Dante and Deliverance

howdante_dreherbookcoverLast night I finished reading Rod Dreher’s latest book How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem. It was an enjoyable read that started off a bit slow for me but is very much worth sticking with until the end. I’m not going to write a review because I’m not good at that sort of thing. If you enjoy the Commedia or are interested in it then you would probably enjoy this book. I had never before considered reading the Dante as a teaching lesson in the manner Dreher does. The next time I read the Divine Comedy, however, I definitely plan to do so.

When he introduced his book back in January, Dreher talked a bit about his soon-to-be published work:

How Dante is by no means a work of scholarship. It is a book that shows how the Commedia did for me exactly what Dante said he wanted it to do for his readers: delivered me from a state of misery to a state of happiness. It wasn’t an easy journey, and it wasn’t just Dante who helped me (an Orthodox priest and a Southern Baptist therapist assisted). But because it wasn’t an easy journey, it was an effective journey. A friend in Baltimore who read an advance copy over the weekend wrote to say that How Dante “cloaks the original text in more understandable modern parlance, with just enough personal application to connect the dots from Dante’s journey to yours, and then to the reader’s. I honestly don’t know how you did it.” I did it because I love this poem, and believe in its power to heal. You readers know that I am a Christian, and believe that the Commedia serves as an icon through which God reveals Himself and calls us closer. I talk about this in the book, though I don’t preach. As I said, though, you don’t have to be a Christian to be changed by Dante’s journey, and to find your way out of the dark wood with the help of my book. I tell in the book how Dante led me out of the dark wood, but do so in a way that, if I’m successful, will help all my readers — Christian and otherwise — think in a different and more positive way about their own lives. … It is a story that shows you what life-changing wisdom exists inside the Commedia, and how, if you open yourself fully to the work, it will transform your life. You will not see the world and your place in it in the same way. I know; it happened to me.

The following passage is from Dreher’s book, and one that I highlighted to share with you here.

*****

In the middle of the entire Divine Comedy, Dante meets a man who gives him the secret of deliverance. He is Marco the Lombard, a nobleman who agrees with the pilgrim that the world is in a terrible state. Dante begs Marco to tell him why this is so, so that he can return to earth and tell all the others.

Here is Marco’s reply. For me, this discourse is the crown jewel in a poem laden with treasure:

This is Gustave Dore's version of the encounter with Marco Lombardo in Purgatorio, Canto 16.

This is Gustave Dore’s version of the encounter with Marco Lombardo in Purgatorio, Canto 16.

He let out a deep sigh that sorrow wrung
into a groan. “My brother,” he began,
“the world is blind, and it has been your home.”

You living men attribute to the sky
the causes of all things, as if they moved
ever and only by necessity.

That would destroy the freedom of your will,
nor would it then be just to deal out joy
for doing well, or woe for doing ill.

The heavens give your movements their first nudge—
not all your movements, but let’s grant that too—
still, light is given that you may freely judge

And choose the good or evil; and should free will
grow weary in the first battles with the stars,
foster it well and it will win the day.

You men lie subject to that One* who made
you free, a greater force, a better nature,
who formed your minds without the planets’ aid.

Thus if this present world has gone askew,
look to yourselves, in yourselves lies the cause.

[Purgatorio XVI: 64-83]

*that One: God, who made human beings free from complete subjection to planetary and other natural influences.

In other words: You can’t change the world, but you can change the way you react to it.

You have power over the images you want to let into your mind. You control them; they do not control you. You have the freedom to choose whether or not to let those emotions in.

[end excerpt]

This passage immediately brought to my mind a famous antedote about G.K. Chesterton. His quote, along with the “You can’t change the world, but you can change the way you react to it” should be framed and mounted on my wall.

“When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:

‘Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G. K. Chesterton.’

I have to admit I’d never thought of reading the Commedia from the standpoint of Dante being my guide through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. I’d just sort of blindly followed along as he was led by his guides Virgil and Beatrice. It seems I really missed the boat and feel sort of silly about it. I’m looking forward to my next walk with Dante and will enter with eyes wide open this time.

Basic Training with St. Vianney

[Note: This could probably be considered a Catholic “political insider” sort of post and not of much interest to non-Catholics. I get that. However, it also contains some of the most basic beliefs of the Catholic faith and things often misunderstood, misquoted or simply dismissed by those of a more anti-Catholic nature. Therefore if you are slightly interested in informing yourself this would be a good piece to glance over. Keep in mind St. Vianney uses a more direct form of 19th century speech that our 21st century ears may blanche at, but to be honest I prefer a more direct speech than trying to soften the issue when it comes to my soul and the souls of those I love and for whom I am responsible.]

sermonsofcureofars_bookYesterday I touched upon my opinion and desire for more “meat” in the homilies I hear at Mass. You can read it here. Today I’m going to give an example of what I mean, using a sermon I found by St. Vianney in the book The Sermons of the Curé of Ars. For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on his answer to the second question he posed in his sermon outline on the principal reasons why a priest may withhold Absolution during Confession. As I was reading this a week ago I realized that within his text he had laid out some of the most very basic tenets of our faith. They may seem so basic as to be boring and met with a roll of the eyes, yet I found myself wondering: If you were to quiz the average pew-sitter at a Sunday Mass would they know these basics? And why shouldn’t there be refresher sermons on the basics of Catholicism? I’m willing to bet more Mass-goers know the Nebraska Cornhusker football team’s schedule and depth chart than they do about what is contained in the sermon below. I love the Huskers as much as the next Nebraskan, but they are not responsible for the eternal salvation of my soul even if they break the drought and finally win a conference championship.

So I’m going to keep his text without changes, but arrange the sentences as an outline in parts to better illustrate just how much meat Vianney was able to get into a sermon. Also, any italics or boldface were added by me, and comments made by me are in red boldface.

*****

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

ABSOLUTION

“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” – John 20:23.

SYNOPSIS—The sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross made these words efficacious. The priest the dispenser of graces by giving Absolution. He is bound by laws, and must give or withhold Absolution according to these laws. The confessor’s position one of greatest responsibility. He must, therefore, proceed with the greatest care.

Among the reasons which oblige the priest sometimes to refuse or postpone absolution are, for instance

  1. insufficient preparation,
  2. absence of true contrition,
  3. refusal to make restitution, etc.

But there is another reason which I will make the chief object of our meditation today, and that is a neglect of the Christian to inform himself of the essential truths of his Holy Religion. [personal responsibility to educate oneself about your faith.]

St. Charles Borromeo tells us explicitly that “absolution cannot be given to persons who do not know the principal fats of the Christian Religion, and the duties of their state of life; particularly when their ignorance arises from their indifference concerning their salvation.” The laws of the Church in this connection also forbid absolution to be given to fathers or mothers who do not teach their children or have them taught, in everything that is necessary for their salvation. [It’s on you, mom and dad.]

What, then, are the essentials of our holy Religion? Listen and I will tell you what every Catholic must necessarily know.

A Christian should know

  1. the Our Father,
  2. the Hail Mary,
  3. the Creed,
  4. the Confiteor,
  5. the three acts of Faith, Hope and Charity,
  6. the commandments of God and the Church and an act of contrition.

By this, I do not mean that you must know the words only, but you must be able to give an explanation of each article in particular and say what they mean. This is what is expected of you and not simply to know the words.

You must know that

  • the Our Father was composed by God Himself;
  • that the Hail Mary was composted partly by the angel who came to announce the Mystery of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin, and partly by the Church;
  • you must know that the creed was composed by the apostles after the descent of the Holy Ghost, before they went out into the world; so that since the first beginning, the same Religion and the same Mysteries are taught in all parts of the world.
  • The creed contains the sum and substance of our entire Holy Religion, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, which is one God in three Persons, namely,
    • God the Father, who created us,
    • God the Son who redeemed us by His death and passion,
    • and God the Holy Ghost, who sanctified us in Baptism.

When you say:

  • I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator, etc.,
    • you must mean, I believe, that the eternal Father created everything, our bodies and our souls, that the world was not always in existence, that it will not always be, that it will one day be destroyed.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became man, that He suffered and died to redeem us, to merit heaven for us, of which we were deprived by the sin of Adam.
  • I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church,
    • means: I believe that there is one Church, which is the one that Jesus Christ Himself founded, that in her He has deposited all His graces, and that this Church will endure until the end of the world.
  • When you say: I believe in the Communion of Saints,
    • you must mean: I believe that all Christians take part in one another’s prayers and good works, I believe that the Saints, who are in heaven, pray to God for us, and that we can pray for those who are in purgatory.
  • When you say: I believe in the forgiveness of sins,
    • you mean, I believe that in the Church of Jesus Christ there are Sacraments which remit all sin, and that there are no sins which the Church of Jesus Christ cannot remit.
  • If we say: The resurrection of the body,
    • that means that the very same bodies which we now have, will one day rise again, that our souls will return to them to accompany them to heaven, or to hell, as we shall have deserved.
  • When we say, I believe in the life everlasting,
    • that means: I believe that the next life will have no end, that our souls will last as long as God Himself, who is without end.
  • When you say, from whence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead,
    • means, I believe, that Jesus Christ is in heaven, body and soul, and that He Himself will come to judge us, and to reward those who have been good, and to punish those who have been bad.

We must know, furthermore, that the Commandments of God were given to Adam at his creation; that is to say, that God wrote them in his heart, and that afterwards, God gave them to Moses written upon tablets of stone, upon Mount Sinai. They are the same which our Lord renewed when He came down upon earth to save us.

I say that you must know the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity. I repeat, not the words only, but the meaning of them.

  1. Faith enables us to believe all that the Church teaches. Although we may not be able to comprehend some of the mysteries, it teaches us to believe that God sees us, and that He watches over us; that He will either reward or punish us according to our acts of good or evil; that there is a heaven for the good, and a hell for the wicked; that our Lord suffered and died for us.
  2. Hope teaches us to do all our actions with the intention of pleasing God, and that they will be rewarded through all eternity.
  3. In this world the Love of God consists in our loving God above all created things, and preferring Him above all things, even our own life.

This, my dear brethren, is what is meant when we say that you must know the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Creed, the Confiteor, the one only God, and your three acts. If you do not know this, then you know nothing that is necessary for you to be saved; you should be able when you asked about these things to explain them:

But this is not all:

  1. you should also know what the mystery of the Incarnation is, and
  2. what the word Incarnation means.

You must know that this Mystery means, that the second Person of the Blessed Trinity took upon Himself a body like ours, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost. We celebrate this mystery upon the 25th of March, the feast of the Annunciation; for on this day the Son of God united His divinity with our humanity; He took a body like ours, but without sin, and He took all our sins upon Himself, to satisfy His Father’s justice. You must know that Jesus Christ died, that He died as man, and not as God, because as God He could not die;–that He rose again upon Easter day, when He united His soul again to His body, and that after remaining upon earth for forty days, He ascended into Heaven upon Ascension day. That the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.

You should be able to tell the Sacraments. If you are asked by whom they were instituted you must answer that they could only be instituted by Jesus Christ, not the Blessed Virgin or the Apostles. You should know what are the effects of each Sacrament, and what is the disposition which we must have to receive them properly; you should know

  • that Baptism wipes out original sin, which was the sin of Adam, and which we all have when we come into the world;
  • that the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred upon us by the Bishop, and that by it we receive the Holy Ghost with the abundance of His graces;
  • that we partake of the Sacrament of Penance when we confess our sins to the priest, and that if we confess them properly, all our sins are effaced by the absolution of the priest. [Confession]
  • In the Holy Eucharist we believe that there is really and truly present the adorable body and the most precious blood of Jesus Christ. [Holy Communion]
  • The Sacrament of Extreme Unction helps us to die well, and it was instituted to cleanse us from the sins which we have committed by all the different senses. [Anointing of the Sick]
  • Holy Orders confer upon man the power which Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles.
  • The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies the union of husband and wife if they are united according to the laws of the Church.

Now, my dear brethren, if I had asked you about these things, would you have been able to answer all these questions rightly?

*****

So…how would any of us do in answering those questions? Could this sermon be given today? Why not?

It looks overwhelming because of how I changed it into an outline form versus St. Vianney’s original paragraph structure. It may also be overwhelming because you’re used to sitting back and nodding off during Father’s latest story. That’s on us as much as it is on Father, and I’m not happy to admit that more times than not that is what I find myself doing. So maybe it is just me. Or maybe I’ve grown conditioned. All I know is all of these evangelization programs being created, published and sold all emphasize that we evangelize, and that to do this we must know our faith. “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”

“Go out into the world, two by two…”

Would it hurt to talk about the basics of our faith at Mass before we “go forth”?

We need a boot camp. We need basic training.

I’ll say it again: Fathers, feed your sheep.

Father, feed your sheep

wolves-and-sheep

The next two posts are about “the basics.”

Lately I’ve noticed that I am increasingly looking for more from the homilies I’m hearing at my parish.

(I have to pause here and mention that you truly have no idea how difficult it was for me to type this sentence. I do not want to be seen as one who incessantly complains because the Church is not made in MY image. My head pastor has been a friend of mine for over fourteen years and is a good and solid priest. So is our associate pastor. Perhaps what I’m saying here is “It isn’t you, Father. It’s me.”)

The only mention of the sanctity of a man and woman united in the Holy Sacrament of Marriage I’ve heard from the pulpit was by a young priest visiting our parish earlier this summer. Not once has there been any mention of the current Planned Parenthood flap. But it’s not this so much that has led me to other sources so much as the lack of Catholic teaching or reinforcement of what it means to be Catholic. It seems that we’ve become a parish that stops teaching our faith once 1) the kids graduate from our K-8 school; 2) after the Sacrament of Confirmation (5th grade); 3) after an adult finished RCIA and joins the Church.

wheres_the_beefAs Clara Peller asked in the old Wendy’s commercial I find myself asking: Where’s the beef? There is plenty of pastoral love, and I very much appreciate that. Our parish and our diocese has at least not digressed into the Dr. Feelgood type homilies my family has experienced in other states while traveling on vacations or out of state baseball tournaments. But more and more I look around at the men and women I know in the pews around me and wonder “Why are you here? Do you know? Wouldn’t it be great to hear more about this beautiful faith to which we belong? Do your kids look at you and wonder why you’re there, too? They are being taught the faith in our school and then scratching their heads at home because mom and dad live contrary to what the faith is…how can we fix that?”

How can we fight the battles that are thrust upon us whether we want them or not if we are not prepared and trained to fight them?

When is the last time you heard the word “sin” mentioned in a sermon? I honestly could not tell you.

I won’t pretend to have the answers to that. There is obviously a hunger and a need for this as every three months in CatholicWorld a new evangelization program/study/book is being published. Tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on these items, many of them very well researched and produced. But I ask myself how on earth did the Church thrive and grow for the previous two thousand years before we had Ignatius Press, Sophia Press, Ascension Press, Catholic Answers, Envoy Magazine, Crisis Magazine…and on and on and on.

Could it be the teaching contained within the homilies?

(It could also have been the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass, something to which I am beginning to seriously consider attending with my family instead of staying at my parish. But that’s a whole other post. I would greatly welcome a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated Ad Orientem.)

Several years ago I purchased a book first published in 1901 by The Neumann Press called The Sermons of the Curé of Ars. Fr. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney (1786-1859) was the pastor of a tiny church in Ars, France (population 230). Yet for thirty years over 100,000 people per year, the simple and the affluent, would journey to Ars in order for this simple, humble priest to hear their confession and absorb his teachings. He would spend upwards of 17-18 hours a day sitting in the confessional because he so valued the souls of those making the journey to Ars. Vianney was named a saint of the church by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and in 1928 was named the patron saint of parish priests.

About the book:

A reproduction of the original 1901 impression. A very nice book on the outside, but its real claim to fame is the contents and inspiration on each page. Although St. John Vianney is the patron of parish priests, he is truly the saint for the average layman. The book includes sermons for the entire Church year (plus holy days and special feast days)-written over 150 years ago by this much-admired saint. (Not edited; printed exactly as the 1901 edition.)

This book contains preaching  that is not easy to hear. It certainly would not be considered politically correct to our delicate modern dispositions and perhaps not very popular. But as I recall Jesus Christ was quite capable of shaking things up by talking about hard truths, so much so that they killed him for it. For two thousand years we have example after example of the blood of martyrs flowing because of their willingness to stand up for the truth. Since when do we shy away from these things?

Asking myself these questions is what leads me to read from this book almost every Sunday when we return home from Mass. It does follow the pre-Vatican II liturgical calendar, but that should not be a hindrance for those wanting to read and apply the book. If you doubt me read the reviews at Amazon. Another set of books I would recommend for those wanting more teaching for each day/week of the current liturgical year and Mass readings I highly recommend In Conversation with God: Meditations for Each Day of the Year, by Francis Fernandez. One of the best homilists I’ve ever heard was Fr. James Mason when he led the Ignatian Retreat I attended in 2012. When I visited his office for my spiritual direction appointment he had a copy of Fernandez’s book propped open on his desk where he was preparing a homily for our Sunday Mass. Coincidence?

Tomorrow I’ll post excerpts from the Vianney sermon I read on Sunday, Aug. 23 that inspired me to write this.

The battle is upon us and the wolves are at the door.

As Christ directed Peter: feed your sheep. I beg you. We are starving.

Fathers, you are our shepherds. Feed us.

Friday Five (plus one) – Volume 93

Friday Five-Mere Observations
Happy Feast of St. Augustine, one of my favorite saints and historical figures! And on we go to this week’s five in which I go primarily visual. 

— 1 —

In light of the events this week in which we entered a new age of social media in which it’s no longer ISIS that uses the medium to publish its snuff films, this article written last week by Monsignor Charles Pope holds some truths about how we’ve become more together alone.

The more materially affluent we get, the more spiritually poor we seem to become. The higher our standard of living, the lower our overall morals. The more filled our coffers, the emptier our churches. This is the evil of our times; and it is no theory. The data from the past 60 years demonstrate that as our collective standard of living has risen, church attendance and other signs of belief and spirituality have plummeted; so has family time and the developing of deeper human relationships. Marriage rates have declined drastically while divorces have soared. Birth rates are down. Children are viewed as a burden by a satiated world with a high standard of living.

And it isn’t just wealth; it’s all the things that distract and divert us. Most of these things are lawful pleasures, but it’s often just a case of too much of a good thing.

What if, instead, we were awed by God’s providence and fell to our knees in thanksgiving? What if, in our riches, we prayed and went to church even more, out of sheer gratitude? Alas, this is seldom the case today.

— 2 —

As an answer to that article and video comes a story from my diocese, city, and the neighborhood a few miles from my home. It’s a story/photo essay about the wonderful work put in by a community pulling together to furnish the recently rebuilt St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Simply put they found joy in community and a purpose.

In the beginning, Father Troy Schweiger simply prayed about his plan.

“I said, ‘OK, God. How are we going to do this?’”

St. Patrick Catholic Church was replacing its old building, which had served Havelock for more than a century. Parishioners were emptying their pockets to pay for the new $5.5 million church, but they asked to do more.

“Almost universally, they kept saying, ‘Here’s our contribution.’ But they always followed up with: ‘If there’s anything I can do to help,'” Schweiger said. “People really wanted to do something that was substantial and meaningful. They wanted to be a part of building the church.”

So he came up with a plan: Parishioners could get involved by building the 69 pews for the new church. And the altar, pulpit, trim, baseboard and baptismal font.

The priest had another motive. By his estimates, the church could save more than $200,000 if it did the work itself.

So in November 2012, Schweiger scouted a creek near Palmyra, found a suitable oak and started his chainsaw.

At the end of the larger photo essay is a section called “Photos: Building a church, one pew at a time.” There are dozens of terrific photos (some of which moved me to tears) as I saw the process of how all of these local people came together. Some came from other city parishes, some were not even Catholic. But this photo and quote really made me smile:

stpatsLJSnewpulpit

Photo caption: It’s been more than a year since a car was parked in the rectory garage, which has become the woodworking shop for Schweiger and his mainstay volunteers. Here, Don Archer (left) listens to an impromptu homily from Mike Long, in the unfinished pulpit. The laughter is revealing, Schweiger said. “There’s joy. It’s not just drudgery. These people have come to know each other so deeply and so profoundly because they’ve worked with their hands to create something beautiful.”

— 3 —

 Since it’s his feast day I’ll quote St. Augustine:

When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.

That common joy is evident in those pictures. Joy is something I used to write about on my Facebook page. It’s perhaps the most valuable commodity a person can possess. One that the world is constantly trying to rip from our grasps. Some of us give it up all too easily or even willingly. Some never discover they have it at all. It is easy to take Joy for granted and when we do it slips through our fingers like water.

If you pray the Divine Office each day you’ll begin The Office of Readings (or Matins) by praying Psalm 94 (or 95 in the Hebrew numbering). It begins:

psalm94-invitatory

Come, let us praise the Lord with joy; let us joyfully sing to God our Saviour. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and with psalms let us sing our joy to Him.

Don’t forget praise and thanksgiving.

— 4 —

I used to drink a pot of coffee a day. I bought beans, ground them each morning, and brewed and drank an entire pot (because I felt I had to). Five years ago I bought a Keurig and joined the K-Cup crowd. I still use it each morning (and brew two cups on weekend mornings while I pray/read outside), but I do miss grinding those beans. Anyhow, here’s what happens to your body within an hour of drinking a cup of coffee.

— 5 —

If you close your eyes you’ll forget that the sounds you hear is one kid playing an accordion.

— +1 Bonus —

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another beautiful new addition to our Catholic Church family here in Lincoln. Sadly I’ve been too busy to visit either of the two new churches in town, but have made plans to fix that this fall. This should have been #5 but I get the biggest kick out of the kid on the accordion. Must be the Czech in me.

You’ll find the story and some beautiful photos in the July edition of the Adoremus Bulletin. Click on the link to open the PDF file to read the story (and view the gorgeous photographs) that begins on page 6.

I was privileged a few years ago on a cold winter night to be part of a panel discussion on marriage presented to the men and women of the old Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is a truly dynamic place and there’s nothing like it. I personally know several of the people in this video and am thrilled for what they accomplished with the help of so many benefactors. As expected, there is a crush of couples wanting to have their weddings take place at St. Thomas Aquinas and while attending the wedding of a friend’s daughter a few weeks ago at St. Teresa’s learned that on that day there were three weddings scheduled at St. Thomas: 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. And that’s pretty much a normal Saturday so far.

Within this short video of the Mass of Dedication highlights from this April is a brief time-lapse video showing the construction.

There is no place like Nebraska.

Adoremus Bulletin Hat tip: David Clayton at The Way of Beauty.

We are at war

Matt Walsh’s article today contained more truth than anything else I’ve read by him. He begins:

It’s called evil.

We never want to talk about evil in this country, do we? We rarely even say the word. We’re so shallow and distracted in our thinking. Everything has to be political or psychological, easily solved through policies or laws or pharmaceuticals. But all the drugs and legislation in the world won’t change the fact that humans are sinful and angry, and sometimes they do evil things on purpose, and not for any reason other than their own sick lust for vengeance, power, and pleasure.

You may or may not agree with the rest of what he writes, but that opening is certainly on the mark.

More and more I’ve had a sense of this spiritual vacuum (for years, but really crystalizing to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore) and I finally wrote about it. In addition to Matt’s piece today I read another by Fr. Longenecker and he really lays it out as well. And as he says, it’s going to get worse before it gets better:

This violence is not a race war. It is not a war between gay people and straight people. It is not a war against men or against women. It is a war on ourselves.

The white man who killed blacks in a Charleston church or the black man who killed two white people yesterday–their being white or black has nothing. Nothing to do with it. Even if the killers thought that was their motivation. It was not their motivation. They didn’t hate black people or white people. They hated people, and the first person they hated was themselves.

Will this seething hatred, rage and fear at the heart of our society go away or get worse?

It will get worse. As long as we continue to kill unborn children we will continue to kill others. Furthermore, this seething violence in the heart of America will finally erupt either in social violence on a grand scale or in war.

The one recourse any government cannot take away from me is my ability to pray. So I’ve reset my efforts in this area using the “tools of the trade” so to speak that I’m armed with. I can do other things as well, but without the willingness to shore up the foundational battle front the rest is just a house built on sand. We are going to be tested and tempted like never before.

built-on-sandI’ll say it again: it all comes down to the dignity of life. As long as we as a country are willing to so callously and with utter disregard and disdain murder human life within the womb than we cannot feign shock or surprise when events such as those in Virginia yesterday happen. As Fr. Longenecker stated it’s not a black, white, gay straight issue causing the hate. It is a human issue. We are at war with ourselves and our own humanity. We are at war with our Creator.

It’s a war we cannot win.

What St. Francis de Sales pointed out to me about social media

My edition of An Introduction to the Devout Life

My edition of An Introduction to the Devout Life

If unholy words are used secretly and with deliberate intention, they are infinitely more poisonous; for just as in proportion to its sharpness and point a dart enters easily into the body, so the more pointed a bad word, the further it penetrates the heart. Those who fancy that it is clever to introduce such things in society, do not know its aim, which should be like that of a hive of bees, gathered together to make honey, that is for pleasant and virtuous intercourse; and not like a nest of wasps which will feed upon anything however unclean. If any foolish person speaks to you in unbecoming language, show that your ears are offended, either by turning away from him, or by whatever means may be most discreet at the time.

A spirit of mockery is one of the worst imperfections of the mind, and displeases God greatly, so that He has often punished it most severely. Nothing is more hurtful to charity, and still more to devotion, than contempt and derision of our neighbor, and such is inevitably found in mockery. For this reason it has been said that mockery is the greatest insult a man can offer his neighbor, inasmuch as in other offenses he does not altogether cease to respect the person whom he offends, but in this he despises and contemns him.

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), An Introduction to the Devout Life (Chapter 27)

There was a time in my life, mostly during college, when I wielded my tongue like a sword, sarcastically ripping to shreds anyone who entered my crosshairs of the moment. Persons who wronged me, wronged friends of mine, or those who were just plain wrong (in my opinion) were all sliced and diced. Disguising this “talent” with dry humor and a quick flash, I left many a bloody body in my wake. Or at least I fancied that I did. Truthfully my targets rarely knew they’d been cut. My comments were made mostly to a group of friends who enjoyed engaging in such exercises as this with me. They were underclassmen and I’m ashamed to say I learned later that they really looked up to me as an example and even carried on this behavior after I graduated. I was to learn of this a year or two later while seated around a bonfire at a college party when I went back to visit them.

It was embarrassing and quite frankly horrified me to learn this. When the mirror was held up to my face I saw just how angry, bitter and wrong I was to speak like that about people, but also that I’d set an example that influenced guys that I really cared about, perpetuating the behavior. The odd thing was that during my senior year I had been the opposite of angry or bitter. It was in fact when of the happiest years of my life.

Looking back on that experience causes me to shudder when I think of how I would have acted were social media around in those days. I do not envy at all my children or their peers who are navigating through this minefield now. But as adults we now use the tools of social media and what I see is not encouraging to say the least. Those who are supposed to be the more mature among us are setting a terrible example for the next generation by acting like, well…children. It finally got so bad that almost three weeks ago I deactivated my Facebook account. The final straw for me came when a man whom I’ve known for thirty years reacted strongly and in a defensive posture when I posted a rare (for me) meme involving a politician (if you consider Donald Trump a politician). It was merely the latest of such “conversations” I’ve watched unfold between old and dear friends, and it was disheartening.

When I first joined Facebook in 2009 it was to monitor my oldest son who had opened an account. As I made new friends and found old ones, it was a really cool place to catch up, discuss events in our lives, and tell stories. There seemed to be some thought put into comments that were typed, and the replies contained even more thought. But then the worst thing that could happen, happened. The Facebook smartphone app was invented. Facebook became a home for photos of food (I love you dearly but I do not need to see the awesome grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup you had for lunch), videos of funny (or unfunny) cats. Viral video was born, and memes. Facebook became more of a visual cafeteria than one of discussion because it was easier. Have you ever tried to type out a coherent well-thought out sentence on a smartphone screen with one finger? It took too much time in a world that wanted speed over substance. Speed caused a reduction in courtesy, and quick reactionary (and often inflammatory) commentary rules the day. Reading some comments one can imagine hearing the slamming of fingers onto the poor phone’s screen as the words were pecked out.

Facebook-Twitter-on-mobile-phone

I watched this play out in real time on Twitter this morning. One of the first things I watched was an autoplay video someone retweeted from BuzzFeed of the live on-air execution of a television reporter and her cameraman as they interviewed a representative from that Virginia city’s chamber of commerce. With the horror fresh on the screen and their screams still echoing in our ears the feed was cut back to the studio and the stunned face of the woman behind the anchor desk. Amidst the cries from Twitter in the comments asking/telling/demanding/begging BuzzFeed to remove this video out of respect for the families of the dead (the cameraman’s fiancé was in the control room back at the station watching the entire event live), almost immediately ugly politics entered the fray. Comments screamed out that the shooter was obviously a Muslim/Black/White/Democrat/Republican/NRA-supporting/illegal immigrant/Tea Partying nutjob, amirite???

(I’ve provided no links nor further commentary as this story continues to develop as I write. I understand the shooter just shot himself a few minutes ago. You’ll have to seek out information on your own.)

I decided to avoid Twitter for the rest of the day.

The political realm is the worst, followed by “the cause”. But this would involve a whole other post that I don’t wish to write about now. Mostly what got to me was the sheer hypocrisy of most. Posts or photos of Zen sayings quoting Buddha or some other eastern mystic extolling the virtues of maintaining peace by being kind to others were followed by photos or news stories mocking a politician/celebrity/reality show star. I had one friend who did this regularly. She would quote Rumi one minute and in the next shred Sarah Palin with a “smirk”. I’m not a Palin fan necessarily, but after awhile the hypocrisy of it all got really old.

Our attentions spans have grown so short that we contradict ourselves within minutes.

We say things to each other (or passively-aggressively past each other) in our status updates or Tweets that we would never say directly to the face of our targets. What I’m seeing is a very public repeating of the crap I pulled as a 21-22 year old by people whom I respect and who, quite honestly, should know better. Should we really be surprised when our children do the same, or speak that way to us? Before I closed my Twitter today I saw a tweet from a priest I follow in which he pointed to evidence that our children are, in fact, watching how we conduct ourselves as adults. Not just in the homes, I would add, but online as well.

I will be reactivating my Facebook soon, though not after today’s events in Virginia. I’ll wait awhile. I realized yesterday that it is the only place I can access some poetry and song lyrics sent to me by a good friend who is pretty good at those things. I will not access it with my phone’s app and my time there will be greatly diminished during the day. I’ve kept Facebook all these years because it is a great way to stay in touch with family and close friends from around the country. But I will also be removing those who “poison” my well, so to speak, by conducting themselves more as wasps and less like bees as alluded to by St. Francis.

The more cynical or those considering themselves the paragons of irony will no doubt sneer at this statement. They are the wasps. I truly do not care. Someone has to draw the line somewhere and Saint Francis de Sales carries more weight with me.

Besides, he was right.

bees_wasps

Overcoming the Demonic Silence of Night

Recently I’ve posted a few selections from Max Picard’s The World of Silence. Here’s one more:

In the following poem by Matthias Claudius the power of language over the demonism of the silence of the night is revealed:

Der Mond ist aufgegangen,
die goldenen Sternlein prangen
am Himmel hell und klar;
der Wald steht Schwarz und schweiget,
und aus den Wiesen steiget
der weisse Nebel wunderbar.

Translation:
The moon is risen, beaming,
The golden stars are gleaming
So brightly in the skies;
The hushed, black woods are dreaming,
The mists, like phantoms seeming,
From meadows magically rise.

In this poem the demonic silence of night is overcome by the brightness of language. Moon and stars, forest, meadows and mist all find and meet each other in the clear light of the word. The night becomes so clear in the light of the poem that moon and stars, forest meadows and mist find their way to the daylight from which the word descended. The silence is now no longer dark: it has been made transparent by the light and radiance of the word that falls on the silence. Through the word the silence ceases to be in demonic isolation and becomes the friendly sister of the word.

*****

Albert Goodwin - The Monastery of St Francis, Assisi : Asleep in the Moonlight. Oil on canvas (1887)

Albert Goodwin – The Monastery of St Francis, Assisi: Asleep in the Moonlight. Oil on canvas (1887)

For some time now I’ve been planning a series of posts on the Divine Office and the meanings of the different times of the day in which the prayers take place. Part of my research comes from a book by Pius Parsch, so I may use this section again in the future but I thought it fit with the above selection from Picard’s book. Below, Parsch is writing about Matins, that office of prayer that for centuries has taken place in the dead of night when all is silent. Both selections bring to mind the images and sounds that surround a monastery in the countryside at night. The starry midnight silence is broken in the distance by the chants and songs of those who have dedicated their lives to serving God. In the middle of their slumber they lift themselves out of their beds and raise their voices to heaven, praying for us all. They, ever vigilant in their vigil, overcome the demonic silence of the night with the language of the psalter.

It is night. The turmoil of day has died away and everything is still. The Church is at prayer. She remembers the night-time prayer of the Bridegroom; she thinks of the night vigils of the early Christians in the catacombs. Times have changed, but the Church continues to insist that night is not just for sleep; night is a time for prayer. From earliest ages Matins was the Church’s prayer for the Second Coming; she prayed and waited for the return of Christ as Judge of all the world. Night is also a symbol of life on earth. We are like the virgins in the parable, waiting for the Bridegroom with our lamps in hand. Here is how the Christians of 200 A.D. felt about their Matins (text from Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, c. 32, 19-27):

” … the ancients have handed this practice down to us and taught us that this is how we are to keep watch. For at that hour all creation is at rest, praising God. Stars, trees, and waters are as if standing still. The whole host of angels keep their service together with the souls of the just. They praise almighty God in that hour; and that is why the faithful on earth must pray at this same time.

“Our Lord in his parable put it this way: About midnight, he said, there came a call: Look! here comes the bridegroom! Go out to meet him! And he said more. Keep watch, then he told them , for ye know not either the day or the hour in which the Son of man cometh.”