Because Blogging For Christ Is Like Being St. Philip

Above is a snapshot of the last 500 visitors to this space. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then this one is worth 1500. As such, I’ll be brief. After baptizing the Ethopian eunuch, the Holy Spirit whisked Philip away to evangelize somewhere else. That is what it is like to be a Catholic working in the apostolate of St. Blogs.

the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away suddenly and the eunuch saw no more of him, but went on his way rejoicing.—Acts 8:39

I could kid myself that no one reads the stuff that is shared here, or on the other hand, that I “know” many of the readers who stop by. But the humbling truth is, I don’t know you. I didn’t e-mail you to please stop in. Something, or more accurately, someone, prompted you to stop in here today. You may have had no intention to do so, and yet you wound up here.

From the looks of it, you come from all over, from “every clime and place.” You are all welcome, all brothers and sisters of mine. And you are all God’s children. And you are not alone…

Thanks for stopping by. I pray your visit was a profitable one. Come back again soon.

Update: The Holy Father on Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age

Thanks to Tomás Luis de Victoria: Singer, Composer, Priest

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing musical selections from contemporary culture that are Christocentric. This week I wanted to take that same theme, but apply it to a much earlier era. While attempting to do so, I stumbled upon the works of Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Now, if I was from Spain, I would probably have learned of de Victoria in grammer school. I’m not from Spain, but I’m a Catholic now, see, so Christ’s whole world is open to me. Call it Jesus’s Big Back Yard, and come along with me to learn about one of our neighbors.

I found an article about de Victoria in the on-line version of Gramophone, a publication out of the U.K. that purports to be “the world’s authority on classical music since 1923.” The author, Edward Breen (who packs enough musical/intellectual bonafides to fill a barn) writes,

Born into a large and influential family near Ávila in 1548, Victoria died in Madrid on August 20, 1611. As a choirboy in Ávila Cathedral he studied with the leading Spanish composers of his time, yet this great Spanish renaissance composer was to be active in Italy for an important part of his life. In the mid 1560s he was sent to the Jesuit Collegio Germanco (a seminary founded in response to the spread of Lutheranism) in Rome.

Avila? Where have I heard of that place before?

Enrolled as a singer, Victoria would have lived alongside English, Spanish and Italian boarders as well as those in training for the German missionary priesthood. In the period leading up to his first publication of motets (1572) it is most likely that Victoria knew Palestrina  (who at the time was maestro di cappella at the Seminario Romano) and may even have been taught by him. Certainly modern commentators feel that Victoria was the first Iberian composer fully to master Palestrina’s style. His work as a singer and organist in Rome lead to a teaching post at the Collegio Germanico and eventually to the priesthood after his wife’s death in 1577.

The “eventually to the priesthood after his wife’s death,” is the part that really woke me up. How many times have you heard that folks who become priests, or immerse themselves in the faith, just can’t cut the mustard in the arts? Or in the sciences, for that matter? But sticking to the musical arts, here is a guy who was perhaps a model for Fr. Antonio Vivaldi, a composer you may have heard of, to look up to and perhaps follow in his footsteps.

How important is this de Victoria guy anyway? As the Catholic Encyclopedia reference on Passion Music tells it, he is important enough for the experts to Italianize his name because,

Probably the most important musical interpretations of (the Passion) text are the two by Tomas Luis da Vittoria (1540-1613). Vittoria, retains the plain-chant melodies for single persons and makes them serve, after the manner of Obrecht, as canti fermi in the ensemble. The value of these works is proved by the fact that for more than three hundred years they have formed part of the repertory of the Sistine Chapel choir for Holy Week.

Make that 400 years now. I found another citation on Fr. Tomás where I least expected it. Would you believe Absolute Astronomy? That’s where I learned this about the guy I’d never heard of,

is the most significant composer of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, and one of the best-regarded composers of sacred music in the late Renaissance, a genre to which he devoted himself exclusively. Victoria’s music reflected his intricate personality. In his music, the passion of Spanish mysticism and religion is expressed. Victoria was praised by Padre Martini for his melodic phrases and his joyful inventions. His works have undergone a revival in the 20th century, with numerous recent recordings. Many commentators hear in his music a mystical intensity and direct emotional appeal, qualities considered by some to be lacking in the arguably more rhythmically and harmonically placid music of Palestrina.

Calm down though and remember who is writing this post. Like I said when I wrote about Fr. Vivaldi, I’m no music scholar; I only know what I like. So let’s have a listen to Fr. Tomás’ work and see what all the fuss is about.

Vox Coelestis, O Magnum Mysterium. All I can say is Alleleuia indeed! Here is the English translation,

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

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Tallis Scholars First Lamentation for Maundy Thursday.

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Taedet animam meam. This is taken for the Book of Job (10:1-7) Get out your Bible and read along.

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Westminster Cathedral Choir, ‘Communio’ from Requiem

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Matritum Cantat Choir, Tenebrae factae sunt.

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Well, what do you think? Would you believe there are nine pages worth of videos of his works over on You Tube? You can learn more about Fr. Tomás in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Meanwhile, I need to get cracking on learning more about this fellow named Palestrina.

Psalm 52 (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Thankfully, the scriptures are not one dimensional, like say the characters in an Ayn Rand novel. I’ve mentioned before how uncanny the readings can be, as well as the timing of selections that are in the Liturgy of the Hours. That is where I ran across today’s poetry selection.

Are their inconvenient scriptures? Of course there are.

Otherwise, you would just pick and choose what you liked from the Bible and toss everything else. Thankfully, we have a Magisterium that prevents such a travesty.

Given the events of the past few days, this particular selection from the Office of Readings today sort of stood out like a sore thumb.

Psalm 52
For the leader. A maskil of David,when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, “David went to the house of Ahimelech.”

Why do you glory in evil, you scandalous liar?
All day long you plot destruction;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, you skillful deceiver.
You love evil rather than good,
lies rather than honest speech. Selah
You love any word that destroys, you deceitful tongue.

Now God will strike you down, leave you crushed forever,
Pluck you from your tent, uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous will look on with awe; they will jeer and say:
“That one did not take God as a refuge,
but trusted in great wealth,
relied on devious plots.”

But I, like an olive tree in the house of God,
trust in God’s faithful love forever.
I will praise you always for what you have done.
I will proclaim before the faithful that your name is good.

Image credit: Linda Robb.

Jesus Goes Mainstream II (Music for Mondays)

One week down, and 6 weeks to go before Pentecost. I’m still exploring Jesus in mainstream culture through song. Last week, I took us from the late 1960′s up until the early 1980′s.

This week, I dip back into the 1970′s briefly before vaulting back up into the Eighties and Nineties again before getting a toehold in the 2000′s. And all of these songs are well known and I would wager that most of you remember them.

First up is one of my favorite classic rock tunes that I forgot to share last week. See? There are more songs that reference Our Lord in the mainstream than even I can keep track of!

ZZ Top (1973), Jesus Just Left Chicago. From their album, Tres Hombres, I forgot this one from the 1970′s last week. I always liked this song too. The idea of Jesus riding a bus from Chicago to New Orleans is cool, not to mention realistic. And with beards like these, the band might be mistaken for monks from Mt. Athos (smile).

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John Cougar Mellencamp (1985), Small Town. What can I say? I like small towns, especially when I was “taught to fear Jesus, in this small town…”

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Mr. Mister (1985) Kyrie Eleison A reader suggested this one. What ever happened to these guys? They had a monster hit album in 1985 and then…poof! I didn’t even know that this meant “Lord, have mercy” until I became a Catholic—but I always liked this song. Hey, lookee! A live performance,

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U2 (1987), When Love Comes to Town. Remember what I said about U2 last week? They’re an undercover gospel band. This is from their live album Rattle and Hum released in 1988. Performed the first time in 1987 with special guest, and blues legend, B.B. King.

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

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Lenny Kravitz (1993), Are You Gonna Go My Way. Lenny Kravitz singing as Christ. See if you can see any resemblance. The original video has imagery to help, but it can’t be embedded here. But live is better anyway.

I was born long ago
I am the chosen, I’m the one
I have come to save the day
And I won’t leave until I’m done

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Carrie Underwood (2005), Jesus Take the Wheel. I never watch American Idol, because I live under a rock. But I can get twangy with the best of ‘em, and this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own

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I wonder what I’ll dig up next week? Maybe I’ll head back to the Enlightenment era to see what I can find. See you here next week.

To Train My Family to Pray, And Lead Them By Example

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here. Yesterday my family put into practice prayers that they learned a long time ago. You see, a line of storms was forecast to hit our area, and everyone took them seriously.

Wednesday nights are when many parishes hold their C.C.D. classes for the kids. That’s an abbreviation for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes. The teachers called the house and informed us that due to the weather forecasts, classes for tonight would be cancelled.

Remember when you were in school and classes were cancelled due to snow? That is the kind of jubilation that my kids reacted with when we received this news. Cart-wheels and high-fives all around! And then Joe Six-Pack crashed the party with, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” Dad can be such a killjoy at times, ’tis true.

Emeril!

But I’m a Dad, and I have always been a Christian Dad, the one who taught my children to pray the Our Father even when I knew it only as “the Lord’s Prayer.” And now that I’m a Catholic Dad? Well, I’m not quite the Emeril Lagasse of prayer, but I’ve definitely cranked it up another notch. Bam! Or as we say it around these parts (East Gallilee, er I mean Tennessee), Bhayum!

How scary was the weather? Well, let’s just say that my 15 year old son sent me a text before I headed home from work with the following words: “Be safe Daddy.” I don’t think he’s called me “Daddy” for three of four years now. Scary weather forecasts will do that to a kid, and even to an adult. “Abba” is “Daddy” as I recall, and Our Lord even pointed that out to the Apostles.

I texted him back that I would be fine, because it was early yet and the cells hadn’t arrived. When I got home, I noticed my wife had prepped some chicken drumsticks for grilling. So I did the only thing that a man could do: I put on my poncho and grilled them. A man has got to eat, and he has to feed his family. Pretty basic stuff, right? I even had a beer while I was cookin’. My motto is “one beer, per man, per day” and I don’t let the weather interrupt that. Ever.

Solid Oak!

So, we were finishing up our dinner, which we ate in the formal dining room because the kitchen table was covered with stuff from our pantry. Remember the stairs I built? Sheesh, that seems like a hundred years ago. They climb over the pantry below, and as I built them with oak treads, with nails, glue, and screws to boot, I know the safest place in the house is right underneath the stairs. The pantry, then, doubles as the stronghold of Casa del Weathers. My wife had made more room for us in case we needed to hit the stronghold. Smart woman! That’s why I married her.

As I was helping myself to another drumstick and more cheese mashed potatoes, I asked my youngest son to get me a beer. My daughter informed me that she had already gotten me a beer earlier and I said, “yes, but today I’ll have another, because “the Extreme” is thirsty tonight. See, we watched the movie Twister a few weeks back to prepare for Spring. I had joked about being “the Extreme” while I was grillin’ too. “I betcha didn’t know your Dad was ‘the Extreme,’” I said, but she shot back “oh yes I do!” Then the phone rang, the CCD teacher called to scrub the mission for tonight, and the jubilation and high-fives reined supreme.

That is, until “the Extreme” said, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” The natives were not happy. But I outrank them, see, and when an extra hour gets freed up to practice our faith, I grab it. And then the first storm cell made it’s presence felt, and we headed into the strong-hold, just like in the movie Thunderheart. And trust me, hearts were thundering in the pantry at this point.

We didn’t have time to grab our rosaries, but after years of training, we didn’t need them. And that is the point of this post. In the Marines, we trained constantly in peace-time and during war-time. Training is non-stop; “it ain’t training, unless it’s raining.” And when we were in the pantry, the prayer training we had been practicing all these years, paid off. Did our prayers stop the storm? Stop tornadoes from ripping our house apart? I don’t know. Many who prayed lost their homes and businesses in Alabama.

No. The praying did what nothing else can do. It provided comfort and courage during the worst storms we have ever lived through. Did you see the news that some atheists are calling for atheist chaplains to minister to them in the military? I’m not sure what good that would do, or in what way they can be ministered to by atheist chaplains. “Worried are you? Here you go lad, read a little of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and be of good cheer.” Hmmm.

Here is what we did instead. In the stronghold, we held hands and we prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And when the storm abated, we sang the Gloria and left our refuge. Twenty minutes later, we went right back in and did it all again. We even said the Nicene Creed, after I botched the Apostles Creed (rookie!). We sang the Gloria again though, which we all know by heart.

At one point, I noticed that my daughter had stopped praying with us. She started listening to the ruckus that was going on outside instead. I noted the signs of panic in her eyes, and her tears started flowing as her fears rose up. As the boys and my wife kept praying loudly, I reached for her hand and said,

“Honey, I need you to keep praying. We all need you to pray along with us.”

She squeezed my hand, and mentally and physically she backed away from the precipice of fear and panic, and joined the rest of us in saying our prayers. She had faith in me, see, just like she did when I helped her learn to swim in the deep end of the pool, or ride her bicycle without training wheels.

But the faith isn’t in me, but in the example I was setting. And she knows that now more than ever. Her faith, our faith, is in the Lord. And we cried out to Him in the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And no matter what happened that night to our property or our bodies, the importance of why we pray was apparent to her, and to all of us. We cried out to our Heavenly Daddy, “Abba Father!” because we need His compassion and peace when our courage is tried.

We were like the sleeping disciples who woke up on the boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:34-41). We cried out to the Lord, like they did, and our souls were comforted. I’m not going to go into much more detail. Suffice it to say, “you play the way you practice.” And when it comes to prayer, when you practice it during the peaceful times, and you or you children think it is a waste of time, or boring, and even pointless, keep at it.

Because when the trying times arrive, as they most certainly will, all that peacetime prayer training will pay off.

Jesus Goes Mainstream (Music for Mondays)

True enough, Elvis Presley loved gospel music. And though he never shied away from singing of his love for the Lord, did anyone else? I mean besides Johnny Cash. Did the culture at large recognize Jesus in song?

Well, that is what this first MfM post of Eastertide is going to focus on: pop songs about Jesus. Many of them were mega-hits, others were one-hit-wonders. Some you’ll remember easily, others probably not.

Eastertide is roughly seven weeks long, extending from the Easter Triduum up until the Day of Pentecost.  I’m willing to explore this over the next seven weeks if you are. To begin with, here are some modern songs that the mainstream culture created and embraced that relate in some way to the Son of Man.

For some of these, you might have to go directly to You Tube. First up is my all time modern favorite,

The Doobie Brothers (1972), Jesus is Just Alright. Yep, this is my favorite tune about Jesus that went mainstream. Wikipedia has the whole story: Jesus Is Just Alright” is a gospel song written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by Reynold’s own group, The Art Reynolds Singers, on their 1966 album, Tellin’ It Like It Is. The song’s title makes use of the American slang term “all-right”, which during the 1960s was used to describe something that was considered cool or very good. Well, the Doobies version of this tune is the Gold Standard, in my book anyway. Even when it’s updated for 1996…

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The Velvet Underground (1968), Jesus. Yes, this is Lou Reed singing. That’s right, the same fellow who sang “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” This song is a prayer, pure and simple.

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James Taylor (1970), Fire and Rain. The third stanza begins with, “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…” You can claim that this song has no effect on you. And I would believe you just as much as I would believe that Ayn Rand didn’t hold grudges (which means not at all!).

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Norman Greenbaum (1969), Spirit in the Sky. I bet you never saw this video. I said once before that I used to think this was T-Rex. Norman’s “one hit wonder” jams! Listen to that guitar and these lyrics, and try to keep still. I dare you.

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Marvin Gaye (1970), Wholy, Holy. This song was eclipsed by several other great songs from Marvin’s smash hit album What’s Going On. I’m sure you remember the title track, as well as Mercy, Mercy Me. The second stanza of this song includes the following,

Jesus left a long time ago, said he would return
He left us a book to believe in
In it we’ve got an awful lot to learn…

And it will take an eternity to appreciate it all. I’m game, how about you?

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Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebalek (1969), Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord). And certainly, we can’t forget the musicals from this era. Up first, Godspell. Wikipedia again: It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success.

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Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber (1973),  Superstar. From the Tony Award winning musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  This is the most famous song from the musical.  Here we have Judas and the Soul Sisters vs. the Angels.

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Donna Summer, (1980), I Believe in Jesus. Who says we stopped singing about Jesus in the 1970′s? They must have not have been paying attention. Donna Summer, the woman who launched her career with Hot Stuff, from her album Bad Girls,  gives us the right stuff with this song just one year later.

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Depeche Mode (1989), Personal Jesus. I’ve shared this one before too. Consider that prayer is a lot like making a phone call to God, or as I told my daughter this morning, like sending Him a text message (and you can do it as often as you text your friends). Yep, Dad is weird.

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U2 (1997), If God Will Send His Angels. If you need a modern group that doesn’t shy away from Jesus, look no further. As far as I’m concerned, Bono and the boys are an undercover gospel group.

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To Become Fully Human (A Work In Progress)

A few thoughts as we celebrate the season commemorating Jesus’s triumph over death, and His becoming what we are to become if we follow him.

A friend of mine asked me once, “If you could be any animal, what animal would you choose to be?” I didn’t think about my answer very long.

In the past, before I was a Catholic, I would probably have just lept to the first thing that popped into my head. An eagle, or a tiger, or some other fearsome predator, you know, one that is lethal and smart, such as these. [Read more...]

Because Christ Waits Patiently

I saw this posted yesterday somewhere: “Forget Christmas or Easter. Independence Day is the most important holiday of the year and will have a greater impact on world history as it serves to remind people for millenia that nations are ruled by the consent of the governed.” My first thought? This person is delusional. My second thought? I need to pray for them. [Read more...]

Because Confession Puts Us Back Together

Does everyone remember “The Kid?” That’s what I call Marc Barnes who blogs over at BadCatholic. Yes, the one with the blog with a photograph of nuns lighting up smokes. Marc is a gifted writer, and he wrote a guest post for me once. He also has a talent for making videos.

Back in January, I shared the video that Marc made about the March for Life with you. It went viral (sort of), as well it should have. It is that good!

About a month ago, I got wind of a little “make a video about Confession” contest for an All Day Confession Event being held in the Archdiocese of New York. Scholarship money is on the line for the winner of the contest. But for the rest of us, hearing and sharing a message that may save eternal lives is what’s on the line.

The first person that popped into my head when I learned of this contest was “the Kid.” I sent him a note saying, “hey Kid…make a video on Confession!” As a result, his God-given talents were put to work and he created this fantastic one-minute video below.

Watch it, share it, go to You Tube and “like” it, and more importantly…believe it! Go.Be.Forgiven.

Bravo Zulu Marc, and thanks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come to the well.


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