go forth into the field of thy Lord, and consider diligently with what a wild luxuriance of thorns and thistles it is covered even today from the ancient malediction. Go forth, I say, into the world, because the world is the field that is committed to thy care. Go forth, then, into this field, not however as the owner, but as the steward, in order to supervise and look after the things wherof thou shalt one day have to render an account. Go forth, I repeat, with the two feet, as it were, of attentive solitude and solicitous attention…. 2:6

For where is the man to whom something is not always wanting? Indeed he who considers that he is wanting in nothing proves himself thereby to be wanting in everything. What if thou art the Sovereign Pontiff? Dost thou think that, because thou art supreme in authority, thou art likewise supreme in every respect? 2.7

Can there be any doubt that thou art more a man than a bishop? ….Thinkest thou that thou didst enter the world wearing the tiara? Or glittering with jewels? Or clothed in silk? Or adorned with plumes? Or bespangled with gold? No. If, then, from before the face of thy consideration thou wilt with a breath, so to speak, blow away these things as morning mists that quickly pass and disappear: thou shalt behold a man, naked and poor, and wretched and miserable; a man grieving that he is a man, blushing for his nakedness, lamenting that he is born, complaining of his existence..and hence living in alarm. 2:9

Whenever thou rememberest thy dignity as Sovereign Pontiff, reflect also that not only wert thou once, but that thou art still nothing better than the vilest slime of the earth.  2:9

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He offers various pointers for the Pope as an leader of an organization and of his own household, observations which are startling in their continued applicability. First – the problem of leaders believing too easily what they are told by those who surround them.

The fault to which I refer is excessive credulity, a most crafty little fox, against whose cunning wiles I have never known any of those in authority to be sufficiently on their guard. Hence the indignation which they so often exhibit without any reasonable cause; hence the frequent verdicts given against the innocent; hence also the condemnations pronounced against the absent. 2:14

Then…how to speak.

Thy lips have been consecrated to the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is unlawful for thee now to use them for jesting, and a sacrilege to have them thus habitually employed…Observe that it is not jests or fables but the law of God that is to be sought from the mouth of a priest. 2:13

An interesting complaint about how supplicants use the Pope to their own advantage, bypassing the local authorities, going straight to the Pope, telling their side, and then waving the flag of papal approval:

“…has recourse to thee, and returns in triumph ,boasting of thy protection, whose avenging justice he ought rather to have experienced.” 3.2

How the Pope should relate to his household. Before this, Bernard tells Eugenius to trust the details of the household to others, but…

But keep informed of ….the character and conduct of each member of thy household. Thou shouldst not be the last to know the faults of thy domestics, which, as I have reason to believe, is commonly enough the case with bishops…charge thyself personally with the discipline of thy house…

….I would not have thee to be austere in thy manner, but only grave. Austerity is wont to repel the timid, whereas the effect of gravity is to sober the frivolous. …Be the Pope in the palace, but at home show thyself more as a father. Make thyself loved, if possible, by thy domestics; otherwise let them fear thee. It is always good to keep a guard over thy lips, yet not so as to exclude the grace of affability.  4:6

I do love the distinction between austerity and gravity and his observation on the effect of both. So wise and still true.

Now here is a great quote. Fascinating. First, Bernard lets loose on “the Roman people” who have been giving popes such fits. Hmm. He might want to work on his accompanying skills.

But then..the second part of the quote is applicable to all of us..well, me at least. These are very wise words about how we should view our own efforts in relation to God’s will and power. Stick that in your Ministry Fruits Evaluation Pipe and smoke it.

But what shall I say of thy people? They are the Roman people! I cannot express what I think of them more briefly and forcibly than by giving them this title. What fact has been so well known to every age as the arrogance and pride of the Romans? They are a people who are strangers to peace and accustomed to tumult; a people ferocious and intractable even until now; a people that know not how to submit whilst resistance is possible. Behold thy cross…..nevertheless do not lose heart. What is required of thee is not the cure of the patient but the solicitous care of him. “Take care of him,” said the Good Samaritan to the innkeeper, not “cure him” or “heal him”.[what follows are several Pauline references to the point that ‘success’ is not the goal, for we don’t know what ‘success’ means in God’s eyes, but rather our dedication and labor] .   I beseech thee, therefore, to do what is thy part. As for the rest, God will be able to accomplish what appertains to Him without any need of thy care and solicitude. Plant, water, spare no pains, and thou has discharged thy duty. It belongs not to thee, but God to give the increase whenever it pleaseth him. 

Finally, this, which is just beautiful:

We must still go on seeking Him Who has not yet been sufficiently found and Who can never be too much sought. But perhaps it will be more becoming to seek Him, yea, and more easy to find Him, by fervent prayer than by argumentation. Therefore let me now put an end to the book, although not to the seeking. 

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Today, it’s Bernard of Clairvaux, via Benedict XVI, Pius XII, and Thomas Merton.

And no, “Doctor Mellifluus” is not the title of a film starring Vincent Price.  It means, “the honey-sweet doctor.”

Starting most recently and moving backwards – from a 2009 General Audience, part of the lengthy series Benedict offered as a catechesis to the whole world on great men and women of the Church.

Today I would like to talk about St Bernard of Clairvaux, called “the last of the Fathers” of the Church because once again in the 12th century he renewed and brought to the fore the important theology of the Fathers. We do not know in any detail about the years of his childhood; however, we know that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, into a large and fairly well-to-do family. As a very young man he devoted himself to the study of the so-called liberal arts especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics at the school of the canons of the Church of Saint-Vorles at Châtillon-sur-Seine; and the decision to enter religious life slowly matured within him. At the age of about 20, he entered Cîteaux, a new monastic foundation that was more flexible in comparison with the ancient and venerable monasteries of the period while at the same time stricter in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was sent by Stephen Harding, the third Abbot of Cîteaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young Abbot he was only 25 years old was able to define his conception of monastic life and set about putting it into practice. In looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard firmly recalled the need for a sober and measured life, at table as in clothing and monastic buildings, and recommended the support and care of the poor. In the meantime the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and its foundations multiplied.

In those same years before 1130 Bernard started a prolific correspondence with many people of both important and modest social status. To the many Epistolae of this period must be added numerous Sermones, as well as Sententiae and Tractatus. Bernard’s great friendship with William, Abbot of Saint-Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century, also date to this period. As from 1130, Bernard began to concern himself with many serious matters of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason he was obliged to leave his monastery ever more frequently and he sometimes also travelled outside France. He founded several women’s monasteries and was the protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, of whom I spoke last Wednesday. In his polemical writings he targeted in particular Abelard, a great thinker who had conceived of a new approach to theology, introducing above all the dialectic and philosophical method in the constructi0n of theological thought. On another front Bernard combated the heresy of the Cathars, who despised matter and the human body and consequently despised the Creator. On the other hand, he felt it was his duty to defend the Jews, and condemned the ever more widespread outbursts of anti-Semitism. With regard to this aspect of his apostolic action, several decades later Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In the same period the holy Abbot wrote his most famous works such as the celebrated Sermons on the Song of Songs [In Canticum Sermones]. In the last years of his life he died in 1153 Bernard was obliged to curtail his journeys but did not entirely stop travelling. He made the most of this "bernard of clairvaux"time to review definitively the whole collection of his Letters, Sermons and Treatises. Worthy of mention is a quite unusual book that he completed in this same period, in 1145, when Bernardo Pignatelli, a pupil of his, was elected Pope with the name of Eugene III. On this occasion, Bernard as his spiritual father, dedicated to his spiritual son the text De Consideratione [Five Books on Consideration] which contains teachings on how to be a good Pope. In this book, which is still appropriate reading for the Popes of all times, Bernard did not only suggest how to be a good Pope, but also expressed a profound vision of the Mystery of the Church and of the Mystery of Christ which is ultimately resolved in contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. “The search for this God who is not yet sufficiently sought must be continued”, the holy Abbot wrote, “yet it may be easier to search for him and find him in prayer rather than in discussion. So let us end the book here, but not the search” (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808) and in journeying on towards God.

I would now like to reflect on only two of the main aspects of Bernard’s rich doctrine: they concern Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His concern for the Christian’s intimate and vital participation in God’s love in Jesus Christ brings no new guidelines to the scientific status of theology. However, in a more decisive manner than ever, the Abbot of Clairvaux embodies the theologian, the contemplative and the mystic. Jesus alone Bernard insists in the face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time Jesus alone is “honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)”. The title Doctor Mellifluus, attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ “flowed like honey”. In the extenuating battles between Nominalists and Realists two philosophical currents of the time the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth. “All food of the soul is dry”, he professed, “unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt. What you write has no savour for me unless I have read Jesus in it” (In Canticum Sermones XV, 6: PL 183, 847). For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!

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Then Pius XII, who wrote an encyclical on St. Bernard on Pentecost, 1953:

6. From these words it is clear that in his study and his contemplation, under the influence of love rather than through the subtlety of human reasoning, Bernard’s sole aim was to focus on the supreme Truth all the ways of truth which he had gathered from many different sources. From them he drew light for the mind, the fire of charity for the soul, and right standards of conduct. This is indeed true wisdom, which rides over all things human, and brings everything back to its source, that is, to God, in order to lead men to Him. The “Doctor Mellifluus” makes his way with care deliberately through the uncertain and unsafe winding paths of reasoning, not trusting in the keenness of his own mind nor depending upon the tedious and artful syllogisms which many of the dialecticians of his time often abused. No! Like an eagle, longing to fix his eyes on the sun, he presses on in swift flight to the summit of truth.

7. The charity which moves him, knows no barriers and, so to speak, gives wings to the mind. For him, learning is not the final goal, but rather a path leading to God; it is not something cold upon which the mind dwells aimlessly, as though amusing itself under the spell of shifting, brilliant light. Rather, it is moved, impelled, and governed by love. Wherefore, carried upwards by this wisdom and in meditation, contemplation, and love, Bernard climbs the peak of the mystical life and is joined to God Himself, so that at times he enjoyed almost infinite happiness even in this mortal life.

After this encyclical was released, Thomas Merton was enjoined by his superiors to write a brief book introducing the saint and the encyclical to American readers. It’s called, The Last of the Fathers: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Encyclical Letter Doctor Mellifluus. 

I read it on Scribd last night (and in order to read it you must have an account) and cannot cut and paste excerpts.  But just know that it’s a good, brief introduction to Bernard’s life and writings, and Merton’s treatment of the preaching of the Second Crusade is particularly helpful.  I’ll be non-lazy and actually type out an excerpt, which is Merton’s summary of Pius’ summary of one aspect of Bernard’s approach.  First, the encyclical:

In the following words, he describes most appropriately the doctrine, or rather the wisdom, which he follows and "amy welborn"ardently loves: “It is the spirit of wisdom and understanding which, like a bee bearing both wax and honey, is able to kindle the light of knowledge and to pour in the savor of grace. Hence, let nobody think he has received a kiss, neither he who understands the truth but does not love it, nor he who loves the truth but does not understand it.”[7] “What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff up. And love without learning? It would go astray.'[8] “Merely to shine is futile; merely to burn is not enough; to burn and to shine is perfect.”[9] Then he explains the source of true and genuine doctrine, and how it must be united with charity: “God is Wisdom, and wants to be loved not only affectionately, but also wisely. . . Otherwise, if you neglect knowledge, the spirit of error will most easily lay snares for your zeal; nor has the wily enemy a more efficacious means of driving love from the heart, than if he can make a man walk carelessly and imprudently in the path of love.”[10]

And then, as Merton puts it:

The Holy Father then proceeds to distinguish the wisdom of Saint Bernard from true and false philosophy, reminding us that the only philosophy Saint Bernard despised was the false ‘curiosity’ which could not lead to the true knowledge of God because it blinded us to our need for His merciful love.

Opposed to this curiosity, the science that ‘puffeth up’ because it is without charity, is the true theology which Bernard loved with the most ardent devotion. This theology, as the Holy Father points out in three succinct quotations from Saint Bernard is a wisdom rather than a science. It is not only a perception of the divine truth by understanding but an embrace of that truth by love. Both these elements of knowledge and love are absolutely essential for true wisdom, for ‘What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff us up And love without learning? It would go astray.’ This is one of those many instances in which Saint Bernard’s Latin loses all its character in translation. The original must be seen to be fully appreciated: ‘Quid faceret eruditio absque dilectione? Inflaret. Quid absque eruditione dilectio? Erraret.’

Saint Bernard, the Doctor of Mystical Love, must necessarily be a defender of truth and of learning. God Himself is wisdom. Therefore He can only be loved fittingly if He is loved wisely. Neglect of knowledge leads love into error, and the enemy of souls has no more efficacious way of drawing God’s love out of our hearts, Saint Bernard says, than by inducing us to seek Him without the light of intelligence. 

Also – many today still turn to St. Bernard’s words on humility and pride. Msgr. Charles wrote about this a few years ago in a way that’s very helpful and relatable to the present moment. 

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Today is the feast of St. Bruno – here’s last year’s post on him, and an image you may feel free to use:

 

…and a sentiment I hope you will take to heart….

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This evening (Thursday), the teen was working at the grocery store, so the 12-year old and I headed over to Samford University and listened to a simply marvelous concert played by Vadym Kholodenko. 

M’s piano teacher had been encouraging us to go, but I hadn’t really considered it until this afternoon, when it finally registered in my brain who the performer was – I went to his website and saw that was the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition winner, but then I noted elsewhere a tragic event in his recent past – a tragedy I realized I’d read about at the time: his two young daughters were murdered, in 2016 by their mother, Kholodenko’s estranged wife. 

Well, it was a marvelous concert – three pieces: Mozart’s Sonata No.8, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 and then – after an intermission that was almost as long as the Mozart, he returned to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 37. 

The first two were lovely, with our vote going for the Beethoven, naturally, but the Tchaikovsky was at a completely different level. Vigorous, lush, strong, clear –  a little quirky – even the 12 year old was completely engrossed.

Engrossed, I must say, by the music, and a little bemused by the fact that this marvelous pianist was playing the instrument that he plays himself at recitals. I’m hoping he’s a little inspired by that.

Two observations. It had been a while since I had attended a professional solo piano performance, and I was intrigued by the atmosphere of the moments in between movements. As the performer finishes, the notes of the just-completed section fade away and he sits on the bench, hands at rest, head bowed, readying himself for the next movement. In those seconds, I was at once drawn to observe, curious at what could be discerned of his inner preparation for what was ahead, but at the same time, a little uncomfortable, as if I were privy to something quite private, that was really none of my business.

And then, of course, the context of the performer’s life, which is not the defining context, but is still there, and you can’t but let it be a part of your listening, to consider loss and sadness and finding the strength, not to just go on, but to go on bringing beauty into a wrecked world out of a wrecked heart.

This week, especially, I could not help but think of that as I listened. I could not help but be grateful for strength like his and so many others and pray, in the midst of such mystery and pain, for the kind of healing that music points to, but is even more.

 

 

— 3 —

 

This week I read Men at Arms, the first in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. I have read so much Waugh, but never this, partly because I don’t have a huge interest in war-themed fiction and secondly because I’ve always read mixed takes on it – it’s his masterpiece, no, it’s boring…who knows?

But I was digging around in some boxes downstairs and discovered that someone, at some point in time, had acquired a copy, so why not?

Well…I really enjoyed it. For some reason, I had been under the impression that the books were quite serious and solemn, but no, they are…Waugh.  Which means that the satire factor is high, as is the autobiographical aspect – the novels are based on his journals of his own military experience during the war.

Some choice quotes:

Lately he had fallen into a habit of dry and negative chastity which even the priests felt to be unedifying. 

A Catholic character jokes mildly about Confession, and a listener reacts.

Box-Bender looked self-conscious, as he still did, always, when religious practices were spoken of. He did not get used it – this ease with the Awful. 

The main character’s military group has been living in what had been a boarding school.

And yet on this dark evening, his spirit sank. The occupation of this husk of a house, perhaps, was a microcosm of that new world he had enlisted to defeat. Something quite worthless, a poor parody of civilization, had been driven out; he and his fellows had moved in, bringing the new world with them; the world that was taking firm shape everywhere all about him, bounded by barbed wire and reeking of carbolic.

Near the end of the book there’s a particularly horrific event. When it first occurs, I had to read through it twice because the first time through, I’d thought Waugh was being…metaphorical in the scene, but then I realized…no….it really is a *******. Yikes. Since so much of the book is based on Waugh’s experiences, I wondered if this was too, but a cursory search hasn’t turned up anything. If you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about, so if you have any insight, let me know.

There are actually many of Waugh’s books available at the Internet Archive now, including this one. 

 

— 4

 

Looking for books by a lesser writer? You know I have many out there – and some of them for sale via my bookstore here. Check it out. 

Are you shopping around for St. Nicholas things for your school or parish? Remember that Creative Communications has republished my St. Nicholas booklet. It’s available here, and also through the St. Nicholas Center – a great resource – the best resource for all things St. Nicholas whom, of course, we celebrate two months from today – but if it’s your job to plan, you know that two months isn’t too soon.

 

 

— 5 —

 

For every thing there is a season…and now’s the season for In Our Time to begin again. If you haven’t yet obeyed my hectoring on this program…as I said…now’s the season. The first program was on Kant’s Categorial Imperative, and after listening I can say that I actually do understand it a bit more than I did before. The second was on Wuthering Heights, which I’ve never read, a fact about which I’ve felt guilty, but no longer. I enjoyed the program a great deal and learned a lot, but it absolutely wiped out my curiosity about or interest in reading the book, although I am more curious about Emily Bronte and what was in her head and heart. Today’s program was on Constantine – I’ll listen to it tomorrow, I’m thinking.

A related program I listened to this week was a recent episode of Start the Week – the BBC4 program that airs (of course) on Mondays during which a few guests with various books to sell or other cultural achievements to tell us about deal with each other’s work in the context of a greater theme. I don’t listen to it every week because of the reliably smug political views on display, but this particular episode centered on Les  Miserables, so I listened, and was glad I did. The participants were the author of a book about the book, then the actor Simon Callow, who’s written a book on Wagner, then a literature scholar and finally an opera singer and director. The conversation centered on Hugo, Wagner and the contemporary opera Written on Skin. The big questions were the role of fiction in culture and social change and  the writer as public intellectual as well. Good, meaty stuff.

— 6 —

Only a bit of Lost has been watched since last week. The older son’s work schedule and then school have taken precedence, as they should. We’re up to the beginning of season 3 – another spectacular season-opening scene – and might be able to squeeze in an episode this weekend. But football of all types is also happening, so maybe not.

 

— 7 —

Well, the Bearing Blog family is about to head back to the US after several weeks in Europe – if you haven’t been keeping up with Mom’s very thorough travel blogging that puts anything I’ve ever attempted to shame – go over there and catch up. For sure if London is in your future, her blog will be a very handy guide. It looks like it has been a wonderful trip and perhaps it will inspire readers to save up vacation time and money – no matter how long it takes – and plunge into that Big Trip – where ever the destination might be – the lake over in the next county, the region across the country, the mountains halfway across the world. There will be bumps along the way and when you look back, you might think that you’d do some things differently if you could, but chances are slim to none that you’ll look back and say, “Yeah, that was a mistake. We shouldn’t have done that trip at all – ” 

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Ferrara, June 2016

 

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Remember when I used to do those? Well, maybe I’ll sort of start again. Sometimes.

This week is going to be pretty busy, and Monday and Friday would be the only two days in which there would be much uninterrupted actually-at-home time. Because:

  • Tuesday is a two-hour science center class (squid dissection! Mom gets two hours to work on her next book at the trendy food court across the street!) and boxing class in the afternoon.
  • Wednesday morning, a repair guy is coming to start the process of fixing the various broken things and places that have started piling up around here. Then Wednesday afternoon is Zookeeper-for –  (half) – a – day.
  • Thursday morning is the two-hour photography class (2 more hours for mom to work!) and then piano.

So we tried to pack it in today – and we did – and still had time for an outing.

  • Prayer: Saint of the day (John Cupertino), Mass readings, prayer, practice Pater Noster.  First reading was from 1 Timothy, so I spent a couple of minutes reviewing the Pauline epistles with him and the difference between the Pastoral Epistles and the others.
  • Religion-related. Someone he knows a bit from the Catholic group Fraternus entered the Benedictine monastery up the road as a postulant this past weekend. We read about that on the monastery’s Facebook page and then watched the excellent video that was produced last year about St. Bernard’s with the added bonus that the (familial) brother of one of his friends who is a (religious) brother in formation there is in the video here and there.
  • That was followed by a discussion of the stages in the monastic vocation, using the page from St. Bernard’s website. 
  • Animal Farm. He has his leisure reading always going on, but he also will have “school” reading, assigned by me. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been this. I selected it because it’s short, interesting, accessible and a good way into discussions of history (which he wanted to emphasize this year)  and literature (allegory). He finished it over the weekend, so we went over the Sparknotes analyses of those chapters and reviewed some of the charts I’d printed out about the allegorical associations. Talked a bit about post World War-II Soviet expansion and watched a short video about the Berlin Wall.
  • One of his own goals that he has set for himself this month is memorizing all the US presidents in order as a beginning framework for studying for the History Bee (exam coming in January – so this is just beginning). He recited what he knew and we had some random discussions about some of the presidents.
  • Spanish: this was his desire – to start more serious work on Spanish. I’d purchased a curriculum (which I will be writing about soon – it has given me Food For Thought in a couple of areas). We’d been dipping in and out of the introductory chapter over the past couple of weeks and got serious today with the first actual chapter  – going over the vocabulary, watching the videos and doing the activities.
  • Math: He’s on Chapter 3 of the Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra book. Today he watched the video associated with the first section and then went over the material and did the set of problems – the topic is number theory and, more specifically, multiples.
  • I showed him a form I’d printed out for him to log all the books he reads this year. I just think it will be good for him to have, and he’ll enjoy looking at it at the end of the year. And yes, we’ve been very good about my plan of recording learning instead of planning it. It works very well for us. We note every topic discussed/dealt with over the course of the week in a planner, and then at the end of very week, he fills out a log summarizing the week’s learning and activities.
  • He got up around 9:30 and when we finished all this it was about 11:45. Yah. So there was time for a requested jaunt for him to finish his photography homework – made all the better now because his brother drives himself to school so we don’t have that upper boundary of a necessary return time. We do have the limitation of a car I’m still afraid to drive too far away, but maybe sometime soon I’ll actually take in the used car I bought for $2k to get checked out and get an assessment of whether it’s safe to drive. (It feels fine – I’m just a little skittish about taking it too far….)
  • So the jaunt was to a “nature park” that’s about ten minutes from my house, but I had no idea existed until about two weeks ago when I was driving on the road and saw the sign for it. It’s on the side of a substantial hill in between a residential area and a commercial area of Irondale (where EWTN is located), and it doesn’t have amazing rock or water features, but it was a decent walk, with good trails, bright orange lichen and many spiders. Good subjects. (Photos below were taken by me with the phone – he had control of the camera, and I don’t know what he ended up taking photos of and keeping.)

 

And back home, we discovered that the moon had apparently fallen to earth:

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He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

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This is a repost from last year, but I thought since the Benedict Option talk reached a peak of sorts this year, it was worth repeating. 

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict of Norcia.

Buy some beer!

Listen to some music!

Pray!

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There is much talk about St. Benedict these days, as people consider how to live in a culture increasingly hostile to the Gospel. You might come away from these conversations thinking that Benedict and the Benedictine Way is essentially about “withdrawal.”  I don’t think that is correct.  Looking at the origins of Benedictine monasticism might help understand why.

Christian monasticism did, indeed, begin with withdrawal from the world. In the 3rd century men and, to a lesser extent, women, began heading to the desert to live in solitude. But even these anchorites did not shut themselves off from interaction with others, as they accepted visitors seeking to benefit from their wisdom and assist them.

But Benedictine monasticism was different, of course. Cenobitic, as opposed to anchorite, monasticism, was a call to live in community, together, with brothers. But is this “withdrawal?”

In fifth century Europe, most people lived their lives in small communities of extended family and small settlements. Most people did not travel far from where they had been born, unless driven to do so by war or natural catastrophe. As towns developed, they built walls, and in general, one could not just pop into any walled settlement you happened to be passing by. The walls were there for a reason, and access to all communities  was guarded and controlled.  These kinds of restrictions on travel and entrance into unfamiliar towns is not just a feature of medieval life, either. Last year, I read a history of hotels and tourism in the United States, and was quite interested to see how serious travel restrictions were even in the US, up to the mid-19th century and the development of the railroad. The traveler, in short, was usually viewed with suspicion before welcome.

My point is this, moving back to 4th and 5th century Europe. Benedictine monasticism developed on a  continent in serious, violent transition, parts under constant siege, and it was radical and transforming, but the basic instinct – to form a community with a strong sense of self-identification vis-a-vis the outside world was a fundamental paradigm of social organization of the period. 

One could even say that during this period, all communities that valued their survival and identity were, in a sense, semi-cloistered, guarded against the influence of the outside world. 

The difference is that Benedictine monastic communities were intentional, with ties rooted, not in family or geography, but in brotherhood in Christ. A new family, a new community in a continent of other communities formed out of different paradigms.

I also think the argument could be made that Benedictine communities, while they were certainly withdrawing from worldly influence in terms of turning from marriage, familial ties and the political arrangements of the world, they were probably more open to the world than your average family-based walled settlement down the valley from the monastery. They were more open to learning, more open to visitors from other areas, more cosmopolitan and just as economically engaged – at least before the growth of commerce.  

So to position Benedictine monasticism as an option that, at heart, is a means of protection from the world, period, is a simplistic misunderstanding of the origins of this movement that misses the opportunity to explore what St. Benedict and his monks really have to say to us today. It is about community, yes. It is about cutting ties with some aspects of the world and intentionality, yes. It is about expressing the instinct that human beings are made, fundamentally, for communion with God and that aspects of the world actively work against spiritual growth and fully human life as God desires. That is fundamental to Christian spirituality, as we can see from St. Paul on. But withdrawal from everything, pushing away and closing-off? No. 

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008:

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict’s life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In hisRule he describes monastic life as “a school for the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45) and advises his monks, “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” [that is, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours] (43, 3). However, Benedict states that in the first place prayer is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action. “The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions by our deeds” (Prol. 35). Thus, the monk’s life becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation, “so that God may be glorified in all things” (57, 9). In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God (58, 7) on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ (5, 13), whose love he must put before all else (4, 21; 72, 11), and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience practised by faith inspired by love (5, 2), the monk achieves humility (5, 1), to which the Rule dedicates an entire chapter (7). In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-fulfilment as a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with hisRule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

 

 

 

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