Because of Practical Instruction Like This

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, Webster posted this note about the close friendship of Saints Basil and Gregory. Back in the middle of December 2009, Webster penned this note with the title Because of “Such a Friend” where the subject of male friendships surfaced as a topic for discussion. I bring this up because I posted the following comment to that discussion:

They (the Disciples) junked the “think only of myself” model and exchanged it for the “two greatest commandments” model. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Say this to yourself as a mantra and I guarantee your decision making matrix will change.

From the Office of Readings in the LOTH this morning, I was surprised to see St. Augustine flesh out what I had thought was an original idea (Qoheleth is laughing now) over 1600 years before I could possibly have even thought it! Relieved, then, is probably a more accurate description of how I felt. In one of his tractates (lectures) on the Gospel of John he writes:

The Lord himself came, the Teacher of love, full of love, “shortening the word upon the earth”, as it was foretold he would do. He showed that from the two precepts of love depend the whole of the Law and the prophets.

Yes, I remember the passage he is alluding to where Our Lord and a scholar of the law have this discussion in the Gospel of Matthew (22:36-40). Augustine continues on as follows,

What are these two commandments? Join me, my brethren, in recollecting them. They ought to be thoroughly familiar to you and not just come to your mind when we recite them: they ought never to be blotted out from your hearts. Always and everywhere, bear in mind that you must love God and your neighbor, “love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”

We must always ponder these words, meditate them, hold them in our minds, practice them, and bring them to fruition.

Which is what I suggested in my comment above. A take on the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing” from his letter to the Thessalonians. He continues,

As far as teaching is concerned, the love of God comes first; but as far as doing is concerned, the love of your neighbor comes first.

Yes! As James “the slave of Christ” exhorts in his letter, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” (James 1:22)

Whoever sets out to teach you these two commandments of love must not commend your neighbor to you first and then God, but God first and then your neighbor.

Put first things first!

You, on the other hand, do not yet see God, but loving your neighbor will bring you that sight. By loving your neighbor, you purify your eyes so that they are ready to see God as John clearly says: “If you do not love your brother, whom you see, how can you love God, whom you don’t see?”

I have much work to do on this front, believe me! Who doesn’t? But again I am grateful for the Communion of the Saints and the practical, day-to-day examples and simple instruction they give me to living a Christian life in this world.

P.S. St. Augustine wrote 124 lectures on the 21 chapters Gospel of John. You can find them here.

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

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

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

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

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

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

I find comfort in knowing that,

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

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

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

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

Amen, and thanks be to God!

Because Women Aren’t from Venus and Men Aren’t from Mars

Posted by Frank
We have been talking about men of the laity and their roles in the church lately. Because that is who we are, Webster and I, a couple of laymen in love with the Church and trying to share that with others. There’s much in the liturgy of Advent to help us reflect on the roles of men and women.

Take for instance this verse from today’s Gospel reading where the Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah of the coming birth of his son John (the Baptist) and what John will accomplish.

He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)

“To turn the hearts of fathers toward children . . .” OK, so I take it that this lack of communication between fathers and sons is not a new thing. Not some recent cultural event of modernity. Somehow I didn’t think it was, but I’m glad to see that this is mentioned right at the beginning of the story of the prophet preparing the way for the coming of Our Savior. So much for blaming modern society.

And now that I mention it, am I the only one to see that the entire mystery of the Incarnation is the Divine Father turning His heart towards His children? Even as disobedient as they were and we are? This sounds to me like the ultimate in “leadership by example.”

Isn’t it amazing that Our Lord has a profoundly good relationship with his Heavenly Father and evidently his earthly father as well? Never a harsh word, no bitching, moaning, or complaining? Why did it take me 44 years and my near-death experience (and then my father’s) to clear the decks towards a better relationship? Heck, it took me becoming a Catholic to even open the door to thoughts like this about my relationship with my dad!

But two guys alone can’t figure all this stuff out, nor can we expect the male leadership of the Church alone to do so. Before you go thinking I’m spouting heretical thoughts, let me introduce you to the wonderful maiden (that would be a female) named Wisdom. There she sits on a throne at the top of this page. Take a look at this passage from chapter 7 in the Book of Wisdom. The writer says,

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands; and I rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader, though I had not known that she is the mother of these. Simply I learned about her, and ungrudgingly do I share—her riches I do not hide away; for to men she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.

And in the LOTH for today, Wisdom shows herself again as having been around since the Beginning:

With you abides Wisdom, who knows your works. She was with you when you made the world. She knew what was pleasing to your eyes. She saw what was right according to your precepts. Send your Wisdom from the highest heaven; send her from the throne of your greatness; that she may abide with me and work with me, so that I may know what it is that pleases you. For Wisdom knows everything, and understands; she will lead me wisely in what I do, and protect me in her glory.

And if you don’t believe Wisdom belongs in the Bible (tossed out after the Protestant Reformation) then take a look at Proverbs 8. Here Wisdom shows herself again as the voice of reason! Just in case you thought that might be a typographical error, let’s turn all the way back to a few verses in Genesis, remember the ones? (Genesis 1:26-27)

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Whoa— “us,” “our image,” “male and female”? Aren’t women from Venus and men from Mars? I don’t think so. Not anymore anyway.

Thoughts on the LOTH for Today

Posted by Frank

The Office of Readings from today continues describing the wonders of the mystery of the Incarnation. An excerpt from The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is in today’s Office of Readings. This epistle dates from between 125 to 200 A.D. 

“Mathetes” is not a name, but a title meaning a disciple. Nor are scholars sure who Diognetus was. There was someone of that name who was a tutor to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome between 121–160 AD. Diognetus may have also been Claudius Diogenes, who was procurator of Alexandria around the year 200.

Regardless, the letter is fascinating as an early (if not the earliest) example of Christian Apologetics. Here is an excerpt.

No man has ever seen God or known him, but God has revealed himself to us through faith, by which alone it is possible to see him. God, the Lord and maker of all things, who created the world and set it in order, not only loved man but was also patient with him. So he has always been, and is, and will be: kind, good, free from anger, truthful; indeed, he and he alone is good.

He devised a plan, a great and wonderful plan, and shared it only with his Son. As long as he preserved this secrecy and kept his own wise counsel he seemed to be neglecting us, to have no concern for us. But when through his beloved Son he revealed and made public what he had prepared from the very beginning, he gave us all at once gifts such as we could never have dreamt of, even sight and knowledge of himself.

When God had made all his plans in consultation with his Son, he waited until a later time, allowing us to follow our own whim, to be swept along by unruly passions, to be led astray by pleasure and desire. Not that he was pleased by our sins: he only tolerated them. Not that he approved of that time of sin: he was planning this era of holiness. When we had been shown to be undeserving of life, his goodness was to make us worthy of it. When we had made it clear that we could not enter God’s kingdom by our own power, we were to be enabled to do so by the power of God.

When our wickedness had reached its culmination, it became clear that retribution was at hand in the shape of suffering and death. The time came then for God to make known his kindness and power (how immeasurable is God’s generosity and love!). He did not show hatred for us or reject us or take vengeance; instead, he was patient with us, bore with us, and in compassion took our sins upon himself; he gave his own Son as the price of our redemption, the holy one to redeem the wicked, the sinless one to redeem sinners, the just one to redeem the unjust, the incorruptible one to redeem the corruptible, the immortal one to redeem mortals. For what else could have covered our sins but his sinlessness? Where else could we, wicked and sinful as we were, have found the means of holiness except in the Son of God alone?

How wonderful a transformation, how mysterious a design, how inconceivable a blessing! The wickedness of the many is covered up in the holy One, and the holiness of One sanctifies many sinners.

The complete letter may be read here.

Thoughts on the LOTH for Today

Posted by Frank

Yesterday (12/16/2009) the Short Reading was as follows:

The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel. On curds and honey will he feed until he knows how to refuse evil and choose good. (Isaiah 7:14-15)

“Until he knows how to refuse evil and choose good” gives a resounding answer of Yes to the question of whether Jesus Christ was truly human and truly God.

And from the Office of Readings today, Pope Saint Leo the Great’s letter entitled The Mystery of our Reconciliation to God expounds on that with a discussion of Our Lord’s genealogical roots as The New Adam:
To speak of our Lord, the son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man is of no value to us if we do not believe that he is descended from the line of ancestors set out in the Gospel.

Matthew’s gospel begins by setting out “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham”, and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother’s husband, Joseph. On the other hand, Luke traces his parentage backward step by step to the actual father of mankind, to show that both the first and the last Adam share the same nature.

No doubt the Son of God in his omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as he did to the patriarchs and prophets, when for instance he engaged in a wrestling contest or entered into conversation with them, or when he accepted their hospitality and even ate the food they set before him. But these appearances were only types, signs that mysteriously foretold the coming of one who would take a true human nature from the stock of the patriarchs who had gone before him.

No mere figure, then, fulfilled the mystery of our reconciliation with God, ordained from all eternity. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the Virgin nor had the power of the Most High overshadowed her, so that within her spotless womb Wisdom might build itself a house and the Word become flesh. The divine nature and the nature of a servant were to be united in one person so that the Creator of time might be born in time, and he through whom all things were made might be brought forth in their midst.


For unless the new man, by being made “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.

The Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition. But through this wonderful blending the mystery of new birth shone upon us, so that through the same Spirit by whom Christ was conceived and brought forth we too might be born again in a spiritual birth; and in consequence the evangelist declares the faithful to have been “born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

A New Adam born of the New Eve so that each of us may be reborn. Thanks be to God.

Because the Holy Spirit is On the Line

Posted by Webster
I have a theory that can be stated simply: The Holy Spirit is on FaceBook. I don’t mean to promote a single form of the new electronic media by proposing this. I could as easily prove that the Holy Spirit uses Twitter. I mean, think about it. What sound does a dove make? Tweet, tweet.

I offer this for weekend discussion and propose one test case for consideration. Exhibit A: Frank Weathers.

Several weeks ago, as dedicated readers of this space know, I was struggling with the direction of YIMCatholic. Started as a sort of love letter to Katie and the girls—you are the most important people in the world to me, these are the most important ideas, let me share—YIMCatholic took on a life of its own, mysteriously attracting the attention of such as Fr. Jim Martin at America magazine and Elizabeth Scalia over at The Anchoress. Them and others, all in a few weeks.

It was at that point that the ego went rampant and your humble servant began blogging his fanny off, like Cedric the Entertainer working out to a Richard Simmons video. It didn’t do much for my fanny, but it sure as heck annoyed my bride.

I began to despair, and with a twist thrown in from a personal matter that has since clarified itself, I thought, Junk it. You’ve lost the original purity of mission. You’re making a fool of yourself. Switch off that darn video and have a pizza. Pepperoni, extra cheese.

It was about this time that Frank Weathers (remember Exhibit A?) started barraging me with e-mails. Something about a retired Marine from, where was it, Kentucky? Tennessee? Probably the hills, where he brewed moonshine, I thought. Since I don’t give anyone the right to retire until they’re older than me, I had “Frank W” pegged as a geezer with a few teeth left in his head after a life of bar fights, staggering around with a jug in his hand and Semper Fi on his chapped and dirty lips.

But his e-mails were too smart for that. He began providing me on-line resources for subjects on which I was writing or might write, stuff I never would have found myself, about Merton, Erasmus, Dickens’s Life of Our Lord. He almost seemed to anticipate my thoughts, moving stealthily like a Navy Seal in the darkness just ahead of YIMCatholic. It came to a place where I could not ignore the old geezer a minute longer. Then I found out he was no geezer: Twelve years younger than me, happily married, father of three handsome kids, active in a second career that allows him to research questions posed in this space, a persuasive and thoughtful writer, and—most important to the mission here—vitally, passionately, happily Catholic.

I made Frank a proposal. How about writing up your own conversion experiences in a short (500-to-750-word) essay? If it’s any good, I’ll put it up and let the dogs howl. An hour later, Frank’s 900-word draft was in my in-box, and by the following morning, before I had a chance to react to this barrage, he had sent me “chapter 2.” Whaaaat? I screamed to myself. Then I read what Frank had written and thought I heard a bird chirping. Could Frank be the answer to a prayer I hadn’t even verbalized? An answer to the woes faced by every blogger, I’ll bet: loneliness and fatigue. Loneliness, because every day you have to strap it on and write 1,000 words that no one might even read. Fatigue, because, do the math, that’s 365,000 words a year.

Oh, yeah, and this: There’s no money in it. (See annoyed bride)

I have an impulsive child in me, who makes snap decisions and then sometimes regrets them. But so far I have had no reason to doubt the decision that came next: By the time Frank had written and submitted chapter 3 (before chapter 1 was even on line), I realized that this stuff, good stuff too, was pouring out of him. I realized that, as a Catholic convert from the same RCIA graduation class of 2008, Frank seemed to have a lot in common with me. On the flip side, as a man raised in the South and a man with a distinguished military career under his belt (I have none), he might have significantly different points of view on non-essential points. (The maxim “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity” may not come from St. Augustine, as some say, but it works for me.)

So I said, “Permission to come aboard!” And here we are. Frank has made it clear that I am the front-seater, that he’s content to sit behind as RIO, covering my six. (I’m starting to get some of this military terminology.) I’ve made it clear that if I go down in the line of duty, or while working out to Richard Simmons, he has the conn. Last night, Frank talked me on-line through the set-up of a FaceBook fan page. He’s twelve years younger, remember, and he gets this stuff better; I’m convinced it’s generational, that he was born into a world of color television and never saw “Leave it to Beaver” in black-and-white.

The Holy Spirit on FaceBook? Yes, I’m sure of it. And everywhere else on line. Messages coming all day long, many of them not from the HS. Which is the problem, of course. But it’s all about keeping our own channels open, isn’t it? Like recognizing the sound of a bird chirping when you hear it, and opening the window so you can hear it sing.

Thoughts on the LOTH for Today

 

Replace Zion with the Church in Psalm 48 from today’s morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours (on-line version) and what do you get? You get down on your knees, I bet, and sing His praises.

Go round Zion, see it all, count every tower. Feel its strength, visit its palaces, So that you you can tell the next generation: Here is God, our God here he remains for ever; and forever he will lead us and guide us.

As St. Augustine writes in his commentary on this Psalm,

The title of this Psalm is, “A song of praise, to the sons of Korah, on the second day of the week.” Concerning this what the Lord deigns to grant receive ye like sons of the firmament. For on the second day of the week, that is, the day after the first which we call the Lord’s day, which also is called the second week-day, was made the firmament of Heaven. Genesis 1:6-8 …The second day of the week then we ought not to understand but of the Church of Christ: but the Church of Christ in the Saints, the Church of Christ in those who are written in Heaven, the Church of Christ in those who to this world’s temptations yield not.

For they are worthy of the name of “firmament.” The Church of Christ, then, in those who are strong, of whom says the Apostle, “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak,” Romans 15:1 is called the firmament. Of this it is sung in this Psalm. Let us hear, acknowledge, associate, glory, reign. For Her called firmament, hear also in the Apostolic Epistles, “the pillar and firmament of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

And then, in the short reading from Isaiah 45:8, the mission of the Church Militant: To save souls and bring them to the King—

Send victory like the dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open up for salvation to spring up. Let deliverence, too bud forth which I, the Lord, shall create.

Aye, aye, Sir, and Amen!

Semper Fidelis

Because This May Be My Last Mass

Gulp . . . My eyes water, and I get a lump in my throat just looking at this photograph.

That is Our Lord on Iwo Jima, and a priest providing comfort and solace to the sheep of His flock. Young Marines in a crazy, mixed-up, madhouse of a world with death staring them right in the face. Death from a thousand angles, at any second, in diverse manners and forms, all of which are horrible.

How do they do it? I mean function in that environment? The same thing is going on in Kandahar today. How do they do it? I can’t put “it” into words that you would understand—not yet anyway.

One of my favorite Marines in the Marine Corps Roll of Honor is Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, winner of two Medals of Honor. He is famous for saying (as a Gunnery Sergeant) the following immortal phrase—”C’mon you sons-of-bitches! you wanna live forever?”—at the WW I Battle of Belleau Wood.

Looking at this photograph, whether you agree or disagree with the “reasons” for either World War (see our recent post), the Chaplain Corps provides much comfort to us troops. I wasn’t a Catholic when I was serving in the line as a Marine. (Wow, I would seriously recommend it now!) But many of us took advantage of the comfort the Padres provided.

Semper Fidelis