Because When You Leave It to the Lord, Life Fills Up with Surprises

Yesterday was my 59th birthday, and the party was impromptu. At two in the morning Wednesday, the inspiration had hit me: I would send e-mails to people I would like to see; tell them I planned to be home on Sunday from 4 to 9; and propose that they drop in, or not. There were only two rules: no gifts and leave when I tell you. I sent about 40 messages, then helped Katie get the house ready for the arrival of the Magi.

My party was as impromptu as my wedding. Katie and I knew each other for twelve years before we started dating in 1984. After dating for four months we decided on a Monday to get married on Saturday. Whereupon I called my mother and asked her if she and Dad were doing anything on Saturday morning, early, about 8 am. She said:

“We were planning to play tennis.”
“Can you break your date?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“My wedding.”
“To whom?!!”

Poor Mom had no idea.

Setting aside the usual stresses that hosts experience when preparing for a party, and ignoring the inevitable frost-heaves on the matrimonial highway that such stresses can throw up, Katie and I actually had a pretty good time getting ready for the party—which included a soothing stop at Dick & June’s, our favorite ice cream spot. At 4pm I sat down in my favorite chair with a favorite book and waited. I thought I would be pretty cool about it, but by the time the doorbell first rang at 4:28, I already was not half as popular as I thought.

The first arrivals were an elderly couple bearing pierogi, a Polish delicacy that would later be acclaimed the gastronomic exclamation point of the evening. The next arrivals surprised me. Not that I hadn’t invited them, but in all my imaginings of the odd concussions likely to take place when friends from different sectors of my life came face to face, I had not factored in my Venezuelan-born doctor and his lovely children. They proved to be the light of the party for the next 90 minutes.

That’s partly because my guest list of 40+ seemed to be a long roll of regrets as late as 5:45. Then, in about 30 minutes’ time, we ran out of room. Not that there weren’t other “party spaces” carefully arranged in advance by Katie, but at 6:15 we had about 30 people wedged onto our patio, together with a cooler filled with beer and wine, a refreshing jug of Mrs. Tindall’s Punch, a monstrously flaming grill, and plenty of pierogi. I think the surprises began about this time. Because when you leave it to the Lord—as I had by inviting people who have nothing in common except my affection for them and then sitting back to watch what happened—life fills up with surprises.

First there was the elderly gentleman and first arrival (EG/FA). I was sitting inside with a great friend, a good guy I’ve played some so-so golf with (the patio was just not big enough by now). In came EG/FA and sat down, weary, breathless. Oh no, I thought, EG/FA is sucking oxygen and my golf buddy came here to blow off steam. EG/FA and WGB (Webster’s golf buddy) did not seem to have much in common. Separated by 30 years of age and several brackets of income, I figured they would be unlikely to run into one another anywhere else, and I wondered, with the paranoia of an amateur host, How is this going to work?! It worked like a charm: Both hailed from the same small town in upstate New York. (I had no idea.) They spent the next 90 minutes topping each other with stories of 1962 state championship football teams and the arcana of small-town politics. When EG/FA staggered out on his cane, WGB kindly, slowly helped him carry the pierogi pan to his car.

Then there was the Korean-American seminarian (helping out in the parish this summer) and our next-door neighbors, whom I have always had a fondness for but never reached out to in 25+ years of living on either side of the lilac bushes. How did they ever end sitting together?! But Betty (one of the neighbors) ended talking engineering (her job) with Kwang (the seminarian, a former PhD candidate in ocean engineering at MIT). Katie’s jaw dropped, eavesdropping on this one.

By 7:30, or about the time the Case of the Purloined Yankee Banner had been solved (long story involving Father Barnes, Kwang, and CL pal Vangie, not necessarily in that order), Katie and I were exchanging happy glances and eye-rolls. Then in about 15 minutes between 8:30 and 8:45, just as the main crowd was moving on, three members of our School of Community arrived individually, and from 9 to 10, or an hour past my bedtime, we had at least the quietest if not pleasantest hour of the evening: Katie, and I, with members of the Beverly CL mafia.

I am not doing the evening justice. But I need to get back to work here, so this will have to do. I am left with an amazing gratitude for the friends in my life—as mismatched as they may be—and the good Lord who puts them there, in exactly the order He chooses.

Maybe this is what Fr. Julián Carrón means when he writes: “The ‘wholly human’ consists in what is open to totality. . . . Everyone can verify how he faces the signs that the Lord is making happen. . . . Whoever follows what the Lord is making happen before our eyes, blossoms . . . ”

(Note: The picture adorning this post was not taken at yesterday’s party but at another midsummer birthday about five years ago. It shows a much younger me with our two beautiful daughters, who sadly could not join us yesterday from New York or Argentina. Just shows you that the miracles you hope for don’t necessarily come true, but if you remain open and accept what life brings, there will be surprises.)

Eclectic Mix (Music for Mondays)

Over the week just past, we were plying deep waters. You see, we can’t just stay in the shallows and expect to get anywhere. You have to plot a course with confidence, prayer, faith, and with the courage that you can leave the sight of land behind and still live to tell the tale.

There was Scripture 1A, then rough weather,  a hunting obsessed saint, and Scripture 1B. Then we had an obituary and a calling and scary parenting posts. And we can’t forget Belloc!

Still reflecting on some of last weeks posts, I put together this mix of songs for your listening pleasure. Some may not be pleasurable, though. Indeed you may find some irritating, grating, or troubling even. But stay the course, and I think you will be pleased and uplifted, somewhere between the rock and the hard-place.

Wrapping up  Belloc’s book with the chapter on the Modern Phase reminded me of this song by The Doors.  Riders on the Storm. “Into this house were born, into this world were thrown.” In my mind, I can assign roles to each of the characters Jim Morrison sings about here: the riders, the actor, the killer, the girl, the man. How about you?

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The Byrds, Turn, Turn, Turn. The roots of this Pete Seeger song? Hint: it’s from Frank’s favorite Old Testament book. Yeah, you guessed it, Ecclesiastes (see chapter 3). Because everything I know (about this world) I learned from Ecclesiastes.  I even built a Facebook page with that title. I must say that I’m very glad The Word decided to follow-up and make some of Qoheleths observations obsolete. Most of them are still on target though.

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A more modern take on the Ecclesiastes theme from The Police:  King of Pain. There’s a little black spot on the Sun today; it’s the same old thing as yesterday.

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Neil Young,  Restless Consumer. Ever heard the term “cognitive dissonance?” I think Neil hit’s the nail right on the head here. This song reminds me of some of the haunting passages from another Old Testament book (see Amos, chapter 8). After all, as the introduction to the book explains, “Amos is the prophet of social justice. He reveals to us a God who defends the rights of the poor.” Lest we forget. Please forgive the advertising at the beginning…

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Reality bites, sometimes, right? Give us something happy now Frank! Um, not yet—wouldn’t be prudent. Tom Jones has a new album coming out entitled Praise & Blame. Deacon Greg tipped me off to this one. It’s called Did Trouble Me.

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Remember that we are called to love. It’s hard to do, but I keep trying. With her angelic voice, Jocelyn Montgomery helps me to remember. This is Caritas,  from her album singing the texts from Hildegard von Bingen. Webster probably has this on his Pandora Radio channel.

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And pray without ceasing. Here is Loreena McKennitt with her song Dante’s Prayer. I came across this recently. The artist introduces the song and explains how she was inspired by an experience of traveling across Siberia on a train, and reading Dante’s Inferno.

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Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me… 

This time next week, and none too soon, I’ll be on vacation! Webster or Allison will have the conn for Music for Mondays until I return. Ciao!

Thanks to Anselm Kiefer’s Palmsonntag

While my husband participated in a conference at the University of Toronto, I spent a glorious Thursday exploring as much as I could of the Art Gallery of Ontario (pictured at left), one of the largest art museums in North America.

I spent time viewing Drama and Desire, a special exhibit on visual artists who depict the performing arts. I strolled through Playing with Pictures, The Art of Victorian Photocollage. I was intrigued by a video about factory life by 32-year-old Cai Feu of Gaungzhou, China.

But the art that truly spoke to my soul was “Palmsonntag” – that’s German for Palm Sunday – by Anselm Keifer, a 65-year-old cradle Catholic who no longer follows the faith of his childhood. His artwork moved me to consider the sacrifice of Christ and of His mother, and the hope that emerges when we contemplate the Resurrection that followed the devastation of His crucifixtion.

Kiefer’s installation, which will be on display until Aug. 1, sits in a large room on the museum’s fifth floor. One enters and immediately confronts a 30-foot-long fiberglass and resin reproduction of an uprooted palm tree, lying diagonally across the floor. Forty-four vitrines, or glass containers, sit on the walls on either side of the tree. Each panel contains a paintings of palm fonds and stems, along with the words of Ave Maria, snippets of the Latin Mass and so on.

The fallen palm reminded me of Christ just before His Resurrection; the words to our Blessed Mother reminded me of her profound sorrow. The palm was the traditional Greco-Roman symbol of military triumph. While Christ did not become the King of the world, we know His triumph lies in the heavenly realm. “These contrasting themes of destruction and re-creation, violent upheaval and spiritual renewal underpin much of Kiefer’s work.”

I’d never heard of Anselm Kiefer, which shows how little I know about art; according to the museum’s website, Kiefer is among the most important artists to emerge from post-war Europe. He was born in a small German village in 1945, two months before Adolf Hitler’s suicide. The brutal Third Reich unraveled, leaving Kiefer to grow up in a devastated nation haunted by its murderous past. His family were devout Catholics and Kiefer grew up dreaming of becoming an archbishop. But he left the church decades ago, not because he didn’t share its beliefs, but because he was uncomfortable with dogma.

He turned to Jewish mysticism and, in a recent interview, said he now is drawn to Hinduism. It makes me sad that Kiefer’s experience of Catholicism did not include its vast contemplative, artistic and intellectual traditions, and that he was unable to find a way to link his art with Catholic orthodoxy.

I admire his search for the transcendent; I thank him for this wonderful Palmsonntag, which is making me consider Palm Sunday from an entirely new perspective. And because I am Catholic I pray that Anselm Kiefer will one day understand the Church has all the comfort and meaning he ever could desire.

Because Nature Abhors A Vacuum

I found this photograph on a blog with the following caption: So Funny, So True. Maybe it’s just me but I would argue that the caption should have been So Sad, So Tragic.

As a parent of three school-age children, there is plenty for me to worry about in the world. Teen “Self-Help” is not one of them. As the title for this post states, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” a quote attributed to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Spinoza did not believe in a personal God, nor could his brilliant mind come to terms with the idea of God becoming a human, as Our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ did. I would say (and I’m definitely not brilliant) that Spinoza had a problem understanding Love.

As parents of three school-age children, my wife and I have been entrusted with raising these individuals in a way that will serve themselves and society well and in the manner that God has ordained them to be raised. That is, in a way that will teach them the Two Greatest Commandments (as stated in Luke Chapter 10 here):

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Of course, saying this and actually doing it are not easy tasks. And I would argue that they cannot be done alone, nor without prayer and constant attention. My wife and I need all the help we can get! And this is another reason why I personally became a Catholic so that I could join with my wife in unity to lead my small flock by example and with all of the benefits that the Sacraments provide and the Graces that The Church has to offer.

“Self Help” is an oxymoron. “Teen Self Help?” You’ve got to be kidding me! Look at the titles on the shelves in the photograph above. Almost every one is a supernatural thriller of some type. And why do we crave the supernatural? Isn’t it obvious? Because we are spiritual beings. Souls in earthen vessels, yearning for God and communion with Him. Why not tap into our children’s need for the supernatural in a positive way?

Time is short, and as parents we can only shape and mold our children while they are in our personal care. Decisions you make to ensure this happens will often times be unpopular in the extreme. However, as stated in Proverbs 22:6

Train a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it.

Some tasks are too important to leave to chance. Or as the poet said:

I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?

Toil on, sad heart, courageously,

And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee.

Because God Calls Us

Last weekend I had three encounters with three people that left me mulling how we manage to face our days when we come to the understanding that so much of what happens to us is beyond our control.

I met three people from three different parts of the United States. One was contending with unemployment, the next with environmental disaster and the third with war.

These circumstances are not of their making; their circumstances resulted from economic and political decisions people made in places far from their own homes. While their stories caught my attention and made me realize we all are subject to forces beyond our ability to control, they made me wonder; how do we journey through life carrying this knowledge?

The first encounter happened Saturday morning in our local barber shop. While I waited for our 10-year-old son’s turn in the chair, I struck up a conversation with a man – I’d guess he was in his mid-fifities – who was having his hair cut. His adult son was in the other chair having his hair cut. He shared how he was unemployed despite many efforts to find work. His daughter was unemployed. So too was his son-in-law; in fact they had been laid off the very same day.

The son in the chair beside him was a recent college graduate who only had managed to find work in construction. He was thankful his wife still held a job. This encounter left me humbled about my own bout of unemployment and also deeply moved by his sense of optimism in the face of so much financial difficulty.

Then Sunday, my family attended Mass with a dear friend who was visiting from Louisiana. After Mass, we chatted with my parish priest. My girlfriend described how birds which had just been taken off the endangered list were now back on, thanks to BP’s oil spill.

With pain in her voice, she described how abandoned Louisianans feel by the federal government. They felt that first during Hurricane Katrina and now in the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “They’ve written off Louisiana,” she said. Then she spoke of her run for a local school board. Despite the sense of abandonment, she was trying to make a difference in her own community.

Later that day, my sons and I went to lunch with family friends. We met in Bridgewater, New Jersey at the Olive Garden. I sat across the large table from a 29-year-old Army veteran from Missouri who had spent 27 months in Iraq. During the course of our conversation he vividly detailed an experience he and his wife had had between deployments.

They were driving through the Florida Everglades on a six-day vacation, listening to the radio news because nothing else was on. This is how he learned that deployments to Iraq were being extended from 12 to 15 months. He said he turned to his wife and said “Did we just hear that?”

What he communicated to me was the overwhelming disappointment that he learned such an important detail about his future not from his supervisors at Fort Hood but from a radio report. He went on to serve his country and now has returned to civilian life. He said he was delighted to discover the skills he gained doing logistics in the Army had helped him land a good job.

All three of these folks I met happened to be Catholic and I can’t help but wonder if their faith imbues them with the understanding that God calls each of us, by name. I recently had the privilege of meeting Apolonio Latare III, a seminarian in Rome who grew up near where my husband and I are raising our own sons. In a recent blog post he talks about: “the personal nature of man as well as the notion of duty being a personal calling from a personal God.”

Humanity has always been subject to forces beyond its control; warring nations, financial hardship and so on. What helps us transcend the difficulties of this life is the knowledge that our God willed us into being from nothingness. His love for every person is effusive and in some ways, unimaginable. Our Lord says,

Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.(Luke 12:6-7)

What these encounters helped me to realize is that amid our earthly struggles, losses and disappointments, He is always calling us by name.

Because of Others Who Showed Me the Way

Guest post by Meredith Cummings

Yesterday when I woke, I didn’t realize that before day’s end, I’d be writing an obituary. Writing obits isn’t difficult. I wrote many when I worked as a journalist. Just follow the style guide: First graph – name, age, place of death, date of death; second graph – summarize primary career in one sentence. Follow with a paragraph of chronological events – marriage, survivors, those preceding in death and funeral arrangements. Simple. It takes 10 minutes.

But I was writing about someone I knew – my dear friend Gina’s mother, Olga. How does one sum up 84 years of living in 10 minutes? Even my son thought the obit was bland. “It’s boring, mom. Mrs. Fuller wasn’t boring.”

An obit is a place marker in time, as is a birth announcement. It provides just enough information for an historian or a family member three or four generations out to outline a person in history. But it doesn’t do justice to the person who lived, the person who did something, the person who made a difference in the lives of many.

For me, one such person was Magdolen Olga Svarczkopf Fuller

Olga, or Maggie as many knew her, was born into this world a do-er. Perhaps she had no choice. With eleven siblings, there was plenty to do. Because of her strong Catholic upbringing and her Hungarian heritage, she always knew she could do what needed to be done as long as she kept God by her side.

After high school, Olga joined the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana. There, her devotion to Christ grew. But something wasn’t right. In her heart, she longed to be a mother, a mother to many, and so, she left the convent and spent another 15 years working and searching for the life to which she felt called.

In 1965, she married sweet Joe Fuller, a young Richmond boy several years her junior. Finally, she could be a mother. But there was one problem. Olga was getting older. Would she be able to bear a child?

Not to worry. God blessed her with little Regina on June 15, 1968. However, there was reason to worry because Gina was born with medical issues. At that time, doctors didn’t have all the medical miracles they do today. There wasn’t much hope.

I can imagine what Olga had to say back then, “Well, I’m just going to have to do something about this.” So she did, living months at a time in Indianapolis while her sick baby endured surgery after surgery. Olga prayed and probably drove doctors crazy. She even spent weeks and months refinishing her brother’s ugly dining room set, turning it into a work of beauty while she waited for her infant to get better. Mostly, though she just thanked God for the blessings of a husband and child, and she kept doing whatever was necessary to help her baby heal. When Gina was well enough, Olga traveled with her young daughter on two spiritual pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima.

All of Olga’s doing paid off. Her once sickly daughter has become a beautiful wife and mother who has inherited her own mother’s compassion and willingness to do for others.

Now remember Olga wanted to be a mother to many, but because of her age, Gina was her only child. That didn’t stop Olga. Gina’s friends, cousins, neighbors and classmates all became Olga’s “children,” as did Olga’s two grandchildren, Andy and Andrea. Olga welcomed everyone into her home, serving up her famous Hungarian soup and cabbage rolls. She offered advice, humor and friendship. She helped everyone in any way she could.

She never did for Olga, rather she always did for others, just as Christ asked her to do. Christ was the focus, and that focus never blurred. Over the years, Olga traveled to numerous Eucharistic Congresses, saw four popes and even took a private tour of the Vatican, thanks to a crabby Hungarian priest.

How did she do it all for 84 years? How did she keep going? Why didn’t she give up when the going got tough, which it did many times in her life? She did it all because of her faith in Jesus.

Olga began and ended every day with prayers of thanks. In her “spare time” she sat at her kitchen table and lovingly assembled rosaries out of blue and white plastic beads. Her husband Joe estimates she made several thousand rosaries over the years, all of which she sent to overseas missions or handed out to whomever she felt needed one.

Now, Olga was no saint. She was opinionated and cantankerous, and she could put up a good fight or start one when she wanted to. The last time I saw Olga was at her granddaughter’s (my Goddaughter’s) First Communion in April. Over lunch, the conversation turned to politics. Olga knew I was on “her side of the fence,” while most everyone else in the room was arguing for “the other side.” Olga kicked me under the table and whispered, “Well, aren’t you going to do something?” She was deliberately trying to throw me into the fray, hoping I’d start a good political fight so that she could jump in.”

“No way, Olga, I whispered back. “I’m not getting into this. Are you crazy? Two against everyone else in this house? Forget it. I’m not getting involved in family politics.” “Well, you’re part of the family, aren’t you?” she countered. “I suppose I am,” I said, grateful that she considered me family. “But if I am, I’d like to keep it that way.” She grinned and continued slurping her Hungarian soup.

Even on the last day of her life, Olga did for others. She visited a sick friend in the morning and worked at the church in the afternoon. The woman never stopped doing. However, on Monday, God apparently decided Olga had done enough. In thinking about this, I’m reminded of a line from the movie “Babe.” Four simple words repeated twice. In the movie, the words are directed at a pig, an amazing pig who has accomplished wonderful things. I have a feeling God may have said similar words to Olga as he called her home.

“That’ll do Olga. That’ll do.”

And that’s what we need to remember. We all know an Olga, someone whose faith shows us how to live.At one point or another, Olga did something for most everyone with whom she came in contact. We can’t list every one of those instances in an obituary. We can’t even mention them all in a eulogy. But we can keep them in our hearts and then take Olga’s doings and pass them on to others, who will then pass them on to others still.

In that way, the doings of the Olga Fullers of the world will never be forgotten.

More From the Treasure Chest: “Cannot” Part II

A few days ago, I found an essay written by Father George Bampfield entitled “Cannot”. I posted the first part of it here. This post today is the rest of the essay.

I feel compelled to share the rest of it with you for a good reason. From some of the comments to the first post, comments which I didn’t publish, it is obvious that some of you don’t realize that many passages in the Bible are taken literally by the Catholic Church.

In fact, every Bible passage referred to here by Father Bampfield is the scriptural basis for the Catholic Church’s teachings on each of the positions he writes about in this essay.

To be sure, the teachings are more fully developed and fortified by Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. But to believe that the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in any of the Scriptures as being able to be taken literally is, quite frankly, nonsense.

So here is the rest of the essay, with further examples from both the New Testament and the Old, from the Gospels and the apostolic letters. It gets really good when the narrator (in bold) moderates a debate between Father Flanagan, whom I picture as Alec Guinness’ character Father Brown (in the photo here), and the representatives of the various other Christian denominations.

“Cannot” is still the operative word here, and Father Flanagan does a much better job than I can explaining why that word doesn’t compute.

A word of warning(really more of an FYI), this is long, but simple to follow. You just might want to grab a snack now. Otherwise, we pick up where we left off—

Once more the Protestant flies from the simple sense of God’s word ; and once more with the same cry of “cannot.”

“How can this man,” say they “give us His Flesh to eat?” just as before they said, “Who can forgive sins but God only ?” And once more the priest flies not from the clear simple sense, but answers, “What God says, God means ; and if it is hard, remember that with God there is no ” cannot.”

Hitherto the Catholics have been the straightforward people. ‘You get from them a plain meaning for a plain text. It may be a deep text, and then you get a deep meaning ; but for all its depth it is clear and plain. The sense sticks close to the words. ” White ” does not mean ” black,” and ” black ” does not mean ” white.” Now, Protestants always seem to me trying to make out that ” black ” in the Bible means ” a little white,” and that ” white” in the Bible means “just a trifle black.”

You think it very shocking of me to say such things? Well! let us try both parties with a few more texts.

Our Lord said to Simon the son of Jonas, “Thou art Peter ;” and the word “Peter” certainly means “a rock” He promised him this name from the very beginning (St. John i. 42); He gave it him solemnly in presence of the other Apostles (St. Matthew xvi. 18). Now, certainly this sentence is a very simple one. “Thou art a rock” is clear and plain; and plain men, who are not afraid of the Bible, would take it to mean that St. Peter really is a rock.

Very clear and plain also are the words following : “Upon this rock I will build My Church;” plain men would in their child-like way suppose that Our Lord really did build His Church upon St. Peter.

Plain also are the words that follow : “The gates of hell,” that is the power of hell, “shall not prevail against it.” Plain men would suppose them to mean that, the Church being founded upon S. Peter, the power of hell has not prevailed, and does not prevail against it.

Now let us get some Catholic priest—it does not matter where you take him from, somehow or other they all of them always tell the same story, and the stupidest of them seems as clever in these matters as the cleverest—and put him side by side with a gentleman from St. Paul’s Cathedral, another from the City Temple, a third from the Tabernacle, a fourth from Lady Huntingdon’s miscellaneous college at Cheshunt, and as many more as you like from anywhere else, and let them talk about this text. Father Flanagan shall begin.

Fr. Flanagan: It is the plainest text in the world. Our Lord said to Simon, “Thou art a rock” and he became a rock.

St. Paul’s: Not more than the other Apostles : “the Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” (Eph. ii. 20.)

Fr. Flanagan: Well then Our Lord would have called them all Peter. He does not. He says “Thou” not “Ye;” and when Our Lord says, “Thou” and speaks to one man, I take Him to mean “Thou.”

The Tabernacle: I say St. Peter was no more a rock than the rest of us. We are all “lively stones.” (I. St. Peter, ii. 5.)

Fr. Flanagan: Our Lord by solemnly giving him the name says that he is a rock more than the rest of us. He does not speak to all of us, but only to Simon son of Jonas. Else the giving of the name means nothing; it is made of “none effect.”

Here at all events the priest seems to stick closer to the words than the others. “Thou art a rock” is not the same as “you twelve are rocks,” or as “everybody is a rock.”

But pray Fr. Flanagan, what do you think Our Lord meant by calling Simon a rock? How is he a rock ?

Fr. Flanagan: It is all so simple and straightforward, I can’t see any difficulty. Our Lord compares His Church to a house which He is going to build. Now “a house built upon a rock does not fall” (St. Matt. vii. 25.), because a rock is not shaken by the wind or storm. Our Lord therefore, before building, prepares a rock to build upon. The rock was Simon the son of Jonas.

Yes! But what is meant by the “rock ?” In what way could Simon the son of Jonas be the rock not shaken by wind or storm?

Fr. Flanagan: By being an infallible teacher of the truth. The rock of the Church is a teacher sent from God who cannot blunder. The power of hell on earth has been “lying,” from the time that Satan lied to Eve about the fruit. But if a teacher of truth cannot be taken in by lies, and cannot lie himself, lying cannot prevail against him. He is as little to be moved as a rock, and the Church or society which listens to his voice is safe, so long as it listens.

City Temple: Christ Himself is that teacher sent from, God. He is the rock on which the Church is built, and “other foundation can no man lay.” You are honouring Peter that you may dishonour Christ.

Fr. Flanagan: God forbid! Christ Himself is certainly the Rock, the foundation of the Church; of this I am as certain as you; yet you have just yourself told me, one of you that we are all “lively stones,” another that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” How can Christ be the foundation and the Apostles a foundation also? In the same way Christ is the “light of the world;” yet He Himself says to the Apostles, “Ye are the light of the world.” If Our Lord is ” the light,” and yet the Apostles can be “the light” also, I suppose Our Lord can be “the rock,” yet St. Peter a rock also.

The difference of course is that Our Lord is the rock by His own strength, St. Peter not by his own strength, but by the strength which God gives him. Christ was the light of the world by teaching His own truth through His own power; the Apostles were also the light of the world by teaching their Master’s truth through their Master’s power. So Christ is the rock on which the Church is built, because He is by His own power the infallible teacher of truth; Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, because he is by Christ’s power the infallible teacher of truth till the world’s end. Against Christ “error,” which is the power of hell, could not prevail, because He is God; against Peter “error” cannot prevail, because he is sent by God and taught by God.

Christ is the unseen rock in Heaven, Peter the seen rock on earth, who leans upon Christ, and so leaning is able to bear up the Church. In other words, Christ taught the truth infallibly while on earth; when He went away from earth He no longer spoke to us with His own human lips; He chose therefore other human lips through which He might speak; the lips He chose were those of Peter. He gave him the power to teach truth without blunder; and, through Peter, Christ teaches us till the end of time. The words therefore of Our Blessed Lord mean as follows—” Thou art a teacher whom I will keep infallible; on thy teaching guided by Me I will build my Church, and false teaching shall never prevail against thee, so as to make thee teach error for My truth.”

What do you mean by saying that Christ teaches through Peter till the end of time? Peter is dead.

Fr. Flanagan: “The King is dead—Long live the King.” Peter himself is reigning with his Master. But Peter’s office is not dead, his Church is not dead, his Bishopric is not dead. Many Churches founded by Apostles have died and passed away. Many Bishoprics have been removed ; St. Peter’s Bishopric has not been removed. Just as, when a king dies, his kingly power goes down to his son, so when Peter died, his power of teaching without error went down to the Bishops who came after him, even to our present Pope Leo XIII. who now sits in Peter’s chair, and speaks with Peter’s power not to err. If it were not so, if it was only to Peter himself, not to the Popes who came after him, that the promise was made, then the Church would hardly be founded on a rock. St. Peter would die, the rock would be removed, and the Church might fall.

I think this is one of your deep texts with a deep meaning, and terribly long you have been about giving it. Still the priest’s sense, deep as it is, sticks close to its words. Now let us see. You said that Peter was and is really a rock?

Fr. Flanagan: Most certainly. Christ took him into a share of His own office of rock of the Church.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Paul’s: Well! It is a difficult text. Yes: a rock, certainly a rock; a rock, probably my dissenting brethren will agree with me, a rock by character: St. Peter was a firm-minded strong man.

Fr. Flanagan: For many reasons this will not do.

1. In all other cases in which God Himself gives a name, the name describes not the character but an office. With Abraham and Sarah and Joshua and the Holy Name Jesus, it is so.

2. It is not likely that Our Lord should have solemnly given and made such a point of a name which merely described a man’s character.

3. It is not true of Peter’s character. He went to walk on the waves and sank; he was scandalized at the thought of the Crucifixion; he slept during the Agony; he denied his Master with oaths: naturally he was surely not a rock in character.

You say that on St. Peter Our Lord built His Church ?

Fr. Flanagan: Most certainly.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Paul’s: Well no! not on St. Peter. On Himself, or on the Truth.

But He Himself says upon St. Peter: He does not here say on Himself or on the Truth.

St. Paul’s: Well, but this must be the meaning of it. Otherwise Popery would be true, and Popery, you know, is not true.

You say also that the power of hell, that is, error, does not prevail against the Church because it is built upon St. Peter’s See of Rome, and St. Peter is the rock?

Fr. Flanagan. Certainly.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Pauls: -Oh ! that cannot be right. Of course error did prevail against St. Peter’s See of Rome. Rome became terribly corrupt.

Who then has the truth?

St. Pauls: Well! nobody exactly has the whole truth. Every sect has got something wrong: each of them teaches some truths and some errors.

It seems to me, then, that the power of hell has prevailed very fearfully. The Church has been built upon sand. Lies and truth are taught together; and the truth with no mixture of falsehood which Jesus taught is gone. The priest’s sense is surely deeper, more honourable to God, and at the same time simpler and nearer to the words. Father Flanagan, I am your convert. You are a better Bible Christian than the others.

Our Protestant friends will again give their reason “Cannot” for thinking St. Peter not to have been really a “rock.” A sinful man, they say, a rock! An erring human creature like ourselves an infallible teacher! Impossible! God cannot make a man infallible. At least, not in 1885. It is true that the writers of Scripture were infallible, but that was long ago.

Long ago! Has God grown old and feeble? He cannot do now what He could do before! He could make Isaiah infallible, perchance even St. Peter himself, but not Leo XIII. Not amidst gas, and electricity and steam, and Armstrong cannons, and Schneider rifles and big telescopes, and daily discovery of wonderful bones—the thing is impossible.

God is and will be as He was—says the Catholic—the same today as yesterday. He, who kept erring man infallible of old, keeps him infallible still ; He does not change ; He loses neither strength nor love. Certainly the Catholic opinion sticks close to the Scriptures and close to common sense also. It is neither Scripture nor common sense to think that God has changed, and does not deal with men as he used to deal.
5. Let us try another text or two. Here, Father Flanagan, is a text from St. James : “Is any one sick among you ?” it says, “let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” You Catholics take this text in its plain meaning, do you not?

Fr. Flanagan: Of course we do. We take every text to mean what it says. What would be the good of texts if they did not? When we are sick, we send for the elders and they pray over us, anointing us with oil.

And you, Reverend sirs?

St. Paul’s: We have no such custom. St. James, you see, wrote of a custom existing in his days; suitable for hot countries and those times; it would not do now.

Fr. Flanagan: Then these words are of “none effect.” They are no use in these days except to puzzle plain people. St. James certainly does not say anything about hot countries. India is hot enough for most people; would my reverend brethren anoint there? It seems to me that a good deal of Scripture might be got rid of in this way, if we may say of any thing we please that it is not for our time or our climate. What makes you think that St. James spoke only for his own day and not for all times?

St. Pauls: Well! there is nothing exactly in the Scripture about hot countries and his own times; but you see we don’t do it, and of course we should do it, if it was right. Besides what is the use of it ?

The Tabernacle: We Baptists used to anoint the sick at one time:—Kiffin did it; but we have left it off now; it is probably a thing we may do or not do just as we please. But I don’t see the use of it myself.

Fr. Flanagan: St. James very clearly tells us the two uses; healing for the body, forgiveness of sins for the soul: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

The Tabernacle: A drop of oil cure the sick! It cannot be.

City Temple: A drop of oil forgive sins! It cannot be.

Fr. Flanagan: Cannot again! What cannot God do? Does not St. Mark tell us that many that were sick were anointed with oil and healed ? (St. Mark vi. 13.)

The Tabernacle: Oh! but that was in Apostolic times.

Fr. Flanagan: Apostolic times! And is not God alive now? What He could do in Apostolic times, He cannot do for us, and in these days!

City Temple: But forgive sins! Through oil !

Fr. Flanagan: Through these stones if He pleased. The question is what He does please; and these words very clearly say that He pleases to forgive sins to the sick through prayer and the anointing with oil.

It is very odd. Here we are getting a great number of texts on all of which the priest is plain and straightforward, and talks common sense; while, with all respect to our good Protestant brethren, they seem just a trine given to shuffling, and putting inconvenient texts on the shelf. I fancy that if Fr. Flanagan was to take to Bible-burning, there would be a text or two which he would pick out of the flames. Clearly “anointing with oil” is a different thing from-”not anointing with oil;”and leaving off what the Apostles order in the Scriptures is not so Scriptural as doing what the Apostles order in the Scriptures. Father Flanagan, you bad Bible-burning priest, I give it for you again; you are the best Bible Christian of them all. Have you any other text to discuss with St. Paul’s ?
6. Fr. Flanagan: Well! To myself it seems that from Genesis to Revelations—from cover to cover—the Protestants are all wrong about every text altogether; but I suppose this will be thought a wild Irish thing to say, so I will pick you out another verse or two. It shall be about one or two troublesome little things that we do, and you do not. For instance, in St. Matt. xix. 21, Our Blessed Lord certainly says to the rich young man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor.” Now, in the first place, you do not, I think, in any Protestant body, talk about being perfect. You do not preach sermons about perfection, as distinct from simply “keeping the commandments from your youth up.” (Verse 20).

St. Paul’s: Well no! it would be an indiscreet subject. Men’s works are worth very little. The best of us are unprofitable servants. What can a man do more than keep the commandments ? We certainly do not talk of perfection.

Fr. Flanagan: But you see Our Lord does talk of perfection, and while both of us claim to follow Our Lord, you Protestants do not talk of perfection, and we Catholics do. We say that keeping the commandments is one thing, being perfect is a higher and better thing—and this is what Our Lord says. Which of us so far agree with God and the Scriptures?

St. Paul’s: Certainly Our Lord does speak of perfection here.

Fr. Flanagan: Yes; and He says that selling all that we have is not part of the commandments, but part of being perfect. Now is it at all a custom among you in the Cathedral, the Tabernacle, or the City Temple, to sell all that you have and give to the poor?

St. Paul’s: We are charitable to the poor, I am sure. There is always somebody at me for a guinea to a ragged school here, and a soup kitchen there, and I am Governor myself of a score of hospitals, and asylums, and institutions to meet every evil under the sun. But I don’t know about selling all that I have. I never heard of anybody exactly doing it. My wife would think it injudicious, and I don’t think I could advise any young man to do quite as much as that. It seems to me one of those passages in Scripture that were not meant to be taken too literally.

The Tabernacle: A difficult passage. We have great charities. The orphanage at Stockwell is a noble thing.

Fr. Flanagan: A noble thing, I grant you, nobly planned, and founded by noble charity. But it is not selling all that you have ?

The Tabernacle: It is not. But is this Scripture to be taken literally ? Do you sell all that you have?

Fr. Flanagan: Certainly those who aim at perfection do. Every day rich men and rich women sell all that they have and give to the poor.

The Tabernacle: And what do they do then ?

Fr. Flanagan: Follow Him. Enter convents and monasteries, or the priesthood, and follow His life of poverty, and fasting, and hardship.

The Tabernacle: Oh! convents and monasteries! Cracow, Prague, Belgium, and Hull(ed. know for abuses in the past)!

Fr. Flanagan: Rubbish. Come, come, stick to the point. Our Blessed Lord tells you, if you want to be perfect sell all that you have and give to the poor. Do any of you do this thing ? Yes or no ?

S. Paul’s: Honestly we do not.

The Tabernacle: We do not.

City Temple: We do not.

Fr. Flanagan: We do. Which of us is Scriptural ?

I will only take two things more, for we must not talk over every doctrine and every text of Scripture. It would take two or three life-times. Here is another point very much like the last. Our Lord tells us in very strong language that there are “eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake.”

Father Flanagan how understand you this?

Fr. Flanagan: I understand our Blessed Lord to say that it is good not to marry for God’s sake. He says that it is not given to all men to remain unmarried, but only to some; but He encourages those to whom it is given ; ” He that is able to receive it,” says He, “let him receive it.”

When then Our Lord says “let him receive it,”you take Him to mean that people are to receive it; and that those who are able, do well to remain unmarried for God’s sake ?

Fr. Flanagan: Certainly; that is the plain simple sense; our Lord cannot surely mean by such words as “make themselves eunuchs ” to recommend marriage.

And you, gentlemen?

St. Paul’s: It is a difficult text. We do not generally speak much about it. You see the Apostle says, “Marriage is honourable in all.”

Fr. Flanagan: Oh! fie, for shame! You know you are giving a wrong translation. Come, come, we shall never find out the truth, unless we are ourselves truthful. You know the Apostle’s words are, “Let marriage be kept honourably by all.” But here at all events, our Lord does not say, “Marriage is honourable in all:” He says distinctly, “Making themselves eunuchs is honourable in some.”

The question is simply this. Our Lord and the Scriptures encourage men to remain unmarried for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. Do you encourage men to remain unmarried for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake? Do you ever praise it, or advise it, or in any way promote it?

The Tabernacle: Well! we do not. In fact, to be honest, we encourage age men to marry, and think the unmarried state not so good as the married. We do not care about monks and nuns. The life is too severe: men cannot live it.

St. Paul’s: I think with you. I do not believe it possible.

City Temple: We cannot do it. A wife is very useful in the ministry.

Fr. Flanagan: Cannot, again! Oh! ye of little faith! Do you really forget that what is impossible with man is possible with God? Do you believe at all that God is a God of power?

The Tabernacle: But surely forbidding to marry is one of the errors of Rome. We have said so these 300 years.

Fr, Flanagan: Forbidding to marry! Who talks of forbidding marriage to those who want to marry? Not we. After a baptism, there’s nothing I like so much as a marriage. The question is, if a man wants to make himself a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, whether he may do so ? You say no, and call him all kinds of bad names. Precious tyrants we think you for your pains. I say, if a man wants to marry let him marry, but if he wants to be single for God’s sake, in heaven’s name leave the man alone, and let him be single. Come, come, be honest; the simple point is this: Our Lord praises men for keeping themselves single for God’s sake; is it a practice among you to keep yourselves single for God’s sake?

S. Paul’s: Our bishops marry, our deans, canons, clergy, and laity. I do not think it is.

The Tabernacle: It is not.

City Temple: With us it is not.

Fr. Flanagan: With us it is. Once more, which of us is Scriptural?

Oh! Flanagan, Flanagan, you bad boy, when next you burn a Bible, pick out this text and keep it. I declare you have the best of it again.

There is only one thing more we will talk about. Fr. Flanagan, I met the other day a woman of your creed, who declared to me that she had been quite cured of rheumatism, lumbago, and I don’t know what besides, by the relics of some saints. I asked her to let me look at them, and she showed me a little bit of a bone that I could hardly see, and a piece of black rag that she said was part of some holy woman’s dress. When I told her it was the doctor’s stuff that cured her, she got so angry that I had to run out of the house like a shot, half afraid of a stool, or some other unpleasant missile, coming after me. Now, this may be all very well for poor old Goody Maguire, but you do not mean to tell me, Father Flanagan, that you educated Catholics will call such a thing as that Scriptural?
Fr. Flanagan: Not Scriptural! Why if there is a doctrine clearly proved by Scripture, I should think it was the doctrine of relics.

St. Paul’s: Well! I never!

The Tabernacle: It is not in our Bible. It must be in some of your books we don’t believe in; or some wrong translation, or something.

City Temple: I never read anything about relics that I remember.

Fr. Flanagan: There it is. You don’t half read your Bibles. You have got your favourite texts, and you stick to them. Talk of my burning Bibles! It seems to me that you clip and cut your Bibles to pieces. Now my dear Tabernacle, the Second Book of Kings—we call it the Fourth Book, but that does not matter—is in your Bible, is it not?

The Tabernacle: Of course it is.

Fr. Flanagan: Well! I will let you use your own translation. Now just turn to the 13th chapter, and read verses 20 and 21.

The Tabernacle: “And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass as they were burying a man, that behold they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the Sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.”

Fr. Flanagan: Well it was not the doctor’s stuff which cured that dead man?

The Tabernacle: No; he was dead.

Fr. Flanagan: Nor the man’s own faith?

City Temple: No; he was dead.

Fr. Flanagan: Nor the faith of those who threw him in ?

St. Paul’s: I suppose not. They wanted to get away from the Moabites. They do not seem to have brought him in faith for the purpose of throwing him in.

Fr. Flanagan: If they did bring him for the purpose, it would prove that they believed—like Goody Maguire—in the power of a holy man’s bones. But they did not. Now, by the plain text of Scripture, if it were not the doctor’s stuff, nor the dead man’s faith, nor the living men’s faith, what was it that raised the corpse to life ?

St. Paul’s: I think we must say it was dead Elisha’s dead bones.

Fr. Flanagan: And what were dead Elisha’s dead bones but the relics of a saint?

The Tabernacle: It is curious; I don’t think I ever thought of the text. But dead bones raise the dead! It cannot be.

Fr. Flanagan: Oh! Cannot, cannot, cannot! I tell you it was.

City Temple: But bones! God only can raise the dead.

Fr. Flanagan: Of course. Am I a baby that you tell me such “A B C” as that! Of course God only. But cannot God raise the dead through the bones of a saint, or through any instrument He pleases ?

The Tabernacle: Of course He can, if He pleases.

Fr. Flanagan: And does not this text show that He did so please ?

The Tabernacle: Yes; in old times.

Fr. Flanagan: In old times! Does God change? What He did under the Old Testament, in the time of fear, He will not do under the New Testament, in the time of love! Again I say, oh ye of little faith! You believe in a God of the past! You do not believe in a living God of the present.

Hush! Father Flanagan. You are getting a trifle hot, and red in the face. I must say I think you have made out about the bones. But what about Goody Maguire’s bit of black rag?

Fr. Flanagan: I will give you but two texts more, for I grant you do make a man hot. In the same Second Book of Kings, chapter ii., we are told that Elijah, when he went up in a fiery chariot, let fall his mantle, his cloak; only what you would call a rag, mind you; a mere piece of stuff. Now, Elisha took it up, and he did a thing which none of you could, according to your religion, have done.

“He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters,” which looked very much like the same sort of trust in a rag which Goody Maguire showed, ” and he said, where is the Lord God of Elijah?” which sounded very like trust in the merits and prayers of a saint, who had gone from earth, “and when he had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither; and Elisha went over.”

St. Paul’s: But that was the power of God, not of the mantle.

Fr. Flanagan: Oh! dear, dear, dear; of course it was the power of God; but it was the power of God using the mantle as His instrument. If not-what was the use of Elisha’s smiting the river with a piece of stuff? You do not dream that we think a Saint’s cloak will heal us by any power in the stuff itself! It is God, using it as He used Elijah’s mantle. You cannot get into your heads the notion of God’s using weak, worthless instruments.

City Temple: It was the power of prayer. Elisha prayed.

Fr. Flanagan: Granted. But he did not pray only. He prayed and struck. If prayer was enough, why strike? And his prayer was a strange one. He did not kneel down and ask God to divide the river. He did not pray to his God. He said “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” He used Elijah’s mantle, and prayed to Elijah’s God. Surely the plain meaning of this is that the river was divided for Elijah’s sake, by the prayer of Elijah in Paradise, and that God gave such strange power to Elijah’s relic to show that it was for his sake.

The Tabernacle: Well! well! granting all this, yet your text is from the Old Testament. Things were more outward in the Jews’ religion; after the coming of the Holy Ghost all things became spiritual and inward. We don’t want saints’ mantles now. You cannot give me one instance from the New Testament.

Fr. Flanagan: Can’t I? How I do wish you men would read your Bibles. Among your other societies, do please form a Bible-Reading Society, and read it fairly. Do you really not remember how a woman with an issue of blood was cured by the hem of Our Lord’s garment? Or did you never read how handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from St. Paul’s body to the sick, and how devils fled from a piece of stuff?

City Temple: I never read it; I don’t think it is in our version.

Fr. Flanagan: It is there, and you have read it. But you won’t notice these things. It is in Acts xix., verse 12.

The Tabernacle: It is there sure enough. It must have been the people’s faith.

Fr. Flanagan: Faith! The poor people had plenty of faith before the handkerchiefs touched the bodies; but never an inch did the devils budge for their faith till the handkerchief got near them. They might have asked St. Paul simply to pray, but they didn’t; they used the relics. Besides, what did they have faith in? They clearly had faith in that in which you have no faith, the power which God gives to a mere rag which has touched a saint’s body.

St. Pauls: It cannot be. A rag!

The Tabernacle: It cannot be.

City Temple. It cannot be.

Fr. Flanagan: Then you don’t believe the Scriptures. Oh ye of little faith!

Ah! Father Flanagan. I see you read the Bibles before you burn them. I declare you have beaten them again.

Fr. Flanagan: Beaten them! How could I help it? The Catholic Church is the Bible. The Church and the Bible being both from God are one and the same thing; and what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

The Bible says what it means. Which religion really believes this?

Hmmmm. It that “check” or “check mate”?

From Hymns on Paradise (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Webster wrote a post way back in October of last year entitled Because a Tornado is Coming.  As it turned out, it was a hurricane.  See those two flags there in the photograph? That is the signal for “a hurricane is coming.” Don’t let the cloudless sky fool you.

We all know what has happened over the past 18 months—lots of bad stuff. Economic melt downs in 2008 – 2009, jobless recovery in 2010, societal acrimony  and unsettled general feelings and then Whammo!— more discoveries of priest abuse scandals early this year. Top it all off with the spectre of a “double-dip” recession (and all that this implies) and even the hardiest sailor would be getting queasy in this crazy gale.

Oh, you could lie awake at night worrying about all this stuff.  Or you could focus all of your energy on the current political scene and let that side-show take your eye off the ball. Or better yet, you may feel the urge to arm-chair quarterback all of the the latest moves by the Vatican. And you could second-guess all of the decisions of the Church’s leadership at every level.  Heck, you might even decide to throw in the towel and leave the Church altogether, though I pray that you don’t.

You know what I suggest? Turn off the news, stop reading the blogs, take a break. Click. Aaaahh, lookee there, no more hurricane.  That’s more like it!

Sure, you are upset that the professor hired to teach a religion class on Catholicism was fired for doing just that. What is the whole story? Who knows. Let it go.  Go on an information R&R.; Give it a break for a day, or two, or forever, and concentrate on the big-picture, which is the little picture of who we are and what we are meant to be.

We are children of God; salt; the leaven that makes the whole loaf rise. And don’t forget this: we are the light of the world. You and me. And we are called to love one another, hating sin, but loving sinners, which is everyone. No need to be choosy.

Here is another idea: let’s cross the bridge into Paradise.  As painted by these words of  St. Ephrem, which he penned upon reading the Creation story in Genesis, relax from your toils and have a look into our future. Indeed, is this not the better part that Martha was missing?

From Hymns on Paradise

I read the opening of this book
    and was filled with joy,
for its verses and lines
    spread out their arms to welcome me;
the first rushed out and kissed me,
    and led me on to its companion;
and when I reached that verse
    wherein is written
the story of Paradise,
     it lifted me up and transported me
from the bosom of the book
     to the very bosom of Paradise.

The eye and the mind
     traveled over the lines
as over a bridge, and entered together
     the story of Paradise.

The eye as it read
      transported the mind;

in return the mind, too,
      gave the eye rest
from its reading,
      for when the book had been read
the eye had rest
      but the mind was engaged.

Both the bridge and the gate
      of Paradise
did I find in this book.
      I crossed over and entered;
my eye remained outside
      but my mind entered within.

I began to wander
      among things indescribable.

This is luminous height,
      clear, lofty and fair:

Scripture named it Eden,
       the summit of all blessing.

“The summit of all blessing” will not be attained here, not that we won’t keep trying. I’m not going to try to set all things right all by myself today.  No, instead, I’m going to trust God with the conn and give these troubling thoughts a rest. For a day, or two, or forever…

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Silver Bullet Selection II (Music For Mondays)

Steel Pulse is a reggae band that I don’t know diddly squat about. But it’s Monday, it’s raining, and I like the advice these guys are giving here: Chant A Psalm A Day. It makes a whole lot of sense, which is why it’s like a silver bullet.

What have you got to lose? 150 Psalms = 150 days. Some are longer than others, but I’m willing to give it a try. Not sure which ones to pick? Check out the LOTH or just do them in numerical order from your Bible. While you think about it, listen to the song.

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From the Treasure Chest: “Cannot” Part I

Every once in a while, I unearth a real jewel of a find.  You may have noticed that we are reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies in the YIMC Book Club.  The most recent chapter is about the Protestant Reformation.  Having finished my chores on Saturday afternoon, I began trolling Google Books, like a fisherman, for new selections to add to our YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

I came across this essay, and it couldn’t be more timely.  Because not only does it tie in with our book club selection, but it also is an answer to the question Why I Am Catholic.  I’ve done a few posts in the past about how the Catholic Church is a Bible-believing Church, so this essay by Reverend G. Bampfield is a real treat.

First, a little background. I found this in a volume put out by the top-secret Catholic Truth Society. I’m joking, of course, because this being found in volume 35 of the Publications of the Catholic Truth Society means that it was hardly secret at all. Volume XXXV was published in 1898, or about a half a heart-beat ago history wise.

Who is this secret organization and who are their agents,  pray tell? I’m glad you asked. They are a Catholic charity based in the United Kingdom, and they have been getting the message out, aka evangelizing,  non-stop since 1868.  And here is the best part: you don’t have to have a Q clearance or be a 00 agent in order to read the materials they publish! Check out their Mission Statement:

The Catholic Truth Society works to develop and disseminate as widely as possible completely reliable publications about the faith, teaching and life of the Catholic Church. It is motivated by a love of Christ, a deep belief in the profound hope he brings to modern man, a love of and fidelity to the Church, and the desire to communicate these treasures both to the faithful and all other enquirers by way of inexpensive and accessible English language publications.

See? Not exactly KAOS  or SPECTRE, huh? And not even MI 5 (or is it MI 6?). Now Reverend G. Bampfield is a little more mysterious.  He was the founder of the Institute of St. Andrew and a “well know convert” according to sketchy sources. But I hit pay dirt on Reverend Bampfield when I traced him to the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel & St. George Enfield. As Sherlock Holmes would say, it was simplicity itself (thanks to Google!).

And now, without further adieu, the Reverend George Bampfields essay,

Cannot, or Which Church Believes the Bible?

Which Religion really believes the Bible ? “The Protestant,” you will say, “of course. Is not the whole talk of Protestants about the Bible? Do they not scatter Bibles, as the sower scatters seed? Are there not Bible readers, and Bible sellers, and Bible classes, and Bible Societies, by the hundred ?”

Yes: that is true. But to read the Bible, and talk about it, and sell it, is one thing; to believe it is another. Now when the Bible says a thing, who really believe it, the Protestants or the Catholics?

“A very odd question; why ! I never heard of Catholics believing the Bible. They are never allowed to read it, and the priests burn all they can get.”

Odd or not, will you look quietly into the question with me? I was once a Protestant and am now a Catholic, and it seems to me that Protestants never take the Bible to have a plain, straightforward, common-sense meaning like any other book. Other books mean what they say: the Bible alone, according to Protestants, means one thing and says another. Catholics, on the other hand, do always seem to me to have a common-sense, straightforward meaning for the Bible. Its sayings may be hard to understand and harder to do, but if the Bible says a thing, it is true, and must be believed, however difficult, and done, however unpleasant.

For instance—the Bible says, speaking of marriage, “What God hath joined, let no man put asunder.” Now if I ask a Protestant what this means, he will tell me, “What God hath joined in marriage, let the judge and lawyers of the Divorce Court put asunder.” But if I turn to a Catholic, he says, “Once married, always married. No man can put the married asunder.” What! not even the Pope, or a General Council! Not all the Popes nor all the Councils. God only, Who joined them, can part them by death.

It seems to me that here the Catholic takes the Bible at its word, sticks close to its clear, common-sense meaning, and that the Protestant shuffles about it, and makes it say one thing and mean the opposite. “Let no man put asunder,” is not the same thing as “Let the Divorce Court put asunder.” Is it ?

“They do not sound very much alike. However, one flower does not make a nosegay. Have you more things of the same sort?”

Plenty. I will go through a few, and I fancy you will have as big a nosegay as you can well carry.

1. The Bible says (S. John iii. 5), “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” I take this text to a Low Churchman of the Church of England, to an Independent, or a Baptist, or other Dissenter, and I say to him, “Do you believe that a man must be born again of water and the Spirit ?” Well, he will say, of the Spirit; certainly of the Spirit. The water you know is a form, and no form can be necessary. The unbaptized babies doubtless go to Heaven without the water.

“Well, but,” I answer, “the Bible says not Spirit only, but water and the Spirit.”

Water is not necessary, they reply; that souls are born again in baptism is a soul-destroying doctrine.

I turn to the Catholic and ask “What do you think of this text?” And the answer is, What the Bible says it means; it says water and it means water; except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Unbaptised babies, though they are not cast into torments, do not enter into Heaven.

Certainly the Catholic is the closest; and when I look into the Protestant’s reasons, I find that the real cause of his not sticking so close is a fancy that God cannot save through water. How can a drop of water possibly touch the soul, and roll away sin?

Cannot! says the Catholic on the other hand; God can do what He likes through whatever means he likes. His power is shown best by the choice of weakest means; and as a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that He has chosen water as a channel of grace and forgiveness. God’s will is all we have to do with; we know nothing about “cannot” when we speak of God.

2. I go again on another matter to the Low Church man or the Wesleyan, or Independent, or other Protestant. I ask, Do you believe that a man by the power of God forgives the sins of other men? “Of course not,” he tells me with a laugh of mockery if he be a merry man, or a scowl of indignant horror if he be of the severer sort; “of course not, man cannot forgive the sins of his fellows.”

“Well, but here is plain Bible on the point. The Apostles were men, and Our Lord said to these men quite plainly (John xx. 23), ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.’ Now if this does not mean that God gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins, what does it mean? Is ‘whosesoever sins ye remit’ the same as ‘You can’t remit any sins;’ or is ‘they are remitted unto them,’ the same as ‘of course they won’t be remitted unto them ?’”

But come with me to the Catholic Church and ask the priest about it. “We know,” we will say to him, for priests are mostly good-natured men and like a little fun, “we know that you are greatly afraid of the Bible, and never let your people see it for fear they should find you out. Now here is a plain text: dare you face it? What does it mean?”

Mean! he will answer; why! of course it means just what it says, like any other straightforward truth-loving book. The Apostles were men, and being men they did remit sin; and those sins were remitted. Of course through the power of God, not through their own power. God only can forgive sins, but He can forgive them through what instrument He pleases. And the instruments He used of old time were men, as is clear by the text; and if He forgave sins of old time through men, He will surely forgive sins through men now; for He does not change.

Really the priest does not seem frightened of this text at all events. He gives to the words their plainest, simplest meaning; the Protestant does not; he either gives the words no sense at all, or he puts upon them a crooked round-about meaning, not a plain meaning for plain words such as any other book would have.

Again the reason the Protestants have for not sticking to the clear sense is “cannot.” God cannot forgive sins through man. “Cannot!” says the Catholic, “yes, through these stones if He pleases.” The question is not about “can” or ” cannot.” The question is only, ” What way of forgiving sins has God chosen ; of what way does the Bible speak?”

3. A third matter. I go again with my open Bible to our Low Churchman, our Independent, or other Dissenter. It is open at St. Matthew, chap. 26, verse 20—”Take eat : this is My Body.” I say to them, “Here are very simple words. Do you believe them? When Our Lord said, ‘This is My Body,’ did He mean ‘this is My Body ?’”

“Well! No,” our Protestant friend will say, “He did not mean exactly, This is My Body; He meant, This is the figure of My Body.”

But He does not say so—He says, This is My Body, and, again, This is My Blood.

“No. He does not say so, but He means what He does not say. He says, this is My Body, but He means, This is a figure, a type, a likeness of My Body. He says, This is My Blood, but means, This is a figure of My Blood.”

Then you will grant that your meaning is not the first clear, common-sense, easy meaning which the words would have? When it is written that the water was made wine (St. John ii. 9), you would not say that the first clear meaning of the word was, the water was made a likeness of wine ?

” We suppose this must be granted. Our Protestant meaning is not the first clear meaning of the words.”

Well, then! let us turn again to that un-scriptural priest who is so afraid of the Bible. What say you, Reverend Father, of these words?

“I say, what I have always in all things said, that the Bible means what its words seem to mean. The plain, simple, straightforward sense is the true sense. When our Lord said, This is My Body, it was His Body; when He said, This is My Blood, it was His Blood. Just as when a man says, this is a book, he means this is a book, not this is the figure of a book; so surely with Our Blessed Lord, Who cannot love to puzzle us by hiding His meaning under doubtful words. Why does our good Protestant think that our Lord meant one thing and said another?

“Oh! because it cannot be. It is impossible. Bread cannot become God’s Body: wine cannot become His Blood.”

Cannot again! Always cannot! In Baptism cannot, in Confession cannot, and now again cannot? What is it that God cannot do?

Surely the priest is here again the straightforward one of the two. He does not seem afraid of the Bible after all. It is the Protestant who seems afraid, who wriggles and shuffles a little, and does not give plain senses to plain language.

It will be perhaps the same with St. John vi. 53, “Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you.” Do you, Low Church, or Independent, or Wesleyan minister, do you really eat the real Flesh and drink the real Blood of God ?

“No, certainly not; Our Lord means that we must eat the figure of His Flesh, drink the figure of His Blood ; eat and drink His Flesh and Blood not with the body but only with the mind.”

We turn to the priest, and his answer is straightforward as before. “What the Bible says it means. We do really eat the real Flesh of God; we do really drink the real Blood of God. He enters not into our soul only by His Spiritual Power, but His Real Body enters into our body, and is meat indeed and drink indeed.”

Ain’t that grand?  And trust me —it gets even better! You can read part II of this delightful essay hereAnd to learn more about the Catholic Truth Society, click here.