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“The Quickening of St. John the Baptist” by Thomas Merton

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Why do you fly from the drowned sea of Galilee,
Grimsby the sands and the water?
Why do you leave the ordinary world, Virgin of Nazareth,
The yellow fishing boats, the farms,
The winesmelling yards and low cellars
Or the oilpress, and the women by the well?
Why do you fly those markets,
Those suburban gardens,
The trumpets of the jealous lilies,
Leaving them all, lovely among the lemon trees?

You have trusted no town
With the news behind your eyes.
You have drowned Gabriel’s word in thoughts like seas
And turned toward the stone mountain
To the treeless places.
Virgin of God, why are your clothes like sails?

The day Our Lady, full of Christ,
Entered the dooryard of her relative
Did not her steps, light steps, lay on the paving leaves
like gold?
Did not her eyes as grey as doves
Alight like the peace of a new world upon that house, upon
miraculous Elizabeth?

Her salutation
Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother’s body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery.

Sing in your cell, small anchorite!
How did you see her in the eyeless dark?
What secret syllable
Woke your young faith to the mad truth
That an unborn baby could be washed in the Spirit of God?
Oh burning joy!

What seas of life were planted
by that voice!
With what new sense
Did your wise heart receive her Sacrament,
And know her cloistered Christ?

You need no eloquence, wild bairn,
Exulting in your hermitage.
Your ecstasy is your apostolate,
For whom to kick is contemplata tradere.
Your joy is the vocation of Mother Church’s hidden children –
Those who by vow lie buried in the cloister or the hermitage;
The speechless Trappist, or the grey, granite Carthusian,
The quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare, Planted in the night of
contemplation, Sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.

Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry
Poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied
sermon.
Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
Seeking the world’s gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.

But in the days, rare days, when our Theotokos
Flying the prosperous world
Appears upon our mountain
with her clothes like sails,
Then, like the wise, wild baby,
The unborn John who could not see a thing
We wake and know the Virgin Presence
Receive her Christ into our night
With stabs of an intelligence as white as lightning.

Cooled in the flame of God’s dark fire
Washed in His gladness like a vesture of new flame
We burn like eagles in His invincible awareness
And bound and bounce with happiness,
Leap in the womb, our cloud, our faith, our element,
Our contemplation, our anticipated heaven
Till Mother Church sings like an Evangelist.

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Ashes to Ashes: Here Marks Lent

Ash-Wednesday

“And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7 KJV

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” – Genesis 3:19

“All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” – Ecclesiastes 3:20

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” – Job 42:5,6

Fear not, for your fasting and penance is not done in vain. God calls us to repent for our greater good. Yeah, you may look silly with that dirty cross on your forehead. Probably even a little pharisaic to outsiders. Perhaps you’re not ready to defend the Faith when someone asks you about it. So what? Do what you can and let God handle the rest. Never forget that we walk by faith – faith which will ultimately be confirmed in you!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:1-3

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Here’s a word of encouragement from St. Paul as we begin Ash Wednesday and enter into the mystery of the lenten season (2 Thessalonians 1):

“Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. 11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: 12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

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“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – 2 Thess. 2:15

lentguide-2Throwback: Lenten Reflections

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We Are

imageIn Original Nakedness, man had no shame in being uncovered. In Original Solitude, he acquainted himself in light of his knowledge of God. These two precede Original Unity because man can not properly love another without loving himself in an orderly manner. If my unhealthy “love” of self is actually hate in disguise through self-deception, I will inevitably cause more harm than good in loving my neighbor. Love one another as you love yourself. We love because He first loved us. This alone makes man worthy of that love for which he was made. Perfect love casts out fear – the fear of being “naked” whether in the solitude of one’s inner room, or in the midst of the world with which we are one.image

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Saint Valentine of Rome

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We know of at least a few Catholic Saints by the name of Valentine (or Valentinus, derivative of the word valor), but tradition primarily celebrates a certain St. Valentine of Rome – patron saint of young people, engaged and married couples and bee keepers (huh). His intercession is also sought against epilepsy, fainting and plague (oh my!). And finally, Valentine is the patron saint of – you guessed it – greeting card manufacturers! One might say this is his hallmark patronage. *Ba dum tss*

St. Valentine is perhaps best known for marrying Roman soldiers against the will of the Empire. You see, Claudius II desired celibacy for the sake of unhindered devotion to his beastly war machine. Could you imagine trying to blast a Goth with an infant climbing all over your catapult? The young military candidates’ wives and kids were holding them back. These guys knew as well as we do that man cannot serve two masters, so it was either lay down your life for your bride or for the emperor. Actually, the latter was officially mandated leaving the poor lovestruck saps without much of a choice.

But of course this wasn’t effective in keeping people from falling in love for very long. In fact, it caused many to turn to the Church and her holy ministers like our beloved Valentine here for succor. Being far more fruitful than war, love always prevails. As does truth.

After a good fight and countless conversions, Emperor Claudius summoned Saint Valentine for interrogation and had him clubbed, stoned and beheaded after he attempted to convert him. Legend holds that the Saint left a note to his jailor’s daughter which he signed, “Your Valentine”.

How’s that for a love story in the tradition of our Founder? I’ll take a good romance over “Fifty Shades of Grey” any day.

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See Also:

http://percalamus.com/2014/02/14/chocolate-and-chesterton-on-st-valentines-day/

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St. Thomas Aquinas: Verbum Supernum (poem)

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Verbum Supernum

The heavenly Word proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not his Father’s side,
And going to His work on Earth,
Has reached at length life’s eventide.

By false disciple to be given
To foemen for His blood athirst,
Himself, the living bread from Heaven,
He gave to his disciples first.

In twofold form of sacrament,
He gave His flesh, He gave His blood,
That man, of soul and body blent,
Might wholly feed on mystic food.

In birth man’s fellow-man was He,
His meat while sitting at the board;
He died, our ransomer to be,
He reigns to be our great reward.

O saving Victim, opening wide
The gates of heaven to man below;
Our foes press hard on every side,
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.

All praise and thanks to thee ascend
For evermore, blessed One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end,
In our true native land with Thee.

Happy Feast Day! St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

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The Life Reserved for Us

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It is my ardent opinion that if only one measurement could be taken to determine the level a pastor’s vocational authenticity, he would not be rated on his theological fecundity, or his moral integrity or even his pastoral fortitude. No, though these factors are indeed instrumental and anything below par proves detrimental, I would rather judge the shepherd – or better yet, any man – according to his understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

And where there is any lack of understanding, let there be either respect or love in its stead. St. John Chrysostom – whose spiritual direction I cherish above most others – is one such man who comes to mind when this subject is at hand. Reading the excerpt below, it is apparent that “Golden Mouth” here had an adequate grasp on all three (understanding, love, and respect). But it wasn’t always explicitly so – one might find some of his previous works a tad cynical. A pro-clerical stance is to be expected in an age where Tertullian’s view (at least when “black or white” logic is used) of these two primordial Sacraments is widely accepted – the view in which the Creation accounts’ commission to “be fruitful and multiply” takes a purely figurative turn while the sacramental union of man and woman into “one flesh” (aka childbirth) takes the backseat. It became more about making “little Christs” in  spiritual sense. Like all things In the Church and in one’s individual journey, things always have a way of balancing out eventually (instead of either/or, why not both?). Thanks be to God.

“[On what young husbands should say to their wives:] I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us… I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.” – St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians (see also: Catechism on the 6th Commandment)

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Chesterton: The Free Family

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Long time no see. I am currently working on a piece about the sacramental unity of love and the sacrifice of praise (thanksgiving/eucharistia), so I plan to get back into gear with this blog here soon. For now, here’s another (lengthy) excerpt from Chesterton – my unofficial patron saint as I prepare for marriage:

“As I have said, I propose to take only one central instance; I will take the institution called the private house or home; the shell and organ of the family. We will consider cosmic and political tendencies simply as they strike that ancient and unique roof. Very few words will suffice for all I have to say about the family itself. I leave alone the speculations about its animal origin and the details of its social reconstruction; I am concerned only with its palpable omnipresence. It is a necessity far mankind; it is (if you like to put it so) a trap for mankind. Only by the hypocritical ignoring of a huge fact can any one contrive to talk of “free love”; as if love were an episode like lighting a cigarette, or whistling a tune. Suppose whenever a man lit a cigarette, a towering genie arose from the rings of smoke and followed him everywhere as a huge slave. Suppose whenever a man whistled a tune he “drew an angel down” and had to walk about forever with a seraph on a string. These catastrophic images are but faint parallels to the earthquake consequences that Nature has attached to sex; and it is perfectly plain at the beginning that a man cannot be a free lover; he is either a traitor or a tied man. The second element that creates the family is that its consequences, though colossal, are gradual; the cigarette produces a baby giant, the song only an infant seraph. Thence arises the necessity for some prolonged system of co-operation; and thence arises the family in its full educational sense.

It may be said that this institution of the home is the one anarchist institution. That is to say, it is older than law, and stands outside the State. By its nature it is refreshed or corrupted by indefinable forces of custom or kinship. This is not to be understood as meaning that the State has no authority over families; that State authority is invoked and ought to be invoked in many abnormal cases. But in most normal cases of family joys and sorrows, the State has no mode of entry. It is not so much that the law should not interfere, as that the law cannot. Just as there are fields too far off for law, so there are fields too near; as a man may see the North Pole before he sees his own backbone. Small and near matters escape control at least as much as vast and remote ones; and the real pains and pleasures of the family form a strong instance of this. If a baby cries for the moon, the policeman cannot procure the moon–but neither can he stop the baby. Creatures so close to each other as husband and wife, or a mother and children, have powers of making each other happy or miserable with which no public coercion can deal. If a marriage could be dissolved every morning it would not give back his night’s rest to a man kept awake by a curtain lecture; and what is the good of giving a man a lot of power where he only wants a little peace? The child must depend on the most imperfect mother; the mother may be devoted to the most unworthy children; in such relations legal revenges are vain. Even in the abnormal cases where the law may operate, this difficulty is constantly found; as many a bewildered magistrate knows. He has to save children from starvation by taking away their breadwinner. And he often has to break a wife’s heart because her husband has already broken her head. The State has no tool delicate enough to deracinate the rooted habits and tangled affections of the family; the two sexes, whether happy or unhappy, are glued together too tightly for us to get the blade of a legal penknife in between them. The man and the woman are one flesh–yes, even when they are not one spirit. Man is a quadruped. Upon this ancient and anarchic intimacy, types of government have little or no effect; it is happy or unhappy, by its own sexual wholesomeness and genial habit, under the republic of Switzerland or the despotism of Siam. Even a republic in Siam would not have done much towards freeing the Siamese Twins.

The problem is not in marriage, but in sex; and would be felt under the freest concubinage. Nevertheless, the overwhelming mass of mankind has not believed in freedom in this matter, but rather in a more or less lasting tie. Tribes and civilizations differ about the occasions on which we may loosen the bond, but they all agree that there is a bond to be loosened, not a mere universal detachment. For the purposes of this book I am not concerned to discuss that mystical view of marriage in which I myself believe: the great European tradition which has made marriage a sacrament. It is enough to say here that heathen and Christian alike have regarded marriage as a tie; a thing not normally to be sundered. Briefly, this human belief in a sexual bond rests on a principle of which the modern mind has made a very inadequate study. It is, perhaps, most nearly paralleled by the principle of the second wind in walking.

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. Whether this solid fact of human nature is sufficient to justify the sublime dedication of Christian marriage is quite an other matter, it is amply sufficient to justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing, dissolution of which is a fault or, at least, an ignominy. The essential element is not so much duration as security. Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage. In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy. Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is essentially discouraging. If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation. It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper, and then have to shout the last half of it because the other party was floating away into the free and formless ether. The two must hold each other to do justice to each other. If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.”         

(G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World; VII The Free Family)

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