YIMC Book Club Notice

Posted by Frank
Errata alert and mea culpa! One of our readers alerted me to the fact that a chapter was omitted from the syllabus of our YIMC Book Club selection, Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. I have adjusted the syllabus accordingly, and happily it involves only a few extra pages. I will be posting on the first week’s readings later on today.

Because of Thoughts Like These from St. Athanasius

I promised St. Athanasius (297–373 AD) to our readers tomorrow, but it turns out that, although the Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on January 18, the Catholic Church doesn’t do so until May 2, in keeping with the tradition of using the date when a saint’s soul leaves this world for the next.

So instead, I’ll leave these fully baked thoughts from chapter one of St. Athanasius’s book On the Incarnation, in which he begins his defense of Church teaching against the followers of Arius and Arius’s notion that Jesus, although chosen by God, was merely a man and not the Word made Flesh. Note the clear and lucid style he uses, including many scriptural references clearly including some books (the Shepherd of Hermas, for example) in the canon of the New Testament that were later excluded as non-canonical from St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible (405 AD).

In the introduction to this translation of On the Incarnation, C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity (the YIMC Book Club’s next selection) has this to say regarding the importance of this work:“We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, ‘whole and undefiled,’ when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those ‘sensible’ synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.”

Consider this as a way to clear our palates after reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy prior to moving on to the next course with Mere Christianity. St. Athanasius, take it away—

In our former book [Against the Heathen] we dealt fully enough with a few of the chief points about the heathen worship of idols, and how those false fears originally arose. We also, by God’s grace, briefly indicated that the Word of the Father is Himself divine, that all things that are owe their being to His will and power, and that it is through Him that the Father gives order to creation, by Him that all things are moved, and through Him that they receive their being.

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth. For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident. The things which they, as men, rule out as impossible, He plainly shows to be possible; that which they deride as unfitting, His goodness makes most fit; and things which these wiseacres laugh at as “human” He by His inherent might declares divine. Thus by what seems His utter poverty and weakness on the cross He overturns the pomp and parade of idols, and quietly and hiddenly wins over the mockers and unbelievers to recognize Him as God.

Now in dealing with these matters it is necessary first to recall what has already been said. You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self-originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient [coming before, or preceding] Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.

Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.

Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female . . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matt. xix. 4–6) How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being.” (John i. 3) How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;Gen. i. 1 and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd (ed. The Shepherd of Hermas), “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.”(The Shepherd of Hermas, Book II.) Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” (Heb. xi. 3)

For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men. Upon them, therefore, upon men who, as animals, were essentially impermanent, He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked—namely the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word Himself, so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as He does, though in limited degree they might continue for ever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise.

But since the will of man could turn either way, God secured this grace that He had given by making it conditional from the first upon two things—namely, a law and a place. He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption. This is what Holy Scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, “Of every tree that is in the garden thou shalt surely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, but in the day that ye do eat, ye shall surely die.”(Gen. ii. 16.) “Ye shall surely die”—not just die only, but remain in the state of death and of corruption.

You may be wondering why we are discussing the origin of men when we set out to talk about the Word’s becoming Man. The former subject is relevant to the latter for this reason: it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption.

But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.

By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt. So is it affirmed in Wisdom: “The keeping of His laws is the assurance of incorruption.”88Wisdom vi. 18 And being incorrupt, he would be henceforth as God, as Holy Scripture says, “I have said, Ye are gods and sons of the Highest all of you: but ye die as men and fall as one of the princes.”(99Psalm lxxxii.)

This, then, was the plight of men. God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word. Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death; for, as I said before, though they were by nature subject to corruption, the grace of their union with the Word made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption, as also Wisdom says: “God created man for incorruption and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death entered into the world.”(Wisdom ii. 23)

When this happened, men began to die, and corruption ran riot among them and held sway over them to an even more than natural degree, because it was the penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment. Indeed, they had in their sinning surpassed all limits; for, having invented wickedness in the beginning and so involved themselves in death and corruption, they had gone on gradually from bad to worse, not stopping at any one kind of evil, but continually, as with insatiable appetite, devising new kinds of sins. Adulteries and thefts were everywhere, murder and rapine filled the earth, law was disregarded in corruption and injustice, all kinds of iniquities were perpetrated by all, both singly and in common. Cities were warring with cities, nations were rising against nations, and the whole earth was rent with factions and battles, while each strove to outdo the other in wickedness. Even crimes contrary to nature were not unknown, but as the martyr-apostle of Christ says: “Their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature; and the men also, leaving the natural use of the woman, flamed out in lust towards each other, perpetrating shameless acts with their own sex, and receiving in their own persons the due recompense of their pervertedness.”(Rom i.26)

The complete book, including the introduction by C.S. Lewis may be read online here.

For All the Saints: Anthony the Great

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of the Desert Fathers. Today, we celebrate St. Anthony the Great. Anthony is really the Godfather of all the Desert Fathers and the person responsible for starting the formation of Christian monastic orders. I love the following saying attributed to him, because it seems to hit home with how I often feel these days, despite the fact that this was said over 1600 years ago:

Abba Anthony said: “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad because you are not like us.”

Yes, we are living in interesting times. And what an interesting person! A role model even of St. Francis of Assisi. Take a look at what Thomas Merton has to say about Abbot Anthony from his book The Wisdom of the Desert.

In the 4th century AD the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men who left behind them a strange reputation. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the ancient Roman world to live in the solitude and silence of the desert. Why did they do this? The reasons were many and various, but they can all be summed up in one brief phrase: the quest for salvation. Among these men (and women!) the life and witness of St. Anthony the Great is unique.

St. Anthony, called “the father of monasticism”, was born in central Egypt about 251 AD, the son of peasant farmers who were Christian. In circa 269, he heard the Gospel being read in Church and applied to himself the words of Jesus to the rich man: “Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come, follow Me.” He sold everything he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor and devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse living on the outskirts of his village.

Around 285 AD he went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude. It was in this solitude and silence that Anthony heard clearly the Word of God for his life. After 20 years in solitude, Anthony emerged “as one initiated into the mysteries of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit (he became) a physician given by God to Egypt through whom the Lord healed many people.” He died at the age of 105 in 356 AD and his biography, written by St. Athanasios (whose memory the Orthodox Church celebrate on January 18th, and the Catholic Church on May 2nd) created an immediate literary and theological sensation throughout the ancient world.

What can we, more than 1500 years later, learn from Anthony’s witness? What is the meaning of his flight from society into the desert? First, society—which meant classical Roman pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life “in this world” – was regarded by Anthony and the many other desert fathers and mothers as a shipwreck from which each had to swim for their lives.

These were men and women who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the non-Christian tenets of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. These Coptic hermits—for Anthony—like so many of his brothers and sisters, was a Copt and spoke no Greek or Latin—who left the world as though escaping from a shipwreck, did not merely intend to save themselves. They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the ability but even the obligation to pull the world to safety after them. Perhaps we cannot do exactly what Anthony did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break our spiritual chains, cast off the domination of alien compulsions and find our true selves in Christ Jesus.

Some sayings of St. Anthony the Great:

When the same Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?” He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.”

Abba Anthony said: “This is the work of a great man: always to take responsibility for his own sins before God and to expect temptations until his last breath.”

He also said: “Whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it in accordance with the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

Abbe Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares? Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.’”

Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (Jn 4:18)

He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

St. Anthony, Pray for Us!

For All the Saints: Macarius the Great

When I was going through the RCIA program as a candidate, the need to choose a Confirmation name came up. The director of the program and my sponsor both gave me some suggestions (including St. Francis Xavier, as I recall).

I liked what I read about him, but he didn’t seem right for me. I thought a lot about it. I realized that I was choosing a friend in heaven whom I could ask to pray for me. That is a special trust, so choosing this person haphazardly wasn’t in the cards for me.

By this time in my journey, I had come across the Desert Fathers & Mothers. I love these people! Such stories, such sacrifice, such practical sayings! All very motivating to a guy who, despite all my earlier objections to Catholic Christianity, found himself standing in the recruiting office saying “sign me up.”

I really enjoyed what they had to say about living our faith. But one of them stood out to me most, and I knew he was the patron saint for me: St. Macarius the Great. His feast day was yesterday (January 15, so I humbly apologize for not getting this post up sooner, Abba!).

St. Macarius is known by other sobriquets as well: Macarius the Great; Macarius the Wonder Worker; Macarius the Elder. As for me, I just call him Abba Macarius when I ask him to pray for me. He once said this about prayer:

Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?” The old man said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.”

Amen to that! Here a few other stories and wise sayings to give you a taste of my patron:

A brother once came to the abbot Macarius and said to him, “Master, speak some word of exhortation to me, that, obeying it, I may be saved.” St. Macarius answered him, “Go to the tombs and attack the dead with insults.” The brother wondered at the word. Nevertheless he went, as he was bidden, and cast stones at the tombs, railing upon the dead. Then returning, he told what he had done. Macarius asked him, “Did the dead notice what you did?” And he replied, “They did not notice me.”

“Go, then, again,” said Macarius, “and this time praise them.” The brother, wondering yet more, went and praised the dead, calling them just men, apostles, saints. Returning, he told what he had done, saying, “I have praised the dead.”

Macarius asked him, “Did they reply to you?” And he said, “They did not reply to me.” Then said Macarius, “You know what insults you have heaped on them and with what praises you have flattered them, and yet they never spoke to you. If you desire salvation, you must be like these dead. You must think nothing of the wrongs men do to you, nor of the praises they offer you. Be like the dead. Thus you may be saved.”

Wow, talk about learning to be dead to the world. Sheesh-ka-bobbers!

The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius’ goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, ‘We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’ (1Tim.6.7) ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1.21)

Ahem, I get a lump in my throat just reading that one. I personally am so far away from this level of spirituality that any help I can get from a friend like this is more than welcome! And then I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies too. 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. They are powerful homilies, and I feel duty bound to share them with you.

They have titles like the following:

That God alone is able to deliver us out of the bondage of the wicked ruler.

Christians ought to go over the course of this world with care, that they may attain the praise of God.

There is a wide difference between Christians and the men of this world.

The gifts of grace are preserved by a humble mind and a ready will, but destroyed by pride and sloth.

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

Christians that are willing to improve and increase ought to force themselves to every thing that is good.

If you think these titles are wise sayings unto themselves, you owe it to yourself to read the homiles yourself here. You’ll be glad you did!
Happy belated Feast Day Abba Macarius!

YIMC Book Club – Mere Christianity Syllabus


Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen the word syllabus since I graduated from college. Unlike our previous selection (G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy which has 9 chapters for 9 weeks of reading), our next one isn’t as conveniently organized. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, is a bit more complicated in structure. But no worries! I think I’ve come up with a plan to read our new selection in as simple a way as possible over the course of the next 9 weeks. Subject to change, the plan is as follows.

Mere Christianity (MC) consists of four sections or “books” with 5 to 12 chapters in each one.

We will be tackling them as follows:

Week 1 (to be read by 1/21/10) Preface, Forward, Book 1: Chapters 1 & 2 (27 pages)

Week 2 (1/28/10) Book 1: Chapters 3, 4 & 5; Book 2: Chapters 1 & 2 (33 pages)

Week 3 (2/04/10) Book 2: Chapters 3, 4 & 5; Book 3: Chapter 1 (26 pages)

Week 4 (2/11/10) Book 3: Chapters 2, 3, 4, & 5 (28 pages)

Week 5 (2/18/10) Book 3: Chapters 6, 7, 8 (25 pages)

Week 6 (2/25/10) Book 3: Chapters 9, 10, 11, 12; Book 4: Chapter 1 (29 pages)

Week 7 (3/04/10) Book 4: Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 (23 pages)

Week 8 (3/11/10) Book 4: Chapters 6, 7, 8 (23 pages)

Week 9 (3/18/10) Book 4: Chapters 9. 10, 11 (21 pages)

And there you have it. Head to your favorite bookstore, public library, or here to get your copy of the book. It is, in my humble opinion, imperative that you read both the preface and the foreword as a part of the first week’s reading. There you will find Mr. Lewis’s plan for the book as well as an explanation of what is included, and left out, and why.

This is a high-level look at Christianity, and as such, we won’t be answering the question Why I Am Catholic here. I hope, however, that it proves to be an enjoyable exploration of the of the question Why I Am Christian.

The format for our discussions is simple: I’ll provide a very brief summary of that week’s readings and then offer some personal comments, reflections, and so on. Then you’ll use comments to keep the discussion going until the following week. No mid-term exams, and no final exam either. Sound good? Get your copy of Mere Christianity and get cracking!

Because Tolkien Wrote a Poem Such as This

As Webster puts the wrap on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, I am reminded of GKC’s admonition that (and I paraphrase) we should seek the one to lead us who knows he isn’t worthy of doing so. Ahem—you found him, Skipper, and “Aye, aye sir.”

But before I go wading into any details of our next read (Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis), let me post this little jewel of a poem written by a colleague of Jack’s, J. R. R. Tolkien of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings renown. I know, from Wikipedia, that “Tolkien’s devout faith was a significant factor in the conversion of C. S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity, although Tolkien was dismayed that Lewis chose to join the Church of England.”
Sort of how I feel about Jack too. But before I get all open-minded about Lewis, the weather outside is frightful and there is a lot of meat on my plate. Your plate too, probably. Let’s enjoy this poem together first.

Roads Go Ever On by J.R.R. Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
trees and hills they long have known.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.
Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Because Being a Parent is a Vocation

I came across this little quote from one of the Doctors of the Church, St. John Crysostom today:

“The primary goal in the education of children is to teach and give the example of a virtuous life.”

How often do the pressures of everyday life lead me away from the truth of this statement? And how often are my eyes taken away from the primary goal and, instead, focused on secondary and tertiary goals? More often than I care to admit.

I was reading Webster’s post today on his lovely relationship with his RCIA sponsor whom he has dubbed Joan of Beverly. How enjoyable it must be, I thought, to be able to walk over to my sponsor’s home for a visit like that. To inquire about their health, both physical and spiritual. To be able to sit and listen to words of wisdom like those Joan gives out, take them in, and reflect upon them. Talk of our walk of faith together and sit in rapt stillness listening to her for thirty minutes as she unwinds a personal tale with a deeper meaning knitted together with her words.

And then reality hit me like a ton of bricks! This ain’t in the cards for you, ole boy. Not yet, and not by a long shot! You have three children (aged 14, 10, and 8) and they need their daddy (and your wife needs her husband!), to stay focused on the mission of bringing them up and preparing them for their eventual place in the world. And that mission is time-consuming. It can be exhausting and at Casa del Weathers, there is seemingly never a dull moment. I know many of our readers are in the same boat with me so I’m not alone on this one. Am I?

Putting on my Anu Garg costume, let’s break down the word vocation, shall we?

Pronunciation:

vo-ca-tion {voh-key-shun} — noun

Meaning:
1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
4. a function or station in life to which one is called by God: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

Etymology:
1400–50; late ME vocacio(u)n
Synonyms:1. employment, pursuit.

Usage:
“Raising children can be quite an onerous task and I believe that it’s almost impossible to succeed in our vocation as Catholic parents without the support and help of the wider community.”—Maria Bryne, “It’s Not Always Easy Being A Parent,” The Irish Catholic, On-Line Edition, v1.0

You see, Anu? I can do this too! And with out any weird, defeatist, introductions. Absent also is the smugness of the know-it-all parent, who is really smart and blessed with perfect children too. I’m just a regular guy, with the three kids and a wife, trying to keep his sanity while keeping his eye on the target.

And I’m grateful that the Catholic Church stresses that raising children is a vocation in the sense of all of the definitions above, and especially numbers 3 and 4. Which is why the Church calls the family the Domestic Church and provides us instruction to complement what is said about parenting in the Holy Scriptures in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Here are a few examples:

The duties of parents

2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.” The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.

2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law.

2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”

Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

“He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

2224 The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies.

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.

2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.

2227 Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it.

2228 Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom.

2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.

2232 Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Wow, I wish I would have had this handy manual earlier in my calling to be a parent! What a game-changer! Of course, the manuals (the Bible and the CCC) were there all along and available to me always, but I was too stubborn to bother looking at them until after I became a Catholic. Before I was a Catholic, I would have scoffed at the idea that a bunch of celibate, religious brothers and sisters could have any insight to give me on what it means to be a parent.

Given the state of the world today, my wife and I need all the help we can get to fulfill our vocation as parents. Our parish communities and our Church’s teachings and traditions are useful and effective tools, a comforting tool kit to help us face this Herculean task.

So for those of you in the YIM Catholic community who are parents of school-age children and who get wistful and envious of Webster’s (seemingly) halcyon existence as the very model of a modern, genteel Catholic man and husband, remember me, Joe Six-Pack, The Dad, USMC. I have got your back! Send me your tired, your poor, your frustrated, your hair-on-fire parenting war stories. I want to read them and I need your support too!

Because We Are A Bible-Believing Church

Back on New Year’s Day, as we were making our way through the crowds on the streets of Pasadena, California, trying to get to the vantage point we had staked out for the Tournament of Roses Parade, I was handed several pamphlets and a small booklet by Christians holding such signs as “God Loves You” and “God Will Punish Sinners.”

The pamphlet contained select sayings of Our Lord with pictures. For example, Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus Before Pilate. The small booklet contained the Gospel according to John as well as some commentary. I gladly accepted the materials and warmly thanked the person who gave them to me. I wasn’t going to read them right then, but I figured I would look them over after the parade and the merrymaking subsided.

When we were back in our lodgings and the kids were put to bed, I took out the tract and the booklet and knew right then that I would need to write this post. You see, at the end of the pamphlet and the booklet, I was advised that by simply reading either the pamphlet or John’s Gospel, and saying a prayer to our Lord promising that I believed in Him, I was now saved. In addition I was also exhorted to do the following:

Read the Bible every day and join a Bible believing church.

Keeping in mind my erstwhile fencing partner’s remarks yesterday, let me say that a spirit of competitiveness is not what I intend to convey by this post. Instead, I am writing this post in the spirit of a command given by our first Pope, St. Peter:

Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

I’m all for handing out tracts and pamphlets to people on the Christian faith at parades and concerts. Because, as Webster states in his post this morning, you never know how long it will take a seed to germinate once it’s planted. As such, I’m all for sending people to a “Bible believing” church, especially when we’re talking about the original Bible-believing Church. The Church that believed in the Bible so much that it carefully and methodically compiled the Canon of scriptures that all Christian denominations use to this day. Yes, I mean the Roman Catholic Church.

That Church is a Gospel-believing Church too, and was so long before there was a New Testament written down anywhere. That’s because there was no definitive New Testament to be read until 405 AD. Surprised? Surely you realize that when Our Lord said “believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:34) he wasn’t exhorting us to run to the nearest Barnes & Nobles to pick up a copy of His latest book. Our Lord never left any written word behind because he was too busy saving the world on a tight time schedule.

It turns out that there was a lot of discussion and debate about which books would be included in the Canon of the New Testament, just as there was with the Old Testament. And of course, in the case of the New Testament, the books had to be written. So what were all these early Christians doing when they were believing in the Gospel? Looks like they were repenting, being baptized, and holding “fast to traditions” as St. Paul instructed us to do (2Thessalonians 2:15).

After reading the pamplets, I read my Bible (the LOTH and the Daily Readings) and went to Mass at the nearest Catholic Church I could find. I invite you to do the same.

Semper Fidelis.

Thanks to Anu Garg . . . Not

Posted by Frank
One of the earliest posts I did upon coming aboard the good ship YIM Catholic was entitled Because of Half-Baked Thoughts Like This. I had a little fun unraveling the phrase amour propre and crossing wits with Anu Garg of A Word A Day renown. Yesterday (1/11/2010) the word of the day was sacerdotal, which means of or relating to priests or priestly duties. But the funny thing is the introduction to the word. Anu says, and I quote:

The word religion derives from Latin ligare (to tie or to bind, as in “ligament”), but it best serves as a tool to divide people. My religion is better than yours. My god true, yours false. What, we have the same religion? No problem, my sect is better than yours.

Gee, Anu, how do you really feel? For a second there, I thought you were going to provide us with the etymology of the word religion, you know like you usually do. Instead, you got on your soap-box and slipped in a little sermon on the “problems” of religion! And there wasn’t one, single, redeeming (pun intended) quality of religion you could think of? Golly, I hoped you were more open-minded than that.

Re-reading Anu’s little 35-word sermon, it appears that the problem isn’t religion, in my humble opinion anyway, but fallen human nature instead. Maybe Anu is grumbling about people competing amongst each other to the point of silliness. You know, my dog is better than your dog. My car, house, job, etc., is better than your car, house, job. You get the picture, right Anu?

Fresh off his sermon on the evils of religion, he then hands all of his adoring fans a book selection to consider—a “thought provoking” book, he swoons, entitled 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy Harrison, and a link to same. I’m actually surprised they gave the deity a capital G in the title. Thank God for good editors!

But I will have to decline the invitation because, like Webster’s, my bed stand is getting loaded down with really good stuff to read already, and there is no room on it for the musings of a seeker (dodger?) named Guy. That’s also because we still have one chapter left on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and one heck of a horse race going on between Hellaire Belloc and C.S. Lewis (see sidebar), who are competing (sorry Anu!) for votes to win the prize as the YIM Catholic Book Club’s next reading selection.

You may want to check up on Anu over at A.Word.A.Day this week. Because this week’s theme is religious words, you just might have as much fun as I am with his selections. Sheeeeeesh!

Because of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

I wrote earlier of my thanks for practical instruction on living the Christian life from a lecture I came across in the Liturgy of the Hours written by St. Augustine. I have always been enamored of “how-to” books that cut through the gloss and get straight to the point. For example, the theory on how internal combustion engines work is interesting, but the hands-on stuff you learn from actually tearing apart a motor (and putting it back together again) is invaluable. As I realized from my encounters with Blaise Pascal, and with Thomas à Kempis, and by reflecting on my own life as well, I needed help in this department. Especially regarding my prayer life.

So somewhere along my path to the Catholic Church, I discovered the Desert Fathers. I learned that about the time the Romans stopped killing Christians, some people up and sold all they had and headed for the desert in Upper Egypt to live as hermits for Christ. Some had fled persecution from the Romans too, but after Constantine the Great converted in 313 AD, persecution was no longer the reason to flee.

Leave the world they did. According to the Wikipedia citation, “These individuals believed that the desert life (modeled on the lifestyle of John the Baptist and Our Lord’s forty days in the desert) would teach them to eschew the things of this world and allow them to follow God’s call in a more deliberate and individual way.”

Pictured here is the cover of a delightful book of sayings from some of these hermits, translated and illustrated by by Yushi Nomura. At the time I found it in my local public library, I didn’t know Henri Nouwen from Adam, but he wrote a pretty good introduction explaining the history of this phenomenon and how the roots of Christian monasticism formed in the deserts of Egypt. Find it and enjoy it if you can. My daughter really loves reading it and looking at the illustrations.

Note: I keep writing Christian instead of Catholic because, by this time in my research, I understood that all Christians were Catholic until the Protestant Reformation. Christians who were not Catholic were heretics and, boy howdy, there is a rogues gallery of those! Heck, I’m still learning about them too: Arianism, Albegensianism, Docetism, Manichaeism, and more.

The sayings of the Desert Fathers are very practical and not heretical. And man, they can knock you right off your high horse in a way that makes you say “Thank you sir! May I have another?” Like this:

A monk once posed this question to an elder: There are two brothers, one of whom remains praying in his cell, fasting six days at a time and doing a great deal of penance. The other one takes care of the sick. Which one’s work is more pleasing to God? The elder replied: If that brother who fasts six days were to hang himself up by the nose, he could not equal the one who takes care of the sick.

Did I mention they had a sense of humor? Like here:

In the desert of Skete, a brother went to see Abba Moses for a word. And the old man said, Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.

I’m not sure that is what the brother had in mind. Or this one:

If you see a young monk by his own will climbing up into heaven, take him by the foot and pull him back down to earth, because what he’s doing is no good for him.

Amen to that! Replace monk with relative, co-worker, friend, or that fellow in the mirror, and who hasn’t seen that person before?!

The Desert Fathers and Mothers include the following saints: St. Anthony the Great, St. Macarius the Great, St. Arsenius, St. Paul the Hermit, St. John the Dwarf, St. Mary of Egypt, and many others.

Ever been told that you are working too hard at being a good Catholic Christian? See these words and think again:

The reason why we don’t get anywhere is because we don’t know our limits and we’re not patient in carrying on the work we’ve begun. We want to arrive at virtue without any labor at all.

I’ll wrap this post up by letting St. Anthony the Great have the floor,

Once the famous St. Anthony was conversing with some brethren when a hunter who was after game in the wilderness happened by. He saw Abbot Anthony and the brothers enjoying themselves and clucked his tongue in disapproval. Abbot Anthony told him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” He did so. “Now shoot another,” said the abbot. “And another . . . and another.” The hunter complained, “If I bend my bow all the time, it will break.” Abbot Anthony smiled gently as his point stuck home. “It’s that way, too, with the work of God. If we keep pushing ourselves too hard, the brothers will soon collapse.”

This is a marathon, people, not a sprint!

 


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