The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Saturday, September 30, 2006


The Anglican Cleric has done it again with this educational post on the Roman concept of Purgatory.

My only addtional comment: it's odd that he needs to argue these things, since in 99% of the Roman Catholic Church in the developed world, purgatory is a dead doctrine and not even mentioned anymore in most Catholic venues. Indeed, even in the pre-Vatican II Roman liturgy, the word "Purgatorio" does not appear once.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Final Doxology

Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius
laudate eum in firmamento virtutis eius
laudate eum in virtutibus eius
laudate eum secundum multitudinem magnitudinis eius
laudate eum in sono tubae
laudate eum in psalterio et cithara
laudate eum in tympano et choro
laudate eum in cordis et organo
laudate eum in cymbalis bene sonantibus
laudate eum in cymbalis iubilationis
omnis spiritus laudet Dominum.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Who Cares?

This is where my mea culpa comes in. I have participated with my typical rhetorical flair in this argument over at the All Too Common Blog. Now I regret doing it. Why argue with some anti-ecumenical Roman Catholic over the finer points of the vague history of sacramental theology? Does it really matter that one bishop somewhere in the Apostolic line "crossed his fingers" when he laid on hands? Even if our sacraments are "invalid", does that mean the Holy Spirit cannot work in the Church?

Something tells me that the Reformer's emphasis on Faith is what's most important here. "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee...." Vain is the help of man. Even if our orders are invalid, what would it matter? The Power of God works through the weakness of men if we only believe. "If you only had faith the size of a mustard seed...."

I fell into the RC trap of "sacramental validity" because of my pride mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa....

If this doesn't make any sense, it is because I am a sleep-deprived student. Good night and God bless.

Banda El Recodo - Parece Mentira

I have this song stuck in my head. I think this video pretty much proves the superiority of Mexican popular music over its Northern cousin. I don't think you even need to know Spanish to appreciate the video (follow this link). Typical stuff: love, betrayal, etc.

Translation of the chorus:

It seems like a lie
That you have forgotten me,
I who loved you so much
And now you're with him.

It seems like a lie that
In the arms of your lover
You've forgotten that you swore
To always be faithful to me,
It seems like a lie.

Catchy, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Only Thing Keeping Me Sane Right Now Is...

....listening to the tango station from Buenos Aires (the link to your right). Between midterms, quizzes, papers, and presentations, I have been working non-stop since Friday. Hopefully, I will put up something more substantial on Thursday, once my ordeal is over.

Monday, September 25, 2006

De Corpore Vero Christi

Day by day we are presented with the most minor of choices. Cup of coffee? The questions come in - regular or large? latte, mocha, cappuccino? shot of this? hint of that? c. Michael Moynagh suggests that this is how the Church will eventually become, and lists some very exotic forms of church. Imagine! a church for dancers, a church for chess players, a church for windsurfers... et c. each person insisting how their worship is carried out and in referring to others "praxes" with the phrase "well, they can do that if they want, but it's not my cup of tea.

....Worship is the submission of life to the object, and if the object of our worship becomes "God, but only in a certain manner" then that is pure and simple idolatry - the worship of a God of one's own imaginings.

-Warwickensis, from the O Cuniculi! Blog, now added to the list of blogs I spend too much of my precious time reading.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nascentes Morimur.....

Where's the party at!?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Cranmer In My Heart....

Father of all mercies,who through the work of thy servant Thomas Cranmer didst renew the worship of thy Church and through his death didst reveal thy strength in human weakness: strengthen us by thy grace so to worship thee in spirit and in truth that we may come to the joys of thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

It is unpleasant to think that in history we have to take sides. Since we think we have so much more insight now than the actors did back then, we would like to overlook that our predecessors sent others to death over things that we find trivial. In some more extreme circumstances, we can even usurp the past and interpret it according to our own comfortable prejudices. We can cherry-pick what we like and leave what we do not like to rot on its branch. Is this an honest approach? That is a very difficult question.

Thomas Cranmer was a coward. He was also a royal hack who did some rather unscrupulous things. He was not even an original scholar. He did, however, die a heroic death.... or so we can believe. Either those who burned him were in the right to do so and he was reaping what he sowed, or he died a martyr. Either his resistance of Roman authority was legitimate or he deserved to be burned at the stake as a heretic and schismatic. Either he died within the true Church in the flames, or he died outside of the bosom of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and Roman Church.

Cranmer of course was not an Anglican Pope. He was not a "founder" by his own admission. He was, however, the one who got the ball rolling for a Church that was both Catholic and Reformed. The great Divines who came after him until the Oxford Movement and beyond would not question his basic project. To do so would make the whole edifice fall. Cranmer was either a hero on that dreadful day in March 1556 or he died one of the worst enemies of the Church of Christ who has ever lived. There is, I think, no third option. You have to take sides.

As the flames lept up, he stretched out his right hand, saying with a loud voice, "This hand has offended," and held it steadfastly in the fire until it was burnt to ashes.

Thomas Cranmer by Albert Pollard, p. 383

Does this mean he was infallible? No. Does this mean we cannot question him? Of course not! You cannot, however, say that he was in the wrong on this day. If you can say this, you need to swim the Tiber and now, regardless of the consequences. You cannot be a Papalist and an Anglican, that just does not make sense. You cannot say that Roman doctrines and practices are absolutely true and necessary for salvation and still remain outside of the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. If, in all of the factions left in the traditional Anglican and independent Catholic world, there has to be one stand that we can all agree on, it must be this: we may strongly suspect we are right, but we do not know that we are right. Therefore, we cannot commit ourselves to a system that claims that it is the only right way to believe in Christ. Cranmer must thus be a martyr for us, if only a very flawed one.

He called out [from the flames], " I see Heaven open and Jesus on the right hand of the throne of God."

-Thomas Cranmer by Jasper Ridley, p. 408

Since my encounter with traditional Anglicanism, I have put off many of the ideas of what I thought was necessary to be believed by an "apostolic" Christian. My encounter with High Churchmen, Low Churchmen, Protestants and Anglo-Catholics has shown me that maybe I do not know what the criterion for being in the True Church is anymore. All I know is where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is in their midst. Sure, there are lots of other things that I know are important, but how important?

I have posted on this blog that Cranmer was a radical Protestant. Even if this is true, so what? He believed some questionable things. He did some less than ethical political moves. He almost committed himself to some propaganda he did not believe in. But he loved Christ. I remember from MacCullough's biography two touching episodes. One was when Cranmer attended Henry VIII on his death bed and said only to the dying king to put his trust in Christ. There were no grandiose rituals or platitudes, only trust, and nothing else. The other is a little less religious. It was before Cranmer's execution when the condemned man was trying to have the friar assure him that his estates would be passed on to his son. Cranmer then broke down in sobs when thinking about the young boy, and MacCullough comments that the friar remained cold to this display of emotion, never having experienced the visceral love of a father. Cranmer was a human being who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. And he was a martyr. That has to mean something. It does for me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


(Or Books I Wish I Had Time to Read)

Y con tanta ciencia una inútil ansia de tener lástima de algo, de que llueva aquí dentro, de que por fin empiece a llover, a oler a tierra, a cosas vivas, sí, por fin a cosas vivas.

-Julio Cortazar

(And with so much knowledge a useless desire to feel sorry for something, that it rain inside of this room, that it finally start to rain, to smell of earth, of living things, yes, finally of living things.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

De Ecclesia (Iterum)

Caelestis urbs Jerusalem,
Beata pacis visio,
Quae celsa de viventibus
Saxis ad astra tolleris,
Sponsaeque ritu cingeris
Mille Angelorum millibus.

O sorte nupta prospera,
Dotata Patris gloria,
Respersa Sponsi gratia,
Regina formosissima,
Christo iugata Principi,
Caeli corusca civitas.

Hic margaritis emicant,
Patentque cunctis ostia:
Virtute namque praevia
Mortalis illuc ducitur,
Amore Christi percitus
Tormenta quisquis sustinet.

Scalpri salubris ictibus,
Et tunsione plurima,
Fabri polita malleo
Hanc saxa molem construunt,
Aptisque iuncta nexibus
Locantur in fastigio.

Decus Parenti debitum
Sit usquequaque Altissimo.
Natoque Patris unico,
Et inclyto Paraclito,
Cui laus, potestas, gloria
Aeterna sit per saecula.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Yes, Things Have Really Gotten That Bad....

I am currently listening to Mahler's First Symphony. Be afraid!

Dum Medium Silentium

...the Pope failed to grasp that under the tenets of radical Islam of the modern age, context means little, intent nothing, learning less than zero. If a sentence, indeed a mere phrase can be taken out of context, twisted, manipulated to show an absence of deference to Islam, furor ensues, death threats follow, assassins load their belts....

-Victor Davis Hanson

The following is not just a meditation on how the Pope's quotation of a long dead Byzantine emperor has sparked conflict and controversy. Rather it is a reflection on the entire intellectual atmosphere in which we find ourselves. In more than one way, it is a discourse of silence; silence on all sides, and deafness to history. It is on all levels and in every conversation. The Muslim response to some historical remarks are only the most hostile form of this phenomenon.

I am taking an African American Studies graduate seminar here at the liberal bastion of U.C. Berkeley, and while the class claims to be getting rid of the silences of the people of the African diaspora, by white-washing history too much (no pun intended), I fear that this class will never be able to understand history fully. One of the greatest breakthroughs of modern thought has been the recovery of history. We have the ability now to take things in context, to know and distinguish between our opinions and the opinions of those who came before us, and to appreciate and critique those opinions. Nevertheless, this ability more often than not has proven too painful, and therefore it is silenced, either directly or through shouting it down with the dominant thought-paradigms propagated by the media and academia.

We have our own ideas. Liberal democracy entitles us to think however we want, regardless of our abilities, eloquence, or even facts. When someone attacks us, it often becomes a question of Nietzschean will to power and will to over-power: the will to not have to listen and to assert what we feel and believe on others. Radical Islam, while claiming to be traditional, has proven itself to be the best follower of the postmodern political discourse founded by our syphilitic philosopher. Unlike the erudite and cultured Islam of medieval Muslim Spain, it has decided no longer to talk to anyone and silence everyone with violence when necessary (and even when it is not "necessary"). We too do this on our own small level everyday. Perhaps it is just fallen human nature, magnified by post-1789 principles and sent all over the globe via Internet, television screens and other forms of mass communication. The past is silenced, the facts are put in the closet, the din of opinions and counter-opinions increases to the point of a screeching yell drowning out everything else.....

And in the midst of this silence of noise, a voice of reason emerges that simply states a fact of history, and the well of rage begins to overflow like an exploding volcano.

Enough! Holy Father, stand your ground. It's about time someone did.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What I Am Listening To Right This Minute....

Philip Glass' score to Lucinda Childs' Dance nos. 1-5

Two More Recommended Blogs

Anglican Parish Priest - A new blog from a priest of the Province of Christ the King. Visit it and spread the word.

Anglican Philosopher - This is an interesting find. It is very well-written and thought-out.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Another Must Read

[This time from Pope Benedict XVI.]

I, like all nosy people, like controversy. So when I saw that Pope Benedict's speech at a German university caused controversy due to some perceived anti-Muslim remarks, it encouraged me to actually read the speech. I'm glad I did: it clarified a lot of things that have been swishing about in my head for a long time. The speech can be found in PDF format here. I make here a special acknowledgement to the Conservative Blog for Peace for leading me to it.

The controversial stuff we already know about and do not need to delve into it in any depth. Islam has taught that their faith should be spread by the sword. There is a more pacifist side as well, but the militant is not negated. What fascinated me about the lecture was the broader point, which can be summarized by a quote from the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II:

"Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God."

The context of the controversial remarks was a recorded polemic between the emperor and a Persian. Many Isalmic thinkers, according to Benedict, do not think that God is bound by reason, nor is He even bound by His own words. To the question, "Can God make a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?," many Muslim philosophers have said through the centuries that He can, because He is God and can do anything (?). God can even order something like the worship of false gods in idolatry. The main problem here is the problem of analogy and the problem of human knowledge viz. the being of God. Is any reasoning in relation to God absolutely null and void? Is there an absolute difference between the God of philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as Pascal thought? What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

The question is not entirely abstract confessionally. Aside from Pascal and Kiekegaard, even some venerable figures in Church history have come close to a destructive and illogical agnosticism. Did not St. Gregory Palamas say that not only was God beyond all knowing, but also beyond all unknowing (whatever that is supposed to mean)? Stressing that God is a Person and not an Essence is a key point in starting to think about God in our own small way. God, however, is a Person in all respects, which means He is "reasonable" in a very real sense. His ways may not be our ways, but they are logical ways nonetheless. Apophatic theology, however, even under Pseudo-Dionysius, does not mean that we should never try and think about God, but rather that any light we do obtain is meager compared to the Uncreated Light that we will see in patria. It is Light, Precious Light, nonetheless, not to be rejected or belittled.

That is all for now on this subject, though I might have jumped the gun a bit on these particular thoughts. In the next few weeks, I will be posting some more clarifications about what I mean precisely.

Read, however, the whole text of Pope Benedict's speech. It is well worth it.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Dame La Mano
Gabriela Mistral

Dame la mano y danzaremos;
dame la mano y me amarás.
Como una sola flor seremos
como una flor, y nada más.

El mismo verso cantaremos,
al mismo paso bailarás.
Como un espiga ondularemos,
como una espiga, y nada más.

Te llamas Rosa y yo Esperanza;
pero tu nombre olvidarás,
porque seremos una danza
en la colina, y nada más.

(Give me your hand and we shall dance,
Give me your hand and you will love me.
Like a single flower we shall be,
Like a single flower, and nothing else...

The same verse we shall sing,
The same step you will dance.
Like a grain of wheat we shall sway,
Like a grain of wheat, and nothing else.

Your name is Rose and mine Hope;
But your own name you will forget,
Because we shall become one dance
On the hill, and nothing else.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cranmer On My Mind....

I know I wrote an earlier post in which I dissed the the mind behind the Book of Common Prayer as a radical Protestant. Since then, I have read among other things Basil Hall's essay in Thomas Cranmer: Churchman and Scholar, in which he clarifies Cramner's eucharistic theology in terms of distinguishing it from the theology of Zwingli and other reformers. Cranmer did believe, as opposed to pure "memorialists", that Christ is present during Holy Communion for the believer. Also, the assertion that Cranmer wanted a more radical Prayer Book than the 1552 is also not correct. So Archbishop Cranmer, all I have to say is: My bad! You are a pretty swell guy after all!

I don't have a lot of time these days for independent study. Most of my time is spent translating Latin, reading novels for a literature class, and reading about theories for opposing oppressive Eurocentric discourses (African American Studies, I need it for my major). I want to study Cranmer more in depth, however, with the little time I have. Can someone who was the impresario behind a spiritual masterpiece like the Prayer Book really be all that bad? I mean, I stand in church everyday and listen to the prayers he re-worked, re-wrote, and composed outright. So there is something there. Something significant.

Much of my thought has been influenced by Catholic polemics against Protestantism and modern philosophy. Notably, Maritain's Three Reformers, attacking Luther, Descartes, and Rousseau, played a big part in my coming to the conclusion that I knew the disease at the root of the postmodern malaise. Now I am not so sure. Many scholars have shown that Descartes was heavily influenced by St. Augustine and other more ancient sources of philosophy. And do we really want to live in a pre-Enlightenment world where "liberty, equality, and fraternity" are merely aspirations of those at the bottom of a rigidly stratified society?

Do I really want to sink my teeth, then, into Protestant theology to see what I can find? Will I just find what I have always thought: it is the product of an overly rationalized, nominalist philosophy? Will I find something I didn't expect?

Cranmer was no dummy. He didn't just get his ideas from the ether. Peter Martyr was a scholar in Patristics. What drove these men to revolutionize the Church the way they did? Can we be so sure of the answer? I know I can't.

Duc in altum.....

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


......I Do Write This Blog From Berkeley

I want to introduce my readers to the work of the composer Terry Riley. I first saw Mr. Riley at the Chapel of the Chimes down the street in north Oakland way back in 1996. I didn't know it was him until I was standing a few feet away from him and realized he was holding an envelope with the name, "Terry Riley" on it. I had already listened to his seminal work, In C, which can be obtained in a multiple number of recordings. I then saw him live giving a solo piano performance here in Berkeley back in 1999.

Aside from In C, the other much more interesting piece that I would recommend is Shri Camel, a daring work for electronic organ and tape delay (you don't have to be high when you listen to it, but it helps). An underestimated work by this godfather of minimalism is June Buddhas, based the poetry of Jack Kerouac, with an imposing beginning for chorus:

"Great God Almighty
What's to be done?
O what's to be done?
Sings the majestic keener
and moaner
At the Mexican Funeral Home-"

Mexico City Blues
224th Chorus

This is perhaps one of the greatest works for orchestra in the last fifty years.

For those not willing to waste money on the crazy suggestions of a sociopath eccentric, you can listen to many samples of Riley's work on his website where you can hear portions of his album Atlantis Nath from which the above picture was taken, and also listen to a live concert that Riley gave by following this link. The Morning Raga is to be highly recommended, since Riley studied for years under the classical Indian vocalist, Pandit Pran Nath. You can also watch a video of Terry Riley by going here.

P.S. I don't do drugs. Really.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blogger News

The Occidentalis Blog is up and running again! Now you have even more reasons to spend valuable time in front of a cold glowing screen! But this is worth it, especially for Anglican and Western Orthodox Christians.

Monday, September 11, 2006

De Libro

I work in the Main Stacks of the library here at U.C. Berkeley. It's a student job. I don't have many responsibilities; I am basically a drone. But I'm a hard-working drone. I seldom get distracted by the books that I have to shelve, sort, and re-adjust on their shelves. Last Saturday, however, I couldn't resist picking up a compilation of articles celebrating the 135th anniversary of the Argentine newspaper, La Nacion. When I was a bored and dissipated seminarian, I used to read this newspaper. I especially enjoyed its cultural section with art and music reviews. (Why else read the paper?) In this particular volume, however, I found a gem by one of my favorite authors of all time: Jorge Luis Borges.

The title of the short article is "The Cult of the Book". ("Culto" in Spanish poses many difficulties for a translator: it can mean anything from religious practice to learning in general.) In the brief reflection, he analyzes the history of written discourse in his characteristically erudite manner, starting from the ancient Greeks and jumping all the way up to Mallarme in a few short paragraphs. He points out how in the beginning there was a reluctance of the ancients to write anything down, quoting most significantly St. Clement of Alexandria who said that writing everything down in a book posed the same dangers as leaving a sword in the hands of a child. For many of the ancients, oral tradition was preferred because it was considered safe and living as opposed to partially passing on knowledge in written form.

Borges then rather oddly states that the tide turned in Western thought when St. Augustine attributed to St. Ambrose in the Confessions the ability to read without moving his lips, disconnecting the written word from oral pronunciation. The Argentine then proceeds to analyze the metaphysical concepts of the written word in Islam and rabbinic Judaism. In the former, the Koran is not just deemed a message of God but an attribute of God Himself. This is seen in another text by Borges, a fictional story about Averroes in which Muslim scholars in Spain debate the uncreated nature of Allah's Book. In latter rabbinic writings, God is said to create the universe from the numbers one through ten and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Borges writes:

That numbers are the instruments of creation is a dogma of Pythagoras and Iamblichus; the idea that letters are these instruments is a clear indication of the new religion of the letter.

He then goes on to quote Leon Bloy in a very significant passage:

History is an immense liturgical text, where commas and periods are no less important than verses and whole chapters, but the significance of them all is something undetermined and profoundly hidden.

Borges ends his piece echoing Bloy:

We are the verses or words or letters of a magical book, and that never-ending book is the only thing that there is in the world: it is, rather, the world itself.

There are many things I regret about history. I regret that Latin crusaders sacked Constantinople and gave the Byzantine empire a fatal blow. I regret that St. Bonaventure destroyed his version of the Office of Corpus Christi without letting anyone see it. And I regret that such figures as Iamblichus and Borges did not convert to Christianity. In the twentieth century, there were great luminaries of Christian theology, but certainly not enough. Imagine someone of Borges' depth of learning and imagination writing for the cause of Christ? Alas, it was not meant to be: Borges was a staunch agnostic and enemy of the Church. He was, however, one of the most acute minds of the literary world and an embodiment of culture in its highest form.

The day he wrote the above, however, he was probably having a severe lapse of memory. For he forgot the most significant passage in all of Western literature concerning books, or rather the Book that is all things:

And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.

-Revelation, Ch. 5

It is hoped that Borges will stand corrected on that day when he comes face to face with the Lamb of God, the ultimate Writer and Reader of all that is.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Blasts From My Past

Just in case you thought I was kidding, here are pictures of the seminary church in Argentina I was talking about a few posts down. Pretty, ain't it? It took seven hours to consecrate, and was built for a song compared to First World standards. I am glad they got rid of that aweful reredo and replaced it with a nice red curtain. The seminarians as you can see also now face the right direction in choir: facing each other rather than facing the altar. Gosh I miss it!

For my Orthodox and Anglican readers, you will be happy to know that the name of the church is Immaculate Conception Church (the day of its consecration) and the name of the seminary..... Our Lady Co-Redemptrix Seminary. Can't get any more Trad RC than that, can you?

Go here for more fun Lefebvrist pictures of the annual pilgrimage to Lujan the seminarians lead on foot every year. (Approximately a 25 mile trek in cassock and surplice.... ah, the memories.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Honest Ecclesiology

See this post (or rather a post-within-a-post-within-a-post).

This of course is originally from our friend over at the Ochlophobist blog, and it struck me as being incredibly honest and very true. I sometimes wonder why I am not Orthodox, and my only response is "been there, done that". I should say that I was rather a "Uniate" (I know, people don't like the term, but if the shoe fits.....). In any event, I could tell you how many stichera are supposed to be sung at Vespers tonight, whether or not it's a fast day, and how many canons have to read tommorrow at Matins. You know, the important things in life.....

Seriously though, having been a Uniate, I just have to say to any Orthodox reading this: don't do it, don't even think about doing it, and Rome can keep its organization, number, and prestige; it's all it really has anyway. Any liturgical, spiritual, or theological treasure Rome had was either thrown out the window or is now kept in the basement. (I should know, I have been to many liturgical basements.) If the Catholic and Orthodox Churches united tommorrow, why go to Divine Liturgy every Sunday when you can go to St. Anne's Catholic Community down the road and only spend an hour in church instead of three or four? If you don't do things the same, you aren't the same. That's just the way it is. If anything, Orthodoxy would just become one more corner in the Roman liturgical storage area: the people with the "funny-looking Mass."

Of course, I am not as certain as my blogger friend about the Orthodox Church being the one, true Church Christ founded. If it has any claim to this, according to my understanding of how history is, it is because it was kept stored up in a sealed box and emerged to the world only in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. For me, the same isolation that has kept the Orthodox so pristine is also a symptom of a sin (or at least defect) of omission on its part. History for Eastern Orthodoxy ended in 1453, and they are having the darndest time starting up the clock again. Some time later, (when I have time..... which is very spare these days) I am going to post something on my experience with Orthdox theology, for better or for worse.

One thing I heartily agree with is the sentiment that the Church of the future will be small and strange. (Was it Flannery O' Connor who said, "the truth will make you odd"?) The whole urge of professional ecumenists to get us all in the Big Tent as soon as possible is very odd to me. "Ut unum sint" (that they all may be one) was not a command. Even if we take the Vulgate (sorry, I do not yet know Greek), the verb is in the subjunctive; it is a wish, not a command. What is commanded is that we hold fast to what has been handed down to us, that we presevere in our Faith to the end, and that we love one another. Anything that is not contained in these things is not urgent. It is not urgent that we have the same CEO on the masthead of our Christian "corporations", it is not urgent that we have the exact same press releases, and it is not urgent that we look organized, efficient, and effective as an organization. Maybe "unity" in the form we want it is not ours to seek, but rather God's to give. If we cannot receive it, it is because we are sinful. Just leave it at that.

Christianity, I am certain, as a mass phenomenon is dead..... long live Christianity! I recently read Chuvin's Chronicle of the Last Pagans. It was a sobering read about the decline and disappearance of paganism in the Roman Empire. It never really died out until about the eleventh century. In one city in what is now Iraq, there was still a remnant of the pagan, Neoplatonic schools that preserved the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek learning. It was from there that they were spread again throughout the Arab world, and from there to Europe, and the rest is history. Maybe that is how we will be. Christ said the gates of hell will not prevail. He didn't elaborate on what that means exactly. So just as these last hold-outs preserved Neoplatonic thought-forms, so maybe that is how we apostolic Christians (Orthodox, Anglicans, Catholics) will preserve the ascetical, liturgical and traditional Christianity of the ages. We just have to be another faithful link in the chain.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Michael Nyman

I am mad at myself for not having posted anything about this composer sooner. He is by far the most underestimated composer alive today. Famous for his soundtrack to the movie, The Piano, his music is exactly what music should be: beautiful, energetic, and unpretentious. (Here he is pictured with his music-making posse, the Michael Nyman Band.... pretty thugged-out, as we youngsters tend to say!)

The thing that has always fascinated me about Nyman is that he seems to have become a composer by accident. In reality, so I think the story goes, he was a musicologist by training, and he wrote one of the first books on the minimalist movement in modern music. So, rather than being a frustrated composer who became a music critic, he is a music critic who became a composer. Only when he was asked to do a soundtrack to an avant-garde film with medieval instruments did the idea for the Michael Nyman Band emerge, and he hasn't looked back since.

As for recommendations, his string quartets are very good, as is his opera "Facing Goya", among so many other things. (I also like the soundtrack to The Piano, too.)

Visit his website .

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

St. Therese - The Story of A Soul

Part VIII- Your Love Grew With Me

I saw my reflection in the window across the hall, the bottom of my cassock swaying as I rocked on my feet back and forth. I was nervous, but I didn't realize how nervous. I got up and looked at the top of the just-consecrated church. It was so tiring, the whole process of completing its construction, consecrating it, having the annual pilgrimage on foot to Lujan, and ordinations all within four days. The rector was thus very wise in giving us first year seminarians another silent retreat at the end of the year. This was the day of my general confession. I had to confess all of the sins I had ever done in my life. I wrote them down, and the more I thought of them, the more my heart sank.

Finally, the door to my spiritual director's office opened. I then went in, and he was as usual sitting to the right of a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I looked to that maternal face, hands folded in prayer, so gentle and womanly, ready to witness this act of coming home. I began my confession:

"Ave Maria Purisima!"
"Sin pecado concebida."

I don't know if you have ever felt your soul being ripped out of your chest, but it is not pleasant. Not at all. After each sin, from the smallest lie to the most unspeakable action, I felt them weighing more and more on me. My confessor stayed stoical: he had heard it all before. Toward the end, I just lost it completely. I was heaving with sobs. I felt completely worthless before God. I felt that I would always be a pile of filth in His eyes, and I was sobbing violently.

Now, Father might have been a little taken aback by all of this, but he did not lose his composure. So, what do you do when a fat, grown man breaks down in front of you and starts crying like a baby? Easy question, learnt on the first day of pastoral theology class: you tell a story.

After he was ordained in Econe, Switzerland, he went to Rome with a group of fellow priests to visit the various holy sites. When they got to the catacombs, the guide saw the cassocks and said instantly to them: "Do you know the early Christians believed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus?" Now, SSPX priests are pious and that might distort their vision of history, but not that much. They knew that the Sacred Heart devotion was started during the time of the Counter-reformation. So they were at first reluctant to believe this guide.

"No," the guide said, "come and see."

They went down into the dark catacomb and they stopped at a fresco of the Good Sheperd, a favorite image of the early Church. Our Lord appeared to have something on his chest, maybe it was a pouch of some sort.

"See," the guide insisted, " that is His heart."

"I have found my lost sheep."

How does God look at you? That is the first question of the spiritual life. When He looks down at you, what does He see? He sees you lonely, He sees you suffering, He sees you anxious in the dark night. What does He see, and how does He feel?

Like all good pieces of music, a spiritual life has to be in a key of some sort. Mine is in the key of St. Therese of Lisieux. It might get a little dissonant and even atonal at times, but that is the key my life is in. The mercy of the Lord endureth forever. I know. I have experienced it.

When we understand that God is disarmed before us, that the Creator of the Universe is a beggar shivering in front of the porch of our hearts, that is the most humbling and painful thing to think about. Even terrifying, because love is terrifying. To think that He has so much invested in us, that He waits for us like a mother waiting for her child to walk through that door at the dead of night, that He is ready to forgive us at the first sign that we want to come home... what are we to say to this? Perhaps so many people don't believe because they think they don't deserve it. They think that they will never be able to return that love, so why even try?

Christ, however, in agony until the end of the world, looks down hanging on the Cross and says to each one of us:

"Will you love me?"

This is where the language of generosity enters into the picture, the language of the widow's mite. My family was very poor when I was growing up. I remember living in migrant camps, going to soup kitchens, and getting hand-outs from the church and other places to make sure we had enough to make it. But no matter how poor we were, when we had enough, we always shared with people who had nothing. I remember my Grandma Maria used to lead us across from our house to leave plates of food for the homeless, and I remember my abuelita Julieta sending us to give food to shut-ins. You don't have to be rich to do something beautiful for God and your neighbor. You just have to love, and love will give you wings to fly.

For so many years, I have prayed to God to take away this heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. I pray this still, but now I understand that I have to be patient. I can offer God so little, I can be so mean, cruel and selfish, but God accepts the little I do, and He treasures it like I treasured the humble toys my deceased grandmother used to give me. I was never so happy to receive them, and God is the same way with whatever I give Him.

Even if the doubting voices are right, even if I have no virtues to present to God at the end of it all, I will not be afraid. One of St. Therese's novices came to her one day and said that she feared the judgments of God. When she persisted in her fears, the saint merely said to her, "If you want justice you will get justice. I for my part hope for His mercy. I will go before the Judgment Seat with empty hands." At another point, St. Therese was flattered by another nun saying that when she looked at Therese, she realized how much she still had to gain to be virtuous .

"Rather," St. Therese said, "it's how much you have to lose."

So when I go before the Judgment Seat, and I am asked about having been such a failure, how I fled from the spiritual fight, and how I have nothing to show for it all, I will merely say,

"I have empty hands because I gave it all away. It wasn't You, Lord. It wasn't You."

Today I helped feed the homeless in People's Park. On the Catholic Worker van, there is a picture of Jesus standing in a soup line waiting to be fed. Being a Christian does not mean you have to strive for great things. It means that you have to strive to do little things greatly. What a joy it is to live under the gaze of God's eye!

You have loved me, Lord, and I thank You.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Apophthegmata Patrum

Part VII- If I Had Not Destroyed Myself Completely, I Should Not Have Been Able To Rebuild And Shape Myself Again (Abba Alonius)


La Reja, Argentina 2002 -

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

I look up from the bench I am kneeling on to the apse of the church. The sun will not come up today behind that layer of clouds. The morning will be gray again, and the sun will not pierce its rays through the small windows that hover over the altar. It would be gloomy again. Pleasant but gloomy.

Then I hear the two knocks. That means time to wrap up the meditation. Sorry, Lord this hasn't been a very good one. How, I thought, could I be focused after the coversation I had with my spiritual director yesterday. A monk? What makes him think I can be a monk? I came all of these thousands of miles, gave up everything I had ever known, and for what? Yes, part of me is relieved, even elated. But why me, Lord? I am not the holiest one here. I am not even a very good seminarian compared to all of these guys. Look at good old F. over there. That guy is practically a saint. Could I make it in a monastery?

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae.... There goes the meditation. I get up after the Angelus and walk quickly to the altar I am serving on in the apse and help the priest vest. Fortuneatly, the priest I am serving for says his Mass quicker than the priest on the altar. (My spiritual director.... always takes his sweet time!) I struggle to hear my priest in the midst of four other Masses going on all around me:"

Confitebor tibi in cithara, Deus, Deus meus...

...omnes sanctos et te Pater.... quare conturbas me?

Lectio Epistolae Sancti Pauli Apostoli...

Whispers deflecting off whispers, shuffling of feet, the turning of pages, the din of newly consecrated stone..... I always keep score of who is where in their Mass. There is a mysticism about it, of pure doing without contemplation. It is the prayer of just being alive and awake. I take Communion, and shortly afterwards help the priest unvest. I rush to put away the vestments, empty the cruets, cover up the side altar, and get back to my place before breakfast starts so I can at least get in a modest thanksgiving after Holy Communion. I say in an Anima Christi and a few other prayers, and I get up and go to breakfast, which I eat quickly, as usual. (Indeed, I am always made fun of because of how quickly I scarf my breakfast down.)

I reach the dishroom and turn on the water. The loud gushing breaks the silence of the morning. I put the large red container in the Stone Age-looking sink and begin to fill it. As hot as I can take it without burning myself.... that is the rule. I begin to wash all of the left-over dishes, having rolled up the sleeves of my cassock so that they don't get wet. I look up at the crucifix placed over the sink, and tears well up in my eyes."A monk, Lord? That is too much. But Thy will be done. Thy will be done."

In silence. Everything in silence. My work partner finally arrives and I intone the prayer:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum....

Everything begins with a prayer here. We finish fairly quickly, and I have just enough time to go comfortably up to my room, get my things, and descend for the first class starting at nine o'clock.

Throughout the day, all I can think of is that I might be leaving all of this soon. I had made such good friends and the SSPX and its faithful down here have always been good to me. No, it's not like I am leaving tommorrow, but still, what is to become of all of it? I can hardly do anything. All things are marked by uncertainty and fear. Sure, I have read all of those sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Philokalia, St. Gregory Palamas, but does that mean I am ready to "put it into practice"? God has brought me up this high only to say that I need to come of even higher, give up even more, strive even harder to return His love for me. Yes, I am scared. Very scared.

Night finally comes. I enter the recreation room with my usual smile. I have tried throughout the day to conceal my angst and forboding. Then, I go to my favorite book in the recreation room: Athos: The Holy Mountain by Philip Sherrard. I turn to the last page of the book, and my eyes rest again on that defintion of a monk by St. Symeon the New Theologian:

Solitary, one who is unmixed with the world
And speaks continually with God alone.
Seeing, he is seen,
And loving he is loved,
And he becomes light glimmering unspeakably,
Blessed he feels himself all the more poor,
And being close, yet goes a stranger.
O miracle strange in every way and inexplicable!
For immense riches I exist penniless,
And having as I think nothing possess much,
And I say I thirst in the midst of waters."

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, I think to myself as I exit the church after Compline. This is Great Silence, and I see many seminarians and priests walking about with rosaries in hand, praying to God in their hearts. In silence, in love. My heart thirsts after Thee, O God.... Whatever you want, I will do it. I exit the cloister briefly and look up at the sky. To the west, there is the dim glow that is the city of Buenos Aires; to the east, the darkened sky of the pampa. I trust Thee, O my God. Fiat voluntas tua. I go up to my cell.

Tommorrow I have a Latin test. It's all going to be alright.


Big Bear Lake, U.S.A 2005

One of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, "What is a monk? He said, "He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is."

Brother Cassian looked out of the window of the bakery and saw the dirty white glowing sign of the resort across the street. A truck comes up, its chains beating against the icy road in front of the store. The sheeter makes its usual unpleasant loud sound, and the monk stood in artificial light, alone and unwilling to move. Fourteen hours, he thought to himself. That wasn't too bad. It started with Midnight Office at the metochion, after which he had to make invoices, make deliveries, come back and begin to bake, sort, package and clean up. Fourteen hours. Not as bad as some days.He went over to say goodbye to his fellow monk who was working in the back on a different shift.

Then he looked out the window again. Snow was falling. He was hungry and tired, but he did not know what he would do once he got home. It was Great Lent, and he had eaten very little over the course of the day (he was too busy and there was nothing he could eat anyway.) He reluctantly moved toward the door for the short walk back to the house. He went outside and found it really was not that unpleasant. Another truck passed, headlights blaring, chains clanging. Cassian made sure his footing was good on the icy road, and was much more assured once his feet touched the newly fallen powdery snow.

This is what it all had come to: living an hour and a half away from the monastery, working to sustain a place he didn't even live in. He hadn't even been a monk a year now, and he felt so miserable. He had no time to read, no time to pray, no time to even eat or sleep anything close to the minimum of what a human being should expect to do. But these were evil thoughts, doubtful thoughts. Whatever happened to watering the stick? Well, his stick just happened to be very, very far from the monastery. Besides, this was only temporary, like the abbot said. He had to put up with it a little longer. He had been tonsured, right? The old man, that Arturo Vasquez, was dead now. What does it matter if that corpse now has to work long hours in the dreariest job imaginable, being tried by the heat of ovens, the noise of mixers, and the hastles of taking orders and loading vans? Did he think that when he joined it was going to be a cake walk? Maybe he was just psychologically damaged like his abbot said. Maybe he was just lazy.

No, he thought to himself. I come from a family of fieldworkers, my first nursery school was a cucumber field, I began to work for money when I was five.....

There you go trying to justify yourself again, Cassian. Have you learned nothing from the Fathers? Think only positive thoughts. You are dead now, and dead people don't complain!

You are right, God forgive me! I am so wretched. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me......

The newly fallen snow made the sound of shards of glass breaking as he trampled it under his feet. Again in the distance, another vehicle was heard like the waves of the ocean crashing against the shore. The flakes fell steadily. "I am going to make it," he said to himself, "even if it kills me. I will not fail You, God. It isn't really that bad. It isn't really...."

He came to a blanket of yellow light falling on the ground from a lamp above. Through its ray, snowflakes reflected transparent in the night before they touched the ground, joining the ever-growing layer under his feet. It was all so beautiful, he thought, like the angels falling from heaven before the creation of the material world, through the eon of that fatal decision that caused him to be standing there, solitary and immoveable, a lone charcoal black figure in the midst of the pure white, snow-covered landscape. Tears mixed with the snow that was beginning to cover his beard. His heart writhed in agony. He simply didn't know what to do.

Forgive me Lord, I am so tired. I will try to do better tommorrow. Lord, forgive...... forgive..........

Cassian looked back to see the solitary set of footprints being slowly filled with snow. He couldn't stay there. He had to go on.

He reached the dark porch and saw the other two monks through the window. He stood again motionless. He didn't have the will to face them. He looked up at the sky again. No stars, only gray and black. He put his hand on the door knob and turned it.......


Yes, I killed that monk. And I will not try to justify it. I will only know at the Judgment Seat if I did the right thing. We want moral certainty in our lives, we want to know that we are in God's grace, that we are doing the right thing at every step. But that is not possible. I live with this stain in the center of my soul, and I don't know how I will get rid of it. Maybe I never will.

What happens when your dream goes bad, when things go so wrong that you can't possibly conceive a way out? On my worst days, I fear God's judgments, I fear that I have been selfish, that I am flaky, that I will never amount to anything in His eyes. But I chose this path, and it was either this or the abyss. It was not a glorious resurrection, but a resurrection of this body of death, the old man, and self-will. I had to destroy Cassian in order to rebuild and shape myself again. May God have mercy on me for doing it! All I know is that life is not what it is like in books. The reality is much more raw, unforgiving and terrifying. But above all, I finally understood this:

Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.

-Abba Poemen

Friday, September 01, 2006

Postcard from Berkeley

The Scholars
W.B. Yeats

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’s despair
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.

All shuffle there, all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbor knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?