Saturday, November 30, 2013

St. Michael, defend us in battle!

"Reflecting on the hidden life of Nazareth and on Mary’s spiritual progress in its silence, and reflecting by way of contrast on what the world terms progress, we are forced to conclude: men never talked more of progress than since they began to neglect its most important form, spiritual progress. And what has been the result? That the baser forms of progress, sought for their own sake, have brought pleasure, idleness and unemployment in their train, and prepared the way for a moral decline towards materialism, atheism—and even barbarism, as the recent world wars prove. In Mary, on the contrary, we find the ever more perfect realization of the gospel words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.”' [Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. (2013-03-22). The Mother of the Saviour: And Our Interior Life (Illustrated Classics) (pp. 106-107). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

Father's book has an Imprimatur from 1941 and an original copyright from 1948, so it safely can be said to antedate present polemics. I thought of this quote as I read a post from the blog The Sensible Bond, which I was going to link, only to discover the author thought better (?), but at any rate, took it down. He discusses the notion of "mission" and whether it could be considered an adequate Church paradigm. So as to get no one in trouble, I'll appeal to Father Garrigou-Lagrange who is safely dead and gone to heaven at the moment. The hidden life of Nazareth, both for Jesus (until age 30) and for the Blessed Mother, loving God above all, the first commandment, challenges our anger and frustration, at any age, about not "accomplishing".

The nice thing about a Church paradigm is the facility with which we can apply it to the life of the Church as well as to the lives of individual Christians, always following Our Lord and Master, enlightened and accompanied by the example of Mary, His Mother and from the foot of the Cross our Mother as well. Society and politics get a bit more tricky, above all because "enlightened" secularists tell us we have no place on the public square. They, of course, are wrong. If Christ's reign is not acknowledged, we have nowhere else to turn.

That thought came home to me very poignantly this morning when one of the photos which confronted me this morning was that of some young men who had barricaded themselves inside the iron gates of St. Michael of the Golden Domes Monastery here in Kyiv, having fled the violence which drove them from their peaceful watch during the night at "Europe Square" down the hill. I refuse to believe that it was an accident that these men sought refuge in the citadel of prayer. 

We need to think about what should animate human discourse, whether it be interpersonal, somehow social or political. If as at Nazareth the first commandment had its due in every aspect of our lives, the second would be less problematic.

I saw some video clips today of adults attempting to reason with the young militiamen charged with holding "Europe Square" today: something was missing from the equation and to make it seem like a futile exercise. For Greek Catholics and Orthodox here in Ukraine this Sunday is the first Sunday of the Christmas Fast. For us Latins, for the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world, it is the First Sunday of Advent.

I am praying that Jesus will come (sovereignly) into all our hearts and minds. May He take us by the hand and lead us to Nazareth, to love, to His citadel of prayer, which may give us all the right counsel for moving forward!



Monday, November 25, 2013

Certain Demons only with Fasting and Prayer

Pope Saint Gregory the Great. 
Saint Benedict: The Life of Our Most Holy Father Saint Benedict 
(A Catholic Classic!) (2009-11-15). ignacio hills press (TM) and e-Pulp Adventures (TM). 
Kindle Edition. 

"But when he saw there many through the uneven paths of vice run headlong to their own ruin, he drew back his foot, but new-set in the world, lest, in the search of human knowledge, he might also fall into the same dangerous precipice. Contemning therefore learning and studies and abandoning his father’s house and goods, he desired only to please God in a virtuous life. Therefore he departed skilfully ignorant and wisely unlearned." [Kindle Locations 75-78]

Pope St. Gregory the Great is speaking of St. Benedict still a boy in the care of his nurse, leaving the world behind: "... skilfully ignorant and wisely unlearned." If you know and love St. Benedict, spend 99 cents and relish this gem!

Besides confirming me once again in the conviction concerning the nature of vocation, that God calls us from our mother's womb, reading Pope Gregory on Benedict was a great nudge today to assume the heroic quest for virtue through personal penance. We are too much at our ease, at least I am. With no intention of putting myself at odds with Pope Francis, I am taking my distance from popular notions of "engagement" as the strategy for our supposedly different times. Reading Gregory's account of the life and works of St. Benedict makes it all too clear to me that Benedict's heroic absorption with prayer and penance are what rendered him and his brethren victorious over Satan, bringing the light of Christ to a world still in the grips of the devil despite five centuries having passed since Christ's victory upon the Cross.

"I may well say, therefore, that his holy man lived with himself, because he never turned the eye of his soul from himself, but standing always on his guard with great circumspection, he kept himself continually in the all-seeing eye of his Creator." [Kindle Locations 163-165]

The enthusiasm of unreflective youth needs to be confronted with the purpose of our great fathers Benedict and Gregory. The authority they exercised was Christ's; the wonders they worked were from His Hand.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Yes, He is King. He rules in All Things!


 (2013-02-11).  Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

This little pamphlet is a great pick-me-up, no doubt enhanced by the English translation of Paul Garvin. It has genuine authority to offer consolation to whomever might be in doubt about the whole gamut of questions which face us individually and in relationship as priests, religious, lay people, whether married or single.

The following passage really got me thinking about the mystery of vocation and why a family might not be blessed with a religious or priestly vocation. It says a couple things better than I have been able to formulate them for myself to date:

"If you are the father or mother of a family, you ought to conform your will to God’s with regard to the number or sex of the children He pleases to give you. When men were animated by the spirit of faith they regarded a large family as a gift of God and a blessing from heaven, and considered God more than themselves as the father of their children. But now that faith has weakened and people live isolated from God, or if they think of Him at all it is mostly to fear Him and hardly ever to have trust in His providence, they are reduced to bearing the burden of their families alone. And as a man’s resources, however ample and assured they may seem, are always limited and uncertain, even those who are most favored by fortune view with dismay an increase in their family. They regard it as a kind of disaster which fills them with apprehension, an endless source of worry to poison their existence. How different it would be if we realized God’s paternal treatment of those who submit to Him with filial trust! If we did so we should realize also what St. Paul meant when he said that God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that always having ample means, you may abound in every good work." (2 Cor. 9:8)[Kindle Location 431-440] 

One cannot be "pollyannaish" about the responsibilities entailed by marriage and family life, especially the worries which accompany having a large family, but if a husband a wife could truly believe and consider "God more than themselves as the father of their children"... I think we would have less worry about having enough priests and sisters for the needs of the Church.

Over and over again we hunch our backs at the insults and unjust demands heaped upon us by our superiors; we have no confidence in them. It is good to remember that is not the point of the exercise. Divine Providence is ultimately in charge of the game and seeks our conformity to His Will, often foisted upon us by the coarse, the wicked or the vain:

"God makes use of men as the doctor does of leeches. Neither should we then stop to consider the evilness of those to whom God gives power to act on us or be grieved at their wicked intentions, and we should keep ourselves from feelings of aversion towards them. Whatever their particular views may be, in regard to us they are only instruments of well being, guided by the hand of an all-good, all-wise, all-powerful God who will allow them to act on us only in so far as is of use to us. It is in our interest to welcome instead of trying to repel their assaults, as in very truth they come from God. And it is the same with all creatures of whatever kind. Not one of them could act upon us unless the power were given it from above." [Kindle Locations 189-194]

Thinking about this final Sunday of another liturgical year, I think it crucial for myself and for all believers to renew our faith in what is meant by the mystery of Christ's Kingship: that He is indeed in control of the universe, that He reigns over all, and that, yes, He indeed hears and answers our prayers:

"It is a strange fact that though Christ repeatedly and solemnly promised to answer our prayers, most Christians are continually complaining that He does not do so. We cannot account for this by saying that the reason is because of the kind of things we ask for, since He included everything in His promise—All things whatsoever you shall ask. Nor can we attribute it to the unworthiness of those who ask, for His promise extended to everybody without exception—Whoever asks shall receive. Why is it then that so many prayers remain unanswered? Can it be that as most people are never satisfied, they make such excessive and impatient demands on God that they tire and annoy Him by their importunity? The case is just the opposite. The only reason why we obtain so little from God is because we ask for so little and we are not insistent enough. Christ promised on behalf of His Father that He would give us everything, even the very smallest things. But He laid down an order to be observed in all that we ask, and if we do not obey this rule we are unlikely to obtain anything. He tells us in St. Matthew: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice and all these things shall be given to you besides." [Kindle Locations 913-921]

Many times I try my best to remember how life was for me as a small child (before TV! - yes, that old!), which means before all the gadgets and invasive expectations which toss me willingly or unwillingly to and fro. Above all, I guess I'd like to understand what perseverance in prayer should mean in my life, what storming heaven for something or someone would be all about. My questions revolve around both length and intensity. Just today I was reading an account of the type of Lenten fasting which St. Gregory the Great did as a monk, to the point of fainting dead away... Not that I am advocating such, but the King deserves more I suspect, when I come to Him with my petition. St. Monica, pray for us!

"In fact it took St. Monica sixteen years to obtain the conversion of Augustine, but the conversion was entire and far beyond what she had prayed for. Her desire was that her son’s incontinence might be checked by marriage, and instead she had the joy of seeing him embrace a life of holy chastity. She had only wanted him to he baptized and become a Christian, and she saw him a bishop. She asked God to turn him aside from heresy, and God made him a pillar of the Church and its champion against heretics. Think what would have happened had she given up hope after a couple of years, after ten or twelve years, when her prayers appeared to obtain no result and her son grew worse instead of better, adding avarice and ambition to the wildness of his life and sinking further and further into error. She would have wronged her son, thrown away her own happiness, and deprived the world of one of the greatest Christian thinkers." [Kindle Locations 991-997]

As this great Year of Faith draws to a conclusion, we may find our efforts to seek God and submit to the Divine Will not up to the measure of the Church's saints. Let us not despair but renew our resolve and as it says somewhere in Holy Writ gird up the loins of our understanding!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Outrun, Outgun, Outnarrate

While I make no mystery of my great admiration for Father Robert Barron and his evangelization apostolate, WORD ON FIRE, these last two videos published on the 50th death anniversary of the great C.S. Lewis have me stymied. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, if you will. While I'd like to cheer Father on when he cries to the effect that we as followers of Christ have what it takes to outnarrate the sad secularists and consumerists and take the hill, I don't know what that means. While his narrative advanced C.S. Lewis farther than many, it didn't bring him all the way to full Communion with the Catholic Church and the fullness of life in the Sacraments. Where his narrative drew him I cannot and will not judge, but it would be hard for me to conclude that C.S. Lewis actually took that hill. He seems to have fallen short and the great narrative somehow seems not to have been quite enough. We'll leave the matter in God's Hands and stick to parsing the narrative.

The popularity of movies like LORD OF THE RINGS or TALES OF NARNIA does not necessarily correlate with anything other than that nice glow emanating from a sweet Hindu woman I met once, who in an attempt to enter into a conversation I was having with a lady about the Blessed Mother, interjected "We have a blue god too!" Or the Jamaican priest who had to defend to the Legion of Mary his practice of giving rosaries to gang members who asked for them to wear around their necks. Some of his parishioners thought the exchange required some explanation about the prayer to be said with the beads.

It took me decades after university to overcome my resistance and actually read the Tollkien trilogy plus the Hobbit. In the late 60's these books were the provenance of liberated female religious and Peter Pan types who would have been thrilled to awake with fur on the bottom of their feet. 

Sorry for being so cynical but I am waiting for Father to put the great narrative in its context. It is not only "The Greatest Story Ever Told", but it is our story within the community of the Catholic Church. This all seems reminiscent of St. Paul's experience in the Areopagus. Very few were struck by Paul's eloquence and charm. Better to confront with the folly of the Cross. 

As I say, if I miss it when the other shoe drops, someone please fill me in!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restless Until We Rest in Thee

“For though the soul may seem to rule the body admirably, and the reason the vices, if the soul and reason do not themselves obey God, as God has commanded them to serve Him, they have no proper authority over the body and the vices. For what kind of mistress of the body and the vices can that mind be which is ignorant of the true God, and which, instead of being subject to His authority, is prostituted to the corrupting influences of the most vicious demons? It is for this reason that the virtues which it seems to itself to possess, and by which it restrains the body and the vices that it may obtain and keep what it desires, are rather vices than virtues so long as there is no reference to God in the matter. For although some suppose that virtues which have a reference only to themselves, and are desired only on their own account, are yet true and genuine virtues, the fact is that even then they are inflated with pride, and are therefore to be reckoned vices rather than virtues. For as that which gives life to the flesh is not derived from flesh, but is above it, so that which gives blessed life to man is not derived from man, but is something above him; and what I say of man is true of every celestial power and virtue whatsoever.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (2009-10-22). The City of God (p. 638). Hendrickson Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

I finally finished reading all the way through St. Augustine's City of God. The quote above comes from the Saint's commentary on what Varro has to say about human happiness being rooted in virtue. St. Augustine takes such beyond the earthy city and situates it in the context of the city of God. It is a big, hearty work which St. Augustine did for his own times and of which any half intelligent person can see the application to our world today. Pagan folly and overall cynicism might have a somewhat different vesture in our day, but the whole pantheon still comes up wanting and challenged in 2013.

I'm still haunted a bit by John Senior's dismissal of the possibilities of raising up a first rate Catholic intellectual today for lack of cultural humus (as he would say). Look at what St. Augustine did in the midst of paganism and heresy! There is at least as much belief afoot today as there was in Augustine's day and hence potential for transforming culture. Let us give ourselves to the challenge of replacing bread and circus with humbled and contrite hearts set on the Kingdom which will have no end! Let us open to the Bridegroom!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting Beyond Our Virtual World

The Restoration of Christian Culture
Senior, John
(2008-10-01). Ihs Press. Kindle Edition.

The fact that I read Senior volume II on the heels of Topping's fine book on recovering or restoring Catholic culture made this book more interesting for me. On its own this second Senior book is well worthwhile, but his analysis of our dark days is apocalyptic by comparison with Topping. Be that as it may, I think I'd follow John Senior anywhere.

"We must inscribe this first law of Christian economics on our hearts: the purpose of work is not profit but prayer, and the first law of Christian ethics: that we live for Him and not for ourselves. And life in Him is love." (p. 17)

As in his first book, Senior insists that culture will be restored through a monastic revival. He sees us all as having our part in insuring that young men and women choose the better part.

"For the rest of us, laymen and priests in the active life, we must put this on our agenda: Encourage young men and women–particularly women, who have the greater aptitude–to do as Our Lord said, “Be perfect.” Of all the possible careers the young might consider and choose, they must put God’s choice first and consider the possibility of a call to the contemplative life. That again is not a choice but an obligation. And this means that books must be made available describing and explaining the life, visits and retreats must be arranged if houses of contemplative prayer with the Latin liturgy can be found. Parents, priests and teachers who fail at this have committed sins of spiritual contraception against the next generation. For priests and religious who abandon or disgrace this life, it were better by far if a millstone were tied about their necks and they were cast into the sea." (p. 62)

As an educator, he argues convincingly the hopelessness of our situation. Not only are college freshmen poor readers, but they have been deprived of contact with nature and everything which would make children's books understandable to them. As he spoke about the futility of teaching a great books curriculum to such young people, I saw the wisdom of the hiking, horseback riding and survival techniques which form part of the curriculum at Wyoming Catholic (they are trying to recover the cultural humus in which an intellectual life can root and bloom).

Some might be puzzled by his insistence on the revitalization of a regimen of prayer, especially for secular priests, which even Pope St. Pius X sought to curtail. He argues convincingly for a full return to the Mass of the Ages as well.

"Everyone will say at once, it can’t be done. That is what I meant when I said that the first thing said about prayer is that we don’t have time for it. But the reason why we don’t is that priests don’t lead the way by praying their four hours every day, and monks and nuns don’t lead them by keeping all the vigils of the night. We are suffering from the domino effect. Every layman owes his tithe of time–two and one half hours per day!" (p. 63)

Senior's argument for such an abundant prayer life (four hours per day for secular priests) stems from his comparison of our world today to that of St. Benedict of Nursia. He observed that a millennium almost of Benedictine life is what rescued Europe from barbarism and engendered or served as the gestating womb for St. Thomas Aquinas. Senior says that we have fallen so far that it is pointless to attempt a revival of Thomism today; we need to do for our world what St. Benedict and his Rule did for another world and successfully. For Senior, monasticism/prayer and work (ora et labora) spawns culture, which then can produce a life of the intellect.

It is in this book that John Senior recounts his own experience of a Holy Week and Easter in the Monastery of Fongombault. That part of the book alone made it worth the read for me.

For fellow "Kindlers", one caveat: this book was obviously scanned in with software which did not know Latin. Invariably "ae" comes out "ce", which can be annoying. Too bad a proofreader didn't go through this Kindle edition.

Apart from the challenge which Senior presents to any serious Catholic, to restore the lamp to its stand or to give new luster to the city on a hilltop, I'm becoming more concerned generally about avenues open to us for genuine human exchange. Apart from issues about excessive time spent with Facebook and other media, plus gaming, I am beginning to suspect that genuine human exchanges are more of a rarity than we would like to believe. Senior was thoroughly against television, but it goes further. Talk years ago was about avoiding an objectification of the other, which keeps us from an encounter with the other as person. Maybe today we should say that the tendency is to "virtualize" the other and thereby deprive him or her, not so much of personhood as of the possibility to speak to us and touch our hearts. I ask myself whether even Pope Francis isn't more virtual than he is real for a lot of people.

That then for me would be another reason for getting on the Senior "bandwagon" of urging lay people to tithe prayer time/time for God each day: two and one half hours! I guess I better get busy setting an example by attaining my four hours a day! Pray for me as I do for you!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Real Genius in less the 250 pages!

Rebuilding Catholic Culture
Topping, Ryan N.S.
(2013-01-07). Sophia Institute. Kindle Edition.

“What was missing after the council was an account and defense of the continuity of the embodied practices of the Faith that were to serve as the foundation for Christian renewal. Even a child can learn to call Mary Theotokos; but he is unlikely to think of her as his Mother until he has learned to thumb his way along a rosary. The effects of this loss in transmission are now everywhere evident. The problem facing Catholics forty years ago was how sensibly to integrate the old with the new. The wrong answer was to attempt a revolution within the Church. Genuine gains of the council have been lost because much of the postconciliar generation “often has never experienced the devotional practices of previous generations” (DPP 59). The loss of the habit of piety coupled with the advance of an aggressive secularism has generated some predictable and some surprising results. What has been predictable is the way that young people, often after years of attendance in parochial schools, simply abandoned the Church. Once they leave home these cradle Catholics amuse themselves with the same coarse entertainments and excesses that their peers enjoyed with ease long before. Such baptized but unformed souls receive Communion at Christmas, ask for a Church wedding, and maybe even pray at the Requiem Mass of their grandmother; but they will never attend the fraternities, catechism classes, or processions that their parents took for granted. The sentimental among these will join the legion of “spiritual but not religious.” They find their nourishment elsewhere, in yoga classes, or in a bowl of soft tofu.” (pp. 227-228).

 As with any work which extends beyond 30 pages not every chapter of this book is equally brilliant, but the author cannot be denied his laurels for having gifted us with a genius work. For my own propensity, I especially enjoyed his two chapters on the Church's liturgical and sacramental life. Nonetheless, I'd like to see a parish study group concentrate on his chapters on virtue, law and family. Working through this book could encourage people to more time with the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself, but no less be a source of reassurance and challenge in the face of ambiguity and discouragement.

I know that many good Catholics have been taken aback in the last months, given the "full court press" by liberal and otherwise relativist media interests. Topping reassures and does it with both intelligence and flair. Because the book covers the whole spectrum and the man who wrote it is not only erudite but communicative and down to earth, this one gets five gold stars!

It could be my imagination, but it seems to me also in these months, with greater frequency, one notes finger-pointing with shouts of "modernist" or tagging of things as smacking of the heresy of "modernism". I think I better understand the deleterious effect of this error on Christian life and faith. Modernism is many things, but always and everywhere it is aimless; it tempts really to unbelief and Godlessness. Topping concludes with a simple plan for restoring Catholic culture. It is a good one and in no way shape or form can he be accused of "obsessing" for the priorities he establishes:

"We have perhaps devoted too much time to marking the dissolution of Catholic culture. What practical steps might we take toward its renewal? I conclude with a strategy with four components. Let us end abortion; have more children; teach them Latin; and build better churches. These correspond, so it seems, to the most pressing social, educational, political, and liturgical needs of the Church in the West." (p. 236). 


Friday, November 1, 2013

Destination: Before the Throne!

I am beginning to suspect that "tolerance" is a bad or even impossible word and except for medicinal purposes to be avoided at all costs. It allows some people seemingly innocuous tweets and even real life comments, which at best lead nowhere and often lead astray. In saying this, I don't think I need fear or dread being accused of being an old Catholic bigot. Tolerance just doesn't aptly describe any virtuous or meritorious sort of relationship between or among people. I tolerate the heat; I have a certain tolerance for alcohol; I tolerate pain. If I tolerate a person, it is because he or she bothers me, but more likely simply because he or she departs from acceptable behavior and can rightly be expected to trouble not just me but also others living within the norm of the acceptable. Tolerance is neither a virtue nor a social grace. 

If I tweet something, then I either want to share it because it is great or worth while or because I want to warn or protest. I guess I could also seek feedback for something which I do not understand or which troubles me. If "Whispers in the Loggia" is signaling approval with his tweet, then well may his donate button freeze in hell. Here's one I woke up to today on Nov. 1, even if the author of the tweet might have still been trick or treating. [Honestly, this is not a rant, for not even “Whispers in the Loggia” can spoil All Saints Day for me, but it sort of got me thinking about appropriateness and proper discourse for myself and others, for having tweeted something which he should have passed over in silence.] I’m talking about his link to articles and glitzy videos celebrating the “gay marriage” of a formerly high profile Catholic priest… Don't go there as it is just plain wrong, there, in the midst of glamour, a cute Yorkie dog, tears and joy, is this bitter line:

“Carl: I feel that nothing or no one can take us away from each other–no church, no state, no federal government, no hospital denying either of us visiting or caring rights… Nothing!”

From the Office of today's Solemnity from the second reading from a sermon for the day from St. Bernard, abbot, illumined by the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel, I took these words:

“Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.”

In the immediate post-conciliar period many of us were deprived of our angels and saints (who all was to blame is not for me to say). I do not know of anyone before Blessed Pope John Paul II who did more with his countless beatifications and canonizations to break down resistance and vanquish the hesitancy to engage in discourse and once again rejoice in devotion to the throngs of the Church Triumphant in Heaven. May we be aided through the intercession and teaching of Saint Bernard to increase our longing to be caught up in the great company of saints before the Throne on high! Clinging to other mortals outside an orderly sacramental marriage should not be tolerated (there's that word!).

Tomorrow on All Souls Day, I hope all will pray and sacrifice for the countless souls in Purgatory, that they might join the heavenly throng. Life's joy and intensity comes from responding wholeheartedly to the Bridegroom when He comes and knocks. 

"Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty." [Psalm 45:10-11]