instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"With the eyes of discipleship"

Rocco Palmo has posted the text of Pope Francis's address to the Coordinating Committee of CELAM, the Latin American and Caribbean conference of Catholic bishops. It looks like I will have to make yet another note to read the Aparecida Document, if I want to have any understanding of what the Pope is up to.

What particularly caught my eye in skimming through the address, though, was Section 4, "Some temptations against missionary discipleship," in which Pope Francis provides a tidy classification of things Catholics do instead of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every living creature:
  1. Ideology
    1. Sociological reductionism
    2. Psychologizing
    3. Gnosticism
    4. Pelagianism
  2. Functionalism
  3. Clericalism 
I wrote a post last month on the Pope's use of "Pelagian" to describe an impulse toward "the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful." That's not my fight, but I hope Traditionalist Catholics will be able to accept this criticism and test their own faith against it.

It should be noted, though, that the "outdated manners and forms" the Pope deprecates is by no means pre-Vatican II Catholic culture in toto. He (referencing the Aparecida Document once again) sees popular piety as an antidote to clericalism -- and, I'd add, it would help counter the problems of ideology and functionalism, too.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

So when do we talk about all my good qualities?

I read Imitation of Christ many years ago, and found it to be an extraordinarily wise book.

Now, though, it just reads like a scolding from a mind-reading spiritual director:
We must not rely too much upon ourselves, for grace and understanding are often lacking in us. We have but little inborn light, and this we quickly lose through negligence. Often we are not aware that we are so blind in heart. Meanwhile we do wrong, and then do worse in excusing it. At times we are moved by passion, and we think it zeal. We take others to task for small mistakes, and overlook greater ones in ourselves. We are quick enough to feel and brood over the things we suffer from others, but we think nothing of how much others suffer from us. If a man would weigh his own deeds fully and rightly, he would find little cause to pass severe judgment on others.

The interior man puts the care of himself before all other concerns, and he who attends to himself carefully does not find it hard to hold his tongue about others. You will never be devout of heart unless you are thus silent about the affairs of others and pay particular attention to yourself. If you attend wholly to God and yourself, you will be little disturbed by what you see about you.

Where are your thoughts when they are not upon yourself? And after attending to various things, what have you gained if you have neglected self? If you wish to have true peace of mind and unity of purpose, you must cast all else aside and keep only yourself before your eyes.
As St. Catherine of Siena says, we are always moving either closer to or farther from God. When I stop to take the measure of my neighbor, I am not moving closer to God.


Friday, July 26, 2013

My favorite bit from Chapter 1 of Lumen fidei

Well, it's not a bit so much as an idea expressed in various ways throughout the chapter, including its title: "We Have Believed in Love." Which itself is from 1 John 4:16:
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
 The Christian Faith, which orders our lives, is a matter of believing in love.


Will beauty save the world?

No. But it'll help.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Philippians 4:8

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Do now what you would do then

I came across this passage in Imitation of Christ today:
One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said: “Oh if I but knew whether I should persevere to the end!” Instantly he heard within the divine answer: “If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then and you will be quite secure.”
I have to say, that divine answer sounds a lot like the answers I get when I point out how much easier things would be for me if things were much easier for me.


"And God will do the rest."

Those interested in learning more about Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur (last week I wrote a post based on an essay about her) should be reading along at bearing blog. Erin is reading and commenting on Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings.

Her first post is on "An Essay on the Christian Life of Women," a letter Elisabeth wrote to her niece on the occasion of her first Communion, in which she shares her "most important thoughts and deepest convictions...about what you can and ought to do to become spiritually strong, to make your life fruitful in good works, and to share with others, according to the great law of Christian solidarity, the gifts that you have received."

Erin suggests a few keys to Elisabeth's doctrine, including "a remarkably Eucharistic vision of the human person."
I love her insistence that the actions of Christians "appear to resemble" those of other people -- on the outside, they look the same and perhaps have the same effects as the actions of other people. The exterior has a natural appearance. But in those who have faith, a divine gift alters something wholly invisible, and not demonstrable to others -- the motives, the intention, the end-goal behind those actions.
She also quotes a passage in which Elisabeth demonstrates "an astonishingly clear vision of the value of every human life and the import of free will":
Every person is an incalculable force, bearing within her a little of the future. Until the end of time our words and actions will bear fruit, either good or bad; nothing that we have once given of ourselves is lost, but our words and works, passed on from one to another, will continue to do good or harm to later generations.
It is God's will that our words and actions bear good fruit in the lives of those around us, and in the lives of their descendants. When we sin, the bad fruit is twofold: the sin itself, and the absence of the good that we ought to have done instead.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

"..., and in Hawaii the ushers are the ones wearing shoes."

Monsignor Pope comes at that old warhorse of the Catholic blogger -- Aren't the people around us at Mass these days just terrible? -- from a somewhat different, and better, angle. He has abstracted from the more common "Do this, not that"/"Wear this, not that" prescriptions and simply asked, "How can we recover our lost reverence?"

This is not at all the same question as, "How can we recover our lost customs of reverence?" Customs can and do change. Msgr. Pope uses the example of the LORD telling Moses to remove his shoes since he was standing on sacred ground.
Here in America, the thought of taking off ones shoes or being in Church without shoes would be thought of as highly irreverent! ...

And thus we see that culture has influence on signs of reverence and, while there have been different forms of it here and there, some equivalent of “Remove the sandals from your feet…” has been observed. Until now.
Suits and ties, dresses and hats, a literal "Sunday best," that's how Catholics in the United States used to show reverence at Sunday Mass. It's still, I suspect, how a lot of Catholics in the United States who are concerned with showing reverence at Sunday Mass do it. And, as someone who doesn't ordinarily wear a jacket or tie to Mass, I have to say that seems like the most obvious and direct way for all Catholics to signify reverence at Sunday Mass.

(I keep writing "Sunday Mass" because it seems to be generally accepted that (within limits) workers may attend daily Mass in their work attire.)

A couple of arguments were offered, in the comments on Msgr. Pope's post, against the need for signifying reverence outwardly, but I think they're fundamentally incoherent. Interior reverence is sort of like interior temperance; if it doesn't manifest itself in some physical, visible way, then it isn't really reverence.

I'll guess that the deprecation of physical, visible significations of reverence is largely driven by the realization that they aren't necessarily real reverence either. But surely anyone can see that this is a case of both/and:
As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv, 12), since we are composed of a twofold nature, intellectual and sensible, we offer God a twofold adoration; namely, a spiritual adoration, consisting in the internal devotion of the mind; and a bodily adoration, which consists in an exterior humbling of the body. And since in all acts of latria that which is without is referred to that which is within as being of greater import, it follows that exterior adoration is offered on account of interior adoration, in other words we exhibit signs of humility in our bodies in order to incite our affections to submit to God, since it is connatural to us to proceed from the sensible to the intelligible.
Then there was the argument that it shows a false self to dress up for Mass when you never dress up for anything else (especially so for young boys). This, I think, amounts to arguing that people who are irreverent shouldn't pretend to be reverent. While it's true that you don't learn to be reverent merely by being forced to dress nicely -- whether you're a young boy or a newly conscripted usher -- it's also true that the irreverent ought to learn to be reverent.

Which means the reverent ought to help the irreverent learn to be reverent, and I can't think of a better way to do that than to be reverent. Dressing up without dressing down, clean shoes without dirty looks, sharp creases without sharp words. That sort of thing would show that the nice clothes aren't a matter of pride or even of custom, but "an exterior humbling of the body," signifying that the wearer doesn't think the Mass is about him.


Friday, July 19, 2013

A blogger's lament

I often think about what I call the hardy-har-har sayings of Jesus, the teachings that are generally treated as though He must has been joking when He said them.

In re-reading the Sermon on the Mount, I realized that this well-known saying belongs on that list:
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
What would happen to the Catholic blogosphere if Catholic bloggers believed this saying applied to them?

See what I did? I just wrote a blog post telling others to clean up their act, based on a saying of Jesus that we shouldn't tell others to clean up their act! Unless, of course, we've already cleaned up our own act, and just between you and me, I don't recall cleaning up my own act as such.


You never know if you don't ask

Leandro meets the Pope.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Slogan for the New Evangelization

One of the reasons the New Evangelization is so slow in getting traction is that it lacks a good slogan. If you just uncork the phrase "the New Evangelization" in public, you'll be buffeted by questions about the fate of the Old Evangelization. But if you follow up immediately with a catchy slogan, you're golden. And if you follow up immediately with this catchy slogan, you're platinum:

Be a quoll, not a wombat!

Now, there's nothing wrong with wombats. They're delightful creatures. But they are not, when you get right down to it, quolls.

Tiger Quoll | Dasyurus maculatus photo
"I have one question: Are you in?"

Nobody wants to be a wombat when they could be a quoll. It's a well-known fact. Once people learn that being involved in the New Evangelization is like being a quoll and not being involved is like being a wombat, you'll have to hire an assistant to take down all the names and cell phone numbers.

Image attribution: SeanMack at the English language Wikipedia


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who you calling a baby?

Here's something I didn't like about Fr. White's approach to parish life as described in Rebuilt , but it could just be me: One of their goals is, "Every Member a Minister."

Now, with the number of ministerial teams the Church of the Nativity has -- from parking to welcoming to running the cafe to running the light board -- it's not as though they're trying to crowd everyone around the altar But the explicit expectation is that a properly formed parishioner serves the parish:
If people are only being served, they're consumers; if they're working, they're ministers....
Just like a family, the only people who don't help out are the babies. Christians who don't serve their church are, at best, baby disciples.
I don't buy it. I don't buy the need for a swarm of ministers around a church during Mass, I don't buy the title inflation of calling every service to a parish a "ministry," and I don't buy that every individual Christian is called to serve in their parish.

I got a similar impression while reading Forming Intentional Disciples last summer, that somehow crossing the threshold of intentional discipleship meant signing up at the parish office as a catechist. Sherry Weddell assured me -- with copious examples from the book -- that I was mistaken, and she'd know as well as anyone alive that not everyone's charism is intended to be exercised in the context of a parish.

Still, I'm not sure everyone sees it that way, and Rebuilt is by no means the only place I've encountered this presumption.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Rebuilt, and they did come

The Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, is a Catholic parish in which everything -- from the parking lot to the website -- is designed to appeal to the unchurched suburbanites who live within the parish's boundaries. Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter, by pastor Fr. Michael White and lay associate Tom Corcoran, tells how it became the parish it is today.

I'd visited the parish website once, last August, and came away thinking it was all a little too forcefully not-going-to-use-any-Catholic-words-or-symbols for my taste, and the rock band and huge video screens in the sanctuary would have made me turn around and find somewhere else to meet my Sunday obligation. (Having read the book, I now know all the warm smiles from the Warm Smiles Team in the vestibule would have made me turn around, assuming I even got out of the car after all the warm smiles from the Parking Team. But that's just me.)

Given that, along with a few words of caution (but not condemnation) I'd overheard, I approached Rebuilt with something of the air of a grader, ready to mark down all the things they got wrong. And while I think they did get some things wrong, I think they also got some important things right.

According to the book, when Fr. White was assigned pastor of Nativity in the late 1990's, the parish was an awful, terrible place, filled with awful, terrible people. The horror stories are indeed horrible -- and worse, believable. My favorite is the Tale of the Hallway Pictures, in which pictures in a rectory hallway were rehung in a different order after the hallway was painted -- the same pictures, just arranged differently; the uproar didn't die down until a bishop was dragged into it

For the first several years, Fr. White tried to please his awful, terrible parishioners. The awful, terrible parishioners merely accepted all his blood, toil, tears, and sweat as their due, then complained when he wouldn't do more, or otherwise, or again, or whatever they wanted to complain about.

Fr. White eventually diagnosed his parishioners as "demanding customers," who viewed the parish as a place to get whatever it was they wanted out of a Catholic parish: a private club for the older cohort; box-checking sacraments for the younger.

Given this diagnosis -- which rings true enough -- he eventually decided that trying to keep customers happy was not only a mug's game, but prevented the parish from doing what the parish existed to do: preach the Gospel to all creatures. He came to see that a pastor acting like a concierge of a fading hotel, doing everything he can to please the guests, is a corruption of his office, his parish, and his parishioners:
Corruption results in breaking and destroying something by using it for a purpose other than the purpose intended.
Taking tips from Evangelical congregations that were growing, he settled on the purpose of making everything about Nativity appeal to "Timonium Tim," a composite of the unchurched husbands and fathers of young families who filled the single-family houses in the parish. (Where the father goes, the family follows.)

This, as you can imagine, didn't play well with a lot of the demanding customers of Nativity Parish. He soldiered on, along with Tom Corcoran (who'd joined up early in his tenure as the youth minister and is now the "associate to the pastor"), in the face of the opposition of "churchpeople" who liked church to be churchy and didn't care about the unchurched. Churchpeople, the book explains, are more interested in the Catholic religion than in the Catholic faith:
Religion is not faith. It is a cultural system that collects faith and belief and then aims at supporting and sustaining them. And, like any cultural system, it is inherently resistant to change.
The parish went through all sorts of changes, and plenty of mistakes, to get where it is today.

And where it is today? That question is a little hard to answer. Membership and charitable giving are way, way up, so according to some metrics they're doing fantastic. But there are hints here and there -- I'm thinking chiefly of the side comments in the section on the importance to their parish model of small groups, comments that suggest importance hasn't translated very effectively into participation -- that maybe attendance and giving is more related to an enjoyable "weekend experience" than to surging discipleship.

As I mentioned above, I think Fr. White & Co. got some important things right. These include recognition of the fatuity of satisfying customers as a parish model, the centrality of the Gospel commission to a parish, the importance of preaching -- and of preaching the full Gospel (including the part about sacrificial giving). I think they're right in recognizing that places like 21st Century Timonium, Maryland, are, for practical purposes, mission territory. I think they're right about the limits of aesthetics:
Most pastors want to build or renovate a church... But beautiful churches don't make disciples. If they did, Europe would be filled with them.

What do I think they got wrong? The rock band, for starters:
Typically the band plays current "praise and worship" music because that's a style of music we've found is attractive and engaging to Tim and his family.
This, mind you, is at all five weekend services -- er, Sunday Masses. If you're not Tim and his family, if you don't personally find current "praise and worship" music attractive and engaging, tough.

My question is, how is playing the same music at every Mass because it appeals to your target market not catering to consumer preferences?

And that, I think, stands as a symbol of a generalized unease I had while reading Rebuilt. I couldn't quite shake the sense that, in effect, Fr. White rebuilt his parish in a way that would attract the kind of parishioners he wanted -- the cheerful, enthusiastic parishioners, like all the cool Evangelical churches had -- and get rid of the kind he didn't. There's contempt, I think, expressed in this book toward churchpeople, while "the lost" for whom Nativity is customized are portrayed as docile and guileless.

And I have to wonder whether they're forming Roman Catholics at Nativity, or nondenominational Nativity Christians. In wondering that, I don't at all question the orthodoxy or Catholic identity of Fr. White himself, or of his parish staff. I know what their intent is, but I'm not sure even they know whether they're succeeding. The right words are said about the centrality of the Eucharist, but there's an insurmountable disconnect between Evangelical-style welcoming and the reservation of the Eucharist to those who profess the Catholic Faith. The Eucharist can't be central to the "weekend experience" of "the lost," and whole chapters of the book are about how the weekend experience of the lost has become the benchmark against which all parish decisions are made.

I may be completely off base with these impressions, but I go back to the quotation above about corruption resulting from the misuse of a thing. And I go back to an opinion I've long held, that the Mass is for offering the Mass, not for cramming in all the week's Catholic activities, including catechesis, building fund updates, a performance by the school choir, announcements about the Knights of Columbus raffle, and whatever else someone might like to bring to the parish's attention. They don't do that sort of thing at Nativity anymore, but they do customize the Mass to appeal to non-Catholics.

The Mass isn't the Catholic equivalent of an Evangelical worship service. To treat it as one because you want people to come to Mass who are willing to attend a worship service is to misuse the Mass, and that, in Fr. White's word, is corruption.

UPDATE: I think the last few paragraphs may come off harsher than intended or warranted. If I'm right that it's corrupting the Mass to pitch it at the unchurched, then it's corrupting the Mass to shoehorn all the other nonsense that's regularly added to the Mass, in parishes all over the country if not the world, as the one hour a week the parish can reach its parishioners. And at least Nativity is doing what it does for a thought-out reason, not just because they can.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

May the Divine penetrate humanity as wine penetrates a piece of bread

The final essay in Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern is "A Life Between Two Fires: Chiara Lubich and Lay Sanctity," by Donald W. Mitchell. Mitchell identifies "three distinguishable dimensions" of the spirituality of Focolare, the movement Chiara founded:
  1. Personal - union with God and unity with others through Christ
  2. Communal - a collective sharing in the spiritual life of the Trinity
  3. Participatory - partaking in the creative work of God and the redemptive work of Christ
 He explains the communal dimension of this spirituality in these words:
For Lubich, community not only has its traditional spiritual function as a place of formation, but, being an actual place of trinitarian life, it becomes a special means of communal sanctity.
What makes community "an actual place of trinitarian life" is the presence of Jesus wherever His disciples are -- "where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I," and where Jesus is, so too is His Father and the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian presence is found in every community of Christian disciples, but Focolare communities make a point of obtaining the fruit of this presence in the form of communal sanctification, not merely as the sum of the personal sanctification of the members of the community.

Echoing the words of St. John Chrysostom quoted in the book's introductory essay -- " it is [the married man's] duty to do all things equally with the solitary" -- Chiara describes what Mitchell calls "participatory sanctity" as "the journey of monasticism towards the world." But of course, non-professed laity aren't monks; she writes:
To become saints, you don't obey the bell of a superior calling you to prayer... You use the tools of your trade... the pen for a professor, the chisel for a sculptor -- that is your crucifix with which you go to sanctity.
And that, I think, is an excellent formula for lay sanctity in the 21st Century.



Do your best today. Do God's best tomorrow.

Gertraud von Bullion was a co-founder of the Schoenstatt Women's Federation, and the subject of Ann W. Astell's essay, "Lay Apostolate and the Beruf of Getraud von Bullion." (Beruf is a German word meaning variously "profession," "vocation," or "calling.")

I know very little about either Schoenstatt or Gertraud, though I've heard vaguely good things about the former and Astell's essay makes of the latter an interesting and charismatic person. But the one passage the essay quotes from her writings that really struck a chord with me was this:
Should I throw everything away because I never bring anything to perfection? The choleric in me would like to do so... But is it not better that I retain my poverty, my incapacity for good, for anything more than mediocrity, and say, full of humility to my Mother, "See, I am not capable of serving and following your Son as I should. You, however, have called me here. Here I am.... Mother, help me that I at least attain to mediocrity, since I manage to do nothing better. And Mother, if you and my Savior expect more from me, give me the glowing flames of Love that overcome the obstacles of my pride and lead me to the cross. Give me each day anew the will to strive."
My own inclination, largely born of pride, is to not do at all a thing I can only do with mediocrity. Gertraud rightly saw her calling was to do her best, however poor her best might be, and to leave it in the hands of Him for Whom she worked to give her what she needed to do better.

She also saw that doing better would involve being led to the cross, which calls to mind Jesus' saying about calculating the cost before beginning construction on a new tower. Gertraud knew what the cost of discipleship was, she knew she was willing to pay it, and she knew Whom to ask for the funds to sustain her.



The normal last thing

I've read Jacques Maritain's Art and Scholasticism, and a few other scraps I've come across. Astrid O'Brien's essay, "Contemplation Along the Roads of the World: The Reflections of Raissa and Jacques Maritain," in Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern makes me think I should read a lot more of him -- and of Raissa as well. I hadn't realized they wrote as much as they did about living as lay Christians in the world.

Of the material quoted in the essay, my favorite passage is this, from Jacques's Notebooks:
What is normal for the Christian -- is to go straight to Paradise, to rejoin the Lord. Not only rejection to Hell, but even also passage through Purgatory... represents abnormal cases.
He means "normal," not in a statistical sense -- although he does reject the massa damnata opinion of Sts. Augustine and Thomas -- but in the sense that the graces available to the Christian who is a true disciple of Jesus, who loves Him and therefore keeps his Commandments, and is therefore united with the Church and a fruitful recipient of her Sacraments, ought to, as a matter of course, upon death go straight into the presence of God.

Hm. On second thought, until I read the Notebooks, I should probably say that's the meaning I derive from that brief quotation, in line with my other opinions.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone express the opinion that passage through Purgatory is abnormal with regard to himself. In conversation, I find two general cases:
  1. Purgatory is not considered at all. Either Heaven is presumed ("when I get there the first thing I'll do is...") or the possibility of Heaven or Hell is acknowledged ("if I get to Heaven the first thing I'll do is..."). This case doesn't treat going straight to Heaven as normal so much as taken for granted. Often enough, it's only taken for granted for the purposes of the conversation; "the first thing I'll do when I get to Heaven" isn't a topic about the assurance of salvation.
  2. Heaven is not considered at all.  Either Purgatory is presumed, or the possibility of Purgatory or Hell is acknowledged. Purgatory itself is almost always spoken of in one of two ways: how long one's stay will be; and how this or that bit of earthly suffering is reducing one's otherwise-sure-to-be lengthy stay in Purgatory.
Suppose, though, it's true that passage through Purgatory is an abnormal case. What would that mean about the common Catholic presumption of a lengthy passage?

First, I should say that such a presumption is often made in preference to the alternative. Given the dogma of Purgatory, it is a far stronger claim of my own sanctity to assert that I won't pass through it than the mere claim that, eventually, I will enter Heaven. The longer the passage takes, the weaker my claim of personal holiness. One thing Catholics don't do in ordinary conversation is claim to be saints. Naming and claiming a long time in Purgatory is the Catholic way of being less-holy-than-thou.

Then, too, I suspect quite often there's a somewhat honest assessment of one's own distance from God. If my life as a Christian has been abnormal to date -- if I'm not an altogether true disciple of Jesus, if I only love Him to a point and therefore only keep his Commandments to a middling degree, and am therefore not a particularly fruitful recipient of the Church's Sacraments -- then, sure, my path after death might be expected to be abnormal as well.

All that granted, and apart from how we express our thoughts to others, the question remains: Is the expectation of the need for purgation after death a cop-out? Is it settling for being good enough, despite Jesus' teaching that we are to be perfect? Worse, is it a denial of the power of God's grace to perfect us in this life?



Servant of God's Elisabeth Leseur's characteristics of lay sanctity

In her essay, "Elisabeth Leseur: A Strangely Forgotten Modern Saint," Janet K. Ruffing, R.S.M., proposes seven characteristics of this Servant of God's lay sanctity.

The essay's sub-title notwithstanding, I've come across frequent references to the Leseurs -- Elisabeth's husband Felix converted from atheism after her death, due largely to reading her journal that revealed her hidden spiritual life.

Here are the seven characteristics identified by Ruffing, along with my clumsy descriptions. The interested reader is referred to the original essay, linked above, for fuller details.
  1. An apostolic strategy in a hostile, secular milieu. From the sound of it, today's New Atheists would have been right at home in the pre-World War I French society the Leseurs lived in. Outnumbered everybody:1, Elisabeth chose the path of non-confrontation, despite the frequent wounds inflicted by the conversation of her vocally anti-Catholic friends.

    This wasn't a purely passive approach. She saw her role as trying "always to understand everyone and everything. Not to argue, to work through contact and example; to dissipate prejudice, to show God and make Him felt without speaking of him; to strengthen one's intelligence, enlarge one's soul; to love without tiring, in spite of disappointment and indifference... to open wide one's soul to show the light in it and the truth that lives there, and let that truth create and transform, without merit of ours but simply by the fact of its presence in us."
  2. A redemptive and transformative use of her physical and emotional suffering. Hepatitis, cancer, and other illnesses added to Elisabeth's suffering over her husband's and friends' anti-clerical atheism. Ruffing cites St. Catherine of Siena's "mysticism of suffering," devotion to the Sacred Heart, and Jesus' own life-giving passion and death as the principal sources of her own approach to redemptive suffering.
  3. A mature sense of agency and surrender. Elisabeth understood a woman's life as one of duties: "to bear children ... to develop unceasingly one's intelligence, to strengthen one's character, to become a creature of thought and will... to view life with joy and to face it with energy... to be able to understand one's time and not despair of the future." These duties in turn were ordered to the Christian duty of bringing Christ to those who suffer and to those who do not know Him.
  4. An active intellectual life. Even before her re-conversion, Elisabeth cultivated her mind. After she returned to regular practice of the Faith, she studied theology and philosophy -- the latter because it "throws light on many things and puts the mind in order."
  5. Devotion to her husband and [extended] family. This she saw as her principal duty, as a woman and as a Christian, notwithstanding her husband's hostility to her faith.
  6. A lay pattern of devotional and ascetical life. She developed her own rule of life, combining the discipline of daily prayer with an active home and social presence.According to Ruffing, her home-grown asceticism was "based on silence [with respect to discussing religion with her husband], self-giving, and austerity."
  7. A relationship of mutuality and support in her friendship with Souer Gaby. Souer Gaby was a nun with whom Elisabeth shared "a profound spiritual friendship," mostly through a series of letters written in the three years prior to Elisabeth's death in 1914. After years of being essentially alone on her walk of faith, she finally found someone to walk with her.
This seems to me like a complete program for sanctity according to her state in life. The private devotional part sustains and is given focus by the interpersonal and public part, which in turn is shaped by the knowledge and direction obtained through study, prayer, and contemplation. The consolations and fruitfulness of communion with a close friend in Christ may be undervalued today, particularly by those who work out their own rule of life principally through reading and self-study.



Saturday, July 13, 2013

'Twas ever thus

I've now finished reading Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern: A Search for Models, edited by Ann W. Astell (which you can still order for $5, through August 15, using the checkout code "NDEOVR13"). I found the essays on the modern models far stronger, as a group, than the essays on the medieval models. Partly because the latter group took a more academic approach (even skeptical, in the case of Patricia Healy Wasyliw's "The Pious Infant: Developments in Popular Piety during the High Middle Ages"), and partly because, since the models themselves weren't particularly trying to model anything, the essayists tended to try harder to draw a lesson or make a point or link the material to a theme, whereas the essays on 20th Century models -- Elisabeth Leseur, Gertraud von Bullion, the Maritains, Dorothy Day, and Chiara Lubich -- could allow the models themselves to speak their own lessons.

While her essay on medieval children whose deaths at a young age produced religious cults was by far my least favorite, Patricia Healy Wasyliw did write what is by far my favorite sentence of the collection -- in fact, one of my favorite sentences ever. In reference to the short but storied life of St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, she states:
Throughout his career, popular opinion was divided on the question of whether he was holy or insane.
To-may-to, to-mah-to.



A charismatic lay woman

In her essay, "Catherine of Siena and Lay Sanctity in Fourteenth-Century Italy," in Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern, Karen Scott makes a suggestion I haven't come across before in my limited reading on St. Catherine:
Within fifteen years of her death, when Raymond of Capua, her former confessor and disciple, finished composing the Legenda Major, he expressed a relatively cautious evaluation of her lay activity... his narrative deemphasizes her lay status in a number of important ways.... He did not draw attention to the private nature of these three religious commitments [St. Catherine cut off her hair to avoid marriage; she made a private vow of virginity; she experienced a mystical marriage to Jesus], which in fact were not ecclesiastically sanctioned, but rather he stressed the mystical character of her experiences to give them a very special legitimacy...

...Raymond's account of Catherine's life reflects a certain uneasiness about her apostolic activities that is not present in her own writings... Raymond attributes Catherine's ability to convert sinners and exhort churchmen successfully not to her ordinary words and example, as she did, but to an extraordinary intervention of God's supernatural power... Raymond's portrait of Catherine actually emphasizes her extraordinary and charismatic character and champions an almost monastic and contemplative model of sanctity. [emphasis added]
 According to Professor Scott, this deemphasis of St. Catherine's lay status is reflected in her iconography:
Just how successful Raymond was in deemphasizing Catherine's lay status and involvement in public affairs is evident in the development of early modern iconography based on his hagiographical masterpiece. While the earliest visual representations of Catherine show her dressed in the late-medieval lay tertiary's habit -- white tunic and veil, black cape -- in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the iconography evolved significantly to give her the semblance of a nun. Artists added scapular, rosary, and black veil, and they represented her almost exclusively in moments of visionary trance.
Taking the last point first, I doubt Bl. Raymond (d. 1399) bears much responsibility for Sixteenth Century tastes in iconography -- or, for that matter, for Sixteenth Century knowledge of Fourteenth Century lay Dominican habits.

As to the rest, my own inexpert opinion is that we don't need to infer an intention of deemphasizing St. Catherine's lay status to explain the Legenda Major. Bl. Raymond was her spiritual director and student, not her administrative assistant, so her spirituality would naturally be of primary importance to him. He freely admits that a lot of what she tells him of her spiritual experiences and infused knowledge goes over his head -- I have this advantage over Bl. Raymond, that I can read about these things from a distance of hundreds of years, with a canonization and a Doctorate of the Church to add context, while he had to wrestle with them from across the table -- so trying to fit them to familiar patterns makes sense apart from a specific desire to downplay her lay status.

And I'll suggest that, to Bl. Raymond and his contemporaries, St. Catherine's lay status was absolutely evident. In Fourteenth Century Italy, Religious Women = Nuns = Cloistered; the Third Orders, meanwhile, were flourishing and well-known. That people today are confused over St. Catherine's canonical status doesn't mean people of her own time and place were, so we shouldn't expect Bl. Raymond to write with an eye to avoiding confusion he never encountered. In this light, the mystical character of her experiences is precisely what gives them a very special legitimacy. Either she was responding to God, or she was just making stuff up; I can't see how it helps the argument that the laity have a unique contribution to make to the Church to suggest that that contribution be discerned apart from God's will.

Finally, on the point that Bl. Raymond attributed St. Catherine's successes to God's power working through her, while St. Catherine regarded it as her ordinary words and example, I see this as another example of those around a holy person being better able to gauge her holiness than she is (the closer you are to God, I'm told, the more you focus on the remaining distance). More precisely, it sounds like Bl. Raymond recognized the charisms that St. Catherine exercised -- Pope Paul VI famously referred to her "charism of exhortation" -- while she simply exercised them in a way that was, for her, perfectly natural. Isn't that how charisms work?

The essay concludes with this suggestion:
Perhaps it will be the responsibility of another era to reevaluate the significance of St. Catherine's lay contribution to the church and to learn new lessons from it.
I agree that there's plenty St. Catherine can teach the laity about their contributions to the Church, though I suspect the generations of and immediately following Vatican II may be too close to the fire ignited by its declaration of the universal call to holiness to do the job adequately. At the folk level, at least, St. Catherine seems merely to be the model for writing stern public smackdowns of bishops and popes.

Maybe I've fallen into an uncritical acceptance of Bl. Raymond's deemphasis of St. Catherine's lay status, but I have to say that the lessons of St. Catherine's involvement in public affairs cannot be learned apart from the lessons of her involvement in mystical contemplation of that mad lover, the crucified Jesus. I would find the exhortations I see around me a lot more charismatic if they were more evidently the product, as they were with St. Catherine, of God calling an unwilling exhorter out of her cell of self-knowledge and divine union.



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Both simplicity and beauty

Will Duquette notes the contrary reactions to Pope Francis's Ignatian simplicity of an atheist, who is surprised by a Pope who appears humble and concerned for the poor, and a Catholic, who is distressed by a Pope who appears to denigrate beauty. He is sympathetic to the Catholic's feelings, but mostly he is excited by the opportunity suggested by the atheist's new-found openness:
The Christian faith isn’t a set of propositions to be learned; the Christian faith is a Person to come to know. And it all begins with a bridge of trust.

God is infinite, and so infinitely surprising. This is a good thing, because we are all so bound and determined to see what we expect to see that it takes surprise to catch our notice, so that we can see what’s really there. Those who know the Church only from old movies expect pomp and circumstance and robes and lace and candles and baroque splendor. They do not expect care for the poor and simplicity and humility, even though these have always been part of the Church. And so Francis surprises them with what they do not expect. They think it is new, and unusual; in fact, it is the simply the Stone that the builders rejected. Let’s not tell them that, shall we?

Not until they are curious enough to ask….
Another person, responding to the simplicity v. beauty storyline that's been playing out in these first months of Pope Francis's papacy, asked, "Why does it have to be 'this or that' and not 'this and that'."

My answer is: It is, of course, "this and that." But it's also an example of the very common case of being "this and that" by being "you and me," where you are "this" and I am "that." And perhaps we aren't we both "this and that" so that we can be charitable toward one another, in your accepting my "that" and I your "this."