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, June 30, 2007

Verum, Bonum, Pulchrum

Ad finem igitur aliquem actio mentis dirigitur. Nam quod intellegit finis eius est veritas, quod vult finis est bonum, quod peragit finis pulchrum. Omnia enim mens in numero, pondere, et mensura, modo, specie, et ordine transigit....

Semperque eundem in mundi motibus cernimus servari tenorem quod et finem rebus adesse certum testatur rationemque inesse artificiosam, mentem unam praeesse sapientem, rerum ominum ducem, quae et principium det cunctis, finem statuat, motus omnes debita per media ad finem ferat, ad principium referat.

-Commentaria Marsilii Ficini Florentini in Philebum Platonis De Summo Bono

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Requiescat in pace

Music for Buses – V


Arturo Vásquez

For Corinne Crawford

I decided to take the bus
To where it ended-
Beyond familiar stops
And faces of those
Who tread wearily
On newspaper-covered floors.

I decided not to get off
At my stop
But continue to that place
Where I could see worry,
Tiny and shivering,
There below-
And I could guide the sun
With a sigh
And love all
The smallness of things.

I decided no longer to feed
The cares of the day,
But finally to get off
Near the last sign
That meant the flowing of sunset
And the end of the line,

Where waters lap on
Memory’s shore,
And once again you
Fold up the night
Like a note scrawled in affection,
And there, with courage
And gentleness,
Take flight.

I decided to take the bus
To where it ended-
To see you off
As you walked away-
Since you had brightness of heart
That belongs to so few,
May the heavens possess your soul
And the earth lie light on you.

In your charity...

One of my Latin professors, Corinne Crawford, was hit by a car while cycling on Sunday and died on Tuesday. She was a vibrant, highly intelligent, and enthusiastic young woman who had even studied with the Pope's Latinist in Rome as a teenager. Please keep her in your prayers so that she might return to the Father's house.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rosa, rosae, rosae, rosam, rosa...

Rosa Nocturna

Xavier Villaurrutia

Yo también hablo de la rosa.
Pero mi rosa no es la rosa fría
ni la de piel de niño,
ni la rosa que gira
tan lentamente que su movimiento
es una misteriosa forma de la quietud.

No es la rosa sedienta,
ni la sangrante llaga,
ni la rosa coronada de espinas,
ni la rosa de la resurrección.

No es la rosa de pétalos desnudos,
ni la rosa encerada,
ni la llama de seda,
ni tampoco la rosa llamarada.

No es la rosa veleta,
ni la ulcera secreta,
ni la rosa puntual que da la hora,
ni la brujula rosa marinera.

No, no es la rosa rosa
sino la rosa increada,
la sumergida rosa,
la nocturna,
la rosa inmaterial,
la rosa hueca.

Es la rosa del tacto en las tinieblas,
es la rosa que avanza enardecida,
la rosa de rosadas uñas,
la rosa yema de los dedos ávidos,
la rosa digital
la rosa ciega.

Es la rosa moldura del oído,
la rosa oreja,
la espiral del ruido,
la rosa concha siempre abandonada
en la más alta espuma de la almohada.

Es la rosa encarnada de la boca,
la rosa que habla despierta
como si estuviera dormida.

Es la rosa entreabierta
de la que mana sombra,
la rosa entraña
que se pliega y expande
evocada, invocada, abocada,
es la rosa labial,
la rosa herida.
Es la rosa que abre los parpados,
la rosa vigilante, desvelada,
la rosa del insomnio desojada.

Es la rosa del humo,
la rosa de ceniza,
la negra rosa de carbón diamante
que silenciosa horada las tinieblas
y no ocupa lugar en el espacio.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

From Recent Correspondence

...I am a very orthodox Roman Catholic, with all of doctrinal force that this entails. I studied for the priesthood for two years with the ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic order called the Society of St. Pius X. (The doctrine was hyper-"traditional" and the liturgy was all in Latin from before the 1960's.) I then became a monk in an Eastern-rite Catholic monastery (essentially the same as the Eastern Orthodox except for its affiliation with Rome) for another two years. I returned to Berkeley to finish my B.A. last August, and I hope to complete it by December.

The Sarabite is a pure labor of love that I started while still a monk. (Indeed, "Sarabite" means "monk without a rule".) It is an attempt to make the traditional new and the new traditional. To the extent that I succeed or fail is up to my readers. For me, it really is a struggle for the meaning of what it means to be a human being. Indeed, I believe that this is the core of Christianity. As an Orthodox priest friend of mine once said: "No man equals no God". We are made in His image and likeness, and therefore to know ourselves in Christ is to know God.

As for Iamblichus, my interest in him comes from studying ancient Greek philosophy as a way of life and not a system of doctrines. In this, the French scholar Pierre Hadot is key in my formation. Knowledge is a means to an end, and not an end unto itself. In Iamblichus, I find the role of ritual and the use of matter as particularily fascinating, and have used it in my own thinking to try to derive a greater role for Christian liturgy in approaching the Faith. For Iamblichus, man becomes united with God through the use of material objects and ceremonies in order to climb the cosmic ladder, not just leap over it. That emphasis of knowing your place in the cosmos is very similar at least for me to Christian kenosis or self-emptying.

The greater issue, however, is the issue of thought as tradition. I think we postmodern people are too obsessed with thought as originality when other cultures may have conceived right thinking as something passed down. We do not arrive at God through our own individual efforts, but as a link in a chain of a broader body of history, society, and culture. The efforts to belittle this fact may be the cause of much of our malaise. Anyway, that is it in a nutshell. My regards to your family.

God bless,

(I hope to develop many of these themes in the near future.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Night Song

Brother John of the Cross laughed raucously at my anecdote about the United States, as he always tended to do.

“You Americans,” he said, “Hollywood. The movies…”

He would always like it when I spoke only a few words of English to him. Most seminarians there had grown up watching American movies, and only in Spain are they ever dubbed into English. For the most part, kids from other countries can read the subtitles of English films almost as fast as we can listen to the words. This was to the point that I really had to watch what I said around them (not that I interjected things in English often, but the wrong interjection would be understood by all). Still, my Spanish was still quite good, and most days I forgot that I ever spoke English.

On our walk, we were coming quickly on a small hut ahead of us. It was a nice day. Only a few clouds were present in the sky and the roads were not muddied at all. It was a pleasant day to go for a walk (I did not feel like playing in the other seminarians’ enthusiastic soccer game that time around.) Besides, I liked to see how Brother John mingled with the local folks. A rather portly middle aged man, he was the kind of person who had the charm to make friends with anyone. He is still in La Reja, running the seminary, playing the organ, and making life as joyous as possible for the clerics there. He is probably one of the happiest people I have ever met.

On this day, though, he was on an errand of mercy. He was going to visit “el abuelo” (the grandfather, or “gramps”). That was his hut up ahead. Surrounded by uncut weeds, it had no windows, no visible door, and it was made of concrete blocks with a rather flimsy roof.

“Grandpa!” Brother John called out.

Out came a man of slight stature, old beyond his sixty some years, and blind. He noticed immediately Brother John’s voice. He came out with such a look of joy. The seminary did what it could in order to take care of him. This just meant most of the time bringing him food and maybe taking him to the doctor if he needed it. And of course, Brother John would go and visit when he could.

Out of his cassock, the happy religious pulled out a small holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the one where Jesus is actually holding His heart and pointing to it. Brother then began giving the Grandfather some pious words about trusting in God and praying often. Most of the time, most clerics are such pains in the neck when they do this, since they often lead much more comfortable and safer lives than the people they try to exhort. But in Brother John, you saw the compassion involved in what he said. It is like the people who used to go see Dom Columba Marmion speak not because they were interested in his sublime theology, but more rather to see how his face lit up when he spoke of such sublime things. And all I remember from that conversation was that frail blind man gripping that small holy card with such faith, even though he did not know what was on that delicate piece of paper. I think that is what compassion is. If I have ever seen it, it was there.

That night I went to my cell like I did every night. I left the church after Compline, the whole seminary now in total silence, and I went briefly into the cloister and looked into the night sky. I realized as I always did that I was looking at the same sky as all of the people I had ever loved or ever would love. I realized that we are all bound by those dreams drawn in the stars, and that anyone who has ever gazed upon them has loved, and thus knows the meaning of joy, comfort, and mercy. I realized that, even if I was then a celibate, she who I love now was also with me, beckoning to me and preparing my heart for the first time I saw her and listened to her voice. And I was thankful, even if I was so far away.

And when I laid my head on the pillow that night, I felt the delicate fingers of God covering me, as they covered the Grandfather in his little hut, Brother John in his humble cell, my family in the little house in Hollister, and the Beloved in her apartment in Chicago. And even if we did not know each other then, even if we were far away or still strangers, God was looking down on us as we rested our weary eyes for the trials of another morning.

And that is enough, is it not?

De Muliere

...Considering some of his overtly romantic ballets, one might tempted to reverse Gide and opine that a romantic work is beautiful by virtue of it subjegated classicism. Take as instance Liebeslieder Walzer, a romatic ballet that is one of Balanchine's loveliest and most perfect acheivements. In that ballet, the "plot" is a line of action of increasing liberation from the mundane. In the first act the four couples in the ballroom take ever more freedom with the conventions of the ballroom waltz, while at the same time offering us fleeting glimpses of the heightened emotions they experience: exhilartion, adoration, jealousies, doubts, longings, fears of mortality - who knows exactly what those poignant gestures and glances signify? Yet how affecting they are. These dancers, in their elegant garb, are real people to us, and as the curtain comes down for the pause between acts, it seems that Balanchine has taken them as far as they can go in their liberation.

But when the curtain comes up, we see that he can take them further. For now they are no longer human beings dancing in a ballroom, but dancers of a special sort - classical ballet dancers. The women no longer wear ballroom gowns and pumps but are dressed in long, semi-transparent tulle tutus and toe shoes. Now the women soar. The whole mood is transformed, going far beyond even the most heightened reality. During the making of this ballet, Balanchine, as was his habit, said little about his intent. Shortly after the first performance, I talked with him about it and commented on what seemed to me to be happening in this work. In reply, he said succinctly how he saw it. "In the first act, it's the real people that are dancing. In the second act, it's their souls."

In short, for Balanchine, the way to achieve the quintessence of romanticism was through the classical ballet vocabulary. What drama he makes of this paradox! And how revealing this ballet is of Balanchine's philosophy and values. How does an artist show a human being's soul? Well, for a start, if he is George Balanchine, he puts her in toe shoes. And it is also revealing that for the men no equivalent transformation is possible. Their clothes stay the same. Balanchine didn't really need to utter his famous statement "Ballet is woman," for nearly all of his ballets said it, just as they also said that the only way a man can achieve or approach the liberation of his soul is by the homage and devotion he shows woman.

-Bernard Taper, Balanchine: A Biography, pgs. 252-253 (emphasis mine)


I have not read so much truth in so few paragraphs in so long. Anything else I could say would be a total waste of time. Thanks be to God for the woman!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The MP

I am not going to post any thoughts on this. It's only an excuse to link to this post at the Undercroft:

Catholicism, one might be forgiven for observing, only actually exists today on paper. What Bishop Fellay calls "normal Catholic life" is not possible anywhere - not in a "conservative" parish, and not in the SSPX, either. Whatever one's position, one requires an additional layer of theory (“Hermeneutic of Continuity” or “State of Emergency”, according to inclination) to qualify it - to paper over the theological or ecclesiological gaps and fissures one has to live with in practice.

I reiterate what I said in the comment box: I am very skeptical now that such a thing as "Catholic tradition" existed before the Council that is now somehow lost. Certainly, many liturgical externals were lost, but it very hard for someone my age to tell just how different things are now than they were then. (And I lived in Society of St. Pius X religious houses for three years of my life.) If this tradition existed in such a profound way, then why did it disappear so rapidly? And I cannot believe that this is such a bad thing since so many of my family members did keep the Faith, and even some people very close to me have a very profound "traditional" Faith having been raised with the Pauline Mass.

I greatly admire the traditional liturgy, and I suppose my solution would be to have Catholic traditionalists play the role that the Old Believers play in the Russian Orthodox Church. But an "integrated Catholic life" has never existed, not since the fall of Adam and Eve. All we can do is maneuver around this falleness, and no amount of incense and lace can fix the problem.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Protestantism and the Trinity

In my library travels, I found a book in French published in Lebanon called "True Monotheism". It was of course a Muslim book, and its argument was essentially that Islam is the truly monotheistic religion, since it insists on the unity of Allah and that only he should be given total glory. Having been very bored recently, I have also been perusing many Protestant sites, and they seem to be saying the same thing vis. Catholicism. However, the latter are attacking such things as the cult of the saints, the God-given authority of ecclesiatics, etc. For some reason, in skimming this book, the Protestant argument in its most radical forms seemed to be metamorphizing in my head into the Islamization of the Gospel.

St Maximus Confessor in his commentary on the Lord's Prayer wrote that it is in the Trinity that the correct conception of God as one and many is truly manifested. And only in a correct Trinitarian concept of the Church and the cosmos is the Gospel truly understood. God's honor and glory in the Church of the Gospel is diffuse and shared in some very crucial ways. This is not polytheism or idolotry, though it can degenerate into something decadent as all things can. This Trinitarian conception, the understanding of the one and the many, is perhaps the ultimate tradition that even many Catholics have forgotten. It is the understanding that God does not want to reign alone in the universe, and His splendor and power consume all things.

Perhaps without this understanding, a Calvin and a Muhammad might be saying many of the same things.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Music for Buses - IV

I had asked the sun
What had occurred
Between the sky
And the fog-
He said he did not know
And beckoned to the trees
To come.

I asked them where
I could immolate myself
On the altar
Of your light-

I wanted to be consumed wholly
And be blown away
By the four winds-

Lifting me up, this pain of longing
Coming like the train
In the morning.

I asked the moon if
She knew the place
Where life would shower
Petals of bliss-

She said she would have
To ponder the mystery-
In the court of the stars
She lies luminous
And pensive.

And then I asked your eyes
If I could die
Of forgetfulness and love-

In that lonely room
Attached to the cold,
They told me
To be still-

To rejoice and not weep-

The day is still far away
And birdsong has yet to
Seep through the window.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Again, On Love

I have been thinking recently on how love is an act of the will and not of the intellect. That is, love is not something that turns your mind on and off. True, love can seem that way sometimes, but ultimately, in this frail human condition, we chose to love.

When we look at anything beautiful, we can still look away. When we smell something appealing to our appetite, we can still refuse to eat. And when someone offers us his or her love, we can still reject it. We must chose to love, and to love all the way. Not in half measures, not with reservations. Love is not "turned on", it is worked at, cultivated, and built. That is why arranged marriages in the past were probably more successful than relationships in our present time. We can either chose to look at the Beloved in front of us as someone we must compete with or, on the other hand, as someone to whom we must give our whole being.

Thus, it appears a bit odd to discern "if so-and-so is compatible with me". I chose her because I see all that is loveable about her and I draw her to myself. In this, there is trust, there is life, there is excitement, and, yes, there is love.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On Creativity

When Balanchine and Stravinsky got together, there was generally much merriment... a good deal of matter-of-fact, detailed discussion of such technical aspects of of music and the dance as they happened to be concerned with at the time; and very little theorizing about art. Both men shunned the romantic conception of the soulful artist creating his masterpieces out of agony and ecstasy. Rather, they prided themselves on being disciplined craftsmen, able to apply themselves to a job of work and produce it in good fashion and on time. They made their share of masterpieces, but they never admitted, when they were working on a ballet, that they thought of it anymore than the task at hand. "If you set out to make a masterpiece, how will you ever get finished?" Balanchine once said. From Stravinsky, Balanchine said, he learned the trait of being satisfied with what he had made, once it was done. Stravinsky used to say his own model for this attitude was God, who on the days that he created lovely flowers and trees and the birds of the heavens was satisfied, and who was also just as satisfied on the day he created sprawling insects and slimy reptiles.

"If I were feeling suicidal," [Balanchine] remarked at one time, "I would never try to express this in a ballet. I would make as beautiful a variation as I could for a ballerina, and then- well, then I'd go and kill myself."

-from Bernard Taper's Balanchine: A Biography

We could learn a lot about creativity from these two quotes. Indeed, we can most definitely say that anything we do in life is above us and ultimately from God. There is little room for us to manipulate according to our own fancies and still make something beautiful. The beautiful sustains us, but in the end it is above us. It is not ours.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

For AG

To put my lips to yours and die-

this is my whole desire!

To tell one's love,

the telling must posses a certain charm.

Unless I pass through the Kaba, I see nothing.

I set out to journey from

the temple, looking backwards all the way.


Into my breast, into my heart,

you made your way and still

The glance that stirs men's love for you

Stirs mine and stirs it still.

Your wrath, your kindness-

I can no more tell

one from the other

The charm that kills men's

intellect killed mine and

kills mine still

Still drunk with last night's wine, my love-

and I would die for you

The sight of your unsteady gait

Charmed me and charms me still

You have not turned to God,

and that sarcastic wit of yours

which used to mock at Judgement Day

is mocking at it still

-Ghalib, translated by Ralph Russell

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Two songs going through my head right now:

Funny how this Mexican rock band was really popular when I was in high school, but I have only now started listening to them.

Protestantism and Humanity

Thomas Cranmer devoted the full powers of his position as Primate of All England to inculcating the Protestant faith into every fiber of English life and law. In so doing, he shattered forever medieval Catholicism's hegemony over English society, stealthily destroying its ingrained religious semiotics, severely disrupting its instinctive communal rhythms. The noted Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy has recently drawn a lush and often lyrical portrait of the world Cranmer sought to leave behind: a beautiful world of soaring church towers, newly built, and instructive irridescent interiors, softly candlelit; a balanced world where affective personal piety grieved over the sufferings of Christ but festive bonfires abetted neighborly fellowship made jolly with ale; a supernatural corporeal world where saints and sacramentals diverted demonic fury and fecundated husbandry and home; a supernatural spiritual world where human tears averted the doom of divine wrath as well as celebrating the indwelling presence of divine love; and, above all else, a supernatural sacramental world where liturgy marked life's milestones and offered the daily miracle of one's maker. What would make an archbishop of Canterbury want to end such a world as this?

Thus Ashley Null begins the book, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance. And I too ask the question "why?" Having had some experience with Protestants, I have to wonder what precisely they find so offensive about our Catholic practices. It just feels that they are subtracting the human element from Faith, and trying to make a "better" religion that is an enemy of our Good One. It is a textual religion that is falsely angelic in its worst manifestations.
As I have said elsewhere, it seems Protestants want God to treat them like "mature adults" who need nothing else but the "pure word of the Gospel" and the most stripped down sacramental life in order to believe. Thank God the true Church has adapted to the weakness of our human frailty!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Because of Her

Poco a poco, se fue metiendo dentro de mis pensamientos
y sin sentirlo se fue adueñando de todos mis sentimientos.

Poco a poco se me acabó la voluntad y la fui queriendo
poco a poco, se convirtió en la compañera de mis sueños.
Sin darme cuenta se adueñó de mi alma y de mi corazón
y me subió hasta lo más alto de este mundo

No he vuelto a ser el mismo de antes desde que llegó su amor
hoy soy feliz, soy feliz

Por ella, sólo por ella que en un instante alejó a mi soledad
se fue mi nube gris y apareció mi estrella
sólo por ella, por ella.

Por ella, sólo por ella que me cambió la vida
desde que conmigo está
me veo en sus ojos y no tengo más respuesta
que si hoy soy feliz
sólo es por ella.

Little by little, she entered my thoughts
And without noticing she began to own my heart.

Little by little, my will caved in and I began to love her,
Little by little, she became the woman of my dreams.

Without my knowing she stole my soul and my heart
And she lifted me up to the heights of this world
I have not been the same since her love has come to me
Today I am happy, I am happy

Because of her, only because of her who in one instant vanished my loneliness,
My gray cloud has disappeared and my star has emerged,
Solely because of her, because of her.

Because of her, only because of her who changed my life
Since she has been with me,
I look into her eyes and I am speechless
And if today I am happy,
It is only because of her.

(Hear the song by Intocable here.)

On Perseverance

If there is one thing that I have lacked so far in my life, it is perseverance. Very few times have I finished what I started, and now I am realizing that this is indeed the mother of all virtues, the one that is most uncertain, and the only one that counts at the end of the day.

Those who persevere are brave, wise, and strong beyond any cosmic force. They toil on through sleepless nights, dreary mornings, and snow-blocked paths to continue a routine that seems futile, un-nerving, and at times completely absurd. They live far away from their homes, they suffer the pain of loved ones from afar, and at times nearly lose their sanity trying to achieve a goal that seems so distant. Those who support them can seem so far away, unable to understand what they are going through. Yet they remain strong, they do not worry those they love with the details of their weariness and angst. And they toil on. And on. And on...

Until one bright day, when robes are unleashed in the calm air of summer, when the breeze sweeps by their weary cheek, and their loved ones look on, proud to be associated with an athlete crowned with the laurel of a particular glory, they finish the course. True, it may not be heroic, it may not even be something particularly romantic. But it is theirs. It is their victory over time, toil, and despair. And for that one moment, the pilgrim can bask in the presence of being a little bit closer to home. She can stand on the height, and even if there is yet another mountain to climb before her, still she can stay on top of that one, appreciative of the hopes and prayers of all who supported her, and with them ready to take on another height, another pilgrimage, fortified by the conquered struggles of yesterday.

To all who struggle or have struggled, to all who fight through the lonely night for something that seems fainter than the faintest echo ahead, thank you, and accept my deepest admiration.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Don't Bother Coming By Here...

until at least Sunday. I am out of town, off-line, and having fun!!!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"God Creates, Woman Inspires, and Man Assembles"

Image credit

This quote is attributed of course to George Balanchine, a veritable connoisseur of the fairer sex.

This of course can be seen as something very sexist and objectifying. Are women only good for inspiring ideas but not conceiving them? Of course not.

Yet those of us fortunate enough to have created something for or concerning a woman (and anything I have written is hardly of the caliber of a Balanchine ballet!), feel quite deeply that this is true. From the beauty of a woman can spring such things that are almost supernatural; they almost erase the line between created and uncreated. It is a beauty that almost aches, because the beauty of a woman is a suffering beauty; it is one that gives life, that nurtures, and that can endure all. Fragile yet divine in fortitude, it is what sustains the human heart, and that is why it can inspire, uplift, and fill all things with light and joy.

And beside it, the greatest poet, composer or choreographer is no better than a plumber or a lowly cobbler. He receives the light, but he does not make it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Shadows of Forgotten Liturgies

A Pensive (and Hopefully Constructive) Reply to This Post

It’s all in a haze now. The more I am in the world, the more distant all of that seems. There was a time when all I lived for was the liturgy. Even the one year I was in the world between being a seminarian and being a monk, I spent most of my free time hanging out in local Orthodox churches. (And some of them were not so local.) But now it seems like so much escapism, so irrelevant to how I live now.

(…Memento mori. Sure, easier said than done. Do we really know about our mortality until it stares us in the face, about to seize us into the oblivion of our defeat? Is any other thought of death really vanity, a futile attempt to get the angel’s eye view before we finally succumb to worrying about what we will eat, when we will sleep, where we will live, and our own selfishness?)

Many people say that liturgy is the answer. Liturgy is the way we participate in the life of the angels, or so the traditions of the Church go. But I lived this for much of my short adult life, and it REALLY doesn’t work like that. If only, these people would say, our churches could be little pieces of heaven that put us in the sublime before we open the doors of the church again and go back to the mundane pace of our lives, maybe we would be more “spiritual”. I say that this is highly unlikely.

Can liturgy be prevented from being one entertainment, one distraction, amidst others, in which one can pick and choose the flavor of the one you experience? Is this what liturgy should be about?

Liturgically, I have seen the seventh heaven. I have been in ceremonies that could make the hardest heart crack with tender compunction. But you are always brought back down, and sometimes the crash is very, very hard. And now, thankfully, I barely remember them most of the time. Life itself must be my liturgy now. You cannot live in the doll house.

“My grace is sufficient for thee.”

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"Shut up and let me pray!"

When I was a young and inexperienced man, I longed for reverent Masses where I could pray. I didn't like the endless chatter, the commotion, the unruly children running up and down the aisles. Then I began to learn more and more about liturgy, its poetry, its development and its laws of motion. And now, now that I have grown just a tiny bit in wisdom... I like liturgy for the noise.

The problem with Catholic liturgy is not about languages or what Missal is being used. The problem is if people care or not. If you care, you will understand a psalm verse either if "the loving kindness of the Lord endures forever" is read, or if "quoniam in aeternum misericordia eius" is chanted in Latin and you follow along in a missal. The "shut up and let me pray" attitude can be present in both cases, and neither is really liturgy. That is not to say that this attitude is not a healthy one. Sometimes we just need to talk to God in the midst of the throng, and I do it all the time in church. But liturgy has very little to do with it.

Liturgy is the act of praying and being with the Church in space and above time. It is an impossible task, since we are not angels and we contemplate God through our senses. So real liturgy in a lot of ways is the knowledge of our own failure to worship, either through carelessness or pharisaical rigidity. It is an act of self-abasement before the mystery of the Incarnation: the encounter between God and man. And on this side of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, it will always fall short.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Good Night

How long and dark the night can be,

How bright the moon I long for.

That night, the tresses of your head,

That moon, the luster of your cheek.


Doctrine and Praxis

If a Catholic cannot name at least one article of faith that he believes principally on the basis of the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, he’s either a saint or a Protestant.

I have read this statement a couple of times now on the Internet, and apparently it might have its origins in Fr. Al Kimel. I have to say that I am not at all comfortable with the statement, primarily because authority is not created to impose, but rather define. But how does it know what to define?

When the Fathers of the Nicene Council got together to write the Creed, it was NOT a legal act. It was an act of witness to the life of the Church. The life of the Church expressed the fact that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. It was the spontaneous sense of the Faith that makes the Nicene Creed true, not a legal definition.

Therefore, I would like to think that all of our dogmas, even the ones that are most disputed, have their heart and source in the life of the Church itself. If they do not, what is the point? As I like to say, if you cannot express the sublime mystery of the Trinity starting with a blade of grass, you don't know theology. (And that is why I am no theologian.) I would like to think the same could be said of purgatory, the merits of the saints, etc.

Nevertheless, I suppose that as a layman, I defer to those who are appointed to determine these things. In what is important I think we are all certain. These finer points have little to do with the Holy Ghost's presence in the world through our Christian lives.