Tuesday, March 31, 2015

To Love God is to Know Him (From Nisi Dominus)

How do we know He’s there?
     In our present skeptical age Christians are often asked how we can know that God is there?  What and how we know is, of course, the matter of epistemology and related branches of philosophy, and the vast majority of us don’t have the academic training to engage in high-powered epistemological debate.    Nonetheless, we all conduct our lives guided by things we know are true, and reject others as false, and we Christians stake everything on certain very definite truth claims.  How can we justify our confidence in Christian Truth in a clear but comprehensible way that does not require formal philosophical training?

How do we know at all?

     We need to start with the understanding that the prevailing world-view today, even among many people who don’t consciously embrace materialism, is materialistic.  It’s just assumed that we can only know about things that can be observed, measured, and be proven using what we might call “scientific” proof.

The Holy Trinity: One God, three Persons in loving relationship

     How does one respond to this fairly common point of view?  I’ve discussed a number or approaches to this problem on previous occasions (see below); here’s a more comprehensive tack . . .

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus) 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Passion Sunday: Pick Up Your Cross . . .

Passion Sunday     

Today’s liturgical observance is officially called “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.”  The name reflects the dual nature of the liturgy, as the Mass is preceded by a procession with palms in commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but the readings include one of the Gospel accounts (this year St. Mark’s) of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

     My “inner Pharisee” is sometimes tempted to think that this pre-figuring of Good Friday before the fact  is much like the practice of moving Ascension Thursday to a Sunday in order to catch people who can’t be bothered to show up in church on a week day, but that is not the case.  Even if there weren't many people who have jobs that won’t allow participation in the Good Friday liturgy, or are kept away for other reasonable causes, there are good reasons to turn to the events of the Passion before the Triduum, and the practice goes back further than one might think.  Prior to Vatican II the second Sunday before Easter was known as Passion Sunday (as is still the case, of course, in the Extraordinary Rite), which introduced the Passiontide, a two week period of more intense focus on the suffering and death of Jesus; in combining it with Palm Sunday, we have actually moved Passion Sunday a week closer to Good Friday. Christ’s self-sacrifice at Calvary is one of the most important events in the Liturgical Year, and really one of the most significant events in all of human history, so it is fitting that we don't just pass over it in a day or two. Placing the Passion at the center of this Sunday’s liturgy gives the direction for the rest of Holy Week, so that we’re already in the proper frame of mind before we reach the culminating events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday
     Combining Passion Sunday with Palm Sunday also gives us an interesting and, I think, fruitful perspective on the events leading up to the Crucifixion.  Very many, at least, of the people singing “hosanna” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem were not cheering for the real Jesus but for a fantasy Messiah who, they thought, would be a very worldly savior.   Many of these same people, most likely, were calling for his crucifixion a few days later.  Moving from the Palms to the Passion in the same liturgy helps drive home that reality for us, and our participation in both ends of the process reminds us (or should, at least) of our own complicity in the Crucifixion of Jesus (for more on this point, see my post “Palm Sunday: Who Are Those Cheering People?”).

     Too often we try to take shortcuts to rewards of various kinds without doing the hard work that those rewards require; today we are reminded that if we want Christ as our King, we need to pick up our cross and follow him.

Week Links

     Shortly after I started blogging, I was invited by RAnn of This That and the Other Thing to participate in Sunday Snippets, a weekly Catholic link-swapping sort of thing.  RAnn has recently hung up her snippetting hat after long and faithful service (thanks again, RAnn), but old habits die hard, and I’ve grown accustomed to compiling a Sunday Summary of the week’s bloggery.  So, please feel free take a scroll through the links below: who knows? You might find something worth reading.

Tuesday – “Sins of the Fathers . . . And of Kings” The Christian burial (530 years late) of England’s Richard III got me thinking: how different would the past half-millenium have been if a couple of his fellow monarchs were less prone to sins of the flesh?  

Wednesday – “Let It Be Done To Me According ToThy Word”  The Annunciation Big things come from small beginnings.

Thursday – “History, Culture, and Narcissism” According to Albert Einstein, “God does not place dice with the World”. Nor does he with History: the Greco-Roman roots of Christendom are no accident. 

Friday – “Abortion Myth #7” It’s easy to throw words around, but whose choice and whose body are questions the pro-abortion people would rather we didn’t ask. 

Saturday -  My penultimate music clip for Lent is “So Now My Jesus Is Taken Prisoner” from Bach’s  St. Matthew Passion

and -  My final music clip for Lent is “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion  

Palm Sunday: Who Are Those Cheering People? (From Nisi Dominus)

There’s something a little unsettling about Palm Sunday.  It appears that the same people who welcome Jesus as a victorious king at the beginning of the week are screaming for his death by its end.  I’ve heard a number of possible explanations. I read once (I’m sorry to say I can no longer remember where) that the supporters greeting Him with palm fronds and hosannas on Sunday may not have been the angry mob demanding his crucifixion on Friday.

Hippolyte Flandrin, Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem

     There may be some small element of truth to this theory, but I can’t help but think that there must have been a very significant overlap between the two groups.  How likely is it that the entire mass of people who were so enthusiastic just a few days earlier would simply stay away from their new king’s trial?  I find the more traditional explanation more likely, that a large portion, at least, of the first crowd had soured on the whole Jesus phenomenon over the intervening days . . . 

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"So Now My Jesus Has Been Taken Prisoner" - Bach, St. Matthew Passion

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy week.  Now we start to focus more directly on the suffering and death of Jesus, as in this clip from Bach's St. Matthew Passion: "So now my Jesus has been taken prisoner . . . "

Dirck van Baburen, The Arrest of Christ
(My final music clip for Lent is “O Sacred Head SoreWounded” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, on the Nisi Dominus blog

Thursday, March 26, 2015

History, Culture, And Narcissism (From Nisi Dominus)

Dante and Vergil in Hell
Whose Culture Is It?

 There’s an interesting piece at The Catholic Thing [here] by David Warren called “The Counter-Culture”. I find myself agreeing with his conclusion, but not with everything he says along the way.  Warren takes issue with those Catholics who disparage Western Civilization, and insists that the Church is the author of that civilization, however much it might owe to previous societies (just how much is included in that “however much” is the rub; more on that in a moment), as well as secularists who tout an oddly non-Christian interpretation of it.  He concludes that championing that culture, and particularly its Christian dimension, is the only way to counter the rapidly decaying culture of secularism that has grown up around us in recent decades.

It's Both/And, Not Either/Or

     So far, so good.  Problems arise, however, when Warren attempts to counter secularists who would draw a direct line from Greco-Roman times that, somehow, skips over the heavily Christian period from about A.D. 300 to 1968.  Warren goes overboard, however . . . 

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Let It Be Done To Me According To Thy Word"

     I’ve often admired the stained glass window depicting the Annunciation that looks down on the sanctuary in my local cathedral.  We see the young woman Mary, kneeling on the floor and surrounded by angels, while God the father looks down on her from above, sending forth a beam on which rests the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove.  God the Son is there, too, although we don’t see him, a human embryo in Mary’s womb, the Omnipotent Divine wrapped in mortal human flesh.  That’s how we encounter Jesus in the Gospels: the Eternal Word in human disguise; that’s how we receive him in the Holy Eucharist: the Second Person of the Trinity in the form of simple bread.  It’s a marvelous image to contemplate as we approach the Altar of the Lord to receive Holy Communion.
       Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated nine months before the Nativity of The Lord at Christmas.  I’ve often thought that, the current vogue for atheists and atheism notwithstanding, it’s not really that hard to believe in God.  What is difficult, very difficult in fact, is to believe that the Uncreated Creator of all Time and Space is the least bit interested in beings as small, short-lived, and insignificant as we appear to be in the vast sweep of the Universe.  That he should become a little human baby just so that he could suffer with us and die for us, well, this saying is hard; who could accept it (see John 6:60)?  And that’s not all: the Omnipotent God sought the consent of one little maiden in a small town in an insignificant corner of the world in order to do it.  Not the least of the reasons why we honor Mary is her willingness to put her very self in God’s hands: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
     Mary’s willingness to give up herself to be a part, perhaps the greatest (solely) human actor in God’s Great Drama of Salvation is the big picture; as is often the way, there’s a little picture, too, a way in which the Annunciation is reflected in our own lives.  God has a plan for all of us.  He imposes nothing, to paraphrase John Paul the Great, but always proposes (Redemptoris Missio).  He is constantly asking us to allow him in, to consent to serve him in ways big and small.  “Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts” is one of the Lent antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours.  We all hear the voice of the Lord at some point, if we’re listening; let us all not harden our hearts, but rather let it be done to us according to his word.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sins of the Fathers . . . And of Kings (From Nisi Dominus)

Richard III
     530 years is a long, long time to wait.  Thursday England’s King Richard III, the last English monarch to die in battle, and one of the last English kings to die a Catholic, will, finally, receive a Christian burial.  Not a Catholic funeral, unfortunately, but his interment in the Anglican Cathedral of Leicester will be a great improvement over the hasty, unmarked burying of his desecrated corpse after the Battle of Bosworth Field 530 years ago.
     Richard remains one of the most controversial of British kings.  He assumed the throne when his twelve-year-old nephew Edward V was declared illegitimate by Parliament. Edward and his younger brother Richard were sent to live in the Tower in London (which was not yet used exclusively as a prison), and their uncle became King Richard III.  The two boys disappeared from public view and just two years after his accession Richard was deposed by Henry Tudor, who then became Henry VII.  Richard has been suspected of having the “little princes” murdered  ever since, although historians today (for instance, Paul Murray Kendall) acknowledge that there is no evidence that he had anything to do with their deaths, and that Henry Tudor had far more motive to kill them than Richard did.*
     As interesting as it would be to speculate on the probable guilt of the various parties involved (and it would be), that’s not the purpose of this blog.  Instead, I’d like to focus on what can happen when we let desires untamed by a properly formed conscience have free rein . . .

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Opening of Bach's St. Matthew Passion

El Greco's Christ Carrying the Cross
As the Season of Lent nears its end, we start focusing more closely on Jerusalem, and the Passion of Jesus Christ. One of the great artistic reflections on the suffering and death of Our Lord is J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion.  Here is the beginning of Bach's musical meditation on Matthew's Gospel account . . .

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Where Have All The Fathers Gone? (from Nisi Dominus)

Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, which seems a good time to republish this post on the importance of Fatherhood (originally posted January 22nd, 2014)

Decline of Fatherhood

It's not easy being the Dad . . . Federico Barrocci's Aeneas' Flight From Troy
      One of the largest elephants in the room today (if I may further abuse an already overworked metaphor) is the decline of fatherhood.  It is just one of the factors in the implosion of the traditional family, but it’s a - make that the - key one. If you google “the importance of the father” you’ll find 98,600,000 results. That’s 98 plus million. These are not mostly religious or conservative sources: most are related to various universities or government agencies, some are mainstream magazines not known for their cultural conservatism, such as Parenting and Psychology Today. Whatever their perspective they all have the same general message: growing up without a father is bad. Real bad.
     In order to get a sense of the immensity of the problem  . . .

(Read the entire post HERE at Nisi Dominus)

Litany of St. Joseph: A Prayer For Fatherhood

Francesco Conti, St. Joseph With The Child
    St. Joseph, Foster-father of the Son of God, we need you like never before.
     Today is his feast day, and we need St. Joseph like never before, because fatherhood has never been in so dire a situation. I’ve had occasion to write recently about the power of the Evil One in the spiritual  warfare that’s engulfing our society [here], and I’ve commented very often about how the family is a primary target, with particularly heavy fire being directed at fathers and fatherhood [here]. Who better to ask for intercession, and who better to look to as a model than the “chaste guardian of the Virgin”, “watchful defender of Christ”, “pillar of families”?
      A good place to start, both for seeking intercession and for forming ourselves according to this great Saint’s virtues is the “Litany of St. Joseph”[here],  a prayer given formal approval by Pope Pius X at the dawning of the twentieth century. I’d like to comment on just a few aspects of this Litany that resonate with me.
     First of all, we see in St. Joseph, as he is presented here, the model of Human Fatherhood,
which is related to, but distinct from, the Divine Fatherhood we see in God himself. We see that
we fathers have been made head of the household, but not for our own sake. Notice that St.
Joseph’s prayer starts with an invocation to Christ, then to God the Father, then to the Trinity:
Christ is the real head of the household, we are only his stewards (more on this point below).
Then, “Holy Mary, pray for us.” Joseph’s wife also takes precedence! This brings to mind the
following passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ
loved the Church and gave himself up for her”.  The purpose of our fatherhood,
then, is not our own exaltation, but service to our family, as embodied in our wives.
     Next, we call upon Joseph himself, first recalling his lineage (Scion of David), his role in
Salvation History (“Spouse of the Mother of God . . . Foster-father of the Son of God”) and a
long list of his virtues and attributes, all of which are given to him for the purpose of protecting
and serving (Head of the Holy Family . . . Most Chaste . . . Pillar of Families . . . Terror of
Demons . . .”).
     Then, after asking St. Joseph to pray for us, we turn our attention back to Christ under a title that highlights his sacrificial role, “Lamb of God”:

     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
     Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

     In the Closing prayer we call on God to grant us St. Joseph as a protector in this world, but first there is this very interesting verse and response:

     V. He made him lord over his house,
     R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

     This is an exact quote from Psalm 105, verse 21, which itself refers back to Genesis 39.5: “So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” This, of course, is not a reference to St. Joseph himself, but to Joseph the Patriarch many centuries before. As it happens, there are many compelling connections between the two (for a fuller treatment of those, see here). The one that most concerns us here is this, that Joseph the Patriarch, a servant, is granted authority by the King of Egypt over his royal household, just as centuries later Joseph of Bethlehem is granted authority by the King of All Creation over his Holy Family. Our role as fathers today (and this includes all men, because we are all called to exercise Fatherhood in some way, even if we don’t preside over a household with children) follows the same pattern. Our family here on Earth is not really our own, it has been put temporarily under our care by the King of Kings (needless to say, we will be answerable to him for how we carry out the charge). As Catholic men we are also responsible for the protection of his larger family, the Church.
     It has become increasingly difficult to be just, chaste, prudent, etc., in a world where fatherhood has become more and more debased, and men are encouraged to behave like overgrown adolescents, or randy satyrs. Our society simply does not support fathers. That ‘s why we need help from someone up above; who better fight along with us than the Foster-Father of the Son of God?

Litany of St. Joseph

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ,
graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost,
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph,
Illustrious Scion of David,
Light of Patriarchs,
Spouse of the Mother of God,
Chaste guardian of the Virgin,
Foster-father of the Son of God,
Watchful defender of Christ,
Head of the Holy Family,
Joseph most just,
Joseph most chaste,
Joseph most prudent,
Joseph most valiant,
Joseph most obedient,
Joseph most faithful,
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of workmen,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the afflicted,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

V. He made him lord over his house,
R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

Let us pray.
O God, who in Thine ineffable providence didst vouchsafe to choose blessed Joseph to be the spouse
of Thy most holy Mother: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may have him for an intercessor in heaven,
whom we venerate as our protector on earth. Who livest and reignest world without end, Amen.