Commonplace Book: July 2004 Archives

Friday's Listening


Something to consider.

Mack the Knife
as Sung by Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Brain Setzer,
translated from the German of Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht

      Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
      And it shows them pearly white
      Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
      And he keeps it … ah … out of sight.
      Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe
      Scarlet billows start to spread
      Fancy gloves, though, wears old MacHeath, babe
      So there’s nevah, nevah a trace of red.
      Now on the sidewalk … uuh, huh … whoo … sunny mornin’ … uuh, huh
      Lies a body just oozin' life … eeek!
      And someone’s sneakin' ‘round the corner
      Could that someone be Mack the Knife?
      A-there's a tugboat … huh, huh, huh … down by the river don’tcha know
      Where a cement bag’s just a'droopin' on down
      Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
      Five'll get ya ten old Macky’s back in town.
      Now, d'ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
      After drawin' out all his hard-earned cash
      And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
      Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?

      Now … Jenny Diver … ho, ho … yeah … Sukey Tawdry      
      Ooh … Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
      Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
      Now that Macky’s back in town.
      Aah … I said Jenny Diver … whoa … Sukey Tawdry
      Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
      Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
      Now that Macky’s back in town …

      Look out … old Macky is back!!

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The requests remain unchanged from yesterday, for which please see below. Please especially remember Dylan.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Liturgy of St. James

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

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"Our Revels Now Are Ended. . ."


"The Tempest" Act 4 Scene 1
William Shakespeare

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

I have been back and forth wondering and pondering--do I continue this endeavor. My recent gaffe has caused me to rethink a lot of what I do and I've come to the conclusion that what I offer here is nothing that would not be better coming fromt he original source unalloyed. If people are truly interested in these matters, they will seek them out. Otherwise, why have them thrust upon them. Is this more an exercise in self-indulgence, or more likely in compulsion? So it seems. And to indulge oneself at the expense of bringing harm to others is unconscionable. You will lose nothing with my departure, of this I am certain. There are many others out there who provide what I do in a form nearer its origin and without so much dilution and distraction. I recommend particularly Ms. Knapp's blog, which never fails to be a source of inspiration and a font of charity. Tom's Disputations is a wonderful place to undertake an intellectual workout. And TSO has never failed to provide me with a smile, an intriguing tidbit, or perhaps a cause of apoplexy--all admirable and desirable.

If this irritant has one some occasion produced some pearls, I am most pleased. But I am most sorry for those I have harmed, for those who have been frightened, confused, or upset by what they have read here. Go to the sources. Read your bible daily, pray the Liturgy of the Hours and wait upon the Lord in His word. You don't need this blog--it is as nothing.

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Caught in the Trap of Our Making


Described beautifully by Charles Williams:

from All Hallow's Eve

She was about a third of the way down when from far off the sound of the Name caught her. She could hardly there be said to have heard it; it was not so much a name or even a sound as an impulse. It had gone, the Indrawing cry, where only it could go, for the eternal City into which it was inevitably loosed absorbed it into its proper place. It could not affect the solid house of earth nor the millions of men and women toilfully attempting goodness; nor could it reach the paradisical places and thier inhabitants. It sounded only through the void streets, the apparent facades, the shadowy rooms of the world of the newly dead. There it found its way. Other wanderers, as invisible to Evelan as she to them, but of her kind, felt it--old men seeking lechery, young men seek drunkeness, women making and believing malice, all harborers in a lie. The debased Tetragrammaton drew them with its spiritual suction: the syllables passed out and swirled, and drawing thier captives returned to their speaker. Some went a little way and fell; some farther and failed; of them all only she, at once the latest, the weakest, the nearest, the worst, was wholly caught. She did not recognize captvity; she thought herself free. She began to walk more quickly, to run, to run fast. As she ran, she began to hear the sound. It was not friendly; it was not likeable; but it was allied. She felt towards it as Lester had felt towards the cry on the hill. The souls in that place know their own proper sounds and hurry to them.

Without question, Williams is difficult and you must read nuance and symbol to get everything. But here, in characteristic fashion, he spells it out to all who are paying attention. "My sheep know my voice and they hear me."

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Yesterday T.S. O at one of my favorite blogs Video Meliora made a point concerning The DaVinci Code that I'm not quite certain I agree with, and yet I find fascinating. In context it reads:

The only answer I have to that is that, whatever their merits, Crichton & Clancy & others are living off the fame of their past books. They are a name brand now and could put out anything and it would sell. The key is their FIRST book, their break-out book. DVC is Brown's break-out book and there is something in a breakout book that might say something about a culture...

Now, let me set aside any misgivings I may have about the premise--they are as yet poorly formulated and more along the lines of murky stirrings in the depths more than fleshed-out thoughts. Let's accept the premise that this breakout book reveals something about the culture. Does it reveal anything new, interesting, or exciting.

I think it is a harbinger of something relatively new and an avatar of several old bogies that have not yet lost their patina of attractiveness. Let's start with the old. In the United States anything suggesting that the Catholic Church isn't all that upstanding or trustworthy has had a very long history (as long as the European-derived nation itself) of popularity and acceptance. One of the easy stepping stones to success is to suggest that there's something just not quite right about the Catholic Church. It's adherents might be all right, but those powerful old men in their secret chambers are out to keep hidden great mysteries and truths that a more open hierarchy long ago would have revealed. For example, if it had been about a group of Southern Baptists, they would never have suppressed these truths, having experienced centuries of suppression themselves (according to their own convenient history of existence.) So that's the first old bogie.

The second is the ever popular, ever new heresy of Gnosticism. Salvation comes to those with secret knowledge, knowledge that exists (as it were) just beyond the edges of scripture. This special revelation comes to only a few who, inspired by God Himself, do their best to share their knowledge, but ultimately only a few are destined for this inner circle anyway. This has bad a popularity since the time of Jesus Himself.

And there is yet a third appeal--one that isn't so much an old bogie as an Archetype with an enormous power even over those of us who have detached ourselves from the old stories. The appeal of the search for the Holy Grail remains. It crops up in odd places and it has odd resonances in society.

In this book we combine the Holy Grail (which always bespoke in some degree of Gnosticism) with anti-Catholic mutterings to generate a powerhouse of a story. But there is still another, newer element, that I would suggest as perhaps the predominant element of the attraction.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union we have been casting about for the new demon, the new evil force that will destroy us. We are looking for an enemy anywhere, and an institution as large and as ancient and as multi-storied as the Church provides the perfect vehicle. Moreover it ties in nicely to the first old-bogie.

If I were to read anything into this in terms of societal trends, I would suggest that society is looking for a focus, any focus. We have become unanchored and are drifting around in a sea of terrorism with no focused enemy and dangers behind every chador and under every turban. We have sufficiently freed ourselves of every burdensome consideration of propriety and morality that we are in a free-fall. I don't want to suggest apocalypse, but I do think Yeats's words resonate more powerfully today than they did when written.

The Second Coming
W. B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I would suggest that the popularity of The DaVinci Code represents the "turning and turning in a widening gyre" in search of an anchor, any anchor, for our fears, our anxieties, and our uncertainties. We hold onto any truth because we falcons can no longer hear the Falconer. His word diminishes in meaning because we do not feel bound by it.

And The DaVinci Code certainly exemplifies "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Mr. Brown himself would swear up and down on a stack of any holy book you care to designate that he is revealing hidden truths while scholars and supposedly intelligent people do little or nothing to counteract the idiocy. (This is speaking purely of the secular world, not of the more that 30 books from religious sources that are combating the ludicrous.)

If Mr. Brown's book fulfills a need, I would suggest that the need of the moment is not so much the "truth" he reveals, which in a year will have been forgotten, but rather that he has provided for us a focus for our fear and uncertainty. The monolithic and evil church of the turn of the 20th century--a la The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.

The Church, after all, is the only thing that stands in the way of "true" freedom. By this I mean that the secular world sees it as the obstacle to everything good that society could accomplish through understanding and gentle loving guidance. On the other hand it is my view that the Church indeed IS the ONLY thing that stands in the way of true freedom--true freedom from sanity. Mr. Brown's book may be one symptom of the descent into societal depression and concomitant delusional behaviors.

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The following is an excerpt from the decree of the Council of Chalcedon on the nature of Jesus:

from the Decree of the Council of Chalcedon

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity;. . .

The part that puzzles me is begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity. Is this to say that Jesus is not Coeternal with the Father, that the Trinity was somehow "assembled" at some point, or is the chief point here sometihng else? If Jesus were begotten before all ages, on whom or by what mean was he begotten? Was this phraseology cleared up later?

I stumbled across this passage as the first thing in a new book by Michael Casey, a monk from Australia whose work has captivated me. The book Fully Human, Fully Divine: an Interactive Christology intrigued me both in title and in description. I bought it and immediately fell into this particular hole. I don't think it is any big deal, but it was a point that caught my attention. And so, I thought I'd ask the knowledgeable crew of St. Blogs what might have been meant by this mysterious phrasing. Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

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from Two Sisters in the Spirit
Hans Urs von Balthasar

In recent times [he's referring here to the time of original publication about the 1950's] no religious order has been granted such clear graces for mission as has the Carmelite Order. Such divine favors admonish us and counter recent trends in the world and the Church. In an era of churchly projects and campaigns, they call us back to the one thing necessary, to contemplation, without considering whether it will succeed or be effective. In an age of psychology, we are called back to anonymity, not merely to the anonymity of the veil but deeper into pure liturgical adoration of God for his own sake, where the worshippers seem to be indistinguishable from each other. In an age of emphasis on religious personality, we are called back into the life of a supernatural mission, a mission for which each personal ability and preference can at most serve as material to be used, a mission that demands a readineess to sacrifice one's entire nature.

The well of pure contemplation, which is the innermost source and mover of all life in the Church., must either be kept clean or be restored to purity.

What I read here is that contemplation is the fuel that lights the fire for mission. Not that every person should spend all day or ever much of the day in contemplation, but that contemplation is necessary, indeed the one thing necessary. In real contemplation, which may not be what Mr. Akin is addressing, contemplation leads directly to action. Perhaps the action is small and confined locally, but contemplation and service seem to go hand in hand.

I wonder if Mr. Akin is not addressing a very distorted, almost quietist notion of contemplation that has once again sneaked in through the back door. His particular reference to the "female" nature of contemplation seems to suggest a passivity (at least that's how I read his use of the word) that, if not Quietist , is certainly not truly partaking of the force of contemplation. Who could look at Thérèse's contemplation and find in it something to fault? How was this cloistered nun made co-patron of the Missions that Mr. Akin so ardently supports if she were merely passive before the face of the Lord? And yet it is undeniable that she was indeed profoundly contemplative.

So the contemplation Mr. Akin appears to address is what I would call "in-name-only" contemplation, and kind of ritualized involved self-inspection and passivity that never quite gets off the ground. It is a contemplation that is more a navel-staring than a God-adoring. This contemplation while not culpable is certainly not the great work of past ages that so inspired generations of Saints and Catholics.

Contemplation, meditation, and frequent feeding on the word of God are essentials to evangelization. In fact, if these are done in humility and proper spirit, they are among the most effective forms of evangelization that one can engage in. Far more people are attracted to the visible fruits of the properly lived Christian life than are attracted to words telling them what those fruits must be like. My vocation lived out in the presence of the Holy Spirit is a far more effective witness than my weak words. In that witness I say "Do as I do." In my other witness too often, I must say, "Do as I say, not as I do." And as anyone who has children will tell you, that is the very weakest form of teaching. People will more often follow your example than follow your words.

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More insight from St. Thérèse via H.U. Von Balthasar.

from Two Sisters in the Spirit Hans Urs von Balthasar
[here von Balthasar quotes from Manuscript B of Story of a Soul]

What does me a lot of good when I think of the Holy Family is to imagine a life that was very ordinary. It wasn't everything they have told us or imagined. Such as the story that the Child Jesus modeled a little bird out of clay and breathed upon it, so that it came to life . . . . In that case, why were they not trasnported to Egypt by a miracle--that would at least have been useful and not at all diffiuclt for the good God. They would have been there in the twinkling of an eye. But no, that did not happen. Their life was the same as ours.

Here the truth of the Incarnation is in question and therefore the truth of our whole life, which is only true when it is lived through to its utmost depths as it comes to us from its source, the Savior. Men always believe that they are supposed to attribute to the Lord every imaginable, superhuman "perfection"; and the fact that they do so may even be a token of their admiration. Yet ultimately this perfection lies in that very humility and love by which he became like us in everything except sin. For he was obedient unto death, learning this obedience through suffering

And what pious nonsense has been talked in the name of Mariology! Rather as if she herself were wielding the thong of cords at the purification of the temple, Thérèse ruthlessly kicks aside all the heaps of pious, well-meant untruths that have been wished upon the Mother of the Lord and in the end leave souls unnourished and prevent them from drink the living waters.

All the sermons on Mary I have heard have left me cold. . . . How I should love to have been a priest in order to preach about the Mother of God! I believe that just one sermon would have been enough for me to show what I mean. I would begin by showing how the life of the Mother of God is, in fact, very little known. One should not relate improbable stories about her, such as, for instance, that she went to the temple when she was a child of only three years in order to offer herself to God because she was so full of burning love and extraordinary fervor. Perhaps she went there quite simply out of obedience to her parents. . . . If a sermon on Mary is to bear tfruit, it must give a genuine picture of her life, as we are allowed to glimpse it in the Gospels, instead of something imagined. And it is surely easy to sense that her life in Nazareth and later must have been perfectly ordinary. "He was subject to them." How simple that is!

Too often, it seems, we may do the same with Saint's lives. We look upon their extraordinary accomplishments and then embellish them so that they become not so much role models as distant figures of impossible faith and piety. We neglect their ordinariness. We admire them, but we can come up with an extraordinary plexus of reasons why we couldn't possible emulate them in any way. How often have I heard, "Oh, I couldn't be like St. Thérèse, she was so holy from such a young age." So who is asking you to be like St. Thérèse? We already have one of those, and there are those in the world who would maintain that one is more than enough. (I used to be among them--no longer).

God gives us Saints not so much for slavish imitation as for encouragement. No one is called to be another St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Anything. Each person is called to be a unique Saint, just as they are a unique person. The canonized Saints give us a glimpse of how others have achieved this. How they have achieved heroic sanctity despite a less than heroic start; how they have come to love God when they started by dispising Him; how their own persons and personalities are used by God to erect new Saints and new heroes, new examples that tell us--"You can do it."

After all, what is remarkable about St. Thérèse? She grew up a bourgeoise French lady, a potential snob, in a jansenist French society, overwhelmed with the exceeding wrath of God. She was treacly sweet and had a hellish temper at the same time and was stubborn as an ox. Nothing here particularly remarkable. And in that very fact lies our best hope. Just as there is nothing particularly remarkable about any of us, so too God can use that milquetoast or wanness and convert it into heroic virtue.

When I reflect on St. Thérèse this is what I most often think about--her humble beginnings did not stand in the way of her storming heaven, asking for, and receiving the gift of holiness, the gift of love. So what stops me? And when I think like this I realize that there is very, very little in the way--only myself. And if Jesus is willing, I can be healed.

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from Two Sisters in the Spirit
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Thérèse's mission, at the very first glance, displays the marks of a clearly defined and quite exceptional charcter. This is much less due to the personal drama of the little saint than to the sacred form into which the trickling grains of petty anecdotes are compressed, into a hard, unbreakable block, by a firm, invisible hand. It is contrary to all expectation that the simple, modest story of this little girl should eventaully culminate, as it irretutably does, in the enunciation of theological truths. Originally she herself never dreamed that she might be chosen to bear some fundamental message to the Church. She became aware of it only gradually; in fact, it did not occur to her until her task was almost completed, after she had already lived out her teaching and was writing the last chapters of her book. Suddenly, as she saw it all laid out before her, she recognized its strangeness, that in her obedience she had unwillingly conceived something beyond her own personlaity. And now that she saw it, she also understood it and seized it with a kind of violence.

Some, like St. Paul, know clearly from the time of being touched by God what their mission to the world is all about. They cannot conceive of the repercussions of successfully fulfilling the mission--how the world will be transformed and turned inside out--nevertheless they know it and fulfill it. Others, and I take it von Balthasar would propose Thérèse as an example of this, simply live their mission. It is perhaps possible that such a saint might not grasp their mission even toward the end. Von Balthasar argues that Thérèse did recognize her own; however, it stands to reason that it would be possible to fulfill God's will entirely and not see the contours and patterns of one's own calling. The thought of this fascinates me and intrigues me.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from July 2004.

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