Because of Thoughts Like These by Blaise Pascal

—Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

About a month ago, Webster wrote a post about awaking from a long, bad, dream. Blaise Pascal woke me up from a long slumber. His was a shrill alarm too, much like the one on the clock by my nightstand right now. But unlike that one, Blaise’s alarm didn’t have a snooze button. That’s because I had been snoozing for most of my adult life.

Before I bumped into Blaise, I had been sleeping in my shoes, so to speak. My conscience tried to arose my soul from its slumber from time to time, but mainly my ego just kept hitting the snooze button, ten minutes at a time.

The ironic thing is that when I started reading Blaise, I did so with the intent to find evidence of the errors of Catholicism. That lasted for maybe 20 pages. This mathematical genius, who died at 39 years of age in 1662, had deep knowledge of scriptures as well as deep insights into the human condition. And yet, he could explain his thoughts simply and lucidly. In other words, he could tell it like it is.

The selection below is from Chapter XXI of his Thoughts On Religion. It is a long chapter, and the selection below is only the last quarter of it. But it should suffice to show you the decibel level of Blaise’s klaxon. Like my friend John C.H.Wu reported in his life story in Beyond East and West, up until this time I had thought that I was a clever man. After reading this, being by the grace of God in the right frame of mind, I realized that I had been merely sleep walking.

Blaise wrote this in the mid 1600′s, and yet it seemed as fresh as this mornings cup of coffee. And it had the same stimulative effect.

The Strange Contrarieties Discoverable in Human Nature, with regard to Truth and Happiness, and Many Other Things.

Isn’t this lead-in to the chapter provocative? Contrarieties. Now if that isn’t a word for Anu Garg, there aren’t any.

The civil war between reason and passion has occasioned two opposite projects, for the restoration of peace to mankind: The one, of those who were for renouncing their passions, and becoming gods; the other, of those who were for renouncing their reason, and becoming beasts. But neither the one nor the other could take effect. Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to disturb the repose of those who abandon themselves to their dominion: And the passions live, even in the hearts of those, who talk the most of their extirpation.

“Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions…” And Blaise is saying that this is the role fulfilled by Mother Church, as you will see shortly. That turns the world’s perception of the Church upside down, doesn’t it? Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they have a home. But what of standing on our own two feet?

This is the just account of what man can do, in respect to truth and happiness. We have an idea of truth, not to be effaced by all the wiles of the sceptic; we have an incapacity of argument, not to be rectified by all the power of the dogmatist. We wish for truth, and find nothing in ourselves but uncertainty. We seek after happiness, and find nothing but misery. We must needs desire both truth and happiness, yet we are incapable of both. This desire seems to have been left in us, partly as a punishment, and partly to remind us whence we are fallen.

For a brief period of time, I was a stock-broker. Blaise just described 95 percent of my clients. Which should come as no surprise, given the raw humanity of the markets in motion. Manic-depressive swings up and down, ad infinitum; a game that virtually no one has a definitive lock on. Which, again can be seen in war, politics, sports, etc., etc. So Blaise counters with these thoughts:

* If man was not made for God, why can he enjoy no happiness but in God? If man was made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

* Man is at a loss where to fix himself. He is unquestionably out of his way, and feels within himself the remains of a happy state which he cannot retrieve. He searches in every direction, with solicitude, but without success, encompassed with impenetrable darkness!

By the time I read this, I had come to realize this was true. The world had been grappling with this since the beginning of time, as Blaise explains with elegant simplicity here,

Hence arose the contest amongst the philosophers: some of whom endeavored to exalt man, by displaying his greatness; others to abase him, by representing his misery. And what seems more strange, is, that each party borrowed the arguments of the other, to establish their own opinion.

For the misery of man may be inferred from his greatness, and his greatness from his misery. Thus the one sect demonstrated his misery the more satisfactorily, in that they inferred it from his greatness; and the other the more clearly proved his greatness, because they deduced it from his misery. Whatever was offered by the one, to establish his greatness, served only to evince his misery, as alleged by the other; it being more miserable to have fallen from the greater height.

And the converse is equally true. So that in this endless circle of dispute, each helped to advance his adversary’s cause; for it is certain that the more men are enlightened, the more they will discover of human misery and human greatness. In a word, man knows himself to be miserable. He is, therefore miserable, because he knows himself to be so. But he is also eminently great, because he knows himself to be miserable.

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A judge of all things, and yet a worm of the earth; the depositary of the truth, and yet a medley of uncertainties; the glory and the scandal of the universe. If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and press him with his own inconsistencies, till he comprehends himself to be an incomprehensible monster.

Not a pretty picture, that. The preceding chapter had ended with the following thoughts,

Without Jesus Christ man is, of necessity, in vice and misery: With Jesus Christ man is released from vice and misery. In him is all our happiness, our virtue, our life, our light, our hope : Out of him there is naught but vice, misery, darkness, and despair; and we can discover naught but obscurity and confusion, whether in the divine nature, or in our own.

I couldn’t have agreed more, because deep down in my soul, I knew this to be true. And in the 28th chapter, Blaise told me emphatically where I needed to go in order to come into the light,

It is the Church, together with Jesus Christ, to whom She is inseparably united, which obtains the conversion of all those who are in error. And it is these converts, who subsequently aid their Mother, to whom they owe their deliverance.

The body can no more live without the head, than the head without the body. He that separates from the one, or the other, is no longer of the body, nor a member of Jesus Christ. All virtues, all mortification, all good works, and even martyrdom itself, are of no worth out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church.

Because Blaise knew what Our Lord meant we He said,

And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

“Sensitiveness” A Poem By Blessed John Henry Newman

Sensitiveness

Time was, I shrank from what was right,
From fear of what was wrong;
I would not brave the sacred fight,
Because the foe was strong.

But now I cast that finer sense
And sorer shame aside;
Such dread of sin was indolence,
Such aim at heaven was pride.

So, when my Saviour calls, I rise,
And calmly do my best;
Leaving to Him, with silent eyes
Of hope and fear, the rest.

I step, I mount where He has led;
Men count my haltings o’er;—
I know them; yet, though self I dread,
I love his precept more.

—Blessed John Henry Newman

Seal II (Music for Mondays)

A while back, I wrote a post about my Mustang’s harmonic balancer. It turned out that my own “harmonic balancer” was out of whack too.  When my pony sat fallow for all that time, the album that I’m about to share with you sat inside the cassette player. It, just like the car, sat there the whole time.

During the waiting period, I did a lot of work on my house. I did a lot of reading too. I was thinking about becoming a Catholic, but wasn’t committed to the idea…yet. It was the Summer of 2007, and I turned to the task of fixing my car. As I recounted in the post above, I took the ‘Stang to some pro’s. They had her fixed in no time, and on the way home from the shop, I put the top down, and turned the stereo on. And the following tunes began to play.

I had never really listened to the whole album before. I mean, not to the lyrics.  I was that fellow in the Pink Floyd song who was “comfortably numb,” see? But when these songs started playing, they hit me like a ton of bricks, lyrics and all.

I had always liked a couple of the songs, and sang them like a crazy man, occasionally, when blasting around the freeways of Los Angeles in the ‘Stang.  But after my readings and reflecting on my faith, and realizing whose harmonic balancer was really out of whack, coupled with hearing Seal sing these songs on this album, and in this order…well, let’s just say I crossed the “line of departure” and there was no turning back.

Does God work through the secular? I don’t have any doubt about it. After all, it is His world, you know.

Bring It On. This is the first song. You can go to YouTube directly for the lyrics too(for all of the songs below). I’ll just get out of Seal’s way now.

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Prayer for the Dying. You don’t have to have AIDS to be one of the dying. This is all of us.

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Dreaming in Metaphors. Why must we dream in metaphors?
Try to hold on to something we couldn’t understand.

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Don’t Cry. I thought to myself, who is singing this? Our Lord, Our Lady? Both? What has the world done to me…

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Fast Changes. There is a time to wait, and a time to act. For me, it was time to act.

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Kiss From A Rose. I wrote a post on this one earlier here.

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People Asking Why. I mean, I was certainly asking this question, for a long time.

How do I get to where I’ve come from, now?
How will I paint this garden I’ve destroyed, green?
Can I get back to where I’ve come from?

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Newborn Friend. I remember thinking, Christmas in July!

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If I Could. I would explain it all if I could. Some things just can’t be put into words.

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I’m Alive. I heard this and the part of the lyrics you see here? I must have rewound that tape 20-25 times to make sure. Yep, I heard that right.

Your hands found me.
Blood on the cross,
And it changed my life.

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Bring It On(Reprise). Right back where we started. Get thee to RCIA!

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For Thoughts On Death by Robert Bellarmine

—Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine
Today we celebrate the feast of the saint whose portrait you see here. You can read all about his life elsewhere. What I’m interested in is what this Doctor of the Church has to say about death, and as a consequence, his thoughts on life.

I’ve shared Blaise Pascal’s thoughts on death before in this space. Yeah, Frank, we noticed and could you please talk about something else?! Sorry, but I just had a loved one pass away very recently, so death is on my mind. And who better than St. Robert Bellarmine to instruct us on this subject?


It turns out he was a great orator, someone whom Catholics, and Protestants flocked to hear speak. Truthfully, I know next to nothing about him except that he died on this day back in Annos Domini, 1621. 

I could spend a lifetime reading the works of the Doctors of the Church and still barely scratch the surface of the writings of all of those of the Church’s ranks  who are now at home in the Church Triumphant.

But lately, I’ve resolved that I will make an effort to familiarize myself with the writings of those who have gone before us and are in the Communion of the Saints. Especially on their feast day. As such, I invite you to tag along with me now and read the preface to one of St. Robert Bellarimine’s easier to find essays. 


Preface to “The Art of Dying Well”

Being now free from Public business and enabled to attend to myself, when in my usual retreat I consider, what is the reason why so very few endeavour to learn the “Art of dying Well,” (which all men ought to know,) I can find no other cause than that mentioned by the Wise man: “The perverse are hard to be corrected, and the number of fools is infinite. (Ecclesiastes, i. 15) For what folly can be imagined greater than to neglect that Art, on which depend our highest and eternal interests; whilst on the other hand we learn with great labour, and practise with no less ardour, other almost innumerable arts, in order either to preserve or to increase perishable things?

Now every one will admit, that the “Art of dying Well” is the most important of all sciences; at least every one who seriously reflects, how after death we shall have to give an account to God of everything we did, spoke, or thought of, during our whole life, even of every idle word; and that the devil being our accuser, our conscience a witness, and God the Judge, a sentence of happiness or misery everlasting awaits us. We daily see, how when judgment is expected to be given, even on affairs of the slightest consequence, the interested party enjoy no rest, but consult at one time the lawyers, at another the solicitors, now the judges, and then their friends or relations.

But in death when a “Cause” is pending before the Supreme Judge, connected with life or death eternal, often is the sinner compelled, when unprepared, oppressed by disease, and scarcely possessed of reason, to give an account of those things on which when in health, he had perhaps never once reflected. This is the reason why miserable mortals rush in crowds to hell; and as St. Peter saith, “If the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter, iv. 1)

I have therefore considered it would be useful to exhort myself, in the first place, and then my Brethren, highly to esteem the “Art of dying Well.” And if there be any who, as yet, have not acquired this Art from other learned teachers, I trust they will not despise, at least those Precepts which I have endeavoured to collect, from Holy Writ and the Ancient Fathers.

But before I treat of these Precepts, I think it useful to inquire into the nature of death; whether it is to be ranked among good or among evil things. Now if death be considered absolutely in itself, without doubt it must be called an evil, because that which is opposed to life we must admit cannot be good. Moreover, as the Wise man saith:“God made not death, but by the envy of the devil, death came into the world.”Wisdom i. 11. verses 13 24.

With these words St. Paul also agrees, when he saith: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death:and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned.” (Romans v. 12.) If then God did not make death, certainly it cannot be good, because every thing which God hath made is good, according to the words of Moses:“And God saw all things that he had made, and they were very good.” But although death cannot be considered good in itself, yet the wisdom of God hath so seasoned it as it were, that from death many blessings arise.

Hence David exclaims; “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints: ” and the Church speaking of Christ saith:”Who by His death hath destroyed our death, and by His resurrection hath regained life.” Now death that hath destroyed death and regained life, cannot but be very good: wherefore if every death cannot be called good, yet at least some may. Hence St. Ambrose did not hesitate to write a book entitled, “On the Advantages of Death,” in which treatise he clearly proves that death, although produced by sin, possesses its peculiar advantages.

There is also another reason which proves that death, although an evil in itself, can, by the grace of God, produce many blessings. For, first, there is this great blessing, that death puts an end to the numerous miseries of this life. Job thus eloquently complains of the evils of this our present state: ” Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who cometh forth like a flower and is destroyed, and fleeth as a shadow, and never continueth in the same state.” (Job xiv. 2-3)

And Ecclesiastes saith:”I praised the dead rather than the living:and I judged him happier than them both, that is not yet born, nor hath seen the evils that are under the sun” Ecclesiasticus likewise adds:” Great labour is created for all men, and a heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam, from the day of their coming out of their mother s womb, until the day of their burial into the mother of all. (chap, xl.) The Apostle too complains of the miseries of this life: “Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Epistle to Romans, vii. 24.)

From these testimonies, therefore, of Holy Writ it is quite evident, that death possesses an advantage, in freeing us from the miseries of this life. But it also hath a still more excellent advantage, because it may become the gate from a prison to a Kingdom. This was revealed by our Lord to St. John the Evangelist, when for his faith he had been exiled into, the isle of Patmos:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: Write, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labours; for their works follow them. (Apocalypse xiv. 13)

Truly ” blessed” is the death of the saints, which by the command of the Heavenly King frees the soul from the prison of the flesh, and conducts her to a celestial Kingdom; where just souls sweetly rest after all their labours, and for the reward of their good works, receive a crown of glory. To the souls in purgatory also, death brings no slight benefit, for it delivers them from the fear of death, and makes them certain of possessing one day, eternal Happiness.

Even to wicked men themselves, death seems to be of some advantage; for in freeing them from the body, it prevents the measure of their punishment from increasing. On account of these excellent advantages, death to good men seems not horrible, but sweet; not terrible, but lovely. Hence St. Paul securely exclaims: “For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain, having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” And in his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, he saith: “We will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have not hope” (iv. 12.)

There lived some time ago a certain holy lady, named Catherine Adorna, of Genoa; she was so inflamed with the love of Christ, that with the most ardent desires she wished to be “dissolved,” and to depart to her Beloved. Hence, seized as it were with a love for death, she often praised it as most beautiful and most lovely, blaming it only for this that it fled from those who desired it, and was found by those who fled from it. From these considerations then we may conclude, that death, as produced by sin, is an evil; but that, by the grace of Christ who condescended to suffer death for us, it hath become in many ways salutary, lovely, and to be desired.


You can find the rest of this essay (only 46 pages long) here.

The Streamlet’s Song (A Few Words for Wednesday)

—Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

I found this little poem, by a forgotten poet, in the journal whose banner you see above. How does one attempt to wrap their mind around the immensity of God and the smallness of our individual selves? If God is the ocean, than we are just streamlets…

The Streamlet’s Song.

As on its course the mountain stream
Unto the valley sped,
The echoes listened, wondering,
To what its murmurs said.
Deep in that mystic solitude
Singing, it passed along;
Around was silence, hushed repose;
This was the streamlet’s song:
“Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged, onwards,
onwards, to the sea.”

“I sing beside the peasant’s cot,
Beside the castle keep,
Mid forest gloom, neath sunshine bright,
And where the weary sleep,
Thro’ meads where flowers of varied hue
Around their perfume shed,
Thro’ rocky gorge and arid plain,
On to my ocean bed.
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither’rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“On, on, the scorching air to cool,
The earth to fertilize,
Of hunted stag the thirst to slake
Ere yet he quivering dies.
On, to refresh the warrior pale
Who, couched on blood-stained sod,
Cries,’Water from yon streamlet give,
One drop for love of God!’
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“The type am I of human life,
As down the course of years
It onward flows, mid laughter now,
Anon mid bitter tears,
Mid reckless mirth, mid breaking hearts,
On, till the sands are run,
On, till is gained the tideless sea,
On, till the goal is won,
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

—A. M. Healy

For the Catholic View of Love


Yesterday was Monday and as such I did a music post. The subject was love, and I called it Love: Three Minus One, because the form of love that I was spot-lighting was not romantic love, or eros as it is known in Greek.

Below are some thoughts written by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and published in his book entitled The Power of Love, which hit the bookstores back in 1964.

Bishop Sheen discusses the radical transformation of love from the Catholic perspective which has helped change the world as we know it. This form of love is from the Greek word agape, which in Latin is caritas, which translated into English is the word “charity.”

Historically, Catholics have used the word charity in lieu of agape, though many still think of the Salvation Army, or corporal works of mercy when they hear that word,  instead of this really unprecedented form of love. Have a look at this passage from Archbishop Sheen’s little book,

The third word for love was not much used in the classical Greek; it was a love so noble and divine that Christianity alone made it popular. That word is “agape.” It was used only ten times by Homer; it is found only three times in Euripedes; later on, it was used a bit in popular Greek which was spoken throughout the world after Alexander conquered it.

The Greeks did not need such a word, because Plato held that there could be no real love between God and man, inasmuch as the gods being perfect desired nothing; therefore, they had no love for man. Aristotle argued in the same way. He said that there was too great a disporportion between man and God to have any love between the two.

When God sent His only Son to this world to save it, and when His Divine Son offered His life on Calvary to redeem it, then was born a love between God and man which the Greeks could not and did not understand. That kind of love was best expressed by “agape.” In contrast to it, the word “eros” is nowhere found in the New Testament; the word “Philia” in all its forms is found forty-five times, but the word “agape” is found 320 times.

Once this agape began to exist, then it flowed down to illumine even Eros; Eros became the sensible expression of Divine Love; fraternal and friendly love was also sanctified by the agape inasmuch as we were to regard everyone else as better than ourselves. The only true lovers or friends are those whose love is explained by the agape of Him who so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son to redeem it.

So agape then is charity, the form of love that St. Paul expounded upon in chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians. It is this form of love that is used so often in the New Testament. On the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, a search of the word “agape” pulls 22 books (out of 360). Not much, see? But a search of the word “charity,” from the Latin form of “agape”(caritas) pulls 208 volumes from our library. Did I mention that Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Caritas in veritate, is on this very subject? And lest I forget, the Catholic Encyclopedia has a fact-filled citation on this subject as well.

Even Thomas Hobbes, author of the classic of political thought, Leviathan (1651), states it thus,

For these seeds have received culture from two sorts of men. One sort have been they that have nourished and ordered them, according to their own invention. The other have done it, by God’s commandment and direction : but both sorts have done it, with a purpose to make those men that relied on them, the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, and civil society; So that the religion of the former sort is a part of human politics; and teacheth part of the duty which earthly kings require of their subjects. And the religion of the latter sort is divine politics ; and containeth precepts to those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom of God. Of the former sort were all the founders of commonwealths, and the lawgivers of the Gentiles: of the latter sort, were Abraham, Moses, and Our blessed Saviour; by whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of God.

To close this brief post on Love, I’ll leave you with Archbishop Sheen again, this time from an episode of his television series Life Is Worth Living. Here he discusses Pope John XXIII and his living of this Catholic, this Christian, form of Love. Enjoy.

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Love: Three Minus One (Music for Mondays)

—Feast of St. John Chrysostom

Love: Agape, Storge, Phileo, Eros. The four Greek words for love. Currently, all evidence points to modern culture being stuck on eros alone, while ignoring the other three.

At least that is how it seems to me. C.S. Lewis wrote a book that I need to get to one of these days, entitled The Four Loves. There needs to be a balance of Love and when one type dominates, harmony is shattered. What to do? How about some songs.

Four words for love and four songs about love, none of which are about eros. Because frankly, there is more than enough coverage of eros nowadays and not near enough about Agape, Storge, and Phileo.

Genesis, Land of Confusion. Phil Collins and Company singing of the times back in the 80′s. The irony is, it could just as easily be about 80, 880, 1080, 1480,1980, 2080. The key issue is the same; “there’s not much love to go round.” What are we waitng for? There is no time with God: a thousand years, a single day: it is all one. (2 Peter 3:8)

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U2,The Fly. Maybe you never heard this song, or it’s message from Bono and the Gang. It didn’t exactly climb up the charts. Lead singer Bono comments “I always thought ‘The Fly’ was the phone call from Hell. It took ‘U2′ 15 years to get from Psalms to Ecclesiastes and its only one book!” Lots of messages unbundled here.

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Tears for Fears, Sowing the Seeds of Love. One of my wife’s favorite songs, and mine too. And great symbolism in this video as well. I especially like the planting of the seed, and then looking to the left and right and seeing others doing the same. In my mind, St. Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 comes to life. That and the words of Our Lord,

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12.24). I can only speak for myself when I admit that I need to plant more seeds of love, and fewer seeds of self-interest.

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Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule. Okay. The video quality is horrible, but the sound and the message? It doesn’t get much better than this. And all of us can play a part, use our own creativity and improvisations to bring love to bear on our interactions with others. Just like Lenny’s band members do here. It’s what we are called to do. We can’t do it alone though, but through prayer and community, we have a chance to bring a little sanity into the world.

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Love Always,

Frank

For Thoughts Like These from John C. H. Wu

I’ve been reading one of John Wu’s books. I first received it via Intra-library loan through my local public library.  But it is so good that I coughed up the dough to buy my own copy as well.  It’s worth the cost, trust me. [Read more...]

Thanks to Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s The Birth of the Virgin

On this, the feast day of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, take a long look at this painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. He was a 17th century Baroque artist from Seville whose paintings depict the joys of spiritual life. This one, displayed at the Louvre in Paris, shows the birth of our Blessed Mother. She is being cared for by angels and servants while her mother, Saint Anne, rests in the background.

We don’t know much about the early life of the Blessed Mother. We don’t know where she was born or where she died. Her parents’ hometown is Nazareth. Most likely, she was born in Jerusalem. We know she was Jewish of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David. Her cousin, Saint Elizabeth, was of the lineage of Aaron.

And so, we don’t know if the Blessed Mother grew up in a household with servants. But what draws me to this painting is the exquisite care the painter took to show how the birth of Our Blessed Mother happened; surrounded by immeasurable love, by angels who cared for her from the moment of her birth. I love that our Church honors the Blessed Mother. Hers is one of just three birthdays we celebrate: Christ and Saint John the Baptist are the others. Today, let us remember that our Blessed Mother served as the temple of Christ.

Your birth, Birthgiver of God, announced joy to the whole world. From you came the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. He released the curse and gave the blessing.

Listen My Son, St. Benedict for Fathers (A Book Review)

This is a first for me, as I’ve never been asked to write a book review before. But a few months back, I wrote a post about how a particular section in the Rule of St. Benedict resonated with me as a father. It turns out, that I wasn’t alone.

Full disclosure time: Father Dwight Longenecker offered to send me a copy of his book at no cost if I would do a review of it. I accepted his kind offer, even though I had no idea how to write a proper review. I still don’t. But since Father D. does such a good job with this, it isn’t difficult for me to recommend this book to fathers, or anyone in a leadership position.

I’ll confess that I was skeptical of applying the entire rule to fatherhood and family life. It helps a lot to know that when Father D. wrote this, he was a novice oblate, and a former Anglican priest. Married and a father of four, he has some real-world experience in being a dad. Nowadays, he is still a husband, a dad, and a Roman Catholic priest. He is a parish priest at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He also blogs at Standing On My Head.

What Father D. has done with this book is break the entire Rule of St. Benedict up into daily reflections.  He has devised a scheme whereby you can read the rule three times over the course of a one-year period. For example, Chapter VII of the Rule, Humility, would be read on January 25th, March 26th, and September 25th. In this way, the Rule is divided into bite-sized morsels, and so are Father D.’s reflections. Let’s take a look. First, St. Benedict:

Brothers, Holy Scripture cries aloud to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ When it says this it is teaching that all exaltation is a kind of pride. And the Prophet shows that he himself was on his guard against it when he said, ‘Lord, my heart has no lofty ambitions, my eyes do not look too high; I am not concerned with great affairs or marvels beyond my scope.’ Why thus? ‘If I did not think humbly, but exalted my soul, as a child on the mothers breast is weaned, so did you treat my soul.’

Father D. then provides a short reflection on the virtue of humility, usually no more than four paragraphs. Here is an excerpt.

For Benedict, humility is linked with self-knowledge. The truly humble person is the prodigal son, who gets to the very bottom of his resources, where, as the Authorized Version puts it, he ‘comes to himself’(Luke 15.17) and realizes his need of the father’s love. This kind of self-knowledge does not grovel before others. Nor does it indulge in maudlin self-pity or overblown guilt. Instead, it is a clear, hard, and realistic self-appraisal.

Father D., then expands a bit more, freely helping explain Benedict’s thoughts on humility as it relates to pride and further explaining, and referencing, the quotes from Scripture that Benedict used in the section of the Rule that is being read on this particular day. He also dips into other resources in his reflections, from the works of other saints as well as from other Scriptures that help bring clarity to applying the rule to the role of fatherhood.

I would go further and say that his reflections also help anyone, be they a father, or simply someone who fills a leadership role, apply the Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life. After all, that is what the rule was intended to do; to take Christianity and apply it practically to life within a community.

Father D.’s reflections help to keep the Rule relevant for those of us who are shepherding flocks inside our homes, or at work, rather than inside the confines of the cloister.


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