Scripture Quote of the Week…

From St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:8,10),

Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.

A Letter to Saint Joseph

Dear St. Joseph:

It’s your feast day in the Church today, and even if you don’t want to be bothered, because you’re a real worker bee, lots of folks are going to extol your virtues ad nauseum today. None of us are sure what those are though, so you’ve kind of become the “fill in the blank” saint for all that is true, good, and solid, if not quite beautiful. [Read more...]

For All the Saints: John of the Cross

“Zurbarán St. John of the Cross” by Francisco de Zurbarán  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Today is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. Born in 1542, he was a contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila and a practitioner of contemplative prayer. He is considered one of the foremost poets of Spain. And yet, it is said that he only wrote about 2500 lines of verse. He died on this date at the age of 49 in the year 1591. [Read more...]

Because the Saints are “Hard Corps”

For Conspicuous Gallantry and Intrepidity in Action at the Risk of Life, Above and Beyond the Call of Duty . . .

As a kid growing up, I had a lot of daydreams floating through my head. Daydreams of Glory! The lines above (from the beginning of the citation for the Medal of Honor) would be read to throngs of adoring, thankful citizens as my exploits and heroic feats of daring-do and close-combat were read and celebrated throughout the land.

Is it any wonder that I was drawn to the vocation of a warrior? [Read more...]

For All the Saints: Crispin and Crispinian UPDATED

“Bossche Saints Crispin and Crispinian” by Aert van den Bossche (fl. 1490-1505) – Own work (BurgererSF). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s St. Crispin’s Day. Before I was a Catholic, I wouldn’t have know this, or that there were two men being commemorated. So who are Crispin and Crispinian? Christian twin brothers, martyred in the year 285 or 286. Turning to the always open YIMCatholic Bookshelf, I found this legendary story on the two saints in Jesuit Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger’s Lives of the Saints. Here’s what he reports, [Read more...]

For Thoughts on Faith Like These by Thomas Merton

Divine_Mercy-779948“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Now, as Pope Benedict has declared the coming year as the Year of Faith, Fr. Louis explains clearly and simply what faith means. What follows are thoughts from the prologue of his “The Silent Life,” published in 1957.

I came across these words a few years ago, when I was reading all I could that Merton had written. When I read them, I couldn’t help changing the words “monk” and “monasticism” to “Catholic” and “Catholicism”, because when I did, they helped answer the statement “Why I Am Catholic” very effectively. Fr. Louis has the floor,

Let us face the fact that the monastic vocation tends to present itself to the modern world as a problem and as a scandal.

In a basically religious culture, like that of India, or of Japan, the monk is more or less taken for granted. When all society is oriented beyond the mere transient quest of business and pleasure, no one is surprised that men should devote their lives to an invisible God.

In a materialistic culture, which is fundamentally irreligious, the monk is incomprehensible because he “produces nothing.” His life appears to be completely useless. Not even Christians have been exempt from anxiety over this apparent “uselessness” of the monk, and we are familiar with the argument that the monastery is a kind of dynamo which, though it does not “produce” grace, procures this infinitely precious spiritual commodity for the world.

The first Fathers of monasticism were concerned with no such arguments, valid though they may be in their proper context. The Fathers did not feel that the search for God was something that needed to be defended. Or rather, they saw that if men did not realize in the first place that God was to be sought, no other defence of monasticism would avail them.

Is God, then, to be sought?

The deepest law in man’s being is his need for God, for life. God is Life. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). The deepest need of our darkness is to comprehend the light which shines in the midst of it. Therefore God has given us his first commandment:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength.

The monastic life is nothing but the life of those who have taken the first commandment in deadly earnest, and have, in the words of St. Benedict, “preferred nothing to the love of Christ.”

But Who is God? Where is He? Is Christian monasticism a search for some pure intuition of the Absolute? A cult of supreme Good? A worship of perfect and changeless Beauty? The very emptiness of such abstractions strikes the heart cold. The Holy One, the Invisible, the Almighty is infinitely greater and more real than any abstraction of man’s devising. But he has said: “No one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Yet the monk persists in crying out with Moses: “Show me Thy face” (Exodus 33:13).

The monk, then, is one who is so intent upon the search for God that he is ready to die in order to see Him. That is why monastic life is a “martyrdom” as  well as a “paradise,” a life that is at once “angelic” and “crucified.”

St. Paul resolves the problem: “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The monastic life is the rejection of all that obstructs the spiritual rays of this mysterious light. The monk is one who leaves behind the fictions and illusions of a merely human spirituality in order to plunge himself in the faith of Christ. Faith is the light which illumines him in mystery. Faith is the power which seizes upon the inner depths of his souls and delivers him up to the action of the divine Spirit, the Spirit of liberty, the Spirit of love. Faith takes him, as the power of God took the ancient prophets, and “stands him upon his feet” (Ezekiel 2:2) before the Lord. The monastic life is the life in the Spirit of Christ, a life in which the Christian gives himself entirely to the love of God which transforms him in the light of Christ.

“The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3: 17-18).

What St. Paul has said of the inner life of every Christian becomes in all truth the main objective of the monk, living in his solitary cloister. In seeking Christian perfection the monk seeks the fullness of the Christian life, the complete maturity of the Christian faith. For him, “to live is Christ.”

Amen. It’s time to harness our inner monks and crank up the dynamo of prayer.

For All the Saints: Francis of Assisi, Deacon

"Cigoli, san francesco" by Cigoli - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Cigoli, san francesco” by Cigoli – Web Gallery of Art:   Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s the feast of St. Francis of Assisi today, in case you didn’t notice. True story: My grandfather was a Catholic and his name was Francis too, and he was named after the fellow you’ll be reading about below. As it happens, that is also how I came to be named, but the Catholic connotation of that Christian name lay dormant for some great length time. My grandfather died, see, when I was a wee tot and my memories of him bear no mark of his (and now my) religion at all.

Dipping into my favorite electronic library, I came across this little review of “Mrs. Oliphant’s” Life of St. Francis in an English journal called “The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art.” Wow, they don’t write journals with titles like that anymore! Now, I have no idea who the author of the following thoughts is, but the introductory paragraphs of the essay below start with the chagrin St. Francis causes amongst our non-Catholic Christian brethren. Because there really is no one closer to St. Francis in devotion to Christ, than perhaps the Blessed Virgin herself.

Looking for a Catholic who took the gospels literally? You’ve found him. These thoughts were penned in the Year of Our Lord 1872, or about half a heartbeat ago in the cosmic scheme of things. Have a look,

from a review of The Life of St. Francis

The Franciscan Order met a crying want of the age which the older religious communities failed to satisfy. But there is nothing to show that Francis had any such conscious purpose in originating it. From first to last he was the child of impulse, but of impulses which were always benevolent, generous, and devout. “He thought little of himself, even of his own soul to be saved;” his one idea and master-passion was how best to work for God and to help men.

The first murmurs were already beginning to be heard of the great democratic movement which has since overspread Europe, and the feudal system, still surviving in full force, was more and more felt to be an oppressive burden on the poor. Nor was the only power that could then act as a counterpoise itself irreproachable. There was a very general outcry against the pride of a wealthy and dominant hierarchy accused of caring more for its own aggrandizement than for the souls of men. And that cry had taken shape in strange forms of heresy, old and new, which threatened social as well as ecclesiastical order, and which Church and State—so far as the two can then be distinguished—were banded together to trample out with ruthless and indiscriminate severity.

But the Church, if she was to retain her moral supremacy, required a machinery which could convince as well as crush; there was needed a popular ministry to satisfy the wants of popular devotion, and a popular theology to meet on its own ground the advances of popular heresy. And this was the double work which Francis, however unconsciously, was destined to accomplish, though he might have seemed from his antecedents about the unlikeliest man in Europe for the purpose.

In the little city of Assisi, which lies beneath the Eastern slope of the Umbrian Apennines, there lived a worthy merchant, Pietro Bernadone di Mericoni by name, to whom was born in 1182 a son named Francesco, and known among his companions by the common Italian sobriquet of Cecco. The boy grew up to be the pride of his parents, the spoiled child of fortune, the darling of society, the idol of a glittering circle of youthful friends, gayest among the gay, of singular personal beauty, fascinating manners, and brilliant but genial wit.

At the age of twenty he was struck down by a severe illness, and from that hour is dated his “conversion—from a life of carelessness, not apparently of vice—the first result of which was his joining, in obedience to a dream, the army of the “Gentle Count” “Walter of Brienne, in the strife of Guelph against Ghibelline. But a second dream turned him back at Spoleto, and for a time he resumed his old life, but not in the old spirit. “Why so grave, Francis?” said his wondering companions; “are you going to be married?” The question suggested the reply: “I am; and my bride is—Poverty.”

Those strange nuptials have been immortalized by the greatest of French orators and of Italian poets, and the pencil of Giotto has familiarized to our eyes what the glowing words of Bossuet and Dante have made musical to our ears. The events which followed in rapid succession must be briefly dismissed here. In obedience to another vision Francis undertook to rebuild the little church of St. Damiano, outside the walls of Assisi, and incurred the fierce anger of his father, who had already been sorely troubled by his eccentricities, by selling some of his bales of cloth for the purpose. He was seized as a lunatic, and imprisoned for several months in his own home.

At length, after signing a renunciation of his patrimony, and stripping off his costly garments, he went forth, homeless and friendless, like the patriarch of old, forgetting his own people and his father’s house, and not knowing whither he went. But he now remembered an incident which had occurred some time previously, and had deeply impressed him. He had met a leper near Assisi, and, conquering his natural disgust, had sprung from his horse and embraced him. Those who know the peculiar care bestowed by the Church of that age on these unhappy outcasts, whom Christ, according to the Vulgate reading of Isaiah’s prophecy, had made types of Himself, will not wonder at the sequel. The seeming leper vanished, to appear again to Francis in a dream; for it was indeed none other than the Divine Sufferer of whom the prophet spoke.

To the lepers’ hospital at Assisi accordingly Francis now betook himself, and thence he came forth to supplicate alms to rebuild the church of St. Damiano, and another church outside the city formerly dedicated to St. Peter, but now restored under the name of La Portiuncola, or Our Lady of the Angels, and which is still the central home of the Franciscan Order.

The time for establishing that Order had now come. We must pass over the touching story of the conversion of his two first companions, Bernardo di Quintavalle and Pietro di Catania, who settled in a little hut on the plains of Assisi to form the first nucleus of the new community. In a few weeks the numbers had increased to twelve, and already Francis heard in spirit “the tread of multitudes”—French, Spaniards, English, Germans—thronging to join them. He traced out a cross on the ground stretching to the four points of the compass, and despatched his little band in four companies on their mission of mercy to the bodies and souls of men.

The Order was now formed, but it had no legalized existence, and the members were simple laymen. Francis, therefore, who was no “nonconformist,” but a devoted son of the Church, resolved in Izio to repair to Rome, and ask for the sanction of the Pope. Innocent III., whom he and his companions found pacing at sunset along the stately terraces of the Lateran, looked with amazement on these strange visitors, in their rough shepherd’s dress, and remanded them till the morning.

That night, we are told, he dreamt, like the Syrian King of old, of a palm-tree which rose beneath his feet, and its branches stretched over the earth, and the weary and world-worn from every nation came to repose beneath its shade. And again he dreamed that the great Lateran Church was falling to the ground, and was propped up by the poor beggar in big brown shepherd’s dress who had stood before him the previous evening. He hesitated no longer, and, in spite of the remonstrances of his cardinals, dismissed his visitors with his blessing and a solemn, though as yet unwritten, approbation of their stern rule of poverty.

That went something like this,

The return of Francis to Assisi was like a triumphal procession. Bells were rung and litanies chanted, and crowds came forth to meet him, and the church of the Portiuncola was at once formally made over to him. The conversion of St. Clare soon followed, and the Church of St. Damiano was assigned to the female community of Poor Clares, the “Second Order” of Franciscans, instituted under her rule.

And now Francis, who but two or three years before had been hooted as a madman through the streets of his native city, was preaching in the cathedral, though only a deacon, to enraptured crowds, who hung upon his every word. We must pass rapidly over the first General Chapter of the Order, the second journey of Francis to Rome to obtain a fuller confirmation of the rule from Honorius HL, and his meeting there with St. Dominic, when the founders of the rival Orders vowed before the altar an eternal friendship, to note his first acquaintance with Cardinal Ugolino, afterwards Pope Gregory IX., who remained ever afterwards the warm friend and patron of Francis and his community.

St. Francis, pray for us.

For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux, The Sincere Lover of Christ

“Therese von Lisieux” by Unknown photographer – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by, but it’s the Little Flower’s Feast Day again. This time last year, I shared a post in which Thérèse was likened to, and bettered, both Confucius and Lao Tzu. And now, as then, I turn to thoughts on her penned by my friend John C.H. Wu. [Read more...]

Gone Readin’ Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Why haven’t I been posting much lately? You can blame Fr. Steve Grunow, who suggested the book you see above to me a few days ago. I’ve never read anything by Evelyn Waugh, and I’m not ashamed to say that for most of my life I figured Evelyn was a lady, and I wasn’t much interested in what she had to say.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve got me a college degree and all, and after I became a Catholic and snooped around a bit I learned that Evelyn was a man, a Catholic, and he wrote some great novels that were turned into classics for Masterpiece Theater. Still, I was about as excited to read anything written by him as I was interested in say…watching paint dry, or grass grow. Yawn.

But then I found that neat book about the True Cross by Louis de Combes, and Fr. Steve suggested Waugh’s book. I checked the catalog at the library, noted a copy was on the shelf, and I strolled over there and picked it up pronto. I haven’t been able to put it down since. Here’s a taste:

“Chlorus, is it true what they are saying in Ratisbon: that you are going to be Caesar?”

“Who say that?”

“The governor’s wife, the widow of the banker, all the ladies.”

“It may be true. Aurelian and I have spoken of it before. After the battle, he spoke of it again. He has to go to Syria now, to tidy up trouble there. After that he will return to Rome for his triumph. Then we shall see.”

“Do you want it?”

“It’s not what I want, ostler; it’s what Aurelian wants that counts, he and the army and the empire. It is nothing to be shy of, just another, larger command—Gaul, the Rhine, Britain, possibly Spain. The empire’s too big for one man; that’s been proved. And we need a secure succession, a second-in-command who’s been trained to the job, knows the ropes, can step in straight away when the command falls vacant; not leave each army to declare for its own general and fight it out as they’ve done lately. Aurelian is going to talk to the senators about it when we go to Rome.”

See? Clear thinking like that is what I was just talking about a few days back. And does everything go according to plan? As if!

I’m not going to tell you anything more about the book but this: Helena has just embarked on her quest to find the True Cross and you can forget about me posting anything remotely intelligible until I finish this book. Color me gone!

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!


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