The Rainbow (A Few Words For Wednesday)

A wiser man than I once said,

When, indeed, the artist desires to teach us a great spiritual truth, he invariably expresses it under the form of an allegory or symbol. For the soul dreams ‘neath the star-sown sky of symbol. It is spiritually its lisping language—the divine form of its expression.

…Yes, verily, the true gods do sigh for the cost and pain in making a poet out of a man. He shall henceforth see all things not through a colored glass, darkly, but with that inner eye, which, to the material and gross is sealed, but which is full of vision to the inspired and chosen few. His soul henceforth shall be in touch with both the lowly and Divine, for the function and office of poetry is to interpret unto man the glory of God in the universe.

The words above are those of a man of letters, a teacher, a poet, a Canadian, and a Catholic. His name is Thomas O’Hagan, Ph.D., the son of Irish immigrants. His biography reads as follows,

The youngest son of John and Bridget (O’Reilly) O’Hagan, natives of County Kerry, Ireland, was born in ‘the Gore of Toronto,’ on the 6th of March, 1855, and was a babe in arms, when his parents, three brothers, a sister and himself, moved into the wilderness of the county of Bruce, Ontario. They located in the township of Elderslie, three miles from the village of Paisley. The other settlers were mostly Highland Scotch, and Thomas as a lad learned to speak quite fluently not only the Gaelic tongue of his neighbours, but also the Keltic Irish, which was spoken freely by his parents. He attended the public school of the settlement where the teachers were Scotch, and where he applied himself with such diligence and ability that he won a Second Class Teacher’s Certificate at the early age of sixteen

Few Canadians have devoted so much time to academic study as Dr. O’Hagan. After graduating from St. Michael’s College, a prize winner in Latin and English, he entered the Ottawa University and graduated B.A., in 1882, with honours in English, Latin, French and German. Three years later the same University conferred on him the degree of M.A. In 1889, he received the degree of Ph.D. from Syracuse University: and in subsequent years took postgraduate work at Cornell, Columbia, Chicago, Louvain, Grenoble and Fribourg Universities. In September, 1914, Laval University, Montreal, conferred on him the honorary degree of Litt.D.

What tipped me off to him was a slim volume I had added to the Bookshelf over yonder (see right sidebar) a while back. Entitled, Essays on Catholic Life, I perused it anew in search of a poem. In it I found the thoughts that began this post, as O’Hagen presented poems of Tennyson, Browning, and Elizabeth Barret Browning in an essay on The Office and Function of Poetry. Go check it out.

But I also found some of his own poetry and you can now find a number of his books on the handy, dandy, YIMCatholic Bookshelf, you know, over yonder. I’ll share this short poem he wrote because this has become an altogether too long, and probably the longest post, that has ever run under the title “A Few Words for Wednesday.”

The Rainbow
A covenant of the peace that reigns
Between two great strong lands,
Whose glorious heritage of worth
Is gift of God—not hands;
Where Truth and Honor have a home
An altar bright and fair—
Pure as the lily of the field,
Wrapt in deep slumb’rous air.
O beauteous arch of faith and love!
Shine through the mists of life,
And fill our dreams of toil and care
With gift of prayer—not strife;
Light with thy beams our darkest days,
Rain down in mystic love
The joyance of the star-clad hours
That fills each life above.
Link with a bond of sweetest joy,
In memory fair as thine,
The hearts that plan, the souls that pray,
Within Loretto’s shrine,
That in the blossoming years afar
May shine out nobly good
The virtues of that Convent home
Where dwells true Womanhood.

St. Mary’s Basilica, Krakow Poland
Photo Credit: Sonia Marcus

Recognizing Grace in a Manual Transmission

This past week, I’ve been on vacation. Actually, it’s been a “stay-cation,” with me working on little projects around the house. The repairs to our home after the hail damage (from the storms back in April) needed to be managed as well. And then there was my car.

My car had been damaged pretty significantly by the hail storm too. Early in May it was inspected by my insurer, and the body shop scheduled it for repair in the third week of July. They said it would take one full week, and instead, it took three. It also cost them twice as much to repair it as the insurer estimated.

Did I mention my oldest son received his “learners permit” back in July too? And he has been driving under supervision since that time and doing a fine job. That is, until my car came home from the shop. You see, my little car has a 5-speed transmission, which helps it get 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I informed my son that he must learn to drive it.

It’s one of those unilateral “Dad Edicts” that I announce from time to time, as it is my prerogative to do. Anyway, to make a long story short, my son has been re-learning how to drive this week while I am on vacation. School starts next week for him, so now is the time.

What does any of this have to do with grace? Maybe nothing. Or maybe everything.

When talking about grace, I mean what Merriam-Webster marks down as definition #1(a) & (b):

1a: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

1b: a virtue coming from God.

You see, when you live in the world of automation, everything seems easy. And you can start to take for granted that ease, and completely miss out on all the wonderful, and sometimes difficult, things that actually take place in order to accomplish things as simply as shifting gears in a car. Or like drafting this message.

Now as long as I’ve had children, they have known that manual transmissions exist. But my oldest is realizing now how something that I (and his mother) make seem so effortless is actually downright tricky to duplicate.

He has learned how even the most modest of inclines is a fearsome challenge. He has been humbled, and amazed, by the ease with which a car can stall when trying to get started in first gear on level ground. And he’s learned:

How unforgiving the clutch is if you let it out too quickly. How three pedals and a stick shift have to be manipulated, all while steering and keeping track of all these other cars on the road too. He has learned how little patience other drivers have when he inadvertently stalls when at a red light.

These moments were all lost to him when he was a passenger only, or when he was driving our automatic transmission car. It really never crossed his mind that driving a car with a manual transmission is a form of work. It’s not, really, and after he gets the hang of it these tasks will be second nature to him as well.

So, as I’ve been sitting in the passenger seat as his instructor pilot this week, thoughts of recognizing grace have been popping up in my mind. Because if we don’t look for it, we can forget that it is occurring all around us, all the time. We run the risk of being numb to it, just like we forget, or never really even knew, how an automatic transmission works.

Drawing by David Levine

It’s all the fault of Karl Rahner, SJ. I’ve been reading Volume One of his Mission and Grace. In it he says stuff like,

There cannot be any grace which does not imply a quite definite putting into action of nature; nor can there be any human, responsible putting of nature into action, which is not subject to the demands of grace, amounting in concreto, with no avoidance of it while life lasts, to a Yes or No to grace.

Got that? If it sounds kind of highfalutin, pardon Fr. Karl. He probably didn’t recognize that this sounds a lot like shifting gears with a manual transmission. See, without the grace (see definition 3c) of easing out the clutch, there will be a failed action called stalling, and not the beautiful action of going.

But the grace that I am referring to is that which resides in the interactions I have been having with my son while teaching him this new skill. The grace of helping him to see he can do this seemingly impossible task. The grace of giving him encouragement. The grace of expressing my faith in his ability to succeed. The grace of helping him overcome the dejection of failure. The grace of watching him mature before my eyes. The grace of his confidence rising from the rocks of failure.

It reminds me again of what Fr. Karl writes when he says,

The Christian knows that he will constantly be sent by God upon courses which he cannot by himself complete; that tasks will be laid upon him which cannot be finally performed while the fashion of this world remains; that he has always to fight, without, as yet, being able to see final victory, indeed that it would be a danger-signal of the most appalling defeat if he so much as wanted to fight in such fashion as to achieve a once-for-all victory. And yet the Christian does not despair of this world. He works, he keeps on beginning again, he does not give up.

Yes. Recognizing God’s grace is a lot like learning to drive a stick shift. One day soon, I’ll be able to use these experiences to teach my son this higher truth. And I can only hope that recognition and gratitude will be the result.

Um, that’s my seat Cody.

 

The Suffering Church: Scandal

This is the final part of a three part series. Some folks thought I was skating on thin ice by mentioning heresy yesterday. What now? Surely, Frank, you didn’t join the Catholic Church because of scandal? No. But at the same time, it didn’t deter me much either. You know the old line, right? Hate the sin, but love the sinner. Well the Church is chock full of sinners, and it couldn’t be otherwise.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the whole world is Catholic. Everyone has professed belief in the Church and Christianity is the one faith shared by all. Would there be any murders still? Would cars still be stolen from time to time? Would banks still be robbed? Would rape still occur? Embezzlement? Wars of aggression? Would some folks still cheat on their taxes, and on their wives and husbands?

You know the answers to these questions reflexively. These signs of our fallenness, and many others, will continue until Christ comes again. The pain we endure from them leave scars on the directly violated, and on the faithful as a whole. And so yes, there will be scandal in our ranks. And scandal, whether on a small or a large scale, has an effect on the Body of Christ that ripples through all of her members.

Around the same time that Fr. O’Connell wrote the articles I’ve been sharing these last few days, the following was said by the Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar,

“It is not to be expected that the Church should be free from all scandals. She has to do a difficult work with unpromising material. She has to deal, not with the perfect, but with very imperfect men, weak, beset with temptations, struggling painfully from the lower to the higher life. In that path there are many bitter experiences, many relapses, many total failures. Time brings no change: the Church’s work must always be imperfect, for it will not be finished till the Son of Man comes in judgment. Her life will always be a struggle against wickedness both inside as well as outside her fold, scandals will always dog her footsteps while she fulfills her mission of holiness, as the shadow follows him who walks in the sunlight.”—Bishop James Bellord.

These thoughts, then, lead us into the final part of this series by Fr. O’Connell, focusing on another aspect of the ever suffering Bride of Christ,

Part III: Scandal

I have mentioned a third affliction of our Church —the unworthy and scandalous lives of many of her own children. But this one I shall not dwell upon. It is a very painful chapter in her history, and in every age has been a perpetual harass to her life and energy, thwarting her efforts for good, and misleading simple souls to their ruin. This, however, I will say, that the true prototype of this class is no other than Judas Iscariot. This man was not a persecutor of Jesus as were the Scribes and Pharisees, nor an unbeliever like those who went back and walked no more with Him.

On the contrary, he stood in the company of His true followers when others abandoned Him, and was one of the twelve who, on that occasion, by the mouth of Peter, said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have known that thou art the Christ the Son of God.” To this noble utterance all that Jesus answered was: “Have I not chosen you twelve? And one of you is a devil.”

Here, side by side, with the most ample profession of faith in Christ, there lived and acted in Judas the supreme of treachery, both to His person and to His cause. Though possessing all divine truth, this unhappy man was ruled by it, neither in heart nor in conduct, and as his is the first instance in the Church of such double-dealing in things divine, having one face for God and another fully turned to every investigation of Satan against God, he may be very justly styled the parent of all those who, while belonging to the true faith of Christ, are nevertheless the remorseless adversaries of Christ.

Of this unhappy man our Savior said: It were better for him he had never been born,” and of such as have taken his act as their pattern, He has also said: “It were better for them that, with mill-stones about their necks they were drowned in the depths of the sea,” than that they should live on, lacerating His divine heart by their perfidy, and robbing Him of souls by their wickedness and more wicked tongues. Judas aimed his guilty deed at the head of the Church, whereas all who have given scandal since then, multiply similar deeds against His members, therefore equally against Christ, for Christ and His members are but one body.

Let us begin to think more seriously on all these things. Not alone “the earth is made desolate,” as the Scripture says, “because no one thinketh in his heart,” but the Church also has her desolation for lack of thought of her and of sympathy on the part of her own children. As her divine Master on earth, she, too, is a permanent sufferer both within and without.

She needs, therefore the patience and courage and fidelity of all her children against her persecutors; she invokes their tender sympathy and fervent prayer in behalf of those bereft of her true light and faith, and above all she will have none of them in any way associated with the most awful malediction Jesus ever pronounced; the one against Judas, who, while all along, professing to be His friend, basely betrayed Him, handing Him over to the mockery of His enemies.

To all these needs of your Church, you cannot but cordially respond if only you will not disdain the counsel the Apostle has given. You know how he exhorts you, “to walk worthy of God, in all things pleasing; to be fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be made partakers of the lot of the saints in light; who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of His love.”

This kingdom, as you well know, is none other than His Holy Church, in which having “redemption through His blood the remission of sins,” we are made fit to enter that higher and better kingdom, which is to have no end, and where all his redeemed are to enjoy the bliss of their God and Savior throughout an immeasurable eternity.

You can find more of Fr. O’Connell’s writing by searching the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

UPDATE: An unwitting assist from Deacon Scott Dodge.

For “Ghetto Catholicism?” Not Hardly.

The thoughts I share with you now were originally published in 1961, and in English in 1963. Yet today, to this humble reader at least, they seem prophetic. Taken from the first chapter of the first volume of the title you see below, Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, explains why in the Post Christian world of today, opting for the ghettoization of the Church is a non-starter.

Instead, he argues we should embrace the fact that we are a disapora people, because frankly, we have always been called to be so. For as the cross was Our Lord’s “sign of contradiction,” so too is the Church called to be the same, as it was in the beginning, briefly ceased to be in the Middle Ages, and is now again resuming this holy, and necessary, calling. “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

As I’ve mentioned before, we are called to be salt, light, and yeast. We are not called to be the new pharisees of the Catholic Ghetto. Fr. Karl helps me to see why below. My comments are in bold italics.

from Mission and Grace: A Theological Interpretation of the Position of Christians in the Modern World

My thesis is thus: Insofar as our outlook is really based on today, and looking towards tomorrow, the present situation of Christians can be characterized as that of a diaspora, and this signifies in terms of the history of salvation, a “must”, from which we may draw conclusions about our behavior as Christians…

How about a quickie refresher on the definition of diaspora? Go with 2) a & b here.

What, after all, does a person do if he sees the diaspora situation coming and thinks of it as something which simply and absolutely must not be? He makes himself a closed circle, an artificial situation inside which looks as if the inward and outward diaspora isn’t one; he makes a ghetto. This, I think, is the theological starting point for an approach to the ghetto idea.

The old Jewish ghetto was the natural expression of an idea, such that Orthodox Judaism was ultimately bound to produce it within itself; the idea, namely, of being the one and only Chosen People, wholly autonomous, as of right, in every respect, including secular matters, and of all other nations as not only not belonging in practice to this earthly, social community of the elect and saved, but as not in any sense called to it, not an object towards which there is a missionary duty.

But we are called to be missionary people. To be ambassadors for Christ, as a well known, inspired writer exhorts us to be. Fr. Karl makes it clear here,

But a Christian cannot regard his Church as autonomous in secular, cultural, and social matters; his Church is not a theocracy in worldly affairs; nor can he look upon non-Christians as not called; nor can he with inopportune and inordinate means aim to get rid of the “must” with which the history of salvation presents him, namely, that there are now non-Christians in amongst the Christians or real Christians in amongst the non-Christians. His life has to be open to the non-Christians.

Hmmm. There’s that word “theocracy” again. Not a good idea. Fr. Karl explains why,

If he encapsulates himself in a ghetto, whether in order to defend himself, or to leave the world to judgement of wrath as the fate which it deserves, or with the feeling that it has nothing of any value or importance to offer him anyway, he is falling back into the Old Testament. But this is our temptation, this ghetto idea. For a certain type of deeply convinced, rather tense, militant Catholic at a fairly low (petty-bourgeois) cultural level, the idea of entrenching oneself in a ghetto is rather alluring; it is even religiously alluring: it looks like seeking only the Kingdom of God.

Nice trick, that. Jon Stewart, of the very secular Comedy Channel news spoof “the Daily Show,” recently shared some words (language alert!) about how strident tactics wind up backfiring. Roll clip.

Now back to Fr. Karl, with my editing and emphasis.

Here we are, all together, and we can behave as though there were nothing in the world but Christians. The ghetto policy consists in thinking of the Church not only as the autonomous community of salvation (which she is) but as an autonomous society in every field. So a Christian has to consider [a Catholic poet being] greater than Goethe, and have no opinion of any magazine except [Catholic magazines]; any statesman who makes his Easter duties is a great statesman, any other is automatically a bit suspect; Christian-Democratic parties are always right, Socialists always wrong, and what a pity there isn’t a Catholic party.

The insistence, for the sake of the ghetto, on integrating everything into an ecclesiastical framework naturally means that the clergy have to be in control of everything. This results in anti-clerical feeling, which is not always an effect of malice and hatred for God. The interior structure of the ghetto conforms, inevitably, to the style of that period which it is, in make-believe, preserving; its human types are those sociological, intellectual, and cultural types which belong to the period and feel comfortable in the ghetto; in our case, the petty-bourgeois, in contrast to the worker of today, or the man of tomorrows atomic age.

It is no wonder, then, if people outside identify Christianity with the ghetto, and have no desire to get inside it; it is the sheer grace of God if anyone ever manages to recognize the Church as the house of God, all cluttered up as she is with pseudo-Gothic décor, and other kinds of reactionary petty-bourgeois stuff.

You can say that again! How, then, do we get beyond this “ghetto” mindset while not falling into the error of relativism?

We may be preserved from this danger, which has become a reality only too often during the last few centuries, by a clear-sighted and courageous recognition of the fact that the diaspora situation of [the Church] is a “must” in the history of salvation, with which it is right to come to terms in many aspects of our practical conduct.

You know, Christ never promised us a rose garden. Those “two greatest commandments” need to be not just pondered, but applied. All the while keeping these thoughts in mind,

Mankind is at its best when it is most free. This will be clear if we grasp the principle of liberty. We must recall that the basic principle is freedom of choice, which saying many have on their lips but few in their minds. —Dante Alighieri

The Catholic Church must be a clear beacon of hope, and a contrarian “choice” for the world today. I believe she is, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered to become Catholic.


Update: Music for Mondays selections inspired by this post.

Update II: I couldn’t have said this better myself.

To Visit Provence Again, As A Catholic

It’s the Feast of St. Martha, you know, “the Dragonslayer” today. Yes, you read that right. Father Steve of Word on Fire has a few words about that and they prompted me to dust this off and bring it to the top today. Enjoy!

I ate at a McDonald’s in Avignon once. I like to see how Mickey D’s adapts to local tastes abroad. My wife and I also walked around the streets briefly too, before we had to get back on the tour bus that was taking us from Nice to the Burgundy country. See, we rewarded ourselves with a European trip after we graduated from college. It was the Summer of 1993.

It was one of those whirlwind tours. You know the type, right? Eleven countries in 21 days. At the time, I thought we spent way too much time in Rome. It’s amazing I wasn’t arrested there. But that is another story. After Italy, the tour moved on to France. We both loved France ( she still enjoyed Italy, whereas I only approved of Florence). To me, arriving in France was like arriving in Heaven after leaving Hell. I didn’t believe in Purgatory at the time, you see.

Two McDonalds in Avignon!

Provence was especially lovely as I recall. And I hope to go back someday, now that I am a Catholic. Why? Because of this little piece of history/ folklore that I stumbled across this morning. I saw on a Christianity timeline that St. Martha, in the year 48-49 AD arrived in Avignon, France. Where I had pommes frites at the Golden Arches? And she brought Lazarus and the gang with her too. Who knew?

I didn’t at the time. So I did a little digging over at Google Books and found about 100 more reasons to head back to Provence. First, I ran across this story in an old magazine named The Century, long since out of print. Why do I want to go back to Provence? Take a look at Exhibit A,

from “The Churches of Provence”, by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer (November 1894)

“Everything here is on a smaller scale than in Italy — historical facts, as well as those of nature and of art; but thus we are offered a more intimate quality of charm, while we are not saddened by the tragedy of a world-possessing empire gone to wreck.”History meeting legend with a kiss,” we feel ourselves happily enchanted as in a land of pure romance; and the beauty and the gaiety of its living people do but complete the illusion.

The cities

“Every foot of this country, every name on its map, is romantically suggestive of Greeks or Romans, Saracens, Visigoths or Franks, Aquitanians or Spaniards, hermits, crusaders, heretics, inquisitors, exiled popes, famous poets, or earliest Christian martyrs. With Petrarch you may go to Avignon and Vaucluse, with Dante to the ancient cemetery called Les Aliscamps in Arles, with Dumas to the islands of the coast, and to Aix with René of Anjou —king, poet, painter, and historian of tournaments. The first monasteries of Gaul were founded upon Provençal islands, and one of them, St. Honorat, long played the prominent civilizing part that was played in Britain by the island of Iona.

“And Christian legend, calling to you at every step, carries you as far back as it could to Palestine itself.

“There is a real town in Provence with the impossibly poetic name of Les Saintes Maries. By the time you reach it on its ultimate point of sea-coast, you should be in the right Provençal mood; and this is the mood of him who saith, “Surely these things are true, else they had not been told.”

The countryside…Lavender!

“Just here, we are told, there landed a little company of the friends of Christ, set adrift by their persecutors from the shores of the Holy Land. They were Mary Jacobi, the sister of the Blessed Virgin; Mary Salome, the mother of the apostles James and John; their servant Sarah; Maximin, to whom Christ had restored his sight; Lazarus with his sister Martha; and Mary Magdalene.

“Where and why they had left behind them Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, or whether Provençal belief confounds her with the erring and repentant Mary — this I could not get explained. But I know that Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome remained at their landing-place, for the beautiful name they bequeathed it is a witness. St. Louis caused their bones to be fittingly honored: you may see their tombs today in an ancient church tower, as, in the crypt beneath, the tomb of their servant Sarah; and the medieval pilgrimages still continue, in crowding streams, on an anniversary day in May.

Bad dragon!

“I likewise know that Martha journeyed to Tarascon, between Avignon and Arles, for there she slew the tarasque, a terrific dragon that was devouring the land: the name of the town is again a proof, and the name of the old church of St. Martha, the effigy of the tarasque, which you may behold, and the festival which year by year is celebrated yet in honor of the prowess of the good housewifely saint. Then at Arles you will learn that Christ himself consecrated for Christian burial the famous pagan Aliscamps (its name is a corruption of Efysii Campi), and at Vienne you will be informed that St. Paul brought thither the first Christian tidings when on his way toward Spain, and will be shown a Roman tomb under which the body of Pontius Pilate was laid.

“And you might just as well have stayed in America as to doubt that such things, told in such ways for nearly two thousand years, must be veritably true.”

****

Dragon slaying? Sign me up! As if that wasn’t enough, her article goes on to describe the church buildings throughout the region with photographs and drawings that magazines of today just don’t take the time to do anymore. I love this story about the early Christians coming to France though and wanted to know more. Here is another taste of Catholic Provence,

from Cathedrals and Cloisters of the South of France by Elise Whitlock Rose (published in 1906)

“Few of the Cathedral-churches of the Midi are without holy relics, but none is more famous, more revered, and more authentic a place of pilgrimage than the Basilica of Apt. It came about in this way, says local history. When Martha, Lazarus, and the Holy Marys of the Gospels landed in France, they brought with them the venerated body of Saint Anne, the Virgin’s Mother; and Lazarus, being a Bishop, kept the holy relic at his episcopal seat of Marseilles.

“Persecutions arose, and dangers innumerable; and for safety’s sake the Bishop removed Saint Anne’s body to Apt and sealed it secretly in the wall. For centuries, Christians met and prayed in the little church, unconscious of the wonder-working relic hidden so near them; and it was only through a miracle, in Charlemagne’s time and some say in his presence, that the holy body was discovered. This is the history which a sacristan recites to curious pilgrims as he leads them to the sub-crypt…

“To the faithful Catholic, the interest of Sainte-Anne of Apt lies in its wonderful and glorious relics. Here are the bodies of Saint Eleazer and Sainte Delphine his wife, a couple so pious that every morning they dressed a Statue of the Infant Jesus, and every night they undressed it and laid it to rest in a cradle. There is also the rosary of Sainte Delphine whose every bead contained a relic; and before the Revolution there were other treasures innumerable. During many years Apt has been the pilgrim-shrine of the Faithful, and great and small offerings of many centuries have been laid before the miracleworking body of the Virgin’s sainted Mother.”

****

Do you see what I mean? Tidbits like this “Lazarus, being a Bishop…” just give me a thousand more leads to follow up on, and more reasons to go broke heading to Provence. I want to know all about that tradition! As I’ve said before, it will take an eternity of lifetimes to ponder what God has wrought by the Incarnation as well as with the founding of His Church. Unfortunately, it would take a bottomless bank account too. Sigh.

Obviously, Elise’s book is available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, though, for unlimited access to all at no charge. I could get lost in this particular book for hours…

Cathédrale de Notre Dame des Doms,
Avignon

For Thoughts Like These On Confession

What follows are thoughts on the Sacrament of Reconciliation written by Kenhelm Henry Digby in his classic, Mores Catholici.

Thoughts on Sin, the Church, and Forgiveness

Now the Church had far more mysterious relations than could exist in any mere domestic society, so that by persons who viewed it from without, a right understanding respecting it could only be formed by an act, in the first instance, of confidence in the truth of God who has founded the Church. They must at first have been satisfied with the evidence that it was a divinely constituted household, and then after being received into it as members, they would assuredly in due time have discovered how it was holy in all its doctrines, and just in all its ways. As the Athenian says to the blind wanderer who interrogates him respecting the laurel groves to which he has come—”These things, O stranger, are to be venerated, not from the words of men, but rather from long custom and experience.”

Cicero, indeed, says, that “the medicine of the soul is not only not desired before discovered, but that it is not even valued after it is known;” but such a complaint applies only to philosophy, for it was ungrounded in relation to the remedies which the Church administers, insomuch that a man accustomed to confession, when asked for arguments to prove its divine origin as an integral part of religion, must have felt as if he had been called upon to prove the reality of his own existence.

Its proofs were in the deepest roots of his spiritual life. His own amendment, the recovery of long lost joy, the renovation of his heart, this was the evidence that must have convinced him so feelingly that each argument beside would seem blunt and forceless in comparison. It is dangerous to follow men into the deepest recesses of their heart and behold what passes there: I will not, therefore, invite “the moderns” to search into the grounds of their hatred for confession. To persons obstinate in the conclusions of prejudice, reader, I would turn not, when viewing historically the supernatural features in the morality of the Catholic Church. On confession and indulgence I will speak not as if to an ignorant multitude, nor to judges, nor to senators, more accustomed to action than to the contemplation of things, but as to a man interiorly philosophic who understands and loves philosophy.

Respecting the hatred of truth and the love of deceiving and of being deceived observable in many men, (Blaise) Pascal says,

Mark a proof of this which fills me with horror. The Catholic religion does not oblige one to discover his sins indifferently to all the world; it permits him to remain concealed from all other men excepting one only, to whom it commands him to disclose the bottom of his heart, and to show himself such as he really is. 


There is only this one man in the world that it orders us to undeceive, and he is obliged to an inviolable secrecy, so that this knowledge is in him as if it was not in him. Can one imagine any thing more charitable and more gentle? Nevertheless, the corruption of man is such that he finds this a hard law, and it is one of the principal reasons which have made a great part of Europe revolt against the Church. (Thoughts, #100)

You have heard the great thinker of modern times; let us now attend to the philosophy of the middle ages. “Silence respecting sin,” says the Master of the Sentences,

arises from pride of heart. For a man wishes not to confess his sin in order that he may not be reputed externally such as he exhibits himself in the sight of God, which desire springs from the fountain of pride. For it is pride in a sinner to wish to be esteemed just, and it is hypocrisy to palliate or deny our sin like our first parents, or like Cain to bury it in silence. Now where there is pride and hypocrisy there can be no humility, and without humility there is no forgiveness. 


Therefore, where there is silence respecting sin there can be no hope of pardon. Here then, we see how detestable is the silence of sin, and how necessary is confession, which is the evidence of a conscience fearing God; for he who fears the judgment of God does not blush to confess. Perfect fear dissolves all shame. The confession of sin has shame, and that shame is a heavy punishment : and for this reason we are commanded to confess, that we may suffer shame, for this is part of the divine judgment.

Thus the words of St. John, beginning with “if we confess our sins,” were not understood as implying merely, “If we say that we are sinners generally with all the world,” but as teaching the necessity of suffering the shame and humiliation of confessing one’s personal particular sins; nor was there found any one formerly to maintain that this could be an immoral shame which would injure rather than repair the soul’s purity.

That extreme horror on finding that one has been suspected of crime, which Tieck’s hero evinces in his conversation with Balthasar, only proved in fact an unillumiuated heart: moreover, this overstrained and false honor reveals its own weakness, for by its very indignation it evinces its conviction that the fall was possible.

It is worthy of remark, that while the Church inflicted penance on all who ever made mention of expiated sins,— for among the penitential canons of the rule of St. Columban, we read, ‘”He who relates a sin already expiated shall fast on bread and water for a day,”—the very men who denounced the act of humility that she imposed as injurious, made no scruple not only as we before observed, in resting in self-contemplation, but also in confessing the sins of their past life; or rather exulted in being able to recall the rememberance of them, disclosing them in detail with effrontery: their own retrospective narration differing £rom the confession which they renounced and stigmatized, only in the circumstance that theirs was made in defiance of the law of God, in hardened impenitence insensible to shame.

“O fearful thought!” cries St. John Climacus, “there are moments of delirium in the career of sin, when man fears not God, esteems as nothing the memory of eternal punishment, execrates prayer, looks at the relics of the dead as if they were senseless stones.” True, indeed ; but what is it to reflect that in consequence of a new instruction, widely imparted and legally established in some places, this is the case with men now, not during moments of delirum, for which they might repent and make amends, but throughout their whole lives, which pass in an uninterrupted career of self-esteem and congratulation? To the fundamental objection of the moderns, the best mode of reply would be simply to relate in the clear and precise language of the middle ages, what was the Catholic doctrine.

Taking, then, Hugo of St. Victor for their representative, let us hear what he says respecting sacerdotal absolution.

Solus Deus peccata dimittit (Only God forgives sins) ; yet authorities have that power by which priests forgive sins, and that by which God forgives them. But priests are said to forgive sins, because they administer the sacraments in which, and by which, sins are by the divine authority, forgiven.

When it was said that the form of absolution which had been in use thirty years before was deprecatory, and that William of Auxerre, William of Paris, and cardinal Hugo thought that this was the only ancient form, St. Thomas Aquinas replied, that ”he did not know whether this were true or not; but in any case no authority of antiquity could do prejudice to the words of our Lord, ‘Whatever you shall bind on earth.’”

Thus instead of being tempted to enter with them upon subtle, antiquarian investigations, he embraced the spirit of antiquity. It is clear, however, from the Roman council under pope Zacharia, that the form of the sacrament of confession was then similar to what it is at present. Strictly judicial is the sacerdotal office so that with accurate precision has the church retained the name of Basilica, which signified that upper part of the forum, where justice was administered to the people.

You can read more at the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

A Tale of the Laity and Priestly Scandal, Circa 1400 AD

This is Part III of a recently started series about on-going personal conversion. Part I started us off with thoughts from a vision of St. Catherine of Siena. Part II continued with words of a Franciscan friar giving an intelligence brief on our adversary. What follows is either miraculous or not depending on how you view things.

I say miraculous, in at least a minor way, because a) until today, I had never heard of this passage I’m sharing now, and b) the timing of the find is uncanny. How, pray tell, did I “find” it? It all started a few weeks ago when I picked up volume one of the Norton Anthology of English Literature for $4.00 at a flea market about an hour from my home. In mint condition, and weighing in at 2074 pages, folks who like math will delight in the fact that I paid ‎a whopping .001344989 cents per page for it. It’s chock full o’ Catholic classics too.

What does this have to do with personal conversion? Boatloads. As Qoheleth, the inspired writer of my favorite Old Testament book says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That includes scandals involving priests. They will come, and they will go. None of us have seen the last of them, and persevere through them, we must. And despite some folks thinking that questioning priests, and holding them accountable, turns the faithful into members of the “brood of vipers and evil doers” section of the flock, I believe this story shows the opposite to be true.

So this morning, with no intention whatsoever of my own, I picked up this weighty tome I acquired so cheaply and randomly flipped it open to find myself on page 374. There, I happened upon the following tale that beckoned me with the heading Examination Before the Archbishop and started with the following words,

There was a monk should preach in York, the which had heard much slander and much evil language of the said creature.

Uh?, I thought. Do tell! Having never heard of Margery Kempe, I just plunged onward through this story as if I had entered a time machine and was whisked back to the days when England was still Catholic. Margery, it turns out, was a contemporary of St. Julian of Norwich and is honored in the Anglican Communion. She lived in Norwich, married at the age of 20, and had 14 children. She remained a member of the laiety, and yet was ahead of her time in recognizing her calling to the “royal priesthood” that St. Peter describes in his first letter to the faithful (1 Peter 2:9).

Be advised that this is a bit long, so go get a glass of your favorite beverage, or head to the loo, before you wade in. Ready? Enjoy…

from The Book of Margery Kempe

Examination before the Archbishop

There was a monk should preach in York, the which had heard much slander and much evil language of the said creature. And, when he should preach, there was much multitude of people to hear him, and she (Margery) present with them. And so, when he was in his sermon, he rehearsed many matters so openly that the people conceived well it was for cause of her, wherefore her friends that loved her well were full sorry and heavy thereof, and she was much the more merry, for she had matter to prove [test] her patience and her charity wherethrough she trusted to please Our Lord Christ Jesus.

When the sermon was done, a doctor of divinity which loved her well with many others also came to her and said,

“Margery, how have ye done this day?”

“Sir,” she said, “right well, blessed be God. I have cause to be right merry and glad in my soul that I may any thing suffer for his love, for he suffered much more for me.”

Anon after came a man which loved her right well of good will with his wife and others more, and led her seven miles thence to the Archbishop of York, and brought her into a fair chamber, where came a good clerk, saying to the good man which had brought her thither, “Sir, why have ye and your wife brought this woman hither? She shall steal away from you, and then shall ye have a villainy of her.”

The good man said, “I dare well say she will abide and be at her answer with good will.”

On the next day she was brought into the Archbishop’s chapel, and there came many of the Archbishop’s meiny, despising her, calling her “loller” and “heretic,” and swearing many an horrible oath that she should be burnt. And she, through the strength of Jesus, said again to them,

“Sirs, I dread me ye shall be burnt in hell without end unless than ye amend you of your oaths swearing, for ye keep not the commandments of God. I would not swear as ye do for all the good of this world.”

Then they gedyn [went] away as they had been ashamed. She then, making her prayer in her mind, asked grace so to be demeaned that day as was most pleasant to God and profit to her own soul and good example to her evyn [fellow] Christians. Our Lord, answering her, said it should be right well.

At the last the said Archbishop came into the chapel with his clerks, and sharply he said to her,

“Why goest thou in white? Art thou a maiden?”

She, kneeling on her knees before him, said, “Nay, sir, I am no maiden; I am a wife.”

He commanded his meiny to fetch a pair of fetters and said she should be fettered, for she was a false heretic. And then she said,

“I am no heretic, nor ye shall none prove me.”

The Archbishop went away and let her stand alone. Then she made her prayers to our Lord God almighty for to help her and succour her against all her enemies, ghostly and bodily, a long while, and her flesh trembled and quaked wonderly that she was fain to put her hands under her clothes that it should not be aspied.

Since the Archbishop came again into the chapel with many worthy clerks, amongst which was the same doctor (of theology) which had examined her before and the monk that had preached against her a little time before in York. Some of the people asked whether she were a Christian woman or a Jew; Some said she was a good woman, and Some said nay.

Then the Archbishop took his see [ecclesiastical seat], and his clerks also, each of them in his degree, much people being present. And in the time while the people was gathering together and the Archbishop taken his see, the said creature stood all behind, making her prayers for help and succour against her enemies with high devotion so long that she melted all into tears. And at the last she cried loud therewith, that the Archbishop and his clerks and much people had great wonder of her, for they had not heard such crying before.

When her crying was passed, she came before the Archbishop and fell down on her knees, the Archbishop saying full boisterously unto her,

“Why weapest thou so, woman?”

She, answering, said, “Sir, ye shall will some day that ye had wept as sore as I.”

And then anon, after the Archbishop put to her the Articles of our Faith (the Apostle’s Creed), to the which God gave her grace to answer well and truly and readily without any great study so that he might not blame her, then he said to the clerks,

“She knows her faith well enough. What shall I do with her?”

The clerks said, “We know well that she can the Articles of the Faith, but we will not suffer her to dwell among us, for the people have great faith in her dalliance, and peradventure she might pervert some of them.”

Then the Archbishop said unto her, “I am evil informed of thee; I hear said thou art a right wicked woman.”

And she said again, “Sir, so I hear said that ye are a wicked man. And,if ye be as wicked as men say, ye shall never come in heaven unless than ye amend you while ye be here.”

Then said he full boisterously, “Why, thou, what say men of me?”

She answered, “Other men, sir, can tell you well enough.”

Then said a great clerk with a furred hood, “Peace, thou speak of thyself and let him be.”
Since said the Archbishop to her, “Lay thine hand on the book here before me and swear that thou shall go out of my diocese as soon as thou may.”

“Nay, sir,” she said, “I pray you, give me leave to go again into York to take my leave of my friends.”

Then he gave her leave for one day or two. She thought it was too short a time, wherefore she said again,

“Sir, I may not go out of this diocese so hastily, for I must tarry and speak with good men ere I go, and I must, sir, with your leave, go to Birdlington and speak with my confessor, a good man, the which was the good prior’s (St. John of Birdlington) confessor that is now canonized.”

Then said the Archbishop to her, “thou shall swear that thou shalt not teach nor challenge the people in my diocese.”

“Nay, sir, I shall not swear,” she said, “for I shall speak of God and undirnemyn [reprove] them that swear great oaths wheresoever I go unto the time that the Pope and Holy Church have ordained that no man shall be so hardy to speak of God, for God all mighty forbids not, sir, that we shall speak of him. And also the gospel makes mention that, when the woman had heard Our Lord preach, she came before him with a loud voice and said, `Blessed be the womb that thee bore and the tits that gave the suck.’ Then our Lord said again to her, `Forsooth so are they blessed that hear the word of God and keep it.’ And therefore, sir, me thinks that the gospel gives me leave to speak of God.”

“A sir,” said the clerks, “here wot[know] we well that she hath a devil within her, for she speaks of the gospel.”

As such a great clerk brought forth a book and laid Saint Paul for his party against her that no woman should preach. She, answering thereto, said,

“I preach not, sir, I come in no pulpit. I use but communication and good words, and that will I do while I live.”

Then said a doctor which had examined her beforetime, “Sir, she told me the worst tales of priests that ever I heard.”

The bishop commanded her to tell that tale.

Stand-by for one of the best parables I have ever read. Everything prior, though a bit tedious, has set the stage for the following stunner. Read on me hearties!

Peach Tree in Bloom
Vincent Van Gogh

“Sir, with your reverence, I spoke but of one priest by the manner of example, the which as I have learned went wild in a wood through the sufferance of God for the profit of his soul til the night came upon him. He, destitute of his herborwe [lodging], found a fair arbor in the which he rested that night, having a fair pear tree in the midst all flourished with flowers and embellished, and blooms full delectable to his sight, where came a bear, great and boisterous, hugely to behold, shaking the pear tree and felling down the flowers. Greedily this grevious beast ate and devoured those fair flowers. And, when he had eaten them, turning his tail end in the priest’s presence, voided them out again at the hinder part.

The priest, having great abomination of that loathly sight, conceiving great heaviness for doubt what it might mean, on the next day he wandered forth in his way all heavy and pensive, whom it fortuned to meet with a seemly aged man like to a palmer or a pilgrim, the which enquired of the priest the cause of his heaviness. The priest, rehearsing the matter before written, said he conceived great dread and heaviness when he beheld that loathly beast defoul and devour so fair flowers and blooms and afterward so horribly to devoid them before him at his tail end, and he not understanding what this might mean.

Then the palmer, showing himself the messenger of God, thus areasoned him,

“Priest, thou thyself art the pear tree, somedeal flourishing and flowering through thy service saying and the sacraments ministering, though thou do undevoutly, for thou take full little heed how thou says thy matins and thy service, so it be blabbered to an end. Then go thou to thy mass without devotion, and for thy sin hast thou full little contrition. Thou receivest there the fruit of everlasting life, the sacrament of the altar, in full feeble disposition.

“Since all the day after thou misspendest thy time, thou give thee to buying and selling, chopping and changing [bargaining and exchanging], as it were a man of the world. Thou sittest at the ale, giving the to glotony and excess, to lust of thy body, through lechery and uncleanness. Thou breakest the commandments of God through swearing, lying, detraction, and backbiting, and such other sins using. Thus by thy misgovernance, like onto the loathly bear, thou devourest and destroyest the flowers and blooms of virtuous living to thine endless damnation and many man’s hindering less than thou have grace of repentance and amending.”‘

Then the Archbishop liked well the tale and commended it, saying it was a good tale. And the clerk which had examined her beforetime in the absence of the Archbishop, said,

“Sir, this tale smites me to the heart.”

The foresaid creature said to the clerk, “Ah, worshipful doctor, sir, in place where my dwelling is most, is a worthy clerk, a good preacher, which boldly speaks against the misgovernance of the people and will flatter no man. He says many times in the pulpit, `If any man be evil pleased with my preaching, note him well, for he is guilty.’

And right so, sir,” said she to the clerk, “fare ye by me, God forgive it you.”

The clerk wist [knew] not well what he might say to her. Afterward the same clerk came to her and prayed her of forgiveness that he had so been against her. Also he prayed her specially to pray for him. And than anon after the Archbishop said,

An Archbishop

“Where shall I have a man that might lead this woman from me?”

As swithe [immediately] there started up many young men, and every man said of them, “My Lord, I will go with her.”

The Archbishop answered, “Ye be too young; I will not have you.”

Then a good sad [of sober continence] man of the Archbishop’s meiny asked his Lord what he would give him and he should lead her. The Archbishop proferred him five shillings and the man asked a noble. The Archbishop, answering, said,

“I will not waryn [spend] so much on her body.”

“Yes, good sir,” said the said creature, “our Lord shall reward you right well again.”

Then the Archbishop said to the man, “See, here is five shillings, and lead her fast out of this country.”

She, kneeling down on her knees, asked his blessing. He, praying her to pray for him, blessed her and let her go.

Than she, going again to York, was received of much people and of full worthy clerks, which enjoyed in our Lord that had given her not lettred wit and wisdom to answer so many learned men without villainy or blame, thanking be to God.

****

And that’s all for today, dear reader. For more on Margery Kempe, see this new volume added to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf: The Cell of Self-Knowledge.

For Thoughts on Our Adversary by Fray Francisco de Osuna

No, this isn’t about Uncle Sam, patriotism, or anything like that. This is part two of a series on the work of on-going personal conversion that I started yesterday. Milk drinkers beware, because meat and potatoes are coming your way.  Bring your knives and forks and spoons. Napkins are optional.

Last December, I wrote of a minor miracle regarding me and Fray Francisco de Osuna. Come to think of it, St. Anthony of Padua probably had something to do with it too, as I thought a book was lost, and it was found. Francisco, see, was a Franciscan, and he wrote the book I misplaced, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, that had a huge impact on St. Teresa of Avila. Information like that gets my attention, pronto.

For me, Fray Francisco became a mentor of sorts. Sure, he’s dead and gone, and not an official saint, but if reading his book helped out the Carmelite superstar mentioned above, then I figured he could help me out too. I didn’t know too much about Franciscans at the time, except that they were founded by the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi. But for a guy that was cloistered, Fray Francisco sure seemed an expert on human nature. And his command of the scriptures, as you’ll soon see, put this RCIA attending “soon to be former” Protestant “Bible-expert” at ease.

As for his “peace-loving” Franciscan side? Well, don’t you dare try and stereotype my mentor. Besides, the combat he refers too is spiritual, though it involves the physical as well. In my mind’s eye, I picture him as Sir Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, but with a Spanish accent. However, instead of spouting modernist, Manichean, New Age, Star Warsian psycho-babble from under his brown wool habit, he’s teaching Catholic orthodoxy. The kind that, with me anyway, never goes out of style.

Take for instance the following passage from the seventh letter of “the Alphabet.” What’s this section all about? “How We Are To Cast Out Evil Thoughts, Saying: Thoughts Start War if the Gate is not Closed.” What follows is from the first chapter of this treatise. Remember my affinity for the military genius from ancient China, named Sun Tzu? My mentor Fray Francisco could teach him a thing, or two.

Chapter 1: The Devil’s Army

Astute captains always keep soldiers in reserve so that when they rush into a losing battle, the soldiers who thought themselves overwhelmed will take heart at the support, and their joy and renewed efforts will discourage the enemy. This is exemplified in the valiant, gentle captain Joshua who in the fight against the city of Hai placed five thousand men in ambush on one side of the city and thirty thousand on the other side, while he with the main body of soldiers stood openly against the city. He pretended to flee before the citizens, who ran out in pursuit, while the thirty thousand came and took the city, and the five thousand resisted those who returned to defend it; thus, with some helping others, they all enjoyed total victory. (Joshua, Chapter 8)

Just a quick note from your Marine Corps trained editor. See what I mean? Fray Francisco speaks the lingo that resonated with the recently retired Leatherneck. And now, we meet the adversary.

This strategy of clever warriors is no less known by that skilled soldier, the devil, to whom the words of the Maccabeans are applicable: “He fought many battles and took the fortresses of all, and killed the kings of the earth. He went through even to the ends of the earth and took spoils of many nations; and the earth was quiet before him. And he gathered great power and a very strong army, and his heart was exalted and lifted up. And he subdued the countries and nations, and princes became tributaries to him.” (1 Maccabees 1:2-5)

This passage describes the unjust, exceedingly prideful Alexander (Ed: Alexander the Great), who through great force became lord of what was in no justifiable sense his. He represents the devil, not only in deed but in name, for his name means the very strong, and so it can be said of him that he was a very strong and warring man, the son of a whore (Judges 11:1) His evil guilt and sin are expressed by his wicked mother whose son he became when he obeyed her and heeded the counsel of iniquity.

This devilish and most strong Lucifer, like the other Alexander, fought and fights each day many unjust battles; he took the fortresses of all when he conquered our first parents, leaving us vanquished like the subjects of a captured king. He killed the kings of the earth, who were our first parents, whom God created to rule all inferior things, when he caused them to offend God Your Majesty and be sentenced to death. He killed them, as it were, because he said they would not die for their offense, but that in itself was the reason they perished.

And it says he passed through to the end of the earth, which is human flesh corrupted by iniquity, and God says that this end has come before him in lament (Genesis 6:11-13). This passing through the earth is original sin, which goes from one to another like a perpetual burden, as slavery is handed down from mother to child, or corrupton spreads from the roots of the tree, or force of yeast affect the entire dough, or the poison of the salamander invades the tree’s fruit, for Pliny says that if the salamander touches the roots of the tree, its entire fruit and all the tree will be infected.

See Isaiah 14:12

Thus the devil passes by to take possession of mortals and steals immense wealth when he leads into sin many who previously were rich in grace. And if they do not resist, the earth becomes quiet before him, which in itself suffices to make them his. The devil gathers a great army from among the defeated, forcing them to fight against those as yet unconquered, and he protects them and arms them with cleverness like his own so that they constitute a crowd of sinners whose hearts burst with deviltry and who are more skillful than the devil himself.

He can muster such an army because there is no earthly power to equal his (Job 41:24). He took countries of nations, especially because the Gentiles worshipped him (as Alexander probably did), and as Christ explains, the tyrants became his tributaries when he named himself prince of this world (John 12:31). The tyrants are lesser devils who serve him continually, albeit against their will, for if they do not consent to honor God in heaven, even less do they wish to be subjects of Lucifer.

This extraordinarily strong warrior who, like Goliath, is trained for battle since youth (1 Samuel 17:33), fights in the style I began to describe: that is, he keeps soldiers in reserve and divides his army into three groups for a more clever attack. He orders one squadron after another into the skirmish so that if his enemy succeeds against the first, the second will defeat him, and the third, as seen in the image from the book of Kings: Three companies went out from the camps of the Philistines to fight (1 Samuel 13:17).These Philistines, who are demons, pitch their tents in the field of malice and assemble their trops in three battalions.

Luxury is the first battalion and it marches forth heavily armed and provided with everything necessary to win. St. Bernard says this battle engages every rank or class of people: all ages, the ugly, the beautiful, the great and small, the healthy and the sick –in short, the entire human race.

Many manage to escape from their ferocious opponent, but then the battalion of Pride rushes in, armed with offices, riches, honor, and such things, and those who did not wish to sully themselves in what they considered the obscenity of the first vice now fall victim to the second precisely because it seems so clean in contrast with the first and less blameworthy for the reason that so many people commit it.

If they overcome the second battalion, the third surely defeats them, for these soldiers are more ferocious and cunning, being the demons themselves who have come to battle men by thrusting into their imaginations a whole throng of spiritual vices, as expressed by the image of Sennacherib (Tobit 1:18), who launched his entire army and power against Jerusalem.

St. Paul advised the faithful about this: “Take comfort, brothers, in the Lord and the strength of his power. Put on the armor of God to counter the devil’s tricks. For now we do not contend just with flesh and blood, but with princes and powers, the rulers of the world of darkness, the evil spirits over heavenly things (Ephesians 6: 10-12).”

The apostle’s words prove the seriousness of the battle in that first he warns us that the battle will be strenuous and we will need the armor of God’s favor and effort, since our own is inadequate against such infamy, and second, he refers to trickery, which implies malice as well as strength. Third, he emphasizes the grievousness of the battle by stating that it is no mere contest of flesh and blood and by naming the demons with lofty titles so as to evoke their tremendous power to battle spiritual opponents for what he calls heavenly things, those which the commentary explains are the virtues and souls of the faithful against whom the third assault is launched.

The first two attacks are physical, clear to see, and involve the body rather than the spirit. But the third hurls a host of evil thoughts to irritate and wear us down, and our letters says concerning these: “Thoughts start war if the gate is not closed.”

It seems that in the first two battles the devil leaves the fighting to his soldiers, those who take his side: that is, the flesh, which is the first vice to plague man, and the world, which supports the devil against Christ. But when the devil sees that his companions and vassals, who are other demons, are defeated and that person has withstood successfully the siege of these two vices and lives chastely and totally devoted to God, then it can be said of him: “He sent against them the heat of indignation, anger, and fury, and tribulation, a multitude of agents of misfortune; he opened a way for his anger and he did not save them from death.” (Psalm 77:49-50)

Is your milk getting curdled yet? Perhaps it is fitting to recall that Blessed Pope John Paul II recommend the following to the flock,

“May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

For All the Miracles: The Road To Emmaus and After

Guest post by Giovanni Papini (published in 1921)

After the solemn interval of the Passover, plain, ordinary everyday life began again for all men.

Two friends of Jesus, among those who were in the house with the Disciples, were to go that morning on an errand to Emmaus, a hamlet about two hours journey from Jerusalem. They left as soon as Simon and John had returned from the sepulcher. [Read more...]

Because Christ Is Still Living Among Us

What follows is from Giovanni Papini’s introduction to his Life of Christ. Published in 1921, you would think that these words were written just yesterday. John C.H. Wu tipped me off to this book and I found a used copy of it on Alibris.

It’s 408 pages long and is filled with great passages. Written in his native Italian, it was translated in 1923 by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Papini had been an ardent atheist, anarchist and was one of the literary giants of Italy.

Have a blast reading this article about him in Time magazine, from March 31, 1923. Was anything “lost in translation?” Nothing whatsoever. Have a look at sections one and two and see for yourself,

from the Introduction of Life of Christ by Giovanni Papini.

For five hundred years those who call themselves free spirits, because they prefer prison life to army service, have been trying desperately to kill Jesus a second time—to kill him in the hearts of men.

The army of His enemies assembled to bury Him as soon as they thought they heard the death-rattle of Christ’s second death. Presumptuous donkeys mistaking libraries for their stables, top-heavy brains pretending to explore the highest heavens in philosophy’s drifting balloon, professors poisoned by the fatal strong drink of philology and metaphysics, armed themselves.

Paraphrasing the rallying cry of Peter the Hermit to the crusaders, they shouted “Man wills it!” as they set out on their crusade against the Cross. Certain of them drew on their boundless imaginations to evolve what they considered proof positive of a fantastic theory that the story of the gospel is no more than a legend from which we reconstruct the natural life of Jesus as a man, one-third prophet, one-third necromancer, one-third demagogue, a man who wrought no miracles except the hypnotic cure of some obsessed devotees, who did not die on the cross, but came to Himself in the chill of the sepulcher and reappeared with mysterious airs to delude men into believing that He had risen from the dead.

Others demonstrated as certainly as two and two make four that Jesus was a myth developed in the time of Augustus and of Tiberius, and that all the Gospels can be reduced to a clumsy mosaic of prophetic texts. Others conceived of Jesus as a good, well-meaning man, but too high-flown and fantastic, who went to school to the Greeks, the Buddhists, and the Essenes and patched together His plagiarisms as best He could to support His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

Others make Him out to be an unbalanced humanitarian, precursor of Rousseau and of divine democracy; an excellent man for his time, but who today would be put under the care of an alienist. Others, to get rid of the subject (once for all), took up the idea of the myth again, and by dint of puzzlings and comparisons concluded that Jesus never was born anywhere in any spot on the globe.

But who could have taken the place of the man they were trying to dispose of? The grave they dug was deeper every day, and still they could not bury Him from sight.

Then began the manufacture of religions for the irreligious. During the whole of the 19th century, they were turned out in couples and half-dozens at a time: the religion of Truth, of the Spirit, of the Proletariat, of the Hero, of Humanity, of Nationalism, of Imperialism, of Reason, of Beauty, of Peace, of Sorrow, of Pity, of the Ego, of the Future, and so on.

Some were only new arrangements of Christianity, uncrowned, spineless Christianity, Christianity without God. Most of them were political, or philosophic, trying to make themselves out as mystics. But faithful followers of these religions were few and their ardor faint. Such frozen abstractions, although sometimes helped along by social interest or literary passions, did not fill the heart which had renounced Jesus.

Then attempts were made to throw together facsimiles of religion which would make a better job of offering what men looked for in religion. Free-Masons, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Occultists, Scientists, all professed to have found the infallible substitute for Christianity.

But such mixtures of moldy superstition and worm-eaten necromancy, such a hash of musty rationalism and science gone bad, of simian symbolism and humanitarianism turned sour, such unskillful rearrangements of Buddhism, manufactured-for-export, and of betrayed Christianity, contented some thousands of leisure-class women, of condensers of the void…and went no further.

In the meantime, partly in a German parsonage and partly in a professor’s chair in Switzerland, the last Anti-Christ was making ready. “Jesus,” he said, coming down form the alps in the sunshine, “Jesus mortified mankind; sin is beautiful, violence is beautiful. Everything that says ‘yes’ to Life is beautiful.” And Zarathustra, after having thrown into the Mediterranean the Greek texts of Leipzig and the works of Machiavelli, began to gambol at the feet of the statue of Dionysius with the grace that might be expected of a German, born of a Lutheran minister, who had just stepped down from a chair in a Swiss university.

But, although his songs were sweet to the ear, he never succeeded in explaining exactly what he meant when he spoke of this adorable “Life” to which men should sacrifice such a living part of themselves as their need to repress their own animal instincts. Nor could he ever say in what way Christ, the true Christ of the Gospels, opposed Himself to life, He who wanted to make life higher and happy. And the poor syphilitic Anti-Christ, when insanity was close upon him, signed his last letter, “The Crucified One.”

And still Christ is not yet expelled from the earth, either by the ravages of time or by the efforts of men. His memory is everywhere: on the walls of churches and the schools, on the tops of bell-towers and of mountains, in street-shrines, at the heads of beds and over tombs, thousands of crosses bring to mind the death of the Crucified One.

Take away the frescoes from the churches, carry off the pictures from the altars and from the houses, and the life of Christ fills museums and picture galleries. Throw away breviaries and missals, and you find His name and His words in all the books of literature. Even oaths are an involuntary remembrance of His presence.

When all is said and done, Christ is an end and a beginning, an abyss of divine mystery between two divisions of human history. Paganism and Christianity can never be welded together. We can seek out what comes before Christ, we can acquire information about it, but it is no longer ours, it is signed with other signs, limited by other systems, no longer moves our passions. It may be beautiful, but it is dead.

Caesar was more talked about in his time than Jesus, and Plato taught more science than Christ. People still discuss the Roman ruler and the Greek philosopher, but who nowadays is hotly for Caesar or against him? And where are the Platonists and the anti-Platonists?

Christ, on the contrary, is still living among us. There are still people who love Him and who hate Him. There is a passion for the love of Christ and a passion for His destruction. The fury of so many against Him is a proof that He is not dead. The very people who devote themselves to denying His ideas and His existence pass their lives in bringing His name to memory.

This is a great book folks. Too bad it isn’t available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Put you local librarian to work though. Find this book!

Update: Papini writing on the Road to Emmaus and After.


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