Monday with Merton


  

The lights of prayer that make us imagine we are beginning to be angels are sometimes only signs that we are finally beginning to be men. We do not have a high enough opinion of our own nature. We think we are at the gates of heaven and we are only just beginning to come into our own realm as free and intelligent beings.” 

― Thomas Merton, The Ascent to Truth

Monday with Merton


  
 
“We do not have to create a conscience for ourselves. We are born with one, and no matter how much we may ignore it, we cannot silence its insistent demand that we do good and avoid evil. No matter how much we may deny our freedom and our moral responsibility, our intellectual soul cries out for a morality and a spiritual freedom without which it knows it cannot be happy. The first duty of every man is to seek the enlightenment and discipline without which his conscience cannot solve the problems of life.”

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Divisions of Colliding Wills


A 7 Quick Takes post, kindly hosted at This Ain’t the Lyceum

 

St. Cyprian
 
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“The spouse of Christ cannot be defiled; she is uncorrupted and chaste. She knows one home . . . Does anyone believe that this unity which comes from divine strength, which is closely connected with the divine sacraments, can be broken asunder in the Church and be separated by the divisions of colliding wills? He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.”  St Cyprian – On the Unity of the Catholic Church

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Went to the FSSP parish in my fair city for Pentecost Sunday and, for some reason, it was just what I needed spiritually.  I had been feeling really worn down by something like three or more weeks of daily rain, in fact, one stretch of 8 days of almost solid rainfall.  All the moisture brought water seeping in to one room of our basement and the constant use of a very large Shop Vac was, along with the lack of sunshine, also a bit wearing.  Yet, somehow, one Latin Mass, something I hadn’t experienced in over a year did the trick.  I need  to do that more often.

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Attending a Latin Mass is often taken as a sign of extreme conservatism and Catholic zealotry, even among Catholics.   That’s unfortunate in the extreme.  Even worse, the idea is most often talked up by those who consider themselves the most righteous and orthodox Catholics on the block.  It’s a shame these folks do not see that they are doing far more harm than good.  

The Latin Mass is a beautiful and wonderful gift of the heritage of the Church.  It retains to this day the element of beauty and mystery, something that everyone needs to remind them of the Absolute Mystery that is being celebrated in the liturgy, a beauty and mystery that, frankly, has been under attack since the “reforms” of the liturgy after Vatican II.  It isn’t a matter of doctrine at all, it’s a recognition that human beings need constant reminders, in many forms, of Who they are worshipping and what is taking place during that time of worship.  It should be a time of beauty and awe, not self affirmation.  It also is never a sign of personal political opinion.

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Speaking of doctrine, the same extreme Catholic zealots are beginning to crank up the panic level over what they term “the coming schism” or “the coming heresy”, and other such comings.  It seems to me the operative word in all this is “coming”; not one of the apocalyptic events predicted by these folks has come about as of this writing.  The point is, those who are so actively engaged in panic mode over events over four months away are not doing themselves or their readers any good.  All they are doing is building up anger within the Church, and surely such activities, which amount to little more than gossip, are to be regretted, perhaps repented.  It is well to remember, none of these people have had a role in speaking for the Church and her Tradition.

There’s no denying there are those in the Church who are promoting ideas that are contrary to her own good.  There may be danger ahead.  But when, in her 2,000 year history has it ever not been so?  The role of faithful Catholic laity now is to pray for the Church and those within her walls, and to trust Jesus words when he told Peter:

“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

If Jesus promised that the “powers of death” shall not prevail against His Church, what chance do the German bishops have?

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We have had a momentous amount of rain here in Colorado over the month of May, nearly 8″ officially in my fair city.  I think my neighborhood, some distance from the official airport rain guage, we have probably had closer to 12″, with a couple of days still left in the month.  We have had roads flooded, creeks at or over their flood stage, and many city parks and hiking trails either severely damaged or washed away entirely, even in Garden of the Gods.  As inconvenient as all this has been, I am reminded it could always be worse.  In Texas, houses have washed away, dams have failed, and the death toll has been far too high.  Please pray for the all of the victims of the Texas flooding.

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I’ve been reading a book, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I hadn’t picked up before my crossing the Tiber.  I had forgotten how really enjoyable reading this short book is.  The odd thing is the book is much more understandable, and enjoyable, to me as a Catholic than it ever was to me as a Protestant.  It reminds me of one of the truths Lewis discusses in the book, a point I totally glossed over when I first read it.  His point is that, when he was an atheist, he could not allow himself to be open to ideas from those with other points of view but, as a Christian, he learned he could be open to truth where ever and whenever he found it.  Good thing to keep in mind.

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I may have ranted a bit too much today, I tend to do that and regret it afterwards.  In mitigation of my guilt, I offer a quote from Chesterton that will give you an idea of how things end up appearing on this site, and their relative importance in the grand scheme of things: 

“. . .crude and shapeless papers upon current or rather flying subjects; and they must be published pretty much as they stand. They were written, as a rule, at the last moment; they were handed in the moment before it was too late, and I do not think that our commonwealth would have been shaken to its foundations if they had been handed in the moment after.”

Monday with Merton


  
“The whole function of the life of prayer is, then, to enlighten and strengthen our conscience so that it not only knows and perceives the outward, written precepts of the moral and divine laws, but above all lives God’s law in concrete reality by perfect and continual union with His will. The conscience that is united to the Holy Spirit by faith, hope, and selfless charity becomes a mirror of God’s own interior law which is His charity. It becomes perfectly free. It becomes its own law because it is completely subject to the will of God and to His Spirit.”

Thomas Merton – No Man Is An Island

Monday with Merton


  

“The first step in the interior life, nowadays, is not, as some might imagine, learning not to see and taste and hear and feel things. On the contrary, what we must do is begin by unlearning our wrong ways of seeing, tasting, feeling, and so forth, and acquire a few of the right ones. For asceticism is not merely a matter of renouncing television, cigarettes, and gin. Before we can begin to be ascetics, we first have to learn to see life as if it were something more than a hypnotizing telecast. And we must be able to taste something besides tobacco and alcohol: we must perhaps even be able to taste these luxuries themselves as if they too were good.”


Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island 

Man, the Worshipping Animal


  
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus is probably best known to Catholics through his work with EWTN, especially as a commentator during their coverage of the death of Pope St. John Paul II and the conclave which followed soon after, a conclave resulting in the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  They may know him as well as for his work as the founder and publisher of First Things magazine.  Yet, there is far more to Neuhaus’ life and career, and the entire story is skillfully told in a new biography by Randy Boyagoda, Richard John Neuhaus, A Life in the Public Square.  Whether familiar with Neuhaus or not, readers will find Boyagoda’s book provides an astonishing wealth of detail, not only about the subject, but also the historical context in which Neuhaus lived and worked, from his time as a committed civil rights worker and anti-war protestor during the 1960’s to his role as occasional, sometimes controversial, advisor to President George W. Bush in the first decade of the 21st century.  To many readers, much of his life story may come as a surprise, perhaps even a shock, but the story is interesting and important. The extent of the causes he engaged in, the friends and enemies he made, and the things he achieved, is astonishing.

The book is organized as a chronological narrative of the events of Richard John Neuhaus’ life, taking him from his birth in 1936 in Pembroke, Ontario where his father, Clem Neuhaus, was serving as a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, to his death in 2009.  In his early teens Neuhaus was sent off to a Lutheran boarding school in Nebraska, a school he was asked not to return to after just one year, the result of a few youthful indiscretions.  After leaving Nebraska, Neuhaus lived with relatives in Texas and the book details his adventures shooting jack rabbits and being a teen age gas station owner liked to brag about being the youngest member of the Cisco Chamber of Commerce.  All during this time, however, Neuhaus displayed strong, active interests in Lutheran theology and ecclesiology, philosophy, and whatever else happened to strike his fancy, despite having dropped out of school entirely.  After a year in Cisco, Neuhaus, realizing that any career he would want to pursue required an education, applied to a small Lutheran college in Austin, Concordia Lutheran College, being admitted only after bluffing admission authorities into waiting for evidence of his nonexistent high school graduation papers to arrive in the mail.  

After graduation from Concordia in Austin, Neuhaus attended Concordia– St. Louis seminary, the most influential seminary in the Lutheran Missouri Synod.  At St. Louis, he fell under the influence of Arthur Carl Piepkorn.  “Pieps,” as he was known on campus, was a prominent professor, one with known “Romish” sentiments, and a man of great influence on Neuhaus.  Piepkorn accomplished this by providing Neuhaus with “a catholic-framed Lutheran ecclesial identity integrated with intellectual sophistication and ordered to and by a joyful love of God and the Church.”  Boyagoda goes on to say that many of Neuhaus’ fellow students at the seminary were convinced that Piepkorn was so catholic-minded that he “wore a Roman collar with his pajamas.”  Among the entire faculty of this most prominent Lutheran seminary there is little doubt Piepkorn exerted the strongest influences on Neuhaus during his seminary career, even to the point of Neuhaus picking up the use of a breviary for his daily prayers.  

Once he finished seminary, Neuhaus was assigned, perhaps as a punishment for his association with the “Romish” Piepkorn, as pastor of a tiny church in upstate New York, where he spent a year.  Then he was transferred to the church that became his home, in one way or another, for the next twenty years, St John the Evangelist Lutheran church in Brooklyn.  It was here that he would begin the career that would make him famous and influential, as political activist, Lutheran pastor, and finally, editor and publisher of First Things magazine.

While at St John the Evangelist, Neuhaus became active, and gained a level of prominence, in the civil rights and anti-war movements, working with people like the Berrigan brothers, William Sloane Coffin, and even Martin Luther King himself.  However, the unrest and outright violence triggered at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which he participated in, marked the beginning of his disillusionment with the left.  It was from that event that he began the long process of disengagement from these leftist associations, leading ultimately to his conversion to Catholicism, to the priesthood, and to the founding of First Things.  
The process took time after that 1968 awakening but quickened during the 1980s, when Neuhaus came into contact, especially through his ongoing engagement with pro-life issues, with prominent Catholic officials, including Cardinal John O’Conner, (then) Fr. Avery Dulles, and even, in a minor way, Pope St. John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  It ended in 1990 when Neuhaus began First Things and entered the Church.  He was ordained a priest a year later, having been personally formed under the tutelage of Fr. Dulles.
Neuhaus’ journey from activist liberal to renowned “theo-con” was remarkable, as was Neuhaus the man.  Boyagoda paints a picture of a man with an outsized intellect and a lifetime of singular accomplishment.  It isn’t surprising that Neuhaus also had some of the flaws typically associated with such people.  To all who came in contact with him, Neuhaus was clearly a man of great intellect, huge ambition, strong, domineering personality, with the ego to match, who tended to dominate any room he entered.  He also didn’t mind enjoying a good cigar and a sip of 18 year old Scotch along the way.  

Having said this, I wonder if his human failings, the untamed ego, over arching ambition, and domineering personality are traits that merit the attention Boyagoda gives them.  Do those human failings, while interesting, really affect our assessment of a life dedicated to ensuring that the voice of faith be heard in the public square?  If I have a complaint about Boyagoda’s book, it’s that I think these personal traits sometimes appear out of any context within the narrative, at the expense of conveying more substantive details of Neuhaus’ life and work.
Neuhaus considered himself throughout his career, as both Lutheran pastor and Catholic priest, to be a Christian and a patriot, in that order.   It was his lifelong concern that the voice of those of religious faith be heard in the public square, not as the dominant voice, but certainly as an equal part of the national conversation of ideas.  This is an important message in a age when the popular culture is doing all that it can to silence those voices. The emphasis on Neuhaus’ personal failings is regrettable because the attention paid to these minor faults distracts from the important, lifelong, theme of Neuhaus’ thinking, neatly summarized by R. R. Reno in the April, 2015 issue of First Things: “What will endure is Neuhaus’s constant reminder: Man is first and foremost a worshipping animal, not a voting animal.  Rendering to God what is God’s matters most.  The rest is commentary.”  To miss this point is to misunderstand Richard John Neuhaus.

One other minor criticism concerns a sometimes disjointed narrative.  For example, Neuhaus spent his early years in Pembroke, Ontario and his early life in that small Canadian town is covered in the first three chapters, which conclude with a brief allusion to events to come in Neuhaus’ life.  At the start of the next chapter, we find him attending boarding school in Nebraska, where one of his sisters lived.  How, and why, was he sent there?  Why would his parents send him so far away from home at such an early age?  There’s no explanation, leaving the reader only to question.  Another, more glaring, example:  given the time spent on Arthur Piepkorn’s early, strongly Catholic, liturgically based influence on Neuhaus, the reader expects Piepkorn to have played some part in Neuhaus’ ultimate decision to become Catholic.  Yet, this connection remains undrawn, and once Neuhaus leaves the seminary, Piepkorn drops from view, the reader can only guess how Piepkorn contributed to the formation of the future Fr. Neuhaus, as he must have done.

Despite these few quibbles, Richard John Neuhaus, A Life in the Public Square, is a worthy endeavor and deserves attention. The book is backed up by meticulous research, is well written, suffering only a few minor flaws.  Boyagoda offers his readers critical background in trying to appreciate all of the various forces of upheaval spawned during the unrest of the 1960’s and later years, and the efforts of one man to participate in and shape those forces according to his deeply Christian, and finally Catholic, point of view.


FTC  Disclaimer:  “I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

Monday with Merton


    

It is necessary, above all in the beginning of our spiritual life, to do certain things at fixed times: fasting on certain days, prayer and meditation at definite hours of the day, regular examinations of conscience, regularity in frequenting the sacraments, systematic application to our duties of state, particular attention to virtues which are most necessary for us.

Thomas Merton, Journals

Monday with Merton


  

Quiet, grey afternoon. It is warmer. Birds sing. There will be more rain. Cocks crowing in the afternoon silence, very distant. A thunderstorm. The first I have sat through in the hermitage. Here you really can watch a storm. White snakes of lightning suddenly stand out in the sky and vanish. The valley is clouded with rain as white as milk. All the hills vanish. The thunder cracks and beats. Rain comes flooding down from the roof eaves, and grass looks twice as green as before. Not to be known, not to be seen. Father Gabriel Sweeney, the little white-haired Passionist who is in the novitiate, who asked to leave before Easter, and was dissuaded by Reverend Father, stands with a piteous expression in the novitiate library reading Relax and Live. Sooner or later they come to that.
Janua Coeli: the Gate of Heaven. How different prayer is here at the hermitage. Clarity—direction—to Christ the Lord for the great gift—the passage out of this world to the Father, entry into the kingdom. I know what I am here for. May I be faithful to this awareness.

Monday with Merton


  

The grace of Easter is a great silence, an immense tranquility and a clean taste in your soul. It is the taste of heaven, but not the heaven of some wild exaltation. The Easter vision is not riot and drunkenness of spirit, but a discovery of order above all order—a discovery of God and of all things in Him. This is a wine without intoxication, a joy that has no poison in it. It is life without death. Tasting it for a moment, we are briefly able to see and love all things according to their truth, to possess them in their substance hidden in God, beyond all sense. For desire clings to the vesture and accident of things, but charity possesses them in the simple depths of God.  

Thomas Merton, Journals.  

Monday with Merton


 

The power of the Easter Vigil liturgy in part stems from the fact that so many vestiges of primitive nature rites are included and sanctified in it. Mystery of fire and mystery of water. Mystery of spring: Ver sacrum. Fire, water and spring made sacred and meaningful theologically by the Resurrection of Christ, the new creation. Instead of stamping down the force of new life in us (and turning it into a dragon), let it be sweetened, sanctified and exalted, a figure of the life of the Spirit which is made present in our heart’s love by the Resurrection. One unquestionable improvement in the liturgy of Holy Week is the recovery of the more ancient tone for the singing of the Passion. It is splendidly austere and noble. Tremendously moving, like great tolling Flemish bells stirring whole populations in medieval cities, or like the stone sides of the Cistercian churches of the twelfth century which echoed to those tones. The chant was a mighty and living presence, binding us together in mystery. A great eloquence and sobriety that has almost been lost from the world but has been recovered. This eloquence, though, is stubborn, it is in man, it will not go. Christ preserves it, as He preserves us, from our own vulgarity.  

Thomas Merton, Journals