March 12, 2014

Un-Imprimatured Thoughts

Full sun on a Monday afternoon in Cloudumbus - wonders never cease! Sporting near-60 degree temps such that I could wear sunglasses indoors. Pretty stellar for March 10th. I love the way the sun shines in through our huge windows late day thanks to the miracle of Daylight Savings Time. Sun won't set till around 7:30pm now. Love the way the light streams in and illuminates the sharp wood color of the end table and how it catches the colorful red dust jackets of the Little Rock Bible and New Oxford RSV. Nice to finally use my ballpark coasters too, bought years ago somewhere. They depict Wrigley, Fenway, and other famous bastions of ball.

Added some books to the end table swivel case: “Shadow Country”, “Moby Dick”, “Oxford Book of Verse”, Donald Hall's “Seasons”, Wright's “Transfigurations”, Edith Sitwell's “A Book of the Winter”.

(Later, at 5:35: the curse of the fruit of my own hand! The sun is occluded by my own evergreens as planted in 1998.  I wish I'd just put up a fence instead since fences never grow so tall as to obscure that beautiful God-made symbol of God! But the weak March sun is perishable upon impact and one must appreciate the moment.)

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Am ever puzzled by how even spiritual geniuses can seem to get things wrong, such as how Pope John Paul II was a big fan of the discredited Legionaries of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, how no one seems to know if Medjugorje is for real, and how Pope John XXIII seemed a bit too optimistic on the eve of Vatican II when, for example, he wrote rejecting the voices of those “who say that our era in comparison with the past is getting worse.” In 1962 Mass attendance, vocations and marriage were all still pretty much intact.

I know there's no infallibility with these sorts of pronouncements but it's still sort of surprising how easily we can all be mistaken. You see ever more clearly how big the gulf is between God and men of God!

The tough spot the Church seems to be in these days is that over the past century it's tried mercy and it's tried severity (sometimes in the same pontificate - see Pius XII and JP II) and neither approach works too well. As much as I want to believe there's a “Francis effect” there's no empirical data showing that people are going to Mass more or that there's any other discernible impact. But you got to try, just as that boy with a few loaves and few fish had to try. You never know when God might do a miracle, which is what it's going to take to renew the world.

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Matthew chapter 25 seems to say everything and sometimes I read it and wonder what else is there to say? Sheep, goats, God will separate the two so best get busy.  On the other hand, reading Matt 25 you can err in thinking Jesus simply an ethical teacher who provided goals without grace.

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Wanted to show my visiting niece my framed picture of her great-grandpa Ernst in a 1920s-era baseball uniform. Bummed I forgot - wanted to test her and see if she could pick him out of the lineup of six or so players. Odd to think that there is someone in my memory, a family member in our direct line, that is not in her memory bank whatsoever. Odd because I've always been the young person, the one at the end of the family line so to speak.

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George Gissing on his first trip to Rome, diary entry from December 14, 1888, Letters of George Gissing to Members of His Family (London : Constable, 1927) p. 264:
Woke early this morning an enjoyed wonderful happiness of mind. It occurs to me, is this not partly due to the fact that I spend my days solely in the consideration of beautiful things, wholly undisturbed by base necessities and considerations? In any case the experience is most remarkable.
Yes I can often relate to that, especially when on a sea vacation or in a great art museum. It feels like cheating and reminds me of the old 1980s-era book titled When I Relax I Feel Guilty.

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Fred at “Late Papers” has a fine meditation up:
Lent has arrived, the bright sadness. The public confession of many that we are sinners who are going to die. In this case, a smudge on the forehead is not a sign of exclusivity or belonging to a club, but a sign of belonging to the human condition, the communion of sinners I believe PĆ©guy called it.
For adults, Lent begins not so much with liturgy and ashes, but with the hidden, personal and communal act of fasting, a shot across the bow of those of us who are tempted to fall into the reduction to appearances, the reduction to physical needs. An invitation to follow Jesus in affirming the priority of the Mystery who gives life over the means which mediate life to us.
Amen to that, especially about the shot across the bow of those tempted to fall into a reduction to physical needs. Lord knows I'm prey to that such that when Christ says, “is not life more than about food?” I flinch a bit.

Praying the rosary the other day I thought of the usually unfamiliar notion that Christ would've died for me alone, would it have come to that, and indeed he “dies” in a sense for me individually when I consume the Eucharist. I also pictured him thinking, as he carried his cross: “this will prove to people that I love them; they cannot doubt this!” and thus any thoughts of Jesus not loving me, of being disgusted by me (as St. Christina the Astonishing was by the stench of the people at her own funeral), is unworthy and insulting to Him.

Read also a bit of Augustine's “Confessions”. He recalls his former sins of lust not out of love for them, but for Christ, “thinking over the past with bitterness so that You may grow ever sweeter to me.” Well there's a reason he's a saint. I'm always tempted to go over past sins of the flesh for purposes more scandalous, of reliving the moments in the way a ballplayer might savor a game-ending homer.

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From Archbishop Chaput:
Prayer is more than just that portion of the day when we advise God about what we need and what he should do. Real prayer is much closer to listening, and it's intimately tied to obedience. God certainly wants to hear what we need and love and fear, because these things are part of our daily lives, and he loves us. But if we're doing the talking, we can't listen. Note too, that we can't really pray without humility. Why? Because prayer requires us to lift up who we are and everything we experience and possess to God. Pride is too heavy to lift.
Seventh, read. Scripture is the living Word of God. When we read God's Word, we encounter God himself. But there's more: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Georges Bernanos and so many others — these were deeply intelligent and powerful writers whose work nourishes the Christian mind and soul, while also inspiring the imagination. Reading also serves another, simpler purpose: It shuts out the noise that distracts us from fertile reflection. We can't read The Screwtape Letters and take network television seriously at the same time. And that's a very good thing.

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Also picked up a book for $7 called “Lost Books of the Bible”, a compendium of apocrypha from the 1st and 2nd centuries. Nice to have a reference book containing the rejected gospels and letters. Be interesting if I'll be able to tell why they were rejected. The editor of the collection is naturally anti-institutional church (sympathetic to Arius) but does say,
“It the formulation of early church doctrines there was dissension, personal jealousy, intolerance, persecution, bigotry. That ouf of this welter should have arisen the Bible, with its fine inspiration, would seem to present a plausible basis for belief in its Divine origin.”
Which reminds me of how that argument could be used for the Catholic Church given that so many popes and members have tried to unwittingly destroy it via our sometimes poor witness.

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Amazing thing, to see the Creator of the Universe, the power of all things, right before me in a single humble host at Eucharistic Adoration. It's an astonishing sight in its own right, of power made small. The whole world passes by; just four worshipers inside, and here the secret of the world resides. How perfectly like God is this, to hide in plain sight? To want us to find Him in the small and fragile and unremarkable?

Archbishop Chaput writes:
Over the years I've heard from many good people who want a closer relationship with God. But they're stymied by what they perceive as God's silence. What they often mean, without knowing it, is that they'd like God to do something dramatic in their lives; something with a hint of Mt. Sinai that proves his credentials.

But God typically doesn't work that way. He's not in the theater business. God wants to be loved and even in a sense “courted” — which means that we can't be passive partners in the relationship. We need to pursue God as we would the persons we love.

I had an image the other day during the words of institution at Mass, of Jesus blessing and breaking each of us rather than the bread. And yet that's not unlike what He wants to do! We must be broken to live. I was reminded of this when I came across this web comment from a fellow LOGOS user:
I was struck by this from St. Jerome in his commentary on Joel (first reading from today): The heart, like wineskins, does not tear of its own accord: it must be deliberately torn” (Commentarii in Ioelem, 2, 12ff). In the Prayer Over the People at the end of today's Mass we prayed for the gift of compunction, literally that we might be punctured — a concept very close to matanoia. Anyway, it struck me what courage this takes: to ask to be broken open so that Another may begin to heal us by His Mercy! Beautiful!

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Did a Bible study today on Sunday's gospel, starting at Matthew 6:20. It's where Christ asks us not to worry about food or clothing. And yet I always feel like this is a very difficult passage given how many strong Christians have not been taken care of food-wise, i.e. witness the Irish famine. But as one author says, God will take care of you as long as He wants you to remain on Earth, which is to say, He cares for us and it would make no sense to consider God as Creator and not Sustainer.

I read a few commentaries but what really freed me, to some extent, was the limpid prose of Leiva-Merikakis in Fire of Mercy, that magisterial look at the gospel of Matthew. He makes the words of Christ so appealing: While I looked at this particular gospel passage with a “how can this be? how can it be squared with 'reality'?”, Merikakis makes it seem as though Jesus's words were the most sensible and wonderful thing:
“Worldly wisdom in my knowing I know; heavenly wisdom, by contrast, consists in my know that God knows and living in the light of that knowledge.”
“His reference to the birds of the sky really says everything if we read it closely. No creature is more careless and free of movement, and yet no creature is more industrious, than the birds, who sing as they work and "sleep all the night with open eye”, as Chaucer says.
“The 'worrier', the 'over-achiever' who is always calculating losses and gains and providing for the morrow, the person the world considers a 'responsible adult', is here judged by Christ to be wasting his time on trifles, to be throwing away the better part of his energy and talents on a cause without a future. His soul is atrophying from lack of use, choking from incarceration…According to Scripture, the adult in the sight of God is the man who accepts the divine invitation to come to the banquet of grace in order to eat God's bread and drink his wine, while the immature child is the one who prefers to go on eating bland pap, that is, the insipid products of his own efforts.”
He then quotes the Bible, Wisdom 16, concerning the Old Testament manna in the desert:
“You gave them the food of angels, from heaven untiringly providing them bread already prepared, containing every delight, to satisfy every taste.  And the substance you gave showed your sweetness towards your children, for, conforming to the taste of whoever ate it, it transformed itself into what each eater wished.”

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