Saint John Henry Newman

It’s rare that we get good news from the Church these days, so cherish it when it comes! Cardinal Newman, the great English convert of the 19th century, whose return to Rome sparked something of a Catholic renaissance in that noble, yet obstinate island kingdom, is now declared a Saint. 

Cardinal Newman is one of those writers whom I regard as something of a personal spiritual master – though alas, I haven’t read as much of him as I would like – along with St. Francis de Sales, Dietriech von Hildebrand, and Professor Tolkien. What I mean is that his approach to spirituality, his understanding of the world, and his insights are of the kind that fit especially with my own personality and make the most sense to me. This, incidentally, is one of the glorious things about the Communion of Saints: there are so many and they are all so unique that if one doesn’t make an appeal to you, there are always others who will. The transforming power of Christ can be expressed through an infinity of personalities; in one it leads to the recklessly joyful abandon of a St. Francis, in another the intense focus and genius of a St. Thomas, and in still another the energy and regal authority of a St. Lewis.

St. John Henry Newman (not to be confused – though I’m sure he will be – with St. John Neuman, Bishop of Philadelphia) was more of the St. Thomas school; a crushingly brilliant scholar and masterful writer, he found his way into the Church through careful study of the early fathers and church history, along with his perceptive understanding of the flaws in Anglicanism and Protestantism. The account of this journey he laid down in his masterful autobiography Apologia pro Vita Sua, then later presented a fictionalized account of his experience in Loss and Gain: the Story of a Soul, both of which I have read and highly recommend, not only for their spiritual and theological insights, but also for the beautiful portrait of a now lost world of manners, intellect, and peace: the world of the middle and upper class England of the early-to-mid 19th century. Newman was as much a part of that world as St. Thomas was of the Medieval, and his example and ideas of gentlemanly behavior are, perhaps, as important a witness as any other to us today.

Loss and Gain mostly amounts to intelligent young Englishmen sitting around holding intellectual discussions. For me that’s enough to make it interesting, but I suppose it’s an acquired taste (though there is a very funny scene near the end where the hero is besieged by advocates for fashionable new religious communions, apparently figuring that if he’s considering Rome he must be up for grabs). Apologia is definitely worth reading both for the insight into his own life and for the brilliant argumentation on display (it was prompted by a slanderous attack by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho!, who was a virulent anti-Catholic and accused Newman of being secretly in the employ of the Roman Church all along. Seeing the Saint destroy his accusations is a delightful exercise in proper argumentation).

Alas, I’m not in a position to give a really good overview of St. John Henry Newman’s life or works: I’ve read (or listened to) several, but he is a great river and I can’t claim to have explored more than a few stretches. Suffice to say, he is an ornament to the Church, and his kind of clarity and intellectual insight are desperately needed today.

I shall let him have the final word:

“[T]here is no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and…a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below must embrace either the one or the other.”
-Apologia

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on;
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.

So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
Wilt lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Ora pro nobis.

Everyman Piece on Notre Dame

After watching Notre Dame Cathedral burn, I wrote up some of my thoughts, which are running today at The Everyman

We are the heirs of Christendom. We have inherited treasures beyond belief; Notre Dame Cathedral is only one jewel among hundreds of such cathedrals and churches, living prayers in stone and glass, not to mention the great palaces and other architectural wonders of the past. The treasures of Notre Dame are but a tiny fraction of the artistic tradition that has come down to us, not to mention the vast inheritance of learning, manners, morality, and law carried down through the centuries. While Notre Dame was being constructed, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure were teaching theology and studying Aristotle a few blocks away, and St. Louis the king was laying down the principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty.

Most important of all, of course, is the faith which Notre Dame and all the other Cathedrals were built to glorify; the true faith, which God sent His Son to establish upon Earth that man no longer need walk in darkness. We are heirs to the promise and saving work of Christ, of the knowledge that God has been among us and preached His Word to us as a man, and took upon Himself the punishment of our sins.

The Church and Her History in Flames

And what do we do with that inheritance, that unspeakable wealth of centuries? We neglect it, ignore it, and condemn it. In art we celebrate departures from tradition, however hideous or meaningless, as bold and original. In history we speak of the great men of the past as if they were ignorant children to be taken apart and explained by us. In education we dismiss the works of Aristotle, Aquinas, Cicero, Shakespeare, and other giants in order to cling to the latest fashionable turn of thought.

Read the rest here.

New Aleteia Post

I sent this in about three or four months ago; kind of expected it to have been dropped, but it’s up after all! On Aleteia today, In Defense of Grumpy Christians.

For such people there’s often a bit of a quandary: They know that, as Christians, they ought to love their neighbor and be good to others, but they can find being in the company of others to be emotionally draining and often irritating. They may, in fact, frequently feel like they’re being bad Christians — edged on, it must be said, by people who seem to equate “Christian love” with “being nice.” So, if you’re one of these “mean” Christians, or you know of them, here are some things to keep in mind …

How you relate to God is the main thing

If you’re the kind of person I’m describing, most likely you will alienate or offend other people at some point in your life. You’re not the sort who naturally inspires popularity, and this can be difficult. You will likely feel that it’s your fault and that it’s because you’re fundamentally flawed.

Remember that all people have flaws, however, and that God knows your struggles. Focus on pleasing Him, not on pleasing others. This way, not only will you be more likely to succeed, but you’ll probably find that you get along better with other people as well. Sincerity and good will are very attractive qualities, even when coupled with irritability, and if you cultivate these, people will recognize and value them.  

Read the rest here.

Bishop Sheen on the Three Confessions

Broadcasted 1957: Ven. Bishop Fulton Sheen traces the course of human sentiment through three great ‘Confessions:’ those of St. Augustine, of Abelard, and of Jean-Jacque Rousseau:

 

Money quote: “Jean-Jacque, therefore, gave birth to an entirely new concept of how to handle a conflict: namely, give way to it and call it right.”

For St. Patrick’s Day

The great ‘Lorica’ or “Breastplate Prayer” of St. Patrick, the patron of the Land that Once was Ireland:

Sancti Patricii Hymnus ad Temoriam.

Ad Temoriam hodie potentiam
praepollentem invoco Trinitatis,
Credo in Trinitatem
sub unitate numinis elementorum.

Apud Temoriam hodie
virtutem nativitatis Christi cum ea ejus baptismi,
Virtutem crucifixionis cum ea ejus sepulturae,
Virtutem resurrectionis cum ea ascensionis,
Virtutem adventus ad judicium aeternum.

Apud Temoriam hodie
virtutem amoris Seraphim
in obsequio angelorum,
In spe resurrectionis
ad adipiscendum praemium.
In orationibus nobilium Patrum,
In praedictionibus prophetarum,
In praedicationibus apostolorum,
In fide confessorum,
In castitate sanctarum virginum,
In actis justorum virorum.

Apud Temoriam hodie
potentiam coeli,
Lucem solis,
Candorem nivis,
Vim ignis,
Rapiditatem fulguris,
Velocitatem venti,
Profunditatem maris,
Stabilitatem terrae,
Duritiam petrarum.

Ad Temoriam hodie potentia Dei me dirigat,
Potestas Dei me conservet,
Sapientia Dei me edoceat,
Oculus Dei mihi provideat,
Auris Dei me exaudiat,
Verbum Dei me disertum faciat,
Manus Dei me protegat,
Via Dei mihi patefiat,
Scutum Dei me protegat,
Exercitus Dei me defendat,
Contra insidias daemonum,
Contra illecebras vitiorum,
Contra inclinationes animi,
Contra omnem hominem qui meditetur injuriam mihi,
Procul et prope,
Cum paucis et cum multis.

Posui circa me sane omnes potentias has
Contra omnem potentiam hostilem saevam
Excogitatam meo corpori et meae animae;
Contra incantamenta pseudo-vatum,
Contra nigras leges gentilitatis,
Contra pseudo-leges haereseos,
Contra dolum idololatriae,
Contra incantamenta mulierum,
Et fabrorum ferrariorum et druidum,
Contra omnem scientiam quae occaecat animum hominis.

Christus me protegat hodie
Contra venenum,
Contra combustionem,
Contra demersionem,
Contra vulnera,
Donec meritus essem multum praemii.

Christus mecum,
Christus ante me,
Christus me pone,
Christus in me,
Christus infra me,
Christus supra me,
Christus ad dextram meam,
Christus ad laevam meam,
Christus hine,
Christus illine,
Christus a tergo.

Christus in corde omnis hominis quem alloquar,
Christus in ore cujusvis qui me alloquatur,
Christus in omni oculo qui me videat,
Christus in omni aure quae me audiat.

Ad Temoriam hodie potentiam
praepollentem invoco Trinitatis.
Credo in Trinitatem sub
Unitate numinis elementorum.
Domini est salus,
Domini est salus,
Christi est salus,
Salus tua, Domine,
sit semper nobiscum.

Amen.

Translation (imperfect, but unfortunately I’m not good enough of a Latinist to correct it):

The Lorica, Breastplate, of St. Patrick (The Cry of the Deer)

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today,
through The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today,
through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is from the Lord,
Salvation is from the Lord,
Salvation is from Christ,
Your Salvation, O Lord,
is with us always.
Amen.

 

Communion Rails

At the moment I attend two different parishes, depending on my schedule. It’s obviously not ideal and I’m working to make it a temporary arrangement, but one thing both parishes have in common is that they both use Communion rails. Having almost exclusively received the Eucharist in this manner for several months now, I’m struck by what a different experience it is from the ‘Communion Line’ method in favor since Vatican II.

For any non-Catholics in the audience, when one goes to receive the Eucharist in the post-conciliar Church, the normal method is to get in line and receive the host standing (often in the hand, which is a whole other kettle of fish and quite frankly should never be acceptable). Before the council, when most church’s had altar rails, the standard method was for the congregation to kneel at the rail all in a row while the priest went up and down placing the Host on each person’s tongue in turn.

It’s hard to express what a difference this makes, and I don’t only mean with regards to the far greater reverence being shown to Our Lord. To kneel at the Communion rail beside your pew neighbor – whom you may or may not know, and who may be just about any kind of person – is to embody one of the chief teachings of the faith: that God is no respecter of persons, and that whatever men are relative to one another pales compared to the fundamental fact that they are creatures of God: children of a common father and servants of a common master.

This does not happen by standing a Communion line. In a line, you look at the back of a person’s head, merely waiting until he passes on so you can have your turn. It is the same atomized, mechanical process that we’re familiar with from stores, banks, and other public service places: just waiting until you get yours and can go.

When you are kneeling side-by-side with someone, however, you are both facing the same direction, shoulder to shoulder, and thus tacitly united for a common purpose. The communion rail requires that the congregation each subject themselves together with his neighbor; committing a common act of humility and reverence before God, and thus highlighting their common nature before Him.

Let me see if I can illustrate this with an anecdote: there is a story of a Methodist church in the South shortly after the Civil War. When communion time came, a dignified Black man stunned the congregation by presenting himself first at the communion rail. The rest of the congregation sat still, no one wanting to kneel beside him. All, that is, except for a stately, white haired gentleman, who rose from his place and joined him. Seeing this man humbly kneeling beside the other led the rest of the congregation to join him. For you see, that white haired gentleman was Robert E. Lee.

Now, had there just been a communion line, that story would not have had the same impact. Because a line, as noted, is atomized: each individual presents himself effectively alone, takes communion, and leaves. But the rail is communal. Men have to kneel side-by-side with one another, placing themselves on equal footing before God, rubbing elbows with whoever happens to be there.

I am not an egalitarian. I don’t believe there ever has been, will be, or ought to be a classless society, and I think there is much to be said in favor of hereditary aristocracy. But I believe there are three places where all men are equal: in the cradle (all men are born in equal innocence and helplessness), in the coffin (all men are equally subject to death), and at the communion rail (all men are equally subject to God).

It is a great shame that we’ve largely done away with one of these.

AMDG

Please Do Not Try to Find Holy Images in Random Things

I happened upon this article through ‘Big Pulpit,’ and I have to make a quick comment: I really, really wish Christians would stop posting things like this:

Miraculous Image of Blessed Mother Holding Baby Appears in Pregnancy Sonogram – See the Photo!

by ChurchPOP Editor – 

The story itself is actually well worth reading, about a woman who was told she would never conceive, but went on to have nine children. But the image itself is nothing: it’s a vague, orangish blob that, to my mind, doesn’t look much like the image of a face (the ‘forehead’ is too large, there’s a weird projection on the bridge of the ‘nose’, two or three potential ‘eyes’, and so on). Here’s a clearer shot:

Now, anyone is welcome to take comfort from this image, or to use it as a reminder of the ever-present care of the Blessed Virgin, but please, please stop putting this sort of thing out there and calling it a ‘miracle.’ In the first place, it isn’t a miracle: it’s a subjective interpretation.  A real miracle would be far clearer, would be unaccountable by other explanations, and so on. This image has no meaning to anyone who does not already bring a desire to read that meaning into it.

Me, I believe in miracles: if you tell me St. Joseph of Cuptertino flew through the air, I’ll say it very well may have happened, and if you then give me documentary evidence of it, I’ll call it a fact that he did. Precisely for that reason I do not care for cheap, desperate attempts to claim miracles where there are none. To quote Father Brown, if I want real miracles, I know where I can get them.

The problem is that when you put something like this out there and declare it a miracle, or declare it is a sign from God, or anything of the kind, you do not convince anyone; you do the reverse. You make Christians or pro-lifers look insane, or at the very least extremely credible and willing to grasp at any flimsy straw that seems to confirm their preconceived view of the world. Worse, it encourages Christians to actually behave that way, which is the last thing we need. Not just because it hurts us in the eyes of the unconverted, but because it is actually damaging to our faith. Accepting flimsy, flattering ‘miracles’ like this only encourages us to take a lax, emotionally charged, and intellectually weak approach to our religion.

Please, please stop doing this.