Friday, August 16, 2002

What goes around, comes around: or, why I almost never buy books
I FINALLY found another copy of Bishop Francis X. Ford's Come, Holy Spirit, which I read with a great deal of benefit several years ago, but then somehow lost track of my copy. It was on the free book shelf at the seminary library. I almost never actually buy books. What, with the free bookshelf at Sacred Heart, Marquette, and the .10c, .50c table at St. Paul Seminary, I've had little need. What I got today included: Augustine's Confessions, The Documents of Vatican II (Flannery), Thomas Howard's Chance or the Dance?, Langenscheidt's German-English, English-German dictionary, Herman Wouk's This is My God, The New World Dictionary-Concordance to the New American Bible, Bruce Vawter's 2 vol. The Four Gospels, The RSV, the JB, John Bright's History of Israel, A Catholic Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (from the 1950s), and a dozen other great titles that would equally cause you to envy me (unless you already have the books).
Minimum basis for rational discussion
For two people to have a rational discussion they have to be able to answer three questions in the affirmative: First, are there universal truths? Second, can we know them to a certain extent? And third, can we communicate them to others to a certain extent? The extent and manner of knowing and communicating can be a matter of discussion, but if "dialogue partners" don't agree on these three affirmations, they might as well get out the Scrabble board. All rational discourse ceases.
Of course, I have a friend who in principle agrees with me on these three (because he knows you can't be Catholic if you don't accept them), but who is so conscious of context and cultural overlays and all kinds of postmodern considerations that he winds up with a de facto rejection of the affirmations. This allows him, by the way, to reject the Church's teachings on sexuality.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Rublev's Trinity
Although not strictly speaking Catholic, since it was written after 1054, it is certainly a faithful and profound expression of the mind of the Church, and deserves our admiration and veneration.

Pulchra est et decora filia Jerusalem, quae ascendit sicut aurara consurgens.
Hodie Maria Virgo Ad caelos ascendit
Et in aeternum cum Christo triumphat.
Gloria Patri.....

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

I've been putting off writing about this, but someone asked, so now I feel obliged to say something about it. From an e-mail I received today:

Could you please explain the parenthetical comment-- "(I know, I know....)" --after Thomas Mertons' link? I know he explored and wrote about Eastern religions in some of his works. Is that the reason for the reservations?

First of all, Thomas Merton is a great influence in my life. He was a genius who wrote profoundly and with a certain amount of rhetorical flair on matters of spirituality. I read many of his works in the early 1980s. I have about 15 of his books, plus some about him. His writings on eastern religion are not per se a problem for me.

However, he did have a propensity, esp. in his later private writings, to take an overly critical view of the official Church and its positions (e.g. contraception). He was overly influenced by what might be described as "liberal" or "progressive" Catholicism, although he was sometimes a voice of conservatism and tradition in that group. He was also tended to be sympathetic with some gnostic speculations about Sophia-wisdom. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, he had an affair with a student nurse a couple of years before he died. If this had been an indiscretion of his younger days from which he had clearly repented one might say it was growing pains, but this was AFTER he was a hermit and was giving all kinds of advice about advanced spiritual matters both Catholic and interfaith. So I think his work is a mixed bag, one that I will continue to learn from (esp., but not limited to his earlier writings), but he isn't as sure a guide as, say, John Paul II or Avery Cardinal Dulles. I still like him, though.

What makes a Catholic Writer
What I mean is, what influences from the Catholic experience contribute to that intangible quality that one notices in Guardini, O'Connor, Newman, Houselander, etc. Here are some ideas:
  • Familiarity with Scripture, both OT and NT. I think for Catholic writers these stories are our stories. The very phrases are engraved in our memories and color how we write. That is why it is harder now to have a distinctive Catholic literary culture now that we don't have just one translation of the Bible.
  • Latin. Knowledge of Latin, whether acquired through formal training or absorbed through exposure to the liturgy, shapes the way Catholic writers think and shapes our aesthetic sensibilities.
  • St. Thomas. His modified realism is the ether of the Catholic literary universe, even if gotten indirectly through memorization of the Baltimore Catechism.
  • The Liturgy. The rhythm, texture, images, phrases, themes and attitudes of the liturgy give a Catholic writer an infinite well of inspiration. Let us hope that once we pass this era of painful reform the renewed Liturgy will continue to be such a factor in the formation of Catholic culture.
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary. I've read several essays recently that point to, for instance, the profound influence that the image of Mary had on Tolkien's conception of women, esp. Galadriel, in the LotR. One of the weaknesses of the movie is that Galadriel is turned from a heavenly mother into a kind of witch.
  • 2000 years of cultural history. The best Catholic writers will have tasted widely and deeply of the fruits of artistic greats of the past, including spiritual classics and theology as well as poetry, fiction, art, music and architecture. I'm sure great Catholic writing is possible without it, but it certainly is easier if you immerse yourself in the tradition.
I was once accused (sympathetically) of being hopelessly Catholic. I took it as the compliment that it was intended to be. The great Catholic writers are hopelessly Catholic, as well (although they are much better writers than I am). They can't help but infuse every sentence with the sensibility of the Tradition as absorbed through exposure to scripture, language, philosophy, theology, liturgy, and poetry.
St. Maxililian Kolbe
Great collect today:

Gracious God,
you filled your priest and martyr,
Saint Maximilian Kolbe,
with zeal for your house
and love for his neighbor.
Through the prayers of this devoted servant of Mary Immaculate,
grant that in our efforts to serve others for your glory
we too may become like Christ your Son,
who loved his own in the world even to the end,
and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Great Books
For those who haven't seen it, Serafin's great books list.
Where Silence is Praise
Has anyone ever read Where Silence Is Praise: From the Writings of a Carthusian, published by Cistercian Publications (Kalamazoo)? It is a book of extended meditations on the spiritual life. It is very straightforward and deep. An example at random:

In every redeemed soul miracles of grace have been accomplished. Baptism has freed us from bondage, while the sacrament of penance liberates us again when we fall back into it.
But these wonders are purely spiritual, and make no impression on us, so profoundly are we under the spell of the senses. We are like the blind, confronted with the loveliest of scenes. We say: 'It is nothing', whereas what we ought to say is: 'I see nothing, because I lack the necessary organs of vision'.
Let us ask God to give them to us, because there is nothing so beautiful and so delightful as the inward scenes and hidden mysteries of the life of the spirit.

A review from some Anglican Franciscans. More Carthusian books here.
Prayer Before Praying the Office
I don't know if this prayer is old or new, but the Latin is so wonderful that I'm going to quote it in full:

Aperi, Domine, os meum ad benedicendum nomen sanctum tuum; munda cor meum ab omnibus vanis, perversis et alienis, cogitationibus; intellectum illumina, affectum inflamma, ut digne, attente ac devote hoc Officium recitare valeam, et exaudire merear ante conspectum divinae maiestatis tuae. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

I've always liked the English as well, but don't have a copy of it on hand. If anyone has it, feel free to put it in the comments box!

Monday, August 12, 2002

The Punch Line
Why did California fall into the sea?
It was San Andreas' fault.
B-dum bum!
"Leaf by Niggle" and The Great Divorce
Both books, in a sense, address the question of purgatory, or at least the process of becoming worthy of Heaven. Is one better than the other? That depends on how direct you like your theology. "Leaf" is certainly the most explicitly religious work by Tolkien, but there is still a great deal of hesitancy [note to Nihil Obstat: I got it right this time.]. The most explicit part--and the one that makes me most uncomfortable--is the Shepherd character. Lewis, however, is much more direct. I prefer the indirect method and therefore like "Leaf" better. Not that I don't love "The Great Divorce." Besides being more indirect, however, "Leaf" is also more literary, more well-crafted and more subtle. On the first reading it takes quite a while to figure out what is really going on. Then you experience this exilarating joy. I also think the closing bit with the "kins" is a great dénouement, providing a great contrast with what Niggle has just been through.
Baseball or Football (Forget about Basketball: it is an artificial sport.).
Which is more a "Catholic" sport, baseball or football?
Nihil Obstat
Now that Nihil Obstat is watching, I'll have to be VERY careful! For those one or two regular readers out there, you'll notice that I do not post on the weekend. For some reason the post and publish buttons in Blogger don't show up on my iMac at home. I haven't taken the time to figure out a work-around.