Monday, December 26, 2005

Celebrate the New Year at St James Cathedral

This coming New Year's Eve, a fantastic way to celebrate the New Year is the gorgeous Mozart at 250 at St James Cathedral in Seattle.

This concert features the 60-voice Cathedral Choir of St James, the organists Joseph Adam and Clint Craus, the beautiful voices of the Cathedral soloists, all directed by Dr James Savage--all singing and making music Mozart composed all through his life for the glory of God's Beauty!

It's Saturday 31 December 2005, at 11:00pm at St James, 9th & Marion, in Seattle. What a beautiful way to ring in and sing in the New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Take Her to Sea!

And then the tale, at long last, begins.

A real story, a true story, like that of the Titanic. “On Saturday . . .”sings stanza 12. The true tale of the voyage and wreck of the Deutschland. And the origin and goal of the voyage—from Bremen to America—have their won romantic significance: it is the journey, the quest, the westward expansion, the “American-outward-bound” of the European nations and peoples for four hundred years before Hopkins’ own time. And even with all the details, facts, acts, events of European history, the one Big Story since about 1500 is “American-outward-bound”—a story also synonymous with the break-down of Christendom.

While the passengers believe they are going to America—to newness, to expansion, to freedom perhaps, to the new horizon of “American-outward-bound”—they little know they are doomed, that a fourth of the passengers would die and the others be irrevocably marked, like the survivors of the Titanic, by the forever-altered awareness, in horror, of mortality. Telling this tale as the symbolic meaning of modern European history is fitting, because the ideologies of the modern era—materialism, secularism, capitalism, communism, atheism,--all not only deny God but also deny Death, or rather, not deny Death but ignore Death even while promoting Death.

The chug-chugging along, full ahead, of a big modern engine-powered ship in westward transatlantic crossing is a terrific symbol of the spiritual condition of modern Europe. Of course, we don’t mean, nor did Hopkins, that there’s anything wrong about sea-travel; after all, Dante used the image of a boat all through his Comedy as the image of the soul, the human reality, the Church, and the spiritual life. But the modern powered-ship is rather like an airplane or a rocket—the wonder, near-divine, of modern Man; and something like September 11th or the Space Shuttle disaster, which reminds us of our mortality and fallibility, all the more strikingly glaring in the context of our arrogance. Though modern man be modern, he is no more divine than medieval or ancient man or even cave-man. Man is Man, or “dust!” Yet, yet once we admit Death, then we can start to see the reality of God’s love and blessing.

The 1875 voyage of the Deutschland was as real as the voyage of the Titanic—and on board were those nuns, fleeing the anti-Catholic laws of the newly united Germany (“Deutschland”, by the way, soon to be wrecked!). Thus Hopkins has set up, in this telling of the tale, a real thing which can carry the spiritual significance of the boat in Dante. What magic and what blessing will be in its telling!

On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,
Two hundred souls in the round—
O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing
The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;
Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing
Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Death in the Wreck

The opening stanza of Hopkins' great poem's second part is about Death.

Death. A painful, ugly topic--yet a fact, a universal fact for every one of us.

This stanza, stanza 11, is a meditation on Death--putting the entire poem in the context of Death. "Dust!" is our universal, common destiny. Death is a real thing--metaphysical debates aside. Perhaps this is why tales of shipwreck are so effectively romantic--because a tale of a shipwreck mythologizes our common fate. We are all on the Titanic, all on the Deutschland.

Hopkins has Death speak and use the many names, many experiences, by which people encounter Death--sword, flange, rail, flame, fang, flood. But the image of the shipwreck is a powerful poetic image that puts us all on the deck of Death.

Perhaps that is why the greatest cheezey movie of all time--James Cameron's Titanic--was so powerful a film for so many millions of people. Despite the inelegant dialogue, the tale of Leonardo di Caprio & Kate Winslett on the Titanic was a kind of romantic universal myth of the situation of everyone--in the face of the fact of Death, the point is how we face it, what we do, how we act, to what and to whom do we give outselves. Some choose to struggle for life against everyone else, some with a few others; some make their art or their music, while some do their duty of rank or office; some kill thmselves in despair, some just get drunk; and some--Jack & Rose in the movie--offer themselves for each other in a self-sacrificial romantic Love that prefigures Christian love and Christ's sacrifice. No wonder Rose uses words like "He saved me."!

In the face of Death, Leo (Jack) & Kate (Rose) live for Love. Their romantic, secular example in Titanic is a myth for all of us: since we are all on the Titanic, since we are all, inevitably, ultimately, every one of us, going to die, thus how we face that absolutely real fact is the very existential definition of our lives. In Titanic, we weep with a grief that is Joy for Leo & Kate, for Jack & Rose, because in the face of Death they live for Love. And like Titanic, Hopkins' poem is of the same genre--in the face of Death, a Tall Nun calls out "O Christ, Christ, come quickly!" And like Titanic, Hopkins' poem, through exploring the most profoundly sad experience, ultimately expresses not only Hope but joyful, glorious Hope! But for that Hope to be truly Hopeful, we must first risk hopelessness in the real fact of Death. "All flesh is grass, and its beauty is the beauty of the flowers: the flowers wither, the grass fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever!"

Hopkins' second part of the "Wreck" reminds us that in the midst of life we are on the deck of a sinking ship:

‘Some find me a sword; some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood’ goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But wé dream we are rooted in earth—Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Rest of the Wreck

Hopkins’ great Wreck of the Deutschland unveils the reality of Christ and the human person in the tale of the wreck of a ship, the Deutschland, in a storm in the Thames—a ship coming from Bremen en route to America. Amongst the passengers were a group of Franciscan nuns, exiled from Germany on account of the anti-Catholic German laws of the time. That their exile was also the hour of their death by drowning became a symbol for Hopkins of the reality of human life in our difficult world, but also an inspiring account of the nuns’ witness to Christ by unity with His cross.

As the First Part--the first ten stanzas--served as a kind of “First Principle and Foundation” or spiritual background of the encounter between God and the human person, so now the Second Part tells the story of the ship, the storm, the wreck, and the heroic witness of one of the nuns, whom we will call the Tall Nun, who calls out, “Christ, come quickly” at the climax of the poem.

Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out in The Glory of the Lord:

“But the ultimate for Hopkins remains still his shipwreck poems, because here the foundering and shattering of all worldly images and symbols yield a final picture of the sacrament of the world: perishing and ascending to God—death as Resurrection: Resurrection not beyond death but in death. The nun on the foaming deck, who from the midst of the tumult of the elements cries ‘Christ, come quickly’—she cries to her Redeemer in and through the elements: ‘christens her wild-worst Best.’ The wreck is as a harvest (‘the goal was a shoal’); everything alive was washed away (‘lives at last were washing away’). Foundering in God—that is the high point of the poem—man finds nothing more to cling on to, not his longing nor reward nor Heaven nor any of God’s attributes, for beyond all that there is nothing but Him alone: ‘Ipse, the only one’—the self beyond any nature. Here the poet rejoices because the ‘heart right’ (cor rectum), the ‘single eye’ of the parable, is capable of the highest: to interpret the formless and unformable chaos of the night as form and in the senselessness of pure question to know the who and the why.”

So let’s explore this “Second Part” of Hopkins’ great poem as we await the coming of Christ!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Godhead here in hiding

Gerard Manley Hopkins offers this translation of the famed Eucharistic hymn of St Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hopkins' God, Three-Numbered Form

So now for the rest of the stanzas of "Part One" of The Wreck of the Deutschland. Remember, these first ten stanzas are rather like a meditation on God and the person, rather like a "first principle and foundation" for the "spiritual exercise" that is the "Part Two", the tale of the exiled & drowned nuns. These ten stanzas explore the relationship of God and the person, climaxing in a doxology to the Holy Trinity.

“Not out of his bliss”—Stanza Six—describes the stress, explores God’s instressing of the World—which Hopkins deems not as easy and cheap grace but rather as a “stroke and a stress” in a moment of time, in reality. We meet God in “stars and storms”, and “it rides time like riding a river.” The “river” here is many things—the river of life, the river of the Red Sea, death & life both, the water of baptism, the moment of conversion and transformation and Paschal Mystery.

And in Stanza Seven, Hopkins describes the stroke as the intervention, the eruption, the love-stroke of God into human history—the Incarnation. Thus Hopkins describes and makes visual in erotic terms the theology of Nature and Grace. And he indicates that this doctrine is a real historical actual thing that not all men actually know, “faithful” and “faithless”. I like the phrase “the faithless fable and miss”, because it implies a real Beauty at first in fables that ultimately remains unfulfilled because unreal; and it reminds me of the phrase in the very first stanza of the whole poem—“I feel they finger and find thee”—because it implies that the Christian relationship with God is no fabling that fails but a real lovemaking, because it is a real thing. “It dates from day of his going in Galilee.” And even the imagery of the river in these two stanzas is erotic—“hushed” . .”flushed” . . .”melt” . . .”riding a river” . . .”waver” . . .”fable and miss” . . .”dense . . .driven” . . .”sweat” . . .”discharge” . . .”swelling” . . .”felt” . . .”high flood” . . .and since it’s all about the heart whose guilt is “hushed”, so now this heart is “hard” . . .and then, in Stanza Eight, is “Is out with it !Oh, we lash with the best or worst word last!” That’s all pretty sexy penning to describe Grace and the specifics of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. But there it all is—and Hopkins thus in his poem-making celebrates the very flesh of the God-made-flesh!

And this beautiful penning becomes almost exciting in this Stanza Eight, more so perhaps even than Melville in the famed chapter in Moby Dick, in which the whalers celebrate in the very sperm and flesh of the sperm-whale. Hopkins' image for it here is a plum a "sloe" and how it bursts on the tongue and face. It is the real encounter with the living God, Incarnate, present, linked to the real Calvary, His real “feet”, and it is an experience of real Grace, no mere intellectualizing: “Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go!” Our relationship with God is more exciting than anything! And the love-nest of this relationship is the nest of an Altar, the Altar of the Cross.

And the result—Doxology! “Be adored among men” begins Stanza Nine, in an invocation of the “Three-numbered form” of the Holy Trinity, and an act of gratitude that God’s Love can be found even in our suffering, “with wrecking and storm.” And this “lightning and love” is “past telling of tongue”, as St Paul once wrote, but yet Hopkins, in his jammed and crammed and crunched poem tells it.

Stanzas Nine & Ten are a prayer for conversion, like St Paul’s or St Augustine’s. Indeed, for a forging. As is all Christian spirituality—but oh, how much more exciting, more beautiful, more flesh-evocative is Hopkins’ poem than the insipid and pallid phrase “Christian spirituality” which so easily goes Gnostic. Hopkins’ sacramental poetry saves spirituality from itself!

Enough of my commentary. Read it all here for yourself . . .and remember, it’s all an Ignatian First Principle and Foundation for the tale of the exiled nuns, the Wreck of the Deutschland (that phrase itself has multiple meanings!) and real faith in Jesus Christ!

Not out of his bliss
Springs the stress felt
Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt—
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—
But it rides time like riding a river
(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

It dates from day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

Is out with it! Oh,
We lash with the best or worst
Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,
Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,
To hero of Calvary, Christ, ’s feet—
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

Be adored among men,
God, three-numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Balthasar on Hopkins

The remaining stanzas of “Part One” of The Wreck of the Deutschland well sing of that personal wrestling-relationship between the person and God—which Hopkins himself certainly experienced, in his vocation as a Poet, yes, and most of all in his vocation as a Jesuit.

Balthasar, in The Glory of the Lord, describes this relationship quite exquisitely---“the always unique oneness of the individual form that only emerges in the Christian encounter between the absolutely personal and free God and the fully personal creature—here alone truly ‘monos pros monon’ [alone with the Alone]—and just this fundamental experience had to lead Hopkins back to Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises, where for the first time in the history of Christian spirituality everything is placed on the knife edge of the mutual election that takes place between God and man, behind which retreats any consideration of ‘perfection in general’. Here are dissolved all the confusing clouds of the mythical in order to uncover the absolute, hard reality in which alone the true glory of being shines forth.”

We certainly experience this poetically, most strongly, in Stanza Five—“I kiss my hand”. It is a salute, a loving salute to God in starlight, thunder, and sunset. One is reminded of the chivalric courtesy of Ignatius, as well as the romantic gestures of all poets, the total giving, the gratuitous generosity, the particular hard reality and the sweet spectacular uniqueness of a Vocation and a Response. “I kiss my hand” to God’s revelation of His Beauty, in the here and now, and in the beyond.

We are reminded, too, that gazing upwards at the stars is a sign of Man’s eternal vocation and destiny. And here too Hopkins describes God as the instress of the World—the energy, the be-ing, the let-be-ing that makes the World both that it is and what it is. Hopkins also indicates at least two modes in which he knows God—when he meets or experiences Him, and when he understands Him. And that the poet says “and bless when I understand” hints that real understanding happens only once in a while. But the salute, the generous gesture, is the continual response to the Call, the response to Beauty!

I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:
Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

Balthasar saw & heard this vision of Beauty in Hopkins' sacramental poetry!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hopkins' Wreck's Relationship

These first ten stanzas of Hopkins’ The Wreck of the Deutschland form “Part One” of the poem---and they sing the wrestled relationship of the person and God. “Part Two” sings the tale of the death by shipwreck & drowning of the exiled German nuns.

Stanza Four is repose after sudden climax—“I am soft sift”—but it is an active, acted up repose that is still a responsiveness: and that is the Gospel lifestyle. In these dense, rich metaphors, Hopkins gives us a vision of the Beauty of a lifestyle of Grace. Such a life is like two things—sand in an hourglass, water in a well. Either way, we cling to Him, spent, spending, suspended. “Hourglass”, of course, implies time, irreversible, moment by moment, hour by hour, in which we live. And the Gospel lifestyle is one of motion—like, perhaps,in a third image, a ship roped to the dock, roped with the strictures of Christ, which are described as “a vein”. And we know whose vein, and we know our veins too. Thus Hopkins jams more meaning in, almost more than any one word can carry. Thus he is like Pindar and Virgil.

This lifestyle of Grace—“Christ’s gift.” Hopkins shows us—and this is why Balthasar so emphasizes Hopkins in The Glory of the Lord—the Beauty of the relationship with Christ.

I am soft sift
In an hourglass—at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall
Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Wreck's Wrestling-Match

The first three stanzas of The Wreck of the Deutschland are as erotic as Tristan und Isolde and describe a three-part climax of spiritual movement—1) God’s mastering call; 2) the person’s swooning response; and 3) the explosion of union. And they root this love-making in the Blessed Sacrament at Mass, or in the Tabernacle during an hour of silent adoration, the “Host” . . .and further, “with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host”. This is no mythic generalized spirituality but rather a real thing, a real love-making with the real God Who became a real Man in Jesus Christ, sacrificing Himself on the Cross and rising from the dead, ascending to this Father and sending His Holy Spirit so that we could encounter Him, know Him, and become one in Him in the Eucharist.

I did say yes
O at lightning and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height:
And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

The frown of his face
Before me, the hurtle of hell
Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?
I whirled out wings that spell
And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,
Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,
To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

Stanza Two confirms this metaphor of the wrestling with God: “I did say yes.” It is a wrestling at night, at prayer, in a chapel—and it is a “swoon” and a “sweep” and a “hurl” and a “midriff . . .laced with fire of stress.” It is a moment when Hopkins says Yes to the call of God—in his own life, perhaps the call to join the Roman Catholic Church or to enter the Jesuits, or perhaps some other night of prayer. It is a moment of a response to God, and an urgent response to an urgent call. This is a real experience, a real thing, . . .and it has been so in the lives of many real Christian persons.

Stanza Three---“the frown of his face” is God’s judgement ahead, “the hurtle of hell” is the penalty, and the person becomes a “dovewinged” dove, “carrier-witted” who flies at the Blessed Sacrament in an aim described as both “fire” and “grace.” Even this climax of rest is an explosion.

Balthasar sees that Hopkins’ poem is the landscape on which the real person encounters the real God—especially in the hour of decision, of choice, of answer, of personal response to a call, of personal vocation, of encounter.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hopkins' Masterpiece

The Wreck of the Deutschland, of course, is Hopkins’ masterpiece—an artistic and a moral masterpiece. For in a Crisis of Impossibility, it is a cry of Faith.

The drama of the poem’s occasion—the death of the exiled German nuns by shipwreck—and the drama of the poet’s situation—the wrestling-match of the encounter between the real person and the real God—are revealed in the poem’s first word, “Thou”, and the poem’s last word, “Lord”. The poem is “Thou Lord.” And everything in-between is the Paschal Mystery—the relationship between the human person and Jesus Christ.

The first stanza—“Thou mastering me God!”—sings with an almost erotic frankness of the wrestling-match of God and the person. God is awesome—as master, creator, teacher, dread doom, divine and human savior. Merely the perception of God, merely the experience of God, merely the addressing of God in the daring, wonderful, heatbreaking syllable “Thou” reveals more theology than all the intellectual constructions of the philosophers, as Pascal knew.

And while I’m certain Hopkins did not wittingly intend an erotic aura, I cannot help but notice that this stanza, concerning the relationship between the real person and the true God, all following the invocation “Thou”, includes a progression of words—“mastering me” . . .”breath” . ..”sway” . . .”bound bones and veins” . . .”fastened me flesh” . . .”touch me afresh” . . .”over again” . . .”feel” . . .finger” . ..”find”. Of course, Hopkins pens in the tradition of The Song of Songs and the canticles of St John of the Cross.

No wonder Balthasar chose Hopkins as a star in the constellation of The Glory of the Lord!

Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

Friday, November 04, 2005


It is fascinating that Balthasar devotes a whole chapter to Gerard Manley Hopkins, as one of his stars in the constellation of theologies.

Hopkins spies God in a seeing of Beauty. The created world reveals God's Truth, God's Goodness, God's Beauty--God's very being by showing forth God's Beauty. Hopkins' "God's Grandeur" sings of God's glory in Creation, Man's fallen nature, and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the descent of the Holy Ghost. The concision and crunch of the words forces us to pay attention to it, as if (as if!?!) the poet were talking, singing about real things that matter. This is a vision more true, more real than mere materialism, naturalism, cynicism, or even political ideology.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The whole Easter Vigil shows itself in this poem!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pope Benedict on Death

As Fr Ryan said last night in his homily at St James Cathedral in Seattle, we have been made well aware of death of late, by the deaths of our own loved ones, and also by the disasters of war, flood, & earthquake in this year of far too much death. So how do we, in Fr Ryan's poignant words, make friends with death.

Pope Benedict too addressed this point yesterday, in his audience on All Souls:

"After celebrating yesterday the solemn feast of all the saints of heaven, today we remember all the deceased faithful. The liturgy invites us to pray for all our loved ones who have passed away, turning our thoughts to the mystery of death, common heritage of all people.

"Illuminated by faith, we look at the human enigma of death with serenity and hope. According to Scripture, the latter in fact is not an end but a new birth, it is the imperative passage through which the fullness of life may be attained by those who model their earthly existence according to the indications of the Word of God."

Pope Benedict then commented on Psalm 111 (112):

"Psalm 111(112), a composition of a sapiential nature, presents to us the figure of these just ones, who fear the Lord, acknowledge his transcendence and adhere with trust and love to his will in the expectation of encountering him after death.

"Docility to God is, therefore, the root of hope and interior and exterior harmony. Observance of the moral law is the source of profound peace of conscience. In fact, according to the biblical vision of \"retribution,\" over the just is extended the mantle of divine blessing, which imprints stability and success on his works and those of his descendants: \"Their descendants shall be mighty in the land, a generation upright and blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in their homes\" (verses 2-3; cf. verse 9).

"However, to this optimistic vision are opposed the bitter observations of the just Job, who experiences the mystery of sorrow, feels himself unjustly punished and subjected to apparently senseless trials. Job represents many just people who suffer profoundly in the world. It is necessary, therefore, to read this psalm in the global context of Revelation, which embraces the reality of human life in all its aspects.

"However, the trust continues to be valid, which the psalmist wishes to transmit and be experienced by him who has chosen to follow the way of morally irreprehensible conduct, against all alternatives of illusory success obtained through injustice and immorality."

The Holy Father then juxtaposes death and life and eternal life, by meditating on holiness and blessedness of the good person who loves God and loves neighbor:

"On this day in which we commemorate the dead, as I was saying at the beginning of our meeting, we are all called to face the enigma of death and, therefore, the question of how to live well, how to find happiness. Above all, the psalm responds: Blessed is the man who gives; blessed is the man who does not spend his life for himself, but gives it; blessed is the man who is merciful, good and just; blessed is the man who lives in the love of God and of his neighbor. In this way, we live well and do not have to be afraid of death, as we live in the happiness that comes from God and that has no end."

(Besides the inspiring and evocative meditation on death, the Pope gives us his own example of preaching that is of such breathtaking clarity, integrity, and symmetry, of such marvelous Beauty!)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

For All Souls

Newman's vision is of a soul who desires purgation in order to be made worthy & capable of the vision of God: it is a beautiful vision. It roots our relationship with God, even our relationship through death on such a celebration as All Souls Day, in Love, in Eros even, indeed in our longing and desire for God, a longing God has put in us. Thus Purgatory, for Newman, as for Dante, is Love.

Of course, Edward Elgar famously set this all to exquisite music:

I go before my Judge. Ah! ….

…. Praise to His Name!
The eager spirit has darted from my hold,
And, with the intemperate energy of love,
Flies to the dear feet of Emmanuel;
But, ere it reach them, the keen sanctity,
Which with its effluence, like a glory, clothes
And circles round the Crucified, has seized,
And scorch'd, and shrivell'd it; and now it lies
Passive and still before the awful Throne.
O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe,
Consumed, yet quicken'd, by the glance of God.

Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be,
And there in hope the lone night-watches keep,
Told out for me.
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
Lone, not forlorn,—
There will I sing my sad perpetual strain,
Until the morn.
There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast,
Which ne'er can cease
To throb, and pine, and languish, till possest
Of its Sole Peace.
There will I sing my absent Lord and Love:—
Take me away,
That sooner I may rise, and go above,
And see Him in the truth of everlasting day.

--from John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Dream of Gerontius

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For All the Saints

It's the obvious hymn--but as with most hymns, a reading (and singing) of all the verses rewards such close attention. See how the song calls us to a heavenly host, a marching-song, as it were, even as the Church Militant becomes the Church Triumphant. And we sing, as the King of Glory passes on His way!

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the apostles' glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Monday, October 31, 2005

On All Hallows' Eve---Benedict XV on Dante

In 1921, for the 600th anniversary of Dante's death, Pope Benedict XV in In Praeclara Summorum proclaimed:

"Among the many celebrated geniuses of whom the Catholic faith can boast who have left undying fruits in literature and art especially, besides other fields of learning, and to whom civilization and religion are ever in debt, highest stands the name of Dante Alighieri, the sixth centenary of whose death will soon be recorded.

"So that while we admire the greatness and keenness of his genius, we have to recognize, too, the measure in which he drew inspiration from the Divine Faith by means of which he could beautify his immortal poems with all the lights of revealed truths as well as with the splendours of art. Indeed, his Commedia, which deservedly earned the title of Divina, while it uses various symbolic images and records the lives of mortals on earth, has for its true aim the glorification of the justice and providence of God who rules the world through time and all eternity and punishes and rewards the actions of individuals and human society. It is thus that, according to the Divine Revelation, in this poem shines out the majesty of God One and Three, the Redemption of the human race operated by the Word of God made Man, the supreme loving-kindness and charity of Mary, Virgin and Mother, Queen of Heaven, and lastly the glory on high of Angels, Saints and men; then the terrible contrast to this, the pains of the impious in Hell; then the middle world, so to speak, between Heaven and Hell, Purgatory, the Ladder of souls destined after expiation to supreme beatitude. It is indeed marvellous how he was able to weave into all three poems these three dogmas with truly wrought design.

"Therefore the divine poet depicted the triple life of souls as he imagined it in a such way as to illuminate with the light of the true doctrine of the faith the condemnation of the impious, the purgation of the good spirits and the eternal happiness of the blessed before the final judgment.

"There breathes in Alighieri the piety that we too feel; the Faith has the same meaning for us; it is covered with the same veil, "the truth given to us from on high, by which we are lifted so high." That is his great glory, to be the Christian poet, to have sung with Divine accents those Christian ideals which he so passionately loved in all the splendour of their beauty, feeling them intimately and making them his life.

"And you, beloved children, whose lot it is to promote learning under the magisterium of the Church, continue as you are doing to love and tend the noble poet whom We do not hesitate to call the most eloquent singer of the Christian idea. The more profit you draw from study of him the higher will be your culture, irradiated by the splendours of truth, and the stronger and more spontaneous your devotion to the Catholic Faith."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Kneeling Theology, Praying Theology

We need a listening theology, a kneeling theology, a praying theology--not a hermeneutic of suspician, but a hermeneutic of adoration. Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn put it well, in three points, a few years ago:

"The first interest in theology has to be a common look at the object. It is not of primary interest what this or that theologian has said about Christ; rather, the passion in theology has to be to know Christ himself, to approach his mystery, to approach Christ himself.

"Who is Christ? That is the path of theology. If a theologian can help us find a better approach to Christ, that is good. But it is not my first interest to have my method, my methodology, and to defend it against others. I want to approach reality.

"The second point: Back to the masters. It is so sad to lose time with secondary authors. Read St. Irenaeus, read St. Anselm, read the Church Fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure--but do not read all the secondary stuff that floats around our libraries. In Germany there are 7,000 theological titles published every year. Who can read all this stuff without getting indention? It is much better to have read, during theological formation, the Confessions of St. Augustine, than a book about Augustine.

"Third point: the saints are the true theologians. If we consider what theology truly is, we must consider what St. Thomas Aquinas says about connaturality to the object. The study of languages is important-Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, if possible-but this is not enough if the seminarian does not grow in a certain connaturality with the object. That means he learns not only by intellect, but by experience. St. Thomas speaks, with Dionysius the Aeropagite, about the pati divina-not just to approach the things of God, the reality of God-but to suffer it, to be formed by what we study, to be tranformed by the object. This is the meaning of connaturality with what we study: familiarity with it.

"The best formation comes when we become familiar with Christ, when the Holy Spirit leads our thoughts and our heart, and grace transforms our habits. Then we judge theologically, not only by reason, but by the heart. We made a judgment not only through intellectual knowledge, but through a spiritual intuition about what is right and what is wrong. It is vital during theological studies, then, to read the saints. Isn't it true that only great intellectual capacity joined with true sanctity makes the true theologian?

"My last point is the relation between study and prayer. It is an obvious point, but one worth recalling. Theology is sound only if it is a praying theology."

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What is the Good of Theology?

So what is the good of reading & discussing all this theology?

The human intellect, perceiving the Beauty of God's Revelation in Jesus Christ, and receiving the Grace & Splendour of that Beauty, strives to understand it, to make sense of it, both in the context of all the rest of human knowledge as well as in the Glory of God. And it is only thus that human love can be motivated to love God and our neighbor. Thus Beauty, Truth, & Goodness are all linked, all together drawing us human beings up into God through Jesus.

And we must do this theology not in a hermeneutic of suspician but in a hermeneutic of adoration, of beholding, or reception, of bathing in the Beauty of God.

A good start---Hans Urs von Balthasar's Love Alone is Credible!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Sts Simon & Jude

So little or nothing is known about these two Apostles, except their names, and even there there's some confusion of memory. (And that should be a reminder of humility to not a few bishops nowadays!) So why do we remember them with a Feast?

Well, they were Apostles, chosen, sent, the proclaimers of the New Israel, the beginnings of the new Church. And we are members of the House of God built upon those foundation stones of the Apostles.

Further, they--the Apostles--gave us the banquet of Christ's Body & Blood, the saving waters of Baptism, the cleansing forgiveness of Penance, and the words & deeds of the Sacraments.

And their sound has gone out unto all the world, and it continues to do so in their hand-picked successors the Bishops of the world--who recently gathered in Synod to pray and talk and proclaim the Beauty of the Eucharist.

So even if Sts Simon & Jude are obscure Apostles, well, so too are most of the Bishops. Yet here we are, listening, celebrating, praying, and receiving the Sacraments that draw us closer and closer into the Beauty of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


In today's Office of Readings, this beautiful passage from the Book of Wisdom sings of the Wisdom of God---and in it we can begin to explore the relationship between the inner life of the Holy Trinity, the the creation and redemption of humanity, and the pattern of human moral life.

"All that is hidden, all that is plain, I have come to know, instructed by Wisdom who designed them all.

"For within her is a spirit intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
active, incisive, unsullied,
lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,
irresistible, beneficent, loving to man,
steadfast, dependable, unperturbed,
almighty, all-surveying,
penetrating all intelligent, pure
and most subtle spirits;
for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion;
she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.

"She is a breath of the power of God,
pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
hence nothing impure can find a way into her.
She is a reflection of the eternal light,
untarnished mirror of God’s active power,
image of his goodness.

"Although alone, she can do all;
herself unchanging, she makes all things new.
In each generation she passes into holy souls,
she makes them friends of God and prophets;
for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom.
She is indeed more splendid than the sun,
she outshines all the constellations;
compared with light, she takes first place,
for light must yield to night,
but over Wisdom evil can never triumph."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pope Benedict at 6 months

Of course, it doesn't matter what I think of the Pope . . .at least, it scarcely matters what my evaluation of his first 6 months might review; but I am grateful and joyous for his words, his example, and his beauty. And I would like to point out just three examples: It is easy enough to gain copies of his speeches: if Cardinal Manning once wanted a new Papal Document on his daily breakfast table, it's simple enough nowadays with the internet!

1) On the Church: His homilies, speeches, and messages during his first 100 days as Pope, from the Election through Corpus Christi, all seemed to explore a beautiful theology of the Church. The beautiful communion that is the Church, the inner-relations of the followers of Jesus, the historical and visible reality of the Church, the apostolic communion of all the bishops and the bishop of Rome, and our communion in the Eucharist--all presented and contemplated in an evocative and wonderful manner.

2) World Youth Day: His speeches & messages throughout the visit to Cologne also make a beautiful and enriching read--all pointing toward the transformation we can experience through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a transformation of love that is truly revolutionary!

3) Eros & Beauty: Influenced no doubt by the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pope Benedict points us continually toward the Beauty of faith, the Beauty of the Love of God, the Beauty of redemption in Jesus Christ.

So much for the Grand Inquisitor! But if a quotation from Dostoyevsky is needed, we might remember the vision of the Prince in The Idiot: "The world will be saved by Beauty!"

Hurray for Pope Benedict XVI in this Springtime of the Church!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What is a Saint?

With ihs beautiful clarity, Pope Benedict linked the Eucharist and being a Saint--in his homily for the close of the Synod:
"In the Eucharist, we contemplate the sacrament of this living synthesis of the law: Christ gives us, with himself, the full realization of the love for God and the love for our brothers. And this love of his, he communicates to us when we are nourished by his Body and his Blood. This is when what St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in today's reading is achieved: "You broke with the worship of false gods and became the servants of the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This conversion is the beginning of the path of holiness that the Christian is called to achieve in his own existence.

"The saint is he who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth to be progressively transformed by it. Because of this beauty and truth, he is ready to renounce everything, even himself. The love of God is enough, which he experiences in the humble and disinterested service to the neighbor, especially to those who cannot give back in return.

"How providential, in this perspective, is the fact that today the Church points out to all its members five new saints who, nourished by Christ the living bread, were converted to love and modeled their whole existence to this! In different situations and with different charisms, they loved the Lord with all their heart and the neighbor as themselves to thus become "an example to all believers" (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)."

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Bread of Life

Little could be more theologically profound than the concept of the Friendship of Jesus, especially as Pope Benedict explained to the little children who asked:
Anna: "Dear Pope, can you explain to us what Jesus meant when he said to the people who were following him: 'I am the bread of life?'"

Benedict XVI: First of all, perhaps we should explain clearly what bread is. Today, we have a refined cuisine, rich in very different foods, but in simpler situations bread is the basic source of nourishment; and when Jesus called himself the bread of life, the bread is, shall we say, the initial, an abbreviation that stands for all nourishment.
And as we need to nourish our bodies in order to live, so we also need to nourish our spirits, our souls and our wills. As human persons, we do not only have bodies but also souls; we are thinking beings with minds and wills. We must also nourish our spirits and our souls, so that they can develop and truly attain their fulfillment.

And therefore, if Jesus says: "I am the bread of life," it means that Jesus himself is the nourishment we need for our soul, for our inner self, because the soul also needs food. And technical things do not suffice, although they are so important. We really need God's friendship, which helps us to make the right decisions. We need to mature as human beings. In other words: Jesus nourishes us so that we can truly become mature people and our lives become good.

Adriano: "Holy Father, they've told us that today we will have Eucharistic adoration. What is it? How is it done? Can you explain it to us? Thank you."

Benedict XVI: We will see straightaway what adoration is and how it is done, because everything has been properly prepared for it: We will say prayers, we will sing, kneel, and in this way we will be in Jesus' presence.
But of course, your question requires a deeper answer: not only how you do adoration but what adoration is. I would say: Adoration is recognizing that Jesus is my Lord, that Jesus shows me the way to take, and that I will live well only if I know the road that Jesus points out and follow the path he shows me.

Therefore, adoration means saying: "Jesus, I am yours. I will follow you in my life, I never want to lose this friendship, this communion with you." I could also say that adoration is essentially an embrace with Jesus in which I say to him: "I am yours, and I ask you, please stay with me always."

Now here is our great Pope who fulfills his Petrine Office by pointing us to Jesus Christ. These are words of hope. These are words of life.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Going to Mass

A little guilt can do some good prodding: as the Pope answered a child who asked: Giulia: "Your Holiness, everyone tells us that it is important to go to Mass on Sunday. We would gladly go to it, but often our parents do not take us because on Sundays they sleep. The parents of a friend of mine work in a shop, and we often go to the country to visit our grandparents. Could you say something to them, to make them understand that it is important to go to Mass together on Sundays?"

Benedict XVI: I would think so, of course, with great love and great respect for your parents, because they certainly have a lot to do. However, with a daughter's respect and love, you could say to them: "Dear Mommy, dear Daddy, it is so important for us all, even for you, to meet Jesus. This encounter enriches us. It is an important element in our lives. Let's find a little time together, we can find an opportunity. Perhaps there is also a possibility where Grandma lives."

In brief, I would say, with great love and respect for your parents, I would tell them: "Please understand that this is not only important for me, it is not only catechists who say it, it is important for us all. And it will be the light of Sunday for all our family."

And this little prod is not just a nod for the private family, but also for whole societies and the whole world, as we learn in the Pope's answer to another child's question:Alessandro: "What good does it do for our everyday life to go to holy Mass and receive Communion?"

Benedict XVI: It centers life. We live amid so many things. And the people who do not go to church, do not know that it is precisely Jesus they lack. But they feel that something is missing in their lives. If God is absent from my life, if Jesus is absent from my life, a guide, an essential friend is missing, even an important joy for life, the strength to grow as a man, to overcome my vices and mature as a human being.
Therefore, we cannot immediately see the effects of being with Jesus and of going to Communion. But with the passing of the weeks and years, we feel more and more keenly the absence of God, the absence of Jesus. It is a fundamental and destructive incompleteness. I could easily speak of countries where atheism has prevailed for years: how souls are destroyed, but also the earth. In this way we can see that it is important, and I would say fundamental, to be nourished by Jesus in Communion. It is he who gives us enlightenment, offers us guidance for our lives, a guidance that we need.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

Pope Benedict instructs us all . . .and would that we were all as the little child who asked:
Andrea: "In preparing me for my First Communion day, my catechist told me that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. But how? I can't see him!"

Benedict XVI: No, we cannot see him, but there are many things that we do not see but they exist and are essential. For example: we do not see our reason, yet we have reason. We do not see our intelligence and we have it. In a word: we do not see our soul and yet it exists and we see its effects, because we can speak, think and make decisions, etc. Nor do we see an electric current, for example, yet we see that it exists; we see this microphone, that it is working, and we see lights. Therefore, we do not see the very deepest things, those that really sustain life and the world, but we can see and feel their effects. This is also true for electricity; we do not see the electric current but we see the light.

So it is with the Risen Lord: We do not see him with our eyes but we see that wherever Jesus is, people change, they improve. A greater capacity for peace, for reconciliation, etc., is created. Therefore, we do not see the Lord himself but we see the effects of the Lord: So we can understand that Jesus is present. And as I said, it is precisely the invisible things that are the most profound, the most important. So let us go to meet this invisible but powerful Lord who helps us to live well.

The Cleansing of the Soul

Perhaps if we really wanted to learn the best relationship between the Eucharist and Confession, we might all follow Pope Benedict's advice to the little child who asked . . .

Livia: "Holy Father, before the day of my First Communion I went to confession. I have also been to confession on other occasions. I wanted to ask you: Do I have to go to confession every time I receive Communion, even when I have committed the same sins? Because I realize that they are always the same."

Benedict XVI: I will tell you two things. The first, of course, is that you do not always have to go to confession before you receive Communion unless you have committed such serious sins that they need to be confessed. Therefore, it is not necessary to make one's confession before every Eucharistic Communion. This is the first point. It is only necessary when you have committed a really serious sin, when you have deeply offended Jesus, so that your friendship is destroyed and you have to start again. Only in that case, when you are in a state of "mortal" sin, in other words, grave [sin], is it necessary to go to confession before Communion. This is my first point.

My second point: Even if, as I said, it is not necessary to go to confession before each Communion, it is very helpful to confess with a certain regularity. It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up.

Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons. Therefore, two things: Confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Catachesis & Disputation

For all the disputations & interventions & discussions at the Synod, one could exchange them all for a few moments with the Holy Father in his First Communion catachesis for children. A child asked him:
Andrea [asked the first question]: "Dear Pope, what are your memories of your First Communion day?"

Benedict XVI: I would first like to say thank you for this celebration of faith that you are offering to me, for your presence and for your joy. I greet you and thank you for the hug I have received from some of you, a hug that, of course, symbolically stands for you all.

As for the question, of course I remember my First Communion day very well. It was a lovely Sunday in March 1936, 69 years ago. It was a sunny day, the church looked very beautiful, there was music. ... There were so many beautiful things that I remember. There were about 30 of us, boys and girls from my little village of no more than 500 inhabitants.

But at the heart of my joyful and beautiful memories is this one -- and your spokesperson said the same thing: I understood that Jesus had entered my heart, he had actually visited me. And with Jesus, God himself was with me. And I realized that this is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give.
So on that day I was really filled with great joy, because Jesus came to me and I realized that a new stage in my life was beginning, I was 9 years old, and that it was henceforth important to stay faithful to that encounter, to that communion. I promised the Lord as best I could: "I always want to stay with you," and I prayed to him, "but above all, stay with me." So I went on living my life like that; thanks be to God, the Lord has always taken me by the hand and guided me, even in difficult situations.
Thus, that day of my First Communion was the beginning of a journey made together. I hope that for all of you too, the First Communion you have received in this Year of the Eucharist will be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Jesus, the beginning of a journey together, because in walking with Jesus we do well and life becomes good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Homily at the Synod, part 4

"We come to the third element of today's readings. The Lord, in both the Old and New Testament, announced the judgment of the unfaithful vineyard. The judgment that Isaiah foresaw has been realized in the great wars and exiles imposed by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The judgment, announced by the Lord Jesus, refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70.

"But the threat of judgment affects us also, the Church in Europe, the Church of the West in general. With this Gospel the Lord also cries out in our ears the words he addressed in Revelation to the Church in Ephesus: "I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (2:5). The light can also be taken away from us, and we would do well to allow this warning in all its seriousness to resonate in our souls, crying out at the same time to the Lord: "Help us to be converted! Give us the grace of an authentic renewal! Do not permit the light to be extinguished among us! Reinforce our faith, our hope and our love so that we can bear good fruit!"

"At this point, a question arises: "But, is there not a promise, a word of consolation in today's reading and evangelical page? Is the threat the last word?" No! There is a promise and it is the last word, the essential one. We hear it in the alleluia verse, taken from John's Gospel: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit" (John 15:5).

"With these words of the Lord, John illustrates for us the last, the authentic end of the history of God's vineyard -- God does not fail. At the end, he triumphs -- love triumphs. There is already a veiled allusion to this in the parable of the vineyard proposed by today's Gospel and in its conclusive words. In it, the son's death is not the end of history, although it does not say so directly. But Jesus expresses this death through a new image taken from the Psalm: "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42; Psalm 117:22).

"From the son's death life arises, a new building is made, a new vineyard. In Cana, he changed the water into wine, he transformed his blood into the wine of true love and in this way transforms the wine into his blood. In the Cenacle he anticipated his death and transformed in into the gift of himself, in an act of radical love. His blood is gift, it is love and for this reason it is the true wine that the creator was expecting. In this way, Christ himself became the vineyard and that vineyard always bears good fruit -- the presence of his love for us, which is indestructible.

"These words converge in the end in the mystery of the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us the bread of life and the wine of his love and invites us to the feast of eternal love. We celebrate the Eucharist with the awareness that its price was the son's death, the sacrifice of his life, which remains present in it. Every time we eat this bread and drink this chalice, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes, says St. Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26).

"But we also know that from this death life arises, as Jesus transformed it in a gesture of oblation, into an act of love, transforming it profoundly: Love has conquered death. In the holy Eucharist, from the cross he draws all men to himself (John 12:32) and he converts us into branches of the vine, which is himself. If we remain united to him, then we will also bear fruit, then we will no longer bear the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of the discontent of God and of his creation, but the good wine of God's joy and of love of neighbor.

"Let us pray to the Lord to grant us his grace so that in the three weeks of the synod that we are beginning not only will we say beautiful things about the Eucharist, but we will live from his strength. Let us pray for the gift through Mary, dear synodal fathers, whom I greet with affection, together with the different communities that you come from and that you here represent, so that being docile to the action of the Holy Spirit we might be able to help the world to be converted -- in Christ and with Christ -- into the fruitful vine of God. Amen."

--from Pope Benedict XVI's homily at the opening of the Synod on the Eucharist

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Homily at the Synod, part 3

"In this way, we have come to the second fundamental thought of today's readings. It speaks above all of the goodness of God's creation and of the greatness of the election with which he seeks and loves us. But it also speaks about the history that occurred later, man's failure.

"God had planted choice vines and yet they yielded wild grapes. What are the wild grapes? The good grapes that God expected, says the prophet, would have consisted in justice and uprightness. Wild grapes on the contrary are violence, the shedding of blood and oppression, which make people groan under the yoke of injustice.

"In the Gospel, the image changes: The vineyard produces good grapes, but the tenant winegrowers keep them. They are not willing to give them to the proprietor. They beat and kill his messengers and kill his son. Their motivation is simple: They want to become proprietors; they take what does not belong to them.

"In the Old Testament, what appears first of all is the accusation of the violation of social justice, contempt for man by man. Deep down, however, one sees that with contempt for the Torah, for the law given by God, there is contempt for God himself; there is only a desire to enjoy power itself. This aspect is fully underlined in Jesus' parable: The tenants do not want to have a master and these tenants serve as a mirror for us, men, who usurp the creation which has been entrusted to us to manage.

"We want to be the sole owners in the first person. We want to possess the world and our own life in an unlimited manner. God annoys us or we make of him a simple devout phrase or deny him altogether, eradicating him from public life, so that in this way he no longer has any meaning at all. Tolerance that only admits God as a private opinion, but that denies him the public domain, the reality of the world and of our life, is not tolerance but hypocrisy.

"Whenever man becomes the only owner of the world and proprietor of himself there can be no justice. Only the expedient of power and interests con dominate there. It is true, the son can be expelled from the vineyard and killed to enjoy selfishly the fruits of the earth. But then the vineyard soon becomes an uncultivated plot, trampled on by wild boars, as the responsorial psalm says (cf. Psalm 79:14)."

--Pope Benedict XVI, from the Homily for the opening of the Synod

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Homily at the Synod, part 2

"The first thought of today's reading is this: God has infused in man, created in his image, the capacity to love and, consequently, the capacity to love him, his creator. With the prophet Isaiah's canticle of love, God wanted to speak to the heart of his people and also to each one of us.

""I have created you in my image and likeness," he tells us. "I myself am love and you are my image in the measure that the splendor of love shines in you, in the measure in which you respond to me with love."

"God waits for us. He wants us to love Him: Should not such a call touch our hearts? Precisely in this hour, in which we celebrate the Eucharist, in which we open the Synod on the Eucharist, He comes to meet us, He comes to meet me. Will he find a response? Or will it be with us as it was with the vineyard, of which God says in Isaiah: "he looked for it to yield grapes but it yielded wild grapes." Is not our life often, perhaps, more vinegar than wine? Self-pity, conflict, indifference?"

--Pope Benedict XVI, from the homily for the opening of the Synod

Monday, October 03, 2005

Homily at the Synod

"This Sunday's readings, taken from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel, present us with one of the great images of sacred Scripture: the image of the vineyard.

"In sacred Scripture, bread represents everything man needs for his daily life. Water gives the earth fertility: It is the fundamental gift that makes life possible. Wine, on the contrary, expresses the exquisiteness of creation, it gives us the feast that goes beyond the limits of daily life: Wine "gladdens the heart."

"In this way, wine and with it the vine have also become the image of the gift of love, in which we can have a certain experience of the taste of the divine. And so the reading of the prophet, which we just heard, begins with a canticle of love: God created a vineyard, image of his history of love with humanity, of his love for Israel which he chose."

--Pope Benedict XVI, homily for the opening of the Synod on the Eucharist

Friday, September 30, 2005

Benedict XVI on the Kenotic Hymn, part 3

"Let us conclude our reflection with a great witness of the Eastern tradition, Theodoret who was bishop of Cyrus, in Syria, in the fifth century: "The Incarnation of our Savior represents the highest fulfillment of the divine solicitude for men. In fact, neither heaven, nor earth, nor the sea, nor the air, nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the whole visible and invisible universe, created only by his Word or rather brought to the light by his Word, according to his will, indicate his incommensurable goodness as does the fact that the only-begotten Son of God, He who subsisted in the nature of God (see Philippians 2:6), reflection of his glory, mark of his substance (see Hebrews 1:3), who in the beginning was with God and was God, through whom all things were made (see John 1:1-3), after having assumed the nature of a servant, appeared in the form of man, by his human figure was considered as a man, was seen on earth, had relationships with men, bore our infirmities and took our illnesses upon himself" ("Discorsi sulla Provvidenza Divina" [Discourses on Divine Providence], 10: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts], LXXV, Rome, 1988, pp. 250-251).

"Theodoret of Cyrus continues his reflection, shedding light on the very close relationship underlined by the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians between the incarnation of Jesus and the redemption of men. "The Creator worked for our salvation with wisdom and justice. Because he did not wish to make use only of his power to give us generously the gift of freedom, nor to use only mercy against the one who has subjected the human race, so that he would not accuse mercy of injustice, he devised a way full of love for men and at the same time adorned with justice. In fact, after having united to himself man's vanquished nature, he leads it to the struggle and disposes it to repair the defeat, to rout him who previously had iniquitously won the victory, to free man from the tyranny of which he had been cruelly made a slave and to recover his original freedom" (ibid., pp. 251-252)"

--from the Wednesday audience, 1 June 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Benedict XVI on the Kenotic Hymn, part 2

"This radical sharing of the human condition, with the exception of sin (see Hebrews 4:15), leads Jesus to that frontier which is the sign of our finiteness and frailty, death. However, the latter is not the fruit of a dark mechanism or blind fatality: It is born from the choice of obedience to the Father's plan of salvation (see Philippians 2:8).

"The Apostle adds that the death Jesus faces is that of the cross, namely, the most degrading, thus wishing to be truly a brother of every man and woman, including those constrained to an atrocious and ignominious end.

"But precisely in his passion and death Christ attests to his free and conscious adherence to the will of the Father, as one reads in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

"Let us pause here in our reflection on the first part of the Christological hymn, focused on the Incarnation and redemptive Passion. We will have the occasion later on to reflect more deeply on the subsequent itinerary, the paschal, which leads from the cross to glory. The fundamental element of this first part of the hymn, it seems to me, is the invitation to penetrate into Jesus' sentiments.

"To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments means not to consider power, wealth and prestige as the highest values in life, as in the end, they do not respond to the deepest thirst of our spirit, but to open our heart to the Other, to bear with the Other the burden of life and to open ourselves to the Heavenly Father with a sense of obedience and trust, knowing, precisely, that if we are obedient to the Father, we will be free. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments -- this should be the daily exercise of our life as Christians."

--from the Wednesday audience, 1 June 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Benedict XVI on the Kenotic Hymn

"Every Sunday, in the celebration of vespers, the liturgy proposes to us the brief but profound Christological hymn from the Letter to the Philippians (see 2:6-11). It is the hymn, just heard, which we consider in its first part (see verses 6-8), which delineates the paradoxical "emptying" of the divine Word, who lays aside his glory and assumes the human condition.

"Christ, incarnated and humiliated in the most infamous death, that of crucifixion, is proposed as a vital model for the Christian. The latter -- as affirmed in the context -- should have "the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus" (verse 5), sentiments of humility and selflessness, of detachment and generosity.

"Undoubtedly, he possesses divine nature with all its prerogatives. But he does not interpret and live this transcendent reality as a sign of power, of greatness, and of dominion. Christ does not use his being equal to God, his glorious dignity and his power as an instrument of triumph, sign of distance, expression of crushing supremacy (see verse 6). On the contrary, he "emptied" himself, immersing himself without reserve in the miserable and weak human condition. The divine "form" ("morphe") is hidden in Christ under the human "form" ("morphe"), that is, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and death (see verse 7).

"It is not a question therefore of a simple clothing, of a changeable appearance, as it was believed happened to the gods of the Greco-Roman culture: It is Christ's divine reality in an authentically human experience. God does not appear only as man, but becomes man and is really one of us, he is truly "God-with-us," not content with gazing on us with a benign look from his throne of glory, but enters personally in human history, becoming "flesh," namely, fragile reality, conditioned by time and space (see John 1:14)."

--from the Wednesday audience, 1 June 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Kenotic Hymn for the Eye

El Greco offers this vision of the Great Deeds of Jesus as seen in the image of the Holy Trinity--the joy, the suffering, the glory. Perhaps the picture is worth a thousand words, in the sense that the Beauty of such art reveals the Beauty of the Truth. Gaze . . .and see . . .

Monday, September 26, 2005

Singing the Kenotic Hymn

Caroline Noel sang the Kenotic Hymn from St Paul's Letter to the Philippians in a famous setting--and singing this version of the hymn is an experience of being caught up into the joy, the suffering, and the glory of Jesus Christ:

At the Name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
'tis the Father's pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation
sprang at once to sight,
all the angel faces,
all the hosts of light,
Thrones and Dominations,
stars upon their way,
all the heavenly orders,
in their great array.

Humbled for a season,
to receive a Name
from the lips of sinners,
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed;

Bore it up triumphant,
with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures,
to the central height,
to the throne of Godhead,
to the Father's breast;
filled it with the glory
of that perfect rest.

Name him, brothers, name him,
with love as strong as death,
but with awe and wonder
and with bated breath;
he is God the Savior,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshiped,
trusted, and adored.

In your hearts enthrone him;
there let him subdue
all that is not holy,
all that is not true;
crown him as your Captain
in temptation's hour;
let his will enfold you
in its light and power.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father's glory
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of Glory now.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Kenotic Hymn

The second reading at today's Mass is the great kenotic hymn--so called because it sings of Jesus' kenosis or emptying of Himself into the Incarnation: the hymn is also used each week as the canticle for the First Vespers on the Eve of each Sunday:

Jesus Christ, although he shared God’s nature, did not try to seize equality with God for himself; but emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, and became like a man – not in appearance only, for he humbled himself by accepting death – even death on a cross.
For this, God has raised him high, and given him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,
and every tongue will proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord”, to the glory of God the Father.

This hymn, re-sung as the Christus factus est during Holy Week, sings of the great deeds of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It bears re-singing and re-singing, as every knee bends and every tongue sings.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Mountains of Israel

St Augustine saw "the mountains of Israel" as the Holy Scriptures: and he points us to run and rest and feed thereon. This is both a description and an example of the spiritual sense of reading Scripture:

"It was God who brought forth the mountains of Israel, that is to say, the authors of the divine Scriptures. Feed there that you may feed in safety. Whatever you hear from that source, you should savor. Whatever is foreign to it, reject. Hear the voice of the shepherd, lest you wander about in the mist. Gather at the mountains of holy Scripture. There, are the things that will delight your hearts; there , you will find nothing poisonous, nothing hostile; there, the pastures are most plentiful. There, you will be healthy sheep; you will feed safely on the mountains of Israel.

"From the mountains which we have shown you, there have issued the streams of the gospel message, because their voice has gone forth into the whole world, and every habitable place has become pleasant and fertile for the grazing sheep.

"In good pastures and on the high mountains of Israel, I shall feed them. And their grazing ground shall be there, that is, the place where they will say: 'I am happy.'"

--from today's Office of Readings

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Calling of St Matthew

While it is clear that one of the themes of today's feast is the call of the Lord, "Follow me!", we must focus on how such a call is not merely an individual path, though we experience it individually. Yes, when we, like St Matthew, hear the Lord call "Follow me!" we get up and follow and at once begin doing whatever that vocation means in a social, real, historical, even ecclesial sense, involving other persons. As the Venerable Bede points out, in the second lesson of today's Office of Readings, at once St Matthew invited Jesus over for dinner, drawing a crowd of other folks in need of Jesus.

This relationship between our own personal vocations and our ecclesial and public vocations is the reflection of St Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians, today's epistle at Mass:

"I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

"But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.

"And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ."

Perhaps this is also what Pope Benedict means when he invites us to a mature faith.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


So here is a place on the banks of the Danube whose earliest settlements are rooted in the mist of fable, and whose Christian monastic community pre-dates recorded memory. Age after age, the Christian monks lived, prayed, worked, through the days of Charlemagne, the Babenbergs, the Hapsburgs, Napoleon, Joseph II, Franz Joseph, and the two World Wars.
And now, the buildings stand as a memory of all that time . . . and yet the small but vibrant monastic community still lives, prays, and works, now at a wonderful school that forms young people in Christian and humanistic education, with an emphasis on the arts.

One of the graduates of that school was our guide at Melk. She said, "And now, at the climax of our tour, we visit the Abbey Church, which is where it should be, at the heart and center of the community."

And the interior of that Church expressed the desire of the builders and artists to display the Beauty of God in the sensual material of earth.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Returning from Holiday

Abbot Ellegast of Melk writes:

"Two towers reaching towards heaven and a mighty dome proclaim far and wide: on this cliff is a fortress of God!"

This spot and community of Beauty reminded me that we are all called to the Benedictine life--of prayer, of work, of the service of love.

Monday, August 29, 2005

On Holiday

Yours truly will be off on holiday now, till 18 September. Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and back to Berlin. "There was and is another Germany."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Sheltering Love

“The sheltering gaze that love casts upon being & essence, and its insight into the true nature of spousal love and the genuine love of children in the hearth of the triune fire of the family, its insight into genuine friendship, and genuine love of country, in the danger of its exposure and trials, in its fragmentation into hatred, betrayal, and death, and in its mysterious transfiguration beyond all conceivable success, preserves what we also find sheltered in the golden core of myths and mythical religions, and what remains present even in our ostensibly demythologized world!”

--from Hans Urs von Balthasar's Love Alone is Credible

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Augustine & Monica at Ostia

As the day now approached on which she was to depart this life (which day Thou knewest, we did not), it fell out--Thou, as I believe, by Thy secret ways arranging it--that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window, from which the garden of the house we occupied at Ostia could be seen; at which place, removed from the crowd, we were resting ourselves for the voyage, after the fatigues of a long journey. We then were conversing alone very pleasantly; and, "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before," we were seeking between ourselves in the presence of the Truth, which Thou art, of what nature the eternal life of the saints would be, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man. But yet we opened wide the mouth of our heart, after those supernal streams of Thy fountain, "the fountain of life," which is "with Thee; " that being sprinkled with it according to our capacity, we might in some measure weigh so high a mystery.

And when our conversation had arrived at that point, that the very highest pleasure of the carnal senses, and that in the very brightest material light, seemed by reason of the sweetness of that life not only not worthy of comparison, but not even of mention, we, lifting ourselves with a more ardent affection towards "the Selfsame," did gradually pass through all corporeal things, and even the heaven itself, whence sun, and moon, and stars shine upon the earth; tea, we soared higher yet by inward musing, and discoursing, and admiring Thy works; and we came to our own minds, and went beyond them, that we might advance as high as that region of unfailing plenty, where Thou feedest Israel for ever with the food of truth, and where life is that Wisdom by whom all these things are made, both which have been, and which are to come; and she is not made, but is as she hath been, and so shall ever be; yea, rather, to "haVe been," and "to be hereafter," are not in her, but only "to be," seeing she is eternal, for to "have been" and "to be hereafter" are not eternal. And while we were thus speaking, and straining after her, we slightly touched her with the whole effort of our heart; and we sighed, and there left bound "the first-fruits of the Spirit;" and returned to the noise of our own mouth, where the word uttered has both beginning and end. And what is like unto Thy Word, our Lord, who remaineth in Himself without becoming old, and "maketh all things new"?

We were saying, then, If to any man the tumult of the flesh were silenced,--silenced the phantasies of earth, waters, and air, --silenced, too, the poles; yea, the very soul be silenced to herself, and go beyond herself by not think ing of herself,--silenced fancies and imaginary revelations, every tongue, and every sign, and whatsoever exists by passing away, since, if any could hearken, all these say, "We created not ourselves, but were created by Him who abideth for ever:" If, having uttered this, they now should be silenced, having only quickened our ears to Him who created them, and He alone speak not by them, but by Himself, that we may hear His word, not by fleshly tongue, nor angelic voice, nor sound of thunder, nor the obscurity of a similitude, but might hear Him--Him whom in these we love--without these, like as we two now strained ourselves, and with rapid thought touched on that Eternal Wisdom which remaineth over all. If this could be sustained, and other visions of a far different kind be withdrawn, and this one ravish, and absorb, and envelope its beholder amid these inward joys, so that his life might be eternally like that one moment of knowledge which we now sighed after, were not this "Enter thou into the joy of Thy Lord"? And when shall that be? When we shall all rise again; but all shall not be changed?

--from St Augustine's Confessions, Book IX