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Archive for March, 2014

But in order that the desired fruit may be derived from this apostolate and this zeal for teaching, and that Christ may be formed in all, be it remembered, Venerable Brethren, that no means is more efficacious than charity. (…) (I)t is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity. True the Apostle exhorted Timothy: “Accuse, beseech, rebuke,” but he took care to add: “with all patience” (II. Tim.iv., 2). Jesus has certainly left us examples of this. “Come to me,” we find Him saying, “come to me all ye that labor and are burdened and I will refresh you” (Matth. xi., 28). (…) What gentleness was that shown by the Divine Master! What tenderness, what compassion towards all kinds of misery! (…) Who will prevent us from hoping that the flame of Christian charity may dispel the darkness from their minds and bring to them light and the peace of God? It may be that the fruit of our labors may be slow in coming, but charity wearies not with waiting, knowing that God prepares His rewards not for the results of toil but for the good will shown in it.

PiusXvatgarden-Pope Pius X, from the encyclical “E Supremi”

Image from Wikipedia; text from http://www.vatican.va

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Fr. Barron at his best ūüôā

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I’m a little late…yesterday was World Down Syndrome Day.¬† Still, thought you’d find¬†this entertaining and informative ūüôā

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This is Sister Cristina Scuccia, of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family, performing on Italy’s version of “The Voice” (only a couple minutes long — the rest is dialogue, and all in Italian).

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!¬† I was looking for a related video to share, and came across this.¬† Kind of cute…you might like it¬†if you have kids who are learning their numbers.

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ImbolcThe ancient Celts seem to have been acutely sensitive to the changing of the seasons.  Four major festivals marked the Celtic year: Beltane, the beginning of summer; Samhain, the beginning of the darker half of the year (autumn); Imbolc, the beginning of spring; and Lughnasadh, the time of the harvest.  And there were various myths associated with each of these seasons.

Let me now dive right into what I feel this may have been¬†preparing people for on a subconscious level¬†— namely, the Church’s Liturgical Calendar.

From the Mass readings that¬†occupy different times of the year to various feasts, memorials, and saints’ days, Advent during the season leading up to the winter solstice, and Lent and Easter coinciding with the coming of spring, the Church has developed a wondrous way of lifting up our lives and our experience of natural cycles into the rhythms of the Divine Life.

In the course of the year, (…) (the Church) unfolds the whole mystery of Christ …. Thus recalling the mysteries of the redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present in every age; the faithful lay hold of them and are filled with saving grace.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, quoted in CCC 1163

In the liturgical year the various aspects of the one Paschal mystery unfold. This is also the case with the cycle of feasts surrounding the mystery of the incarnation (Annunciation, Christmas, Epiphany). They commemorate the beginning of our salvation and communicate to us the first fruits of the Paschal mystery.

– CCC 1171

New Jerusalem

The point of it all is to grow closer to Christ.¬† And in this, we have nothing less than the mystery of time and history.¬† As we see in the Book of Revelation, the purpose and end of both is the great Marriage between Christ and His Bride: The Church, the People of God…the New Jerusalem.¬† Throughout history, Christ is continually building up His Bride in her various members, never ceasing to draw all mankind into her embrace.¬† It is the cosmic love story…the greatest ever told.

And I think I’ll leave it at that.¬† There are probably many other things I could touch upon, but I think we’ve gotten a pretty good survey of Irish culture — and of Celtic culture in general — in its openness to the Word.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day — Erin go Bragh!

Images from Wikipedia

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Stone_CircleAfter part two of this series, which dealt with the ancient Celtic belief in the overlapping of the natural and the supernatural, this might seem redundant.  But I think of it as follows:

Man is a composite creature, made of both spirit and matter, soul and body.¬† Most religious systems will, in some way or other, attempt to appeal to both¬†aspects of human nature.¬† Wednesday’s topic pertained more to the spiritual side of man’s religiosity, whereas this one pertains more to the material side.

It’s also necessary to mention that Celtic culture was by no means unique in what we are going to be talking about.¬† In fact, the ancient Romans coined the phrase genius loci, referring in a nutshell to a particular locality — be it a village, a hill, a tree, a very small geographic area, etc. — that was associated with a particular god or spirit that made its residence there and/or presided over it as guardian or protector.¬† From North America to China, from the barbarous lands of Northern Europe to the sun-kissed wilds of Africa, the ancient world abounded with similar notions.

But what we will call “inspirited places”¬†are no less an important part of Celtic culture for¬†their universality — just as cake, as a celebratory item, belongs to birthdays and other celebrations just as much as to weddings, but is not therefore any less of a wedding fixture.

Bru_na_BoinneFirst, let us note the great earthen mounds scattered throughout Ireland.¬† Known as¬†s√≠dhe, these were believed to conceal the underground abodes of the Tuatha D√© Danann, a fabled race of gods or fairies that inhabited the island before¬†the Celts came along.OwenagcatRelatedly, certain places — such¬†as this cave in County Roscommon —¬†were believed to be passageways to otherworld.¬† Had to mention that, as I feel it gives us an interesting connection to the previous post.

Like the otherworldly beliefs of the Celts, this stood in need of some correction.¬† But I would venture to say that what it communicated, deep down, was the desire — and perhaps Divinely inspired, subconscious preparation for — a robust spirituality in which the material world was incorporated, thereby becoming a means of access to the Divine. What would this have been preparing people for, specifically?¬† In brief, the sacramental life of the Church. Seven SacramentsLet’s look very briefly at just what a sacrament is:

The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. (T)he visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131 (bold mine)

The Church’s sacraments are seven in number.¬† Divine grace is dispensed mainly through human words, signs, and actions in these sacraments; but material elements like water, wine, bread, and oil are used as the very material of these sacraments and as conduits of grace.

From the sacramental life of the Church comes a deeply embodied spirituality that announces itself through everything from votive candles to icons, stained-glass windows, statues of the saints, crucifixes, incense, shrines, Rosary beads, the distinctive garb of priests and religious, Gregorian chant, customary devotions and rituals, etc.

Lourdes

And yes, this embodied spirituality includes places.  Granted, we do not hold to the belief in genius loci; but there are places that God chooses as privileged meeting places between Him and believers, or as places specially suited to the gift of graces to those who are properly disposed.   In some cases, places are hallowed by the relics of saints who devoted their lives to God, as well as by the prayers and presence of saints and the blessings of bishops. Many of these places have been destinations for Christian pilgrims over the years, and their pilgrimages have almost always involved certain practices aimed at spiritual renewal and transformation.

In the wake of St. Patrick’s work, Ireland has certainly had its share of such places, many of which are associated with St. Patrick.¬† Here are a few:

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Lough Derg (Ulster)

Struell_Wells

The Struell Wells (County Down)

Croagh_PatrickCroagh Patrick (County Mayo — which, incidentally, is where my great-grandfather was born)

EucharistI’ll just say one more thing, and then I’ll shut up.¬† The foundation of the Catholic sacramental view of the world is the¬†Incarnation of the Son of God; His Incarnational¬†Presence is¬†perpetually¬†available¬†to us in the Eucharist, which is the greatest and most sublime of all sacraments.¬† Once the priest speaks the words of consecration over the bread and wine, these latter literally become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, retaining only the sensory qualities of bread and wine.

In this, we see the whole purpose not only of human existence, but of the material world, which is in many ways ordered and drawn toward the Eucharist.¬† In offering the bread and wine to God at Mass, we are offering the whole of God’s creation back to Him; these are then given back to us with immeasurably greater worth…again, as the very Body and Blood of Christ, the Second Person of the Bless√®d Trinity.¬† In this, we see our mission in relation to the created world, which we are called to order toward the worship of God.¬† He can thereby graciously hallow it, just as He hallowed creation by “resting” on the Seventh Day (see Genesis 2: 2-3).

Images from Wikipedia

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Note: For part one of this series, click here.

Gundestrup_C

In part one, I expressed an interest in exploring the¬†“seeds of the Word” in¬†the Irish culture¬†that St. Patrick encountered.¬† Without neglecting this, I would like to broaden my scope to include Celtic culture in general, not just Ireland.

The Celtic pagans¬†— unlike their¬†Germanic and Scandinavian neighbors, whose cosmologies were more or less mapped out so that different¬†realms could be seen in their spatial relation to “Midgard,” or earth — believed¬†in the interweaving of the natural and supernatural worlds.¬† Otherworldly realms of gods and spirits — including the realm (or realms) of the dead — were believed to have interacted with and even “touched” the everyday natural world, much as the ghostly mists of Ireland and Britain crept through¬†the trees, cliffs, hills, and fields.

Samhain

Many are familiar with the fact that the spirits of the dead were thought to have reentered the world every year on the night of October 31, during the festival of Samhain (an “ancestor” of the modern day Halloween).

Mabinogion

And then you have stories of heroes such as Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed in Wales, which exemplify the “commerce” believed to be possible between our world and the otherworld (in the Welsh epic “The Mabinogion,” a hunting expedition into the woods brings Pwyll to the otherworldly realm of Annwn and back).

Finally, various supernatural entities (leprechauns, for example) were thought to have made their homes beneath the surfaces of streams, rocks, trees, hills, etc.¬† How’s that for eyeball-to-eyeball?

All this makes for fantastic storytelling.  But beyond that, for what might it have been paving the way?

Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700

Like all other “seeds of the Word,” this points to the¬†Word Himself,¬†Jesus Christ.¬† By dying and then rising from the dead, He reunited God and man, heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material.¬† And in Him the faithful are united with one another not only across space and culture, but also across time and death itself.

Some of the great mystics of the Christian tradition have experienced this reality in a particularly profound way.¬† St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who died just before the outbreak of World War II, wrote in her world-renowned diary (“Divine Mercy in My Soul”) about meeting the souls of deceased friends, the Bless√©d Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ Himself in convent hallways on the way to performing her routine daily tasks…usually because they had requested a prayer or act on her part.

It must be noted that few people are granted experiences like this; they are indeed very,¬†very rare — even, from what I understand, among saints.¬† But they are merely intensifications of a reality that is true for all the faithful: The Communion of Saints.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are united with our brothers and sisters in the glory of heaven and in the purification of Purgatory.  In Christ, we are united to the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, all the saints, the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, and the great multitude of the redeemed from the beginning of the world up to the present.  We are surrounded not only by them, but also by all the choirs of angels, from the lowest choirs that are nearest to us all the way up to the fiery seraphim who minister to the immediate presence of God.  We are reminded of this reality every time we go into church and are surrounded by sacred images in stained glass windows, statues, etc.

Let me quickly mention two more components of the Christian life on which this “otherworldly” reality comes to bear:

1. Prayer

PrayerWhen we offer to God sincere prayer — that is, when we take the time to commune with the Thrice-Holy God, leaving our worldly baggage behind as much as we can in order to approach the¬†holy¬†mountain¬†— we are in a certain sense bringing heaven down to earth.

2. The Mass

Mass_at_Lourdes

Last but not least, there is the Mass,¬†which is quite literally where heaven and earth meet.¬† When we participate in Mass, we join the heavenly liturgy in which all the saints and angels praise God (for more on this, I’d recommend Scott Hahn’s book “The Lamb’s Supper”).

Five more days until St. Patrick’s Day.¬† Until then, I do have a few more items I want to talk about.¬† Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Image of “The Mabinogion” from www.amazon.com;¬†remaining images from Wikipedia

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Prodigal SonThe process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: The fascination of illusory freedom(;) the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy – all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. [T]he beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure(,) worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ Who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.

-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1439

Image from Wikipedia

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Into the Dance

Ramadan Our Muslim brothers and sisters completed Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting, yesterday.

From what I understand, this is a very strict fast.  Those observing may eat and drink before sunup and after sundown, but at no time in between.  And during this season of longer days, that must have been difficult indeed.

Such discipline and self-denial is vastly admirable, and is one of the traits in pious Muslims that my fellow Christians and I should be open to learning from.

The corresponding observance in Catholicism is, of course, Lent‚Ķas well as every Friday, which is designated as a special day of penance (contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did not do away with this ‚ÄĒ but that‚Äôs a subject for another post).

But why should anyone fast?  Isn’t there something puritanical and anti-body about it?  Doesn’t it betray a rather gloomy outlook on life overall?

Some have taken…

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