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.

Is the world growing more secular? Is religion on the decline?

Oct 2, 2013 / 00:00 am

What is the status of religious belief in America? Those who say that the world is growing more secular are convinced that religion has withered away. It is a psychological illusion, a myth to which the uneducated, the weak, and the superstitious cling to as a crutch. Many use the arts as their god. With so many other options to religion, secularization is inevitable.  Others affirm that religion is not on the decline say that the problem is wrongly stated and needs clarification. It is true that areas of human life can be controlled to a greater degree than in the past, whereas the sacred, the awesome, the uncontrollable, and mysterious aspects of human life continue to decrease.  Mariano Rivera and Andy Petitte On the occasion of his retirement from baseball, Mariano Rivera was asked where he found his elegant and mystifying cut fastball. He had been searching for a new approach to pitching. When the cutter “came to him,” he attributed it entirely to a spontaneous gift from God. He has never wavered in this assertion. Interviews reveal that his first words after a save are: “Thank God,” or, “thank the Lord.” Likewise with Andy Petitte who has continued to thank God for the many years of winning baseball in his career.  These testimonies are unusual in such a competitive sport where humility is a rare virtue.   Religion on College CampusesAccording to a New York Times article (Alan Finder, “Matters of Faith Find Prominence on Campus,” NY Times, May 2, 2007), religion is no longer under siege on college campuses.  “At Harvard, there is probably a more active religious life now than there has been in one hundred years.  Across the country on secular campuses, chaplains, professors and administrators say students are drawn to religion and spirituality with more fervor than at any time they can remember. In fact, “more students are enrolling in religions courses, even majoring in religions; more are living in dormitories or houses where matters of faith and spirituality are a part of daily conversation; and discussion groups are being created for students to grapple with questions like ... what is the human person, what are the longings of young people, what do they expect and hear from faith-traditions, what happens after death, dozens of university officials said in interviews.” A survey on the spiritual lives of college students, the first of its kind, showed in 2004 that more than two-thirds of its 112,000 freshmen surveyed said they prayed, and that almost 80 percent believed in God.  Nearly half of the freshmen said that were seeking opportunities to grow spiritually, according to the survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Compared with ten or fifteen years ago, “there is a greater interest in religion on campus, both intellectually and spiritually,” said Charles L. Cohen, a professor of history and religious studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, who for a number of years ran an interdisciplinary major in religious studies. The program was created seven years ago and has seventy to seventy-five majors each year” (Ibid). The Mystery of SufferingHow to explain this surge in religious interest? The rise of the religious right in politics explains part of this.  But college students are not shielded from suffering, whether it be a tragedy on campus, divorce in the family or the sudden death of a sibling, or loss of a job. Whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, suffering does violence to the person and to groups of people. It comes from us and others, from places, events, and unfulfilled expectations.  Why are good people weighed down by injustice? Who of us dares to give facile answers to its universal and ubiquitous presence? If life is a riddle, doesn’t someone owe me an answer? It it’s all a joke, what is the punch line? To whom shall we go for answers? For consolation? Questions about suffering inevitably lead to questions about God. Where is God in suffering? A powerful and all-loving God would not permit suffering to happen. Therefore, God must be a sadist or an impotent entity. Or, God does not exist. Such inescapable questions haunt persons of faith and those of no faith because they affect us at the very core of daily living. And yet, even in dark hours, we do sense a ray of light in the darkness that holds meaning for us. Conversion of a Harvard ManThe steps to Avery Dulles’ conversion began in his undergraduate years at Harvard University. A thorough-going skeptic, there was no room for God in his life. Supernatural religion was relegated to the realm of superstition. Then he read Plato and Aristotle which prepared him for an ordered and directional life. He came under the influence of Paul Doolin, himself a convert to Catholicism. Of this experience, Dulles writes: “The inward rottenness of my own philosophy [that] was becoming desperately obvious” (Testimonial Grace, 28).  Things and events began to converge within: a random walk along the banks of the River Charles, a long look at the young buds on the branches of a tree, the awareness of an intelligence behind that tree, a silent utterance of the Our Father, an inward look into self and his own acceptance of the existence of God as something more like intuition. Yet, he could not get beyond his objection to Christ’s miracles, and most of all, his Resurrection. Disillusioned with the Protestant churches he had frequented, he attended Mass one day, but instead of being attracted to it, he was repulsed by the elaborate ritual–scent of incense, painted statuary, and Romanist idolatry. He was unwilling to succumb “to any religious emotion before [he] had answered intellectually the religious problem” (Ibid., 64). Much time elapsed before he entered a Catholic Church before he acquired an appreciation of the exceptional beauty of Catholic ceremonies. He began attending High Mass on Sundays, the Lenten services, and the Easter liturgies. The decisive act of faith was still wanting due to the sugary sentimentalism of church art. Nevertheless, he told himself that he making his assent to the faith on secure theological foundations and not on statuary. He returned to primary sources: Sts. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure as well as to Catholic philosophers, including Fathers D’Arcy and C.C. Martindale, Monsignor Fulton Sheen and Jacques Maritain.Before Dulles could make his final act of faith in 1940, a full year elapsed, as he began his law courses at Harvard. “It was necessary,” he writes, “to put away every doubt and to commit oneself without reservation. Christ constantly insisted on this act of unqualified faith as an essential step” (Ibid., 59). Yet, he writes, that “it was a reasonable sacrifice for how else could one consent to follow Christ with that singleness of devotion which He, as God, could rightfully exact?” As we see, Dulles’ path into the Catholic Church “was straight, but it was long and steep” (Ibid., 48). His decision was  a leap of faith that resulted from a convergence of mounting evidence that had come together toward the center, Christ and his Church transcended his reason for and his reason against becoming a Catholic. He attributes the assent to God’s grace. For him, the act of faith presented a stumbling block because he had been trained in the habits of skepticism. Because he valued his intellectual honesty, he could not bring himself to surrender just yet what he valued most.Through his act of faith, Dulles’ intellect made a subjective certainty out of an objective probability, though this was a sacrifice of reason itself, a faculty he much prized. It was a reasonable sacrifice because he saw the good it held out for his spiritual well-being. With the dynamism of his will, he assented to Catholic faith. Dulles again: “That I did eventually make the act of faith is attributable solely to the grace of God. I could never have done so by my own power” (Ibid., 60). Avery Cardinal Dulles died in 2008. Sudden Conversions: Saul of Tarsus, Paul Claudel, and André FrossardIn addition to the sudden conversion of St. Paul, there are two other noteworthy conversions: the sudden conversions of two French writers, Paul Claudel and André Frossard. Their conversions are two of the most stunning examples of God’s grace striking two men who had no desire and no knowledge of such extraordinary graces.Paul Claudel (d 1955) was moved to conversion at the age of eighteen when he heard the Magnificat sung during Vespers on Christmas Eve at the cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris: “In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books and arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor, to tell the truth, have they even touched it.” The conversion of the atheist writer André Frossard (d 1995) is one of the most amazing of the twentieth century. At the age of twenty, finding himself in a chapel waiting for a friend, Frossard experienced an explosion of light emanating from the Blessed Sacrament. In two minutes, his life changed entirely. Frossard narrates: “Having entered a chapel in the Latin Quarter of Paris at 5:10 in the morning to look for a friend, I left at a quarter after five in the company of a friendship that was not of this earth. Having entered a skeptical atheist, indifferent and preoccupied with so many things other than God to Whom I never even gave a thought even to deny. My gaze passed . . . (unaware that I was standing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament). And at that point, suddenly a series of miracles unfolded whose indescribable force shattered in an instant the absurd being that I was, to bring to birth the amazed child that I had never been. At first, the hint of these words, Spiritual Life came to me as if they had been pronounced in a whisper to me ...  then a great light … a world, another world of a radiance and a destiny that in one stroke cast our world among the fragile shadows of unfulfilled dreams . . . of which I felt all the sweetness . . . a sweetness that was active and upsetting beyond every form of violence, capable to breaking the hardest stone and that which is even harder than stone – the human heart. Its overflowing eruption, so complete, was accompanied by a joy which is the exultation of the saved, the of the shipwrecked who is picked up just in time. These sensation which I find difficult to translate into a language which cannot capture these ideas and images, were all simultaneous. Everything is dominated by the Presence of Him of Whom I would never be able to write His name without fear of harming its tenderness, of Him before Whom I have had the good fortune to be a forgiven child who wakes up to discover that everything is a gift.  God existed and was present. One thing only surprised me. The Eucharist!  Not that it seemed incredible, but it amazed me that Divine Charity would have come upon the silent way to communicate Himself, and above all that He would choose to become bread, which is the staple of the poor and the food preferred by children. O Divine Love, eternity will be too short to speak of You.” Frossard writes of his conversion in God Exists: I Met Him.The Mystery of FaithOn many college campuses, the renewed interest in faith and spirituality has not necessarily translated into increased attendance at religious services. Still, in a world as robustly religious as ours, a college education is woefully incomplete if it does not offer some familiarity with the Bible and world religions.  Religious literacy requires the study of non-belief as well. Atheism is part of the religious conversation, and we cannot understand religions in the modern West without taking atheism into account. It is essential to know the basic doctrines, practices, and stories of the world’s great faith-traditions and of atheism as well. But it is also essential to know how these believers and non-believers feel and think, and think about what others think about them – the kind of knowledge that requires imagination, empathy or, what colleges often provide, real encounters.  Why people who were formerly men and women of faith can assert: “I no longer believe,” “I no longer practice any religion,” remains a mystery that can be answered only in the solitude of their hearts.

The papacy in a new key

Sep 25, 2013 / 00:00 am

It is said that Jesuits don’t sing. But recently, Pope Francis broke with the tradition of his Order. He is singing and conducting in a new key, at least metaphorically. The key, it seems, is F Major. To explain:When composers begin a new work, they choose a key that will suit an overall feeling they wish to convey.  Every key, major or minor, suggests its own ethos, but there is a decided difference in feeling between major and minor keys. A major key typically sounds dynamic and directional, expansive, happy, and buoyant, whereas a minor key, more often than not, conveys brooding darkness and introspection.  There are only a few changes in notes between major and minor keys. Still, even a few changes can make a big difference. F Major is the pastoral key, the graceful key, the key of gentleness, calm, and peace.  Take for example, Vivaldi’s “Autumn” from the “Four Seasons,” and most famously, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, #6. These works are cast in the key of F Major. The Pope’s vision for the Church suggests F major.The Pope and the Orchestral ConductorThe Pope is to the Church what the orchestral and/or choral conductor is to a symphony orchestra. Though part of the orchestra, the conductor acts primarily as its public face and official spokesperson. As head of the orchestra, the conductor chooses the compositions for the new concert season. This says a great deal about the conductor’s vision for his orchestra.  All assembled in the concert hall—instrumentalists, conductor, and audience have come there to enjoy beautiful music, performed beautifully.  Last July, Francis asked the Brazilian bishops:  “Are we still capable of warming hearts?”Like a conductor, the Pope leads, directs, governs, and coordinates his ‘orchestra.’ Yet, neither conductor nor pope is absolute in his role. Whereas the instrumentalists master their parts, the conductor functions like a director of traffic not only learning the entire map of the musical highway but also dealing with the interrelationships of sections to whole.  Conductors interpret the score according to the composer’s intent; popes pledge fidelity to the Church’s Revelation, Scripture, and the Magisterium.  Wise and effective conductors consult with their instrumentalists. So too, with Pope Francis. Here, consulting means not soliciting an opinion but a fact, as one consults another for the time of day. In the final analysis, all breathe together as one, with the maestro’s interpretation as the final word. Conflicts must be resolved with due respect for each instrumentalist.  Still, orchestral unity rests not with the individual sections but with the maestro who leaves his imprint on the orchestra’s reputation, thus separating his orchestra from all others. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Beethoven Nine Symphonies like no other. Pope Francis will leave his impress on the Church, as have his predecessors.In Francis, we have a Renaissance Man with a distinct preference for the downtrodden. Though seemingly opposed to power as power over others, he speaks with a powerful and convincing authority—like Jesus.  The ‘author’ in authority connotes a speaker’s talent and his or her ability to evoke the creativity of others. In Italian, there are two words linked with power, both repugnant: superbia and orgoglio. The former connotes lording it over others, having a superiority attitude of condescension; the latter, connotes oozing with pride. In the key of F Major, the Pope stresses the pastoral side of church leaders who divest themselves of luxury, of an attitude of power over rather than authority with.  To be a credible witness to what she proclaims, the Church needs leaders who live simply, even abstemiously, without pomp or luxury, leaders who are detached from power, privilege, prestige, and position because all are entrusted to them for a short time.  In the Lucan gospel (6:12-14), we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ authority. When he came down the mountain from prayer with his Father, power went out from him.  The crowds saw it; they experienced it. It was a matter of ‘come and see’ and ‘come, follow me;’ then he asked his disciples ‘stand with me’ and ‘remain with me.’  This scriptural reference also forms the backbone of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.In six short months, Pope Francis has addressed many groups within the Church: the Ordained, symbolizing order, law, and stability, as well as the Non-Ordained of laity and consecrated religious, symbolizing creativity and dynamism. When the Lord washes the feet of Peter who wants to unite himself with his Master, he Peter must renounce status and all that is associated with status—glory and honorifics.  The Lord chooses a servile but loving act to give the example. What Jesus has done for and to him, all of us are called to repeat to and for others.  Our vocation is to share in the Lord’s redemptive work for the sake of others. Henceforth, the mandate given to Peter will be the loving service that marks Christian discipleship. The mission is so explicit that it cannot be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Pope Francis has embarked on leading the Church forward with a gentle, calm vision, wide and deep:  To be a Catholic is to be catholic. ‘Take our beauty, our truth, our goodness, and go out,’ he seems to be saying, ‘and change the world that is dealing with so many difficult problems—the inviolable dignity of every man and woman, unemployment, immigration, poverty, violence and war.  ‘Let your voice go out to all the earth, and sing; proclaim the Lord’s message to the ends of the earth (Ps 19). Take the orchestra on the road, and let it play; let it sing.’The Church as Bride and MotherIn 1 Corinthians (12), St. Paul eloquently writes of the different gifts within the Church using the analogy of the body. In a recent interview (“A Big Heart Open to God,” America, September 30, 2013), Pope Francis speaks with some concern: “The deep questions women are asking must be addressed.”  If the Church is both Bride and Mother, “the church cannot be herself without the woman and her role; she is essential for the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.  The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women and also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.” Mary’s dignity is more important than the bishops, but function and dignity ought not to be confused. So, the distinction is made.  He is determined that “we have to work harder to develop a profound theology of woman.  Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church.” Logically and henceforth, women should be expected to participate in the Church’s process of discernment, deliberation, and decision-making.  Nevertheless, the Pope “is wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of female machismo because a woman has a different make-up than a man.  But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.”  Nevertheless, the Church needs sopranos and altos and well as tenors and basses in order to proclaim the joy of “Hallelujah” to the whole world.Can the Church Die? Can the Church die from within or be destroyed from without? Jesus assured Peter that the powers of death would not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). Still, the human element, of itself, can become deformed and disfigured, lifeless and introverted. Insipid Catholicism provides fertile ground for her critics. This is a Church which promises so much and assures eternal happiness. The Church’s vocation is to proclaim the beautiful Truth and to announce that Truth beautifully … in the key of F major.

'Q' and 'non-Q' in Catholic education

Sep 18, 2013 / 00:00 am

In November 1980, Barbara Tuchman, the historian and twice-winner of the Pulitzer Prize, published an essay in the New York Times Magazine entitled “The Decline of Quality.” It is still timely. She argues that, despite our improved material progress, a deterioration of standards has taken hold in craftsmanship, the arts, morals, and education, and politics. This deterioration is due to the era of the mass output. We are a culture dominated by commercialism, directed to popular consumption rather than to the taste of the most discerning. To reflect this phenomenon, she suggests a system of Q and non-Q. Q stands for quality in human achievement that has resisted mediocrity; non-Q stands for non-quality applying to mediocre intent and effort.  There is no more vivid curse against mediocrity than the sharp words in the Book of Revelation (3:16):  “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Tuchman defines quality in a clear and persuasive way: “Quality is the investment of the best skill and effort possible to produce the finest and most admirable result possible.  Its presence or absence in some degree characterizes every man-made object, service, skilled or unskilled labor–laying bricks, painting a picture, ironing shirts, practicing medicine, shoemaking, scholarship, writing a book. You do it well or you do it half-well. Materials are sound and durable or they are sleazy; … Quality is achieving or reaching for the highest standard as against the sloppy or fraudulent.  It is honesty of purpose as against catering to cheap or sensational sentiment. It does not allow compromise with the second rate … Quality can be attained without genius.”  Quality is that attribute “inherent in a given work,” and not in the eye of the beholder.  Most people know the difference between what is quality and what is slipshod—between New England white-steepled churches and Howard Johnson’s orange-roofed eateries, between Fred Astaire and Johnny Carson, and between Bach and Rock. Observe the loss of quality in morals and politics, in labor and culture.  Every day we experience sloppy performance in manual, clerical, and bureaucratic work. “Much of it is slow, late, inaccurate, and inefficient, either from lack of training or from lack of caring or both,” writes Tuchman.Tuchman on EducationTuchman concedes that America has some superb schools, public and private, but the dominant tendency is toward non-Q. “Education for the majority has deteriorated for want of demanding effort.”  Put another way, we settle for less when we should be aiming for the more. Is American education is a mile wide and an inch deep?A prevailing attitude has seeped in to both teaching and learning.  Learning must be fun; students must be allowed to study what they like; therefore, courses have become elective.  Even a cursory glimpse into curricula shows that they offer junk for credit.  Schoolchildren are permitted to fritter away their time and not taught the discipline of studying.  Homework is frivolous or absent.  Today, the watchword is “Why knock yourself out?”  Is this not wholesale mediocrity?Overview of Catholic EducationEducation is concerned chiefly with the training or formation of the mind, but Catholic education promises far more. The powers of the soul—memory, imagination, intellect and will—are developed in a gradual and integrated way, with a happy balance between science and the arts.   Catholic school graduates are refined, well-formed and well-informed.  As devout Catholics who have internalized Catholic principles, they will defend the faith, if necessary.  Not just satisfied with their own professional life, they will take an active part in shaping the important issues of life, whether intellectual, social, political, literary, philosophical, or religious.  CurriculumReligious and moral formation should pervade all instruction.  Living the liturgical year gives a distinctly Catholic atmosphere to the classroom and to the school, one which the children will not forget.  Students learn by doing and through self-expression, the ratio being about 75 to 80 percent student expression to 25 to 20 percent teacher expression. After repeating a lesson many times through daily and weekly recitation, they will have mastered that lesson.  Meaningful homework will reinforce lessons learned in class. Grammar and Language Arts In a world of communication, the art of speaking, reading, and writing is developed through specific assignments and those that stimulate the imagination. Slang is unacceptable in formal communication—worse vulgarisms, and errors in grammar call for correction.   The creative minds of children are nurtured through writing poetry, beginning with the simple structure of haiku.  Memorizing poetry and its oral recitation bring rewarding experiences, So too, with public speaking through oral topics, discussion and debate, healthy competition and contests. With such variety of self-expression, children and young adults gain confidence which frees them from stage-fright later on.If at all possible, in the early grades, children should be introduced to foreign languages, if only by learning practical phrases.  This includes Latin.  And they will love it! Their memories are like sponges, and through this creative activity, students and their parents come to see the value of eloquentia perfecta, the perfection of eloquence.  The art of beautiful handwriting, via Palmer or Zaner-Blöser, is slowly enjoying a renaissance. Writing experts tell us that handwriting is an accurate indicator of character and temperament.The Refining Arts Beginning with the earliest levels of Catholic education, our students should be taught to pursue beauty in music, painting, drawing, and theatrical performance, including Shakespeare and the American theater.  The arts help to educate emotions and sensitize the feelings.  They are a fine preparation for studies in math, science, and language arts. The arts have rescued children from abusive home environments. In an age that glorifies ugliness in so many forms, education in the arts is a necessity and not an option.  In their early years, children must experience beauty because, once they are overwhelmed by ugliness, it is difficult to lead them out of it.  The opportunity to wonder at the marvels of God’s creation belongs to children.  Today American emotions have deteriorated into chaos. Beginning with the Beatles, “the first bug in a plague of locusts,” Americans were lured into an emotional revolution. Unrepressed animalistic emotions were unleashed, and audiences were invited to participate. We went from healthy emotions, powerful and good, to MTV with its warlike, rebellious emotion of punk.  Today Rap, with its rebellious, offensive, and violence-laced lyrics, screams with anti-social expression. Our students are exposed to this negative influence.El Sistema orchestra tells another story. In 1975, the orchestra was begun in Venezuela by the economist and musician, José Antonio Abreu. He saw the orchestra as a symbol for the ideal society, and his idea has expanded across the continents. This advocacy program educates poor and at-risk children in beauty and the arts; their lives are transformed through music. Currently, Gustavo Dudamel, the face of El Sistema, conducts the Simon Bolivar symphony orchestra, composed entirely of these children. Their electrifying energy is felt by their audiences who are overwhelmed by their ability to express beauty.  Education of Taste Children’s taste need to be educated. Within limits, the dictum, taste may not be disputed (de gustibus non disputandum est) carries validity.  This is due to the many factors that form and mold our taste such as character, temperament, education, age, gender, and choice of friends, leisure and entertainment, culture and the arts.Good taste is restrained; bad taste, excessive. What is impeccable taste?  It is the art of discrimination analogous to the eye of the connoisseur, which can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord I: 481). The dictum, ‘taste may not be questioned’ has its limits. Sound taste has to do with particulars of the truth; it is not arbitrary. It knows the difference between what is sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.  The art of impeccable taste is a never-ending process because it chooses the better of two goods. Taste is an analogous word and refers to the appetite. One may speak of taste in food and in wines, taste in clothing, the arts and entertainment, taste in one’s companions. The Psalmist exhorts us to ‘taste and see how good the Lord is’ (Ps 34:8). Here taste is used in the spiritual sense wherein it participates in the act of faith.The Catholic TeacherBecause each student is like clay in the hands of a potter, the Church needs dedicated teachers. There is nothing worse than being held captive by a teacher who is unprepared, boring, or disinterested—or all three.  Many teach, but few inspire a love of learning. What a gift for a student to sit before an educator who has mastered not just the skill of teaching but the art of education!  Quality is not elitism, but fewer are opting for more quality. Every effort should be made to find the funds to support the noble endeavor of Catholic education. “The Church, as a mother, is under an obligation to provide for its children an education by virtue of which their whole lives may be inspired by the spirit of Christ.  At the same time, it will offer its assistance to all peoples for the promotion of a well-balanced perfection of the human personality, for the good of society in this world and for the development of a world more worthy of man” (Vatican Council II, “Declaration on Christian Education,” no. 3).

That fateful day; that day of faith

Sep 11, 2013 / 00:00 am

That clear, crisp Tuesday morning began quietly.  By the end of the day, a city and a nation had witnessed horror and grace.  Minutes after the explosions at the Twin Towers, the police and fire departments were helping to evacuate the most vulnerable.  Ubiquitous emergency crews—first responders and volunteers, some wearing purple vests, others, grey, others orange, were issuing orders, raising their hands, prompting the stunned crowds to come, go, or wait.  The intense, controlled chaos was a sight indelibly etched in to the American psyche.New Yorkers have been called many things:  brassy, brazen, resilient and resourceful, saucy and skeptical.  Docile, they are not.  Neither are they foolhardy.  Faced with mortal danger of unimaginable proportions, New Yorkers put their faith in strangers, trusting them because they saw that they must. Their lives depended on the leap of faith they were about to make. They obeyed.  No questions asked. They obeyed because they saw that they must. On that fateful day, one of the worst in American history, deaths numbered in the thousands, but New Yorkers, with steely backbones, stood tall, transcended their own fears, and looked out for the vulnerable among them.  That fateful day was a day of faith as well, made visible through selfless and heroic love. “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom 5:20).Everyday FaithEvery day we put our faith in others for the mundane: when the car needs repair, when we visit doctors and when we undergo surgery, when we invest in the stock market, and when we want to trust others.  We weigh options based on facts but with an intuitive eye. We make decisions neither on blind faith nor on purely rational information that can prove a positive outcome beforehand.  Decisions are made on perception—that subjective certainty and the objective probability that the choices made have gone through a process that compares, distinguishes, and illuminates—it is the process of drawing conclusions, this ability to perceive rightly.  Then, the individual acts on the light received from the weighing, reasoning, and judging.  What follows is the leap of faith.  Faith:  the Fundamental OptionIf we transfer this line of thinking to religious faith, what do we find?  We return to the question of all questions: Why do I believe, and what is the quality of my faith?  Why don’t I believe any longer?  Why have I abandoned my faith?The Essence of FaithA father prompts his little boy to play a game of jump. The child loves his father and responds affirmatively.  He stands on a nearby table or ledge.  Though it is only a game, he takes it seriously, for it signals the mutual love of father and son.  There is no substitute for this love; none like it.  It is a thing of beauty—to see this relationship between father and son. He wants to jump into his father’s arms, and, in turn, the father will surely be there with open arms, ready to catch the boy.  The child is subjectively certain but not absolutely so, that his father will catch him; he trusts that his father will catch him. He judges, he weighs the risk.  He concludes that all signs are on go. He decides that he will jump. With all attention riveted on his father, in a flash, he leaps from his own perch into the open arms of his father.  The experience of love between father and son is complete.  This beautiful image lies at the heart of faith.  And, Jesus tells us that we should have the simple, uncomplicated faith of a child.  But the faith of which Jesus speaks should not be interpreted as infantile or childish.  The child’s faith is not blind.  In fact, it is quite canny.  He sees the risk of leaping.  Before his father's prompting and before his actual leap, he cannot prove that his father will catch him. Yet he decides to take the risk because he knows reflexively that his father will keep his promise. As he leaps, his father’s open arms are there to catch hold of him. This is the essence of a beautiful faith made visible through love. At the end of that fateful day twelve years ago, faith came alive.

Catholic Education

Sep 4, 2013 / 00:00 am

Once again, the new school year is in session. Once again, a quality education for our youth claims center stage for solicitous parents and dedicated teachers. The word education, from the Latin, educere, means to lead out. Education is a journey intended to lead students out of darkness in to the light. The Judeo-Christian view of education is based on Genesis 1:26 that esteems man and woman as replicas or mirrors of God. Brokenness did not destroy their original vocation.Through their efforts and talents, they not only glorify God but also participate in the divine creativity, as the parable of the same name admonishes. Theirs is the vocation to build up and not to tear down. Every human person abides most intensively within oneself and lives facing the universe. Jesus the TeacherJesus was most often seen as a teacher,“the truth and the wisdom of God. He gave his disciples the mandate to go out, teaching them all that he had taught them (Mt 28:19-20). The student is the central focus of Catholic education, and a number of images describe the individual sitting in classrooms awaiting the educere of education. He is a temple of God. She is an icon of God; an unfinished symphony. Each is a garden of budding flowers. All are works of art in the making. The teacher is the essential mover who opens up new possibilities for those under his or her care. What Is Catholic Education?Catholic education is a thing of beauty. Its vision encompasses all that is human, the teaching of academic subjects—humanities (reading and writing, and public speaking), the sciences, and the arts. Catholic education proclaims orthodox catechesis or theology, proclaiming the Catholic faith, and the value of contemplating beauty, truth, goodness. While sharing many insights and methods with other educational systems, Catholic education rejects any ideology that sacrifices eternal values to the temporal. It molds the student for the present and the future. Permeated with Judeo-Christian principles, Catholic education builds conscience and character. There is such a thing as a Catholic sensibility, a Catholic way of thinking, a Catholic way of doing things. The public square has not yet abandoned the expectation that Catholics, by their engagement in it, will also share that sensibility. Catholic education prompts its graduates to serve others and to build up the culture. To fail in this vision is to offer an incomplete Catholic education.Catholic Education and Learning for LifeA liberal arts education makes learning a cherished pursuit even when the process is a steep climb. The discipline of study—yes, it is academic asceticism, is a thrilling ascent to the world of ideas. And ideas shape the world. The life-long student is well-aware of his or her progress, and this determination brings with it its own reward. To follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ line of thinking: education is a lifelong process of self-activity, self-direction, and self-realization that respects the child’s personal integrity and freedom while providing for necessary adult guidance. By their gracious manner, our graduates evoke respect, even admiration. At a time when mediocrity is the norm, their pursuit of excellence seeks even higher ground to the level of "a Renaissance man or woman," one that can elicit skeptical smiles, but one that has also regained its place as a highly-prized attribute in the public domain.“I Gotta Be Me”In the late '60s, Sammy Davis Jr. popularized the song, “I Gotta Be Me.” The title reinforced what had already become a rallying cry for, and defense of, liberal individuality, especially among college-age students. In the fourth century, St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated these lyrics with unapologetic and succinct wisdom: “I have to become me, and that me has to become God. When I am not like God, I am not me. I have to let the real me shine through.” To paraphrase Nyssa from his Life of Moses, we know that anything placed in a world of change never remains the same but is always passing from one state to another. Whatever is subject to change is always coming to birth. We are to a degree our own parents giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice to become whatever we wish to be, molding ourselves to virtue or vice. Becoming parents of our own very selves is the most creative activity of the human person, for we know instinctively that “we are God’s works of art” (Eph 2:10).

St. Monica's 'Unfinished Symphony'

Aug 28, 2013 / 00:00 am

He was in love with love. He was in love with beauty. Into his extended adolescence, he sought to find their perfection in all the wrong places. Some commentators have called him “the patron saint of college students.” Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), “a world-class figure,” as Peter Brown, a leading biographer calls him, sinner-turned-saint of international repute. An early life of debauchery was eventually overcome in one of the greatest conversions in the annals of Christian hagiography.St. MonicaIn his Confessions (397-98), Augustine poured out his love for his mother Monica “who was weeping for me more bitterly than ever mothers wept for the bodily death of their children.” The Lord heard her prayers and “did not scorn those tears of hers which gushed forth and watered the ground beneath her eyes wherever she prayed” (Bk III, 19). Today, St. Monica is a role model for mothers whose children have thrown away their faith,“the pearl of great price.” They suffer with and for their children who have succumbed to addictive and dangerous behavior. For some twenty-five years, Monica prayed that her son would abandon his licentious way of living. Her persevering love merits high praise in a culture that too often forgets the long suffering of parents, and especially of mothers, stuck in these situations. The Church celebrated her feast day yesterday, August 27. The Odyssey BeginsAfter an erratic attempt at education, a sixteen-year old Augustine began his long odyssey of debauched living – a youth’s fugitive’s freedom and his slow interior wandering back to God. His school days of idling with the boys laid the foundation for future disorders. Sex and vandalism were outlets for his reckless energy. In the matter of sexual sin, he had difficulty competing with his peers, and sometimes, to outdo them, he actually invented escapades. In these torrid moments, he showed how vulnerable he was to their esteem and how unsure of himself he was despite the show of bravado. For some fifteen years, he lived with a young woman with whom he had a son named Adeodatus. Until about 384, he studied the Latin Classics and interned as a teacher of rhetoric. These years enthralled him with wisdom and an aesthetic ideal. He was sucked in to esoteric thought and sought the wisdom of Manicheism without satisfaction. Although he was a bright and serious student, his emotional development lagged far behind his intellectual acumen. Later in cooler, saner moments, he could admit feeling ashamed at feeling ashamed.Return to GodMonica had a plan for her son. She wanted him respectably married and found a bride for him. To make way for the wedding, his mistress was sent back to Africa, while their son, Adeodatus, remained with his father. However, the promised bride was two years under age, and with his mistress back in Africa, he entered into another liaison. Monica was beside herself. Though he enrolled as a catechumen, he failed to show up for instruction. In 384, he was awarded the Chair of Rhetoric at Milan. There he met the future saint, Ambrose, then the archbishop of Milan. In Book Eight, Augustine writes: “But there I was, going mad on the way to sanity.” Ambrose could read Augustine’s soul. Attracted to his eloquence and preaching, Augustine was eager to hear him speak and to test whether his performance as a rhetorician matched his reputation. The internship in Milan became the turning point of his life where his wandering was to be turned into a pilgrimage. Though Augustine resisted reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture calling it naive, Ambrose broke through the wall. Augustine continued to listen half heartedly to Ambrose’s sermons but began to inquire more about the Christian religion. At age thirty, he was still a reluctant catechumen and still hesitant to be baptized. He feared livingwithout a woman; in Book VII,7I of The Confessions, he writes: “Give me chastity, O Lord, but not yet.” He could not see that married life and being a Catholic were compatible. For him, to be a Catholic was to be celibate. In 387, at age thirty-three, Augustine was baptized. His mother died that same year, as if to state finally thather life’s mission – her “symphony” had been partially completed. Details regarding his conversion follow below. The ConfessionsAugustine is probably the author of the autobiography, the first to write a tell-all book about himself, but, in doing so, he is addressing God and only indirectly, the reader. No part of it is intended to be purely autobiographical (Brown). It is curious that he details the matter of stealing some pears in Book Two.In The Confessions, the reader encounters such a passionate man that one cannot resist being drawn into and caught up in his ability to describe his sins with so much openness and enthusiasm, as he observes: Human beings “warm themselves at each other’s flame” (Bk. VIII, 4). But we must remember that he is speaking to God. In The Confessions, we see something of our contemporary culture. Today we are privy to details about other people’s private lives, and the social media exploit them without judgment or blush.Apprehended by ChristIn Milan, Augustine broke with the group called Manicheans and became a serious catechumen. Ambrose introduced him to prayer, but Augustine’s experience was foreign to such transcendent activity. He could hardly sustain this high sense of God and still square it with his sexual prowess. He doubted that God’s grace was enough for so great a change, though it was pulling him in that direction. He could not enjoy this divine relationship because of the attractions of the visible world.Augustine was so desperate that, one day he flung himself down under the shade of a fig tree and began to weep at his miserable state. Then all of a sudden, he heard a child in some nearby house chant over and over, “Take up and read, take up and read.” He took Rom 13:13f: “Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” At that very moment, all that prevented him from becoming a Catholic seemed to melt away. “There was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty, and all the gloom of doubt vanished away” (Book VI, 12). Augustine’s vision of Christ cleared away his past, and he was totally enraptured by this vision.Solitude Followed by MissionLike St. Paul following his own conversion, Augustine made a prolonged retreat, one of deep prayer and study to reflect on his dramatic experiences. He returned toTagaste, his birthplace, sold his possessions and lived like a monk. He avoided all kinds of city life. In 391, he was ordained a priest, and four years later, a bishop.Bishop of Hippo and Three Great ControversiesAs bishop of Hippo, Augustine dealt with three controversies: The first was Manicheism which taught a kind of darkness about the goodness of the Creator and of the creature. Another was Donatism which demanded absolute purity in the ministry. For Donatists, the Church was a community of the saved rather than of community of sinners who are saved. The Church teaches that the validity of the sacraments does not finally depend on the personal holiness of the minister; God is their chief agent (ex opereoperato). Finally, Pelagianism taught that one earns God’s grace. Augustine corrected this notion: We cannot earn God’s grace; we do not save ourselves but cooperate with God’s free and loving grace to make us godlike.The Restless Heart (Quia fecisti nos adte)Among Augustine’s most quoted verses and most difficult to assimilate is that “man is a great deep” (IV, 14, 22). We know the version as: “Thou hast made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Book I,1) A better translation is: “Because you have made us orientated toward yourself, O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you." In other words, we have within ourselves a motion, a dynamism towards infinite beauty, infinite truth, infinite goodness, and infinite love. We are always in motion – restless – toward something outside of ourselves to complete “our symphony”(Gervase Corcoran, A Guide to Reading The Confessions).Men and women necessarily either rise to the level of the angels, or sink to that of animals. We must find our identity outside of ourselves, and whether we rise above ourselves or sink below ourselves depends on the choices we make. If we opt for God, we will reach our full potential and find rest. If however, we choose something other than God, we will never find our identity or rest (Ibid). Until this is achieved, each of us remains an unfinished symphony, in the dark, brooding, agitated and afar off as Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ suggests in its opening bars.All three sections of the Confessions then speak of conversion and confession: it confesses one’s sin, confesses one’s faith, and confesses God’s praise. This last point recognizes the divine activity; God was always active in Augustine’s life – from the poison of sinful pleasure that first drew him away (Ibid).Augustine is “a giant of the ages, the most outstanding intellect of the fourth century in the Latin Church,” and one of the most quoted people of in the world (Brown).Many of us have memorized: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved you! Lo, you were within but I outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made, I rushed headlong.” (Bk 10: 27, 38ff). The Unfinished SymphonyAs Augustine finished his Confessions, he was still an unfinished symphony. So he concludes addressing God:“What man will give another man understanding of this, or what man will give another angel or what angel will give a man? Of you we must ask, in you we must seek, at you we must knock. Thus only shall we receive, thus shall we find, thus will it be opened to us.” (Book XIII, 38, 53). Augustine died in 430 as the Vandals were breaking down the old Roman Empire.

The Harp of the Holy Spirit

Aug 21, 2013 / 00:00 am

Think of a harp. What words come to mind?  Heavenly, gentle, ethereal, light and airy, refined? In the movie, “In the Good Old Summertime,” Judy Garland as Veronica Fisher, a salesperson, charms shoppers into buying Irish harps through her delicate touch on the instrument. A harpist can dazzle the eye and the ear, as does Cary Grant in the movie, “The Bishop’s Wife” where he plays the role of Dudley the Angel. A harpist often provides background music at an afternoon tea or soiree. Scripture has it that the young David played the harp (lyre) with its gentle sound to calm Saul’s irascible temper (1 Sam 16:23). Such is the delight of harp.Who Is “The Harp of the Holy Spirit?”St. Ephrem, the Syrian, is considered the most important of the Syriac Fathers and the greatest poet of the patristic period. His sacred poetry, sung by female voices, gave such deep satisfaction to its listeners that it was identified with the sound of a harp. A poet participates in the life of God who is the Divine Poiein, the Divine Creator-Poet (Gr. poiein).Little is known about Ephrem’s formative years except that he baptized a Christian by age twenty. In 363, he was ordained a deacon in a hostile Christian climate, and at Edessa, he was made a bishop. He was never ordained a priest. He founded a church seminary and a university, which taught writing, reading, singing, and commentary on the scriptures. In an age of theological controversies, he avoided philosophical speculations of the day and chose rather to share his vision of faith by proclaiming God’s praises, especially in sermons and poems. In 1920, Benedict XV declared Ephrem a Doctor of the Church.  His feast day is celebrated in Syriac and Byzantine Churches on Jan. 28 or Feb. 1; in the Coptic Church on July 9, in the Latin Rite on June 9, and in the Anglican (Episcopal) faith on June 10.The ‘Brooding’ Holy SpiritThe Syriac concept of God is apophatic: What we say about God is that we cannot say much. The basic symbol in the Syriac tradition is light. Light is goodness, sun, comes from the east, the link between God and creation is light. The experience of Moses on Mt. Sinai is that he climbs up in darkness and leaves radiant, all-aglow. In the Syriac tradition, the Holy Spirit is always brooding like a mother hen, bringing forth new life and new power. Ephrem speaks of having God for our Father and the Spirit for our Mother. The image of creation is that of the Son, the Logos, the voice of the Father.Ephrem’s Sacred PoetryThough Catholic dogmas are defined in precise words, their beauty is most often expressed in art and architecture, music, and hymnography. Sacred poetry, like sacred music, is an integral part of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and both art forms can be properly appreciated if we consider them in relation to their liturgical function.The Syriac world view for Ephrem is Semitic. It expresses deep theological ideas through paradox and symbol and not by comparison and contrast. His hymns are often linked to the five senses, which do not become spiritualized but retain their sensate qualities. Still, they are shot through with brilliantly transparency as though they are being transfigured by beauty itself. The Mother of God is “she who carried the universe in her womb.” In two images of the Incarnation, Ephrem speaks of Christ being God, as “security who experiences insecurity,” and of Jesus putting on a body as clothing, that is, “being clothed in the flesh.” The paradoxes of the God-Man and the Virgin-Mother force the imagination to go into shock as two opposites claim compatibility. The following excerpt from Hymns on the Nativity shows Ephrem’s use of paradox with pastoral imagery.Blessed is the Shepherd, who became the Lamb for our atonement;  Blessed is the Vineshoot, that became the Chalice for our Salvation. . . Blessed too is the Farmer who became the Wheat which was sown and the Sheaf which was harvested.Ephrem is fond of describing spiritual truths in terms of clothing imagery. Such is the case in the following two passages, first spoken by Mary regarding the Nativity, the next summarizing salvation history.The Son of the Most High came and dwelt in me, And I became His mother.  As I gave birth to Him – His second birth – so too he gave birth to meA second time.  He put on his mother's robe – His body; I put on His glory.All these changes did the Merciful One effect,stripping off His glory and putting on a body;for He devised a way to reclothe Adamin that glory which Adam had stripped off.He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,corresponding to Adam’s leaves,He put on clothes instead of Adam's skins;He was baptized for Adam’s death,He rose and raised up Adam in his glory.Blessed is He who descended ...Ephrem wrote a long and beautiful poem entitled “The Pearl: Seven Hymns on the Faith.”  It is too long to offer our readers in this column, but the entire poem is provided online by The Saint Pachomius Orthodox Library. Two verses of Hymn 1 are given below:First stanza:On a certain day, a pearl did I take up, my brethren;I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom;Semblances and types of the Majesty;It became a fountain, and I drank out of it mysteries of the Son.Second stanza:I put it, my brethren, upon the palm of my hand,That I might examine it:I went to look at it on one side,And it proved faces on all side.I found out that the Son was incomprehensible,Since He is wholly light.St. Ephrem’s hymnography stands as a treasury of theological poetry expressed in familiar images which reveal their own melody. Today, reading poetry and memorizing it seem to be a lost art. If non-religious poetry can uplift the imagination, how much more can sacred poetry sweep the soul upward to the Divine Poiein, the Divine Poet-Creator!

The Hammer of God

Aug 14, 2013 / 00:00 am

The Church is largely indebted to St. Athanasius for hammering out the dogma of the Incarnation, the mystery of God’s Son becoming a human person by Mary of Nazareth.  This core belief of Christianity is not only the mystery of God; it is also the mystery of human life in which Jesus assumes the human condition without reserve, exception, or limit to man’s cruelty to man.  It is the mystery of God’s solidarity with the world for the redemption of the world.  The life of Athanasius may be summarized as one bitterly long and hard battle to defend the mystery of the Incarnation.His outer appearance was off-putting: Athanasius “was so small that his enemies called him a dwarf.  He had a hook nose, a small mouth, a short reddish beard which turned up at the ends in the Egyptian fashion, and his skin was blackish. His eyes were very small and he walked with a slight stoop, though gracefully . . . .”  (Robert Payne, The Holy Fire, 67). In 295, not far from the Nitrian desert (northwest of the Nile delta), Athanasius was born into a period of relative tranquility without imperial persecution. He entered the Alexandrian clergy and received a fine classical education and theological formation. Accompanying Bishop Alexander to Council of Nicaea in 325 as a peritus, he gained a name for himself as a firebrand, he was repeatedly exiled with many threats made to his life. He died in 373. The Church celebrates his feast day on May 2. Arius and Athanasius Lock HornsThe Council of Nicaea (325) was convened by Constantine to refute a doctrinal error of Arius. It taught that Jesus Christ is made divine by the Father, the true God. 1,800 bishops gathered at the Council to resolve the controversy, but Athanasius single-handedly defended the doctrine of the Incarnation: Christ is a Divine Person who unites his divinity with humanity. He is fully God and fully man – the ultimate paradox. He left his divine status, condescended to take on human nature, and became a man in order to raise men and women to godliness. The wonder is not that God became man but that we might become gods.Arius was a priest from Libya whose learning, grave manners and ascetical life gained him a large following. But his unorthodox views came under attack. He asked a logical question posed by some of his like-minded friends: If the Father is God, how is the Son God? Arius argued that the Father created the Son and the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Son is not equal to the Father; he is subordinate to the Father, adopted by the Father, was made God by the Father. Arius pursued this line of reasoning by popularizing it in a song with a catchy chant-tune: “There was a time when he was not.” If true, the Son was infinitely lower than the Father. This would mean that Jesus did not exist before his birth in Bethlehem. This would mean that a mere man, Jesus, died on the cross, an event without salvific effect.As if to counterbalance the Arian phrase, Athanasius kept hammering at the dictum: “He was humanized that we might be deified.” This pithy aphorism has been translated in various ways, but perhaps the most noted is the paraphrase of Psalm 8:5: God condescended to become a human being that we might become as gods ... through our consent and cooperation. St. Paul puts the Incarnation this way: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even to death on a cross” (Phil 2:5ff).  Then God exalted him as the Lord of the universe.Athanasius and a Classic BiographyAthanasius wrote a classic biography of St. Antony of Egypt (d 356), considered to be the Father of desert monasticism. Antony was the son of wealthy parents. At twenty years of age, on hearing the gospel message, he divided his property, keeping only enough to support himself and his sister. He chose the desert to live a simple and uncluttered life. There he became a master of the spiritual life and became famous for his discernment of good and evil spirits. His works of charity were many, such as assisting Christians in prison with material and spiritual solace.Athanasius structured his biography around the theme of withdrawal: Antony first withdrew from family, then from others to gain a certain inner equilibrium, and finally he withdrew to the “inner mountain” where the power of the Spirit worked through him to serve others. Why the Desert?In the desert-dominated land of Egypt, it was easy for Christians to draw a lesson from the temptation of Jesus in the desert. The desert is first the archetypal symbol of a world, hostile to God and subject to Satan, to a dead world, bereft of nourishment and growth. Second, through its naked landscape, the desert is the place of physical stripping. One is not valuable for what one has or does but for what one is. Parts of “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “The Four Feathers” paint this picture. Third, in the desert, one struggles psychologically against fatigue, discomfort, thirst, loneliness, hunger, against the devil, the world, oneself; it is the struggle for peace. Fourth, the desert is a place that settles what is important, a place where the essential is revealed. Flight into distraction is impossible. Finally, the desert is a place of wonder. Out of solitude comes something beautiful – a new attitude, a new vision, a new mandate, a new mission, and new service. The desert, as described by Athanasius, can exist anywhere.  And it does.

Irenaeus, the Radiant

Aug 7, 2013 / 00:00 am

If St. Irenaeus were to speak at a public forum today, his reflections might rouse his audience. What could this second-century Father of the Church possibly say to perk up contemporary ears? How could he enlighten Sophisticates, especially about the human body when the social media has given us more than enough information to ponder?St. Irenaeus of Lyons was beside himself, dazzled by the teaching of Sacred Scripture on the beauty, wonder, and power of the human person. He just could not get over the fact that the human person has been raised to godlike status. Irenaeus saw in Genesis 1:26 that the human person is a God-bearer. Not like Mary the Mother of God, the true God-bearer, the bearer of the Divine Word but through God’s transforming grace. Irenaeus is totally amazed at the miracle of the human body made alive by the soul. If it is the soul that distinguishes the creature from all others, the flesh too shares in the artistic wisdom and power of God. From the beginning, the whole and entire person is God’s greatest glory, and all that was made by the Creator was made for man and woman.Analogy of the ArtistWhen Michelangelo sculpted his two Pietàs, one in his twenties, the other in his eighties, he breathed life into them and not just in one part. Michelangelo’s life is felt in the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth—in all parts of both bodies, including the drapery. His spirit is felt in the whole. Where, in J.S. Bach’s music, is his artistic power not felt? Where, in “Pride and Prejudice,” is Jane Austen’s art not felt? These artists point to, and reflect, the Divine Artist.Thus, Irenaeus teaches that the flesh receives and contains the power of God. From the beginning, one part of the flesh “became the eye for seeing, another an ear for hearing, another in all direction and holding the limbs together, another arteries and veins for the circulation of the blood and the soul-breath, another in turn different internal organs, and another blood, the link between body and soul"(Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, Clerical Styles, 64). In other words, no part of one’s body—not one, lacks God’s life because the Divine Artist breathed life into every part. This gives every person a divine human dignity at birth. The body does not bear a trace of God, and the soul the image of God. No, the whole man, made up of body and soul, is created as God’s replica (von Balthasar, 73).The creature goes to God in and through the body animated by the soul. Because of the Incarnation, everything turns on the disposition of the God-man. “In this the flesh is crucial: if the flesh had not had to be saved, the Word of God would on no account have become flesh, and flesh is really saved only by flesh” (von Balthasar, 68).The Human Person as God-bearerIn English, the verb to bear connotes several nuanced meanings. In our context, the human person bears oneself, carries oneself, or conducts oneself in such a manner as to resemble the Son who shows us the Father. The verb to bear implies resemblance to the original. Put simply: when you see another person, you see God because that person is God’s replica, God’s reproduction, icon of God. “For Christ lives in ten-thousand places, lovely in limbs not his.”Metaphorically, the verb to bear recalls phrases from St. Paul’s letters, paraphrased: You are an ambassador for Christ; you shine like the stars. You belong to Christ. You grow brighter and brighter as you are turned into the image you reflect. You are God’s temple; God lives there in the sinews of your body. You are called to participate in godly activities. You are God’s work of art.For Irenaeus, proportion, order, and beauty must be found again in Biblical time or nowhere. But this cosmic beauty, which tells of the art of the creature, can never be separated or pondered in isolation from its true artistic intention, from the mystery of redemption. The human person is created for proper proportion and measure, for order and for beauty, thus to participate in, and to show forth the glorious proportion and measure, order, and beauty of God shining forth from creation (von Balthasar, 70). Irenaeus draws all this honey from Genesis 1:26.To See God, the Human VocationThe vocation of man and woman is to see God. Grasping this fact, Irenaeus writes: “The glory of God is man, fully alive, but the glory of man is seeing God.” Seeing the beauty of Christ and the human person is the first order of business. But this seeing remains a seeing in faith. It is not a seeing in some sort of out-of-the body experience which ignores the senses. No, it is the same eyes which before did not see and which now, through the healing miracle of grace, have attained vision. This seeing of God and this seeing of the divine human dignity of every person are life-giving in which the Holy Spirit plays the unifying role. The Father reveals the Son who becomes visible; in faith, we encounter the Word, Jesus Christ, whom the disciples saw and heard and touched. Jesus shows God to us; in the Spirit, he makes God visible to us. “What is seen is the living God, who is a God of the living.”Irenaeus, the RadiantChristian theology is born with the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Little is known of him except that he came from Smyrna and spent most of his life in Lyons, France where he served as its bishop. His radiates a beautiful teaching about the relationship between God and the human person, between creation and redemption. The creature does not have a relationship with God; the creature is in relationship with God. The Church celebrates the feast day of St. Irenaeus on June 28.Searching for GodHuman beings, whatever they are doing or saying, are always searching for God even if they don’t acknowledge or know it. As Ladislas Orsy, S.J. has reflected: ‘We believe in God the Father, we believe in God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And, we believe in human beings; we honor them because in doing so, we honor God.’ After God made the heavens, the earth, and man and woman, he exclaimed how good it all was; he enjoyed his new creation. Man and woman—pinnacles of God’s creation, creation’s king and queen.

Blessed Peter Faber, the Second Jesuit and the Quiet Companion

Jul 31, 2013 / 00:00 am

On July 15th, it was reported that Pope Francis has plans to canonize Blessed Peter Faber (Pierre Favre), the first companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Vatican Diary). When in 1622, Ignatius and Francis Xavier were canonized atthe same ceremony, Peter was not included. Instead, he was beatified in 1872,and his feast day, Aug. 2, is celebrated this week. Today the Church celebratesthe feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola; who is Peter Faber?Early YearsHigh in the Savoy Alps lays thehamlet of Villaret, where Peter Faber was born in 1506. He might have workedall his life as a famer in this obscure village except for his love of learning.This convinced his parents to send him to school. At age nineteen, Peterattended the College of Sainte-Barbe, one of many separate colleges at theUniversity of Paris. After earning Bachelor of Arts and Licentiate degrees, hebegan theological studies.  As for thedirection of his life, he could not decide.At Saint-Barbe, Peter shared a room withFrancis Xavier, a Basque bon-vivant, Juan de la Pe?a, a young teacherthere, and Ignatius, a former soldier almost twice their age. While Petertutored Ignatius in philosophy, Ignatius helped Peter understand his soul. Theyoung man had a calm, gentle exterior, but his inner life was filled withturmoil. Mood swings brought elation one day and depression the next. Gradually,through daily prayer and other spiritual exercises, Peter acquired aself-knowledge that helped him cope with his melancholic temperament. Spiritualbalance – this is what he needed.As for Ignatius, his own conversionat Manresa in 1522-23 evoked a desire to help souls. Peter was the first ofseveral young men to join him in a mission, as yet unspecified. In1540, PopePaul III officially established the Company of Jesus to engage in a mobileapostolate.To GermanyIn the sixteenth-century, Europe wasin the throes of political and religious upheaval.  The Catholic Church needed renewal and reform.In the 1520’s, the loudest and most decisive protests against the Church’sworldliness sounded from Martin Luther and others in Germany.  In 1521, years before breaking with theChurch, Henry VIII denounced Luther’s teaching on the sacraments with his book,Defence of the Seven Sacraments. For this, Leo X declared the monarch“Defender of the Faith.” Famous laymen like Erasmus and Thomas More also wrotein opposition to Luther’s war with the Church and urged renewal of the clergy. Butseparation from Rome came, especially in Germany, and it proved a severe blow.When Paul III called on the young Company of Jesus to retrieve lands rapidlybeing lost to Protestant teachings, Peter was one of the first chosen for thismission by Ignatius.In 1541, Peter set out on anitinerant ministry that sent him crisscrossing Europe. For the next five years,he ministered in Spain, Portugal, and Belgium, but much of this time was spentin Germany where the need was greatest. Cardinal Morone, the country’s Papal Legate would use him as atheological adviser.Soon after his arrival in Speyer in1542, Peter sized up the situation as bleak. Catholics were fast converting toLutheranism. The scheduled debates between the Reformers and the Catholicsrevealed the strength of the Lutheran side. They had what Catholic theologians lacked: a united front, betterorganization, and simplicity of message. To make matters worse, politiciansfrom both sides had stakes in the outcome of the debates. Peter had walked ontothe stage of a tragedy already in progress, and its denouement did not bodewell for the Church. At the point of despairing, he wanted to abandon his postin the Rhineland. Who could blame him?The talks were doomed from the start,Peter feared. He was convinced that mere learning, intellectualarguments, and heated debates would fail to convert anyone. Before all else, personal holinesswas what the Church needed. It preceded the retrieval of orthodoxy.  Holiness of life – this would persuade moresurely than words.  Anticipating the Irenic Spirit ofVatican IIPeter went to the heart of thematter. He prayed for himself and for those whom he would serve.  He prayed as he traveled from one city toanother that his ministry would bear fruit. The debates in which heparticipated with Melancthon and Bucer came to naught, but instead ofcondemning the Reformers, he “wrapped them in a mantle of prayer,” as he writesin his spiritual journal, the Memoriale (Mary Purcell, The Quiet Companion, 176).In the face of futility, Peterdedicated himself to three aspects of apostolic work: the ministry of the word,the ministry of interiority, and the ministry of charity (Brian O’Leary, S.J., Pierre Favre and Discernment, 49; Memoriale, 329).  He preached and lectured, gave the IgnatianExercises and heard confessions late into the night.  In the works of charity, Peter’s affabilitycame alive. He easily established rapport with others, one person at a time,which often began with a chance meeting. Soon they had familial conversationsabout God, and people were drawn to him. If an individual had left the Churchor if a person needed encouragement to persevere in the faith, Peter listenedrespectfully and responded pastorally. Perhaps this meeting would returnthis person to the Church. In answer to a query from a fellow Jesuit,Diego Laynez about dealing with heretics, Peter’s reply anticipates the irenicspirit of Vatican II. He writes “of regarding them with love and of winningtheir good will so that they will love us and readily confide in us ... and “ofavoiding points of discussion that may give rise to argument.”  (Purcell, 163) At a time when religioustolerance was nonexistent, his view is all the more remarkable.All Is Prayer; Prayer is AllPeter was engaged in a round ofactivities, but we know few details about his interior life. His extrememodesty would not permit entries in the Memoriale beyond a brief mentionof them. Yet they reveal a life of deep prayer. His life with God is not separatedfrom life with others in “small deeds:” “The more one is united with [God], themore abundant blessing will God give to lowly works which come from him and aredone according to his will. Do not admire, therefore, the quality or size of awork which is visible, but rather the quality and size of the power from whichit proceeds. Prefer to be full of grace and to perform small deeds greatly,rather than to fail to grow spiritually and to perform great deeds weakly. Thesmallest deeds done with a great blessing of grace last longer and bear morefruit than the greatest deeds performed with only a little grace.” ( O’Leary,49-50; 423)Peter takes delight in daily praisingand thanking God for favors received from pious thoughts and from his ministry.He records intense moments in prayer, a fact emerging from his keen awarenessof the Trinity present and at work in his life. Daily, he asks for God’sSpirit. In fact, he paraphrases John 14:26: ‘Father, give me your Spiritthrough Jesus your Son.’ There are times when he receives the gift of tears.Brooding about a Bleak SituationPeter’s natural tendency to moodswings never left him. In fact, they intensified because of thehopeless situation in Germany. Worse, he brooded over his brooding, and depression immobilized him.Helpless to do anything at these times, prayer was his only refuge where hebegged for guidance, for light to see what God wanted of him. His entries inthe Memoriale read like prayer because they were written duringprayer. He brings all to prayer and brings prayer to all. To the very end, heremained faithful.On August 1, 1546, exhausted and wornout, Peter died in Rome en route to the Council of Trent where he was to serveas a theological adviser with three of his companions, Claude Le Jay, DiegoLaynez, and Alfonso Salmerón. He was forty years of age.In 1607, the Bishop of Geneva,Francis de Sales in The Introduction to the Devout Life praises thesaintly Pierre Favre. Today he is honored in Villaret as a local saint, and asmall chapel stands on the Favre homestead, which I visited some years ago. Thewoman of the household, Madame Favre knew a pilgrim when she saw one. Sheoffered me a smooth, savory liqueur, had me sign my name in the visitors’ book,and handed me the keys to the chapel established on the homestead in his honor.It was a few steps from the humble cottage. An unforgettable experience!On April 22, 2006, Pope Benedict XVIaddressed the Society of Jesus and their colleagues on the occasion of theIgnatian Year. He too spoke fondly of Peter as “a modest man, sensible, ofprofound interior life and given to strong rapport of friendship with all kindsof people, attracting in his time many young people to the Company . . .” (“A PreciousLegacy Not to be Lost”)          ”The Elder Brother of Us All” The life of Peter Faber puts a human face onone approach to God, the Ignatian. Despite the span of different time and differentcircumstance, Peter remains close to our human condition.  We can feel with him coping with adversity. Heis not afraid to admit his doubts and struggles, his vulnerability anddepression. We admire his quiet gift of affecting one person at a time. Laynezspoke well when he described Peter as “the eldest brother of us all.” (BrianO’Leary, S.J., “Pierre Favre ‘The Eldest Brother of Us All’”)

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

Jul 24, 2013 / 00:00 am

“Nothing is sadder than someone who has lost his memory, and the church which has lost its memory is in the same state of senility.” These trenchant words were spoken at the Anglicans’ General Synod in 1988 by Henry Chadwick, scholar of Early Christianity. Chadwick believed that if Anglicanism and Catholicism were to return to early Christianity, there would be no major divisions between them. The faith, he held, was united at the time of the Church Fathers. As if to acknowledge this fact in an angular way, the former primate of the Church of England, Archbishop Rowan Williams suggested: “The Anglican Church may not have a pope, but it does have Henry Chadwick.”Conversions through the Church FathersAt Oxford more than a century before the 1988 Anglican Synod, John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest, came into the Catholic faith for one critical reason. He attributed his conversion to the writings of the Church Fathers who convinced him that the Church had taught and proclaimed the truth of Christianity from Early Christianity through the centuries. His conversion was “slow, deliberate, and painful, but by no means half-hearted,” notes Avery Dulles. Likewise, in 1940, as a student at Harvard, the future Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. came into the Catholic faith, also for one critical reason. Like Newman, he had read the writings of many Church Fathers who convinced him as well that the Church had taught and proclaimed the Catholic and apostolic faith from Early Christianity through the centuries.  Who Are the Fathers of the Church?The word Fathers applies to Christian writers marked by orthodoxy of doctrine. These great teachers and pastors lived from the first to the eighth centuries. Patristics is that branch of theology which, strictly speaking, centers on their writings. Patristic literature has played a significant role in the religious formation of the Church, especially in the Christian East.These theologians were men of prayer who did their theology “on their knees,” a phrase often used by Hans Urs von Balthasar. They penetrated the meaning and message of Revelation desiring to understand what they believed. The unity between doctrine and life, and the unity between faith and practical living – this is what their holiness revealed.What Did the Fathers Write About?The Fathers wrote on almost every conceivable topic of human experience and continue to nourish today’s Catholic and Orthodox Christian. They hammered out the dogma of the Trinity and made this central belief practical by stressing the Pauline teaching: We are temples of God, and God lives within us. We are God’s sacred and beloved sanctuaries. They dealt with the mystery of the God-Man, the mystery that the second Person of the Trinity became a man, lived and died as a man, and was raised by his Father as the resurrected Lord. If Jesus was not fully human, they preached, we could not have been saved. If Jesus was not fully God, we could not have been saved.One cannot speak of the early Church without turning to the Fathers, especially those Eastern sages who, from the very outset, shaped the destiny of that Church. It should be noted that while the Western part of the Church was being besieged by barbarian tribes, the Church in the East enjoyed periods of relative peace.“Their Christianity is not the same as ours,” writes Robert Payne; they were people of warm imaginations, more incandescent than the Fathers of the Western Church, fiercer in denunciation, quicker in anger, more sudden to praise.” (The Holy Fire, xii)  These Eastern luminaries guided the Church in the centuries following the Age of Christian persecution. They laid a solid foundation in faith, spirituality and liturgical life for the Church of the future. Remarkable for their timeless beauty of expression, their writings have been a living part of the Eastern Churches. They wrote about abstract words like beauty, truth, goodness, and love not by proving them with human logic but by tangible examples to prove the intangible tangible.The Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church, abounds with excerpts from the sermons and writings of Fathers, both of the West and East. The listing is long: in the West, Clement, Origen, Ignatius,  Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine; in the East, Athanasius, Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzen, and Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, John Damascene, and many others. These and many more are included in the Liturgy of the Hours.St. John ChrysostomThe following reflection of “the golden-mouthed Father” is as relevant today as it was in his own time. It treats the abuse of money and its relationship to the education of youth, a single example of the enduring quality of patristic thought:“. . . Nothing is as precious as a human soul. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul? Yet the love of money has perverted and destroyed all our values; it has driven out the fear of God and holds our souls in its power, as a tyrant holds a citadel. In consequence we neglect the spiritual welfare of our children and of ourselves in our desire to become richer. … The folly of it! What tyranny money exercises!… Yet no profession is more important than that of teaching. For what could equal an art which aims at directing the soul and forming the mind and character of a young man? One with these gifts should become more conscientious than any painter or sculptor. Yet we completely neglect all this. The one thing that matters to us is that our son should learn to speak well. And even this we are keen on simply for the sake of making money. He does not study a language primarily to enable him to speak well, but only to enable him to get rich. In fact, if a man could become wealthy without being able to speak at all, we would not bother about such lessons.” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew #59 quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours according to the Roman Rite, 2:2211-2212).The Church Fathers exercised the moral authority of true leadership, and without them the Church could not have developed in the way it did. Their writings remain a source of practical wisdom and morality – guides for contemporary Christian living. During the course of the next several weeks, these weekly essays will feature several of the Church Fathers so that the amnesia sadly ascribed to the Anglican faith-tradition by Henry Chadwick does not eventually come to afflict Catholics. The truth they transmitted from the primitive Church has beamed its unbroken light without shadow down through the centuries, however dark, in which they shine like the stars. (Paraphrase: Philippians 2:14-15).

Born for Beauty

Jul 17, 2013 / 00:00 am

The title of this essay might suggest that its author has just landed from a utopian galaxy. Hasn’t she heard of the human condition? The waters are rough out there. Beauty is the last thing on our minds.The pursuit of beauty is instinctive, therefore, universal. There is never a moment when we do not want to look beautiful, feel beautiful, and stay beautiful. We like to impress others with our attractive qualities. If men prefer the word handsome to beauty, so be it. If the phrase, looking good, suits others, so be it. The point is that beauty is an integral part of being human however it is pursued in different cultures. Scripture’s Compelling VersesThe teaching on beauty echoes two verses from the Old Testament: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” (Gen 1:26) and “Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor” (Ps 8:5).  In the verse from Genesis, “image” could be construed in realistic terms to imply a physical resemblance like that between parent and child.  “Likeness” is used to exclude the idea of equality between humankind and the Deity and to modify it.The likeness to God makes men and women different from animals. Moreover, being made “in the image and likeness of God” involves a similarity of nature with God who is spirit. Men and women have an intellect to think things through ‘in the tangle of their minds,’ a will to decide freely, even against God, a memory which links the present to the past, and an imagination which opens the door to creative activity.Animals can perform amazing feats: birds fly, amphibians live in water and on land, dogs, so keenly attuned to human beings, are man’s best friend. But none of them can do mathematics or make consequential life decisions. None can make a work of art or wonder at and enjoy beautiful things. While animals glorify God simply by being who they are, only men and women can commune with God in prayer.  This last point is true because, at heart, we long for communion with the God of life (Ps  84:2, 42:2 ).  What does all this say?  It paves the way for a higher revelation:  Men and women share in the divine nature.  God’s gracious activity prompts us to reach out higher and higher, to stretch ourselves toward divinity. This is what is known as grace, the active receptivity of the soul to say yes when yes is needed and no when no is needed.Focus of the Church FathersThe early Church Fathers used another way of describing the phrase, ‘born for beauty.’  They spent their entire lives teaching and preaching one of the best loved verses, given here with the fullness of poetic prose: “God became man that man might become God.” Such a bold, imaginative, and powerful statement! (The original Hebrew seemed blasphemous, so instead, translators substituted the word angels for God.  Moreover, with the expected use inclusive language, the poetic balance of the phrase is lost.)Still, the point is clear.  We were made to be exalted high above the angels.  The body-soul unity far exceeds the spiritual beings of angels.   Church Fathers like Sts. Irenaeus (d ca 202), Athanasius (d 373), Gregory Nazianzen (d 390) and Gregory of Nyssa (d ca 395)  developed the doctrine of image and likeness and taught salvation history from the this all-encompassing view of God.  They spoke of man and woman being divinized – the process of becoming godlike. Christ 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.   Put another way, he abased himself to become one of us in order to raise us up to divinity. In the Offertory Rite too, the priest mingles water and wine to symbolize our sharing in the divinity of Christ. God became man that man might become God!The Fathers wrote on almost every conceivable topic of human experience which affected the life of the Church – the human condition, the role of the body, work, silence and prayer, conversion of heart, and self-abandonment to Providence.  Whatever the topic, their writings were focused on the transformation of men and women into the image and likeness of God.The Fathers revealed the unity between doctrine and life, between faith and morals. Living out the beautiful dogmas in practice brings about the transformation of the person into godlikeness – the holiness of beauty. As St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, “I have to become me, and that me has to become God.  When I am not like God, I am not me” (Asking the Fathers, 29.One Life to LeadSuffering of whatever stripe can foster brute ugliness, or it can shape and soften a person into a beautiful person. Take the example of the Jesuit priest, Fr. Walter Ciszek.  For some twenty-five years, this “Vatican spy” suffered from abusive power in the Gulags of atheistic Russia. Early in his imprisonment when rescue seemed improbable, he concluded, erroneously so, that he would die there.  Slowly, he grasped the age-old wisdom: Providence had allowed this event to happen; this would be the way to live out his vocation for the rest of his life in Russia.  He could not change the circumstances. So he stopped fighting reality and settled in as best he could to raw, subhuman conditions.  The only way to avoid physical, mental, and spiritual breakdown was to live in the sacrament of the present moment.  This was the place where the beauty of his soul took effect. This was the place where he started to become God’s work of art. In 1963, Walter Ciszek was released and was returned to America. The young, brash, and proud Walter of pre-Russia emerged, transformed into a warm, compassionate, beautiful, and loving Walter of post-Russian years.There are other examples of such beautiful people:  the wife whose husband suffers from a malignant brain tumor, parents with a troubled child, the family that has been abandoned by one parent, parents with a special-needs child. Tempted to descend into bitterness, depression, and despair, these people choose another way – blending two processes, human mechanisms that help to cope with stress, and prayer. Teaching Beauty to Our ChildrenHow odd!  We look for beauty in so many places – in diets, spa treatments, cosmetic surgery, and the like. There is nothing wrong with these supports.  If beauty attracts and elevates us, and we know it does, then beauty must emerge from the interior. The makeover begins with mulling over Genesis 1:26.  Our children, indeed all of us, need to be assured that all men and women have been born for beauty and that we are destined to become God’s works of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as he meant us to live it” (2:10).

Wisdom from Yogi Berra

Jul 10, 2013 / 00:00 am

According to Yogi Berra, “you can observe a lot by just watching.” Whether or not we want to admit it, prayerlessness is a common experience at Sunday worship. This grave problem is partly due to the absence of meaningful beauty. If “beauty draws you in,” as the Audi commercial states, it claims your attention. In Hollywood, beauty isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. Beauty captures, it rivets the attention. Its magic can hold one spellbound. Beauty elevates, gives meaning to life.We need beauty in our Eucharistic liturgy to capture, to rivet our attention on the grandeur of God.Four Keys to Liturgical HarmonyThere are many particulars that comprise the liturgy. When anyone of them is poorly-prepared and poorly-executed, there is less prayer. If the outward signs, word, ritual and symbol, lack external energy emerging from the inner power of conviction, there is less prayer. Four of these particulars are: the ministry of lector, cantor and choir, organist, and homilist – the subject of this week’s essay.Two preliminary points: Self-centeredness and poor taste have no place in any liturgical service.  It is God’s grandeur and not the community as a social event that liturgy celebrates.Proclamation of Sacred Texts: JudaismIn the Jewish liturgy, special reverence is given to the sacred text through cantillation. Cantillation is elevated speech that lies between singing a melody and reciting the text. It is a heightening of the voice that proclaims the text with feeling and conviction to convey its truth. Jewish cantors assume a special vocation and responsibility. They are chosen to render the liturgical text because of their vocal quality, clear diction, and of course proper pronunciation of Hebrew. However, they are not actors, role-playing or dramatizing the text with body-language. They herald the message.Eastern Christianity and Proclamation of Sacred TextsIn the Christian East, most of the Divine Liturgy is sung, much of it by the cantor. In former times, cantors attended cantor’s school for three or four years. There they earned official recognition that permitted them to perform this ministry in their parish churches.The ministry of cantor, whether in the Jewish tradition or in the Christian East, is highly valued because it is closely united to the liturgical service.The Latin Church and Proclamation:Ministry of LectorThe ministry of lector is implicitly mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans (10:17): faith comes through hearing the word of God. The ear is the body’s organ through which the word of God is conveyed to the whole person. Lectors breathe life into the scripture so that its truth and beauty elicit an active response. If one cannot hear or understand the lector, the sacred text is impeded from being communicated and is prevented from being grasped. Serving as a lector requires not only the minimum: proper pronunciation, clear diction, and projection of voice that proclaims with conviction. One does not simply read the text. Lectoring asks much more. The text is to be proclaimed with heightened voice as the truth, internalized through reflection. Like a herald who announces “Hear ye, hear ye” so too the lector begins the proclamation with: “A Reading from ______!”Preparing the text should be done well ahead of the liturgy. A careless, apathetic reading of the text impairs the communication of God’s word. Dramatizing it with hand gestures distracts by calling attention not to the text but to the lector. It is here that restlessness is likely to begin.Ministry of Cantor and Choir The cantor’s voice and that of the choir are the musical instruments through which the word of God sings. Like lectors, it is essential for them to use proper pronunciation, clear diction, and projection of voice. Otherwise, the text will be garbled. Singing in the English language requires that its words be over-enunciated in order to be understood.Cantors and choirs lead the Assembly in song but also intensify the proclamation of other texts. Not the chantreuse of a cocktail lounge, not the pop singer or pop groups, and not an operatic voice – none of these serves as models for cantors or choirs. Swooning and crooning over texts, romanticizing and sentimentalizing them are entirely out of place. What is crooning? Instead of targeting the initial note of a phrase on pitch, precisely and accurately, singers scoop up the opening notes of a phrase producing a guttural sound. Sadly, this ugly, unmusical trait, typical of the popular genre, has been imitated by parish cantors and choral groups who are charged with conveying sacred texts plainly and without flourish. If, in formal singing, this guttural sound is not tolerated by voice coaches, all the more so in the ministry of the cantor and choir. Scriptural texts speak courage and urge Christians to soldier on in the faith with joy. These brave texts may not – may not be rendered as sentimental or romantic lyrics through swooning and crooning.  The so-called folk idiom, epitomized in a song like “Be Not Afraid,” lends itself to this style. Such material is unsuitable for liturgy because it is unworthy of the liturgy.The pitch of singers must be sure and firm. Singing off key (sharp, flat, in quarter tones, or anything in between) is the musical counterpart of an ululating cat. Voices should have a minimum of vibrato or preferably none at all. Warbling belongs to the order of birds.  These vocal flaws provoke prayerlessness in the liturgy.Finally, it has become fashionable for the cantor to begin the liturgy with casual introductions such as “Hi, welcome to our liturgical gathering.” The cantor gives directives such as: “As we begin our Communion Rite, please open your ritual book to number _____.  Let us join in singing _____, number ____, hymn _____.”  Too many words.  Too distracting. Ministry of the OrganistSometimes an organist claims center stage during the Offertory Rite, whose prayer enables the faithful to offer themselves as worthy sacrifices of praise to the Lord. At this time, an organist will play either a prelude or a fugue or another dramatic piece. This distracts from the action at the altar. The Offertory Rite is not the place to dazzle the ear with masterpieces of the organ repertory. The logical place for brilliant organ display is the postlude where the organ may pull out all its stops and flood the church with its glorious sounds. An organ prelude before the liturgy is also suitable to set the tone for the liturgy.Ministry of the HomilistThe homily is intended to herald the wonderful message of our salvation to the faithful anticipating the good news of the Gospel. Unlike the lector whose literal text is Sacred Scripture, the homilist uses his own words to proclaim the paschal mystery, “the heartbeat of the Church,” as Pope Francis notes. Christ the preacher becomes the preached.The homily resists the temptation to scold or rant about a certain topic but serves as a joyful commentary on the day’s scripture readings. This is what the Church Fathers did, and did so beautifully.  A good homily is biblical and liturgical, kerygmatic (proclaiming the gospel), contemporary and familiar – the pastoral component with the human touch. It allows the Assembly to apply the message in a personal way.The homily need not be a masterpiece of soaring elegant prose, but it has to be worked on in prayer and outside of prayer – with Scripture in one hand and a newspaper in the other, so-to-speak.  The final result has a certain style, the signature of the homilist.  He inspires and rouses the spirit, lights up the intellect, and persuades the will so that it will bear fruit in the life of the listener.The distinguished American theologian Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. was no Fulton J. Sheen. Never flashy, never dramatic, his homilies were artfully crafted nonetheless. They were clear and crisp, concise and witty in the unique Dulles way. Not one to moralize, he spoke with conviction. Whether he preached in a cathedral or a chapel, every homily was a gem.Within these particulars, communal prayer and singing must leave time for silent recollection by celebrant and Assembly. After the Collects, the homily, and the Communion Rite – silence.ConclusionWithout a measure of liturgical beauty, we have an Assembly that is distracted, restless, and prayerless. As Catholics continue absenting themselves from Sunday Mass, church leaders must address the issue of empty pews. But not all churches face this problem. People who are deeply devoted to the Eucharist will travel to where the “honey” is, spending time, energy, and resources to worship at liturgies, beautifully appointed. These churches are well attended for Sunday worship. The issue of empty pews is a costly problem.All of which returns us to Yogi Berra’s malaprops, prosaic, off-beat and zig-zag. They offer encouragement for future discussions about various particulars of the liturgy. “The future ain’t what it used to be,” [because] “if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be."  "If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark [to the liturgy], nobody’s going to stop them; ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’”

'That horrible moral squint'

Jul 3, 2013 / 00:00 am

In 1535, Cardinal John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were beheaded for refusing to sign an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII the Head of the Church in England. Henry wanted to divorce his legitimate wife, Catherine, and marry his mistress Ann Boleyn, to secure a male heir, among other reasons. She would be the second of his six wives. Henry asked Clement VII to annul the marriage. Clement VII refused his request; the King usurped the authority of the Pope. Martyred for the sake of their consciences, Fisher and More died for Christendom in England even as all others in the realm, including churchmen, took the mandatory Oath. A new and separate church, the Church of England, was thereby established, founded on “the King’s great matter.”  That “Horrible Moral Squint”In Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons,” Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s Chancellor, summons Thomas More to ask why the statesman will not take the Oath. More will not say why he will not take the Oath, but the Cardinal surmises. It is “that horrible moral squint” that irks him to the core. He appeals to More’s private conscience but receives a rebuttal that has echoed down the annals of history: “Well,” snaps More, “I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . ., they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” Wolsey dies a wretched death, and in 1529, More is appointed Lord Chancellor, resigning in 1532.After a three-year imprisonment in the squalid Tower of London, More stands before Parliament, condemned to death. He rises to discharge his mind concerning Parliament’s indictment and the King’s title: “The indictment is grounded in an Act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the Law of God. The King in Parliament cannot bestow the Supremacy of the Church because it is a Spiritual Supremacy! And more to this, the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and the King’s own Coronation Oath! . . . Nevertheless, it is not for the Supremacy that you have sought my blood–but because I would not bend to the marriage!” (A Man for All Seasons, 158-9) Both Fisher and More lingered in the Tower of London, there to await execution.Freedom of the English Church had been guaranteed in 1215 by Magna Carta. Henry himself blessed this guarantee but not after More’s unyielding “horrible moral squint.” If freedom of conscience could be denied John Fisher and Thomas More, the two most prominent men in sixteenth-century England, could it happen again?The Inalienable Right to Religious Liberty and Freedom of ConscienceIn the seventeenth century, the colonists fled Europe to escape religious persecution in favor of religious liberty. They sought to practice their faith according to their consciences. In 1649, the Toleration Act, led by Lord Baltimore, was codified in Maryland’s law, the first in our nation to protect an individual’s right to freedom of conscience. This law included the Catholic Church.Within decades, that freedom was revoked.  The Church of England became the established religion in Maryland, and discriminatory laws were set in motion against those who refused to conform. Catholic chapels were closed. Catholics were restricted to practicing their faith in their homes, a coercion that continued until the American Revolution. It was James Madison, our fourth President, who led the way to establish the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.  When the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1789, religious freedom was accorded the distinction of being the First Amendment. Religious liberty includes the right of free conscience, a right written in the heart of men and women. “This means that all men and women may not be coerced by individuals or social groups and of any human power, in matters religious, to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs” (Paraphrase, USCCB, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty”). This inalienable right comes not from a public figure but from God. As such, and according to its dictionary meaning, the word inalienable means that no one may take away this right. If the denial of freedom of conscience happened in seventeenth-century Maryland, can it happen again?Redefining the First AmendmentDuring this historic week of celebrating American independence, let us pause to imagine the unthinkable – the First Amendment phrase redefined from “the free exercise of religion” to “freedom of worship.” It is currently being suggested. Such a redefinition would limit the broad definition of freedom to the narrow understanding of freedom to worship in church and in the home, the law that stood for years in the former atheistic USSR.The Catholic Church and other like-minded faith traditions are thorns in the side of local, state, and federal government, regardless of political party.Why so?  The Church, in particular, is the largest agency that conducts ministries in education and social welfare without regard for religion, status, or gender. All are welcome. Because of the Church’s wide-ranging influence, the government in power seeks to control these activities with its own agenda. It has already taken the initiative and pushed its way into the Church’s mission, defining what religious activities conform or do not conform to secular designs. Penalties apply for failure to comply.  The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence passionately argues against such unjust seizure. In the words of Thomas Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”Thomas More’s words to his daughter Meg raises a red flag of urgency in 2013 to resist intrusion on the Church’s inalienable right to be left alone:“God made the angels to show him splendorAs he made animals for innocenceAnd plants for their simplicity.But to man, he gave an intellectto serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind.” (Robert Bolt:  A Man for All Seasons)After Henry’s death, the Elizabethan reign of terror against Catholics intensified. How Shakespeare survived it during his life (1564-1616) is a tribute to “the tangle of his mind.” He goes to the heart of the matter in his own day and to “our great matter” four hundred years later:“This above all: to thine own self be true,and it must follow as the night the dayThou canst not be false to any man.”  (Hamlet, words of Polonius to his son Laertes)

The Church’s two pillars

Jun 26, 2013 / 00:00 am

They could not have been more different – Peter and Paul. One was a simple, uneducated Jew, a fisherman of limited horizon; the other, a complex combination of orthodox Jewry and Roman citizenry emerging from a Hellenic culture.One was called to discipleship while fishing; the other, on his way with intent to persecute disciples. One betrayed Jesus, and for this act, repented his whole life. The other persecuted him in others before his own repentance. One led like a conciliator; the other, like a zealot. One was known among the Jews, the other among the Gentiles. In the end, they converged in their intense and irrevocable love of the Master, even to martyrdom. They are the Church’s two pillars, and on June 29, the Church celebrates their feast with great solemnity.PeterThe Church was founded on Peter who represents permanence, stability, order, and law. From him has descended the papacy, our only link with Christ. Its physical symbol: the Chair of St. Peter. Peter, the Rock, enjoys a special status and role in the early Church but is perhaps known as much for his failures as for his great love for the Lord. Impetuous, brash, and boastful at first, he learned the master’s way the hard way later on. The early Church describes his role as the Lord’s chief witness who preaches the good news to large crowds and defends it in the courts. Two Letters are credited to him.  In the second, he speaks of the Lord’s disciple as “a partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Men and women are called to become God’s works of art – beautiful.The Washing of the FeetThe washing of the feet is a central part of the Lord’s Supper and pivotal in Peter’s life. The meal becomes a lasting memorial of Jesus’ love and the context for a lesson he and the other disciples will not forget. Why, Peter asks, does the Master insist on washing his feet? Isn’t the washing of feet the typical task of a slave?  He recoils, but Jesus admonishes him: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me” (Jn 13:8). Peter is free to refuse, but Jesus presses for his consent. If he wants to unite himself with his Master, then he must renounce status and all that is associated with status – glory, pomp, power, and prestige. The Lord will choose a servile but loving act to give the example. Peter realizes that what Jesus has done for and to him, he Peter must repeat to and for others. He must share as well in the Lord’s redemptive work for the sake of others. Henceforth, the mandate given to Peter will be the loving service that marks Christian discipleship, and especially church leaders. This charge is so explicit that it can’t be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The Eucharist opens the door that leads to unselfish love, and the mandate given to Peter will be a loving service in Christian discipleship. (The Von Balthasar Reader, 286). On the PapacyThrough the centuries, the fact of the papacy has been challenged. It has been a sticking point for many who were on the verge of conversion. Two prominent Catholic writers have commented on the role of the papacy in vivid parlance.  The convert and profoundly intellectual Flannery O’Connor plainly notes that “if the papacy is only a symbol, to hell with it.”  And Walker Percy: “It’s not that we Catholics are the only religion with a Pope. Every person, every religion has a pope. It’s just that, for a Catholic, the ‘pope’ is not me. For a Catholic, I am not the definitive voice in faith; someone else is, and we call him ‘Our Holy Father.’ Take away Rome, and what we’re left with is Berkeley.”Paul of TarsusWhen you think of Paul, you think of a charismatic leader like Billy Graham or Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.  Dynamism coupled with elegant, soaring prose characterizes their style. Paul uses incomplete sentences – a broken style, adapts and adjusts it which is rhetorical in matters of dogma but also poetic, as in 1 Corinthians 13, a masterpiece of the human condition. He uses the intimate language of the people, koine Greek, for pastoral purposes. Paul the evangelist is the Church’s greatest missionary and first theologian, a gift to Gentile Christians.Paul is urbane, and his references are from the city, but he enjoys the rare ability to be all things to all men. He can proselytize, engage pastorally, and argue theologically for a spiritual or ascetical viewpoint as the fulfillment of God's promise. He is the right man at the right place at the right time. His Letters are the first corpus of explanation of what the Church believes, for he is evangelizing to non-eyewitnesses.If Peter’s personality is fatherly, Paul’s is intensely single-minded, indefatigable, irrepressible, unflinching, and decisive. Not everyone is enamored of him. He doesn’t speak what is congenial to the listener, especially when he talks about incest to the Corinthians. Paul adapts to hardship and goes to synagogue when the mob is there to lynch him. Of his inner life, he says little except for 2 Corinthians 12:1: He is caught up in the third world. His memorable expressions can engage in difficult paradoxes, such as, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).  Peter and Paul in DialogueAt Antioch, a dispute arose as to whether the Gentiles were required to become Jews before becoming followers of the Lord. Paul and Barnabas brought the matter before the elders. Arguing in the affirmative, the new-converted Pharisees used the Mosaic Law as their defense.  In the role of conciliator, Peter stood with Paul and Barnabas arguing that the Gentiles, like the Jews, were given the Holy Spirit and purified hearts of faith. God had worked wonderful signs through these new converts, the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). The face of Christianity would have sounded a different tone without the harmony of Peter and Paul to resolve this controversy.Preface of Peter and PaulIn the preface of the Mass celebrated for the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, special mention is given to them in their twofold mission in the Church. The preface reads in part: “Peter raised up the Church from the faithful flock of Israel.Paul brought your call to the nations and became the teacher of the world.Each in his chosen ways gathered into unity the one family of Christ.Both shared a martyr’s death and are praised throughout the world.Now, with the apostles and all the angels and men, we praise you, Father, forever.”

The Hours: A Feast for the Soul

Jun 19, 2013 / 00:00 am

“What is more pleasing than a psalm,” asks St. Ambrose, the fourth-century Archbishop of Milan (“Explanations of the Psalms,” Liturgy of the Hours, III: 347-8)? We live in a disengaged world of our own making. Buried in digital gadgets, surrounded by noise, we are restless, easily bored, easily distracted—but free.  We seek respite and escape from a gripping ennui.  Is this all there is? Teilhard de Chardin reflects: “It is a terrifying thing to have been born; I mean, to find oneself without having willed it.” And Hans Urs von Balthasar follows: “If I am a riddle to myself, someone owes me its solution.”  Then: “Why do you love me?  Why me? Why am I precisely I” (“The Miracle of Human Existence,” 59f).   Vitality of the PsalmsThe psalms prompt a zest for life. They proclaim the beauty of the cosmos expanding before our very eyes, whether it be that of a newborn, that of a new spring day, or that of a new galaxy?  These wonders are expressed in the psalms which marvel at the exquisite hand of God in an unfolding creation.  For God, there is no repetition, only uniqueness of divine creativity.  “I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place—ah, what is man that you should keep him in mind?  Yet you have made him little less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and splendor” (Ps 139).  The Liturgy of the Hours:  the Prayer of the Christian PeopleThe 150 psalms are best organized in the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Christian people.  It was the Rule of St. Benedict that formulated the principle of a complete recitation of the psalter in the space of a week, a practice that continues to this day (The Church at Prayer, IV: 186).  St. Ambrose: “In the psalms, instruction vies with beauty.  We sing for pleasure. We learn for our profit.  What experience is not conveyed by a reading of the psalms?” (Ibid.)Like the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours is the public voice of the Church.  “The Liturgy of the Hours has an essential role to play in the very mission of the Church; it is one of the Church’s primary functions” (The Church at Prayer, IV:187). Praying the Hours is the human’s response to the Lord’s command to pray always, from the rising of the sun to its setting.  Of course, it was never possible to take these words literally.  Nevertheless, the Church has set aside certain canonical hours at various times throughout the day and night.  These are the canonical Hours: Matins, Lauds, the Little Hours, prayed from 6 AM to 3 PM, Vespers, and Night Prayer (Compline), the final canonical Hour of the day that asks for peaceful sleep throughout the night. The conciliar document on the sacred liturgy encourages Catholic families to pray portions of the Hours, if not the entire cycle (#102-111).  The Hours are not private or devotional prayer.  They belong to the entire body of the Church.  Praying the psalms nourishes Catholic family life whose welfare is daily beset with conflicting external forces. Accordingly, many parish churches celebrate the Hours before or after Mass to accommodate busy schedules.  During the week, Matins (Morning Prayer) can be prayed before Mass, Midday Prayer before the Noon Mass, and Vespers (Evening Prayer), either before or after the late afternoon Mass.  No Time for ExtrasThe reader may bristle. People are always on the go. They even work on vacation. There is no time for extras. Isn’t this prayer just for clergy and those in consecrated life who live at a  less accelerated pace? Doesn’t this suggestion—to pray the Hours, become an undue burden on the average Catholic, busy at home raising children, or for the person working long hours? No, and no.  St. Ambrose responds:  “A psalm is the joy of freedom, a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness.  It soothes the temper, distracts from care, lightens the burden of sorrow.  It is a source of security at night, a lesson in wisdom by day.  It is a shield when we are afraid, a celebration of holiness, a vision of serenity, a promise of peace and harmony.  It is like a lyre, evoking harmony from a blend of notes.  Day begins with the music of a psalm.  Day closes to the echo of a psalm” (Ibid.).  Pre-Cana Conferences, Marriage, and the HoursThe practice of praying the Hours should be encouraged at Pre-Cana instructions so that couples will make the Hours an integral part of their married life—and very early in it. In fact, it is recommended that shortly before or after the sacrament of matrimony, they make a week’s retreat to prepare for their married life. How often do we hear: ‘It takes three to make a marriage.’If prayer is the underlying power of one’s life, then parents will find ways to incorporate some part of the Hours in their daily schedule. In prayer, married couples derive the strength of God’s grace to live their married vocation.  As children mature, they too must learn discipleship in the Lord.  A minimal and external Christianity will not fortify the Domestic Church.  Christ must be the living and central presence within the family.  It takes only a few minutes to pray short sections of the Hours recalling that “in him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  The Hours can be prayed with small children at bed time, during a coffee break, or on public transportation.  If this is not feasible during the week, then the weekend is an alternate possibility.  The Benedictine rhythm of prayer, work, and rest offers the family a rewarding life.  An Unforgettable ExperienceOne Sunday evening a few years ago when I was visiting the Benedictine Abbey of Chur in Switzerland, the Abbey church was filled to capacity for solemn Vespers. From the procession of monks into the sanctuary to the end of the service, the entire Assembly chanted and sang the Office of the day with full and enthusiastic voices.  This was an indispensable Sunday practice that took priority over all other activities.  One of the monks remarked that the townspeople so loved this liturgy that they were “wedded to Sunday Vespers.”PrioritiesThe rewards of praying the Hours far exceed any sacrifice. First, as was noted in last week’s essay, the psalms are a treasury of human emotions. Praying the psalms allows our emotions some outlet; it guides them, and elevates our feeling in God. Second, the Liturgy of the Hours is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body, addresses to the Father. (The Church at Prayer, IV: 188).  We are praying with Christ who prayed the psalms.  Third, when we pray the Hours, we are uniting ourselves with the whole of the Catholic Church around the world. While Catholics in the Far East are praying one Hour, others are praying another Hour.  Fourth, when we pray the Hours, we are not only remembering the sacredness of civil time but transforming it as well to a higher plan of consciousness toward Christ in God. Fifth, praying the psalms is an experience in reading profoundly beautiful religious poetry.  Great Movements . . .Great movements are born out of great adversity. Such was the experiment of the first colonists, and later, of the Civil Rights Movement. Such is the situation in the Church today.  What is needed for a great movement of renewal?  For a moment, let us imagine a cross section of the Church who, convinced of the power of the psalms in their lives and in the culture, would pray the Hours on a daily basis. These might include: commuters in New York subways, farmers and ranchers, political leaders and bankers, blue collar workers, the bedridden and the imprisoned, the addicted, the disenfranchised, artists, scientists, physicians and lawyers, media moguls, and yes, the stay-at-home mother, caring for her family. Imagine such a renewal!The Rosary Emerges from the Liturgy of the HoursThe present form of the rosary is traced back to the sixteenth century, even though the fingering of beads can be traced to ancient Eastern traditions.  In the eleventh century, 150 Our Fathers were given to an illiterate laity to pray as a substitute for the 150 psalms that were prayed by the monks and nuns.  Called “the poor person’s breviary,’ the psalms were divided, as was the Psalter, into three sets of fifty, and the strings of beads were used to count them as “paternosters.” Eventually, the rosary, consisting primarily of Hail Marys, was popularized by the Carthusian Order.  Today, there is a renewed emphasis in the Church on praying the Liturgy of the Hours (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 1138-39). In the public prayer of the Church, the Body of Christ immerses itself in salvation history, God’s infinite love for us all.


Jun 12, 2013 / 00:00 am

Like mothers, fathers come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities. The most basic and universal understanding of father is one of begetting children. A father is much more than a begetter. Father is not a name but a relation and a presence. Steve is a person before becoming Paul’s father. Fatherhood is added on to his personhood. Father-RolesRecall some father-roles in movies and in television. Take for example the role of Stanley Banks (“Pops”) in “Father of the Bride.” Just thought of ‘losing’ his daughter in marriage evokes comically neurotic tendencies on the eve of the wedding. In “Life with Father,” Clarence Day (Clare) is a financier whose thriftiness and dislike of surprises make for fun when, time and again, his wife Vinnie and his four boys outwit him. In “Mr. Skeffington,” Job Skeffington is the tender, loving father to an only daughter, spurned by her vain mother.In “The Bill Cosby Show,” Cliff Huxtable, the father and obstetrician, is thoroughly engaged in the lives of his five children. He protects, disciplines, and loves them. As a moral guide, he teaches them values by example. A devoted husband, he stands firmly with his wife, especially in front of the children. The Huxtable family loves their Dad – flexible, funny, and fun – as we do.The mature television series, “Blue Bloods” captures a similar image of father in different circumstances. Henry Reagan, the super-patriarch of an Irish Catholic family and once the police commissioner of the NYPD, is always the pre-eminent father-figure, first to his son Francis (Frank), a widower and the current police commissioner. Henry lives with Frank, the father of a daughter and two sons, also part of the NYPD. Danny, one of Frank’s sons, is the father of two young boys. The three fathers are present to the various family members providing them with stability and guidance – moral and spiritual. With the Reagans, fatherhood and family unite to claim center stage in this weekly drama about the New York police department.Metaphor of FatherThe word father does suggest other nouns like protector, authority, origin of something, initiator. Father can serve as a metaphor. The universal notion of father is an essential part of mythology and religions. Zeus is the “Father of the gods,” and Abraham, “Our Father in Faith.”  In America, George Washington is the “Father of Our Country,” and John Barry, the “Father of the American Navy.”  In India, Gandhi is the “Father of the Nation;” Nelson Mandela is “Father of South Africa.” We have phrases such as Father Time, Father Thames, Founding Fathers, Fathers of the Church.  In classical music, Haydn is not only the “Father of the String Quartet” but also “Father of the Classical Symphony.” As initiators, these ‘fathers’ are the source of the titles accorded to them.The Disappearing Father and Father-AbsenceIn this country, life without fathers has now been established as a major social concern. More than 37 percent of all American children now live apart from their fathers. This equals more than 27 million children. The growing number of derelict fathers degrades their vocation. Four out of ten children live without fathers, and half of these do not see them. In most TV sitcoms, if a father is present, he is portrayed as a bumbling, uninvolved, incompetent, and unnecessary member of the family. Women cannot do it all or alone.The high cost of father-absence is reflected in school dropouts, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, violence against teachers in public schools, and crime and violence in the streets. Father-absence contributes to social problems, un-socialization of children, and emotional dereliction, male aggression, low academic achievement.   President Obama on FatherhoodWhenever President Obama speaks about fatherhood, his body language changes.  He stiffens. His voice intensifies. He knows the meaning of father-absence and growing up without a father’s love: “Any male can make a baby; being a father takes a real man.” He recently recounted that “in Chicago’s Hyde Park, there are entire neighborhoods where young people don’t see an example of somebody succeeding. And a lot of young boys and young men don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers who are in a position to support families and behold up and respected.”  In “The Godfather,” Vito Corleone puts it this way: “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Yes, we have super-Dads like Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) who, in “To Kill a Mockingbird, exceeds our expectations of fatherhood.  A widower with two young children, a lawyer who defends a black man in the supposed rape of a white girl, he is totally devoted to his children, teaching them by example. This means living free of hate and prejudice. A Patriarchical God?Today, though speaking about God invites criticism, silence is no answer. A word then about God-language. God, who is beyond all human language, reveals the Divine I-AM-Who-Am as masculine in the Hebrew scriptures. God is Adonai (Lord), Melech (King), Avinu (Our Father). These are figurative and not a literal ways of speaking about the ineffable source and creator of the universe. Nevertheless, God as father, is revealed in the Judeo-Christian tradition. To some, the name father ascribes gender to God. Such language, they say, confirms a patriarchal system that keeps women subservient and prevents them from gender equality.Extreme feminism faults a patriarchal culture for developing the doctrine of the Father’s eternal relationship to the Son. Accordingly, “the Christian tradition has made the image of God’s fatherhood literal. “. . .  This tendency favors dominance of male over female onto God’s being, thereby eclipsing women as equal carriers of the divine image” (Catherine Mowry-Lacugna, “Fatherhood of God,” Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 520). Lacugna admits that Jesus did not refer to God as Amma (mother).  However, within this view, ample doubt remains – a doubt that Jesus’ words about his Father addressed to his Father, are insufficient to justify, let alone prove, God’s eternal fatherhood. Why?  Because they were written, interpreted, and developed in and by a patriarchal culture.In the Johannine gospel alone, reference to the Father occurs more than 110 times. In chapter seventeen, Jesus’ prayer to his Father reveals what the Father means to Jesus. It gives us an intimate sense of the relationship between Father and Son. As revealed dogma, the procession of Son from the Father, according to their one nature, is literally true. Did Jesus not know better?The Prodigal Son and the Mothering FatherTo this day, the parable of the Prodigal Son remains one of the best-loved gospel narratives. In the parable, the father breathes with his son, they are so interior to each other.  The father is continually looking for his return. When the boy is sighted from a distance looking like a wretch, his father immediately calls for a celebration.  His love is not only without limit; it is unconditional, spontaneous, emotional, and nurturing – over the top. He is a mothering father.The Disappearing Father of JesusAs we believe, so we pray; as we pray, so we believe, goes a revered church dictum. Without the fatherhood of God, the Church’s dogma of the Trinity collapses. Without the fatherhood of God, how then do we begin all our prayers? “In the name of the (?)” “Glory to the (?) and to the Son (?) and to the Holy Spirit. The Father gives us the Spirit through his Son. Because the Eucharistic sacrifice is addressed to the Father, what happens if the Father is purged from our liturgical language?  Without the Father, how are new Christians made members of the Body of Christ in baptism? The creator, redeemer, and sanctifier are not relations but functions. The Trinitarian relationship falls to pieces.For this reason, the Father must be the addressee of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and petition” (Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 155-6). All blessings of fatherhood find their origin in the Fatherhood of God, the point of departure and goal of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. From the Father come blessing, grace, love, mercy, consolation, and joy to all fathers. Happy Father’s Day!

The Psalms: Honey for the Soul

Jun 5, 2013 / 00:00 am

If there is one biblical book that expresses the hues and tints of human emotion, it is the Psalms, the hymn book of Jews and Christians. Composed over a period of some 700 years beginning with the reign of King David (1000-970 BC), the psalms reflect Israel’s deepening and continuous relationship with God. The basic theme, total trust in and reliance on Providence, is imbedded in all the psalms. Metaphors too like ‘God is my rock, my fortress, my refuge and place of safety, my stronghold, my song, and my love’ run throughout the psalms. The individual and the nation cast their burden upon the Lord, again and again. And, again. The Jews are a long-suffering people. How many times has their land been plundered, their identity questioned, their very existence challenged by extinction, well-documented in histories of the Holocaust and by its few survivors. From the time of Abraham, the Israelites were singled out as God’s most beloved spouse, and this human-divine bond could not be broken. God remained faithful to them, though they, less so. Still, they were free to vent their emotions when they surrounded by foreign and bellicose nations who sought to overthrow them, and did so. Where did they turn? In anguish and despair, they asked not only why God was permitting it all to happen, but they also pleaded for consolation, which, in turn, became songs of consolation.   Of the entire corpus of psalms, about one-third are complaints and laments, both community and individual, exceeding hymns of praise and thanksgiving.  When Bad News Happens . . . If we pause to reflect, good things do surround us. The proper response is “thank you, thank you!” Yet, the year 2013 has not exactly brought favorable news in the large picture. With reportage at our fingertips, we are bombarded with stressful news alerts.  The onslaught of recent tornadoes is one example. Americans live in a state of heightened alert and terrorism. Have you noticed that we move from violence to violence, from scandal to scandal and from one sexual assault to another? Breakdown is a major theme of life – breakdown of health and relationships, of social manners and mores, religious practice. Distrust is on the rise. Rare are those uneventful days when life can be lived at an even keel. When good things happen, we should break out into song! Still, the question remains: how to process, how to assimilate daily upsets? Go to the PsalmsThere is no more soothing effect on the soul than pouring out our hearts in and with the psalms; they are honey for the soul. Jesus himself prayed the psalms, even on the cross. In the psalms, we speak directly to God, we face God in ourselves, in others, and in our daily travails. In Psalm 119 where light breaks through the darkness, the modern world is the focus of prayer.The Psalms are the perfect refuge for emotions that flare up and press us to ‘let it all hang out.’  At times of distress, the psalms of lament offer consolation and wisdom, courage and patience.  If a child can cry out to a mother or father of its pain, what of us in our relationship with God?  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked that his pain be taken away.  Of course, talk shows, counseling agencies, and other social outlets deliver temporary relief to those who would vent about anything and everything. But the psalms stoop to lift us out of the deep in ways that human help cannot.The curious thing about lament and complaint:  when we raise our drooping heads to praise and thank God, these very acts console the complaint and lament, especially when we realize that Jesus walks in solidarity with us. The Book of the Psalms is one of remembering, remembering God’s saving deeds, not merely in Israel’s history and in the personal experience of the individual Jew, but also by extension in the Christian’s life-experience. The Psalmists are deeply involved in our life-situations, in my own situation, religious and otherwise. Like Israel, we labor under the great mystery of suffering and evil, as Psalm 72 poignantly reveals.  Psalms of Complaint and LamentScattered among the psalms are ‘cursing’ psalms, uttered against God’s enemies. In these, the Israelites appeal to God for help, win God’s sympathy by a describing the nature of the complaint – sickness, danger of death, sin, old age; they plead for God’s justice and fidelity, for those unjustly accused of false charges or unjustly treated. Some of these psalms are: 3, 5-7, 14, 54-59, 61, 63-64, 69-71, 86, 102, 109, 120, 140-143.The collective psalms find their life-setting in a national calamity, such as defeat in battle. The structure is similar to that of an individual lament: cry for help, description of distress and request, and the motifs for Yahweh’s intervention. These are grouped in Pss 43, 57, 73, 78, 79, 82, 88, 105, 136.Parallelism in the PsalmsThe psalms have a predictable structure. The first verse sets forth what is on the mind of the psalmist. The second verse rephrases the sentiments but in different words. This is known as parallelism. Here we have creative repetition, the key to appreciating the psalms, for example:Ps 3:8 Arise, LORD! Save me, my God! You will shatter the jaws of all my foes; you will break the teeth of the wicked. Ps 5:2 Hear my words, O LORD; listen to my sighing. Ps 17:1 I call upon you; answer me, O God; turn your ear to me; hear my prayer.Ps 6:7-8 I am wearied with sighing; all night long tears drench my bed; my couch is soaked with weeping. My eyes are dimmed with sorrow, worn out because of all my foes.Ps 55:22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you;He will never permit the righteous to be moved.Praying the Psalms in a Dispirited Age The psalms are songs or hymns, all one hundred fifty of them. Personal and communal, they touch every aspect of life, past and present. They are prayers to God, not prayers about God. Like the bee who feeds on the nectar of flowers, so we approach the psalms to find honey for the soul. In Psalm, 23, we find this honey, permeated as it is with tenderness on the part of the shepherd who walks with and leads his flock. Here we have one of the most beloved psalms of the entire body of psalmic literature. The psalms are an essential part of the Church’s worship, and all Catholics are exhorted to pray them frequently, if not daily in the Liturgy of the Hours. Through the psalms, individual Catholics, Catholic families, and the entire Body of Christ grow to put on Christ for all to see (Gal 3:17).

The Chant Vineyard and the Organ King

May 29, 2013 / 00:00 am

Last week, Father Jordi Piqué, O.S.B., dean of Rome’s Pontifical University of Saint Anselmo, announced that the Benedictine-run University has launched an M.A. degree in Gregorian chant and organ.  Endorsing the two-year program is Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.  Saint Anselmo’s is the seat of the world’s confederation of the Benedictine Order and is known as a center for liturgical activity.  At the parish church there, the faithful sing the Ordinary of the Mass in Gregorian chant, the western Church’s artistic and musical birthright. Cardinal Ravasi is a Renaissance man. As a high-profile, high-energy progressive thinker, he would not endorse an M.A. in chant and organ if it intimated regression for the postconciliar liturgical life of the Church. Before his advent to Saint Anselmo’s, Father Jordi Piqué, O.S.B., lived at the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat just northwest of Barcelona, Spain.  The Abbey school boasts of a splendid music program featuring its internationally-known boys’ choir, L’Esclonia, founded in the thirteenth century.  Youth also learn to play musical instruments, and they are often chosen by symphony orchestras to join their ranks.  Congregational singing at liturgy blends Catalan vibrancy with quiet beauty. Montserrat is a place of wonder offering visitors a pilgrimage to the famous statuary of the Black Madonna, retreats, and outdoor activity. The leadership of Cardinal Ravasi and Father Piqué reaffirms to the Catholic and non-Catholic world the importance of Gregorian chant in the life of the Roman Church.  Our Musical Birthright The New Oxford American Dictionary defines birthright as “a particular right of possession or privilege one has from birth, especially as an eldest child.”  A secondary meaning defines birthright as “a natural or moral right possessed by everyone.” Don’t we Americans believe that an education is the birthright of every child? Similarly, we Americans own our patriotic songs, for they symbolize our prized freedom.  We assume, we expect that our national anthem and hymns such as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America, the Beautiful,” and “God Bless America” be honored by all Americans.  How can an American citizen fail to revere our patriotic songs? In Britain, homage is paid to the Crown with the beloved hymn, “God Save the Queen,” a venerable tribute and an integral part of British identity.    By analogy, Gregorian chant is the musical birthright of every Roman Catholic.  Almost as ancient as the Church itself, it is not the only sacred music promoted in the Church, but at the time of Vatican II, it was virtually discarded, linked to an outmoded and regressive Church.  The chant sequester has been so successful that young practicing Catholics have not only not sung it but have never heard of it as well. The Benedictine Monks at Solesmes The Benedictine Order of the Abbey Saint Pierre of Solesmes have cultivated and protected the chant since the founding of the Abbey in 1833 by Dom Prosper Guéranger.  The monks form one of the most renowned choral groups in the world, winning honors and recognition for its groundbreaking recordings of Gregorian chant.  As paleographers, Dom Guéranger and his fellow monks drew together the various chant editions into a coherent, scholarly, and sound body of music.  Manuscripts had been scattered in monasteries from centuries of neglect. Often, they were handed down in corrupted form. The dedication of Solesmes to restore and renew the chant affected not only France but other countries as well, including our own.  The approach of the monks has been threefold:  academic, musical, and theological-biblical-contemplative. Their solicitude has resulted in the publication of chant books for use by the Congregation of Solesmes and beyond.  The Clear Creek Abbey in Tulsa, Oklahoma belongs to the Solesmes Congregation through the French foundation at Fontgombault. In 1930, the monks recorded a large body of chant with more recordings to follow in 1958 and 1960.  In 1976, their recording under the direction of Dom Jean Gajard received a Grammy Award nomination.  To this day, they remain a highly respected and widely recognized choral group throughout the world. The popularity of chant may be linked to the search for the sacred in a desacralized world.   The Chant Vineyard Gregorian chant is no more a museum piece than is a vintage Pinot noir from Romanée-Conti, the most prestigious guardian of the most sought after red wine in the world. Solesmes is the Romanée-Conti of Gregorian chant. It is at the Abbey that the monks have preserved the unsurpassed treasure of three thousand exquisite chants as the precious, forceful bouquet of Pinot noir has been preserved by Romanée-Conti. The vineyard at Romanée-Conti, not far from Dijon, France, enforces strict rules to protect its special soil against frosts and from any foreign elements that might erode the unique quality of the grapes. When correction of the soil becomes necessary to maintain proper balance, correction other than by virgin soil of the vineyard is prohibited.  The wine dressers of Romanée-Conti are convinced that they have all the necessary resources from within the vineyard to make the necessary correction.  Experience has taught them that importation of foreign soil has not enriched the vineyard. Instead, it has eroded the soil, compromised the grapes, and, ultimately the wine itself (Joseph Roccasalvo, “Organ Recital”). Likewise with Gregorian chant.  To correct centuries of liturgical passivity by the faithful, foreign elements became de rigeur.  Guitars, pianos, and anything that was banged accompanied poorly-composed melodies, promoted by church leaders.  This seismic shift jolted not only a large segment of the Church but music scholars as well.  The Organ KingAn unintended consequence of the post-conciliar liturgy minimized or eliminated the role of the organist, many of whom lost their positions to pastoral liturgists with little or no musical training.  Today, pianos are fast displacing guitar ensembles. They too are a foreign element belonging to the concert hall and discotheque but not in the liturgy. In fact, a piano with its percussiveness and improvisational ability contributes to prayerlessness in the liturgy.This dramatic and tragic change has deprived the faithful of experiencing the rich organ repertory despite official documents singling out the pipe organ as adding “a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies, powerfully lift[ing] up men’s mind to God and to higher things” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1157).  The pipe or tracker organ is known as “the king of the instruments.” When all the stops are pulled out, it produces a colossal symphonic sound, much like the effects of a Pinot noir.   The M.A. program at Saint Anselmo’s reunites the organist with Catholic liturgical practice.  This includes organ accompaniment and studying organ repertory.  Both were perfected by J.S. Bach, “the fifth evangelist.”  Through public recitals, the organ serves as a way of evangelizing the Church and the culture with the beauty and joy of music.  The pipe or tracker organ is a costly investment for parishes. Even repairing an organ can become a financial burden to them.  In many cases, pastors have resorted to pianos as substitutes for guitars as well as for organs that are in disrepair.  Protestant churches value their organs and, by extension, their organists, perhaps almost as much as their rectors or ministers.  In these faith-communions, the homily and the hymn are essential parts of the worship service. HindsightWith the renewed ecclesiology of Vatican II, it might have been wiser to make the necessary correction from within the tradition instead of admitting foreign elements that did not emerge organically from the tradition.  It might have been wiser to adapt some chants to English and rediscover the chant in a new context. Many had hoped that, by singing in a popular style, active participation would elevate liturgical worship, thus making it a beautiful experience.  We have learned otherwise.  Such is the wisdom of hindsight.  What is needed?  A renewed attitude toward the chant.  It greatly desires to be reclaimed as our very own.  As for Latin: If our diversity welcomes many languages during the liturgy, including Greek, surely Latin can and should also be readmitted to it.  Saint Anselmo’s is heeding that clarion call, for its M.A. program does not cling to the past but anticipates a new flowering of music that is “ever ancient, ever new.”

The Catholic Church advances science: part five

May 22, 2013 / 00:00 am

“The Church is opposed to science; look at the Galileo debacle.” Haven’t most of us heard this criticism of the Church? In fact, one of the best-kept secrets about modern science is the Church’s role in its development. As with the arts, the Church gladly supports scientific pursuits that defer to the moral order.The Church and CloningOn May 16 came the news from scientists in Oregon that they could clone human embryos in order to treat human diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries. This therapeutic cloning creates life, uses it for therapeutic purposes, and then destroys it. “Scientists,” writes Archbishop Samuel Aquila, “have discovered how to create perfect human copies, to be used for the sole purpose of growing tissue in the effort to combat disease; then these copies will be destroyed”  (National Review Online).This embryo is a human being, albeit in the very earliest stages of human life. Every person reading this essay was once an embryo that grew into a fetus, and then to an infant baby, and so on along the spectrum of human life. This discovery brings with it the possibility, and indeed the probability, to clone babies. It recalls the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996. Now we have the possibility of cloning human beings.Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a professor of medicine and bioethicist at the University of Chicago has observed: “This is a case in which one is deliberately setting out to create a human being for the sole purpose of destroying that human being. I am of the school that thinks that that’s morally wrong no matter how much good could come of it.” The timeless principle holds: The end does not justify the means.Like Archbishop Aquila, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has stated the Church’s view that cloning is immoral, even if used for therapeutic purposes because it “treats human beings as products, manufactured to order, to suit other people’s wishes” (NY Times, May 16, 2013, A17).  The event is fraught with controversy and will be argued on both sides of the argument.One principle to be kept in mind is this: Whatever can be done is not always moral; whatever is legal is not necessarily moral. The1973 Roe vs Wade decision is one application of this principle.Behind the process of any scientific thought and pursuit is the concern for the integrity of man and woman as created in the image and likeness of God and for their inviolable dignity from the embryonic stage to natural death.Flashing back to earlier times when the Church was engaged with scientific pursuits . . .The Church, Science in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth CenturiesIn 1582, the Jesuit polymath Cristoforo Clavius (d 1610) headed the commission that put into effect the Gregorian calendar thus negating the Julian calendar? To synchronize the calendar with the solar year, Clavius calculated ninety-seven leap days every four hundred years. His contemporaries were astounded.In the sixteenth century and against universally-accepted theory, Copernicus had theorized that the sun, rather than Earth, was at the center of the solar system. Galileo advanced this theory, and his work was praised by Clavius. On Galileo’s visit to Rome, Pius V honored him and his discoveries. However, the theory jointly held by Copernicus and Galileo stood as hypotheses and not as yet objectively proved. Galileo insisted that the Copernican theory was literally true.  Because Protestants had faulted the Church with insufficient attention given to the literal meaning of Scripture, which appeared to contradict the two astronomers, Galileo was asked not to publish the theory until it could be objectively proven. He refused but was eventually proved correct. The Church’s naming him a heretic can be explained but not defended. (Thomas Woods, How the Church Built Western Civilization, 70ff; New Catholic Encyclopedia 6: 250ff). In 1979, John Paul II conceded that the Church had erred in the Galileo incident, and in 1984, all the Vatican documents about the case were made public.The Church and Modern ScienceThe name George Lemaître (d 1966) is not a household name as is those of Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein. Yet, in 1927, this Belgian-born theoretical physicist and priest, applying Einstein’s theory of general relativity, proposed that the expanding universe originated with a primeval atom or, as he called it, “the exploding egg.” Sir Fred Hoyle coined the term, the Big Bang, a jocular and perhaps derisive way of speaking about the anthropic principle or “the primeval atom.” The name, “The Big Bang” eventually held sway. This theory was pertinent to the question of God’s creation of the universe, and some have regarded Lemaître’s discovery as the “creation event,” that is, the universe created itself. How could an effect cause itself to be? Every effect has its cause, immediate or remote.Prior to Lemaître’s presentation, Einstein (d 1955) was skeptical of the findings but was eventually won over.  Standing and applauding at a seminar about Lemaître’s discovery, he said: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened” (“Space/Astronomy”).One visual depiction of the origin of the universe takes the contemporary mind back to a thirteenth-century French Bible (Codex 2553), where a picture of God the Father is illustrated measuring the world with a compass at the time of Creation.The distinguished Hungarian Benedictine monk and physicist, Stanley Jaki, (d 2009) taught on issues pertaining to the philosophy of science and theology. He believed that science and theology were compatible and mutually reinforced the quest to understand God. “The regular return of seasons, the unfailing course of stars, the music of the spheres, the movement of the force of nature according to fixed ordinances, are all the results of the One who alone can be trusted unconditionally,” he wrote (Woods, 76).During his life, Jaki was lauded numerous times as a writer and educator.The Jesuits and ScienceNo other religious order has dedicated itself more to studies in science than has the Society of Jesus. There are approximately seventy Jesuit from the seventeenth century to the present who have engaged in scientific research. This list includes such Jesuit-scientists as: Matteo Ricci, (d 1610) who brought scientific innovations to China and who is deeply revered among the Chinese intelligentsia, Francesco Grimaldi (d 1643) and his diffraction of light,  Nicholas Zucchi (d 1670), the telescope maker, Giovanni Battista Zupi (d 1650), an astronomer who discovered that Mercury had orbital phases, Ignace Pardies (d 1673) and his influence on Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Line (d 1675 ) the clockmaker hunted down by the English monarchy, Angelo Sacchi (d 1878) the Father of Astrophysics, Roger Boscovich (d 1787) and his atomic theory, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (d 1955) who was involved in the discovery of the so-called Peking Man, and George Coyne astronomer who has researched polarimetrics and Seyfert galaxies. Last but not least is Guy Consolmagno, who believes that “religious needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism.”The Church and ScienceThe Church continues to support scientific pursuits so long as they uphold the inviolable dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God as well as the family, the Domestic Church. There is no contradiction or no opposition between science and the doctrine of the faith about man and woman and their vocation.The Bible is not a book of science. But in 1996, John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, reminding the conveners that “the Gospel truth can shed a higher light on the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter. The Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life. It gives as a wise vision of life inasmuch as it describes the loftiest forms of existence.”