Catholic Church: October 2006 Archives

How to Study

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Via Sirus a translation by Brother Kenney of a letter of St. Thomas Aquinas to Brother John on how to study.

One point that keeps surfacing for me, and one that is so very difficult to gauge:

Do not spend time on things beyond your grasp.

How do you know if it is beyond your grasp until you've tried to grasp it, and by then you've already spent so much time on it that it seems a shame to give it up.

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Look! Look! A St. Blogger's Book


Because Mrs. Nancy Brown was gracious enough to stop by, leave a comment, and an address whereby I might find her, I discovered that she has out (or will have out shortly) A Study Guide to G. K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi. If this is cover proof, we may soon see the book. Go, admire, ooh and aah, and wish Nancy the best on her new publication!

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Writing to a friend regarding the adage that "His grace is sufficient":

We have an insufficient understanding of the term "sufficient." Because the common usage has come to mean "just barely enough to cover it," we tend to look at "His grace is sufficient" as a kind of wary half-promise.

But the real meaning of "His grace is sufficient," says nothing about the amount of it nor its efficacy. What it says is that it is His grace alone--entirely and only. His grace is sufficient in that nothing need be added to it and we only need a kind of meta-desire for it to be effective. We need to want to want to want to want to cooperate, and His grace makes it possible step by step.

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The Eucharistic prayer and symbols are enormously powerful. When the priest mixes water into the wine and says the prayer over the mixed elements, we are to begin to understand a great mystery.

I thought about this while at Mass the other day. When we are in Christ, we are like the chalice of wine and water--a great majority of divinity with our small humanity enfolded within. However, we are a living water. Most of us prefer to stay in the vessel from which the water is poured. If a drop or two of wine should enter that water, so much the better, we wouldn't mind at all. But to become utterly transformed, utterly surrendered, utterly other--for most of us that is a terrifying prospect. We would pray that He would mingle a little divinity with our humanity, while devotion to Christ constantly reminds us that "I must decrease that He might increase." We abandon our preferences for the faults of humanity in assuming the divinity we are meant to be. In some mysterious way we participate in divinity--I can't explain it, but Tom at Disputations might be helpful in understanding this. I only know that it has been taught faithfully by the Church through the ages. In some way we are divinized in our surrender. IF we surrender.

(Note: Post has been changed to accommodate comments received that pointed out a serious error. Hopefully the change does not significantly interfere with lucidity; however, even if it does, it is better than promulgating error.)

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In the category of preaching to the converted:

Each book of the Harry Potter series is imbued with great Christian lessons. We might argue over Rowling as stylist or Rowling as successor to Tolkien and Lewis or Rowling as literature; however, to the reader who has spent any time with the books, Rowling as devout and informed Christian is nowhere in doubt. Each book teaches something about the believer in Christ and how that believer behaves in certain circumstances.

The particular event of interest occurs at the end of the fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It is spectacularly portrayed in the movie, and caps the book off with a scene horrifying, dramatic, and stirring. Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory have both touched a device that transports them to a place where the bane of the series Lord Voldemort await the arrival of Potter. Upon arrival, Cedric is summarily dispatched and Harry's blood is used to revivify the skeletal, embryonic Voldemort.

Then ensues the duel in which Voldemort attempts to finish off what he began so many years ago--the death of Harry Potter. The two engage.

Now the remarkable instance--in the course of the engagement Harry sees Cedric, Harry's mother and father, and (in the book, if I remember correctly) a whole host of those whom Voldemort has killed over time. Harry's mother tells him, "We can only give you a little time." The host descends upon Voldemort giving time for Harry to run to Cedric's body and transport the two of them back to Harry's world.

If, in this instance, we allow Voldemort to stand-in for sin, which, as we know from St. Paul leads to death (hence the derivation Vol-de-mort or "flight of death"--which will have several meanings in the series) we can see the communion of the Saints as it works. We engage in a battle with sin, temptation. We are the combatants. The fierceness of the battle and our faith summons help from Heaven's throneroom, the Saints, who engage through prayer the powers, principalities, thrones and dominations, that trouble Heaven and our own world. As Harry's mother advises, they can only give respite, it is up to us to flee from sin--but they can and do intercede for us providing the out--we can escape if we move away (of course aided by the Saints and God's will).

This image is reinforced later when Dumbledore, unpacking the experience for Harry, reminds him, "You know, we can never bring back the dead." Harry doesn't seem to understand this for what it means, but it is very clear to the reader that we cannot bring back the dead because, in fact, they never leave us. They are a cloud of witnesses gathered about us thickly and participating in every event of our lives--those tied to us by blood, most fiercely, but aided by all the warriors of Heaven (It is my hope that, undeserving as I am, the chiefest of those warriors is the Holy Mother of God and the Great Redwood of God, St. Therese.)

Thus, embedded, entangled, and completely blended throughout her series of novels, Rowling gives us lessons and views of how Christianity really operates. "But no one ever goes to Church or prays, or anything Christian." And of course, as anyone knows, that is less than nothing as an objection because the same holds true for both Tolkien and Lewis, her forbears in the art of bringing the truth of Christianity to the unsuspecting reader.

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A Beautiful Prayer


For whatever reason, I was attracted to this Middle English version of The Cloud of Unknowing and found therein a really beautiful prayer for all those who seek to live the will of God.

Goostly freende in God, I preie thee and I beseche thee that thou wilt have a besi [earnest] beholding to the cours and the maner of thi cleeping [calling]. And thank God hertely, so that thou maist thorow [through] help of His grace stonde stifly agens alle the sotil assailinges of thi bodily and goostly enemyes, and winne to the coroun [crown] of liif that evermore lasteth.

I don't know why I find it so moving, except to think--in the communion of the Saints, I am blessed by the prayer of a person who so long ago wrote these words and who lives now in this world through them even as he pleads before the throne of God for all those who read them. One of the great mysteries revealed by God and constantly spoken of by the Church stands open to me here in a way that it does not when I read some other things. Odd--but perhaps it is the touch of that which is almost foreign, but still remains within the grasp of those who wish to understand it. The language is not my language and yet, it is close enough to know and alien enough to suggest another time, another world, another way of being.

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More Middle English


Just a sampling from the relatively easy to read Stanzaic Life of Katherine:

Incipit vita sancte Katerine virginis.

He that made bothe sunne and mone
In hevene and erthe for to schyne,
Brynge us to Hevene with Hym to wone
And schylde us from helle pyne!
Lystnys and I schal yow telle
The lyf of an holy virgyne
That trewely Jhesu lovede wel -
Here name was callyd Katerine.

I undyrstonde, it betydde soo:
In Grece ther was an emperour;
He was kyng of landes moo,
Of casteles grete and many a tour.
The ryche men of that land
They servyd hym with mekyl honour.
Maxenceus was his name hotand,
A man he was ful sterne and stour.

The actual text which can be reached through the site referenced below has glosses on the difficult words to get you started.

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A Salutary Notion of Religion

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Once again, George displays her brittle but piercing humor:

from Middlemarch
George Eliot

Why did he not pay attention to Celia, and leave her to listen
to Mr. Casaubon?--if that learned man would only talk, instead of
allowing himself to be talked to by Mr. Brooke, who was just then informing
him that the Reformation either meant something or it did not, that he
himself was a Protestant to the core, but that Catholicism was a fact;
and as to refusing an acre of your ground for a Romanist chapel, all
men needed the bridle of religion, which, properly speaking, was the
dread of a Hereafter.

What a remarkably draconian view of the role of religion--to instill dread--that's certainly the road to relentless charity.

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The Catholic Home

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Meredith Gould's book is a delight from start to finish--stuffed full of lore and "tradition builders" this is perfect for families who are trying to give the Catholic Church a more solid presence in their homes. This is specifically a domestic compendium and it is about making the home Catholic through traditions--feasts, decorations, rites, rituals, and prayers.

What I liked about the book was the sheer breadth and length and width and height of the numerous suggestions. Not into reciting the entire Daily Office--that's okay, start with something less and work your way up. Don't have much time--recite the Angelus or the Regina Coeli. The book is truly Catholic in its embrace of traditions.

Let's face it, being Catholic there are going to be suggestions that you won't like. It's not your style, not your way, doesn't sound right for you, supports causes you don't care for. All of these are legitimate reasons to reject one or more ideas. But the advantage of such a book is that if you don't like the suggestion in paragraph one, there are usually five or six other suggestions that you could take up. And I don't think Gould's point is that we should stuff ourselves with externals. Rather, I think she celebrates the Catholic faith embracing all traditions and encouraging Catholics of whatever stripe to take up and celebrate tradition.

The book has several major sections--starting by celebrating the liturgical seasons, Gould moves on to daily devotions and honoring the sacraments. Her suggestions ring true and right for family celebrations. She suggests praying the Rosary at home with faithful friends. At one point she lists ideas for starting family devotions:

-Lighting a candle and praying for others (intercessions).
-Reading the Psalms, readings, and Gospel du jour.
-Learning more about the saint du jour.
-Praying the Lord's Prayer.
-Praying the Profession of Faith.
-Praying the Rosary (see Appendix B).

These are all simple and straightforward suggestions for families that have "lost" their traditions and don't know how to pick them up again, or for families, like my own, that never had any Catholic traditions and wonder how to go about making a more Catholic household.

What is so wonderful about the work is that Gould never seems partisan or heterodox. Everything she suggests increases reverence for the Church, the Sacraments, the rich traditions of Catholics the world over, and God himself.

And throughout there is a sense of warmth, humor, and sheer down-deep humanity that makes the book an engaging delight.

Whoever is still ambulatory after lighting candles, eating prodigious amounts of fish, and reading from Luke gets to put baby Jesus in his Nativity scene crib. If you have kids, you have a couple of options. You can foster their sense of mystery by doing this while they sleep, so they wake up to baby Jesus. Or you can foster their sense of belonging to the Body of Christ by allowing them to tuck baby Jesus into his manger. (Don't forget the crib atop your Jesse Tree!).

And then she mentions the Feast Day of Adam and Eve.

There's noting radical in the notions Gould articulates, nothing startling or noveau or earth-shaking. But there are a plethora of them, and they provide many opportunities to reflect upon the Catholic Church and how to make it concrete, most particularly for the little ones in the family. Little suggestions, like the one above help so much to encourage parents to think about ways that the Catholic Faith can be fostered in the domestic Church. And that, I think, is Gould's main point. Not that you should follow all of her suggestions or regard her work as a new Gospel, but rather that each family should forge for itself the traditions that both bind the family together and help to bind the family to the Church. After much else is forgotten, the cookies, the pretzels, and the small things done around Christmas time remain so that if children stray away, there are these small concrete reminders, these stores of memory that will serve to call them back Home to the Holy Mother of us all, the Guardian and constant Defender of the Faith, the Holy Catholic Church. And that is what Gould's book reminds us of constantly.

Highly recommended for all who are seeking ideas about how to celebrate their faith in their life at home.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from October 2006.

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