Rule of St. Benedict: Obedience

This is a talk I gave at a faculty retreat a few years ago.  The anecdotes I used then are not written directly into the text and so there are some small gaps (you’ll see it most when you get to the Clue reference).  Like any good talk I went off-script a few times, and I have some notes to myself that are so terse I can’t understand them anymore, so what you read here is not quite coherent.  I should have taped myself!

Obedience. “I’m going to explain the Rule of St. Benedict in ten minutes.”

Obedience is a hard saying for us and it is very easy to find ourselves qualifying it, making clear all the things it definitely does not mean.  It’s true that this word means so many things, and it really does have its roots in “to listen” and it really doesn’t mean an abdication of moral responsibility.  But let’s not lose sight of the obvious sense. Continue reading Rule of St. Benedict: Obedience

You Think That’s Air You’re Breathing?

One of the joys of teaching is having brilliant students grow up and return to help you teach.  Each summer I employ an assistant–a recent graduate of impeccable academic credentials from the Abbey School–for our summer classes in Latin, Algebra, etc.

Sometimes I make them office assistants, tasking them with “building me a better mousetrap”–i.e., finding new and better ways to run reports, organize my paperwork, use the new software, etc.  They excel at this task, which is really just a nerdy version of giving them a video game to play.  Watching Ivy League overachievers knock themselves out creating a finely-polished report, investing far more time and energy into the task than I would, is a treasure.

But there’s something much better: seeing them in the classroom helping students remediate a subject.  Rubber, meet road.  Irresistible force, meet immovable object.  One of the most instructive of all teaching errors, in perhaps its purest form, is on display here. Continue reading You Think That’s Air You’re Breathing?

Melville on Religion

“Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also.  But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable in to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.

And just so I now did with Queequueg.  “Queequeg,” said I, “get into bed now, and lie and listen to me.”  I then went on, beginning with the rise and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down to the various religions of the present time, during which I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were nonsense; bad for the health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and common sense.  I told him, too, that he being in other things an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his.  Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved.  This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters.  In one word, Queeqeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpuated through the hereditary dyspesias nurtured by Ramadans.

After all, I do not think that my remarks about religion made much impression upon Queequeg.  Because, in the first place, he somehow seemed dull of hearing on that important subject, unless considered from his own point of view; and, in the second place, he did not more than one third understand me, couch my ideas simply as I would; and, finally, he no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than I did.  He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.

Moby Dick, chapter 17. “The Ramadan”

Yearning for Childhood

The fireflies were blinking about when I took out the trash, so I sat down on my stoop and watched them for a while.  It was one of those perfect summer twilights, full of still air and heavy quiet, and the living lamps flitted about their hidden tasks.  They sure don’t seem to do much when they are blinking.

Those evenings make me feel childhood again; since I had a pretty good childhood by most standards that’s a happy thing for me.  And soon this summer we are due for a cicada season, which casts a Jungian spell on me and makes me five years old again.  My clearest and fondest memory of childhood on 33rd St. in Mt. Rainier is collecting the locust shells that covered our yard–psst, and the neighbor’s yard too, don’t tell anyone I hopped the fence!–and listening to the lullaby of the cicadas.

Every time I’m around for a regional cicada season, whether that be in Ohio or Maryland or Virginia, I remember the giant tree in our backyard and the dozens of little alien monsters I collected for play with my toys.  And something just puts me into a cozy, happy fog and time bends back on itself and I’m in two places.  I love cicada song, far more even than I love firefly evenings. Continue reading Yearning for Childhood

A Year of Homilies

Here’s a run-down of all the homilies our pastor at St. Lawrence has given since he took over the parish one year ago.  Helps me pay more attention, gives me something to look back on and study with my son, provides evidence for what Catholic teaching is “really” like.

A Year of Homilies, Logged (2015-2016)

6/28 Fr. Gripshover introduces himself to the parish.  His only job is to sanctify us.

7/5 (Romans 6, Mark 2nd Multitude) God is a merciful father who has compassion on us.  Why are we still miserable?  The old man is not yet fully put to death.  Must die daily in order to rise.  Continue to bury sin!  [Expected baptism-eucharist homily]

7/12 FLAMETHROWER.  The construction and destruction of marriage throughout history.  A sweeping look at MANY facets of Church teaching on marriage.  SCOTUS and homosexuality referenced repeatedly [overly ambitious number of topics, number of references to current events was becoming a bit uncomfortable—but maybe not a bad thing!]

7/19 (Romans 6, Luke parable of crafty steward) We must make plans for our future—eternal life—just as craftily as the crooked steward.  Corporal and spiritual works of mercy listed and explained.  [very solid homily]

7/26 (I Cor 10, Luke 19 entrance to Jerusalem) OT models of behavior (cautionary tales), humble mistrust of self, recognize the time of our visitation—all the ways God makes himself known, gives us grace, invites us to grow in virtue.  [This homily was extremely well-planned and designed]

8/2 (I Cor 12, Luke 19 pharisee and publican praying in temple) spiritual life not a contest.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  Charity and humility. [I thought he might have done more to show some real ways that we are the Pharisee without being so dramatic as in the parable.  Also maybe how the publican did not berate himself—he alluded to this but only briefly.  Made a discordant passing mention of sexual sins and skipping Mass on Sundays]

8/9 (I Cor 15, Mark healing of the deaf mute) GUEST HOMILY: Missionary Society of St. Paul, Fr. Manuel (serves in Malawi).  Baptism makes us missionaries.  Missions need our prayers and our material support.  Spiritual needs—3 priests, 97 parishes, mass once or twice a year.  Material needs—clean water, medicine.  Radical Islam offers amenities, drawing people into life of violence.  Priest-missionaries relied on for everything.  Pray for and provide vocations.

8/16 (2 Cor 3 on letter and spirit, Luke 10 Good Samaritan) “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is the most obvious question we should all ask.  The answer: works of mercy.  Lists and gives tips on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Go and do likewise. [homily simple, straightforward]

8/23 (Galatians 3 and Luke 17 The Ten Lepers) Sin is leprosy of the soul.  The four stages of getting rid of it: faith that God can help (pray for faith every day), trusting God’s way of doing things like Naaman (God helps us in ways we don’t always like), cry out to God for help in time of temptation like the ten lepers (God is never far off), return and give thanks for the help he gives us (makes us humble).  Nice, solid homily.

8/30 (Galatians 5 and Matthew 6) You cannot serve two masters.  St. Therese and St. Augustine on holy abandonment.  Daily struggle to love God and find rest only in Him.  Excellent, enthusiastic homily. [I expected him to fire up the flamethrower and hammer on the works of the flesh in Galatians 5]

9/6 (Galatians 5 and Luke 7 Widow of Nain) Jesus is our life, as seen in several key parts of the mass.  Without him we cannot live the glorious life of the Spirit in Galatians 5.  Closer reading on Galatians 5—humility and spiritual progress.  Long reading from St. Augustine on how Christ saves us from death thousands of times.  Very nice homily.

9/13 (Ephesians 3, Luke 14 Healing on the Sabbath/Exalt the humble) Humility vs. Pride again.  True humility as gratitude, foundation for prayer.  Quotes from St. Francis de Sales and St. Teresa of Avila.  Solid. [4th time he’s preached on humility?]

9/20 (Ephesians 4, Matthew 22 Greatest Commandment and Lord Puzzle) Love of God and neighbor made concrete in the lives of the saints.  St. Isaac Jogues letters to mother.  Love amid joy and sorrow.  Some other structure that I missed.  [papal visit Wednesday—no mention]

9/27 (I Corinthians 1, Matthew 9 Healing/Forgiving Sins) Extensive Primer on Angels because of the two upcoming feasts.  Pretty exhaustive.

10/4 (Ephesians 4, Matthew 22 Rejects of Wedding Feast) GUEST HOMILY: Fr. Scalia, filling in for Fr. Gripshover on vacation. Pre-Synod homily on indissolubility of marriage.  Extremely clear and inspiring.  To disagree with the Church is to disagree with Jesus Christ. 3 reasons for indissolubility (secretly based on fides, proles, sacramentum). Ways to strengthen marriage. Awesome homily. [St. Francis? Our Lady of Rosary on Wednesday? Gah, should have guessed pre-Synod!]

10/11 (Ephesians 5, John 4 Healing of the Ruler’s Son) How are you using the time that is left? Eyes on heaven, do God’s will and not your own whims.  Transitions from St. Paul to Gospel nicely—this is only possible by faith.  Faith that grows.  Nice homily.

10/18 (Ephesians 6, Matthew 18 Debts of the Two Servants) Kingdom similitudes are profound.  God’s mercy and generosity are to be shared. We have been forgiven an infinite amount—look at the “value” of the blood of Jesus (sounds Anselmian, doesn’t go for it).  We cannot hang on to our little grudges and slights.  Pater Noster contract, judgment day.  Solid, but I did get distracted. [no mention of our two new saints, Louis and Zelie]

10/25 (Colossians 1, John 18 Art thou a king? Feast of Christ the King) Enthusiastic homily about Christ being a king unlike any other.  INRI becomes INRME.  Rules in our heart, we serve him with faith and charity, unite with him in the Eucharist.  Accept no substitutes.  Nice homily, a bit long (which I think he does on purpose)

11/1 (All Saints, 7:30 am) Saints and saints.  We have no excuse—all walks of life!  Live according to God’s law, live the beatitudes, embrace suffering.  Enthusiastic exhortation that did not use buzz words like “universal call.”  Also a note from the bishop re: voting and a seminarian re: vocations.

11/8 (Col 3, Matthew 13 wheat and cockles) “Resumed Epiphany 5” OFF TOPIC: Parish finances, widow’s mite.  Quite engaging description of things the parish has been/will be doing.  Not bad. We just ran a deficit thanks to major repairs and such over the last three years—savings took a hit, need to step up the giving!

11/15 (I Thess 1, Matthew 13 parable of mustard seed and leaven) “Resumed Epiphany 6” Mustard seed is the Church’s universal scope and reach.  Leaven is both Church and us as individuals.  How can we be leaven?  Become saints.  Step 1: Desire it always. Step 2: Embrace suffering. Step 3: Seek out the perfect and do it. Step 4: Forget self.  Nice homily.

11/22 (Colossians 1, Matthew 24 end times) End of the liturgical year.  Treat same as Dec 31: look back at previous year to check our progress, look ahead with new resolutions.  Pursue holiness.  Love.  St. Therese.  Simple.

11/29 (Romans 13 de somno surgere, Luke 21 end times) ADVENT 1: Standard “Advent looks backward and forward” homily.  Contrast His first and second coming.  Get ready for Christ the Judge.  Detachment, Vigilance, Perseverance.

12/6 (Romans 15, Matthew 11 Fulfillment for Baptist) ADVENT 2: Curveball.  Preached on Voice Crying Out (from Advent 3).  We need to be that voice to a desert that is winning.  Culture war references.  St. Francis Xavier readings.  Four ingredients, missed 3 of them (one was silence).  Live Catholic lives to evangelize our neighborhoods.

12/8 (Proverbs 8, Luke 1 Annunciation) IMMACULATE CONCEPTION: School homily.  Also went to St. Lawrence TLM, but forgot to jot the homily.  Standard call to holiness stuff as I recall.

12/13 (Philippians 4, John 1 Who art thou?) ADVENT 3: Standard Gaudete homily—joy regardless of circumstances of life, joy from having faith, joy amidst trials—even great trials, thanksgiving.

12/20 (I Cor 4, Luke 3 Prepare the way of the Lord) ADVENT 4: Humility.  Fill in the valleys of our weakness, hammer flat the mountains of our pride.  Go to confession.  No room in our hearts to receive Christ on Christmas otherwise.

12/25 (Hebrews 1, John 1 In principio) CHRISTMAS: Why do people fear and hate the message of peace from Christmas?  Wrong ideas on freedom, faith, and love.  True meaning of these.  St. Alphonsus Liguori.  Nice

12/27 (Galatians 4, Luke 2 Presentation) Holy Family: Christ a sign of contradiction for all who do not live like Him.  Simeon and Anna as models of sanctity.

1/1 (Titus 2, Luke 2 Circumcision) THEOTOKOS/Circumcision: Christ submits to the law of circumcision to become one of us (letter to Hebrews).  Sign of baptism.  How to have a happy new year?  Circumcise the heart of vice (St. Ambrose).

1/3 (Acts 4, Luke 2 Circumcision) Holy Name (NOT Epiphany-moved): Power of the Holy Name (Exodus, Jesus), blasphemy, praise God through right use of His name.  St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistrano on IHS missions.  Cool.

1/6 (x, x) Epiphany: went to two masses, NO in morning, EF evening.  Forgot to note them

1/10 (Isaiah 42, Acts 10, Luke 3) Baptism of the Lord NOT TLM: BI Chaplain filling in for Fr. G.  We are adopted into God’s family.  Human dignity-March for Life connection.  Witness to our baptism fearlessly.  Enthusiastic, nice homily.  Obviously works with teenagers.

1/17 (Romans 12, John 2 Cana) March for Life, evil of abortion, list of culture war battles, transition to Mary’s role in John’s gospel as intercessor.  St. Alphonsus quotation on her power as mother-intercessor.  Good homily, good balance of flamethrower and theology.

1/24 (): BLIZZARD OF 2016 Dispensed from Mass by Bishop Loverde.  Watched mass at Basilica on TV; forgot to write down homily.

1/31 (II Cor 11, Luke 8 Sower Parable) Sexagesima: Guest homily by Fr. Scalia. BLA, prayer/fasting/almsgiving

2/7 (I Cor 13, Luke 18 Healing of Blind Man) Quinqagesima: Suffering is good for us.  Materialism cannot see this, only the spiritually-minded.  Suffering purifies.  St. Bernadette.

2/10 (Joel 2, Matthew 6 Fasting) ASH WEDNESDAY: School homily.  Standard prayer-fasting-almsgiving, but with a pretty secular bent.  (try to get to this mass in TLM, it is neat!)

2/14 (II Cor 6, Matthew 4 Temptation) Lent 1: LONG homily on basic sin/original sin/devil catechism, how to respond to temptations, go to confession when we fail.

2/21 (I Thess 4, Matthew 17 Transfiguration) Lent 2: “theological mechanics” of Christ’s transfiguration.  What must we do to be similarly glorified?  Suffer and focus on Christ alone.  Grace transfigures, sin disfigures.  Good structure, nice homily.

2/28 (Ephesians 5, Luke 11 Beelzebub) Lent 3: In contrast to Lent 1, Christ in attack mode vs. Satan.  His victory in every human heart.  How join in?  Union, commitment, vigilance, do will of God like Mary.

3/6 (Galatians 4, John 6) Lent 4/Laetare: Lenten break to rejoice.  Reasons for joy: God provides our natural necessities, involves us in the work of salvation, always multiplies our contributions and exceeds our needs, feeds us in the Eucharist.  Not as much structure to this one, no surprises on content.

3/13 (Hebrews 9 High Priest, John 8 I AM) Passion Sunday: Flu mass—Fr. had no voice, preached a 1 minute meditation on physical vs. spiritual death.  Care for our souls, go to confession, have eternal life.

3/20 () Palm Sunday: BABY.  Communion brought to the home.

3/27 (I Cor 5 new leaven, Mark 16 empty tomb) EASTER: Catechetical homily: life of Christ, all that God did for us.  Daily battle against sin—recall our Baptismal promises, renew each day, receive sacraments

4/3 (I John 5, John 20) Divine Mercy: Two ways God is merciful to us: confession, seeking us out to give us the gift of faith.  Primer and exhortation to confession, two doubters God raised to saints: Thomas and Augustine.  Go to confession, pray for faith!  Good homily.

4/10 (I Peter 2, John 10 Good Shepherd) Easter 2: Follow Christ the Good Shepherd.  Listen to his voice in prayer, scripture, teachings of Church.  Be as close to him as he is to the Father.  Solid.

4/17 (I Peter 2, John 16 A Little While) Easter 3: Continuing the theme of the good shepherd.  Listen to his voice calling us to prepare for the next life.  “A little while and you shall not see me…” etc. is as true for us now as it was for Him then.  Forgot to record this one so the details are fuzzy now.

4/24 (James 1, John 16 Paraclete) Easter 4: Holy Spirit merited by the death of Jesus.  Prepare ourselves for it: pray for grace, cooperate with it, root out sin not just externally but at the deepest levels of soul.  Primer on vices and temptations.

5/1 () Easter 5: St. Joseph the Worker.  Forgot to record.

5/5 (Acts 1, Mark 16) ASCENSION: Missed it

5/8 (I Peter 4, John 15 Paraclete) Post-Ascension: Guest homily by Fr. Tomas (good to see him again!).  Preaching on the mysteries of our faith is harder than the moral component.  Scandal of Holy Spirit mediated by Apostles, Church.  Study theology.  Really nice.

5/15 (Acts 2, John 14) Pentecost: Impassioned homily about burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Calls us to ongoing conversion.  Abandon works of the flesh.  God renews the face of the earth through us.  Renew us.

5/22 (Romans 11, Matthew 28) Trinity: Guest homily.  St. Augustine story, Trinity not an abstraction, practical impact, etc.  Standard Trinity Sunday homily.

5/29 (I Cor 11, John 6) Corpus Christi: Events of Christ’s life not a memory—still living among us in the Eucharist.  Live the Eucharist, unity of faith and works.  How to prepare for Holy Mass.  Nice homily.

6/5 (Ephesians 3, John 19) Sacred Heart: meditation on the 12 promises of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.  Focus on 9 (family enshrinement) and 12 (hour of death).

6/12 (Romans 8, Luke 5 duc in altum): Prayer and humility.  Why did Jesus allow them to work all night and catch nothing?  So they could recognize that without him they can do nothing.  Don’t judge success or failure of prayer.  Just do it.  St. Therese.  Great homily.

6/19 (I Peter 3, Matthew 5) Fortnight for freedom, hostility to Church.  St. Thomas More as father and statesman.  Solid.

And that’s a year!  First mass on 6/28/15, last on 6/19/16.  Interesting to look back at how many times we missed mass or he didn’t preach.  Themes?

American Classics

For a grand total of four dollars I have acquired the complete works of Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain (thanks, Nook!).  I have a lot of reading to do this summer!

Eventually that will mean a few Read More posts as I hack through these fine gentlemen.  As an overview, here’s where I stand with the three.

I’ve read a fair bit of Hawthorne and have always enjoyed him since my first crack at The Scarlet Letter in high school.  My wife has me beat on his short stories, although I’ve read a few.  I’m looking forward to catching up on his other works.

I despise Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  There, I said it.   Continue reading American Classics

Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Gabrina

With Isabel in Cave XII, Flees XIII, Marphisa and Zerbino XX, Hermonides XXI, Pinabel Frame-up XXIII, Death XXIV

Wife of Argaeus of Servia, Archenemy of Hermonides of Holland, Slain by Odoric

Classical Type:

The Evil Queen Bavmorda


Eeeeeevil Woman Hangs Around Way Too Long, Finally Gets Her Due

Summary: Continue reading Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Gabrina

Exile of the Soul

Whenever your consideration wanders from these things to lesser and visible things, whether in search of knowledge or something for practical use, or to do your duty in administration, you go into exile.  You do not do so if your consideration concentrates on these higher things, so that through them it seeks what is above.  To consider in this way is to come home.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Consideration V.1 (Classics of Western Spirituality translation)

toties peregrinatur consideratio tua, quoties ab illis rebus ad ista deflectitur inferiora et visibilia, sive intuenda ad notitiam, sive appetenda ad usum, sive pro officio disponenda vel actitanda.  Si tamen ita versatur in his, ut per haec illa requirat, haud procul exsulat.  Sic considerare repatriare est.

My more slavishly literal translation:

So often does your consideration wander, as often as it is deflected from those matters to things inferior and visible, things to be regarded for notice or to be sought for use or to be disposed or done for your office.  Yet if it [your consideration] so dwells on these [lower] things, so that through them it seeks those [higher things], by no means is it far off in exile.  To so consider is to come home.

St. Bernard: Beatitudes

Quite a while back I posted a few thoughts on the Beatitudes as taught by St. Augustine.  In fulfillment of my vague threat to post on the topic again, let’s look at how St. Bernard of Clairvaux interprets them in De Conversione.

Some Context

St. Bernard addressed On Conversion to a group of potential converts to religious life.  To understand how things unfold, it will help to keep two things in mind:

  1. St. Bernard is the Mellifluous Doctor, which means when his engine gets revved he really takes off.
  2. St. Bernard really hated the worldly corruption of the clergy he saw around him in 12th century France.

His vivid opening sequence flows from this: he personifies Reason and Will as locked in a struggle for control of the Self.   Continue reading St. Bernard: Beatitudes