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.

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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.

St. Teresa of Avila

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) and is also the 500th anniversary of her birth (March 28 in Avila, Spain). She is one of my favorite historical figures and saints of the Church. Teresa reformed a corrupted religious order, built sixteen monasteries (both for men and for women) while often suffering from paralyzing pain. She wrote two of the best books I’ve ever read (The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle) that are considered classics of theology, was a poet and a mystic, and is also a Doctor of the Church.

There is a wealth of information on this remarkable woman available and unfortunately I have not had the time to provide even a few links. (Not very helpful today, I know. Mea culpa.) However, here’s a link to Catholic Online and to Wikipedia. I have however put together a few quotes or passages from her books below.

I own and have read (with plans to re-read) both The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. They were difficult for me at first and are challenging at times to read, but the fruit is well worth the effort. In particular I enjoy Teresa’s meditations on the Our Father contained in Perfection. Written to her religious order (the Discalced Nuns of Our Lady of Carmel) at times it reads like a commanding officer providing guidance and tactical advice on spiritual combat. And good advice it is, for she had a lot of experience in waging those battles against the devil. And like any good soldier, Teresa knew her enemy.

From The Way of Perfection, Ch. XLII:

But if you feel this love for God which I have spoken of, and the fear which I shall now describe, you may go on your way with happiness and tranquillity. In order to disturb the soul and keep it from enjoying these great blessings, the devil will suggest to it a thousand false fears and will persuade other people to do the same; for if he cannot win souls he will at least try to make them lose something, and among the losers will be those who might have gained greatly had they believed that such great favours, bestowed upon so miserable a creature, come from God, and that it is possible for them to be thus bestowed, for sometimes we seem to forget His past mercies.

Do you suppose that it is of little use to the devil to suggest these fears? No, it is most useful to him, for there are two well-known ways in which he can make use of this means to harm us, to say nothing of others. First, he can make those who listen to him fearful of engaging in prayer, because they think that they will be deceived. Secondly, he can dissuade many from approaching God who, as I have said, see that He is so good that He will hold intimate converse with sinners.

Teresa is a worthy general. I would have no issues following her into battle.

A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” written in Teresa’s own hand.

A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” written in Teresa’s own hand.

____________

It is love alone that gives worth to all things.

*****

In anything that is for the service of Our Lord, the Devil tries his arts, working under the guise of holiness.

*****

Great courage is required in spiritual warfare.

*****

I don’t understand those fears that make us cry, “The Devil! The Devil!” when we can say, “God! God!”

*****

These cursed spirits torment me quite frequently, but they do not frighten me in the least. For I am convinced that they cannot move except by God’s permission.

Let this be known well: Every time we make the demons the object of our contempt, they lose their strength, and the soul acquires a greater superiority over them. They have no power except against cowardly souls who surrender their weapons.

*****

On another occasion I saw a great multitude of evil spirits round about me and, at the same time, a great light in which I was enveloped, which kept them from coming near me. I understood it to mean that God was watching over me, that they might not approach me so as to make me offend Him. I knew the vision was real by what I saw occasionally in myself.

The fact is, I know now how little power the evil spirits have, provided I am not out of the grace of God. I have scarcely any fear of them at all, for their strength is as nothing, if they do not find that the souls they assail give up the context and become cowards; it is in this case that they show their power.

From Teresa of Avila, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, David Lewis, trans. Chapter XXXI.

*****

Let the Christian be valiant; let him not be like those who lay down to drink from the brook when they went to battle (I do not remember when). [1] Let him resolve to go forth to combat with the host of demons, and be convinced that there is no better weapon than the Cross.

From The Interior Castle, The Second Castle: War, Chapter One, No. 13

[1] Judges 7:5: So he brought the people down to the water; and the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one that laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself; likewise every one that kneels down to drink.”

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teresaofavila-quote

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A favorite story of mine about St. Teresa shows her sense of humor and speaks to her intimate relationship with God.

One day she fell off her donkey into a mud puddle. She looked up to heaven and said, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies.”

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There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.

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I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.

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I am yours; I was born for you, what do you want to do with me?

(Teresa’s question to Our Lord in Poem 2)

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Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.

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Truth suffers, but never dies.

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Vocal prayer … must be accompanied by reflection. A prayer in which a person is not aware of Whom he is speaking to, what he is asking, who it is who is asking and of Whom, I don’t call prayer–however much the lips may move.

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We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for, beholding His greatness, we realize our own littleness; His purity shows us our foulness; and by meditating upon His humility we find how very far we are from being humble.

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(Note: I’ve made a bookmark with these words and keep it in my breviary. I first came across it over 15 years ago in an old Catholic library at our local Catholic retreat house and copied the text into my notebook.)

Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee:
All thing pass;
God never changes.
Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.

— St Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila

*****

Today Amy Welborn included a letter sent by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 to the Bishop of Avila on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the beginning of Teresa’s reform. As Amy points out:

I do think here that you can really see the particular way of expression that Benedict used again and again: the journey of the Christian is to be conformed to Christ. (Very Pauline, yes?) Not merely to imitate, but to be conformed. This suggests a deep level of engagement, a degree of surrender and understanding of the dynamic and purpose of human life that is far different that simply “trying to be like” and radically different than simply being inspired by.

Too many today clamor for an all-inclusive Church and a Christianity that accepts anyone and everyone (which it does) but without any of us having to call to mind and repent for our sins (which it does not). They are not wanting the culture to be conformed to Christianity, but for the Church to be conformed by the culture. In short: no sacrifice, no humility, no repentance. Which means of course there’s no forgiveness. How can there be with no sins to forgive? I’m pretty confident Teresa would have had none of that.

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Finally, here is an excerpt from the video series Catholicism in which Fr. (now Bishop) Robert Barron discusses St. Teresa.

The lukewarm blindness of “I’m Christian, but I’m not…”

By now you may have seen this video produced by BuzzFeed. I saw it late last night when I read this story by Mollie Hemingway on Twitter. Then today I was sent this piece written by Matt Walsh.

I can only say that two passages from Scripture immediately came to mind as I watched the video and followed this story. The first is from Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The second is from Revelation 3:15-17,19-20:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. … Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

As I wrote to a friend of mine while we discussed the video, this world is filled with too many lukewarm Pharisees, but too few tax collectors. None of the lukewarm relish the thought of being chastened by Jesus or having to repent. That would mean having to admit to sin and we can’t have that.

In his latest book Hints of Heaven Father George Rutler writes about the parables of Jesus, including the one above from Luke. In his commentary on this parable Fr. Rutler writes:

The Pharisee went to the Temple to boast, like those who go to funerals to praise the dead and by so doing smile at death with nervous bravado. The Temple was the Pharisee’s sounding board and its arches a frame for his virtue. … The Pharisee “trusted in himself and despised others.” He thanked God that he was better than the publican. It was not gratitude. It was self-canonization, and self-canonization ends with the self, for the self has not the metaphysics to haul itself up to the holy altars.

Of the publican (tax collector) Fr. Rutler continues:

The publican dares not raise his bloodshot eyes to the blinding glory of heaven. … He is a sinner, and he knows it, sensing a splendor that the miniature mind of the puffed-up Pharisee missed. Both have souls, but only the publican knows what his soul can yet be. The Pharisee’s charade of holiness struts like Napoleon who, as Victor Hugo said, “embarrassed God.” Sins hurt the Divine Mercy, but the chief sin of pride is immeasurably worse, for it embarrasses the Divine Majesty.

I won’t go so far as others I’ve read and say that those in the video aren’t Christians, but if they are they have almost no idea what being a Christian truly means and are bringing scandal upon themselves and the rest of the Church by saying such inane things.

The martyrs did not lay down their lives for warm and fuzzy platitudes. They gave their lives for Christ because of their zeal, their knowledge of themselves as sinners, and because of the One whom none of these misguided kids could bring themselves to name in the video.

For example look no further than the saint whose feast we celebrate today, St. Peter Claver. While not a martyr, can you imagine any of those in that video (or using a trending hashtag on Twitter to pat themselves on the back) giving of themselves the way Claver did?

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

Along with Father Sandoval, Pedro (Peter Claver) would go down to the docks to meet the arriving slave ships, keeping an eye out for them from a watchtower. The ships came from all over West Africa, and the slaves spoke many different languages. The spectacle of what they saw being offloaded was shocking: a terrible smell, half-starved men, women and children chained in groups of six, having not seen daylight nor washed for months. It was usual for a third of the poor souls to die en route. The slaves were extremely frightened when they came ashore, convinced they were about to be sacrificed. Pedro tried to put them at ease with his retinue of interpreters, and gifts of blankets and fresh fruit. Sometimes Pedro would not wait for the ship to offload, but paddle out in a canoe.

Pedro began to show strength where other priests showed weakness. He would often kiss the open and infected wounds of the slaves, telling them that God loved them. … He would baptize the dying first, then the sick.

Brother Nicholas was his companion for many years, and recalled there were times that he could not cope with Pedro Claver’s work. Many times he went to see dying slaves, held in stinking dungeons in the slaveowner’s houses, where others could not enter due to the stench of death and sickness. … In 1633, they both went to see a slave girl dying of smallpox. Brother Nicholas took one breath of the foul air in the girl’s room, fell down, and could not continue. Pedro gave the negress his crucifix to kiss, cleaned her wounds, and prayed for her. The girl recovered.

[snip]

The last 4 years of Pedro’s life were very tragic. He was afflicted by a degenerative disease that slowly made him bedridden. He was given his own slave, Manuel, who was charged with feeding and helping him. Manuel is known to have mistreated his master, pushing him roughly when helping him get dressed. (Source)

As you would imagine, Claver was not a popular person with the slave traders or even other priests. But to this saint it was never about popularity or the accolades of this world. He would not have been interested in making videos extolling how accepting he was. Like most saints, and those to whom Christianity is not a popularity contest or something worn on their sleeve one hour a week, he was too busy getting things done.

From today’s Office of Readings, a letter written by the saint:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.

This is the type of example we celebrate, remember and honor with our actions…and this is just ONE DAY out of 365! The lives of the saints inspire us to give our all as they did to…I dunno…Voldemort? At least you’d think that was his name, since none of those in the video could bring themselves to utter the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Buzzfeed video one of the participants says: “A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal.”

To this I reply as Matthew Henry did when in his commentary on Psalm 82 he wrote: “A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness.”

To miss the good and the beautiful in Christianity and its adherents each and every day you truly must be willfully blind. Those who have eyes that see what God sees find ways to help the helpless and imitate Christ like St. Peter Claver. They don’t participate in naval-gazing passive-aggressive self-congratulatory exercises for BuzzFeed.

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

“We submit to every demand of Love.”

Have you ever felt as if God is speaking to you? Leading you? Directing you? That He is trying to get your attention in some way by constantly bringing to your attention a subject, item or idea? This is how I’ve felt recently with regards to the Divine Liturgy – the Catholic Mass. While my work continues on studying and creating an outline about the Divine Office (more on that another time) the Mass has come to the fore. Most likely because the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office are so closely related and fit so neatly hand in hand. It may be to awaken me from my malaise and to remind me of what I bear witness to each time I attend Mass; to shake me from complacency that may be setting in and succumbing to what Father Richard Heilman referred to as spiritual lethargy.

It could also be that God is answering the prayer that I have prayed each day for the last three weeks, brought about by my recklessly immersing myself in and internalizing the overwhelming horrors from Syria and Iraq as I prepare for my own son’s departure into the Marine Corps. Each day I pray for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. That has become my mantra, and I believe God is showing me where the answers await.

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.” – Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Lord, grant me the gifts of Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. Make me salt, and make me light. Let me never be indifferent to Your presence in this world and in my life. Amen.

Below are two passages about the Mass from books that I am currently reading. Or finished, as I completed my journey with Christopher late last night.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

The first passage is from David Athley’s Christopher. It is from an email written to the book’s protagonist by his long-time love. She is a devout and practicing Catholic. He, while Catholic, will only attend Mass and not receive Communion. Somewhat of a mystic, he refuses because he recognizes Holy Communion for what it is, and is not confident that he would be able to withstand the consuming of Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. It is a beautiful summation of the Mass.

The second passage is an excerpt from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope by Charles Péguy.

*****

Dear Christopher,

Despite all the damage done by sinners in the Church, the Mass is the hope of civilization.

The Mass is the pinnacle of philosophy. Our minds approach the Holy Gifts in fear of God, the beginning of wisdom. Our hearts accept the Holy Gifts in love of God, the end of wisdom.

The Divine Liturgy is the epitome of language and poetry. It is the most powerful form of drama, a play that appears to descend into tragedy, yet ends in the height of heavenly bliss.

The Mass is housed in the most glorious architecture ever constructed. Not all churches are grand, but the world has been given the supreme cathedrals to remind us of the majesty of the Maker, who appears on the altars.

The Divine Liturgy is the grand unified theory of physics. Beyond all of the quarks, multiple dimensions, and dark matter is the greatest gift to science: Transubstantiation.

The Mass is the quintessence of agriculture – the simply fruits of the earth transformed into spiritual nutrition.

The Mass is the bloodline of the best art. From icons to stained glass to mosaics to statuary to all of the variations of paintings, the Sacrifice enlivens creativity.

The Divine Liturgy is a perfect education. It is reality. We kneel. We bow. We give up our rebellions and embrace the hierarchy of the created order. We submit to every demand of Love.

The Mass gives voice to the music of angels, the chant of nine choirs and seven heavens. It culminates in the most noble act of physicality. We accept into our bodies the Creator of all flesh, in whom we live and dance and have our being.

The Mass is the most personal relationship that one can have with God.

The Mass is the most heavenly occurrence on earth, and the most viciously attacked – from within the Church and without.

The Mass has produced the humble, superhuman saints, multitudes of heroic men and women, from the beginning of the Church to the end, miracle workers from every walk of life – patrons for every holy passion.

The Divine Liturgy of Heaven gathers the most purposeful community in the world, the assembly of Communicants. Beyond the goodness of human friendship, the friends of Heaven are perfected in the Feast.

The Mass makes life worth living. It is the gateway out of our self-inflicted pain, to fully enter into the death and resurrection of Christ.

Will you, in the name of Love, become a Communicant?

TheMass

Photo credit: catholicbible101.com

I am so resplendent in my creation.
In all that happens to men and to people, and to the poor.
And even to the rich.
Who don’t want to be my creatures.
And who take refuge.
From being my servants.
In all the good and evil that man has done and undone.
(And I am above it all, because I am the master, and I do what he has undone and I undo what he has done.)
And unto the temptation to sin.
Even.
And all that happened to my son.
Because of man.
My creature.
Whom I had created.
In the conception, in the birth and in the life and in the death of my son.
And in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

In every birth and in every life.
And in every death.
And in eternal life that will never end.
That will overcome all death.

I am so resplendent in my creation.

That in order really not to see me these poor people would have to be blind.

*****

“Hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard

Friday Five – Volume 85

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

First up is one of the best stories I read in August. It’s about Vivian Maier, a quiet woman and an outstanding photographer whose talent and gift to us was almost lost to history.

In 2007, a young man named John Maloof bought boxes of photographic negatives at a Chicago auction house. Taking a chance and spending a few hundred dollars, he made the purchase knowing the items could prove worthless. On first look, this appeared to be the case, however, the images he saw were intriguing enough to spark his curiosity. Maloof thought the photographs good, but then had to admit he knew nothing about photography. Nevertheless, he felt there was something here, if not sure what exactly. It was at this point that his quest began. With little more than the name of the photographer, and even that had multiple spellings, he started to search for answers. The principal question he faced being: who was Vivian Maier? Initial searches drew a blank—a complete blank in fact. Frustratingly, nothing turned up, it was like she had never existed, but he had evidence to the contrary and so persisted.

Maloof and his collaborators are to be commended, as, watching the film, one feels Maier did all she could to cover her tracks. Nevertheless, through a combination of dogged determination and more than a little sleuthing the filmmakers managed to construct a portrait of an artist as compelling as any committed to screen in recent years. And, in the process, unearthed a unique photographic record of New York City and Chicago. In addition, what was becoming apparent, from the reactions of professional photographers and public alike, was the power of these images: once seen they were unlikely to be forgotten.

Read the story and get to know Vivian Maier. Watch the trailer to the documentary. And finally visit her website. But don’t just click quickly through the portolios. Take your time and really look deep into what she captured. If you are a storyteller just think of the hundreds of stories within the most common, every day and unassuming photos shown here.

— 2 —

I have many favorites in her gallery, but one stood out to me. It is a perfect representation of the throw-away culture that exists today.

June 1953, New York, NY

June 1953, New York, NY – (Photograph by Vivian Maier)

— 3 —

Last Thursday, August 28th, was the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo and I’d copied this quote to use in last week’s Friday Five. And since I forgot here it is this week.

Recalling the rapture of the soul seized by God on the far side of death, St. Augustine reminds us of the joys that await those who love God.

There we shall rest and we shall see;
there we shall see and we shall love.
Behold what shall be in the end and
shall not end.

— 4 —

This article written by Deacon Branson Hipp is a much needed reminder that men are more than the sum of the checks on our checklists. Or at least we should be.

My dad never read Chesterton in his life. He doesn’t smoke a pipe or dress like he lives in the 1930’s. He often wears jean shorts (sorry to sell you out Dad), and he doesn’t have a fancy beard. He appears as just another guy.

But my dad works hard, is good at his work, is faithful to his wife, and lovingly raised five kids with no complaints. Very often he would get the raw deal in birthdays and celebrations, but he never seemed to mind. I never, ever, heard him fight with my mom, because whenever they had a disagreement, they would go behind closed doors to rationally figure out what to do next. He goes to Church every Sunday and he prays daily for his family. He is an amazing cook and is funnier than I give him credit for.

He’s stubborn and often drives me crazy.

But he is a real man, and he taught all of us kids that to be a man means humility and faithfulness, holy steadfastness to one’s state of life, whatever that is. He is a man, and a great father. At the end of the day, the externals matter a whole lot less than we think they do. They are flashy, but they don’t endure.

— 5 —

the office_cast

Several months ago my oldest son got hooked on watching The Office on Netflix. After several attempts at persuading me to do the same by he and his girlfriend (who is also a fan) I succumbed over Labor Day weekend and agreed to watch the first few episodes.

As of last night I’m halfway through the third season. This is the first time ever that I’ve binge watched a series on Netflix. How on earth did I miss this show was it was on from 2005-2013? What Office Space (1999) was to movies this series is to television for any of us who have spent significant time working in an office environment.