Because the Church is Paradoxically Consistent

The other day I wrote about the dictionary meanings for the word “catholic.” I have more thoughts on the matter, but that post was running long. Having already imposed a 3500 word(!) post on you right after the New Year, constant reading of marathon length missives might tucker you out, make you cross-eyed, and compel you never to return to this space. So consider this post as part II in a series of indeterminate length on the meanings of that word.

Though this Marine is no expert on word etymology, today I ask you to consider the meanings of the word “catholic” again, but this time applying them to an organism.

A human being for instance, or perhaps I should say to the ideal of what it means to be fully a human being. I wrote that this is one of my goals while slogging through what remains of the pilgrimage that is my time here on earth.

I happen to agree with the following thoughts I ran across recently on the Catholic Church,

Church and Bible are not to be judged only by what they say, but rather by what, for society and the individual, they have actually achieved; and what has acted for so many ages as a key to so complex a lock as human nature has its testimony in itself.

These words were written back in 1906 by an obscure convert to Catholicism named W.J. Williams. The bold highlights are mine. As my eyes ran across these words, my memory bank lit up remembering similar thoughts written, and more fully elaborated on, by someone who is anything but obscure. G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, which was published in 1909 (long before he was received into the Church) writes the following on page 152,

The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. It was in Notting Hill and Battersea that I began to see that Christianity was true. This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

Chesterton then takes the reader through the full development of this idea between pages 148 and 187, in the sixth chapter  which he calls The Paradoxes of Christianity. If you haven’t read Chesterton before, head over to my favorite electronic bookshelf and read this for yourself. Then read our discussion notes on this chapter too.

Perhaps you are perfect, but if you are like me, it’s more likely that you simply judge others by their actions while judging yourself by your intentions. I’m getting better at stopping myself from following that pharisaical path into the pit of unhappiness and oblivion. It must have something to do with how I’m spending my time lately.

Someone shared their opinion on the post on Dracula that I was being inconsistent in my approach in how I considered Vlad, his life, his acts, and his death. To which I say, welcome to the paradox of lived Christianity. I have often quoted Qohelth, the Teacher, from my favorite Old Testament book in this space. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said of the words of the Psalmist, The Holy Spirit says,

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace.

What hath man more of his labor? I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end.

Are not these seasons also shared by our human natures in our own life cycle? I can only speak of my personal recognition of my own paradoxical nature, so perhaps you do not see this. Perhaps you are more consistent than I am, but I know that I am consistently paradoxical. But the Church sees this as her thoughts have developed over these past 2000 years of her existence. And again, this viewpoint is not that of one solitary person, but of this earthly house of the world-society of souls, as my new friend Algar Thorold describes the Church, shepherded by the Vicar of Christ for the benefit of all mankind.

Consider the paradoxical nature of the Church herself as a living organism that is growing up in Her mission, and maturing in it as well. This is better explained by Blessed John Henry Newman in his Essay on Development than I ever could. But in essence Newman argues that the Church too has grown and matured through a life cycle of change. And still she develops, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Take a look at this long paragraph Newman writes at the conclusion of section 1 of the first chapter of his  Essay on Development,

But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change. It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope.

We’re half-way through the paragraph now but I wanted to alert you that the bold highlights above are mine. The words “deep”, “broad,” and “full” are, to me anyway, synonyms for the word “catholic” too, both in regards to human beings as well as to the institution of the Church. Or maybe you buy into the modern social science idea that man can only be understood as little self-serving widgets directed by their own self-interest like the economists would have you believe. That is the way that governments treat us too. I used to think that way as well, until I met the saints. Their lives are lived for others, at the expense of themselves. This is true humanism. Now back to the beata’s thoughts. He was talking about scope,

At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

That was me with the bold again (and a link, actually). Recently I’ve had discussions with those who say “I can’t follow the Church because back during the Thirty Years War she advocated the killing of Protestant’s etc. etc.” To which I say, that was then and this is now,

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this “Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.”

Yes, the Vicar of Christ just said those words recently. Read it all at the not-so-top-secret Vatican website. Again, this is a true form of humanism, the Christian form, because Christ, the Eternal Word is the origin of humanism. God became a human, and the Good News, which has existed from the start, only obscured, arrived in the flesh. The world hasn’t been the same since. But the Word is eternal and as this past weeks reading from the Letter to the Hebrews notes, our ancestors saw the words, but didn’t get the message.

For in fact we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.

If you are still stuck in the times of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, etc. etc., are you being profited? Are you even fulfilling the pledge that we pray in the prayer that the Word taught us?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Instead, you may be falling into that logic trap that our human ancestors fell into before the Incarnation as well. Bear with me here.

Because to me, judging the Church only on her failures, while forgetting her successes is like judging the Marine Corps only on her failures while forgetting her prowess in actually fighting battles and winning wars. Stay stuck on the Ribbon Creek incident (where several Marine Recruits  died of drowning by the actions of a sadistic drill instructor), for example, while forgetting all of the Marine Corps’ success on the battle field, like the fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservior to Hungnam during the Korean War, and you may understand what I mean.

Those young men who died at Ribbon Creek can never be forgotten, nor can we bring them back to life and restore them to their families. But as a result of that tragedy, the Marine Corps changed the way recruits were handled, and she continues to develop the way recruits are trained to this day. Critics of the Church today who say that she is incapable of allowing freedom of thinking which helps her to develop makes me wonder if they have really considered what she has accomplished in spite of her growing pains. As W.J. Williams writes,

The Church, then, does not regard herself as perfect, but as having found the only possible way in which to make a great religious experiment, to organize and objectify the religious idea; to create and to continue an organism in which the religious process may be carried on. She does not say that she has accomplished her purpose in a manner the most perfect that could be conceived—far from it, she does but say, that she has done what she could; but she adds that if she has failed in her purpose it is not easy to see whom else she should regard as having succeeded, nor is it easy to find in the world an organism which has united experiment, consistency and advance in the religious idea, in an equal degree with herself.

So the critics that keep pounding the table that the Catholic Church never changes, is anathema to change, is the killer of all freedom, both actual and intellectual, are, in my humble and unimportant opinion, missing the boat. Perhaps they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Because the Church is paradoxically consistent and consistently paradoxical.

To be continued...

For All the Meanings of the Word “Catholic”

My God isn’t too small, but I sure am. For the longest time I was a modern pharisee, so sure that I knew everything I needed to know about God and my own salvation. Then I walked away from worshipping God for the longest time, because my little mind “got it” about God and I didn’t really care about what your opinion, or any churches opinion for that matter, was about Him.

I waited a long time to be called home to the Church. But when I started to hear the call, the reasonableness of becoming a Catholic had a lot to do with that very word “catholic.” Let’s take a look at the word and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Here is how the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word,

Definition of CATHOLIC

1:
a) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the church universal
b) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it
c) capitalized : Roman Catholic

2: comprehensive, universal; especially : broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests
— ca·thol·i·cal·ly adverb
— ca·thol·i·cize verb

Examples of CATHOLIC,

(She is a novelist who is catholic in her interests.)
(a museum director with catholic tastes in art.)

Origin of CATHOLIC

Middle English catholik, from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French catholique, from Late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, general, from katholou in general, from kata by + holos whole — more at cata-, safe

First Known Use: 14th century (maybe in English, but I think St. Ignatius of Antioch used the term to describe the Church back early in the 2nd century).

Related words to CATHOLIC

Synonyms: all-around (also all-round), all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized

Antonyms: limited, restricted, specialized, technical

Looking at the citation, definition #1 jives with what historically may be ascertained about the Church. She is, after all, a world-wide Church with parishes practically everywhere. She traces her leadership lineage from Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to St. Peter, who was given the Keys of the Kingdom by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bear with me for a minute because my mind is very small. The universe, however, is (we think) infinitely large. Guess what? The Catholic Church claims all of that space as her domain too. Remember the keys? That’s why someone from the Vatican Observatory can say that the mere thought of extraterrestrial life shouldn’t spook you.

That is, unless your mind is too small and you believe that God only exists on our planet, or maybe not even at all. That’s not to say that, God willing, ET couldn’t come here and ruin our lives either. Remember what was done to the Native Americans by other human beings? Or what the Egyptians did to Israel, or the Babylonians, or the Romans? Free will can be painful.

Maybe you’ve never given this much thought. I know I didn’t for the longest time because I was too busy getting and spending and such. Conquering the world for me and mine, while giving mere lip service to serving God. That sounds harsh now that I read it, but it is true.

Let’s move on to definition #2 which pertains to the small “c” version of the word.

comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests.

Now this definition is what gets to the heart of why I am Catholic. Because now that my little mind has been pondering our Triune God more and more, this second definition jives with the characteristics of God Himself. Comprehensive? Check! Universal? Check! Broad in sympathies? I’m counting on it! Broad in tastes and interests? Well now that you mention it, of course He has broad tastes and interests, most of which I have ignored all my life and many which I have never even considered. Consider the variety of life He created, people of every race and origin, 15000+ types of trees, and thousands of different kinds of flowers and hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of spiders (yuk!) even.

Consider that He became a human in order to save every man, woman, and child, and maybe even the animals (St. Francis of Assisi preached to birds!), in every clime and place. In every land, every nation, north, south, east and west. Because He is beyond mere points on a compass.

This weeks readings from the letter to the Hebrews practically scream this from the very first words in that letter(and I still didn’t get it) as you can see here,

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through the Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe, who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and who sustains all things by His mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.(Hebrews 1:1-4)

And here,

It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. Instead, someone has testified somewhere:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under his feet.”

In “subjecting” all things to him, He left nothing not “subject to Him.”(Hebrews 2:5-8).

For the longest time I ignored this salient fact, this truth, which has been staring me right in the face in the phrases “all things” and “nothing not” all this time. Others have missed them as well, which explains why the Church defended Christianity from the Arian, Donatist, and all the other heresies as well. And it explains why Our Pope could say this back when he was a Cardinal,

Just as the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy [in the great religions] neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.

And it explains why sometimes we trip each other up when one persons idea of orthodoxy (example: can I do yoga and still be a Catholic?) conflict with another’s ideas on orthodoxy (example: you may only receive the consecrated host on the tongue). All of which is way above my pay grade (able-bodied seaman, if that) and leads me to say “thank God for bishops!”

Maybe I understood all of these ideas about God and the Church only in theory, but not in practice. I’m certain I was lacking them in actual practice when I had stopped worshipping altogether. But I was, and still am, humbled to discover that the Catholic Church has been, and still is, engaged in a “practice makes perfect” exercise that has stood the test of time despite Her slips and stumbles along the way.

Look, even the synonyms of the word “catholic” describe Our Lord and His Church (all-around, all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized), even as the antonyms(limited, restricted, specialized, technical) continue to describe me when I stumble, which is often. And this helps to explain why the words denomination, narrow-minded, and sectarian do not describe Our Lord and His Church, but the antonyms of these very words do.

I came across these thoughts the other day that helped bring me full-circle on better understanding the Church and her mission,

Therefore, that Catholicity, which at first did but mean the collection of traditions from all parts within the Christian Church, came to mean what it was inevitable in the nature of the case it should, from the first, actually imply,—the bringing into one and gathering together of all the strongest facts and experiences of religion,—all elements in the religious idea wherever found which could prove their fitness by survival or their vitality by their growth or this ” richness” by their capacity for a deeper interpretation;—all “truths of religion,” outside the Christian Church as well as within it. In this manner and on a basis of the deeper expediency, begun but not completed, attempted not achieved, a Catholic Church has alone any chance of becoming “Humanity grown conscious of itself.”

Remember the two greatest commandments? St. Francis de Sales reminds us of them in the ninth meditation in his Introduction to the Devout Life,

Consider that Jesus Christ, enthroned in Heaven, looks down upon you in loving invitation: “O beloved one, come unto Me, and joy for ever in the eternal blessedness of My Love!” Behold His mother yearning over you with maternal tenderness—” Courage, my child, do not despise the Goodness of my Son, or my earnest prayers for thy salvation.” Behold the Saints, who have left you their example, the  millions of holy souls who long after you, desiring earnestly that you may one day be for ever joined to them in their song of praise, urging upon you that the road to Heaven is not so hard to find as the world would have you think. “Press on boldly, dear friend,”—they cry. “Whoso will ponder well the path by which we came hither, will discover that we attained to these present delights by sweeter joys than any this world can give.”

You can call me grasshopper,  but I’ll be taking this saint’s, and all his millions of saintly friends, advice from now on. To be continued…

Update: Monsignor Charles Pope on the width of the Church.

Because The Church Militant Transforms Us

—Originally posted back in July, perhaps you will give it a second look on this day before we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

I ran a half-marathon once, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps—13.1 miles on a hot, humid September morning in Quantico, Virginia. Along with 120 other happy Leathernecks, I never could have run this distance successfully without prior training.

I couldn’t have made it  without the refreshment stops provided by our benevolent leaders along the way either. Even though I had stamina, discipline, and faith in my abilities, all of that would have been for naught without ice cold water available at stations along the route. I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line without them, and no one else would have either. [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Angela of Foligno

The other day I shared with you the story of St. Simeon Stylites the Elder, the original “pillar-hermit.” Simeon was a lay person, but he evidently was unencumbered by family responsibilities. Today, I want to introduce you to a saint for the rest of us. Her name is Angela and she lived in Foligno, Italy from 1248 until her death in the year 1309.

As I reported back when I shared Algar Thorold’s essay, I stumbled upon the story of this lay Catholic mystic and stigmatic and I’m glad I did. Algar busts the myth that there are two Catholic Church’s (one for the priests and religious, and one for lay people) and Angela’s life shows this as well.

That this is a myth is obvious to anyone who turns their attention to the Communion of Saints. Although there are many priests and religious in the saintly ranks, there is also a heaping helping of regular folks like you and me too. Blessed Angela is an example of a regular person who accepts the call to become a saint.

A friend of mine noted that Angela’s life reminds her of the television series Desperate Housewives except that in Angela’s case the story is that she used to be desperate until she came to rest in Our Lord’s arms. Let’s take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia citation on her,

Umbrian penitent and mystical writer. She was born at Foligno in Umbria, in 1248, of a rich family; died 4 January, 1309. Married at an early age, she loved the world and its pleasures and, worse still, forgetful of her dignity and duties as wife and mother, fell into sin and led a disorderly life. But God, having in His mercy inspired her with a deep sorrow for her sins, led her little by little to the height of perfection and to the understanding of the deepest mysteries.

So she was well to do, and footloose and fancy free. Maybe a party girl like the one’s you knew in school. Or someone from the popular crowd who you secretly admired while you openly despised her. But she had a profound change of heart around the time she turned 40 years old. And as she details in her Eighteen Steps, it was not an instantaneous change, but one that was progressive. Thankfully, her confessor decided to document her incredible story.

Angela has herself recorded the history of her conversion in her admirable “Book of Visions and Instructions”, which contains seventy chapters, and which was written from Angela’s dictation by her Franciscan confessor, Father Arnold of Foligno. Some time after her conversion Angela had placed herself under the direction of Father Arnold and taken the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Note to self:  it’s time for me to find a spiritual director too.

In the course of time the fame of her sanctity gathered around her a number of Tertiaries, men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of sisters, who to the Rule of the Third Order added the three vows of religion, without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity.

Angela at last passed away, surrounded by her spiritual children. Her remains repose in the church of St. Francis at Foligno. Numerous miracles were worked at her tomb, and Innocent XII approved the immemorial veneration paid to her. Her feast is kept in the Order on the 30th of March.

Bl. Angela’s high authority as a spiritual teacher may be gathered from the fact that Bollandus, among other testimonials, quotes Maximilian Sandaeus, of the Society of Jesus, who calls her the “Mistress of Theologians”, whose whole doctrine has been drawn out of the Book of Life, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Angela has been noticed by Pope Benedict XVI as well. Back in October, while speaking during his weekly audience, he said that the lesson of her life is that “God has a thousand ways, for each of us, to make himself present in the soul, to show that he exists and knows and loves me.” Regarding her conversion and constancy, Our Pope credits Angela’s commitment to a life of prayer and quoted her words as follows,

“However much more you pray, ever more greatly will you be illuminated; however much more you are illuminated, so much more profoundly and intensely will you see the Supreme Good, the supremely good Being; how much more profoundly and intensely you see it, much more will you love it … Successively you will arrive to the fullness of light, because you will understand not being able to comprehend.”

Third Order Franciscans are still active today, though they no longer “take the habit” as recounted above. When Algar Thorold writes of Angela, it is in glowing praise because of her complete conversion, her humility, her commitment to prayer and for the miracles and visions that she was gifted with. She bore the stigmata, and you may read of her visions The Book of Divine Consolations and of her conversion in Thorold’s Essays on Catholic Mysticism.

Blessed Angelo of Foligno, pray for us.

For All the Saints: Simeon Stylites the Elder

Someone who you may have never heard of in the Communion of Saints is also celebrated by the Church today. Would you believe a guy who sat atop a pillar for over 35 years? I can’t make this one up folks so I’m going to share the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent about my steadfast and devoted friend named St. Simeon “Stylites.”

When I first heard about the Stylites, I was taken aback.  I thought how could someone do such a thing? If my own child came to me with an idea to do something like this, would I support them? Or would I be like St. Francis of Assisi’s father and be outraged. I hope not. Come and see how this story unfolds,

St. Simeon was the first and probably the most famous of the long succession of stylitoe, “pillar-hermits,” who, during more than six centuries, acquired by their strange form of asceticism a great reputation for holiness throughout eastern Christendom. If it were not that our information, in the case of the first St. Simeon and some of his imitators, is based upon very reliable first-hand evidence, we should be disposed to relegate much of what history records to the domain of fable; but no modern critic now ventures to dispute the reality of the feats of endurance attributed to these ascetics.

Wait a second…for six hundred years there were hermits climbing pillars and living atop them? Holy renunciation! That is seriously hard corps. And think of all the folks who aided and abetted these “stylitoes.” Impressive charity, that. Tell me more about this Simeon character.

Simeon the Elder, was born about 388 at Sisan, near the northern border of Syria. After beginning life as a shepherd boy, he entered a monastery before the age of sixteen, and from the first gave himself up to the practice of an austerity so extreme and to all appearance so extravagant, that his brethren judged him, perhaps not unwisely, to be unsuited to any form of community life.

I told you he was gungy, which is Marine slang for “gung-ho.” Get outta here Simeon because you’re making us look bad! Blaise Pascal wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Simeon didn’t have this problem.

Being forced to quit them he shut himself up for three years in a hut at Tell-Neschin, where for the first time he passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking. This afterwards became his regular practice, and he combined it with the mortification of standing continually upright so long as his limbs would sustain him.

The whole season of Lent. When I was in the Marines, I stood for long periods during inspections. Then I went on to serve as a Marine Security Guard where standing watch for 8 hours at a time in some posts at the Embassy was just another day at the office. Simeon, I’m starting to like you. Because when I thought 8 hours was a long time, you were just getting warmed up.

In his later days he was able to stand thus on his column without support for the whole period of the fast. After three years in his hut, Simeon sought a rocky eminence in the desert and compelled himself to remain a prisoner within a narrow space less than twenty yards in diameter.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is a showboat. But you’ve got Simeon all wrong, because he was devoted to the LORD. He didn’t change his mind about this and people noticed.

But crowds of pilgrims invaded the desert to seek him out, asking his counsel or his prayers, and leaving him insufficient time for his own devotions. This at last determined him to adopt a new way of life.

I think he prayed for a solution, and one was provided.

Simeon had a pillar erected with a small platform at the top, and upon this he determined to take up his abode until death released him. At first the pillar was little more than nine feet high, but it was subsequently replaced by others, the last in the series being apparently over fifty feet from the ground.

OK, so from nine feet up, his benefactors could throw him a jug of water, or a bunch of grapes. But it was still a little to crowded and noisy, see. So he just kept getting help to go higher. How did he pay the workers? How did he get food and water, relieve himself? We’ll see later when I take you to the movies.

However extravagant (!) this way of life may seem, it undoubtedly produced a deep impression on contemporaries, and the fame of the ascetic spread through Europe, Rome in particular being remarkable for the large number of pictures of the saint which were there to be seen, a fact which a modern writer, Holl, represents as a factor of great importance in the development of image worship.

And people kept coming out to see him, seeking his counsel, and asking him to pray for them and bless them. The accessible hermit. Here is how,

Even on the highest of his columns Simeon was not withdrawn from intercourse with his fellow men. By means of a ladder which could always be erected against the side, visitors were able to ascend; and we know that he wrote letters, the text of some of which we still possess, that he instructed disciples, and that he also delivered addresses to those assembled beneath.

Probably with a voice trumpet or something. Can you even imagine such a spectacle today? What about sunscreen and umbrellas Simeon? What about lightning? Stop worrying will you? Have a little faith.

Around the tiny platform which surmounted the capital of the pillar there was probably something in the nature of a balustrade, but the whole was exposed to the open air, and Simeon seems never to have permitted himself any sort of cabin or shelter. During his earlier years upon the column there was on the summit a stake to which he bound himself in order to maintain the upright position throughout Lent, but this was an alleviation with which he afterwards dispensed.

I’m glad he cut himself some slack. Sheeesh! And the high and the mighty came calling, just as they did with the Desert Fathers. Centuries later, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem about him too.

Great personages, such as the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia manifested the utmost reverence for the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo paid respectful attention to a letter Simeon wrote to him in favour of the Council of Chalcedon.

Why would they bother? Well, as you’ll see, Simeon was up there for quite some time. And besides, he must have been talking some sense and providing good counsel.

Once when he was ill Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to descend and allow himself to be attended by physicians, but the sick man preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

What, and climb down from his perch every time he got the sniffles? Simeon was no “sick-bay commando” folks.

After spending thirty-six years on his pillar, Simeon died on Friday, 2 September, 459 (Lietzmann, p. 235).

Talk about staying power. 36 years is not a fad folks. That is an institution. Later on, another Simeon would break his record, by another 32 years for a total of 68! And there was something of a bidding war for his relics,

A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of his remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city. The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honour and known as Qal ‘at Sim ‘ân (the mansion of Simeon) remain to the present day. It consists of four basilicas built out from an octagonal court towards the four points of the compass.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for this photograph (see below) being described here.

In the centre of the court stands the base of St. Simeon’s column. This edifice, says H.C. Butler, “unquestionably influenced contemporary and later church building to a marked degree” (Architecture and other Arts, p. 184). It seems to have been a supreme effort of a provincial school of architecture which had borrowed little from Constantinople.

How about watching this short film about the Stylite? It’s only 43 minutes (and change) long. It’s called Simon of the Desert and it’s the 1964 classic by Luis Bunuel. It even has subtitles, and a surprise ending.

One of the really beneficial things about being a Catholic Christian is learning about all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Communion of Saints. Their witness and example run the gamut of,  and make manifest, the individual ways that Christ calls us to serve Him.

St. Simeon, pray for us.

Because These Catholic Chaplains Were Awarded the Medal of Honor

This photograph is for all of you who get really persnickety about the altar, vestments, and such ancillary things like that. This is Major Charles Watters, U.S. Army, celebrating Mass out in the field for the troops. The altar is a couple of ammo boxes sitting on top of two water cans.

Though there are no relics of saints embedded in this altar, what matters most, Our Lord and Savior, will be there with His men soon. I attended services just like this one, even when I wasn’t a Catholic. Because beggars can’t be choosers, see? [Read more...]

For New Years Resolutions Like This: Choose A Patron Saint for 2011

Earlier today I mentioned that I was dipping into the Communion of Saints for inspiration. And why not? I love these people and I’m glad they are praying for me. Later this afternoon I noted that Elizabeth Scalia, “the Anchoress” was wondering about her patron saint for the new year. Readers may have noticed that we have two full time patrons here at YIMCatholic: St. Joseph and St. Joan of Arc.

But we can always use someone else to pray for us too. And I really like this neat Patron Saint Generator that Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary came up with. Elizabeth gave it a try and guess which saint choose to represent her this year? St. Catherine of Siena. So I decided to give it a whirl too.

Jennifer’s application makes it so easy. Just click the button and off it goes. Putting out a call in heaven I reckon, “Patron Saint needed for the man on aisle three,” or something like that. Whoever shows up has chosen you, see? Don’t go second guessing the saint that arrives at your doorstep, because even if you don’t know why this saint should be your patron, invite them in and get to know them! Look over in the sidebar and you’ll see that St. Frances of Rome is my patron this year. Looking at the citation that arrived with her, I’ll just say that I am looking forward to getting to know her better.

I am so excited about this that I too am posting on it. When I got home from work, I gathered the family after dinner so we could all pick a saint for this year too. My youngest son went first and St. Aloysius of Gonzaga arrived on our doorstep. Wow, I said, that was your great-grandfathers middle name kiddo! My daughter was up next and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton rang our doorbell. Break out the fine china! My oldest son gave it a whirl and St. Jane de Chantal entered our little circle, and she can teach us a thing or two about forgiveness. Lastly, my wife was introduced to her patron for 2011, St. Margaret of Hungary—a princess no less!

Next, I let them all know that I want to know all about their patrons too and I want them to know them as well as they know their best friends. And when we say our prayers at night, we’ll ask our saints to pray for us. And Elizabeth had another great idea, which I shared with my family: we’ll also ask our patron saints to teach us what they know. Schools out, so saint school is in! I walked them over to the YIMCatholic bookshelf and showed them how to learn more. Then I went searching for more on their particular saints to see if there were any biographies written about them. 4 out of 5 ain’t bad, so 4 new classic books were added to the self too.

So join the club dear reader, and give Jennifer’s application a try. Don’t over-think this, just click it and open your door. Don’t forget how the apostles (after prayer) chose Matthias—they drew straws! Add the name of your patron that arrives on your doorstep in the comm box below, and I’ll see if I can find a book about them and I’ll add it to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf for you too.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…that’s what I’m singing now. Because the saints are Christian role models for us all.

Saints Be Praised!

Because It Was Time: A Confession on Why I Killed Santa Claus

There is a killing that I won’t need to bring to my parish priests’ attention the next time I enter the confessional. I killed Santa Claus a little over a year ago in my own household, and I have absolutely no regrets about doing so either.

Because it had to be done, see? Like when Old Yeller saved the day and protected the family from a rabid wolf. [Read more...]

For the Example and Witness of Charles Péguy

I’ve got a buddy who is a blogger, a fellow by the name of Webster Bull. You may have heard of him before, because he is the founder of the blog you are reading now. When he has the chance, or the spare time, Webster blogs occasionally for an outfit called Cahiers Péguy. [Read more...]

Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X