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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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Man Fully Alive

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“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstacies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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Questions for His Beloved

How long will you hide from me, My Beloved? Just how far will you run? Time and time again, I remind you of the power of my Love. Do you not know by now that there is no place I am unwilling to go in order to seek out my chosen ones? Neither death nor hell lay beyond my reach, yet you persist in a futile attempt to flee. This world is at my fingertips just as your heart once was.

Do you worry about tomorrow? Faithlessness is the way of death. It is only through believing in me that life exists. Have you not enough troubles for today? Why clench and hoard your sins daily as one in love with silly things cherished and valued more than me?

Do you love me more than these? Yes, you say with your lips, though your heart remains mute and your feet, stagnant. Prove me wrong and leave your enemies confounded. Feed my sheep with every single breath that you take. Let not a single thought escape your lips without first passing through a refiner’s fire.

Return to my Altar, my Beloved, and believe in my Presence as a little child. Then and only then will your affairs will be in order. It is by letting go of your life that grace will sustain it. There is no other way. You know this, don’t you? Ah yes, you have been hearing it more and more here recently, have you not? This is because the time has come for My Son’s Return and the rapture of all forsaken hearts.

Oftentimes I am asked when my Only Begotten will come again to wash away all the pain and hurt and sadness that exists in the world. The answer is simple. When will you have Him? But you say to me, I invited Him into my heart long ago! Then tell me, why does your so-called Savior still stand at your door knocking? Clear your inn, lest you be evicted. The halls of hell are lined with those whose cardinal sin was presumption.

Seek my will, my child, for I have called your name. No creature’s will, however strong and free it may be, can ever overpower that of your Almighty Father. Just as I bend the knees of queens and break the crowns of kings, it is often the case that I must first shatter hearts in order to rebuild them in my image once more. I Am that I Am. I Will Be that I Will Be.

Be ye not dismayed or troubled or weary on this often tumultuous road of roads which extends from the deepest, darkest corners of your lofty heart all the way to my Sacred and Immaculate Abode. Every bump and bruise and scraped knee you have ever received, inflicted or nursed has been a stepping stone to your salvation. Don’t you see that I willed it better for good to come from evil than for evil to never exist? You know this. You have seen my glory. So what makes you doubt me now?

Come, the disciple whom I love. I will show you the secret to life. Before beginning your day, remember that it is not your own. Cherish it. Share it. Embrace every obstacle and unite it to my Cross. My yolk will only burden as gently as your station requires of me. Though hindsight may fail you like clockwork in such amnesia of the soul, take a step of faith. I will remind you of the Way.

Slow down. Be. Love. Be loved. That is all I have ever asked of you. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Trust in me.

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St. Augustine’s Prayer for His Mother

The following is an excerpt from Augustine’s “Confessions” (final chapter) in which he pours out his heart in intercession for his mother St. Monica. She had “prayed her son into the Church”, and now one of the greatest defenders of the Faith the world has ever known could return the favor by “praying his mother into Heaven.”  

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CHAPTER XIII

34. Now that my heart is healed of that wound — so far as it can be charged against me as a carnal affection — I pour out to thee, O our God, on behalf of thy handmaid, tears of a very different sort: those which flow from a spirit broken by the thoughts of the dangers of every soul that dies in Adam. And while she had been “made alive” in Christ[309] even before she was freed from the flesh, and had so lived as to praise thy name both by her faith and by her life, yet I would not dare say that from the time thou didst regenerate her by baptism no word came out of her mouth against thy precepts. But it has been declared by thy Son, the Truth, that “whosoever shall say to his brother, You fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”[310] And there would be doom even for the life of a praiseworthy man if thou judgedst it with thy mercy set aside. But since thou dost not so stringently inquire after our sins, we hope with confidence to find some place in thy presence. But whoever recounts his actual and true merits to thee, what is he doing but recounting to thee thy own gifts? Oh, if only men would know themselves as men, then “he that glories” would “glory in the Lord”[311]!

35. Thus now, O my Praise and my Life, O God of my heart, forgetting for a little her good deeds for which I give joyful thanks to thee, I now beseech thee for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds, who didst hang upon the tree and who sittest at thy right hand “making intercession for us.”[312] I know that she acted in mercy, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts.[313] I beseech thee also to forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech thee; “enter not into judgment” with her.[314] Let thy mercy be exalted above thy justice, for thy words are true and thou hast promised mercy to the merciful, that the merciful shall obtain mercy.[315] This is thy gift, who hast mercy on whom thou wilt and who wilt have compassion on whom thou dost have compassion on.[316]

36. Indeed, I believe thou hast already done what I ask of thee, but “accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord.”[317] For when the day of her dissolution was so close, she took no thought to have her body sumptuously wrapped or embalmed with spices. Nor did she covet a handsome monument, or even care to be buried in her own country. About these things she gave no commands at all, but only desired to have her name remembered at thy altar, where she had served without the omission of a single day, and where she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed by which that handwriting that was against us is blotted out; and that enemy vanquished who, when he summed up our offenses and searched for something to bring against us, could find nothing in Him, in whom we conquer.

Who will restore to him the innocent blood? Who will repay him the price with which he bought us, so as to take us from him? Thus to the sacrament of our redemption did thy hand maid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from thy protection. Let not the “lion” and “dragon” bar her way by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and duped by that cunning deceiver. Rather, she will answer that her sins are forgiven by Him to whom no one is able to repay the price which he, who owed us nothing, laid down for us all.

37. Therefore, let her rest in peace with her husband, before and after whom she was married to no other man; whom she obeyed with patience, bringing fruit to thee that she might also win him for thee. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire thy servants, my brothers; thy sons, my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that as many of them as shall read these confessions may also at thy altar remember Monica, thy handmaid, together with Patricius, once her husband; by whose flesh thou didst bring me into this life, in a manner I know not. May they with pious affection remember my parents in this transitory life, and remember my brothers under thee our Father in our Catholic mother; and remember my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which thy people sigh in their pilgrimage from birth until their return. So be fulfilled what my mother desired of me — more richly in the prayers of so many gained for her through these confessions of mine than by my prayers alone.

 

See Also:

St. Augustine and His Mother

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On Moses’ Motherly Prayer – St. Augustine

And in case you should suppose that he acted like this more from necessity than from charity, God actually offered him another people: “And I will make you,” he said, “into a great nation,” so leaving himself free to eliminate those others. But Moses wouldn’t accept this: he sticks to the sinners; he prays for the sinners. And how does he pray? This is a wonderful proof of his love, brothers and sisters. How does he pray? Notice something I’ve often spoken of, how his love is almost that of a mother. When God threatened that sacrilegious people, Moses’ maternal instincts were roused, and on their behalf he stood up to the anger of God. “Lord,” he said, “if you will forgive them this sin, forgive; bit if not, blot me out from the book you have written.” What sure maternal and paternal instincts, how sure his reliance, as he said this, on the justice and mercy of God! He knew that because he is just he wouldn’t destroy a just man, and because he is merciful he would pardon sinners.

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Moses and Jochebed by Pedro Américo, 1884.

 

See Also:

A Mother’s Touch

St. Augustine and His Mother

 

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