Friday, May 27, 2011

Apostle of England

Today is the memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury. I have had a certain attraction to him since I first heard about six years ago. In my head I constantly get him confused with Anselm of Canterbury, the turn of the millennium French Benedictine who later took took the see Augustine founded. Augustine, a lat sixth century Benedictine, was sent to England from Rome by Pope St. Gregory the Great. Augustine initialized what would later become missionary monasticism, wherein the missions of the Church, which we usually connect with the mendicant orders and the Jesuits, were led by monks. St. Columban was an Irish monk who led the missionary monasticism from the north of the island. Augustine led from the south. Together they recoverted Scotland, England, and Whales, which was lost to paganism after the fall of Rome in 414. Augustine is known as the apostle of England, and indeed, he very much aided in bring Christianity back to the country. His see became the premier see in England, despite the largeness of London. It was held by such notable saints as Anselm and Thomas â Becket.

England is now experiencing what it experienced nearly 1500 years ago, a return to the Catholic faith. The pope no longer sent a missionary to till the soil, water the crops, and reap. He was the missionary. I have a great love for that island my ancestry leads there. It is on the brink of overcoming the hubris of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, a nearly 500 year project.

St. Augustine of Cantuerbury, pray for your beloved England, that whole and entire she may return to the fold.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ordination: Not of this World

I have been waiting, preparing, myself for years now.  Studying.  Practicing.  Praying.  Failing.  Winning.

I come now to the precipice of Ordination (only a day away).  What a mysterious word, "ordination."  It holds people in awe.  It captures minds, but is somewhat unimaginable.  What can be put together from previous experiences to imagine, "ordination?"  It is experienced, at most, three times a year, here in New Orleans.  That allows for only a limited amount of people to witness such a mysterious event.

It is unique.  Men prostrate themselves.  The bishop lays hands on each head as if he is washing the men's hair.  Long prayers are said.  Levi is mentioned, and all think ... denim ... and not the priestly tribe.  Things like "pray for us" are sung over and over and over again like a broken record playing simultaneously with a working record.  A man dresses another man in front of a whole bunch of people.  Then, there's a line of men greeting, hugging, the men who have just gone through the awkward obstacle course of movements.

Ordinations seem so foreign to worldly sentiments and sense because they, indeed, transcend sentiment and sense.  The supernatural is active.  The prostration shows these men are dying to themselves and to the world, during which time the heavens are stormed with prayers for these men, beseeching those nearest the heavenly throne, to intercede on these men's behalf.  At the laying on of heands, the man's soul is marked as a priest of Jesus Christ, for me a servant, diakona, as Jesus Christ (think washing of the feet).  His being takes on a new dimension.  He is clothed with new garments showing that He is being clothed with Christ, as Christ.  He is now in a singular group who welcome him into this gift of a community.

Am I prepared?  Because of my finiteness and my inheritance of the tendency towards sin, never totally. Am I ready?  Yes.

Please pray for all the men throughout the world who will be ordained deacons and priests in the coming months.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Confession and the New Evangelization, or How to Follow the Lives of the Saints

To say we get a great number of hits on this humble blog would be to flat out lie.  A small is fine with us because the joy of writing and writing about reading is consolation enough.  I must say, though, there is a post that stands above and beyond all other posts in our stats.  The next closest post is 842 views behind.  This post isn't even of our writing per se (don't worry, no plagiarists here) which is very humbling.  It is a copy of the novena to St. Jean-Marie Vianney, patron saint of priest.  I had posted it specifically for the Year of the Priest promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI nearly three years ago.  The constant stream of views of this novena is no small testament to the great devotion there is to this simple saint.  Of our writership, one is a priest, one soon will be, I will soon be a transitional deacon, and the three others are former seminarians/religious.  We all hold a devotion to this great Christian and singular priest.

This devotion, for me, has grown over the last year and a half as I have been reading the Curé d'Ars' standard biography, The Curé d'Ars: St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney by Abbé François Trochu.  While in minor seminary, I saw guys carrying around this large volume, 627 pages (when the life of a saint rivals the size of entire volume of Butler's, it is large).  It was in nearly even room except my own.  It was recommended to me by many of my confreres, but, due to my obstinence and God's use of that for His providence, I had not yet taken up this tome for the first seven and a half years of my seminary career.  It entered my shelves at the behest of Bl. John Paul II from his book remembering his 50 years of priesthood, Gift and Mystery.  On All Saints Day 2009, upon the recommendation of the spiritual director of the seminary, I began a regular reading of the life of a saint.  I began with the life of the Florentine St. Philip Neri, who is the patron of the parish of my childhood.  After him it only seemed appropriate, being still in the year of the priest, to begin the life of the patron saint of priest.  Abbé Trochu had the great gift of having the process for Vianney's canonization as his primary research material.  Through it he wished to give an accurate and still thoroughly pious representation of the life of this beloved French priest.

I could dwell on his extreme asceticism, or his miracles, or his holy gifts of reading souls of the living and conversing with the souls of the dead.  No.  There were four things that struck me about this man, and of which, I wish to imitate during my future life as a priest of Jesus Christ:

  1. his devotion to the Eucharist
  2. his devotion to the Blessed Mother
  3. his humility
  4. his tireless work in the confessional
This final virtue also struck me when I read the life of St. Philip Neri.  The "new evangelization" in Rome after the ridiculous frivolity of the late Middle Ages was done by Philip Neri in the confessional.  After the French Revolution, the religion of reason, and the Napoleonic Wars that led France to a committed atheism, it was the work of St. Jean Vianney in the confessional that brought the French back to their knees in prayer to God most high.  I am firmly convinced that in our current age of secularism and practical hedonism what is needed to bring Christians back to their faith is the confessional.  Rae Jericho had written a post about this topic a week or two ago.  Rae, this is my response.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Undead and the Resurrection

Tonight I say amongst the dead.  Daylight was moving to some other part of the world.  Accompanied by headstones and bones, I prayed.  Up above, in place of the sun, was crescent moon surrounded by a slowly fading dark blue reminiscent of a Marian apparition yet to have occurred.  Around me flickered fireflies, light up the dusk left by the departing sun.  I say on a bench beneath a tree to spend some time in prayer with the dead.

Suddenly, an image flickered in my imagination, a memory, certainly brought on by the graves before me.  Corpses were rising from their places of rest to grab at the feet of the protagonists of a zombie film I had watched some weeks earlier.  These particular corpses desire the consumption of human flesh, indeed a rather morbid desire, but, then again, they are dead.  Still in prayer, for better or for worse, I began to reflect on the recent fascination with zombies, not only in film, but in novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and in normal conversation (as normal as conversation about the zombie apocalypse can be).

Why such a fascination?  Of course, there are different genre of dead alive compared to vampires, and vampires, especially their love lives, are big right now.  Still, why zombies?  I would venture to guess it is because there is a cultural fear of death that the, through the use of human imagination, is personified by those who are already dead but are no longer resting in peace.  Does this personification help us cope with the inevitability of death?  Does it ease our minds by playing with the prospect that one day our soulless bodies might be feasting on human flesh?  I think it puts the fear of death before us and, in a sense, mocks it, while still recognizing it can only mock and never allay that fear.

Death has no reason to be feared though.  It has been destroyed by the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Death, and therefore, zombies, have no power over us, who have been given the gift of entering through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Zombies, although maybe not intentionally, mock Christ's Resurrection, which in mocks our promised resurrection.  Zombies 'rise' decrepit, corrupted, and lustfully desiring flesh.  When we rise from our graves, we will have glorified bodies with the beauty of God shining through our flesh, desiring nothing but the glory of God.

Zombies have the place in popular fiction.  As Christians, Zombies can provide for us a reflection on our fear of death and on our future Resurrection.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pride of the Pocket Protector

Are we ever really prepared for every situation?  I know the Boy Scouts wish to purport this fallacy of being perpetually prepared.  I am not prepared to battle a bear or speak to an angry Italian woman about her poor cooking.  That isn't to say I can't, at this moment, begin battling a bear or speaking to said Italian woman.  I am just have never prepared for said situations.  Preparation, in some instances, flows from the pride of the individual instead of the end the of the preparation.  In other words, they convince themselves that through proper preparation they have power over the situation.

Take, for instance, a man who always has a pen on his person.  He is prepared to take down a quick note on a napkin or sign a check or lend the pen to some damsel in distress who, in the largeness of her purse, has indeed not packed a pen.  He is now labelled as the prepared man with the pen, always handy, always ready with the writing utensil.  He takes pride in this position of preparedness and can easily be enslaved under the assumption that his preparedness is the end of his actions.  He begins to be more prepared, say with a pencil as well, just in case he or the borrower makes a calligraphic mistake and needs to erase.  He then begins to carry ink pens that vary in color so as to suit the needs at the time, red for correction, blue to break the monotony of black, green to break the monotony of blue and black which reminds him of bruises, ad nauseam.  Before long, his breast pocket needs a protector in case ink leaks out of one of the baker's dozen writing instruments housed therein.  He is surely prepared, but, in the process, he not only looses fashion savvy but a sense of simplicity and humility, as well.

Preparedness requires humility, without it one begins to wear a pocket protector.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Visitation: The Revelation of Humanity at Conception

"In those days Mary arose and went with haste, into the hill country to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filed with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?'  For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." - Luke 1:39-45

This might seem a bit out of place in the liturgical calendar, being that we are in Easter and not in Advent, but bear with me.  I have been reading Dr. Edward Sri's book
Dawn of the Messiah which goes through the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew.  As we got to the above passage, Sri writes
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth has prophetic insight into the uniqueness of Mary's motherhood.  Not only does she realize that Mary is pregnant, but she understands hat Mary has become the mother of Israel's Messiah.  In awe over the mystery taking place in Mary's womb, Elizabeth, in extraordinary fashion, honors her younger kinswoman and acknowledges her as the 'mother of my Lord' and 'blessed ... among women.' (emphasis added)
As I was reading, some struck me like an anvil on my foot.  Elizabeth recognized the baby in Mary's womb.  Of course, most would be, like, duh, Kyle, of course.  Think about it though.  Mary was told that she would conceive and bear a son; this would occur when the Holy Spirit would overshadow her.  We understand this as occurring at the Annunciation.  Then it says, "In those days Mary arose and went with haste."  Another way to translate the Greek would "at that time" or even "on that day."  In any way, she left Nazareth soon after conception.  Being that Elizabeth lived in a town of Judah, Mary lived about 60 miles from her older cousin.  That would account for a few days travel.  At most, then, Mary was a few weeks pregnant when she arrived at the house Elizabeth.  She probably wasn't even showing, at least not enough for anyone to notice that she was pregnant, and yet, Elizabeth cries out in full faith, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb!  Who am I that the mother of my Lord."  Notice she doesn't say the one to be the mother of my Lord.  She speaks in the present tense.  

Fetus at Four Weeks
What does this have to do with anything?  Well, Jesus was just a few weeks old.  No more than about the size the fetus to the right.  And yet, both the child in Elizabeth's womb, who is not even cogent and reasoning yet, and Elizabeth herself recognize that the human nature and the divine person are present in their midst.  There is no questioning whether this is a human life or not.  There is no question whether the mass of tissue is worth anything.  It is worth everything.  This verse implicitly supports human life from conception on.  There would be no reason to give praise over a bunch of cells.  No, this was a divine person united to a human nature manifesting himself as Son of God and Son of Mary before there was little to no brain tissue.