I have not written anything on a blog in almost a year. I have decided to change that, and I am resurrecting this blog. If you see posts with missing images and some broken text, please be aware that these are imported posts from my old blog. There are a large number of broken posts, and I don’t have time to clean them all up.
This past Wednesday, the world was shocked by the announcement of a relatively unknown cardinal from Argentina elected as our new pope—Pope Francis.
The media is completely confused by the election of Pope Francis. They fully expected a “progressive” pope that would change the Church’s moral teachings on issues like contraception, gay marriage, and abortion.
This is evidenced by laughably biased headlines, such as the one from MSNBC: “Same sex marriage, abortion unlikely under Pope Francis.”
As if the new pope would suddenly say, “Violently destroying innocent and vulnerable human life is no longer gravely evil! Have at it,” or “Fundamentally disordered sexual acts are no longer disordered and are in fact good. Let’s celebrate them!”
It is also humorous to note the key word “unlikely” in the headline. It implies they are still possible under his pontificate. But they are not and never will be possible for the Church of Jesus Christ or its chief shepherd, the Pope.
The world does not understand the Church. They look at it as just another political organization that can be changed through activism and disruption—just like virtually every other organization has been. They see that Church as merely human, and therefore subject to human whims and fads. Put enough pressure on the Church, and it will cave to our demands, the world thinks.
But as Catholics, we know this is not true. The Church will always proclaim the Truth without wavering because the truth does not change from day to day. Something that is evil yesterday does not become good tomorrow simply because the date has change. Both the Church and our new pope understand this.
No pope has the right or the power to change unchanging moral truths. No pope can do so and no pope will.
So the reporters at MSNBC, and all those who expect the Church to change its moral teachings any moment now, can keep hoping that someday a pope will embrace evil. But they will be waiting, well, forever.
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
“But, although faith is above reason, nevertheless, between faith and reason no true dissension can ever exist, since the same God, who reveals mysteries and infuses faith, has bestowed on the human soul the light of reason…
And, not only can faith and reason never be at variance with one another, but they also bring mutual help to each other, since right reasoning demonstrates the basis of faith and, illumined by its light, perfects the knowledge of divine things, while faith frees and protects reason from errors and provides it with manifold knowledge.
Wherefore, the Church is so far from objecting to the culture of the human arts and sciences, that it aids and promotes this cultivation in many ways. For, it is not ignorant of, nor does it despise the advantages flowing therefrom into human life; nay, it confesses that, just as they have come forth from “God, the Lord of knowledge” 1 Samuel 2:3, so, if rightly handled, they lead to God by the aid of His grace.”
Dei Filius, Dogmatic Constitution of the First Vatican Council
The May Magnificat
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
There is no denying that there are many hard sayings within the Catholic faith—many beliefs radical in their nature which demand our faith.
And among these hard sayings, there is perhaps none more difficult than the Catholic teaching on the nature of the blessed sacrament, the eucharist. For we are taught and must confidently believe that, in the mass, the eucharist is substantially changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must believe that when the priest utters the words of consecration, we no longer behold mere bread and wine, but quite literally the Ancient of Days, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, the Amen, the living and true God; and we must, with all the angels and saints, give him the honor due his name.
Now, this is our duty and our salvation, and yet it is difficult for at least two reasons, the first of which is that the Eucharistic elements simply don’t look any different. They appear to remain bread and wine. Indeed, they taste like bread and wine. And so, each Sunday, each mass, we are challenged like the Jews who witnessed Christ’s first coming, whether or not we will believe him at his word, or trust our own judgement.
The second reason is that there are no miraculous signs to attend this making-present of Christ. There are no lightnings, nor clouds, nor any fanfare. One would expect these things would attend the presence of Almighty God.
While it is not my purpose here to defend the validity of the doctrine of the eucharist, I will add that perhaps it was because Jesus knew that the eucharist would test our faith that he left so much evidence for it. For there are the explicit words of Jesus himself (My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink) among countless other Scriptures, and the unanimous witness of the early fathers of the church testifying to the true nature of the eucharist. And yet many still doubt.
That said, here is the point I would like to make: The eucharist is no more radical nor difficult to believe than the first coming and Incarnation of Christ. It demands no more faith, and no less.
For indeed, to the Jews who first encountered Christ, the ideas of God having a Son, and that Son having a body, were blasphemous in the extreme. It struck at the very heart of their understanding of God, for, to them, God was one in a way that made a Divine Son impossible and transcendent in a way that made it unthinkable for him to ever incarnate himself.
In short, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation was as radical and possible to the Jewish and pagan minds. Even many of Jesus’ followers did not believe him to be speaking literally when he said, “I and the Father are one,” or, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How could he mean what he said? God does not have a body, nor a Son—much less this poor, unsightly carpenter from a disreputable neighborhood. He couldn’t possibly mean it, they thought. He must mean something else.
It was the Pharisees, the teachers and students of the law, who understood exactly what Jesus meant. After seeking clarifications again and again, Jesus left no doubt in their minds as to whom he claimed to be. He did not intend to. And this is why they hated him and sought to kill him.
No, the doctrine of the Incarnation has never been easy to believe. And that is why, from the beginning, there have been hordes of heresies seeking to deny it. It took all the weight and authority of the Church to clarify once and for all that orthodoxy consisted of believing that Jesus was true God and true man.
As I have said, to believe that Jesus can appear as bread and wine is no more blasphemous or radical than saying that Jesus is God or that God can take on a body. If we say otherwise, we betray that we do not understand that earth-shattering reality that is the Incarnation.
Simply, if one is impossible the other is impossible. If one is blasphemous the other is blasphemous. If you deny one, you must deny the other. For there is at least as much Scriptural and historical evidence for Jesus in the eucharist as there is for Jesus being the Son of God the Father, coequal and of one substance with him, eternally existent, consisting of two natures in one indivisible person, and all the details of the orthodox Christological creeds.
No, it is not for lack of evidence that some would deny the nature eucharist—it is rather discomfort and doubting.
In a sense, this discomfort and incredulity is understandable, for these are hard sayings. Yet, I maintain that all orthodox doctrines should make us uncomfortable and test our faith. If they do not, we do not truly understand Christianity. For Christianity was never meant to be a religion easily believed. Jesus did not intend to make it easy to follow him or believe in him.
And yet, the Church is never satisfied with anything less than the fullness of the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Far from denying it or seeking to soften it, she teaches it from age to age with authority, demanding our obedience and our allegiance. And she alone can confidently and joyfully believe the fullness of those words—not of symbol, but of sacrament and salvation—Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the age.
Einstein, who dwelt in the realms of numbers and facts, recognized the essential nature of imagination. He said of it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Such is the power of imagination.
When I was a child, you could have placed me in an empty room with a window, and I would have been capable of entertaining myself for hours. I would likely have transported myself to other worlds; created stories and characters. No toys and no boredom. Now? I would need something to “do”—as if creating were not enough. But that is the limitation of the adult. Happy is the adult who can keep his childhood, his imagination.
The primary playground for my creative play was my bedroom. It was small, probably not more than 8×10, but to me, it was a large world—enlarged by creativity. I animated nearly everything in my room. The colorful plastic cart next to my bed was a large sand crawler; my chest of drawers was a sky-scraper on which imaginary characters, usually represented by my fingers, would have super-heroic adventures; my bed was an airplane on which I would wing my way across the country; my stuffed animals were real creatures and friends whose feelings would be hurt if I didn’t play with them often enough. In short, my small room was big with the magic of stories unthought-of and with worlds of my making.
Such is the world of the child—wide with possibility. Indeed, the child cannot easily distinguish between possibility and actuality—that is, reality. Because a child can conceive of a castle in the clouds, he sees little reason why it couldn’t exist. Whether or not the castle actually does exist is of little consequence—the childish heart grows happy with the idea, and he begins to feel a longing for the world of his creation. If he could, he would make it real. It is probable this is what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes meant when he said that God “has put eternity into man’s heart….” Eternity is housed in the imagination, for imagination is the instrument of longing and of desire. If we could not imagine, we could not yearn for anything more than the moment. We could not progress, we could not improve, and we could not desire to do either. And so imagination is one of the most mystical and spiritual of mankind’s powers.
Now, my room would seem small and shabby— certainly not entertaining. I would see a worn area rug, a bin full of toys, a second-hand chest of drawers, and a cheap, colorful bed-spread from K-Mart adorned with monsters shaped like letters of the alphabet. In short, I would see what it was not, rather than what it could be. It would not be magical; it would be small, limited by the confines of four little walls and a window.
I remember the shift between the magical bedroom of the child and the more concrete, limited room of the adult. I was 12 years old, and very much aware that I would soon be a teenager. And with that awareness came the realization that teenagers do not “play”—that is, they must dampen their imaginations. Flying on one’s bed and imagining one’s dresser was a skyscraper was childish. Like Peter Pan, I realized the world of the adult was far less wonderful, but unlike him, and like most, I chose to leave childhood behind. It was a choice, and one which I could have delayed. But I grew up, and my room was no longer magical—though there were times when I wished it were again.
In a sense, growing older enlarges the world. You become aware of ideas, facts, and feelings that were before hidden and secret; the things you were always told you were too young to understand. You step outside the bedroom and realize that outside is a very real world. In short, you experience more. But, in another sense, growing older makes the world shrink. The adult is limited by facts, by reality, by what is and what cannot be, and so a room is just a room—the sum of its parts.
But growing up is a necessary thing, and an expansion in understanding is essential for the proper function of civilization. If the world were run by children, it might begin to look very much like the island in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Imagination untempered can far too easily become corrupted by man’s self-centered inclinations. Indeed, the problem with imagination is that it is usually a selfish pleasure—one that hates to be interrupted by responsibility. I remember I would often get angry when I was distracted from my reveries by my mother calling for me to clean my room or pick up the toys I had left all over the house. I remember thinking I never wanted to grow up and be occupied by doing things instead of imagining them.
But that’s what reason does—it reminds us of duty. It tells us that we are not alone, and that we bear a responsibility to ourselves and to others. Reason, then, is not the enemy of imagination—it is its compliment, its balancing force. But without the counterbalance of reason, imagination would not just lead to evil, it would lead to impotence. Left only with imagination, we would have many fantastic ideas and dreams, but we would have no way of pursuing them. We could not make our imaginings happen, no matter how ardently we longed to. Imagination, then, gives reason its soul, and reason gives imagination its body, and the world of the child is incomplete, though wonderful, because it is too selfish. The world of the adult is incomplete because it is too limited.
Unfortunately, most adults do not have a problem with too much imagination, but too little. The child needs to grow in reason to be a man, and the man needs to grow in imagination to be a man. But while adults have lost much of their power to imagine, it is not wholly lost. Museums, art galleries, films, poetry, myths, and other literature are testaments to this. They awaken the inner child, the child still longing to create and to feel the thrill of possibility and of endless ages. We will spend money and time to reawaken our childhood, though of course, it takes more powerful things than toys and backyards to fire our feeling of wonder again—specifically things that are compellingly beautiful, sublime, or tragic. But we can still feel it.
We must discover a second childhood and return to innocence if we would know joy; we must recover the magic of the ordinary; be thrilled again by small things; by gardens, trees, laughter, stories, friendship, and, yes, even little rooms with little windows. And we must be truly grateful for the great gifts of existence and experience. For it is then, with all the aching of a distant memory and a faraway home, that we will hear ordinary things hum with the vibrations of eternity, and our world will again grow large.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
-Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
There is a common and yet mistaken idea that poverty is solely a financial state, and that helping the poor consists primarily in providing them with food, clothing, and other material goods. In a way, this idea is understandable, for materials needs are the most easily seen and met.
But there is a second kind of poverty perhaps more devastating than material neediness, a greater and still more tragic poverty—the poverty of soul.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta saw this second kind of poverty most clearly, and spoke about it often. She knew what it was to work among the truly materially desolate in the slums of India, and yet, among these men, women, and children whom the world would pity, she saw many hearts full of joy, gratitude, and even contentment. In their utter desolateness, many were happy. Paradoxically, it was among the rich of the world, those who had everything materially, that she saw this second poverty in the form of depression, anger, hurt, isolation, loneliness and despair.
Jesus acknowledged that poverty would exist even among material plenty when he said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Some have twisted this into a financial prophecy of sorts, and have used it as an excuse not to help those in need—to their own condemnation, I might add, for the poor are Christ. But Jesus meant something more than the financially poor, although he certainly meant them also. He meant that the needy we will always have with us. And in the materially wealthy West, the needy most often are the emotionally and spiritually hurting.
As evidence of this, I daresay that many of us would be hard pressed to think of anyone we know who is without the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter—and so we think we do not have any poor toward whom we can show compassion. But this simply isn’t true.
I can say confidently that every one of us knows someone who is hurting emotionally—someone who feels abandoned, lost, lonely, doubting, despairing, or hungry for affection—but so often we are ignorant of it because we simply do not take the time to notice or to listen. And the hurting, in their isolation, often put on a mask of happiness so that their pain will not be discovered.
These are the poor and they are Jesus. If we are so self-absorbed that we do not notice, or we notice but do not care, we are quite literally abandoning Christ, and no amount of prayer or work in God’s name will matter to him if we are not serving with love the silently suffering around us.
How frequently, too, are the spiritually poor in our own families. Our husbands, wives, or children are hurting and craving affection, and yet they are the last ones we think of when we think of the needy. They are so close that we no longer see them. We must give ourselves to them with our time and attention.
This is love and it is not easy. In fact, in many ways, it is more taxing than meeting material needs. Distributing our money or possessions—paying the bills or donating to charity, for example—doesn’t cost us nearly as much as giving of our time and emotional energy to listen, and more importantly, to hear, with true understanding. Yet, it is what we must do if we would follow Christ.
Jesus solemnly promised, “When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Let us then pray for hearts overflowing with compassion, so that we can hear and help with joy the hidden Christ veiled in the faces of our friends.
“It is to far happier, far higher exaltation that we owe those fair fronts of variegated mosaic, charged with wild fancies and dark hosts of imagery, thicker and quainter than ever filled the depth of midsummer dream; those vaulted gates, trellised with close leaves; those window labyrinths of twisted tracery and starry light; those misty masses of multitudinous pinnacle and diademed tower; the only witnesses, perhaps, that remain to us of the faith and fear of nations. All else for which the builders sacrificed has passed away. But of them and their life and their toil upon earth, one reward, one evidence, is left to us in those great heaps of deep-wrought stone. They have taken with them to the grave their powers, their honors and their errors; but they have left us their adoration.”
As I’ve progressed in my journey through Les Misérables, I have continued to find quotes that are moving, profound, and beautiful. While philosophically and theologically, Hugo has some beliefs with which I disagree, he is always worth listening to. This will not be the last post in this series, as there are more quotes I would like to share in the near future (Click here for Part 1).
[Describing what it is like to die in a war] If there is anything terrible, if there exists a reality which surpasses dreams, it is this: to live, to see the sun; to be in full possession of virile force; to possess health and joy; to laugh valiantly to rush towards a glory which one sees dazzingly in front of one; to feel in one’s breast lungs which breath, a heart which beats, a will which reasons; to speak, think, hope, love; to have a mother, to have a wife, to have children; to have the light—and all at once, in the space of a shout, in less than a minute, to sink into an abyss; to fall, to roll to crush, to be crushed; to see ears of wheat flowers leaves, branches; to be able to catch hold of anything; to feel one’s sword useless, men beneath one, horses on top of one; to struggle in vain, since one’s bones have been broken by some kick in the darkness; to feel a heel which makes one’s eyes start from their sockets; to bite horses’ shoes in one’s rage; to stifle, to yell, to writhe; to be beneath, and to say to one’s self, “But just a little while ago, I was a living man!”
A hundred years is youth in a church and age in a house. It seems as though man’s lodging partook of his ephemeral character, and God’s house of his eternity.
Nothing oppresses the heart like symmetry. It is because symmetry is ennui, and ennui is at the very foundation of grief. Despair yawns. Something more terrible than hell where one suffers may be imagine, and that is a hell where one is bored.
Children accept joy and happiness instantly and familiarly being themselves by nature joy and happiness.
She did not understand Latin, but she understood the book.
What contemplation for the mind, and what endless food for thought, is the reverberation of God upon the human wall!
A faith; this is a necessity for man. Woe to him who believes nothing.
[About nuns and other religious] There certainly must be some who pray constantly for those who never pray at all.
[Regarding nuns] We, who do not believe what these women believe, but who, like them, live by faith—we have never been able to think without a sort of tender and religious terror, without a sort of pity, that is full of envy, of those devoted, trembling and trusting creatures, of these humble and august souls, who dare to dwell on the very brink of the mystery, waiting between the world which is closed and heaven which is not yet open, turned towards the light which one cannot see, possessing the sole happiness of thinking that they know where it is, aspiring towards the gulf, and the unknown, their eyes fixed motionless on the darkness, kneeling, bewildered, stupefied, shuddering, half lifted, at times, by the deep breaths of eternity.
Joy is the ebb of terror.
A smile is the same as sunshine; it banishes winter from the human countenance.
And moreover, when both are sincere and good, no men so penetrate each other, and so amalgamate with each other, as an old priest and and old soldier. At bottom, the man is the same. The one has devoted his life to his country here below, the other to his country on high; that is the only difference.
What a spectacle is the night! One hears dull sounds, without knowing whence they proceed; one beholds Jupiter, which is twelve hundred times larger than the earth, glowing like a firebrand, the azure is black, the stars shine; it is formidable.
In the sacred shadows, there lies latent light. Volcanoes are full of a shadow that is capable of flashing forth. Every form begins by being night. The catacombs, in which the first mass was said, were not alone the cellar of Rome, they were the vaults of the world.
There is one thing sadder than to see one’s children die; it is to see them leading an evil life.
Right triumphant has no need of being violent; right is the just and the true.
Who then, can calculate the course of a molecule? How do we know that the creation of worlds is not determined by the fall of grains of sand? Who knows the reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely great and the infinitely little, the reverberations of causes in the precipices of being, and the avalanches of creation? The tiniest worm is of great importance; the great is little, the little is great; everything is balanced in necessity; alarming vision for the mind.
There are marvelous relations between beings and things; in that inexhaustible whole, from the sun to the grub, nothings despises the other; all have need of each other. The lights does not bear away terrestrial perfumes into the azure depths, without knowing what it is doing; the night distributes stellar essences to the sleeping flowers. All birds that fly have round their leg the thread of the infinite. Germination is complicated with the bursting forth of a meteor and with the peck of a swallow cracking its egg, and it places on one level the birth of an earthworm and the advent of Socrates. Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two possesses the larger field of vision? Choose.
In the vast cosmic exchanges the universal life goes and comes in unknown quantities, rolling entirely in the invisible mystery of effluvia, employing everything, not losing a single dream, not a single slumber, sowing an animalcule here, crumbling to bits a planet there, oscillating and winding, making of light a force and of thought an element, disseminated and invisible, dissolving all, except that geometrical point, the I; bringing everything back to the soul-atom; expanding everything in God, entangling all activity, from summit to base, in the obscurity of a dizzy mechanism, attaching the flight of an insect to the movement of the earth, subordinating, who knows? Where it only by the identity of the law, the evolution of the comet in the firmament to the whirling of the infusoria in the drop of water. A machine made of mind. Enormous gearing, the prime motor of which is the gnat, and whose final wheel is the zodiac.
The advent of Christmas is one of the busiest and noisiest times of year—a season of getting and spending in which we lay waste our credit cards. It should be a holy time, but it has become an orgy of consumerism in the temples of commerce. It is not peaceful, and it is certainly not silent.
It is a sign of the shrinking of the modern soul and the jaded and scientific cynicism of the contemporary age that we have nearly lost our capacity to wonder—even at the greatest of miracles. We have replaced it with a materialistic obsession and a voracious greed. But it is wonder that would make us feel small and selfless, that would cause us to give. It is materialism that makes us feel large and greedy and causes us to take. We have traded our souls for stuff, and we have lost them.
But despite, or perhaps because of, the materialism that is so prevalent, it is obvious that humanity is desperate for something to believe in, something to wonder at. The shallow satisfaction of Things dies as soon as there is something new to be had. Which is to say, immediately. And so we grasp after something deeper, something unbelievable to believe in.
Nowhere is this better evidenced than Hollywood. The unending theme of Christmas movies is the unbelieving cynic who needs to gain or regain the “spirit” of Christmas—that spirit being a sense of wonder and joy and faith in something that cannot be understood.
Pop culture is very often right about what is wrong, but it is almost always wrong about what is right, and this certainly true of Christmas movies. In these films, Hollywood has indeed stumbled on a profound theological truth: We must believe, we must wonder like a child at something to be truly happy. But it is what we should believe in and what we should wonder at that they go wrong. For the thing that brings the spirit of Christmas in these movies is almost always the wrong thing: It is family, it is being together, it is believing in Santa Claus.
Now, these things are good things, and even the story of Santa—which has become somewhat of an obsession—is a story with merits. It is one of giving, of faith, of asking and receiving, of childlike simplicity. It is a story just strange enough to be fiction. But it is not strange enough. We need a story yet more wonderful.
Fortunately, truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and there is a more wonderful story. It is the story of a small town in the Judean countryside, Bethlehem, the City of David, and what happened there. In this tiny town, a weary peasant girl—with God in her womb—was helped by her husband into a cave filled with the aroma of animals. Here, deep in the night, an infant cry startled the stillness, and in the dark, the Light of the world was born. Infinity had invaded space and eternity time. God had become a baby, and behind the starry curtain of heaven, angels danced to see it.
In the pungent dampness of the cave, the loving mother laid the great Strength of the Ages in a manger. The animals, unlike the men who had had no room for Him, were only too happy to share their feeding trough with God. Soon, the divine child was asleep with the first weariness he had ever known—but not the last he was to know. It was the weariness of tiny muscles and strained lungs. It was the pain and helplessness of humanity.
At this story we shrug, we pass by with a sweet and sentimental smile. We would prefer Santa Claus. It is only ignorance that makes it so. But this is the story really worthy of wonder, the story of the divine invasion, the story that is too good to be true—the True story. It is the most terrible and stupefying of miracles. It is the miracle that quite literally shattered the world. For in that tiny struggling form of a helpless child, a Vastness beyond vastness had become too small to ignore, and God forevermore took on the face, even the body of a man.