Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Spirit, Matter, and the Word of God

The Word Made Flesh     

My family doesn’t attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass on a regular basis, but we go whenever we can.  One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that every Mass closes with a reading of the “Last Gospel”, which is opening of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
     There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him.  He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light.   That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.  He was in the world, and the world was made by him,  and the world knew him not.
     He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,  (and we saw his  glory, the  glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:1-14)

St. Jerome Visited by Angels by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi
     On those occasions when I have been granted the privilege of teaching a religion course in the High
School where I work I always start the school year with this passage because it is the best introduction to the Catholic understanding of what we might call the Sacramental Principle, our understanding that God teaches us spiritual truths through material things. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us"!  Catholic and Orthodox Christians have always understood the Embodiment in the Man Jesus Christ of the Eternal Word who existed before the creation of the universe to be a pattern that is repeated in countless lesser embodiments: the men and women whom God chooses to carry out his will, such as prophets, evangelists, and saints, not to mention his ordained clergy; his Church and its sacraments; the events of Salvation History and everyday life.  “The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God!”, says the Psalmist in Psalm 19:1.  Accordingly, things, details and events are important.  That’s why the early Church was always careful to emphasize that Jesus was a actual man who lived in specific places under certain verifiable Roman officials such as Pontius Pilate.  The details matter.

Loosening Up the Meaning

     I couldn’t help but reflect on these things as I read the Anthony Esolen article that was the subject of yesterday’s post (7 april 2014). He starts out saying:

I recently read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae the way it was principally meant to be read: in Latin.  There’s something illuminating, I find, about reading in the original a work that is familiar to you in translation.  It becomes unfamiliar.  You can’t catch the gist of a clause unless you pay unusually close attention to the words.  You can’t dismiss something before you have quite determined what that something is.

     I had been thinking of writing about just this idea myself, because I apply the same principle in many of my posts dealing with Holy Scripture (see here and here), where looking at a word or words in the original Greek, and maybe the way it was translated into Latin just a few centuries later, is not so much a matter of “linguistic analysis” as it is simply a way of loosening up the meaning for me after the English translations have become so familiar that they have calcified, and no longer sink in.
     It’s also true that having to work through a language like Latin or Greek, where the syntax follows different principles, forces you to examine the language much more closely than if you were simply reading it in English.  Some of my students know this first hand. A few years ago I was searching through the encyclicals of John Paul II looking for some “modern Latin” for a third year Latin class.  One day I heard some of the students in the class teasing one of their classmates because he had visited a store called “Condom Sense” (yes, it is what it sounds like).  “Of course!” I thought, “Humanae Vitae!”  Which we did, in the original language.  Those students knew Pope Paul’s teaching inside and out (which is not to say that they were pleased to know it).

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

     Another problem with translations is that invariably many of the connotations and possible meanings of the original language will be lost.  This is always the case, but even more so in the latter half of the twentieth century, when an approach called “dynamic equivalence” was popular among translators, in which the translator would render what he thought the text meant, as opposed to what it actually said.  The result was “translations” that were really interpretations, with much of the concrete and vivid imagery flattened or erased, and thus the distinctness, and sense of embodiment.  Think of the recently replaced translation of the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you . . .” as opposed to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . .” The so-called “dynamic” version is abstract and remote, the new more literal translation is something you can visualize, besides retaining a clear connection to the Biblical source (the Roman centurion with a sick servant in Matthew 8:8).
     So, you might be saying, "I don’t know Latin or Greek: where does that leave me?"  Well, it’s never too late to start learning, but in any case there are things you can do in reading Scripture, for instance, that can help you achieve some of the same result.  You can read the Bible with a good Catholic commentary, for instance.  It can also be helpful to compare different translations. I would advise sticking to approved Catholic translations. I would also make a point of including the Douay-Rheims version, which for a long time was the Catholic Bible in English; it is from the same era as the King James ( a few decades earlier, in fact), and makes a point of sticking much closer to the original text than has been the fashion in recent years (the passage from John's Gospel at the beginning of the post is from this translation). Working with the language in this way can help to free it from the choices of a particular translator.

They Are There For A Reason

     Here’s my final point: God speaks to us through his creation, including the words of Holy Scripture written by men under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The words of those Scriptures are themselves filled with all manner of vivid concrete images and events.  They are there for a reason: who are we to say that we know better than the inspired authors?  And the more tangible we can make them, the better we will understand. For instance, I have heard some people say, in praying the Our Father, "give us this day our daily strength", instead of the more literal "give us this day our daily bread."  "Strength" is certainly one of the things that the image includes, but there's so much more: all the various other ways in which God fulfills our daily needs, and specific connections such as the Manna from Heaven (which was good only for one day) and, most important, Christ the Bread of Life, present in the Eucharist. 
     We are neither soulless animals, nor disembodied angels: God has created human beings as a unique combination of matter and spirit. It is for that reason the Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us.  And for the same reason, when we see spiritual realities through the material lenses with which our creator has provided us, we see most clearly.

(An earlier version of this "Revisited" post was originally April 8th, 2014 under the title, "Scripture: Why Language is Important".  Please visit the linkup for Worth Revisiting Wednesdayhosted by Elizabeth Reardon at, and Allison Gingras at


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Liturgy of the Hours and You (LOH 3)

  In my previous posts I discussed how I came to start praying the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH), and what the LOH looks like. Today I intend to discuss how to incorporate the LOH into your daily prayer life, particularly if you are a busy layperson.  Today's discussion, in fact, is primarily intended for people who are not under obligation to pray the LOH; those who are under obligation will need to consult their superiors as to what guidelines to follow in praying the Office. For the rest of us, however, there are a wide variety of approaches that we can use.

How to Begin

     Before we begin, let’s consider some of the main ways in which the Liturgy can enhance your prayer life: by structuring your day around a schedule of times set aside for prayer, you “consecrate time”, and can remain more conscious of being close to God throughout the day;  you also unite yourself more closely to the Universal Church by participating in the same liturgical celebration that is being prayed around the world; you will also become more familiar with Holy Scripture, especially if you include the Office of Readings (which also, as an added benefit, includes extensive readings from the works and lives of the saints).
     It’s a good idea to keep those ends in mind as you begin.  Also, as is the case when beginning a physical exercise program, it’s best not to attempt to do too much too soon: once you have established the routine of regular prayer, it won’t be too hard to expand it, but if it seems impossible at the outset, you are likely to abandon it before too long.  For this reason I suggest concentrating first on the practice of simply praying at set times, even if it’s just a brief prayer.  For instance, you might decide to commit yourself to praying every day in the morning, at noon, and between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.  You may only say an Our Father, or a Hail Mary (or, if you’re really ambitious, both, followed by a “Glory Be”), but you will have already begun the sanctification of your day. 

Expanding Your Repertoire

     Once you have become used to praying at regular times, you can expand your repertoire.  You may wish to add favorite prayers; when I first started, I used to pray “The Breastplate of St. Patrick” every morning.  You may wish to try an easier variation of the Divine Office, such as Magnificat, a publication modeled on the LOH (not to be confused with the Canticle of Mary from Luke's Gospel, which is always said during Morning Prayer).  This "mini" LOH only includes modified versions of Morning and Evening Prayer, and some spiritual readings to take the place of the Office of Readings.  The prayer hours look very much like the LOH but are shorter, and since there are fewer of them, the psalms are most often not the same as the ones in that day’s LOH.  Nonetheless, when you use a substitute like Magnificat you are still praying the Divine Office along with the Church; I have even been told (although I have not verified it) that in some religious communities it can be used in the place of the regular Liturgy.  This would not be unprecedented: the Church has often made similar allowances in the past, most notably in the case of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary (which also became a popular devotion among the laity).
     You may eventually decide that you wish  to participate as directly as possible in the daily prayer of the Universal Church by praying  the official Liturgy of the Hours itself.  There are a lot of options here, as well.  Those of us who are not bound by obligation can use as little or as much of the Liturgy as we like. Morning and Evening Prayers, the “hinges” of the LOH, are the most important, and I recommend starting there.  If you can’t pray them in their entirety, you may wish to say only the Gospel Canticle from each hour (the Benedictus in the morning, the Magnificat in the evening) or the Canticle and one of the Psalms.  The Office of Readings also has a lot to offer: if you pray this office, over time you’ll discover that you can find your way around large parts of the Bible, and you’ll be much better acquainted with St. Augustine and many other great Christian Saints; since the current plan of the LOH was adopted, it can be prayed at any time of day.  There is also Night Prayer, which is fairly short, and which I have found a beautiful way to end the day.  I read somewhere years ago that you can also combine some elements of the LOH with other prayer routines, particularly family prayer.  In my family we include the Nunc Dimittis and the closing prayers from Night Prayer in our family devotions before retiring.

Finding the Prayers

     Fortunately, it is easy to find the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours and other resources today.  Using books (none of which are really complete, except the four-volume set) can be complicated, since some parts of the Liturgy follow a four week cycle, others are tied to the liturgical season, others to particular feast days, and so on.  A website like figures all that out for you. 
     In future posts I will offer my reflections on some of the particular hours and my experiences with them.  In the meanwhile, I encourage you to explore the spiritual treasures contained in the Liturgy of the Hours.

   Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full texts of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets for group prayer – but you need to buy a subscription to gain access to most of the site. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (although there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it involves a sizable financial investment (well over $100 for the whole set)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring (Celtic Woman) & Weekly Roundup

I love this piece - as perfect an expression of Joy as we can hope to find in this world, and of course focused on our one true source of Joy, Jesus Christ.  He is Risen, Alleluiah, Alleluiah!

As an added bonus (no purchase necessary), below please see the Weekly Roundup of the past week's posts from Principium et Finis and Nisi Dominus.

What Is The Liturgy Of The Hours?” The second installment of my series on the Divine Office as a devotion for busy lay people.

Are We Collaborators In The Culture Of Death?” Hillary Clinton says religious believers need to change their beliefs in order to facilitate more abortions.  But that's not as surprising as the fact that millions of Catholics will vote for her anyway.

 “A Church Is Much, Much More Than A Building” Instead of closing Churches that have been at the center of people's lives for generations, maybe we should try to re-fill them . . . 

Peace, Baby!” A Vatican congregation decides, after nine years of study, to leave the Sign of Peace where it is, but they do agree that something should be done.

St. Joseph The Worker Invites Us All To Work For God’s Kingdom” It may have been instituted to counter the communists' May Day, but the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker has a lesson for everyone.

Friday, May 1, 2015

St. Joseph the Worker Invites Us All to Work For God's Kingdom

     They say that necessity is the mother of invention but, as today's feast of St. Joseph the Worker shows us, sometimes measures taken for practical purposes can point to deeper truths.
     St. Joseph the Worker is a very recent addition to the liturgical calendar. Pope Pius XII, who wanted to present a Catholic alternative to the Communist celebration of May Day, instituted it in 1955.  Who better to counter the self-proclaimed "vanguard of the workers" than a great Saint who was also a laborer, a man known for his patience and perseverance, but also his piety?  As such, St. Joseph is also the ideal embodiment of the Dignity of Work.  He shows us that work is not simply something we do to survive, or that connects us to a certain economic class, but is an essential part of our humanity, a way in which we act, at least in a small way, as co-creators with God (see St. John Paul II's Laborem Exercens).
     At the same time, we can see that while a worker may be honored for his work, he is not defined by it.  Here the Catholic view stands in sharp contrast to the outlook of Marxism, where a working person's primary identification is with his class, and he finds meaning by working toward the "workers' paradise" of a fully communist society; since the realization of the workers' aspirations is the Greatest Good in this worldview, those who are seen as obstacles (such as members of the Capitalist Class) deserve to be extirpated.  Western market-driven societies have their own false anthropology in the phenomenon of the workaholic, whose whole life centers on his career, and who sees no meaning beyond it.  
     Christians, however, see our primary identification as adopted sons an daughters of God: equal in dignity (regardless of externals such as class, sex, race, etc.), called to love, and all of us part of the One Body of Christ.
     Now look at St. Joseph.  There have probably been carpenters more skillful than Joseph, or more productive, but none of them have feast days. We honor him today in his role of worker, but that's not why he is a Saint.  He's a Saint, and a great Saint, because he cooperated in God's great work of salvation.  Today's feast reminds us that we can all aspire to sanctity, even humble laborers, and that whoever we are, and whatever we do in this world, what we do for the Kingdom of God and who we are in the eyes of the Father is what matters in the end. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Are We Collaborators in the Culture of Death? (From Nisi Dominus)

Abortion Good, Religion Bad?  

   I don’t like to get into partisan politics too much on this blog, although I do deal fairly often with moral or social issues that have become politicized.  There are times, however, when partisan politics forces itself upon us so insistently that it cannot be avoided (which is happening with greater frequency in recent years).  This is one of those times.   

     I’ll start with a speech delivered by Hillary Clinton last Thursday (story here) – if you read religious blogs or more conservative news outlets you’ve heard about it already (numerous times); if you rely on more established media, probably not. Mrs. Clinton is the (so far) unchallenged Democratic candidate for President of the United States, and she said something that would have been unthinkable just twenty years ago when her husband was president.  First, she opined that: 

Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth.  All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. 

Safe childbirth is not really what she’s concerned about, as we shall see; she's really talking about  what she refers to as “reproductive health care”, which is newspeak for abortion.  The interesting part is what she sees as the obstacle to, ahem, "reproductive health care" . . . 

(Please read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

A Church Is Much, Much More Than A Building

The Basilica: A Beacon On A Hill    

Basilica of St.s Peter and Paul, Lewiston, Maine
 Many a visitor to the old textile city of Lewiston, Maine, has been taken by surprise when, driving through a run-down neighborhood of shabby old New England triple-decker tenements, he suddenly finds an enormous and beautiful church looming over him.  This is the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, formally consecrated in 1938.  And its location is not at all as incongruous as it might at first seem: it was the most natural thing in the world for the inhabitants of those cheap apartment houses, mostly French Canadian immigrants who had come to Lewiston to work in the dark red-brick mills that lined the Androscoggin River, to put all their extra money and effort into building the most magnificent church possible.  And yes, it was those poor laborers, not wealthy benefactors or government grants that built the Basilica.   “Religion is the opiate of the people” is not the least foolish thing Karl Marx said.  Opiates deaden the soul and weigh down the limbs: nobody pushes themselves to the limit to build monuments to those.  No, the Faith these humble workers brought with them from Quebec didn’t numb them into acquiescence, it gave them real assurance that they had something worth working toward: admittance to the presence of the living God.

Enormous Sacramentals

     And so naturally it was a Church that they chose as the focus of their devotion.  Churches are much more than just buildings.  They are enormous sacramentals, consecrated objects that can help connect us to the Grace of a God who is pure Spirit; they are iconic representations that teach us at an unconscious level about an ordered Universe with God at the apex, or at least they used to be (see here and here).  They are also places closely connected to some of the deepest experiences of our lives, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, as well as being places where communities gather.  Sometimes these connections are formed over the course of generations.  That’s why the closing of a church is so much more traumatic than the closing of a movie theater, for instance, or a department store.  The local church is, for most people, their concrete connection to transcendent realities.
     The Basilica of Peter and Paul, fortunately, is still going strong, but its community is no longer mostly drawn from the immediate neighborhood.  People have come from miles away to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form every Sunday since then-Bishop Richard Malone designated it as one of two churches (the other being the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland) used by a newly-formed Latin Mass Chaplaincy in 2008.  There is also a Mass in the Ordinary Form celebrated with a reverence that draws worshippers from a wide area, and a French language Mass that is very well attended.   Many other churches, to the great sorrow of parishioners who have been orphaned, have not been so lucky.

The New, New Evangelization

     It’s in that connection that this post on Fr. Z’s blog (here), about parishioners in Buffalo who have enlisted the Vatican’s help in their attempts to keep their parish open, first caught my eye. I was sorry to see Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone, the same man who as Bishop of Portland helped keep the Basilica thriving, is cast as the Bad Guy of the piece.  For what it’s worth, many of us here thought he did a very good job as our bishop: one of his first decisions was to shut down a diocesan newspaper that had become a mouthpiece for dissenters, and he bravely and forthrightly defended human life and traditional marriage, often in the face of fierce public attacks [note: Bishop Malone has continued his strong defense of the faith in Buffalo, as here].  Still, there were many churches shuttered forever, which seems to be one of the first lessons they teach in Bishop School these days.  After reading the post linked above I can’t help but wonder: would it have made a difference if some of the parishes here had thought to appeal to the Pope?
     There are bigger questions, of course.  Fr. Z asks:

What sort of faith in an effort of “New Evangelization” do we evince if, while chattering about it, we are closing the churches we need to fill in the very places where the “New Evangelization” needs to be pursued?

That’s a good point.  Just as all those triple-deckers around the Basilica in Lewiston are still filled with
Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
people, but no longer (mostly) people who actually attend the church that dominates their neighborhood, the same is true of the churches being decommissioned.  The areas around them, with perhaps some few exceptions, are just as heavily populated as they were when the churches were packed every Sunday.  And while bishops and their staffs around the country should certainly learn to think more like Evangelists and less like Administrators, we lay Catholics (I include myself) need to ask ourselves what more we can do invite all those people on the outside into the Church. If earlier generations with fewer resources but great faith could build the basilicas, could we not at least put enough people in the pews?

(This "Revisited" post was originally published last spring under the title, "The New, New Evangelization?" Please visit the linkup for Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at, and Allison Gingras at


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Is The Liturgy Of The Hours? (LOH 2)

 I wrote in a recent post that praying the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office) has had a profound impact on both my prayer life and my spiritual state in general.  I promised to expand upon the Liturgy of the Hours itself and offer some suggestions on how it might be incorporated into the lives of busy laypeople in subsequent posts.

     First of all, what is the Liturgy of the Hours?  It traces its origins back to the very earliest days of the Church, and before that to the formal prayer of the Jewish Temple [for more information, see here and here].  It consists mostly of Psalms, canticles (that is, Biblical songs from books other than Psalms) and other scriptural readings, prayed at assigned times (the “Canonical Hours”) in order to “sanctify the day.”  The Hours, along with their traditional and modern names, are:

Matins (Office of Readings) – traditionally during the night, now any time of day
Lauds (Morning Prayer) – sunrise
Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer) – third hour of the day
Sext (Midday Prayer) – sixth hour of the day, i.e., noon
None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer) – ninth hour of the day
Vespers (Evening Prayer) – toward evening
Compline  (Night Prayer) – nightfall, or before retiring

Matins was traditionally said during the night.  Today, as the Office of Readings, it can be prayed at any time of day (in other words, it is no longer necessary to interrupt your sleep).  In addition to three Psalm readings there is also a longer Biblical reading and a non-scriptural reading, either from the writings of the saints, or the lives of the saints, or magisterial documents of the Church.

Lauds and Vespers are the “hinges” of the Divine Office, the most important prayer periods after the Office of Readings.  They are longer than the others and include two well-known of the Gospel Canticles: the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer (“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel . . .”) and the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary in the Evening (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . “). They contain in addition two Psalm readings, a non-Gospel Biblical canticle, antiphons, responsories and the Our Father.

Compline is prayed at the end of the day.  It contains an examination of conscience, but is otherwise shorter than Lauds and Vespers, with only one or two psalms and a short Gospel Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon (“Now you let your servant go in peace . . . “).

TerceSext, and None are collectively known as Daytime Prayer.  These are shorter than the other offices, containing only three psalm readings and a short scripture reading.  Since the most recent reforms of the Office they are set up so that even if you pray only one of them a day along with Readings, Lauds, Vespers and Compline, you will have seen the entire Psalter (i.e., Book of Psalms) over the course of a four week cycle.

     Along with the Mass, The Liturgy of the Hours forms the public liturgical prayer of the church.   Clergy and religious, and certain lay persons under vows, are required to say these prayers every day (hence the name Divine Office, from the Latin officium, which means “duty”).  These prayers are not the exclusive preserve of  priests and nuns, however.  Paul VI, in the Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1970on the Liturgy of the Hours [full text here] says:

The Office has therefore been composed so that it is the prayer not only of the clergy but of the whole of the People of God, and religious and lay people can take part in it, and there are various forms of celebration so that it can be accommodated to the various groups, with their differing needs. Since the Liturgy of the Hours should sanctify the different times of the day, in its revised form it can be fitted into the actual hours of people’s daily lives.

So, while those who pray the Office under obligation are also obliged to follow certain norms in doing so, the Church is inviting the rest of us to pray along with them in a way suited to our state in life and our other responsibilities.  I will offer some suggestions, and reflect on my own experience, in my next post on this topic.

To read the whole series go here.

     Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Antonio Vivaldi "Laudamus Te" & Roundup from the 3rd Week of Easter, 2015

He is truly risen,  Alleluia!

A beautiful joyful song of praise composed by the incomparable Antonio Vivaldi. And, as an added bonus, links to the week's posts (no extra charge!)

Weekly Roundup, 3rd Week of Easter 2015

Monday – “Cardinal George, Patron of Christian Hope” Chicago’s Cardinal George passed away last week – here’s a farewell to a fine Catholic leader, and another look at his most famous remark.

Wednesday – “St.Paul’s Autographs” St. Paul had a big, expansive personality, and used big, expansive handwriting. Which is rather fascinating . . . 

andAbortion Myth # 11”  Yes, we’re all just clumps of cells in the end, aren’t we? 

Thursday – “The Liturgy of the Hours: Sanctify Your Day” The first installment in a series about the Divine Office for busy, busy, busy lay men and women. 

andWhy Would You Want Satan As A Mascot?” We choose the lion for its courage, the ram for its toughness; what qualities do we admire in the Prince of Lies?   

Friday – “Saint of the Day: St. Mellitus & The Sweetness of the Gospel” One of the most consequential Saints you’ve never heard of.

Saturday – “Those Who Love Him Will Keep His Commandments” How the reductionist approach to Christianity leads, in the end, to only one place and, friend, you don’t want to go there. 

Rubens, The Risen Christ

Those Who Love Him Will Keep His Commandments (From Nisi Dominus)

Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint, 
but blessed is he who keeps the law.   (Proverbs 29:18)  

     Many years ago, shortly after I had returned to the Church after my youthful sojourn among the secular agnostics, I read a book called The Education of Henry Adams.  Although it doesn’t sound like it from the title, it is an autobiography, and the author was  the grandson of U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and the great-grandson of the second President and revolutionary leader John Adams.      The one thing from Adams’ book that made the largest impression on me was the author’s dissatisfaction with (among other things) the spiritual emptiness of the Unitarian churches which his family attended; here, the drama of Salvation had been reduced to little more Christian morality.  It struck me that these same churches, just a few generations earlier, had been peopled by zealous Calvinists fleeing the Anglican Church because it had, in their view, strayed too far from the Gospel.  What had happened?  How had they changed so much, so quickly?

     I realized that the cause of the erosion of their faith was that they had cut themselves off from the Catholic Church, the power of its Tradition and its infallible Magisterium, the Church that St. Paul had named “The pillar and the foundation of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  After all, however zealous our belief, however sincere our intentions, we fallible humans tend to wander off course without direction from above . . . 

(Please read the rest of the post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Friday, April 24, 2015

St.Mellitus: Catching Flies With Honey

     There's an old saying that you catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than you do with a vat of vinegar.  I couldn't help but think of that old saw when considering the life of today's Saint, Mellitus of Canterbury (died April 24th, A.D. 624), whose name in fact means "honeyed".  We see in his mission to convert the Saxon conquerers of Britain in the 7th century (he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to assist St. Augustine of Canterbury) an example of the Church explicitly choosing to put the "Honey Strategy" into practice.

St. Mellitus of Canterbury

     But first, we need a little background on Saint Mellitus.  Despite being little-known today, he was in fact a very consequential Saint. Mellitus first arrived in Britain in the year A.D. 601, bringing with him books and other things considered necessary for Christian instruction and worship.  St. Augustine consecrated him Bishop of London, which at that time was the capital of the East Saxon kingdom.  Somewhere around the years 616-618 the Christian East Saxon king died, after which Mellitus was driven from his episcopal see in London; shortly thereafter the Christian king of Kent died as well, and Mellitus was forced to flee from Britain all together, although he was able to return a few years later after Laurence, Augustine's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, had converted the new Kentish king.  Mellitus never returned to London, which would not see a Bishop again until 654, thirty years after the Saint's death.  St. Mellitus himself became Archbishop of Canterbury at the Death of Laurence in 619, and occupied the see until his own passing five years later.  He is credited with miraculously saving his church from a fire shortly before his death.
     St. Mellitus played an important part in the conversion of the English ; in this capacity he received instructions in the form of a letter from the Pope, called the Epistola ad MellitumIn this letter St. Gregory urges Mellitus and Augustine to rely on persuasion in converting the pagan English, destroying idols but consecrating the temples that housed the idols for use as churches, and adapting pagan practices to Christian uses so that the English nation might "set aside error from her heart, and, acknowledging and adoring the True God, might assemble more familiarly at the places which she was was accustomed (to use)."  This letter is a particularly explicit statement of an approach that has been more or less the rule (albeit with some notable exceptions) for most of the history of the Church (which I explain in more detail in my Halloweeen post, "Christ Is King Of All . . . Even The Holidays").  And it fits well with the way our Lord works: God breathed life into the mud of the earth to create Adam, and through baptism he makes former non-believers into his adopted sons and daughters; why can't his Church "baptize " what is good in pagan societies and consecrate it for use in His service?
     I think the story of St. Mellitus and his "honeyed" approach has a lesson for us today as we go about our own missions of evangelization.  I know how frustrated I can become when someone just can't, or won't, listen; I find myself brimming over with vinegar, as it were.  I've found that if I stay calm, listen patiently, and try to focus on the love of Jesus (in other words, spread a little honey), I'm more likely to have a fruitful exchange.  St. Mellitus, pray for us, that we might avoid the bitterness of our own pride, and to speak with the sweetness of Divine Love. Amen.