Friday, March 31, 2017

Ponder: "suffering with him"

“To be a fellow heir of Christ means to be glorified with him, but he will be glorified with him who by suffering for him suffers with him.”

Ambrose, Letter 35.4

Ponder: "flows from the Altar"

“As Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us, the priest’s power over the corpus mysticum follows from his power over the corpus physicum of Christ.  It is because he consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ that the priest can teach, govern and sanctify the members of the Church.  Practically, this means that he walks into the confessional from the foot of the Altar, that he mounts the pulpit after having enacted the mystery of Redemption.  Every sick call, every word of counsel in the parlor, every catechism lesson taught to children, every official act in the chancery flows from the Altar.  All power resides there, and the more shortcuts we take from the tabernacle to our other priestly duties, the less spiritual strength we have for those duties.”
Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own (1963), 231.

Ponder: "song of the angels"

“Despite all our complaining, we love the Breviary. Our life has two principal gripes: one, the food in the seminary before we are ordained; and two, the breviary after we are ordained.  But we grow fat on the meals, and we advance in holiness with the breviary.  We expect too much from it at first, as does a bride of her groom. But once we realize that when we pick up the book we are not mockingbirds singing for ourselves alone, that our melody is, rather, the song of the angels rising to the throne of God on behalf of the Mystical Body and the world, it becomes easier.”

Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own (1963), 145-6.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ponder: "the secret of thanksgiving"

“If the soul very early learnt to say, ‘thank God,’ its troubles would be almost at an end.  There is a homely principle, if a motor skids, turn it in that direction.  If when troubles come, we turn them into thanksgiving our soul returns to balance at once. There will be sweetness, strength, honey in the mouth of the lion. There is no greater secret than the secret of thanksgiving, even thanksgiving for everything except our failures.  Even then, we may thank God for the humiliation failures bring.”

Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 56.

Ponder: "a good servant for the soul"

“The more we shun suffering, the more we come under its thrall, we become its slave.  To seek it, or at least to endure it, and to love it not for its own sake but for the sake of the good things that may be wrought through it, that is to become its master. Suffering that is such a bad master makes a good slave, a good servant for the soul in love with Jesus Crucified.”

Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 73.

Ponder: "the world is being found out at last"

“Many are now [1932] suffering the loss of earthly goods.  What a most glorious occasion of thanksgiving! It is to me great anguish to see so many people suffering in that way. But there is also a deep sense of thanksgiving that the world is being found out at last. We are almost heartbroken to see the Prodigal Son herding with swine, but rejoicing that he knows swill is no food for man and swine no company for gentlemen. There is some chance of the poor prodigal thinking of his father’s home and turning back. To go back is often spiritual progress. It hardly seems right to sing ‘Te Deum,’ and yet deep down in our hearts there is gratitude to God that Mammon is at last revealing is essential cruelty and vulgarity, so that mankind in his utter destitution will see that the only thing sufficiently steadfast is Nazareth and the only God worth worshipping is Jesus of Nazareth.”

Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 57.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ponder: "he that hath not suffered, what doth he know?"

“One of the early Fathers said, ‘He that hath not suffered, what doth he know?’   There is a lack even of knowledge in the one who has not dealt rightly with some kind of suffering.  Some people are never themselves till they have had great sorrow.  Sorrow must enter in.  It is not the final thing.  But something has happened to human beings, so that now it is an absolute necessity.  Some impurities have to be washed away by suffering.”
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 37-8.

Ponder: "outside God, there is no hope"

“Outside God there is no hope.  Remove God and you have not touched one of the sufferings of the world.  You have perhaps added one.  You have not touched one of the pains and pangs.  You have only removed the One who might help.  Their disease is untouched.  You have taken away the remedy.  Outside Christ, the problem of suffering is insoluble.  The dethrone God in a throe of anger and bewilderment is merely to hasten death by indeliberate suicide.”
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 17.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ponder: "he meant to give copious redemption"

“[Thomas Aquinas] says that the very least one of these sufferings was of itself suffering enough to redeem the human race from all sin (that is woven into the Adoro Te).  But, says St. Thomas, it was fitting that He should have to endure all at once.  One suffering would have sufficed for our Redemption, but it would not suffice for the Love of the Redeemer.  He meant to give copious Redemption.  He willed that the beaker should brim over.  He gave a thousand Redemptions all in one.”

Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 79.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ponder: "according to his own great goodness"

“Shall I withhold a little money or food from my fellow-creature, for fear he should not be good enough to receive it of me? Do I beg of God to deal with me, not according to my merit, but according to his own great goodness; and should I be so absurd, as to with-hold my charity from a poor brother, because he may perhaps not deserve it?  Shall I use measure toward him, which I pray God never to use toward me.”

William Law, A Serious Call, qtd. in Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 185-6.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ponder: "the means whereby we enter into its bounty"

“Traherne’s devotion to the cross sprang from seeing it the final proof of the nature of God, a nature which had been indicated in all the Divine actions wherever we may look, in the world around us, into our own best thoughts, into the history of man’s redemption, everywhere is to be seen an ever-broadening stream of love.  The cross is both the demonstration of that love and the means whereby we enter into its bounty.  Traherne’s eyes are not fixed upon the damnation from which the passion of Christ saves mankind, but on the felicity into which it admits us.  We learn to prize our own nature by thus seeing the value that God sets upon it.  So our deepest repentance must be for having failed to love and our prayer that we may love more fully.”

C. J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 105-6.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ponder: prayer as "a natural activity of the soul"

“With the dignity, even austerity of the Prayer Book there goes also a basic simplicity which is not affected by the richness of its language. Its prayers are the expression of a filial relationship between a child and his father—a weak, sinful and erring child, a Father of infinite majesty and power, but still a child and a father.  Their language is the direct address of a person talking with a person.  Because of this view, which has been learned from the Bible, Anglican writers have little to say about complicated techniques of devotion; they are content to accept prayer as a natural activity of the soul, as ordinary in its way as converse between human beings.  There must of course be a keen awareness of the overwhelming greatness of the Being who is approached, and a corresponding sense of the unworthiness of the one who is drawing near.  So vast a difference in the capacities of the two may lead to seeming disappointments, to hesitations and doubts s a man is led through ways which he is incapable of understanding at the time, but love, faith, and perseverance will prove the unfailing goodness of God toward us in the end.”

C. J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 276-7

The Frog Hollow of Palestine

“When the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.”  St. John 4:40-41

I’ve seen the sign on the left-hand side of the Harper’s Ferry Road: “Frog Hollow, the Moonshine Capitol of the World.”  I think it’s a bit tamer down in the Hollow these days than it was during the height of Prohibition, when a man would sit watch on the bridge on a summer’s night in case a revenue agent came creeping down the road with an axe and an ultimatum from the IRS. 

Until it burned down a few years ago, though, the center of community life in the hollow was the Mad Dog Saloon.  They say the floors were dirt and they traded in canned beer out of a Coleman cooler, when the locally produced wares weren’t being passed around.  Saturday nights were punctuated with ambulance calls, when one of the hollow boys was wont to get a bit dramatic with the cue stick.  I lived for two years in Sharpsburg, just five miles away. But I never had the guts to cross the threshold of the Mad Dog and see if all the stories were really true.

Ponder: morality with "a continual view of the immensities"

“Morality which is uninspired by a continual view of the immensities which lie beyond it becomes cold and unattractive, and may lead to a deadly self-satisfaction, which inhibits all spiritual progress.  It is certain that in religion above all else, ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp,’ and of this, a majority of our teachers are well aware.  But it is equally certain that any system of religion which treats temperance, soberness and chastity as objects of less regard than emotional indulgence, ecclesiastical correctitude or even a far-spreading humanitarianism, is dying at the heart.  A devotion which is rooted in the Bible will never ignore the claims of personal morality.  There it is made unmistakably clear that a righteous God demands righteousness in his worshippers.” 
C. J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 285-6.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Praying the Passion with St. Bridget: A Holy Dying

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.  St. Luke 23:46

Several of the Fifteen Os also make mention of a particular aspect of discipleship that was especially important in St. Bridget’s time, ending life in faith and trust, having what Jeremy Taylor famously described as “a holy dying.”  As she meditates upon the end of Jesus’ life, St. Bridget is also inviting us, as does the final stanza of one of the Victorian passion hymns, to “Learn of Jesus Christ to die[1]

In her concern with a holy death, in part St. Bridget reflects the reality of her times.  She was surrounded by people, all of them baptized Christians, who died in unexpected ways every day.  An epidemic struck a village, an army laid siege to a town, a fire swept through a city, and thousands would die.  People lived perilous lives, and unlike the reality in the Western world today, there were very few means of effectively blunting the pain, so that most people were conscious and fully aware of death’s approach. 

Praying the Passion with St. Bridget: Call to Mind

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  Romans 6:6

In my last meditation, I spoke about the way in which Bridget’s passion prayers carefully turn us away from the danger of viewing Christ’s passion and death as a purely human story.  They also, quite carefully steer us away from the accompanying danger of seeing the Cross as an event that belongs only to the past, something that happened on a lonely hill in Palestine long ago and remains there, an interesting story in someone else’s life.

Instead Bridget believes that Christ’s passion and death are a reality with deep significance for the present moment, and that Christian discipleship is deeply bound up in responding to Christ’s call, described in one of the prayers as “enduring in the way of the Cross.” 

Praying the Passion with St. Bridget: Devastating and Glorious

God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  II Cor. 5:19

If you’ve ever read through one of the Gospels from beginning to end in a single setting, maybe what surprised you most was how long the passion story, the account of Jesus’ suffering and death is.  In what is probably the earliest Gospel, St. Mark, 45% of the text is of the last week of Jesus’ life.  Regular worshippers know to prepare themselves for Palm Sunday, because when we read the passion, it will take quite a long time.

The Gospels are unlike any other kind of literature that predates them in the way they focus in on this final (or properly almost final) part of the life of their subject.  We have some deathbed scenes for other important figures in the Bible, and the classical biographies usually include an account of the death. There is generally in ancient literature a sense that the death reveals the character, but the passions of the Gospel stories are really unprecedented.

Praying the Passion with St. Bridget: Weeping with the Pain of the World

“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5

You may think it odd to begin a presentation about a famous set of prayers by a Swedish nun by spending time with a German painting.  But this painting was directly inspired by the devotional writings of Bridget of Sweden, especially her Revelations, a book of visions of the crucified Christ.  Bridget never saw this painting, as it was completed 130 years after her death.  But had she been able to paint, I believe she would have created something just like this.

This is the Isenheim Altarpiece, painted by Matthaeus Gruenewald in 1515 for the hospital chapel at Monastery of St. Anthony in a village near Colmar in Alsace, now a part of France.  One of the masters of the Mannerist style, this is Gruenewald’s greatest work.  A similar “Small Crucifixion” is in the National Gallery.

The monks who served at the monastery of St. Anthony were a community dedicated to treating those who suffered from the plague and ergotism.  There was no remedy, and the monks’ mission was to provide physical care and spiritual consolation.  The painting appropriately reveals Jesus who suffered as we suffer and who shows the extent of God’s love through offering Himself to destruction.  Jesus is present in our pains and reveals His mercy as we face the certain prospect of death.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Limiting Your Options

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  St. Matthew 4:10

It was great to see last week that my college friend John has finally gotten engaged.  I found out the way the way you often do about these things when you’re my age, when a notice popped up halfway down my Facebook feed.  I haven’t seen John in two or three years, but he seemed about the same, his arm around a beautiful woman.  Both of them looked delighted, and frankly, a little relieved.

John’s all of 38 now, and after a conversation I had with him the last time we were together, I doubted that this day would ever come.  He was kind enough to put me up for the night in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen the last time I was in New York.  John works in mergers and acquisitions at a big bank, knows a bit about everything, and has friends all over town.  Still no steady girlfriend, though. 

 “You don’t understand what it’s like dating here in the City,” John said to me over his plate of souvlaki.   A few months before he had signed up for Tinder, which was the hottest thing in dating technology at the time.  Tinder is sort of like internet matchmaking on steroids.  It sets up a date for you first thing in the morning by text message and you have an hour or two to decide if you’re in the mood for this option or if you’d like to try someone else instead.  

John had lots of dates.  I expect he had turned down two or three to have dinner with me. 

A Place in the Order of Things

My grandfather died two weeks ago, a few months short of his 89th birthday, in the same room where he was born. Most every night of his long life, he slept under the same roof, in the farmhouse where his parents had settled just after their marriage.

Historically speaking, this kind of stability is unremarkable. But in modern America, where the average person moves 11.4 times in a lifetime, it would be difficult to compute just how rare it is. My eldest son, who just turned eight, has already lived in four different homes, in three different states.

My grandfather also died a farmer, as had his father before him, and his grandfather before him, back as far as the records go. We tucked wheat stalks and an ear of field corn into the floral spray on his coffin. The photos lined up at the back of the funeral home showed him on his tractor and standing in the barnyard with the Angus steers. There was a sign from Esskay, which bought his beef for decades, and an aerial photo of the farm.

He’d only foresworn the tractor two years ago, when a fall from the step landed him in the hospital for a few weeks. He continued to supervise the work done by others and to check the grain prices regularly. I saw him in the hospital a few days before his death, when the medicine was making his mind a bit foggier than usual. He looked out his window over a vast parking lot, but what he saw was a rolling field. “That one would be good for corn,” he told me.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Alms in Lent-For Repentance and Renewal

From The Sounds of St. Francis, 1 Mar. 2017

In the next few days, you’ll be receiving a letter from me and Barbara Heywood, the acting president of the Women of Saint Francis, about our Lenten offering appeal.  This is a new practice here at Saint Francis, and it is designed to take the place of the longstanding fall patron’s appeal that was an integral part of the Potomac Country House Tour. Following the Women of Saint Francis’ decision to indefinitely postpone the house tour, we decided that this Lenten appeal would be a helpful way to continue our longstanding emphasis on supporting ministries that serve the poor in our community and around the world.  The offering also helps us to recover a central aspect of the Lenten season and its distinctive disciplines that sometimes gets forgotten.

Lent is a season for almsgiving.  Throughout the forty days we examine our hearts and pray for forgiveness and renewal in the life of grace.  And giving of our treasure to relieve the sufferings of others expresses our gratitude to God for His mercy toward us and conforms us more fully to the sacrificial life of our Lord, who has given His life “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ponder: "The Call of the Leader's Trumpet"

The true and dutiful children of the Church, the loyal soldiers of Christ Jesus will next Wednesday hear the call of their Leader’s trumpet, rousing them up, as on all Ash-Wednesdays, to set about his work, to fight his battle, in earnest. It will be the old note, but you will not therefore scorn it, if you are true men and brave soldiers. You know it would never do for a soldier, when the trumpet or bugle sounds in the morning, to say, “It is only the old call over again, what I have been used to so very often; I am not going to disturb myself for that,” and so to stay quietly in his quarters. No more will it do for you, Christian warriors, to make light of your Lord’s summons, now that he is calling upon you at the opening of another Lent; another holy season of penitent self-denial and prayers. He calls you morning by morning, and morning by morning, you must answer his call.”

John Keble, “Sermon XXI. Preparation for Holy Communion, Preparation for Death and for Judgment,” Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash-Wednesday, with Sermons for Confirmation and on the Litany. (1879).

Ashes for All

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.”
Joel 2:15-16

Once upon a time, you needed to qualify for ashes on Ash Wednesday.  They were reserved for notorious sinners, those whose evil deeds had cut them off from the communion of the Church.   Like more than one of our inherited Lenten practices, the ashes were originally part of the church’s discipline for flagrant lawbreakers—thieves, adulterers, murderers, those who actions brought scandal to all those who profess Christ’s Name. 

Forty days before Easter, these lawbreakers would come to the courtyard before the church barefoot and dressed in sackcloth, confessing their misdeeds.  These penitents, as they were called, would heap ashes on their heads, as God’s people had done in ancient times.  This was a a way of expressing their sorrow for their sins.  The whole community would surround them, chanting the seven Penitential Psalms, which exalt God’s mercy for the wicked.  The bishop would read from Genesis about Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise.  Then the penitents would be sent away, forbidden from entering the church door.  They could return after they had proved their intention to make a new start through a rigorous fast.