Because of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a marathon, people, not a sprint!

 

Because of Blaise Pascal’s Letter upon the Death of his Father

Webster has been serving at funerals lately, one in early December and one just a few days ago. And in a prediction that is all too likely to come to fruition, he believes he will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend this year. Reading these posts, I reflect on the fragility of human life and the sudden impact on our loved ones lives when we depart this mortal coil.

A sudden death, an accidental death, the unexpected death is always a shocker. Others are blessed with an illness—or maybe it’s not a blessing, to see the train enter the station that will inevitably bear them away. There is pain, and suffering in the long drawn-out route to eternity. [Read more...]

Because of Practical Instruction Like This

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, Webster posted this note about the close friendship of Saints Basil and Gregory. Back in the middle of December 2009, Webster penned this note with the title Because of “Such a Friend” where the subject of male friendships surfaced as a topic for discussion. I bring this up because I posted the following comment to that discussion:

They (the Disciples) junked the “think only of myself” model and exchanged it for the “two greatest commandments” model. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Say this to yourself as a mantra and I guarantee your decision making matrix will change.

From the Office of Readings in the LOTH this morning, I was surprised to see St. Augustine flesh out what I had thought was an original idea (Qoheleth is laughing now) over 1600 years before I could possibly have even thought it! Relieved, then, is probably a more accurate description of how I felt. In one of his tractates (lectures) on the Gospel of John he writes:

The Lord himself came, the Teacher of love, full of love, “shortening the word upon the earth”, as it was foretold he would do. He showed that from the two precepts of love depend the whole of the Law and the prophets.

Yes, I remember the passage he is alluding to where Our Lord and a scholar of the law have this discussion in the Gospel of Matthew (22:36-40). Augustine continues on as follows,

What are these two commandments? Join me, my brethren, in recollecting them. They ought to be thoroughly familiar to you and not just come to your mind when we recite them: they ought never to be blotted out from your hearts. Always and everywhere, bear in mind that you must love God and your neighbor, “love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”

We must always ponder these words, meditate them, hold them in our minds, practice them, and bring them to fruition.

Which is what I suggested in my comment above. A take on the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing” from his letter to the Thessalonians. He continues,

As far as teaching is concerned, the love of God comes first; but as far as doing is concerned, the love of your neighbor comes first.

Yes! As James “the slave of Christ” exhorts in his letter, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” (James 1:22)

Whoever sets out to teach you these two commandments of love must not commend your neighbor to you first and then God, but God first and then your neighbor.

Put first things first!

You, on the other hand, do not yet see God, but loving your neighbor will bring you that sight. By loving your neighbor, you purify your eyes so that they are ready to see God as John clearly says: “If you do not love your brother, whom you see, how can you love God, whom you don’t see?”

I have much work to do on this front, believe me! Who doesn’t? But again I am grateful for the Communion of the Saints and the practical, day-to-day examples and simple instruction they give me to living a Christian life in this world.

P.S. St. Augustine wrote 124 lectures on the 21 chapters Gospel of John. You can find them here.

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

For the past ten days, I have been on vacation visiting friends and family in Southern California—immersed in domestic life in a manner more up close and personal than usual. Sometimes I am at a loss to understand what my children are doing and where they are coming from. But I don’t leave them wondering where my wife and I are coming from.
That is why I am glad this is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. I could use some uplifting words on the vocation of parenting right about now, and I’m sure my wife could too! And I look forward to my children hearing these words as well.
Following our successful visit to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano and playing in the waves and watching the sun set at Doheney State Beach, times got a bit rocky with my children. As I wrote here, my kids (14 in a few days, 10, and 8) are “in the know” regarding Santa Claus. As Christmas Day rapidly approached, there were a number of less than kind remarks regarding the paucity of gifts sitting under the tree at grandma & grandpa’s house.
Forget about the logistics of carting presents from Tennessee to Southern California, or back for that matter. My wife and I gave plenty of advance notice that the cost of this trip would be steep in a tough economy, but that mattered little to the 13-and-under crowd. Sure, buying gifts for others upon arrival would be good, but “What about us” is what my children were saying between the lines.
Which makes the Holy Family story that much more needed for me and my family this year. The antiphon to the Invitatory Psalm intonesLet us worship Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.Consider the antiphon while also considering that Jesus is God. . . . He [God] obeyed the two human beings entrusted with his care for close to thirty years before he “left the nest.” That is the message that our children need to hear today—not just from me and my wife, but from the Church. Madison Avenue and network television aren’t sending this message, and I’m pretty sure that the government botches the message too.

The next line from the LOTH that struck me is Luke 2:41, which reads,
Each year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.This indicates that the Holy Family were practicing their faith regularly, not sporadically. The lives of the Holy Family revolved around worshiping God, and that is the model for us to emulate too: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . ..Flash back to last evening when I informed my eldest son that I would be waking him up early in the morning so that we could go to Mass (0700) before heading off to day 1 of a four-day baseball camp (0900 = show time) Merry Christmas, kiddo! Was his reaction angelic beatitude? More like Sturm und Drang. It was definitely an example of amour-propre in action.

But despite the sound and the fury of my eldest, I find comfort in the fact that Mary and Joseph lived their faith in a manner that is the very model of this verse from Deuteronomy 6:5,

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.

This commandment (note the word shall and not may in the verse) gives me the strength to ignore the whining, grumbling, and complaining of my children while staying focused on Commander’s Intent (see verse above). The Church understands this commandment because it makes sure there are ample opportunities for the rank and file like me to keep the Sabbath Holy—masses beginning on Saturday evenings and running through Sunday. Sounds like Semper Fidelis in action.

I find comfort in knowing that,

The boy grew in wisdom and in stature and the grace of God was with him.

That is my prayer for my children, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Though Christian churches of every flavor celebrate the importance of parenting, this is another example of an idea coming full circle, with completeness and amazing grace, within the Catholic Church when it marks a Feast Day celebrating the importance of family and the vocations of both parents and children.

The Short Reading from Deuteronomy 5:16 from today’s LOTH is right on the mark again:

Honor you father and mother, as the Lord God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that the Lord your God gives to you.

Amen, and thanks be to God!

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy II

If you think that I have already had my fair share of going to Mass on this trip to Southern California, you would be wrong. In fact, I can’t get enough of what the Church has to offer, even when I am on vacation.

I have a confession to make: I go to daily mass as often as I can. And trust me, it isn’t because I feel “holier than thou” doing it. I feel relieved when I go. For those of you who can’t go daily because of time constraints or lack of opportunity (no parish nearby), I can understand. But in my case, there is a parish within walking distance from where I work and it holds Mass daily at 12:10 p.m., right in the heart of my lunch hour. So I usually just go.

Before I was Catholic, it never even dawned on me to go to Church every day. I heard about this practice when my wife told me her aunt would go daily (years before I became a Catholic) and I distinctly remember thinking to myself what a waste of time and energy! Get a life, people! But now, I see what she was up to and I think I understand.

So, I wake up each morning and start my day by reading the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings. This has become a routine for me too, after being welcomed into the Church. It gives me great consolation to pray the LOTH and sometimes it ignites the spark for a post, or two. But it doesn’t supplant the desire for receiving “my daily bread” in the form of the Eucharist.

This morning I discovered that a parish nearby has daily mass at 8:30 a.m., and having found this out at 7:40 a.m., there was no doubt where I would be come 8:30. I thank one of my wife’s friends, who we met for dinner last night (and who invited us to Christmas Eve Mass) for alerting me that there was a parish nearby: St. John Eudes Parish in Chatsworth. I did a Google search and discovered it was a whopping mile and a half from where we are staying on this leg of our trip.

It never ceases to amaze me that I am not alone at these daily Masses. This morning there were at least 60 other people there with me. I pulled into the parking lot and had to search for a place to park. The first time I went to the daily Mass back home, I was stunned to find 20 people there. I figured it would just be the priest and me.

So, whew, I got to go to Mass this morning! Now to breakfast and then off to the “adventure du jour,” the Wild Animal Park of the San Diego Zoo. World renowned, an absolute must see, the stories we were going to be able to tell and the pictures we could share! It was going to be fantastic! And then . . . we got stuck in traffic.

Chatsworth isn’t exactly a few minutes from Escondido, where this attraction is located, even if there aren’t 8 million other drivers on the road trying to get to other places at the same time. As we slogged slowly southward, I saw signs announcing how long it would take to get to certain landmarks that make sense only to people who live in Southern California. Like “91 Freeway—30 Minutes” and that is when we were still 3 miles from intersecting the 605 Freeway. Have I lost you? Probably.

Suffice it to say that the trip to the Wild Animal Park was not looking good. And I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of paying the lofty admission price and then trying to squeeze all the pleasure out of my money’s worth before the park closed in the three hours that would be left by the time we got there. I had clear visions of stress and unhappiness if this mission was continued.

So I adapted, improvised, and overcame (Marines are good at that) because the “natives were restless” (being in a car for two hours in traffic feels like eight hours when you are 13 and under) and exited the freeway in San Juan Capistrano and headed to the Mission located there. Yep—we went to Church!

We spent three and a half hours at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano and not one minute felt rushed. Ten acres of beautiful grounds, and gardens and historic ruins and chapels. I learned how the Mission was founded on All Saints Day in 1776 and how Abraham Lincoln deeded the property back to the Catholic Church two weeks before he was assassinated.

I learned too that 40 worshipers had been killed when an earthquake in 1812 destroyed the The Great Stone Church built in 1797. The ruins of that building are still amazing to see today and were decorated with a beautiful nativity scene shown here.

I learned that San Juan of Capistrano is the Spanish form of Saint John of Capistrano or, in Italian, Giovanni da Capistrano. He is pretty “hard corps” as well—known as “the Soldier Saint” because he defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 when he was, get this, 70 years old! That is probably why he only carried a red banner and a crucifix into battle, armor and a shield being too heavy, I bet.

Although the Turks didn’t kill him, and he was victorious in battle, bubonic plague took him in the end. He had been a lawyer before becoming a Franciscan friar and a renowned preacher. He is the patron saint of jurists. He once spoke to a crowd of over 126,000—more people than can fit in the Rose Bowl—and long before there were microphones, sound systems, etc.

And we haven’t even talked about Fray Junipero Serra, who established the entire chain of Missions in Alta California. Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Every school child in California knows about Fr. Serra when they complete their 4th Grade Mission project for history class. I’m not sure if public school children complete these projects too, but I know that all the Catholic school kids do. And the Mission sells kits to help you complete these projects just like the Boy Scout shop sells kits for Pinewood Derby cars.

And my kids? They got to run around the grounds and get their ya-ya’s out on one hand, while getting to say prayers and light candles on the other. They loved seeing the koi swimming in the fountains, and the way the Spanish soldiers’ barracks were turned out. And they were amazed to see a bride and groom having their photographs made in the stunningly beautiful little chapel while hearing stories about how their Mom and Dad came here as newlyweds over twenty years ago too. They chased Monarch butterflies and later chased waves as we watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from the sands of Doheny State Beach. Mission (pun intended) accomplished!

Yes, going to Mass on vacation is easy. You never know where or what it may lead you to. But so far, it has always led me to green pastures while restoring my soul.

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!


The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!


The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.

Because Women Aren’t from Venus and Men Aren’t from Mars

Posted by Frank
We have been talking about men of the laity and their roles in the church lately. Because that is who we are, Webster and I, a couple of laymen in love with the Church and trying to share that with others. There’s much in the liturgy of Advent to help us reflect on the roles of men and women.

Take for instance this verse from today’s Gospel reading where the Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah of the coming birth of his son John (the Baptist) and what John will accomplish.

He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)

“To turn the hearts of fathers toward children . . .” OK, so I take it that this lack of communication between fathers and sons is not a new thing. Not some recent cultural event of modernity. Somehow I didn’t think it was, but I’m glad to see that this is mentioned right at the beginning of the story of the prophet preparing the way for the coming of Our Savior. So much for blaming modern society.

And now that I mention it, am I the only one to see that the entire mystery of the Incarnation is the Divine Father turning His heart towards His children? Even as disobedient as they were and we are? This sounds to me like the ultimate in “leadership by example.”

Isn’t it amazing that Our Lord has a profoundly good relationship with his Heavenly Father and evidently his earthly father as well? Never a harsh word, no bitching, moaning, or complaining? Why did it take me 44 years and my near-death experience (and then my father’s) to clear the decks towards a better relationship? Heck, it took me becoming a Catholic to even open the door to thoughts like this about my relationship with my dad!

But two guys alone can’t figure all this stuff out, nor can we expect the male leadership of the Church alone to do so. Before you go thinking I’m spouting heretical thoughts, let me introduce you to the wonderful maiden (that would be a female) named Wisdom. There she sits on a throne at the top of this page. Take a look at this passage from chapter 7 in the Book of Wisdom. The writer says,

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands; and I rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader, though I had not known that she is the mother of these. Simply I learned about her, and ungrudgingly do I share—her riches I do not hide away; for to men she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.

And in the LOTH for today, Wisdom shows herself again as having been around since the Beginning:

With you abides Wisdom, who knows your works. She was with you when you made the world. She knew what was pleasing to your eyes. She saw what was right according to your precepts. Send your Wisdom from the highest heaven; send her from the throne of your greatness; that she may abide with me and work with me, so that I may know what it is that pleases you. For Wisdom knows everything, and understands; she will lead me wisely in what I do, and protect me in her glory.

And if you don’t believe Wisdom belongs in the Bible (tossed out after the Protestant Reformation) then take a look at Proverbs 8. Here Wisdom shows herself again as the voice of reason! Just in case you thought that might be a typographical error, let’s turn all the way back to a few verses in Genesis, remember the ones? (Genesis 1:26-27)

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Whoa— “us,” “our image,” “male and female”? Aren’t women from Venus and men from Mars? I don’t think so. Not anymore anyway.

Thoughts on the LOTH for Today

Posted by Frank

The Office of Readings from today continues describing the wonders of the mystery of the Incarnation. An excerpt from The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is in today’s Office of Readings. This epistle dates from between 125 to 200 A.D. 

“Mathetes” is not a name, but a title meaning a disciple. Nor are scholars sure who Diognetus was. There was someone of that name who was a tutor to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome between 121–160 AD. Diognetus may have also been Claudius Diogenes, who was procurator of Alexandria around the year 200.

Regardless, the letter is fascinating as an early (if not the earliest) example of Christian Apologetics. Here is an excerpt.

No man has ever seen God or known him, but God has revealed himself to us through faith, by which alone it is possible to see him. God, the Lord and maker of all things, who created the world and set it in order, not only loved man but was also patient with him. So he has always been, and is, and will be: kind, good, free from anger, truthful; indeed, he and he alone is good.

He devised a plan, a great and wonderful plan, and shared it only with his Son. As long as he preserved this secrecy and kept his own wise counsel he seemed to be neglecting us, to have no concern for us. But when through his beloved Son he revealed and made public what he had prepared from the very beginning, he gave us all at once gifts such as we could never have dreamt of, even sight and knowledge of himself.

When God had made all his plans in consultation with his Son, he waited until a later time, allowing us to follow our own whim, to be swept along by unruly passions, to be led astray by pleasure and desire. Not that he was pleased by our sins: he only tolerated them. Not that he approved of that time of sin: he was planning this era of holiness. When we had been shown to be undeserving of life, his goodness was to make us worthy of it. When we had made it clear that we could not enter God’s kingdom by our own power, we were to be enabled to do so by the power of God.

When our wickedness had reached its culmination, it became clear that retribution was at hand in the shape of suffering and death. The time came then for God to make known his kindness and power (how immeasurable is God’s generosity and love!). He did not show hatred for us or reject us or take vengeance; instead, he was patient with us, bore with us, and in compassion took our sins upon himself; he gave his own Son as the price of our redemption, the holy one to redeem the wicked, the sinless one to redeem sinners, the just one to redeem the unjust, the incorruptible one to redeem the corruptible, the immortal one to redeem mortals. For what else could have covered our sins but his sinlessness? Where else could we, wicked and sinful as we were, have found the means of holiness except in the Son of God alone?

How wonderful a transformation, how mysterious a design, how inconceivable a blessing! The wickedness of the many is covered up in the holy One, and the holiness of One sanctifies many sinners.

The complete letter may be read here.

Thoughts on the LOTH for Today

Posted by Frank

Yesterday (12/16/2009) the Short Reading was as follows:

The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel. On curds and honey will he feed until he knows how to refuse evil and choose good. (Isaiah 7:14-15)

“Until he knows how to refuse evil and choose good” gives a resounding answer of Yes to the question of whether Jesus Christ was truly human and truly God.

And from the Office of Readings today, Pope Saint Leo the Great’s letter entitled The Mystery of our Reconciliation to God expounds on that with a discussion of Our Lord’s genealogical roots as The New Adam:
To speak of our Lord, the son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man is of no value to us if we do not believe that he is descended from the line of ancestors set out in the Gospel.

Matthew’s gospel begins by setting out “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham”, and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother’s husband, Joseph. On the other hand, Luke traces his parentage backward step by step to the actual father of mankind, to show that both the first and the last Adam share the same nature.

No doubt the Son of God in his omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as he did to the patriarchs and prophets, when for instance he engaged in a wrestling contest or entered into conversation with them, or when he accepted their hospitality and even ate the food they set before him. But these appearances were only types, signs that mysteriously foretold the coming of one who would take a true human nature from the stock of the patriarchs who had gone before him.

No mere figure, then, fulfilled the mystery of our reconciliation with God, ordained from all eternity. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the Virgin nor had the power of the Most High overshadowed her, so that within her spotless womb Wisdom might build itself a house and the Word become flesh. The divine nature and the nature of a servant were to be united in one person so that the Creator of time might be born in time, and he through whom all things were made might be brought forth in their midst.


For unless the new man, by being made “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.

The Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition. But through this wonderful blending the mystery of new birth shone upon us, so that through the same Spirit by whom Christ was conceived and brought forth we too might be born again in a spiritual birth; and in consequence the evangelist declares the faithful to have been “born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

A New Adam born of the New Eve so that each of us may be reborn. Thanks be to God.

Thanks to Thomas à Kempis I

Posted by Webster
Jesus asks us to become like little children; he doesn’t ask us to be childish. I imagine it’s easy for a convert like myself to fall into temptation when the first rush of conversion is passed, when childhood ends, and the long journey of being and becoming an adult Catholic is underway. That’s where I find myself now. And sometimes I’m pretty childish.

Having rediscovered, thanks to Frank’s recent post, The Imitation of Christ, which I first read after the death of Pope John Paul I, I am dipping back into a bit each morning. Wow—it is every bit as cleansing as it was in 1978. Whatever is going on in my life, author Thomas à Kempis (left) has a way of cutting through the thicket of trivial, daily, self-centered concerns and getting at the treasure in the heart of the garden.

I picked it up again where my bookmark told me I had left off, and this morning I came to “Of the Lack of Solace and Comfort.”

It is no great thing to despise the comfort of man when the comfort of God is present. . . .

In other words, I thought, when, in the springtime of conversion, things are going great with God, who needs friends? Who needs life to cooperate?

. . . But it is a great thing, and indeed a very great thing, that a man should be so strong in spirit as to bear the lack of both comforts, and for the love of God and for God’s honor should have a ready will to bear desolation of spirit and yet in nothing to seek himself or his own merits.

There have been times in the past few months, including some this week, when the desire to pray has run dry, when the daily hour of Adoration seems nothing more than another daily hour, when it’s all I can do to get my body to mass. If those times coincide with easy living—friends are understanding, the money is flowing, along with the wine, and the Patriots are on a roll—no problem! But couple such a dry period with friends and loved ones who seem not to get it, let those dry periods come when finances seem tightest or the weather coldest, let those periods come during a losing streak, and then, as Dad used to say, it’s Katie, bar the door!

As usual, Thomas à Kempis has an answer—not an easy answer, but an answer nonetheless:

When spiritual comfort is sent to you by God, take it humbly and give thanks meekly for it. But know for certain that it is the great goodness of God that sends it to you, and not because you deserve it. . . .

When comfort is withdrawn, do not be cast down, but humbly and patiently await the visitation of God, for He is able and powerful to give you more grace and more spiritual comfort than you first had. Such alteration of grace is no new thing and no strange thing to those who have had experience in the way of God. . . .

The Holy Spirit comes and goes after His good pleasure . . .

There is no better remedy than patience, with a complete resignation of our will to the will of God.

I think of men I admire, and I wonder how they handle(d) the dry periods: Father Barnes, living alone in a rectory big enough to house the six priests who once lived there; Father Matthew, a Trappist for as long as I’ve been alive, since 1951; my grandfather, Dan Bull, who bravely outlived two sons and two wives; my father, Dave Bull, whose diagnosis of terminal melanoma plunged him suddenly into an unaccountable world of fear, loneliness, and love—How did each of them respond when life was hardest and God seemed most distant?

They probably had their childish periods, but I like to think they had their Thomas à Kempis moments, as well.

I never yet found any religious person so perfect that he did not experience at some times the absence of grace or some diminishing of fervor. . . . He is not worthy to have the high gift of contemplation who has not suffered some tribulation for God. . . .

And therefore the Lord says: To him who overcometh I shall give to eat of the tree of life.


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