Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Beauty of Cleaning the Church

"Everything to do with the church is like an inner fire enkindling us, and looking after it is the best work of all. The humblest job, be it only to clean the floor of the house of God, is a nobler work than all the others. Everything you do in the house of God should be done with love and reverence. You must do nothing trivial there, only necessary duties. For where else could you find greater joy than in the place where our Lord is dwelling, surrounded by cherubim and seraphim and all the heavenly spirits!"
--St. Seraphim of Sarov

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Victory of Christ in Us

"Let us award the victory to Christ in his struggles. Let us erect our own trophies for Christ's warfare. Let us not soil the tunic of faith which grace has woven. Do not dishonor the gift which you have received from Christ. Recognize the Giver and protect the gift. If you were guarding a pearl or royal purple, would you not exercise custody until death? But now you are not merely entrusted with custody of pearls, or royal purple, or property; the Lord's body itself has been entrusted to you. More than that, I say you have become the body of the Lord, you are a member of Christ. Put on Christ, in Paul's words: You have been baptized in Christ, you have put on Christ (Gal 3:27). Do not betray Christ's members. You have become the dwelling place of the Spirit and a member of the King of the heavens. Let us, then, honor the gift with virtues! Let us practice temperance; let us exercise generosity. Let us practice almsgiving. Let us shake off the poison of lack of faith; let us avoid guile, the devil's friend; let us hate lies, the weapon of our enemy. Let us imitate the blessed Paul who after his baptism preached Christ whom he had persecuted beforehand. Let us imitate the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized along the road and himself became a road to baptism for the Ethiopians. Let us multiply the talent of grace, so that we may hear the longed for voice of our Lord, saying: Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things, I will place you over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord. To him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen."
--Basil of Seleucia, "The Christian Combat," §8

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Theology of the Martini

Last night, my fiancée and I, both for the first time, had a martini.  When I asked her what she thought of it, she made a comment that my overly-theological mind immediately connected to Pope Bl. John Paul II's Theology of the Body [TOB], which I have been studying this semester.

She said that she liked the first taste and the last taste of the martini, but not the middle taste.  She liked the taste when the martini first touched her taste buds, she disliked the burning sensation that she called the "pre-aftertaste," and she liked the aftertaste.  Upon hearing this, my mind immediately went to the three ages of man discussed in TOB.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Spiritual Fruit of This Life

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."--Rom 8:5-6 

                                                                        "Yea, my King," 
I began—"thou dost well in rejecting mere comforts that spring 
From the mere mortal life held in common by man and by brute: 
In our flesh grows the branch of this life, in our soul it bears fruit. 
Thou hast marked the slow rise of the tree,—how its stem trembled first 
Till it passed the kid's lip, the stag's antler; then safely outburst 
The fan-branches all round; and thou mindest when these too, in turn 
Broke a-bloom and the palm-tree seemed perfect: yet more was to learn, 
E'en the good that comes in with the palm-fruit. Our dates shall we slight. 
When their juice brings a cure for all sorrow? or care for the plight 
Of the palm's self whose slow growth produced them? Not so! stem and branch
Shall decay, nor be known in their place, while the palm-wine shall staunch 
Every wound in man's spirit in winter. I pour thee such wine. 
Leave the flesh to the fate it was fit for! the spirit be thine!"

 --Robert Browning, "Saul," XIII, ll. 147-160 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Byzantine Hours Kathisma Chart

In the Byzantine tradition of the Hours (the Divine Office), the basic psalmody in each hour is static, except for changes during Great Lent.  However, monastic tradition included variable psalmody readings that result in praying the entire Psalter at least once a week (depending on the time of the year).  These readings are exceedingly long and rarely prayed in their fullness, except possibly in monasteries.  However, they still provide a pattern of shared psalmody for the Church.

I put together this chart not so much for use in the Hours (though the readings can be prayed there) but for personal use, so that one can pray along with the Church.  I myself will often only pray parts of each reading, maybe a stasis or two, but it is still immensely fruitful, first of all because it is the Word of God, second because it is a tradition of the Church. 

God Eludes Our Knowledge

"Let imagination range to what you may suppose is God's utmost limit, and you will find Him present there; strain as you will there is always a further horizon towards which to strain. Infinity is His property, just as the power of making such effort is yours. Words will fail you, but His being will not be circumscribed…Thus our confession of God fails through the defects of language; the best combination of words we can devise cannot indicate the reality and the greatness of God. The perfect knowledge of God is so to know Him that we are sure we must not be ignorant of Him, yet cannot describe Him. We must believe, must apprehend, must worship; and such acts of devotion must stand in lieu of definition."
--St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity II.6-7

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Necessity of Quiet

"For do not suppose that because the righteous were in the midst of men it was among men that they had achieved their righteousness. Rather, having first practised much quiet, they then received the power of God dwelling in them, and then God sent them into the midst of men, having acquired every virtue, so that they might act as God's provisioners and cure men of their infirmities." 
--Abba Ammonas, Letter XII

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Be Sealed With the Gift of the Holy Spirit: A Theological Reflection on the Sacrament of Confirmation

 An attempt to give a theology of the Sacrament of Confirmation based in the formula of the essential rite of the Sacrament, using Scripture, liturgical texts, the writings of the Church Fathers, the documents of the Magisterium, and canon law as sources.

How to Read the Gospel

"When reading the Gospel, do not look for pleasure, for ecstasy, for brilliant ideas; look for the unerring sacred truth. Be not satisfied with a mere sterile reading. Try to practice its commandments. The Gospel is the book of life and it must be read by life…When you open the Holy Gospel to read it, remember that it will decide your fate in eternity. We will be judged according to that book. According to our relation to this book on earth, we shall receive as our lot either eternal beatitude or eternal perdition."
--Bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov

Monday, April 22, 2013

Life is Love

"What then may life be more fittingly called than love? For that which alone survives and does not allow the living to die when all things have been taken away is life--and such is love. When all things have passed away in the age to come as Paul says (1 Cor 13:8,10), love remains, and it alone suffices for life in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom is due all glory for ever. Amen."
--Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, Book VII, §15

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Forgotten Church

The title is harsh, yes, and the spur may be merely reactionary, and I do not really think anyone will read this (nor do I think anyone will read most if any of my posts), yet it is an attempt at least, and it may possibly reach someone.

The Eastern Church exists.

This is the first point to know.  I've written about it before, many times, and it may be too much of a pet case of mine, but I think it is something important: Latin is not the Church's only language.  The Pope is the head of the Church, but not all of those he serves have Latin as their original liturgical language.  Not all Catholics follow the Code of Canon Law, and that is perfectly allowed by the Church.  Not all Catholics have to go to Mass on Sunday.  Not all Catholics pray the rosary to honor Our Lady.  There are some who have Greek or Arabic or Aramaic or Syriac or Slavonic as their liturgical language: there are some who follow the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches: there are some who go to the Divine Liturgy or Qurbana or even Vespers for their Sunday obligation: there are some who pray the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos.  There are some who have icons instead of statues, who fast forty days before the Nativity of Our Lord, who would be utterly lost in a Low Mass for its lack of chant.  There are Eastern Christians, there are Eastern Catholics, there is an Eastern Church.  They are not second-rate Catholics, they should not suffer in dhimmitude.  They are heirs to the apostolic faith, defenders of it against heretics throughout the ages.  They are true Catholics, and yet few seem to know they exist.  I have had many people be confused when I mention that I am planning to become an Eastern Catholic: they think I am rejecting the Pope.  I most certainly am not, and there are many, many others as well.  There are the Orthodox Churches, of course, yet sometimes Catholics barely know they exist either.  We know all about the countless Protestant denominations, we know how to lead a Passover seder, we know the tenets of Islam, we are even up to date on the teachings of Scientology, yet we do not know our brothers and sisters of the same apostolic faith.  This should not be so.

Take Up Your Pallet: The Sunday of the Paralytic Man

Christ is risen!  Christ, the Risen One, is the One we should imitate as St. Peter did.  The other Prime Apostle wrote, "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ," yet the same words could be placed in the mouth of Peter.  For he very much did imitate the Lord: as the Lord healed the paralytic, so did Peter, and as the Lord commanded him to take up his pallet and walk, so did the Prime Apostle.  All miracles occur through the power of Jesus Christ, for "Jesus Christ heals you," but He may heal through His disciples, through those inflamed with His Spirit, inflamed with Him.  Have we not heard stories of countless saints, the testimony of the Spirit's working in the past, saints who healed many through their prayers and their blessings?  Have we not heard of many icons and spots of grace that have healed?  The chapel in Czestochowa has walls gilded with crutches, and the pools at Lourdes bestow healing on many.  Yet all of this is only through Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate.  It is through the indwelling of the Trinity in the saints and in the Theotokos that these healings occur, that indwelling that sanctifies even their relics, their images, the spots where they appear.  All those who follow Christ in His healing work do so through imitation of Him and even more so through divinization by Him.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"These Words Which I Command You This Day Shall Be Upon Your Heart..."

"These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
--Dt 6:6-9

"It would indeed be strange that the Jews should have the law written in a book hanging from their hands so that they might always remember the commandments, and we did not impress indelibly in our memory the words of a faith which is so much higher. Owing to the fact that immediately after having received the Divine order Adam met the Demon and was easily overcome by him because of his lack of meditation and contemplation of that order, it is imperative that in all this time you should continually meditate on the words of the Creed so that it may be strengthened in you and deeply fixed in your mind, and so that you may love your religion without which you cannot receive the Divine gift, or if you receive it, you cannot keep it and hold fast to it."
--Theodore of Mopsuestia, Liber ad Baptizandos II.II

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How to Discuss the Eastern Church: A Grammatical Primer

"To count the terms used in theology as of primary importance, and to endeavor to trace out the hidden meaning in every phrase and in every syllable, is a characteristic wanting in those who are idle in the pursuit of true religion, but distinguishing all who get knowledge of the mark of our calling...The beginning of teaching is speech."
--St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit I.2

I've often written here of the need to reclaim the Church's bipulmonary nature, that is, the fact that she has two lungs, as Pope Bl. John Paul II loved to say, the West and the East.  I've recently realized that just having people mention the Eastern Church is not enough (though it is certainly a great start): people must also know what they're talking about in regards to Eastern Christianity.  One of the greatest aspects that needs to be cleared up is simply the matter of terminology.  Thus I here attempt to give a quick grammatical primer on terms that are often jumbled up by those sincerely wishing to do justice to the Church's bipulmonary nature.  My goal is not to condemn those who inadvertently misuse language, but to instruct them and call them on to the correct use.  Why does this matter?  Because laziness with language, even if unintentional, feels somewhat like a lack of caring for the Eastern Church.  I might be too sensitive, but I hope this primer will help either way.  Any incorrect information given here is strictly due to my own faults.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Silence and the Witness: The Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women


Christ is risen!  Christos voskrese!  Χριστός ἀνέστη!

"They said nothing to any one, for they were afraid."  These are the last words we have just heard from the Holy Scriptures: are they not puzzling?  On a day we celebrate those women who loved Our Lord so greatly, those women who were called to proclaim the glorious truth of His Resurrection, why do we end with words that deny their role?  They were called to go and tell the disciples, and yet instead they are mute.  The Apostle to the Apostles does not seem to act so today.  Why is this?  Why does the reading seem to contradict the feast?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bones, Flesh, and Muscles

A term I have come across when reading Orthodox writers is "ossification."  Literally, the term relates to the process of creating bone or of other parts of the body's becoming hard as bone through disease.  Figuratively, it refers to taking the Church's tradition and hardening it to the point where it is immobile, where the Church becomes a museum frozen in time, a sepulchre of faith.  While I only recall hearing this concept discussed among the Orthodox as a warning among themselves to not take tradition too far, I think it could also apply to many Catholics who attempt to do the same thing.  Ecclesial ossification is thus the hardening of the Church's tradition so that no change or growth can ever occur, a hardening that results in a Church that is no longer even alive.

On the opposite side, there is a tendency which I will call "dermification" (although "epidermification" might be more scientifically accurate).  Literally (as defined in a definition created solely by me), dermification is the process of the creation of skin or of other parts of the body's becoming temporary and becoming a substance that is sloughed off regularly (hence why "epidermification" might be more accurate).  Figuratively, it refers to taking the Church's tradition and making it weak enough that it can be tossed out as old and promptly sloughed off.  It means living only for that which is symbolic of rapidly-changing skin, that is, the latest trend that is being tested in the Church's practice.  All tradition and all new ideas are equated, and the only goal is to keep the Church "updated" and "relevant," thus sloughing off the old ideas like old skin and putting on the new skin until its time to pass.  I think there are many Catholics who do this as well, trying to view all Church practice, traditional or new, as something that should change with the times.  Ecclesial dermification is thus the striving to make the Church's practice always "relevant," always "up with the times," to the point of treating tradition as old skin to be sloughed off, leading to a Church that is ephemeral and transitory, lacking in any roots.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Paschal Fast

"Beloved, even if the fasting is over, let the piety remain.  Even if the time of the holy quarantine has gone by, let us not put aside the memory of it.  Let no one feel displeasure as this exhortation; for I do not say it to impose on you another period of fasting, but because I wish you both to relax and to display now a more exact kind of fasting—but the true one.  For it is possible for one who is not fasting to fast.  How is this?  I shall tell you. While on the one hand we are taking food, let us, on the other, abstain from sin.  For this is the fasting which helps us, and it is with this fasting in view that we abstain from food, so that we may more easily run in the course of virtue.  Therefore, if we wish both to take proper care of the body and to keep the soul free from sin, let us take heed and act accordingly."
--St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions V.1 

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, pray for us!