Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Still Here

I have been settling into the Seminary this year in somewhat a fitful manner. Times are quite busy for this early in the year, and the little time that I've given myself to access the internet, I have devoted to following the news, both of the SSPX meeting with the Holy Father and of course, of Hurricane Katrina. I hope to have things fall into a regular schedule soon that would allow some sort of substantial posting. In the meantime, I would simply encourage that everyone join in prayer, and if you want to, to unite them to the community of Saint Charles Seminary as we pray for the hurricane victims and everyone in our nation at this difficult time. New Orleans has been called the City of Saints, for more than just the team name, but for it's awesome history which is now 20 feet under water. Saint Ignatius, pray for us...

Two sites I'd recommend checking out if you're interested in some works of mercy:

Saint Vincent de Paul Society


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

So, I like Shakespeare, if you haven't gathered that much already...

Anyway, short post tonight, because my mind is in about one thousand different places at once. I go back to the Seminary tomorrow, and am very anxious/nervous/giddy and the like. Any prayers would be greatly appreciated, and I will blog whenever I can. I hope to include a little bit more of my journey/identity as a seminarian in the flavor of future posts. Feedback would be appreciated. Peace.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Veritatis Visio... Part III

Vision of Self

The reason that I decided to blog on this strain was the inspiration that came to me through this past Sunday's Gospel, about the Canaanite woman. The powerful scene has always struck me as unique in the Gospel because of Jesus' apparent coldness. Of course, we know that there was a reason for Christ's gruff dealing with the woman, and I believe that the humility that is drawn out of her in their conversation is that very purpose. The woman's "confession" of being merely one of the "dogs [who] eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters" is a beautiful recognition of man's unworthiness of the grace that comes to him through Christ. It is a vision of truth about self, and for this Canaanite woman, the beginning of redemption. Jesus commends the woman for her great faith and has mercy on her, but her confession about Him is bound up with an understanding of who she is in relation to Him. The dog/master metaphor is revealing of the fact that her understanding comes perhaps not from His preaching or a knowledge of who He is as the son of God so much as from a profound understanding of her own human condition and need to have it repaired.

Great deeds always begin with humility, a true vision of self, which leads to a reliance on the Lord for strength and the gifts of the Spirit. The lives of the late Pope John Paul the Great and Blessed Mother Theresa reveal this truth in a magnificent way. They exemplified the reality that an individual needs to diminish in order that Christ may increase.

As I prayed about what I would write regarding this last type of vision, and reflected on how I seek to purify my own self-vision, I was brought immediately to my own heart and to one of the things that lies in special keeping there: my love for literature. I can hardly think of any better reflections upon the reality of man and the brokennes of human nature than in the work of William Shakespeare. The "tragic flaws" that drive his tragic characters to their ill fates is almost always related to the primal lie, the sin of pride with which every man must reckon in his own life on a regular basis. I believe that Shakespeare's goal in writing his plays and packing them with so much depth and meaning was quite "Catholic" in a fundamental way. Shakespeare knew that in order to come to God, man must have a true view of self. Likely a Catholic living in the Renaissance of England, the concept of man being dust and thereunto returning would have been reminded to him on a frequent enough basis. I pray that my readers and I might gain a clearer vision of who we are, and in that vision recognize our constant need for the grace of God.

I close with one of my favorite quotes, from the play Hamlet. I have it written in my spiritual journal, and it does me well to reflect upon it when I need to remove some of the obscurity from my own vision of the truth.

What a piece of work is man!
How noble in reason; how infinite in faculties;
In form and moving, how express and admirable!
In action, how like an angel; in apprenhension, how like a god;
The beauty of the world the paragon of animals!
And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Veritatis Visio... Part II

Vision of Others

In his book, Our Old Home, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a chapter called "Outside Glimpses of English Poverty." It contains many powerful passages describing how Hawthorne was shocked by the terrible instances of destitution that he encountered, and how it gave him a profound fresh vision into the plight of man. Rather than summarize, I will quote generously from this book to capture the full power of his story.
What an intimate brotherhood is this in which we dwell, do what we may to put an artificial remoteness between the high creature and the low one! A poor man's breath, borne on the vehicle of tobacco-smoke, floats into a palace-window and reaches the nostrils of a monarch. It is but an example, obvious to the sense, of the innumerable and secret channels by which, at every moment of our lives, the flow and reflux of a common humanity pervade us all. How superficial are the niceties of such as pretend to keep aloof! Let the whole world be cleansed, or not a man or woman of us all can be clean.

By and by we came to the ward where the children were kept, on entering which, we saw, in the first place, several unlovely and unwholesome little people lazily playing together in a courtyard. And here a singular incommodity befell one member of our party. Among the children was a wretched, pale, half-torpid little thing (about six years old, perhaps, but I know not whether a girl or a boy), with a humor in its eyes and face, which the governor said was the scurvy, and which appeared to bedim its powers of vision, so that it toddied about gropingly, as if in quest of it did not precisely know what. This child--this sickly, wretched, humor-eaten infant, the offspring of unspeakable sin and sorrow, whom it must have required several generations of guilty progenitors to render so pitiable an object as we beheld it--immediately took an unaccountable fancy to the gentleman just hinted at. It prowled about him like a pet kitten, rubbing against his legs, following everywhere at his heels, pulling at his coat-tails, and, at last, exerting all the speed that its poor limbs were capable of, got directly before him and held forth its arms, mutely insisting on being taken up. It said not a word, being perhaps under-witted and incapable of prattle. But it smiled up in his face,--a sort of woful gleam was that smile, through the sickly blotches that covered its features,--and found means to express such a perfect confidence that it was going to be fondled and made much of, that there was no possibility in a human heart of balking its expectation. It was as if God had promised the poor child this favor on behalf of that individual, and he was bound to fulfil the contract, or else no longer call himself a man among men. Nevertheless, it could be no easy thing for him to do, he being a person burdened with more than an Englishman's customary reserve, shy of actual contact with human beings, afflicted with a peculiar distaste for whatever was ugly, and, furthermore, accustomed to that habit of observation from an insulated stand-point which is said (but, I hope, erroneously) to have the tendency of putting ice into the blood.

So I watched the struggle in his mind with a good deal of interest, and am seriously of opinion that he did an heroic act, and effected more than he dreamed of towards his final salvation, when he took up the loathsome child and caressed it as tenderly as if he had been its father.
Hawthorne's diaries later revealed that the author himself was the man described here in the third person. Read with this knowledge, the passage becomes much more heart-wrenching, and heart-warming as well. One can see the true vision of others leading to a truer vision of self, as the author observes himself objectively overcoming his own English restraint to show compassion for such a pitiable sight. The vision of human suffering had a profound effect on Hawthorne, and his vivid descriptions reveal a deep understanding of mankind's fallen condition and need for redemption:
It might almost make a man doubt the existence of his own soul, to observe how Nature has flung these little wretches into the street and left them there, so evidently regarding them as nothing worth, and how all mankind acquiesce in the great mother's estimate of her offspring. For, if they are to have no immortality, what superior claim can I assert for mine? And how difficult to believe that anything so precious as a germ of immortal growth can have been buried under this dirt-heap, plunged into this cesspool of misery and vice! As often as I beheld the scene, it affected me with surprise and loathsome interest, much resembling, though in a far intenser degree, the feeling with which, when a boy, I used to turn over a plank or an old log that had long lain on the damp ground, and found a vivacious multitude of unclean and devilish-looking insects scampering to and fro beneath it. Without an infinite faith, there seemed as much prospect of a blessed futurity for those hideous bugs and many-footed worms as for these brethren of our humanity and co-heirs of all our heavenly inheritance. Ah, what a mystery! Slowly, slowly, as after groping at the bottom of a deep, noisome, stagnant pool, my hope struggles upward to the surface, bearing the half-drowned body of a child along with it, and heaving it aloft for its life, and my own life, and all our lives. Unless these slime-clogged nostrils can be made capable of inhaling celestial air, I know not how the purest and most intellectual of us can reasonably expect ever to taste a breath of it. The whole question of eternity is staked there. If a single one of those helpless little ones be lost, the world is lost!
Jesus Christ, who came "the seek and save the lost," might have seen as pitiable an image in Zacheus perched in the tree. Jesus knew what ridicule he would undergo when He called him down. Jesus took pity on him, and offered him eternal life. He offers the same merciful gift to each of us, and asks that we show, in turn, the same compassion and consideration to our fellows. The world provides us no shortage of evidence of depravity and sinfulness, of the terrible effects of the fall, suffering in spirit and in flesh. Yet our perspective matters greatly. What do we see when we encounter such spectacles? Do we see mere lazy people who are only getting their due? Or do we see with eyes like Christ's, with the vision of truth?
And Jesus going out saw a great multitude: and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. - Mark 6:34

An online source for Hawthorne's work, Our Old House, can be accessed here.

Veritatis Visio... Part I


In the nineteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel, we encounter a man named Zacheus, perched in a sycamore tree. He has climbed into the tree to "see Jesus, who He was." Luke tells us that "looking up, [Jesus] saw him, and said to him: Zacheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house." Christ brings to Zacheus and Luke's audience the message that "the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."

One of the greatest homilies that I've ever heard focused on this same scriptural passage. It was given by the Rev. Shaun Mahoney of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and spoke of Christ's "optic on the world." Christ's vision was attracted to Zacheus, a man in the peripheral of his sight, if you will: a man who was lost. Father Mahoney exhorted his listeners to have the same unique vision. As evidence of the need for this unique "optic on the world," Father shared with us a story from the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, about a poor-house in England and the abject destitution that the author witnessed there.

The story, and the homily, left a burning impression on my heart and mind, and made this Gospel chapter one of my favorites. It has ever since had a stirring and haunting effect on me. Again and again, I have gone over in my mind the wonderful insights shared by Father Mahoney and I've extracted from and expanded upon them in my own meditation. It has frequently occurred to me that there is a paradoxical irony in Zacheus' location, perhaps even a literary parallel. Jesus sees with his merciful and wide vision a man perched in a tree, and calls him down in order to meet his salvation; and daily, we pass by Jesus hanging in his tree, in our tunnel vision missing those on the peripherals of our society: failing to encounter Christ in the poor and broken people of this world: failing to have His unique optic of mercy. It is interesting that this story follows directly a miracle story of Christ's curing a blind man. I like to muse that the recently cured blind man, following behind Jesus, taking in all that he sees with his restored sight, was probably the first person after Christ to notice Zacheus, because of the eagerness with which he would have been surveying the whole scene. Along these trains of thought, I prayerfully reflect and question myself: how often do I fail see Christ? Do I encounter him in others? Do I see myself honestly? Perhaps a restoration of my own vision is in order...

The vision of truth.

The name of this weblog comes from a prayer by Thomas Aquinas. But the Gospel story in question speaks more eloquently of what it means to have that vision of truth for which the Angelic Doctor prayed. The vision of truth sees God in all things, especially in His revelation through Jesus Christ. The vision of truth in turn sees Christ in others, as he extolled us to do. And finally, the vision of truth sees inside oneself with honesty and perception. These three visions, of Christ, others, and self, are presented in order in Luke's story.

... Vision of Christ
Zacheus's "low stature" demands that he "climb" in order to see Christ.
..... Vision of Others
Christ's own merciful eyes then catch sight of Zacheus in his odd predicament.
....... Vision of Self
And after coming down from the tree, knowledgable of others' accusations of him as a sinner, Zacheus declares himself to Christ and announces the penances and restitution that he has performed for his wrongdoing.

The three posts in this series, drawing heavily and gratefully upon Father Mahoney's beautiful homily and Nathaniel Hawthorne's horrifying story, hope to draw attention to our world's great need for such a three-fold vision of truth.

Vision of Christ
Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.
It is often said that young children can only focus on one thing at a time. They have unilateral senses and emotions. That is why, if you wave a rattle in front of a child crying with discomfort, you can distract it to the extent that it seems to completely forget about whatever bothered it. Obviously, growing out of this limitation is a good thing. And yet, Jesus tells us that God reveals the mysteries of the kingdom to such as these, and hides them from the vision of men. What is it about this childlike vision that captures more of the truth than our mature sight?

The answer is that, like a child, we are called to see and sense only one thing: Christ. Yet not exactly like a child. We must see Him and encounter Him not in front of all else that comes into our line of sight each day, but rather, we must see Christ in these things, and see them through Him. The iconography of stained-glass has this as one of its important meanings. The image on the foreground captures our main focus and attention, but it is not opqaue. An entire world might be glimpsed behind these scenes, but this world will be shaded and colored uniquely due to our perspective. Similarly, we must learn to see Christ in all things, and to view all situations with the unique perspective given to us by our identity as Christians.

Zacheus' perspective from the tree, looking over the crowd, focusing on Christ, is this type of vision. He could not see Christ clearly through in the midst of the chaotic scene, due to his "small stature" and therefore had to rise above it. This is the unique vision of truth that one must seek in prayer and contemplation, in fasting and penance, and most of all in sacrament, if he is ever to transform his vision of others and of self. I pray that my readers and I, and all the world, may have this type of vision, and that the contemplation of Christ's image may illuminate every other sight upon which we cast our gaze.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

T 'n' t

One letter can make a great difference in any language, but sometimes the most extreme examples occur in English. Often these small but important distinctions come when speaking of issues with theological implications. Of course, the most important and infamous of these is the difference betweeen tradition and Tradition.

Now, I'm presuming that most people know the distinction between what I'll call t and T. If not, click here. I'm not going to take up this issue now. It seems that enough attention is given to it when it is the direct subject of any sort of discourse, i.e. in distinguishing in specific instances whether some particular observance or practice comes from t or T. However, when it is not the direct subject, and merely being taken in stride, in everday usage, the issue of difference between these terms does not seem to be paid enough attention, and as such important boundaries can be left smudged.

What am I talking about? Well, I was listening to an archived version of "Catholic Answers Live" on CD today, when a caller to the show justified a certain action of his against the advice of the apologist (Jimmy Akin, a.k.a. Da Man!) on the grounds that he and his wife were "(T or t)raditional Catholics." Of course, what the man said was "My wife and I are traditional Catholics." But what he seemed to insinuate is that this amounted to T being safeguarded in their every action. It's the weakness of language gone haywire. Because of the connotations that the word tradition naturally carries, its usage in such a way becomes a means to warm, fuzzy feelings for too many wrong-thinking people. For example, in certain ethnic groups, where contraception runs rampant demographically, you'll never fail to find in the houses of many contracepting people a plethora of statuary and iconography that screams of t despite the obvious ignorance of T. It just goes to show that being a "traditional Catholic" does not amount immediately to being a "Traditional Catholic."

The fact is that there are many T Catholics who go around bearing the stigma of liberal, whose opinion will be ignored by the t who assigned this title to them. These latter are the sort who are, as they say, "more Catholic than the Pope," who drive around with 3 Rosaries on their rearview mirrors but who refuse to pray the Luminous mysteries, because they are un-traditional. Cultural Catholicism might have bred into these people a certain sort of childlike faith that lacks development, for despite all of their Marian devotion, too few of them can say anything at all about the meaning of the term "Theotokos" or name the four major Marian doctrines of the Faith (while they may argue vehemently for a fifth). There is of course, the opposite extreme, of which I approve no more, where t is all but lost completely.

As one of my more quirky professors at the seminary says with annoying frequency: "Good Catholic theology is always both-and." This is especially true in this instance. What I love about Pope Benedict is that he is both. A truly balanced man, a "progressive" theologian, a staunch defender of T while appealing nevertheless to those of us who love lots of t. As Catholics, called to unity and universality, we can't build walls and seperate into extreme camps. Irked recently by an increased awareness of this developing dichotomy among otherwise unreproachable people, I will pray more intensely in the near future that the Papacy of Benedict XVI not only brings all Christians closer together, but unites polarized Catholics as well, blasting down the walls we've built with some good old T 'n' t.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Life-Affirming News Story... For Once

A brain dead woman on life support has brought her child to term and the infant was sucessfully delivered by cesarian section. Click here for the full story. It's great to see that not everyone has become completely insensitive to the miracle of life.

SECRET Cloning Experiment

I wonder is Dan Brown will have anything to say about this.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Prayer Request

A priest friend of mine, Father Michael, lost his father Thomas today, after a long battle with various cancers culminating in leukemia. His father was a deacon, and through the grace of God, was able to assist in his son's first Mass, which was only about two months ago.
Domine, aurem tuam ad preces nostras, quibus misericordiam tuam supplices deprecamur, ut animam famuli tui Thomas, quam de hoc saeculo migrare iussisti, in pacis ac lucis regione constituas et Sanctorum tuorum iubeas esse consortem.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine,
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Father Michael will be celebrating his father's funeral Mass on Friday morning. Pray for him especially during this difficult time.

Monday, August 01, 2005

From the Files of Simon Wheeler

At least, it seems that a story like this would come from the mouth of such a one. The headline instantly brought to my mind The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County. Well, here it is: The Winking Jesus of Hoboken.