Sunday, March 25, 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
One of the most cited verses from the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John is the one that goes like this: "This teaching is hard."
That's what Jesus's disciples say when he says that they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Then they leave him. Often in Catholic/Protestant debates, this comes up when discussing the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Let us set aside this hard teaching, because there are other hard teachings. People mostly don't think about the Eucharistic teaching because either they take it for granted, believe it and love it, or they don't believe it and don't really care.
It seems that almost every Catholic struggles with one or more of the teachings of the Church, or at least some of the practices of the Church. Does this mean that they have to leave the Church? What does Union with the Church mean? What constitutes heresy?
Now, I can generally give the reasons for practices and teachings of the Church. Does that mean that I don't struggle with them? There are things called emotions and desires. For those who are less familiar with the reasons, the struggles must be much worse.
We are "the Church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, the fools." (Switchfoot) We are always struggle to find our way and often can not. We turn our backs on God because He seems to turn His back on us. We dropout of the Communion of Saints, and yet we know that we must stay. We desire our God, but we want Him on our own terms. We want to hold onto the rope but would rather not climb the mountain.
We think we understand the Mountain. We actually don't. We think we have arrived at a resting point, we think we have finally encountered the Life of God, we have finally reached the top. Then we realize that there is a sheer wall in front of us that is insurmountable. These hard teachings, these calls to do the impossible, to feel the impossible and believe the impossible get in our way to the extent that we just want to stay put without plunging forward.
Obviously we can't do it, which is why we don't want to. Only God can do it, and He wants to. We have to really want to do His will without thinking about our personal preferences. If God or the Church tells us something, we have the duty to listen and the act accordingly. The Church gives lots of leeway when it comes to spirituality, but because it does that, it reserves the authority to judge these spiritualities according to the teachings of Christ.
When we encounter a disconnect between what the Church says and what we want, let us look into the reasons the Church does what she does. Let us try to understand. Let us not be afraid to lose what is ours, for Christ said that anyone who gives up things in this life will be repaid a hundred fold in the next.
Let us not be afraid, as a wise man told the whole Church just 34 years ago.
Posted by Nate at 5:07 AM
One of my favorite hymns of all time is one of the suggested hymns for Night Prayer. It is called "O Radiant Light, O Son Divine" sung to the tune "Jesu Dulcis Memoria." Here is the first verse:
O Radiant Light, O Son DivineOf God the Father's deathless FaceO Image of the Light sublimeThat fills the heavenly dwelling place.
And in my own invented language:
O Nugalu, O VayaluErenvi Leri NivaniZavayaly elis alisenuUlaryae renlae selia
The words are taken from an early Greek manuscript and thus are awesome beyond all belief. Actually, they remind me a lot of the theological symbolism that pervades the Gospel of John. Jesus says that He is the Light of the World. Symbolically, this is very important because the first thing that was created was Light. It is, in fact, our source of life. Without it, we die. Apparently, God's Face itself is light, and the light of His Face is the Son....the Light of the World. In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, this same concept is brought up. Speaking of those who have died: "Welcome them into the light of your face."
The next line, about the Image of the Light Sublime filling the heavenly dwelling place makes me think of huge room that is a diamond and in its center is the Light of God. The light is radiant, filling every corner of the room, and the crystal reflects the light back and lets the light through to fill the whole world. The Diamond is a self sufficient light-filled glorious room which reflects itself upon itself, and would probably be hard to look at without sunglasses (hence the old understanding that looking at the face of God would kill you. It probably would.)
I'd have to get out my notes from my Aquinas class, but I think we talked a little bit about this imagery. It was amazing.
And I think St. Teresa of Avila uses the same imagery in the Interior Castle.
(184 is the hymn number in the Christian Prayer book)
Posted by Nate at 4:47 AM
I'm not quite sure what it is about the Gospel of John, but whatever it is, it rocks.
I've been reading (alongside the daily readings for Mass) the Bread of Life discourse and those passages immediately surrounding it. Here's the reading from yesterday:
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live.
For just as the Father has life in himself,
so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.
And he gave him power to exercise judgment,
because he is the Son of Man.
Do not be amazed at this,
because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out,
those who have done good deeds
to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deedsto the resurrection of condemnation.
St. John's insistence on the idea of the Word is quite interesting. In this case, we hear of the "voice" of the Son of God which brings the dead to life. When God speaks, he speaks His Word, and His voice is life-giving. The Father has life in Himself, and as Jesus says elsewhere, He and the Father are One. God is Life to the fullest and every expression of Him is Life itself. When He speaks, behold Life.
If you recall, this is exactly what happened in Genesis. God has merely to speak and things came to life or came into existence. When Christ says "I make all things new," He truly means that the life which God gave to us through His voice in the beginning will now be renewed once more through His voice, this time physically manifested in the Son, the Word, the Logos.
Posted by Nate at 4:36 AM
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
It must feel great to be ignorant. You don't have to worry about what's actually the case. For instance, say you're speeding down the highway at 90 mph and you think to yourself "I haven't seen a speed limit sign in so long. I have no idea what the speed limit is!" You can safely (haha) continue driving at that speed without worrying about the law.
Or take another example. Say you're water-coloring something and you are ignorant of technique. You can just paint until it looks good with no expectations of greatness.
Or take another example. Say that God demands you to reject your father or your mother or your brother or your sister for His kingdom (He said it would happen, by the way). If you are ignorant of his call, you can just go sweetly about your own business without worrying about anything.
Ignorance is Bliss.
We think we have God all figured out. He said Love and we think we know what that means. He says teach all nations and we think we know how. Fact is, we can find out by reading the Gospels and the New Testament and the Church Fathers and the great Theologians throughout the history of the Church. Or, we can remain in our ignorance and just base our decisions on how good it makes us feel. We might not want to lose a friendship, but God might demand it. What if our soul is in danger because of the friendship? What if our friend's soul is in danger?
What if we misinterpret Christ's words so that they make us feel good. What if we remember the words "Love your enemies" and forget the words "I come not to bring peace but the sword." The admonition to love your enemies is hard, but it sure sounds good. The bringing of the sword sure doesn't.
But ignorance is bliss. If we just forget the hardships and sufferings that accompany this world and shut them out, we can have a happy and blissful existence.
After all, why do a bunch of old celibate men get to decide what Christ meant?
Posted by Nate at 2:18 PM
[Due to the nature of this post, it has been reworked to safeguard Charity in the blogosphere.]
The thing about God is that He's incomprehensible. (I think some use the word "ineffable.") He tends to work in mysterious ways, rarely taking into consideration what our plans are or what we think we want. We pray for things and they don't "come true" as if we told someone our secret childhood wishes. Yes indeed. We do not know what God is thinking.
For me, this is not that big of a problem. Yeah, I don't like it, but it doesn't bother me as much as other things. One of those things is Who God Is. I'm not just talking about his definition or the attributes of his nature according to Thomas Aquinas. I'm talking about how we relate to him.
There are some who enviably have the grace to give the appearance of serene bliss in the presence of God. Some people can be lost in the moment in Adoration in complete and utter worship of our God. I on the other hand have not reached that point.
I try to think of Him as Lover. It is rather difficult for many complicated reasons, some rational, some not. I think of Him as Lord. I want a King to command me in battle, to guard His people and to keep His Kingdom safe here on earth. I don't want my God to be Someone erotic. For many people though, He is that, or something similar. Or He is their Friend. If I could have that grace, as St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Avila did, my life would definitely be better.
Do I want to shake hands with God? Not really. I want to stand at attention before Him awaiting orders. If He chooses to grant me the privilege of receiving Him in the Eucharist, it is an honor, as if my King has chosen me for a special task and has confided in me about something important.
In other words, my Love for God is a Love of Loyalty, not one of Romance. It is not one of Friendship. I do not feel the same type of friendship with God that I understand with other people. Yet of course, I also crave real human friendship and it often seems like what I have is not enough. Of course I am really desiring God. It's just hard for me to put this into practice in my interactions with Him.
This may be a problem. Let me correct that. It is a problem. I may be shutting myself off from a fuller understanding of God. However, it makes me shiver to think of sentimentalistic approaches to God, no matter how valuable they might be. I associate religious paintings using purple and pink and blue pastel colors with superficiality. I am not comfortable with St. Louis de Montfort. Actually, I am not comfortable with the 18th C. in general. This was a time of great spiritual riches and I am blocked from them by my prejudice and emotionalism.
The main problem this presents is one of judgementalism. I tend to judge people who do embrace this sentimental form of worship. My immediate response is "Seriously? You think God appreciates that? You're just doing that to make yourself feel better. You're just doing that to make yourself look pious. You're just..."
And of course that distracts me from worshiping my King.
It's funny how my objection to emotionalism, which is really strong, results in an emotionalism of another kind. Like I have said, I am prone to emotionalism which is why I am so adamantly against it. To a fault.
I don't know if I have to learn to be more sentimental or just to stop judging. Whatever the case, I'm Fed Up with my mind and heart constantly at war with each other and other forms of spirituality which either aren't mine or aren't mine yet.
It's a struggle. Wah wah.
Posted by Nate at 9:55 AM
Monday, March 19, 2012
Back in the day, unless everyone has lied to me all my life, the wife of a knight or a lord or a king would call her husband "My Lord." In later centuries, the wife would call her husband "Mr. [last name]." At some point, the wife would call her husband "dad."
I am not here to make a judgement about these practices. Maybe they are innocuous. Maybe not. Whether or not they are, I want to talk about courtship.
I have always been wary of modern courtship. Maybe it was awesome back in the Middle Ages, but I kind of doubt it was the same then as it is now. With modern courtship comes such practices as 1) the omnipresent chaperone 2) the purity ring 3) the constant involvement of the families etc. Of course not all "models" of courtship follow this pattern, but they all tend in this direction. The father of the girl involved must of course give consent (not only consent but permission). Physical intimacy is something that is avoided out of the fear of a failure of purity. There are codified percentages of time to be spent with the families.
Now I am far from condemning certain practices. For instances, I most certainly am going to inform my future father-in-law of my intention to marry his daughter, though I might do it after I have asked the girl herself and maybe even do it with her. I most certainly want to get to know her family and want her to get to know mine. I will of course try to safeguard my purity and hers to the greatest extent I can.
But that isn't courtship in the proper modern and dare I say it protestant sense. It is just dating with our heads on in the right direction (although really, if we could call THAT courting, I would...cause I like the word courting.) I don't believe that it is necessary for a father to give his daughter a purity ring. I think it is necessary for a father to look out for his daughter and he should give her jewelry but that is not the same. Should a daughter call her father "my Lord?" Should a wife call her husband "my Lord?" Doubtful. Should she have respect for her father's authority and her husbands duty to care for her? Yes.
Do I have a point? Maybe, maybe not. I tend to think that we American Catholics are too puritan/protestant for our own good (which of course means we tend to be American before we are Catholic). Gone are the days of trying to make the American Dream coincide to our call as Catholics. Yes, there are ways to interpret the vision of the Founding Fathers in such a way that it is consistent with Catholicism, but essentially this country was founded on Protestant tenets.
But more than that, I just think we're too influenced by fear. Fear of physical intimacy, fear of the loss of power, fear of the new, fear of the old. We fear so much that the teen years of American Catholics are filled with a tension between the disease of the hedonists and the disease of the puritan which is used to combat it.
Catholic teaching does not say "You shall not let they children date" nor even "You shall not develop a physical relationship in any way before you are 21." It does prohibit fornication and lust. We must avoid these then, but at what price?
I don't know. I'll let you know if I have any more wisdom when I'm actually in a "relationship."
That's another thing I don't like....the word "relationship."
--inspired by CheekyPinkGirl (link to relevant post)
Posted by Nate at 4:01 AM
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Italy, that land of wine and cheese. Italy, that land of mountains and lakes. Italy, that land of music and art. Italy, the land of the birth and rebirth of Western Civilisation, where Kingdoms, Republics, Empires, and Papacies have flourished, fallen and faded almost from memory.
It seems like such an important place. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I could talk a lot about the politics and how much they fail at running a country, but I'm not interested right now in that. I'm interested in a Crisis that isn't particularly political. I recently read a blog post by a famous blogger that mentioned that the US is experiencing some crises. There are, for instance, some situations in the US that aren't quite good, as in the slaughter of innocent children, poverty in our cities and the breaking down of the moral character of our culture. Ok. I understand that. It's probably true. Certainly people I trust believe it. I've been somewhere else for almost an entire school year, but things probably haven't changed.
I've been away though as I said. I've been in Italy, where "the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie." In fact, I was in Napoli very recently, the place where they say that the pizza is particularly good. Maybe it is. I didn't try any.
Napoli is something else though too. It's been on the international radar quite a bit if I'm not mistaken for its garbage problem. Believe me, if Rome is bad, Napoli is worse. The homeless look more homeless, the streets look dirtier, the buildings look like they're in worse shape. In many ways, it looks like the end of a civilisation, which it might well be. But is this the point? Not quite.
We might think we have it bad in the US. Let me tell you, poverty looks worse here. I've walked though Chicago. I've walked through Milwaukee. I've walked through London. I've walked through Brussels. I've walked through Washington D.C. And now I've walked through Napoli and there's no comparison.
I can't tell you what it's like to walk with 47 students through a city full of grime, filth and poverty and all we're there to do is sketch classical details.
Except here's the thing, attached to the church of San Gregorio dei Armeni is a cloister of nuns who take care of 200 children who are displaced for one reason or another, whether poverty or the crimes of their parents. It's all still there. The Church amazingly still works in this city. Secular our society may be, but hope is definitely still there as long as the church is there, for where the Church is, there is Christ who is the hope of all. Can he magically snap his fingers and make all suffering on earth stop? I believe he could, but not without ending the world. The world is so messed up by selfishness, laziness, and sin in general and so people suffer. Then there's "natural" suffering from disease, not the direct consequence of sin. What is the meaning of this? Why does Christ let this happen to these people? A walk through puddles and wet feet is like nothing in comparison. I have to admit I don't understand it and I don't know what I can do about it.
I certainly would do something if I could.
But here I am, in the land of low key fascism and low key communism, monarchies and republics, the Mob and the mob and throughout all this, the poor and dirty shine through, trying to reflect the Sun as only they can...if only we will see it.
Posted by Nate at 10:33 AM
Friday, March 2, 2012
I've been getting up at 6.oo every morning to go to the Station Churches. The Station Churches, for those of you who don't know, are a series of churches that the Pope would traditionally visit every day of Lent, saying a Mass at each one. Today, the church was Santi Apostoli (also known as I Dodici Apostoli) and the psalm was one of my favorites:130/129. "Out of the depths have I cried to you oh, Lord!"
One of the lines that always strikes me and struck me even more forcefully today was the line "My soul waits for the Lord/more than sentinels wait for the dawn." I often feel like one of those sentinels, coming to a church early in the morning, waking up nearly at dawn, and awaiting the coming of my God in physical and spiritual communion.
Part of this waiting is looking forward to the coming of the Lord. We want the arrival of the dawn (except when we're in bed) and welcome the light.
Christ is our light, he is our dawn. We have no need of light or lamp or sun because He is our light.
But are we ready? When the light comes, will we be asleep? Yes, Jesus exhorted his followers to stay awake, and St. Peter tells us to stay "sober and alert" to protect against attacks of the devil, but is staying awake all that is necessary?
The first reading was about the difference in what happens to the righteous man who falls to sin and the sinner who turns to righteousness. Obviously, the latter's life turns out better. What I find interesting is that Ezekiel uses a very particular wording. He speaks of the virtuous man turning away from virtue. I often use this imagery when discussing damnation because it makes a lot of sense to me. Since God would, nay could never actively will the eternal suffering of someone, it is because we turn from him and choose another path, the path of sin that we run from him and suffer damnation. The Burning Love of God has been rejected and is felt as the Fires of Hell. Then again, when the sinful man turns to face God, he encounters the Love of God as it is supposed to be encountered, face on. Which reminds me, one of the best moments of the Roman Canon in the new translation is when it mentions the "serene and kindly countenance" of God. The Face of God is something to be desired for it is the meaning of Peace and Love.
And then in the Gospel, Christ tells us (and his disciples at the time) that in order to be received into the Kingdom, we must be more righteous than the Pharisees. Now we all know how Christ thinks of the Pharisees--they're hypocrites only fit for hell, right? Maybe so, but he's not just being snarky. He's challenging his followers here, and if it's a challenge, that must mean that the Pharisees actually are to be emulated. Elsewhere Christ says to do what they say, not what they do, or something like that. It's the same idea. The Pharisees were righteous, but they damned themselves by turning away onto the path of Pride. What Christ is saying to his disciples and to us is "You may not be righteous, but turn to the path of righteousness...the same path that the Pharisees were on."
Lastly, Christ tells us that if we do not have everything settled with our neighbor, we must settle that before coming to the Altar to offer our sacrifice. Our sacrifice of course is His Sacrifice and it is completed here in earth in our reception of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. This of course means that if we have sinned against our neighbor, we should not present ourselves for Holy Communion. Of course, as we know, venial sins are forgiven through a worthy reception of Communion, so we are talking grave sins. We are in fact talking about when he have actually turned our back on God. Imagine being presented to some important person, say a King or something and instead of facing him and honoring him, you turn your back on him. Obviously you are not ready to receive him and he will not receive you because you have turned against him. So it is with Christ the King. We must turn back to the path of virtue and then present ourselves in humility to receive our King in our sacrifice on the Altar.
Posted by Nate at 6:09 AM