Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Men and Women

In Christianity on June 29, 2009 at 4:24 pm

God uses us—men and women—with our failings, as well as our virtues.

What an encouragement!  I was reminded of this while reading Frank Sheed’sCatholic Evidence Training Outlines.  This book can be difficult to find, but is worth searching out. will often turn up a copy.

In his outlines Sheed points out the extraordinary nature of the Four Evangelists (pp. 48-49), Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Ambition, cowardice, divine calling, courage—all of this and more can be seen in their lives. The same is true of other Old and New Testament men and women.

This should be encouraging when the lives of prominent men and women show the effects of the Fall; the consequences of being so desperately human.  But we—and they—can rise above that in Christ, God be thanked!  When we fall, we have God’s promise: “I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be” (Amos 9:11).   We have the Sacraments and the riches of confession and absolution. We can then claim, with the Psalmist: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17).

We err if we think of biblical figures as mythical.  We also err if we see them as mystical—real enough, but chronicled primarily as types and illustrations. No! See them in their flesh and blood. Feel their desires! Walk in their shoes. Know, as Saint Paul declares, that their lives are chronicled in the scriptures because “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (italics mine, Romans 15:4).¹

Hope.  Hope in God.  Look up, stand up, and get going!  That is Christianity Richly!

¹ For this line of thought about how we see men and women in scripture, I am indebted to Bible Characters from the Old and New Testaments, by Alexander Whyte (his chapter on Samson). I acquired this book before entering the Church. As as a minister in the Free Church of Scotland in the late 19th century, Whyte was not sympathetic toward Catholics. But his mediations on biblical figures are vivid and often helpful.

Sons of the Church

In Catholic, Christianity on June 28, 2009 at 2:38 pm

One of the great riches of the Catholic Church is the Liturgy of the Hours. The Hours are the ongoing prayer of the Church; “praying always,” Ephesians 6:18.  In praying The Hours—particularly (for me) “Lauds” or Morning Prayer—one finds encouragement for the day, as well as constant help by which we can praise our gracious God.

Thus it was no surprise, but rather, a case of the ongoing blessing The Hours offer, when I encountered the phrase “sons of the Church” yesterday. The phrase appeared in a quotation from Hesychius prefacing Psalm 149.  What a powerful phrase!  The phrase would mean nothing, of course, if the Church were not Christ; if being in the Church did not mean being in Christ—saved by Him, in Him, for Him.

But the fact that the Church is Jesus Christ’s and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) is what make this phrase, this title, and this honor so powerful. Meditate on it today!  See yourself welcomed by Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church: “So now in His eyes I have become one to be welcomed” (Song 8:10b).  See yourself having access to His Church, through His love: “I, through the greatness of Your love, have access to Your house” (Psalm 5:7/8).

“Sons of the Church.”  Christianity Richly!

The Reality of It All

In Catholic, Christianity on June 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

While traveling in Italy near Montalcino, a group of us visited Abbazia di Sant’Antimo (Abbey of San Antimo). Even our non-religious friends immediately sensed and were silenced by a Presence in the Abbey.

Catholic Christians know, of course, that Christ is present. The Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle is The Real Presence of Christ.  Our church buildings are not simply halls where believers assemble for fellowship and teaching.  We come to worship Our Lord; we come to be near Him; we come to pray, knowing that Matthew 28:20 (“I am with you always”) was inspired to communicate a much more profound truth than than that Christ is simply with us “spiritually.” The reality of it all! What joy; what richness.

After a difficult business meeting recently, I drove directly to church. Stepping into the silence, I touched my finger to the font, remembering my baptismal promises. I made the sign of the cross. I entered another world: my Lord’s house. “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

After a gesture of reverence and humility, I was able to kneel in the presence of my God. “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). I touched the cool stone floor—it’s realness and solidity, a comfort. I gazed upon the strength of the ox under the pulpit, representing the third evangelist, but also speaking to the strength of Our Lord; of His sacrifice. “I think of the sacrificer in Leviticus who was charged with providing the high priest with the blood which he was to take behind the veil.”¹ I meditated upon Christ on the cross, pictured in the altar window. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

And I prayed. I gave thanks for what had been accomplished that day. “Bless the work we have begun, make good its defects, and let us finish it in a way that pleases you” (Liturgy of the Hours, Daytime Prayer, Wednesday Midday). Real life. Real meetings. Real Presence. Real prayer.

God be thanked for the reality of it all! Christianity Richly, so very richly!

¹ Paul Claudel, A Poet Before the Cross, p.221.  Claudel’s book, translated into English by Wallace Fowlie (Henry Regnery Company, 1958), can be difficult to obtain. But is a treasure for the contemplative, prayerful Christian—or one who desires to be.  Search periodically, if interested. Claudel’s mediations (first suggested through a reading in Magnificat) have left a lasting, positive mark on my worship of Christ and my desire for time alone with Our Lord in His house.

Ender and Ignatius

In Christianity on June 1, 2009 at 8:53 am

Good fiction illuminates life—showing us reality from a vantage point outside ourselves. Some years ago a friend suggested Orson Scott Card’s science fiction work, Ender’s Game. I don’t often read science fiction, but respect for my friend encouraged me to take a look.

The protagonist of the book is a boy named Ender Wiggin, who is being trained to lead the human race in battle against an invasion of insect-like creatures. Ender’s training is accomplished through what appear to be a series of games, albeit increasingly difficult, very demanding games. But don’t be put off by the plot summary, which makes the book sound like “the synopsis for a grade-Z, made for television” movie, as a reviewer for the New York Times wrote.

The novel can be interpreted in various ways, and has been. But the overwhelmingly clear point—even reading the book as a simple narrative—is Ender’s utter exhaustion. At each level, the difficulty of the game increases and there is no one to whom Ender can turn for help.  He is opposed by other boys and driven endlessly by the battle school commander.

Exhaustion. Every task gets harder and there is no one who can help. Have you had those feelings? Most of us have, despite the fact we serve a loving God; despite our Savior telling us we should cast all our worries upon Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7); despite the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is called the Comforter, Helper, or Advocate, depending on which English translation one reads.

What does this have to do with Ignatius?  The chapters on spiritual desolation, in Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living, perfectly describe Ender’s exhaustion, as well as circumstances in which many of us find ourselves. Marked by “disquietude and discouragement,” we feel “totally slothful, tepid,” overcome by a “heaviness that instills sadness and depletes energy for living.”¹ Gallagher, a skilled retreat leader, points out that even if these feelings have a physical or psychological (i.e., nonspiritual) cause, “nonspiritual desolation is frequently a springboard for spiritual desolation.”²

This brief post can’t include all the wonderful helps to overcoming spiritual desolation that Fr. Gallagher draws from Ignatius’ “Rules,” but two points are important:  first, God gives spiritual consolation; the enemy imposes spiritual desolation.  Second, “thoughts that arise from spiritual consolation are to be accepted; those that come from spiritual desolation are to be rejected.”³

Today I woke up feeling like Ender. Graced guidance from St. Ignatius and Fr. Gallagher’s book changed my day. If you are struggling, remember that you are not alone! There is Someone to help. God loves you; Fr. Gallagher’s book can help you.

St. Ignatius, pray for us. Trinitarian love, descend upon us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Community of saints, embrace us. Christianity Richly!

¹ Gallagher, p. 60
² p. 61
³ p. 70