Quotations: April 2008 Archives

The Last Secret of Fatima

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This book is credited to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who did contribute the majority of the content; however the person responsible for the questions, the layout, and the structure of the whole is a journalist by the name of Giuseppe de Carli who seems to have an unfortunate flair for the sensational. The book takes the form of a full-length interview with some supporting documentation at the end and a foreward by Pope Benedict XVI.

As an interview, the book has its ups and downs. There are unfortunate and sometimes meaningless digressions; the final 15% of the interview section has nothing whatsoever to do with the title of the book, and appears to be meaningless padding designed to form a "book-length" study; for those not intimately familiar with everyday events in Italy, there are meangingless, enigmatic and odd references to events that may or may not be related to the main theme--I somehow doubt that the death of Oriana Fallaci has a whole lot to do with the Fatima secrets.

There are times when de Carli, either legitimately, or out of a perverse sense of journalistic sensationalism forces the points of the so-called Fatimists, insisting at points the Sister Lucia's true revelations had been suppressed, or that there was a fourth secret, or that the final secret did not concern Pope John Paul II. Perhaps these are just meant to clear away the will 'o the wisps that seem to flicker around the edges of this phenomenon.

What the book highlighted for me is the source of my distaste for the entire Fatima phenomenon. As is so often the case, it isn't the veracity or likelihood of the events in Fatima in 1917, but the claims and exaggerations and distortions made by those most partisan to the Fatima visions.

What does come across in the book very nicely is a sense of Sister Lucia as a person. One feels that she was a lively, tart, impish character who took guff from no one and who shot straight from the hip. At one point in the interview we see this:

from The Last Secret of Fatima
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

After the Secret had been revealed, some people began to doubt the genuineness of the text. Lucia's Carmelite superior in Coimbra told her about this doubt: "They're saying that there's another secret." With a sigh, Lucia replied, "Well if they know what it is, then let them tell us. For my part, I don't know about any other secrets. Some people are never satisfied. Let's not pay them any mind."

A beautiful example of saintly saying-it-like-it-is.

The book does explore the last secret of Fatima. In addition, for those of us (like me) who knew virtually nothing about the Fatima event and aftermath, it sketches in the history and timeline of events. The revelation of the "secrets" of Fatima is a little odd, occurring as it does in 1941 and 1946; however, God works in His own ways and sometimes it takes time and courage to come forward with His truth.

One of the quiet gems of the book is a short theological commentary on the Fatima secrets and in particular the last secret by then Cardinal Ratzinger. In the course of this short (12 page) essay, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines the status of public and private revelations and provides an interpretive outline for the Fatima visions and their meaning for the world today.

from "Theological Commentary"
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The teaching of the Church distinguishes between "public Revelation" and "private revelations." The two realities differ not only in degree but also in essence. The term "pubic Revelation" refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. It is called "Revelation" because in it God gradually made himself known to men, to the point of becoming man himself, in order to draw to himself the whole world and unite it with himself through his Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. It is not a matter therefore of intellectual communication, but of a life-giving process in which God comes to meet man. At the same time this process naturally produces data pertaining to the mind and to the understanding of the mystery of God. It is a process that involves man in his entirety and therefore reason as well, but not reason alone. Because God is one, history, which he shares with humanity is also one. It is valid for all time, and it has reached its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here, the man who was to become the Holy Father set out clearly the lines of demarcation. The essay continues with the same remarkable, succinct clarity and provides one of the deeply insightful high points of the book.

Overall The Last Secret of Fatima is a muddled, digressive, journalistic mess that nevertheless does cast a great deal of light on the phenomenon of Fatima and on the practices of the faithful who remain in line with church teaching. The book isn't for everyone, but it is certainly accessible to anyone sincerely interested in trying to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as Fatima is concerned. I'm glad I've read it because it has at once helped me to become both more informed about this small piece of Church History and more receptive and responsive to the Blessed Mother. In addition, it was a poignant reminder of how much I loved Pope John Paul the Great and how I look forward to the Church's revelation of God's will concerning his heavenly status. I won't say the same thing will happen for all who read it, but if you come looking for the truth, I think you may find a good deal of it between the covers of this book.

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While reading through Casti Connubii for quite a different purpose, I happened upon this:

104. Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.

While this will evince chagrin or excite anguish or rattle the cage of almost no one who passes through this way, I suspect that it would stick mightily in the craw of those who would prefer to pick and choose amongst the truths to which they wish to adhere. I wonder how many of us, even those in agreement with the sentiment, live the actuality of the final sentence in the excerpt above? I know that I truly do believe and hold true all that the Church teaches (in my very meager ability to comprehend it), and even so, practice differs from belief. Perhaps it is the road that transforms what is held intellectually into what is lived in reality that is the hardest road to walk.

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Not really. Instead I had a creepy little dream in which a very punked out proto-goth androgyne was taking me somewhere for some unspecified but distinctly unsavory or unpleasant rendezvous. He asked me, "Haven't you ever defied God?"

I answered, "Of course I have. All the time. But. . ." and fortunately that little walk came to a screeching halt with the sound of the alarm.

But the question and its circumstances were salutary and rewarding because it caused me to think that while I do defy God and while I do sin and ignore the things I ought to do, and while I am imperfect in the practice of my faith and even in holding the central principles of it, nevertheless, I always do what I do knowing that God exists. That may not seem like much, but when I got down under the skin of that statement, I realized that it is not possible for me NOT to believe in God. Despite all of the arguments I have read and those I can dream up myself, the existence of God is more proven to me than any proven fact or visible reality. God exists. I know that is belief, but I have discovered the place that Mortimer Adler describes when he says that belief can be the strongest knowledge there is.

So it is for me. I cannot choose to not believe in God or to act as though I don't believe in Him. I can choose to do what I want anyway. I can choose to go against the law I know to be true. (And I frequently do both of these things.) But I can't say, "There is no God and so I'm free to do as I choose." That simply isn't an option.

The odd part is I can't tell you why there is this solid foundation. Or I can tell you why but it would be meaningless to someone who lacked it. Grace. Amazing grace. He has graced me with this gift, this rock to which I always return. I cannot escape from Him, but He is no relentless hound--no, He is an island in a cobalt sea where the breezes play day and night and I am the only person to see and enjoy its pleasant shores--or if I am not alone, the crowds on the island are as vapor and there is neither clamor nor anguish in it. When I stray far from my island, the memory of it always calls me home. It does not follow me, it sings to me and calls me back.

And here is the song I hear (though not necessarily in Dean Martin's voice--but also not necessary NOT in Dean Martin's voice.)

Return to Me

Return to me
Oh my dear I'm so lonely
Hurry back, hurry back
Oh my love hurry back I'm yours

Return to me
For my heart wants you only
Hurry home, hurry home
Won't you please hurry home to my heart

My darling, if I hurt you I'm sorry
Forgive me and please say you are mine

Return to me
Please come back bella mia
Hurry back, hurry home to my arms
To my lips and my heart

Retorna me
Cara mia ti amo
Solo tu, solo tu, solo tu, solo tu
Mio cuore

Yes, God sings that to me--all of it--not that He can err or He can be the cause of my straying. But His love is in His kenosis and He, being love, can know that love hurts even when it does not desire to.

(Okay, so my theology isn't so great, I'll admit that. But theology is only as good as the purpose it serves--and if that purpose is to make one cling to God, then the theology, however inexact performs the necessary, life-giving function. We don't get into heaven based on our quiz scores.)

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The Wacky World of Henry James


As typified by two passages from the current read:

from The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James

Isabel was sure moreover that her mild forehead and silver cross referred to some weird Anglican mystery, some delightful reinstitution perhaps of the quaint office of the canoness.

[Harriet Stackpole speaking with Lord Warburton]

". . . . I don't approve of you, you know; I feel as if I ought to tell you that."

"Don't approve of me?"

"Yes; I don't suppose any one ever said such a thing to you before, did they? I don't approve of lords as an institution. I think the world has got beyond them--far beyond."

"Oh, so do I. I don't approve of myself in the least. Sometimes it comes over me--how I should object to myself if I were not myself, don't you know? But that's rather good, by the wayl--not to be vainglorious."

"Why don't you give it up then?" Miss Stackpole enquired.

"Give up--a--?" asked Lord Warburton, meeting her harsh inflexion with a very mellow one.

"Give up being a lord."

"Oh, I'm so little of one! One would really forget all about it if you wretched Americans were not constantly remind one. However, I do think of giving it up, the litter there is left of it, one of these days."

"I should like to see you do it!" Henrietta exclaimed rather grimly.

"I'll invite you to the ceremony; we'll have supper and a dance."

Critics note that much of James's work is about this conflict between the Old World and the New World, with the New representing innocence and rugged individualism and self-determination (as noted in the character of Miss Archer herself.) Having not read sufficiently in his oeuvre to make such sweeping judgments, I'll accept the advise of the critics. If so, in these interchanges we see some of the downside of innocence and self-determination--a kind of naive arrogance that can pronounce with impunity on things it does not understand and look down upon all things foreign as "quaint" and "charming" or unlikeable institutions.

There is a price to pay for this sort of arrogance and previous reading has led me to believe that Miss Archer, much to her woe is to be brought up sharp against it.

Whatever the case, I'll keep you informed. And hopefully you can be as amused as I am.

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Henry James is one of those writers who seems to be four or five or six different writers depending on when the work you are reading was written. There is an evolution of complexity and theme and intent throughout his work and in the first great work of the "middle period," there is a command of style, language, character, and incident that yields both a lovely and luxurious prose and a novel of high drama if of little incident.

from The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James

He was far from the time when he had found it hard that he should be obliged to give up the idea of distinguishing himself, an idea none the less importunate for being vague and not the less delightful for having to struggle in the same breast with bursts of inspiring self-criticism. His friends at present judged him more cheerful and attributed it to a theory, over which they shook their heads knowingly, that he would recover his health. His serenity was but the array of wild flowers niched in his ruin.

And again, something not often associated with James, humor:

Of their opinions Isabel was never very definitely informed; but it may interest the reader ro know that while they had recognised in the late Mr. Archer a remarkably handsome head and a very taking manner (indeed, as one of them had said, he was always taking something), they had declared that he was making a very poor use of his life.

And from a conversation between Ralph Touchett and his mother:

"No, I don't think I pity her. She doesn't strike me as inviting compassion. I think I envy her. Before being sure, however, give me a hint of where you see your duty."

"In showing her four European countries--I shall leave her the choice of two of them--and in giving her the opportunity of perfecting herself in French, which she already knows very well."

Ralph frowned a little. "That sounds rather dry--even allowing her the choice of two countries."

Block by block and word by careful word, the sentences pile up together to erect an edifice, a carefully constructed picture of a person and a personality. As in Daisy Miller, the first impression is of someone somewhat brash and perhaps a little (in the terms of the day) "saucy," but definitely of interest. We know, of course, that the end, foreshadowed in the beginning by Mr. and Mrs. Touchett's marriage, is not likely to be a happy one--the reader is nevertheless compelled down the avenue paved by such rich bricks to discover not only what happens but who Isabel Archer is.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Quotations category from April 2008.

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