Commonplace Book: August 2002 Archives

One More Time--Audience in Krakow

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Here is a wonderful reflection from the Wednesday Audience held in Poland. The prayer at the end is, again, exemplary.

From the Wednesday 21 August 2002 Audience in Krakow, (?) Poland
John Paul II

4. My pilgrimage then took me to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the shrine dedicated to the Passion of Jesus and to our Lady of Sorrows. I have been attached to that holy place since childhood. I often experienced there how the Mother of God, Our Lady of Grace, turns her merciful eyes to afflicted humanity, in need of her wisdom and help.

After Czestochowa, it is one of the better known and visited shrines of Poland to which the faithful come even from the countries nearby. After travelling the paths of the Way of the Cross and of the Compassion of the Mother of God, the pilgrims pause to pray before the ancient and miraculous image of Mary, our Advocate, who welcomes them with eyes filled with love. Beside her, one can perceive and understand the mysterious bond between the "suffering" (patì) Redeemer on Calvary and his "co-suffering" (compatì) Mother at the foot of the Cross. In this communion of love in suffering it is easy to discern the source of the power of intercession which the prayer of the Virgin Mary has for us, her children.

Let us ask Our Lady to kindle in our hearts the spark of the grace of God and to help us transmit to the world the fire of Divine Mercy. May Mary obtain for all people the gift of unity and peace:  unity of faith, unity of spirit and of thought, unity of families; peace of hearts, peace of nations and of the world, while we wait for Christ to return in glory.

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Another Pope

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(Titter) Couldn't resist the pun. Oh well. Many don't care for the poetry of Alexander Pope, they find it too rigidly regular, too uncannily metrical, stiff and inelastic, poems as chunks of concrete. To which I reply, Gustibus non est disputandem. I really like all of those aspects of Pope and his flair for finding just the right chink in the armor, just the right thing to say, as in this excerpt from the somewhat shorter Essay on Criticism

from Essay on Criticism Alexander Pope

Of all the Causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring Judgment, and misguide the Mind,
What the weak Head with strongest Byass rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools.
Whatever Nature has in Worth deny'd,
She gives in large Recruits of needful Pride;
For as in Bodies, thus in Souls, we find
What wants in Blood and Spirits, swell'd with Wind;
Pride, where Wit fails, steps in to our Defence,
And fills up all the mighty Void of Sense!
If once right Reason drives that Cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless Day;
Trust not your self; but your Defects to know,
Make use of ev'ry Friend—and ev'ry Foe.

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

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Thou Art Peter III Viva Il Papa!

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From the poetry of His Holiness John Paul II. (Find more poetry here.)

from Space Which Remains in You
John Paul II

(spoken by the apostle John)

Your arms now remember His space, the little head
snuggling to your shoulder,
for the space has remained in You,
for it was taken from You.

And shining never empty. So very present in You.
When with my trembling hands I broke the bread
to give it to you, Mother,
I stood for a moment amazed as I saw
the whole truth through one single tear
in your eye.

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I dedicate these to Dylan and Ono between the two of them I was moved to dig up a book and pull out these particular poems. The first consists of two of four short epitaphs by Countee Cullen. The second a magnificent sonnet that at one time was much more popular than presently; originally an outcry against racism in the inner cities, it was carried by a great many soldiers in World War II. Both are works by great, but largely neglected African American poets. Proponents of true multiculturalism seek to redress the gross injustice of the exclusion of such great work from the common heritage. We are all diminished when we choose to exclude such luminous voices from our cultural vocabulary.

from "Four Epitaphs"
Countee Cullen

2.
For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty
Not writ in water nor in mist,
Sweet lyric throat, thy name;
Thy singing lips that cold death kissed
Have seared his own with flame.

3.
For Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Born of the sorrowful heart,
Mirth was a crown upon his head;
Pride kept his twisted lips apart
In jest, to hide a heart that bled.

Only short samples, but I'm sure you can agree that they are quite lovely and to the point. I particularly like the poignancy of the image of Keats's kiss searing Death's lips.

If We Must Die
Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accurséd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Some decry multiculturalism. I decry its excesses, but I also decry the blindness that did not allow me to encounter poems such as these until well into my adulthood. I am glad that children educated today are getting a broader sense of the contributions made to literature by all peoples. My only wish is that we would choose works of quality, not merely works that are representative. There is no need to abandon the works of the Western Canon. Shakespeare can be taught alongside works like these, as can Keats and others. However, when left to the mulitculturalists, works chosen do not necessarily represent great works of literature, but agenda-supporting works of literary propagandists. Literature should be chosen for its quality, not for the political agenda it supports. In fact, it should be chosen IN SPITE OF political agenda, as I am sure I could not agree with the politics of Pablo Neruda, but I still admire On the Heights of Macchu Picchu.

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This brief meditation stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it.

Ô Marie, si j'étais la Reine du Ciel et que vous soyez Thérèse, je voudrais être Thérèse afin que vous soyez la Reine du Ciel ! ! !

Trans: O Mary, if I were Queen of Heaven and you were Therese I would want to be Therese so that you could be Queen of Heaven.

This is one of those examples of humility that boggle the mind. I still am boggled by the implications of this simple thought. It is beautiful and reflexive and for some reason absolutely mind-bending. It's kind of a Carmelite koan or something, I just can't seem to encompass the perfection of its thought.

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This from the progenitor of the melancholy Graveyard poets, Thomas Gray. It was unfinished at the time of his death and completed (more or less) by another. Still given two hands, this isn't at all a bad little poem.

Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude
Thomas Gray (1716-1771)


Now the golden Morn aloft
Waves her dew-bespangled wing,
With vermeil cheek, and whisper soft
She woos the tardy Spring:
Till April starts, and calls around
The sleeping fragrance from the ground;
And lightly o'er the living scene
Scatters his freshest, tenderest green.

New-born flocks, in rustic dance,
Frisking ply their feeble feet;
Forgetful of their wintry trance
The birds his presence greet:
But chief, the skylark warbles high
His trembling thrilling ecstasy;
And, lessening from the dazzled sight,
Melts into air and liquid light.

Rise, my soul! on wings of fire,
Rise the rapt'rous choir among;
Hark! 'tis Nature strikes the lyre,
And leads the general song:


Yesterday the sullen year
Saw the snowy whirlwind fly;
Mute was the music of the air,
The herd stood drooping by:
Their raptures now that wildly flow,
No yesterday, nor morrow know;
'Tis man alone that joy descries
With forward, and reverted eyes.
Smiles on past Misfortune's brow
Soft Reflection's hand can trace;
And o'er the cheek of Sorrow throw
A melancholy grace;
While Hope prolongs our happier hour
Or deepest shades, that dimly lower
And blacken round our weary way,
Gilds with a gleam of distant day.
Still, where rosy Pleasure leads,
See a kindred Grief pursue;
Behind the steps that Misery treads,
Approaching Comfort view:
The hues of bliss more brightly glow,
Chastis'd by sabler tints of woe;
And blended form, with artful strife,
The strength and harmony of life.
See the wretch, that long has tost
On the thorny bed of pain,
At length repair his vigour lost,
And breathe, and walk again:
The meanest flow'ret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening Paradise.

Humble Quiet builds her cell,
Near the source whence Pleasure flows;
She eyes the clear crystalline well,
And tastes it as it goes.

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This poem is such a typical, lovely evocation of the graces of Our Lady that i couldn't resist a brief excerpt. This time I'll provide a few explanatory notes, althought you can pick them up at the Teams site if need be. (Take heart, read it aloud, phonetically, and you'll be surprised at how easy it comes).

from "The Joys of Mary"

73

Heyle be thou, ladye so bryght:
Gabriel that seyde so ryght,
"Cryst ys wyth thee."
Swettyst and swotyst in syght, (sweetest and most fragrant)
Modyr and mayde of myght,
Have mercy on mee.

Hayle be thou, fynest to fonde: (fonde=to seek)
Jesu thy sone, y undyrstonde,
Of thee borne he was.
Glad were thou, lef in londe, (loved in the land--on earth)
Tho thou haddyst in honde (tho=when)
The prynce of oure pees.

Heyle, ladye, flower of alle thynges:
Ryally three ryche kynges,
Derely dyght, (Richly clothed)
Comely wyth knelynges, (beautiful in kneeling)
Broughten thi sone three thynges;
The sterre was lyght.

Hayle, gladdyst of alle wyve: (wyve=women)
Aryse fro deth to lyve
Thy sone, tho thou syghe.(tho= while)
Blyssyd be thoo woundys fyve
That made mannys soule to thryve
In heven so hyghe.

Heyle, joye in hert and in yghe: (yghe=eye)
Wyth yghe thy sylf thoo thou syghe (with your own eyes, though you sighed)
On Holy Thursdaye,
Jesu thi sone all upstyghe (upstyghe=ascended)
Hoom into heven so hyghe,
The apostles to paye. (paye=reward)

Heyle, ladye, full of all blys,
Tho that thou wentyst wysse (tho= when; wysse=directly)
To blys soo bryght,
That blys God lete us never mysse,
Marye; thou us wysely wysse (wysse=guide)
Be daye and be nyght. Amen. (be=by)

I'm half sorry, half overjoyed to burden you all with this because I find the language so beautiful and the sentiment so true. The richness of the imagery and the strength of the devotion of the poet are such that they cannot be doubted or questioned. I hope you've enjoyed the brief excursions, and I promise that other than a link in the side column, you will not be further burdened by my enthusiasm.

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On God's Love

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This is from a little book I found online at CCEL, listed only as being by a "Bishop Ullathorne. I would welcome more information on this person, and if anyone knows where I could find more of him online, I'd greatly appreciate that information as well.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HUMILITY & PATIENCE Archbishop Ullathorne

There is no master so large-minded, so generous, or who is so well acquainted with you and your requirements, as God; no father so loving and bountiful; no friend so free from all jealousy; none who so completely loves you for your greater good. Whilst there is no tyrant so narrow-minded, so proud-hearted, so exacting, so suspicious, so utterly bent on keeping you to your own littleness, as the one we all know so well, of whose tyranny we have had such bitter experience, and who goes by the name of Myself. Yet God or yourself you must choose for your master.

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Apropos of the remarkable discussion Kairos started yesterday on humility:

At the risk of violating number 8 below, I use leave this as a checklist on my wall at work. I cheer when I have shown as few as nine of the seventeen in a day. This is from the remarkable writings of Josemaria Escriva, soon-to-be St. Josemaria.

Furrow Josemaria Escriva


263


Allow me to remind you that among other evident signs of a lack of humility are:

--Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say;

--Always wanting to get your own way;

--Arguing when you are not right or --when you are -- insisting stubbornly or with bad manners;

--Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;

--Despising the point of view of others;

--Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan;

--Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own;

--Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation;

--Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you;

--Making excuses when rebuked;

--Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you;

--Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you;

--Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you;

--Refusing to carry out menial tasks;

—Seeking or wanting to be singled out;

--Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige ... ;

--Being ashamed of not having certain possessions ...

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The Journal of John Woolman

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Among the great classics of religious literature is this remarkable, slim volume. Written by a prerevolutionary Quaker, it is the story of a man who felt drawn to give up nearly all of his material goods in order to follow God. It is also a kind of window into a discussion that was very prominent in the founding of our republic--the evils of slavery. This excerpt comes from the record of a journey undertaken in 1746.

Excerpt from Woolman's Journal Two things were remarkable to me in this journey: first, in regard to my entertainment. When I ate, drank, and lodged free-cost with people who lived in ease on the hard labour of their slaves, I felt uneasy; and as my mind was inward to the Lord, I found this uneasiness return upon me, at times, through the whole visit. Where the masters bore a good share of the burden, and lived frugally, so that their servants were well provided for, and their labour moderate, I felt more easy; but where they lived in a costly way, and laid heavy burdens on their slaves, my exercise was often great, and I frequently had conversation with them in private concerning it. Secondly, this trade of importing slaves from their native country being much encouraged amongst them, and the white people and their children so generally living without much labour, was frequently the subject of my serious thoughts. I saw in these southern provinces so many vices and corruptions, increased by this trade and this way of life, that it appeared to me as a dark gloominess hanging over the land; and though now many willingly run into it, yet in future the consequence will be grievous to posterity. I express it as it hath appeared to me, not once nor twice, but as a matter fixed on my mind.

Joseph Ellis, in Founding Brothers, chronicles further evidence of this underlying opposition. The chapter entitled "The Silence" talks about a very early move toward abolition, proposed, once again by Quakers, in the 1790s.

True humility, true Christianity, means an uncompromising grappling with the present and obvious evils of this world. It means a deep self-knowledge that helps to understand that the evils we see around us are often exacerbated by our own actions. It also means taking definitive action, no matter how small, to help right some of these wrongs.

But true Christianity stems from a relationship with God. Such a relationship starts in prayer, continues in prayer, grows in prayer, and ultimately ends in prayer. And prayer itself grows, it grows from an endless listing of our needs and wants, into a meditative, voiceless prayer, and finally into a prayer of waiting on the Lord.

Too often, we do not pursue this track of growth. Too often, the riches of prayer are left unexplored. Too often our sense of God is confined to a place or event. Too often we deprive ourselves of the sense that God is everywhere and in everything. Too often, it seems, we are afraid to grow. We need to find our security and stability by holding onto the goods of this world. In so doing we limit our progress in prayer. St. Ignatius said (I paraphrase) that we should use the goods of this world insofar as they move us toward God. Once such goods begin to inhibit our progress, we need to cast them off.

John Woolman is an example of a non-Catholic Christian who followed this ancient, well-established path to closeness with God. If more of us did the same here and now we could change the world in prayer. We could serve as beautiful beacons of light and true receptacles of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is God's perfect gift of communication. He is always listening, always ready to hear from His children. He is always eager to hear from us and to send us many gifts of His love.

As the saints are our models in living, they are also our models in prayer. When we imitate their exterior actions without interior preparation, we may do good works, but we do not do perfect works. And perfect works are what God is after. Our growth in perfection is the life of the world in God. It is our contribution to making the kingdom of heaven present on Earth. This closeness to God is a gift open to all of God's people here on Earth. Not all achieve it in the same way or to the same degree; but, it is in achieving it that we in some small way fulfill Christ's commission to us to go and spread the gospel to all the world. The only way to spread the gospel is in Union with God and in perfect love for all the people around us. God doesn't expect perfection overnight, but He does expect that we would work toward this perfection. As an ardent Lover, God expects that we would delight in returning the myriad gentle signs of His love.

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The Ever-Present Problems of Doubt

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We've talked in various blogs a good deal about doubt. I thought I would present a classic example of what doubt really looks like when spilled out upon a page. In this case it is a brief, beautiful, and classic poem by Matthew Arnold--his best know poetic work.

Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The rhyme scheme is irregular, erratic, deliberately so. It becomes disoriented and chaotic like the shifting sea and the emotions and thoughts of the speaker. The whole poem is constructed to artfully represent the chaos of all of these thoughts. "The Sea of Faith," once full now withdraws from the world with a melancholy roar. There is no blanket, no shield of protection. What we are left with is the solace of other people(and we all know how fragile that is)--"Ah love let us be true. . . for the world [and by extension God] Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/ Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. . ." Yes, the world is a fallen place and there is nothing certain or trustworthy in it, and it is made an even more uncertain place when the soothing blanket of faith is removed and we face the prospects of this place without the loving presence of God.

Here is doubt. Beautifully portrayed, wonderfully dissected and represented, but it shows doubt clearly and without question. If one were to say to me that Matthew Arnold doubted the existence of God, I could probably find no better evidence than here (although truth to tell, there is evidence all over).

So, when we speak of doubt, we find broken meter, chaotic rhyme, and language that leaves no doubt in the mind that the speaker is uncertain of the world and his place in it. He is uncertain of the existence of God, and the world has become a place much colder and much more unfriendly.

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From Andrew Marvell. I promise "To His Coy Mistress" later. But I remember upon first reading this poem being very amused by the obvious elements of propaganca involved.

Bermudas
Andrew Marvell


Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th' ocean's bosom unespy'd,
From a small boat, that row'd along,
The list'ning winds receiv'd this song.

What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat'ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm's and prelates' rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel's pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven's vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.

Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

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A Favorite from Shakespeare

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A Favorite from Shakespeare

This may be one of my favorite songs from any of Shakespeare's plays. But then the play itself may well be one of my very favorites. "O Brave new world that has such people in 't."

Full Fadom Five from The Tempest

Full fadom five thy Father lies,
Of his bones are Corrall made:
Those are pearles that were his eies,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a Sea-change
Into something rich, & strange:
Sea-Nimphs hourly ring his knell.
Burthen:
ding-dong.
Harke now I heare them, ding-dong, bell.

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The Prayer of Silence

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Different book this time:

Meditations Before Mass Romano Guardini

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being "all there," receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it. . . .

"Congregation," not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual "space" around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer. Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary.


While this is undoubtedly true of mass (and one of the reasons I tend to impatience for people who wander in with a hale-fellow-well-met attitude) it is doubly true of all prayer. Prayer is encased in a house of silence. Outside of silence, prayer becomes just more roaring against the sound of the rushing wind of culture. That is not to say that God does not hear it, because of course He does. However, it is not the kind of praise that rises like an incense to the throne of heaven.

For prayer to be truly pleasing to God it must be of the sort that makes one completely present to God. Such prayer is not acquired in the short run, and ultimately its final stage is not acquired at all. However, one must dispose oneself to receive the gift of infused contemplation. One of the ways of doing so is to practice this "prayer of silence." In addition, the prayer offers the person praying innumerable benefits stemming from a "mental vacation from the world." It "recharges the batteries" and makes one more capable of coping with what occurs in everyday life. It helps one to experience the presence of God in all of life's activities. It helps one to empty oneself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In short, it opens the doors to greater levels of prayer..

But it isn't easy, and it isn't a short road. It may take years, perhaps decades. But, as with the bloom of the Century Plant, it is both spectacular and worth waiting for. In the prayer of silence, we take the first steps toward becoming like our grand model of prayer, the Holy Mother of God. We learn to "ponder these things in our hearts" and to derive from them great joy and peace. The prayer of silence, it would seem to me, is one of the most effective tools on the road to lifestyle evangelism because it causes a fundamental change in the person who is doing it consistently. From agitated and worried to peaceful and trusting, the prayer of silence changes lives.

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Reading Pascal

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Many seem to experience the same thing as John notes below:

I first heard of Pascal and his Pensees a long time ago when learned about "Pascal's Wager" from this book. I tried to read it, but my say that this "average Catholic guy" was a bit intimidated by the high-falutin' language and put it back down. Yet, I think I'll give it another go.

Pensees can be extremely difficult for a couple of reasons. The language (depending on the translation) can be extremely difficult. More than that, Pensees is a series of largely disconnected thoughts. There doesn't seem to be much structure to it. For this, I highly recommend Peter Kreeft's rearrangement of the material Christianity for Modern Pagans. Kreeft deftly edits the material to make a more-or-less coherent flow-through. If I remember correctly, Kreeft adds some insightful comments after either each Pensee or each group. Unfortunately, I think it may be a sllightly abridged version. But as with his Summa of the Summa it makes for a brief, coherent, introductory presentation.

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Pascal Reflects

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I love this small section from the Pensees. It speaks so much to the point. And at the same time undermines the point by making it. One should not, if it can be avoided, speak ill of others or spread rumor, even in a good cause. Pascal breaks that primary rule for the purpose of a greater good. But by doing so does he forfeit the higher good or does he, as he intimates, stand on the same level as his subject?

63. Montaigne.--Montaigne's faults are great. Lewd words; this is bad, notwithstanding Mademoiselle de Gournay. Credulous; people without eyes. Ignorant; squaring the circle, a greater world. His opinions on suicide, on death. He suggests an indifference about salvation, without fear and without repentance. As his book was not written with a religious purpose, he was not bound to mention religion; but it is always our duty not to turn men from it. One can excuse his rather free and licentious opinions on some relations of life; but one cannot excuse his thoroughly pagan views on death, for a man must renounce piety altogether, if he does not at least wish to die like a Christian. Now, through the whole of his book his only conception of death is a cowardly and effeminate one.

64. It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in him.

65. What good there is in Montaigne can only have been acquired with difficulty. The evil that is in him, I mean apart from his morality, could have been corrected in a moment, if he had been informed that he made too much of trifles and spoke too much of himself.

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The Fate of God

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Reading through Romano Guardini's remarkable little book on the rosary, I came across this passage which startled me. I read it through at least twice before it began to make sense to me, and now I find it an amazing insight into the workings of God's Love.

from Romano Guardini--The Rosary of Our Lady, p. 49

To say that God's love meant fate for Him certainly means nothing that would diminish God's honor, but on the contrary, something that should teach us to adore Him all the more deeply. A person who loves relinquishes the freedom of the untouched heart, and becomes chained to the beloved, not by force or necessity but precisely by love. He cannot say of the other any more, "This is someone else, not I--this hits him, not me!" Such distinctions disappear with the degree of love's reality.

Therefore, love is fate from the first moment. Again, this is not said correctly, for what happens to the loving individual must be only a reflection of what happens in God with unbelievable import and power.

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Robert Hugh Benson

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Looking for other texts by Benson, I stumbled upon this poem and thought it quite beautiful.

The Teresian Contemplative By Robert Hugh Benson

SHE moves in tumult; round her lies
The silence of the world of grace;
The twilight of our mysteries
Shines like high noonday on her face;
Our piteous guesses, dim with fears,
She touches, handles, sees, and hears.

In her all longings mix and meet;
Dumb souls through her are eloquent;
She feels the world beneath her feet
Thrill in a passionate intent;
Through her our tides of feeling roll
And find their God within her soul.

Her faith the awful Face of God
Brightens and blinds with utter light;
Her footsteps fall where late He trod;
She sinks in roaring voids of night;
Cries to her Lord in black despair,
And knows, yet knows not, He is there.

A willing sacrifice she takes
The burden of our fall within;
Holy she stands; while on her breaks
The lightning of the wrath of sin;
She drinks her Saviour’s cup of pain,
And, one with Jesus, thirsts again.

It seems so exactly to describe the contemplative experience and the work of the contemplative within the body of the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux never left her little convent, and yet she is Patroness of the Missions because of her ardent prayer for those who went on mission work.The contemplative labors in the darkness of God which is far brighter than the light of humanity. And she seeks to draw all souls to God through Prayer. Once again, Therese of Lisieux promises that all who she has met and prayed for are drawn with her like objects through a whitewater torrent into the mercy and love of God.

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From Morning Prayer

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This prayer is beautiful and really spoke to me this morning. (Yes, yes, I know I read it every Thursday of Week II, but still. . . )

Lord God, eternal shepherd, you so tend the vineyard you planted that now it extends its branches event to the farthest coast. Look down on your Church and come to us. Help us remain in your Son as branches on the vine, that, planted firmly in your love, we may testify before the whole world to your great power working everywhere.
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Happy Saint Dominic's Day

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Happy Saint Dominic's Day
To all Dominicans--a most blessed feast day!

And that he might be construed as he was,
A spirit from this place went forth to name him
With His possessive whose he wholly was.

Dominic was he called; and him I speak of
Even as of the husbandman whom Christ
Elected to his garden to assist him.

Envoy and servant sooth he seemed of Christ,
For the first love made manifest in him
Was the first counsel that was given by Christ.

Silent and wakeful many a time was he
Discovered by his nurse upon the ground,
As if he would have said, 'For this I came.'

O thou his father, Felix verily!
O thou his mother, verily Joanna,
If this, interpreted, means as is said!

Not for the world which people toil for now
In following Ostiense and Taddeo,
But through his longing after the true manna,

He in short time became so great a teacher,
That he began to go about the vineyard,
Which fadeth soon, if faithless be the dresser;

And of the See, (that once was more benignant
Unto the righteous poor, not through itself,
But him who sits there and degenerates,)

Not to dispense or two or three for six,
Not any fortune of first vacancy,
'Non decimas quae sunt pauperum Dei,'

He asked for, but against the errant world
Permission to do battle for the seed,
Of which these four and twenty plants surround thee.

Then with the doctrine and the will together,
With office apostolical he moved,
Like torrent which some lofty vein out-presses;

And in among the shoots heretical
His impetus with greater fury smote,
Wherever the resistance was the greatest.

Of him were made thereafter divers runnels,
Whereby the garden catholic is watered,
So that more living its plantations stand.

From Paradiso Canto XII

My apologies for the translation (Longfellow) but needed to find something that was without question public domain.

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Jacques Prevert

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Jacques Prevert is a kind of minimalist poet that normally I don't care for. Perhaps because it is in French, or perhaps for other reasons, I find Prevert quite, quite different and quite beautiful. I've appended a rough translation to the following poem.

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.

My poor translation:

Breakfast
He put the coffee
in the cup
He put milk
in the cup of coffee
He put sugar
in the cafe au lait
With a small spoon
he stirred
He drank the cafe au lait
and he replaced the cup
without speaking to me
He lit
a cigarette
He made rings
with the smoke
He put the ashes
into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
his hat on his head
He put on
his raincoat
because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I put
my head on my hand
and I cried.

I love the very short lines, the gray repetition of phrase. Particularly I love the fact that in French pleuvait (it was raining) and pleure (past participle of "to cry") are such similar words. This poem reminds me very much of the work of such French cineastes as Francois Truffaut. When I read Prevert's work I see Fahrenheit 451 or L'enfant Sauvage or Le Quartre Cent Coups. I see Parisian gray, and I also see the despair of a life not centered in God, but centered and isolated completely within the self. We don't know the cause of the silence we observe, but we seem to know that it is quotidian, and this scene probably has few variations in its playing. I think this is the art of quiet desperation and of conventionality.

Please, once again, excuse my poor translation, but I tried to convey as literally as possible what was being said and still remain true to the strangely formal and yet colloquial French. Too many translations change words. For example to construct a sort of formal poetic parallelism, "sans me parler" and "sans une parole" are often both translated to--"Without a word." I don't think that is true to the spirit or intent of Prevert's poem. But then, I probably should be a little cautious about such statements, as I am by no means an expert in poetic French.

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Richard Crashaw

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Richard Crashaw

From the first time I read this poem, the imagery of the "purple wardrobe" stuck with me.

Upon the Body of Our Blessed Lord, Naked and Bloody
Richard Crashaw

They have left thee naked, Lord, O that they had!
This garment too I wish they had deny’d.
Thee with thy self they have too richly clad;
Opening the purple wardrobe in thy side.
O never could there be garment too good
For thee to wear, but this of thine own Blood.

I have seen this typified by some would-be critics as a "macabre epigram." Perhaps. But I think a moment's attention would show it for what it really is--a passionate poem about the passion. The imagery is stark and startling, and the truth of it undeniable to anyone who has spent any time meditating on the meaning of Good Friday. But, in a post-Christian world, what can one expect of those who refuse to absorb even the slightest hint of their own culture?

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From Office of Readings:


Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and --I speak boldly--it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator. . .

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Another metaphysical poet with a very disturbing and lovely poem:

THE WORLD.
by Henry Vaughan


I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain ;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit's sour delights ;
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure,
All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow'r.

2.
The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, mov'd there so slow,
He did nor stay, nor go ;
Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work'd under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey ; but one did see
That policy :
Churches and altars fed him ; perjuries
Were gnats and flies ;
It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

3.
The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg'd each one his pelf ;*
The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
And scorn'd pretence ;
While others, slipp'd into a wide excess
Said little less ;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave ;
And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by
Their victory.

4.
Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring ;
But most would use no wing.
O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night
Before true light !
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way ;
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God ;
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he !
But as I did their madness so discuss,
One whisper'd thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for His bride.”

JOHN, CAP. 2. VER. 16, 17.

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the
lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof ;
but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.


source: Luminarium

What I like particularly about this poem is both the rhyme scheme with couplets and the eccentric end-stopped half-lines that cause the rhythm to stumble along unnaturally, mimicking in verse the fallen nature of the world discussed in the details of the poem. Overall, a poem that speaks both in its subject matter and its structure--a very neat trick to accomplish.

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Morning Prayer

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From Morning Prayer:

Almighty Father, source of everlasting light, pour forth your truth into our hearts and pour over us the brightness of your light. Amen
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The Beauty of the Saints

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God has made powerful provision for all his people in the person of His saints. There seems to be a saint for every person and temperament. What is more, we have images from the lives of saints that, while the saint may or may not appeal, the moment speaks to us.

St. Alphonsus Liguori was a prolific writer and among the things presented to the world is a magnificent compendium The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ. Naturally, the lives of saints makes up only a portion of the work. But here is a excerpt that really spoke to me:

Similarly Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, when she held any beautiful flower in her hand, felt herself on fire with love for God, and she would say: "Then God has thought from all eternity of creating this flower for love of me." Thus that flower became, as it were, a dart of love, which sweetly wounded her, and brought her closer to God.

The saints are so steeped in prayer that they are able to show us the world anew. In their innocence of vision they strip away some of the illusions that we have built up about ourselves and the world. Who among us would look upon a flower and conclude that God in His love had made that flower particularly and especially for us at that moment in time? One of our prayers should be to be able to see things as they are--to be able to rip through illusion and see God's particular love and care for us.

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We are rapidly approaching 9 August, the anniversary of the Death of St. Edith Stein, one of the most fiercely intellectual of the Carmelite Saints, and one of the great lovers of the Lord. The following prayer is from a Pentecost Novena that she composed. It is among the loveliest prayers I have read.

6.Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror
Next to the Almighty's throne,
Like a crystal sea,
In which Divinity lovingly looks at itself?
You bend over the fairest work of your creation,
And radiantly your own gaze
Is illumined in return.
And of all creatures the pure beauty
Is joined in one in the dear form
Of the Virgin, your immaculate bride:
Holy Spirit Creator of all!

The anniversary of St. Edith Stein reminds us of the potential for evil and cruelty locked up inside every one of us. How many stood by to allow the evil that engulfed her and 8,000,000 or more sisters and brothers? As it is said, all that it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to stand by and do nothing. Let us remember that in ever interaction of every day. Evil starts in little ways--a word here, a gesture there, a statement, nothing much at all. Such little things escalate into great harm in no time if left unchecked. We can do much to undermine the culture of evil that sprouts like weeds around us. We may speak against it in word or action. We can take up spiritual arms and prayer for God's intervention. What we cannot do is stand by. As Christians we must take action against the evil we see rise up--we have no choice. More, we cannot call evil good and think that it changes for all that. We must not abandon our belief to relativists. An evil can never be a good regardless of the circumstances. And when we resort to evil to fight evil, then Evil has won.

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Memento Mori

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Memento Mori

Long called Venerable, St. Bede offers this brief reflection on the four last things:

Bede's Death Song
from The Venerable Bede (673-735)

Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

[Loose Translation:
Before the inevitable journey there is no one
wiser than him who, knowing his need,
ponders, before his journey,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his death, will be judged.]

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Jean Pierre de Caussade is a great teacher of silent prayer and a more complex and, perhaps, subtle expositor of the "Practice of the Presence of God," as conceived by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Many have accused de Caussade of Quietism, but over the years that accusation has been addressed and disproved. What de Caussade teaches is not fatalistic resignation, but enthusiastic conformity to God's will.

Perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs.

The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret. The science of theology is full of theories and explanations of the wonders of this state in each soul according to its capacity. One may be conversant with all these speculations, speak and write about them admirably, instruct others and guide souls; yet, if these theories are only in the mind, one is, compared with those who, without any knowledge of these theories, receive the meaning of the designs of God and do His holy will, like a sick physician compared to simple people in perfect health.

There seems to be a certain stream of anti-intellectualism here, but I think it is only seeming. De Caussade, as with any good Christian, does not encourage merely intellectual assent, but actual action based on what is called for in the present moment. His theory, which I believe to be correct, is that understanding the reasons of God is not nearly so important as willingly doing those things that God requests.

Perfection is not perfection of intellect, rather a perfection of duty and activity, even if that activity consists in sitting at Jesus' feet.

The soul that does not attach itself solely to the will of God will find neither satisfaction nor sanctification in any other means however excellent by which it may attempt to gain them. If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived? When you find something to be in accordance with this divine wisdom and goodness ought you not to conclude that it must needs be excellent? Do you imagine you will find peace in resisting the Almighty? Is it not, on the contrary, this resistance which we too often continue without owning it even to ourselves which is the cause of all our troubles?

And I think the wisdom of this passage is apparent without going into any detail. Those who would resist God's love, God's Teaching through His Church, and God's infinite outreach, resist peace itself. They struggle to upset their own peace, thinking it merely complacency, and having dragged themselves out of it, think it their duty to drag everyone else out as well. Such are the dissenters, the supposed intellectual heroes of the resistance movement, who abandoning God's peace, choose peace only on their own terms. To them, I simply ask the question presented in the second sentence above, "If God's will is not good enough, what will you find that is?"

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And a little known teacher of prayer. His works are still in the sometimes tortured prose of the seventeenth century, but what he has to say holds true now as then.

1. IT was only infinite goodness that moved Almighty God to create the world of nothing, and particularly in this inferior visible world, to create man after His own image and similitude, consisting of a frail earthly body, which is the prison of an immortal, intellectual spirit, to the end that by his understanding, which is capable of an unlimited knowledge, and by his will, which cannot be replenished with any object of goodness less than infinite, he might so govern and order himself, and all other visible creatures, as thereby to arrive unto the end for which he was made, to wit, eternal beatitude both in soul and body in heaven, the which consists in a returning to the divine principle front whom he flowed, and an inconceivably happy union with Him, both in mind, contemplating eternally His infinite perfections, and in will and affections eternally loving, admiring, and enjoying the said perfections.

2. Now to the end that man might not (except by his own free, and willful choice of misery) fail from attaining to the only universal end of his creation, God was pleased to the natural vast capacity of man's understanding and will to add a supernatural light, illustrating his mind to believe and know Him, and divine charity in the will, which was as it were a weight to incline and draw the soul, without any defect or interruption to love God, and Him only. So that by a continual presence of this light, and an uninterrupted exercise of this love, the soul of man would in time have attained to such a measure of perfection of union with God in this world, as without dying to merit a translation from hence to heaven, there eternally to enjoy a far more incomprehensibly perfect and beatifying union with God.

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A wonderful and little know book. Even Edward Gibbon, not known for his Christian sympathies, liked and admired William Law. So much so, in fact, that he made Law tutor to his children.

DEVOTION is neither private nor public prayer; but prayers, whether private or public, are particular parts or instances of devotion. Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God.

He, therefore, is the devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.

We readily acknowledge, that God alone is to be the rule and measure of our prayers; that in them we are to look wholly unto Him, and act wholly for Him; that we are only to pray in such a manner, for such things, and such ends, as are suitable to His glory.

For the full text go here.

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Aubade

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Technically a morning song, I offer this, a wonderful counterpoint to yesterday's (which none could read).

from Idea by Michael Drayton


LXI.

SINCE here's no help, come, let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes.
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might'st him yet recover.

Idea is a remarkable cycle of sonnets from a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Perhaps not so accomplished as Shakespeare's sonnets, or perhaps simply less well known, Drayton's sonnets run the gamut of possibilities. Drayton was also know for his "Ode To the Virginian Voyage" one of the first English celebrations of the Age of Discovery. (Camoens The Lusiads is one of the earliest such celebrations). This sonnet is a delightfully on-target exposition of the undying nature of love. Even when we want it to go away we cannot make it simply leave. We say love draws its last breath, and yet, and yet, if there were only a chance, a possibility. Drayton's sonnet captures that moment that so many of us have experienced. It is a poem that often dances in my head as God speaking to me. Too often I seem to reduce everything to its bare bones, leaving my supposed love and fidelity to God gasping on its deathbed. But God, ever desiring my undesirable company, always enacts those last two lines, fanning to life again the failing spark and providing a new way to see and to love Him.

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Even later at the computer today than yesterday, so I'm confined to a single poem and comment. Here we go:

To My Dear and Loving Husband
Anne Bradstreet

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Some poems speak from beauty of language. Some speak from the beauty of the thought. I love this poem because it surely captures what the Sacrament of Matrimony is about in the Earthly realm, and even provides a glimpse of its continuation. It also is very adept at quoting scripture without quoting. Finally, it certainly puts the lie to what many of us have misconstrued as the Puritan view of life.

But I am fortunate enough to say with Anne Bradstreet about my own lovely wife, 'If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were lov'd by wife, then me." It is my hope that I can make the rest of the poem true for her!

Good morning all, and God Bless.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from August 2002.

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