For Bernard of Clairvaux’s Bible Reading Program to Make Sense of the World

Back in October of last year, I shared thoughts written by a Doctor of the Church with you. It was from a homily St. Bernard of Clairvaux had written and preached to the brothers in his order about one of the books in the Old Testament. As I was re-reading the homily today, these words of truth leapt off the screen,

there are two evils that comprise the only, or at least the main, enemies of the soul: a misguided love of the world and an excessive love of self…

I named the post where these words can be found For Solid Food Like This (Hold the Milk). As posts of mine go, it was unread for the most part. Last week I suggested that we all could spend an extra hour a week reading the Bible. But Frank, you may be thinking, where do we start? I think St. Bernard might have an idea or two.

In that homily, which is on the title of The Song of Songs, he recommends two of my favorite books from the Old Testament to tackle: The Book of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

Comparing these two books to loaves of rich bread, here is what he says to us about them in regard to his quote above,

These are two loaves of which it has been your pleasure to taste, loaves you have welcomed as coming from the cupboard of a friend.

Of course, he is addressing the brothers in the Cistercian order. As such, he is no longer talking to mere babes in Christ, but to soldiers of Christ. No longer folks who believe, but folks who have committed their whole life to Christ and His Church. And today, he is speaking then to Christians who are ready to take the training wheels off their bicycles and really begin to ride. But why these two particular books? Here’s what Doctor Mellifluus has to say,

The Book of Proverbs: Uproots pernicious habits of mind and body with the hoe of self-control.

Have we thrown self-control and self-discipline to the wayside? It appears that St. Bernard is describing the merits of this book as the first phase of recruit training to me. The process where we scrub off our old, worldly selves and become immersed in the culture of our new family. More than just a thought, where in our minds the light-bulb comes “on”, this book deals in concrete actions that teach us how to become practicing Christians and children of God. The military analogy that pops in my mind? Marines aren’t born, they’re made. The same is true for Christians. And what of the second book?

Ecclesiastes: by the use of enlightened reason, quickly perceives a delusive tinge in all that the world holds glorious, truly distinguishing between it and deeper truth. Moreover, it causes the fear of God and the observance of his commandments to be preferred to all human pursuits and worldly desires.

To me this is St. Bernard’s “know your enemy” book recommendation, comparable to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The shocker to many is that the Church doesn’t discard the use of reason, but she embraces it. Many have thought, “Why is Ecclesiastes even in the Canon of Scriptures?” Because the Patriarchs deemed this inspired book’s merits far outweighed its demerits, and for the very reasons that St. Bernard cites above.

Qohelth describes the world as we know it. Writing as if he is King Solomon, “the Teacher” profiles all of the paths that people take in the world, and describes in pithy phrases the stark truth: all of these ways lead to dead-ends except one. Which is why the good Doctor can say this without batting an eye about these two books,

the former is the beginning of wisdom, the latter its culmination, for there is no true and consummate wisdom other than the avoidance of evil and the doing of good, no one can successfully shun evil without the fear of God, and no work is good without the observance of the commandments.

Tempted to skip these two books and head straight to the Song of Songs? I wouldn’t recommend it and neither does St. Bernard.

Taking it then these two evils have been warded off by the reading of choice books, we may suitably proceed with this holy and contemplative discourse which, as the fruit of the other two, may be delivered only to well prepared ears and minds.

In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Learn the fundamentals, and practice them constantly until they become second nature. No, I don’t have this completely “wired” yet and probably never will. But we have to start somewhere and practice, practice, practice.

The Book of Proverbs is pretty straight forward, and the notes in your Catholic Bible should have all the resources you need to understand it. Ecclesiastes may be a little more challenging, but there is a lot of information available to help you along with the writer’s, and thus the Holy Spirit’s, reasoning. As Our Lord says,

but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Come to the well.

For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says

I’ve mentioned in the past that my patron is St. Macarius the Great. He was a Desert Father who lived between the years 300 – 390 AD. He went into the desert when he was thirty years old, became a priest when he was 40 years old, was accused of adultery, and when he was proved innocent, he fled and headed to a place in the Egyptian desert called Scetis.

I probably went right by Scetis once or twice and never even knew it when I took a trip up to the battlefield at El Alamein when I was stationed in Cairo.

I also made a trip up to Alexandria too, and may have passed it by again in my ignorance. I was young and more interested in the human history of the battlefields in North Africa at the time. If I only knew then what I know now.

How did I choose Abba Macarius’s name for my confirmation name? I’ve written about that before, but I left out one little thing. It’s silly actually because it makes no sense at all. I confess that selfishness is one of the reasons. I figured that when I needed a little help from my patron, if I chose one of the well known saints, the line for my prayers to wait in would be long and winding. My solution? Choose a saint no one has heard of and the prayer line will be short! See? I’m always thinking.

A more serious reason why I chose Abba Macarius was because of the homilies attributed to him. I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies, but it turns out it’s more like fifty. Did he really write them? Or did someone else write them and use his name (much as the writer of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe he was King Solomon)? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. But having them available accomplished several things for me. First, they give a viewpoint of early Christianity that is very Catholic. Secondly, they help me by giving me access to my patrons’ wise council whenever I need it (which is often!).

The saints point us to Christ and His ways. These homilies do just that. They are powerful and I’d like to share a couple of them with you,

Homily 7: How the soul ought to demean herself in
holiness and purity, towards her Bridegroom Jesus Christ.

If a glorious prince should take a liking to a poor woman that has nothing, and have her brought home to him for his spouse, she ought ever after to show all good will to this husband, and retain a constant love for him. But if she transgresses the bounds of decency and duty, then she is turned out of doors with disgrace and reproach, and is full of sorrow; reflecting from how great wealth she is fallen, and what glory she has lost. Thus also the soul, which Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, shall espouse to himself, ought to please Christ, her lover; carrying herself in the house of this heavenly Spouse with a fair deportment, and a grateful sense of the grace bestowed upon her. Lo! such a soul is actually invested with the full command of all her Lord’s goods, and her body becomes the glorious tabernacle of his Godhead.

But if she does not the things that are pleasing to him, and is not perfectly observant of his will, then with reproach and disgrace is she disrobed of all her honor, as no way proper for the communion of the heavenly King. And after that, there commences an universal grief and lamentation over that soul among all the saints and intellectual spirits: angels, powers, apostles, prophets,and martyrs, mourn for her. For as “there is joy in heaven,” as the Lord has said, “over one sinner that repenteth,” so is there great grief and mourning in heaven over one soul that falls from eternal life.

We must therefore strive, and with the utmost prudence take care to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Whosoever therefore you are, that have been made partakers of the Spirit of Christ, look upon yourselves in no case whatever, whether small, or great, to be above advice; neither do any despite to the Spirit of grace, that you may be never excluded from the life which you have been made to partake of.

Let us therefore beg of God, that we, as many as have been partakers of his grace, may minister acceptably in the service of the Spirit, according to his will; that thus serving him according to his will with a spiritual service, we may inherit eternal life.

But can a man fall that has the gift of grace? Answer: If he grow careless, he certainly falls. For his enemies are never idle, or backward in the war. How ought you then never to desist from seeking after God? For the damage which you sustain by your neglect is exceedingly great, though you may seem to be even established in the mystery of grace.

Are the perfect liable to affliction or war, or are they entirely free from care? Answer: An enemy never respites any from the war. And Satan is perfectly void of mercy: wherefore neither is he backward to set upon any man whatever, though he does not attack all in the same measure and degree.

But there is need of much pains and labor, that a man may seek and lay the foundations, till such a time as the fire shall come into the hearts of men, and purge away the thorns. And thus do they begin to be sanctified, giving glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, for ever. Amen.

Homily 8: That spiritual men are liable to temptations and fictions.

As the experienced husbandmen, in a year of plenty, expect a time of dearth; and on the other hand, when dearth and difficulties overtake them, they are not dejected; as knowing there will come a change. So in the spiritual state, when the soul falls into divers temptations, it is not surprised as at a strange or unusual thing, neither does it despond, because it knows that they come by permission, that it may be tried and disciplined by the evil that befalls it. Neither again, when it abounds in wealth and ease, is it free from apprehension, but expects a change.

For when a man is rich in grace, there is yet a remnant of corruption with him: he has one however that takes his part, and that comes to his assistance. Whenever therefore any one is in afflictions, and the storm of corrupt affections thickens upon him, yet ought he not to quit his hope. For then sin gains ground. But when a man retains his hope in God, sin crumbles as it were, arid, and dries away.

As a well that runs, and has all about it nothing but moist grounds, when the heat comes on, both itself and its adjacent bogs are dried up; thus it is with the servants of God, in whom grace abounds; that dries up the concupiscence, not only that which is from the wicked one, but that also which is natural; because (of) that, now the men of God are greater than the first Adam.

Christians therefore belong to another world, are the sons of the heavenly Adam, a new generation, the children of the Holy Spirit, the bright and glorious brethren of Christ, perfectly like their Father, the spiritual and glorified Adam, of that very city, of the same kind, and of the self-same power. He himself says, “Ye are not of this world, even as I am not of this world.”

Yet a fear they still have upon them, not indeed that of novices, that live in a dread of wicked spirits; but a fear and concern how they may best employ the spiritual gifts they are entrusted with. And such a one as this looks upon himself to be despicable beyond all sinners. This reflection is as deeply rooted in him, as if it were his very nature. The more he advances in the knowledge of God, so much the less is he in his own eyes. And though he learns never so much; he is still as one that knows nothing. But these things are wrought in the soul by the ministration of grace.

The case is not unlike that of an infant in the arms of a young man; the bearer carries it about whithersoever he pleases: so does grace also carry the mind about, and bear it upwards into the very heavens, to the perfect world, and eternal rest.

****
As the Holy Spirit says in the Epistle to the Hebrews,

Continue to have confidence, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.—Hebrews 10:35-36

Abba Macarius, pray for us.


For Your Lenten Friday Night at The Movies III

Today is a Feast Day (and all that this implies)! What better way to celebrate than with burgers and hotdogs on the grill followed by a movie about the greatest game ever invented? Is this heaven?

If it’s still too cold to think of grilling where you live, than live vicariously through me and my family. We’ve been playing baseball since March 14th (my sons team is 5-1 so far) and enjoying every minute of it. Except it was a bit chilly yesterday (shiver me timbers!).

But no matter. Did you guys see my friend Pat McNamara’s post on Catholics making better athletes? Who cares if it’s true or not. But it was dripping with baseball and I’m a sucker for that game ever since my oldest got interested.

So here is the movie for this week: The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid. Based on the true story of a high school baseball coach, who against all odds tried out for his dream job and actually makes it to the Show. Oh, and he’s a husband, daddy, estranged son, and a teacher too.

It ain’t easy street, by any stretch of the imagination. But that is part of the appeal! Everything matters, and like a famous saying about baseball coined by Yogi Berra, it ain’t over till it’s over. This is the best “G” rated movie, that isn’t animated, that I have ever seen. Check out the trailer,

YouTube Preview Image

98 miles an hour?! He should see Blaise Pascal’s cut-fastball. You all know where to go to pick up your videos. Go forth and enjoy.

Next week? Sidney Poitier in Lillies of the Field.

Because Mary Said “May It Be Done to Me”

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Before I was a Catholic, I wouldn’t have even known what that all means. Just another one of those big ol’ words linked to Jesus’s mom that everyone knew Catholics worshiped.

Mary, schmerry, I thought, God can do anything. If Mary would have said no, big damn deal.

Sort of like asking a girl to dance at a party and you get rejected.”Sorry God, looks like she said No. Let me buy you a beer to help you put the flames out.” Next candidate please. There’s a lot of fish in the sea. [Read more...]

For the Daily Readings

If it’s Thursday, then I’ll be lectoring at daily Mass at the parish near my office. I went to the USSCB website to see the readings for today and again was amazed, for like the millionth time, at how prescient the order of the readings are.

I have no idea when the readings for the Lenten season were chosen, or put in this particular order. I know it wasn’t last week though. Most likely it was 30,40,50, or 350 years ago. But the thing is, they always seem to hit home with whatever the crisis du jour is.

Universal truths ring loud and clear, and they are timeless. This is why I love the Bible and the Church.

Jeremiah 15: 5-10

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
More tortuous than all else is the human heart,
beyond remedy; who can understand it?
I, the LORD, alone probe the mind
and test the heart,
To reward everyone according to his ways,
according to the merit of his deeds.

And the Responsorial Psalm (from Psalm 1) complements beautifully,

R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Not so, the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Amen.

For 10 Things To Do While Fr. Corapi is on Leave

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here, also known as “the Worst Consumer of Catholic Media on the Planet.

You’ve heard the news about Fr. John Corapi? Let’s say that you are a devotee of his. You aren’t alone, because last time I checked, there are 45,800+ “fans” on his Facebook page alone.

He has been placed on Administrative Leave, which to a Marine (like me) means he has been given a “time-out” from line-duty until an investigation can be completed. Nothing to get all wound up about.

But the question now is, how are you going to fill that hour or two (or four?!) that he helped you fill during your week?

 Whaat?! The company commander is wounded and has been medevaced and you lugs just sit down? What is this, the Soviet Army?!

I’ve got news for you lubbers. That’s not how we run things here in the Church Militant. There is plenty for you to do, especially when you consider Commander’s Intent and orders from the Holy Spirit via the pen of St. Paul,

So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

You heard the Old Man…WORK! And lest you start bellyachin’ about the opportunity for advancement you have been presented, heed these words too:

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. -(Philippians 2:12-15)

So, let’s assume the Skipper (Marine slang for Captains/Company Commanders) won’t be back, OK? But we’re still at war. So here is a little list of things to do to fill your time while Fr. John is on hiatus.

1. Read Your Bible for an Hour a Week. What, you don’t have a Bible? What kind of soldier are you? Besides, the battlefield is littered with them. I may not be a heavy user of Catholic Media (and TV…no time!), but the USSCB website has the Bible available 24/7. No excuses for not heading to the rifle range. I bet your parish has a bible study class available too. Sign up for it ASAP.

2. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is like #1 above, but with spiritual direction provided by the Church. The readings and psalms are all laid out for you. It is a great way to spend your time, any time of the day. Available 24/7 at Universalis.

3. Meet the Doctors of the Church Where do you think Fr. John learned to shoot like he does? He’s standing on the shoulders of giants, and so can you. Head to the library and read some of the sermons of St. Athansius, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and others. You’ll be amazed at the stuff they wrote, and the skills you’ll pick up.

4. Read The Spiritual Combat by Dom. Lorenzo Scupoli. Want action? Want a riveting read on tactics and strategies for living through this fight called Christian life? You’ve come to the right place with this book. This will get you started on Chapter One.

5. Pray for our priests and for vocations. We have deaths, retirements, and casualties. And the troops always need leaders. Pray for us soldiers for Christ and pray for our officer corps. If Adoration is available at your parish, that is a great place to pray. But anywhere will do, if you just make the time.

6. Go to Confession. A great way to kill an hour, at least for this week. Only you and God know the state of your own soul, so go take care of business.

7. Go to Daily Mass. This is a great way to spend a half-hour everyday, if you can swing it. You will be surprised at how easy it is to form this habit.

8. Get to know your own parish priest(s) better. This sort of takes care of itself as a result of #6 and #7 above. You know their names, but do they know yours? Why not?!

9. Get Involved in Your Parish. Here is an idea: become a lector, or an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Or join the choir, a committee, or help out at the next parish function. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Help pull some of the load in your parish.

10. Pray the Rosary with your family. Pope John Paul II said, “How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening.” Hard to do in my family, I’ll admit, but it’s not impossible to do at least once a week. You can even pray along with Mother Angelica and the gang over at EWTN (9:30 PM Eastern).

I’m sure there are many, many other ways to increase your knowledge and devotion during Fr. Corapi’s hiatus. So, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For, as the Apostle says When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

So don’t take your packs off. Saddle-up and move out for King and Country!

Because Napoleon Died a Catholic Death

A few weeks back, my family and I hit the used book sale that is held annually to benefit our local public library. Going to this sale has been an annual event for us, ever since we moved to Tennessee six years ago. It is at that sale where I first picked up the collection of Harvard Classics, where I met Blaise Pascal and Thomas à Kempis.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I go to this sale on the lookout for books about the Faith, and works written by great Catholic authors. 

I hit the jackpot this year, with a treasure trove of titles. Four Faultless Felons by G.K. Chesterton, for example. A paperback from 1956 called The Papal Encyclicals, with writings from St. Peter all the way up to Pope Pius XII. More Chesterton with Father Brown of the Church of Rome, edited by John Peterson. I picked up 17 titles in all, including The Waters of Siloe by Thomas Merton and The Peasant of Garonne by Jacques Maritain.

And the selection I am sharing with you today is from Hilaire Belloc’s biography of a famous French general and Emperor you may have heard of named Napoleon Bonaparte. Published in 1932, and weighing in at 379 pages, in a large hardback sporting “16 Illustrations and 22 Maps,” I’m looking forward to getting to know Napoleon better, through Hilaire Belloc’s pen.

A cursory glance of the volume landed me near the end of the book where the death of the exiled leader is imminent. Much as he did in The Great Heresies, Belloc doesn’t bother with footnotes here. But from what he writes about how Napoleon died, I hope to meet him in heaven.

Here is how Belloc tells the tale,

The Death of Napoleon

In exile on St. Helena

It was nightfall on Sunday, April 29, 1821. Napoleon lay dying. The little iron camp-bed with the silver eagles on its four corners and its green curtains was placed in the middle of the low petty room, its head to the light between two windows, its foot towards the simple fireplace, on the mantlepiece of which, in front of a large square looking-glass, stood the bust of his little son.

Wretched as the room was, it was the best in the shanty of a house—a place that was soon to be turned into common stables and was most suitable perhaps for that. It had been worse, when first the Emperor and the few who followed him came into that exile. They had found shreds of the wall-paper turned moldy and rotten with moisture and the ragged carpet on the floor gnawed into holes by rats. So much had been set right; muslin had been stretched over the walls and fluted round, the ceiling white-washed, and the place reasonably clean.

Napoleon’s Lodgings

It stood not far from the summit of a sort of very wide shallow cup sloping down easterly towards the sea from on of the ridges of that volcanic island (St. Helena in the South Atlantic), the floors of the long low place being somewhat less than 2000 feet above the sea, the noise of which could be heard coming up the funnel from the mouth of the depression below. And up that broad cup of the valley, and from the ocean below too, frequently blew the south-east gales—which the failing Emperor dreaded, finding that they suited him ill.

To the right end of the bed as he lay in such extremity he looked through an open door at the chapel which had been set up as best might be in the next room of the suite, the dining room. He gazed through to the wooden altar which the Chinese workmen (serfs of the East India Company) had set up; and his eyes could rest there on one of the last monuments of his name; the four golden letters “N” embroidered on either corner of the green velvet cloth which covered the two steps.

Through this door that morning he had heard the Sunday Mass which Bertrand’s young son had served. There also was the Tabernacle, rough, amateur, cardboard covered, but ornamented as best might be with gilt paper and the white of it gleaming against the red satin behind, while above stood a great Crucifix in ebony, too large it seemed for the altarpiece. Its great silver figure of Christ dominated the scene. He had given orders that when his last agony should be upon him, the Blessed Sacrament should be exposed and the Prayers of the Dead recited; also, said he, he desired to fulfill all the duties of the Catholic Faith.

Now as he had said these words, Antommarchi—the surgeon attendant upon him, who was an atheist in the spirit of his time,as also from the boast of science that he had, could not restrain a smile; whereat Napoleon, with some remnant of strength, flamed up at him and cried, “Be off! Stupidity fatigues me, but I can forgive shallow wits or even bad manners. I cannot forgive dullness of heart.”

It being not long after dark, Montholon had already taken up his watch at nine o’clock, which he changes alternately with the valet Marchand, and it ran till two o’clock in the morning. But on that day he had occasion to leave the Emperor alone, for this reason, that the priest Vignali was to attend. For Napoleon had said long before, when first he discovered what awaited him in his exile, “I must have a priest about me: I would not die like a dog.”

The Emperor had not feared death. He had seen it coming for now long past, ever since the beginning of the year. For when, on New Year’s Day, Marchand had pulled the curtains in the morning, Napoleon—who loved a joking converse with a familiar, and was devoted to those about him—had said, “Well, and what present have you for me this New Years?”

Marchand had answered, “Sire, the hope of seeing Your Majesty soon set to rights and leaving this air which does you only ill.”

But to such words Napoleon, no longer smiling, had gravely replied, “It will not last long, my son. My end is on me; I cannot carry on much more.”

Said Marchand, “As I see things it is not so.”

And then Napoleon had ended all this by the few words, “It shall be as God wills.”

As his illness had increased upon him he had known more and more that certainly it was death.

There came a time when he could no longer walk or ride out of doors, and when he attempted to do so turned faint. In March his blood had chilled and they needed to put warm clothes about his feet, and by the middle of the month he said to a doctor who begged him to take remedies prescribed, “Well, sir! I am at your orders! But do you not see that death will be to me a gift from Heaven? I do not dread it. I will do nothing to hasten it, but I would try no sortilege to make my life the longer.” And at another time he said, “Death has now been for some weeks beside me upon my pillow,” meaning that he had become familiar with that Visitor.

He had told them also, with more instinctive knowledge than their science possessed, that he was dying of what his father had died of; and so he was—with a cancer in the stomach which was certain soon to make an end; so that he could also say, when his English doctor asked him how he felt upon a certain day, “I shall soon give back to the earth the remnant of that life which it is of such import to the Kings to seize.”

He had asked, while still he could attend to reading, that they should read him Homer for a while; and that same day, Sunday the 29th, he had dictated, as he had dictated upon the day before, what he termed “A Reverie”—would that we possessed it! But now, when the night had come, greater things were at hand. The priest was with him alone.

Napoloeon Bonaparte confessed, and was absolved; his peace with the Faith was made; the Last Sacraments were administered—save for this, that he might not receive the Viaticum since he could retain no food. They therefore dared not give him the Eucharist. But he was at peace, while yet his reason remained to him.

It remained to him still for a brief four days. Upon the next day, the last of April, the Monday, his thoughts being still clear but his weakness very great and the sickness upon him very grievous, he kept his eyes still fixed upon the bust of his little son showing there against the glass at the foot of the bed upon the mantel. His sleep had left him, but he lingered on through May 2 and until the 3rd. Upon the 3rd, the last flicker of his great will being, as he thought, still at his service, he attempted to rise for a moment, but fell back. They gave him wine, and as he tasted it he murmured, “How good is wine!”

With that night of the 3rd, however, all around know that the end was upon him, and all watched. With the morning, before noon, his delirium began, in the frenzy of which at one moment he attempted to seize on Montholon at his side; and in that fever he muttered continually words the whispered confusion of which suggested now this, now that. It is said that the last of them which any mortal could distinguish were, “Army…army…” and “Head of the Army….” But there can be no certain record of such things.

All that day long, all the afternoon, right on through the night till four in the morning of the Saturday, the 5th, that final unconscious communion with the last flicker of this life continued. Drowning the slight murmurs of it, came violent rain for hours against the window panes at either side of the beds head, and mixed with that noise the saying of the Prayers before the Altar. Out of the sea a great wind arose and blew furiously up the valley, shaking the frail and miserable tenement with its gusts and rattling the casements and driving more furiously still the waters of the tempest against the glass.

But as the afternoon grew louder in the heavens without, the Emperor at last lay still, and even the faint whisperings from his lips were no longer heard; but they still moved imperceptibly in breathing. The household were assembled. It was near six in the evening. At nine minutes to the hour, the sunset gun was heard far off down the wind; and the rush of the tropical twilight fell under the hurrying clouds and that now lessening gale all those silent about him saw the change: the mouth half fell, the eyes opened; but they saw nothing of this world any more: Napoleon was dead.

They covered him with the cloak he had worn at Marengo, a Crucifix upon it, and by his side laid his sword.

You better believe that if I can say a prayer for the soul of Dracula, then I can certainly say one for Napoleon’s soul as well. And in the spirit of Lenten almsgiving, I’ll throw another one in for Hilaire Belloc’s soul for good measure too.

Update: Napoleon answers the question “Who is Jesus Christ?”

Because Jesus is the Unjust Steward

This first ran back in September, 2010 during the Feast of Our Lady of La Salette. I think it deserves another look…

—Feast of Our Lady of La Salette

Today I heard the best explanation of the parable of the “Unjust Steward” that I have ever heard. Or maybe it is the parable of the “Shrewd Manager.” Either way, thanks to the homily of my pastor today,  I think I may finally understand this parable. [Read more...]

Déjà Vu (Music for Mondays)

Singing, dancing, joy. A break from the mundane, or the monstrous. That is what music offers us. Performance art that often times touches on truth. Poetry, set to music, that gets closer to what we think and feel as a united humanity than almost anything else.

That’s one of the reasons I share music with you here, almost every Monday morning. And after the week just past, we need some music to put some spring in our steps.

Or maybe only I do. An earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown threats, priest scandal mania. Oh, and did I mention we are engaged in Shock & Awe again? Sigh…

Note the title to this post, because with all that is happening in the world, Qoheleth (the inspired writer of Ecclesiastes) is giving us a lesson on how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

There are lots of cover songs in this weeks collection of videos. And lot’s of work from a band who produced an album with the same title as this post. I had a lot of help from friends making these selections too. Because frankly, self-reliance is over-rated. Like in this first tune,

Matt Maher, MercyMe, Jars of Clay, Lecrae, and Thousand Foot Crutch, and more, cover Obla-di, Obla-da. The bands are on tour and having a little fun. They get by with a little help from their friends, come together, and do a great job on this rendition of a Beatles classic. I was tipped off to this by the folks at Life Teen International.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Woodstock. For the rest of this post, I’ll be referring to these guys as CSNY. You can blame this one on Deacon Greg Kandra. He referenced a few of the lines from this Joni Mitchell song in a reflection from last week. You guys know what I think of Neil Young, right? I’m not a baby-boomer and I’ve cast off the shackles of history so I’m not burdened by images of dope-smoking flower children when I listen to this. Give it a try and just listen to the words. I think you’ll find a clear signal amidst the noise.

Seal, Fly Like An Eagle. Remember this cover of the Steve Miller Band classic? It was used in the movie Space Jam, and it works well, seeing how March Madness is upon us. My team was eliminated already (by Florida) so, one less thing to occupy my time until next year. And I’m sure you remember my affinity for Seal.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash: Our House. Invoking the title of this post again, there is threat of scandal in the house again. Do I like it? Am I happy about it? No. Should scandal result in internecine warfare amongst family members? The boys of CSN (sans Y) unwittingly help me stay focused on what’s important here.

CSNY, Carry On. And to remember to keep marching forward along the Way.

CSNY, Teach Your Children. I wish I could say I am an unqualified success at doing this, but alas, I really don’t know. I’ll just keep slogging though. Teaching right from wrong, and teaching them to watch the world make the same mistakes over and over again. And that salvation isn’t of the world but,

From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Roll credits and I’ll see you next week.

Because of the Way This Desert Father Handled a Calumny

—Feast of St. Joseph  

There are scandals, and rumors of scandals and there always will be. To be tainted by scandal, whether you are wrongly accused or guilty, is really a no-win situation. How does one take on the burden of this situation?

Christ was wrongly accused and He barely said a word to defend himself. But others have been wrongly accused and have borne their accusations in a similar manner.

One of my favorite examples of this is from an episode in the life of my patron, St. Macarius the Great. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of this Desert Father’s humility, renunciation, and faith. Accused of sexual misconduct, Sister Benedicta Ward translates this episode in the saints life in her book Selections From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Abba Macarius said this about himself:

‘When I was young and was living in a cell in Egypt, they took me as a cleric in the village. Because I did not wish to receive this dignity, I fled to another place. Then a devout layman joined me; he sold my manual work for me and served me.

Now it happened that a virgin in the village, under weight of temptation, committed sin. When she became pregnant, they asked her who was to blame. She said, “the anchorite.”

Then they came to seize me, led me to the village and hung pots black with soot and various other things around my neck and led me through the village in all directions, beating me and saying, “This monk has defiled our virgin, catch him, catch him” and they beat me almost to death.

Then one of the old men came and said: “What are you doing, how long will you go on beating this strange monk?” The man who served me was walking behind me, full of shame, for they covered him with insults too, saying, “Look at this anchorite, for whom you stood surety; what has he done?”

The girl’s parents said, “Do not let him go till he has given pledge that he will keep her.” I spoke to my servant and he vouched for me. Going to my cell, I gave him all the baskets I had, saying, “Sell them, and give my wife something to eat.”

Then I said to myself, “Macarius, you have found yourself a wife; you must work a little more in order to keep her.” So I worked night and day and sent my work to her. But when the time came for the wretch to give birth, she remained in labor many days without bringing forth, and they said to her, “What is the matter?”

She said, “I know what it is, it is because I slandered the anchorite, and accused him unjustly; it is not he who is to blame, but such and such young man.” Then the man who served me was full of joy saying, “The virgin could not give birth until she said ‘The anchorite had nothing to do with it, but I have lied about him.’ The whole village wants to come here solemnly and do penance before you.”

But when I heard this, for fear people would disturb me, I got up and fled here to Scetis. That is the original reason why I came here.’

See what I mean? Is that not the most amazing, most Christ-like lowering of oneself that you have read, short of the trial of Our Lord? Short of the prophet’s words in Psalm 22?

But I am a worm, hardly human,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me

Sun Tzu

Who accepts blame like this when wrongly accused nowadays? With humility? With quiet reserve and with faith that the truth will come to light and set them free? This reminds me of something that Sun Tzu, in his Art of War wrote, five centuries before Christ was crucified, and eight centuries before Abba Macarius endured this calumny,

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

That is the truth. May it ever be so. And as for the example of Abba Macarius, Sister Benedicta shares this anecdote in Paradise of the Desert Fathers,

They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.

Another very Christ-like character trait. Abba Macarius, Pray for us.

You will find Sister Benedicta Ward’s book on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

Update: For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says


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