St. Hilary of Poitiers

st-hilary-of-poitiersToday is the feast day of St. Hilary of Poitiers (310-367). You can read more about him here or here. He is most known for his arguments against the heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ.

What follows is from today’s Liturgy of the Hours in the Office of Readings. It’s from a wonderful sermon on the Trinity by St. Hilary. I think it reads like an extended prayer and meditation.

As we head into another three-day holiday weekend I invite you to read it slowly, perhaps more than once. In fact it should be read at least 2-3 times slowly. As I’ve been studying the virtues this month I’ve come across many saints stating that conforming our will to the Will of God is a very important path to virtue. St. Hilary as well alludes to this in his sermon.

We are in the path of what they say will be a massive ice storm this weekend. Once I publish this note I’ll be driving to the gas station to top off my gas tank as it’s below 1/4 full, and then stop by the hardware store to pick up a bag or two of salt for our sidewalks and driveway. Whether you are in the path of this storm or not, might I suggest that during this extended weekend you make it a priority to make time to stay indoors where it’s (hopefully) warm, fill your mug with something to warm your insides, light a candle or two and curl up in your favorite chair with a favorite quilt and a favorite book. For that is my intention, too.

*****

May I serve you by making you known

I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of you.

In fact, you have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at your service. It is for making you known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows you not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in you.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of your help and your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before you, fill them with the breath of your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming your truth. We have been promised, and he who made the promise is trustworthy:  Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to your teaching and by obedience to the faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in you to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that you are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of you from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that he is begotten of you who are the one God; nor must we assert that he is other than the true God, born of you who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who is not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

National Dog Day, Cromwell, Liberty Valance, and so on…

A cool breeze and Supertramp on the radio.

A cool breeze and Supertramp on the radio.

Today is National Dog Day. In the spirit of this designation I thought I’d share a photo of the ever faithful Buster the Wonder Beagle™ doing what he does.

Snippets of what I’ve been reading or observing are below. Instead of the Friday Five format that I’ve been using for the last several years I’m switching up a bit this week. Basically because I have more than five things I wanted to include and rather than hold some over for next week I wanted to get them published today in case I get too busy next week. Mostly it’s because I’m too lazy to edit myself.

• Today is Day 12 of the 54-Day Rosary Novena for Our Nation and so far I’ve remained engaged. I have enjoyed getting up earlier to watch the sunrise while praying. I also continue to read Fr. Calloway’s excellent book Champions of the Rosary.

An unexpected treat in this book has been the history of the Rosary through the centuries. A little sampling perhaps? Ok then, here’s an excerpt from pages 93-94:

One telling account of the tremendous love that the Irish people had for the rosary during this time of persecution was written by the hand of the man who was sent to persecute and kill Catholics in Ireland: Oliver Cromwell.  Cromwell was an English military leader bearing the title “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.” During his military campaign in Ireland, he sought to rid the country of Catholics and made the following report back to his superiors in England.

All is not well with Ireland yet. You gave us the money, you gave us the guns. But let me tell you that every house in Ireland is a house of prayer, and when I bring these fanatical Irish before the muzzles of my guns, they hold up in their hands a string of beads, and they never surrender.

Incredibly, to this day in the town of Clonmel, in County Tipperary – an area of Ireland where the Dominicans have not had a house since medieval times – the following prayer is said by the faithful during the recitation of the rosary:

Glorious St. Dominic,
intercede with Mary Immaculate
to crush the serpent,
and let peace reign in the whole world.
You are the founder of the most holy rosary.
Do not permit the enemy
to penetrate into these places
where the rosary is recited.
Amen.

• This bit about the bloodthirsty fanatic (well he was) Cromwell struck me this week as I encountered an individual online who was a classic relativist. She persisted in defending the innocence of Islam while condemning the “bloody history” of Catholicism. She hit all the standard lines: the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust (wait…what?). After yet again citing the historical fact that 3000-6000 persons were killed over a 500 year period of the Inquisition (not “hundreds of millions”), and how the Crusades were a counter-attack and a defense brought about by Muslim aggression, I admit I shut it down when she trotted out the Holocaust.

Fr. Calloway’s book has already covered the Siege of Vienna, the Battle of Lepanto, and various other battles waged by Catholic Christians in defense against Muslim aggression.

• While we’re in the medieval era of Europe: I stumbled across a film I’d never heard of this morning called Ironclad (2011). According to imdb.com:

It is the year 1215 and the rebel barons of England have forced their despised King John to put his royal seal to the Magna Carta, a noble, seminal document that upheld the rights of free-men. Yet within months of pledging himself to the great charter, the King reneged on his word and assembled a mercenary army on the south coast of England with the intention of bringing the barons and the country back under his tyrannical rule. Barring his way stood the mighty Rochester castle, a place that would become the symbol of the rebel’s momentous struggle for justice and freedom.

The trailer is below, and I’ve already saved it to my Netflix watch list. I’m in the mood.

• As long as I’m in movie mode one of my favorites was brought to mind yesterday when I retrieved a rather thick, important looking envelope from my mailbox informing me that I was on call for jury duty for two weeks in October. Immediately my mind raced for ways to recuse myself before a possible jury selection process and for whatever reason this scene from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance popped into my head:

What do you think? If I stand up and holler “That’s right! Hang him! Give him a rope necktie and let him swing!” the attorney for the defense will want to keep me on the jury?

Just a (admittedly bad) thought.

• One more comment about medieval times and for that I defer to Hilliare Belloc, a favorite historian and an essay he wrote in 1912:

The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort but he will not be at the pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation should have offended him with priests and soldiers. ~Hilaire Belloc: This That and the Other. (1912)

Did I say it was about medieval times? Sure sounds like it could have been referring to our 2016 barbarians, donit?

By the way, I’m not a Game of Thrones guy. Never seen an episode or read a page. Is that odd? Maybe, but I’ve read enough about it to know that in the limited time it just doesn’t draw me in.

And now you think less of me. Ah well, can’t win ‘em all.

• Michael Baggot, a Legion of Christ brother, wrote an article that caught my eye over at First Things this week. In “Lectio Divina and the Facebook Newsfeed” he begins:

Puppies bounding through a field, a jubilant wedding, a new round of beheadings in the Middle East, homemade tacos al pastor, an Olympics triumph over adversity. As my thumb slides over the Facebook newsfeed, I am drawn hypnotically to swipe and swipe again. Perhaps I will rediscover an old friend from college, or scroll upon a factoid to share at the dinner table. As I feed my curiosity, I realize that I have lost a half-hour, with little to show for it. I paid a visit to Facebook for a refreshing diversion, but instead I have grown wearier.

There is so much more I’d like to quote from this brief article, but it is brief and I do not want to steal his thunder and would instead very much encourage you to click over to read it yourself. Baggot points out how the endless scrolling and consuming all manner of different things from our Facebook newsfeed (and I would also include Twitter) affects our minds, as well as our ability to think, read and reflect. I have noticed as much during the past year when I read. I cannot seem to endure long passages of time spent in a book like I used to and have had to own up to the fact that each night I can’t stop picking up my phone to scroll through my timeline. Ironically the day before I read this article I logged out of Twitter and deleted it from my phone. Baby steps.

Baggot’s article is here. Please do yourself a favor and read it.

• The “On This Day” feature on Facebook is one in which it displays all the posts you made on that specific date during the year. This includes photos, links or your friend’s posts in which you were “tagged”. As I’ve read these over the past year the thought has occurred to me (more than once) that I was much more carefree, interesting and funny from 2009-2014. In short, I’ve passed my “sell by” date on social media. Or more accurately one might say that from 2009-14 I was Don Knotts’ character Barney Fife: affable, likeable, and funny now and then. But now I’ve morphed into Ralph Furley: the annoying, unfunny, overstayed-his-welcome guy who lives downstairs.

• Even my metaphors and references are as dated as the jumpsuits and ascots Furley wore.

Just a few more items and I’ll wrap this up.

• Brandon Vogt has produced yet another useful free service for Catholics that want to spend some time ahead of Sunday Mass reflecting on that week’s gospel passage. Simply go to DeeperGospel.com and sign up. Every Thursday you will receive an email containing that coming Sunday’s Gospel text along with three reflections from various saints or popes regarding that passage. I received my first email yesterday (Luke 14:1, 7-14) and the reflections were from St. John Chrysostom, St. Josemaria Escriva and Pope Benedict XVI. I read through it Thursday, did again this morning and will once more on Saturday.

A much better use of time than scrolling through cute kitty videos on Facebook, no?

• PS: You don’t have to be Catholic to put this to use.

• My bishop, James D. Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, was featured in an interview that appeared in Catholic World Report yesterday. In the course of the interview Bishop Conley discusses his background, as well as that of our diocese and our high amount of priestly vocations. You can read the whole interview here.

• Yesterday I read this wonderful post by blogger John Pavlovitz from this past February. The title is “On the Day I Die” and is a marvelous meditation and reflection on what will happen on that fateful day. It is also a call to live. I was going to post a portion of it. But then I remembered the second reading from The Liturgy of the Hours that I’d prayed yesterday on the Memorial of St. Louis IX. It is from a spiritual testament written to his son are contains some great advice on how to live. I’ve decided to close out this week with some bulleted excerpts from it below. Both the words of St. Louis and of John Pavlovitz are worthy of mental chewing over the weekend.

  • My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation.
  • Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.
  • If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it.
  • If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.
  • Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion.
  • As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.
  • Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can.
  • Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater.
  • In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.

Fighting back

There has long been a deep reservoir of hate in this country just waiting to be tapped. Now Hillary Clinton on the left and Donald Trump from wherever he comes have both tapped it – it is open and gushing, it is vile, and it is threatening to bring this country down.

The only thing that will stop it is prayer – the ONLY thing. – online commenter Terry at Crisis Magazine online

_______

The life of man upon earth is a warfare… – Job 7:1

***

Last night I entered the fray.

I joined the battle.

We established a beachhead.

I haven’t been writing much for more than a few weeks now. My efforts to continue with The Screwtape Letters project is, for now, on hold. I got tired of staring at an empty screen and will try to continue another day.

The bitter and honest truth is that I’ve been…how to say this…out of sorts.

Out of whack. Lost my equilibrium.

I’ve been under attack.

I’ve said before that I believe the great battle of our times is before us. I’ve also said that it will be a spiritual war.

After the events of the last month I stand behind those assertions.

It’s been a rough year. A year filled with self-doubt and second-guessing. A year of “what ifs”. Through it all I’ve struggled to keep my balance and maintain both my optimism and stay upright. At times I’ve come perilously close to giving in to despair. One beam of light guided me through this fog.

Prayer, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

We are living in strange times. Or hadn’t you noticed? Many have not. Distracted by the soft comforting glow of their various screens they are oblivious to history’s verdicts. How else does one explain our youth’s embracing of the culture of death and socialism? How else to explain the unhinged, vehement attacks levied at anyone who points out the obvious lack of conservative bona fides in the candidate widely embraced on the right as “the true conservative candidate”?

Thought and reason have no traction today because emotions and slogans have superseded them.

What the hell is going on?

And that’s the answer. Hell is going on.

***

Of late I’ve read many things online to ramp up my sense of urgency regarding this war. If the results from this survey by the Barna Group are in fact true, then I’m already to be considered an extremist in the eyes of many. The war is already being waged against me. I just as well fight back and make damn sure I live up to the evidence and label that may someday be used against me.

Society is undergoing a change of mind about the way religion and people of faith intersect with public life. That is, there are intensifying perceptions that faith is at the root of a vast number of societal ills.

Though it remains the nation’s most dominant religion, Christianity faces significant headwind in the court of public opinion. The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society.

A new major study conducted by Barna Group, and explored in the new book Good Faith, co-authored by Barna president David Kinnaman, examines society’s current perceptions of faith and Christianity. In sum, faith and religion and Christianity are viewed by millions of adults to be extremist.

A growing portion of society considers me an extremist by virtue of my actually professing and living by my beliefs as a Christian. As a conservative I’ve watched myself or anyone else who questions the candidacy of Donald Trump be labeled a “rich, establishment, power mad” fool who is not a “true conservative” and will get “what’s coming to you!”. Ummm…what? I’ve watched those members of the media who call themselves conservatives outed for the carnival barkers that they are, nothing more than shills looking to make a book for the candidate du jour.

I’ve seen spleens vented at Pope Francis and any Catholic who dares call him or herself Catholic while pleading for some decent human decency be shown the less fortunate or the poor.

Obama voters the past two elections just pissed me off. I laughed them off as unserious kids fawning over an unqualified leftist. Supporters of Trump who spew their hatred and bile towards anyone who dare point out the flaws in their reason or simply ask for clarification on their stance scare the hell out of me because this lot is filled with rage and they are looking for someone to pour it upon. And I get it. I’m as upset with the Republican party leadership as anyone on how they’ve said one thing to get elected and then done the opposite once in office, while sending out letters for more money. I stopped supporting the GOP in 2006 when despite having control of all three branches of government they did not one blessed thing about abortion in this country. But as soon as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took over in 2006 the fundraising letters once more were filling the mailboxes of pro-lifers everywhere.

So I get the anger and disillusionment. But Trump? And to vent that anger out on not just your fellow citizens of either party, but against those who are in tune with the Constitution and our nation’s history?

It’s nothing new. History has shown us examples of a citizenry embracing anger during the Reign of Terror in France, in Puritan England, and  in pre-World War II Germany.

The lessons from this history is that it never ends well for the likes of people like me.

***

Already being bloodied from the blows received, I read the following from scripture one  evening while in prayer:

My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 (Evening Prayer for January 29)

The very next morning I read this during Morning Prayer:

In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation—among whom you shine like the stars in the sky. – Philippians 2:14-15 (Morning Prayer for January 30)

I decided I needed to make a call.

***

During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.

During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.

It has been a long-time goal of mine to initiate the praying of Vespers, or Evening Prayer, at my parish. A few weeks ago I finally got around to setting up a meeting with my parish priest to discuss it. I say finally because I could no longer ignore what I see going on. I needed to stop fighting alone, and begin to form a squad to wage the only form of warfare that matters and the one for which I’m best equipped. My son is a United States Marine. He’s trained for the more conventional battles of this world. He has been raised to fight the other, too, but for now his task is elsewhere.

Mine, however, is not. Mine is against the “powers and principalities” of this world.

This is your fight as well.

I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for just about fifteen years, ever since I first worked up the nerve to ask our former assistant pastor Father Hottovy to show me the book he always carried with him. It was slow going and a struggle at many times, but I persevered until now my day feels unbalanced if I fail to pray at least Morning or Evening Prayers. Being a historian I researched its origins and revisions over the years, even purchasing an expensive set of pre-Vatican II era books containing the Divine Office in both Latin and English.

But mostly I have done so in order to sanctify time for God. Except for a handful of occasions I have prayed this communal prayer alone.

I wanted to change that. Father Johnson agreed. And we selected Wednesday evenings at 6pm immediately following 5:30 Mass. We agreed that instead of announcing it in the bulletin for now or at weekend Masses he would simply announce it at the end of last night’s Mass and invite people to stick around to join me.

***

About the same time that I first contacted Father for a Saturday morning meeting over coffee the attacks upon me intensified. As last night drew near they threatened to suffocate me. I struggled to smile or find happiness. Optimism about almost anything seemed to disappear. I found myself hit with dreams and visions in broad daylight…horrible and awful images of my family, especially my children, and at times my friends. I saw horrific scenes, too terrible to recount, that involved my children bloodied, in danger, or worse. I couldn’t sleep and had little energy. My despair would turn to frustration and in a flash my anger would flare with words against those who mean the most to me. Two days ago I was sitting at a red light when one flashed before my eyes and caused me to cry uncontrollably as the light turned green through my tear-streaked eyes. The devil knows our weakness. It has ever been so.

I honestly thought I was falling apart. Believe it or not thoughts of my own death and of not being a burden to my loved ones crept into my mind.

But then little pinpoints of grace would shine forth. Nothing huge, but small indications that I did have worth, that I mattered, and that I made a difference began to emerge. Two examples:

Two weeks ago my Marine and I were texting about his younger brother’s upcoming baseball season. Jonah is twelve and at this point in his young life already a much better baseball player than his older brother. Considering that Nolan was able to contribute and then start on two spring high school state champion baseball teams and compete for summer state titles as well, that’s saying a lot about his younger brother. A back injury almost cost Nolan his high school baseball career and deeply affected his attitude, causing lethargy and depression. Prior to his sophomore year he was going to quit and we argued back and forth about it for weeks before the treatment and work he’d been doing to heal his injury caused him to relent and play. Ever since 2012 I’ve beat myself up and wondered how much resentment my coaxing him to play had caused. I wondered if he’d ever appreciate all that he and his buddies had accomplished. Lately I’ve wondered if I would have the strength to do so again with Jonah should he travel a similar path.

It turns out I won’t have to get after Jonah. His big brother will. This is a part of our text exchange:

Nolan: Make him play at least through high school. He’ll be glad one day.

Me (after taking a big gulp): Are you thankful I pushed you to play?

Nolan: More than anything. I’ve been talking to some of the guys out here. We all want more than anything to be able to go back and play under the lights one more time. Whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever…everyone wishes they could go back just one more time.

I hoped I would hear those words before I was 60, never dreaming I’d hear them at 48.

The last occurrence was the unexpected gift of a book from a friend. I had loaned her five books from the World War II era on the fate of Christians, including St. Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein to use as research for a college paper she was writing. Becky is my age but has gone back to school in order to finish up her teaching degree. Several weeks later she showed up unannounced and unexpected in order to present me with a copy of a book published late last year called Church of Spies. For fifteen minutes we stood outside as she talked about her research and thanked me several times for the use of books from my library. She couldn’t see it in the twilight, but I was so quiet because I was trying to keep from crying after being overwhelmed by her simple generosity. I’d been beaten down and was nearly exhausted, but her gesture was like a cool drink of fresh water.

And then yesterday I began to understand what was happening. While praying during my lunch hour at the Pink Sisters chapel and sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I began to understand that I was under attack. Satan did not want me to introduce Evening Prayer at St. John’s nor did he want those I met with to understand they could use this great treasure of the Church themselves. The tradition of sanctifying time to God through the praying of the psalms goes back thousands of years before Christ when the Jews would pray them throughout the day. Jesus himself prayed these same psalms. The Catholic Church has done the same ever since. But not just Catholics. Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestant denominations all have their own traditions that grew from the trunk of this tree.

While sitting slump-backed in that pew yesterday I was encouraged and renewed. Despite my self-doubt and fears I would press on. I was too close to quit now after wanting to begin for so long.

***

In the grand scheme of things it was hardly noticeable. After Mass last night I stood in front of the sanctuary with the booklets I’d printed for use. I made only ten, hoping for at least one or two people to join me. After a few minutes of thinking no one would I found myself suddenly surrounded by around 15 people. After a brief introduction on my part we began. Fifteen minutes later it was done. We finished while the church was filling for a 7pm First Confession service held for our second graders and their parents. I doubt very many were aware of us or what was going on.

But something did happen. A toe-hold was made. A command post was established.

Last night we began fighting back. In community. Communion.

I slept like a baby last night for the first time in months.

We will continue every Wednesday night going forward. We may grow in number or we may not. But I believe we will see an increase in numbers over time.

I believe there are many who want to fight back. They see the shroud of darkness descending and are hungry to learn about whatever weapons available to them.

Based on the comments and positive feedback received last night I stand by that belief. And I will be better prepared in the future for the spiritual attacks that I know will come. There’s always a counter-attack.

I’m hopeful that last night we struck a blow and that as we continue others will have their eyes opened to the beauty and power contained within the Divine Office. All are welcome to join us for 15-20 minutes of prayer. Perhaps in time we’ll extend it for 15-30 minutes of discussion. In the meantime I have made plans to include a sheet each week that teaches on some aspect of the Liturgy of the Hours and history of the Divine Office.

But I’m taking it slow. Better a start than none at all. For while we live in seemingly more desperate times and there is a sense of urgency, I feel a calm that tells me to not rush according to my own schedule.

It’s His time, after all. Sanctified.

History.

His story.

***

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

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.

In These Moments: Mystical Experiences

There is a light, up there, that makes the Creator visible to the creature, who only in seeing him finds its peace: and it extends so far in a circle, that its rim would loosely contain the sun’s light. … My sight was not lost itself in the height and breadth, but grasped the quality and quantity of joy. Near and far do not add or subtract there, since where God rules without mediation the laws of nature have no relevance.Paradiso, Canto XXX (Dante)

____________________

To balance out the book I’m currently reading (Hostage to the Devil) I’m picking up where I left off in Fr. James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. I definitely needed some light to dispel the dark.

In the third chapter Martin is discussing mystical experiences. I wanted to share with you some of what he wrote. I’ll have a few words to say at the end.

First, Fr. Martin sets the table by giving a cursory definition for a mystical experience.

Sometimes we feel an almost mystical sense of longing for God, or having a connection to God, which can be triggered by unexpected circumstances.

Mysticism is often dismissed as a privileged experience for only the superholy. But mysticism is not confined to the lives of the saints. Nor does each mystical experience have to replicate exactly what the saints describe in their writings.

[…]

What does it mean to have a mystical experience?

One definition is that a mystical experience is one where you feel filled with God’s presence in an intense and unmistakable way. Or you feel lifted up from the normal way of seeing things. Or you are overwhelmed with the sense of God in a way that seems to transcend your own understanding.

Next, he describes just such an experience from his own childhood. I love the pictures he paints with his words in describing all that he remembers going on around him. It enables you to put yourself directly into this scene as if to experience it with him. It is very much in the tradition of the Jesuit approach to praying the Scriptures as laid out by their founder, St. Ignatius.

In my own life I have encountered these feelings a few times. Let me tell you about one.

When I was young, I used to ride my bike to school in the mornings and back home every afternoon. Sometimes I would ride to school with a boisterous group of friends from the neighborhood. We would start off early in the morning, carefully lining up all our bikes in front of a neighbor’s house, each jockeying for the lead position.

But some mornings I would ride to school by myself. There were few things I enjoyed more than sailing downhill through our neighborhood, down the clean sidewalks, past the newish early-1960s houses, beneath the leafy trees, under the orange morning sun, the wind whistling past my ears.

Closer to our school was a small concrete path that ran between two houses in our neighborhood; the school lay at the far end of the path, behind what seemed a vast tract of land. At the end of the path was a set of six steps, which meant that I had to dismount and push my big blue Schwinn up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs lay one of my favorite places in the world, the memory of which, though I am writing this over forty years later, uplifts me. It was a broad meadow, bordered on the left by tall oak trees and on the right by baseball fields. And in each season of the year it was beautiful.

On cold autumn mornings, clad in my corduroy jacket, I would pedal my bike over the bumpy dirt path through a meadow of crunchy brown leaves, desiccated grasses, and dried milkweed powdered in frost. In the winter, when I would not ride but walk to school, the field was often an open landscape of silent snow that rose wetly over my galoshes as my breath formed in cottony clouds before me.

But in the springtime the little meadow exploded with life. On those days, I felt as if I were biking through one of the science experiments we did in school. Fat grasshoppers jumped among the daisies and black-eyed Susans. Crickets hid in the grasses and among old leaves. Bees hummed above the Queen Anne’s lace and the tall purple and pink snapdragons. Cardinals and robins darted from branch to branch. The air was fresh, and the field was alive with creation.

One spring morning, when I was ten or eleven, I stopped to catch my breath in the middle of the field. The bike’s metal basket, packed with my schoolbooks, swung violently to one side, and I almost lost my homework to the grasshoppers. Standing astride my bike, I could see so much going on around me—so much color, so much activity, so much life.

Looking toward the school on the brow of the hill, I felt an overwhelming happiness. I felt so happy to e alive. And I felt a fantastic longing: to both possess and be a part of what was around me. I can still see myself standing in this meadow, surrounded by creation, more clearly than almost any other memory from childhood.

In such uncommon longings, hidden in plain sight in our lives, does God call us.

*****

Taken while I walked the Stations of the Cross at Broom Tree on retreat in 2014.

Taken while I walked the Stations of the Cross at Broom Tree on retreat in 2014.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Have you experienced anything similar in your life?
  2. Where were you when it happened?
  3. How did you feel afterwards?

We tend to think such experiences will only happen when surrounded by nature. But if we are truly open to the experience, and by open I mean living life in the moment, we can be hit with that overwhelming sense of joy and wonder. This involves our being aware of surroundings without our face buried in a screen or our attention being taken by a phone call. It can happen. I’ve been walking along a stretch of busy downtown pavement during the lunch hour before, surrounded by the hustle of cars and bustle of pedestrians, street performing panhandlers and the homeless, and I’ve experienced this joy. My experience has been one of wonder and of total clarity…as if a window has been suddenly opened and for a brief moment my tiny human and limited mind is able to catch just a small glimpse of the vastness of God’s mind. During this time and in the immediate afterglow I always feel the urge to drop to my knees and praise God for all the gratitude that fills my heart. If I could sing worth a lick I’d want to burst into song. In these moments I believe I’ve been given the gift of what Heaven will be like and understand more fully the scenes in the Book of Revelation (in particular within Chapters 4, 5, 21 and 22) that describe how we’ll spend eternity.

In his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius begins with what he called his First Principle and Foundation. It begins:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.

During Sunday Lauds in the Divine Office we pray Psalm 148. This psalm, beginning with the word Laudate (Laudáte Dóminum de cælis: laudáte eum in excélsis!) which has giving the hour of Lauds its name, continues the praise offered by creation. The prayer of praise, it should be observed, is the noblest of all prayers, since it is centered on God alone.

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD!

I began with a quote from The Divine Comedy and will close with this one from Canto XXXIII:

My vision then was greater than our speech, which fails at such a sight, and memory fails at such an assault. I am like one, who sees in dream, and when the dream is gone an impression, set there, remains, but nothing else comes to mind again, since my vision almost entirely fails me, but the sweetness, born from it, still distils, inside my heart.

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean (Gustave Doré, artist)

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean (Gustave Doré, artist)

Friday Five – Volume 97

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

“The road that stretches before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

— 2 —

I had planned on touching a little upon the ongoing trip that Pope Francis is making to the United States. After thinking about it for awhile last night and again this morning I’ve decided to take a pass. It’s really not my comfort zone right now and I doubt anyone is interested in my thoughts on the matter.

I will say that I believe Pope Francis is neither a Marxist or a bigot. These are popular dismissals coming from both sides of our American political aisle. They is also over-simplified, non-thinking knee-jerk bumper sticker sloganeering. Pope Francis is criticized in this manner for three reasons:

  1. Americans have become a reactionary, hyper-partisan political people (“Politics uber alles”). Almost everything is seen through a rigidly defined lens of what is considered to be left and/or right.
  2. Cafeteria Catholicism: So many American Catholics have a poor knowledge of the depths and beauty of their faith. Instead they treat it like a buffet line: “I’ll follow that portion of the faith, but not portion.”
  3. A growing lack of attention span coupled with a lack of critical thinking skills.

Being a follower of Christ and His Gospel means that you are not defined by partisan politics. I’ve learned from personal experience through interactions with friends in person, online, or strangers, that holding the line on Christ’s teachings when it comes to the issues of the day does not equate with one being popular. That is simply not the way of this world, nor has it ever been. I’ve lost friends in real life and been attacked on Facebook or Twitter by people I do not know (and some I do know), simply for gently discussing an issue from the point of the view of the gospels. (Those who know me just now snickered at my use of the word “gently”. But believe me, it’s true.)

I guess there is a reason why the Church on earth has referred to itself for two thousand years as the Church Militant. When fully engaged on earth as a Christian you will take hits from all sides. I’ve found strength in prayer, the Sacraments, the Mass, and in service to others.

When it comes to the attacks on Pope Francis for what he said or didn’t say this week while in America I can only say that I seems to recall another man who pleased neither side of the political aisle with his message.

We crucified Him.

*****

Addendum: Father Longenecker points out how polarized Conservatives and Liberals have become as well and lists five papal takeaways for both right and left wingers.

Text of Pope Francis’ speech to Congress is here.

Text of his address to the United Nations is here.

— 3 —

Parent/Teacher conferences were yesterday evening at our Catholic elementary school, which means there is no school today. Yet despite the opportunity to sleep in on a free day our sixth-grader asked to be woken up early this morning so that he could be dressed and ride his bike to church to serve at the 8:15 Mass. I’m not sure what his reasons were for this nor do I question them. I’m grateful that he desired to do this at this point in time. Freshly in to junior high as he is these moments could be fleeting and the next time he may just as likely balk at my suggestion that he do so. So for now I’ll gladly accept and be thankful for his unprompted bit of service and this grace.

This week First Things published Rules for Being an Altar Boy at Saint John Vianney Parish for the Liturgical Year 1964. I’m pasting it in full below, and am considering having a framed copy made for our parish sacristy (and perhaps my son’s room).

If you have to sneeze on the altar do so quietly and turn
Your head away from the Holy Sacrament. Please carry
A handkerchief in the pocket of your trousers. No jeans.
Wear good shoes. No sneakers. Arrive 30 minutes early
Minimum: 5 minutes early is 25 minutes late. The bells,
As a crucial part of the Mass, are rung firmly but gently.
It is the unaware altar server who rings them too loudly.
Be attentive. You too are an integral aspect of the Mass.
You are witnessing and abetting a miracle. Always treat
The Mass that way. Your service allows the miraculous
Easier passage into this plane. Never let your cassock be
Stained or sullied. Similarly your surplice. Do not under
Any circumstances drink the wine or eat the consecrated
Hosts. You will be tempted to do so. Resist the Tempter.
You may be late for, or fail to appear for, only one Mass.
If you are late for or miss a second Mass, your privileges
Are suspended. Two boys in nine years have been ousted.
Don’t become the third. Honor the parents who are proud
Of their son and his service as witness to Holy Sacrament.
It is a gift to serve on the altar. Treat your service as a gift.
Listen to the Holy Spirit as you serve. The Mass is ancient
And comes to us directly from the hand and words of God
When He assumed human form in the person of the Christ.
In and through and suffusing every aspect of the quotidian
Is the sacred. Treat Father with respect, but be aware of his
Own complex humanity. The sacristy is not a locker room:
There is no horseplay, no vulgar language, and no shouting.
If you have a problem, or a question, of any sort, or if there
Is anything whatsoever that you wish to speak to me about,
Be assured that I will keep it in confidence, and listen with
Respect for your own miraculous existence, and admirable
Service to the Church Eternal and particularly to our parish.
Finally as to the length of the hair, any length is acceptable,
As long as the hair is noticeably clean. Christ had long hair,
But you can be sure that His was clean. Boys—be like Him.

— 4 —

In his book The Breviary Explained, Pius Parsch explains the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. I pray the Divine Office in order to join the voice of my prayer with that of the Universal Church. I pray because I know that at that moment, around the world (and most especially in my time zone) hundreds of thousands are praying along with me. During that time I am not alone.

The breviary is above all the prayer of the Church, the prayer said in the name of the Church. It is helpful to understand the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. In private prayer I pray, mostly, for myself and my own affairs. It is the isolated person who stands in the centre of the action, and the prayer is more or less individualized. But in liturgical prayer, and therefore in the breviary, it is not primarily I who am praying, but the Church, the bride of Christ. The object of her prayer is broader, too: all the needs of God’s kingdom here on earth. In liturgical prayer, I feel more like a member of a great community, like a little leaf on the great living tree of the Church. I share her life and her problems. The Church is praying through my mouth, I offer her my tongue to pray with her for all the great objectives of redemption, and for God’s honour and glory.

Of course I’m not alone during private prayer either and that is my one-on-one time with Jesus. I cherish that time and place great value on it. But just as we humans will “participate” in the big game by talking about it with a buddy at the office water cooler, or among 90,000 screaming fans at the stadium, prayer affords us similar opportunities.

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude. – Blessed Card. Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, 1929-54

Source: New Liturgical Movement

— 5 —

Sometimes we miss the moment trying to capture the moment. Just stand there and enjoy. This woman, watching the Pope in New York City yesterday, gets it.

grannygetsit_popeinNYC

Source: Twitter via @JamesMurphy

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.”