Thanks to the Letters of St. Paulinus

I was so intrigued by researching the life of Saint Paulinus of Nola for his feast day. He is beloved, in part, because of his correspondence with such heavy hitters as Jerome and Augustine. I just had to find some of the poems and letters he wrote. This was easy. I merely clicked on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf you see on your right, and typed in Paulinus. What a treasure awaited me.

Among the jewels I encountered were letters Paulinus wrote to Sulpicius Severus. The men had much in common; both were from wealthy families, grew up in France and converted to Christianity and a life of ascetism after enduring losses. In fact, they converted the same year – 389. As Paulinus found solace in the Church after the loss of his newborn son, Sulpicius was drawn to the faith after the death of his wife shortly after their marriage. The Church later recognized both men as saints. Here are two excerpts from a letter.
What I love about these passages are the extended metaphors; Saint Paulinus compares fields to our souls. Imagine receiving such a letter as this. 
But the field which you are does not bristle with thorns, nor is it dry with sand, or rough and bare with rocky places, where the seed that falls is choked, left uncovered or scorched. No, you are the field which God blessed with the dew of heaven and fertility of the earth. So your tongue is bedewed with the word of God, and your heart, which God finds fertile, receives the seed and multiplies it in spiritual harvest, so that with your  fruit the Reaper fills His hand, and He that gathereth sheathes, His bosom. It is God himself who is referred to here,  for He is both Sower and Reaper of the Word in us. He is also the hand, the right hand of God, which we fill with good works;  He is also the bosom of Abraham in which we find rest as rewards for our works.”


And later in the letter he writes: 
May the same Lord become for our food the sweet grape, which was hung for us on the lever of the cross, showing us and allowing us to taste the fruit of the promised land so that we may no longer seek after the poor growth of the uncultivated fields, amongst which we risk plucking also the noxious cluster of wild vines. This certainly happened to me when my soul, whose culture is the word of God, was rough with the thorns of worldly cares. I yearned for this present life, so short in years and barren in good, and amongst my  meaningless actions, I gathered harmful sins like poisonous grass amongst wild grass, and so I admitted death to the cauldron of my body or my heart. But thanks be to God, who has delivered me from the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord. As He mingled the strength of His spirit  with my weakness,  my bitter wickedness and barren uselessness were transformed to sweetness and fertility.”

For All the Saints: Paulinus of Nola

St. Paulinus was born to an aristocratic Roman family in the fourth century after Christ but his saintly life is revered to this day, particularly in southern Italy, where he is remembered for his devotion to the poor.

(Pictured here is La Festa dei Gigli in Nola, where several large statues in honor of the saint, placed on towers, are carried upon the shoulders of the faithful around the city.)

Two aspects of Paulinus’ life intrigue me. First, the writer’s correspondents are a who’s who of fourth century saints : Martin of Tours. Jerome, Ambrose  and, most notably Augustine. Second, my paternal grandparents grew up a stone’s throw from Nola, in a region beset by wrenching poverty and natural disasters. Nola sits outside Naples on the plain between Mount Vesuvius and the Appennines.

It’s a place that for centuries has been overrun by invaders and victimized by natural disasters. Archeological evidence indicates of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Nola between 1700 and 1600 B.C. The list of foreign occupiers is long: Oscans, Samnites and Romans. Residents defended themselves against Hannibal and Spartacus. Add to the mix destructive earthquakes and you get a sense of what it meant to live in Nola. Tragically, the city now is under the control of the Camorra, the largest and oldest criminal organization in Italy.

Against this backgroup, Paulinus emerges as a  regional folk hero. One story about Paulinus was that in 409 A.D. when the Huns of North African overran the Italian Peninsula, Paulinus fled the city with its children, preventing them from being taken as slaves. A widow whose only son had been captured by the Huns asked Paulinus to find him in North Africa and bring him home. St. Paulinus embarked on the expedition, and when he found the widow’s son, tried to barter with the king for his safe return. The king refused to be swayed until Paulinus offered himself in place of the child. The king accepted, and Paulinus became his personal slave.”

“Known for his ability to portend the future, Paulinus warned the king of impending danger to his kingdom. The king was so grateful that he granted him his freedom. Paulinus accepted with one caveat: he wanted to bring home all of the Nolese men who had been enslaved during the raids. The king acquiesced, and sent Paulinus and the men back to Nola on the boat of a Turkish sultan who had heard about Paulinus’ virtues.”

Upon his return after two years, the people of Nola greeted him with lilies (gigli) in their hands. After his death, they brought boquets of gigli to the church. This grew into the tradition of a towering spire of lilies.

While the historic truth of this particular story is unclear, we know Paulinus began his life wealthy and his wealth doubled when he married a Spanish woman named Theresia. He became governor of  Campania in southern Italy. While there, he was impressed by the devotion to St. Felix of Nola, who had been martyred a century earlier. Paulinus built a hospice for the poor near St. Felix’ shrine and built a road for pilgrims travelling to it. He converted to Christianity at age 35. “The man without Christ is dust and shadow, ” he wrote upon his conversion.  He and his wife moved to estates they owned Spain  After much difficulty conceiving children, Theresia finally bore a son, who died within a week of birth. Paulinus was 36 years old.

Two years later, both Paulinus and Theresia decided to consecrate themselves to God. They gave away all their land and riches. Paulinus became a monk. At age 56, he became a Bishop. His poet’s heart shifted focus “To my mind the only art is the faith, and Christ is my poetry,” he wrote.

Pope Benedict XVI tells us “Paulinus’ poems are songs of faith and love in which the daily history of small and great events is seen as a history of salvation, a history of God with us.” His devotion to the poor was deep. He offered a portion of his monestary so the poor would have homes.

This passage from a letter to Augustine makes me want to read a book of Paulinus’ letters and poetry. “It is not surprising if, despite being far apart, we are present to each other and, without being acquainted, know each other, because we are members of one body, we have one head, we are steeped in one grace, we live on one loaf, we walk on one road and we dwell in the same house” 

The kinship Nolans feel for this man continues. Immigrants from this region of Italy carried their traditions with them when they came to the United States. Below is a clip from the Festa dei Gigli  in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, in which men hoist a five-ton spire and process through the city streets, mirroring the festivities in St. Paulinus’ adopted hometown of Nola. Columbia University student Taylor Napolitano, whose account of St. Paulinus’ life I earlier quoted, gives a captivating account of this tradition in Brooklyn, when “against all odds and perhaps their better judgment, that Heaven touches Brooklyn.”

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/YMABcdzlsSQ&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0

Thoughts on the Gospel Reading for Today

Yesterday afternoon my family and I visited a parish community in a most unbeautiful place: the church and its elementary school sit beside an interstate highway clogged with traffic. Within the parish boundaries are a slew of strip shopping malls, trailer parks and 1960s era ranch houses and Cape Cods. When we entered the sanctuary we saw it was was no great shakes either—a converted 1950s gym with a worn rug on the floor and wooden pews that had seen better days.

The priest who celebrated the Mass began it by telling us that the Mass would be reverent but brief because  the church’s annual carnival was going on in a nearby baseball field and the carnival volunteers needed to return to their duties.The cantor proceeded to sing softly and off key. A mentally disabled man sitting near us was four or five lines behind the rest of us during all songs and responses.

Despite of, or perhaps because of, all the ordinariness of this unassuming parish, I felt the Holy Spirit making its presence known. The miracle and mystery of our Eucharistic Lord was present. And what helped me greatly was the priest’s explication of the Gospel reading for this Sunday in Ordinary Time. Jesus asks the Apostles two simple questions.

Until yesterday, I never really had contemplated what happens after Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd. He and his disciples head off in a boat. First they go to Dalmanutha, a village on the Sea of Galilee, where Pharisees attempt to test His divinity. They move on to Bethsaida, another fishing village, where Christ makes a blind man see. They travel further and Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Then, He asks them an even tougher question: “But who do you say that I am?”

Who is Christ? The priest told us we can talk about his miraculous birth. We can talk about his torturous death and glorious resurrection. But who, exactly, is Christ? How do we go about explaining Him to others?

And then the priest told us to look at the person standing near us, someone we do not know. This is Christ. As Christians, we must learn to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. And we must be the face of Christ to all we encounter as well. This is our task. As followers of Christ,our words, but even more powerfully, our actions must reflect Christ. When we look in a mirror, whose face shall we see?

This summer, in School of Community, we are reading some works by the leader of Community and LiberationFr. Julián Carrón. The priest’s homily called to mind an excerpt from the readings: if the fact of Christ’s victorious presence, “remains only at the level of piety or devotion, it would be as if it never happened,” Fr. Carrón writes, “as if it did not contain enough substance of reality to change life, to make a mark on life; and then we would be shaped by everything else, which overwhelms us, which confuses us, which discourages us, which keeps us from breathing, seeing, touching the novelty that the risen Christ has introduced and continues to introduce in our lives.” 

I am Catholic because God makes Himself known in every soul we encounter. And because wherever we travel for whatever reason, we can be the face of Christ to others.

To Be a Catholic Father

My friend Neil presented the following talk at our men’s group this morning. As a Catholic father, I found it very inspiring. 

Guest post by Neil Corcoran
Good Morning and thanks for having me this morning. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a handful of St. Mary’s Men’s Group Saturday morning meetings over the past couple of years. And, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that it literally has only been a handful of meetings that I’ve attended. However, the reason why it’s been so few is because of the very topic I speak about to you this morning – FATHERHOOD. You see, I’m a father of seven children…

As you might imagine, Saturday mornings tend to be a mildly busy time for us in the Corcoran household. There’s soccer, basketball, softball, diapers, housework, food shopping, and the list goes on and on and on.… AND, there’s even an occasional early morning bike ride workout for Dad – imagine that? – One goal I have is to stay in relatively decent health and shape so that I have at least a few more years to continue to live out my vocation – being a husband and Father. So, please accept my apologies for not being a more “regular” member of your group…and at the same time please know I’m extremely grateful for your welcome this morning… I’m honored to be here. Thank you.

So, what are you going to hear about Fatherhood from me this morning? Well, perhaps let me first tell what you’re not going to hear. You are not going to hear an overly theological, scientific, or philosophical view about Catholic fatherhood. Likewise, you’re not going to get a history lesson on the role and contribution of Fathers since the beginning of time. And gentlemen, please don’t expect an in-depth study of Biblical quotes and citations on Fathers, or any reference to the so-called “great” or recognizable Fathers in our world today. I don’t mean to minimize any of that nor do I take it for granted. But to me, the vocation of Fatherhood – its meaning, its mission – is fairly simple and straight forward, not necessarily easy, but certainly clear. There’s really no need to overcomplicate it. The fact is Fatherhood has been and always will be, until the end of time, a vocation that can’t be understated in terms of its importance, its value, its contribution to the greater good. That said, what you are going to hear from me about – what I’d rather spend a bit of time attempting to do with you this morning – is sharing one man’s perspective, one’s man’s journey, and one man’s experience, complete with the joys and the challenges – on being a Father, A CATHOLIC FATHER…. today.

As I speak to you today, most of you who are Fathers – in fact I may venture to guess that all of you who are Fathers – have been Fathers longer than me. But, where you have me beat in longevity, I think I have you beat in quantity! And with that quantity, I think I can offer a qualified perspective. I became a Father close to 16 years ago when my wife Julie and I welcomed our first of seven children, Patrick, into the world. We were married at an age that’s considered young by today’s standards – we were 23 and 24 years old – and almost a year to the day of our first wedding anniversary, Patrick was born. A 7 and ½ pd, small bundle of love who is now approaching 16, is 6 feet tall, twice as wide as me, and dare I say… might be able to “take” the old man in a friendly father-son wrestling match in the driveway. Life sure does go by fast.

My journey to Fatherhood was for a time, heading towards, a different type, but certainly a no less important type of Fatherhood, the priesthood. For several years during my time at Providence College, I discerned the priesthood. And although I absolutely KNOW that God, in his Divine Providence, called me to the Fatherhood that I now live, I am forever grateful for that period in my life when I looked deeply into who I was, a child of God, and what it was that God was calling me to do. I grew increasingly closer to the Lord, to his son Jesus Christ, and I developed an enormous sense of respect and brotherly love for the Dominicans – the Friars of Providence College – and for all men who we call “priest”, who we call “Father”. I admire those men more than any others on the planet. That period of my life had a profound impact on me and my understanding of what it is to be called, to have vocation, and for God to have a “plan” for each of us. I remind myself daily that my vocation in life – Fatherhood – is in fact God’s plan.

I mentioned a few moments ago that my perspective on Fatherhood is a simple one, not always an easy one to live, but a simple one to understand. Let me explain. To me, to be a Father, a true Father, a Catholic Father in it’s most fundamental state is to be a Christ-like man, to bear witness to the love of Christ and our ultimate father, the Lord, and to be a man of compassion, love, and mercy, to our children, our wife, and all those around us.

When I look at St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, entrusted with the safety of the newborn Christ and our mother Mary, I see the very definition of Fatherhood; I see the epitome of what it means to be a Catholic Father. Soft spoken, trusting, trustful, faith-filled. We often hear a lot about Mary’s “Yes”… that is, the Virgin’s complete giving of herself to God…”Let it be done to me according to thy word”. It changed everything. Well, in the same way, Joseph gave his complete self to the Lord and his plan; he trusted the Lord, and in his own way gave his “Yes” to the Lord. What a role model St Joseph is for us, for all Fathers, for all men! I often try to think about what Joseph must have been thinking 2000 years ago, when presented with what could accurately be described as a stressful situation. I think of this situation, Joseph’s situation, and more importantly I think of his willing, selfless, and unsung response during the times when I’m faced with Fatherly stress, with the trials and tribulations and worries of Fatherhood, of providing for and sheltering 7 children, educating them, making the right choices, keeping them safe, parenting them to become faith-filled Catholics. I take great comfort in Joseph during these times – I look to follow his example, his YES, his trust of the Lord and the Lord’s plan for him.

Pope John Paul II once said about St. Joseph: …that, “What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith. Joseph of Nazareth is a “just man” because he totally “lives by faith.” He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God. We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man.”

For me, the most striking piece of Pope John Paul II’s characterization of St Joseph is that St. Joseph is great in Faith because he LISTENED.. he LISTENED to God. He isn’t great because he had all the answers, or thought he had all the answers, or thought he could tell those around him that he had the answers. He’s great because he listened. What a beautiful contrast to what the world and society would suggest to us today! In a world where manhood, masculinity, and by extension Fatherhood are too often measured by the volume of one’s voice, or perhaps the boldness or brashness of that voice – in other words, telling other people what to do, the notion that I’M in control here, I’M the boss, I’M in charge and I’ll be damned if anyone ELSE’S PLAN is going to take MY plan for MY life off track …. Well, in contrast to that, St Joseph provides us Catholic men, us Catholic Fathers with the truest example of Fatherhood – A fatherhood and a life rooted in and entirely dependent on Faith – Faith in the Lord – Faith that comes not through speaking, but through listening to and embracing the Lord and his plan. Faith and trust that trumps any plan we have for ourself – Faith that totally submits us to the Lord and puts HIM, not us, in charge. Gentlemen, as Catholic Fathers and Catholic men, let’s emulate St Joseph, carrying out our vocation with complete fidelity and selflessness.

Having said that, I must admit I have moments in my Fatherly vocation when I think “OK, I’ve got this under control, I can do this on my own – I don’t need any help… and then something goes sideways and I quickly realize that I failed to remember that “I NEED God – I NEED his help – I don’t have a chance without him”. For without my embracing his presence, I lose perspective on the situation, on the moment… I become out of balance, frustrated, stressed, or otherwise un-loving. And the crazy thing is that these moments and situation are not particularly stressful or monumental in and of themselves. It’s that I make them such because I lose sight of Christ. I compare this to situations which should seemingly be entirely stressful and anxious, like times our children were born. But, I approach those situations knowing I’m not in control – knowing it’s in God’s hands, not mine … and I feel completely at peace and in sync with God’s plan for me, my vocation of Fatherhood. My opportunity is to see God and his plan for me in everything, situations both big AND small, and completely submit to him ALL the time.

You know, we’re living in a different day and age today than we were even 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, the family with seven kids wasn’t considered the circus act that they are today. I must tell you – guys, I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard all the questions and comments, and gotten all the looks, the majority being ignorant and rude ones, about my family and its size. Things like: “You have 7 kids, Don’t you know what caused that?” or “You know, there’s ways to prevents that from happening”, or one of my favorites: “Are you DONE having kids?”, or the best of all time: “You must be either Irish or Catholic”. And my typical response to that one… “No, I’m actually Irish AND Catholic, and you must be Dumb AND Stupid”. I actually used to get angry in my earlier years when folks would comment on my family; I’d scream back at them, or otherwise write them off as someone I’d never speak to again. And then, at some point, I realized that most people who are asking those questions or making those comments don’t see Christ, don’t think they need him. And so, now, I pray for them, pray that they recognize their need for Christ. And for every 10 offensive comments I field, they are more than offset by the occasional comment that we get along the lines of “your family is beautiful”, “your kids are so good to each other”, or “you’re doing a great job”. Those go a long way. And although I take no satisfaction in hearing the many people say to me that they “wish they had had more children”, I usually just respond with, “Well then, you should have!”

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Then, and everyday, I remember my Father – he was a special man. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful Father, a Father ,who like St. Joseph, spoke when he was spoken to, led by example, and never wavered from his faith. My Dad died 10 years ago at the age of 63, far, far too young in my estimation. A son of Irish immigrant parents, he grew up in tough, Irish Catholic Charlestown, the 5th of 6th children, my Dad handed so much down to me… his work ethic, his love of Irish history and the Irish cause, his loyalty to family and friends, his interest in being a “student” of everything, his undying devotion to his wife – my Mom – and to me and my 5 brothers and sisters, but most of all he handed down to me his example of faith and fatherhood. And that’s a gift that I now owe to my three sons and those around me.

And so my brothers and fellow Fathers, the counsel and encouragement I’d offer to any Father, young or old, would be above all TO LOVE.

Love your wife and work at your marriage.
Love your kids and lead by example not by voice.
Create and protect family time as if your life depends on it – it actually does.
Be humble and selfless, Forgive, and be compassionate, and Pray.
And don’t ever expect a script or a playbook to be handed to you that will tell you how to be a good Father or how to act or what to do in certain situations. There is no such thing. Simply Love the Lord and his plan for you, and as St Joseph did so well, listen to the Lord.

Thank you for having me and for listening…. And To all the Fathers here this morning…. Happy Fathers Day!

For Your Vatican-Approved Friday Night at the Movies

It’s not often we get a free pass to go to the movies from the Vatican.  But that is what we received earlier this week. And heck, I couldn’t be happier because I love this movie. My mom loves this movie. Come to think of it, my wife, sister, brother, and even my kids love this movie.

Bravo Zulu to the Vatican Film critics. So head to the library, Blockbuster, or boot up your Netflix account and have a blast watching this classic comedy starring the late John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. Here is one of my favorite clips and a little preview clip to boot.

“It’s gotta cop motor, 440 cubic inch plant.  It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s the model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. Whaddaya say? Is it the new Bluesmobile or what?”

That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

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“We’re on a mission from God.”

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YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter Two

It’s meat and potatoes time here at the YIM Catholic Bookclub. Old Thunder (Belloc) kicks off this chapter with these terse and direct words, “Arianism was the first of the great heresies.” Where are the footnotes to back up this claim? You won’t find any footnotes in Belloc’s books. I suppose he is confident in making the claim because “everyone knows” this to be true.

Sure, I didn’t, and maybe you didn’t either. But I’ve stated before that I don’t know everything, so if I were you I would make a note to myself to check out these assertions. Perhaps by reading the works of St. Athanatius, for example, or more recently the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman. But for now, let’s just let Belloc draw back the veil on the early Church and see what almost happened to Christianity.

And let me remind you that from almost the very beginning of the Church, it has not been “smooth sailing.” Consider the words of St. John (1 John 2:18-19) when he states,

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was our number.

Yes, the bold is my emphasis, but I’m not the one making the point. St. John is clearly stating that even in his lifetime (6 – 100 AD), controversy and heresy were getting off the ground. Heck, it sounds like they were actually thriving because otherwise why would he mention it? This is shocking to no one who is deep in the scriptures, which is probably why Belloc didn’t encumber every one of his points with footnotes. For the rest of us though, it wouldn’t hurt for you to keep the Bible and the Cathechism close at hand while reading the rest of Belloc’s book. And may I suggest Freiderich Knicht’s helpful book as well?

Belloc writes,

Now the central tradition of the Church here, as in every other case of disputed doctrine, was strong and clear from the beginning. Our Lord was undoubtedly a man. He had been born as men are born, He died as men die. He lived as a man and had been known as a man by a group of close companions and a very large number of men and women who had followed Him, and heard Him and witnessed His actions.

But, said the Church, He was also God. God had come down to earth and become Incarnate as a Man. He was not merely a man influenced by the Divinity, nor was He a manifestation of the Divinity under the appearance of a man. He was at the same time fully God and fully Man. On that the central tradition of the Church never wavered. It is taken for granted from the beginning by those who have authority to speak.

Did I mention that everything hinges on authority for Belloc? And in the end, isn’t that True?

Before I blather on, recall that at the start of the meeting for this book selection, I asked for volunteers to take a leadership role in guiding our discussion here. Up to the plate this week is “Mary R.” What follows is Mary’s brief synopsis of this weeks chapter and the high points as she saw them.

Let’s give Mary R. a hearty welcome and a dose of gratitude for being the first out of the gate in my little experimental twist on the YIMC Book Clubs’ rules of engagement: “all readers should be prepared to help discuss the book.” Maybe Webster, Allison and I will eventually just bring the refreshments!

Mary R., you have the floor,

Chapter 3 – The Arian Heresy
I erred in my first reading of this chapter. Hillaire Belloc stated, “There is no greater error in the whole range of bad history than imagining that doctrinal differences, because they are abstract and apparently remote from practical things of life, are not therefore of intense social effect. … Merely to say that Arianism was what it was doctrinally is to enunciate a formula, but not to give the thing itself.”

I read “enunciate” as “eunicate.” “Eunicate” is not a word (ed.- LOL) but “eunuch” is and that is what I did to the Arian heresy when I first heard about it. I removed the essential and kept the dogmatic part. I knew that Arianism concerned the denial of the divinity of Jesus but I did not take into consideration the society and the uniqueness of the era.

Belloc, referred to as HB going forward, corrected my view and gave me the history, the flesh and blood, of the Arian heresy. This chapter covers roughly 250 years from 300 to 550. It is about generals, emperors, men and motives. HB explains the cultural groundwork that allowed Arianism to take root.

There are the people who supported Arianism – the noble families who were reluctant to accept the social revolution of Catholicism; the intellectuals who were concerned about the loss of their social position; and the Army who supported it. It is the history of people and how their support strengthens or weakens the Church. And it is the doctrines that must be defended.

The competing doctrines were:

* Catholic Christianity: Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully man. “On that central tradition of the Church never wavered.”

* Arianism: Jesus was man and our Lord but not divine. He was not God.

The two main characters who supported opposing views were Areios and St. Athanasius. Both men were charismatic. Both were passionate and both believed what they taught. And finally, halfway through this chapter we find out how St Athanasius defeated Arianism. He was sincere, he was tenacious, he was Patriarch of Alexandria (2nd most important town in Eastern Empire), he enjoyed popular backing, he was a genius, and he was young when the Arian heresy started. He had a lot going for him but he also endured five exiles. Through it all, St Athanasius defended the doctrine.

If you are like me looking for answers, be careful not to read too fast this chapter or you might misread words, change meaning, and miss what you are looking for. Fortunately, I wrote this introduction and had to reread the chapter several times. Thus I have an answer to how I can personally combat heresy. No, I am not male therefore I cannot be a bishop. I don’t have a following of people to support my ideas. And I am not young. Finally, I shouldn’t look for an Army general (HB tells us how the Army was finally converted from Arianism).

What I did learn is that I need to study and understand Church teachings – the dogmas of what it is to be Catholic. I need to believe by both reason and faith.  I need to listen to my bishop and give him my support as he leads me back to union with God.

Okay. Now it is your turn. What did you learn?

Thanks Mary R., and Bravo Zulu! I’m looking forward to our members’ (and anyone else who has read the chapter) discussion in the comm-box below.

Thanks to Dog Training Tips from the Monks of New Skete

On Memorial Day, I tried to sit on the front steps of my parish to watch the town parade. But our 10-month-old puggle, who had just joined our family, wouldn’t sit still. Riley ran all over the stairs, annoying other families, knocking over water bottles, tangling her leash with the leashes of other small dogs calmly watching the parade.
My friend Dan, who witnessed the unfolding drama, said to me: “You’ve got to lose that retractable leash and start reading the monks’ books on dog training.” After the parade, he offered to walk Riley part of the way home  I walked behind them, astonished to see how Dan was able to keep Riley calm and walking right beside him.
I have spent the intervening weeks poring over  “How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend” by the Monks of New Skete. In the process, Riley and I have been transformed.

New Skete, which is in rural New York State, is one of three stavropegial institutions of the Orthodox Church of America. Yeah, I had to look that word up. Stravropegial means churches, monastic communities and theological schools under the direct supervision of a primate.  New Skete is a contemplative monastic community of men and women. It includes the Monks of New Skete, the Nuns of New Skete and the Companions of New Skete. Each group lives in separate houses within three miles of one another.

The monks, originally Byzantine Rite Franciscans,  have been breeding German Shepherd dogs for more than 25 years. While doing so, they have become authorities on how to be your dog’s companion.

How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend,” first published in 1976,  offers step-by-step instructions on obedience training and pet care. But underlying the entire book is an unmistakable philosophy about the role of nature in one’s spirituality. “Genuine monastic living means living a life without division, looking for God in the soil of each and every moment of daily life, not merely when praying or worshiping. Living in close association with our dogs helps us avoid a temptation that is always present in contemplative life – the temptation to live narcissistically in the dreamy world of ideas.”
I am unaware of any other books on being a dog owner that weave in references to the Prophet Isaiah, Odysseus, St. Francis and Dostoyevsky. Reading this book has helped me to recognize what the monks call “the interconnectedness of everything” and to realize that my family can offer Riley love, stewardship, and compassion.
Riley is benefiting from my new approach. I understand she needs we owners to be alphas in the pack and I also understand that she needs love and companionship in addition to clear guidelines and training. What a joy she now is in our lives.

As the monks put it: “The invisible, ineffable current we call life must be the object of our love. Just as we ourselves share in it, so do other creatures, and herein lies the great mystery. We now know that the responsibility for nurturing it falls to us.”


One Hit Wonders (Music for Monday’s)

I stumbled across the idea for this post when I was praying the LOTH today and ran across this quote attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”

I suppose some of the following artists were on the precipice of worldly success, some probably didn’t care, but others hoped for superstardom. As you will see, that wasn’t meant to be because these were all “one hit wonders.”

But the following songs were hits because each of them struck a chord with listeners, or at least with program directors, back in the heyday of radio. So let’s consider them catholic with a small “c” and have a little fun going down memory lane with what I can remember hearing on the radio or television over the years.

Norman Greenbaum, Spirit in the Sky (1969-70) For the longest time, I thought this was played by the band T-Rex.  I always liked it growing up, and dug the guitar riffs too. And who doesn’t want to “go to the place that’s the best?”

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Hillside Singers, I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (1972). The song that later became an iconic commercial success for Coca-Cola. I hope you hum it all day long.

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Sister Janet Mead, The Lord’s Prayer (1974). Made it to #4 on Billboards Top 100 back in 1974. A rockin’ nun from South Australia, I remember the tune well.  You all know the words so sing along!

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Patrick Hernandez, Born to be Alive (1979) Break out your dancin’ shoes because “you see we’re born, born, born to be alive (born too be alive.)” I can’t argue with that!

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The Korgis, Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (1980). Don’t look know, but we’ve hit the Eighties. Does anyone else remember this tune? A classic catholic one hit wonder if there ever was one. Universal appeal? Just check the following lyrics,

Change your heart
Look around you.
Change your heart
It will astound you.

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Joey Scarbury, Believe It Or Not  (1981) Also know from the television series The Greatest American Hero, where a teacher is given a suit by aliens that gives him superpowers.  It was a fun show starring William Katt, Robert Culp and Connie Selleca.  Music by Mike Post. While we’re at it, does everyone remember the Solid Gold dancers? Sheesh!

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Maybe next week we’ll continue with One Hit Wonders through the Eighties.

Because God Loves Us More Than We Can Imagine

Sunday was bookmarked by two separate encounters with our 13-year-old son that left me awestruck by a God who had brought such a child into my life through no merit of my own.

Yesterday morning came too early for me; I had stayed up very late at a neighborhood block party and had to rise with the rest of my family as we scattered in different directions – Greg to lector at an early Mass, and our 10-year-old son to a Little League baseball playoff game. That left Gabriel and me at home, where I attempted to supervise his remaining homework before the 11 a.m. Mass, where he was an altar server.

 This was a morning of poor parenting; my frustration with his disorganization devolved into my raising my voice, speaking to him harshly, and then  dissolving into tears of regret and exhaustion. Mass and the Penitential Rite (“I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault…”) could not come soon enough.


My husband had church and baseball and work commitments yesterday, which meant I was home most of the day without him or the car and with the children and our new yelping puppy and the pouring rain. My mood lifted after Mass and a long nap. When Greg returned last night, we ate a quick meal and I left to go grocery shopping. I drove home bone tired, the van filled with bags of groceries.

As I pulled up to our home, I could see no lights on and I figured everyone had gone to bed. As it turned out, Greg and our younger son were asleep. Gabriel padded downstairs when he heard me come in. “Mom,” he said. “Let me get the rest of the bags out of the car.” I thanked him and I sat down. He brought every bag in and then said, “Let me put these away for you.”

I logged onto the family computer to check emails as he put away cans of chick peas and black beans, a carton of ice cream,  boxes of whole wheat pasta, and bags of grapes, apples and bananas. Then he asked if he could try the coconut milk I had purchased. And while he sipped it, he talked  to me about his progress on his PowerPoint on nuclear proliferation for social studies class. Except for the light in the kitchen, the house was dark. Except for our conversation, the world had the quiet sound it does after much rain.

At Mass yesterday, the readings focused on forgiveness. The Gospel passage, from Luke 7, was as Msgr. Charles Pope puts it: a Parable about two people who had a debt which neither could repay. Note carefully, neither could repay.”  This passage weaves well with a notion that has kept striking me over the past few weeks and returned forcefully to me last night: God loves us so much that He willed us into being from nothingness. Nothing we did or can do merit His love.

And then, I thought last night, God showers us with blessings all through our lives. He gave my husband and me this extraordinary boy-turning-man to raise and the little one sleeping upstairs. He gave us these boys to raise not because we were especially good or deserving. He did so because He loves us all more deeply than any of us is capable of knowing this side of Heaven.

For All the Saints: Anthony of Padua

British expressionist Stephen B. Whatley painted this tribute to St. Anthony of Padua on June 13, 2007. “I awoke and on reading my prayers for strengthening I found that not only was it the Feast Day of St Anthony of Padua, 13 June, but also a Friday, the day the Saint died. 777 years ago,” he writes.

Nearly every American who grew up Catholic learned a prayer to St. Anthony like this one for times when we couldn’t find our homework or shoes or lunch box.  ” St. Anthony, St. Anthony. Please come down. Something is lost and can’t be found.”


What Whatley knows, however, is that the life of St. Anthony was replete with spiritual and emotional loss. Thus, we may ask this heavenly companion to pray for us when we experience loss, including loss in our knowledge of the reality of the Resurrection. “Saint Anthony has felt like a friend,” Whatley emailed me when I wrote to ask about his devotion to the saint. “I have felt his intercession in the simplest things- finding lost things, finding my way – and more profoundly on St Anthony’s Feast Day 2009 I was praying near his statue in church – and exhausted at the time, praying for strength, I felt the most peaceful calm come over me for a few moments; it felt like the Holy Spirit.”

I grew up thinking that St. Anthony was an Italian because of my Italian grandparents’ devotion to this saint. In fact, St. Anthony is Portugese. Fernando Bouillon was born in 1195, 13 years after St. Francis of Assisi. He  grew up in a very wealthy Portugese family and, to the great disapointment of his parents, entered the religious order of St. Augustine at age 15. At one point, he was put in charge of hospitality at his monastery. In that role he encountered five Franciscan friars on their way to Morocco to preach the Good News to Muslims.

The men were subsequently tortured and beheaded in Morocco. The bodies of these first five Franciscan martyrs were returned to the monastary in a solemn procession that included the Queen of Portugal.

Fernando decided then to become a Franciscan and to be a witness for Christ  in Morocco. He took the name Anthony, after Saint Anthony the Great. But his plan to be a missionary in Morocco did not pan out; several months into his Moroccan sojourn he became severely ill and had to return to Portugal. God intervened in this plan too; his ship encountered heavy winds during sea storms and ended up on the east coast of Sicily.

So then, Anthony planned to join a Franciscan monestary in Sicily, conceal his past and live out his days in quiet contemplation. God had other ideas. St. Anthony attended an ordination and was asked to give the homily. His preaching so impressed those gathered that he was sent to northern Italy to preach. He was a gifted orator, so gifted he became known as the “Hammer of the Heretics,” preaching an orthodoxy of faith to crowds in northern Italy and southern France that became so big he took to preaching in open fields and piazzas.

He died at age 36, and was recognized as a saint within the year because of the dozens of miracles attributed to him. “The saints are like the stars,” St. Anthony once preached. “In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.”

How comforting to have the companionship of such a saint, who learned  through his own earthly journey what it means to live with loss. May St. Anthony assist us in surrendering our will to the Almighty’s.


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