Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is

Articles by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

The American Catholic Church and Education: Part Four

May 15, 2013 / 00:00 am

Catholic education begins with Christ the Teacher. As early as the third-century, he is portrayed in Alexandrian frescoes and wall paintings holding the book of Scripture. At least two parables point to the essence of good education. The Good Shepherd, in his undying love for every creature, leaves the ninety-nine sheep for the lost one. In the parable of the talents, the three servants are entrusted with talents to develop (Mt 25:14ff).    Our Lord tells the Twelve that the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in his name, will teach them everything and remind them of all that he has said to them (Jn 14:18).Catholic education is about caring for the individual and the obligation of each individual to realize his or her full potential in God.  Grace does not destroy nature but elevates and perfects it. Catholic education emerges from the Judeo-Christian view of man and woman rather than from a philosophy of education.Catholic Education in the United States“Throughout history, there is likely no more compelling instance of Catholic commitment to education than the school system created by the U.S. Catholic community” (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 267). To elaborate.Despite the various declarations of freedom in early America, anti-Catholicism was prevalent among the colonists. Nevertheless, in the mid-seventeenth century, the Jesuits opened schools in Maryland, including a college, later named Georgetown, also opening schools in New York City and in Philadelphia. To counter anti-Catholicism, Archbishop John Hughes (1797-1804), spearheaded Catholic education in the Northeast with a separate school system was generously supported by Catholic parents and parishioners. Thus, an independent school system was established and other dioceses followed suit.By the mid-eighteenth century, groups such as the Know-Nothing Society were founded to eradicate all things Catholic.  Yet, between 1840-1900, at least sixty European religious orders of women and men came to teach in the United States. Elizabeth Ann Seton (d 1821), a widow,  a convert, and now a canonized saint, founded the Sisters of Charity.  In 1808, her sisters opened the first school in Baltimore.Commitment of TeachersThere is no substitute for competent, goal-oriented educators who come to love their students. Archbishop Hughes recruited men and women religious who, in imitation of Christ the Teacher, would bring to the classroom this level of commitment. With few exceptions, these men and women received no salaries. Instead, the Local Ordinary paid them a stipend for contributed services.Success StoriesReligious institutes of women have taught in every socio-economic situation. Showing God’s love to the needy, they have brought a pedagogy of respect for other cultures and faith-traditions. In predominantly depressed neighborhoods, the children are taught to believe that they are equal to others and can aspire to high achievements if they are willing to work at it. By word and example, their teachers respect and love them, prod and admonish them to realize their highest potential for themselves, their families, and for the common welfare.In a recent interview at Duquesne Law School, Justice Clarence Thomas unequivocally stated that had it not been for the “nuns,” he would have succumbed to laziness instead of advancing to Holy Cross College and Yale Law School. ‘The “nuns” always stressed that Blacks were equal to Whites. They never gave us the feeling that we were inferior.’ Likewise, the late Tim Russert acknowledged a key influence in his academic and public life, his eighth-grade teacher, Sister Lucille. There are many public figures who attribute their success to religious sisters who cared enough to encourage them and follow-up on their welfare years later. Writers and journalists, graduates of Catholic schools, have frequently remarked: ‘We learned to write well because the sisters guided us. We diagrammed sentences.  And we loved it. The sisters made ceratin that we spoke well with that eloquentia perfecta through daily recitations and oral topics.’  Others in important administrative posts have written about these selfless women “who honed our skills and most of all fostered the awareness that it was our responsibility to change the world for the better.” Writes one highly-placed laywoman, “I am often asked how I maintain my sense of purpose, my optimism, my drive and my tenacity, I am quick to attribute these precious gifts to the sisters, of course.”Catholic Humanism Catholic education is values-oriented with a deep reverence for learning. Scholarship and faith belong together, the intellect seeking ultimate Truth.For Catholic humanism, God is found not just in the sacred but also in the secular where Christian values and virtue can be uncovered. Catholic education is theocentric and incarnational, centered within the Eucharist, humanistic and contemplative. It develops in its students a Catholic moral compass and a Catholic sensibility in order to understand how society and democracies function. Moreover, all creatures serve the divine plan.  The religious and the profane are mutually inclusive because the world is a universe of grace and promise, “charged with the grandeur of God.” The humanities are associated with depth, richness, character and moral development, and feelings. This is why the literary and refining arts are so important. They sensitize the feelings of our youth and influence their behavior, especially in deterring violence.  Special Needs EducationConsecrated men and women have traditionally answered the needs of the time. Whether it has been to the hearing impaired, to children and teenagers at-risk, Catholic educators have been shining examples in helping others find their purpose in life despite the odds.In 1939, Spencer Tracy won an Academy Award for Best Actor in Boys Town. The biographical dramatic film was based on the now-famous apostolate of Father Edward J. Flanagan, who believed that there is no such a thing as a bad boy, spent his entire life proving his conviction. The priest took underprivileged, unwanted, and delinquent boys and molded them into responsible young men. At the Oscar Awards ceremony, Tracy spoke: “If you have seen [Father Flanagan] through me, then I thank you.” Here was a successful experiment that put love at the heart of the boys’ education.HomeschoolingToday, thousands of parents educate their children at home. At the heart of their decision is the conviction that parents are the first educators of their children, and it is in the home that children best learn to know about God and to pray to God, to know how to deal with the world, with others, and with themselves.The Catholic University, Seminaries, and Houses of FormationBetween the 11th - 13th centuries, education reached a new synthesis of faith and reason with the rediscovery of Aristotle and Scholastic theology.  During this time, higher education was a series of questions resolved by logical argument, for example, the timeless questions, “Does God exist?  What is God?” The Universities of Paris, Bologna, Padua, Oxford, and Cambridge ranked among the outstanding European universities.In the Renaissance, the disciplines exalted men and women and their human endeavor. The Church was somewhat uneasy with this new emphasis and became even more so when, to seize control of education from the Roman Church, the Protestant Reform favored education that was put in the hands of the state. Following the Council of Trent, women’s religious orders joined with those of men in the Church’s apostolate of education.  The tradition of a Catholic university continues the great university tradition of a liberal arts education. Strictly speaking, a liberal arts education does not specialize. It frees one for virtue; all education is in the pursuit of wisdom. A liberal arts education makes one more fully a human person, for to be only a specialist is to be only half a person. Ideally, a business major, within the liberal arts framework, studies the business world but from a holistic view of the world so that the business world makes sense. It gives the individual a broad context within which a business major fits. The same holds true for other majors. A liberal arts education gives one a broad, full, and rich context to make the individual minimally conversant in all areas of learning.  A liberal arts education is based on right reason, that is, philosophy, which teaches the student how to think. Philosophy debates the most important issues before humankind, and the knowledge derived from it is related to ethical and religious values. Philosophy lays the groundwork for and supports theology. Today, apologetics may be needed more than ever in Catholic education in order to defend against the novel approaches to anti-Catholicism.  Our students should be skilled in debate:  to get the Catholic principles, internalize them, anticipate counter-argument, and then, where applicable, to defend the Church.Finally, the most precious gift Catholic education can give to its students is “the love of learning and the desire for God.”  (To be continued.)

Alma Redemptoris Mater

May 8, 2013 / 00:00 am

Gustave Reese, the pre-eminent Medieval and Renaissance musicologist of his day (d 1977), was also famous for striking fear in his students if they came to class unprepared. A simple composition demanded historical and textual analysis with biographical information about its composer. An even closer probe was required into its musical setting and its variants in regional manuscripts. Reese’s students would master the art of interdisciplinary scholarship, or withdraw from his course.There was one exception to Reese’s grueling pedagogy. All analysis came to a halt with the Marian chant, Alma Redemptoris Mater. Flinging off his glasses, he would unabashedly swoon, “This, my dear students, is a honey of a piece!”The Loveliest Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys (Song of Songs 2:1)May belongs to Mary and to the ideal of motherhood. As Mother’s Day approaches, it is appropriate to fix our gaze on the Theotokos, the woman who bore the Incarnate Word of God.In Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, one Lady Chapel after another represents various countries in their depictions of this loveliest of women holding her Child, each garbed in ethnic clothing. Pilgrim sites in her honor dot the globe. Whether in literature, architecture, iconography, painting, statuary, or in music, the sacred arts praising Mary flower in full bloom. Artists cannot sculpt enough, paint enough, write and sing enough of her. In fact, there are approximately 15,000 hymns directed or addressed to Mary, and many of these have been based on some 4,000 original Marian poems composed in Latin. More often than not, they are presented as hymns in honor of the Incarnation, as does the Alma Redemptoris Mater. J.S. Bach highlights this fact in the Credo of his B Minor Mass. He uses a musical motif that hovers over the Latin text, “Et incarnatus est” symbolizing the descent of the Spirit on Mary. “Blessed among women,” Mary shines among the anawim about whom Jesus later speaks in the Sermon on the Mount. Mary is the first model of discipleship in the New Testament. Mary and IslamNot only revered in the universal Catholic Church, Mary is also greatly honored in the Islamic tradition which values the Virgin Birth of Jesus as one of God’s miracles. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. This woman, Miriam, is a bridge between Islam and Christianity, a fact that should encourage Marian and Islamic scholars to pursue in dialogue. It cannot come soon enough. Mary and the anawimThe anawim of the Old Testament were the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 14:11; 18:3, 10; 22:41, 48; 51:21; 59:10; 19:61). In fact, they depended totally on God. In times of suffering, they remained faithful and awaited the good things of the Lord to fill their emptiness (Lk 1:53). Is there any doubt that Mary was the first Mater Dolorosa?In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola presents the tableau of the Incarnation for prayer. The Father, Son, and Spirit see and hear the world going down in ruin, down to the smallest detail, and they determine to bring about its redemption. Observing Mary’s life of faith, they single her out for a special role in the divine plan.  But Mary is already betrothed to Joseph, and when God’s plan is put to her, she asks how it will happen.  Despite this apparent obstacle, Mary’s free acceptance allows the Spirit to work in her. In proclaiming the Magnificat, she acknowledges that the Almighty has done great things for her in her lowliness in contrast to God’s dealings with the proud.Alma Redemptoris Mater: The Hymn and the EncyclicalAlma Redemptoris Mater can be chanted or recited at any time of year in the Liturgy of the Hours, but especially at Compline (Night Prayer) during the Advent-Christmas season.  Having originated in the eleventh century, it is mentioned several times in Chaucer’s “The Prioress’ Tale” in Canterbury Tales.  The melody must have been popular at the time. The Latin and English text are given below:Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia coeliLoving Mother of the Redeemer,Porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti,Gate of heaven, star of the sea, assist your peopleSurgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti,(Those) who have fallen yet strive to rise again.Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem,To the wonderment of nature, you bore your Creator,Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore,You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting, yet remained a virgin after as before.Sumens illud ave, peccatorum miserere.Have pity on us poor sinners.In 1987, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical Redemptoris Mater.  The theme of Mary’s pilgrimage in faith and her divine motherhood run throughout the piece. She is the one woman who, always and everywhere, inspires total faith, individual and communal. Her story is ours as well. St. Anselm, Doctor of the Church and Archbishop of Canterbury (12th c), offers soaring prose about the Mother of the Word Incarnate in relation and juxtaposition to God the Father: Through Mary, God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God.The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation.He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined created without Mary. (From a sermon by St. Anselm, Office of Reading, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Liturgy of the Hours I, 1229.)The liturgical chant, simple, beautiful, and accessible for all to sing is lovelier still on Mother’s Day:Mary the Dawn, Christ the perfect Day;Mary the Gate, Christ the Heavnly Way!Mary the Root, Christ, the Mystic Vine;Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!May the Wheat-Sheaf, Christ the Living BreadMary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose-Blood-red.Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored.Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.Both ever blest while endless ages run.“Credentials,” a poem by Daniel Berrigan, S.J., describes the essence of a rose and the loveliest rose God ever made:So the rose is its own credential, a certainunattainable form: wearing its heart visibly,      it gives us heart too: bud, fulness and fall.

How the Church built western sacred music: part three

May 2, 2013 / 00:00 am

The music of Western civilization was born in the Catholic Church. Adapted from mid-eastern chants, it began with Pope St. Sylvester I (4th century), who founded a school of choristers. It was then supervised by Pope St. Damasus (d 384) and Leo the Great (d 461). Pope St. Gregory (d 604), after whom plainchant was named, collected, adapted, and codified the many chants for liturgy. Benedictine monks and nuns taught the laity to sing plainchant. Today, hundreds of chant manuscripts are preserved in monasteries for scholarly study.Enriching the World with 3,000 MelodiesGregorian chant may well be the Roman Church’s single most contribution to world culture. Its soaring exuberance can evoke rapture. The present-day Gregorian chant repertory consists of almost 3,000 melodies – all monophonic and without instrumental accompaniment, sung with measured but rhythmically free lines.The Roman Rite became more or less fixed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and with it, the basic outline of plainsong, cantus planus, as Gregorian chant came to be called. By the thirteenth century, ornate chants accompanied equally elaborate liturgies. When the chants became too difficult and linguistically remote for general use, the laity fell passively silent at liturgy, unfortunately for the next several centuries.In the nineteenth century, a renewal was initiated, but the definitive restoration of the chant came about with Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B. during the pontificate of Pius IX. From the pontificate of Pius X (1903-14 ) to the present day, major seminaries and houses of formation have been singled out to promote the teaching and study of Gregorian chant, it is that important to the Church’s liturgical life.With the renewed ecclesiology of Vatican II, full, active, and conscious participation of the Assembly was pursued as the expected outcome in liturgical worship. Vatican II’s “Sacrosanctum Concilium” did not banish the chant from the Eucharistic liturgy (#115 ff). Other suitable music was welcomed, but chant, holding “pride of place,” still remained the official music of the Roman Church. Other music was not to overshadow or displace it.Some pastors resorted to a four-hymn Mass structure using good, solid Protestant hymns to urge singing among the faithful. Soon, an altogether foreign style pushed its way into the liturgical service, thereby sweeping away fifteen hundred years of pure, crystalline chant. Happily, it continued to flourish in monasteries and in isolated parish churches.Gregorian Chant BanishedA stunned scholarly world looked on, appalled at the sudden appearance of poorly-composed tunes played by strummed guitars with anything that could be banged. These instruments accompanied texts, at first, non-biblical and secular. Eventually, scripture prevailed.This seismic shock was presented as a measure to jump-start participation in the liturgy, in addition to Protestant hymns. No longer heard was the dictum, “the home of Gregorian chant is wherever there are Roman Catholics.” Was this new rage, so-called folk music, a temporary phenomenon? Or would it permanently displace Gregorian chant?Over the years, musicologists still agree that the most consequential result of Vatican II has been the exiling of Gregorian chant from the Roman Church. It was a boorish act.The Vatican Letter to Bishops. What If . . .In 1975, a letter was sent to all bishops regarding the minimum repertoire of singing Gregorian chant in the parishes. Because that year was the Holy Year, large international gatherings of pilgrims were expected in Rome, and it was urged, among other reasons, that Gregorian chant be sung because “it is a sign of unity among diverse ethnic Catholic groups who gather either internationally or in the local parish churches” (“Letter to Bishops on the Minimum Repertoire of Plain Chant”). In 2007, the same directive was issued by the USCCB.Today our parishes are already international communities, and the letter has assumed a new urgency. By realizing the musical unity of plainchant, the parish church can pass on the treasury of sacred music to the next generation of Catholics. The regular practice of singing a few Mass settings should take priority over all other composed Mass settings. The easiest chants of the Ordinary are: Mass XVII (“Deus Genitor Alme”), Mass XI (“Orbis factor”), VIII (“De Angelis”), IX (“Cum Jubilo”), and XVIII (For Advent and Lent).Pause for a moment and imagine the effect on the universal Church if these Mass settings were sung in all Roman churches throughout the world. Their profound beauty would lift up the Church and light up the world. Having stood the test of centuries, the melodies are easy to sing and easily memorized. This inestimable treasure is our musical inheritance. It beckons us to learn how to cherish them and hand them on to the next generation. It is not the responsibility of other faith traditions to carry on the tradition, but ours, for the sake of our Church and the world.Training in Seminaries and Houses of FormationThe distinguished Catholic architect, Duncan Stroik, has urged major seminaries to include instruction on sacred architecture. Similarly, with painting and statuary. Most of all, knowledge and understanding of Gregorian chant should be taught to seminarians by trained instructors with a profound respect for plainchant. These seminarians are our future priests and pastors, some of whom will be appointed Ordinaries of dioceses. Proper musical training will sharpen and elevate their decisions regarding liturgical music.Liturgical documents have directed that plainchant be part of the singing repertoire of the faithful who should be taught the basic chants under the aegis of trained directors, attuned to the mind of the Church. But seminaries and houses of formation must take the lead.Despite fifty years of opposition to rediscovering our musical heritage, there are vital signs of renewal, thanks largely to renewal of the chant in monasteries, to periodicals and online agencies whose sole purpose is to revitalize the Church through sacred music.In “Catholicism,” the series produced by Fr. Robert Barron, the viewer is drawn into its beauty as the context for each segment. Listen carefully, and you will hear Gregorian chants in the background. We first experience our faith as beautiful. Or, we should. This beauty expresses its truth and goodness, all of which culminate in love.Walking OutAmerican Catholics seek to encounter God at the Eucharistic liturgy. Why should they be forced to sing unsuitable music? Or, if they do like it, their taste may be called into question. People will travel long distances to churches with beautiful liturgies that nourish their lives. Too many have already changed parishes on this account. Worse, people are walking out.The market is flooded with music for church use. Their quality varies from poorly-composed to sublime. Music directors also vary in quality from the untrained to the consummate professional.  Still, the norm seems to be that there is no norm. To each director, his or her own musical pope!Several years ago, when I would visit Eastern Christian parish churches, parishioners would frequently ask: “How do you like our chant?” Or, “how did you like our singing?” It was obvious that their chant heritage occupied “pride of place.” They took pride in their heritage which, for them, meant encountering God in worship and praise.  (To be continued.)

Unemployment and St. Joseph the Worker

Apr 24, 2013 / 00:00 am

In 1955, Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to counter two other celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere: the pagan and neo-pagan festivities ushering in spring and International Workers’ Day for unions, workers, and socialists. In most of these countries, May Day is an official holiday, and preparations are already underway for its festivities.While Labor Day focuses on the value of both work and leisure, loss of employment and financial crisis can provoke despair or trigger acedia and ennui. These are states of listlessness and boredom which dull the sense of wonder, a thought implicit in the psalm verse: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10)In actively seeking employment, the individual proceeds as though all depends on oneself. What else can the individual do during this time? While coping with such extreme hardship, attention to unplanned leisure can remind one that being is as important as doing. Still, with employment comes dignity because men and women strive to improve the quality of their lives.Perennial questions persist: “Why does God want me alive? And what must I do?” There are other questions: “What is the meaning and value of all this activity? How should these benefits be used? Where are the efforts of individuals and communities finally leading us?” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes” 33-34) This brings the person of faith to prayer – praying as though all depends on God.In Times of Unemployment, Go to JosephJoseph was called upon to support, protect, and care for his family. Who can doubt that he worked diligently for Mary and the Child? He was charged with teaching the boy-Christ and preparing him for ministry. Joseph, the exemplar of fatherhood, lived in the presence of the God-Man and Messiah. The boy-Christ learned the art of labor from Joseph. The theologian Peter Schoonenberg writes that “Jesus sanctified labor, not by endowing it with technical perfection, but by performing it out of love.” (“God’s World in the Making,” 177)To describe Joseph as a just man is to understate his stature. The just ones embody and integrate the biblical virtues. Because they remain rooted in the Lord, they bring forth fruit: “The just will flourish like the palm-tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar. . . . . The just are like trees planted near streams; they bear fruit in season and their leaves never wither. All they do prospers” (Ps 1:3-4). Scripture records Joseph’s actions, not his words.St. Paul tells us that whatever we do, whether we eat, drink, or work, we should do it for the glory of God (1 Cor: 10:31). St. Teresa of Avila tells us that, when she asked St. Joseph to intercede on her behalf, he never disappointed her with favors.Contemporary Icons of Joseph the WorkerContemporary artists have portrayed Joseph as a youthful man, consonant with the scriptural accounts. He was not elderly as is shown in Georges de la Tour’s depiction of him. El Greco’s painting of St. Joseph and the young Christ depicts a fairly middle-aged Joseph.The distinguished artist, Sister Marion Honors, C.S.J., has depicted an iconic woodcut of Joseph the Worker. In it, she uses a technique from the Hellenic, Golden Age of Greece, which was imitated by Caravaggio in the Baroque period. She incorporates it into a contemporary style stamped with her logo, the large, even oversized, hand.In “The Diskus Thrower” of the Golden Age, the center of attention lies outside the picture of the ‘thrower.’ So too with this woodcut. The center of attention outside the picture claims Joseph’s attention. His entire attention is riveted on looking after his son.In it, Joseph is depicted as a slender but well-built, strong man, perhaps in his thirties, wearing work clothes with sleeves rolled-up, proud to work as a tradesman. His eyes and well-chiseled facial features show an alert man looking outside and beyond himself, almost as though he is watching and listening for someone. His oversized muscular hands grasp the carpenter’s tools. The hand reveals a great deal; it shapes the brain, language, and human culture, observes Frank R. Wilson in “The Hand.” One cannot but be struck by Joseph’s riveted attention to Son of the Most High. Readers seeking more information about this woodcut may consult the website:“St. Joseph and the Young Christ” is another woodcut by the distinguished American artist, Robert McGovern. Like “Joseph the Worker,” it too depicts a strong but gentle man instructing an aspect of carpentry to his son as though he is saying: ‘Son, hold the wood this way.’ In this woodcut, the companionship between father and son is evident. A reproduction of it may be seen in the “New Catholic Encyclopedia” 7:1112. In both woodcuts, Joseph is portrayed as an inspiring exemplar of labor. Next to the Mother of God, he enjoys the highest honor in the Universal Church. Those who are unemployed can do no better than ask St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf, especially in the form of a novena in advance of May 1st. 

How the Church Built Western Civilization: Part Two

Apr 17, 2013 / 00:00 am

Last week’s essay described how the Benedictine monks began to rebuild continental Europe after the barbaric invasions.  After the sack of Rome in 410, the Church dealt with the barbarians, guided them from doing further carnage, and converted many.This week, we advance to the Carolingian Renaissance in the eighth and ninth centuries and to convent schools.  Rose Kennedy, matriarch of a famous American family, recounts some experiences there as a young woman. The Carolingian Renaissance “brought a revival of monastic education and the rise of many schools that, despite their small enrollment, exercised a strong influence over an extended period of time” (J. Leclerq,“Monastic Schools,” New Catholic Encyclopedia 9:1031).  The most renowned monastic educators were active in Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, England, Germany, and France.First, we should note the accomplishments of St. Hilda of Whitby, which anticipated a renaissance of scholarship and learning in England, and from there, spread to other lands.A Woman Ahead of Her TimeAccording to annals written by St. Bede (d 735), Hilda (d 680) was one of the great early medieval figures to foster high educational standards in monasteries. This learned woman served as the abbess, the official head of St. Aidan’s at Whitby in northern England, a double monastery for both men and women which had separate wings. The impressive library she built fostered learning, uncommon in those days. Her community of men and women commanded knowledge of Latin language and literature as well as in philosophy, theology, and the copying of illuminated manuscripts. She trained scholars, five of whom became bishops and cultivated the gift of Caedmon, the first English Christian poet.A gifted woman of great devotion, Hilda exercised considerable influence in the Church until her death. The forerunner of monastic and convent schools, she is the patron saint of the National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, D.C. and other schools for girls.Charlemagne and His Renaissance The defeat of the Muslims in 732 by Charles Martel prepared the way for Charlemagne to promote the vigorous Carolingian Renaissance, as it came to be known. His long reign as King of the Franks (768-814) represents an important stage in the development of Western Europe. Charlemagne established orderly government and pursued religious and cultural reform, laying a firm foundation on which a civilized, Christian society was later built in Western Europe. Alcuin The Carolingian Renaissance is largely indebted to Alcuin (d 804) who was educated in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon humanism at the cathedral school of York, Northumbria, England. Renowned for his learning, Alcuin came to the Carolingian court at Charlemagne’s invitation. There he remained as educator and theologian, poet, writer, adviser and the king’s friend. Later he served as the Abbot ofthe monastery of St. Martin of Tours.As a youth, Alcuin had studied in the tradition of the great St. Bede, monk and priest, theologian and Doctor of the Church, and the author of Ecclesiastical History. From the York school, Alcuin brought to Charlemagne’s court a love of learning for the glory of God. There he invigorated the studies with the seven liberal arts: the trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. He taught Charlemagne and his sons to read and write. Charlemagne sent Alcuin to the Palace School at Aachen in west central Germany (formerly known as Aix-la-Chapelle) to educate the children of royalty.Like Hilda, Alcuin was far ahead of his time, arguing in defense of free conscience: “Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptized, but you cannot force them to believe.” Alcuin reiterated that the Church had infused into the culture of the Ancients the good news of Jesus Christ and his Church(19).  “The most learned man anywhere to be found” is the way Alcuin is described in Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne. Convent SchoolsToday, some monasteries conduct schools at all levels.  The Benedictine-run St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN is one example.  The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (RSCJ) and the Religious of Jesus and Mary (RSJM), both of which are international Orders of consecrated women, conduct convent schools around the world.In her delightful memoir, Times to Remember, Rose Kennedy recalls some of her experiences at Blumenthal, a convent school in Holland, near the German border and Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), the ancient capital of Charlemagne. Agnes, her younger sister, had gone with her. At this time, their father, “Honey Fitz,” was the mayor of Boston (1906-08; 1910-14).January 1908“At the end of the summer (in Europe), it was decided that Agnes and I would stay on for a year of school. In those times, it was considered a great advantage for a younger person to have gone to school ‘abroad,’ and I find myself still in agreement with this. The place my parents chose was a convent boarding school called Blumenthal (a German word translatable as “Valley of Flowers’” (26-7).At Blumenthal (1908-9)Some excerpts written by Rose Kennedy, the student at Blumenthal reveal a happy, young women at a convent school far from home. Filled with energy and ideas, she was a talented student, pious in an unsentimental but delightful way.1908“The atmosphere of Blumenthal was religious, as at all convent schools.  Blumenthal’s curriculum was unusually concerned with the practical things of this world.  It was assumed that the girls when they married would be devoting their lives to Kinder, Kirche, und Küche (children, church, and cooking) and needed to prepare for all the duties implied in that expression” (27).  At Blumenthal, she learned to speak French and German.       These young women were expected to marry well.  They would manage the entire household while their husbands attended to financial matters. Rose took this responsibility quite seriously and enjoyed doing so.  A woman of means and with nine children, she could employ domestic help to assist her in maintaining an orderly home.  Rose took full charge of the children’s early religious education, teaching them the faith in practical ways and especially by celebrating the liturgical year with them. There she built “the domestic Church.”“Well, our first week of school is over. I am glad because I think the first week is always the longest. We had an hour’sinstruction this week on politeness ... The bell has just rung. Good-bye. Much love and kisses to all and my dearest for you and Papa. Rose” (30).“This afternoon we are going to make a pilgrimage (on foot, of course) to some shrine, about an hour’s distance from here” (30).October 1908“Well, another week has gone by.  As I am an ‘angel’ (a neophyte in the sodality), I arise at six o’clock (fifteen minutes earlier than the others) and go to meditation nearly every morning. So you see my piety is increasing. If I am extremely angelic, I may become an aspirant for the Children of Mary; later I may become a Child of Mary. That is the highest honor a child of the Sacred Heart can receive.  So I shall have to be a model of perfection for the next few months” (31).January 1909“This evening the retreat begins.  Three days of complete silence will be quite an experience for us all.  Of course, the retreat is a great blessing.”June 1909“I received my medal for the Child of Mary today.  As I told you before, this is the highest honor and blessing a Sacred Heart girl can get and one we can strive for.  We are supposed to be a model and a help in the school and someone to be depended upon, etc.” (34).“This is the feast of the Sacred Heart, and I could tell you a great deal about it and a great many other feast days which we have been having lately” (34).September 1909“It was decided that we would not go back to Europe for another year’s study. (Their mother had been terribly lonely when they were away) “Instead, Agnes went to Sacred Heart Convent at Providence, Rhode Island. . ., and I went to the Sacred Heart Convent at Manhattanville, New York” (36).Rose, the student, wrote delightful prose. Rose, the nonagenarian, wrote a beautiful but poignant memoir.  Having read great literature, she instilled the joy of reading to her children.  Her quick Irish humor served her well.  When Premier Krushchev signed photographs of himself and President Kennedy and returned them to Rose, she sent them to her son with a note about her plan to have the photographs signed by him and then make the exchange with Krushchev.“I received the following letter from (Jack): ‘Dear Mother: If you are going to contact the head of state, it might be a good idea to consult me or the State Department first, as your gesture might lead to international complications.  Love, Jack.’”Her reply:“Dear Jack: I am so glad you warned me about contacting the head of state, as I was just about to write to Castro. Love, Mother” (348).Last YearsYears later while musing about her faith Rose Kennedy gave strong witness to it.“If God were to take away all His blessings, health, physical fitness, wealth, intelligence, and leave me but one gift, I would askfor faith – for with faith in Him, in His goodness, mercy, love for me, and belief in everlasting life, I believe I could suffer the loss of my other gifts and be happy – trustful, leaving all to His inscrutable providence” (444).In addition to steadfast devotion to the Mother of God and to the Stations of the Cross, Rose writes this:“Another favorite is the Meditations by Cardinal Newman, which always brings me consolation when I am discouraged and find myself in an inexplicable dilemma—some turn of events that seems to be unexpected and unnecessary” (446).Rose had absorbed, she had assimilated the very best that convent schools could offer.  Faith permeating a family, thoroughly-educated, articulate, and mission-oriented—this was Rose’s vocation, her responsibility, and her deep joy.   Rose had almost everything, including length of days. As with so many families, tragedy struck time and again, and in a very public way. Yet, she bore each with unimaginable grace—after she traipsed back and forth along the beach of the family compound, alone, her head scarf flapping in the wind, her hand clutching a rosary.The Book of Judith aptly describes this ‘product’ of convent schools and the matriarch of a distinguished American family:  “Now she was a very beautiful, charming woman to see with a beguiling tongue demonstrating to every nation, every tribe that God is almighty and all-powerful.  Her fame spread more and more the older she grew in her husband’s house; she lived to the age of a hundred and five” (Judith:  8:7; 9: 14; 16: 23-24).  To be continued ...

How the Church built Western civilization: part one

Apr 10, 2013 / 00:00 am

At his papal election in 2003, why did Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger take the name Benedict? Because it was the Benedictine Order who, systematically and comprehensively, rebuilt Europe after the barbaric invasions. This fact is of such vital importance that it must be restated, or even stated for the first time, and without embarrassment. It is quite remarkable that some European leaders refuse to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots and, specifically, the Church’s role in building its civilization. Had it not been for the Church, Europe would have developed in a different form.  The Church was Europe’s light in darkness.The title of this essay is the very same as the informative book by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., who answers the implicit question: What was the role and significance of the Catholic Church in the development of Western European civilization? In other words, How the Church Built Western Civilization.Remote Roots of Western CivilizationHow and when did Western civilization begin?  Early Christianity developed according to a Hellenized Judaism, and the Church is largely responsible for handing down the cultural thoughts and traditions of Greece and Rome. Until the fifth century, Western Europe was overrun by nomadic and barbaric tribes. After the sack of Rome in 410, the Church became the one indispensable instrument for christianizing them, first through the monks and their monasteries.The Rise of MonasticismThe early forms of monastic life developed from the third century in the Christian East where hermits and consecrated virgins lived ascetical lives while serving the poor and the sick. They are known as the first monastics because the word from the Greek, monos, connotes solitude.  The first monastics wanted to flee from the world because they believed it to be evil.Western MonasticismWestern monasticism is a way of life in which men and women consecrate themselves by public vows to live in a stable place.  There they alternate communal and solitary prayer and work in their daily lives. Their prayer is mainly the Liturgy of the Hours, sung or prayed round the clock to fulfill the Lord’s command to “pray always.” Today, some monks and nuns are more withdrawn than others, living the cloistered life.St. Benedict, the Benedictine Order, and the Monastic CenturiesIn the middle of the sixth century, a small movement changed the landscape of the European world. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) introduced a new way of life and thinking that has brought vitality to contemporary men and women. He laid the foundation of Benedictine monastic life with his monks first at Subiaco and Rome, and then at Monte Cassino in 529. Benedict composed his Rule of disciplined balance that fostered order and peace.  If “pray andwork” (ora et labora) was the Benedictine motto, the way to live it was through beauty, piety, and learning.  Every monastery was built on an expansive tract of land, and  eventually it became a center of life—a miniature civic center for the townspeople. Today, people gather at shopping malls or in village squares. Monastic ActivityAfter the year 600 and for five centuries thereafter, the Benedictines promoted a rich liturgical spirituality and high intellectual pursuits. During these centuries, the monks served as church administrators. By and large, they were the only educators and writers of the ages.Living the LiturgyMedieval culture was synonymous with Christian culture. Monasteries celebrated the year of grace with simple beauty. Every day of the calendar year was identified with a saint’s name and not with a number, as we do today. Peasants paused and prayed at Noon, three o’clock, and at six to mark three Hours of the liturgy. Sacramental celebrations were village celebrations. People punctuated their greetings with adieu, adios, or good bye, the equivalent of "God be with you."The Practical ArtsThe monks were the agriculturalists of Europe. The list of their accomplishments is almost limitless: They drained swamps and converted them from disease-ridden places into fertile regions; cleared away forests for the neighboring inhabitants, introduced new crops, and stored up waters from springs to distribute in times of droughts. They ran a basic hospital for the sick. Not surprisingly, the Benedictines pioneered the production of wine in addition to the discovery of champagne. In all these endeavors, they linked their activity with preaching the gospel (Woods, 28ff).The Monks as Technical AdvisersThe monks built their own monastery chapels and other monastery buildings. With their expertise, they advised the people as technologists in areas such as metallurgy, iron works, marble quarrying, glassworks for stained glass windows, all done with monastic savoir-faire. They saw the beauty of creation everywhere (Woods, 34ff).  Ministry of Hospitality and Other Charitable WorksAnyone who has ever visited a Benedictine monastery or abbey knows first-hand about its gracious manners and warm hospitality.  The monasteries served as gratuitous inns providing a safe and peaceful resting place for the foreign traveler, pilgrim, and the poor.  “A special bell rang every night,” reports Woods, “to call any wandering traveler or to anyone overtaken by the intimidating forest darkness.  The people called it ‘the bell of the wanderers’” (38).The Scriptorium and Preservation of ManuscriptsMany monasteries came to be known for special skills: some, for medicine, others for painting and engraving, producing and copying illuminated manuscripts of the Ancients. Still others composed and copied the music that had been handed down to them or shared with them from other monasteries.A monk would be sent to another monastery to learn new music being sung there. Then he would return to his scriptorium where adaptations might be made. Copyists recorded this music or the music that was composed within that monastery. A monk with beautiful handwriting was assigned to do the calligraphy; gifted monks pained illuminated letters. Every once in a while, a jokester-monk might write in the margin of a page: ‘I’ve been here for four hours.’ These artistic works were without signature, done anonymously and for God’s glory. Today, museums are indebted to the monastics for the preservation of all types of manuscripts.Monastic SchoolsEducation in the Middle Ages was conducted within the confines of the monastery by monks, and later, by nuns. They offered religious and general education to youth who intended to enter the monastic or clerical life and to youth who were preparing for public life. These lived at home. Young children of six or seven years of age were taught the basics. The majority, especially potential monks and nuns, were taught to read Latin, writing, chant, arithmetic, and learning how to read time on the sun dial. The main text was the Psalter.  From the eighth century onward, students were taught the seven liberal arts, the trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music.  The ideal monastery of the Benedictine Orderwas that of Saint Gall in present-day Switzerland where the town flourished around the monastery.The So-Called Dark Ages“The monks gave to the whole of Europe a network of factories, centers of breeding livestock, centers of scholarship, preservation of manuscripts of earlier ages, especially of Greece and Rome, the art of manners, the art of hospitality,” writes Woods (5). These disciplines were supported and advanced under the guidance of the Church in the so-called Dark Ages. By the eighth century, Benedictine monasteries had spread from Italy to Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, to present-day France, the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia.St. Benedict of Nursia is considered the architect of western monasticism. His monks, the fathers of European civilization.  To be continued.

Plunging into the baptismal waters of Easter

Apr 3, 2013 / 00:00 am

An Excerpt from “The Blow of Mercy”“I still remember my first high dive,” he began.  “At some point, you have to try it.  You can’t keep practicing on the lower board. I had screwed up my courage and told myself I was diving into the arms of Jesus. It was a leap of faith with no support except trust. There was no turning back, midair. The dive was total and took over completely. The early Christians did it that way. I mean the catechumens. When they got baptized, they plunged into the pool and were immersed in the waters that washed them clean. They had dived into the blood of the Lamb and had come out the other side, new beings. There’s no way around the terror. You have to risk death by letting go if you’re going to be reborn. You need to be kept in the waters, screaming and struggling, before you rise to new life. You have to go under three times, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. As you sink, you may splash and flail. You may gag and choke and think you’re dying.  And in a way, you are. The prospect of drowning’s a fearful thing. Then suddenly, something happens. The dead weight drops off, and you find yourself coasting along, light and free. You breathe in the clean air, joyous at being alive. The grace of the Lord has buoyed you up.” (Joseph Roccasalvo, Outward Signs)Taking the Plunge into Baptismal WatersIn describing his initial plunge into deep waters, the young diver compares his leap to the plunge into baptismal waters. It is the leap of faith, the thrill of living on “the razor’s edge.” The diver has it right: terror of letting go, no human support, trust, subjective certainty and objective probability, the plunge and immersion, being buried in the water, more trust, the Trinitarian blessing, being borne up, coasting light and free, breathing in the clean air, joy at being alive in Christ.Beginning the LeapIn early Christianity, it was exceedingly difficult for a candidate to enter the Church. Every real Christian was called to live as an ambassador for Christ, but the conditions for becoming a Christian were as rigid as entering a strict religious Order today. Every candidate was required to get a recommendation before entering the catechumenate.  The early Church could not conceive of half-hearted Christians. When the few defections did come, it was the imminent prospect of martyrdom that had proved to be an insurmountable barrier; discipleship cost too much. Therefore, the Church prepared to be small in number rather than be unfaithful to her principles, to endanger them, or to water them down.Length of CatechumenateHow long did it take for a candidate to become a full-fledged Christian? The trial period took three years. It was a sort of novitiate during which time candidates learned and assimilated the teaching of the Church through instruction on Sacred Scripture. They were also expected to know the Apostles’ Creed and give a summary of it to the bishop. Above all, it was their personal encounter with Christ that mattered.The Final Stages before BaptismThe “final exam” for Baptism was the witness of their own lives, the most important aspect of their training.  For the last weeks of preparation, they were expected to intensify their fasting, prayer, vigils, and, if necessary, undergo exorcism.  As their immediate preparation, they observed a strict fast on Holy Saturday. Easter was the chosen feast for becoming a Christian because of the rich symbolism: Catechumens would be baptized and buried with Christ; then they would rise again with Christ (Rom 6:17).  Rite of Adult BaptismThere were four steps in the rite of Baptism.1. Renouncing Satan. The festive procession took place, a dramatic triumphal procession, a marching around like at some god’s feast, at which all the idols were carried along. There were two camps, one led by Satan’s army and the other by the army of Christ. The candidates dropped out of the devil’s camp and entered the camp of Christ’s army. 2. Oil of Exorcism. As the priest addressed those who were to be baptized, they renounced Satan, saying: “I renounce you, Satan, and all your pomps and all your works.” Then they were anointed with the oil of exorcism, letting the evil spirits depart from them.3. Triple Immersion into baptismal water.4. When the candidate came up, each was anointed by the priest with the oil of thanksgiving, saying: “I anoint you with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ. As they dried themselves, each  put on his or her white robe; and after this, they faced the Assembly as part of the Body of Christ. Chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balsam, a symbol of adherence to Christ, the “Anointed One.” The fragrance, mixed with oil, soothes and comforts. As for infant baptism, from the very beginning, it was taken for granted that the children of Christian parents would be baptized in infancy.Putting on Christ and the Theme of Beauty Of great significance was the robe. Donning the white outer robe symbolized putting on Christ, wearing Christ, as the scripture says: All those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:17).In his many baptismal instructions, St. John Chrysostom (d 407) refers to the theme of beauty. New Christians have been anointed with the oil of gladness. They are to let their light shine out, for each of them is a new creation more brilliant than the rays of the sun.The power of the baptismal garment cannot be overstated. The luster of this robe which time cannot touch and which age cannot dim. Prayer, above all, can guard continuously for us the luster of this special garment. If the neophytes do this well, they will be able to keep in full bloom the beauty of this spiritual robe, the baptismal robe.The neophytes are like earthly stars, and they shine more brilliantly than those of heaven. They are the joy of the Church.    Today’s Renewal of Baptismal Vows at Easter At the Easter Vigil Liturgy and on Easter Sunday, Catholics renew their baptismal vows following those newly baptized. Renewal means embracing the person of Christ as the one and only Lord of the universe. God in Christ is not one of many gods, for this is Gnosticism.  Our baptismal renewal is not an once-in-a-lifetime event. It is an ongoing process begun as infants when our parents and godparents promised to walk with us toward freedom in Christ. It means renouncing the pomps of Satan.Where are the pomps of Satan today? Our post-Christian age is more exposed to subtle sins than at a less sophisticated time. We are adept at rationalizing our excuses and evasions. It is easy to defend error. Dull consciences can make error plausible and can make vice look like virtue. The devil is a liar and lures us into various ways:Materialism denies the existence of the soul. Men and women are nothing more than a higher species of the animal kingdom.Consumerism dictates that luxuries are necessities. I must have them, and now.Relativism holds that morality varies according to differences in cultural and attitudes. There is no universal and objective truth to guide one’s attitude and behavior. Morality is a subjective thing.Secular humanism excludes or denies the existence any religious values. It focuses exclusively on the finite world. Do good in the here and now, and without God, because there is no tomorrow.Pelagianism is basically self-sufficiency. I am in control of my life. For the sophisticated aesthetes, the beauty of art is their god. They forget that all beauty and all art ultimately derived from and point to the divine artist. When the tragedy of 9/11 exploded before us, religious people turned to prayer for comfort in the face of mindless tragedy. Others dealt with the pain by turning to music. Unless a Man Be Born Again . . .Christ told Nicodemus that his followers must be born again of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:3). When we put on Christ as our robe, we shine forth beauty. When we do not, we mask ourselves with costumes. For when we are not Christ, we are not truly ourselves.Easter reminds us that Christ did not merely return to life; he is life itself. He lives in the present in the everlasting today. Easter men and women wear their baptismal robes and proclaim “Alleluia” from head to toe. Catholicism then is not a bloodless faith that is overcome by the culture but the energizer, catalyst, and driver of the culture. Catholicism evangelizes the commonplace.“Brothers and sisters: Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).Isn’t this what diver was saying?

The folly of the Cross and the glory of the Lord

Mar 27, 2013 / 00:00 am

What is the meaning of suffering? Holy Week confronts each of us with this inscrutable question. Whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, suffering spares no one. It does violence to the person and to groups of people. It comes from us and others, from places, events, and unfulfilled expectations. ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ To whom shall we go for answers? For consolation? If life is a riddle, doesn’t someone owe me an answer? If it’s all a joke, what is the punch line?Questions about suffering inevitably lead to questions about God and the meaning of life. Where is God in suffering? A powerful and all-loving God would not permit suffering. Therefore, God must be a sadist or an impotent entity. Such inescapable questions haunt persons of faith and those of no faith because they affect us at the very core of daily living.In one symphony after the other, Gustav Mahler, asks the question of all questions: What is the meaning of life and why is it filled with suffering? Among his trials was the fact that his wife Alma was a collector of men. The question dogged him to the rest of his life despite the fact that, in his Second Symphony, “the Resurrection,” the final text cries out: “Rise again, my heart, in the twinkling of an eye! What thou hast fought for, it shall lead thee to God!”By contrast, in his famous Ninth Symphony, “The Ode to Joy,” Beethoven, completely deaf in 1824, brings joy out of intense suffering.Jesus and the Human ConditionWhen everything has been done to remove suffering, and it persists, a person either deals with it or suffers more intensely from fighting it. Grave suffering re-arranges the whole of one’s life, but maturity begins with accepting the fact that struggle is an integral part of life. With it comes the invitation to grow in compassion, wisdom, and love.And yet, even in dark hours, we do sense a ray of light in the darkness that holds meaning for us. Despite setbacks and in the face of despair, Christian hope is possible only in the light of Christ’s redemption for he comes in absolute love that identifies itself with suffering and with the sufferers of the world. He suffers in solidarity with us.Jesus did not seek out suffering for its own sake. He was weighed down with suffering from all sides. Human malice did him in. Doesn’t this have a familiar ring to it? In human terms, his life was an appalling failure. A skeptical culture asks if Jesus is the world’s redemptive hope. If the cross leads to diminishment and loss, in what way can an instrument of Roman torture be considered a triumph and “the tree of life?” What is the significance of Jesus’ suffering? Of my own suffering? How can suffering be transformed into something meaningful and even beautiful?The Mission of JesusIn spending his life for others, Jesus shared with them his mission and exemplified the mandate of love. This itinerant rabbi cultivated relationships with people of all types. Instead of ingratiating himself with the powerful, he stood with the poor. According to the religious authorities, he blasphemed by daring to call God his Abba – his papa, whose kingdom he was proclaiming. His Abba was also ours, who forgives us, and makes us his children once more. To some, Jesus seemed like the Messiah, with an aura of glory about him. To others, he was a pretender and rabble rouser. How could this man be God in human form? Jewish leaders had to deal with him under the eye of Roman rule, and he faced their criticism with dignity and without retaliation. The person of Jesus remains the unique standard by which beauty, truth, goodness, all aspects of love, are judged.The Jewish PaschEvery year at Passover, Jews throughout the world recall, re-live, and celebrate the saving mystery of God’s deliverance of them. The Passover prefigures the Christian celebration of the paschal mystery of the Lord. At the time of the Exodus, the angel of death passed over Jewish homes marked by the blood of the lamb (Ex 12ff). To make their escape, they hurriedly baked unleavened bread, ate and consumed the roasted lamb. This act completed the blood sacrifice of the Old Covenant, for to eat the sacrificial victim was to partake of the fruits of the sacrifice (Jer 11:19-20;1 Cor 10:18). The blood of the unblemished lamb was a scapegoat that spared the Israelites from continued slavery. Henceforth, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread was to be kept as a sacred memorial – transformed later in to Holy Thursday, for Catholics and Orthodox Christians.The New PaschSimilarly, each Holy Week, Christians recall, re-live, and celebrate the saving events of Christ, as the Passover Lamb who fulfills the Hebrew prophecies. The liturgies of the Triduum summarize them: the fall of Adam through pride and disobedience, the consequences of the first sin, Jesus’ earthly life, passion, death, and Resurrection. Like the Passover ritual, the liturgies wash over the faithful as together they experience their personal and ecclesial salvation. The mystery of the God-Man is a powerful symbol that has inspired artists, writers, and composers throughout history.On Good Friday, the most solemn day of the liturgical year, a hushed Christian world ponders Christ’s death expressed in many texts, one of which proclaims: “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore.” Human logic recoils at this proclamation.The Examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jackie RobinsonSuffering may be chosen for a higher purpose. Three figures of recent memory resemble Jesus and his mission, though his was not primarily concerned with the temporal. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. entered public service for the sake of justice and ultimately gave their lives for it: Gandhi, to win India’s independence, and King, to implement Civil Rights in the United States. The events that unfolded in their lives became the context for their respective missions. They spoke of freedom in simple, profound, and authoritative words, drawing people from disparate places. The unjust oppression of the powerless provoked their reaction. In the face of legal but immoral laws, they resisted, but non-violently. Though Gandhi and King saw the inevitable dangers threatening their message, they accepted the real possibility of dying for their respective causes.Jackie Robinson did not die a martyr, but in the 1940's, he anticipated the Civil Rights Movement. He suffered for the cause of the Negro and for all minority men and women in sports breaking the intractable color barrier with uncommon dignity. Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodger franchise warned Robinson that as the first black man to play in the major leagues, he dared not retaliate against prejudice, however fierce. Time and again Robinson “turned his cheek.” The memories of these men remain fixed in our collective memory for the beauty, truth, and goodness of their characters. Their lives shine like the stars.Prophecies of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. Philippians 2:5-11Jesus predicted his passion and death to fulfill the prophecies through the mouths of the Old Testament prophets. In fact, centuries before Christ, the prophecies predicted that the expected Messiah would be despised and rejected by men.In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the divine plan of the Incarnation and the paschal mystery hovers over universal redemption. Christianity proclaims that Jesus saves all men and women by canceling out Adam’s pride and disobedience with humility and obedience. As a result and with our cooperation, all men and women are redeemed. In the Incarnation, Jesus freely put aside his divine status without changing or clinging to it. As an act of love towards his Father, he assumed his redemptive mission.The Father and the SonThe Johannine gospel, more than the Synoptic narratives, initiates a rich Trinitarian theology of three salvific agents. Here, the reciprocal love between the Father and the Son is striking. Jesus reveals what his Father meant to him in the language of love: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” (Jn 14:10) Jesus speaks of our participation in this divine life: “...You will understand that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you.” (Jn 14:20) The relationship is one of love, and this outpouring of love is the Spirit, a divine person. The Father-Son relationship is the centerpiece of this gospel. Though inseparable and distinct from the Father and Son, the Spirit proceeds from both by way of love. It was not necessary for the Father to command his Son to suffer; love sees the need and responds to it.Jesus’ Solidarity with HumankindThe scene of the Agony in the Garden surprises us. On the verge of crisis, Jesus prays not for strength, courage, and acceptance of his Father’s will. Instead we witness the human repugnance, the horror, the revolt, and the effort to escape. With the arrival of the final hour, Jesus becomes Everyman when he cries out with the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Ps 22:1) He pours himself out, “tasting death for everyone,” (Heb 2:9) but his plea is made without despairing. Jesus seeks consolation from his Father, because his life has been spent pleasing his Father (Jn 8:29).  But now, he feels abandoned by the one he most loves. “It is as if the Father loads on him the full burden of sin that is absolutely opposed to God. How can this be? The one who is God’s Word in the world is dumb,” writes” Hans Urs von Balthasar (The Glory of the Lord, VII: 208). And yet, Jesus trusts his Father to the very end. Psalm 22 ends on a note of hope; the Lord has not hidden his face from the suffering soul.Finally, “it is finished,” and Jesus releases his Spirit (Jn 19:30). His powerlessness is shot through with God’s power to save, and his obedience of love is raised high in final glorification. Everything has been pared down to two aspects of one reality: love as the reason for his suffering and total dependency on the Father.Although Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures, his suffering is not that of a passive man but of one who actively receives and responds. The drama of Jesus’ suffering of love was undertaken pro me and pro nobis, and every man and woman is a player on the stage of this spectacular tableau. Each of us is Judas and Peter, the thieves, the crowds, and the guards, Simon, Veronica, and the beloved disciple. Why suffering? The cross is illogical and has always contradicted human logic. It is a madness, a scandal, a stumbling-block (1Cor 1: 21-22). For the disciple of Christ, the only logic is that of love. Only love is credible. At the same time, the Psalmist often encourages the Israelites to pour out their complaints to the Lord and tell him of all their troubles. They do so repeatedly.Contemporary logic, which boasts of self-sufficiency, repudiates Christ’s condition as foolishness. But Jesus helps his disciples to make sense out of suffering, not according to the human way of thinking, but according to his. He brings his followers to the cross and, sooner or later, expects us to understand it as his very own logic, despite Paul’s emphatic declaration that the cross is God’s wisdom and power to save (1 Cor 1:17, 25; 2:5). In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena strikes at the heart: “Oh, Loving Madman! Was it not enough for Thee to become Incarnate, that Thou must also die?”God’s Foolishness Is Salvation: Two Examples from Hebrew ScriptureThe Book of Exodus initiates us into God’s folly. Despite Yahweh’s commands that Moses seek the release of his people from the Pharaoh, Moses is forewarned. God will make the ruler obstinate so that he will refuse the request. Is this not sheer madness? When all seems lost, God’s inscrutable logic saves the Jews in the Passover-Exodus event. God’s foolishness is wiser than Moses’ logic.Job offers another example of God’s foolishness. Job has proved himself a good and faithful servant.  A man who has everything suddenly loses all. His loss is unmerited. Anguish afflicts body and soul. He condemns himself and rubs in his failures. Curse God, his friends urge, but he refrains from doing so. The first point the Book of Job makes is that suffering is not evidence of sin. When Job’s friends muse that he has sinned to deserve such misery, the reader knows this to be false. Job’s suffering was a test of his faith. Even as he grew angry with God for being unjust – wishing he could sue him in a court of law – he never abandoned his belief.Job’s moral outrage prompts God’s response, thereby demonstrating that the sufferer who believes is never alone. God’s voice “out of the whirlwind” carries a less than satisfying response: “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundations? Do you really want to reverse my judgment, and put me in the wrong to put you in the right?” (Job 40:83) God’s designs are inscrutable. Though God does not come out of this narrative very well, Job has no response and falls silent. The same is true in the Christian scriptures. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died,” cries Martha (Jn 11:21). Her despair is surely understandable, but it is transformed into joy when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.The Resurrection and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy CrossHe suffered, died, and was raised in resurrection glory by his Father. On September 14th, the Church “lifts high the cross” because God’s weakness and folly prove wiser and stronger than the strength and wisdom of creatures. Suffering has no human logic. Still, in his human nature, Jesus shows us how to suffer. Without suffering out of love, acceptance of pain is a servile act. The lesson is simple, if maddening. Like Moses and Job, we do not save ourselves in the way we want. Each of us is saved within God’s provident care. Without this conviction, we can lose the grace of suffering, and it is a grace. The folly of human suffering becomes our glory, but we experience this only after the fact. It is a paradox.To use an image from art: We live most of our lives on the hidden side of our own tapestry being woven according to a pattern by the master weaver. How many times must the needle pierce the tapestry before it is completed? We see only tangled and loose threads. The design on the front remains hidden, but it’s there.The cross is the glory of the Lord. The cross of Jesus was his resurrection. His life was the candle that burned itself out in order to give its light to all. When people suffer out of love for God, it is only the fact that they have been inflamed by the most sublime of beauties – a beauty crowned with thorns – that justifies their sharing in that suffering. In Psalm 22, the faithful soul suffering before a silent God, but that soul places itself entirely in the hands of the Lord who will deliver it. The Psalm closes with the afflicted one praising the Lord. On the cross, Jesus expressed the meaning of Psalm 22 in his prayer to his silent Father. Jesus foretold his last hours on the cross: “If I be lifted up, I will draw all things to myself.” (Jn 12:32) The Father transforms Jesus’ death into resurrection glory. The Father glorifies him as Lord of the universe, God’s perfect work of art. Yes, the lesson is maddening but clear and simple.

'Francis, go and rebuild my Church'

Mar 20, 2013 / 00:00 am

Last week, when Pope Francis addressed 5,000 secular and Catholic journalists and media, he spoke of how the role of mass media has expanded with its indispensable ability for reporting current events. He thanked all present for their efforts to present the historic and complex events of the recent election, an arcane subject that can even stump Vaticanologists. He elaborated: “The Church does not respond to an earthly logic because the nature of the Church is spiritual, not political.”“Christ,” he continued, “is the center and reference point at the heart of the Church; the center is not the Successor of Peter. Without Christ, Peter and the Church would not exist.”In speaking about communication, Pope Francis departed from his prepared text: “Like all other professionals, your work needs study, sensibility, experience, and a special attention to truth, goodness, and beauty – this “trinity of communication. We the Church are not called to communicate ourselves, but this trinity . . . the Church exists to communicate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty,” he intoned. These reflections, irresistibly attractive, are proposed to the entire world.“Wherever you go, preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” This Franciscan proverb is key to rebuilding the world. There are at least two other ways of expressing this thought. ‘To be Christ ... to Christ ... for Christ as Mother Teresa of Calcutta would put it. Or, to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins:. . . The just man justices;Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;Acts in God’s eyes what in God’s eyes he isChrist – for Christ plays in ten thousand places;Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not hisTo the Father through the features of men’s faces.The Discerning Joseph, Guardian and Protector of JesusSt. Joseph’s Day was the perfect feast for the inauguration of Pope Francis. Jesus was raised by a just man, a man of faith, a faith embracing beauty, truth, and goodness – all united in love. Through a mystifying dream, Joseph found himself at the center of salvation history. With Mary, the Mother of God, he would play a pivotal role in the life of the young Christ.The narrative is all too familiar. Joseph found himself in a position, both untenable and irreconcilable. His betrothed was expecting a child, and he was not the father. Though he would reluctantly obey the cruel Law to have his wife stoned to death, he was virtually certain that there was more to the narrative than met the eye. He believed in her innocence. But he had to be told in the most unlikely place, in a dream. Joseph had placed faith in his doubts, because he never doubted his faith. Put in another way, Joseph had grasped the virtue of discernment. His dream translated into the voice of God.Apart from the Mother of God, Joseph soars above all saints. With Mary, he assumed responsibility in caring for and guarding the body of Christ. The Son of God would mirror his earthly father, even as Joseph was trying to please the Father of them both. This responsibility was his all. None was greater, the one thing necessary. By extension, Joseph stands as the guardian of the Body of Christ, the universal Church. He is well-named: Joseph, “he who adds to; increase.” Like the Mother of God, he too was grace-filled.A Discerning Pope FrancisPope Francis intends to follow the Lord’s mandate given to St. Francis of Assisi to go and rebuild his Church. Like Joseph, he undertakes a unique Office in faith. To rebuild, to repair, and to restore the beauty of the Church, this will be a slow and arduous task. If there is one virtue he will need in abundance, it is that of spiritual discernment.Discernment  goes far beyond material concerns. It is keenly attuned to those feelings within the soul, those movements within that blow us one way or another toward good or evil. Discernment seeks to find God’s will and his glory at the center of our decisions. But there is more, a more refined discernment that seeks to distinguish between two goods equally pleasing to God. Which good will I choose? The one which I perceive will give God the greater glory.St. John the Evangelist warns about testing the spirits that surround us and those that are within us to see of they come from God (1 Jn 4:2 ). The subterfuges of every person’s ego are countless. Discerning one’s spirit is like entering into a deep dark forestof wily creatures ready to ensnare and deceive it through what looks attractive, true, and good – for the self.Setting the Tone through SilenceThe evangelists record not one word spoken by Joseph. If Mary pondered all things in her heart, then surely he did as well. Last week, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the future Pope Francis, overtook the world by the tone he set minutes after his election. He is a man of few but essential words. Emily Dickinson captures St. Joseph’s profile and that of Pope Francis:“I fear a man of frugal Speech – I fear a Silent Man – Harranguer – I can overtake – Or Babbler – entertain – But He who weigheth – While the Rest – Expend their furthest pound – Of this Man – I am wary – I fear that He is Grand.”“The Road Not Taken”For Pope Francis, the task ahead is to be done with Ignatian shrewdness but in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, a man of peace, a lover of the poor, a man who loved creation. In his Canticle, didn’t he address Brother Sun, Wind, Air, and Fire as well as Sister Moon, Water, and Mother Earth?The road to which the Church is now summoned to trod is less traveled. If we take it together, it will make all the difference:“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth.. . .I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages henceTwo roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.”Robert Frost

'Oriented toward gregorian chant'? What does this phrase mean?

Mar 13, 2013 / 00:00 am

It’s so beautiful, I could faint! This will surely be your response if you should want to visit the website of Corpus Christi Watershed ( The music is not Gregorian chant but contemporary sacred music composed in a way that is oriented toward the chant. Http:// and are two other websites filled with information about beautiful liturgical music and ways to make it available to parish communities. Here you will find many links to composers, who, for years, have been inspired by the Church’s ideal of bringing to the faithful beautiful sacred music that is easy to sing and music that is synonymous with prayer. Much has been written about the phrase, ‘oriented toward Gregorian chant,’ but it calls for explanation.Characteristics of Music ‘Oriented toward Gregorian Chant’To begin with, music of the liturgy must sound different from street music, music of a rock concert, music sung in a discotheque, or music for the movies. It differs from the sounds typically associated with romantic music. It is prayer that is sung, prayer that bears the imprint of silence. Orientation toward Gregorian chant involves melody, rhythm, types of sound and harmonization.Melody. Melodies based on the chant paradigm have the following characteristics. First, the melody moves up or down in stepwise fashion. It has almost no skips wider than a third. Second, if intervals wider than a third are used to intensify a text, they are followed by a stepwise ascent or descent. A wide ascending interval of a fifth is followed by a descent in scale wise fashion; a wide descending interval of a fifth is followed by an ascent in scale fashion. This melodic structure was almost always followed by J. S. Bach. The profile of a melodic line looks like a gentle wave. Melodies sung with affectation or idiosyncratic mannerism do not comport with the orientation toward Gregorian chant.Rhythm. Rhythm based on the chant paradigm is flexible and lacks the vertical beat, for example, 1-2; 1-2-3; 1-2-3-4; 1-2-3 4-5-6.   These accents fall vertically on the first beat; or, if not, on a syncopated beat, similar to jazz. Jerky, heavy, frenzied rhythms found in popular culture do not comport with the orientation toward Gregorian chant. The rhythm that most resembles Gregorian chant is the pattern of the rise and fall of gentle waves. The beat or tactus rises and falls and moves directionally but without an accented up-down beat.Sound. The voice is the natural instrument that expresses the sentiments of the heart more meaningfully than a musical instrument. The organ, the king of all instruments is preferred if it lightly supports the voices. Brass instruments which, by their very nature, claim prominence, should be used sparingly or for special occasions. Neither they nor any musical instrument should overpower the voices. In the Mass of the Resurrection by Randall DeBruyn, the brass instruments overpower the voices with their percussive noisy sound making it an unsuitable Mass setting.Harmony. Most chant is monophonic, sung without instrumentation. But some chants lend themselves to harmony. Today, even Gregorian chant has been put to simple harmony. Harmonies should not resemble the complex contrapuntal style that was banned at the time of the Counter-Reformation. In conclusion, the music oriented toward Gregorian chant is music that has been pared down and purified from the secular sound.Contemporary Liturgical Music: the Ordinaries and Propers of the MassToday, no one would advocate that Gregorian chant be the only music sung in parish communities. Let us hope that cloistered monasteries allow its 3,000 or more melodies to flourish for the sake of their guests and for the ages. The continuity of the Church’s musical treasury does not merely reclaim the past without also welcoming contemporary music that bears the imprint of the otherworldly.There is a renewed emphasis in two main directions, both essential to the full participation of the faithful in the Mass. First, we are witnessing a renewal in singing the Mass. This means singing the Ordinary parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. There are eighteen Mass settings of Gregorian chant Ordinaries in the Liber Usualis, the liturgical book containing the complete Latin settings of Gregorian chant for every Mass of the year. The easiest Mass settings are Mass XVI and Mass XVIII which can be sung during Lent and Advent.Second, there is a renewed interest in singing the Proper (changeable) parts of the Mass in English because of the rich texts from the Old and New Testaments. Post-conciliar years saw many parishes drop the prescribed Proper parts of the Mass: the Entrance or Introit, the Gradual, the Communion.Composers of Corpus Christi WatershedIf you wish to hear music whose orientation closely aligns with that of Gregorian chant, you can find it in the music of Kevin Allen, Fr. Samuel Weber Bruce E. Ford, Jeff Ostrowski, Aristotle A. Esguerra, Arlene Oost-Zinner, Brian Michael Page, Richard Rice, Ian Williams, Kathy Pluth, David Frill, Chris Mueller, Richard Clark, Noel Jones, Charles Culbreth, Jacob Brancke, and other composers. Their music is modern, accessible, and beautiful.Schools of MusicMartin Luther was convinced that if you want the faithful to sing in church, you have to teach them in school. In Salt Lake City, UT, the Cathedral of the Madeleine continues to be the preeminent model that Luther would have promoted. There, music is an integral part of the curriculum, and its choir school is known throughout the country. At St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, Father Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. has been successful in conducting a national choir school at summer camp. The choir’s motto is “Spreading the Catholic Faith Through Great Music” as a response to John Paul II’s “new evangelization.”Dr. Peter Latona of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is not only a fine composer but directs the choir there. He recently conducted a concert as a tribute to Benedict XVI entitled appropriately, “Truth and Beauty.” The music, composed from various periods including contemporary, was captivating.Other Music ‘Oriented Toward Gregorian Chant’The music of Taizé has become a universal phenomenon. This French ecumenical monastic community, attracting youth from across the globe, has created music of silence and mesmerizes those who chant it – or rather, pray it. Take for example, perhapsthe most famous chant, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It is appropriately sung on Good Friday at the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified. Another is “Stay here, remain with me, watch and pray.” This is music with free rhythm. One could say that they are at the top of the ‘hymn parade’ of Holy Week sacred music.The psalm settings of Father Joseph Gelineau, S.J. express a crystalline purity that is sheer beauty, if sung properly. The music of Richard Proux deserves mention here as well for his lovely revision of The Community Mass.All suitable church music – polyphony, motets, Protestant Psalter and hymn-tunes have found ways of adapting their own styles to plainchant’s melodies and rhythms. The sacred music of the Elizabethan and Anglican School, of Ukraine and Russia, Reformed Protestant hymnody, and many contemporary composers also belong to the Church’s broadened treasury because their structure resembles that of Gregorian chant. There is the classic Protestant hymn, “Old One Hundredth,” “For All the Saints,” “Lift High the Cross.” One secular, stately, and beautiful melody has become part of the sacred repertory. Embedded in the composition, “The Planets: Jupiter” and composed in 1920 by Gustav Holst, “Thaxted” is one of our best-loved hymns. Many texts have been set to this melody, among which are “O God, Beyond All Telling” and “O Spirit All-Embracing.” The melody was sung in 1997 at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Today there are more composers of beautiful sacred choral music than there are those who write in the ‘folk’ – and popular style.Senior Composers of Liturgical MusicGregorian chant has influenced many composers. Some of our senior composers are David Wilcox, Lucien Deiss, Leo Sowerby, Noël Goemanne, Flor Peters, and Healy Willan. JohnTavener and Arvo Pärt have based almost all their compositions on plainchant.The Missalette and the Vatican II HymnalThere is a growing revulsion among pastors, clergy, and laity at the use of missalettes to which most parishes subscribe. More and more, they see them as a bad investment, a waste of parish funds, already stretched to the limit. These flimsy, disposable paperbacks must be changed a few times a year for the entire parish community. The cost is prohibitive.These shabby, unattractive throw-aways with God’s word printed between the covers would make a rabbi gasp in disbelief, for the Torah is encased in precious jewels. So too is the book of the Gospels in the Christian East. In the Roman Rite, the Sacramentary and Lectionary are reasonably attractive books. What image does a missalette project? Texts are printed on cheap paper, and most music is unsuitable for worship. “We are teaching ugliness to our Catholics,” writes Alice von Hildebrand, dismayed. Why shouldn’t the faithful hold in their hands a beautifully-bound book containing the word of God from which to sing?The Vatican II Hymnal is the first hymnal since the Second Vatican Council to include the texts of the sung Propers for every Sunday and major feast. A newly-minted missal, it is beautiful to look at with beautiful music notated within. A parish community can feel proud to hold this splendid example of the Church’s treasury of sacred music, both traditional and contemporary. The paper is of the highest quality with a resilient binding, the designs, beautifully appointed. It has the readings for all Sundays and feast days – the complete cycles, A, B,C. It will be about twenty years or perhaps thirty before another translation is made. Here is music for the new evangelization. Vatican II Hymnal serves as a musical ambassador for Christ.ConclusionSome years ago, while making a pilgrimage to some religious sites in Annecy, France and its environs, I had the opportunity of worshiping on Sundays at the village church in the Grand Bornand, high in the French Alps. There the parishioners sang the Sunday liturgy – the complete Ordinary, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei accompanied by a small organ. The schola, about ten in number, sang the Proper parts. At the Communion rite, the faithful sang local hymns. Little did they realize that an American Catholic found the experience unforgettably beautiful.

Feasting on Sacred Architecture

Mar 6, 2013 / 00:00 am

In 2008, Monsignor Peter Fleetwood, a consulter for the Pontifical Council for Culture, spoke about “the blight of and iconoclastic Puritan streak in North and North West Europe which has inevitably had an effect on all forms of art, including church architecture.” He has also noted that, during the utilitarian trends of the Soviet Empire, the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, “seem to have successfully stood their ground, with an amazing talent for beautifying the insides of their unutterably drab buildings.”Three years later, in 2011, Giancarlo Cardinal Ravasi, Prefect of the same Pontifical Council addressed the faculty at the University La Sapienza in Rome. In this lecture, he criticized abstract church architecture in Italy as art that deforms the liturgy. In these modern churches, “we find ourselves lost as in a conference hall, distracted as in a sports arena, packed in as at a tennis court, degraded as in a pretentious and vulgar house.”These concerns do not oppose modernity in favor of retrogression; they seek not to restore, but proclaim the power of sacred architecture to lift up the spirit. Their focus is the beauty of the Lord’s house and our spiritual home. Churches are sacred places where time converges with the timeless, where earth meets heaven. These concerns are calling for a re-evangelization of our church architecture.A timely response to the criticism of Monsignor Fleetwood and Cardinal Ravasi comes to us by way of the sumptuous volume, The Church Building as a Sacred Place by Duncan Stroik, architect extraordinaire, educator, writer, and evangelist for the cause of sacred beauty in our churches. He is professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame and editor of Sacred Architecture Journal.The Church Building as a Sacred Place is a feast for the eyes – beauty appears on every page, this apologia for beautiful sacred architecture (Hillenbrand Books, 2009; ISBN: 978-1-59525-037-7). It is not merely the photos that are splendid, though they are. The author intends that in every chapter, there is something for everyone. Each chapter is complete and self-contained and can be read in one sitting. Each attracts, informs, inspires. You don’t have to read all the footnotes, but it’s nice to know they’re all there. The author summons Ordinaries and their assistant bishops, pastors, clergy, and seminarians, consecrated religious, laity – the entire Body of Christ – to ponder how the divine is made manifest in stone, marble, wood, glass, metal works as well as in signs and symbols, but in a way that differs from the Eucharistic presence.The reader may object. Aren’t modern churches supposed to adapt to a contemporary world? What’s the problem? Why all the fuss?  These questions bring us to the contents of the book itself.Part I: The Church As a Sacred Place: Principles of Church DesignPart I focuses attention on the structural elements of a church, in particular the apse and the altar; the reservation of the Eucharist merits special attention. The numerous photographs illustrate the critical point: In Catholic churches, the altar of sacrifice claims centrality whereas in Protestant churches, the pulpit, not the altar, is important (93).Part II Church Architecture TodayIn Part II, Stroik establishes his central thesis: the Classical style, the A B A form, is the blueprint underlying all church architecture.As a matter of fact, the world’s beautiful buildings hold in common one visual characteristic: their classical form. To mention just a few: Notre Dame, Chartres cathedrals, St. Peter’s basilica, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Synagogue in Rome are religious monuments, the Parthenon and Pantheon, cultural structures, and the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, places of government. It matters little whether they are secular or sacred, ancient or contemporary, large or small. These forms are beautiful because of their symmetry, balance, and proportion. And, of course, their quality. Their designs, though far from uniform, retain a universal truth that the A B A form is for all the ages. In the Classical style, there is no excess, no indulgence, no minimalism. Its beauty is warm but understated – the elegance of simplicity.Symmetry and Balance in ArchitectureSymmetry exists when exactly similar parts face each other or around an axis; it is a correct or pleasing proportion of the parts of a thing. In its basic structure, it is an A B A form, the basic structure of architecture, music, and poetry. Balance is a condition in which different elements are equal or in correct proportion, for example, keeping one’s balance between work and relaxation. We know the havoc wrought when railroad tracks or skis fail to run parallel to each other. A harp or other string instrument cannot be played properly if the strings are not stretched parallel to one another. Balance occurs when an even distribution of weight enables someone or something to remain upright and steady. Balance and symmetry, basic principles of life, are seen in the Parthenon whose frieze is symmetrical and whose balanced columns (4 plus 4) are its support.  Sacralizing the LandscapeAn office building is secular in character because it engages in temporal activities without referencing the name of God. The word sacred connotes being set apart from the secular for God. As with the Ark of the Covenant that was set apart as sacred, as with the Temple of Solomon that was set apart as the Holy of Holies, so too with Catholic places of worship. They are set apart for the celebration of the liturgical mysteries. Today churches and cathedrals still have a way of sacralizing the land surrounding it. Two such places are Chartres and Canterbury Cathedrals – for centuries, places of pilgrimage. We live in two overlapping cities: the City of God and the City of Man, and the two cities must talk to one another: Stroik echoes St. Augustine. Beautiful Catholic and Orthodox churches,  large or small, made of stone or wood, are visual theology replete with religious and liturgical symbolism whose goal is to bring us all to the City of God.The long history of church architecture began with house-churches which celebrated the sacred mysteries in secret and behind closed doors. After 325 A.D., the church-planning supervised by St. Helena, mother of Constantine, celebrated Christianity out in the open.   Stroik offers three general strains of church architecture in our long history: “the Classical, the Medieval, and most recently, the Modernist. Classicism encircles the mainstream of architectural expression shaping later developments. The baptized Classicism of the early Church led to the massive Romanesque, the soaring Gothic, the ordered Renaissance, the complex Baroque, and the cerebral Neo-Classical. … Modernism also comes from the Classical family though as an inversion of – or a reaction against – Classical principles and tradition. The Modernist inversion reacted against the whole sacred panorama of two millennia of Christianity” (36-7).Regardless of the century, great masters who built houses of God possessed the science of their day and knew how to use it. A compass sufficed for years. The Human Body, the A B A Form as a Cruciform ClassicismThe human body is a study in symmetry and balance, an A B A form. This Classical form rose to prominence in Greek architecture. To confirm this fact, Stroik summarizes architectural history from Pythagoras to the present day.A building for worshiping God is set apart from all other buildings in that it expresses beauty, functionality, and strength. The church building is the Domus Dei, the house of God, where the Body of Christ comes together for liturgical prayer. The shape of the church building is that of the human body, the form of a crucifix, i.e., cruciform. The cruciform in churches has a twofold symbolism:  (a) the head of the body is the apse, (b) the body of the church is the nave, and (c) the arms, the transept. This image of humanity is completed “in the image of Christ outstretched on the wood of the cross in expectation of the resurrection” (Maurice Dilasser, The Symbols of the Church, 121). Part III: Machine Church ArchitectureToday, most modern art forms, secular or sacred, are characterized by asymmetry, lines that are disjointed and anti-lyrical. Rounded arches which express serenity give way to angularity signaling tension, unrest, and agitation. Positive emotion is absent. Crude concrete and steel, known as “Brutalism,” dominate the structure. Anti-beauty, expressed or implied, is the antithesis of Classicism.A visitor, on entering an Orthodox and a Puritan-style church, will be struck by the differences of their architectural features and the atmosphere they express. One celebrates the senses; the other does not. What if a church building has been constructed like a machine? Or, what if a church has been stripped, as in the days of Protestantism? A church building reduced to its barest essentials – to bare walls, bare sanctuary, and bare ceiling, may elicit curiosity from visitors about its shape, mass and proportion, but this makes for a different discussion. If the Incarnation is the mystery of God in flesh and blood, how can the Incarnation be expressed in a bare building, presumed to be visual theology? We worship the God of the senses. We worship like human beings in houses of worship that have traditionally been decorated to provide a festal setting for the assembly and the celebration. Frescoes, mosaics, sculptures, and stained glass windows contribute to the beauty of the structure.  Ultra-abstract church architecture combines secularized Christian art and rationalized religion. Inseparably connected as they are, here the sensory aspect of the Incarnation is denied.Concern about modern architecture is twofold: (1) whether the structure makes visible invisible mysteries of Christianity and (2) the extent to which it does or does not do so. Contemporary church architecture seems to have imitated modern secular trends that break almost completely with the Classical tradition. Machine-art churches imitate the rallying cry of L.H. Sullivan, “Form follows function,” or that of Le Corbusier, “A house is a machine for living in; it makes no difference whether the building be sacred or profane.”St. Thomas Aquinas equates the form and function in terms of a twofold perfection. First, the is-ness of a thing, and second, its function. The Domus Dei is not first a function, not a utility (uti), a thing to be used or controlled. Together with the faithful, the house of God symbolizes relationship and fruitfulness (frui)–life and growth, the sacred place where the faithful realize their vocation in Christ.What to Do about Bad Church ArchitectureIn chapter eight, the author points out several myths about suitable church architecture. The objection arises: ‘You can’t change bad church architecture in the way you change a hymn.  Machine-art churches cannot simply be discarded. Failing restoration or renovation, such eyesores must be endured. Once they have been built, we are stuck with them. Worse, this type of architecture invites criticism from church leaders and from those beyond the Church.’ Stroik has spearheaded projects to renovate and reconstitute churches whose minimalism was embraced years ago. The tide has turned, thanks to the author and his colleagues.In France, the famous chapel at Notre Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp (1955) was intended for the celebration of Mass, but the church authorities refused approbation for it. A gatehouse and cloistered monastery, virtually underground, were completed there in 2011. The Dominican Monastery of La Tourette at Evreaux (1953), whose tomb-like chapel and oppressive spaces drove out the depressed monks, has been used for various purposes, e.g., a study center and/or retreat for architects. What is to be said and done about the cathedral in Los Angeles, the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer in Oakland, the chapel at Ave Maria College in Naples, Florida, and other prominent and extreme Catholic structures?   Part IV: Renaissance and Renewal – Appendices I, II, and IIIThe final section may appeal more to the interest of practitioners of architecture than to the ordinary reader. The appendices are intended for specialists. Stroik writes a moving chapter on the vocation of the architect, and separate chapters on the influence of episcopal documents, and of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Finances Stroik admits that people may question spending money on new churches when the needs of the disenfranchised cry out for help. But he has defended building churches with their express mission of charity to the poor. Lavish modernist churches built in the middle of slum areas cannot and must not be the answer.In Conclusion … Church architecture is designed to raise us up, help us to know ourselves, and give us an experience of beauty.  Don’t the faithful deserve the experience of God beyond ex opera operato? Duncan Stroik, one of the Church’s important and complete artists, gives us that sense of purpose to rediscover God in The Church Building as a Sacred Place. The book proclaims the Lord’s words: “I am with you always …” (Mt 28:20), for “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 16:4).

Benedict XVI on Sacred Music

Feb 27, 2013 / 00:00 am

Not since Pope St. Pius X (1903-14) has a pontiff befriended sacred music more passionately than Benedict XVI.  At the Counter-Reformation, musical excesses were corrected. In the nineteenth century, concerns about church music that was pietistic, devotional, and non-liturgical came and went with minimal reform. Since Vatican II, the issue of sacred music has mushroomed into bitter debates, a fact well-known to Benedict. This essay summarizes his catechesis on sacred music in his own words. A complete theologian, Benedict is also a connoisseur and patron of the arts, and a fine pianist.As with the legacies of past pontiffs, the Church carries forward his overall teaching into a new papacy.A Style like Mozart’sBenedict’s literary style resembles Mozart’s: simple, profound, balanced, unique.  It goes to the point without rhetoric, tangent, or fluff. All is essential; all filled with purpose. Another Church?“The new phase of the will to liturgical reform no longer sees its foundation explicitly in the world of the Second Vatican Council but in its 'spirit.' . . . It is rather a question of a basically new understanding of liturgy which one wishes to use in order to surpass the Council whoseConstitution on the Sacred Liturgy bears two souls within itself.  The liturgy takes its point of departure from the gathering of two or three who have come together in the name of Christ.  This reference to the Lord’s words of promise in Matthew 18:20 sound harmless and traditional at first hearing.  But it receives a revolutionary turn when one isolates this one biblical text and contrasts it with the whole liturgical tradition.  For the two or three are now places in opposition to an institution with its institutional roles, and to every “codified program” (“Liturgy and Sacred Music,”Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition, 2008, translated from the Italian by Stephen Wentworth Arndt in Communio, Winter, 1986, 377-90. A New Song for the Lord published by Crossroad and translated by Martha A. Matesich (1995) also contains this essay, 142-63).“The sacrament of Orders presents itself as an institutional role which has created a monopoly for itself and dissolved the (Church’s) original unity and solidarity by means of the institution. Under the circumstances, we are told, music then became a language of the initiates just like Latin, the language of the other Church, namely, of the institution and its clergy” (Ibid)“The isolation of Matthew 18:20 from the entire biblical and ecclesiastical tradition of the common prayer of the Church has far-reaching consequences here. The Lord’s promise to prayers of all places becomes the dogmatization of the autonomous group. The solidarity of prayer has escalated into an egalitarianism of which the unfolding of the ecclesiastical office means the emergence of another Church” (Ibid).Musica Sacra“. . . The wealth of the musica sacra, the organ as queen of the instruments, and the universality of Gregorian chant now appears as mystifications (obscure and outmoded phenomena) for the purpose of preserving a particular form of power.  Gregorian chant and Palestrina are said to be tutelary gods of a mythicized, ancient repertoire . . . . representing a cultic bureaucracy” (A New Song for the Lord, translated by Martha M. Matesich, 144-5).“For this group, the content of Pope St. Pius X’s motu proprio on church music is described as a culturally shortsighted and theologically empty ideology of sacred music” (Ibid).Spontaneity and Creativity“Liturgy ‘manufactured’ based on human words and opinions is a house built on sand and remains totally empty, however, much human artistry may adorn it” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 168).“Only respect for the liturgy’s fundamental unspontaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for:  the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture as a gift. In any case, this is a word that developed within the Marxist world view.  Creativity means that in a universe; man can creatively fashion a new and better world. Modern theories of art think in terms of a nihilistic kind of creativity.  Seen in this way, art appears as the final refuge of freedom.  True, art has something to do with freedom, but freedom understood in the way we have been describing is empty.  It is not redemptive . . . .  This kind of creativity has no place within the liturgy” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 168-9).“In such a view, any directive from the Church is a fetter, a shackle that one must cast off and resist for the sake of the originality and freedom of the liturgical celebration.  Not obedience toward the whole but the creativity of the moment becomes the determining form of the celebration. The group arises on the spot from the creativity of those gathered. It lives from the autonomy of the group” (A New Song for the Lord, 143). “Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy.  It made its appearance in the third century in certain Gnostic-Docetic circles to introduce it into the liturgy.  For these people, the crucifixion was only an appearance.  I myself have experienced the replacing of the penitential rite by a dance performance, which, needless to say, received a round of applause.  Could there be anything farther removed from true penitence?  Liturgy can only attract when it looks, not at itself, but at God, when it allows him to enter and act.  Then something truly unique happens, beyond competition, and people have a sense that more has taken place than a recreational activity. None of the Christian rites includes dancing” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 199).Note: Avery Dulles summarizes. “This new church favors creativity and spontaneity and is disinclined to favor Tradition holding that the group makes the Eucharist; the liturgy is produced by the people. It is repelled by a petrified hieratic liturgy that sees the Church as separate from the modern world.  It accuses conservatives of having canonized the past by turning the Church into a museum piece. Instead, worship must be made relevant to the actual situation.   The liturgy is a matter of feeling and self-expression” (“The Ways We Worship,” First Things, 28).Doing and Active Participation“The beauty and the harmony of the liturgyfind eloquent expression, in the order by which everyone is called to participate actively” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 53).  “The Latin actio means oratio as the center and fundamental form of the liturgy; 'oratio means not prayer but public speech.' Although 'the priest speaks with the I of the Lord,' the action is of God who speaks and acts. The Assembly participates in the action of Christ himself, and through him, we have become one body and one spirit.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 173-5).“It is God who does the activity, and we are drawn into the action of God: Everything else is secondary. Doing must really stop. . . if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then you have radically misunderstood the theo-drama of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody” (Ibid, 174).Silence and Singing“We are realizing more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy.  We respond by singing and praying to God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence.  For silence to be fruitful, as we have already said, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy.  No it must be an integral part of the liturgical event” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209). “Silence is another mode of active participation, a fact verified by throngs who nightly fill concert halls. Is it not active participation at being moved by a piece of music, sung or played?  Are we to compel people to sing when they cannot, and, by doing so, silence not only their hearts but the hearts of others too” (The Feast of Faith, 123-4).“The singing of the Church comes ultimately from love; ‘only the lover sings’” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 149; Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings).“Wherever an exaggerated concept of ‘community’ predominates, a concept which is complete unrealistic precisely in a highly mobile society such as ours, there only the priest and the congregation can be acknowledged as legitimate executors or performers of liturgical song.  Today, practically everyone can see through the primitive activism and the insipid pedagogic rationalism of such a position which is why it is now asserted so seldom.  No longer can it be denied that the schola and the choir can also contribute to the whole picture . . .” (“In the Presence of Angels, I Will Sing Your Praise” Adoremus Bulletin Online, 1996).Quality“It is strange that the postconciliar pluralism has created uniformity in one respect at least: it will not tolerate a high standard of expression. We need to counter this by reinstating the whole range of possibilities within the unity of the Catholic liturgy” (The Feast of Faith, 125).    In four translations of Psalm 48 (47), verse eight exhorts the Israelites to sing well in their praise of the Lord: (1) Sing an art song; play for God with all your art (with all your skill); (2) Sing artistically; (3) Sing with understanding, (4) Sing the way the ars musicae teaches” (A New Song for the Lord, 123-4).“The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable, and beloved” (The Feast of Faith, 124).Five Types of Music Benedict identifies five kinds of music that are opposed to the essence of the liturgy.“First of all there is the Dionysian type of religion and music.  In not a few forms of religion, music is ordered to intoxication and to ecstasy, music supposedly of holy madness, through the delirium of the rhythm and the instruments.Music becomes ecstasy.  We experience the profane return of this type today in rock and pop music. … Music has become today the decisive vehicle of a counter-religion. … Because rock music seeks redemption by way of liberation from the personality and its responsibility, it takes, in one respect, a very precise position in the anarchical ideas of freedom, which predominates today in a more unconcealed way in the West than in the East.  But precisely for that reason, it is thoroughly opposed to the Christian notion of redemption and of freedom as its exact contradiction. Not for aesthetic reasons, not from reactionary obstinacy, not from historical immobility, but because if its very nature, music of this type must be excluded from the Church.” (Liturgy and Sacred Music)“Second, there is music that provokes; it rouses people for various collective goals. Third, there is sensual music which drives people into the erotic or is in some other way essentially intent on sensual feelings of pleasure. Finally, there is rationalistic music in which the tones simply serve rational construction, but no real penetration of the mind and senses ensues” (A New Song for the Lord, 156). Disintegration of the Liturgy“(What) we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy which at times has even come to be conceived of as a liturgy celebrated as if there were no God. It is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the world-wide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence” (Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, 149).Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony as Orientation“The liturgical music of the Church must be subject to that integration of the human state which appears before us in the incarnational faith.  Such redemption is more arduous than that of rapture, but the struggle is the exertion of truth.  On the one hand, it must integrate the senses into the spirit: it must correspond to the impulse of the sursumcorda (lifting up of your heart).  On the other hand, this effort aims not at pure spiritualization but at an integration of sensuality and spirit so that in one another both become person” (A New Song for the Lord, 157).“Sacred music that is in the framework of this movement (of continuity) thus becomes a purification of human, their ascent. But let us not forget that this music is not the work of a moment, but participation in history” (Ibid).“An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage and according to the orientation of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony” (“Tribute to Professor DomenicoBertoluccci,” Sistine Chapel, June 24th, 2006).  “This does not mean that all church music has to be imitation of this music (Gregorian chant and Palestrina). They are models given here that provide orientation” (Ibid, 158).“Liturgy is for all. Catholicity does not mean uniformity.  Thus it must be simple, but this is not the same as being cheap. When admitted into the Liturgy, the cheap, trite, or the musical cliché often found in secular popular songs cheapens it, exposes it to ridicule, and invites failure. The craze for utility over virtuosity leaves nothing but schmaltz for the general public. A Church which only makes use of utility music (Gebrauchsmusik: music for the masses) has fallen for what is, in fact, useless.  She too becomes ineffectual.  The difference between functionality (uti) and relationship (frui) is rooted in the beauty of gratuitous love as expressed in the Eucharistic liturgy. Sacred music can never be seen as primarily functional” (The Feast of Faith, 100-1).Note: Gregorian chant provides the orientation for sacred music, because it is uniquely the Church’s own music. It should be sung for four reasons:  (1) It facilitates participation by the faithful because the music is the perfect confluence of text and music and is most suited to the liturgy (2) its austere melodies distinguish the essentialdifference between sacred art and entertainment (3) it is characterized by its unobtrusiveness, serenity, and universality, and (4) it is a sign of unity among diverse ethnic Catholic groups who gather either internationally or in the local parish churches.Inculturation: One Heart and One Voice“The first and most fundamental way in which inculturation takes place is the unfolding of a Christian culture in all its different dimensions:  a culture of cooperation, of social concern, of respect for the poor, of the overcoming of class differences, of care for the suffering and the dying, a culture that educates mind and heart in proper cooperation; a political culture and a culture of law, and so on” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 201).Benedict XVI challenges objections to music sung in European countries:  “It is strange, however, that in their legitimate delight in the new openness to other cultures, manypeople seem to have forgotten that the countries of Europe also have a musical inheritance which plays a great part in their religious and social life. Indeed, here we have a musical tradition which has sprung from the very heart of the church and her faith.  One cannot, or course, simply equate the great treasury of European church music with the music of the Church, nor, on account of its stature, consider that its history has come to an end. ... All the same, it is just as clear that the Church must not lose this rich inheritance which was developed in her own matrix and yet belongs to the whole of humanity” (The Feast of Faith, 125-6).Latin in the Ordinary of the MassAs for the use of Latin: “I would be in favor of a new openness toward the use of Latin. When no one can sing the Kyrie or the Sanctus any more, no one knows what Gloria means, then a cultural loss has become a loss of what we share in common.”  He favors the Liturgy of the Word in the mother tongue, “but there ought nonetheless to be a basic stock of Latin elements that would bind us together” (God and the World, 117-8).Benedict’s Apologia for Sacred Art“Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real ‘apologia’ for her history.  It is this glory which witnesses to the Lord, not theology’s clever explanations for all the terrible things, which lamentably, fill the pages of her history.  The Church is to transform, improve, ‘humanize’ the world – but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love?  For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection” (The Feast of Faith, 124-5).

Fasting and feasting

Feb 20, 2013 / 00:00 am

From primitive times, fasting has been practiced for three basic reasons:  the magical, the ethical and the religious. Apparently, the results brought about by fasting and by the use of drugs are similar:  both release or produce mysterious powers. Unlike drugs however, fasting sharpens a person’s intellect and strengthens the will. Fasting can increase concentration and mind-expansion. Saying no to drugs or to any addiction is to be liberated from that addiction.           A hedonist culture with its look-good, feel-good attitude is likely to be lured more by indulgence than by fasting, despite its spiritual power.For many, fasting and body beautiful go hand in hand.  Every year as summer approaches and thoughts turn to swim wear, ads show effective ways of getting that svelte look in time for the show at the beach. At the other end of the spectrum, some undergo hunger strikes for a particular cause they have espoused. Mahatma Gandhi fasted for more than fifty days to bring about conciliation between the Hindus and the Muslims. Others like him were firm believers that fasting could relieve distress, especially great calamity. Their view: ‘If you want something from God, fast.’Fasting as a Religious Practice: Judaism and Islam As a religious practice or in accordance with prescribed law, fasting is understood as the complete or partial abstention from food. Refraining from the eating meat or meat products is known as abstinence.   Jews fast on designated holydays of the year to atone for sin. Certain phrases mean fasting, for example: “not to eat bread” (2 Sam 12:17), “to bow down one’s soul” (Lev 16:29).  In the Hebrew Scriptures, fasting was practiced especially in times of war, famine, drought, and for deliverance from pestilence. Islamic law has adapted Jewish practices to suit its own world view.  During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast for twenty-nine light hour days during which time they abstain from eating, drinking liquids, smoking, and sexual contact.  Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islamic belief.Early ChristianityWhy did the early Christians observe the fast and hold it in such high regard? They fasted in imitation of Christ ((Mt 6:16; Mk 2:20; 9:29; Acts 13:2; 14:23; 2 Cor 2:27). They also demonstrated an ethical concern by saving food to give as an offering for the needy, a sign of authentic repentance.  Voluntary deprivation and intake of food was linked to the passion and death of their Master.  Fasting is also related to the presence of the Holy Spirit and as a powerful weapon in the fight against evil spirits in the spirit of Our Lord’s comment: “This kind of demon can come out only through prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29).  By extension, today’s demons may be seen in various types of addictions.According to Josef Jungmann, S.J., “in the beginning, fasting was not taken as a strict obligation.  It was taken for granted as something which everyone observed, rather like civilized people who realize the obligation of rules of politeness, although they are nowhere prescribed” (The Early Liturgy: To the Time of Gregory the Great, 254-256).Fasting in Second and Third CenturiesFrom the early days of the Church, Lent was characterized by three pillars: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  It was not a matter of how much one gave but a matter of how much one kept.Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays dates from the second-century document, Shepherd of Hermas and is continued as part of Holy Week.  It is viewed as a public fast and a recognized form of worship. The Didascalia (mid-3rd c.) in Ch 21: 24 prescribes a pre-paschal fast which is extended to six days.  Fasting is compared to death, and feasting to life.  By the end of the third century, a fast of six full days is kept as the paschal fast of Holy Week.Fasting in the Fourth Century At the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth, a forty-day fast, independent of the Lenten fast, appeared in Egypt.  Its primary purpose “seems to have been less to prepare for Easter than to celebrate the Lord’s fast in the desert during the weeks after his baptism” (Irénée Henri Dalmais, Pierre Jounel and Aimé Georges Martimort, The Liturgy and Time, 66).Mention of the Forty Days’ Fast in preparation for Easter is made at the Council of Nicaea (325).  The number forty symbolized the fasting of Jesus for forty days  (Mk. 4:2; Lk. 4:1-2) as well as  the forty days Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 34:28), the forty days Elijah fasted on his journey to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8), and the forty years of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness.  The fiery Athanasius exhorts the faithful to keep the Lenten fast.  In fact, he is blunt: “Anyone who neglects to observe the Forty Days Fast is not worthy to celebrate the Easter Festival” (“Festal Letter,” XIX, 9).After the Council of Nicaea, many of the Fathers discussed the forty-day fast. From the time of Augustine and John Chrysostom, Lent was characterized by (1) a period of fasting, sharing, and prayer for the whole Christian people, (2) preparation for catechumens to be baptized, (3) a period of preparation of penitents for their reconciliation.  Fasting and Feasting From primitive times, fasting seems to have formed part of the very fabric of life, and there is no reason why the Christians would not have continued this practice.  They did however interpret the number of fasting days in light of the Paschal Event, which breathed new life into the motives for fasting.  Fasting represented dying to self, a physical diminishment; feasting, the emergence of the celebration of life.  One followed the other. The fast was therefore always accompanied by meeting for prayer, listening to the Word of God, and being attentive to the needs of others.  One was done in conjunction with the other.  The value of one was viewed in relation to the other.  Later, the axiom arose: During Lent, we fast from the world.  According to Caroline Walker Bynum, “In the fourth century, feast and fast defined the church.  Fasting and Sunday Eucharist were what everyone had in common. To receive the bread and wine of communion was not only to be mystically and individually fed with the bread of heaven, it was also to be present at a sacrifice that was the victory and triumph of the church, a death that was simultaneously glory and resurrection” (Holy Feast and Holy Fast, 33-34).Whatever the reason for fasting, it was seen as a form of scarcity interpreted as a sign that feasting would soon come. Thus fast and feast not only joined Christian to Christian and Christian to the rhythm of nature as well (Ibid).The inner struggle of the human condition never leaves a person.  Fasting transforms dying to oneself to rising with Christ to new life.  Once again it is the perennial principle of the old being made new.  Even the beach people know this. 

Role models for Lent

Feb 13, 2013 / 00:00 am

In the year 300, you could be put to death if you were a Christian.  In 400, you could be put to death if you weren’t. During those first three centuries of persecution, heroic women came to hold pride of place in the Christian community.Seven women – in addition to the Mother of God – are named in the Roman Canon I: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, and Anastasia. It was for their faith that they suffered ghoulish physical torture and martyrdom. In the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, the saints Helena, Macrina, and Olympias put their indelible stamp on the young Church with their natural gifts and position. Accurate records for all these women are minimal, but what they recount is remarkable.Final Century of Christian PersecutionBy the year 200, it was clear that the increasing number of Christians in the Roman Empire had to trouble the emperors and displease the gods. Christian persecution intensified.Reign of Septimus Severus (193-211)Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and Catechists The noblewoman Perpetua was twenty-two years of age, and Felicity was her slave. Both were catechumens; their companions, catechists. When all four were arrested, Felicity was pregnant. The entire group was condemned to be devoured by wild beasts, but while under arrest, they were baptized.Perpetua’s father begged her to apostatize. Because it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman, the execution was delayed. When at last Felicity delivered her child, they were all flogged, led into the amphitheater, and, on March 7, 202, were beheaded in the arena at Carthage.The Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis is one of the most ancient reliable histories of the martyrs and recounts the martyrdom of all and was frequently quoted by St. Augustine of Hippo. Part of the Passio was written by Perpetua for an account of her vision in prisons. It is also an important record about early Christian martyrdom. These martyrs were venerated in Carthage, and a basilica was erected over their tomb. A sixth-century mosaic of Felicity and Perpetua hangs in the archbishop’s chapel in Ravenna. Their feast day is celebrated on March 6 (E. Hoade, “Perpetua,” New Catholic Encyclopedia 11:143). The name Felicity means happiness, and Perpetua, perpetual or forever.St. Agatha (d. ca 251)  Agatha was born in Sicily. To induce her to repudiate her faith, she was sent to a brothel where her breasts were cut off. Not surprisingly, the cult of St. Agatha quickly spread. A thirteenth-century mosaic stands in the Palazzo Reale at Palermo (P. Roche, “St. Agatha,” NCE  1:196-7).  Since the fourteenth century, Agatha has been depicted with her severed breasts on a plate. Her name in Greek means "good."St. Cecilia (Second or Third Century)Cecilia was a young Christian noblewoman betrothed to the Valerian, also of noble birth. She converted him and his brother, and all three were executed for their faith. Cecilia however was ordered to be suffocated in a hot bath but escaped unharmed. Then she underwent additional torture and eventually died from her wounds. Cecilia is usually depicted with a small organ or viola. The Church celebrates her feast on Nov. 22. Reign of Diocletian (285-305)In 286, Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into East and West. He ruled the West; Constantius with Galerius, his co-emperor. Though persecution of the Christians coming to an end, there were many still to execute, the most vulnerable being young Christian women known for their physical beauty.St. Agnes (d. Third Century)Agnes is one of the most revered saints in the Roman calendar. Such was her beauty, that she was sent to a house of prostitution for refusing to compromise herself and her faith. Some records recount that she was beheaded while others report that she was burned to death or strangled. On Jan. 21, at the age of thirteen, she was martyred. An Ambrosian hymn, Agnes beatae virginis was composed in her honor. From the sixth century, Agnes is portrayed as a young girl wearing a martyr’s crown and holding a lamb in her arms. Her grave is located in Rome at the Church of St. Agnes. (M.J. Finegan, “St. Agnes,” NCE 1: 204-5). Her name in Latin means “lamb.”Each year on Jan. 21, Agnes’ feast day, the Holy Father blesses two lambs whose wool will later be used in weaving pallia. The pallium, a circular piece of white wool and marked with six dark purple crosses, is worn front and back around the neck of the pope and some archbishops.  It symbolizes the Good Shepherd who carried the lost sheep on his shoulders.St. Anastasia (d. ca 304)Anastasia is revered in both Western (Latin) and Eastern Churches. After harsh punishment from her husband Publius for refusing to reject her faith, she was imprisoned and was bound hand and foot to pillars with a fire lit round about her. She died on island of Palmaria (Sirmium) where the Church of St. Anastasia was erected in her honor by Pope Damasus. Her body was transferred to a church in Constantinople. Anastasia gets a second mentioning in the second Mass of Christmas (E.G. Ryan, “Anastasia,” 477-8). Her name means resurrection. Her feast day is celebrated on Dec. 22. St. Lucy (d. ca 304)As a young woman, Lucy committed herself to a life of virginity. Like the women mentioned above, her beauty was known far and wide, but she consecrated herself to Jesus Christ. As a clue to the reason for her martyrdom, she is depicted in art holding a plate with two eyes on it. There are various apocryphal explanations regarding the manner in which her eyes were gouged out when she refused to succumb to a suitor. Though her eyesight was miraculously restored, she was tortured in other ways (E.G. Ryan, “St. Lucy,” NCE 8:1062). Her name, from the Latin, lux/lucis, means light. Patroness of the blind, Lucy died in Syracuse, Sicily. Her feast day on Dec. 13 is celebrated among Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Christians.  Fourth and Fifth CenturiesSt. Helena, Mother of Constantine I (d. 330)By 307, Constantine, son of Constantius, ruled the entire empire. With his accession to the throne, Christian persecution came to an end. He was sure that victory in battle lay in the gift of the God of Christians. The banner on which was inscribed: “In this sign, you will conquer” at the battle of the Milvian Bridge had brought him victory. Christ was the Son-God, expressed in the symbol of the Chi-Rho. The Edict of Milan (313) put Christianity on an equal footing with other religions of the Empire. By 325, Christianity became its predominant religion. Constantine moved the capital to a city on the Bosphorus Sea which he named Constantinople.Helena, Constantine’s mother, made several pilgrimages to the Holy Land and supervised his church-building projects: the Church of the Holy Cross (Rome), the Churches of the Nativity and that of Eleona on Mt. Olives (Holy Land), and the Church of the Apostles (Constantinople). The story of the finding of the Holy Cross is dependent on the account of St. Eusebius in his Vita Constantini. Helena died in 330 and her feast day is celebrated on Aug. 18 (J.H. Geiger, “Helena,” NCE  6: 1000).St. Macrina the Younger (d. 380)Macrina the Younger, a deaconess of the Church of Ibora, might today be considered the woman who had everything – beauty, wealth, education, holiness – and then threw it all away. In his biography of his sister, Gregory of Nyssa describes the existence of a double religious community, one for women and one for men. The monasteries were located on opposite sides of the Iris River.Macrina’s monastery is cited as the beginning of an organized institution of orphanages for homeless children, the first of its type mentioned in history. Macrina’s brother Peter of Sabaste took in homeless boys under his guidance. The two orphanages were the first schools for youth.  She used her inherited funds from the family endowment to support these projects.  In an oblique compliment, her brother, Gregory is uncertain as to whether Macrina “should be styled woman, for I do not know whether it is fitting to designate her by her sex, who so surpassed her sex” (The Life of St. Macrina, 14). Macrina is credited as the co-founder of the Order of St. Basil the Great, named after her brother. Their sainted family had such members as Macrina the Elder, Emmelia their mother, Peter of Sabaste, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, and the young Macrina.St. Olympias (d. 408)Because of her exemplary life, Olympias was made a deaconess by Nectarius, bishop of Constantinople toward the end of the fourth century. Considered “the glory of the widows in the Eastern Church” by St. Gregory Nazianzen, Olympias was one of his followers (Butler’s Lives of the Saints). When, in 398, St. John Chrysostom succeeded Nectarius as Patriarch, he Chrysostom became her spiritual director. With his advice, she founded a convent and had it built adjoining his cathedral. A woman of material means, Olympias distributed her vast fortune to the needy.  She brought with her about fifty of her housemaids, her relative Elisanthia, and her sisters Martyria and Palladia. These three were also ordained deaconesses. When Chrysostom was illegally deposed, she rallied to his defense, an action which eventually led to her own exile.  During this time, he comforted and consoled her in several letters written between 404 and 407. Named, after Mount Olympus, home of the gods, she was a seat of strength to those who knew her.The Power of OneTen remarkable women – plus two unnamed catechists – each faced the fundamental choice.  Their relationship with the Lord was so great that they gladly went to their death rather than betray him. It was not simply an attraction to an ethical or lofty idea in a world of supermarket cults. No, their heroic virtue sprang from an encounter with the person of Jesus who gave decisive direction to their lives. Overtaken by this love, they shared it with others – as our retiring pontiff, Benedict XVI has done. All of which brings us to a special Lenten spring.

'Climb ev’ry mountain'

Feb 6, 2013 / 00:00 am

Athanasius cut a curious figure, a dwarf-like man with hooked nose, short beard, and fiery temper. Born in A.D. 295 near the Egyptian Nitrian desert far away from the Diocletian persecution in Rome, he was well-educated in the classics and theology. Bishop of Alexandria for many years, he became the Church’s dominant theologian of the fourth century. This Doctor of the Church died in 373, and his feast day is May 2nd.The Arian HeresyHow is Jesus fully God and fully man? This was a burning question in the fourth century. The priest Arius called into question the divinity of the Son of God. He was not God as the Father was, but was created God by the Father. “There was a time when he was not” went the phrase, meaning that there was a time when Jesus was not God. Arius set this refrain to chant, and through its repetition, the heresy caught on and spread.Athanasius Struggles up the MountainAthanasius spent his entire life, a battle long and difficult, refuting Arianism and defending the dogma of the Incarnation. He was the chief spokesman at the Council of Nicaea (325): The Son of God, the Word-made flesh, is perfectly equal in status  (homo ousios) to the Father. The second Person of the Trinity seeks out humanity and deigns to assume the frailty of human nature that it might be ennobled, transformed into a new creation, and brought to life in full measure. “If Christ were not truly God, he could not have imparted divine life and resemblance to man.” (V.C. DeClercq, “St. Athanasius,” “New Catholic Encyclopedia,” I: 998) Athanasius put it this way: “God was humanized that we might be deified,” also poetically rendered: “God became man that we might become God.”The Fathers on Image and LikenessThe Eastern Fathers were single-minded about this teaching and never tired of proclaiming the wondrous truth of man and woman being divinized through the Incarnation. Irenaeus had said it before: “Man is the receptacle of God’s goodness. If man and woman make themselves supple and malleable in the hands of the Divine Artist, God can make of them works of art.”“God has fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures; he permitted him to delight in the unimaginable beauties of paradise, and gave him dominion over everything upon earth.” (St. Basil,” From “Detailed Rules for Monks”)“That we might become what he was,” wrote St. John Chrysostom.The teaching on the divinization of men and women echoes three biblical verses: “Let us make man and woman in our own image and likeness,” (Gen 1:26) “You have made them a little lower than gods,” (Ps 8:1) and  “We are God’s works of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as we were meant to live it.” (Eph 2:10) Through our consent and cooperation, the redemptive work is intended to exalt and restore us to our original beauty.Moral ErosionHuman nature tends downward. In the film “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” Dorian the aesthete corrupts himself into Dorian the debauchee. Oscar Wilde treats sin in a horrific but masterly way. Dorian’s portrait, painted to reflect his youthful beauty, in time becomes grotesquely disfigured with each sin he commits, a reminder of the effect each has on his soul. The visual corruption is a horror to behold.There is a profound tension with American society pulling it in two conflicting opposites. The first force is downward. To paraphrase the initial words the “Inferno,” lost in the dark woods of error conveys the voice of popular culture  expressed as: unbridled consumerism, pornographic entertainment, sexual liberation and self-gratification, proneness to violence, moral relativism, the phobia of anti-judgmentalism, the ‘dumbing down’ of our educational system. We have lost the sense of the sacred and even the dignity of the human person. This is one reason why monastic retreat houses and pilgrimages are place of refuge for visitors who, through silence and contemplation, seek temporary respite from this morass.The second force is that of ascent, the tradition of religious and moral values. The two need to be distinguished. While the former applies to individual faith-traditions, the latter applies in a pluralistic society. These values are learned not through the law or from books but from personal example. A democracy cannot long survive unless there is a basic moral consensus binding at least the majority of its citizens, and to which the majority conforms in behavior most of the time. A pluralistic secular society that is truly democratic organizes public life in such a way that all opinions and religious beliefs are granted equality in freedom of speech, and not merely for non-believers. Otherwise, life turns into a jungle or a police state.Climb Ev’ry MountainIn “The Sound of Music,” the character of Mother Abbess intones “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The words swell and soar with emotion; the music paints the words as well. It does what the text suggests: it steps upward, it climbs slowly and ascends to reach the dream – the mountain, the place where, according to the Bible, the Lord dwells.“The Ascent of Mt. Carmel,” a treatise written by St. John of the Cross, the Church’s pre-eminent poet-theologian, describes the way leading to the summit of the mountain. Psalm 24:3-4 offers an insight: “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord, who shall stand in this holy place? Those with clean hands and pure heart who have not given their souls to useless, worthless things.”Athanasius trekked up his mountain as everyone must. It means keeping one’s liberty in everything that has no right to command the individual. The ascent to the Lord’s mountain, though  arduous, is exhilarating.

'I have to become me, and that me has to become God'

Jan 30, 2013 / 00:00 am

The Christian writers of the first and second centuries paint a picture of the Early Church’s encounters with a hostile culture. The issues were pressing: outright persecution, instructing catechumens, protecting the newly-baptized, celebrating the liturgy, organizing and  expanding missionary activity. Approach of the ApologistsThe writers, mostly apologists, had experienced Christianity in different ways, but they were united in only one vision of Christ and the Christian life.  They proclaimed and expanded on the gospel message with no speculation and no inner doubt or defensiveness.  Transformed by the message they proclaimed, they were willing to die for it. Through the apologists, the Church provided its members with a sharpened sense of identity and purpose. The uppermost question in their minds was:  Who of us will be martyred next for belief in Jesus Christ?St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 107)On his way to be martyred in Rome, this impassioned convert from paganism and  Antioch’s martyr-bishop wrote seven letters to his local churches warning them not to get in the way of his martyrdom. Ignatius wrote against Docetism which held that Jesus Christ only seemed to be human. His personal witness to Christ was ultimately fulfilled when he was brought to the colosseum and thrown to the lions.  He is the first to use the phrase “Catholic Church” to describe its universal character. On October 17th, the Church celebrates the feast of this great second-century martyr.Of activism and silence, Ignatius writes: “It is better to keep silence and to be, than to talk and not to be.  It is a fine thing to teach, if the speaker practices what he preaches. Talking too much is like eating too much” (Asking the Fathers, 132ff). St. Polycarp of Smyrna (d. ca 155-6)Polycarp accompanied Ignatius to Rome. Years later at age 86, he was burned at the stake in the amphitheater at Smyrna, today a city in Turkey.  In an excerpt on his martyrdom, his disciples wrote:  “When he had said ‘Amen’ and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it.  But when a great flame burst out, those of privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. . . . The flame became a dome encircling the martyr’s body” (Liturgy of the Hours III, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,”1397). His feast day is celebrated on February 23rd. St. Justin Martyr (d. 165)The Christian philosopher and apologist Justin was well educated and immersed in Greek philosophy, especially in Platonism.  Moved by the courage of the martyrs, he embraced Christianity and opened a school in Rome where he taught that Christianity fulfills the highest aspiration of Plato because it is a preparation for the gospel parallel to the Old Testament.  His Apologies I and II describe the details of the weekly celebration of the Eucharist as thanksgiving for creation and redemption. In his writings, he speaks at length on the necessity of thanking God for creation and for the gift of life.  In 165, for refusing to sacrifice to gods, he was denounced, beaten and beheaded.  Justin is considered one of the Church’s greatest apologists. His feast day is celebrated on June 1 (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 728). Letter to Diognetus, (ca. 190)One of the most-frequently quoted documents from Early Christianity is an elegant Greek apology written by a Methetes to one Diognetus.  Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor by language, nor by the customs they observe.  They do not lead a life marked out by singularity.  As yeast permeates the flour, so Christians permeate the culture.St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. ca. 202)If St. Paul is the first Christian theologian, Irenaeus is considered the founder of Christian theology.  He eventually found his way to Lyons, France where there is a large church center.  This gifted apologist and disciple of St. Polycarp, radiated Christ from every pore in his body. Irenaeus proclaimed the goodness of creation. For him, the reality of man and woman as God’s image is all important. Jesus Christ is the new Adam who renews all creation and leads it back to its author through the Incarnation and Redemption.  Mary is the new Eve. The Church celebrates his feast day on June 28th.GnosticismIrenaeus refuted the error of Gnosticism.  Its underlying tenets are found today in some New Age movements. Gnosticism dilutes the meaning of the Incarnation because it spiritualizes the body, intellectualizes holiness, and denigrates materiality. Having originated in the pagan world, Gnosticism insists that the human body is evil and the material world is irredeemable. Therefore, it has to be re-engineered. Salvation, it asserts, comes only through knowledge (gnosis), and it is Jesus who brought this gnosis into the world. Accordingly, for Gnosticism, only the purely spiritual person, only the initiated will be saved. Contrary to this belief, God is a God of Agape and not of Gnosis. Irenaeus is one of the most important writers of the early Church because he remains in close touch with the apostolic age. A few of his popular aphorisms are quoted below:  “I have to become me, and that me has to become God. When I am not like God, I am not me.”“The glory of God is man and woman fully alive, and the glory of man and woman is the vision (contemplation) of God.”“The Eucharist makes (constitutes) the Church; the Church makes (constitutes) the Eucharist.”“Jesus Christ on account of his measureless love became what we are that he might make us in the end what he is.” (Asking the Fathers,  22-23)“Man is the receptacle of God’s goodness. If man and woman make themselves supple and malleable in the hands of the Divine Artist, God can make of them works of art.” The Church celebrates the feast day of St. Irenaeus on June 28. Apologetics through BeautyThe notion of apologetics does not ring favorably with most Catholics. For one thing, standing up to anti-Catholicism in social, political, and cultural spheres can be intimidating.  Even Catholic officials publicly contradict the Church’s teaching.  Second, there is the fear element, fear of being ridiculed, fear of having one’s family publicly embarrassed.  The weekly television program, “Blue Bloods” is one exception to this.  Third, because the Church is highly dogmatic, sacramental, and hierarchical in character, most Catholics do not feel adequately prepared to answer questions about their faith.  Many fail to grasp the universal validity of the Church’s message. Consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church is probably the best catechetical aid in this regard.Fourth, while many know about Christ, they lack close, direct, and personal familiarity with him in personal or liturgical prayer.  Before Catholics can defend their faith to others, it must have permeated their lives. Finally, the faith must be communicated as a message of beauty.  Even before revealing himself as truth to man and woman, God revealed himself through the universal beauty of creation. Beauty is a power that can attract and overwhelm both child and scientist. All men and women aspire to transcendent beauty, which brings joy.  Such an approach leaves a profound imprint on others.  Despite difficulties to a rebirth of apologetics—and there are many, as in the Early Church—St. Peter’s words are as relevant today as they were centuries ago: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you the reason for the hope you all have; but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1Pet 3:15).  St. John of the Cross expresses only exuberance in this poetic proclamation addressed to the Father:“I will go and tell the world, spreading the word of your beauty and sweetnessand of your sovereignty.  I will go and seek my bride, and take upon myself her weariness and labors in which she suffers so; and that she may have life. I will die for her, and lifting her out of that deep, I will restore her to you” (St. John of the Cross, “Romanza,” #7).The time is ripe.  The time is urgent.  The time is now.

The Former Prosecutor

Jan 23, 2013 / 00:00 am

Last Spring, New York City’s Yeshiva University invited a group of bishops to a dialogue with Jewish scholars.  One of the bishops, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. of Philadelphia, made three observations about his visit there. Yeshiva Lessons1.  Passion for the Torah.  The students “didn’t merely study it; they consumed it.  Or maybe it would be better to say that God’s Word consumed them.”   They were in love with the Word of God.  2.  The power of Scripture to create new life. “God’s Word is a living dialogue between God and humanity.  That divine dialogue mirrored itself in the learning dialogue among the students.  They began as strangers, but their work in reflecting on Scripture and in sharing what they discovered with each other created a friendship between themselves, and beyond themselves, with God.”3.  God’s Word is alive and permanent.  Finally, Archbishop Chaput noted: “I saw in the lives of those Jewish students the incredible durability of God’s promises and God’s Word.  God’s Word is the foundation and glue of their relationship with one another.”What Was the Quality of Faith of the First Jewish Christians?The short answer to this question is similar to that of Yeshiva’s students: They were in love with the Word of God, but in this case, the Word was a divine person. The power of Jesus’ divinity continued to overwhelm them and transform them. Theirs was a faith which participated in the vision of the Risen Lord.  Many had been taught by disciples of disciples of the Lord’s disciples. In a sense, they had touched the Lord himself through their catechists. Because Christianity was at odds with the pagan empire, its emperors, from Nero to Diocletian, used force and violence on the Christians; it was always persistent as well as ferocious. Paradoxically however, Christianity flourished in spite of Roman persecution. The Christians offered absolutely no opposition to it.  Prospective martyrs were bound, imprisoned, scourged, racked, burnt, rent, butchered.  And yet they multiplied.  How could their annihilation add to their numbers?  The answer lay in their heroic constancy, and with it, Christianity emerged victor.Saul of TarsusPrior to A.D. 33, Saul of Tarsus was Christianity’s most virulent prosecutor.  Paul was born a Pharisee-Jew, a Roman citizen; he thought and lived like a Jew, and he died a Jew.  Though educated in Hellenistic thought, he was convinced of monotheism and belief in the revelation of God in the Jewish scriptures. One day on his way to flog Christians, he was suddenly thrown to the ground as he heard, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?” Stunned, he replied, “Who are you, sir?”  Saul spent time in Damascus to reflect and pray over his dramatic experience. His conversion was indelibly and irrevocably sealed in his heart.  The former prosecutor and now renamed Paul, was transformed into the greatest itinerant missionary in the history of Christianity.  He was ready and willing to become a fool for Christ’s sake. He spent the remainder of his life from about A.D.38 to A.D. 60 traveling to the major cities of the Mediterranean, preaching and establishing there local Christian communities. In each city, he proclaimed that Jesus was the Anointed One, the Messiah, the savior of the world. His teaching attracted Gentiles in particular, for his eloquence was filled with wisdom and truth.  After leaving each community, he wrote letters to them – also known as epistles.  Paul is the Church’s first theologian and uniquely “the apostle to the Gentiles.”Paul believed that God reached out to him to preach the Risen Christ to the Gentiles.His sense of vocation was profound, and he explained his mission when he urged, “I need you.”  His approach was maternal and paternal, using his authority in both ways.  His plea: “You must receive the gospel.  You must live your faith. I expect you to do this.”Due to frail health, Paul dragged himself from place to place, adapting to hardship with the words: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”  He went into the synagogue when the mob was there to lynch him.  Paul’s Literary StylePaul’s peculiar ability lay in his ability to be all things to all people.  His style and language are highly individualistic because he had an intense personality, impetuous, single-minded, indefatigable, irrepressible, unflinching, decisive. He does not speak what is congenial to his audiences; he speaks about fornication and incest, for example, even if they didn’t like it.  He writes in incomplete and broken sentences, adapts and adjusts his style, now rhetorical, now dogmatic, but also poetic.  1 Corinthians chapter 13 is a masterpiece of the human condition. He uses koine Greek, the spoken language of the people, an intimate language for pastoral reasons.  Paul tells us very little about himself except that he has been caught up in the third world (2 Cor 12:1). The Roman authorities executed Paul in Rome between A.D. 62 and 67.  The Church celebrates two feast days for him: his conversion on January 25, and his martyrdom on June 29 with St. Peter. Charism and OfficePaul represents that part of the charismatic Church.  Charism is a spiritual gift, a special ability or talent given to an individual or to groups for the sake of the Church (1 Cor 12:6ff). Charisms function within the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit, and, beginning with Paul, every age has raised up men and women with graces given for the apostolic unity and holiness of the entire Body of Christ. In our own day, the Church is blessed with new life and vision in groups such as the Focolare and Sant’ Egidio Movements, the Sisters of Life, the Daughters of St. Paul, and to individuals like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, and Mother Angelica, founder of the EWTN network.  Many secular institutes, and those institutes of consecrated women have rediscovered their original spirit or charism.  OfficeSt. Peter’s gift was one of apostolic office which lends itself more to stability and order.  The maestro is to the orchestra what the Pope is to the Universal Church. The Pope is the successor of St. Peter and the perpetual visible source and foundation of unity in the Church.  He is the visible head of the Body of Christ.  The Pope, in the Office of Peter and in union with the bishops, leads and directs the Church. With his bishops, he governs. The papal governance is not a monarchical reign but one that presides over the Church in charity. The Pope proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine of faith or morals, and only at this time does he speak infallibly, ex cathedra, from the Chair of Peter.  Having consulted with the bishops and laity before pronouncing on these matters, he exercises his papal authority. In exercising vigilance over the faith, the Pope hands down the living Tradition for the sake of the universal good. When the Church is confronted with heterodoxy or conflict that threatens to sever unity, the canonical and hierarchical Church must preserve or restore that unity. Women Who Shared in Paul’s MinistryIn the first century, a number of women engaged themselves in missionary and evangelical ministries, and in so doing, supported Paul’s labors among the Gentiles.  Lydia, a woman of wealth and position (Acts 16:14), the four virgin daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), Eudocia and Syntyche (1 Cor. 11:5), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom. 16:6,12) are mentioned as well as one Cloe (1 Cor. 16:15).  Time and again, Priscilla (or Prisca) is mentioned with her husband Aquila. As Paul’s  friends, they risked  their lives for the Apostle (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Rom. 16:3, 4; 1 Cor 5. 16:19, 2 Tim. 4:19).  PhoebeIt is Phoebe whom Paul describes as a minister, a diakonos, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae.  As bearer of the letter to the Romans, she is worthy of a welcome given to the ‘saints.’  Paul asks the Romans to help her with anything she needs: “she has looked after a great many people, myself included.”  Priscilla and Phoebe, strong in mind, body, and spirit, committed to Christ, exemplify the zeal of women for centuries to come.Christ called Paul to discipleship, and Paul called others, who in turn called others.  This is what the Church means: to call out (Gr: ek klesia).  It calls out the men and women from brokenness and darkness to wholeness and the light. This universal call is first to commitment to the divine person of Jesus Christ and then to his mission using our gifts at the service of gospel.Religious Situation in the Greco-Roman World at the Close of the First CenturyThe first century and beginning of the second saw a steady decline in Greek and Roman religion.  The inability to explain away the gods contributed to the demise of these pagan religions. Many Roman and Greek deities were disconnected from human concerns; cults were empty and licentious. All things were permitted, and nothing was prohibited. Abandoned temples and ancient shrines alarmed Roman officials, and the emperors failed to create any successful revival.  Rome was corrupting from within; nihilism led to a moral cliff. Nearby city-states followed the leader. What did these circumstances do for Christianity? The youthful Christian communities, through word and example, proclaimed Christ as the way, the truth and the life to a wicked and perverse culture. (To be continued)Memorable Pauline Phrases1 Thessalonians2:20 You are our pride and joy.4:4 What God wants is for you to be holy.4:11 Live quietly attending to your own business and earning your living ....5:2  The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.Galatians5:6   What matters is that faith makes its power felt through love.5:14   If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community.5:19 When self-indulgence is at work, the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility, idolatry and sorcery, feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, drunkenness, orgies and similar things.5:22 What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.  6:2 You should carry one another’s burdens and troubles, and thus to  fulfill the law of Christ.1 Corinthians1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.2: 3  I preach only  Christ and Christ crucified.3: 16-17  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?  The temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple.3: 23 You belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to you.3:18-19 Keep away from fornication; ... to fornicate is to sin against the body. 8:1 It is love that makes the building grow.5:1 It has been reported that your sexual immorality is not found even among the pagans.5: 7  So get rid of all the old yeast and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread.10:17 The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ.12:27 Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it.13 (the entire chapter)15:10 ... By the grace of God, I am what I am, and the grace he gave me has not been fruitless.2 Corinthians3: 18  And all of us, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord. 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not destroyed; always carrying in the body death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.Philippians1:3  I thank my God whenever I think of you; every time I pray for you, I pray with joy.1:8 My prayer for you is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best.2:14 Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like the stars.3:12, 14 I am still running, trying to capture the prize, and I strain ahead for what is still to come. ... I am racing for the finish, for the prize.Ephesians2:10  We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as he had meant us to live it from the beginning.3:20-21 He whose power is at work in us is powerful enough and more than powerful enough to carry out his purpose beyond all our hopes and dreams.Romans5:21 Where sin did abound, grace did more abound.6:8 We believe that having died with Christ, we shall also live with Christ.7:15-16 I cannot understand my own behavior.  I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.8: 23 (a paraphrase) The battle is always within. 8:28 For those who love God, all things work together unto good.  8:31What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The nation's other pastime

Jan 16, 2013 / 00:00 am

Would we Catholics feel at ease in the company of the Early Christians? Would they feel at ease in our company?  For the moment, let us put aside these questions.

A fresh beginning

Jan 9, 2013 / 00:00 am

The New Year is the perfect place to start anew. Periodically, if not daily, organizations evaluate themselves to determine if their mission and goals are being realized. Accepting the status quo is out of the question. Streamlined and creative strategies are sought to sharpen their public images.

Are You Happy?

Jan 2, 2013 / 00:00 am

We face the New Year without having yet caught our breath from the momentous events of the last. The underlying thought of every day, even if unexpressed, is the question of happiness. What will make me happy this year? The pursuit of happiness underlies all our decisions St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that happiness is the thing itself which we desire to attain.  It includes the attainment and the use or enjoyment of the thing desired. Happiness is joy in possessing integrity at the core of my being. Happiness is my final purpose in life, the attainment of the perfect good (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q 3-5). Four Levels of Happiness In one of his many television presentations, Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. outlines four levels of happiness. On the first level, happiness comes from external sources: from a good meal or movie, a sports event, a concert. These externals are centered on the self.  The second level of happiness is gratification of the self.  Happiness shifts from the outside to my inner world. This happiness comes from academic or financial success, position, or prestige. These achievements can give me control and power over others.  By choosing to live on this level, my thoughts are focused on myself. In advancing my self-interests for their own sake, in comparing and contrasting myself with others, I play the ego game which often leads to admiration and popularity.  If I ascend to the third level, the self is turned outward to others.  When I allow others to make demands on my gifts and time, energy, and patience, I can bring happiness and joy to them.  I wish them the good I wish to myself. This other-centered focus energizes me as I choose to evoke the best in others.  Living on this level can become a habit, even an instinct.  In giving, I receive. Read Father Walter Ciszek’s two books, With God in Russia, and He Leadeth Me.  Read Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning. Both men were imprisoned and suffered in concentration camps:  Ciszek, a Jesuit priest, in Soviet prisons, Frankl, an Austrian-Jew and neurological psychiatrist, in various Nazi concentration camps.  Both lived on the third level of happiness, purposefully and in the most difficult of circumstances.  Fourth Level of HappinessThe fourth and final level of happiness is the realization that God makes all things intelligible. God is the Mind and the Artist behind the Big Bang.  Christianity offers not a technique but the Divine Person of Jesus Christ in the greatest of all relationships.  All men and women thirst and hunger for God, even if not expressed in this way. Life is lived in God, for in and in him, we live, and move, and have our being. God puts order in my life. Every thought, activity, and deed is an act of fidelity and love. With St. Peter, the Christian asks:  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:61f)  And St. Augustine speaks for the heart: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”  (Confessions, Bk 1, Ch 1).  2013, a Year of PrayerPrayer is at the center of Catholic faith because it keeps its eyes on God, always listening and responding to Divine Providence. In prayer, long, short, or at liturgy, God abide in me to give meaning and purpose to life. Because prayer is not a technique, it cannot be produced by oneself. It is all God’s work.  In prayer, all one’s hopes and fears are placed before God. Prayer radically arranges one’s life, especially in suffering. Prayer opens us to live interdependently with others. God teaches me to pray as I am, in the present moment.  We go into our room, close the door, and there in silence and solitude pray in secret.  Jesus relished his relationship with his Father and would seek to be alone with his Abba (Jn 14, 15).  He prayed before making a decision (Lk 6:12) after apostolic work (Lk 5:15-16), before the Lord Prayer (Lk 11:1), in Gethsemane (Lk 22:41), on the cross (Lk 23:34, 46).The Great Fallacy:  ‘My work is my prayer.’Work will be prayer if there is also prayer which is not work.  We cannot expect our whole life to become a continuous act of worship unless there are regular times when we lay aside our worldly occupations and raise our hearts and minds to God in prayer.”  If we do not find God in prayer, we most assuredly will not find God in others and our work.  Prayer is the inner power of our active lives.  Faith and prayer are two sides of one coin.  It is not at all certain that people do not pray because they do not believe or that they do not believe because they do not pray. Prayer, Beauty, Happiness, Joy Prayer makes men and women beautiful from within, a reality which God greatly desires.  Gen 1:26   Man and woman were created in God's image and called to live in the divine likeness.Psalm 8:5 “You have made them a little lower than a god, with glory and honor you crowned them.”  Men and women are most like God and most themselves when they live godly lives.Ez 16:14  “You were exceedingly beautiful with the dignity of a queen; you were renowned among the nations for your beauty perfect as it was because of my splendor which I had bestowed on you, says the Lord.”  The Israelites were transformed by God.  Through prayer, God gives a splendor that we cannot do ourselves.  We are called to perfect beauty. 2 Cor 3:18 ff   “We, with our unveiled faces reflecting like a mirror the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit. God’s beauty is what we reflect.”  We are transformed from one glory to another.  We are made into a godly kind of beauty.Eph 2:10 “We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning He meant us to live it.”  Each of us is called to become God’s masterpiece.  Breastplate of St. Patrick“. . .  Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.Christ on my right, Christ on my left,Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of meChrist in the mouth of every man who speaks of me.Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears meI arise todayThrough a mighty strength, the invocation of the TrinityThrough a belief in the ThreenessThrough a confession of the OnenessOf the Creator of creation.”  (ca 377)