Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What I'm reading at the moment...

... or spot the difference.

I just happened to lay the two novels I'm reading at the moment side-by-side, and was struck by a certain similarity. Well, first impressions tell me that despite the surreal edge to her work, Seraphic's Catholic Quasi-Canadians are an awful lot more normal than Flannery's Protestants of the Deep South.

But why am I promoting Seraphic's new book so assiduously? That's an easy question to answer.


If she can't earn her crust writing, then Seraphic will be forced into a life of gold-digging and will allow her standards to slip to such an extent that she'll start dating Protestants and even seminarians!

Therefore, in order to save the souls of all involved, I'm shilling for Seraphic!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Augustinian Influence...

I wish that some bright theologian would write a substantial article or book on the theme of The Augustinianism of Joseph Ratzinger because one frequently comes across ideas and insights in his preaching and writing which have a distinct Augustinian stamp. Take the following little snippet from his homily at today's priestly ordinations:
Cari Ordinandi, in futuro dovrete sempre ritornare a questo momento, a questo gesto che non ha nulla di magico, eppure è così ricco di mistero, perché qui è l’origine della vostra nuova missione. In quella preghiera silenziosa avviene l’incontro tra due libertà: la libertà di Dio, operante mediante lo Spirito Santo, e la libertà dell’uomo. L’imposizione delle mani esprime plasticamente la specifica modalità di questo incontro: la Chiesa, impersonata dal Vescovo in piedi con le mani protese, prega lo Spirito Santo di consacrare il candidato; il diacono, in ginocchio, riceve l’imposizione della mani e si affida a tale mediazione. L’insieme dei gesti è importante, ma infinitamente più importante è il movimento spirituale, invisibile, che esso esprime; movimento ben evocato dal sacro silenzio, che tutto avvolge all’interno e all’esterno.

[Those who read Italian will note that my translation is a little less than literal in places - some Italian concepts don't translate exactly into English]

Dear Ordinandi, in future, you must always return to this moment, to this gesture which has nothing magical about it, but rather is so rich in mystery, because it is at the origin of your new mission. In this silent prayer there comes about the meeting of two freedoms: the freedom of God, operating by means of the Holy Spirit and the freedom of man. The imposition of the hands expresses the specific form of of this encounter: the Church, 'in-personated' by the bishop, standing up with hands outstretched, prays the Holy Spirit to consecrate the candidate; the deacon, kneeling, received the imposition of the hands and entrusts himself to that mediation. The overall significance of the gestures is important, but infinitely more important is the invisible spiritual movement, well evoked by the sacred silence which encloses everything, interiorly and exteriorly.
The symbolic reading of the gestures of ordination, along with the emphasis on the more important spiritual/interior action of the sacrament (which is both concealed and revealed by the external gestures) is frightfully Augustinian. In his treatment of the liturgical sacraments and the mysteries of the faith, Augustine frequently treated the external significance of the visible as the door to a deeper and more significant spiritual meaning, which in turn renews man 'from the inside' and enables him to make real that which is symbolized externally. Likewise, Benedict is pointing out that the new service of the priest is symbolized by the gestures of the ordination rite. However, beneath these gestures is a deeper spiritual change which makes it possible for the priest to fulfill the new mission of service. Without this deeper sacramental aspect, the exterior sign would lack efficacy.
Similarily, the emphasis on memory (always return to this moment) and the relationship between human and divine freedoms were themes which occupied Augustine greatly.

More distinctively 'Benedictine' is his reference to Sacred Silence. This ties into his overall liturgical vision which emphasizes an interior and exterior silence, which allows those who participate in the Sacred Liturgy to grasp the deeper meaning we've already mentioned.

Judith and Holofernes...

I was chatting with Cnytr recently, about the manner in which Judith slaying Holofernes is usually painted. Knowing her prejudices about the religious art of the Renaissance, I proposed that it normally wasn't painted as religious art at all, but served as a particularly dramatic scene from scripture which gave the artist a chance to show their mettle. For instance, I argued, this painting of Artemisia Gentileschi has nothing particularly religious or devotional about it at all.

In fact, I added, it could just as easily be from the director's cut of a 21st Century Version of Pride and Prejudice - Jane and Lizzy getting revenge on that cad Wickham.
The Cnytr disagreed. She suggested I search for some illustrated manuscripts in order to see the Slaying of Holofernes presented in a devotional form. So, I did a bit of googling and found the following extraordinary comparison.

I've read a fair bit of patristic and some medieval exegesis, and so I'm fairly familiar with the typological parallels between the Old and New Testament. However, I'd never come across this one before. Judith slaying Holofernes is presented as a prefigurement of the Virgin Mary defeating the Devil by giving birth to Christ.
Pretty cool, no?

Wailing Wall in Danger

Via the Telegraph:
For thousands of years it has withstood fires, floods and earthquakes. But now a portion of one of Judaism's holiest sites, Jerusalem's Western Wall, is crumbling.
The rabbi charged with watching over the structure, which the faith believes to be the last remnants of a retaining wall from the ancient Second Temple, has warned that a section repaired more than a century ago is again at risk of falling.
Because the weakened stonework is high on the 60ft wall, the danger from any falling fragment to the crowds who pray at its foot each day is particularly acute.
"We found that the stones at the bottom of the wall, the stones from the Second Temple period, were strong and stable," said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. "However, we discovered that there are problems with the smaller stones, those at the top of the wall."
The damage was discovered just before Passover as religious leaders cleared thousands of written prayers tucked into the stones of the wall, according to Jewish tradition. Twice a year, thousands of such entreaties, which also arrive by email and post, are gathered and buried on the Mount of Olives so as not to desecrate the contents.
The Western Wall is believed to date from 20BC, when King Herod the Great first ordered the construction of the Second Temple, a project that took 46 years to complete. Roman legions razed the temple in AD70, and today the wall that remains is thought to be the only surviving portion of Judaism's holiest site.
Along with the massive stones commissioned by Herod, the wall contains stones placed by the Umayyad dynasty in an eighth?century restoration. But the section crumbling is at the very top, where a series of smaller, uniformly sized stones were added in the 1800s under the financing and supervision of British financier and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore. Restoration experts say the more modern cement used as mortar to hold those stones together has been eroded more quickly by wind and rain than the ancient preparations used on the lower levels. The result is that several are now poised to fall.
"We know it is old stone and we have some crumbling," said Raanan Kislev, head of the conservation at the authority. The repair will be a delicate operation: Jewish religious law forbids the removing of any stone from the wall, and rabbis are divided over who is even permitted to carry out such work.
Traditionally, Jews are forbidden to set foot on the ancient site of what they believe to be the Temple Mount, so the rabbi said much of the work would have to be conducted using cranes rather than scaffolding. Jewish workers on the project will also have to undergo ritual baths.

Friday, April 25, 2008

And she's back...

... and Still Seraphic.

Seraphic Goes to Ground... But will be back

I know that some of my readers have (understandably) become fans of the Seraphic Single. Alas, those clicking the hyperlink will be disappointed to see that Seraphic's blog has gone. Due to ungentlemanly male behavior she's had to close down temporarily. However, she will be back with a new blog tomorrow.
Needless to say, Seraphic herself is as disconsolate as her readers... buying one of her books would cheer her up and satisfy your craving for her prose. Support Canada's No 1 Single Female Author of Humourous Catholic Fiction.
(My copy of The Widow of Saint-Pierre is on its way... I can hardly wait.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dying for Art...

Interesting news story:
German artist Gregor Schneider has come up with the idea of putting dying people on exhibition as a way of normalizing the issue of death.
"Unfortunately today, death and the road to death are about suffering. Coming to terms with death as I plan it can take away the pain of dying for us," said the country's most controversial artist.
"I want to display a person dying naturally in the piece or somebody who has just died," he said, claiming this way a taboo could be done away with.
Justifying the bizarre proposal, he added an artist can contribute something to this issue by building places where people can die with dignity.
The artist achieved prominence at the 2001 Biennale Venice Film Festival where he received the Golden Lion award for his "totes Haus ur" or "Dead House Ur", a complex of 22 rooms and dead-end paths, and is of domestic and international renown for his morbid interior installations.
Setting aside the whole voyeuristic aspect, what's especially thought-provoking about this story is that it's a symptom of modern society's desire to hide death. Assuming this guy is sincere (rather than simply sensationalistic), he's certainly reacting against a tendency to deny the reality of death.
Of course, despite this, his approach is fundamentally unsatisfactory - his attempt to normalize death misses one of the central Christian insights about death. It's a scandal. We're not supposed to die. Death is linked directly to sin. Therefore, we can never truly understand it as something we can be neutral towards, something we can treat as fully natural. However, because of Christ's death on the Cross, we can understand the evil of death as being an evil which can be turned to a good end. Meditating on our mortality puts life in its proper perspective; facing the evil of death with hope, confidence and resignation to God's will has ever been the Christian path from this life to the next.

Monday, April 21, 2008

St Anselm of Canterbury/Aosta/Bec

Today is also the feast of St Anselm. I can be a little slow, so I've never really grasped the so-called Ontological Argument, but I highly recommend an attentive reading of his Cur Deus homo - translated here in two PDF files.

I suspect that St Anselm doesn't get a fair hearing these days - his masterly exposition of the theology of Satisfaction is frequently confused with Protestant Substitution theories. (I also suspect that his 'juridical' interpretation of the Redemption has more scriptural and patristic support than his critics might concede.) Additionally, he's sometimes accused of being a rationalist - although if one takes the opening paragraphs of Cur Deus homo seriously, he's quite clear that reason does not at all supplant faith or grace. Rather, the possession of theological truths by means of reason should be understood as subsequent, supplementary and complementary to their acceptance by faith. Our faith is rational - so a grace-enlivened reason may understand the logic of what we believe and thereby grasp more profitably the truths of the faith. Reason deepens our faith rather than replaces it.

Happy birthday...

... Rome.

Founded on the 21st of April, 753 BC.

RIP - Fr Jean Galot SJ

News has just reached me that the Jesuit theologian Fr Jean Galot has passed from this life.
May this prayer of his to the Sacred Heart remind us to pray that he has passed into that perfect union of hearts in heaven:
Take me, O Heart of Christ!

Take me, O Heart of Christ, in all that I am,
take me in all that I have and that I do,
in all that I think and all that I love!

Take me in my spirit, that it may cling to Thee;
take me in my willing, that it will but Thee;
take the depth of my heart, that it love only Thee!

Take me, O Heart of Christ, in my secret desires
so that you be my dream and only goal,
my one affection and my complete happiness!

Take me for the work of Thy great mission,
for a complete gift toward my neighbor's salvation,
and for every sacrifice in service of your people!

Take me, O Heart of Christ, without limits, without end;
take even what I've failed to offer Thee;
and never give back to me what you have taken in hand!

Take for eternity all that is in me,
that one day I may, O Heart, possess Thee,
in the embrace of Heaven take Thee and keep Thee!
--by Jean Galot, S.J.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Oh happy day!

Three Years Ago Today
Will we ever forget?
Everyone wanted a view. Seemingly out of nowhere materialized the Carabineri band, a detachement of the Italian military and the Swiss guards - all ready to pay their respects to the new Pontiff.
After waiting about 20 minutes there was definite activity on the balcony. Someone emerged and released the red curtains which had been tied back either side of the great window. The crowd gasped. And then Cardinal Estevez emerged and with much sssshing the crowd fell silent.
'Cari fratelli e sorelle,' (Dear brothers and sisters) he began. The crowd began to ask why he was not speaking Latin. Then he repeated the same words in Spanish (have they elected a Latin American?), and then in German, French and English. The crowd held its breath.

'Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum'
(And one could feel a wave of Great Joy sweep through the Square)
'Habemus papam'
(Applause and rejoicing - I must confess to being on the verge of tears)
'Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum'
(Yes, yes...)
(Nerves well and truly wracked
(And I cannot resist shouting 'Ratzinger' as Cardinal Estevez pauses for a mischievous smile)
'Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem'
(Get on with it!)
(The square explodes with joy!)
'Qui sibi nomen imposuit...'
(Ssssssh! )
'Benedictum XVI'
Immediately the chant went up - 'Benedetto! Benedetto!'
The Senior Cardinal deacon withdrew and Vatican staff emerged to hang the traditional tapestry with the arms of the previous Pope over the balcony.

After that they withdrew and the Cardinal electors began to appear at the balconies either side of the central one. They jostled each other for a good view and one or two began waving their birettas like schoolboys.

And then the processional cross was brought out onto the balcony by one of the Vatican MCs followed by the man himself! Benedict the 16th - Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. He looked overwhelmed - he gave his shy smile and began waving to the crowd. Not a natural showman like his predecessor he looked ill-at-ease, but for a second (and several people have said this to me) he looked just like John Paul II. A microphone was produced and he gave his message.

Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Lord Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.
I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficent instruments and I particularly entrust myself to your prayers.
In the joy of the Risen Lord, trusting in His constant help, we move ahead. May the Lord help us and and may His Mother be at our side. Thank you.

Long may he reign, and may the Lord sustain him in his service.

Plus - Interesting Rumour over at NLM's Shawn Tribe:
News has come to the NLM that we may see the venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman beatified very shortly now. It is said that this announcement may be made by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in approximately two weeks time.
The NLM has also been told that the beatification ceremony will likely take place in Rome in October and that the Holy Father will beatify Cardinal Newman himself.
This will be a glorious day for Catholics of the English speaking world if so. Speaking personally, I have one entire shelf of my personal library dedicated to the great Cardinal's writings.
Please pray for the Cardinal's cause in your daily prayers and upcoming Masses.
Because of the Holy Father's regard for Newman, I can well understand him wanting to do this beatification himself. Obviously, this is just speculation at this stage, but I'm already excited about the prospect of an October Beatification.

Friday, April 18, 2008

To my American readers...

I understand that my bishop is visiting your country. (Please take good care of him.) That's why I'm going to leave the Pope-'blogging to you guys and will instead share this story of a hard-core Russian vodka-drinker:
A Russian man was struggling to remember a night of heavy drinking after waking to find a knife in his back.
Vodka drinker Yuri Lyalin, 53, was woken by his wife the next morning with not only a hangover but a six-inch blade between his shoulders.
Mr Lyalin managed to take a bus home, eat his breakfast and then fall into a deep sleep without realising he had been stabbed by his drinking partner.
It wasn't until his wife spotted the protruding handle and woke him, that an ambulance was called and he was taken to casualty.
Mr Lyalin, an electrician, had reportedly been drinking with a watchman at a factory in Vologda where he works.
It appears that the pair had an argument at some point before Mr Lyalin passed out.
The next morning when Mr Lyalin tried to resume his duties he was sent home for being inebriated.
None of his co-workers noticed the knife.
He then took a meandering course home, stopping to eat some sausage from his fridge before sleeping it off, according to Russian newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda and Gazeta.
His doctor, Victor Belov, said the knife "went into soft tissue and by pure luck did not touch any vital organs," Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.
Mr Lyalin himself was philosophical about the incident.
"We got drunk together," he said. "Things happen when you drink."

Oh, and Seraphic has published another book. I really enjoyed her first, but will wait a little while until I pretend to have read it before showering it with praise. ;)

Grave Matter
Both the Cranky Professor and Fr Tim Finigan visited one of my favourite places in Rome yesterday - the Campo Verano Cemetery.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's the hat...

Via the Telegraph:
A hat company has broken a German taboo by advertising its products using an image of Adolf Hitler.
The campaign for the Hut Weber company places the iconic hair and moustache of the Nazi leader next to a bowler-hatted sketch of Charlie Chaplin, star of The Great Dictator, with the caption in English: "It's the hat."
Created by the Serviceplan agency, the advertisement is groundbreaking because the taboo of using Hitler in any other context but a historical one would have been unthinkable until now.
Germany has taken great steps in the past to ensure Hitler-related material does not go on sale in the country.
Two years ago it sought the help of the Italian government in stopping the importation of "Hitler Wine", which featured a picture of the dictator giving his infamous salute.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Unfortunate Papal Headline Contest...

The Telegraph does well:

Pope will pray for terrorists at Ground Zero

I do hope that he doesn't pray for them in the same way that one might pray for rain. ;)

Anyway, the article explains:
The Pope will pray for the redemption of Islamic terrorists when he visits the site of the September 11 attacks in New York next week.
The pontiff will call for terrorists to convert to Christianity, saying: "Turn to Your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.
"God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance".
The prayer is likely to further incense the Muslim world, which has already attacked the Pope for publicly converting Magdi Allam, a journalist and one of Italy's most high-profile Muslims, at Easter.
Osama bin Laden accused the Pope of trying to provoke "a new crusade" against Islam.
One has to wonder why the emphasis seems to be on exaggerating the extent to which the Pope's actions might anger the Muslim world. Furthermore, I don't see that there's anything in the prayer that'd upset a Muslim... unless said Muslim was already a supporter of those terrorists... and consequently probably doesn't need much motive to work up a lather of hatred and aggression.


Gosh! Two small earthquakes here this morning - enough to wake me up at about quarter to 8. The news report tells me that the epicentre was in the Castelli Romani, the first measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale, the second measuring 2.2.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Brief emergence from hiatus...

Just a few things that caught my attention.

1. This post of Seraphic's is gold. Young Catholic women, please take note:
Nobody should waste their youth dreaming of men who have no interest in them. Thus, we Catholic girls should hear "I'm discerning a vocation to the priesthood" and translate it into "I'm just not that into you." And at this point, we should drop the discerner like a hot potato. After all, he is thinking of foreswearing the greatest sweets of human love, so we should give him a hint of that loss pronto. Once he's actually in the seminary, we can be nice to him again. But not too nice. And if he doesn't go into the seminary (for so few of them do) we should cold-shoulder him until he shows up, weeping, with flowers, at our door. (Incidentally, make sure a discerner really is discerning before shunning him. There are a lot of mums and priests out there who hint to pretty girls of their darlings' precious vocations when these vocations exist only in the minds of the mums and the priests.)

2. The Roving Medievalist has changed address.

3. Amy Welborn is part of the NY Times team which is 'blogging the Pope's visit to the States. It's great to see one of the top Catholic 'bloggers getting a little extra exposure in the secular sphere.

4. The Cranky Professor tells us of a major archaeological discovery near the Colosseum. He also 'blogs about his visit to the Museum of Purgatory:
And in the Sacristy, the Museum of the Souls in Purgatory! They have a number of things like prayer books and night caps showing scorch marks from fingers of souls returning from the fires of Purgatory to ask for Masses to be said - or reproaching relatives for not having the Masses said that the suffering soul provided for in his or her will!.

5. Over at the Shrine, it's been Disturbing Relics Week. Scroll down and learn all about Cloister Work. (Not for the squeamish!)

6. Since they've recently celebrated their 200th Episode, it seems apt to plug one of my favourite podcasts. Probably the best description of Jawbone Radio is that it's like eavesdropping on Len and Nora as they discuss anything and everything about raising a family, computer games, the annoyances of everyday life and... well, pretty much everything.

7. RIP Fr Servais Pinckaers, O.P.: 1925-2008

8. I must admit to a certain delight at the manner in which the Olympic Torch relay is backfiring on the Chinese Government. Of course, we know that there are many other reasons apart from Tibet that the Chinese Government should be treated as pariahs by the international community.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hiatus Sustained...

Life is busy - albeit not in a bad way - so don't expect to see me around here for the next few weeks. I'll probably be back some time in May.