April 2006 Archives

Austen, Austen, Everywhere

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We went to the bookstore this evening to pick up Throne of Jade. While I was browsing the 3 for 2 tables, I noticed no fewer that 4 Austen-themed new major novels. In addition, there is the mystery series (is it Stephanie Barron?) staring Ms. Austen herself, and a new mystery with the 19th Century's answer to Nick and Nora, you guessed it. . .

What brave new world is this? What form of Austen zeitgeist has invaded the collective unconscious? Do we approach an anniversary? Or are we seeing a nostalgic bloom of longing for novels that had characters, dialogue, plot, and wit? Is this the postmodernist bust, which has been too long in coming? "Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished."

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Dylan's Return?

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more last than star


Or at least a sound from silence. Go and say hello.

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The title says it all. Think of all of the ways in which the word "finish" can be used and this school exemplifies them.

A recent review in First Things lamented the fact that the insanity of society has outpaced those who could conceivably satirize it, and so satire fails. And perhaps as satire, the book isn't as powerful as say Decline and Fall or Vile Bodies. On the other hand, it is very, very amusing and never brittle.

Ms. Spark may satirize and she may be caustic, but she lacks Waugh's vitriol. She likes her characters too much. Which is not to say that she sympathizes with their foibles. No, indeed, each is forced to live out their insanity; however, she neatly and carefully disposes of each of the major characters in the novel in two pages at the end. Each leads the life that has been presaged in the pages preceding.

While this may not be the height of her art, it is certainly not a failure as a swan song. Beautifully written, insightful, and extremely amusing throughout. Definitely for adults, but as adult entertainment, certainly superior, and possibly only excelled by her own earlier work.

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Comme il faut

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Sorry, but there's so much worthwhile and really amusing stuff. Comme il faut is French for, "as it should be, or quite proper according to ettiquette or rule."

from The Finishing School
Muriel Spark

Nina was conducting her comme il faut class. "Be careful who take you to Ascot," she said, "because unless you have married a rich husband, he's probably a crook. Even if he's your husband, well. . . Not many honest men can take four days off their work, dress themselves in a black suit and a silk hat with all the acoutrements, and lose a lot of money on the horses, and take you out afterward or join a party of people like him, For Ascot you will need warm underwear in case it's cold. You can wear a flimsy dress on top. But your man is bound to be a crook, bound to be. It teems with crooks. . . "

"My Dad doesn't go to Ascot," said Pallas.

"Oh, I didn't say all crooks went to Royal Ascot, only that there are plenty of them at that function."

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Muriel Spark--Two Instances

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from The Finishing School
Muriel Spark

We find, now, Nina, taking one of her casual afternoon comme il faut talks, as she called them. . . .

"In case you are thinking of getting a job at the United Nations," Nina told them, "I have picked up a bit of information which may be useful, even vital to you. A senior member of the U. N. Secretariat passed it on to me especially for you young people. First, if you, as a U.N. employee are chased by an elephant stand still and wave a white handkerchief. This confuses the elephant's legs. Second, if chased by a large python, run away in a zigzag movement, as a python can't coordinate its head with its tail. If you have no time to run away, sit down, with your back to a tree and spread your legs. The python will hesitate, not knowing which leg to begin with. Get out your knife and cut its head off."

"Suppose there isn't a tree to lean against?" Lionel said.

"I've thought of that,"said Nina, "but I haven't come up with an answer."

And quite a bit later in the book

The prior, who had a becoming white beard, caused them to be served carrot juice, which was, he held, a good drink for high altitudes. The friars made a wine which they sold to merchants in the French valleys. On the labels, in English, it was pronounced to have "a great personality in the mouth, savoring of prunes, tobacco, wild fruits."

These are some of the delights that await the reader of Muriel Spark. I've always enjoyed her prose and it seems a more fitting tribute than I could write to enjoy some of her novels and make them known to others. In that way, even as she enjoys the life of the world to come, she has a presence with us here and we can enjoy her company.

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Continuing Conversion

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from Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer
Fr. Thomas Dubay

The young abbot was speaking to his community one day and he made a remark that shocked me on my first reading of it. "There are more people converted from mortal sin to grace, than there are religious converted from good to better." Over the years the more I have experienced of life and thought about the statement the more I have been convinced of its truth. Yet one may ask, what is so shocking about it? . . .

Putting the saint's observation in simple contemporary terms may help. Bernard was saying that there are more men who give up serious alienation from God, mortal sin, than there are people who give up small wrongs, willed venial sins. And there are even fewer who grow into heroic virtue and live as saints live. If we are not saddened by this realization, we ought to be. . .

Yet a bit more unpacking is needed. A large part of the sadness is the expectation that anyone who basically loves another (real sacrificing love, not mere attraction) in important matters (for example, a husband loving his wife) would naturally go on to love her in smaller ones. I would assume that he would stop being grouchy and abrupt and harsh, that he would be at pains to be kind and gentle, patient and forgiving. I would assume the same in her behavior toward him.

A step further: We would suppose that a person who realistically and fundamentally loves God would be at pains to avoid all smaller offenses against him: gossiping, laziness, overeating, as well as the venial sins mentioned in our previous paragraph--and myriads of other minor wrongs. . . . But everyone knows that such is unhappily a rare occurrence in the human family. Something is amiss--and on a large scale. Yes, if everything were normal in society, deep conversion would be common, and life would be incomparably happier for everyone.

Something is wrong with the life of a person who claims to love God and cannot leave off those things that offend Him the most. Mortal sins are relatively easy to drop. One knows that one is committing them and knows that they are wrong. The sheer enormity of them, unless habit has dulled us to their grossness, is enough to help us shy away.

But how many claim to love God and then reel out all sorts of pettiness on those around them. I count myself among these people. I know how harsh and unforgiving I can be. I am aware of how easily I am aggravated, irritated, and angered. All of these stem from my overweening Pride--a pride so large I cannot even see its boundaries and recognize it as pride.

That is one of the reasons I love Father Dubay's writing so much. It puts me back in touch with central realities of the faith.

Isn't a life in Christ about becoming ever more like Him? Does that leave room for myself in the equation. The more I am myself, the less I am Him. It is the reverse of kenosis. And a lack of awareness about how full I am of self is the first problem. When this floats up to awareness, my first reaction is to back away and pretend that it isn't true. My second reaction (equally useless) is to read through the book as quickly as possible and thus find all the ways to give the lie to pride, thus avoiding engagement with the problem at all. Reading is rarely prayer, it is an excuse not to have to do prayer. This is one of the reasons that the Ignatian Exercises during which we were given a single verse of scripture to meditate on for an hour, were so difficult. I want to read, not to spend the time meditating. It is the temptation in lectio to keep reading, not to pause over what gives one pause--but to get to the end of something or to find more fruitful territory. All of these are manifestations of spiritual pride.

But the thing to remember, to keep squarely in mind, is that the Lord is in control, if I allow Him to be. I can't see the gross outlines of pride, but He has mapped it, charted it, and knows full well how to fold it back up and stow it away. Alone I cannot tangle with the intricate mysteries of self that produce such unpleasant effects for others--anger, envy, sloth, pride, lust, gluttony, avarice. But He knows the contours of these things and those remedies that are most effective. He is the divine physician and nothing that is wrong with me is beyond His skill to heal. Now, I need merely the grace to help me keep my determination to walk the path and to put myself aside (for if I'm serving myself, I can serve no one else). My joy is in the Lord Himself, who in His mercy will set me free from autotyrrany. He will be Lord, and no longer I. This is the promise He has made those who truly wish to follow Him. As I pray every day, "We are his people, the flock He Shepherds." So let it be with me starting this hour and moving into the future. And when I fail, I must renew the prayer and rely on His grace, for my failures are to teach me as well.

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The Collar by Jonathan Englert starts out to be an exercise in objective journalism that seeks to trace the formation and decisions of five men involved in the process of discernment for the priesthood. The Seminary is Sacred Heart, which is said to specialize in "second-career" Vocations--that is, the return of older men to the Seminary. The span of time is a single year in the life of the formation and discernment process at the seminary.

The book focuses on five men and attempts to relate from the point of view of each the struggles and decisions that go into formation for the seminary. Interestingly and very probably deliberately, the five men seem to represent a cross-section of Church life. For example, two of the five start their vocations with the idea of changing the Church one to the "school of social justice," one to "reestablish the glory days." One is deeply aware of the call of God and a couple are less aware, but becoming all the more aware. I dare not give details because half of the fun of the book is to try to discern before they discern--who will make it, who will turn away. And yes, some do turn away.

The remarkable journalistic feat is the seeming objectivity of the reporting. Every candidate, no matter how "extreme" his views is presented in his own light. As I was reading, I tried hard to discern where the author stood in all of this, and mercifully I could not.

The book touches upon the pedophilia scandals and upon seminarians who had been involved. It even touches upon the events of 9/11.

According to the notes, the author started this exercise at two different seminaries before cooperation was withdrawn in the light of the scandals. All to the good, because where he ended up produces a superb story. It struck me as evidence of God's hand even in the creation of such a work.

The book is worth you time for several reasons--it is not sensationalistic. It does not seek to rake up scandal, but it does not avoid scandal when it is present and part of the life of the seminary. It attempts to tell the story of five men who think they are called, and who are all approaching the seminary for quite different reasons. It provides leaven and balance to the rather more overwrought work of Goodbye, Good Men.

Another point that the book emphasizes is that there IS a vocations crisis. It is not how many men go to Seminary that one should report on when countering the question of a crisis, but how many men actually end up ordained. In one passage of the book, relating the story of the father of one of the men, Englert notes that when this man's father entered the Senior Seminary, there were 40 men studying for the priesthood. The man chose to leave and go to college. By the time he completed college, only six men were left in the class and of those only about half were ordained. If these numbers hold true, then one can expect about 5% of the population of a seminary at any time to go on to the priesthood. This may be an underestimation, but because the priesthood is a discerned, sacramental vocation, it hardly seems unlikely that many might feel called while few indeed are actually chosen. On this matter, I can only share what the book reports, having no knowledge of what the graduation and ordination rates really are.

In all, a very fine, understated journey of discernment and exploration, detailing the intricate stories of five men as they look at the priesthood. Whether it reveals the reality of seminary life, I cannot say. But then, could anyone really reveal the complexities of life in any institution of extended learning. As I read the book, I thought, "What would be the shape of a book about five people in graduate school at Ohio State University?" (my own personal experience). I decided, whether completely accurate or not, the selected details were sufficient to give a sense of what seminary life was like, while truly highlighting what was, to the author, the point of this whole work--discernment.

Highly recommended to the lay person who is interested in what priestly formation is like. I don't know how seminarians or priests would view the work. I think that might be a very interesting perspective.

Later: Mr. Englert informs me: "I am speaking in Washington D.C. this coming Monday (1 May 2006) at Olsson's Bookstore in Dupont Circle at 7pm." For those of you fortunate enough to be in the area, this would prove well worth your time.

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H Beam Piper and others

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A whole slew of H. Beam Piper (Little Fuzzy and Space Viking fame--the first is present, the latter is not.

and

Andre Norton, Murray Leinster, E.E. "Doc" Smith, Tom Godwin,and others

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What is Jealousy?

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from The Finishing School
Muriel Spark

What is jealousy? Jealousy is to say, what you have got is mine, it is mine, it is mine? Not quite. It is to say, I hate you because you have got what I have not got and desire. I want to be me, myself, but in your position, with your opportunities, your fascination, your looks, your abilities, your spiritual good.

Chris, like any of us, would have been astonished if he had known that Rowland, through jealousy, had thought with some tormented satisfaction of Chris dying in his sleep.

Now, to start with, one hopes that Spark is using jealousy here loosely to mean envy. Because what she describes is the great sin of envy. To desire what another has, to long for that trip to Hawai'i is not in itself sinful, though not perhaps an optimal state of mind. To be moved to the point of murder (even if only in thought) to get that trip is envy.

Many of us experience small twangs of desire when we hear about people doing things we would very much like to do. Most of us are able to push these aside for the moment and wish the person doing them the best of luck or a pleasant time, or whatever congratulations are in order. And we don't revisit it time and again. After Natalie tells you that she's going to the Cote d'Azur, your initial response might be, "Oh, how I wish I could go there." And it would probably be followed by a very generous and genuine, "Natalie, I hope you have a wonderful time, and bring back lots of pictures so you can share it with us."

But in this passage Ms. Spark gets at the deadly core of envy, something most of us have experienced very rarely, but probably all have experienced at least once. "So and so got the promotion that I deserved and I should be sitting in that office right now." "So and so got the girl (or guy) I had my eye on and he doesn't deserve her like I do." And so on. When harbored, cherished, and nurtured, envy turns into a life-consuming monster. It consumes both the life of the envious, and in extremes, the life of the one envied. It can cascade rapidly from a thought crime into a real crime against a person. It can take advantage of any opportunity to lay the opponent low and assume what is, by all rights, mine.

Never experienced envy? Rejoice. I think there are some souls who really have not, and I can say for myself that it is not the highest on my list of temptations to sin--however, I do find myself from time to time turning over that stone about one thing or another. To wish ill on another is to have already done it--when we go about turning over rocks in the parched aridity of our envious souls, we shouldn't be too surprised if we find more than a few scorpions.

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Good Lord, Forgive me

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Here is a reconstruction of the psalm to indicate my particular experiences over at Zippy's and Disputations of recent date:

Revised Psalm 131

1] O LORD, my heart is way lifted up,
my eyes are ever raised too high;
I stuff myself full of things
too great and too marvelous for me.
[2) And I have incited and roiled-up my soul,
like a child unfed and squalling at its mother's breast;
like a child that is mid-squall is my soul.
[3] Nevertheless, I hope in the LORD
from this time forth and for evermore.

I don't know why I engage in these ways. I haven't the intellectual wherewithal to do it, and it amounts to mere temptation to pride. But at least the two discussion have been fruitful and I think I begin to understand some things that have never made much sense to me. If you're inclined to do so the comments at ,DNR at Disputations can be quite mind-boggling. The discussion centers around the question of what post-resurrection bodies are/will be/ can only be and whether or not they are the "same" bodies that are present here and now. (I was going to write, that we "possess" now, but that seems rather wrong for a whole raft of reasons I'm unready to reel off.) But the discussion is exemplary of the way an exchange of ideas may take place that helps those attentive to and desirous of the truth to move toward the truth even if its fullness eludes them.

Nevertheless, it would be pure and damnable hubris to claim that I am in any way up to the discussion and that to engage in it is not engaging things far beyond my own capacity. I only hope that by listening and asking questions I can come to fuller knowledge--God will be merciful even as I am not.

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Present Reading

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I am about to finish Jonathan Englert's The Collar, about which, more later when I've finished. However, present reading goes in another direction.

By now, anyone who really cares in St. Blogs has heard of the death of Muriel Spark. Ms. Spark was the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which brought Maggie Smith to our notice. For this alone she deserves our eternal gratitude. However, Ms. Spark was a remarkable prose stylist producing some of the most elegant and odd novels of the latter 20th Century.

While Jean Brodie is her most famous and I have not read widely enough in her canon, my particularly favorite is a ghoulish little trifle titled Memento Mori--in which a mysterious voice calls over the telephone to individual members of a group of Octogenarians, each phone call presaging the recipient's death. Very interesting, and surprisingly funny.

So, hearing of Ms. Spark's death and desiring to make further acquaintance with her work, I went to our dismally stocked local public library and found the two works on the shelves by Ms. Spark--The Finishing School and Aiding and Abetting. Of this latter, many reviews considered it slight and not up to her other work, though still entertaining. Presently I am engaged with The Finishing School. It is a very slight novel. The hardbound edition is the size of a paper-back. It runs 181 pages of very large-leading prose, so it probably amounts to about 990 pages of real book-size prose. But the delights between the covers are extraordinary.

Take for an example, this toss-off,

Tilly took herself, tall and lonely, away to another part of the house to spread her story.

This after Tilly has shared her secret suspicion that the headmaster of the school was "making advances at me." Not only is it in a single sentence the life of a romantic teenager, it is a model of construction of melodic prose with the internal assonance and consonance. Ms. Spark's origins as a poet cannot be denied, and lend themselves to supple, sometimes gorgeous prose.

Muriel Spark starting her writing career near the end of Evelyn Waugh's and there are some striking similarities in story lines and in "hidden Catholicism" that informs the books of both authors.

In all truth, I can't recommend The Finishing School, as I've only just begun to read it, but my intuition and my experience with Ms. Spark's other books suggests that this one will be a delight. Ms. Spark is the hidden treasure among Catholic writers, not nearly so well-known as she has a right to be, not nearly as well appreciated in the world of Catholic readers as she ought to be.

Once I've finished these two Muriel Spark, I have set aside (and in fact already started) Madeleine St. John's The Essence of the Thing. Ms St. John is another Catholic writer, recommended sometime back in an article in either Crisis or First Things. Her prose is not as poetic or taut as Ms. Sparks, and she relies heavily on dialogue to carry the story; however, she deals with important themes and issues as most of the masters of Catholic writing do.

I'll keep you informed as to the progress of the books.

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His Majesty's Dragon

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His Majesty's Dragon is a debut novel by Naomi Novik and to anticipate myself, I can't wait for the next. Ms. Novik creates an interesting, indeed startling world of the Napoleonic Wars. Her premise is about as interesting as it comes.

Set this squarely on your SF shelves--that's right, not fantasy, but SF in the Anne McCaffrey tradition of Dragons not in the realm of folklore but scientifically studied, bred, and kept entities. In Novik's world, Dragons have been our companions for several centuries and of relatively recent date, we've learned how to harness, ride, and use them in warfare.

An English sea-captain, in the course of taking a light French clipper, is appalled at the carnage the French Captain allowed and is inclined to treat him poorly until he discovers in the hold an unhatched dragon egg. Said egg is hardening and it is a sign that it will soon hatch. At hatching a kind of imprinting or bonding occurs, or the dragon become a rogue. The dragon hatched can speak fluently and makes his or her own choice as to rider.

The aerial corps for reasons you discover in the course of the book is not looked well upon by services outside. And Laurence has no desire to join, but Termeraire (the Dragon) has quite a different intent--and so the story starts.

Except for a few rough places, the prose is smooth and efficient--never magnificent, but certainly up to its goal. The story is light, fluff, but very entertaining, and there are a couple of thought-provoking moments--mostly when the author isn't trying so hard to make for thought-provoking.

Both Linda and I were absolutely enthralled and read it very quickly. For fans of SF AND Patrick O'Brian you cannot hope for better. Although, be warned, there is nothing of the complexity, thickness, or opacity of O'Brian's prose; nor is there the depth of characterization and world building some claim for O'Brian. (I cannot speak authoritatively on the matter because I still haven't managed to finish even one book in O'Brian's series.) This is intended to be light entertainment, and as such, fits the bill perfectly.

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The title pretty much sums it up. But it is a given that no entry can be so short and so let's talk about it a little.

St Paul writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it, Rejoice." Rejoicing is only possible where amity, friendship, and love exist. One cannot easily rejoice when brooding over hurt feelings or great loses or lost dreams and prospects. Rejoicing stems from loving. When the Lord is kept clearly at the center of life, all other things become incidentals. That isn't to say that some of these incidentals loom awfully large in the event; however, they also fall into exactly the place the Lord has designed for them in our lives.

Praying, St Teresa of Avila tells us, is a conversation between friends. Friends, by definition, share a love for one another. Prayer, we are told by St. Paul, should be the constant melody of life. We should at all times and in all events be immersed in prayer. So, we should at all times and in all events be immersed in a conversation with the God whom we love and who loves us.

Loving God is not a part-time job--it isn't reserved for Mass or for daily "prayer time." It is, indeed, an obligation and a privilege for all of us at all times. Our love of God should be incandescent, it should drawn souls like moths to the flame, so that being cleansed in the flame of God's love, they too become flames to draw more souls. Soon all the world is alight with the flame that comes from the Glory and the Love of God alone.

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Fear of the Bible

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I said something in the post below perhaps over strongly, but I do find evidences of fear of Protestantism lingering in the Church. This is hardly unusual--anyone who knows anything of the Southern States knows that "old times there are no forgotten," it seems no matter how much time has passed.

The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation seem to have left certain very deep scars in the Catholic Church. I note this in particular when I am trying to get the Carmelite groups I oversee to accept the notion of Lectio Divina. The responses range from , "I listen in Mass and think about the Gospel," to "I pray the Rosary and it comes from Scripture," to what many seem to think the ultimate zinger, "What about private interpretation?"

The reality is that to some degree or another, we all do private "interpretation" of Scripture. When we hear the Gospel, I am sure each of us sees a different scene and different words are emphasized and sink down inside us. "Oh, Jesus is talking about peace," I might say, whereas my neighbor might say, "Oh Jesus is talking about how wars will ever be with us and our necessity to fight them." These are "private" interpretations.

The problem is not reading the Bible and having an understanding of it that differs from those around us--the problem comes in when we have the arrogance or pride to proclaim our particular understanding the one true interpretation of the passage of scripture, most particularly when that interpretation differs from the tradition of the Church and the interpretation of the Church where she has spoken.

In the wake of the reformation, much suspicion was cast upon those who read the Bible on their own and who engaged in anything remotely like mystical prayer. St. Teresa of Avila's works were examined by the inquisition and she was under its watchful eye for some time. In the Carmel of Lisieux, none of the sister possessed a complete Bible. Therese is said to have had a copy of some of the Letters of Paul which she read at every opportunity.

The fear continues even to this day. It is notoriously difficult to get many Catholics to even pick up a Bible, much less read it. I think about the Catholics I have seen in Mass. They might have a prayerbook, a Breviary, or a Missal, but nowhere is to be found a copy of the Bible. Of course, in many evangelical and fundamentalist Churches you wouldn't be caught dead without a Bible.

It seems that many Catholics have surrendered the proud patrimony that the Church has bestowed upon the world, into the hands of the Protestants, repudiating it because they use it. On the other hand, the Protestants are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in at least this one thing they serve as guides and examples. The honor they give to the sacred word of God is an inspiring thing indeed.

In the Mass, there is often so much focus on the Eucharist, that many Catholics either forget or did not know that Jesus is present to us as well in the liturgy of the Word. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there amongst them." There is a real presence in the word proclaimed as well as in the Eucharist itself.

The Bible, the gift of the Church, belongs to and is the rightful possession of all Christians. Catholics need not fear it--there is nothing in it, despite the protestations of some brothers, that speaks against anything present in the Church. Indeed, for some time the Church herself has seen the wisdom of encouraging the faithful to reading and praying of scripture to the extent that there is a pleanary indulgence, under the usual conditions, for anyone who reads and prays scripture for a mere thirty minutes a day. Think of all the good one might do for the soul in purgatory merely by reading the Book. For those of us who are inveterate readers, we have little excuse--for those less inclined, the prayers of the souls so released should provide an additional inducement.

The Bible is nothing to be afraid of--and it is something that every Catholic should be involved with in Mass and outside of Mass. Ignorance of Scripture--Old Testament and New--is ignorance of Christ. Jesus is every bit as present in the story of the People of Israel as He is in the chronicle of the New Testament. In fact, I often see more of Him in Psalms than I do in some of Paul's letters.

So, reclaim what is rightfully yours and take it to yourself. Reading the Bible is no more a merely Protestant Activity than is prayer itself. God blesses those who come to Him to learn about Him in ways we cannot begin to understand.

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More on the Our Father

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I spent the major portion of my compositional time this morning responding to a comment made by Rick Lugari. Because of my own liturigical ignorance and the need for more light and less heat, I pull both from the Comments box and make of them a separate pot on which those better informed than I am can comment. I will say at the outset that I believe my position to be a minority in St. Blogs, and I am going to try very hard NOT to respond to anything other than a direct question so as not to derail the flow of conversation if any--I will strive to avoid the type of conflagration I inadvertently caused with a previous post--but I will ask pointed questions where something is said that I need clarification on. The truth is far more important than my level of comfort with it. And if this is something that admits of elucidation that comes with conversation, then let it be so. If not, that will probably out as well. (Poor Rick, I literally drown him in a sea of verbiage--but as Pascal said, "Had I more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

Hi Steven,

Meaning no disrespect to you or your always balanced viewpoint, as one of the liturgical nazis around town I would like to bring up a couple of aspects of the debate that I think warrant consideration.

First, (and I know you know these things, but I need to state them to make my case) the liturgy is a prayer and an expression of our beliefs. Traditionally every action was to have a meaning.

Our actions and posture are an integral part of prayer and help to convey a meaning (i.e., your example of how the orans seems most appropriate for the Our Father - I understand and can relate to that sense, though would not do it myself). Holding hands conveys a meaning as just as genuflecting, beating your breast, and kneeling does. Many of us rigid types, along with (and/or informed by) many clerics who have spoken on the matter think the meaning of hand-holding gives the wrong meaning to what is taking place at that moment.

It's not that I don't like my neighbor or don't think of ourselves as one in Christ, nor am I a germophobe or anything of the like. During the Our Father we are addressing the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is an entirely vertical prayer and whatever posture one assumes should reflect that. Holding hands, IMHO, does just the opposite. The ultimate communion is Holy Communion when we are all united as one with Christ.

In defense of those who would object strictly or primarily from a rubrics standpoint, I will note that if I had my way I'd be kneeling for everything except the Gospel (standing) and the homily (sitting). I don't do it because the liturgy is not something for me to make uniquely mine, even if kneeling suits my sense of piety best. So, I don't feel like a hypocrite expecting people to refrain from doing any ol' posture they feel like doing, and I think it's prudent for the Church to discourage such things.

I don't know if any of this carries any weight, but it is a perspective that I think has merit.

God bless,
Rick

Posted by Rick Lugari at April 24, 2006 09:38 PM

Dear Rick,

I read this last night and started to respond and then thought better of it lest I precipitate another "universalism" blowout. Although I did not take offense or umbrage at anything said, and did not see the same cause; because the issue is sensitive, it requires greater thought.

I have always had a problem with the line of reasoning you put forth here and it stems from several sources. First, I fail to see how holding hands in any way detracts from the motion of the prayer. Indeed, I see it as the appropriate gesture when praying to "Our Father." In holding hands, at least in theory, the many separate I's are gathered into one family under God and offer as one the prayer that is said. Now, compare that, on the other hand, to the creed, which, when properly prayed states, "I believe." In fact, that is the most I can say in the Church, because I haven't a clue what the person next to me in the pew might or might not believe. There is a false solidarity there that can have no base because we cannot know the state of mind or soul of a brother, sister, mother, or father, much less a stranger. Were we to hold hands during that prayer, I would find it quite awkward and in antithesis to the meaning of the prayer.

However, when we pray, "Our Father," the case can be made that the many individuals should in some wise be gathered into a family.

What I see in this particular rubric is a virulent fear of protestantism. As I was raised in my house, every important family occasion and prayer was said with the entire family holding hands. The Thanksgiving blessing, the blessing over the food, even the prayer and song after funerals "Let the Circle Be Unbroken." We declare the cohesive unity of the family in this gesture. Still, on every occasion of importance and gathering, we hold hands in prayer, becoming for a short time one unit rather than three, four, six, or eight individuals. There is a true solidarity there.

So, I look at Our Father and say, what gesture, what position, what motion might suggest our unity rather than our separateness. Why, holding hands, of course.

That said, I can acknowledge that this is at best a forced unity, a coerced solidarity, and the symbol may not speak for all; whereas the ultimate neutrality of not holding hands and standing with arms at side during the prayer, at least does not impose anything on anyone. This argument, I can buy and so I do not advance my own with the vigor that I might otherwise do. That some are made uncomfortable, that some are unused to it, that some would see it as specious, is perfectly reasonable and feasible. I have no problem with that--and so the reasonable solution is the neutral solution--one that does not force anything on anyone else.

Nevertheless, I do like the symbolism of holding hands. I even like the slightly uncomfortable notion that is reinforced by this that we are all one family praying as a unity before the Lord, gathered and connected in the body of Christ. I used to be quite uncomfortable with it for all of the reasons that have been suggested--the forced intimacy of it, the forced nature of it, the ultimate non-reality-in-fact in the physical world of it. But through the gesture I have come to accept my own parish and community more and have come to understand the meaning of the body of Christ and of the family of God better.

It is evident from discussions that others would not feel this way. It is for that reason, I believe that my bishop has been mysteriously silent on the topic, even while enforcing all sorts of outré and odd differences as suggested by the GIRM (standing during the consecration portion of the Eucharistic prayer--which later he reversed). It would seem to depend uniquely upon the congregation. It is my opinion that it is so strongly rooted in some communities that undoing it would be a source of such community pain and anguish, with so little to gain, that it would seem unwise. Again, with the recent changes in GIRM, the bishop hand us standing for the Agnus Dei, kneeling for the "I am not worthy" and standing again as we waited for reception of the Eucharist, and then sitting or standing after reception. While people attempted to comply, it just made a huge mess of Mass. So too with the specific instruction on reception of the Eucharist, I see head nods, body bows and genuflections--no one is certain what to do and the head-bowing instruction is insufficient to most--they cling to something else.

I've gone on too long, but you get the point. I'm not saying that you are incorrect, merely that I fail to see the reason of it. I don't understand, and I mean this literally, I fail to comprehend how holding hands in any way detracts from our attention to God--but do keep in mind the background I have outlined for you. I suspect there are a great many protestants who feel this way.

One note I would add though, is that whatever one feels about the matter, one should not make oneself the center of attention and fuss. There are some who do not wish to hold hands while the whole congregation is doing so--that is fine. Fut I have seen people physically move way down the aisles, stare, glare, and fuss until you got the impression that Mass was all about them. The proper way to address any such abuse is to speak to one's pastor, and if that does not resolve satisfactorily, to continue the protest to the Bishop.

My understanding of obedience, however, suggests that the chain of command must be followed, and if there is no satisfaction at the level of the Bishop, then one must pursue one's own course in not holding hands. If, however, a local priest tells me, "Let us join hands as we pray in the words our savior gave us," I will join hands with anyone willing--because that is what obedience calls me to at the time. I will not, however, force this on anyone who chooses not to hear or obey; nor will I say that such obedience is incumbent upon them, because I could understand how one might say that refusal to hold hands is in fact obedience to a higher authority. Rather than get tied up in all of that, I choose simply to celebrate Mass as the local congregation sees fit. If we hold hands, fine. If not, that also is fine. Further I will admit that according to present instruction the latter may be the more perfect way of celebrating at the present time.

But my codicil is that changes in rubrics and in matters of practice almost always flow from the people and not from instruction imposed from on high. Creole Masses, Drum Masses, Mariachi Masses, Liturgical Dancing and other such things are normative in different parts of the world, and even in different communities in the United States. That is one of the wonderful things about the Catholic Church, her rituals and rites are so plastic that they can incorporate cultural differences without ever losing their intrinsic meaning.

I hope this did not sound either too defensive or too arrogant. I really don't intend it to; but I feel that given the integrity and sincerity of you comment, you are entitled to at least of glimpse of my thought, however incorrect it might be, in the matter. I stand ready to be obedient--if the Bishop tells us to stop doing this, I shall stop; however, as I've said, so far there has been no instruction at all regarding this from him--no correction of perceived abuse, etc. So, I will let it be for now and adapt myself to the local practice. Whatever way it is done, so long as I am in the presence of the Lord, it really doesn't matter to me. The critical thing is God alone.

shalom,

Steven

One note I would add to this already long post is that I could not agree more about the need for some uniformity in what everyone is doing at Mass. I pity the poor priest who will have to predict whether a new congregant will kneel, bow, head nod, genuflect, receive in hand or on tongue, etc. On the other hand, none of that is my business anyway if I am properly keeping my eyes on God--something I really need to learn to do better.

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What Labels Do

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from "What is an Arminian"
John Wesley

2. The more unintelligible the word is, the better it answers the purpose. Those on whom it is fixed know not what to do: Not understanding what it means, they cannot tell what defence to make, or how to clear themselves from the charge. And it is not easy to remove the prejudice which others have imbibed, who know no more of it, than that it is "something very bad," if not "all that is bad!"

The effect of labeling is not to identify, but to categorize without benefit of appeal. In Wesley's time it was "Arminian" now it is "Democrat," "Republican," "Liberal," "progressive," "Conservative," "Ultramontane." These are useful, much as the word "weed" is useful in dealing with whatever plant, no matter how native and how beautiful that creeps into the monoculture of the American front yard. A label is a deadly device, serving not so much to identify as to categorize and dismiss. And a label admits of no reprieve, because you have to know what so-and-so means when he says "Liberal" to know whether or not the shoe fits, and if it doesn't how one might address the error.

There are very good reasons for disliking labels even for those of us who are at heart essentialists.

(A distant thanks to Sirius who promoted the trip whereby the quotation was found.) Even more interesting in regard to the thrust of this post is point twelve on the document linked to.

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I have been reflecting for some time on my own experiences as a Carmelite, and it occurs to me that my own patrimony, my own experience of the rich tradition of Carmel has been long-time coming because we had gotten hold of the tradition the wrong way around. The Carmelite tradition of prayer has never been about her great Saints, but about her motto and her vision of Elijah and Mary as examples.

"In Allegiance with Jesus Christ." The motto of Carmel and the keynote, provide entrance into the central mysteries of the Carmelite order. If we keep in mind that "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ," we can begin to understand the central focus of Carmel on immersion in the scriptures, the central place of Lectio Divina. All of the revelations of St. John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Edith Stein, Blessed John of St. Samson, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection--stem directly from this complete immersion in scripture. The Saints of Carmel are indeed Saints because of their close relationship and acquaintance with the Lord through scripture.

Any one who is interested in the Carmelites should know this up front. We are not by any means the most intellectual of the orders, in fact, perhaps the reverse, we are by far the Order than emphasizes charity and personal Love of our Lord and Savior above all else. The whole focus of Carmelite Spirituality is the development of this kind of continual conversation with the Lord. Our spirituality stems from intimate involvement in the life of the Trinity. This may only happen by visiting Jesus frequently where He may be found--in the sacraments and in the words of Holy Scripture.

The foundation of the Carmelite Mystical experience is the revealed Word of God taken as choice food for a prayer life. This meal then develops into a love-feast with Christ presiding and at the center. Our Saints may not be known for the greatness of their theological exercises, but they are certainly known for the depth of their love of God.

And putting all mystical experiences aside for the moment, this is what calls me to Carmel--the depth of the love and commitment to God that I see in her great saints. It is true of all orders, I know, and each is called as God will call; however, the true flavor and savor of Carmel is the richness of the prayer life founded on constant involvement with scripture. Love, not knowledge is always raised as the banner of Carmelites. If we were to take the words of some of our saints as guidelines for Carmelite life, they might be these:

St. Teresa of Avila-- Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed.

The important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love

St. John of the Cross--When evening comes, you will be examined in love. Learn to love as God desires to be loved and abandon your own ways of acting.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux--My calling is love! In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love.

You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.

Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed, I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

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On Holding Hands

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Okay, after much rumination, it occurs to me that the impulse to write these things is not going to go away, so against my better judgment, I write them and hope for the best. This post and the one that follow are directed to those issues.

One theme that seems a perennial issue with St. Blogger's is the question of what is "right" during the Our Father. Persons who have no problem flying in the face of teachings on the Death Penalty, war, torture, and other more magisterial teachings seem to have conniption fits over complete obedience to the rubrics of the Mass. If the Bishops have ever spoken definitively, it is on this matter of holding hand during the "Our Father."

Frankly, I don't care much one way or the other. I see two extremes--those who fear emotion in religion and those who think emotion is religion. The chief complaint I hear about the action other than the violation of the rubrics is that it "enforces an unwanted intimacy." But then, Christianity demands of us an unwanted intimacy, an intimacy not on our own terms. The Good Samaritan was not given his choice of the person for whom he was to care. We are not given a choice of who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And the relationship of brothers and sisters is, for good or ill, intimate. And as there is a communal element of our working out of salvation, there is an intimacy there that goes far beyond the mere holding of hands.

The second argument and to my mind, the weaker is the appeal to authority. The Rubrics don't say it, and if they don't permit it, then it is forbidden, or so some say.

This is not doctrinal, it is instructional. And the reality has ever been that the body of the faithful has always influenced the manner in which things that are merely disciplinary or common practice have been done. For example, at one time in the past frequent confession was not at all the rule. In fact, confession occurred once, very near death to take care of all of those sins accrued since baptism. It was from the desire of the people of God that the practice of frequent confession became the rule rather than the exception.

So hand-holding in Mass--I'm neutral. Where the people of the Church hold hands (this seems to be more pronounced in Churches with a large Hispanic population--though that is merely from anecdotal experience) I hold hands. In churches where they do not, then I refrain from doing so. My inclination tends to favor those that do, largely for two reasons--one is the sense of intimacy and connectedness; the other, and perhaps the more important is that it doesn't allow me the posture which circles in on myself and closes me off from God. Given my own head, I would pray in the "orans" position because it is a meaningful body posture that expresses an openness that traditional poses do not. It is not "just me and God" because I am part of the body of Christ, so I've always been a little disturbed by the folded hands auto-cyclic posture.

On the other hand, because these things are a subject of much debate and much consternation to the masses, I also will not impose on anyone my viewpoint. If I'm in a Church that holds hand and someone near me chooses not to do so--then I will not force that person. I will also not refuse to hold hands with one who wishes that expression of solidarity. Ultimately it will not be rubrics that decide how these things will go, no matter how much the Bishops wish they would--it will be the spontaneous will of the faithful. The worshipping congregation will, for better or worse define this norm.

I sympathize with those for whom this is uncomfortable. I used to be among them. But I've grown indifferent to the matter because it strikes me as much ado about nothing. It is simply an organic evolutionary attempt at change. It may take hold, it may not. Whatever way it goes, so be it, I am content to be in the presence of God at Mass, however that may be expressed.

I suppose that is to say, I can't find myself getting worked up over this one way or the other. But then, I really like Mariachi, Calypso, Creole, and Drum Masses--so I'm not one to judge by.

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On the Film Version of DVC

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Around St. Blogs right now there seems to be a couple of issues that surface and resurface. One of them is particularly hot at the moment and that is "Whatever shall we do about the new DaVinci Code movie?" This is a troublesome issue from several points of view: (1) it has a major box-office draw (for others, personally, I haven't liked Tom Hanks in anything since Joe v. the Volcano); (2) The director is high-powered with an enormously popular repertoire (here again, I'm out of the loop--I haven't cared for anything since EdTV).

What I find disturbing are those who rail against the people who say that the movie presents an opportunity for evangelism. My own view of it is that people who talk about the evangelism opportunities have been given lemons and are attempting to make the best of it. I'm not wildly enthusiastic about the conversation that might ensue from The DaVinci Code, but if it fires up interest in those unchurched and I'm there to answer questions and direct them to resources, then perhaps I can make the best of a bad thing.

Will some lose their faith over this? I honestly don't know, but if so, there wasn't much substance there any way and such faith needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up. The best one could say is that it was a jerry-rigged faith that one zephyr or another was bound to topple. It is the disadvantage of living in the age of the poorly catechized church.

However, I do say that we should not be so hard on those who are trying to see the "up side" of the inevitable. Unlike The Last Temptation of Christ which was made by a director who was popular only among the film critics, Ron Howard has a huge popularity base. The only real hope for failure of this film is terrible screen-writing that takes what was always a very cinematic plot and turns it into a boring maundering through the museums of the world. So, I don't think we can hold out a lot of hope for its utter failure. Given that, those so inclined need to consider the opportunities for evangelism and for education. Stock up on the resources out there to combat the serious errors of The DaVinci Code and keep in mind the words of Paul, who says (and I paraphrase), "The sower does not see the seed to harvest; he cannot know what fruit springs therefrom." In other words, your conversations in the wake of this storm are important. Your ability to defend your faith and support Church teaching in a way that is both convivial and accurate are critical elements of any conversation. Your ability to refer truly interested parties to resources that can lead them closer to God can make of this an opportunity for the salvation of souls. It isn't an argument on the best ground, nor is it the way I would prefer to engage those who are seeking; nevertheless, it is what we have been given.

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Caution--Speed Bumps Ahead

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Sometime in the course of this afternoon or evening, I realized that the post immeditately below this might be misread as an indictment against some in St. Blogs other than myself. If the Holy Spirit, convicts, so let it be; however, just so you know, it was written as a hedge against bad habits.

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Present Reading

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A passage from a book recommended in a list of Catholic Authors:

from The Essence of the Thing
Madeleine St. John

Guy entered the room. 'Tell us,' said Susannah, 'what could be better than marriage, Guy?' 'Salvation,'he replied. His elders howled. 'Where do you learn these words?' asked Susannah. 'I learned that in R.E.,'said Guy. 'I'm not sure exactly what it means, but it's meant to be very good, so it might be better than marriage.'

'Can you have both?'

'Well, I suppose so, but salvation is still probably the better of the two.'

'The better of the two,' repeated Susannah. 'Very good, Guy. Very good.' 'OK,' he said. He now remembered what he had come in for. 'Can I have another caramel?'

Something not very many people realize is that when reading fiction, you must talk to the book and ask questions. The same is true to a lesser extent with non-fiction. Normally the questions that result from non-fiction reading are of a very limited scope--either questioning the veracity of what one is reading, or looking for clarification of one or more points.

However, in reading fiction especially well-constructed, thoroughly considered fiction, there are a myriad of questions to ask, and answers to be had. What exactly is the author about. Why these words at this time in the mouth of this character? What exactly is her message regarding marriage and salvation? What does this mean for Susannah and Nicola (the other person in the room during this conversation)?

Fiction gets at the same truths as fact in a way that is very much different in technique and intensity. Fiction often slips in under the radar and we often toss it off as if nothing at all. But it is in a close look at fiction that we begin to uncover what is really going on.

It is because we have gotten lazy in our habits of reading that a trifle like The DaVinci Code stands to do as much harm as it may. People accept fiction uncritically as fact--and it helps that in the particular case the author is interested in making money and holds up his poorly executed research as fact. (A glance at any of his other published work will show that it is a worm and error-riddled as the work in question.) We think that because it is something for leisurely reading, fiction has no real effect.

The fact is, all of our choices have an effect. We can read light fiction and derive from it both pleasure and some insight, or be blindsided by it and find ourselves thinking through things we thought we had already considered. Every choice matters and is important. Thus reading critically is an important skill to cultivate, and it is not a skill that very many have. Many have not yet learned to converse with the work. They pop them into their brains like so many bon-bons and then it's on to the next work without much consideration of what one has just read. Most light works don't require much. Perhaps a review for the edification of others is sufficient to draw out all that can be gained from engaging such work. But some need extended conversation. We need to hone our critical faculties to determine which is which. Which work is substantive and worthwhile, and which merely a passing jeu.

Of the books before me now, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that The Collar is an interesting non-fiction read. It's substance is yet to be determined as I am only about half-way through, but it does raise some interesting questions. His Majesty's Dragon is a bon-bon, a froth, a zephyr on an otherwise overly warm day, and it appears that Ms. St. John's book shall be one that requires some extended consideration. She appears to be writing in the themes of Graham Greene and others, but in a more modern setting and mode. She is the companion along the way to the recently departed Muriel Spark, and to other such writers. I don't know if the work will hold the weight of much critical review and questioning, but until one starts to ask, it will be impossible to tell.

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Grand Opera--Tosca

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Justly famous for the second act soprano aria Vissi d'Arte Tosca is a case in point of grand opera, and allows one to understand clearly the hidden reference of "soap opera."

From start to finish Tosca is melodrama. If one looks too closely at the plot it blows away into a billion pieces. By the end of the piece three major characters and the plot impetus (a relatively minor character) have died-one off-stage and three on-stage. However, this production was helped along by a soprano who had played the role both for the Met and for the San Francisco Opera Company (both redoubtable companies) and by excellent singers in all of the roles, major and minor.

What interests me about the Opera, seeing it for the first time and putting it into context, is the question of Puccini's view of the Church as expressed in the Opera. The first act takes palce entirely within a Church and begins with a Sacristan responding to the bell of the Angelus and ends with a Te Deum which is counterpointed by the villain of the piece Scarpia. The choral Te Deum is, also very discordant and very dark, incorporating into its music some of Scarpia's theme. In addition, just before Floria Tosca jumps from the parapet of the Castel Sant'Angelo at the end, she sings (in a melody reminiscent of the theme of her lover) to Scarpia that she will meet him before God--certainly an odd thing for a murderer/suicide to sing before leaping to her doom. (Samuel's reaction to this climactic scene was priceless, after the firing squad was done, he piped up with , "They shooted him!" I'm sure about half the theatre heard it.)

Tosca is filled with the lyrical, and perhaps occasionally overdone romantic melodies Puccini is famous for. The music is wonderful and contains some oddly "modern" elements in its discord and dissonance. The tenor aria of the final act E lucevan le stelle is another show-stopper with its transcendent melody and its underlying dark tones.

Samuel seemed to enjoy the experience, although he was a bit frightened at the firing squad scene and (fortunately) didn't seem to follow much of the plot line. He did however really go wild at the two major Arias and asked when we would go to the Opera again. So, this makes his third Opera and I'd say that overall the season was a success. I do have to say that of the performances he's seen this year--The Rockettes, Three Operas, and Lord of the Dance it is the last than made the biggest impression with him. And given that he is a somewhat kinetic little guy, that makes good sense.

Any way, I couldn't have been more pleased or impressed with this final show of the season. It certainly rang the curtain down on a resounding note. Orlando Opera may be a small company, but it is one that is well worth the time if you've any interest in Opera at all. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to discover it. Once again I succumb to the waywardness of cultural snobbery.

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Everyone has one and each of them is unique. There, now you know. Now that it's out in the open, we can talk about it openly.

We are all aware of the "vocational sacraments'--ordination and marriage. However, a vocation does not need to be made manifest by a sacrament to nevertheless be a vocation and no two vocations conferred by ordination or matrimony are exactly the same in every particular.

This understanding of vocation was made clear by St. Thérèse when she wrote about her own discovery of vocation. She was a cloistered nun, which is a recognized vocation that is not conferred by a sacrament; but that was insufficient for her. She continued to think about and study vocation to the point where she concluded that her vocation was to become "love at the heart of the Church."

Each vocation is unique because each person is unique. No two cells in the body are identical in all respects. So in Christ's body there are no "carbon copy" saints. This is why it is important to realize where God is calling you personally. Some time back, Tom wrote about third order Dominicans who claimed the vocation of the cloistered nuns. The same happens with third order Carmelites. God does not need another St. Dominic or St. Teresa of Avila, He already has one of each, eternally. Hence, it is improper to attempt to be anything other than what God has made me to be. I cannot be a hermit or cloistered--I cannot pull myself away from the world articificially, and even if I could, it would not be serving God as I am, but as I insist upon being. This is rebellion as much as not doing His will at all though grace be there to support it.

But Lay Carmelites are not cloistered, they live in the world, and by living in the world send a message different from the cloistered nuns and unique to the third order. This is a message of hope to all of the Church--that life in the world does not exclude the possibility of intimacy through prayer--that contemplation and action are not either/or, but rather both/and. As a Lay Carmelite, contemplation that does not lead directly to prophetic and evangelical activity is a kind of illusion, a sort of spiritual pride.

But even identification as a Lay Carmelite does not encompass the definition of my vocation, because as a lay Carmelite I do live within a vocation conferred by a sacrament--marriage. And it is the balance between the callings that defines the tension of the life. But still, that doesn't define the fullness of the vocation. I have certain talents, gifts, and inclinations that are my own and not available to anyone else. It is in the blossoming of all of these gifts of God through His grace that my vocation is defined. Already I have an inkling of it--part of my given vocation is to encourage and to help direct insomuch as it is possible to do so. All Carmelites are called to spiritual direction--some formally, some more informally--perhaps only within the community meeting. But sometimes direction can be more of a group effort, or a general pointing of the way--less direction, more signpost.

Part of "working out my salvation in fear and trembling" is the discovery and proper execution of the details of my particular vocation. In Grace, God will tell me who I am and how I am to function for the greatest good of all. My job is to respond to the best of my ability--to seize the day.

Vocation really is about immolation in God's love--utter abandonment, total surrender, complete reliance on Him and His daily graces.

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Psalm 51

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This is the only Friday of the year on which we do not pray Psalm 51. And, frankly, I miss it. I know that we are in the season of light and joy; and yet, I find psalm 51, despite its penitential tone to be full of light and joy."O purify me, then I shall be clean;/O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow." And these lines are so perfectly consonant with the antiphon for the first psalm on Easter Sunday: "The splendor of Christ risen from the dead has shone on the people redeemed by his blood, alleluia."

In the before times--times before I had become Catholic, and times that were somewhat more conservative and more prone to the influence of traditional thought, there was much emphasis among the protestant crowd on being "washed in the blood of the lamb." I haven't heard this much among the Catholics I've associated with, but it has a long protestant tradition and stems directly from several passages in scripture. This is one of the holdovers I have from the before times, and I still think in these terms. I am redeemed by His blood and it has been placed on the doorpost and on the lintel of the door to my soul--I am marked by God by my confirmation, my baptism, and my reception of the sacraments. I am among His chosen people so long as I choose to be. The only thing my will can effect that is not inspired by grace is to reject this great gift. I can choose at any time to reject the Lord, to say no to His gift, to walk away from His people. This is a very real possibility, AND it is the only possibility that lies outside His grace; however, it does not lie outside of His permissive will. The Lord is not a rapist, He will not force His love on those who choose to reject it.

But in thinking through these things, I begin to understand where the "once saved, always saved" error intrudes into some Protestant thought. When one enters the Church and/or accepts Christ as one's savior (allies one's will to the will of God), the desire to continue in Church, to receive the sacraments, to discover more about this magnificent heritage, to worship the God who gave all this to us grows. Yes, it can be dimmed by our own sin, it can be rejected by pique or by rebellion. But the reality is that it is hard to reject these things once one has partaken of them and understands what one has tasted. They are extraordinary. How many of us converts would return to the fold from which we have come? I daresay, despite the many problems in the Church, it would be precious few. I know what I have found here and what I was never able to find elsewhere, and it is far too valuable to throw away no matter what the provocation. So, too, I suspect with any person who willingly embraces the faith and comes to love God. Salvation is not assured, but it becomes difficult to reject God. There is always the intent to follow. It can be suppressed and crushed, but Jesus is there to revive it, to seek out the one lost.

Truly, once marked by the blood of the Lamb, and accepting that mark ourselves and making it our own, I become one of the sheep of his flock. I grow in love for the Lord by His constant attention. Nevertheless, just as a man can walk away from a woman at any time, no matter how profoundly he has declared His love, it is entirely possible for me to walk away from the Lord. And though the mark is indelible, the gift that comes with it need not be accepted.

These are the thoughts that occur to me with the recitation of psalm 51. Wash me and I shall be white than snow. When I pray that line, I am renewing my humility, my willingness to be near and with the Lord. Each Friday is a day of joy because I can unload that sinfulness (in one sense--though not the sacramental sense) and dance once again in the presence of Him who washes me clean.

Another thought occurs as I write this. When I say "Wash me and I shall be clean," I am also becoming as one of the little ones. Few adults ask others to wash them; some are forced to accept the ordeal, but few take it upon themselves. Whereas we all know that small children are washed and cleaned by their parents. It is a moment of parent/child intimacy that will linger with the child throughout his or her life, even if it is unconscious rather than conscious. When we pray this way, we are admitting our littleness, our infancy in the face of the Lord; how can he help but react as every reasonable parent reacts and take us up in His arms, and hold us tight to Him.

"O wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."

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Get Serious About Prayer

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That's what I say to myself. Stop the endless fragmented, half-hearted, attempts at prayer and get serious.

Getting serious is, of course, only possible through the grace God gives me. I can't will myself to be serious about prayer, although I can conform my will to His desire for me to be serious about prayer. I can start doing things that would lead me deeper into a life of prayer.

"Such as?" I ask myself. (And I note, lest I be accused of semi-pelagianism, that even these things must start with, be fostered by, and culminate in Grace.)

Fostering an environment, internal and external, for prayer.

(1) The external is less important except as it eventually can help shape the interior space, but I must follow the chain of grace into the life of real prayer. I must fill the space with light from the wisdom of the Saints and from the scriptures. I must take off the shutters that I have long used to deny access to the delicate archive of false self. Let the strong rays burn away what is not of God.

(2) Controlling frivolous and detrimental speech. Too many words water down whatever there is of importance, even when these words are not directly involved in the action. More, overuse of words weakens their essential power to move us. And still more, we tend to start believing what we speak--it is part of the power of the words. That is why Jesus tells us that it is what comes out of a person that makes him or her unclean. When I speak ill of another, I begin to believe what I say and I condemn myself thought lack of charity. The fullness of my heart overflows into my words. So rather than speak every idle thought that enters my head, perhaps a span of time should be placed in front of whatever response I am to make, and in that short span, I should really search my heart for the Gem that I know lies under the ash and allow it to shine forth in whatever words I must use.

(3) Removal of all those things that keep me away from God in whatever way. And by removal, I don't mean mere physical disposal of these things, but true attention once more to God's grace and His call. I've already seen how mere will-power can be utterly ineffectual in weeding out those things that lead us astray. Only grace can allow us to leave all for All. However, grace doesn't work by itself. I mustn't lapse into quietism. My will and my desire is required. Without my consent, grace, unless prevenient is utterly ineffectual. God will not force me to Love, but He is constantly inviting me.

Getting serious about prayer is getting serious about the one thing that matters and the one thing that has any potential to help me and the world around me. So, why do I continue to waste valuable time?

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There are literally thousands of different ways to be a Christian. I read somewhere that there are something on the order of 22,000 different Protestant Churches with new ones being founded every year. (From what a friend tells me regarding the coming Episcopalian convention, it would hardly be a surprise to find a new Church springing up in that confession in the near future.)

That is why conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church is so important for me. I don't want to be overly-scrupulous--I want to exercise freedom where prudential judgment allows for variation of opinion; however, where the Church is definitive, I want to toe the lie of that definition insofar as I can understand it.

Why is this so important? As with many converts, I sensed something that drew me to the Church. Initially, it was the certainty that the Church was right about the real presence. When I joined the Church, I didn't accept much of Church teaching besides the elements of the Nicene Creed (which nearly every Christian can assent to) and the belief in the Real Presence. However, from the moment of my joining my prayer has constantly been, "Lord, lead me to where you want me to be. I don't want anything less than the Truth."

Now, I will admit, that I am remarkably adept at deceiving myself--thinking that I am following the truth while following something else. But I also am willing to rethink and abandon my errors for the truth when the truth can seep through the pores in my mostly adamantine skull. But, fortunately for me, God is a God of patience, generosity, and love. And when you ask for something as important as the truth God will give it to you. Once again, fortunately, He will give it to you only in the amount you can accept. So I have been extremely slow in my growth as a Catholic. I've come to recognize the pattern by which growth occurs--stubborn resistance transmutes to indifference on a given point transmutes to interest in the opposite view transmutes (often without my active participation) into acceptance of Church teaching. Usually resistance takes the form of asking why such and such a truth is the way it is, what sense does it make? Often at this stage I can't make out the sense--that may persist through the whole journey. The indifference stage (which comes ever faster) is typified by the attitude that "sometimes you have to give up the right to know." In other words the panic over the truth of the matter vanishes and leaves behind a residue of "Okay, it may be true, but I'll leave it alone until I'm certain." At this stage, usually, God sends someone to me who will touch on the matter in unexpected ways. It may be a long-term friend, it may just be someone I meet at a lecture, or perhaps even something I hear on television. Of recent years, it has often occurred in blogdom. I can recall several things said to me by Karen Marie Knapp, Tom of Disputations, TSO and others that have permanently altered my view of things. These are precious gems of consolation and love God sends out--often the sender is utterly unaware of his or her effect.

Encountering the truth is hard. It requires that one be ready to abandon cherished illusions and ways of life that flow from them. Accepting the truth can only be done in the light of grace. Without that grace, I would have arrived nowhere. With it, I hope to arrive at God's truth before I die. If not, I hope to have latched on to enough of it to make the journey afterwards.

But surrender to the truth requires giving up pride; one must be able to admit that one has been wrong on any given point. Abandonment to the truth can be frightening because it leads the seeker into new territory. The grounds of our illusions have been thoroughly tramped through; however, truth is always "the Undiscovered Country." Every step into is a step away from the familiar and comfortable.

And ultimately, as I am constantly reminded, Truth is a person. Getting to know this Person can be exhilarating and frightening. It requires giving up so much that has been cherished so long. It requires giving up small illicit pleasures. It requires giving up licit pleasures. It requires giving up the sense of self that has accreted over the years so that one can stand revealed as Christ sees one. There is an exquisite agony in these progressive stages of revelation--but that agony is the foreshadowing of the ecstasy of Union which may only be had when everything that separates one from God, most of all those cherished illusions of self, has been stripped away and one stands naked and unashamed before the living God, ready to serve without masks, without hiding--ready now to don the full Armor of God and become His work in the world.

That, ultimately, is why growing with and toward the Church is important. I have lived in deception long enough--it is time, Lord knows it is time, to come into the country of truth and freedom and to assume my place in the body of Christ. Heaven help the body if all of the liver cells have functioned as poorly as I have for so many years. Or heart cells, or brain cells, or muscle cells. I am only a small part of the body, but my proper functioning is critical to the health of the whole. By grace I will arrive at that place, by grace all who arrive will draw more to God. By grace, we will all come to know and, more importantly, live the truth.

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At the Fountain of Elijah

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There are several useful introductions to Carmelite Spirituality available today. One is by Father John Welch, who is the Prior Provincial of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Province of the Old Order Carmelites. At the Fountain of Elijah by Wilfrid McGReal is another.

If you are a frequent reader, you've already seen several excerpts from Father McGreal's work. It is short (about 130 pages), to the point and clear. There are excerpts of all the major Carmelite writers and they are placed within the traditions of the Carmelite family so that the relationship between the two branches of the Order are made more clear and comprehensible.

What is useful about these introductions is that while they introduce you to the major Carmelite Saints, they also introduce you to the essentials of Carmelite Spirituality--a point, as I wrote yesterday, that I seem to have been dodging until the last year or so when pieces began to fall into place. The "roots" of Carmelite spirituality go deep into scripture. It is from constant immersion in scripture that the Carmelite develops. One can read the complete works of all of the Carmelite Saints and seek to internalize all of the seeming teaching, but it one misses this essential point, one remains forever outside the fold. All of the great Saints of Carmel are overwhelmingly informed by Scripture, by lectio, and by spending time with the Word in the Word.

McGreal manages to nail this point several times in the course of the book. I think he may do a better job of it that Father Welch's book, but that is a subjective evaluation.

If you think you're called to be a Carmelite, or if you want to know more about what Carmelites are all about, At the Fountain of Elijah will provide you with a glimpse of the history, charism, and life of Carmel. It isn't the fullness of the Carmelite way, but it isn't meant to be--it is meant merely to introduce. And as an introduction, I would say that it is superb.

Highly recommended to those interested in the Carmelite way of life.

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(A personal reflection)

I was startled today to realize that for the better part of ten or eleven years of pursuing a Carmelite vocation I have really been pursuing an illusion conjured by my reading of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ă?vila--the dream of the mystic encased in God. But Carmel is really and substantively about total immersion in God's word with resultant service to His people as summarized by this reflection:

from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

Two contemporary Carmelites, Kees Waaijman and John Welch, have reflected on the closing lines of the Rule and have something to say that may help us respond to today's needs. The concluding lines of the Rule are as follows; Here then are a few points I have written down to provide you with a standard of conduct to live up to: but Our Lord at his Second Coming will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to.

According to Welch and Waaijman this passage seems to refer to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Carmelite is the Innkeeper and Christ has come bringing the sick and the wounded asking that they be cared for--that everything possible be done to help. Christ will return and then repay the Innkeeper. According to this interpretation the Carmelite has his or her world turned upside down by the visit of Christ. We are asked to care for people with all their needs and wounds. This request, which causes inconvenience, challenges the Carmelite out of any egocentricity and reminds him or her that life is a mess and unpredictable. Spirituality is not a cosy option but is the call to respond to the gift of God's love by our involvement in what is often a dark and difficult world. Waaijman suggests: 'Real giving is essentially dark, and this is 'the going beyond' of the Rule into a desert of love, a night of trust.'

We spend time in the Scriptures to learn how to serve the Lord of the Scriptures and by serving demonstrate what true love means. In this round of life we may taste of the delights that are described by the Mystics. But whether this happens or not what matters is complete obedience to what God asks of us through the rule. Our obedience is its own reward--nothing more need come from God to me save the grace to obey and so to serve and to love.

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Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit of God,
is the Virgin of the new heart,
who gave a human face to the word made flesh.
She is the Virgin of wise and contemplative listening
who kept and pondered in her heart
the events and words of the Lord.
She is the faithful disciple of wisdom,
who sought Jesus--God's Wisdom--
and allowed herself to be formed and moulded by his Spirit,
so that in faith she might be conformed to his ways and choices.
Thus enlightened, Mary is present to us
as one able to read 'the great wonders'
which God accomplished in her
for the salvation of the humble and of the poor.

Mary was not only the Mother of Our Lord;
she also became his perfect disciple, the woman of faith.
She followed Jesus, walking with the disciples,
sharing their demanding and wearisome journey
--a journey which required, above all, fraternal love
and mutual service.

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Treading the Thin Line

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I don't often think about how difficult the life of a priest can be, but they are constantly called to a certain balance and aplomb. This passage from The Collar makes a case-in-point.

from The Collar
Jonathan Englert

As far as the magisterium went, Don's resistance had been in the area of sexual teaching. The Church clearly opposed birth control, but Don couldn't really accept the Church's position. Somewhere along the way, Don had read Pope John Paul II's Gospel of Life, and it had convinced him that birth control, abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty are part of a continuum. The organizing principle is the sacredness of each human life. To be against one of these principles meant that a person was against all four. He had reflected on his own marriage in light of this and had become convinced that part of the reason for its failure had been that his wife had never been open to the prospect of children. They had used birth control from the start, and Don now believed that taking the procreative possibility out of the act of making love deprived it of a profound and holy dimension and risked reducing it to a selfish pleasure. Done knew how complicated this area was and how carefully one had to tread--especially as a pastor in a nation where a reported 75 percent of Catholics did not hold the Church's view. (p. 108)

The priest is in a teaching position, responsible for educating his flock in the truth of the Catholic faith. To do so he must, first of all, not alienate the majority of them. In addition, no matter how well formed, it is entirely possible that a priest may question the truth of some of these teachings himself.

Don's journey describes in part of its arc, my own journey into the truth of the Church, and I cannot but suspect that even for someone raised within the Church, the encounter with these truths often takes some time. I can conceive of a man called to the priesthood in all good conscience who might have some difficulty wrestling with this issue in view of all the problems in the world. Nevertheless, as a man of integrity and as a personal representative of the Church and as the local "official" spokesperson, it is necessary for the priest to try to teach the Catholic truth, even where his own convictions may differ. I know that there are a good many priests (probably all of them) who fail in this in one field or another. Where they are orthodox on sexual teachings, they may have problems on social teachings, or ecumenism, or any number of other areas. Nevertheless, the priest must teach.

Assume for a moment that the priest does hold to the truth of the sexual teachings of the Church. He could walk up to the ambo one day for the homily and harangue his congregation about the evils of birth control. In so doing, he might convince one and alienate a hundred. He must convey the truth, but he must do so in a way that can get through the defenses and bring the people he serves to their own knowledge of the truth. The messy fact about the truth is that it can only rarely be taught, often the best one can do is summon up the arguments and wait for the person one is speaking to to experience the truth. Because, after all, the truth is a person.

The priest finds himself in this delicate situation with regard to nearly every revealed truth the Church has to offer. As one obliged to lead his flock to the truth, it is a difficult responsibility. There is a passage in the book of the prophet Ezekiel (EZ 33:2--see extended entry) in which God says something like, "Woe to the watchman who does not keep his watch and whose people are destroyed because of it, for their sins shall be upon his head. But woe unto the people who do not attend the watchman. . ." You get the point. As appointed watchmen, it is incumbent upon the local priest to reveal the truth as taught by the Catholic Church. And as pastor of souls, it is his duty to try to capture the greatest number possible in the net--so a harangue from the ambo may not serve as the best means of convicting the majority.

I honestly don't often think about this. But in a microcosm, we are all in the same position. If you have a friend or friends who you know are practicing birth control, you can stop your conversation to inform them of the grave sinfulness of their practice. That will be received differently depending upon the degree of friendship, but it is likely to have a souring effect. One must be as "cunning as serpents and as innocent as a dove." Thus, we find ourselves addressing these wrongs in ways that can be heard by the people we love and hope to help. It may take months or years to convey what there is to know. That is the duty and responsibility of each person to the extent they are capable. Each person needs to stand for the fullness of the truth that resides in the Catholic Faith. My approach, more often than not, is not to attempt to correct the error directly, but to express my doubts about a given proposition and suggest where one might find some elucidation on the matter. If someone asks me questions indicating a certain affinity with a position of moral relativism, I might nudge them in the direction of Veratatis Splendor explaining that while I have not the intellectual wherewithal to engage in such a high-level discussion, here is one who has addressed it far better than I could. And so on. I suppose it is a way of copping out, but it is also a way of turning someone on to the truth as the Church teaches it.

Next time you're tempted to ask your priest why he doesn't produce thunderous sermons on the nature of sin and its punishments, pause and think about the make-up of your local Catholic community and imagine how it might be received. There was a time that such sermons were a mainstay of Church life, but today, there are any number of places a person can go, including merely to another parish, to escape the unpleasant reality of Church teaching. It is the job of the priest to convey those truths in such a way as to guide the greatest number of his entrusted soul on to glory--the rest he must trust to providence. At one time, no one would gainsay anything a priest might teach--sometimes this had disastrous consequences. Nowadays, it is not unusual to see a parishioner berating a priest in the Narthex after Mass. There are "champions of orthodoxy and purity in ritual" who don't think twice about upbraiding a priest in public for any abuse, liturgical or homiletical, real or imagined. Given these truths, it is not hard to conceive of why a priest might be somewhat more toned-down than we might consider right and proper. In truth, the position of a priest can be a most unenviable situation somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

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The Momentous Event: TSO

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Monday I took a half-day off from work and drove over to the Space Coast with Linda and Samuel to spend a little time at KSC and the Astronaut Hall of Fame before meeting TSO and his lovely ladywife for dinner.

KSC and the Hall of Fame were, as usual, a revelation. Sam had a great time, going on the G simulator and the Mission to Mars rover, as well as meeting a real Space Shuttle Commander and Pilot.

We met at a very popular local eatery in Titusville called Dixie Crossroads. After wrangling with the menu and letting Sam spill over for a while the waitress came to take the order. Once she had described the differences between red shrimp, white shrimp, boat-run shrimp, and rock shrimp, everyone was set and knew what they wanted. Although one of us changed his mind frequently.

During and after these comestibles preparation proceedings, Linda took on the usual duty of the female spouse in this particular matrimonial situation, building the bridges of cordiality which her somewhat more reclusive spouse would normally cross. In this particular case, it wasn't at all necessary for her spouse, but it paved the way to a lovely evening.

I have given up trying to imagine what the various people on blogs look like. There is no conceivable way to do so absent a picture, and very often the picture are most deceiving.

The meeting was, as with all blogging meetings, a most delightful occasion. TSO and his lovely wife are delightful dinner companions, and we much regretted the end of dinner which meant our departure. Linda said over and over again how much she had enjoyed the occasion and had wished for a prolongation thereof. But alas, being unfamiliar with the surroundings, we could not come up with a place to retire to that might provide for such and with a little one in tow, it made for other difficulties (such as prolapsed bed times any way.)

As readers of this blog are aware TSO is among my very favorite blog-authors--he comes frequently mentioned. Meeting him in person, far from being a disappointment, was in fact an even greater delight. And so, as with each blogger I have met, reading the blog will now come with the enhanced pleasure of knowing the person behind the pixels.

At this point I've been able to meet with several bloggers and blog-associates--Tom of Disputations, Fr. Jim of Dappled things, The not-too-present Kathy of the late lamented Gospel Minefield, Therese of occasional visit to comment boxes, Peony of Pansy and Peony fame, the Summa Mamas, Julie D., and now TSO. I had a near miss with Dylan on a visit to Boston a few years back.

And my next major appearance will probably be in Sacramento this summer. I think there is a blogger or two in the area, but I'm a bit uncertain as to the geography and location of the two I think of most prominently in that part of California.

Curiously, although we live in the same city and even occasionally attend the same Church, I've yet to meet Mr. Luse. And I missed out on a meeting about two years ago with the redoubtable Alicia of Fructus Ventris.

Meeting favorite bloggers is a wonderful way to spend time when one is far from home without resources. The first opportunity to meet with TSO evaporated from a trip to his homeland due to complications from Hurricane Charlie--it's a very long story. So this oft-delayed meeting was a much-anticipated event and a delight in every way.

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Coming Soon. . .

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to a blogsite near you--the momentous, the stupendous, the calamitous, the outrageous, the truly astounding and wonderful Flos Carmeli meets the man behind Video meliora (stay tuned.)

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The wise man knows how to run his life so that contemplation is possible. Gabriel Marcel

Although the statement seems to beg a certain amount of chicken and egging, one wonders why it would be a wise person who would choose contemplation. After all, the wisdom of this world informs us that contemplation has nothing whatsoever to do with success. The wisdom of this world is inextricably bound up with notions of success. Resting on one's laurels, as contemplation is often seen, is hardly the road to advancement. And as far as worldly wisdom is concerned with respect to perceived advancement, the argument is essentially correct.

Contemplation does not get the housework done; it doesn't merit promotions in our jobs; it doesn't put food on the table; it doesn't buy a new car, truck, or boat; it doesn't pay for a vacation. Contemplation seems little more than a way to fill the idle hours that one has if one doesn't watch television.

Of course those who bother to read these words don't buy into any of these myths; however, many may not be aware of the true wisdom of seeking contemplation. It is wisdom because despite all the many ways of approaching God, the only real way to intimacy with God, in this life or the next, is through contemplation. We can study God's word, philosophize, theorize, synthezise, metabolize, internalize, externalize, realize, and irrealize, and never approach closer to God than when we take a cup of tea or a spare moment and simply spend time with Him. This can take any number of forms. Those of us with busy minds might like to have a short text in front of us to focus our attention and keep out some of the more distracting elements. Those inclined to a naturally serene modus vivendi may not require such external helps. However it is done, spending time with the beloved is a wise thing to do.

Study, analysis, and rigorous reasoning can bring one a great distance in understanding of God; however, they often don't help at all in understanding God. The only way to begin that is as with any object beloved--spend time. When a person spends the time with the beloved, things once very dark become lighter. Patterns only scarcely discernable in one's own life become marked as though with phosphorescent dye. Questions fade into realizations.

Wisdom comes not from knowing about but from knowing intimately, as intimately and more intimately than one knows one's spouse, because the God one wishes to know dwells inside us and waits only for a moment's turning to open a person up to His hospitality.

There comes a time when study must end and conversation must begin. Growth continues from the information in the mind to the formation of the Soul in the very image of Him who fashioned all creation.

God awaits a moment's opportunity. A moment that can become an eternity even now--timeless and beyond time--a period of intimacy with the Lord who is Love.

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Lenten Joy/Easter Joy

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This post might as easily have been entitled, "What Joy Means to Me."

Easter has come and marked a change in time. Were I to take this very fine post at Disputations at face value, I would be very much concerned. The deeper into penance one goes during Lent, the higher into joy one goes when Easter comes. And this seems very true. However, my Easter season is little different from my Lenten season--there is no profound surge of emotion, no exultation that was not already present in Lent. What there is instead is a quiet reassurance that what began in Lent will continue quietly through the Easter season and beyond. The changes that have started can take root and transform life. This quiet assurance that marked the whole of Lent, marks Easter as well. God is present. He conquered Death to be present to us.

Hence, a word of caution about what "joy" might mean. It may, in its popular understanding be mistaken for happiness; but, that is not the fullness of meaning, and certainly not the fullness Tom was aiming for when He wrote. The essence of Joy is living in the presence of the Lord. As proximity increases, so too does joy. When proximity is such that all that is present is the darkness that comes when God wishes to draw us into Himself, joy is still there in the clinging to faith and the standing firm on God. Easter joy may not come upon one as an emotion so much as a confirmed change in life, a determination to move ahead less full of oneself and more full of Christ.

Easter joy takes many forms, not all of which would be readily understood as such by everyone; however, this joy dwells in the heart and it may affect different people quite differently. As with the gathering at a charismatic prayer group, there will be those who are loud and express God's word in great joy, and those who quietly relish His presence among His people.

If your joy is not the shout out and dance experience, don't worry. Treasure what God has given you in the secret recesses of your heart and determine to take the small gift and make the most of it. Move closer to the Lord with each day, with each prayer. Turn the penance of Lent to good purpose by looking on the face of the Lord. Grow in love with Him--that is part of the season of Easter. The good work begun in you at your baptism is brought each year to this fullness and transformed in His light.

May we all continue to grow in His ways in fullness of heart and great joy at the assurance of His tender love for us.

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Seniority at the Seminary

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Reading The Collar by Jonathan Englert and found this rather interesting observation:

from The Collar Jonathan Englert

Seniority at the seminary was curious and certainly not the kind of thing found at schools with age-based grades. The diversity of ages and experiences at Sacred Heart turned this sense of the word "seniority" upside down. Nevertheless, a distinct sense of seniority existed at Sacred Heart. The men close to ordination tended to be looked up to and deferred to. More than that, they actually seemed to be more mature than the newer men. Indeed, some men who had been married and had children and grandchildren could seem younger than others who were decades their junior. It was as if upon entering the world of the seminary, bereft of the usual markers of a life, each man somehow betrayed his spiritual age and the distance he still had to go to become a parish priest. A man like Don Malin, a consummate example of the formation process, provided a yardstick again which these "younger" men could be measured and also could measure themselves.

Isn't this true of how many approach a priest in real life? Men who are decades or years younger than oneself are fonts of wisdom and those we go to to solve problems. From the description provided here it would seem that the formation process is a finishing school, a place where vocations are discerned and persons refined and "polished" to a high gloss. There are, of course, as many different kinds of priest as there are kinds of people, quiet, boisterous, wise, foolish, smart, and not-so-smart. From all of this one can discern what differentiates them all from everyone else--if properly formed, they have discerned and nurtured a vocation, a calling from God, in such a way as to prepare them (although I'm sure many would wish for even greater preparation) to support the people of God in all of their wanderings.

Or so it would seem from the course of the book. I don't know how many priests plan to read it. Although as professionals in their fields, I would suspect a great many would look at it as I would a book about palaeontologists--just to see if the author got the details right--whether or not it rings true. There are certainly things here that seem very sound and very well-grounded.

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Easter Vigil

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I have a great many reservations about some of the things that go on in my local parish Church. But about last night's vigil, none whatsoever. After years of going to Churches that truncate the readings (outside of the rubrics) or pick two or three of the OT readings, I have arrived at a parish that does all seven.

Now this does come with a "down side" sort of. Last might's service was bilingual, meaning that about half of the readings were in Spanish and about half of the prayers between the readings. Half of the Exultet was in Spanish and the Gospel was read twice in English and in Spanish. As people came forward for baptism (38 of them!) we alternately heard English and Spanish depending upon the person.

Now, I've indicated this as a "down side," but I have to be honest, I was riveted by it. I had a sense of the participation of the whole Church that I often don't get English-only. Admittedly, there were only two languages (three if you count some of the Latin responses), but still, it seemed to deepen the mystery of the involvement of the entire world in this event.

At first, I was frustrated, but it gradually turned to a deep awe. When the litany of the Saints occurred, I could almost see the "cloud of witnesses" gathering to welcome 38 new souls into the gates of heaven. Think about it! For a few moments at least, we had 38 souls that were completely clean of sin, newly baptised and rejoicing in their journey to the Church. 38 living saints in our midst, and the crowd of the Holy that pushed into the Church to help us celebrate. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

I have much to be grateful this morning as I think on the events of last night. God is so good.

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May God through the glorious mystery of His Risen Son grant each of us a blessed, holy, and joyous Easter season.

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More Thoughts on Service

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It would seem that the life of service springs from the fullness of love. Recall the scene in Ben-Hur when Judah Ben-Hur encounters Christ on the via dolorosa. Ben-Hur wishes to serve Jesus, just as he was served by Jesus. The impulse may be in part obligation, but it is also gratitude and a true love and awe that has begun to grow in Ben-Hur through his encountering Christ.

When most people meet Christ in the form of simple services, that desire to serve begins to grow, and fed enough, will begin to overflow. The small acts of service received each day blossom into a realization of love and a life of service.

Love is at the center of service. The love of Jesus Christ is the motive for all service worthy of the name. Because of the love of God and person is willing to go out of his or her way to help another. It is only this love that will inspire that kind of service. In the sacramental bond of matrimony, the husband and wife are bound to one another through love, of course, but also by ties of mutual service. The service grows from the love that forms the core of the relationship, or the service does not grow at all.

When anyone begins to seriously consider the life of Christ and His many demonstrations of love for each of God's children, the consideration cannot end in anything less than the desire to imitate the Beloved. The greatest joy of love is to serve another

A person does not start serving to learn love, although that may happen. A person learns love and then starts to serve. Until love is at the center, service is more self-serving and self-satisfying than it is service. A person serves for the small good feeling it gives to be helping someone else, or perhaps from other less gracious motives. However, even this beginning can grow into the service that stems from love. All service to the physical and spiritual needs of others is good and it is a good place to start from. But the service that stems from love is divine--in origin and in effect. God takes the obedience and humility offered in service and transforms them into glory, if only the person is ready to receive it.

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“Unless I wash you. . . "

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What a wealth of meanings springs from this simple phrase. Holy Thursday is a day to think about leadership and about service. It is the day we celebrate the institution of the Priesthood, the body dedicated completely to the service of God's people.

It is interesting that when Jesus was about to go through His passion, he saw what today is called "a teachable moment." The apostles were all gathered for the Last Supper, although they did not know it at the time. When supper had come to an end, Jesus takes off his outer garments and assumes the character of a slave, a servant of no meaning to the apostles. Peter objects to this and Jesus tells him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."

Notice the phrase was not, "Unless you serve me." It is , "Unless I wash you." And this single phrase seems so replete with meaning that one does well to spend a moment and unpack it a little. The first and most obvious meaning, I shall return to in a moment as the bulk of this post. But hidden here is the knowledge of the death He would suffer and Jesus spoke in the fullness of the revelation of that death. "Unless I wash you," certainly refers to the present situation of washing the apostle's feet, but it refers also to the shedding of His blood--that precious blood poured out as a gift and a libation to all of humanity. When we are washed in the blood of the lamb, we become Jesus, we are transfigured as He was upon Mt. Hermon where Mark tells us, "And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them" (Mk 9:3). So too is the believer transfigured with not only clothing becoming radiant, although that clothing is Christ Himself, but also the person--who is permeated through by Jesus Christ. As John says, this is the inheritance of all the saints: And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:14). There is no white without the crimson of His Blood; there is no share in His inheritance that does not accept His ultimate service to all on the cross. There is no other name by which people are saved and this salvation comes at the cost of accepting that He must wash us clean.

That is only part of the point of this weighted phrase. More immediately, Jesus was showing the apostles and all Christians the meaning of Christian life. He washes the feet of the Apostles, the leader stoops down to service. But no, Jesus tells us that it is the duty of the leaders to be servants to the people of God. Peter, who will become the head of the Church is told with all the others, I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

The person who would be with Jesus and who would lead others to Jesus must be willing to serve. We have seen that time and time again through history--the great and exalted humble themselves to become the servants of the most needy. St. Margaret of Scotland, Queen and servant to the Poor. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, princess and servant to the poor. These people of high standing, abandoned their thrones and led the people they served through the example of their service. In the Carmelite rule, the Superior of a group of monks or friars is called upon to be the servant of all of the monks. He directs the community, but much of his direction comes through his example of service. he becomes a teacher by virtue of the service he gives to the brother monks.

Every Christian is called to this same servant leadership. Whether a person holds an exalted position in the community or is simply one of the many, each one is called to serve neighbors, enemies, and friends. Each person is called to sacrifice--for family first if the married vocation calls for it, and then for all the rest of the community. The leadership a Christian shows is the leadership of washing feet. As with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the leadership of her community rested upon leading all the others in service to the poor and to each other.

Servant leadership is an important part of the baptismal call of all Christians. Priests demonstrate this through unstinting service and through the sacrifices they make in the paths of their lives. As they serve God's people giving bread and wine, the Body and Blood, at the banquet of the Eucharist, their example should inspire us to serve others with food, water, clothing, shelter, compassion, and deep and abiding love. As priests serve selflessly, they teach service to one another. But the example of the priest is ultimately the example of the Priest, the single High Priest who presides in Heaven over every service offered on Earth. He is the exemplar of service, giving first His life and then His eternity in service to those who do not appreciate it.

And that is another aspect of service--very often it will not be embraced. The servant will be cast out, rejected, and cut off. The person who serves will be seen as passive, ineffective, not meaningful in a dog-eat-dog society. Quiet service vanishes in the face of self-service. I recall that Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Princess Diana both died at about the same time, and for much of the time the death of the Saint was eclipsed by the Death of the Princess. I recall even seeing posters that linked these two women, and while I have nothing against Princess Diana, who did do much to serve others, she never rose to the levels of service that Mother Teresa showed throughout her life.

Service is the keynote of the Christian message, and it may be one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life to internalize. Most people do not really want to serve; it is far easier to relax and be served. Few really rejoice in the opportunity to serve unless that opportunity comes with the possibility of being noticed. Most service is a weak and paltry thing outside of the shining spotlight of fame. And yet, that is the lot of the Christian. Each person must consent to be served by our great Teacher, Leader, and High Priest, and then follow the example He laid down for us and serve one another. Our service is not so much to God, although God counts it in our favor, but it is to God's people. The service God has assigned to the Christian is bearing truth, love, and the knowledge of the ways of God to all of His people.

He showed us how to do this when he washed the feet of the apostles in the moments before he was to be taken away forever. Pause for a moment and consider--Jesus did not merely demonstrate service to the Apostles, He demonstrated composure, serenity, assurance. He was in the moments before the long glory of the Passion and resurrection. His mind must have been filled with what was before Him, and yet, rather than impatience, he showed the apostles kindness, loving them at the very end in ways that would become meaningful only after the events of the coming days. Jesus was full of the torment that would surface in the Garden, and He spent His time washing feet rather than wringing hands. His service was His joy, His delight in the moment with the company of His friends. And so all service stems from this central joy. For when anyone does as Christ has instructed, that person is among the friendship of the apostles. God serves each person to give each person the strength to serve others. And so with Peter one might be inclined to excess: “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” But Jesus will not rebuke the enthusiasm--merely reassure--you are already clean. Jesus will give the strength and the serenity for service and He will be helping those whom we think we help.

All this so that one day we might say with our brother and teacher Paul:

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 2 Cor 4:5.

May it be so for all who follow Jesus.

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Prayer and Suffrage Request

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Prayers please for Katherine's family and for the soul of her recently departed mother and for healing for all. Thank you.

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No Other Name

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from Death on a Friday Afternoon
Richard John Neuhaus

If, in the mercy and mystery of God, people can be saved who have never even heard of Christ, they are still saved only because of Christ, "for there is salvation in no one else."

Many Christians are embarrassed by this claim. They are intimidated by a culture that decrees that all truths are equal. Who are you to claim that you have the truth and others do not? That is indeed an intimidating question, unless we understand that we do not have the truth in the sense of its being a possession under our control. The Christian claim is that we have been encountered by the truth revealed by God in Jesus Christ and by his grace we have responded to that encounter by faith. We hope and pray and work for everyone to be so encountered and to so respond.

Christians are often responsible for the common misunderstanding of what is meant when we say, "there is salvation in no one else." We are heard to be saying, "My truth is better than your truth; my religion is better than your religion (Or nonreligion)." But Christ is not my truth or your truth, he is the truth. He is not one truth among many. He is the truth about everything that is true. He is the universal and cosmic truth. Everything that is true--in religion, philosophy, mathematics, or the art of baseball --is true by virtue of participation in the truth who is Christ. The problem is not that non-Christians do not know truth; the problem is that they do not know that the truth they know is the truth of Christ.

To speak of Jesus is to speak Truth, and the one Truth that really matters. We are called to evangelism not as some arcane religious competition to see who can create the largest number of converts; we are called to evangelism to spread the truth. And one important point about the truth is that it cannot be spread at gunpoint or knifepoint, or through threat of a bomb or of annihilation. Orwell's 1984 introduced the reader to the minitruth--a ministry dedicated only to the truth of the day, to the eradication of the contradictory past and the promotion of the present truth. The truth of the totalitarian is not truth at all, but will made into a species of "fact" without basis.

Jesus is not totalitarian, nor is Christianity. A Christian, by virtue of his or her baptism, is required to share the truth--in words, but usually more profitably in the way one leads one's life. But first each Christian must know the truth and understand it to the extent that a person is capable of doing. In knowing and understanding the truth, there is no temptation to grandstand or to get into the "my truth is better than your truth" competition. For truly, to know this Truth, the chief faculty required is not the intellect, but the heart. One cannot know Christ Jesus in the head alone. Unless Jesus is the center and core of life, He is nothing at all to the person who claims to follow Him. If Jesus is not constantly in the heart, He has no home at all, because Jesus is not an idea. Jesus is incarnate love, and such love only has a home in the faculties capable of love--we refer to these as the "heart." If Jesus has not been allowed to enter and transform the human heart into His temple and throne room, then He is a transitory visitor. He will continue to visit, of course, because He is all mercy and kindness. But the person for whom Jesus is not the center is not a person who can witness for Christianity in any believable way. The central truth of Christianity has not taken hold. There is no effective evangelism apart from love. And once love has taken hold, there is no effective eradication. This we can derive from the history of Christianity in Japan, which, although now a small percentage of the population, survived the most ruthless and barbaric oppressions to still emerge, sometimes in strange native shapes, but nevertheless, the light of Jesus is still there.

Where Jesus has been made at home, the person is ready to witness to the truth. And this person is more likely to witness in their service to the poor and dying, to those oppressed or overcome by temporary hardship, by those in need of a friend or a visit. The heart of Christianity is Christ in the heart. Anything less is the shell of Christianity--Christianity as nice idea once it is implemented, Christianity as construct or institution, Christianity as historic edifice. One must first hear of Jesus and learn about Him, but at some point, one must make a conscious and deliberate decision to allow Jesus to take His rightful place at the center of our being.

A person can choose to keep Him out. And in His mercy, He will honor that decision. And a person can choose to allow Him a sort of shadow existence, so long as He promises not to get in the way too often. But this latter never remains for long. Either the person gives way completely, or he or she pushes Jesus out the door. There is no middle way. God's love is all or nothing at all. Half a love never appeals to Him. Someone either accepts God and thus His love entirely, or rejects it entirely.

It often seems too many Catholics, perhaps too many Christians of all stripes, try to walk a balance line--it seems that they want to retain autonomy all-the-while wanting to have God as well. It is as though we wish to be in a driver training car, where we hand over the wheel, but at any point can take back control. Tepid faith, angry apologetics, internecine divisions over every point of rubric or doctrinal interpretation--these are the signs that God has not been given a welcome in too many hearts. For if God were at the center, all other things would fall into place, just as promised, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."

Catholics are not wont to speaking of "giving your lives to Jesus," or , "Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior." The language is alien and seems to embody some sort of alien concept of salvation and of religious life. But the truth is that we can attend all of the sacraments and spend hours in Church, but "if you have not love, you are as a clanging cymbal." There is much noise about the religious life, but no substance. The substance of religious life is complete surrender to Jesus Christ. Say this with whatever words are necessary to convince, but there is no deep faith without love. If one fails to look always at the face of the One who loves, one cannot maintain the fervor of faith--one is like the seed on shallow hardened ground which sprouts and then dies in the light and heat of the troubles of the day.

This week more than any other, a Christian has a chance to walk the path of love and see where it leads. It is frightening and it is heartening--because through the many trials, pains, and terrors of the way, the end result is always life, light, and love. When one looks upon the face of Love in trial, and sees how it is set like flint in doing what is right and not what is easy, one can be transformed. Holy Week is an invitation to transformation as the Church journeys once again through the last days of Jesus. His love is shown in the washing of the feet, in the trials before Pilate and Herod, and in his suffering to the last moment and His shedding to the last drop His blood. It is in that blood that there is forgiveness of sins and the spark that will give life to half-a-faith.

"Lord, I believe, help thou, Lord, my unbelief."

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"Leaving God for God"

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Quoting Blessed Titus Brandsma

from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal



So the contemplative prayer of the Carmelite is also the strength of the active apostolate. The influence of the contemplative soul is not withheld from the apostolate. . . . So there is no opposition of the contemplative life to the active. The former is the great support of the latter. The mystical life is in the highest sense apostolic.

Titus believed in the seamlessness of the Christian life--prayer and work were parts of the whole. Whenever he was called from silence and solitude to help someone he would say that he was leaving God for God.

In the Lay Carmelite life, prayer should find its expression in service in the world. We go to prayer to meet God and in meeting God we are given our work to do. It is a fine balance--making time for prayer and for the service that springs from it, while actively serving our families and our Churches.

But the apostolate of the Lay Carmelite is not merely contemplative prayer, but showing how contemplative prayer "works-in" with an active life. We are blessed and nourished by our prayer and our example, when lived according to the Rule and in accordance with the disciplines of the whole Catholic Church, allows others to see the integration of the contemplative and active that may occur in every person. One of the primary messages of Carmel is that contemplative prayer is for everyone. The way of Carmel is a special call, a vocation; however, contemplative prayer is available to all outside of Carmel. A person who is part of no lay order is invited every bit as much as one who has joined. God wants intimacy with all of His children. Lay Carmelites demonstrate that it is possible to live an active life of service fueled by contemplation--Martha tempered by and informed by Mary. Perhaps it is not the highest or best calling--that is reserved for those whose entire vocation is contemplation. But we don't really want all the best gifts, but rather the gifts most suitable for us as God sees us.

Thus Blessed Titus shows us that leaving our prayer to help a friend, or leaving our prayer to feed the poor is leaving God for God. In this life of apostolic contemplation and service we can never really leave God.

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Do you ever find yourself writing out a comment on site and suddenly realize that you aren't really saying anything that needed said--that, in fact, you are detracting more than adding to the point?

I just found myself over at another site doing this. I had an elaborate and complicated post full of subtlety, ingenuity, profound reflection, perspectives that St. Blogs couldn't even conceive of, and wit, sparkle, and charm. Most of all the post was full of ME, me, me, me. I was writing to hear myself talk again and so that all the world could admire the sheer brilliance and panache that has come to be known as the Riddle Comment.

Enough was too much. After saying all that I had to say in excruciating detail, I deleted the post. And that was so liberating. I had defined in my head the parameters of meaning, I had conversed with the author of the post in a way that was more edifying for him that it would have been otherwise, and I was done. I'd said all that I needed to and I had thought through my objections and cross queries.

Would that God would grant me the wisdom to do so more often. There's no harm in writing all the comments in the world that never get posted, and so much potential harm in a single comment that goes awry. Too often I am excited or incited by the ideas I see purveyed that I stumble in and make idiotic remarks that add nothing to anyone's understanding or enjoyment. Better that I confine my remarks to things edifying. Or perhaps even better yet maintain in other venues an edifying silence.

Alas! that is not in my personality, so the best I can hope for is to at least offend no one. Because if anyone has an idea, I'm there to talk about it. And I like comments and talking about ideas. So, I suppose I will slip up occasionally--a salutary lesson in how best to go about commenting. I won't stop because of a mistake, but perhaps the mistake will allow me to let go enough to let God take better control of the action. When that happens, perhaps I will be able to edify. But then, it won't be me doing the edifying, it will be the Holy Spirit within me. It is presumptuous and rude to think that of myself I can do anything worthwhile. Whatever is good comes from God, the rest I can claim for my own.

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A Call to Life

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from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

The writer Chris O'Donnell is influenced by the theology of von Balthasar when he says that Thérèse has something to teach the post-Vatican II Church. If we want a renewed and missionary Church we need to move away from mere organisational and structural change and live love. We will see then the wonderful reality of the Communion of Saints and learn to understand how much worth there is in an act of pure love--in living the "Little Way". In her discipleship Thérèse is in many ways a wonderful window into the faith of Mary, whose unconditional trust lived through Calvary and then experience the fullness of the Resurrection.

I don't know about the theology of von Balthasar, or even about Thérèse as a mirror of the Blessed Virgin; however, one thing struck me right between the eyes. The only way to change the Church for the better is to live love. No amount of governmental change, or tinkering with rubrics, or modifying this, that, or the other discipline, or arguing the merits of one view of atonement over another, or, in fact any critical or supportive action will mean so much as transforming ourselves first. And by transforming ourselves, I mean the utter surrender to God's will that allows us to learn how to live love. I don't know what this statement means of myself. I know it only through the action of the Holy Spirit in the transformation of my person. I do not now live love. I don't even know how to live love. But I do know that I won't find out from however many books I read or lessons I study. I haven't grown beyond learning more about God in these ways, but I will never find out the essential quality for a life pleasing to God, because this is learned only at the School of His Holy Word, in the presence of Christ the Lord. Unlike the disciples, I must learn to stay awake and heed His teachings. Only in complete attention to Him do I even learn the meaning of love. The phrase God is Love is utterly meaningless without living His life. I can make guesses at what the words mean, but it is only in my living them out that they come to the fullness of meaning. And that may only happen when I turn everything over to God. I learn love by being Love--that is the only sufficient school.

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The Mystery of Redemption

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Here is a passage that intrigued me.

And yet. God reconciling the world to himself is also God reconciling himself to the world. In working out the plan of redemption, the Bible does not say that man became God, but that God became man. Further, he reconciled himself to the world by "not counting their trespasses against them." He forgave us not by ignoring our trespasses but by assuming our trespasses. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." God became what by right he was not, so that we might become what by right we are not. This is what Christians through the ages have called "the happy exchange." This exchange, this reversal, is at the very epicenter of the story of our redemption. In the Great Vigil of Easter we sing of the felix culpa--the "happy fault"""O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!"

God becomes a person so that people may be divinized and assume their places in God. God reconciles us to Him by reconciling Himself with us. This is the great mystery of the incarnation, a deep mystery and one that could be a profitable source of meditation for an entire lifetime. I will never come to understand it completely. In fact, it is so far beyond my comprehension that I simply accept it. In every story one reads about God (with a few exceptions for the Hindu stories of God) the God or God's stand on their rights and demand that we ascend (or descend) to them. Our God descends to us and takes us up with Him in the ascension. We are the constant subject of the table talk of God the Father and Jesus at the eternal banquet. There is not a moment that passes when each one of us is not on His mind. We are emblazoned there and treasured there, mind and heart, heart and mind. God's every thought is for each of us, His tender will--our redemption and restoration to the rights of the throne room. We are carefully nurtured, constantly attended.

All of this from the God we chose to kill and whom I choose to kill each day again with my litany of sins. I speak words with my lips and drive in nails with my hands. I give Him a moment's attention and count myself the best of friends, pat myself on the back for all the work I've done to maintain the friendship. And yet mere guilt and shame, both of which I feel to some degree, are insufficient and counterindicated. Rather than either, He prefers my love, my ardent attention, my devoted heart. He cares more for what I do now than what I have already done. He covers my sins through the act of His Son, but which all sins have been covered. And all He asks of me is that I love Him; because it is not in battling temptations, nor in serving in the poor, nor is preaching the word, nor in a multitude of prayers that I make amends for what has gone before. Rather it is in the love from which all of these things and more spring. God asks only that I give Him love. So rather than guilt and shame, whose good purpose leads me to the confessional, He wants me to put my former life behind me and put on His life. He wants me to cooperate with His grace and put on the life of Jesus Christ my redeemer who comes to me this week as King and whom I kill s thief in my daily interactions.

May it not continue to be so. May I learn the depth of the love of God and so manifest it to all those around me. By loving Him may I love all of them. God rescues me so that I may lead others to be rescued--that is the chiefest sign of my love for Him, that I bring back to Him what He treasures about all treasures, what is more precious than precious, what is His and His alone--the people He died for. When I walk the via dolorosa I will know the weight of what He has done for me and feel that cross squarely on my shoulders to that I might feel what it is like to return to life, to come back from the graveyard of sin and emerge once more into the light.

A blessed Holy Week to you all.

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In the before times, thought of my sinfulness would make me despair, fret, and worry. Now, thought of my sinfulness makes me sorry, but it fills me with joyful hope. Jesus came for me and those like me. Over and over again, He emphasizes that He came to call sinners (meaning all of us) and not the righteous (meaning none of us). My sins are covered, forgiven, converted, transformed, and in their transformation I am renewed. Sometimes it is a painful process, particularly as I struggle against it; however, it is always a process filled with joy, knowing that the end of these struggles--the last stop on the line--is the glory of the Holy Trinity in the eternity of heaven. Sort of worth it for the pain of giving up what does not really delight anyway, hein?

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Complicity

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from Death on a Friday Afternoon
Richard John Neuhaus


It is difficult to face up to our complicity because the confession of sins does not come easy. It is also difficult because we do not want to compound our complicity by claiming sins that are not ours. We rightly recoil from those who seem to wallow in guilt. The story is told of the rabbi and cantor who on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, lament their sins at great length, each concluding that he is a nobody. Then the sexton, inspired by their example, laments his sins and declares that he, too, is a nobody. "Nuh," says the rabbi to the cantor. "Who is he to be a nobody?"

Who am I to be a nobody? Especially as God has created me to be a somebody in His image and likeness. And yet, so long as I continue in my sins, this sinner is, in fact, a nobody--in direct opposition to God's will I insist and demand that I be nothing at all to the Body of Christ. Sin does that to one--the terrible sense of freedom and of doing everything "My way." And then the terrible sense that my way is long, winding, crooked, unpaved, unshaded, and awfully lonely.

Until I leave off sin and seek to do the will of God, I am a nobody. Unless and until I can surrender to God and take my rightful place in the body of Christ, I am more an infection in the body of Christ, a rogue cell, a carcinogen, than I am a properly integrated member. And outside of the Body, there is nothing at all. If I am not part of Christ, I am part of nothing--literally, for nothing that was created was created apart from Him. Outside of Jesus, I declare my affinity with nothing at all. That is the price of the freedom I insist on in my sinfulness.

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Prayer Request

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Please pray for Katherine and her family as they go through this very trying trial. May the Lord bless them and keep them close to His heart. May He speak in the secret places and in the silences and may He be comforter, guardian, and friend in time of trial.

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My Holy Week Prayer

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May this Holy Week be for each of my visitors, and for each person, a solidification of the gains and a purging of the losses of this Lent. May it set each of us in good place to continue forward with a more ardent love of God and neighbor. May it bless us by setting us on the straight path that leads on into life. And may it grace us by the fuller knowledge of at what cost our freedom comes.

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Holy Week Reading

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As usual, I have several books going at once; however, they are unusual in the focus:

(1) (And pride of place this week) Death on a Friday Afternoon Richard John Neuhaus

(2) At the Fountian of Elijah Wilfrid McGreal

(3) Dove Descending Thomas Howard with Four Quartets T.S. Eliot

(4) Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross

Next week, as soon as one of these is finished, I will jump into The Collar which just arrived. I've been looking forward to it for a while.

Linda picked up an interesting book this weekend His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik which is a fantasy/alternative reality story set in the era of the Napoleonic wars. The inspiration for the series is said to come from the novelist's favorite reading: Patrick O'Brien.

I also picked up a novel of interest, set in 12th century Wales--The Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland. As soon as I can get to it, I shall report on it.

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A Thirst for Souls

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Reading this in evening prayer tonight inspired in me another line of thought:

But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. KJV

(Of course I didn't read it in that magnificent language.)

It is said that as one grows in sanctity and in the paths of God that the desire for the salvation of souls increases to the point where it is almost a mania. If one looks at any of the great Saints, we see motivating their works love for God and hence love for His people. This love demonstrates itself most practically in how one views other people as regards the eternal things. That is, one may not like one's neighbor, but one loves one's neighbor enough to sacrifice greatly to see to it that the neighbor arrives in heaven.

A sure sign of increasing intimacy with God is increading concern for the flock He shepherds and an increading desire to help those already on the path live more perfectly. This is just one of the signs of growth, but it is an important one, because it marks the beginning of the turning away from self and concern about oneself and marks the beginning of selflessness without which there can be no intimacy with God either now or in the world to come.

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A Nobel Prize Winner

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The Bridal March; One Day

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1903, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, as with many such prize winners is almost unheard of today.

Here's another titled A Happy Boy.

A link to some poetry

Here's a place to get a biography

Absalom's Hair and A Painful Memory from Childhood

A Project Gutenberg Download Site

And finally, One site to rule them all, one site to find them, one site to bring them all together and in the darkness bind them.

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Theodore Roethke--In a Dark Time

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I've been thinking about this poem for much of the afternoon. A friend and I were talking about Paul's "thorn in the flesh" and for some reason, this came to mind. I've probably posed it before, but here it is again.

In a Dark Time
Theodore Roethke

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

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from The Free Press
Hilaire Belloc

The Free Press I PROPOSE to discuss in what follows the evil of the great modern Capitalist Press, its function in vitiating and misinforming opinion and in putting power into ignoble hands; its correction by the formation of small independent organs, and the probably increasing effect of these last.

This argument to his essay might suggest that Belloc would be in favor of blogdom. Perhaps.

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More E-books

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Among Famous Books by John Kelman.

The TOC looks interesting:


PREFACE.
LECTURE I. THE GODS OF GREECE
LECTURE II. MARIUS THE EPICUREAN
LECTURE III. THE TWO FAUSTS
LECTURE IV. CELTIC REVIVALS OF PAGANISM
LECTURE V. JOHN BUNYAN
LECTURE VI. PEPYS' DIARY
LECTURE VII. SARTOR RESARTUS
LECTURE VIII. PAGAN REACTIONS
LECTURE IX. MR. G.K. CHESTERTON'S POINT OF VIEW
LECTURE X. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN

from "Lecture IX" of above

No one will accuse Mr. Chesterton of being an unhealthy writer. On the contrary, he is among the most wholesome writers now alive. He is irresistibly exhilarating, and he inspires his readers with a constant inclination to rise up and shout. Perhaps his danger lies in that very fact, and in the exhaustion of the nerves which such sustained exhilaration is apt to produce. But besides this, he, like so many of our contemporaries, has written such a bewildering quantity of literature on such an amazing variety of subjects, that it is no wonder if sometimes the reader follows panting, through the giddy mazes of the dance. He is the sworn enemy of specialisation, as he explains in his remarkable essay on “The Twelve Men.”

Genesis A novelette by H. Beam Piper

Poets and Dreamers tr. Lady Augusta Gregory et al. By the title you can tell that this will be a translation of irish texts.


RAFTERY
WEST IRISH BALLADS.
JACOBITE BALLADS.
AN CRAOIBHIN'S POEMS
BOER BALLADS IN IRELAND
A SORROWFUL LAMENT FOR IRELAND
MOUNTAIN THEOLOGY
HERB-HEALING
THE WANDERING TRIBE
WORKHOUSE DREAMS
ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
AN CRAOIBHIN'S PLAYS
THE TWISTING OF THE ROPE
THE MARRIAGE
THE LOST SAINT
THE NATIVITY

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For E-book and Belloc Fans

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Project Gutenberg Edition of The Free Press--by Hilaire Belloc

The Works of Lucian of Samosata (tr.) Fowler and Fowler

The Syrian Goddess of Lucian of Samosata, not included in the Works indicated above.

The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology Martin P. Nilsson

Laotzu's Tao and Wu Wei (tr.) Dwight Goddard

The Vishnu Purana tr. Horace Hayman Wilson.

These cover a range of my eccentric interests. I can't vouch for all of the translations, but if you are interested and unfamiliar with the works, these may just give you enough information to decide for yourselves where you would like to start reading.

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And perhaps it is time to take stock of how our lives have changed and what miracles God has wrought in the course of our trek.

For one thing, I am not saddened by the sense of failure that often comes to me toward the end of Lent, where I wonder where the initial enthusiasm went, and where all my determination to grow closer to the Lord. The Lord has blessed me with a quiet and profound growth that I feel can survive the end of Lent. My penitence has not been harsh and so it has proven durable. I have found a way of life that will move me a step closer to the way of life I ultimately wish to have. The Holy Spirit has blessed me greatly this season and I hope I can begin to share those blessings with all of you as time goes on and blessings become time-worn habits that tamp down the road that ascends Mt. Carmel.

I would suggest that you spend a little time yourselves and see what fruit you can gather from this season and carry on into your lives. Each lenten season should lead us a little closer to the Lord. And as with approaching a whirlpool, the currents that lead to Him grow stronger as we near, there will come a Lent in which you are caught up in the torrent of His love and drawn inexorably to Him for the joy and the benefit of all of humankind. For there is no closeness to the Lord that does not manifest itself as a closeness and a bond with the people around us. There is no love of the Lord that does not shine out as love and service to all of humanity.

God has been good to me and continues His goodness in the small trials and the small revelations of each day. I only pray that I can continue to see Him clearly and move toward Him through grace. May God bless each one of us with an intimacy with Him and the pure joy that flows from it and sustains us in all of our ways.

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The Little Way

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from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

Thérèse stands at the centre of the Carmelite tradition with her belief that we can all achieve closeness to God through our prayer and our following of Jesus Christ as we live the Gospel. . . . For Thérèse, holiness, closeness to God, in not achieved by spectacular ascetic practices. We come to God by infusing love into every aspect of life. The 'Little Way' is one of childlike trust in God, but it is not infantile and naive, or a searching for the lost innocence of some idealised childhood. . . . She wanted a quiet hidden relationship, to live out in secret her love for God.

The Little Way is simple but it is not easy. Thérèse has clearly shown us that the way to God is not paved with the spectacular--neither in actions, nor in deeds, nor particularly in high-flown thought. It is remarkable that Thérèse is a doctor of the church in that she had a very ordinary intellect--she was not a genius in our understanding of the word. But she was a Spiritual Genius. She saw into the heart of the teaching of St. John of the Cross and pulled out of it the Little Way. That is an act of imagination and genius that is hard to qualify.

In addition Thérèse was tempted many times to despair and even to suicide as her life came to an end. She was ordinary in every sense of the term, and extraordinary of spirit. She was a living embodiment of John's passive dark night of the spirit and through her love of Jesus Christ came to an end of love that would resound through the Church and through the ages.

One wonders what future writers will make of this little Saint, how the patina of years will change her story and make of her something akin to what the great Medieval Saints are to us. Will she be shrouded in legend, or have we grown too rational, too sophisticated, too hardened to begin to accrete legend to her story. I hope not. I hope that over the years studying and rethinking her doctrine and her life will lead many to understand it in a new way and that way will become legend. Just as Filipe Ribot thought about and meditated upon the life of Elijah as he wrote De institutione and formulated a legend, a story of origins that pierces to the heart of the Carmelite charism and which inspired countless Carmellites after him to come to the way and to return to the way described as that of the first monks.

We cannot know what the future will hold for her story, but it is possible now to follow her little way, scarcely a century old, and yet shown durable, powerful, and meaningful to ordinary people in ordinary lives.

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from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

She [St. Teresa of Avila] is aware from her own conversion experience of the need to grow from a solid human basis. Prayer comes from a life of practical love, from detachment and humility. We cannot talk to God if we do not speak lovingly to our neighbour and we need realism, and a grounding of our lives.

What may surprised many, coming from a cloistered nun, is the revelation that prayer comes from a life of practical love. Sometimes we have an unrealistic vision of the cloistered life as one of ethereal and fantastical encounters with God while floating through a day of prayer. And while the life of the cloister is completely imbued with and dedicated to prayer, it has some hard realities. And in St. Teresa of Avila's time, those realities were probably a good deal harder.

What is practical love? What forms does it take? What do our lives look like grounded in practical love? It would depend upon one's state in life, one's means, one's personality and inclination. But regardless of these three it will always show in a willingness to share what God has given us with those less fortunate, less knowledgeable, or less aware of God and His Mercies. A life of practical love will always be a life of sacrifice. We will give ourselves up and surrender to the ones we love much of our energy, time, talent, and the goods of the world that have been bestowed upon us. As parents in means serving our children and bringing them up in a way that will foster their service to God, neighbor, and country. It often means long hours of what seems thankless work and doing things we don't particularly care for in correcting and instilling discipline in our children. Yes, there are great rewards and joys in this service, and that is the consolation of many acts of practical love. But practical love is based on these consolations, but on the purest love of God that makes a person constantly hunger and thirst for ways to show that he or she loves God. Practical love stems from the desire to make manifest to God, to ourselves, and to the world the overflowing love with which God fills us as His own unmerited gift of grace.

Practical love is substantially grounded and completely devoted to "other." And practical love is, well, practical and commonsense. You don't hand a starving many a worn coat. You don't give to the naked a can of baked beans. This should go without saying, but often, we are trapped in our own sense of what needs might be and we don't see far beyond our own borders.

Practical love is simply the natural outpouring of the love God pours into us as we come to know Him better. It overflows, it cannot be contained, and so it spills out in the light of the world in small acts and in large, but all of them flow from a deep and abiding love God has for us. We become Him as we pour out His love on all the Earth, seeking to return some little for the vast fortune He has bestowed upon us.

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Little Surprises Everywhere

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Reading Eliot's Four Quartets: East Coker prior to reading Howard's study of the East Coker section of the poem. I stumble onto this very interesting, very surprising passage.

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

The entire poem is a meditation on time (among other things). Here is an interesting moment of becoming "unstuck in time." When I first encountered "In daunsinge" I was ready to run for the dictionary again (Eliot can do that to one.) And then I read"signifying matrimonie," and I started to be clued in. With "A dignified and commodiois sacrament" I knew that I had been transported back into time, most likely to the glorious 17th century, the century of Eliot's beloved metaphysical poets.

Eliot can do that to one, can turn one around and deliver new shocks and surprises in the language. It's both the pleasure and the panic of reading Eliot. Is this a new word, is this made up, or does this have some other meaning? The answer might be all three at once. And yet the poetry is tight and strong and far more interesting that those who followed in imitation, because Eliot still had something to say. Most of his imitators do not.

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Medieval Contemplation

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Carmelite Style:

from The Ten Books on the Way of Life and the Great Deeds of the Carmelites--Book 1 Chapter 2

The other goal of this life is granted to us as the great gift of god, namely, to taste somewhat in the heart and to experience in the mind the power of the divine presence and the sweetness of heavenly glory, not only after death but already in this mortal life. This is to "drink of the torrent" of the pleasure of God. God promised this to Elijah in the words: "And there you shall drink of the torrent."

From Earliest times, Carmelites saw themselves as disciples and brothers of Elijah. Elijah still is our example and our model. It is to Elijah and to the Blessed Mother we turn for examples of how to live a life in God.

The passage quoted above is practically the only excerpt in English that you can find of this famous work. But it is such a beautiful passage and so perfectly stated that it is worth lingering over and thinking about.

"To taste somewhat in the heart. . . the power of the divine presence" all while we still live. That is the goal of a Carmelite life--for a Lay Carmelite a proposition that can be difficult because of the ordering of life that must occur to allow one to spend the time in contemplation. And yet, it is promised to those who give God the time and the space and the willingness to change. And as I want to be only what He would have me be, I want to change as He would have me change.

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Because of an eclipse and distrust of mysticism that accompanied the reaction to Quietism and Jansenism, the works of John of St. Samson are not so widely available as they ought to be. Brother Lawrence fared better despite a "guilt by association" with François Fénèlon because his works were embraced in English Translation and taught by John Wesley.

from At the Fountain of Elijah
Wilfrid McGreal

Quoting from L'Aiguillon, les flammes, les flèches et le miroir de l'amour de Dieu
John of St. Samson

He uses the image of God's love as being like a wave that laps around life:

Make use of this very simple aspiration: 'you and I, my love, you and I, you and I, and never another nor more!' To which you could add come burning words like: 'since you are entirely good and all goodness itself; since you are entirely glorious and all glory itself; since you are entirely holy and all holiness itself!"

The beauty of these lines suggest that I must do my best to find more. Here is another Carmelite great too long left out of my life and my consciousness. "You and I, my love, you and I."

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One Thing I Ask

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Some psalms are so transcendentally beautiful that there is nothing more to be said:

from Psalm 27

There is one thing I ask of the Lord,
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
all the days of my life,
to savor the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold his temple.

(in the tumid translation of the present Liturgy of the Hours)

One thing have I desired of the LORD,
that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to enquire in his temple.
(KJV)

4 One thing have I desired of the LORD,
which I will require;
* even that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the fair beauty of the LORD,
and to visit his temple.
(BCP)

One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life.
That I may see the delight of the Lord,
and may visit his temple.
(DRC)

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.
(RSV)

One thing I ask of the Lord.
this one only favor is the desire of my heart
that all the days of my life
I will live in the house of the Lord, my God,
that I will ever behold His beauty
and linger in the spaces of His temple.

One thing. One thing.
The only One thing--
the one thing that matters.
God and God alone,
my heart, my life,
my hope, in the time
before me and in the time
that is out of time.
Ever to be His,
to attend upon Him in His every desire,
to be the servant of His servants
and to praise Him with glad cries.

Oh my savior God
that you might take me for yourself
and honor me by your Lordship
and accept the nothing I can bring.

One thing I ask,
to be yours forever.

Let me set you as a seal
upon my heart, as a seal
upon my arm,
let my heart know no
other but you.
My Lord and my God.

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Both Tom directly (see link below), and Ryan (indirectly) make a very important point.

While I try to think with the Church at all times, there will be times that I fail. Most often I fail from ignorance, not malice; although I will not preclude the possibility of the latter.

One is wise to question everything and its authority, particularly if it is the opinion of one person before accepting it as a reasonable premise and then to test the reasoning. Mine is, honestly, not top notch. I am a contemplative first, a thinker second. As a result, some of my thought lines can be muddled.

So I guess the caution here as well as elsewhere around the Blog circuit, or even in the world at large is Caveat lector. Whatever you read, ask questions, check it out, think it through.

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Demographics of Religion

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Mapping religion in America (regionsofmind.blog-city.com)

Just an interesting array of demographics of Religion. Courtesy of Father Jim.

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Note to Self

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Remember this, when on occasion in the future you feel the impulse to write about matters controversial.

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Two Wolves

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This is one of those things that may be making the e-mail rounds, but it really spoke to me and I wanted to preserve it so I could find it again. Thanks little sister!

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a war that
goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.

"One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false
pride, superiority, and ego.

"The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee replied, "The one you feed."

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It's a curious fact that as much as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity comes lauded to me, I find her the most astringent of the Carmelite saints. After the (perhaps) over-sweetness of St. Thérèse, the Practicality of St. Teresa, the mystic vision of St. John of the Cross, and the hard-headed, soft-hearted intellectualism of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, I find reading Blessed Elizabeth like sucking a lemon or eating an unripe persimmon. There is, for me a certain dryness.

What this suggests to me is that I must spend a great deal more time with her. It is through the intercession of those Saints to whom I have had a first a slight or moderate aversion that I have received the greatest graces and blessings. (It is as though God is teaching me that I must not be particular in my friendships--that the Saints are friends to all and all Saints are our friends in faith.) I did not care much for St. Thérèse; her prayers have blessed me time and time again. I think then that my approach/avoidance of Blessed Elizabeth must come to an end and I must find a way into her works. Perhaps by getting to know her better and more personally through her letters and then tackling the more "impersonal" writings.

Nevertheless, I walk the way of the cross this last week of Lent (I'm not counting Holy Week, although I suppose up until Holy Thursday, it is part of Lent) with Blessed Elizabeth.

Let us live by love so we may die of love and glorify the God who is all love (from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints)

and

Don't forget that love, to be true, must be sacrificed: "He loved me, He gave Himself for me" [Gal 2:20], there is the culmination of love.

A life of love is a life of sacrifice. We know that down in the core of our being. Any parent who has loved a child, knows that the path is one of endless small sacrifices. Any person who has shared a living space with another (I'm thinking here of roommates) knows that the way of Christian love is one of endless compromise and dying to self.

There's nothing new and startling in these words, and yet it is so important to hear them again and again, to be constantly reminded of the reality that lies behind the words. We do well to remember that love is sacrifice, Jesus is our example. And we do well to remember that we are to die of love. As St. Thérèse reminded us earlier this Lenten Season, "to die of love is not to die in transports [of ecstasy]." It is, in fact, to be a "white martyr." To have given all that you have been given and all that you are for the good of another is a kind of martyrdom and a true expression of Jesus' deep concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast.

If it is to be so, it may only be so through God's grace and God's will.

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To Jeff

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If you visit again, my sincere apologies to you. I'm sorry the conversation started so poorly and that I gave offense by my responses. No excuses, no equivocation, simply an apology and a request for your pardon, forgiveness, and prayers. And a sincere thanks for engaging in conversation as long as you did. You have taught me much in our brief exchange. You have been God's instrument and blessing to me today.

Patience 0
Steven's Usual 1

So now you've had an ample demonstration of why I needed to pray for it. I suppose I need to add in increase in charity and in its expression in kindness are also necessary additions. Thank you for showing me something that I would otherwise have been hard pressed to learn.

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Appetency

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Thomas Howard assures you that outside of Four Quartets you will never ever see this word used. So in order to foster awareness and interest, I am going to use the word four times.

Appetency

Appetency

Appetency

Appetency

Now that it is emblazoned on your memory, go, use, and enjoy! :-P

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A Story of Transformation

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It is useful to look back over one's life to see where one has been. Often one learns new and interesting things by that exercise. Frequently, one is brought to knowledge by a sudden action of God. I'd like to share an instance.

Last week, in conversation over lunch, I suggested to a friend that she might want to focus a bit on the Blessed Virgin and her role at Cana and at the foot of the cross. This friend pulled out her trump card, "I don't see the Blessed Virgin as you do."

"What do you mean?"

"I believe that Mary had other children, that Jesus had real brothers and sisters."

"Well then, you would be wrong, wouldn't you."

My friend didn't notice this comment, but almost upon it coming out of my mouth I was utterly astounded. I was raised protestant--indeed fundamentalist. When I came into the Church the Blessed Virgin was more roadblock than pathway. I wouldn't say a rosary and thought those who did were little short of idolaters.

God has nudged me bit by bit through my interactions with Catholics, through my reading, and through my prayer to come to a more Catholic understanding of the Blessed Virgin. Most influential were toss-off remarks, or fragments of homilies (Priests who read this pay attention) that would get down inside and roll around and around until the logic of them became evident. I recall a Priest at the Byzantine Church TSO often mentions saying something of the feast of the Conception of St. Ann (aka The Feast of the Immaculate Conception) about how the Blessed Virgin was made the vessel for God and in the knowledge of what she had carried could carry no other children because of the infinite merit of the first. I don't remember the exact phrasing, but I remember being impressed by the statement and the argument.

I guess over the years all these accretions have trickled down to the point where I find myself reflexively defending what I would have attacked not so long ago.

God moves us by degrees if we are willing. I remember praying in the matter of the Blessed Virgin, as I was considering becoming a Carmelite, "Lord, I'm not there yet but you lead me to the truth that you would have me know about Our Lady." God will not leave such a prayer unanswered. Even now I pray, "Lord, let me know and understand the teachings and the meanings of your Church, lead me to the understanding you have for me." Because every day requires conversion. Every day requires a change of heart and a change of mind. Every day requires renewing my love for God, and He gives me so many ample demonstrations of it that it becomes impossible to resist.

As He did in the matter of the Blessed Virgin, let is so continue until I am squarely in the center of the truth. May His wisdom so inform me that I cease to rely upon my own and lean only upon His. May His understanding be my own. Step by step and patiently, but may I arrive there in His time according to His will.

God is so good!

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What the Church Says

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Last night there was a comment to the effect that Universalism is heresy, undefined, but heretical nevertheless. For those for whom the Catechism of the Catholic Church is meaningful, we can settle the issue of Universalism definitively.

1821--We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved."

Now, it is clear that if the Church prays for an end that end must not be impossible in itself--it may be improbable or unlikely, but to pray for that which is impossible is to lie to yourself and to God. We don't pray that night be made day or that black be made white--there's no point to it. Here we learn that the Church prays for "all men to be saved." It is clear, she believes this to be a possibility.

Now, that said, while the Church prays for this, I do not think that any individual is bound to think precisely in the same way. That is, the Church prays in HOPE, not in knowledge. She does not say that this is the way things are, only that this is a way things MAY be. Hence, if one is disinclined to the concept of universalism, if one holds reservations against it, I don't think that there is any harm there, so long as the prayers follow the HOPE of the Church.

I want to keep emphasizing, the Church has NOT said that all will be saved. In fact, I do not say this. I say only that I hope that all will be saved. I have no assurance, and indeed, I have many of the doubts expressed by others. It's just that I do have a vibrant and lively hope because of the God I have come to know and love.

The Church has not stated that universalism is a fact. She has anathematized certain forms of universalism in the past (a nod to Mr. Sullivan to acknowledge that the authority of that is questioned by some.) BUT she has not bound us all to believe that this is the end which all will come to. Instead, she binds us to the hope that it may be so--however improbable, however unlikely, we have the hope. And when we consider our God, the God of the improbable and unlikely, is it beyond Him who parted the sea and made dry land to walk on, or Him who with the consent of a Virgin brought forth the savior of the world, is it beyond this God to effect this possibility? I would say that it is not. Is it probable? Here I will simply demur and keep in my heart the hope I have--there's no point in trying your patience further.

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Praying for Virtues

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You know, I ignored Zippy's advice again. (I do things like that.) I prayed hard for the virtue of patience and forbearance. I did so because I decided that I really needed to work on the virtues. You probably know that when you pray for a virtue God doesn't just hand it to you. Oh no indeed, a virtue, like a muscle, needs a vigorous workout. And the Good Lord has answered my prayers in every aspect of my life, which I believe confirms the need for work on these virtues, as well as on many others. There will be some I do not pray for simply because I am still too weak to make good use of the opportunities God will grant me to grow.

Zippy cautioned against praying anything other than the "Our Father" on a regular basis because God would simply throw everything He could at you. And yet, isn't that what is needed. If He throws, isn't He also there to catch it all and to help in the establishment and cultivation of the virtue? Aren't these things He wants us to have?

Anyway, I did choose these for this week in Lent, and maybe for many weeks to come. And I pray that my prayer continues to come at night and not during the "exercises" He sets me. Let His grace shine through and let me get out of the way. That's really all I have to do--get out of His way and let His grace live and breathe within me.

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Ahem! The Teacher Speaks

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I have noted that while there is great concern with matters of universalism and other such esoteric issues, the masses are curiously silent on the Subject of T.S. Eliot. I get the impression some of you may not have done your homework or may not have been listening closely!

Seriously, though, if you wish to read a very important piece of modern poetry and have a well-versed person to assist you in analysis of it, you need to look up Thomas Howard's book. It will give you an opportunity to drop T.S. Eliot's name in your favorite poetry slam, cocktail party, or office luncheon gathering!

In the silence that ensues drop a sewing pin and test the cliché.

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The Garment of Immortality

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from Office of Readings--Monday of Week 6 of Lent
St. John Fisher

Christ first offered sacrifice here on earth, when he underwent his most bitter death. Then, clothed in the new garment of immortality, with his own blood he entered into the holy of holies, that is, into heaven. There he also displayed before the throne of the heavenly Father that blood of immeasurable price which he had poured out seven times on behalf of all men subject to him.

This sacrifice is so pleasing and acceptable to God that as soon as he has seen it he must immediately have pity on us and extend clemency to all who are truly repentant.

We approach the end of Lent, still having time to move in directions that will carry us away from Lent on an entirely new course, a course that brings us ever closer to God in a deteriorating orbit, as our own stubbornness gives out, as the Gravity of His love overcomes the inertia of our selfishness, we fall into Him as into the gravity well of a planet or star, as the prodigal falls into the arms of the Father who welcomes him back. We can begin to wear the garment of immortality, tasting of it as we taste of God and of His holiness.

Lent passes away, not so our chances to increase our intimacy with God, not so our opportunities to prayerfully serve those around us. They increase daily as we become aware of them. God calls us to Him as we live today. We resist, but let the resistance subside, take a little step, and a little step, and a little step. One step at a time God conquers us when we allow it. One step at a time, He proclaims His triumph and glory. One step at a time, we become the Love that saved us.

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I will be the first to admit that the doctrine has a number of pitfalls for the person who holds it. There are the dual dangers of complacency and presumption. That is, if we trust our intuitions that all are led eventually to God's will, it might cause some to think that they are not instrumental in this leading. Some might abandon their efforts or reduce their efforts or make no efforts whatsoever. We are God's present and physical instruments in this world. If people are lost we are, in part, responsible. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. We are charged with making present the awesome love of God. If people do not experience love from us, how can they come to know how God loves them? (Another of many reverse implications of the first letter of John--"If you do not love what you can see, how can you claim to love what you do not see." If people cannot see love in this world, how can they begin to know the love of the world beyond (except of course by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit).

The second pitfall or error that might result from relying too heavily on this belief is presumption. If God saves nearly everyone anyway, then it mustn't be all that difficult, and I'll wait until the last possible moment and then say yes. Or, more commonly, I can pretty much do anything I want because I've got God on the scopes, so I'm okay.

To say that most or all eventually arrive at God is not to say that the road is either easy or guaranteed. If it is only most, some do not make it. If it is all, who knows how long the sojourn in purgatory for those who took up the offer too late.

No matter what we believe about the ultimate disposition of souls, it is requisite upon us to act as thought the opposite were true. Even if all might be eventually saved, isn't better to work as though they would not? Isn't it also better to cut that "eventually" to a "here and now?" Wouldn't we all be better off if more people recognized right not the necessity for following God's will? Wouldn't each person benefit from all the others who have achieved union with God in this life? Would the world be a worse place for being overrun by saints?

I do not base my actions in Christian life on the basis of what I may think about the possibilities of salvation. Prayers and works of mercy must continue unabated and we all must work out our individual path of salvation, and assist to the degree possible, all of those around us. In fact, most of the time, the question of "how many are saved?" isn't really even a question for me--it makes only the smallest of ripples in the larger ocean of life. It is an incidental, a codicil, a thing that is interesting to speculate, but which cannot be known until after we have died and start to experience God's reality. Our immediate duty is to our sisters and brothers here and now.

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This came in e-mail

On Wednesday of this week, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06. This won't ever happen again.

And of course, they are incorrect, but it will never again come around in my lifetime. So it is a once in a millenium "event." Perhaps I'll wait up for it. Most likely not.

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Request for Prayers

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One who has no blog of his own, so far as I know, has requested prayers for an upcoming series of examinations that is critical to his continued work in his chosen field. I'm sure that anything you all could add to your prayers for the next couple of weeks would be greatly appreciated.

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Smokefall

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Being a lunchtime fantasia borne of reading Thomas Howard/T.S, Eliot and listening to Josh Turner at the same time.

Thomas Howard provides a very nice commentary to Eliot's poem, but there are points at which I think things are glossed in such a way as to convey a less full sense of the language in the poem. The following is an excerpt from the first of the Four Quartets, "Burnt Norton."

from Four Quartets
T.S. Eliot

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

Hauntingly beautiful lines, that Howard does an excellent job of starting to unpack. (Of course he's writing a commentary to a point he's not going to unpack everything for us. Where I think there is a slight faulting is in Howard's analysis of "smokefall."

from Dove Descending
Thomas Howard

And what's this "smokefall"? There is no such word. No: but Eliot, the poet ("makers" is what Aristotle called poets), can make up the word, and none of us need be in any confusion as to what it means. High noon? No. Rosy dawn? No. The quivering heat of mid-afternoon? No. It is twilight, probably the most apt time for this sort of haunting vision.

I think this is partly true. But I think smokefall is also a reference to the timeless eternity of the blessing with incense. Perhaps at twilight, whose very atmosphere conveys the sense of smoke falling, but certainly as the altar is censed, and certainly as the people are censed, and as the Holy Relics are censed, there is smokefall with its blessing of the sense of smell, that momentary transport of eternity--a fragmentary blessing that blesses us even in the recollection of it.

I think smokefall suggests this moment in the draughty Church as much as it suggests twilight. Perhaps I read too much into it, but given the context of the rest of the poem, it fits nicely.

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In the previous entry on Universalism, I made what might be a tactical argument in approaching the argument from the negative side. What I hope to present here is the mirror image. The two are of a piece, but they say things in somewhat different ways and perhaps clarify the point of what I was trying to say.

The beginning of this post is in the three below. When we consider God's Sovereignty, God's emeth and hesed and the "power in the blood," things seem to come together in a pattern. To me the pattern suggests that God is reluctant to let anyone go. That is, rather than the great and unmoved judge (which He also is) He is the God who goes out seeking His people and inviting them back.

When I think about sovereignty and emeth and hesed, I think about a fundamental commitment to all of His people. When I concentrate on these aspects of God, I am left to wonder how many people have the strength to resist God's grace. Yes, it can be resisted, but God is the importunate widow for most of us--He accosts us right and left, day after day, every day, every hour, every minute, until we give in. It takes a great deal of resistance to be able to resist so long.

So what I have is not an argument, although on both sides of this issue one could compile scriptural references and quotes from the Fathers and any number of other "proofs" until the cows come home. Ultimately, we must go on what we know about God. If our vision of God is that of a Father, the father who welcomes the prodigal, we might be hard-pressed to envision how such a father would not go to all extremes to assure the safety and integrity of His children. That is not to say that all people will return the Father's love--I will never deny that it is possible. But when someone is wooing you every day of your life, every moment of every day, when someone is completely interested in every aspect of your life and existence, completely devoted to you and to your salvation, it is going to be difficult to escape Him.

Francis Thompson said it rather well.

from "The Hound of Heaven"
Francis Thompson

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat -- and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet --

"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

It's a negative way to think about it, but here is the divine stalker, the one who pursues and will not lose the object of His desire. However, this is not stalking as we know it, because the end of this is rapture in eternity. Does the Hound of Heaven capture every fleeing soul? Perhaps not, but given His strength, His knowledge, His power, and His endless self-giving love, it is my belief that it is a very rare and extraordinary soul who manages to escape this much attention.

Hence, we have not so much an argument as an intuition. It could be wrong. But the image it gives me of God is one that allows me to love God more because I see how much care and love He has lavished on me and on all the people around me, all of whom flee--some at a greater rate than others. The God I see in this is one who prizes each one of us so much that the loss of one is unthinkable. It puts me in mind of the Father who sacrificed everything in His Son to bring us back to Him.

Ultimately it puts me in mind of the fact that I am not grateful enough for so generous a God. My love fails, but His does not. And with enough time and with grace, His love becomes my own.

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Nothing But the Blood

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This is the kind of song I did not understand or appreciate enough a couple of years ago, and certainly not in the time when I was far more likely to have sung it than my sojourn in the Catholic Church. And yet, now we sing it in Church and I am compelled to allow it to run through my head and my heart:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Refrain

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

--Robert Lowry

How utterly and unearthly beautiful. I am made whole by His brokenness, I am cleansed by what is ultimately "unclean." (See the Hebrew ritual laws regarding contact with blood.) My cleanness is purchased by His unclean death, my wholeness at the cost of His brokenness. "Oh! precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow."

Praise God for His hesed. Other words fail me right now.

Later: Here's a link to the melody.

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Emeth and Hesed

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I am by no means a biblical scholar, nor a professional student of Hebrew, nor even one who knows very much about Hebrew. But these two words are so important to any understanding of God and most particularly any understanding of God's relationship with His people Israel. By extension, they are "qualities" or attributes of God, and of God in His simplicity who has no separate qualities or attributes that are not part of the wholeness of God.

Emeth is faithfulness. But very often it seems much stronger than what we might call faithfulness. Interestingly enough, in many of the stories of the Golem, it is with word "Emeth" which animates the man-of-clay and he is laid to rest by erasing the first letter (which I'm told is a aleph) so that what is left is the Hebrew word for death. Thus faithfulness and death are close and emeth might be considered faithfulness unto death. Unto our deaths, individually, and unto His own death on the Cross. This is the end of emeth, the faithfulness that is stamped on all the pages of history--the story of God's complete surrender to us, complete faithfulness to us. Emeth, is His promise to be with us always unto the end of time. Emeth is His promise to lift us up from our graves and restore us to our places at God's table.

Hesed is also variously translated. The mildest translation I have seen is "mercy." Mercy seems too light a meaning for such a loaded word. I have heard some say that hesed is "a wrenching of the bowels," a feeling so deep it tears up the guts, as it were. Hesed is sometimes translated as loving-kindness, which goes a long way toward making it sound namby-pamby; but hesed is the love that carves us on the palm of His hand, sets us as the apple of His eye, is announced in the "It is finished" from the cross and then rushes out through the world to causes cataclysmic earthquakes which result in the sundering of the temple veil, the separation of humankind from the all-loving God. Hesed is the font of love and the commandment to love and the fulfillment of love from within the deepest reaches of God. Hesed is touching God's heart.

Emeth and Hesed, the words that describe God's covenantal relationship with the People of Israel, and by extension to all of us. Faithfulness that cannot fail, and love that reaches into death and pulls out life. These are the qualities of God's attention to each one of us. Emeth and hesed--faithfulness and loving kindness from the depth of being. How can we return anything less?

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God's Sovereignty

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This may or may not work into later explanations from the bright side on universalism; however, it is a notion that has been brewing for a couple of days and which seems not to want to go away--so it is better to deal with it.

What does it mean when one says that God's will is sovereign or that God Himself exercises sovereignty? How can this statement be reconciled with free will?

I think the simple answer is that it need not be. To say that God is sovereign is to say that His will is done whatever it is a person chooses to do. A person may choose to cooperate with God and thus do God's ordained will, or a person may choose to go against God's will, and find him or herself in the paradoxical position of doing God's will anyway because God permits this action. His permissive will is every bit as much His will and as perfect His will as His ordained will. Either way, whether I cooperate or whether I go against God's will for me, still I do God's will. That's what sovereignty means--His will rules all will. Even when my will is opposed, still He uses that opposition to accomplish His ultimate end of the salvation of the human race. How this happens is deeply mysterious and beautiful beyond description. It is just one of the many things that make you sit in wonder before the majesty of God.

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Pub Info on the Insitutes

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Books for the main Carmelite sources are often difficult to come by, particularly when the translation gives quite a different title. I'm home now and have the book to hand:

The Ten Books on the Way of Life and Great Deeds of the Carmelites (The Book of the First Monks)
Felipe Ribot, O. Carm.
Edited and Translated by Richard Copsey O.Carm.
2005 Saint Albert's Press and Edizioni Camelitane
ISBN (It has two and they aren't just ISBN10 and ISBN13)
0-904849-31-7
88-7288-076-9

Here's a link to a British Site with the book available. For O.Carms this book may be ordered through your provincial offices. I suspect the same may be true for OCD, but I know less about their administration.

Hope this is helpful in finding it if you are looking for it.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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