A little of this and a little of that

So you think that it’s just a tale of days gone by?

This has been on YouTube since 2009 but I just saw it this week and loved it. Very clever.

A Dangerous Firebrand

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” . . . when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either.

Dorothy Sayers (essayist, playright and translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy) “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged is the Official Creed of Christendom.” The Sunday Times, April, 2, 1938

Flannery and The Hillbilly Thomists

This was one of my favorite passages from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, published a few years ago:

You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

O’Connor was the original “hillbilly Thomist” and she referred to herself as such. So what exactly is this type of individual?

In 1955, the southern author Flannery O’Connor said of herself, “Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas. . .I’m a hillbilly Thomist.” She said that her fiction was concerned with the ways grace is at work among people who do not have access to the sacraments. The Thomist (one who follows the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas) believes that the invisible grace of God can be at work in visible things, just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the person of Christ. (source)

A group of Dominicans calling themselves The Hillbilly Thomists released an album this week and it sounds very cool. I love the old-timey pose they struck for the album cover.

From C.C. Pecknold at First Things:

But after nearly four years of performing, they’ve now produced their first album, and it is a veritable feast of Bluegrass banjo bliss! The twelve-song album includes nineteenth- and twentieth-century bluegrass classics, such as Jefferson Hascal’s “Angel Band” (prominently featured in the Cohen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?), as well as original bluegrass arrangements of hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “What Wondrous Love Is This.”

Many of the songs chosen for the album emphasize the theme of pilgrimage, and the vocal harmonies of songs like “Angel Band” remind us of our heavenly destination. From the opening track, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” we learn about how sweet it is to walk “in this pilgrim way.” The beautifully produced music video that promotes the new album features Br. Simon Teller’s pitch-perfect rendition of the pilgrim’s ballad, and the fourth track, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” which hints at the way Dominicans have understood their witness as a joyful sign of contradiction in a world that is passing away.

I’ve sampled a few tracks on iTunes and liked what I heard. While I’m not an avid bluegrass fan, thanks to Alison Kraus I listen to my fair share. They’ve already sold out of their physical inventory of CDs, but it can be ordered in digital format by way of iTunes and Amazon by visiting their page here.

Speaking of St. Thomas, how about a pint?

Matt Fradd recently began a podcast that has become quite successful called “Pints with Aquinas”. As I spend most of my social media time on Twitter these days that is where I first stumbled across his new podcast venture. I’ve not yet had time to listen to any but have a few downloaded and plan to give a listen this weekend. I’m a huge fan of “The Dumb Ox” as Aquinas was known, and have dipped my toes into his Summa Theologica a few times from their place on my bookshelf. You may find him on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or the world wide web.

I first noticed him when I saw a few cartoons retweeted that made me laugh out loud. A few of my favorites are below.

Prayer Time > Free Time

Having logged off Facebook until after New Year’s in order to avoid Star Wars spoilers, and cutting way back on Twitter, I’ve got some more time on my hands. We are at the halfway point of Advent and Christmas will soon be here (no matter how much Madison Avenue tries to convince you that it’s already here…it’s not.) So what am I doing with that extra time each day?

How much time do Catholics spend in prayer? Prayer is a great gift that one should find joy in. The cultivation of virtue—which is the outcome of habit (habitus)—requires striving. It requires time. It demands that we set aside time for God in the midst of our daily lives. To have an active prayer life is the result of the habit of prayer.

To this end the Rosary embodies the call to a virtuous prayer life better than most prayers because of the time it takes to pray the Rosary. Time is the one thing we can never get enough of according to some people. And the more time spent reading, praying, or contemplating God, the less time one is “making something of themselves” in the material world. For all the wonders that God has done for us it would be fitting of our appreciation and understanding of God’s wonders and love to devote time to him throughout the day. From small things greater things come. (source)

Happy Advent! And I wish for you all a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

The Reception

Staring contest

Staring contest

A moderate rain all morning should have given us our white Christmas but for the temperature being 39+ degrees. It did get cold enough to provide some wet snowflakes as I was exiting the Pink Sisters chapel today where I’d listened and prayed with the cloistered sisters as they sang Midday Prayers. Last year on a day much like today a squirrel eyed me cautiously from a tree, and today another squirrel did the same as I caught him foraging for nuts in the wet, snowy grass as I walked back into the cold. He scaled the tree and chirked at me, but only a little. I wonder if it was the same little guy?

I have to be honest: this year marks the coldest, driest, emptiest Advent heading into Christmas that I can remember. I just have not been able to “get into the spirit” at all this year. But sitting in the darkened chapel today and praying the psalms of this morning’s Office of Readings began to thaw me out a bit. There’s still time, and I’ve plans for Midnight Mass this year since we’ll be home this Christmas instead of on the road. The five block walk home afterwards, while crisp, is always my favorite walk of the year.

The second reading in today’s Office of Readings from the Divine Office comes from a treatise against the heresy of Noetus by Saint Hippolytus. It’s a mini-lesson on the Holy Trinity and as we approach Christmas tells of the Word entering His creation in the flesh.

The last line is one of the saddest ever written.

*****

The manifestation of the hidden mystery

There is only one God, brethren, and we learn about him only from sacred Scripture. It is therefore our duty to become acquainted with what Scripture proclaims and to investigate its teachings thoroughly. We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills, thinking of the Son in the way the Father wills, and accepting the teaching he wills to give us with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God’s gift to us and it should be understood in the way that he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.

God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power, nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe.

When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God made him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father.

The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.

So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him.

Left: “Nativity: Birth of Jesus” (1306); right: “The Road to Calvary” (1305), both by Giotto.

Left: “Nativity: Birth of Jesus” (1306); right: “The Road to Calvary” (1305), both by Giotto.

Reflected in Our Faces

I read this today and it profoundly connected with my own musings and observations of late.

It was a spiritual kinsman of St Isaac, the Father Zossima of The Brothers Karamazov, who showed how our direct responsibility for our own bodies and for dumb creatures may indirectly stretch yet further. In his final conversations father Zossima describes how our very faces may indireclty produce momentous consequences. He asks us to think of a child walking down a street, rather bewildered by the evil in the world and searching for signs that life has meaning. If we have over the years allowed our hearts to become embittered, that will be reflected in our faces. So when the child has seen our face the image that will remain in his heart will be of evil and meaninglessness. It may turn out that our face has sown a seed of evil in the child which will one day overgrow his whole heart. On the other hand, if we have over the years filled our hearts with love, that also will be reflected in our faces and the passing child in the street will be encouraged by what he sees to find meaning in life.

Nor is such an illustration by any means imaginary. We have from the pen of Olivier Clément a moving account of how a face saved his life. It as in the days when he was an atheist, though an unhappy one. He was so unhappy, in fact, and so oppressed by the meaninglessness of human life that he was seriously thinking of committing suicide. Then one day as he was walking depressed beside the Mediterranean sea-shore his attention was riveted by the face of someone who was passing by. The person’s face was radiant with meaning, full of such goodness as can only come from years of cultivating a loving heart. In a twinkling Clément’s suicidal thoughts were dispelled and a seed sown in his heart that was eventually to transform him into an ardent believer. Not surprisingly, Clément asserts with warm conviction that there is a branch of theology that is properly described as a ‘theology of faces.’ Donald Nicholl, Holiness (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 48-49.

Source: Shirt of Flame

*****

I wonder how much of the unrest, protests and violence today is caused because those committing these acts feel they are invisible. I suspect much of it is. Have you looked around lately when you’re in a crowd? How many sets of eyes actually raise up to meet your own? How many are staring at their shoes or more likely…at a digital screen?

How many lash out because it’s the only way they can think of anymore to get someone…anyone…to pay them attention? When I see a rioter or a protester I see my toddler (when I had a toddler) lashing out in order to get my attention.

I see a lot of things these days through the tired eyes of a parent.

We don’t look at each other in the eyes anymore as a species. I think that is one of the greatest problems we face today. Comments are entered on the internet in anger or biting sarcasm as we viscerally cut those whom we cannot see.

One of the great miracles of the Incarnation of God made man was his desire to enter into His creation and to look us in the eye. When we peer into the manger at the child wrapped and fragile in human flesh we look into the very Creator of the universe. Time and eternity meet our humanity in a glance.

Don’t be quick to look away this Christmas. You are made in the Imago Dei. The image of God. Your eyes contain the power to change someone’s life.

Your eyes show them they matter.

Tell them that they are not invisible.

Demonstrate that they are indeed seen by someone else.

No longer alone, two-dimensional and empty. But surrounded by love, hope and joy, three-dimensional and full of the Spirit and able to do the same for others.

This Christmas I’m grateful for a God whose eyes are much older than my own, but that are never tired.

I’m thankful that He came for me.

He sees my face.

Even when my eyes are closed to His presence, He sees me.

Thank you for those in my own life who look me in the eye when I feel unworthy, lost and alone. I needed that.

We need each other.

face_reflected_in_eye

*****

My Jesus, I forever thank You for allowing me to see You.

I thank You for being visible in all the grandeur of nature, in the mountains, the streams, the oceans, the trees. I thank You for being visible in the beauty of the stars, the sky, the magnificence of the sun.

I thank You for being visible in every beating heart, in every created life. I thank You that I am able to see the gift of love, instilled in every human being, and so often abused, crushed, neglected by the world.

My Jesus, You are visible in every act of charity and compassion, in the forgiveness of every hurt, in every sacrifice offered for another. I thank You for allowing me to see You in the pain and suffering of all people in their struggles.

My Jesus, You are visible in every baby’s smile, in every mother’s caress, in the innocence of every child and the willingness of every mother to say “yes” to life. I thank You for being visible in every miracle, in every healing, in every conversion, in the joy of every soul who has suddenly accepted Your existence.

I thank You for being visible in the faith and trust of countless millions, in the perpetual existence of Your Church in the face of centuries of persecution. I thank You for being visible to me now, in my prayer, in my trust. In every day of my life, in every need, in every way.

Jesus, You died for my sins and I thank You for allowing me to see that sacrifice perpetually before me in the Eucharist. Jesus, I especially thank You for being so visible to me through Your forgiveness and love in the midst of my failures and sins. The world never has.

From An Hour With Jesus: Volume II.

C’mon…laugh.

*****

Photo credit

Christmas

The Nativity by Gustave Dore. 1865.

The Nativity by Gustave Dore. 1865.

I

ALL after pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tir’d, bodie and minde,
With full crie of affections, quite astray;
I took up in the next inne I could finde.

There when I came, whom found I but my deare,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to him, readie there
To be all passengers most sweet relief?

O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger:

Furnish and deck my soul, that thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.

II

THE shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymne for thee?
My soul ’s a shepherd too: a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is thy word; the streams, thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Out-sing the day-light houres.
Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
Take up his place and right:

We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching, till I finde a sunne
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipt sunnes look sadly.
Then we will sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n his beams sing, and my musick shine.

Christmas morning near Hastings, Nebraska in 2004. Photograph taken by this blog's author.

Christmas morning near Hastings, Nebraska in 2004. Photograph taken by this blog’s author.


Source:
George Herbert (1593-1633). The Poetical Works of George Herbert.
New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1857. 101-102.

December 23 – O Emmanuel

The O Antiphons | O Sapientia | O Adonai | O Radix Jesse |
O Clavis David | O Oriens | O Rex Gentium | O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel

LATIN: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

ENGLISH: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel. “God with us.”

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

…it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Emmanuel. (Isaiah 8:8)

“Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic. Yes, the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us”. (Isaiah 33:22)

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

We have reached the final of the O Antiphons. Each of the four candles on our Advent wreaths have been lit. The Light is near.

Gerrit van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622

Gerrit van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622

Traditionally, each of the four candles on an Advent wreath has their own meaning. The first Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the Prophet’s Candle reminding us that Jesus is coming. The second Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith with the Bethlehem Candle reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. The third Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the Shepherd’s Candle reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus. The fourth Sunday symbolizes Peace with the Angel’s Candle reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

The light again signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some wreaths will include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is to replace the three purple and one rose candles with four white candles, which will be lit throughout Christmas season.

Our expectation now finds joy in the certainty of fulfillment. We call Jesus by a most intimate and personal name: Emmanuel. God with us. We remember that in being born of the Virgin Mary the Creator of the Universe takes upon Himself our very flesh. He comes more near to us than ever before. Yet He is also to be exclaimed as our King, the judge and lawgiver whom we both honor and obey.

And it is in His being born in a simple cave and placed in a manger, used to feed lowly animals, that we are reminded of the simplicity and poverty surrounding the birth of Jesus as well as His life of humility. He would proclaim “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) years after being born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

*****

The final O Antiphon is referred to in the following verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel. It is the first verse, and the one most commonly known:

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio, privatus Dei Filio.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel nascetur pro te Israel!

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

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07_driving

03_lights

06_lights

We’re getting our first snowfall of the season and it’s shaping up to be a doozy. I drove home late from the downtown office because I brought my laptop and work home with me just in case the weather gets as bad as they say it will. School is likely to be cancelled tomorrow, which will be disappointing to our kindergartner who was all set to bleat her one-word line in the Christmas program…as a sheep. I had to dig the shovels and snowblower out of the shed since we haven’t used them in almost ten months. Late winter/early spring 2012 was very mild. This meant I also needed to fill my two-gallon gas can with the 2-cycle engine mix so I ventured back out into the elements, taking my camera-phone along for the ride.

I’ve been meaning to post this video for a few weeks after discovering the poem by Christina Rossetti in the back of my breviary. Even without the snow it has seemed bleaker than bleak for some time now: economic and political stagnation, news filled with horror stories and a media all-too-seemingly eager to showcase the worst of humanity. It’s not just the frosty wind that moans or the earth that stands hard as iron. Just as water freezes to stone our hearts are susceptible to doing the same if we’re not careful and leave them exposed to the elements of this world for too long. Only just this afternoon I wrote to a long-time friend of mine, exchanging Christmas greetings and discussing one of our favorite topics: Middle-Earth and hobbits. She asked me how my Christmas season was going and this is my reply. I apologize in advance for the language, but emotions remain raw as they will for some time. It is the recognition of that rawness that has forced me to discipline myself from commenting or writing on a subject too painful to grasp.

As for my Christmas, well….it’s been a struggle this Advent. I have to be honest. Since the election I have been in a massive funk trying to wrap my brain around the mind-set of the country, but when the tragedy of last Friday occurred in Connecticut I went numb. I have largely avoided the news, the internet and even Facebook. As we both have children that age I know you understand. Having a child of any age…but they were 6 and 7. What a complete fucking bastard. I’ve had to withdraw from the media to keep my sanity. I’ve instead immersed myself in prayer, my family, my parish, any good works or service I can provide…anything to keep moving forward and avoid not just the news of that awful day, but also the political football those who would seize a political opportunity have made of those poor children and people before they are even buried.

To keep from falling into loathing hatred or depression I serve. It is in serving that I love. And that’s what keeps me from collapsing into a blubbering zombie.

That is what I’ve done. Looked anywhere and everywhere for ways to serve, one fellow human being at a time. It does help, and when my eyes are on others they are not on myself. That has made all the difference.

During Midnight Mass next week is probably when I will release it all and let it go. I hope the people sitting around me can ignore the sobs of gratitude and release.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

We have only a week of Advent waiting to go. The good news of course is that Heaven cannot hold Him and into the stable of our hearts He comes. To we poor, small people He comes.

May we react to Our Savior’s coming with as much exuberance and jubilation as our family’s 10-month old beagle Buster did tonight when encountering snow for the first time.

buster_01

buster_02

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Epilogue: The Miracle Remains

As with gladness men of old,
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onwards, beaming bright,
So, most gracious God, may we
Evermore be led to thee.

~ from the Evening Prayer II hymn on the Feast of the Epiphany, Liturgy of the Hours

I wanted to take a moment and thank those of you who have joined me on the journey I began in November on the first Sunday of Advent. Whether you were there at the start or joined us somewhere along the way, I thank you. Each day I posted something for your edification, but mostly it was for my own. My goal was to avoid the crass commercialism and busyness that is the holiday season while keeping my focus on the Light that entered into the world in that stable two millenia ago. And it worked, for while the past month has brought some difficult and challenging times as a parent and father, there was a lot of peace internally that enabled me to handle the situation. And it’s ok that there was no earth-shattering alteration for me this season. Instead what I found was a gentle nudge to maintain the course I’ve set upon and keep walking this road. Reaffirmation, and the knowledge that while the time of preparation ended with the Incarnation, the miracle remains. And we’ve got work to do, you and I.

For long after the angels disappear into the heavens, the shepherds return to their flocks, the magi journey home and the great star sets, Jesus remains.

The small statue of Mary holding the child Jesus that is in our home.

The Child in whom we rediscover God’s great love for humanity becomes the adult Redeemer who challenges us to imitate his selflessness and compassion in order that we might transform our world in love. For today that little baby, born into such pitiful humility and then cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history. It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic can ever explain away.

This is why, behind all of the fun and games we had during Christmastime, we should not have tried to escape a sense of awe at what God has done. We must take care to never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago.

What we just celebrated was no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him.

May we allow the miracle of Christmas to continue long after the holiday trappings have been packed away.

May we welcome the adult Messiah and his challenging Gospel to recreate our lives, making the peace, justice and hope of this holy season a reality in every season of the new year.

Strengthened, and with renewed vigor, may we evermore walk this path in full knowledge of the fact that the Miracle remains.