Thursday, April 30, 2009

Conscious Immolation-St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Pope John Paul II wrote this in 1994, on the date of this saint's canonization:
Gianna Berretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: "Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women".

Following the example of Christ, who "having loved his own... loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfil themselves.

Through the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, may our age rediscover the pure, chaste and fruitful beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine call!

From the Vatican's biography, you can read of her life.

Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (Milan) October 4, 1922. Already as a youth she willingly accepted the gift of faith and the clearly Christian education that she received from her excellent parents. As a result, she experienced life as a marvellous gift from God, had a strong faith in Providence and was convinced of the necessity and effectiveness of prayer.

She diligently dedicated herself to studies during the years of her secondary and university education, while, at the same time, applying her faith through generous apostolic service among the youth of Catholic Action and charitable work among the elderly and needy as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After earning degrees in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia in 1949, she opened a medical clinic in Mesero (near Magenta) in 1950. She specialized in Pediatrics at the University of Milan in 1952 and there after gave special attention to mothers, babies, the elderly and poor.

While working in the field of medicine-which she considered a “mission” and practiced as such-she increased her generous service to Catholic Action, especially among the “very young” and, at the same time, expressed her joie de vivre and love of creation through skiing and mountaineering. Through her prayers and those of others, she reflected upon her vocation, which she also considered a gift from God. Having chosen the vocation of marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and wholly dedicated herself “to forming a truly Christian family”.

She became engaged to Pietro Molla and was radiant with joy and happiness during the time of their engagement, for which she thanked and praised the Lord. They were married on September 24, 1955, in the Basilica of St. Martin in Magenta, and she became a happy wife. In November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi, in December 1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. With simplicity and equilibrium she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life.

In September 1961 towards the end of the second month of pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and the mystery of pain; she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. The life was saved, for which she thanked the Lord. She spent the seven months remaining until the birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in pain, and she asked God to prevent that.

A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: “If you must decided between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save him”. On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of April 28, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you», the mother died. She was 39 years old. Her funeral was an occasion of profound grief, faith and prayer. The Servant of God lies in the cemetery of Mesero (4 km from Magenta).

“Conscious immolation», was the phrase used by Pope Paul VI to define the act of Blessed Gianna, remembering her at the Sunday Angelus of September 23, 1973, as: “A young mother from the diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation”. The Holy Father in these words clearly refers to Christ on Calvary and in the Eucharist.

Gianna was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, during the international Year of the Family.

How many of us would react to the gift of life with this way? Would we rather save our own life than the life of others? I am extending this meditation far beyond the matter of abortion vs. choosing life. It seems far broader.

I wonder if some would consider the Church's praise of her medically foolish. Whether that is the case or not, I can see the fruits of the alternative view. They are all around me-or rather, they are all not around me.

Pray for us, St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Help us to love life as you did.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

the miracle of san juan deane

Roughly one month ago, some friends accompanied my family to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. There was to be a festival in honor of Italian culture (as San Juan Capistrano was actually named Giovanni Capestrano) and also in honor of the famed swallows and their return to the mission.

There are many things I could say, but for now I'll say that I'm not going to share any photos that we actually took. The one thing from the Mission that I'll share here is a picture of the Fr. Serra chapel. I love it for its European style-you could have told me we were in a time machine and living back during the time when California was a part of Nueva España.

Despite enjoying the chapel's beauty, the real occasion in my book was to see the return of the swallows.

I think one of my companions was especially in agreement with me that when we realized that the swallows don't really come back to the Mission anymore (not on time, or this year at least), that this was a huge disappointment. It was supposed to be like the "Old Faithful" of bird migration, and yet they didn't show!

It was a few weeks later when, on the way to an early morning teleconference, I was about to leave when I realized that something was going on outside of our apartment. Birds were circling around the roof. Looking up, I realized that the top of the building on the underside was hosting many birds. There was no nest at the time, but what is most important is that the ornithologist in me realized that with those curved wings, these were swallows!

I called my fellow doubter and told him that swallows appeared to be nesting at my home. However, whenever I would look again they weren't around. As time passed, I started to doubt whether the swallows were nesting--maybe they just took a pit stop at our place.

It then dawned on me that dawn (and dusk) were the key. They fly around a lot during that time of day, and my schedule was such that I was too late in the morning or the evening for their special dance. The other thing that the passage of time has shown was that they were nesting, it's just that their special mud nests take time. In this picture, you can see how on one side the nest is quite substantial, and the other is growing. Further, one can see how much work they got done that day, as the wetter mud is darker and shows a nice little ring of their labor. I love saying hello to these little friends.

My next goal will be to walk around the complex and see how many other buildings have swallow nests. If this is the only one, this may be the miracle of Juan Deane.....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

water and spirit? quid est veritas?

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?"
Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.'
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus answered and said to him, "How can this happen?"
Jesus answered and said to him, "You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.
If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing.
John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized,
for John had not yet been imprisoned.
Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings.
So they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him."
John answered and said, "No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said (that) I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him.
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete.
He must increase; I must decrease."
The one who comes from above is above all. The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things. But the one who comes from heaven (is above all).
He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

memories of poetry in the 90's.....

In winter when the air gets cold
And breathing causes white ghosts to appear

They light up the city with Christmas trees
And strings that hang across the street
From telephone pole to telephone pole

So that when I'm driving home at night
Tired frustrated and pinned down by spite
I'm reminded of your love
Unlike these things will never change
Or fade or pass away

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Protestantism is dangerous?


"Protestantism is dangerous. ..."

It is an explosive and ultimately uncontrollable force that can destabilize and undermine church and government. It can reject time-honored truths, traditions and institutions—including its own—and posit new ones in their place, only to repeat this process again and again. Protestantism is infinitely restless, constantly moving in many divergent directions at the same time. Like evolution, it possesses astonishing power to create highly adaptive religious organisms and equally astonishing power to destroy them if they fail to develop appropriately.

No, that isn't from a Catholic apologist; it is from Ronald K. Rittgers, who teaches German Reformation studies at Valparaiso University in Indiana, in his review, for The Christian Century, of Alister McGrath's recently published Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First:

This is how Alister McGrath, professor of historical theology at the Univer sity of Oxford, depicts Protes tantism in Christianity's Dangerous Idea. Why is Protestantism so dangerous? Because it is based on a dangerous idea: that the Bible is the main source of authority for the Christian religion and that all Christians have the right to interpret it for themselves. This conviction is the source not only of Protestantism's vitality and flexibility, but also of its lack of fixedness and its innate tendency toward schism. McGrath makes much of the former without losing sight of the latter.

McGrath also stresses that early Protestantism was not a single, unified, coherent movement; it was a movement of movements that was characterized by conflict, tension and flux from the start. The only thing the early Protestants shared was the dangerous idea. And they quickly learned just how dangerous it could be when they found themselves unable to reach consensus on important matters of doctrine. After examining the failure of Luther, Zwingli and others to resolve their differences on the Lord's Supper, McGrath observes, "We see here the fundamental difficulty that the Reformation faced: the absence of any authoritative interpreter of scripture that could give rulings on contested matters of biblical interpretation."

And? What then?

Protestants attempted to remedy this problem by constructing various interpretative authorities—Luther's catechisms, Calvin's Institutes, the marginalia of the Geneva Bible—but none could furnish truth claims that were accepted by all Protestants. Whatever external coherence early Protestants had was largely dependent on the presence of a defining other—Catholics in the early modern period and secularists in the later modern era. This need for an external source of self-definition became part of the core of Protestantism.

Which finally leads to this:

It is true that the defining Pro testant idea is dangerous. But one can question whether McGrath has plumbed the full depths of its threat. The real danger is that when confronted with the competing Protestant truth claims about crucial matters of faith—including those that touch on salvation—theologically reflective Protestants may lose confidence in their ability to interpret or even trust scripture, and thus their ability to know God. Sebastian Franck saw this danger already in the 16th century and thus opted for a Spiritualism that sought to transcend all dogmatic claims about God—except Spiritualist ones, of course. Fortunately, most Protestants do not experience this complete loss of epistemic confidence, at least not on a permanent basis, which may be the reason McGrath avoids discussing the risk.

Some people view the Bible largely as a human artifact that contains important human wisdom about God but needs to be supplemented and corrected by more modern sources of wisdom. McGrath makes clear that such liberal Protestants are a small minority in the Protestant world. It seems that most—including McGrath, perhaps—continue to believe in the perspicuity of scripture. It is remarkable, after all, that the vast majority of Protestants agree with one another and with most non-Protestant Christians about the essentials of salvation—that is, that it comes only through Christ and requires grace and faith. But one wonders if this surprising agreement is not owing to another yet dangerous idea that was present in the primordial materials from which Protestantism burst forth and that thus became part of its genetic code: the importance of clinging to the ancient rule of faith. If this is the case, Catholicism did not simply motivate the construction of a unified Protestant front; it also provided Protestants with a certain immunity against the most destructive possibilities of their core idea.

That is part of the argument, interestingly enough, made by Fr. Louis Bouyer (a former Lutheran pastor), in his important book, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. In reviewing that book, Mark Brumley wrote:

The negative principles of the Reformation necessarily led the Catholic Church to reject the movement–though not, in fact, its fundamental positive principles, which were essentially Catholic. Eventually, argues Bouyer, through a complex historical process, these negative elements ate away at the positive principles as well. The result was liberal Protestantism, which wound up affirming the very things Protestantism set out to deny (man’s ability to save himself) and denying things Protestantism began by affirming (sola gratia).

Bouyer contends that the only way to safeguard the positive principles of the Reformation is through the Catholic Church. For only in the Catholic Church are the positive principles the Reformation affirmed found without the negative elements the Reformers mistakenly affixed to them. But how to bring this about?

Bouyer says that both Protestants and Catholics have responsibilities here. Protestants must investigate their roots and consider whether the negative elements of the Reformation, such as extrinsic justification and the rejection of a definitive Church teaching authority and Tradition, are necessary to uphold the positive principles of sola gratia and the supremacy of Scripture. If not, then how is continued separation from the Catholic Church justified? Furthermore, if, as Bouyer contends, the negative elements of the Reformation were drawn from a decadent theology and philosophy of the Middle Ages and not Christian antiquity, then it is the Catholic Church that has upheld the true faith and has maintained a balance regarding the positive principles of the Reformation that Protestantism lacks. In this way, the Catholic Church is needed for Protestantism to live up to its own positive principles.
Read Brumley's entire review essay, "Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick: Louis Bouyer on the Reformation."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty"
By Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Every year, in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Season of Lent, I am struck anew by a paradox in Vespers for Monday of the Second Week of the Psalter. Here, side by side, are two antiphons, one for the Season of Lent, the other for Holy Week. Both introduce Psalm 44 [45], but they present strikingly contradictory interpretations. The Psalm describes the wedding of the King, his beauty, his virtues, his mission, and then becomes an exaltation of his bride. In the Season of Lent, Psalm 44 is framed by the same antiphon used for the rest of the year. The third verse of the Psalm says: "You are the fairest of the children of men and grace is poured upon your lips."

Naturally, the Church reads this psalm as a poetic-prophetic representation of Christ's spousal relationship with his Church. She recognizes Christ as the fairest of men, the grace poured upon his lips points to the inner beauty of his words, the glory of his proclamation. So it is not merely the external beauty of the Redeemer's appearance that is glorified: rather, the beauty of Truth appears in him, the beauty of God himself who draws us to himself and, at the same time captures us with the wound of Love, the holy passion ("eros"), that enables us to go forth together, with and in the Church his Bride, to meet the Love who calls us.

On Monday of Holy Week, however, the Church changes the antiphon and invites us to interpret the Psalm in the light of Isaiah 53:2: "He had neither beauty, no majesty, nothing to attract our eyes, no grace to make us delight in him." How can we reconcile this? The appearance of the "fairest of the children of men" is so wretched that no one desires to look at him. Pilate presented him to the crowd saying: "Behold the man!" to rouse sympathy for the crushed and battered Man, in whom no external beauty remained.

Augustine, who in his youth wrote a book on the Beautiful and the Harmonious ["De pulchro et apto"] and who appreciated beauty in words, in music, in the figurative arts, had a keen appreciation of this paradox and realized that in this regard, the great Greek philosophy of the beautiful was not simply rejected but rather, dramatically called into question and what the beautiful might be, what beauty might mean, would have to be debated anew and suffered. Referring to the paradox contained in these texts, he spoke of the contrasting blasts of "two trumpets," produced by the same breath, the same Spirit. He knew that a paradox is contrast and not contradiction. Both quotes come from the same Spirit who inspires all Scripture, but sounds different notes in it. It is in this way that he sets us before the totality of true Beauty, of Truth itself.

In the first place, the text of Isaiah supplies the question that interested the Fathers of the Church, whether or not Christ was beautiful. Implicit here is the more radical question of whether beauty is true or whether it is not ugliness that leads us to the deepest truth of reality. Whoever believes in God, in the God who manifested himself, precisely in the altered appearance of Christ crucified as love "to the end" (John 13:1), knows that beauty is truth and truth beauty; but in the suffering Christ he also learns that the beauty of truth also embraces offence, pain, and even the dark mystery of death, and that this can only be found in accepting suffering, not in ignoring it.

Certainly, the consciousness that beauty has something to do with pain was also present in the Greek world. For example, let us take Plato's "Phaedrus." Plato contemplates the encounter with beauty as the salutary emotional shock that makes man leave his shell and sparks his "enthusiasm" by attracting him to what is other than himself. Man, says Plato, has lost the original perfection that was conceived for him. He is now perennially searching for the healing primitive form. Nostalgia and longing impel him to pursue the quest; beauty prevents him from being content with just daily life. It causes him to suffer.

In a Platonic sense, we could say that the arrow of nostalgia pierces man, wounds him and in this way gives him wings, lifts him upwards toward the transcendent. In his discourse in the Symposium, Aristophanes says that lovers do not know what they really want from each other. From the search for what is more than their pleasure, it is obvious that the souls of both are thirsting for something other than amorous pleasure. But the heart cannot express this "other" thing, "it has only a vague perception of what it truly wants and wonders about it as an enigma."

In the 14th century, in the book "The Life in Christ" by the Byzantine theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, we rediscover Plato's experience in which the ultimate object of nostalgia, transformed by the new Christian experience, continues to be nameless. Cabasilas says: "When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound" (cf. "The Life in Christ," the Second Book, 15).

The beautiful wounds, but this is exactly how it summons man to his final destiny. What Plato said, and, more than 1,500 years later, Cabasilas, has nothing to do with superficial aestheticism and irrationalism or with the flight from clarity and the importance of reason. The beautiful is knowledge certainly, but, in a superior form, since it arouses man to the real greatness of the truth. Here Cabasilas has remained entirely Greek, since he puts knowledge first when he says, "In fact it is knowing that causes love and gives birth to it. ... Since this knowledge is sometimes very ample and complete and at other times imperfect, it follows that the love potion has the same effect" (cf. ibid.).

He is not content to leave this assertion in general terms. In his characteristically rigorous thought, he distinguishes between two kinds of knowledge: knowledge through instruction which remains, so to speak, "second hand" and does not imply any direct contact with reality itself. The second type of knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge through personal experience, through a direct relationship with the reality. "Therefore we do not love it to the extent that it is a worthy object of love, and since we have not perceived the very form itself we do not experience its proper effect."

True knowledge is being struck by the arrow of Beauty that wounds man, moved by reality, "how it is Christ himself who is present and in an ineffable way disposes and forms the souls of men" (cf. ibid.).

Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theological thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time.

Starting with this concept, Hans Urs von Balthasar built his "Opus magnum of Theological Aesthetics." Many of its details have passed into theological work, while his fundamental approach, in truth the essential element of the whole work, has not been so readily accepted. Of course, this is not just, or principally, a theological problem, but a problem of pastoral life that has to foster the human person's encounter with the beauty of faith.

All too often arguments fall on deaf ears because in our world too many contradictory arguments compete with one another, so much so that we are spontaneously reminded of the medieval theologians' description of reason, that it "has a wax nose": In other words, it can be pointed in any direction, if one is clever enough. Everything makes sense, is so convincing, whom should we trust?

The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: "Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true."

The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer's inspiration. Isn't the same thing evident when we allow ourselves to be moved by the icon of the Trinity of Rublëv? In the art of the icons, as in the great Western paintings of the Romanesque and Gothic period, the experience described by Cabasilas, starting with interiority, is visibly portrayed and can be shared.

In a rich way Pavel Evdokimov has brought to light the interior pathway that an icon establishes. An icon does not simply reproduce what can be perceived by the senses, but rather it presupposes, as he says, "a fasting of sight." Inner perception must free itself from the impression of the merely sensible, and in prayer and ascetical effort acquire a new and deeper capacity to see, to perform the passage from what is merely external to the profundity of reality, in such a way that the artist can see what the senses as such do not see, and what actually appears in what can be perceived: the splendor of the glory of God, the "glory of God shining on the face of Christ " (2 Corinthians 4:6).

To admire the icons and the great masterpieces of Christian art in general, leads us on an inner way, a way of overcoming ourselves; thus in this purification of vision that is a purification of the heart, it reveals the beautiful to us, or at least a ray of it. In this way we are brought into contact with the power of the truth. I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.

Now however, we still have to respond to an objection. We have already rejected the assumption which claims that what has just been said is a flight into the irrational, into mere aestheticism.

Rather, it is the opposite that is true: This is the very way in which reason is freed from dullness and made ready to act.

Today another objection has even greater weight: the message of beauty is thrown into complete doubt by the power of falsehood, seduction, violence and evil. Can the beautiful be genuine, or, in the end, is it only an illusion? Isn't reality perhaps basically evil? The fear that in the end it is not the arrow of the beautiful that leads us to the truth, but that falsehood, all that is ugly and vulgar, may constitute the true "reality" has at all times caused people anguish.

At present this has been expressed in the assertion that after Auschwitz it was no longer possible to write poetry; after Auschwitz it is no longer possible to speak of a God who is good. People wondered: Where was God when the gas chambers were operating? This objection, which seemed reasonable enough before Auschwitz when one realized all the atrocities of history, shows that in any case a purely harmonious concept of beauty is not enough. It cannot stand up to the confrontation with the gravity of the questioning about God, truth and beauty. Apollo, who for Plato's Socrates was "the God" and the guarantor of unruffled beauty as "the truly divine" is absolutely no longer sufficient.

In this way, we return to the "two trumpets" of the Bible with which we started, to the paradox of being able to say of Christ: "You are the fairest of the children of men," and: "He had no beauty, no majesty to draw our eyes, no grace to make us delight in him." In the passion of Christ the Greek aesthetic that deserves admiration for its perceived contact with the Divine but which remained inexpressible for it, in Christ's passion is not removed but overcome.

The experience of the beautiful has received new depth and new realism. The One who is the Beauty itself let himself be slapped in the face, spat upon, crowned with thorns; the Shroud of Turin can help us imagine this in a realistic way. However, in his Face that is so disfigured, there appears the genuine, extreme beauty: the beauty of love that goes "to the very end"; for this reason it is revealed as greater than falsehood and violence. Whoever has perceived this beauty knows that truth, and not falsehood, is the real aspiration of the world. It is not the false that is "true," but indeed, the Truth.

It is, as it were, a new trick of what is false to present itself as "truth" and to say to us: over and above me there is basically nothing, stop seeking or even loving the truth; in doing so you are on the wrong track. The icon of the crucified Christ sets us free from this deception that is so widespread today. However it imposes a condition: that we let ourselves be wounded by him, and that we believe in the Love who can risk setting aside his external beauty to proclaim, in this way, the truth of the beautiful.

Falsehood however has another strategem. A beauty that is deceptive and false, a dazzling beauty that does not bring human beings out of themselves to open them to the ecstasy of rising to the heights, but indeed locks them entirely into themselves. Such beauty does not reawaken a longing for the Ineffable, readiness for sacrifice, the abandonment of self, but instead stirs up the desire, the will for power, possession and pleasure. It is that type of experience of beauty of which Genesis speaks in the account of the Original Sin. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was "beautiful" to eat and was "delightful to the eyes."

The beautiful, as she experienced it, aroused in her a desire for possession, making her, as it were, turn in upon herself. Who would not recognize, for example, in advertising, the images made with supreme skill that are created to tempt the human being irresistibly, to make him want to grab everything and seek the passing satisfaction rather than be open to others.

So it is that Christian art today is caught between two fires (as perhaps it always has been): It must oppose the cult of the ugly, which says that everything beautiful is a deception and only the representation of what is crude, low and vulgar is the truth, the true illumination of knowledge. Or it has to counter the deceptive beauty that makes the human being seem diminished instead of making him great, and for this reason is false.

Is there anyone who does not know Dostoyevsky's often-quoted sentence: "The Beautiful will save us"? However, people usually forget that Dostoyevsky is referring here to the redeeming Beauty of Christ. We must learn to see him. If we know him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

i was almost in tears

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday

Read over these words of Psalm 88:
"LORD, my God, I call out by day; at night I cry aloud in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is filled with troubles; my life draws near to Sheol.
I am reckoned with those who go down to the pit; I am weak, without strength.
My couch is among the dead, with the slain who lie in the grave. You remember them no more; they are cut off from your care.
You plunged me into the bottom of the pit, into the darkness of the abyss.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me; all your waves crash over me. Selah
Because of you my friends shun me; you make me loathsome to them; Caged in, I cannot escape;
my eyes grow dim from trouble. All day I call on you, LORD; I stretch out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades arise and praise you? Selah
Is your love proclaimed in the grave, your fidelity in the tomb?
Are your marvels declared in the darkness, your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry out to you, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why do you reject me, LORD? Why hide your face from me?
I am mortally afflicted since youth; lifeless, I suffer your terrible blows.
Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have reduced me to silence.
All the day they surge round like a flood; from every side they close in on me.
Because of you companions shun me; my only friend is darkness.

Catholics have the reputation for weakness in biblical literacy, but in all of my years as a Protestant I had never heard of this psalm as being prophetic of Christ's life and passion, until I read it as part of today's morning readings in the Magnificat.

When I read it this morning I was overwhelmed with the sense that as St. Augustine says, the New Testament lies in the Old Testament concealed, while the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed (or something to that effect)

A great blog post written by another....

He turned a symbol of hate and torture into one of love and mercy
April 10, 2009

In the 1930s, the Times (London) asked G.K. Chesterton and others to write on the topic of “What’s Wrong with the World Today.” Chesterton sent back a two-word response:

Dear Sirs:
I am.
Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton

“For all that ever was wrong, is wrong, and will be wrong, the price has been paid.”

Richard John Neuhaus

“The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

George MacDonald

The cross cannot be defeated. . . For it is Defeat. G.K. Chesterton

On those who hate Christianity: “They do not dislike the Cross because it is a dead symbol; but because it is a live symbol.” G.K. Chesterton

“[A]s long as sin remains on earth, still will the Cross remain.” Fulton Sheen

“God has given us our lives as wheat and grapes. It is our duty to consecrate them and bring them back to God as bread and wine–transubstaniated, divinized, and spiritualized. There must be harvest in our hands after the springtime of the earthly pilgrimage.

“That is why Calvary is erected in the midst of us, and we are on its sacred hill. We were not made to be mere on-lookers . . . but rather to be participants in the mystery of the Cross.” Fulton Sheen.

“Since the symbols of baptism and the eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam.” St. John Chrysostom

“His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures; upon the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the triumphs of mortal man. It has given a meaning to the various, shifting course, the trials, the temptations, the sufferings of his earthly state. It has brought together and made consistent all that seemed discordant and aimless. It has taught us how to live, how to use this world, what to expect, what to desire, what to hope. It is the tone into which all the strains of the world’s music are ultimately to be resolved.” Cardinal Newman

“No one ever experienced the plunge down the vacuum of evil as did God’s Son–even to the excruciating agony behind the words: “My God, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus was really destroyed. Cut off in the flower of his age; his work stifled just when it should have taken root; his friends scattered, his honor broken. He no longer had anything, was anything: ‘a worm and not a man.’

“Only Christ’s love is certain. We cannot even say God’s love; for that God loves us we also know, ultimately, only through Christ.” Romano Guardini

“Communion with Jesus means becoming like him. With him we are nailed on the cross, with him we are laid in the tomb, with him we are raised up to accompany lost travelers in their journey.” Henri Nouwen

“You are saddened because of the unjust treatment shown your Lord, but yours is still greater sadness because you feel yourself incapable of bearing even small injuries for the honor of Christ.” Thomas A’Kempis

Marie: “Today is a fast day, kids.”
Michael (2nd grade): “Does that mean we can’t eat fast food?”
(From 2007)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

conventional art is still art

So yeah, the Killers.
They're not overrated.
They're simply conventional.
But a convention done rightly is still
rightly done.

The kids and I will always like this band even
if those who wage pitchforks and the like
tell me they are boring.

They're not, and that's that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

contradictur redivivus

I am about to restart posting on a blog with only 3 or 4 posts, contradictur.
While I love those brethren who are Eastern Orthodox, the more I put myself into their shoes the more I feel compelled to reaffirm that Christ established the Church with the successor of Peter as one holding primacy, as Catholics understand primacy.

He is the first among equals, "primus inter pares". He is among equals (pares), but don't forget about primus (the first).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Truth That Sets Us Free

"The one cure for repeated unfaithfulness is to lament it, to be peacefully humble over it, and to turn again to God as soon as may be. Until we die life's difficulties and humiliations will be with us because of our besetting ingratitude and unfaithfulness. Yet provided that this is the result of our weakness of nature without affection of the heart, all is well. For God recognizes our weakness; he is aware of our wretchedness and our powerlessness to shun all unfaithfulness. He perceives, further, that is for our good to be reduced to that pitiful state since, failing it, we should be unable to resist the assaults of presumptuous pride and of secret trust in ourselves. Guard against discouragement, even though you witness the failure of your repeated resolutions to serve God. Take advantage of this recurring experience to explore ever more thoroughly the deep pit of your nothingness and of your corruption. From it learn utter distrust of yourself and complete reliance on God. Often repeat these words: I shall do nothing, Lord, unless you cause me to do it. Enlightened by disastrous experience my sole reliance is upon your all-powerful grace. The more unworthy of it I find myself, the greater my hope, since my unworthiness makes your mercy the more apparent. Your trust in God can never be pushed too far: Infinite goodness and mercy should induce trust as infinite."

Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade (died 1751) was a French Jesuit, a writer, and a revered spiritual director.