Handing out candy, of course. And when the kiddies weren’t knocking on the door, I did a little reading… [Read more...]
Views of a new Catholic in an old world on the joy and inexhaustible meaning found in the Faith
Handing out candy, of course. And when the kiddies weren’t knocking on the door, I did a little reading… [Read more...]
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.
Back in October of last year, I shared thoughts written by a Doctor of the Church with you. It was from a homily St. Bernard of Clairvaux had written and preached to the brothers in his order about one of the books in the Old Testament. As I was re-reading the homily today, these words of truth leapt off the screen,
there are two evils that comprise the only, or at least the main, enemies of the soul: a misguided love of the world and an excessive love of self…
I named the post where these words can be found For Solid Food Like This (Hold the Milk). As posts of mine go, it was unread for the most part. Last week I suggested that we all could spend an extra hour a week reading the Bible. But Frank, you may be thinking, where do we start? I think St. Bernard might have an idea or two.
In that homily, which is on the title of The Song of Songs, he recommends two of my favorite books from the Old Testament to tackle: The Book of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.
Comparing these two books to loaves of rich bread, here is what he says to us about them in regard to his quote above,
These are two loaves of which it has been your pleasure to taste, loaves you have welcomed as coming from the cupboard of a friend.
Of course, he is addressing the brothers in the Cistercian order. As such, he is no longer talking to mere babes in Christ, but to soldiers of Christ. No longer folks who believe, but folks who have committed their whole life to Christ and His Church. And today, he is speaking then to Christians who are ready to take the training wheels off their bicycles and really begin to ride. But why these two particular books? Here’s what Doctor Mellifluus has to say,
The Book of Proverbs: Uproots pernicious habits of mind and body with the hoe of self-control.
Have we thrown self-control and self-discipline to the wayside? It appears that St. Bernard is describing the merits of this book as the first phase of recruit training to me. The process where we scrub off our old, worldly selves and become immersed in the culture of our new family. More than just a thought, where in our minds the light-bulb comes “on”, this book deals in concrete actions that teach us how to become practicing Christians and children of God. The military analogy that pops in my mind? Marines aren’t born, they’re made. The same is true for Christians. And what of the second book?
Ecclesiastes: by the use of enlightened reason, quickly perceives a delusive tinge in all that the world holds glorious, truly distinguishing between it and deeper truth. Moreover, it causes the fear of God and the observance of his commandments to be preferred to all human pursuits and worldly desires.
To me this is St. Bernard’s “know your enemy” book recommendation, comparable to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The shocker to many is that the Church doesn’t discard the use of reason, but she embraces it. Many have thought, “Why is Ecclesiastes even in the Canon of Scriptures?” Because the Patriarchs deemed this inspired book’s merits far outweighed its demerits, and for the very reasons that St. Bernard cites above.
Qohelth describes the world as we know it. Writing as if he is King Solomon, “the Teacher” profiles all of the paths that people take in the world, and describes in pithy phrases the stark truth: all of these ways lead to dead-ends except one. Which is why the good Doctor can say this without batting an eye about these two books,
the former is the beginning of wisdom, the latter its culmination, for there is no true and consummate wisdom other than the avoidance of evil and the doing of good, no one can successfully shun evil without the fear of God, and no work is good without the observance of the commandments.
Tempted to skip these two books and head straight to the Song of Songs? I wouldn’t recommend it and neither does St. Bernard.
Taking it then these two evils have been warded off by the reading of choice books, we may suitably proceed with this holy and contemplative discourse which, as the fruit of the other two, may be delivered only to well prepared ears and minds.
In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Learn the fundamentals, and practice them constantly until they become second nature. No, I don’t have this completely “wired” yet and probably never will. But we have to start somewhere and practice, practice, practice.
The Book of Proverbs is pretty straight forward, and the notes in your Catholic Bible should have all the resources you need to understand it. Ecclesiastes may be a little more challenging, but there is a lot of information available to help you along with the writer’s, and thus the Holy Spirit’s, reasoning. As Our Lord says,
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Come to the well.
When the idea to come to the March for Life came over me (see embedded link above), I knew that I wanted to attend Mass before the march began. I remembered where the Wee Kirk on the Hill is, and I also remembered a few other parishes from our trip back in the summer. I went to the March for Life website and clicked on the Factsheet to see if anything was planned worship-wise.
There was a pre-march Youth Mass and Rally planned to begin at 10:00 at the Verizon Center, but I quickly found out that tickets for that event were “sold-out.” Maybe if I would have planned this trip two weeks ago, that might have been a possibility. But the idea to go on this trip was less than an hour old by the time I was looking, so the rally was a no-go. Thankfully, there were four other locations available as overflow facilities.
Three out of the four venues available were sold out too, so I clicked on the last available location, punched in a quantity of 5 and prayed that there were enough spots left for us. There were! I printed the tickets, and the trip picked up momentum from there. Being at the Youth Mass was important for 15, 11, and 9 reasons: those are the ages of my three children and I wanted them to be surrounded by other young people so they would know that this just isn’t some old fuddy-duddy Dad’s idea of something important. I wanted them to see that lot’s of kids were missing school for this important event as well, not just themselves.
And now here we all were, seated and waiting for Mass to begin in a sanctuary packed to capacity. There on the right hand side were a bunch of young men, who turned out to all be seminarians. We sat on the St. Joseph side of the sanctuary, with young men and women ahead of us, and behind us and this was mirrored over on the St. Mary side of the aisle as well. It was 1030, packed, and young people were still coming in by the bus load. The Mass started 15 minutes late so the latecomers and stragglers could make it in on time. This gave me a little time to think and to pray.
I thought to myself, It is entirely appropriate that we are sitting here in a church in Chinatown. Outside, next to the front entrance to the church, I had spied a sign written in Chinese that had Our Lady of China’s portrait on it. John C.H.Wu and Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang must be smiling, I thought to myself. They were probably clucking their tongues at me for my worrying that we wouldn’t make it here on time. “Silly Grasshopper, oh ye of little faith.”
I remember several things from the Mass, the first of which is that we began it with the long form of the penitential rite as follows,
I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Catholics believe that some forms of sin are graver than others, because frankly, this makes sense. Also, it says so in the Bible. But we also know that we are all sinners, and though we hate the sin, we love sinners, because Christ loved sinners too. So it is apropos that we acknowledged our sins before all present and to ask for their prayers for us as well. It always is appropriate.
Next, Our Lord, of course, was present in the Mass, as He always is. Sometimes I can slip into taking this for granted, but not today. He had eleven of His priests there as well, to concelebrate the Mass for His flock, and provide them with nourishment from Him. And at the Great Amen, all eleven of the priests chanted in unison,
Through Him, in Him, with Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours Almighty Father, forever and ever.
And all of us in attendance chanted back, Amen.
It was a moment so beautiful that it made my eyes water. I thought to myself that even if we couldn’t have made it to the March later, being here now, for this Mass alone, was well worth the trip.
|Spilling out into the streets!|
The sanctuary reverberated as we prayed the Our Father together, and there was much joy as we exchanged the sign of Christ’s peace with one another. Several hundred of us united in Christian charity for the sanctity of human life. By the time the final blessing and dismissal came, Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, and our thunderous reply of, Thanks be to God! I thought how fitting to remember that in everything we do, we serve the King and His peoples.
It may have been freezing outside (it was!), but as the warmth of the Holy Spirit washed over us, it was like the little tongues of flame from Pentecost were there to follow us out into the cold and keep us warm. It was 1145. Time to take the Metro to the rally point on the Mall.
Chapter 4, the Mall and the March
|Team Weathers with the CO.|
After leaving the Mass, we walked back up to where we parked so we could get a few items before heading to the Chinatown Metro station. If it would have been Summertime, we could have just walked from Chinatown to the Mall. But as it was 20 some odd degrees, temperature wise, the Metro option was looking good. We knew where we were now, because during our vacation this past summer, we had eaten at a restaurant close to the Chinatown Metro station, a block away from where we stood now.
My wife remembered how to work the ticket machines too. As we were going down the escalator to the train, a bunch of college students carrying life affirming placards and signs were going up the escalator. I told my kids that they were either lost, or meeting some of their friends, because they were headed the wrong way. I don’t think they believed me. As we only had to go down one stop to Archives/Navy Memorial I started thinking about lunch ideas.
When we got off at our stop, it was 1215. Now, the rally at the assembly point was starting up, but I knew that the march itself didn’t begin until 1330, so it was time to have some lunch. My wife and I discussed going to the Old Post Office, where there are plenty of food vendors, or to a restaurant close by. Lots of our fellow Pro-Lifers were walking around and lining the streets already, so we started walking toward the Mall.
|The Lovers, Picasso|
The rally point for the March was near the National Gallery of Art, and as we neared it I recalled that there was a cafeteria underground between it and the Gallery of Modern Art. No one appeared to be heading towards the Gallery so, being the contrarian that I am, that is where we headed. The guards checked our bags and we were warm and inside, headed to bathrooms and then on to lunch. We even got to snap a few more photographs of some beautiful paintings again.
We took the elevator downstairs to where the shops and cafeteria were. I issued orders that the kids could order all they wanted, but that they would have to eat all they took. My oldest said, “wait, is this where we came that time and we all ordered too much?” And I said, “yes, this is where you guys broke me last summer. Be gentle this time!” And they were. We sat across from the water fall and noted other marchers that were also here for lunch. More than a few priests wearing their collars were evident as well.
|Team Weathers at “chow.”|
As my wife and I ate lunch I commented, “You know, it’s as if that whole trip last summer was a preparation for us coming here now. As if that was a reconnaissance or pathfinder mission just so we would be prepared for this trip.” She nodded in agreement and said, “It seems that way, doesn’t it. It’s a blessing that we knew where to eat, where the Metro stations are, and everything.” By now it was 1315, so we wrapped up our lunch, headed to bathrooms again (where we saw actual working phone booths!) and then ventured back out into the throng of peaceful protesters just like ourselves.
|I love this guy!|
There were people from all over the country, as well as from all over the world here. Why from the world? Pro-Life solidarity, I reckon. We saw German, Italian, and Irish flags for sure. We saw Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians for Life, Lutherans for Life, and lots and lots of Catholics. I’m sure there were many other churches present as well. What I didn’t see were any Pro-Abortion supporters at all. Maybe it was too cold for them? I don’t know.
We even saw an Anarchist/Agnostic for Life though, which makes sense because if you think that being Pro-Life is only because of our religious beliefs, you don’t have your thinking cap on. I was Pro-Life long before I became a Catholic because killing babies can just never be justified. Not if you use your ability to think and reason. A humanism that feeds off of the deaths of other human beings is a Soylent Green type of future that I don’t find appealing at all.
For the rest of this post, I’ll let the pictures do the talking,
|Peaceful warriors await!|
|Our Lady keeps her children warm.|
|A few hundred thousand people assembling on the Mall.|
|A few hundred thousand people listening to speeches.|
|If it’s this crowded when it’s cold, imagine if it was warm!|
|Pan camera a little more to the left…More peoples!|
|Team Weathers with the XO.|
|New Yorkers for Life!|
|The lead elements in the March.|
|A few hundred thousand people on Constitution Avenue.|
|Amidst the “slow moving party” on Pennsylvania Ave.|
|Standing room only so, let’s dance!|
|In Front of the Supreme Court.|
|The time? 1600. Time to head home after a successful mission.|
We got back to the car, and got back on the road for the return trip home. I made it as the pilot all the way back to Roanoke. There, we refueled and I handed the tiller over to the XO. We arrived back home at midnight, safe and sound. 36 hours from the beginning to the end. A minor miracle in itself.
To God be the Glory!
* All photographs belong to the author.
An Apology from the Baby Boomers.
And “the Kid” made a video too. Help us make it go viral!
During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.
For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,
On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.
I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.
It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.
Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,
Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.
And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,
p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.
Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,
p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.
He could say that again. He goes on to say,
In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.
And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,
You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”
How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.
Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.
You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!
I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.
Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.
With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,
AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”
MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”
AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”
MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”
AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”
MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.
AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”
Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.
The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.
As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.
I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.
Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.