01 August 2016

The Rather Unextraordinary Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary



By tradition August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the 22 was once celebrated as the feast of her Immaculate Heart before it was moved to correspond with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. The feast thus would have been celebrated as the octave of her Assumption (Aug 15). Scripture connects these feasts, for Christ told us Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be, and Mary’s greatest treasure was the Kingdom of her Son. With her treasure firmly in Heaven, Mary’s human heart—along with the rest of her body—could not but be drawn up by God into the celestial abode.

Even the little insight into Mary’s inner life the Gospels offer reveals untold depths of love for God and a soul loved by God. Mary’s heart is full of grace and perfectly conformed to the will of God: I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. Her heart ever proclaims the greatness of the Lord and exults in God her Savior. The events of her son’s life, she contemplates and treasures always in her heart. At the foot of the cross, her heart was pierced with a sword—as prophesied—when her son’s suffering mystically became her own. Rightly then do we celebrate her most Immaculate Heart and long to imitate it.

But in light of the extraordinary super-nature of her inner life, I want to look at Mary’s quite unextraordinary visible life. 

After spoke her “yes” her “fiat,” how the heavens must have rung with celestial joy; Mary offered the perfect “Thy will be done” to God and the Word became flesh. But what happened next? what was God’s will? Did He draw up for her a Rule for consecrated life? Expect of her countless devotions? Did he ask her to withdraw from the world? Ask her to become a missionary, or start a ministry of service? … Quite unexpectedly, perhaps, No.

Well, then did her life’s expectations drastically alter? Did God ask her to call off the engagement to her beloved Joseph? Ask her to leave family and friends to live an unfamiliar life to prepare for this altogether new perfect God and perfect Man? … Again, No.

After she prayed “Thy will be done” most perfectly … the angel left. Mary went into the world to care for her cousin Elizabeth. She married the man to whom she was already betrothed (after timely intervention and careful explanation from the angel to Joseph). The Flight to Egypt would be tempting to consider extraordinary, but with so many refugees fleeing from war and persecution even today, that experience is sadly more commonplace than we might think. After the return to Nazareth, by all canonical accounts, their life was one most ordinary. Joseph remained a carpenter, and Jesus likely learned the trade at his side. Mary cared for the home and maintained friendships and family ties (it was she, after all, who was invited to the wedding at Cana; Jesus and the disciples were her RSVP’d +13). 

Even when Jesus indicates the crowd to proclaim the faithful his mothers and brothers and sisters, while Mary waited patiently, I don’t find this quite so unusual or saddening as is sometimes presented. All mothers watch their sons move out the home, take up new careers, and begin new families. Mothers do experience some nostalgia at the changes, but their hearts are so much more joyful and proud to see their children grow up, find their place in the world, and build new families.

So the most mystical and contemplative heart outside Jesus’, was so in the everyday life of a quiet, ordinary layperson. And so, too, are most of us to be. Mary’s greatest prayer “Thy will be done” should be the same for us. It is a dangerous prayer, for once God says “okay” to that, everything changes. But as Mary shows us, it’s not that most of us will get called to do great works by earthly standards, but instead called to have great faith living visibly ordinary lives. 

It means to the people who every day annoy us, we must be neighborly; that to the poor in our own cities who before we passed by, we must be merciful and generous with the same wages we made before; that we love our children because they are God’s children first, and we love our spouses because they were God’s love first; that we do our same jobs as an offering to God, and we consecrate the tools of our work and care for the household goods “as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar” (Rule of St Benedict); that we forgive ALL offenses, even and especially the little ones; we bear ALL wrongs patiently when before we might have indulged in some self-justification at being annoyed; we learn to treasure Jesus’ life in our heart by spending time with Scripture. To do these according to God’s will IS a major act of conversion; it is an incredible turning of the heart that the Fathers called metanoia.

It means learning to have a heart like Mary’s. In venerating, celebrating, and imitating her Most Pure Heart we learn what Christ meant when he taught “blessed are the pure in heart.” We learn to bear sacred fruit in our visibly ordinary lives by cultivating our most intimate inner life with God.

12 January 2016

Traditional Monkeys: Received Wisdom and "The Five Monkeys Experiment"


In which the pilgrim wonders at the strange misreading skeptics give a modern fable, pontificates about the discernment and value of Catholic Tradition and traditions, and sings along with Tevye.

The Pilgrim ran across this contemporary fable today:
The Five Monkeys Experiment 
The Five Monkeys experiment with the skeptics' moral
An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder. 
The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys. 
The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him. 
Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him. 
Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed. 
By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas. -Source of this version
The almost universal moral attached to this fable (which is apparently based loosely on a real study) on the sharing sites goes along the lines of "what sad monkeys in the end who don't dare to go after the bananas; the evil scientists killed their ambition and creativity. Ergo, traditions stifle ambition and creativity, are irrational, and the people who follow them are foolish."

But that's not really the lesson at all if you follow the logic of the story. As long as one presumes that the scientists would in fact continue to spray the monkeys with cold water when one attempts the ladder, the tradition holds value and is an example of received wisdom from the monkeys predecessors.

The real moral should be along the lines of:

"Traditions should be given the benefit of the doubt first. Assume that your ancestors passed on these cultural treasures as wisdom that we might avoid dangers and reap benefits. However, not being monkeys, we should ask Why does the tradition exists? If the circumstances of the situation have changed (eg. all the scientists are dead) THEN decide whether the tradition still has value."

This is relevant to pilgrims of all stripes in that it helps us to distinguish, evaluate and respond to both Catholic Traditions and Catholic traditions. Concerning the Traditions, none of the circumstances when the received Wisdom was first given have changed; the big ones being Jesus hasn't returned and His Church is still standing, therefor everything received from Him still stands as is. The Traditions that do allow for scrutiny and logical testing have all held up immaculately (Catholic pun intended).

That being said, there are some Traditions that are there "because God said so" borne of His revelation alone that cannot be tested as to the "why?" (male only ordination would be an example); we can extract some little 't' traditional reasons (eg. Male priests accurately represent the masculinity of Father & Son, specifically the Incarnate Christ), but ultimately the reasons are going to be because Jesus only appointed male apostles when he could have appointed females (guy wasn't exactly afraid of bucking little 't' traditions, himself) and the early Church didn't ordinate women. The condition of His revelation hasn't changed—and God doesn't change his mind—so the Church, like the wise monkeys, will assume there is Wisdom in what has been received until we hear otherwise.

But little 't' traditions do bear scrutiny, evaluation, and discernment. For some of these it is good that we have, and will continue to alter or eliminate them as cultural and historical conditions change. However, even a tradition that arose out of circumstantial conditions does not necessarily lose all value if those circumstances have changed. Traditions big and little "t" have value in that they connect us with our history especially when its a living history like the Church's. Matthew Newsome has made a great argument along these lines for the continued use of historical liturgical languages according the differing rites (Roman = Latin, Byzantine = Greek, etc) for example.

Ultimately, be wary of eliminating or altering 'T'raditions just because they are "old" and be wary of accepting traditions just because they are 't'raditions. Regardless, the tradition will always have a reason, frequently one with still pertinent wisdom, and should be given the benefit of the doubt. Test the Spirits, St Paul tells us, and when it comes to received traditions of the Lord's Church, you'll find they test true.

14 December 2015

Thanksgiving Journal

Gaudete Sunday

I recently read an article about keeping a thanksgiving diary, in which one lists ten things each day that one is thankful for. In my Advent journal yesterday, I wrote I wanted to focus on the virtue of GRATITUDE for the rest of the season. These two ideas seem to be a good fit to this pilgrim.

For

  1. the grace to stand in your presence and minister to you in your sacrament of Eucharist with my wife and son on the Lord's Day
  2. being a member of your parish of St. Lawrence, in Asheville which the Bishop has chosen as a pilgrimage site for the Jubilee Year of Mercy
  3. having found "the zone" in my 3 mile run
  4. the beautiful cool-down walk Jessica and I took afterwards
  5. Sunday breakfasts with my parents
  6. Shelle our realtor who is awesome and patient and a lot of fun
  7. finding a house worth making an offer on, that we might make into our domestic church
  8. lunch with the Vine and running into RCIA folks
  9. Sabbath time with Jessica and naps
  10. great friends with whom to celebrate (congrats, Ryan! on finishing graduate school)
Deo Gratias!

13 August 2015

St. Hippolytus of Rome, priest, martyr


Today is the feast of St. Hippolytus of Rome, who has the dubious distinction of being the first Anti-Pope, but so beloved by both factions that he was quickly raised to the altars after his death as a martyr. His memorial is optional on the Roman calendar, which is a shame, because, first, there is value in celebrating the holiness of a man who divided the Church and then repented to be reconciled with Her, but also because St Hippolytus is attributed with writing what has become probably the most commonly used Eucharistic canon, Eucharistic Prayer II.

 The Anaphora of Hippolytus, which became the basis for the prayer, is found in Chapter IV of The Apostolic Tradition, a work attributed to Hippolytus. The Apostolic Tradition's purpose is a guide to recently ordained bishops, and the prayer is included as a guiding example to these bishops, who were expected to compose their Eucharistic prayers extempore. However, even in its own time, the prayer must have been recognized for its quality, for it became the backbone of most of the major Western Eucharistic prayers, including the Roman Canon which is Hippolytus' Anaphora with centuries of accretions and revisions.

 Just prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Anaphora of Hippolytus had been rediscovered, its significance quickly established, and the text itself praised. As the Council Fathers revised the Mass for the Norvus Ordo and decided to include alternative Eucharistic prayers, the Anaphora of Hippolytus was immediately put forth for inclusion and was subsequently the only text that received unanimous approval. The Anaphora was revised to fit the pattern the Fathers declared proper to the Eucharistic prayer for the Roman Mass. Most notably  §  V of the text (below) which contains the Epiclesis, the prayer for the Holy Spirit's consecration of the gifts, was moved before the Institution Narrative. The Epiclesis was embellished with phrases from the 7th/8th century Gothic Missal; "sending down your Spirit like the dewfall" comes from this source. And the Words of Consecration themselves were revised, in keeping with the idea that the words should be identical across all the Eucharistic Prayers.

 Eucharistic Prayer II is probably frequently used for its brevity (it seems especially popular at Daily Masses), flexibility—with no prescribed Preface, unlike E.IV—and ease of use for the Celebrant because it does have its own Preface (reflected in § I. of Hippolytus' Anaphora) printed with the prayer in the Missal, which means less flipping of pages. But the prayer also has a simplicity and directness that encapsulates the meaning of the Eucharistic Prayer as thanksgiving, sacrifice, and the hopes we hang upon its infinite graces and power. If the Roman Canon represents the full glory and beauty of God's Church, Eucharistic Prayer III the Universal offering of Salvation to Mankind, and IV the full history of salvation, then II is a Eucharistic prayer of humility; stripped of all our posturing and bombast, it is the language God's children--simple fishermen, sinning tax collectors, adulterers and harlots--before the Lord giving thanks that his sacrifice has made us worthy to stand before him and minister to him.

And that's who Hippolytus was, a saint who knew he was a sinner, who longed to serve his God and rose to that occasional when called by some to be Christ's Vicar, stepping down humbly when the Church declared his election an error, who lived a faithful life and died a martyr's death.

Heavenly Father, may your servant remain our protector and guide, worthy of imitation and one who left us with poetry of faith worthy to give you worship, through Christ our Lord. Amen



The Anaphora of Hippolytus of Rome
     All should give the kiss of peace to whoever has become a bishop, honouring the dignity he has received. The deacons should give him the offering, and as he and all the priests extend their hands over it, he offers thanks, saying:
I
                    The Lord be with you.
     All replyAnd with you.

                    Lift up your hearts.
                    We have raised them up to the Lord.

                    Let us give thanks to the Lord.
                    It is right and fitting.

     He continues:
II
                    We give you thanks, O God, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, whom in these days you have sent to save and redeem us, and to show us your will. He is your Word, inseparable from you, through whom everything was made. In your goodness, you sent him from heaven to be a virgin’s son. Conceived in her womb, he took flesh and was revealed as your Son, born of the virgin and the Holy Spirit.

III
                    In carrying out your will, and forming for you a holy people, he stretched out his hands as he suffered, to free from suffering those who had faith in you. When be allowed himself to be given up to suffer, so that he could conquer death and break the bonds of sin in crushing the power of bell, and so lead the just to the light, make a covenant with them and manifest the resurrection, he took bread, and giving thanks to you, said: Take, eat, this is my body, which is broken for you. He did the same with the cup, saying: This is my blood which is poured out for vou. When you do this, do it in memory of me.

IV
Remembering therefore his death and resurrection, we offer you this bread and cup, thanking you for holding us worthy to stand in your presence and to serve you as priests.

V
We ask you to send your Holy Spirit down upon the offerings of your holy Church. Gathering together all those who receive these mysteries, grant that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit, and their faith may thus be strengthened in your truth.

VI
So may we praise and glorify you, through your Son Jesus Christ. Through him be honour and glory to you, the Father, Son, with the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, now and always. Amen.

27 March 2015

Link: Holy Renaissance on the Biblical Foundation of the Papacy

Anglican Decline and Its Biblical Remedy by By Tyler Blanski.

This is really good. It is perhaps the best summary of the Biblical foundation for both Apostolic succession and the primacy of Peter that I've read. At least, I can never recall having been excited to read this topic before, and this was captivating, told with a dramatic flair.
By now my friends—most of them wiser and more learned than myself—are raising their eyebrows. I nervously tap my tobacco pipe and press on.
The argument is well laid out and its basic thread I've read before. But there are bits that just grab me to make me think this over in new ways.
“The New Testament lies hidden in the Old,” wrote St. Augustine, “and the Old is unveiled in the New.” It could also be said that the Church lies hidden in Israel and Israel is unveiled in the Church. Raymond Brown says: “The kingdom established by David was a political institution to be sure, but one with enormous religious attachments (priesthood, temple, sacrifice, prophecy)…. It is the closest Old Testament parallel to the Church.”
 But there are surprises, like the connection of the end of Chapter 9 in Matthew's Gospel and the beginning of Chapter 10 linked to the restoring of the scattered tribes of Israel. The use of the image of Denethor from Lord of the Rings to explain the chamberlain in the Davidic Kingdom, and Peter in the Heavenly Kingdom. And ultimately, what could be considered a dry argument for the papacy becomes no less that submission to our Lord and King.
King Jesus deserves our total obedience. If the Kingdom of God is nothing less than the gathered tribes of Israel then I don’t see how we can justify being out of communion with Christ’s appointed “prime minister,” the keeper of the keys, Peter and his successors. King Jesus deserves our total allegiance. Schism is sin, no matter how eloquent our excuses. To those scattered national churches and independent provinces who remain out of communion with the pope, St. Paul’s question is a challenge: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13).

10 December 2014

The best gift EVER: The Immaculate Conception


Almighty God, Omnipotent and Infinitely Wise, had to choose his Mother. What would you have done, if you had had to choose yours? I think that you and I would have chosen the mother we have, filling her with all graces. That is what God did.
—St. Josemaria Escriva

09 December 2014

Go find roses in the snow!


 St. Juan Diego, oremus!

O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego showed
the love of the most holy Virgin Mary for your people,
grant, through his intercession,
that, by following the counsels our Mother gave at Guadalupe,
we may be ever constant in fulfilling your will.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.