For Our Brothers and Sisters in Haiti on Martin Luther King Day (Music for Mondays)

Posted by Webster 
Later today I will be posting at some length about “New York Encounter 2010,” a series of cultural events sponsored by Communion & Liberation. This has been going on in New York City over the three-day weekend and concludes with one final event this morning at 10 a.m. Last night, as part of the Encounter, I witnessed a screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” with a live musical accompaniment by the Communion & Liberation choir and the Metro Chamber Orchestra. Here is the penultimate sequence in the film, in which Joan reverses her recantation and—beautifully—receives communion before her execution. The music is from “Voices of Light” by Richard Einhorn, which was written to accompany the film and played live in its entirely last night.

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The next clip has been making the rounds. I found it at Daily Grace. There’s a reason it’s been making the rounds—another one of those musical collaborations that might have been unthinkable when I was a teenager: Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, a Gospel choir, and our Holy Mother!

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I think we have to pick up the pace. Here’s a happy clip Frank found—just in case anyone doubted our sympathies at YIM Catholic!

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I saw this final clip when it was first screened on prime-time TV a day or two after 9/11. In those terrible days following the terrorist attack in New York, it was moving to realize that the world was praying for us; this clip told me that the world’s greatest rock band was praying for us too (“from London”). I hope our brothers and sisters in Haiti know how much we are all praying for them now in these terrible days. Whether they know it or not, our prayers are heard.

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Because of Thoughts Like These from St. Athanasius

I promised St. Athanasius (297–373 AD) to our readers tomorrow, but it turns out that, although the Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on January 18, the Catholic Church doesn’t do so until May 2, in keeping with the tradition of using the date when a saint’s soul leaves this world for the next.

So instead, I’ll leave these fully baked thoughts from chapter one of St. Athanasius’s book On the Incarnation, in which he begins his defense of Church teaching against the followers of Arius and Arius’s notion that Jesus, although chosen by God, was merely a man and not the Word made Flesh. [Read more…]

Because I Believe a Saint is a Saint

Posted by Webster 
An op-ed piece in this morning’s New York Times reminds me of my sainted father railing against the liberal media. Back then, as recently as five years ago, I thought Dad was off his rocker. Now that I’m a Catholic, it’s more like, Dad rocked. Witness today’s NYT.

The article, Pope Quiz: Is Every Pontiff a Saint?, takes my Pope to task for pushing the canonization cause of not only Pope John Paul II but also the “controversial” Pius XII (left). I’m not here to debate these Popes as candidates for sainthood. (I’m not qualified!) Nor do I want to stick my nose into the much-bruited flap between Catholics and our ancestors in faith, the Jewish people, over the legacy of Pius XII. It only takes a few yappers to make a flap these days, especially if the “right” people get the ear of the “right” media. Why isn’t there a bigger flap in the NYT against abortion? But ecccchh—

What does disturb me and what I think is worth taking issue with is the choice of David Gibson to weigh in on this issue and his choice of “authorities” to buttress his point of view. Here is a clip from the Publisher’s Weekly review of Gibson’s “biography” of BXVI:

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s name was announced as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005, Gibson, a journalist and Catholic convert, was among the throng but not cheering. The author of The Coming Catholic Church considers himself part of “the silent majority of Catholics, who were hoping, praying, for the vibrancy and openness that would herald a new chapter in the history of the church.” Instead, he writes, they got a “polarizing figure” with a well-publicized past, a man known for his heavy hand with liberation theologians and others deemed to veer toward heterodoxy. . . .

I hear Dad railing. The NYT runs an editorial on the canonization question and they pick this guy? I canceled my subscription to the Boston Globe in the past week (don’t ask), and if I had a subscription to the NYT, it would be history too.

And who does Gibson choose to back his POV that BXVI is guilty of undue haste in beatifying his predecessors? If you were Gibson and you needed buttressing, you couldn’t do better than (1) a Notre Dame professor of theology who states bluntly that John XXIII is “the only one of the recent batch of papal candidates for canonization who is at all credible” (like, you’re qualified to say?!) or (2) Hans Küng, whose feud with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and falling out with the Church is very old news. Admittedly, Gibson did call the Vatican press office for (3) an anonymous official counter-opinion (from a “papal spokesman”), but after giving this statement three lines, he immediately marshals a rebuttal from (4) Christopher Bellitto, “a church historian at Kean University in Union, N.J.” That makes it three named “authorities” against one anonymous papal flak. Well, I guess that settles that!

To paraphrase an irate Wendy Hiller in the final prison scene of A Man for All Seasons, “If anyone wants to know my opinion of David Gibson and his thesis, he only has to ask me!!”

Which is to say, Gibson really might have asked a faithful Catholic’s opinion. And this is mine. I believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived on this earth two thousand years ago; that he entrusted his teaching to Peter, the Apostles, and the Church they founded; that he promised them that their actions would be guided by the Holy Spirit (“until the end of time”); that the Holy Spirit still acts through the Catholic Church today; and that if there seems to be a rush to canonization, begun during the Papacy of John Paul II, we owe it to ourselves to push beyond the typical academic and political arguments endorsed by the NYT and other mainstream media and ask ourselves,

“Isn’t it remotely possible that something else is at work here?”

What do you think?

Because of the Liturgy II

Posted by Webster
I went to Mass this morning after a couple of days away and a mildly troubling personal experience last night, and I was greeted by a whole string of that’s-why-I-go-Mass moments:

  • entering and finding fellow members of the Universal Church who had arrived ahead of me, yes
  • kneeling gratefully before Mass, yes
  • standing to honor the priesthood as the celebrant entered, yes
  • examining my conscience privately, saying the Confiteor publicly, yes
  • the second reading from First Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit, yes
  • the silly story in the homily about the priest’s mother putting a glass of water in front of him at his ordination party and telling him to be an alter Christus and turn it into wine, yes
  • the consecration, yes
  • the elevation, yes
  • the Our Father, yes
  • the waiting in line to receive, yes
  • the meditation after communion, yes
  • the benediction, yes
  • the flowing back into daylight with the stream of the Universal Church, yes

In each of these moments there was a letting go of what’s not important, a giving up to what is. And I am not even home this weekend.

That’s right: This little chaplet of moments unfolded at a foreign parish—an away game! I had none of the familiar cues offered by Father Barnes, or Frank Gaudenzi kneeling in the first pew ahead of me, or Ferde and Heidi two rows behind me, or familiar lectors, or Fred’s masterful organ music, or the chance to wave to Flo during the Sign of Peace. It was a pure experience of the liturgy. The Presence of Christ in his Word and his Body and Blood, shared in communion with others. Where two or three are gathered together. Home or away.

This little meditation relates directly with my recent thoughts about the liturgy. I have been thinking quite a bit about the liturgy, thinking that it’s a complex issue I don’t understand well. My thinking has been fueled by an exchange of e-mails with a faithful reader of this blog, an Anglican who loves many things about his church (as I loved many things about the Episcopal Church of my youth), but who is also looking closely at Catholicism and perhaps even Orthodoxy.

My Anglican friend is concerned, as I am, about the liturgy. In a recent e-mail, he wrote (and I excerpt liberally):

A week or so ago, in response to a post on the website, I had expressed my frustration with the quality of the language in the liturgy that I have heard in Catholic parishes. I think what set me off was a translation of a portion of the lectionary read during Advent. Instead of what we often get as “And his name shall be called wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” there was a stilted near equivalent which included odd constructions like “God-Man.” It may have been closer to the literal construction of the Hebrew, but it didn’t work in English. . . .

On the other hand, I was recently a member of an Episcopal parish that, from time to time, resorted to “The Message,” an abominable “contemporary” version of the Bible. It’s more of a paraphrase than an actual translation, and I vividly remember a passage from Revelation which came out as “God is in the neighborhood.” Which (naturally) made me think of God firing up the hibachi and inviting the folks over for a couple of Millers. A vision of the eternal banquet, to be sure, but . . .

I think I realized I was a traditionalist when I articulated this thought: there is nothing so dated as that which was deliberately contemporary ten years ago. Or perhaps it was when I decided that the word “creative” ought never to modify the word “liturgy.”

And now I hear that the Catholics are approaching the approval of a revised missal for English speakers. So my residual affection for Episcopal forms and practice may soon be moot. . . .

We are approaching a revised missal, aren’t we? It is this, along with a certain wistful nostalgia for the Book of Common Prayer, that glorious English text of my youth, that has made the liturgy a burning question for me. Why do the words matter? Which words?

Before I share a few thoughts from Pope Benedict that may help guide thinking on this issue, let me add a few more thoughts from my Anglican friend, written in a follow-up e-mail:

The real issue, of course, has been what all of this really meant to me. I have forced myself to evaluate whether I have been looking for a pretty neat expression of a particular culture, with a bit of spiritual uplift thrown in, or whether there was something more that I was looking for, but not quite getting. The real hard question is this: whether I love the words more than the Word. Does my affection for the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer amount to idolatry? Is the “reformed catholicism” model of Anglicanism still viable, or have the current crises in the Anglican Communion exposed fatal flaws? Is the Catholic Church in fact who she claims to be, or should I be talking to those in the Orthodox traditions? How do I engage in this process of discernment without excessive disruption of my family life?

This e-mail reinforced for me the central question of the liturgy. What do I want from the liturgy? A reaffirmation of my own cultural heritage? (Bring back the King James Version!) A bit of spiritual uplift? (The Gloria set to “Greensleeves”!) But particularly—Do I love the words or the Word? And if I love the words, is that idolatry?

I do not have easy answers to these questions. But I have just finished reading Pope Benedict’s early memoir, Milestones: 1927–1977, and I have found, to my relief, that questions of the liturgy have been central to his life. In fact, he writes (in the mid-1990s) that—

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.

Imagine that! My Pope says my question is central! Of course, I don’t pretend to understand this “disintegration” with the complexity of thought that Benedict, a great theologian, brings to it, but at least I know this is something worth thinking deeply about.

Now, to close this already long post with a pretty long history lesson from my Pope—

The critical moment of concern, according to Benedict (writing as Cardinal Ratzinger), was the introduction of a new missal by Pope Paul VI in the wake of Vatican II—“accompanied by the almost total prohibition, after a transitional phase of only half a year, of using the missal we had had until then.” With arch-typical balance, Ratzinger writes:

I welcomed the fact that now we had a binding liturgical text after a period of experimentation that had often deformed the liturgy. But I was dismayed by the prohibition of the old missal, since nothing of the sort had ever happened in the entire history of the liturgy. . . . The prohibition of the missal that was now decreed, a missal that had known continuous growth over the centuries, starting with the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic.

Never before in history? Tragic consequences? Of course, Ratzinger backs this up with history, looking back at the Council of Trent which was followed by the creation of a new Missale Romanum in 1570 by Pope Pius V. He explains that Pius V did not create a new missal and did not prohibit old, local forms of the missal, so long as they had been in use for at least two hundred years:

Many of his successors had likewise reworked this missal again, but without ever setting one missal against another. It was a continual process of growth and purification in which continuity was never destroyed.

Then comes, for me, the punch line, delivered like a knockout blow:

The irruption of the Reformation had above all taken the concrete form of liturgical “reforms.” It was not just a matter of there being a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church alongside one another. The split in the Church occurred almost imperceptibly and found its most visible and historically most incisive manifestation in the changes of the liturgy. These changes, in turn, took very different forms at the local level, so that here, too, one frequently could not ascertain the boundary between what was still Catholic and what was no longer Catholic.

In the face of these questions, it seems we have to be extraordinarily vigilant. However, if you ask me to be vigilant on this issue, I feel like a child asked to perform nightwatch duty, who is wide awake, vigilant as he can be (he is a good boy), but he doesn’t know what to look for!

My pope offers a few guiding principles, and with these this long post will close—

There is no doubt that [Pope Paul VI’s] new missal in many respects brought with it a real improvement and enrichment; but setting it as a new construction over against what had grown historically, forbidding the results of this historical growth, thereby makes the liturgy appear to be no longer a living development but the product of erudite work and juridical authority; this has caused us enormous harm. For then the impression had to emerge that liturgy is something “made,” not something given in advance but something lying within our own power of decision. . . . When liturgy is self-made, then it can no longer give us what its proper gift should be: the encounter with the mystery that is not our our own product by rather our origin and the source of our life.

Rather than try to frame this post with some sort of concluding thoughts, I would rather ask readers (the few of you who have come this far) to offer your own complementary thoughts on the liturgy and what my Pope calls its “disintegration.”

Which is to say, your comments—?

For All the Saints: Anthony the Great

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of the Desert Fathers. Today, we celebrate St. Anthony the Great. Anthony is really the Godfather of all the Desert Fathers and the person responsible for starting the formation of Christian monastic orders. I love the following saying attributed to him, because it seems to hit home with how I often feel these days, despite the fact that this was said over 1600 years ago:

Abba Anthony said: “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad because you are not like us.”

Yes, we are living in interesting times. And what an interesting person! A role model even of St. Francis of Assisi. Take a look at what Thomas Merton has to say about Abbot Anthony from his book The Wisdom of the Desert.

In the 4th century AD the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men who left behind them a strange reputation. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the ancient Roman world to live in the solitude and silence of the desert. Why did they do this? The reasons were many and various, but they can all be summed up in one brief phrase: the quest for salvation. Among these men (and women!) the life and witness of St. Anthony the Great is unique.

St. Anthony, called “the father of monasticism”, was born in central Egypt about 251 AD, the son of peasant farmers who were Christian. In circa 269, he heard the Gospel being read in Church and applied to himself the words of Jesus to the rich man: “Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come, follow Me.” He sold everything he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor and devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse living on the outskirts of his village.

Around 285 AD he went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude. It was in this solitude and silence that Anthony heard clearly the Word of God for his life. After 20 years in solitude, Anthony emerged “as one initiated into the mysteries of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit (he became) a physician given by God to Egypt through whom the Lord healed many people.” He died at the age of 105 in 356 AD and his biography, written by St. Athanasios (whose memory the Orthodox Church celebrate on January 18th, and the Catholic Church on May 2nd) created an immediate literary and theological sensation throughout the ancient world.

What can we, more than 1500 years later, learn from Anthony’s witness? What is the meaning of his flight from society into the desert? First, society—which meant classical Roman pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life “in this world” – was regarded by Anthony and the many other desert fathers and mothers as a shipwreck from which each had to swim for their lives.

These were men and women who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the non-Christian tenets of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. These Coptic hermits—for Anthony—like so many of his brothers and sisters, was a Copt and spoke no Greek or Latin—who left the world as though escaping from a shipwreck, did not merely intend to save themselves. They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the ability but even the obligation to pull the world to safety after them. Perhaps we cannot do exactly what Anthony did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break our spiritual chains, cast off the domination of alien compulsions and find our true selves in Christ Jesus.

Some sayings of St. Anthony the Great:

When the same Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?” He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.”

Abba Anthony said: “This is the work of a great man: always to take responsibility for his own sins before God and to expect temptations until his last breath.”

He also said: “Whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it in accordance with the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

Abbe Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares? Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.'”

Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (Jn 4:18)

He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

St. Anthony, Pray for Us!

Because of the Good News XIII

Posted by Webster 
Given the week just ended—when the devastation in Haiti has been in all of our thoughts and the Haitian people in our prayers—a look at the Good News might seem to be a head-in-the-sand operation. But a big part of being a Catholic, for me anyway, is to pray even when—especially when—things are darkest. And a big part of prayer is praise and thanksgiving.

Still, with respect for the tragedy still unfolding in Haiti, I’ll keep this short.

I was raised in a wealthy Episcopal parish, and one of the things I am most proud of in the Catholic Church is its economic and racial diversity. As we move through a three-day weekend dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, I was proud to read this post from an African American deacon.

I am also proud of being a Catholic anytime I read about anything my Pope, BXVI, has done. For example this.

As a volunteer religious education teacher who doubts his own ability to inspire fourth-graders, I loved this story from Suzanne Temple about leading her home-schooling boys in prayer. And I was happy to be reminded, by the Deacon’s Bench, how the children we teach can inspire us more than we inspire them.

As the father of daughters in their 20s, I was inspired by this testimony about chastity from an exceptionally intelligent young woman.

But here’s my vote for most inspiring story of the week, about the young man at left, forwarded to me by my own pastor, Father Barnes.

Did you ever listen to the apparent certainty of historians about what happened over 2,000 years ago and wonder, how can they be so certain? That’s what I was thinking when I read that the Old Testament may have been written much earlier than commonly thought.

In the economy we are all suffering through, it is inspiring to read about answered prayers. In any economy, it is inspiring to read about prayers answered by a saint. Or simply to read of a saint.

I can’t finish this post without another word on Haiti. One of the most powerful commentaries on this week’s earthquake was offered by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, one of the leaders of Communion & Liberation in the United States (left). You can read his complete post on the America magazine blog here. I’ll close with an excerpt: 

To what kind of God can one pray in such circumstances? Only to that God who, as St. Paul wrote, “spared not his own Son” the pain of the cry of why. If he gave his Son to die for us, Paul argues, it is impossible that he should refuse us anything that will help or bless us, since he has nothing he values more than His Son (cf. Romans 8, 32). I do not want an explanation for why this God allows these tragedies to happen. An explanation would reduce the pain and suffering to an inability to understand, a failure of intelligence, so to speak. I can only accept a God who “co-suffers” with me. Such is the God of the Christian faith. But faith or no faith, Christian or not, our humanity demands that the question “why” not be suppressed, but that it be allowed to guide our response to everything that happens. This is the only way to a possible redemption of our humanity.

For All the Saints: Macarius the Great

When I was going through the RCIA program as a candidate, the need to choose a Confirmation name came up. The director of the program and my sponsor both gave me some suggestions (including St. Francis Xavier, as I recall).

I liked what I read about him, but he didn’t seem right for me. I thought a lot about it. I realized that I was choosing a friend in heaven whom I could ask to pray for me. That is a special trust, so choosing this person haphazardly wasn’t in the cards for me.

By this time in my journey, I had come across the Desert Fathers & Mothers. I love these people! Such stories, such sacrifice, such practical sayings! All very motivating to a guy who, despite all my earlier objections to Catholic Christianity, found himself standing in the recruiting office saying “sign me up.”

I really enjoyed what they had to say about living our faith. But one of them stood out to me most, and I knew he was the patron saint for me: St. Macarius the Great. His feast day was yesterday (January 15, so I humbly apologize for not getting this post up sooner, Abba!).

St. Macarius is known by other sobriquets as well: Macarius the Great; Macarius the Wonder Worker; Macarius the Elder. As for me, I just call him Abba Macarius when I ask him to pray for me. He once said this about prayer:

Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?” The old man said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shows us his mercy.”

Amen to that! Here a few other stories and wise sayings to give you a taste of my patron:

A brother once came to the abbot Macarius and said to him, “Master, speak some word of exhortation to me, that, obeying it, I may be saved.” St. Macarius answered him, “Go to the tombs and attack the dead with insults.” The brother wondered at the word. Nevertheless he went, as he was bidden, and cast stones at the tombs, railing upon the dead. Then returning, he told what he had done. Macarius asked him, “Did the dead notice what you did?” And he replied, “They did not notice me.”

“Go, then, again,” said Macarius, “and this time praise them.” The brother, wondering yet more, went and praised the dead, calling them just men, apostles, saints. Returning, he told what he had done, saying, “I have praised the dead.”

Macarius asked him, “Did they reply to you?” And he said, “They did not reply to me.” Then said Macarius, “You know what insults you have heaped on them and with what praises you have flattered them, and yet they never spoke to you. If you desire salvation, you must be like these dead. You must think nothing of the wrongs men do to you, nor of the praises they offer you. Be like the dead. Thus you may be saved.”

Wow, talk about learning to be dead to the world. Sheesh-ka-bobbers!

The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius’ goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, ‘We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’ (1Tim.6.7) ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1.21)

Ahem, I get a lump in my throat just reading that one. I personally am so far away from this level of spirituality that any help I can get from a friend like this is more than welcome! And then I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies too. Did he really write them? Or did someone else write them and use his name (much as the writer of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe he was King Solomon)? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. They are powerful homilies, and I feel duty bound to share them with you.

They have titles like the following:

That God alone is able to deliver us out of the bondage of the wicked ruler.

Christians ought to go over the course of this world with care, that they may attain the praise of God.

There is a wide difference between Christians and the men of this world.

The gifts of grace are preserved by a humble mind and a ready will, but destroyed by pride and sloth.

How the soul ought to demean herself in holiness and purity towards her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Christians that are willing to improve and increase ought to force themselves to every thing that is good.

If you think these titles are wise sayings unto themselves, you owe it to yourself to read the homiles yourself here. You’ll be glad you did!
Happy belated Feast Day Abba Macarius!

YIMC Book Club – Mere Christianity Syllabus

Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen the word syllabus since I graduated from college. Unlike our previous selection (G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy which has 9 chapters for 9 weeks of reading), our next one isn’t as conveniently organized. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, is a bit more complicated in structure. But no worries! I think I’ve come up with a plan to read our new selection in as simple a way as possible over the course of the next 9 weeks. Subject to change, the plan is as follows.

Mere Christianity (MC) consists of four sections or “books” with 5 to 12 chapters in each one.

We will be tackling them as follows:

Week 1 (to be read by 1/21/10) Preface, Forward, Book 1: Chapters 1 & 2 (27 pages)

Week 2 (1/28/10) Book 1: Chapters 3, 4 & 5; Book 2: Chapters 1 & 2 (33 pages)

Week 3 (2/04/10) Book 2: Chapters 3, 4 & 5; Book 3: Chapter 1 (26 pages)

Week 4 (2/11/10) Book 3: Chapters 2, 3, 4, & 5 (28 pages)

Week 5 (2/18/10) Book 3: Chapters 6, 7, 8 (25 pages)

Week 6 (2/25/10) Book 3: Chapters 9, 10, 11, 12; Book 4: Chapter 1 (29 pages)

Week 7 (3/04/10) Book 4: Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 (23 pages)

Week 8 (3/11/10) Book 4: Chapters 6, 7, 8 (23 pages)

Week 9 (3/18/10) Book 4: Chapters 9. 10, 11 (21 pages)

And there you have it. Head to your favorite bookstore, public library, or here to get your copy of the book. It is, in my humble opinion, imperative that you read both the preface and the foreword as a part of the first week’s reading. There you will find Mr. Lewis’s plan for the book as well as an explanation of what is included, and left out, and why.

This is a high-level look at Christianity, and as such, we won’t be answering the question Why I Am Catholic here. I hope, however, that it proves to be an enjoyable exploration of the of the question Why I Am Christian.

The format for our discussions is simple: I’ll provide a very brief summary of that week’s readings and then offer some personal comments, reflections, and so on. Then you’ll use comments to keep the discussion going until the following week. No mid-term exams, and no final exam either. Sound good? Get your copy of Mere Christianity and get cracking!

Because Tolkien Wrote a Poem Such as This

As Webster puts the wrap on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, I am reminded of GKC’s admonition that (and I paraphrase) we should seek the one to lead us who knows he isn’t worthy of doing so. Ahem—you found him, Skipper, and “Aye, aye sir.”

But before I go wading into any details of our next read (Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis), let me post this little jewel of a poem written by a colleague of Jack’s, J. R. R. Tolkien of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings renown. [Read more…]

Thanks to Mr. Papes

Guest post by Allison Salerno 
As a child, I went to Mass every Sunday with my mom and my dad and my brother and my two sisters. Our church, the converted gym of the closed brick parochial school, was always crowded. I grew up in a large suburban parish in the 1960s and 1970s, when families of four, six, or eight children were common. Our family—with four children and two parents at Mass—was unexceptional.

I’d like to say I paid a lot of attention to the liturgy or understood the homilies. Instead, I wiggled. I bickered with my sisters. I observed what my classmates were wearing. Mostly, I watched the other families. Always, I paid attention to the Papes family and the dad who was taking his four children to church. His wife did not attend because she wasn’t Catholic. This made me notice him.

Mr. Papes was a devoted husband and father who attended church every Sunday. He coached Little League teams and cheered his children on at swim meets at our country club. The Papes kids were athletes and strong students. They would always greet me with a smile. They were encouraging and kind and enthusiastic. Mr. Papes was an unassuming man who exuded a quiet kind of confidence.

* * *

Sunday night a high school classmate called, one of his daughters-in-law, saying that Mr. Papes had died on January 8 and that the funeral was Wednesday, January 13. He was 81 years old and had been battling cancer. His four children were all married. He had 10 grandchildren and a loving marriage of 54 years.

All these years later I can still see him—genuflecting at the pew and then kneeling unabashedly in prayer. I see him singing in the choir and receiving communion.

At his funeral one of his sons said that when Mr. Papes dropped his sons off at middle school, his parting remark was “help someone today.” Mr. Papes had let his children know in ways big and small what really mattered.

That story triggered a memory in me. When I returned home that night, I remembered how Mr. Papes’s eldest son, Matthew, then a senior at the University of Michigan on the baseball team, stopped by my dorm room during my first week of college there. He asked me how things were going, gave me his phone number, and said to call if I needed help or had any questions.

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Reports in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times recount how Theodore Constantine Papes was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1929, the son of immigrants from Greece and Italy. He landed a job at IBM in 1952, the year he graduated from the University of Michigan Phi Beta Kappa. He was a U.S. Navy veteran.

Mr. Papes climbed the corporate ladder at IBM, rising to the rank of Senior Vice-President and Group Executive, Director General of IBM Europe/Middle East/Africa. He founded Prodigy Services Inc. One tribute describes him as “a pioneer of his times,” whose company “provided online news, email, shopping and other services years before the World Wide Web.

Quite apart from his professional accomplishments, Mr. Papes’s actions told me about the importance of faith. He lived his faith by loving his wife. He lived his faith by taking his children to church weekly. He lived his faith by reminding his children of their duty to work hard while lending a helping hand to others. He lived his faith because while he had achieved great professional success, he was a humble man who treated people with respect.

To watch him at church and to see, as the years passed, how the values he and his wife shared bore fruit in their children was a privilege. Even after his death, Mr. Papes continues to inspire.