Following the Mass with the Imagination

At the Foot of the Mountain

At Home

Either the evening or the morning before Mass, I thoughtfully review the Mass readings.  I do not try to spend a lot of time on them, but I want to be familiar with the main points beforehand.

When the time for Mass approaches, I travel through space to the Church building.  All the while I reflect that the Mass itself will be a journey, but not through space:  it will be a spiritual ascent, a journey in thought, love, and grace.  It will be a journey more real than the physical journey to the Church, just as spirit is more real than body.

This is the law of the temple:  the whole territory round about upon the top of the mountain shall be most holy. – Ezek 43:12 Continue reading “Following the Mass with the Imagination”

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The Our Father and the Beatitudes

St. Augustine was confident that the Beatitudes are the key to the Sermon on the Mount.  They lay out the goal toward which the entire Christian life—and so, implicitly, the entire Sermon—is ordered, and they describe the person who attains the goal.  When Augustine commented on the Our Father, the model for all Christian prayer, he was similarly confident that the Beatitudes must somehow be the key.  Our prayer should be directed to the goal of our life, right?

“The Conversion of St. Augustine,” by Fra Angelico

In a moment of inspiration, he decided to line up the petitions of the Our Father with the Beatitudes, in order: Continue reading “The Our Father and the Beatitudes”

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The structure of the Our Father

This past week I had the pleasure of teaching high schoolers in Wyoming Catholic College’s PEAK program.  As usual, I used my PEAK stint as an opportunity to learn something new, asking questions to which I had no clear answers, studying issues I had never clarified before.  And as usual, the students taught me.

Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College
Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College

For example, one day I wrote the “Our Father” on the whiteboard and asked the students how it is organized.  One pointed out that it falls into couplets: Continue reading “The structure of the Our Father”

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Why do apples fall?

My last post explored Dr. Baxter’s ingenious quiz, “How Much of a Modernist Are You?”  I would like to delve deeper into the questions raised by Dr. Baxter (and ultimately Charles Taylor) by attempting my own answer of Question 4:

Why does an apple fall to the ground when it detaches from the stem?

  1. The laws of physics teach us that all objects fall to the ground according to gravity.
  2. Gravity, of course, but behind the working of nature we can perceive the “hand” of God, which I mean metaphorically.
  3. The apple longs to return its native place, because the whole universe is infused with desire. Ultimately, the world longs to imitate, to the extent it can, Eternity.

Continue reading “Why do apples fall?”

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Are you a modernist? Take the quiz.

My colleague and friend Dr. Jason Baxter has published a delightful quiz at The Imaginative Conservative to show us how thoroughgoingly modern we all are.  He takes his cue from Dr. Charles Taylor, whose gigantic book on the modern age argues that we live in a “disenchanted” world—all us inhabitants of the North Atlantic region, inevitably, without any choice in the matter.  While our medieval forbears lived in a sacred and magical cosmos, we live in an autonomous, scientific universe. Continue reading “Are you a modernist? Take the quiz.”

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The Life of Moses

This past week, I took part in the continual feast that was the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought.  All us profs were asked to bring a side, so my contribution was a lecture on “The Life of Moses.”

Moses_Lecture
Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College

In just under an hour, I recounted the story of Moses in a way that not only pulls his “biography” together but also provides a key to the story of the Exodus.  You can download the lecture here, or listen using this audio player (you can’t see the audio player while viewing this post in your e-mail):

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God in the Tomb

For most Catholics, Holy Saturday is a kind of blank.  Since there is no liturgy for Saturday itself, we don’t hear homilies explaining it.  Good Friday drives home the passion, and Easter booms with the resurrection, but Holy Saturday has no one to preach it.

And yet the Catechism says startling things about Holy Saturday.  In this post I’ll focus on just one aspect:  Christ’s stay in the tomb.  Here’s what the Catechism says (paragraph 626), echoing an ancient and consistent tradition:

Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen”, the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death:

By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.

To put that in plain English, we all know that when we walk by Grandpa’s casket, the corpse in the casket is not Grandpa anymore—not really.  But when Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ corpse in the tomb, that corpse was not a man but it was still Jesus—really and truly. Continue reading “God in the Tomb”

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Triduum Screensaver

Last year, I came across St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Passion Clock,” a set of meditations for each hour beginning Holy Thursday and ending Easter morning.  It’s a way of entering into the events of the Gospel.

Handily, Sharyn over on this blog collected public domain artwork to go with each of the meditations.  So my son David and I collaborated to create a Windows screensaver that would display the appropriate artwork and meditation for each hour of the Triduum.  It was pretty neat to wander by at a random point on Good Friday and see a picture of what was happening, Gospel-wise, at that hour.

This year, David updated and improved the screen saver, and with Sharyn’s permission we have decided to make it available to everyone.  Go here to see the artwork and text that will appear.  If you are so inclined, you can get view the source code for the screensaver here.  Or you can just download the screensaver here.  Right-click on the downloaded file and choose “install.”

Sorry, it’s just for Windows.  The system may squawk at you because we didn’t pay the buckos and go through the process to get an official certification, but we’ve run it on our own computers just fine.  Windows 10 will give you a dire warning with no apparent option to install, but if you click on “more information” or whatever then the option appears.

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Reading the magisterium

Although I have not blogged in a while, I have been thinking and creating. While teaching the senior “Life in Christ” course, which requires reading lots of encyclicals, I offered students a series of mini-lectures on the art of reading magisterial texts.  I recorded all the lectures and I hope eventually to turn them into a slender book.

Meanwhile, check out the Wyoming Catholic College podcast featuring yours truly, titled “The Pope, Authority, and Religious Assent”. That will give you a feel for the project.

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Mysteries of the Holy Family

Immanuel Kant’s essay, What Is Enlightenment, explains for the modern world that enlightenment means becoming entirely independent in thought.  Children grow up depending on others for everything, of course, and even for their thoughts and opinions, but to be enlightened means that one throws aside childish dependence and thinks entirely for oneself. Something about the claim rings true, especially for our ruggedly individual age.

Yet without saying so explicitly, Kant’s position casts the family as a necessary evil.  We have to grow up in families, but they train us to live below our dignity by thinking like slaves.  To reach human perfection is to shake off the effects of family life.

Yesterday’s feast and today’s solemnity remind us that the family is a path to enlightenment; that childhood as such is a path to humanity and even beyond; that the bonds between parent and child are bonds indeed, but not fetters.

Along these lines, let me toss out three mysteries relating to the Holy Family:

  1. A parent can stand in for the child’s own will.

This is just a natural reality, but isn’t this a remarkable thing?  When my son had a life-threatening medical condition, I had to decide—on his behalf—what would be done to his body, what course would determine all.  Before my children were ever aware of their surroundings, I chose where they would live, and consequently what nation and what state would claim their citizenship, and as a result what laws they would be under.  Extending this natural reality, I even committed my children to God through baptism, and by so doing I brought on them all the obligations of a Christian.  It is an astonishing and wonderful thing that one human person can be so entrusted to another.

  1. The child Jesus had both a divine and a human will.

When I teach about the mystery of the Incarnation, students are typically ready with the formula they learned in their catechisms:  Jesus is one divine person in two natures, one divine and one human.  But they are typically shocked by the obvious implication that Jesus has a divine will and a human will, two roots of love, two ultimate centers of desire.  Of course, even Jesus’ human will is the human will of a divine person:  the life of the Word of God extends into time and space through the Incarnation, such that anyone who has seen the man Jesus has seen the Father.  Consequently, the love of the Word of God is replayed in the love of the man Jesus:  this man loving the Father is God’s own Son loving him through a human nature!  A human nature has been caught up into and, so to speak, included in the inner life of the Trinity.

  1. The previous two mysteries together make a third.

Joseph acted as foster father and Mary as the natural mother of the child Jesus.  When they circumcised him—an event commemorated as part of today’s feast, according to the current Martyrology—they chose God on behalf of the Word of God.  When they committed Jesus to the faith of Israel, they turned toward the Father on behalf of his own Son.  They were caught up into the mystery of the Incarnation, and for the brief period of his infancy they stood in for the theandric will of the God-man.  Now that just makes this parent break out in goose bumps.

God be praised for the family!  God be praised for the mystery of the Incarnation!  God be praised, I say, for the mystery of the Holy Family.

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