YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter 3

Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history: September 11, 1683.

This is one of the sentences that hit home for me in this weeks chapter “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.” There is a lot going on in this chapter, for sure. I compare it to a Cliffs Notes version of the History of Western Civilization 630AD – 1683AD. Sure, Belloc’s book may not be an unbiased, footnote toting, peer-reviewed, Ivy League approved, history text book, but that really wasn’t his point here.

Sure, anyone with even a hint of curiosity could plug the date “September 11th” into a search engine and eventually find out the significance of that date in the history of Western Civilization. But only Belloc, writing in 1936, in the middle of what would later become The Great Depression, could claim that it “ought to be among the most famous in history.”

Of course, we don’t get to that line until we are taken on a whirlwind tour of close to 1000 years of events on the world stage as the Roman Empire fell away, Christendom established itself, and a new religion out of the desert formed and built a civilization that would attack Christendom and the West.

Attack is a mighty harsh word, huh? I find that as I read Belloc, the reading voice in my head is that of actor Jack Webb playing Detective Joe Friday from the old television series Dragnet. “Just the fact’s, ma’am”, or sir,in my case, is what Belloc says as he reels off line after line of the history of the era, of Islam, of the Catholic Church, and what it all means.

I suspect Belloc was familar with the work of Blessed Peter of Montboissier, aka Peter the Venerable. In case you weren’t, join the club! I couldn’t find a copy of Peter’s The Summary of the Entire Heresy of the Saracens or his The Refutation of the Sect or Heresy of the Saracens either. But Belloc was probably very familiar with them both as well as this book published in 1907 entitled Islam: A Challenge to the Faith.  Those interested in learning more about this subject may also be interested in A History of Apologetics, written by Cardinal Avery Dulles and  published by Ignatius Press.

In the early 1990′s, my wife enjoyed reading a novel by Donna Tart entitled The Secret History. I don’t know anything about the book really,  except that I love the title. That’s because it fits with how I’ve been thinking about how little I actually know of this world.  Not just since reading Belloc, but since becoming a Catholic and sinking my teeth into the history of Christianity and of the Church.

From this single chapter in Belloc’s book alone, do you see what I mean? Sheeeeeeeh!

Because of Community

Guest  post by Meredith Cummings

Community defines who we are, how we live and with whom we share our lives. But there was a time in my life, when I couldn’t wait to escape my community … the community of my childhood. I grew up in what I, at the time, viewed as a dusty, forgotten cowboy town hidden in the remote San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado. (Pictured here)  Over the years, I’d grown a lot and come to appreciate my hometown of Monte Vista … to a point. However, it took an elderly shut-in couple living in my current hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, to help me fully realize the blessings of my youth.

This slow transformation began fifteen years ago when I returned to Monte Vista to visit my parents. I’d been away for several years, but people still knew me; my old boss at the Savings & Loan, my fourth-grade teacher and sisters Helen and Arlene, who worked as cashiers at the Safeway grocery store. One day, while I stood in the checkout line at the store, Helen (or maybe it was Arlene; I always got them confused), asked me where I lived. (My new hometown of NoblesvilIe is pictured here) I answered, expecting a blank stare in return.

“I know where that is!” She exclaimed. “My aunt and uncle, Marian and Louis Ortiz, moved there from Monte Vista in 1960.They go to the Catholic church there.”

Unbelievable. I escaped from one dinky little town to another dinky little town 1,220 miles away only to learn that a family from the original dinky little town lives in my new dinky little town, AND they attend the same parish.

I should have contacted the Ortizes, but I didn’t. I wasn’t ready. I had my own family, my own life. I wasn’t sure I wanted a Monte Vista connection here. I figured I’d eventually meet them, although I’m not sure how I thought I’d know them. Perhaps they’d have a big MV tattooed on their foreheads, or they’d be wearing dusty cowboy hats and boots. Eventually, I forgot about them. But then, last fall, our pastor asked if someone could bring weekly communion to two elderly parishioners … a Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz … I remembered who they were, and I knew that Father’s e-mail was clearly a message to get off my tail and meet them.

Mr. Ortiz is 95. His wife is in her late 80s. Their daughter, Beverly, who moved to Indiana when she was ten, cares for them. The three welcomed me into their home. The Colorado connection helped. “So you’re from the valley,” Mr. Ortiz said with what I’ve learned is his trademark chuckle. “Well, let me tell you some stories.” That was eight months ago.

Mr. Ortiz was born at Seven Mile Plaza, west of town. Did I know it? Of course. My friend, Lisa, lived there. I attended birthday parties at her house. Mr. Ortiz was an altar boy at St. Joseph’s, the Catholic church in town. Today, he can still recite The Lord’s Prayer and most of the Mass in Latin. He joined the Army in the 40s, fought in Europe during World War II and later married Marian. Mr. Ortiz told me their wedding dance was in the armory. I thought he meant the armory east of Monte Vista.

“No, the one that looks like the castle in the center of town,” Mr. Ortiz explained.

“You mean the bar on Washington Street?” I asked.

“Well, it may be a bar now, but back then, it was an armory. German POWs stayed there during the war and worked in the potato fields outside town.” That was news to me.

Over the months, the Ortizes have opened my eyes to many things I didn’t know about Monte Vista. For instance, Mr. Ortiz hauled the bricks for Central Auditorium, where my classmates and I performed in countless plays and band concerts. He helped build the post office, which I always thought smelled funny. He worked at the mountain reservoir, where I used to go snowmobiling with my friend Amy. And there was more. I learned that my brother and I went to school with a few of the Ortiz’s nieces and nephews … the Mansanares kids. My brother even dated one of the Mansanares girls.

During one visit, Mr. Ortiz admitted he quit school after eighth grade so that he could earn money for his family. He hated to leave school and his favorite teacher, Mr. S. (Name changed) “Mr. S. was the nicest man,” Mr. Ortiz said, a faraway look in his eyes.

“Are we talking about the same Mr. S?” I asked. If we were, Mr. S. was my neighbor. In my memory, he was old and cranky. We didn’t dare step on his sidewalk. Ever.

“Mr. S. and I got along real well,” Mr. Ortiz said, grinning. “He was something special.”

Mr. Ortiz’s words made me pause. When I knew Mr. S., he was widowed, lonely and appeared mad at the world. I never realized there was another side to him. There’s a lot I never understood about my town.

Long before I’d met the Ortiz family, I had finally come to appreciate Monte Vista. But now, through this new friendship, I appreciate it even more. I am blessed that the Ortizes have opened their lives to me and taught me about the community we share in Colorado. I also am blessed to share the Catholic community with them.

During each week’s visit, Mr. Ortiz closes his eyes, talks and remembers. After a while, I take out a pyx and spend a few minutes praying and sharing Communion. I wait quietly after the family receives the Host and says their silent prayers. While they share their thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice, I offer a prayer of thanks, as well.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing the Ortiz family into my life. I realize you tried to do this years ago when Helen (or Arlene) first made me aware of the family. I am sorry I didn’t meet this family earlier because in the last few months, they have made a big difference in my life. Originally, I set out upon my pastor’s request to bring the Catholic community to the Ortizes. They, in turn, have opened up my childhood community to me in a way I never expected. I am so very grateful for the blessing of communities and for the Ortiz family. Amen.

From Faber’s “Dedication” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

This should come as no surprise but I had never heard of Frederick William Faber until recently.  I was playing around while adding titles to the YIM Catholic Bookshelf (250+ titles now!) and discovered this founder of the London Oratory. A former Calvinist and convert to Catholicism, Faber wrote a great number of hymns, sermons, and devotional books in prose as well as poetry. Heck, I added over a dozen of his books to our shelves.

He wrote an epic poem entitled Sir Lancelot: A Legend of the Middle Agesand writes the following in the preface to the poem,

The object of the poem is not an ambitious one. It has always seemed to me, that a love of natural objects, and the depth, as well as exuberance and refinement of mind, produced by an intelligent delight in scenery, are elements of the first importance in the education of the young. But, a taste for the beauties of nature being a quicker growth than the power or habit of independent thought, it is apt in youth to wander from the right path, and lose itself in some of the devious wilds of pantheism.

What I wished to effect in this poem was, to show how an enthusiastic and most minute appreciation of the beauties of nature might unite itself with Christian sentiments, Christian ritual, and the strictest expression of Christian doctrine.

Sounds good to me. The last epic poem I read from cover to cover was Virgil’s Aeneid. But with an introduction like that one, I’m eager to see how Faber weaves the story of Lancelot around Catholic faith and doctrines. In 1845, he rewrote portions of the poem for a second edition that was published after he crossed the Tiber.

But the main  reason I’m looking forward to reading Sir Lancelot is because Faber gives a preview of his ability as a poet when he dedicated his long poem on the heroic knight with a much shorter poem to his friend and colleague Thomas Whytehead.  Whytehead, an Anglican priest, as was Faber at the time, and an accomplished poet in his own right, was on a missionary trip in New Zealand when the poem was first published in 1842.  He was suffering from an illness and died in 1843, when he was only 28 years old.

This short, personal, poem to a dying friend, as scholar Kristie Blair writes, “repeats the scenario…in which Faber represents himself as passionate, insecure, and troubled before a friend’s poise and stability. But here it is Whytehead’s geographical distance, and the real possibility that he would not live to read Faber’s words, which permit Faber to be more open.”

You can say that again. In the following verses, Faber is joyful upon hearing news of his friend, saddened by the news of his illness, and finally envisions his friend moving on to the Land of the Living and joining the saints in heaven.  It appears to me that Faber could give Virgil a run for his money.


Dear Brother! while the murmurs of my song
In refluent waves were dying on my ear,
The spoken music blending with the thrills
Of that unuttered sweetness, which remains
A cherished refuse in the poet’s soul,
Still to distinguish him from all the hearts
To which, by love constrained, he hath resigned
So much of his interior self,—and while
I listened, like a practiced mountaineer,
To my own voice rebounding from the heights
Of song, redoubled and prolonged returns
Of pleasant echoes,—from the far-off South
Came welcome news of thee, my dearest Friend!

Thou spakest in thine own most beautiful way,
And in the sunny visionary style
Of thy strange solemn language, of the lights
In those new skies, the Cross with starry arms,
Palpably bending at the dead of night,
The star-built Altar, Noe’s sheeny Dove
Still winging her incessant flight on high,
The definite Triangle, and other such,
Girt with huge spaces of unstarry blue,
As sacred precincts round about them spread,
Through which the eye, from all obstruction clear,
Travels the heavens at midnight, and salutes
Those orbed constellations hung thereon
Like festal lamps on some cathedral wall;—
Emblems of Christian things, not pagan names
That nightly desecrate our northern skies.
Thus with thy spirit softly overshadowed
By the most brilliant umbrage of those stars,
Thou spakest of the snowy albatross,
Sailing in circuits round thy lonely-bark,
Fondling its foamy prow as if it deemed,
And not unjustly, its companionship
A solace to thee on the desert waves;
And underneath the great Australian trees
A light was in strange creatures’ wondering eyes,—
How solemnly interpreted by thee!
0 it was all so beautiful, so strange,
And with its current intercepted oft
With place for some endearment of old love,
I thought in thy wild strain how passing sweet
The poetry of those far southern seas!

Few days elapsed: there came another strain,
Fresh poetry from those far southern seas!
It sang of sickness and the fear of death,
Of suffering gently borne for love of Christ,
Who calls us to His service as He wills,
Not as we choose; and, mingling with the strain,
Broke forth thy simple and courageous words
And peaceful trust, as happy and as bold
As a child’s prayer. And wilt thou think it wrong,
That, when I prayed and wept and deeply mourned,
There was a pleasure in my mourning, such
As I have never felt in love before?
For who that doth remember thee, how pale!
How gentle! but would smile for very faith,
As Abraham smiled, at thine heroic words,
Which mate thine outward aspect so unfitly?
Ah! that was poetry tenfold more sweet
Than when thou sangst of stars, and ocean birds,
And wandering creatures underneath the trees!

O more than Brother! my impetuous heart,
Nurtured too much on volatile impulses,
In loving thee hath learned still more to love,
And study with a covetous design,
The science of thy quiet nature, calm,
Profoundly calm amid all cares and doubts,
As though thy faculties had never had,
Or left and lost in thy baptismal font,
All power of self-disturbance, so serene
The unsuspicious greatness of thy virtue,
Thy simple-tongued humility, and love
Too self-forgetting to have much of fear!
Like one who sits upon a windy steep,
And looks into a placid lake below
Bright in the breezeless vale, so have I gazed,
With long affection fathomed to its depths,
Into the inspired tranquillity of heart
On thy scarce ruffled innocence bestowed.
Dear Friend! I speak bold words of praise, and
Warrant my boldness, for I know full well
Thine eye will never see what would have pained
Thy lowliness: that supernatural calm
Of thy pure nature will be deeper still,
Unutterably deepened, ere my words,
Not written as to one alive, shall reach
The island of thy gradual martyrdom.
0 no! thou wilt be once more at my side,
A help to my weak purposes, an arm
Invisible, in intercession strong,
No part of this half dead, half dying world,
But to the region of the living gone
To pray for us, and to be reached by prayer.
When these poor lines have travelled to that shore,
Distance and exile will have fallen from thee,
Sun-withered wreaths, before the eye of death;
Thou wilt be in my neighborhood again,
Again come home unto my soul’s embrace,
No more the frail and wasting Missionary,
But the high Mate of Angels and of Saints!

In Praise of Simplicity (Music for Mondays)

It’s summer time, the kids are out of school, and the days are long and warm. There is less time to spend reading blogs and writing posts. More time to spend outdoors and enjoying life. Like working in the garden, for example, and on the yard. Smelling the flowers, and picking vegetables. Taking the kids swimming, or to a matinee. Catching fireflies and frogs.

You understand what I’m saying and so do these artists with their songs. There are seven of them for you to enjoy here; five of them with the same title! Well, almost.  Please enjoy them, remember them, and hum them while you keep things in perspective. For as the Psalmist said, “The LORD protects the simple”(Psalms 116:6).

No lyrics, no lead-ins, just simplicity on a summer Monday morning.

First up, Jewel, with Simple Gifts.  This is her excellent rendition of an old Shaker hymn.

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Remember the Blue Brothers when they played the gig and Elwood asks “What kind of music do you guys like here?” And  the answer was “both kinds: Country and Western.” This is “country” performed by Randy Travis.  The Simple Things.

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Amy Kuney, Simple Things. A new artist, I don’t know much about her except that I like this song!

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Joe Cocker, Simple Things. Same title, different take by a guy who has been around the block.

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Amy Grant, Simple Things. The fourth song with the same title; something about simplicity appeals to us.

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Zero 7, Simple Things. Number five with this title and actually, I like the way it sounds as much as I like what it says.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd, Simple Man. Yep, I’m a Southerner and this one is a standard around my neck of the woods. 

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For All the Saints, Cyril of Alexandria

Today we celebrate the feast day of Cyril of Alexandria, a Doctor of the Church.  Like Athanatius before him, he defended the dogma of the Incarnation of Our Lord against the heretical ideas of Nestorius, who had gained a substantial following with his beliefs that denied that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.

As we have discovered while reading Belloc’s The Great Heresies, we have been realizing that attacking the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation is a generally accepted principle among heresiarchs who attack the teachings of the Church. That God became a Man is mind-blowing when you think about it. If it isn’t, maybe you haven’t spent enough time thinking this through.

Thankfully, Cyril thought it through and wasn’t about to let Nestorius have his way. The result of these controversies was the Council of Ephesus, held in the summer of the year 431. You can read more about this important meeting at the Catholic Encyclopedia. Below is an example of Cyril’s rhetorical ability as he explains why Our Lord must have been both fully human and fully God.

Surely it is quite obvious and unmistakable that the Only-begotten became like us, became, that is, a complete man, that he might free our earthly body from the alien corruptions which had been brought into it. He descended to become identical with us, in respect of the conditions of life, accommodating himself through the unity of Word and flesh: he made the human soul his own, thus making it victorious over sin, coloring it, as it were, with the dye of his steadfastness and immutability of his own nature. By becoming the flesh of the Word, who gives life to all things, this flesh triumphs over the power of death and destruction. He is, so to speak, the root and the first fruits of those who are restored in the Spirit to newness of life, to immortality of the body, to certainty and security of divinity, so that he may transmit this condition to the whole of humanity by participation, and as an act of grace.

Cyril also was clear in his argument that the Blessed Mother is the Theotokos or Mother of God as he so clearly and reasonably argues below. Note the high regard he has for Athanatius, who had successfully fought against a similar heretical threat presented by the followers of Arius.

That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the mother of God fills me with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers.

In the third book of his work on the holy and consubstantial Trinity, our father Athanasius, of glorious memory, several times refers to the holy Virgin as “Mother of God.” I cannot resist quoting his own words: “As I have often told you, the distinctive mark of holy Scripture is that it was written to make a twofold declaration concerning our Savior; namely, that he is and has always been God, since he is the Word, Radiance and Wisdom of the Father; and that for our sake in these latter days he took flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.”

Again further on he says: “There have been many holy men, free from all sin. Jeremiah was sanctified in his mother’s womb, and John while still in the womb leaped for joy at the voice of Mary, the Mother of God.” Athanasius is a man we can trust, one who deserves our complete confidence, for he taught nothing contrary to the sacred books.

The divinely inspired Scriptures affirm that the Word of God was made flesh, that is to say, he was united to a human body endowed with a rational soul. He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves.

It is held, therefore, that there are in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a deified man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form. We are assured of this by Saint Paul’s declaration: When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.

As Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman would say of him,

Cyril was a clear-headed, constructive theologian. He saw what Theodoret did not see. He was not content with anathematizing Nestorius; he laid down a positive view of the Incarnation, which the Universal Church accepted and holds to this day as the very truth of Revelation. It is this insight into, and grasp of the Adorable Mystery, which constitutes his claim to take his seat among the Doctors of Holy Church. And he traced the evil, which he denounced, higher up, and beyond the person and the age of Nestorius. He fixed the blame upon Theodore of the foregoing generation, “the great commentator,” the luminary and pride of the Antiochene school, the master of Theodoret; and he was right, for the exegetical principles of that school, as developed by Theodore, became little less than a system of rationalism.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, pray for us.

YIMC Bookclub Meeting Notice!

Heads up Book-clubbers!  I’m postponing the meeting until next Thursday for the next chapter of Belloc’s The Great Heresies. The reason? Well, it is two-fold.

A) This is a long chapter, very involved, and will need to be read a few times. That and nobody volunteered to take it up.  B) I have a high school chum who is passing through my town on his way while moving to Maine from Texas.

So, if you read the chapter already, bear with me and save up your thoughts for next Thursday. Also, if anyone would like to volunteer your reflections on this chapter, shoot me an e-mail (available on my profile).

Because The Church Has Room for Everyone, Including Andy Warhol

Most of us who have heard of Andy Warhol think of him as the avant-garde filmmaker, as the celebrity with wild hair and big glasses who frequented Studio 54 in the 1980s, as the father of Pop Art, or as one of the most influential visual artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Now, we can also think of him as a devout Catholic. Warhol, who was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928 to Slovakian parents, died in 1987 from complications of gallbladder surgery. During his childhood, Warhol would walk with his family each Sunday six miles from their home in Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhood to Saint John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. Unbeknownst to all but those closest to him, Warhol as an adult returned to the faith of his youth. His journey reminds me of what Christ told his apostles: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? Christ’s invitation is for all of us.

Last weekend, my family visited the Brooklyn Museum to see an exhibit of his work called “Andy Warhol: the Last Decade” which documents the Christian-themed art he created in the final years of his life.The museum was quiet and nearly empty, giving us time and space to contemplate his artwork. The lack of visitors was ironic, given that in 1999 the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit “Sensation!” included a piece by British painter Chris Ofili that  depicted the Blessed Mother covered in elephant dung and surrounded by pornographic images. That exhibit drew large crowds and a storm of controversy.

I wanted to share some of the artwork that moved me last weekend and to encourage readers within driving distance to visit this exhibit, which runs through Sept. 12. I don’t mean to suggest all the artwork in this show is suitable for children or that it hews to religious orthodoxy. One piece, called Oxidation, was created by combining urine with copper metallic pigment, Blessedly, only my husband realized that at the time because he is the one of us four who actually reads the labels next to artwork.

The final year of his life was Warhol’s most profilic. He produced an estimated 3,500 pieces of art. Here is a self-portrait. This piece is part of a series of paintings of camouflage in various colors and sizes. What was the artist hiding? Until his death, few knew that Warhol was a daily Mass attender at the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side of  Manhattan. He also was a regular volunteer at church homeless shelter in Manhattan. Were these camouflage paintings an effort to reconcile his public persona with his private faith? 

Warhol was commissioned to created a modern version of  Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It sits in a gallery across the street from Da Vinci’s masterpiece in Milan. After Warhol’s death, art historian and curator Jane Dillenberger discovered by combing through galleries and private collections in Europe and the United States that he had produced more than 100 drawings and paintings inspired by Da Vinci’s work. The painting in the Brooklyn Museum show is monumental, covering an entire wall of exhibit space.

“Warhol’s contribution was so important. He was incredibly prolific,” Dillenberger said in a 2001 radio interview. “The number of works he created is beyond imagination. He created the biggest series of religious works of any American artist.”

Warhol created this small paint and silkscreen work in 1987, using Sly Stallone as a model for the bodybuilder. (Interesting, Stallone also has returned to the Catholic faith.) Other versions of this work include a silkscreen of Christ beside it.

This painting was my favorite. I am not an art critic or historian. Some have suggested this painting was inspired by Orthodox Christian Easter eggs and that Warhol managed to animate the sacred through this painting. I do know these eggs – with their playfulness, color and exuberance – make me feel hopeful for Andy Warhol.

Law And Grace (A Few Words For Wednesday)

I discovered a new Catholic poet yesterday and added a selection of his work to the YIM Catholic Bookshelf. His name is Aubrey Thomas de Vere. I don’t recall how I discovered him actually, because it really wasn’t my doing, I just found him in the Treasure Chest, so to speak. I remember seeing that he had dedicated a book of poems to Cardinal John Henry Newman, though,  so I sat up and took notice.

He is an Irish poet of some renown, having lived in the 19th Century, dying early in the Twentieth in 1902. According to the citation in the Catholic Encyclopedia, “a critic in the Quarterly Review of 1896 says of his poetry, that next to Browning’s it shows the fullest vitality, resumes the largest sphere of ideas, covers the broadest intellectual field since the poetry of Wordsworth.”

That is pretty heavy duty talent to be compared to. I think upon further examination of his gift, you will find it an accurate statement.  De Vere himself has the following words to say about his poems on sacred subjects,

Poetry, like every other authentic Art, finds, of course, her proper place among the Handmaidens of Religion. Her service, however, is twofold — direct and indirect: and when, without venturing to claim the title of sacred poetry, she yet treats directly on “sacred subjects,” she may too often be charged with intruding into a region more elevated than her own.

To Poetry commonly belongs rather the refracted and coloured beam than the white light ; and the humblest is often the highest offeringwhich she can lay on the Altar. In illustrating that divine beauty which still hangs in broken gleams around a fallen world;—in tracing a love more than human which lives within the human affections;—in cherishing justice and truth as the foundations unremoved amid the fleeting pageantry of outward things;—and in thus inculcating fidelity to the righteous cause, especially when obscured or trampled down;—in doing these things, Poetry discharges a moral function, auxiliary to a higher teaching than her own: and thus much, ‘without departing from her subordinate sphere, she cannot but do in proportion as her inspiration is pure, and her purpose sincere.

In extenuation, then, of attempts which may be condemned as rash, I have only to observe that the sacred subjects touched on in the latter portion of this volume, belong, for the most part, rather to the border land of Religious Philosophy and Art, than to Religion, properly so called.

Which means his work is art alone and not the orthodox poetry of, say, St. Ephrem. Here is an example of one of De Vere’s poems on the sacred.

Law And Grace

It is not true, that unto us, enrolled
Within Christ’s band, the Law exists no longer:
But this is true; that we, who sank of old,
Oppressed beneath that armour’s weight of gold,
Sustain it now in glory, being stronger!

The Form remains: but is a form no more
To eyes inspired, that see
Through bondage Liberty;
And, in His earthly shape, their God adore.
To Love, all things are Love:
To Grace, all things are Grace:
And humble Faith can never move
In an unholy place!

Within, but not beneath, the Law we dwell.
That wall, of old our prison’s circuit, now
(Girding the citied mountain’s sovereign brow)
Is but the bulwark of man’s citadel.
Large views beyond are given:
Safe views of all the earth ;
and healing airs of Heaven.

Within the Temple of the Law we stand ;
As once without it stood
That awe-struck multitude ;
And on the marble Tables lay our hand.
There, like the Priest of old, our God we meet :
And stand up boldly by the Mercy-Seat.

De Vere also wrote a sonnet with the same title as well,

Law And Grace

Yes, I remember: once beneath a yoke
We walked, with jealous pride and painful fear:
Then a stern footstep sounded ever near;
And, when that Presence dread His silence broke,
Austere and cold as if a statue spoke,
Each marble sentence smote upon my ear;
Yet ” Thou shalt not” was all that I could hear—
So swiftly from its trance my spirit woke.
The sun was rising. Floods of light divine,
Golden, and crimson on the mountains played.
I saw the village spire like silver shine:
Eolian music filled the echoing shade:
And I could hear, through all the murmuring glen,
Music of moving Gods come down to live with men.

Which did you prefer? Version A or version B? You can read more of Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s poems here.

Because Christ Keeps Calling To Me

This morning was one of those mornings. Nothing went well at home after the boys left for school and I felt bogged down by minutiae. Folding seemingly endless laundry, preparing for a teacher-training class tonight, mopping up from a bloody nose one of my sons had on the kitchen and bathroom floors, hauling in a huge bag of dog food from the back of the van, losing a piece of writing I had spent hours on, making sure I had paid for my sons’ summer camps, realizing we didn’t have phone service because we had forgotten to pay the bill, seeing one son had left a book on the couch that he was supposed to bring to school and on and on. I was irritable. I was self-involved. I really just wanted this part of the day to be over.

Then Christ intervened. A little after 12 noon, I pulled out of the driveway to drop my son’s book off at school. My mind filled with my own to-do list, I turned on the radio, barely listening as I turned a corner to  head  downtown. The sight before me woke me up. In the humid summer air, an elderly man was wheeling an even older man down the street. I thought: these are the faces of Christ, breaking into my life. And suddenly, I became aware of the song that was playing.

It was the Moody Blues’ song: Tuesday Afternoon. Tuesday afternoon, I’m just beginning to see, now I’m on my way. It doesn’t matter to me, chasing the clouds away.”

Christ was calling to me. I realized that, but I chose not to listen. I thought – well, the DJ put that song on because it is Tuesday afternoon. Of course he did. And I have seen that pair before, traveling down the street. This is all a coincidence.
I kept driving toward my son’s school. As I turned another corner, I saw another person in a wheelchair. This time, it was a young boy, waiting at a bus stop with his mother. The tune on the radio was heading into its final refrain: “Something, calls to me. The trees are drawing me near, I’ve got to find out why? Those gentle voices I hear, explain it all with a sigh.”

About half an hour later, I was sitting in my parish center with my School of Community friends. We take turns reading out loud from various CL writings. Part of the passage from Fr. Julian Carron’s writings that I was asked to read today said this: “Life challenges us! …I am more and more glad that I have been spared nothing and that I must face the same issues as everyone else, because this is the opportunity for me to verify the faith and to grow in coming to terms with everything that happens.”

See the painting by Marc Chagall above? Christ is part of our time and also beyond it. I pray I will listen when He calls and that an awareness of His presence graces me with peace and gratitude.

For Thoughts Such As This From St. John Climacus

Since I became a Catholic, I run into thoughts and words from the saints that sometimes just stop me in my tracks and cause me to consider and re-consider my way of living. Here is an example from The Ladder of Divine Ascent written by St. John Climacus (or “Of the Ladder”).

A man who takes pride in natural abilities— I mean cleverness, the ability to learn, skill in reading, good diction, quick grasp, and all such skills as we possess without having to work for them — this man, I say, will never receive the blessings of heaven, since the man who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful and vainglorious in much.

And there are men who wear out their bodies to no purpose in the pursuit of total dispassion, heavenly treasures, miracle working, and prophetic ability, and the poor fools do not realize that humility, not hard work, is the mother of such things.

The man who seeks a quid pro quo from God builds on uncertainty, whereas the man who considers himself a debtor will receive sudden and unexpected riches.

I was that man in the first sentence for an awfully long time. Now, I need to ensure that by trying to leave that first person completely behind, I don’t become the person John describes in the second sentence as well. Because as he states in the third sentence, expecting the Lord to scratch my back only if I scratch His is silly, especially when I consider how deeply in debt I really am.

St. John Climacus, pray for us.