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

Monday, April 30, 2007

On the Cult of the Saints - Pt. II

I have never been tagged for a "meme" before, but Serge has given me the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite saints. Now I do not completely understand what is going on, but I will try to answer the inquiry to the best of my ability:

1 . Four favorite saints:

1. St. Abraham of Quidun - My mother wanted to name me after him since I was born on his day in the Roman calendar, but my father objected.

2. St. Barbara - In the Byzantine Church, she is known as the "Great Martyr". Just so I can stick it to those rationalists who think she never really existed!

3. St Lawrence - My sister's patron saint (she was born on his feast), for this reason:

The Roman emperor, Valerian, had ordered the death of all Rome's bishops, priests and deacons. The prefect (Roman magistrate) who carried out the order, however, knew that, as deacon, Lawrence had charge of the church's money. "I'll let you go free," he promised, "if you will turn the money over to me."

According to the oldest traditions we have, Lawrence agreed to bring the church's treasures to the prefect. "But it will take me a few days," he said. "The church is very rich."

Released to carry out his promise, Lawrence distributed the church's goods among the poor. He then gathered the city's lame, its blind, and its beggars. On the third day he appeared before the prefect. "Come out and see the wondrous riches of God," he said.

"What is the meaning of this?" raged the prefect.

Lawrence explained that these poor people would some day have new bodies and live forever in Heaven. The treasure of the Holy Spirit was hidden in them as if in jars of clay. (Source)

I just love that story so much....

4. St. Therese of Lisieux - I already posted something here on this, but here is something else from an old journal:

The genius of St. Therese lies in her realization that the problem is never with God, the problem is with us. While the way of confidence and love may seem deceivingly easy, almost a spiritual "cop-out", lived in a profound way it is much more difficult than the way of calculation and fear. The certainty that one of your actions is too small to affect how God feels about you is a profoundly humbling experience. God loves us for who we are, not for what we can do for Him. It is the acceptance of our own failures, our own littleness, and that God loves is because we are little that presents the greatest challenge to modern man. This is not the same as Luther's dunghill covered in snow. This is real righteousness, the righteousness of extreme humility, the knowledge that we carry our treasures in vessels of clay.... Love does not measure, it does not calculate. It madly rushes to give all, not carrying about tommorrow or even about one's own self....

2. Favorite "blessed"
Huh? Well, I guess that would be Blessed Miguel Pro. Viva Cristo Rey!

3. Person you think you should be a saint -
Gabriela Mistral. One of the greatest poets of the 20th century, she was in reality a Church Father (Mother?) born fifteen hundred years too late. I have gotten more solid theology out of this poem than I have gotten out of most thick Christian tomes:


El mar sus millares de olas

mece divino

Oyendo a los mares amantes

mezo a mi niño.

El viento errabundo en la noche

mece los trigos

Oyendo a los vientos amantes

mezo a mi niño.

Dios Padre sus miles de mundos mece sin ruido.

Sintiendo su mano en la sombra

mezo a mi niño.


The sea her thousands of waves

rocks divine and mild.

Hearing the loving seas

I rock my child.

The wheat in the night is rocked

By the wind, lost and exiled.

Hearing the loving winds,

I rock my child.

Our Father God rocks thousands of worlds

Without sound, its pains or trials.

Feeling His hand in the shadows,

I rock my child.

(My translation)

St. Maximos Confessor could not have written it better....

4. Tag....
I tag, if they are up to it, AG, Daniel Mitsui, and Archistrategos .

Sunday, April 29, 2007

On the Cult of the Saints


The postured myths of Byzantines? Ho-hum.
Leave Cimabue the manner and the gaze
of saints whose sandals never bore their weight,
their very gowns stunned in beatitude-
but if two men kiss at Gethsemane
there should be torchlight and the crush of mobs,
a keen blade raised to glance the soldier's ear.
Let there be lutes and fiddles to attend
the virgin's marriage; or, say, at the gate
where Anna and Joachim may sometime meet,
the common stir of the gossip of girls.
Saints in their figured scenes shall stand before
the fur of shepard's boots, the dogs and sheep,
and there shall be much fidgeting of gowns
amid old hosannas, the actual heft
and weight of angel wings to brush the ground.

-Morri Creech, "Some Notes on Grace and Gravity", from the collection, Field Knowledge

I used to collect saints cards like most collected baseball cards when I was a teenager. (Though there was a phase of my life I collected baseball cards too.) I used to tape them up all over my wall in my room. Think of it as a flat Old Believer iconostasis. Saints cards were so cool, and the faces on them extended back millennia, from the Old Testament saints (who could not like St. Raphael?) to Mother Cabrini. Maybe I didn't pray the prayers on the back of the cards as often as I should have, but these were my heroes and I had them pinned up on my wall like others would pin up pictures of pop music stars. At one time, I must have had fifty or sixty up there.

Thus, I have never had any issues about praying to saints. For me, people who have qualms about this are a little like people who won't tear those nasty tags off of a mattress. Does the invocation of saints sometimes look completely pagan? Maybe sometimes. But here again, we see the condescension of God to our own lack of unbelief in the invisible. After all, that is what the whole mystery of the Incarnation is about, right?

I don't wish to get into the nuts and bolts of an apologetic defense of the invocation of saints. Needless to say, there is enough evidence in the Old and New Testaments in which God uses the intercession of third parties to work His grace. (Remember Peter's shadow?) And the cult of the martyrs was the first real manifestation of the cult of the saints. Indeed, in the traditional rite of consecration of the altar in the Roman Church, at least one of the sets of relics embedded in the altar must be the relics of a martyr, harkening back to the days in the catacombs when Mass was said over the tomb of a martyr. Martyrdom, it can be argued, is sainthood, and the Christian East best describes this by calling the ascetical life "white martyrdom".

Nevertheless, I have been sometimes left cold by many arguments over the invocation of saints. This is because, at least in the case of Western Christian polemics, those who try to defend the intercession of the saints almost always begin to argue from the position of weakness: "This is not as bad as it looks..." Hogwash! I shouldn't have to bow my arguments to hyper-rationalist scoffers of sacred Tradition. At the same time, it is necessary to reflect on a deeper reason on why the invocation of saints is not only permissible, but laudable.

There are two episodes that come to mind in this respect. One is from the Russian Orthodox theologian St. Pavel Florensky, who was martyred under Stalin. In his dense and obscure book, Iconostasis, a shaft of valuable light enters through the tortured prose of the polymath: "The iconostasis is the saints." For those of you unfamiliar with Byzantine church architecture, the iconostasis is the wall covered with icons that separates the sanctuary from the nave of the church. In Byzantine liturgical theology, the iconostasis is a revelation and not a barrier; it shows how God reveals Himself and yet remains hidden behind an infinite degree of glory. For Florensky, then, the saints do not distract from God in Christ, but reveal His splendor, while telling at the same time that His splendor is even greater than what is revealed.

Another episode comes from a friend in the Mojave Desert named Patrick. An ex-Protestant, he once said that the problem with people who refuse to venerate the saints springs not from giving too much glory to the saints, but rather not giving enough glory to God. Similar to the line of argument above, no matter how much glory is given to the Virgin and the saints, the believer gives even more glory to God who is glorious in His saints. Man's ability to love and honor is almost infinite, and it will never reach God's worthiness to be loved and honored.

The problem thus can be seen in a society that no longer knows how to revere and respect elders and people who deserve a greater degree of respect. When I was growing up in a Mexican extended family, we were taught to kiss the hand of some more senior relatives. In a world where you did honor your father and mother, and by extension, those of the rank of your father and mother, kneeling before a dead person may not have been so awkward. Indeed, Protestant kings and nobleman still exacted from their subjects physical reverence of kneeling and bowing. In this light, why should we not do the same for those who reign in triumph with Christ, who have been crowned with an immortal crown?

I have said in the past on this blog that we must have a correct vision of the whole Christ, Head and members. The saga of salvation was consummated on Calvary, but the story did not end there. In every member of the Body of Christ, the drama of salvation is being played out at this very moment. We will all be the stones of the new celestial Jerusalem, and how we are carved out of the earth, chiseled, and put into our place is just as much part of the history of salvation as the story of the life, death, and resurrection of a Jewish carpenter.

One of my favorite moments in our liturgy is the chanting of the Litany of the Saints. Done in the most solemn moments of our Church year, I always like to think that it is the remembrance, the calling together, of the entire assembly of Israel, from the angels who sing by the Throne of God to the youngest child martyr. Here we best see St. Augustine's axiom: "unus Christianus, nullus Christianus" (a lone Christian is no Christian at all). To be a Christian is to be planted in a community and in history. And this is what the invocation of the saints, my older brothers and sisters in Christ, has always meant to me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


On the Twilight of a Sentiment and a Movement

I am sorry that I didn’t post about this blog earlier, but it is well-worth catching up with if you haven’t. Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasti Me is written by a thoughtful young man from the Philippines with an eye for the strange and the beautiful. His last post, Beati Pauperes Spiritu, has made me reflect more on the conclusions I have been confronted with in my own life.

I start with a quote:

But some of us don't have the luxury of debating Aquinas and Scotus during our spare times. We don't have the luxury or the money to spend on gas while looking for that 'perfect' Mass with Solesmes chant, Gothic chasubles, ruby-encrusted chalices, and clean and polished floors. And while these things are certainly pretty and nice to see, there are far more pertinent things to which we must attend to.

As a student in a cosmopolitan area of a First World country, with no commitments (yet), I can certainly chase the dream Mass. I have been pleasantly amused by people who will defend Vatican II yet run as far as they can from the real liturgical outgrowths of that movement willed by the bishops. After all, what is “active participation” supposed to mean other than what the bishops, the pastors of their flocks, have meant it to mean? What is the use of using the Pauline Missal if you are going to dress it up in as much Counter-Reformation clothing as possible? To use Gregorian chant in a Pauline Mass is to alienate the People of God (none of whom know Latin) who are gathered around the Lord’s table.

So I have no qualms in saying that I am a complete liturgical snob, that I can’t stand worshiping in a Mass with guitars and drum sets, and if I wanted to hear Protestant hymns I would just go to an Anglican service since they sing them way better than we do anyway. I acknowledge that this is very superficial. I even acknowledge that this is pharisaical and almost anti-Christian. I may have my reasons, but none of them are good enough to get on a bus and go to the other side of the city when I have a perfectly good Catholic Church down the street.

The question comes down to something very simple: is the issue enough to break communion? And by not supporting your local parish, what else are you doing in a de facto manner?

Maybe those with a much more sensitive conscience might be bothered by what I say, but I am not. I know that I am a pig who focuses on minutiae and not on more pertinent things. I like pretty things, I like things that sound nice, and I like things to be tasteful. But that doesn’t mean that I expect God to run His Church according to my expectations on how things should be like. (Though it would be nice…)

I have featured many blogs recently that have given a very particular slant to Roman Catholicism that I sympathize with. I have singled out these blogs since they offer a much more sober, organic, and intelligent response to the confusion in the Church than the blogs of the Catholic mainstream. However, I must put forward my own position when I say that when it comes to “traditionalism” of whatever stripe, I am a total defeatist. I don’t believe in the restoration of the Tridentine Mass, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the rise of a new St. Pius X, or any other pipe dream of that nature. I believe in the Church. I believe in the Church as the violent, sloppy, and disorganized confrontation between the infinite mercy of God and the seemingly infinite capability of man to royally screw things up. There are no solutions, no permanent triumphs. Just retreats, groupings, and re-groupings… dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.

Thus, we are confronted with two models of the Church. We can accept the Counter-Reformation model, based on absolute Jesuit-style obedience that states that the progress of the Church is a Hegelian ascending straight line. In this model, “everything is going to be okay” as long as we do XYZ, and the Holy Ghost has us all by some magical leash. Clearly, this model is far from realistic. The alternative is the model of Jacob wrestling with God through the night, when we are honest about our doubts, uncertainties, and sins of all stripes. When Jacob wrestled with God, he was not playing Mr. Nice Guy. He didn’t earn the name of Israel by being a pansy.

And while this chaos is going on, while the world and the Church flirt with destruction, I will continue to enjoy Roman chausables, sacred polyphony, and endless lines of altar boys who fidget and pick their nose. At the very best, it is like being a bearded Old Believer in Nikonian Russia, and at the very worst it is like being some effeminate Anglo-Catholic clergyman who has nothing but Styrofoam peanuts in his theological brain. (Although all of the Anglo-Catholics I know are very intelligent.) It may not be the answer, but a little beauty and peace never killed anyone. The solution, I know now, does not lie in these things, but rather in life itself, in all of its hardship, joy, and sacrifice. After all, the Cross is not very beautiful. At least at first….

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On Prayer Books


Homenaje a Claudio Ptolomeo

Soy hombre: duro poco
y es enorme la noche.
Pero miro hacia arriba:
las estrellas escriben.
Sin entender comprendo:
también soy escritura
y en este mismo instante
alguien me deletrea.

-Octavio Paz


Homage to Claudius Ptolemy

I am a man, I last very shortly,
And the night is enormous.
But I look up:
The stars are writing.
Without understanding I grasp it:
I too am written
And in this same instant
Someone spells me out.

I don’t tend to use prayer books anymore. The one I do use is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With all of my time praying the Psalter, the Little Office is the most viably recited and least changed of all of the options a good apostolic Christian has out there. The Roman offices, from the time of St. Pius X to the modern Liturgy of Hours, have too many innovations and changing parts. And the Byzantine offices are much too loooooooooooong to recite. And it can’t hurt to pray more to the Virgin, so why not just recite parts of her office everyday? Seems like a good plan.

I can go back, however, to my rather halcyon days as a young teenager fresh with the zeal of traditional Catholic piety. Then I was really into prayer books. Thank God for the old ladies in my liberal parish who put novenas and various other books in the back of the church so that impressionable youngsters like me could snag them and start praying them. The first one that really entranced me is the one pictured above: the famous (or infamous, depends on who you ask) Pieta prayer book, with over a jillion copies sold and distributed.

Growing up in the first wave of postmodern education, the refreshingly colorful prayers of this book hit me like a bucket of cold water. It was like a game of two steps forward and three glorious steps back in terms of my consciousness. So much entranced me about these prayers; so much enticed the imagination that had been persecuted from an early age by so much rationalism. What can one say to this prayer, the Hail Mary of Gold:

Hail Mary, White Lily of the Glorious and always-serene Trinity.
Hail brilliant Rose of the Garden of heavenly delights: O you, by whom God wanted to be born and by whose milk the King of Heaven wanted to be nourished! Nourish our souls with effusions of divine grace. Amen!
At the hour when the soul which has thus greeted me quits the body I will appear to them in such splendid beauty that they'll taste, to their great consolation, something of the joys of Paradise.

Yes, my first real exposure to poetry was through prayer, just as had been the case with my own mother. There was so much in this prayer book that merely nurtured that which was already in my heart: the world of religious pictures that changed when you looked at them from another angle, the world of holy water, scapulars, and visits to the cemetery. (As I told AG, the saddest thing in the world is a cemetery that is not Catholic. What a depressing sight!)

If I could go back in time to six months ago and make myself read what I am writing here, perhaps I would accuse myself of praising “Devotio Moderna”: an individualistic and pietistic approach to God and the Church. There may be something to the accusation, but it also assumes that there is one specific way that is better than the others to approach Christ. (In the end, is this not the approach of Protestantism, many shades of Roman Catholicism, and the new school of Eastern Orthodoxy affiliated with the more chique theologians?) I suppose by now you are all tired of me saying it, but I will say it again: I am not sure such an approach exists. So what do we do then? Go back to what you know. And what I know is the Catholicism of the Pieta prayer book. It has taken me almost fifteen years, but that is how it goes.

I am also beginning to realize something very strange as well. As I get on in life, I notice how ingrained all of these prayers have become, how much they have formed me just as a human being. There is something quite comforting and visceral about a prayer such as this one that I can never get over:

Night is falling dear Mother, the long day is o'er!
And before thy loved image I am kneeling once more
To thank thee for keeping me safe through the day
To ask thee this night to keep evil away….

And perhaps in this case, at least partially for this sinful soul, I am not praying the prayer. The prayer, rather, is praying me….

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Julio Cortázar

Los amantes

¿Quién los ve andar por la ciudad
si todos están ciegos?
Ellos se toman de la mano: algo habla
entre sus dedos, lenguas dulces
lamen la húmeda palma, corren por las falanges,
y arriba está la noche llena de ojos.

Son los amantes, su isla flota a la deriva
hacia muertes de césped, hacia puertos
que se abren entre sábanas.
Todo se desordena a través de ellos,
todo encuentra su cifra escamoteada;
pero ellos ni siquiera saben
que mientras ruedan en su amarga arena
hay una pausa en la obra de la nada,
el tigre es un jardín que juega.

Amanece en los carros de basura,
empiezan a salir los ciegos,
el ministerio abre sus puertas.
Los amantes rendidos se miran y se tocan
una vez más antes de oler el día.
Ya están vestidos, ya se van por la calle.
Y es sólo entonces
cuando están muertos, cuando están vestidos,
que la ciudad los recupera hipócrita
y les impone los deberes cotidianos.

The Lovers

Who sees them walking through the city
If they all are blind?
They go walking hand in hand: something speaks
Between their fingers, sweet tongues
Lick the humid palm, running through the phalanxes,
And above is the sky full of eyes.

They are the lovers, their island floats away drifting
Towards the death of grass, towards ports
That open between sheets.
All is disordered through them,
All things find their stolen figure;
But they do not even know
That while they roll around in the bitter sand
There is a pause in the work of nothingness,
The tiger is a garden that plays.

It awakes in carts of garbage,
The blind begin to walk about,
The ministry opens its doors.
The defeated lovers look at each other and touch
One more time before smelling the day.
They are dressed now, now they walk down the street.
And it is only then
When they are dead, when they are dressed,
That the city steals them away again hypocritically
And imposes on them daily chores.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Three Theological Fragments

An Apology

I have to apologize to you, my readers. Truth be told, there has been very little overtly theological content on this site of late. I have just been very, very busy. People should keep in mind when they read this blog that I am working my way through school, and many of you also know that there has been very important change in my life for which I thank God every single day. From now until about mid-May, therefore, there will be very few hardened theological reflections done on this blog because the time and energy necessary for such an analysis are simply not there. And I cannot guarantee that they will be there anytime in the near future.

Many of the links given on this blog can take you to sites where such discourse takes place, so I direct you, the reader, there. All that I can offer now are sporadic notes, random poems, and some links and brief reflections on things I have found while briefly reading other blogs (though I seldom even do that anymore). So if you want to stay on this ride, you are more than welcome. Just be aware of these limitations, and thank you once again for your readership.

God bless,

Arturo Vásquez

A Random Comment in Lecture

A few of you may know what I study here in Berkeley: Latin American Studies. This is a major that was more picked for me by my circumstances than chosen. True enough, I have lived in Latin America, and regular readers of this blog know about my devotion to Latin American poetry and literature. This is not a subject, however, that I am passionate about, and it is basically just a degree for me among others that I could have possibly gotten.

Nevertheless, I do encounter some rather interesting comments about Latin America and Roman Catholicism at times. My professor in the history of Brazil class that I am taking has done a great amount of field work in the Brazilian Northeast, and she has lived there for extended periods of time since the 1970’s. She has befriended all sorts of people there from all walks of life, including the clergy.

Many of you are aware of the inroads Pentecostalism is making in Latin America. In a discussion of this phenomenon, my professor contributed something that many members of the Roman Catholic clergy in the Northeast told her. These priests said that much of the pull of this new Protestant phenomenon came from the vacuum caused by the rationalization of Roman Catholicism since the 1960’s. That is to say, the fact that Vatican II wanted to make Catholicism into a religion of “grown-ups” (getting rid of certain devotions, “questionable” saints, etc.) has made people leave the Catholic Church, and it is many of the members of the clergy on the ground who are saying this, not just crazy traditionalists.

It’s odd that in Latin America, perhaps it was getting rid of the Mass in Latin, which few understood, that contributed to people flocking to churches where people shout gibberish that no one understands (the so-called "speaking in tongues). And as I have said before, when we assume ourselves to be the most mature and grown-up, perhaps only then are we being the most childish (and not child-like)….

Vox Clamantis in Deserto

Begin, my friend

for you cannot,

you may be sure,

take your song,

which drives all things out of mind,

with you to the other world.

(from Theocritus: Idyl I- A version from the Greek by William Carlos Williams)

All names and places on this blog are changed in order to protect the guilty (except for me, I’m never off the hook). But I have to write about a conversation I had recently, and here I will be especially fragmented so as not to offend the person I had the conversation with. Let us just say that he has had a spiritual journey that makes mine seem quite run-of-the-mill by comparison, and he ended up being a very educated and sincere magisterial Protestant.

One of the things that drew him away from the traditional apostolic Churches with which he had been involved was the idea of the whole Judeo-Christian experience being a religion of the tent. I found this idea to be very fascinating on so many levels. The People of God in the Old Testament were not allowed to represent God, to define God as being in one place, or to cling to anything that was not His promise. My friend thus defined the heart of the Gospel as radically Semitic, radically nomadic, and fundamentally based on covenant.

Also, (and I may get a lot of heat for this, but I’ll say it anyway), we both mutually agreed that Newman’s quip of “to truly know history is to cease to be Protestant” is based on very specious reasoning if taken at face value. Over and over again on this blog, in more than one religious avatar, I have said that history will do whatever you want it to do because, in the end, you weren’t there to see what the real intentions were of the people of the past. There were many Catholic moments in the early Church (St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Marian texts in St. Ireneus, etc.) but there were also many “Protestant” moments, not to mention “Orthodox” moments. I think Origen was in many places a very “Protestant” thinker (what of that place in the Contra Celsum where he says that Christians have no altar other than their hearts to offer up sacrifices to God? Calvin could not have said it better.). Good luck trying to propagandize about history. Just hope your opponent doesn’t have a source you don’t happen to know about.

Sacramentally, I am also an odd duck. I told my friend that I personally no longer see Holy Communion as a physical entrance of God into my body and soul (though it is that, and I am a firm believer in sacramental realism). Rather, I see it as a grafting of a person onto the Body of Christ. The Church is the Real Presence of Christ, the Real Presence in the Eucharist is subordinate to it as a means is subordinate to its end. Thus, when I receive Communion, I look to my fellow believers as the presence of Christ, not to myself. For the essence of God, as St. Basil says, is communion.

So am I just a Protestant who says “Hail Marys” or a peculiar Orthodox Christian who likes birettas. No. I am a firm believer that the Roman Catholic Church is the Church of Christ. I don’t think that this means I have any business telling the Holy Ghost where He can and cannot breathe. I just know that in my case, I know where I can receive God’s life, and I will remain there until my dying breath.

I also don’t like to get into arguments, especially with people who are as smart as or smarter than I am. So maybe I let my interlocutor slide too many times during this conversation out of fear that he had “heard it all before”. I have to respect the argument that the Gospel is a stark, Semitic, and stripped-down phenomenon. If an appreciation of various liturgies of the universal Church has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t really consider one liturgy more “apostolic” than others. The “exteriors” that we may become so attached to often have very arbitrary origins that were inflated with meaning over time. One can wonder then, what it would mean to worship God “in spirit and in truth”.

On the other hand, we can turn the Protestant argument on its head and ask whether the Semitic injunctions of the Law apply anymore. For the Law was truly nailed to the Tree in Christ, and if we still are zealous for the Law, we must remember that anyone who breaks even one law is guilty of breaking all of them. So perhaps all of our Roman Catholic “superstitions”, when treated in the right spirit, represent the fundamental freedom of the Gospel. While the religion of the desert had to strip man of his human inclinations vis-à-vis religion, it is only the Gospel that restores them purified in Christ.

The greatest argument is an argument from weakness. And the weakness as I have been pointing out recently is that of our own fallen human nature. The Roman Catholic Church as well as the churches in the East can claim institutional continuity with the church of the Apostles. So the only real objection I have now to magisterial Protestants, neo-Orthodox westerners, and reformers in my own church is the following: how do you know better than your ancestors what the Church of Christ is supposed to be like? I suppose if your ancestors were Calvinists, you would have to nuance this question a bit. Indeed, I think we Roman Catholics also have to nuance it in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The point, however, is to go back to the point in our history where we began to question the organic life of the Church, abandoning it for some theory of how history should have been. Perhaps I think many old devotions are tacky and almost superstitious. But can I really call them idolatry? Since when did I have more to teach than to learn?

Who knows? Perhaps all of these questions are unsolvable. Just for this, however, I am not going to throw everything overboard for my own theory of history. Neither will I deify the status quo of the Church by saying that its cowardice, confusion, and flaws are divinely instituted. What I will say is that we have the Gospel, we have Faith, and we have the Scriptures, just like the Protestants, but we also have much more. Ours is not a religion of the desert, for we are both in the Promised Land and on pilgrimage, both in the tent and at the foot of Mount Zion. That is the illogic, the irrationality, and the glorious humanity that is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Easter Bouquet for AG - Sixth Lily

The Call:

As it is, this my knowledge of the beauty of virginity is in some sort vain and useless to me, just as the corn is to the muzzled ox that treads the floor, or the water that streams from the precipice to a thirsty man when he cannot reach it. Happy they who have still the power of choosing the better way, and have not debarred themselves from it by engagements of the secular life, as we have, whom a gulf now divides from glorious virginity: no one can climb up to that who has once planted his foot upon the secular life. We are but spectators of others' blessings and witnesses to the happiness of another class.

-St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity

Fast Dance for St. Gregory of Nyssa


Arturo Vásquez

Up a thousand flights
Of heavens and spheres-
Fears drop away
To reveal amazing height;
Kites or angels’ wings
A dirge, paen, or ode sings
Night noise,
Calm swing, a fallen eye
That picks up the rhythm
And brightens the sky.

All real beauty is within,
Away from cowardice, pain, and sin,
Reach higher, fair flyer,
And cast off the garment of skin.

There is no gesture that
Pollutes the time,
Dare we climb then
The mountain of God-
The feet of the innocent walk
Dry-shod through the sea-
Smoking mountain,
Luminous fountain-
Face of darkness,
Bright mystery.

All real beauty is within,
Away from cowardice, pain, and sin,
Reach higher, fair flyer,
And cast off the garment of skin.

No treachery, no idol
To bury; the Lord
Is living,
Blood in the veins-
Spinning fires making
Men liars-
Who try to catch the
Image in stains-
Real love strains forward,
Ever outward,
Beyond ideas, sculptures,
Illusion and names.

All real beauty is within,
Away from cowardice, pain, and sin,
Reach higher, fair flyer,
And cast off the garment of skin.

-Newberry Springs, CA August 6th, 2004

The Response:

Lately thumbing the pages of Works and Days
I saw my Pyrre coming.

Goodbye book!

“Why in the world should I cobweb my days,”
I cried,
"With the works of Old Man Hesiod

-Marcus Argentarius, from the Greek Anthology
Translated by Dudley Fitts

On Reading St. Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity, Six Years Later


Arturo Vásquez

I have read of the threat of death
And of mortal shame,
Yet I fly towards her
As a moth towards flame-

The old Cappadocian, weighed
Down by years-
Wracked by erosion of soul,
Solitude and tears-

You write so wonderfully
About cloister and cell,
And it beckons to part of
My heart to be silent and still-

But then I see her eyes
So quiet and faint,
A pipe breaks in my chest
And crushes all restraint!

You too enjoyed your bride
And dwelt happily in her gaze,
Say no more now
And let me be lost in my love’s maze!

Why should I heap dust upon my days
And offer up sacrifices to regret?
Why must I dwell in Hell’s maw,
And be trapped in his cruel net?

There she goes walking by,
To be caught in her is my fair fate.
Stay here, father, while to her I fly,
Gregory, once more you will have to stand
And wait.

-Berkeley, CA March 24th, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter Bouquet for AG - Fifth Lily

A Card from Home


Arturo Vasquez

I used to lay back

And just stare at the stars

Thinking that they would

Take my eyes to your eyes

And we would be lost in

Each other's twinkle

And love in the spheres

Twirling above earth.

I used to make the

Tall grass of the pampa

Into home-

Into shining hillsides fading

In the gray of dark-

And I used to wonder about


Where you were

And where you would be

Even though I didn't know you.

You were in every neglected tear

Of entranced meditations,

You were behind

The pillars in the cloister

Peeking at me-

I was looking down and sad

And didn't notice you.

You used to be in the

Towering clouds after the rain-

In the pink winter sunsets-

In the breeze that came in

From the vastness of the southern cone-

And now I sit here,

And I finally feel my own heart

Beating in my chest-

And I know that here we are bound

In a chamber beyond words and shadows.

Untitled #1

You would be so tired by that point. They got us up before five in the morning, and piled us into the truck. We would reach into the wooden boxes filled with apricots, some bright yellow, others a dull orange, and others so ripe they no longer looked like fruit. More like jam. And for the rest of the day, it would be cut, split, ping, cut split, ping. Every so often, we would fill the large wooden trays, and then scream, “Tray!” The guys who took them away didn’t know English, but they knew that much. And from then the Sisyphean task would be repeated, hour after hour.

That was cutting apricots. We were so young, but already we knew that life wasn’t going to be handed to us. And our grandparents taking us out to do this sealed it. As I have said before, when you are young, you don’t know what poverty is. You only know how to love and how to be loved. And even in those hands, so cut up after a long day that they looked as if they were bleeding, we saw love in them. We saw the will to make it through this valley of tears. And we saw the Cross.

It was an old beat up car, probably a Ford. It was gray, but for some reason it had purple doors. And we were embarrassed to be driven around in it. But that was ‘buelito’s car, and we had no choice. We would climb in, and it exuded the enchanting smell of sweat and dirt, a smell unknown to anyone who has not labored all day under the hot sun. Even if there was a stigma in being seen in such an old clunker, once we were inside it, we felt like we were home. That is the world that we belonged in: not knowing where we would get money for the next month to pay the bills, sharing all that we had, and sleeping five to a room: men, women, and children.

We had rabbits. How we got rabbits, I don’t know. I always thought that ‘buelito really wanted goats or chickens, like he had in Mexico, but we ended up with rabbits. He would make us go in so often and shovel their large cage out. We never really handled them (our rabbits were allergic to people), but we enjoyed looking at them and watching them eat. We would always relish how their puffy little cheeks moved as they chewed on carrots, grass, or old lettuce. And we would give them all funny names, like Galileo, Artemis, and other ones I don’t remember. (We weren’t the typical barrio kids.)

We would walk around Hollister at a young age, and our parents never worried about anything. Hey, Hollister was as quiet as a place got, and walking is good exercise for children. When we felt really naughty, we would throw rocks at cars, and then run if they actually hit one. (It’s a miracle we never got caught.) We may have not had much space at home, but we had a huge backyard of a town to play in.

So from that part of my childhood, I don’t remember sadness. I don’t remember suffering. All I remember is going down with my brother and cousin to look at the San Benito River flow in torrents after it rained. All I remember is walking with my high-school age uncle to the park to play ball. All I remember is the lunch we used to eat under the shade of apricot trees, in an orchard that is no longer there, at a time when we were less well off than we are now. And I remember. And I dream. That happiness will never return, but perhaps another will call out to it, an echo, a reply, like the eyes of the beloved looking at us through a window.

We walked home once from the orchard. Maybe ‘buelita let us leave early that day, just me and my brother and my cousin. We stopped in front of a house where they were shearing a sheep, and we laughed and laughed at the misfortune of that poor animal. The light was beginning to change the color of the hills, and the afternoon wind began to welcome the end of the day, a lone and serene pilgrim from the ocean. And He was there, and we were happy, and I still listen to that moment in my heart, like listening to the waves of the sea in a shell….

Easter Bouquet for AG - Fourth Lily

El ángel guardián
de Gabriela Mistral

Es verdad, no es un cuento;

hay un Ángel Guardián

que te toma y te lleva como el viento

y con los niños va por donde van.

Tiene cabellos suaves

que van en la venteada,

ojos dulces y graves

que te sosiegan con una mirada

y matan miedos dando claridad.

(No es un cuento, es verdad.)

Él tiene cuerpo, manos y pies de alas

y las seis alas vuelan o resbalan,

las seis te llevan de su aire batido

y lo mismo te llevan de dormido.

Hace más dulce la pulpa madura

que entre tus labios golosos estrujas;

rompe a la nuez su taimada envoltura

y es quien te libra de gnomos y brujas.

Es quien te ayuda a que cortes las rosas,

que están sentadas en trampas de espinas,

el que te pasa las aguas mañosas

y el que te sube las cuestas más pinas.

Y aunque camine contigo apareado,

como la guinda y la guinda bermeja,

cuando su seña te pone el pecado

recoge tu alma y el cuerpo te deja.

Es verdad, no es un cuento:

hay un Ángel Guardián

que te toma y te lleva como el viento

y con los niños va por donde van.

The Guardian Angel

It is true and not a myth,
The guardian angel indeed exists,
He takes and leaves you like the breeze,
Traveling with children wherever they please.

He has hair so fair
That blows in the wind.
Of sweet keen eyes he has a pair
With which he always has you pinned.
And they kill fear with just one swoop,
(This is not a lie, I’m telling the truth.)

He has a body, hands, and feet of wings,
And six wings that fly or slip around.
The six carry you on air as they swing
And carry you as well when your sleep is sound.

He makes sweeter the ripest fruit
Which between your joyful lips you chew,
He cracks the hardest nut for you,
And frees you from witches and gnomes too.

He is the one who helps you cut roses
That are in the midst of the thorns planted,
He guides you over the river’s fiercest courses
And carries you on the slopes that are most slanted.

And even though he walks with you
Like purple and red cherries bunched together,
When sin’s foul sign is put on you,
He leaves the body, and picks up the soul like a feather.

It is true and not a myth,
The guardian angel indeed exists,
He takes and leaves you like the breeze,
Traveling with children wherever they please.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Bouquet For AG

Third Lily

The time rate of change of velocity. Since velocity is a directed or vector quantity involving both magnitude and direction, a velocity may change by a change of magnitude (speed) or by a change of direction or both. It follows that acceleration is also a directed, or vector, quantity. If the magnitude of the velocity of a body changes from v1 ft/s to v2 ft/s in t seconds, then the average acceleration a has a magnitude given by Eq. (1):
(see above)




Morri Creech

A minor disappointment not to find

angels pushing the planets around their courses

as Leibnitz believed. A shame, but not a great one,

that the universe seemed less and less to hang

glimmering from God's chain like a golden fob,

although a pendent weight shaped Newton's thought.

Sitting alone there in that storied orchard,

he'd seen the apples drooping from their boughs;

until one formed, unplucked, a grand conclusion.

The apple fell because it had to fall,

as objects move toward objects, in accord.

It struck a dizzying tune into his head.

The clockwork of the heavens may make music,

but it was a grave music that he heard,

the whirl of mass, the hum of centrifuge,

and calculations on the page would prove

such motion both a falling and a flight.

Thus bodies spin each other round in space.

And gravity, too, becomes a kind of grace.

-from "Some Notes on Grace and Gravity", from the collection Field Knowledge

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Bouquet for AG

Second Lily

The surrender of oneself to a stronger power, the unification of one's movement to the movement of the whole, is what makes dance religious and lets it become a service to God. Whoever dances after the manner of the primitives or of the religious ecstatics, indeed whoever in our modern culture subjects himself to a predetermined rhythm in a parade or procession, understands whether clearly or vaguely, that his movement is a reflection of primeval movement; that the rhythm of his dance is like the distant sound of breakers which emanates from the beat of waves in the heart of the universe. Just as at the high point of the Christian liturgy the earthly voices unite with the chorus of angels and "with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven laud and magnify his glorious name," so man tries in the dance to follow the rhythm of the angels and the movement of the heavenly round. St. Basil spoke of a tripidium angelorum, a dance of angels, and of the blessedness of imitating this dance upon earth. There is dancing in heaven. According to an old prayer from Bremen, the eleven thousand virgins dance in the heavenly feast chamber before Mary. In Fra Angelico's Last Judgment, the virgins and martyrs dance the heavenly dance....

A nuns' hymn from about 1440 reads:

Let us all together go

On the road to heaven.

There, where joyous music rings,

We shall with angels dance along

To the sweet heavenly strings.

-Gerardus van der Leuw

Sacred and Profane Beauty: the Holy in Art pg. 68

I Will Arise and Return to My Father’s House

A Response to Myself, One Year Later

I have seen many friends of mine ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood. In the traditional Roman Pontifical, there is an exhortation by the bishop to those about to be ordained. I cannot find the Latin text anywhere on-line, but the gist of it is the following:

Understand what you do, imitate what you administer.

Now, the word for priest in Latin may come from the two words “sacra” and “dare” (etymologists, please step up to the plate if I am wrong), which would mean to give holy things. “Be what you do,” is what the exhortation basically means. Perhaps in my case, being an ex-seminarian, I have to be and to do what I am.

At many points at the beginning of this blog, there were moments when I was running from myself. And I have to apologize for them. I realize now that they were necessary steps in a long healing process that has only recently begun to resolve itself.

There are times in our lives when it may be necessary to run from ourselves. It might be necessary that we have to leave home since home just has way too many bad memories, too much bitterness, and too much pain to stay there. When I left the monastery, I could not accept that so much of my life’s passion, my long hours of prayer and fasting, of obedience and exile, all just went down the drain in one night. And I have been bitter, I have been angry, and I have been unable to forgive. If this bitterness has been shown on this blog, I ask you my readers for forgiveness. Indeed, the less poetically inclined of you might be somewhat frustrated right now since all I seem to post is poetry. But it is far better for me to sing than to argue, it is far better for me to try to lift up your hearts than to change your minds….

Nevertheless, I will continue to post some more intellectually hard hitting posts; it’s just that I have so little time now. What I will say right now is this: returning to the Roman Catholic Church after a hiatus was the best decision I have ever made. This is not to judge the Eastern Church or the Anglican Continuum, it is more to say that I need to be who I am. I am a Western doctrinal and liturgical maximalist. I can’t be even a little Reformed (or reformed) even if I wanted to. Why is this the case? As I said before, it all comes down to a small concept that fills a child’s eyes and consumes the whole universe: it is wonder.

Yes, for me, it is the Roman Catholic Church that inspires wonder. From Holy Wednesday until Easter Sunday, I went to church every single day, a one hour trek by bus each way. Sometimes I was serving, sometimes chanting, sometimes I was just in the pews watching and praying. But at all points, I was full of wonder. From the stripping of the altar to watching old creaky knees bend to venerate the Cross, from the mad ringing of bells to the bellowing of ancient prayers, I was a child again in sorrow, quiet expectation, and ecstatic joy. So when I said last year that I had no home here on the earthly pilgrimage, I was wrong. I just didn’t want to walk through its door. Maybe at that point I just couldn’t do it. But since I have, God has blessed me in so many ways. This is where I belong, no matter how troubled it might all seem.

The Easter Vigil for me was the most revealing part of it all. Our Institute of Christ the King priest included many aspects of the ritual as done before the reforms of the 1950’s to the Holy Week services, so the Vigil was even more authentic than what I saw as an SSPX seminarian. He did much of the service in chausable and not in cope, he omitted the rather cheesy renewal of baptismal promises, and he prostrated himself during the Litany of the Saints, among other things. I served as the cross-bearer and I chanted the first two lessons from Genesis and Exodus. At the singing of the Exultet by a guest deacon, I finally realized what it all meant: this pristine Patristic prayer chanted in an unchanged ancient tone, with a priest standing off to the side in a ornate, Counter-Reformation vestments, while I stood with the cross, a poor bohemian with an affinity for Sylvia Plath and avant-garde music, about to chant the story of the creation of the world in Latin to an equally ancient tone. Roman Catholicism is a collision course, a train wreck, an overlap and entanglement of two thousand years of tradition and innovation that you will need all the luck in the world to sort out. If the Second Vatican Council is guilty of anything, it is trying to sort all of this out in order to find the “authentic” core of our religion. What stupidity!

If I have begun to come to terms with all of this, it is because I have realized that (to be a broken record) life and religion play by the same rules. The most profound philosophical statement I have ever read did not come out of Nietzsche, Aquinas, or even Plato. I read it on a bumper sticker on a car in the barrio of Hollister:

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

So in this way, I say that Roman Catholicism, like its Eastern cousins that are equally Apostolic, is a way of life and not an intellectual ideology. But it is a cluttered, disorganized, and often confused way of life because, well, because it is LIFE.

My favorite part of the Mass is when the priest makes the Host dance. It is otherwise known as the Minor Elevation at the end of the Canon of the Mass, and what it consists of is the saying of these words:

Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti…..

while the priest makes signs of the Cross over the consecrated Chalice with the Host. For me, he is making God dance. We realize then how fragile everything is, how God has put Himself into our hands to the point that we can “play” with Him. And this is the birthplace of wonder. And I have begun to experience this again, and I no longer worry much about THE CHURCH, Inc.

I am a person who is driven by wonder, and that is someone who I will always be. And God has blessed me for accepting that even if it has been painful to do so. And I am so glad now to dwell in my Father’s miraculous and wondrous house, even if I have visited so many nice places along the way.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Bouquet For AG

First Lily



Gabriela Mistral

Haciendo la ronda
se nos fue la tarde.
El sol ha caído:
la montaña no arde.

Pero la ronda seguirá
aunque en el cielo el sol no está.

Danzando, danzando,
la viviente fronda
no lo oyó venir
y entrar en la ronda.

Ha abierto el corro, sin rumor,
y al centro está hecho resplandor.

Callando va el canto,
callando de asombro.
Se oprimen las manos,
se oprimen temblando.

Y giramos alrededor
y sin romper el resplandor…

Ya es silencio el corro,
ya ninguno canta:
se oye el corazón
en vez de garganta.

Y mirando Su rostro arder,
Nos va a hallar el amanecer.

Going round and round,
The day that no longer resounds,
The sun having fallen from the sky,
Light no longer on the mountain high.

But the round will continue to sway
Though sun no longer announces the day.

Dance and dance,
The living branch
Could never hear
And enter this trance,

The circle opened, without much fright,
Showing the center, shining so bright.

The song becomes more hushed,
Hushed from so much wondering,
Hand on hand being crushed,
Crushed and sweetly trembling.

In the circle we continue to turn,
And the glorious light we do not spurn.

In the circle silence reigns,
And mute now is every note,
Only the heart jumps up and sings,
Voiceless now is every throat.

And seeing His face shine,
This is how the dawn the circle will find!

Me Tuviste


Gabriela Mistral

Duérmete mi niño,
duérmete sonriendo,
que es la ronda de astros
quien te va meciendo.

Gozaste la luz
y fuiste feliz.
Todo bien tuviste
al tenerme a mí.

Duérmete, mi niño,
duérmete sonriendo,
que es la Tierra amante
quien te va meciendo.

Miraste al ardiente
rosa carmesí.
Estrechaste al mundo:
me estrechaste a mí.

Duérmete, mi niño,
Duérmete sonriendo,
que es Dios en la sombra
el que va meciendo.

You Held Me

Sleep now, my baby,
Sleep now while smiling,
For it is the dance of the stars
That your cradle is sweetly rocking.

You were warmed by the light,
And happy by it you were made,
All things that you have are good
Since you have me now for your shade.

Sleep now, my baby,
Sleep now while smiling,
Since it is the loving Earth
That your cradle is sweetly rocking.

You saw so lovingly
The rose so red and bright,
You held the whole world to yourself:
You held me fast and tight.

Sleep now, my baby,
Sleep now while smiling,
For it is God in the shadow
That your cradle is sweetly rocking.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Triduum Sacrum



Gabriela Mistral

El sol de abril aún es ardiente
y bueno y el surco de la espera, resplandece;
pero hoy no llenes ansia de su seno,
porque Jesús padece.

No remuevas la tierra. Deja, mansa
la mano y el arado; echa las mieses
cuando ya nos devuelvan la esperanza
que aun Jesús padece.

Ya sudó sangre bajo los olivos,
y oyò al que amaba negarlo tres veces.
Mas, rebelde de amor, tiene aún latidos,
¡aún padece!

Porque tú, labrador, siembras odiando
y yo tengo rencor cuando anochece,
y un niño va como un hombre llorando
¡Jesús padece!

Está sobre el madero todavía
y sed tremenda el labio le estremece.
¡Odio mi pan, mi estrofa y mi alegría,
porque Jesús padece!

Good Friday

April’s sun is still bright and fine
And the furrow of expectation shines,
But today do not fill your heart with waiting,
For Jesus suffers.

Do not dig in earth. Leave idle
The hand and the plow: plant your harvest
When they have returned hope to us,
For Jesus still suffers.

He has already sweated under the olives
and he heard himself denied thrice by the one he loved ,
But rebel of love, it still throbs,
Still he suffers!

Why do you, laborer, sow in hatred
And why am I angry when the night comes,
And a child goes like a man heaving with sobs,
Jesus suffers!

He is still on the cross now,
And thirst torments his lips,
I hate my bread, my stanza, and my joy,
Because Jesus suffers!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week Hiatus

Dear Readers,

I will not be posting anything on Holy Week. I will be on altar duty for the traditional rite at St. Margaret Mary's Church in Oakland for four nights this week, as well as balancing school, work, and other obligations, both pleasant and unpleasant. I am working on various posts for Easter week, so please come back then.

If I change my mind and feel prolific, I might post a translation of a poem later this week, but I am not promising anything.

God bless,

Arturo Vasquez