Thursday, June 30, 2005

Speaking of Being a Hero

Of course, we need all the inspiration we can get. Here is a lovely illustration of Gustave Dore, with the young crusader bidding good-bye to his beautiful wife and children, his squire readying his horse in the courtyard. The wife takes up the sword that is dedicated to Our Lady's honor to give it to her husband. Perhaps the young crusader is afraid. Perhaps he is stunned by the import of the moment. Perhaps he is thinking, "The readiness is all." Perhaps he is humming a Chesterton poem, prophetically.

This is the dawn of each day for us--taking up the sword, hearts filled with enthusiasm, bravely to run the race and fight the fight and keep the faith.

Being dedicated to the honor of Our Lady would be a swell chivalry to revive and relive!

Our Lady, Queen of Victory, pray for us!

Quo Vadis

Today we celebrate the Proto-Martyrs of Rome--first witnesses to Jesus Christ with their lives under the mad tyranny of Nero. Blamed for the fire that burned Rome, hunted and killed by animals for entertainment in the arena, fixed to crosses and set aflame to light the stadium, these first Martyrs shocked their persectuters: they sang as they died. Even Nero was shocked to discover, on their dead bodies, smiles. That's the joy of the Christian--joy even under persecution, even in suffering. More than joyful, St Paul even boasted: "I have run the race, I have fought the fight, I have kept the Faith!" And this is the joy that we can bring to our daily lives in giving witness to Jesus Christ. Often enough we are like St Peter who left Rome during the persecution for safey, only to chance upon the Risen Jesus passing him and going the other way; St Peter said, "Quo vadis, Domine?"--"Where are you going, Lord?"--to which the Risen Lord replied,"I am going to be crucified again"--and St Peter turned around and followed him, only to be crucified himself, upside down. Yes, singing our witness to Jesus Christ made turn everything in our lives upside down: but to that craziness, to that suffering, to that witness we can bring the Joy of those blessed early Martyrs of Rome who sang and smiled under persecution. In fact, it's really only in such moments that our Joy really counts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Princes of the Church

For the Solemnity of Peter & Paul--and don't we wish we had fireworks?--Elpis, the wife of Boethius, sang a beautiful song in praise of these Princes of the Church. The gist is this (in the translation by Fr Ronald Knox):

"What fairer light is this than time itself doth own,
The golden day with beams more radiant brightening?
The princes of God's Church this feast day doth enthrone,
To sinners heavenward bound their burden lightening.

One taught mankind its creed, one guards the heavenly gate,
Founders of Rome, they bind the world in loyalty;
One by hte sword achieved, one by the cross his fate;
With laurelled brows they hold eternal royalty.

Rejoice O Rome, this day; thy walls they once did sign
With princely blood, who now their glory share with thee.
What city's vesture glows with crimson deep as thine?
What beauty else has earth that may compare with thee?

To God the three in one eternal homage be,
All honor, all renown, all songs victorious,
Who rules both heaven and earth by one divine decree
To everlasting years in empire glorious!"

Rejoice O Rome! O felix Roma! Fireworks!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Irenaeus on Glory

Back in the bad old days, the 70s, it was a commonplace of sueprficial humanism to sport the motif: "The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive!" and to cite the sentiment as from St Irenaeus.

Word-order is more important in English than in Greek or Latin. In English, the terms on either side of the "is" feel directional: as if the point of God's Glory is to praise the fully developed and actualized and liberated human being. Sadly, this is reductionist, though appropriate to the reductionist 70s. Sadly, the supposedly fully-developed human being is neither fully actualized nor liberated but only indulgent of selfishness, restrictive of love, agnostic of faith, despairing of hope, petty, silly, and trivial. But so were the 70s.

I'd like to return to the 70s--the 170s. When St Irenaeus truly proclaimed the destiny of human nature in the Glory of God as revealed through Jesus Christ. He sang--and what a difference a good translation makes!--about Glory and Man thus: "The Glory of God gives life, and those who see God receive life. . . .The actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy His Goodness . . . .Life in Man is the Glory of God, and the life of Man is the Vision of God."

The same is said by Pope John Paul the Great in Redemptor Hominis, which sings of a truly rich and beautiful humanism, in which Jesus Christ is the Truth and Beauty and Goodness of Man!

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Heavenly City

The city that John saw . . .coming down out of Heaven . . .as beautiful as a Bride bedecked for her Bridegroom . . .this is the Beauty of the Liturgy . . .

St James Cathedral

St James Cathedral is like a glimpse of the Heavenly City! We are so lucky to live in the new springtime of the Church! Here, Music, Words, and Color unite to lift us up in the Liturgy.

St Cyril of Alexandria

So today's saint, Cyril of Alexandria, fought the Nestorians for the sake of the Mother of God. He fought with more intellect than kindness, so the academics say.

So there's a question for us:at what price orthodoxy? When do we uphold the Truth, and when do we prioritize kindness? Of course, Love is an evangelical virtue, and Truth is a transcendental attribute of Being--so it's an odd juxtaposition. But the question faces us daily--in conversation and in controversy.

But the issue St Cyril faced--is Jesus God or Man, or both, and how?--shaped the way the Faith is put into words. And we hold fast to it . . ."God from God" . . . ."and was made Man" . . . as the formula for the Faith that was shaped at Ephesus. And that Faith shapes us.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Analogy of Being

The famous Analogy of Being sings that all Being shares four common aspects, characteristics, attributes--Unity, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. This is no merely academic trick of phrase. It is a rich, pregnant reality that our whole lifetime can explore.

Any one of these terms--the One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful--is a jumping-off place, a moment, and experience of real life that then opens up for us unlimited explorations of the rest.

Take, for example, the experience of the Beauty of a poem. We could enjoy forever beholding that poem, being dazzled by its clarity, being amazed by its structure and stricture, being healed and harmonized by its balance and daring, its symmetry and sublime expression.

But then, we might venture further---how is the Beauty of the poem Good or True? How does the poem give us a glimpse of the way things really are? How does the poem ennoble human action? Does the poem inspire us? Inspire us to what?

And further, how does the poem draw us, almost by a kind of erotic attraction, to the Unity of things?

Try this experiment with any poem! Try a Shakespeare sonnet, chosen at random. Or it Shakespeare doesn't suit you, try the lyric and tune of a favorite song. See where it takes you!

Saturday, June 25, 2005


How is Beauty a glimpse of God? What does Beauty show us about Truth and Goodness? How does all Being shine with Beauty? How is the Beauty of Art a participant in the absolute Beauty of God?

Friday, June 24, 2005


St John's Day. Johannestag. Midsummer Night's Dream.

Today's Feast is about the birth of the Voice--as St Augustine says, St John is the Voice, and Jesus is the Word.

Today's Feast is about the healing and opening of the voice of Zechariah, St John's father, so that he could sing out the announcement of the name of the son.

Today's Feast is about the silent voice of the infant John in the Womb of Elizabeth, singing out in eloquent silence by leaping and jumping within her, so great was his joy at the nearness of the Christ.

Today's Feast is about the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the Way of the Lord"--thus the beginning of our return from exile.

Today's Feast is about the voice of the one who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Today's Feast is about the voice of the Baptist who poured water on the head of Jesus, thus evoking the voice of the Father who reveals His son to the world.

Today's Feast is about the voice of the Baptizing exemplar, whose voice is present at our own and at every baptism.

Today's Feast is about the voice of blood, as St John gave witness to Jesus in his own eloquent death.

Today we sing, because our own voices are liberated.

St John the Baptist, at the opening of the voice of summer, sings of Jesus. And we sing too.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Pope's New Book

Pope Benedict XVI has release a book on the Christian identity of European culture. Apparently this was a work under preparation while he was Cardinal Ratzinger. Available only in Italian so far, it will be exploring that question with which Hans Kung began his heretical "On Being A Christian." Why be a Christian? Why not just be human? George Weigel has examined this issue, especially in reference to European culture, in his superb "The Cube and the Cathedral." And these are issues not only for Europe--we in America need to face the questions of culture, of ethos, of atmosphere, of social and interpersonal communication, of art, of expression, of language, and thus of ethics. We must answer the question: Why be a Christian?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Man For All Seasons

So today is the memorial feast of St Thomas More: along with St John Fisher. Alongside St Paulinus of Nola. Optional all: so I suppose we get to celebrate the memory and inspiration of whichever one or ones we like. So I'm choosing St Thomas More.

Like many folks my age, I got to know St Thomas More through the magnificent movie "A Man For All Seasons" based on the equally magnificent Robert Bolt play. What a movie! Paul Scofield has forever embodied the voice, the serenity, the wit, the heroism of the great martyr! And Bolt's dialogue has captured the two-edged sword of so many of More's sayings!

More is especially significant as a saint for us lay Catholics alive and and working in the World of today, because that's exactly what he was--not a monk, not a cleric, but a hardworking talented lay man involved in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world. That the world killed him for it is a fact that confirms the old saying: the seed of the Church is the blood of the martyrs.

It is also telling for us that More died precisely on the point of such controversy today--the primacy of the Petrine Office. He is a particularly papal martyr--a witness to the Witness, as it were--a witness to the Rock who is the Witness to Christ.

For me, there are many moving passages in Bolt's play--not least, the final dialogue between More and his beloved daughter Meg. "Finally, it's a matter of love!"

Go rent the DVD tonight. You won't be let down!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Crossing the Waters

Just recently a friend died--or, more factually, was killed in a terrible accident. She was 21, beautiful, smart, talented, generous, just out of Yale, and riding her bike on a fundraising-bike-trip across the country for Habitat for Humanity. A car struck her and killed her.

Friends, family, people all are saying things like "What a waste!" and "We are devestated!" or even the eloquent silence of shock and disbelief. All such responses are honest: and I cannot argue with them.

Death is a fact that all of us face--the deaths of people we know, of people we love, and indeed most of all our own deaths.

How we live, what we do, how and whom we love--that's what's important in the face of death.

These are just words, I know: and perhaps right now, that eloquent silence is what's needed. But what is truly needed by all of us is the Faith and Hope that our deaths are not in vain because we are baptized in Christ Jesus and beckoned into His eternal life, across the waters, to a new land.

Monday, June 20, 2005

What's in a Name?

Here's a rich passage from St Gregory of Nyssa, which appears in today's Office of Readings,just another example of Beauty:

"Paul teaches us the power of Christ's name, when he calls him the power and wisdom of God, our peace, the unapproachable light where God dwells, our expiation and redemption, our great high priest, our paschal sacrifice, our propitiation; when he declares him to be the radiance of god's glory, the very pattern of his nature, the creator of all ages, our spiritual food and drink, the rock and the water, the bedrock of our faith, the cornerstone, the visible image of the invisible God. He goes on to speak of him as the mighty God, the head of his body, the Church, the firstborn of the new creation, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, the firstborn of the dead, the eldest of many brothers; he tells us that Christ is the mediator between God and man, the only-begotten Son crowned with glory and honor, the Lord of Glory, the beginning of all things, the king of justice and of peace, the king of the whole universe, ruling a realm that has no limits."

St Gregory goes on to say that just as the Name of Christ implies all these epithets, so too the name of "Christian" for each of us should reflect the glories of Christ's Name. What a stab of Beauty!

So how can you or I be the radiance of God's glory, or a paschal sacrifice, or a new creation, or justice, or peace?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The New Springtime of the Church

It is the New Springtime of the Church. Each day, each week, the homilies and speeches of our new Pope Benedict XVI share with us his joyous witness to Christ and his invitatory proclamation of the Church's Beauty.

We are all fortunate to live in such times.