Because My Pope Said This

Posted by Webster 
On the Feast of the Holy Family, here is what Pope Benedict recalled about his own family. There are thoughts here for those of us who ask ourselves how to be good Catholic parents:

My father was a very upright and also a very strict man. Be we always sensed the goodness behind his strictness. And for that reason we could basically accept his strictness without trouble. From the very beginning my mother always compensated for my father’s perhaps excessive strictness by her warmth and kindness. They had two very different temperaments, and this difference was also exactly what made them complementary. Yes, I have to say that it was strict, but there was still a lot of warmth and kindess and joy. That was augmented by the fact that we played with one another, even our parents joined in, and that music also had a bigger and bigger role in our family life. Music, after all, has the power to bring people together. (Salt of the Earth: An Interview with Peter Seewald)

I have often told Martha and Marian—and they understand this well—that they are fortunate to have two such different, and complementary parents, as Katie and me. God knows, two of me would be impossible! And performing together in a magic show for many years did bring the four of us together, just as Pope Benedict said music did for his family.

Because of the Good News X

Posted by Webster 
In October, I called a temporary halt to these weekly good-news summaries. But with visions of Mary over Egypt making news during the final days of Advent and with two air disasters averted on the day we celebrate Our Lord’s birth among us, this week all but screams: Good News! Even an attack on Pope Benedict was foiled.

There is a great line buried in Mark Shea’s reflection on the Mary-over-Egypt phenomenon, and it could apply to the whole week, indeed to the entire Christian Fact: We can scoff about such “visions,” Shea writes, and many do, but “The thing is, sometimes God shows up.” Isn’t that Christmas in a nutshell?

The Christian Fact became a bit more vivid this week with news that archaeologists had discovered the remains of a Nazareth village from two thousand years ago.

As I wrote at the beginning of the week, the Visitation is my favorite Mystery of the Rosary, so I was touched by The Anchoress’s meditation on the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. Especially with its quote from one of the novels I enjoyed this year, Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede. (The image here is cribbed from Elizabeth’s post.)

Beautifully, miraculously, the Visitation celebrates two women as the parents of Our Lord and his herald, John—after that endless line of men listed by Matthew.

I spent my Christmas in Vermont with the four most important people in my life, all women (Katie, Martha, Marian, and Mom). My only regret was missing the Christmas Vigil Mass at St. Mary’s and not singing with my friends in the choir, backed by bells, timpani, and Fred’s magisterial organ. So I read other accounts of Midnight Mass wistfully, but especially this one from Suzanne Temple at “Blessed Among Men.”

Of course, Midnight Mass can be a disaster too!

Since working my way through his Catholic Christianity in RCIA two years ago, I frequently have looked to Peter Kreeft for understanding, and I got it again this week with this meditation on the real meaning of Christmas.

The Pope’s meditation on the meaning of the Christmas tree also caught my eye.

And Sr. Anne at “NunBlog” reminded us that even the fat man in the red suit has profound meaning for Catholics who celebrate him as a saint.

What I love about Pat McNamara’s blog of Catholic history is how it reminds us of the countless Catholics who have contributed to our nation’s history and culture. In a week that’s alternately about the Baby Jesus and football, I enjoyed reading about Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s training at a Jesuit high school. (The pic is from Joe Pa’s senior yearbook, courtesy of Pat.)

We’re still not sure that Shakespeare was a Catholic—which would be the ultimate vindication of Catholics in Anglo culture—but the evidence continues to mount.

Finally, some acknowledgments:

To Frank, who jumped into this YIMC adventure with both feet and who has always loved “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I send along this clip courtesy of “The Deacon’s Bench.”

To Izy of Izyperspective, thanks for this lovely acknowledgment. Anyone who features GK Chesterton and MF (“Flannery”) O’Connor in her blog’s sidebar is worth following.

And to Kevin at New Advent, who has supported this blog since Labor Day and without whose daily, nay hourly, summaries of Catholic news this paltry weekly summary would be impossible—may the Christmas Season bring you joy!

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

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

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

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

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

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

I find comfort in knowing that,

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

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

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

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

Amen, and thanks be to God!

Because of Priests Young and Old

Posted by Webster
As Frank wrote here and here, Mass is Mass, wherever you go. But man—the local variations!

For Christmas, Katie, Marian, and I attended Mass in a parish near my mother’s home in Vermont. From the modern interior of the building to the setting of each prayer to a Christmas melody, it was a bag of new tricks for this old dog. Sorry, but after four weeks without a Gloria, I don’t want mine set to “Greensleeves.” And even Father Barnes might have raised a clerical eyebrow at the Kyrie.

But what might have been the most distressing element of the Mass turned out to be the most moving. This helped me to remember that whatever the setting, however cold or warming the architecture, however good the music direction—without the priesthood we have no Mass, no Eucharist, no sacramental connection with Christ.

The pastor of this Vermont parish is the kind of person who bugs me most in all the world: a guy who looks older than me but is probably five years younger. I run into people like this all the time now, as I approach 60, and 50 continues to look like 70.

But this was not the potentially distressing element of the mass. For this Christmas service the parish priest, “Fr. Young,” had invited an older priest, “Msgr. Old,” to celebrate. And the monsignor was clearly suffering from the persistent and powerful tremors of midstage Parkinson’s disease. The older priest made his way up the center aisle flanked by two strapping altar boys, who would bookend him throughout the Mass. As he said the opening prayers and led the Kyrie (that Kyrie!), and as we sang the Gloria (that Gloria!), I began to wonder how the homily would go or what would happen when Msgr. Old’s shaky hands distributed communion to the faithful.

I needn’t have worried. Fr. Young read the Gospel and delivered the homily, which he began by introducing Msgr. Old, for those who didn’t know him. He explained that the monsignor had been his mentor at some stage and acknowledged his debt feelingly. My heart began to turn.

As the monsignor celebrated the Mass, I found myself leaning forward in my pew, my chin now on my hands, contemplating the beauty of the moment. There were hints of impending disaster, but all went well until the Our Father. Then the monsignor began the Lord’s Prayer and the congregation rushed ahead of his quavering voice. I thought immediately of Father Barnes, who has made it clear that the priest should be the one to lead the Our Father; the congregation should not rush ahead willy-nilly. This Christmas congregation in Vermont was both willy and nilly. But Father Young’s voice rose on the public address system (he was standing at the rear) and powered us through the latter half of the Our Father at his pace, which was also the monsignor’s pace.

Communion was served by Fr. Young and lay ministers of the Eucharist, while Msgr. Old sat benignly behind the altar. Then with a nearly invisible gesture, Fr. Young turned over the proceedings to his old teacher, who said the closing prayers and a gentle benediction. As we left the church through the back lobby, I noted that Fr. Young had disappeared and Msgr. Old was left to receive the grateful thanks of the congregation as we passed him. I took his hand firmly and wished him a Merry Christmas. I made a mental note: Based on the quality of his skin and the color of his hair, the monsignor probably was not all that much older than me.

YIMC Book Club, “Orthodoxy,” Chapter 6

Guest post by EPG
(With Webster on vacation, one of our more dedicated YIMCBC members has offered these excellent notes. If you are just coming aboard, you can catch up with our discussion by clicking on—Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.)

Chapter 6, “The Paradoxes of Christianity”
In the first five chapters, Chesterton described the development of his personal creed, and how he gradually began to see that the things that he came to believe on his own (a sort of “natural theology”) ran parallel to what the Church has taught throughout history.

(It’s worth remembering here that, when he wrote Orthodoxy, Chesterton was not yet a Catholic, but still an Anglican. The Christian orthodoxy that Chesterton describes in this volume is probably best understood as that which all Christians at all times could reasonably be expected to agree upon—what C.S. Lewis a few decades later described as “mere” Christianity.)

In Chapter 6, after a few pages of preamble, Chesterton assesses certain arguments against the Church. Although he was initially inclined to accept those arguments, he found the Church’s critics essentially canceling each other out, hence the “paradoxes” of which he writes.

Before we move to the main part of the chapter, however, it is worth pausing to consider his appreciation of the eccentricity of life: “Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians.” Life is not a mathematical construct: everything, although constructed within the scope of the overall order, contains surprises. “An apple or an orange is round enough to get itself called round, and yet is not round after all.” The Creator, it appears, is not coldly playing with geometry, but instead creates with love, with attention not only to the platonic ideal of apple, but to each individual apple.

Chesterton reviews the paradoxical complaints against Christianity: Christianity is too pessimistic, Christianity is too optimistic; Christianity, by drawing some to the cloister, is anti-family, but Christianity also relegates women to the hearth and home; Christianity, in urging its members to turn the other cheek, is too pacifistic, Christianity has caused untold wars and suffering. Chesterton does it much better than I could, so I don’t intend to summarize farther.

Chesterton then gets to the main point: The Church somehow holds all these extremes, the warrior and the pacifist, the contemplative and the activist, the ascetic and the esthetic, within itself. Not in a watered down sense, with each component averaging out with the others into a uniform gray. Not even in tension, although that is closer to the truth. Instead, it appears that each component is allowed full rein to follow its vocation. The contemplatives are supposed to contemplate. The pacifists urge peace; the warriors (within their proper scope) fight “like thunderbolts.” Or, as he observes, the Church “has at once . . . been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors.”

Perhaps these differences could be described in terms of vocation. Some are called to one thing, some to its apparent opposite. Each vocation reflects the individual qualities with which we are endowed, and each (properly exercised) has its role in the whole. We are not all geometrically perfect apples, we all vary from the pattern, and vary just enough not to be quite “round.” But we each have our place within the larger pattern, as individuals.

C.S. Lewis wrote something to the effect that the saints are not all alike. As we progress toward holiness, we (each of us) become more like ourselves (our selves as God intended them to be). Our union with God is not like the Borg of the Star Trek series, in which the components lose their individuality. Similarly, under Chesterton’s vision of orthodoxy, each of us is given room to be a stripe in the pattern—existing side by side with the lion and the lamb, in that miracle where the lion lays down with the lamb, and yet retains his “royal ferocity.”

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Question Going Out the Door

Posted by Webster
No recent post has received more comments than one titled “Because Catholic Men Are Just That.” It raised many questions, which received a number of good answers. If you haven’t done so, check it out.

As I head for the hills of Vermont, a new question occurs to me, a question for women as well as for men:

Are Catholic men and women comfortable with their respective roles as they have evolved within the Catholic family during the post–Vatican Council II years? And in particular, how have the respective roles of father and mother changed?

I know there is a broad spectrum of personal and parish experiences within the capital-C Church, so there should be a broad range of responses. But let me put the question personally—

The classic pre-VCII television sitcom was “Father Knows Best” (1954–1960). Probably, this series could never have been made after Vatican II. From 1969 to 1976, its star, Robert Young, had a new persona, “Marcus Welby, MD.”

In my family (with six children born 1951–1964) my father did know best, although by 1970 my mother had learned pretty well! In fact, she had gone back to finish college, then earned a graduate degree, preparing for a second career. We were all very proud of her, still are.

What has happened to the Catholic family since Vatican II? Why is it that I shudder to think of the laughter that would rain down on me if I laid down the law in my household with a simple statement, “But you know, father knows best!” In greater Boston, I am surrounded by Catholics, as I wrote here, but I am also surrounded by men who have given up the throne—and women who know it.

I am going to make one stab at part of an answer, then turn over the microphone. I’m going to say, it’s not really the throne, it’s the prie-dieu. That is, we men haven’t given up power, we’ve given up our faith.

In Katie’s family (seven children, born 1948–1959), her father said the Rosary aloud in the home every night. I have never done that, and I know I could, even if it meant everyone else moving to the TV room. But I could stake my fatherhood on my Catholic faith, as I know my good friend Patrick has. He says the Rosary every night in his room, but doesn’t stop if anyone walks in on him.

Planting that flag in my home might show best how much I know. No matter what the response.

Your thoughts?

Because of My Own Magnificat

Posted by Webster
The Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, was still echoing in my mind and heart as I woke up this morning, after we sang it in choir on Sunday. Then, at 7 am Mass, Father Barnes began the Gospel reading:

Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior—

When I told my sister, also Mary, that I was converting to Catholicism two years ago, she asked me to define religion. Without thinking, I said one word, Praise. “Praise?” she asked somewhat skeptically. Praise, I said.

If I had taken much longer to think, I might have cooked up something more elaborate, but two years later, I’m still happy with that response. Praise. A movement of thought and heart outside oneself to the source of being, the source of everything, the source without which I would not be here. I couldn’t even write these words. Praise, as I use it day to day out on the street, often sounds suspiciously like flattery. I praise you, you compensate me. But the praise I offer God is for a gift already given, and given again every day. And so Mary rejoices.

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed.

I don’t know about blessed in the sense of holy, but in the sense of having received a great blessing, I qualify. As much as I, with Frank’s help, have written nearly 200 posts since mid-August, some of which, like this one or this one, explain why I became Catholic, finally there is no conclusive chain of cause-and-effect to explain this blessing.

Up to age 56, I had lived an OK life, been an OK guy, done some good things, committed many sins. But what I have received in the past two years as a member of this Church is completely out of scale with what I or anyone else deserves. He has looked with favor on me, and when I am gone, for as long as they remember, all generations will call me—Catholic. Just as we, her grandchildren, call “Ammie,” another Mary, a Catholic, fifteen years after her death.

The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

Since I walked in the door of St. Mary’s on a chilly October morning in 2007, to attend Mass “on spec” as a non-Catholic, such great things have been done for me. From the first day, I was given a gifted pastor, Father Barnes. I have been blessed with wonderful, caring friends like my RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly; my big brother in the Church Ferde; Frank K., and his wife Carrie; Frank G., who arrives by 6:15 for Mass every morning; the irrepressible Pietrini Brothers who include a Frank P.; the usually silent but sometimes talkative folks at Adoration; and even Mitch, now an RCIA candidate, who holds a mirror up to my own experience. I have been given opportunities to be a lector, to serve at the altar, to sing with the choir, to meet with a men’s group every Saturday morning, to teach CCD, to attend Daily Adoration . . . That may sound like a list of accomplishments, but I get more back from each of these activities than I could possibly put in. It’s a list of IOU’s that I still have to pay. Holy is His name.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the might from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.

At Easter Vigil and all year round, the Catholic Church recounts the 4,000-year history of salvation. Every generation since Abraham, since Noah, even since Adam, has known God’s mercy. He chose for his own a people, the Jews, who have been slaves, nomads, wanderers, the lowest of the low. They have faced obliteration as recently as 1945, and today they are back playing a central role in world history.

A former Episcopalian, I was surprised to learn what importance the Catholic Church gives to the Jewish people, as our ancestors in faith. This was confirmed to me by a remarkable statement from Pope Benedict when, in the interviews that became Salt of the Earth, journalist Peter Seewald asked him, “Are the Jews still today the core question for the future of the world, as it is said in the Bible?” Like many of Seewald’s questions, this one smells like a trap. My pope answered without blinking:

“I don’t know exactly which Bible passage you are alluding to. [Subtext: Young man, sometimes you don’t know what you’re even saying.] In any case, as the first bearers of the promise—and thus as the people in whom the great foundational phase of biblical history took place—they are doubtless at the center of world history. One might think that such a small people couldn’t really be so important. But I believe there is something special about this people and that the great decisions of world history are almost always connected to them somehow.”

As a Catholic, I am also a Jew, like Mary.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

There are so many thoughts in this one statement. It is enough for me to realize that we are filled with good things, the best thing, every time we receive communion. Give us this day our daily bread. All the riches of the world—possessions, accomplishments, self-esteem, all of them flattering—cannot buy this.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

Since Abraham, God has offered us a personal relationship, a personal promise. He is not some abstract “force,” some impersonal power behind the Big Bang. He is He—God, the Father—and we are his children. The lowliest people in God’s family, but family all the same.

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.

* * *

I myself am heading to the hill country—Vermont—for a few days. My sisters Elizabeth and Mary will not be there, but Katie, our daughters Martha and Marian, and my mother, Anna, will be. I may find my way to an internet hot spot between now and Saturday, but until then, Frank has the conn. The former-Marine, he can tell you what that means.

Merry Christmas

To Be Frank, Part 5, “The Imitation of Christ”

Posted by Frank
I mentioned in the last post in this series that I was jumping from the frying pan and into the fire when I set aside Blaise Pascal’s Pensées and picked up The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Keep in mind that my intended mission in all this reading was to come up with ammunition proving how misguided and error-filled Catholicism is.

As Webster has written in an earlier post, there are many pathways to God. He cited this exchange between our Pope, Benedict XVI, and journalist Peter Seewald:

Seewald: How many ways are there to God?
Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . .

The funny thing about that quote is that one of the main things I intended to try to prove was that the personal relationship with God was missing-in-action in the Catholic Church. So when I picked The Imitation of Christ off the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf, I was completely unprepared for the depth and breadth of personal relationship with Christ that is possible from the Catholic perspective.

Let’s just take a look at the outline of the book, in four parts as follows:

Book One: Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul
Book Two: The Interior Life
Book Three: Internal Consolation
Book Four: An Invitation to Holy Communion

I haven’t even read a word yet, but already I know that there is going to be much rich food here. Book One for example has 25 chapters, most of which are the length of a short essay. Here are the first few titles: Imitating Christ and Disposing All Vanities on Earth, Having a Humble Opinion of Self (Marines are known for humility, not!), The Doctrine of Truth, Prudence in Action, Reading the Holy Scripture, Unbridled Affections, Avoiding False Hope and Pride, Shunning Over-Familiarity, and so on.

The book begins with the following sentence comprised mostly of a verse from John (8:12),

“He who follows Me walks not in darkness” says the Lord.

Uh-oh, I’m about to be schooled in scripture by a Catholic again!

Thomas continues as follows:

By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.

I’m already thinking that this makes all kinds of sense. Who better a model to study than Jesus? This guy is on to something.

The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.

There are plenty of times where “the words of Christ” are downright painful to hear, especially when you start trying to put them in practice. With that idea in mind, Thomas hits me with paragraph #3:

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.

I love the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, so “vanity of vanities” strikes a chord with me immediately. Then Thomas throws paragraph #4 at me,

This is the greatest wisdom — to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.

OK. After that paragraph, I’m on the ropes and stumbling around like some rookie fighter who has wandered into the ring with the mid-1960s Muhammed Ali. Sheesh! And this fight is only going for one round because paragraph 5 settles it with a knock out punch:

Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.”(Ecclesiastes 1:8) Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God.

It’s time to get back to work on these stairs, if I can think straight after this bout!

Next time: The stairs are done, but I am not.

Thanks to Michael O’Brien, for this Advent Gift

Posted by Webster 
I am the world’s slowest reader. I love long novels. Go figure. The two Catholic novels I have enjoyed most are very long. Still first on my list is Kristin Lavransdatter (1100+ pages), which I wrote about here and here. But closing fast is Island of the World (800+), which I finished today.

Kristin is a woman’s story written by a woman, 1928 Nobelist Sigrid Undset. Island, by present-day Canadian novelist Michael O’Brien, is all man—the life story of a Croatian peasant boy displaced by World War II and again by the Tito regime that followed. But the books have a lot in common. Each follows an entire life, from early childhood to death; and each of the lives—Kristin in 14th century Norway and Josip Lasta in the 20th century Balkans—ends dedicated to Jesus Christ and his Church, but only after a torturous odyssey.

Island is truly an odyssey. Through a series of horrific trials, a boy/youth/man raised in a Christian culture becomes desperately disillusioned; then, through a series of minor miracles, he comes back to the Catholic faith. The key, it seems, is waiting faithfully. As the author reminds us near page 800, a thousand years are as a day to God, and a day is as a thousand years. If we look for the cause and effect of grace, if we expect grace to heed deadlines, we’re going to be disappointed.

The miracle of Island of the World is that despite the most terrible sufferings—beginning with the annihilation of Josip’s family by Partisan guerrilas (and I’m only giving away the tip of the iceberg)—Josip arrives at a hard-won salvation. This takes every bit of patience he can muster. But God is always patient. “Much good begins in us before we learn to know its name,” an elderly Josip says to himself. ”Our Father is patient with us, for he loves us.”

Or as Josip writes to a loved one near the end of novel, “It seems to me now that even terrible absences can become a blessing if we do not lose heart, if we keep swimming in the many waters of God’s grace, if we give him time, if we permit a little space for his mercy.”

A bit further on, Josip shares the short “prayer/counsel” he tries to live by:

Seek nothing for yourself.
Stand ready to serve
in quietness,
demanding nothing, expecting nothing, 
sacrificing and praying without anyone knowing.

Island of the World was recommended to me first by Father Barnes, then by two fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s, Julie and Elizabeth. Father has recommended other books that I have not read—The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin and a book by Adrienne von Speyr, the title of which escapes me. So I’m glad I finally took him up on Island, which I bought while on retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. (There’s a great Catholic book shop at the abbey.)

For more details on Island of the World, check out the Web page put up by publisher Ignatius Press, which includes blurbs from luminaries like Peter Kreeft. Next on my novel reading list is O’Brien’s Father Elijah, also from Ignatius Press and recently recommended by Randy Beeler, who calls Michael O’Brien the “best living Catholic novelist.” I can’t disagree.