Monday, January 12, 2015

52 Authors, Week 2:Thomas Howard

 My turn this week.

If you missed last week's entry on Flannery O'Connor, you ought to catch up. Don't miss the comments.


Thursday, January 8, 2015


Rue - Herb of Grace
I've been thinking about resolutions--not about making any, but about resolutions themselves, and why we don't keep them. I should think that the most important foundation for keeping resolutions is that we are resolute, that we have set our hand to the plow and aren't looking back, that we are single-minded. Elizabeth Goudge defines this single-mindedness in her novel, Herb of Grace,
"But I've always thought of single-mindedness as a sort of concentration," said Sally. 
 "Yes. Contraction. Everything gathered in for the giving of yourself. The whole of you. Nothing kept back. No reservations. No loopholes of escape. Like a diver taking the plunge or a man banging the door shut behind him that locks itself so that he can't go back."
"You couldn't do that without repentance," said Sally thoughtfully. "I see that. You'd have to humble yourself before you could let go like that. Pride can't let go...." 
After a while, I started thinking about the etymology of the word resolute, because it's pretty obvious that it comes from the same root as solution. So I found that it comes from the Latin solvere which means to loosen, free up, unbind, melt. For anyone who has studied Greek, it's related to that most regular of Greek verbs λύω.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
resolute (adj.) Look up resolute at early 15c., "dissolved, of loose structure," also "morally lax," from Latin resolutus, past participle of resolvere "untie, unfasten, loose, loosen" (see resolution). Meaning "determined, decided, absolute, final" is from c.1500, especially in resolute answer, a phrase "common in 16th c." [OED]. From 1530s of persons. The notion is of "breaking (something) into parts" as the way to arrive at the truth of it and thus make the final determination (compare resolution). Related: Resolutely; resoluteness.
So after originally signifying looseness, it is now used to mean the opposite, something that is absolutely firm.

I particularly like the notion of breaking something into parts as the way to arrive at the truth of it and thus make the final determination, because it gives us a new way of looking at resolutions. We don't just decide to try again to do the thing which we could never before accomplish. We don't join Weight Watchers or the gym for the 20th time, or invest in nicotine patches or swear to limit our time online. We look--hopefully we prayerfully look--at why all those things have never worked. We try to find the problem behind the problem, to look at it through the lens of repentance and humility, and then we can close those loopholes of escape effectively.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Pope, the Environment and Rex

The confusion about what Pope Francis said, is going to say, and once thought about saying, and what everyone's opinion about what the pope said is, and what everyone's opinion about what the pope said ought to be continues to the point where I just don't read anything about the pope anymore until the dust is well settled. It's gotten to the point that if an angel of light appeared to me and gave me the latest update on the pontiff's pronouncements, I would say, "Oh yeah? Show me that on the Vatican website."

So now the Holy Father is writing an encyclical about the enivronment, and the customary circus of doubt, adulation, criticism, fear, incredulity, statements about how the Church is finally getting it right, and statements about how this is the Great Apostasy predicted in Revelation are in full swing, and I am in my default position of avoidance. But so help me, whenever I see a link to an article about the encyclical, this is all I can think about.
So Rex was sent to Farm Street to Father Mowbray, a priest renowned for his triumphs with obdurate catechumens. After the third interview he came to tea with Lady Marchmain. "Well, how do you find my future son-in-law?" "He's the most difficult convert I have ever met." . . .
 ... I asked him: 'Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said "It's going to rain," would that be bound to happen?' 'Oh, yes, Father.' 'But supposing it didn't?' He thought a moment and said, 'I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.'          Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
 And then there's this. Save us.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I don't want to let the feast of St. Raymond Peñafort pass without mention. If you have a moment to look, I wrote about him a bit here.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Adoration of the Magi Tapestry
Designed by Edward Burne Jones with details by William Morris and John Henry Dearle 

Mysteries seeking the Mystery, 
Following the light but leaving none.
Asking the customary quintet of questions,
But answering none.
Bequeathing us no gift
To illuminate their identity.
We see only their shadows in the light of the Star.

Emissaries to the newborn King
From the myriad banished nations,
Forging a path to the Kingdom
For all of us who lost the way to Eden.

And what each seeker saw is veiled in silence,
Known perhaps not even to himself.
For even in that heavenly illumination
Shadows linger in the corners
To shroud the hidden meaning of the night.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Light on Dark Water: 52 Authors

Throughout 2015, Maclin Horton at Light on Dark Water is hosting a group of us who comment frequently on his blog as we write about 52 authors ranging from E. Nesbit to Étienne Gilson. Those of us who will be writing are as diverse as our chosen authors--the group includes professional writers, university professors, information technologists (is that a real term?) and homeschool moms. Join us for the first week's post on Flannery O'Connor, written by Toby D'Anna here.

A list of the authors to be covered can be found here, although if anyone else is as undecided as I am, it could presumably change.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

But Jesus Remained Silent

In her entry for January 1, 1937, St. Faustina also had a list of exclamatory prayers that she had prayed during the year that had just passed.  I thought it would be nice to follow her schedule, meditating on each of these short prayers all during the month, and praying them several times a day. The first one is a real challenge: But Jesus remained silent.

I can't tell you how many times I tell myself, "Today, you are just going to keep your mouth shut," and how often I find myself shaking my head and saying, "Why couldn't you just keep your stupid mouth shut?" It seems like such a simple thing to do, but it's not. In my case it seems fairly impossible.

There are two fronts on which I seem to be fighting a constant battle in this regard. In the first instance, I will notice that there is something wrong, something that I can easily fix without comment. I tell myself, "Okay, I'm just going to take care of this and not complain." Then, the pressure starts to build. I may successfully reject a couple of temptations to speak, but in the end, it comes blurting out. I may actually succeed at this occasionally, though, because there is usually time to think, and admonish myself and maybe even remember to pray.

In the second case, it's even more difficult. Whatever it is that shouldn't be said just seems to volunteer itself almost without my knowledge or consent, and the worse thing is that these are usually hurtful things. The above World War II poster is a bit of an exaggeration, but there's no denying that we can murder each other bit by bit with little stings and jabs, and these are the kinds of things that I'm talking about. I have found that frequent confession is a help with this and somehow provides a second's grace before the deed is done for me to decide to stop. But the real problem here is that the reason that the little bits of venom spit themselves out is because they're already fairly active in my head. Only cultivation of a kind of inner silence can help with this, and some sort of habitual recourse to prayer, so I'm hoping this January prayer will suffice.

Here is the list for the rest of the year.

January: But Jesus remained silent. 
February: Jesus, I trust in You. 
March: Jesus, enkindle my heart with love.
April: With God, I can do all things. 
May: In His Name is my strength.
June: All for Jesus. 
July: Jesus, rest in my heart. 
August: Jesus, You know…. 
September: Jesus, hide me in Your Heart. 
October: Mary, unite me with Jesus. 
November: O my Jesus, have mercy! 
December: Hail, living Host!


Saturday, January 3, 2015


The Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood is the great pledge, given by the Lord to His Church, for as long as history lasts, of the reunion of form and matter, or spirit and flesh. Put more directly, it presents to us His death, by which He redeemed the world from sin and death and from the ruin brought on by the Fall. The "rebuilding," or reunion, of things from this ruin was inaugurated by God in the Old Testament, manifested at the Incarnation, and will be completed at the Parousia.                                                                              Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough
I've often thought that one of the most glorious aspects of the Eucharist is that feeds both Body and Soul with the same fare. It isn't just an ethereal grace that moves in our souls, but also actual nourishment (small as that may be) for our bodies, material food and drink. Thus it reunites the warring factions of our nature for the heavenly banquet, knitting them more and more, day by day into that unity which is man's origin and destiny.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I love these 17th century paintings in which the grace of the Sacrament illuminates the beauty of creation and endows all these earthy elements with eternal significance. When I was teaching the First Communion class in my parish, I had this one front and center in my classroom so that my students, whose church is very spare, pedestrian, and, in my opinion, ugly, could see the Eucharist surrounded by beauty and mystery.

Host and Chalice with Garlands, Jan de Heem
There is a very nice article explaining the symbolism in this second painting here. I've made the pictures as large as possible within this column. If you click on them (once only) you can see them enlarged.

Allegory of the Eucharist, Alexander Coosemans

PS, Howard wrote the quote above in the early 1980s during his journey from Evangelicalsim to Catholicism. At the time, he was attending an Episcopal church. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

January 1, 1937

Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness. And I will lock myself up in the most merciful Heart of Jesus. I will bear my own suffering in silence. May Your mercy, O Lord, rest upon me.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading St. Faustina's diary every morning while eating breakfast. Yesterday, quite serendipitously (for those of you who believe in serendipity), I found myself at January 1, 1937, and a list of General Exercises that she had set herself for the year, the above quote being one of them.

I've written here several times about being the doorkeeper of the parish where I work. This prayer strikes me as a good one to hang in a prominent place in my office. When I first started working at the church, it was pretty easy to keep in mind that every time I open the door, the person on the other side was Jesus, and that they ought to meet Jesus when I opened the door. I still pray on my way to the door, but as in all efforts to grow in holiness, what I could do enthusiastically at the beginning, has now become routine and all too often my first thought when the doorbell rings (Twice! Why do people ring the bell twice before you can even stand up?) is exasperation that someone is interrupting whatever I happen to be doing at the moment. And I'm afraid that I am attached to an inappropriate desire to shoot the telephone.

Perhaps the hardest promise in this exercise is to " sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness." I more or less know that a certain percentage of the people that come to the door for help are lying to me in some way, and I really hate lying. But to worry about that is a distraction. A person who makes their way through life by lying to other people is likely even more in need of coming face to face with Jesus than someone who comes telling the truth.

So, knowing full well that a great deal of this exercise will be beyond my ability to put into practice, I think I will adopt it as a guide and a prayer for the coming year. It's amazing sometimes how the repetition of a prayer, even when it becomes rote, invokes hidden graces in our lives that produce surprising fruit somewhere down the road.

I think this one exercise will exercise me enough, but in case you are looking for a greater challenge, her entire list is below.

O Most Holy Trinity! As many times as I breathe, as many times as my heart beats, as many times as my blood pulsates through my body, so many thousand times do I want to glorify Your mercy.

I want to be completely transformed into Your mercy and to be Your living reflection, O Lord. May the greatest of all divine attributes, that of Your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbor.

Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors' souls and come to their rescue.

Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbors' needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all.

Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful and filled with good deeds, so that I may do only good to my neighbors and take upon myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks.

Help me, that my feet may be merciful, so that I may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. My true rest is in the service of my neighbor.

Help me, O Lord, that my hart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness. And I will lock myself up in the most merciful Heart of Jesus. I will bear my own suffering in silence. May Your mercy, O Lord, rest upon me.

You Yourself command me to exercise the three degrees of mercy. The first: the act of mercy, of whatever kind. The second: the word of mercy – if I cannot carry out a work of mercy, I will assist by my words. The third: prayer – if I cannot show mercy by deeds or words, I can always do so by prayer. My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach out physically. O my Jesus, transform me into Yourself, for you can do all things

When we read the lives of saints get a glimpse into the way they thought, it's often daunting, a prayer like the one above is a fearsome thing, so I was happy to come across a resolution that St. Faustina makes in another place--I must keep silence outside the time of recreation, and avoid jokes and witty words that make others laugh and break silence. What I love about this is that's it's exactly the problem that I would have in a cloister. I have no problem with keeping silence, I really crave silence most of the time, but I would be very hard-pressed to pass up an opportunity to make people laugh.

And by the way, there is a list of Pope Francis's suggested New Year's Resolutions here. When you compare the two lists, I think you will see that they amount to pretty much the same thing.


Thursday, January 1, 2015


I sat down to write something else, but I kept thinking that I really ought to write something about Mary first. I made myself laugh when I wrote that because I only wrote three blogposts in December and two of them were about Mary and the third was about her mother and how it felt to be Mary's mother. But then, it's Mary's day.

I recently read elsewhere a comment about an article in a national magazine attacking Christianity. Well, of course. Every Christmas and Easter there is something--some archaeological "proof" that Jesus didn't exist or that He wasn't Who we think He is--some tale of the horrors perpetrated by Christians. And it's despicable and unfair, but then, it's just what we are told by the Scriptures to expect. 

The real attack lies in this. If I let myself react and get upset by whatever outrage the media is pushing this year, then the enemy wins. I don't mean the magazine, or the writer, or the media in general, but The Enemy, the one who is behind it all, and who wants me to do anything during this holy season other than move deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation. 

It's hard to imagine that the great Mother of God, Mary most holy, as we call her in the Divine Praises, spent the season of her Son's infancy railing at His opponents. I'm sure that she, like most mothers, spent most of her time intent on the face of her Son, and the Church has set aside these days to remind us to do the same.

That said, I'm not unaware that there are those whose job it is to speak the truth in public about all the disinformation (I am not one of those people.), but it's useless to try and combat evil with hatred, and hysteria and snark. Those who are called to this task will always have to remember that the goal is not to prevail over the other side of which we have become the mirror image, but to set captives free, the key being the love of Christ. This is a task which requires great humility and a constant awareness of our own sin. It is impossible without turning away from the distractions of the world and spending time with our mother, contemplating the beauty of Her Son.