Friday, May 30, 2014

Increase your Catholic wordpower - the Virtue of Faith

"The Virtue of Faith,"  Piero del Pollaiolo 1469-70 AD

According to the Modern Catholic Dictionary compiled by our patron, Fr. John Hardon, SJ, the virtue of faith is:

 "[t]he infused theological virtue whereby a person is enabled to “believe that what God has revealed is true – not because its intrinsic truth is seen with the rational light of reason – but because of the authority of God who reveals it, of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”'

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this mean that the virtue of faith is opposed to reason?"

I'm going to go ahead and correct you, since you're wrong.   As St. Alphonsus Liguori notes, "[t]he mysteries of holy faith are not in opposition to reason, but they transcend its power of comprehension.. . . . "Faith," say St. Augustine, "is characteristic not of the proud but of the humble."

"So, it sounds like all you have to do is believe what God has revealed, and then you're done.  At least I'm right about that, right?"

No again, since as St. Alphonsus Liguori also notes, "[t]o be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God, it is not enough merely to believe all that our holy faith teaches us; we must, moreover, regulate our life in accordance with our belief.  Pico of Mirandola says: It is certainly great folly not to wish to believe the Gospel of Christ; but it would be greater folly still to believe it and to live as if you did not believe it."

"Okay, but a life in harmony with the precepts of our holy faith doesn't sound fun.  Is it?

Yes, it is.  In fact, it's much, much better than fun, as St. Alphonsus Liguori writes:

"Ask those who lead a life of faith if the renunciation of this word's goods makes them sad!  Visit the holy Anchorite Paul in his grotto, St. Francis of Assisi on Mount Alverno, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi in her convent and ask them if they miss the joys and pleasures of this earth!  They will answer without hesitation: No, no; we desire but God alone and nothing else."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Perfect Day for Manhattanhenge

Manhattanhenge as seen from W. 34th Street

Twice a year the sun sets in line with the streets of Manhattan, so that both sides of the street are illuminated by the setting sun.   Tonight is one of those nights.   This may happen in other towns also, but since these towns are not Manhattan no one pays attention.  It even happened in Manhattan for a long time before anyone paid attention.

Watching Manhattanhenge is currently free, so watch all you want. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Name that Chapel - Charlemagne's Chapel at Aachen

 Altar panel depicting the four most precious relics of Charlemagne's Chapel at Aachen

This chapel was built by Charlemagne and consecrated in 805 AD by Pope Leo III, the same pope who had crowned Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor five years before.   Charlemagne had visited an old Roman bath built over hot springs nearby, and liked it so much he decided to make this town in the Rhine valley his capital.   The richly decorated chapel is considered a masterpiece of Carolingian architecture, as well as an engineering marvel, as it was the tallest building to be built in Europe for many centuries.  Charlemagne is buried here, and his successors were crowned here for 600 years.

This is a very good year to visit Charlemagne's chapel for two big reasons.  2014 is the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne's death, and there are lots of exhibitions in town to celebrate Charlemagne and Carolingian culture.  More importantly, 2014 is a "Heiligtumsfahrt" year.  Every seven years, the Cathedral which was built around Charlemagne's chapel takes its four most precious relics out of their reliquary for display.  This practice has been carried on for nearly 700 years, and from the beginning many people have been making a "Heiligtumsfahrt" or "holy pilgrimage" to view them.  The relics are the robe of Mary, the swaddling cloth of Jesus, the beheading cloth of St. John the Baptist, and Jesus' loincloth.  The holy relics will be displayed this year from June 20 - June 29.

If you go, please send me a postcard.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fr. William Doyle, SJ, who fell at Ypres

Ypres in 1917

For Memorial Day, "Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit" has this letter from Fr. William Doyle, SJ to his 86 year old father written a few days before Fr. Doyle was killed during the Fourth Battle of Ypres in 1917.  Fr. Doyle was chaplain to the 16th Irish Division.

An excerpt:

August 10th.—A sad morning, as many men came in dreadfully wounded. One man was the bravest I ever met. He was in dreadful agony, for both legs had been blown off at the knee ; but never a complaint fell from his lips, even while they dressed his wounds, and he tried to make light of his injuries. . . . The Extreme Unction, as I have noticed time and again, eased even his bodily pain : "I am much better now and easier—God bless you !" as I left him to attend a dying man.

British and Imperial soldiers passed through the Menin Gate in great numbers on their way to the Ypres salient, a low-lying, muddy bulge in the British line exposed to German fire from higher ground on three sides.   300,000 British and Imperial soldiers would be killed there.   After the war a memorial was built at the Menin Gate, and on its arches are inscribed the names of 55,000 of these soldiers whose remains were never found, having been blasted to bits by the endless rain of shells.   The memorial also has a short inscription written by Rudyard Kipling which begins with the Latin phrase "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" ("To the greater glory of God").   By coincidence, that is the motto of the Society of Jesus, the religious order to which Fr. Doyle belonged.

Some found the Menin Gate memorial obscene.  In his poem, "On Passing the New Menin Gate" Siegfried Sassoon claims that the dead of the Ypres Salient would "deride this sepulchre of crime". Stefan Zweig, the Austrian writer, by contrast, applauded the simplicity of the memorial, calling it "more impressive than any triumphal arch or monument to victory that I have ever seen."    Perhaps even Sassoon would agree that the 300,000 lives which were sacrificed at Ypres for 24 square kilometers of boggy ground deserved a monument of some kind for having "struggled in the slime."  If not the dignified, simple memorial built by the Empire for which they died, then what?

Perhaps Fr. Doyle had begun the fittest memorial, on the battlefield itself, in the midst of the fight, when he celebrated the sacrifice of the Mass on an altar of boxes he had built himself.   As Fr. Doyle wrote to his father: "I had to be both priest and acolyte, and, in a way, I was not sorry. I could not stand up, so I was able for once to offer the Holy Sacrifice on my knees. It is strange that out here a desire I have long cherished should be gratified —namely, to be able to celebrate alone, taking as much time as I wished, and not inconveniencing anyone."

Friday, May 23, 2014

What will heaven be like?

 "Song of Songs,"  Marc Chagall 1960 AD

Here is a description of what heaven will be like from St. Alphonsus Liguori:

Heaven "is that mutual communication or surrender of which the spouse in the Canticle speaks when she says: "My beloved is mine and I am his." (Cant. 2:16).  In Heaven the soul gives itself entirely to God and God gives Himself entirely to the soul, as far as its capacity and merits will allow."

St. Ambrose says, “For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.”

Though neither saint specifically mentions beer, heaven still sounds very appealing.

St. Brigid's idea of heaven does include beer - lots of it.

St. Brigid saw a lake of beer in heaven.   Does Psalm 45: 5 refer to a heavenly river of beer?

The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"You fight harder for the lost causes than for any others"

St. Rita's tomb containing her incorrupt body, Basilica of St. Rita, Cascia

That's a line from Frank Capras' s movie "Mr Smith Goes to Washington," which, despite its greatness, is intelligible to most people today only as a quaint testament from a vanished civilization.   Lost causes no longer fire the imagination the way they used to do.   Lost causes are a lot like impossible causes, which I mention because the title "Patroness of Impossible Causes" was bestowed upon today's saint, St. Rita of Cascia (1381 AD - 1457 AD) at her canonization by Pope Leo XIII.  Pope Leo had good reason for bestowing this title upon St. Rita, since in her life St. Rita achieved the impossible over and over again.

Though St. Rita wanted to enter a convent of religious sisters, her parents instead arranged for St. Rita to marry a nobleman named Paolo Mancini.  St. Rita was 12 years old at the time, and she gave birth to her first child at that same age.  Paolo was a fiery tempered, violent man with many enemies, who was engaged in a vendetta against a family called the Chiquis.  Paolo was also an unfaithful husband, who hit and insulted St. Rita.  Nevertheless, through her humility and patience, after many years St. Rita succeeded in converting her husband.  She accomplished this seemingly impossible feat just in time, because Paolo was soon after stabbed to death by one of his enemies. 

St. Rita and Paolo had two sons who, despite being brought up in the faith by their mother, took after their father in many ways.  Just as Paolo would have done before his conversion, both sons vowed vengeance for their father's murder.  St. Rita, on the other hand, pardoned her husband's murderers at Paolo's funeral.  She tried to persuade her sons to do the same, but as they persisted in seeking vengeance, St. Rita prayed that God would take her sons before they committed the mortal sin of murder, which would consign them to hell.  Within a year, before they could keep their vow of vengeance, both sons were dead of dysentery.

Her husband converted, though dead, and both her children preserved from mortal sin, though also  dead, St. Rita again sought to enter a convent in Cascia.  However, the convent rejected her on account of her husband's scandalous life and murder.   St. Rita persisted, so the convent relented a little by agreeing to admit her on the condition that St. Rita reconcile the Chiqui and Mancini families and bring an end to their vendetta.   This was a seemingly impossible task, and reminds me of the promise of the Wizard of Oz to take Dorothy back to Kansas if she first brought him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West.  No doubt the nuns of Cascia expected they'd never hear from St. Rita again. 

St. Rita prayed to her patrons St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, and again set to work achieving the impossible.   St. Rita succeeded in reconciling the Chiquis and Mancinis in very short order, and St. Rita was permitted to enter the convent she'd wanted to enter ever since she was a girl.   St. Rita remained there until her death, acquiring a reputation for great holiness.  St. Rita was also a partial stigmatic - at the age of 60 she acquired a wound on her forehead which appeared to be from a single thorn in the crown of thorns.  St. Rita bore this wound for the remaining 15 years of her life.

Even now, movies do show an occasional interest in lost or impossible causes.  The 2002 movie "The Rookie" is based on the true story of a pitcher named Jim Morris who made it to the major leagues at the very advanced age of 35 upon miraculously recovering his fastball, which had disappeared on account of injuries.   Not surprisingly, there is a connection between Morris's impossible cause and St. Rita.   Jim Morris happened to be from a town consecrated to St. Rita, and when he resumed pitching in his mid 30s, a St. Rita medal was hung above the field where he practiced.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"What was the most important event in the history of the world?"

"The Annunciation," St. Peter’s in Hamburg, by  Master Bertram of Minden, 1383 AD

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was asked that question in 1957 during his final oral exam before a panel of four history professors at Georgetown University.   Scalia gave one answer after another (Waterloo, Thermopylae)  but the chairman of the department, Dr. Walter Wilkinson, kept shaking his head.  Finally, Dr. Wilkinson replied, "Mr. Scalia, it was the Incarnation, when Christ became a man.  That is the correct answer."

It's still the correct answer.

h/t Creative Minority Report

Pray without ceasing?

"St. Bonaventure in Prayer,"  Francisco de Zurbaran

St. Alphonsus Liguori has a lot to say about the importance of unceasing prayer, including this:

"How shall we win [happiness for all eternity]?  Only by prayer, says St. Augustine, and persevering prayer.  But how long must it last? As long as the struggle goes on.  Just as the contest never ceases, says St. Bonaventure, so we must never cease calling on God for His assistance, which is necessary for us so as not to succumb.  "Woe to them that have lost patience," says the Wise man (Eccls. 2:16), and have given up prayer.  Blessed shall we be "if we hold fast the confidence and glory of hope unto the end."  (Heb. 3:6)." 

St. Paul also tells us to "pray without ceasing."  A moment's reflection discloses that unceasing, lifelong praying is a lot of praying, though certain difficulties also come to mind, including the fact that many of us need to do other things besides praying from time to time.   So how can we possibly manage to pray without ceasing?   Luckily, there are a few tried and true ways to get started.  A monk from our local monastery recommended saying the rosary, which works for me.   There's also the Jesus Prayer, which is more popular amongst Orthodox Christians, but it's approved for Catholics, too.   As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

"The name of Jesus is at the heart of Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words 'through our Lord Jesus Christ'. The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words 'blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus'. The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, says: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' Many Christians, such as St Joan of Arc, have died with the one word 'Jesus' on their lips."

There are lots of good dvds on praying.  Here's a trailer for one called "A Surge of the Heart," which is how St. Therese of Liseux described prayer:

Praying without ceasing is like a lot of things.  To get anywhere, you have to make up your mind, get started, and then don't quit.  God will certainly do his part.

A praying success story.