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Archive for the 'Life in Christ' Category

Note that neither Origen nor Augustine nor Jerome was writing for tenure or to impress an academic audience

Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011 (4:45 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, October 1st, 2011:

Fr. Robert Barron, from the Introduction to his book, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 1996), on the pastoral character of pre-Scholastic theology:

[P]rior to 1300, that is, from the earliest centuries of the church up until the time of Thomas Aquinas, there was no significant split between theology (talk about God) and spirituality. many of the significant spiritual masters of the patristic period – Origen, Augustine, pseudo-Dionysius, Ambrose – were what we would call theologians. All of these figures were interested, finally, in the transformation, conversion,  and salvation of human beings. Their theology was not abstract speculation for its own sake; on the contrary, it was a sort of spiritual direction, an attempt to lure people into the imitation of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that neither Origen nor Augustine nor Jerome was writing for tenure or to impress an academic audience. Instead, they were writing, first and foremost, as pastors, passionately interested in the salvation of souls. Even the most challenging, philosophically oriented texts in the Fathers – and there are plenty of them – are meant, not simply to illumine the mind, but to open the heart. It seems to me that if one had asked St. Augustine to distinguish between his theological writings and his “spiritual” writings, the saint would have been at a loss.

I had been reading a number of glowing reviews of Fr. Barron’s recent documentary film and companion book, Catholicism, and in searching a library catalog in hopes of finding one or the other, came across this earlier volume on Aquinas, whose enthralling metaphysical thought was still fresh in my mind from my recent reading of W. Norris Clarke’s The One and the Many. I had to at least give it a look. The early verdict: it’s a great little (<200 pages) offering, from the Crossroad’s Spiritual Legacy series.

The passage above got me thinking a bit about the strange dichotomies that seem to dominate modern opinion regarding matters religious, such as the popular juxtaposition of “religion” (or sometimes “organized religion”) and “spirituality”; the preceding, Barthian juxtaposition of “religion” and “faith”; its preceding, Reformed juxtaposition of law and gospel; the religiously hostile or even oppressive interpretation of Church/State separation language in American jurisprudence; and the ever-present gnostic dichotomizing of body/soul dualism. All of these dichotomies seem to be to be essentially gnostic,and I wonder to what extent this thinking can be traced back to the professionalizing of theology into a largely academic field.

The kind of pastorally integrated theology Barron attributes to antiquity is precisely the kind of theology I’d like to practice. Now, I don’t find later theology, as a rule, to be at all devoid of pastorally fruitful “spirituality”, but that may be in part due to my personal constitution, and I can certainly grasp a clear distinction between literature that would be categorized as “theological” and that which would be categorized as “spiritual writing” – my own library is divided in exactly that way.

Nonetheless, I see it as a point well worth taking that these two components or aspects of the encounter with God need to be integrated properly: the intellectual musings of the Christian should be grounded in a fierce and personal love for Jesus Christ and His Church, just as the spiritual journey of the Christian must be rooted in sound doctrine if it is going to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This exact thought has been on my mind for the past week or so, as I’ve begun again my catechetical duties teaching Christian doctrine to the parish children (8th graders this year). Too often, it seems that we are trying to inculcate “law” in those unaware of the existence of “gospel”, and perhaps even oblivious of its need.

One way to put it would be this: these youth-oriented programs need more kerygma to give life to the didache.

We have the duty and joy of sharing in this prayer whenever possible

Posted: Sunday, May 29, 2011 (5:02 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, May 29th, 2011:

Taken from the website of an Anglican priest in New Zealand, Bosco Peters, on the proper place of the Liturgy of the Hours in the prayer life of the life of the Christian believer:

Many who pray the Daily Office have a personal Rule of Life, or even an expectation or vows that require that regular discipline. These can often end up feeling guilty when a particular Hour has not been prayed by them. Some, in fact, will then try to "catch up" what they have missed – even gluing a number of Hours together and praying them one after the other. This comes out of an individualistic interpretation of Christianity whereby individuals join the church for mutual support of individual spiritual growth. The Liturgy of the Hours seen as the Prayer of the Church, and the spirituality that goes with this approach, flips this on its head.

The Church as Christ’s Body, in that perspective, exists prior to individuals joining it, and individuals become Christians precisely through their incorporation into this community (primarily through baptism). The Liturgy of the Hours, as the Prayer of the Church, and essentially the prayer of Christ (the whole Christ – head and members) is ongoing, and we have the duty and joy of sharing in this prayer whenever possible. When we miss the prayer we can be conscious that the prayer goes on – we do not catch up with it, rather we pick it up again when we can.

Peters makes a great point about how the Liturgy of the Hours should act as a kind of school for understanding the ecclesiology of the Church’s life of prayer. I must admit that I have sometimes done the exact thing he speaks of here, worrying about “catching up” Offices I may have missed. Such an attitude completely misses the point of liturgical prayer. It is the Church who prays – even Christ as Head of the Church – and we believers are invited into that perfect faithfulness as participants in something that totally transcends our own feeble acts, whether pious or impious. Our modernistic mindset resists that wisdom, but the entire enterprise of Christianity is rooted in a self-renouncing, participatory salvation through Christ’s perfect worship of the Father. That is a truth at once humbling and exhilarating.

Through obedience, we become who we really are

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 (7:06 am), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Tuesday, April 26th, 2011:

David Mills, from an On the Square post over at First Things, from an interesting, if somewhat bizarrely sensationalist, reflection on the moral significance of being true to the self:

No one objects to being told to live like Jesus. But to live the way St. Paul says to live, or the way the Catechism of the Catholic Church says to live, that we dislike. Being chaste, or giving alms, or stifling our desire for profit, or going to confession, or watching our language, or suffering a fool gladly, that rankles, especially if we have to do it. But through obedience to the accumulated and refined wisdom of the Church, we become who we really are. It’s worth it.

Mills hits on a truly significant point here about the easiness of conforming to a vague notion of Jesus-ism (i.e. What Would Jesus Do?), which can be (and too often is) readily reduced to a projection of self-interest by anyone seeking “religious” justification for their own delusions. Not so much, as he says, with Saint Paul, or the teaching Church.

I’m going to kill you! HA HA HA!

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 (10:35 pm), by John W Gillis


I find the readings for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Lent to be among the most exhilarating collections of readings for the Mass, with its recurring promises of resurrection culminating in the Gospel story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the tomb. I reflected quite a bit on them over the weekend of the 5th Sunday, and during the following week, I came across what I guess is by now a well-traveled “sermon jam” drawn from recordings of Ravi Zacharias, which asks what, for Christians, should perhaps be considered the fundamental question that arises from Lazarus having arisen:

 

 

This is the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him fearlessly; holy and righteous all the days of our lives. (Luke 2:73-75)

Christ reigns by unfolding Himself in men

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2011 (11:47 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Monday, January 31st, 2011:

A. G. Sertillanges, from his venerable book The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods:

Christianized humanity is made up of various personalities, no one of which can refuse to function without impoverishing the group and without depriving the eternal Christ of a part of his Kingdom. Christ reigns by unfolding Himself in men. Every life of one of His members is a characteristic moment of His duration; every individual man and Christian is an instance, incommunicable, unique, and therefore necessary, of the extension of the “spiritual body.” If you are designated as a light bearer, do not go and hide under the bushel the gleam or the flame expected from you in the house of the Father of all. Love truth and its fruits of life, for yourself and for others; devote to study and to the profitable use of study the best part of your time and your heart.

I’m just beginning this book, and hoping to get through it this week. Next week I begin the fourth course (Metaphysics) in my Franciscan University program. No small part of my reasoning for entering that program was to subject my thinking life to a guided discipline for the sake of deepening it through focus – as Sertillanges points out, a stream bounded by  narrow banks flows more impetuously – and this guide looks as if it might provide the knowledge of precisely the corrective I need at this point to tame my tendency to skim too lightly over the demands of systematic study, while relying too heavily on my (fading) abilities of recall. That’s long-hand for laziness.

A man’s self-revelation can only be realized in a sustained submission to the truth for its own sake, which is nothing more or less than an openness to God. But Sertillanges is here going a step further, in positioning the vocation to the pursuit of truth as being one of service, which echoes the point being made about the Church’s sacramental vocation by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in today’s first reading in the Mass:

Yet all these [Old Testament saints], though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NAB)

We have children because love overflows

Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2011 (8:55 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, January 30th, 2011:

Timothy Dalrymple, writing at Patheos.com, on Why We Have Children:

At the thought of fathering a daughter, waves of joy rolled through me. I loved my little girl long before I met her. I read her stories in the womb, sang to her, prayed for her. It wouldn’t matter what she looked like or what her personality was. She was mine—mine to nurture and protect, mine to train and guide, and mine to love with all my might.

We have children because love overflows. I believe as a Christian that I am created in the image of a God who is Love, a God whose love so desired an object that it brought us into being. Although the wisdom and power of love within us is clouded and twisted by sin, still the image of Love is there. We have children because love is essentially creative, and because our souls long for other souls we can love lavishly and forever.

I’ve been less than impressed with most of my infrequent visits over to the Patheos site, but this piece by Dalrymple really struck me. It struck me that, with all the noisome, tiresome tumult that the so-called culture wars generate, it really comes down to the gentle, magnificent truth that we have children because love overflows. This is a very personal essay that will surely vindicate the few minutes it will take to read it.

God Did Not Make Us to Remain Within the Limits of Nature

Posted: Sunday, January 2, 2011 (11:58 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for January 2nd, 2011:

Henri De Lubac, writing on the nature of the Church, in The Splendor of the Church, p. 237 in the 1999 Ignatius edition:

God did not make us “to remain within the limits of nature” or for the fulfilling of a solitary destiny; on the contrary, he made us to be brought together into the heart of the life of the Trinity. Christ offered himself in sacrifice so that we might be one in that unity of the divine Persons (Jn 17:19-23). That is to be the “recapitulation”, “regeneration”, and “consummation” of all things, and anything outside that which exerts a pull over us is a thing of deception (Jn 17:23; 1Cor 15:28). But there is a place where this gathering  together of all things in the Trinity begins in this world; “a family of God”, a mysterious extension of the Trinity in time, which not only prepares us for this life of union and gives us a sure guarantee of it (Eph 2:19; 1Tim 3:15; 1Pet 4:17), but also makes us participate in it already.

As the new year begins in the waning of the Christmas season, it is good to recall just what the Incarnation was willed by God to effect: the “consummation” of all things in the very life of God. And it is equally important to recall that it is through the agency of the Church that this transformation – this “theosis,” or divinization of created man – is willed by God to be effected in history. Let that mind-boggling truth be a daily reflection for the new year…

O Emmanuel

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010 (6:36 am), by John W Gillis


“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (O Antiphon for Dec 23rd)

The sequence of antiphons this week culminates today in what is one of the most outrageous claims ever made.

I was reading someone not too long ago who was speaking of the dangers that have historically been encountered whenever believers try to shift the focus of Christianity from the Passion/Resurrection to the Incarnation. Though the details escape me at this point, I recall it being a compelling read. But the tendency it criticized, if we can call it that, is also one that I am sympathetic to.

Part of that sympathy comes from the simple fact that the Passion & Resurrection take their distinctive character from the fact of the Incarnation – in other words, that they are dependent on it for their own ontological meaning. But it is also because the doctrine of the Incarnation is just so wildly exhilarating. The idea that the Creator becomes part of (and hence one with) His creation is mind-boggling, and casts a glow of sacredness and goodness over the whole creation – especially over the human race. Words would fail to describe what it would be to stand in the presence of the God-man.

We live in a world infatuated with celebrity. We put our faith in celebrities to save us from whatever it is we think concerns us. The news outlets are all atwitter day & night over disasters poised to overtake sports heroes and movie stars and other glitterati. Well, there goes the joy, for sure. Court jesters and talent-poor troubadours bask in glory as they lead social movements to eliminate unwanted human beings while saving the polar ice caps. The leader of the free world gets elected on charm and charisma, at best…

And to think that there once was a man born who was actually worthy of this kind of adulation. And to think that, through the Passion and resurrection, he is with us still, inviting us to partake of himself in Communion.

Embracing the Incarnation without the Passion might lead us to utopianism, but we shouldn’t lose our wonder and astonishment at the birth of God in a stable – and we sure shouldn’t be ready to trade the real deal for the cheap imitation of celebrity.

O Rex Gentium

Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 (10:33 pm), by John W Gillis


“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (O Antiphon for Dec 22nd)

Of all the titles of Christ given in these antiphons, I find the notion expressed in today’s antiphon the most difficult to see my way clear to. The others all seem to allow a kind of "religious" perspective to them – “light” and “wisdom” and other even more abstract ideas. I don’t mean by that to contrast the obvious political character of the idea of King of nations against "religion" as if religion were a non-political aspect of life – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I do not see how political life can be lived apart from religion, and political approaches that seek to marginalize religion cannot suppress "religion" itself, but only religious virtues and particular religious character – leaving an impoverished shell in place that is not some kind of non-religion, but a caricature of religion, set in the service of the prevailing ideology. No society is possible without some kind of shared framework of values and belief.

Instead, what I mean by the "religious perspective" of the first five titles in the sequence is almost the same thing as their political potentiality. What I mean is that they can be viewed as possessing some particular meaning, in some way, to a people to whom they appear not to be addressed. What I mean is that there are ways to see them in a less-than-catholic, less-than-universal light. That’s simply not the case with the antiphon today.

In proclaiming Christ "King of all the nations," there is only a total, subject "us" to be found; there is no "them." In this view, there is really only one relationship of true otherness, and that is the relationship between God and His People – and even that is transcended in Christ, as we explicitly celebrate in tomorrow’s antiphon.

O Oriens

Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 (6:35 am), by John W Gillis


“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (O Antiphon for Dec 21st)

Ironic, isn’t it?, that the antiphon for the Winter Solstice calls upon Christ as the Light of Dawn, or Rising Sun, or Dayspring from On High! Like all the antiphons of this octave, it recalls an Isaiahan Messianic prophecy: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1 in NAB – 9:2 in most versions).

All the bells and whistles of this commercial season strike me as expressing something between a denial of the dreadful barrenness of the world in the darkness of winter, and a mockery of the hope that looks forward to new life springing out of that barrenness. The shadow of death has long fingers, and truly spares us not. Yet the frivolity we greet it with does not confront it with any kind of meaningful hope, but obscures it with a parade of jingle bells and other distracting inanities. And there are times in which that becomes more plainly evident than others; this is one of those times, I’m afraid.