For the Work of On-Going Personal Conversion (Part I)

I’ve written in the past about the deleterious side effects of cults of personality. If I wasn’t clear before, let me rectify the situation and say that I believe in the only cult of personality that really matters. It is the same one that all of the saints point us towards: the Person of Jesus Christ.

The Church is built around this, and this alone. One of the reasons I am a Catholic now is that I believe I became ready to move past the milk and head on to the solid food of the Faith. Prior to my conversion, I was a milk drinker for so long that I grew tired of it. So I left and as a result, I almost missed the feast that awaits Christians that persevere along the Way.

One way I have found that helps me stay grounded in the faith is to follow the advice of St. Philip Neri,

It is very useful for those who minister the Word of God, or give themselves up to prayer, to read the works of authors whose names begin with S., such as Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, etc.

Or in the case today, the works of St. Catherine of Siena. What follows is from Chapter 63 of her Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin. How do I know it’s chapter 63? Because something I was reading that was written by Father Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. identified it as such in his The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life. How did I find out about his book? From the tip I received from the Chinese “Chesterton”, and author of The Three-fold Way of Love, John C.H. Wu. See?

Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

The common thread among these folks, and the other saints (such as St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others), is that Christianity is not just a “one-and-done” conversion. Far from it.

As Christians, see, through no merit of our own, we help spread the Good News, while the saints help us to persevere in the faith in that which we cannot see. In the passage below, God gives information through a vision of St. Catherine that points out how after our first conversion, the second must be attained, which leads unto the third. Come and see,

How the Soul, after having mounted the first step of the Bridge, should proceed to Mount the Second.

“Thou hast now seen how excellent is the state of him who has attained to the love of a friend ; climbing with the foot of affection, he has reached the secret of the Heart, which is the second of the three steps figured in the Body of My Son. I have told thee what was meant by the three powers of the soul, and now I will show thee how they signify the three states, through which the soul passes. Before treating ‘ of the third state, I wish to show thee how a man becomes a friend and how, from a friend, he grows into a son, attaining to filial love, and how a man may know if he has become a friend. And first of how a man arrives at being a friend.”

“In the beginning, a man serves Me imperfectly through servile fear, but, by exercise and perseverance, he arrives at the love of delight, finding his own delight and profit in Me. This is a necessary stage, by which he must pass, who would attain to perfect love, to the love that is of friend and son. I call filial love perfect, because thereby, a man receives his inheritance from Me, the Eternal Father, and because a son’s love includes that of a friend, which is why I told thee that a friend grows into a son. What means does he take to arrive thereat ? I will tell thee.”

“Every perfection and every virtue proceeds from charity, and charity is nourished by humility, which results from the knowledge and holy hatred of self, that is, sensuality. To arrive thereat, a man must persevere, and remain in the cellar of self-knowledge in which he will learn My mercy, in the Blood of My onlybegotten Son, drawing to Himself, with this love, My divine charity, exercising himself in the extirpation of his perverse self-will, both spiritual and temporal, hiding himself in his own house, as did Peter, who, after the sin of denying My Son, began to weep. Yet his lamentations were imperfect and remained so, until after the forty days, that is until after the Ascension.”

“But when My Truth returned to Me, in His humanity, Peter and the others concealed themselves in the house, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, which My Truth had promised them. They remained barred in from fear, because the soul always fears until she arrives at true love. But when they had persevered in fasting and in humble and continual prayer, until they had received the abundance of the Holy Spirit, they lost their fear, and followed and preached Christ crucified. So also the soul, who wishes to arrive at this perfection, after she has risen from the guilt of mortal sin, recognising it for what it is, begins to weep from fear of the penalty, whence she rises to the consideration of My mercy, in which contemplation, she finds her own pleasure and profit. This is an imperfect state, and I, in order to develop perfection in the soul, after the forty days, that is after these two states, withdraw Myself from time to time, not in grace but in feeling. My Truth showed you this when He said to the disciples ‘I will go and will return to you.'”

“Everything that He said was said primarily, and in particular, to the disciples, but referred in general to the whole present and future, to those, that is to say, who should come after. He said ‘I will go and will return to you;’ and so it was, for, when the Holy Spirit returned upon the disciples, He also returned, as I told you above, for the Holy Spirit did not return alone, but came with My power, and the wisdom of the Son, who is one thing with Me, and with His own clemency, which proceeds from Me the Father, and from the Son. Now, as I told thee, in order to raise the soul from imperfection, I withdraw Myself from her sentiment, depriving her of former consolations.”

“When she was in the guilt of mortal sin, she had separated herself from Me, and I deprived her of grace through her own guilt, because that guilt had barred the door of her desires. Wherefore the sun of grace did not shine, not through its own defect, but through the defect of the creature, who bars the door of desire. When she knows herself and her darkness, she opens the window and vomits her filth, by holy confession. Then I, having returned to the soul by grace, withdraw Myself from her by sentiment, which I do in order to humiliate her, and cause her to seek Me in truth, and to prove her in the light of faith, so that she come to prudence. Then, if she love Me without thought of self, and with lively faith and with hatred of her own sensuality, she rejoices in the time of trouble, deeming herself unworthy of peace and quietness of mind.”

“Now comes the second of the three things of which I told thee, that is to say: how the soul arrives at perfection, and what she does when she is perfect. This is what she does. Though she perceives that I have withdrawn Myself, she does not, on that account, look back, but perseveres with humility in her exercises, remaining barred in the house of self-knowledge, and, continuing to dwell therein, awaits, with lively faith, the coming of the Holy Spirit, that is of Me, who am the fire of charity.”

“How does she (the soul) await me? Not in idleness, but in watching and continued prayer, and not only with physical, but also with intellectual watching, that is, with the eye of her mind alert, and, watching with the light of faith, she extirpates, with hatred, the wandering thoughts of her heart, looking for the affection of My charity, and knowing that I desire nothing but her sanctification, which is certified to her in the Blood of My Son. As long as her eye thus watches, illumined by the knowledge of Me and of herself, she continues to pray with the prayer of holy desire, which is a continued prayer, and also with actual prayer, which she practises at the appointed times, according to the orders of Holy Church.”

“This is what the soul does in order to rise from imperfection and arrive at perfection, and it is to this end, namely that she may arrive at perfection, that I withdraw from her, not by grace but by sentiment. Once more do I leave her, so that she may see and know her defects, so that, feeling herself deprived of consolation and afflicted by pain, she may recognise her own weakness, and learn how incapable she is of stability or perseverance, thus cutting down to the very root of spiritual self-love, for this should be the end and purpose of all her self-knowledge, to rise above herself, mounting the throne of conscience, and not permitting the sentiment of imperfect love to turn again in its death-struggle, but, with correction and reproof, digging up the root of self love, with the knife of self-hatred and the love of virtue.”

More from St. Catherine’s Dialogue can be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. I’ll post more on this subject with thoughts from my Franciscan mentor, Francisco de Osuna.

Because These Words Paul Wrote Are Worthy of Shakespeare

Especially compared to the “weak tea” of the speech heard ’round the world yesterday.

Of course, this passage from his second letter to the Corinthians isn’t just some dramatic idea that the Apostle Paul dreamed up. They are after all an account of his personal experience witnessing for Christ.

But they are more than that too. They are the words of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Long time readers know of my favorite speech from Shakespeare’s play Henry V. I love how Kenneth Branagh delivers the St. Crispins Day speech so realistically. Just the other day in a post about friendship, I shared a video scene between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they imagine dialogue from a costume drama set in the hills of Northern England.

I’ve probably watched that scene two dozen times now. I’ve been driving my kids crazy with it too as I improvise more things to say after the rousing “Gentlemen to bed!” introduction.

So with the flair for the dramatic still reverberating through my brain, I turned to the Daily Readings and came upon what follows. Interestingly, I had shared them with you before just a fortnight ago. But as I read them today, I hear a classically trained actor delivering them with verve and dripping with pathos. Maybe it’s just the newly revised edition of the New American Bible.

Reading 1
2 Cor 11:18, 21-30

Richard Burton

Brothers and sisters:
Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.
To my shame I say that we were too weak!

But what anyone dares to boast of
(I am speaking in foolishness)
I also dare.
Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they children of Israel? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
Are they ministers of Christ?
(I am talking like an insane person).
I am still more, with far greater labors,
far more imprisonments, far worse beatings,
and numerous brushes with death.

Five times at the hands of the Jews
I received forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned,
three times I was shipwrecked,
I passed a night and a day on the deep;
on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race,
dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city,
dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea,
dangers among false brothers;
in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights,
through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings,
through cold and exposure.

And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me
of my anxiety for all the churches.
Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

And the saga continues on into the next day.

Brothers and sisters:
I must boast; not that it is profitable,
but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows),
was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know that this man
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things,
which no one may utter.

About this man I will boast,
but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish,
for I would be telling the truth.
But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me
than what he sees in me or hears from me
because of the abundance of the revelations.

Therefore, that I might not become too elated,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

How can the scriptures not come to life when such inspired words as these are read as if they were spoken directly to a blood brother? Read the Bible!

For Abusive Ad Hominem Attacks…Not!

I’ve mentioned in passing that for my day job, I work in an archive. What Fr. Barron relates below about the documents, and hard to read handwriting, etc., reflects a wonderful experience that I have daily at my workplace. Sharing documents with folks as they do family and historical research is an intangible benefit of working in an archive as well.

Did I mention that I also get heaping helpings of silence and solitude at work too? It is a long way from the noise I endured on the flight line and the gun line when I was a Marine. And it’s a long way from the controlled chaos of a trucking fleet’s dispatchers office when I was a logistics manager too.

But none of that is the reason why I am sharing this video of Father Barron’s that I saw posted over at Aggie Catholic (thanks Marcel!). The most important part of the video that helps explain Why I Am Catholic kicks in towards the end of the clip below.

I mentioned in a post recently that I have become increasingly fond of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Full credit for pointing me in this direction goes to Jacques Maritian’s The Peasant of the Garonne, which I picked up in a used book sale recently.

There is another reason to share this clip now though, and it has to do with some of the comments Allison’s post on the movie Bridesmaids generated, most of which were never published. Why? Because they were exactly the shallow stuff that Fr. Barron describes starting at the 4:00 minute mark below. Have a look,

Ad hominem attacks…emotional responses driven by anger…Aquinas read everybody, heretics, Islamic scholars, Jewish rabbi’s, etc. It’s like I said in the Bridesmaids post commbox (forgive me for quoting myself),

to ignore the secular culture, and turn away from it, and in the process calumniate it, is not what Christ did. To do so would be to ignore the huge field of souls whom Our Lord came to save. To attempt to save them is hard work. Work in which we need to roll our sleeves up in order to do properly.

St. Thomas rolled up his sleeves, for sure. So must we.

P.S. For those of you who are new to our blog, or just stopping by for the first time, you’ll find helpful hints for acceptable commbox etiquette in the righthand sidebar, courtesy of St. Paul.

Because of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Thoughts On War

Have I mentioned lately that I’ve been taking a shine to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas? It’s difficult not to, seeing how much of the Angelic Doctor’s work undergirds many of the doctrines of Holy Mother Church.

Did you realize that another title given to St. Thomas Aquinas is that of the Common Doctor? That was the sobriquet that Blessed Pope John XXIII bestowed upon him when he addressed a Thomistic Conference back in September of 1960. Regarding Aquinas he writes,

His teaching was, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author.

So you should be very interested in much of what the Angelic Doctor has to say on every subject under the sun. His writings are so voluminous that if he hasn’t weighed in on a particular subject, it probably didn’t exist at the time.

But war existed, see, and here then is an excerpt of his thoughts, which are indeed the Churches’ thoughts, on that interesting and troubling subject of war. You will find them to be grounded in reality, because Aquinas, as Jacques Maritain says, is “the greatest master in realism—an integral realism, as aware of the reality of the spirit as well as of the body—who ever lived.”


Article I.—Is it always a sin to go to war?

R. There are three requisites for a war to be just. The first thing is the authority of the prince by whose command the war is to be waged. It does not belong to a private person to start a war, for he can prosecute his claim in the court of his superior. In like manner the mustering of the people, that has to be done in wars, does not belong to a private person. But since the care of the commonwealth is entrusted to princes, to them belongs the protection of the common weal of the city, kingdom, or province subject to them. And as they lawfully defend it with the material sword against inward disturbances by punishing malefactors, so it belongs to them also to protect the commonwealth from enemies without by the sword of war. The second requisite is a just cause, so that they who are assailed should deserve to be assailed for some fault that they have committed.

Hence it is no justification for an enterprise of violence commenced by private individuals in a civilized State, to call it a war. Every State is bound to suppress private war within the limits of its own jurisdiction; as also to take away all pretext for such war by due redress of wrongs.
Hence Augustine says: “Just wars are usually denned as those which avenge injuries, in cases where a nation or city has to be chastised for having either neglected to punish the wicked doings of its people, or neglected to restore what has been wrongfully taken away.” The third thing requisite is a right intention of promoting good or avoiding evil. For Augustine says: “Eagerness to hurt, bloodthirsty desire of revenge, an untamed and unforgiving temper, ferocity in renewing the struggle, lust of empire,—these and the like excesses are justly blamed in war.”

§ i. To the objection from the text that “all that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that “he takes the sword, who without either command or grant of any superior or lawful authority, arms himself to shed the blood of another.” But he who uses the sword by the authority of a prince or judge (if he is a private person), or out of zeal for justice, and by the authority of God (if he is a public person), does not take the sword of himself, but uses it as committed to him by another.

§ 2. To the objection from the text, “I say to you not to resist evil,” it is to be said, as Augustine says, that such precepts are always to be observed “in readiness of heart,” so that a man be ever ready not to resist, if there be occasion for non-resistance. But sometimes he must take another course in view of the common good, or even in view of those with whom he fights.

Augustine says: “He is the better for being overcome, from whom the license of wrong-doing is snatched away: for there is no greater unhappiness than the happiness of sinners, the nourishment of an impunity which is only granted as a punishment, and the strengthening of that domestic foe, an evil will.”

Article III.—Is it lawful in war to use stratagems?

R. The end of stratagems is to deceive the enemy. Now there are two ways of deceiving in word or deed. One way is by telling lies and breaking promises, and no one ought to deceive the enemy in this way; for “there are certain laws of war, and agreements to be observed even among enemies,” as Ambrose says. In another way one may be deceived by the fact that we do not open our purpose or declare our mind to him. That we are not always bound to do. Even in sacred doctrine many things are to be concealed from unbelievers, that they may not scoff at them, according to the text: “Give not what is holy to dogs.” Much more are our preparations to attack our enemies to be hidden from them. Such concealment belongs to the nature of stratagems, which it is lawful to use in just wars. Nor are such stratagems properly called frauds, nor are they inconsistent with justice, nor with a well-ordered will. For it would be an inordinate will for any one to wish nothing to be concealed from him by other people.

Article IV.—Is war lawful on feast-days?

R. The observance of feasts does not bar the taking the means even to the bodily welfare of man. Hence our Lord rebukes the Jews, saying: “Are you angry at me because I have healed the whole man on the sabbath-day?” Therefore it is that physicians may lawfully apply remedies to men on a feast-day. Much more is the good estate of the commonwealth to be maintained, whereby many murders are prevented, and countless ills both temporal and spiritual—a more important good than the bodily well-being of a single man. And therefore, for the defence of the commonwealth of the faithful, just wars may lawfully be prosecuted on feast-days, if necessity so requires: for it would be tempting God for a man to want to keep his hands from war under stress of such necessity. But when the necessity ceases, war is not lawful on feastdays.

§ 4. “And they determined in that day, saying: Whoever shall come up against us to fight on the sabbath-day, we will fight against him.

Interested in reading more? Head on over to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Also, for those who wish to explore this further, Catholic Answers has a Primer on Just War Doctrine.

Update: “Justice has been done,” states President Obama, and just-war scholars agree.

Because Christ is a Warrior (Then, So Am I)

Hi, remember me? I’m the guy who said Christ is a Royal (Then, So Am I). Now I have to write another post with a similar title because I observed that many of the same folks who weren’t interested in the Royal Wedding last week also seem to be conflicted about the actions of S.E.A.L. Team Six a mere forty-eight hours later.

Perhaps I’ll be starting a whole new series of blog posts around this theme of who Jesus Christ is, and how it relates to YIMCatholic. Sure, Eric Sammons already wrote a book about this, but that only covers Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew.

But you see, the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, and if you are a part of His Church, then as members of His Mystical Body, you too are just what St. Teresa of Avila, aka “Big Terry,” says you are:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

St.Thérèse of Lisieux
as St. Joan of Arc

If you think Frank has gone a little batty with the assertion that the Church is Christ, then look at our blog patron’s statement that is right there in paragraph 795 of the Catechism as well,

About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter. —St. Joan of Arc

This assertion, then, has ramifications for each and every one of us regarding our earthly vocations. I’ve seen many who have written posts after the death of Osama Bin Laden with plenty of Bible quotations that play up the docile, meek, and seemingly pacifistic side of Christianity. I can just as easily break out scripture references that proclaim Our Lord as a warrior, or that liken Him to one.

If the Bible is like an encyclopedia, than G.K. Chesterton’s point is well made:

For it is the test of a good encyclopedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.

Hmmm, there G.K.C. goes again, knocking the cover off the ball. Perhaps he is also talking about the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Because as important as the imagery is along the spectrum between the end points of pacifism and just war, it’s also important that we remember that the Church is composed of living, breathing, members of the Mystical Body of Christ. And these members cross the broad spectrum of all mankind.

Like last week, some of them are actual Royals in addition to being in the royal priesthood that Christians all belong to. And like the week before, some of them are homeless. And this week, we must remember that some of the members of Christ’s body are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Christ, then, in the form of the Church, continues to achieve His earthly mission to bring all people to salvation through the agency of many human beings, whom He created. And some of His children are called to the professional vocation of warrior. As the Holy Spirit spoke through King David in Psalm 144,

Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.

David seemed pretty thankful in the opening line of that Psalm, didn’t he? Here is what the Catechism has to say on the duties and responsibilities of the faithful who fill this role,

2310 —Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.

And that is exactly what the members of S.E.A.L. Team Six did this past weekend. It’s what they, and all the other members of the armed forces, have been doing, and will continue to do, as long as our country is in existence. Were they Christians? I don’t know. Were any of them Catholics? I have no idea. But do we need people like them doing what they do? Think about it.

I’ll wrap this post up with another paragraph from the CCC (emphasis mine) and another quote from St. Joan,

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits”- reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges:

“Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”

That is my prayer as well, so help me God.

Update: Father Steve Grunow of Word on Fire on the Death of a Terrorist. Also, a primer on Just War Doctrine.

Because Christ Waits Patiently



I saw this posted yesterday somewhere: “Forget Christmas or Easter. Independence Day is the most important holiday of the year and will have a greater impact on world history as it serves to remind people for millenia that nations are ruled by the consent of the governed.” My first thought? This person is delusional. My second thought? I need to pray for them. [Read more…]

For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies VI

Does anyone remember my friend St. Joseph of Cupertino? Well, I wrote a post about him once and tonight’s movie is all about him. It is called The Reluctant Saint and stars Maximilian Schell as St. Joseph.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had my fill of prima donnas lately. If you are like me, this film will hit the sweet spot. I like to think of St. Joseph of Cupertino as “the little saint who could.” No one thought he would amount to anything. Not his mom, not his priest/uncle, and most assuredly not his brothers when he entered the monastery.

But there was something about Joseph that everyone missed.

Everyone missed it except his bishop, and of course, God. Ricardo Montalban plays the part of a cleric who doubts him the most of all. His character goes so far as to conduct the Rite of Exorcism over poor, obedient, Joseph.

I don’t know what became of Montalban’s character, but St. Joseph of Cupertino, who called himself “God’s jackass”, is in heaven now. I hope to join him someday.

Have a look at the trailer and then dial up this movie from Netflix or watch the whole film on your computer via Gloria.tvBut please watch it…you’ll be glad you did!

Because My Boys Needed to Know About Hildegard of Bingen

I received a note the other day in my e-mail inbox informing me of a movie that would soon be released on DVD. I noted the title of the film and realized that it was still playing in one of the theaters in our town.The movie I’m referring to is Visions: From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen.

Now, my plan was to take my wife with me to this film, but she and my daughter were engaged in another endeavor. [Read more…]

For Bernard of Clairvaux’s Bible Reading Program to Make Sense of the World

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.

Because Mary Said “May It Be Done to Me”

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Before I was a Catholic, I wouldn’t have even known what that all means. Just another one of those big ol’ words linked to Jesus’s mom that everyone knew Catholics worshiped.

Mary, schmerry, I thought, God can do anything. If Mary would have said no, big damn deal.

Sort of like asking a girl to dance at a party and you get rejected.”Sorry God, looks like she said No. Let me buy you a beer to help you put the flames out.” Next candidate please. There’s a lot of fish in the sea. [Read more…]