Saturday, April 28, 2007

Peter speaks up . . .

The Gospel readings at Mass this week have been from the great "bread of life" discourse in chapter 6 of John's gospel, the "hard" sayings of Jesus which caused many to abandon him.
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. (John 6:66)
One concerned with the kinds of things that often concern me thinks in this context of the return to a former way of life that is happening now across the board in Western culture. If the early followers of Jesus were shocked by the profane procedure Christ chose to make himself available to those living in other places and other ages, we in our time turn away for almost no reason at all. Call it lukewarmness, a condition for which both Jesus and Dante express the greatest contempt.

In the face of such a dramatic loss of public appeal, something that Jesus' closest disciples (especially Peter) might have regarded as fatal to his mission, Jesus turns to the bewildered "remnant' (always the key to a vibrant biblical faith):
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)
If, on hearing the account of Jesus' loss of disciples, I was reminded of events in the Western world today, and especially in Europe, on hearing the verses that follow it, I am reminded of the truly extraordinary efforts of Peter's apostolic heir, Benedict XVI, who has taken every opportunity to remind us that there is simply nowhere else to turn if we expect to salvage anything resembling Western civilization and make its blessings available to our children and grandchildren.

If, in good biblical fashion, I take the liberty of combining verses from two hymns, containing, respectively, the rock-hard truth and the effervescent joy that accompanies its embrace -- precisely the combination that Benedict has repeatedly emphasized, I would leave it at this:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
. . .
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging
Since Love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Diligence Pays Off . . .

[I apologize, but for some reason that remains a mystery to me I lose my weblog connection almost as soon as I log on. So I can’t post to this weblog in the normal manner. (If anyone knows why, I welcome advice.) For the time being, I’m having to post via email, which is sloppy and doesn’t allow me to create links. If this continues, I may have to move to another weblog format.]

In the meantime, this:


Whether due to painstaking archeological efforts or to a 20 second visit to Google, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus at First Things has managed to discover the relevant text on Catholic moral teaching that the American bishops must have been rummaging through their waste baskets these last couple of years trying to locate. This remarkable discovery of this elusive text will, happily, free the bishops to turn to other responsibilities, one being the implementation.

With thanks to Fr. Neuhaus, here are the relevant sentences – from a letter sent to the U.S. bishops in 2004, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in his official capacity as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now Pope Benedict XVI:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. …

Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist. …

When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it’ (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

Now that we have the pertinent text, all we must do is await the findings of the research teams at the San Francisco and Washington, DC archdiocesan chancery offices who have been laboring to decipher exactly what Nancy Pelosi’s actual position is on unlimited abortion license, partial-birth abortion, and related matters. (Similar efforts are surely under way at the New York archdiocese with regard to Rudy Giuliani’s position on these issues.) Not wanting to be taken in by Ms. Pelosi’s hundreds of public statements and recorded votes on these matters, these research teams keep plodding, hoping one fine day to be able to “clarify” her position and, some years thereafter perhaps, its sacramental implications.

Meanwhile, the faithful and theologically traditional Catholics, those most naturally predisposed to trust in the American bishops, must endure the continued scandal of episcopal equivocation, cowardice, and evasion. Claiming not to want to politicize the Eucharist, they have stood by as it has been politically exploited in the most shameless way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Trolls and such things . . .

Friends inform me of the existence of what are called "trolls," defined by Wikipedia as: "In Internet terminology, a troll is someone who intentionally posts derogatory or otherwise inflammatory messages about sensitive topics in an established online community such as an online discussion forum to bait users into responding."

I'm sorry I didn't know this before finally responding to the comment to this weblog in my last posting, for the person to whom I responded was in all likelihood a "troll." By responding, I was made party a low and vile attack on both moral principles and a member of the clergy. I am deeply sorry for any part I unwittingly played in that.

The trick nevertheless brought forth points about the debate over abortion and especially partial-birth abortion which I am very happy to have put on the record. The fact that those who support this vile practice indulge in character assassination as a sport speaks volumes about the moral decline they exemplify.

Missing the point . . .

Mr. Waldo, the blogger whose remarks on the recent Supreme Court decision allowing states to regulate partial-birth abortion was headlinged: "Catholics - 5; The Rest of Us - Nothing" takes me to task, saying:

You are mistaken about Catholic teachings on abortion, I fear. Until 1869, Catholic dogma was in remarkable agreement with the findings of Roe v. Wade. Indeed, the construction of trimesters and the applicability vis a vis society's versus the individual's interest is remarkably the same. This view was the official view of the church from the fifth century, A.D. until late in the 19th century, A.D.

Of course, the implication is ludicrous: that the Catholic Church held a position in agreement with Roe v. Wade. Those who carp at the Church for failing to jump immediately on whatever wobbly bandwagon rolls by, and who complain that the Church never bothers to update this or that position on the strength of scientific advances, perhaps shouldn’t try to defend positions that rely on the long discredited science of Aristotle’s day.

However scientifically uninformed the Church’s theory of fetal development might have been in the 13th century, to interpret that as evidence of a moral affinity with the incoherent logic of Roe v. Wade is ridiculous. The question, let me repeat, is whether a full-term child can have his or her skull crushed, be dismembered and thrown away like so much garbage. That is what the Supreme Court decision was about, and that is the neo-Aztec procedure that Planned Parenthood, et al, are defending.

While I’m at it: Let’s take a closer look at the title of Mr. Waldo’s post, especially its latter half: “the rest of us.” The question is, of course, who gets included in this “us”? According to the hard-core pro-abortion position, it’s only those who have drawn a breath of air, and some pro-abortion activists have been warming to the idea that even that may not be reason enough to put away the lethal tools of the trade.

If drawing a breath is the criteria for being a member of the human race, and thereby deserving of legal protection, then all that is needed is to terminate the child’s life before he or she has had a chance to take a breath. This is precisely what happens in partial-birth abortion. Only the child’s head is left in the birth canal, there to be punctured with surgical instruments, collapsed, removed and dumped in the garbage.

No civilized society should condone such barbarity.

As I said at the beginning of the post that stirred up these reactions, for truly illuminating commentary on the Gonzales v. Carhart decision, we should turn to those who have labored so long and valiantly to protect that lives of the most vulnerable. They are far better suited than am I to argue the case. I salute them.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


The Church …

According to Romano Guardini:

… the specific task that the church has been given to fulfill: to reconcile Christ’s demands (which seem to exceed human strength), with man’s present possibilities; to create a pass, a bridge between them: to come to our aid.

… behind the Church’s attitude, lies a profound sense of realism, a will to Christianize that begins with the possible in order to end on the peaks of sanctity. (The Lord, 96,97)

The Age of Deliberate Barbarism

Apropos the previous post:

Having quoted the line from Victor Hugo, “World, all the ill comes from the form that gods take,” Henri de Lubac, one of the great Catholic theologians of the mid-20th century, wrote, quoting François Fénelon along the way:

Away, then, with all the projections, sublimations and creations of our passions or our dreams, of our fears and anger, of our nightmare or desires! Away with the gods who “seem to have been invented of set purpose by the enemy of mankind, in order to sanction crime and turn the divine to ridicule!” Away with the gods of nothingness which leave us to ourselves and keep us in bondage! Away with all the false gods! [The Discovery of God, 6]

The current gaggle of late-comers to the task of riding the world of “religion” are predictably naïve in thinking that they are the avant-garde, when in truth they are merely preparing for the next doomed but disastrous attempt to bring the old gods back. 

Martin Heidegger spent his last years busily retouching a reputation tarnished by his membership in the Nazi party during World War II. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, he spoke in the oracular tones required by his delicate circumstance, saying, among other things: “only a god can save us.” Friedrich Nietzsche, however, also late in life, wrote The Antichrist, in which he lamented: “almost two thousand years and no new god.”

For all his madness, Nietzsche here glimpsed an important anthropological effect of the Christian revelation, and he recoiled from it. The word Nietzsche used to characterize what he loathed most about the cultural effect of Christianity was the word pity. He failed to see the specificity of the moral impulse he repudiated. It isn’t pity; it is empathy for victims as victims that the Gospel awakens, and it is that empathy that has had a mounting effect on cultural life during the last “two thousand years,” Nietzsche’s obvious allusion to Christianity.

Nietzsche was under no illusions as to why no new gods have emerged; he knew full well it was because of Christianity, and the titanic task he undertook was to set aside this tradition once and for all in order that humanity might return — his famous “eternal recurrence” — to the greatness of classical culture, which is to say, culture hospitable to the emergence (out of violence) of new gods.

“As soon as man ceases to be in contact with great mystical or religious forces,” writes de Lubac, “does he not inevitably come under the yoke of a harsher and blinder force, which leads him to perdition? It is what Vico called the age of ‘deliberate barbarism’, and that is the age in which we live.”

Indeed, Giambattista Vico’s cyclical theory of history, so reminiscent of Oriental notions of time and culture, find more than an echo in Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return, a flat rejection of biblical historical consciousness. Barbarism was for Vico what Dionysian madness was to Nietzsche, the necessary and unavoidable prelude to the greatness that would mysteriously issue forth from violence in the form of a new epoch and/or a new god. Martin Heidegger, his gnomic verbal elusiveness notwithstanding, was perfectly aware of this.

Nietzsche set his face against the empathy for victims aroused by a Christianity, and his task was to find a way to override or outflank precisely this empathy, this “pity.” The way he finally proposed, quite logically, is pitilessness. Nietzsche addressed his homilies about the Übermensch and his hymns about the generative power of Dionysian chaos to those who he knew would come after him, urging them not to flinch. (Many have tried not to, with varying degrees of success.) The task from which they are not to flinch was never explicitly defined, but it was to coincide with humanity’s reacquisition of its ancient god-making and Reich-founding powers. Seen anthropologically, and precisely through the anthropological lens represented by the work of René Girard, this represents the unique problem of evil in our time: evil no longer self-concealing, no longer carried out by those able to inoculate themselves to the moral horror of what they are doing, but evil presided over by those who, terrifyingly, know what they are doing. Nietzsche might not call these things evil — except to beckon his acolytes “beyond good and evil” — for he was as averse to this staple of Judeo-Christian moral thought as he was to the word sin. The supermen (and superwomen) to whom he issued his call were those who know that to be delivered from banality they must not shed tears over the victims lost in the Dionysian god-making procedures.

Nietzsche must be given credit for recognizing what nineteenth century Christians were unable to recognize: that it was Christianity that was desacralizing the world, but even before René Girard provided substantial anthropological and theoretical substantiation, perceptive thinkers began to see the effect of the Gospel in this regard. “One of the signs of a mature spirit,” wrote Henri de Lubac, “is without doubt to renounce false forms of transcendence.”

One must ‘reject the gods’ … ‘all the gods’. That is precisely what the disciples of Jesus taught us to do from the beginning. If they were taken for atheists, it was not because they were making the banal claim to have discovered another god — who would simply have been one among many: but because they proclaimed him who is totally different from the gods, and who frees us from their tyranny. They denied everything that the men around them took for the divine — everything that man, at every epoch, tends to deify in order to adore himself and tyrannize over himself, in and through his gods. [The Discovery of God, 179-80]

“The Gospel,” de Lubac insisted, “is the only ‘twilight of the gods’.”

René Girard has shown us what the god-making laboratory looks like. It looks like Golgotha, but one that ends, not with the realization of the victim’s innocence and the dispersal of the confounded mob, but with the mob’s celebration of its victory in a holy cause. Archaic myths are replete with precisely this variation on the story that the New Testament tells from the point of view of its victim, each of them coinciding with the birth or rebirth of a “god” — the idol in whose service the community feels it has performed a sacred duty. The efficacy of such rituals, of course, depends on how thoroughly intoxicated by the violence its perpetrators are and that depends on the degree to which the truth about the victim has become irrepressible. This is not to say that those exposed to the revelation of the Cross will not succumb to the logic of sacred violence, for the power of the social contagion it sets in motion remains enormous. It means, rather, that, to the degree that they have been exposed to the truth of the victim, people will be both less completely caught up in the madness of scapegoating violence and/or that they will awaken from its spell with a moral hangover more readily than will those not exposed to this truth.



Saturday, April 21, 2007

Qui Vive? (Who goes there?)

"Who do you say that I am?" That remains humanity's central, decisive question.

Romano Guardini again:
The form of one approaching through a fog is at first ambiguous. It can be almost anyone. Only two will know him: he who loves him and he who hates him. God preserve us from the sharpsightedness that comes from evil. [The Lord, 255]

Friday, April 20, 2007

Light at the End of a Very Long Tunnel

Commentary on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, which returned to the state legislatures the responsibility for controlling the appalling practice of partial-birth abortion goes by rights to those who have worked so diligently to curtail this barbarous practice.

We would be remiss, however, if we left what we hope will be a momentous turning point in the moral life of our society pass entirely without comment. Aside from breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect that we may be at the beginning of the end of a dark chapter in our national history, I would call attention, as have many others of course, to the vitriol and religious bigotry that the decision has occasioned. Joseph Bottum at First Things spotted this:

A headline on a weblog by someone who goes by the name Ed Waldo reads:

"Catholics – 5; The Rest of Us – Nothing"

To which the blogger added this:

Well, as I warned in these pages a year and more ago, the five conservative Catholics who make up the new majority of the United States Supreme Court struck today, in a ruling that follows straight Catholic dogma, in upholding a largely symbolic nationwide enforcement of the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion" ban.

All the Supreme Court did in Gonzales v. Carhart was to allow state legislatures to pass legislation regarding the barbarous act of infanticide, yet this blogger and a great many other people act as though what is barbarous is this minimal restoration of moral seriousness and constitutional propriety. To say that the moral concern that brought about this change "follows straight Catholic dogma" is to intentionally obscure this undeniable fact: Until a very few years ago, Western civilization – and the Jewish and Christian moral sensibility that brought it into existence and was the engine of its moral and political advances – stood four-square against the idea of abortion. It followed straight from moral commonsense.

The fact that all five members of the Court majority are Roman Catholics is predictably an occasion for indulging in "the last acceptable prejudice," but it is to the credit of the Catholic Church that it has not, as so many others have, capitulated to the moral revolutionaries who are now struggling to find yet another euphemism with which to hide from themselves and from those whose political support they need the reality of partial-birth abortion and, indeed, of abortion in all its forms.

The reaction, of course, has been predictable. Rick Garnett, associate law professor at Notre Dame, reproduced on the Mirror of Justice weblog the Tony Auth cartoon that appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Abortion has long been the procedure that dares not speak its name, but this is most especially the case when it comes to partial-birth abortion. The accompanying Philadelphia Inquirer editorial complained that the Court had resorted to verboten terminology, like "partial-birth abortion," rather than the Orwellian double-speak used by the pro-abortion movement: "intact dilation and extraction," or even better – because even more coded and sanitized – "intact D&X." Language is everything; if it can be corrupted, the game is in the hands of those whose euphemisms become the political and moral lingua franca. "Intact dilation and extraction," exactly how descriptive is that stainless steal phrase?

As for the larger implications of the Catholics Justices voting to return the matter to the states, Rick Garnett adds:

It is, increasingly, thought to be enough to discredit an argument or position – any argument or position – merely to note that the person who makes it is a religious believer, and to write off any moral argument with which one disagrees as "religious." (This practice, of course, does not run both ways: arguments against torture, the death penalty, race discrimination, and income inequality are "secular"; arguments against partial-birth abortion or the creation of embryos for research are "religious.") It appears, increasingly, that arguments whose trajectory is not in line with the standard liberal / autonomy / choice line are not only rejected, but declared not to be permissible arguments.

Again, Joseph Bottum at First Things has taken a quick glance at the predictable:

The five Catholic justices on the Supreme Court formed – for the first time since Alito joined the Court – the complete majority on a decision. I think that we're probably going to have to wait for the new fund-raising letters from NARAL and Planned Parenthood before we see the highest pitch of anti-Catholic rhetoric coming out of the Carhart decision.

Statistically, in our society, the months from conception to birth are the most dangerous months of a person's life; the time when a person is most likely – by a very large statistical factor – to die violently. Catholics and many others who have struggled to bring us back to our senses on this issue can expect more heat than light from their opponents, but if even a portion of the countless tiny, innocent, defenseless children can be saved, the minor social opprobrium we may experience will be well worth it.

The carpenter's son?

Romano Guardini:
The problem of the late-comers, that of excavating the living Son of God from sermon, book and example, from the sacred measures of divine worship, from the work of art, pious practice, custom and symbol, is difficult, certainly, but probably not more difficult than that of recognizing him in the son of a carpenter. [The Lord, 255]

From Benedict XVI:

Christ, writes Joseph Ratzinger:
... only reveals himself to the one whom he can entrust with a mission. He does not reveal himself to curiosity but to love ...

Monday, April 16, 2007

In transit . . .

I have been in California working with Randy and a number of our close friends here on the Emmaus Road Initiative. There has been too little time to post to the weblog. I'll be more attentive when the schedule permits.

Thanks for looking in on us anyway.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

If only once . . .

In her message of condolence about Liz's death, my friend Nancy Wales sent me a quotation from one of the 20th century's most enigmatic and little-known religious figures, Mother Maria of Paris (Maria Skobtsova). It is a rather more serious specification of the little quip I posted the other day to the effect that "having fun" doesn't seem all that much fun to me.

Mother Maria of Paris, infamous for a far from flawless life, wrote these words after the death of her child:
Into the black, yawning grave fly all hopes, plans, habits, calculations, and -- above all -- meaning: the meaning of life. Meaning has lost its meaning, and another incomprehensible Meaning has caused wings to grow at one's back ... And I think that anyone who has had this experience of eternity, if only once; who has understood the way he is going, if only once; who has seen the One who goes before him, if only once -- such a person will find it hard to turn aside from this path: to him all comfort will seem ephemeral, all treasures valueless, all companions unnecessary, if amongst them he fails to see the One Companion carrying his Cross.

Friday, April 13, 2007

From Romano Guardini

All around us we see activity, organization, operations of every possible type; but what directs them? An inwardness no longer really at home with itself which thinks, judges, acts from the surface, guided by mere intellect, utility, and the impulses of power, property and pleasure. An "interiority" too superficial to contact the truth lying at life's center, which no longer reaches the essential and everlasting, but remains somewhere just under the skin-level of the provisional and the fortuitous.

Before all else, then, man's depths must be reawakened. ... In a word, man must learn again to meditate and pray. ...

Therefore we must return to the essence of being and ask: What is the connection between a man's work and his life? ... What is obedience, and how is it related to freedom? What do health, sickness, death really signify? ... When may attraction claim the high name of love? What does the union of man and woman known as marriage mean (at present [1951!] something so seedy, so choked with weed, that few people seem to have any serious conception of it, although it is the bearer of all human existence)?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Potpourri for a travel day . . .

I'm due in California tomorrow, but I'm having to get out of town ahead of a snow storm that is headed this way and which is predicted to stifle travel by land and air. So here are a few random and parting thoughts:

- - - - -

The question is: How to avoid the errors of subjectivism without abandoning the essentially personal element in any authentic affirmation or espousal of truth? Truth, as distinct from facts, involves truth-telling and truthfulness. It requires a witness.

- - - - -

A conscience which is not distinct from -- and on a regular basis averse to -- the promptings of one's impulses and desires is a fraud, a self-deluding trick, the devil at work.

- - - - -

Speaking of which, this line leapt out at me from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Half-way House" included among the readings for today in the Magnificat: "My national old Egyptian reed gave way." What a felicitous evocation of of our fallen, stiff-necked, prideful condition and its essential insubstantiality.

- - - - -

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but just "having fun" doesn't sound like that much fun to me.

- - - - -
"If you hand yourself over without reserve to the God who loves you he will be the one who gives you to others, enriching you with all the necessary power to put yourself at their service."
Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto

Tolerance Update . . .

From the Associated Press:
Easter, like other Christian holidays, is illegal in Saudi Arabia, a country where Islam is the only recognized religion and hours of searching is necessary to find even a few chocolate eggs. ...

But even the smallest decorations are hard to find during Easter. Among four stores in this city that usually carry Christmas items, only one store stocked chocolate eggs. A sign beneath the sweets at the end of the chocolate isle said "seasonal collection."
What is it with the Associated Press and its fixation on chocolate eggs? It appears that in a word-association test the Associated Press' response to the word "Easter" is "chocolate eggs." Is there any more pathetic symbol of the attenuation of the Christian message than its reduction to "chocolate eggs"?

No wonder the famously moderate Muslims of Saudi Arabia, whom the U.S. has regarded as staunch allies for decades, can force Christians to huddle together for worship in private homes without a peep of protest. If it's just about a few chocolate eggs, why make a fuss?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Publish or Parish

Mercifully, friends have stopped asking me when the book or two I've threatened to write over the last few years will be finished. Every time I'm asked about my writing, I feel a sharp pain of remorse and a sense of inadequacy for having failed to published more. There are extenuating circumstances to be sure, but they do not amount to a full justification. In God's good time maybe something publishable will emerge from my work.

In the meantime, as much as I love to write, and I truly do, for me there is no more rewarding experience than visiting in person and speaking with those, like myself, who are eager to deepen their faith and bring it to maturity. In my work on behalf of the Cornerstone Forum -- and especially in our Emmaus Road Initiative project -- I have the great privilege of looking into the faces of those with whom I am in conversation, a privilege a writer doesn't often enjoy.

Even when I do most of the talking -- which is typically the case at the Emmaus Road Initiative gatherings -- what happens on these occasions is dialogical. There is an exchange, not just during the discussion period but in less tangible ways throughout. Those who speak publicly will understand this.

St. Joseph's Abbey Church

I am a member of a local parish here in North Brookfield, but what actually functions as my parish on a day-to-day basis is the Cistercian monastery down the road where I commune with my fellow "parishioners" exclusively in silence and liturgical song. As a practical matter, it is on my speaking trips that I experience ordinary "parish life" in a rich variety of forms, always of course as an itinerant. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity my work provides for gathering -- however intermittently -- with those for whom I come to feel a real fellowship and a genuine affection.

It became clear to me as I mourned for Liz during Lent that it is here in the home that Liz loved so that I feel her presence most powerfully. So much so that I hardly feel as though I am living alone. As it does at St. Joseph's Abbey, the silence is the medium of a communion. Having said that, however, it is also true that I now feel Liz's presence wherever I am. And now that this is the case, I will not need to minimize the traveling and speaking I do on behalf of the Cornerstone Forum, as I did when Liz was waiting for me at home and most especially during her illness. As I told my friend and Cornerstone Forum colleague, Randy Coleman-Riese, I can now pour myself out like a libation. In fact, I can think of nothing I would rather do, not least because of the opportunities it provides to be an occasional participant in the "parish life" of those whom I am privileged to visit.

Those are but the ancillary benefits of my work. The main purpose, to quote from our web page, is "explore the collaboration between theology and anthropology, a collaboration which can lead the young to a new appreciation for Christianity, contribute to the re-evangelization of the Christian faithful, and encourage Western culture to recognize the indispensability of its religious patrimony." It might seem at first odd to try to further aspirations that ambitious by organizing relatively small monthly gatherings in a half-dozen or so locations around the country. In fact, however, the logic -- the logos -- of this approach is quintessentially apostolic and Pauline.

In the background material for the Emmaus Road Initiative series we expressed that logic in a rather mundane idiom. Taken again from our website:
Years of experience with cassette tapes, CDs, and videos has taught us how spontaneously our work tends to move out beyond the limited face-to-face gatherings in which it originates. So while the Emmaus Road Initiative begins in a number of relatively small gatherings congenial to discussion, dialogue and the building of friendships, the sessions are recorded, and thanks to today's technologies of distribution (CDs, mp3 files, streaming audio), the discussion quickly and easily moves out to a wider audience by way of friendships and word-of-mouth recommendations -- a very effective and organic form of transmission. This modus operandi makes it possible to combine the friendly intimacy of the live sessions with a marvelously unpredictable distribution system which takes on a life of its own.
I will be going to California mid-week to meet with Randy and others as we plan the Emmaus Road Initiative series which will begin in several cities in the fall. If you are interested in taking part in one of the ERI gatherings or in helping us organize one in your area, contact Randy Coleman-Riese or call our Office at: 707-996-4704.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

He is Risen

...the more acutely one feels what is being prepared, the closer and more intimate will the connection with the Mother Church become, and the easier and simpler it will be to endure out of love for Her the dirt that is cast upon Her. What will be will be in Her and through Her, not otherwise. With quiet joy I await what will be, and Nunc dimittis is being chanted and resounds in my tranquil heart for days at a time. When that which is awaited comes, when the Great Easter of the world is revealed, all human disputes will end. I do not know whether this will happen soon, or whether it will be necessary to wait for millions of years, but my heart is at peace, because hope already brings to it that which is awaited.
Pavel Florensky

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Last Supper

Just back from Holy Thursday Mass at St. Joseph's Abbey, a liturgy of such solemnity and grace! The Last Supper reminds me inevitably of all the last things Liz and I experienced during her last months and weeks. The last time we could walk in the woods; the last time she could make it to the Abbey for morning Mass; the last time she was able to speak; the last time she was able to get out of bed, and so on ... heartbreakingly. But today of all days I am especially reminded of Liz's great and lifelong devotion to the Eucharist.

After Liz was diagnosed with have a brain tumor from which she was told she would die, she could not continue her portrait photography work. Someone suggested that the study of icon writing might be a way to express her faith. So Liz met with an iconographer, who suggested that she begin to learn the rudimentary techniques by using them on a very simple icon of her choosing. Unsurprisingly, she chose an image of the Eucharist. This is the little icon she produced as an experiment.

The Eucharist was at the center of Liz's religious life, and this is simply one of the many indications.

Since Liz's tumor was next to the part of the brain that controls language, she suffered a gradual loss of the ability to speak and write. In the last weeks of her life, she sensed without fully understanding what was happening that the words coming out of her mouth and the words she struggled to scribble on paper were not the words she was trying to speak or write. It was for her a devastating and sometimes terrifying loss. For me, helpless to do anything but reassure her of my love, it was a heartbreaking process to watch.

Now Liz's handwriting had always been impeccably feminine and lovely, but as the tumor spread she rapidly lost the ability to write legibly.

So, try to imagine: If you had already lost the ability to speak and you knew that you were losing your ability to write legibly; if your use of language was slipping away and there were words you could not live without, what would they be? What would you write -- not for anyone else to read, but just in an effort to hold on to the gift of language itself, and especially to the words most precious to you and thereby to the reality to which they pointed? What would be the last legible thing you would ever write?

Just a few days ago, I found a scrap of paper in the things that were next to where Liz spent her last weeks. The paper was folded, and I had not bothered to look at it earlier. It was something Liz wrote, not to be read by anyone else, but I'm sure just because these were the words that quintessentially defined her. These may well be the last words she ever wrote:

These are the words spoken by priest and communicants at the elevation of the Eucharist just before the distribution of communion. The last ones -- "The Body of Christ" -- are spoken by the priest as he gives the consecrated bread to the communicant, the word "Amen" is the communicant's response.

This little scrap of paper is the single most valuable possession I have, for it is quite literally Liz's last (surrender of) will and testament.

I had our gravestone designed weeks before I discovered this note, but I did not need this note to know how central the Eucharist was in Liz's life.

The inscription at the bottom, as I noted in an earlier post to the weblog, is: "May He make us an everlasting gift to You," taken from one of the Eucharistic prayers.

Holy Thursday, 2007

It has ever been thus . . .

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"The bells call all to Mass ..."

About a year before Liz died, she heard Loreena McKennitt singing her song Skellig, and she was deeply moved by it, for it seemed to say so much that she was feeling about the life of solitude and prayer that she had lived and the sadness she felt about how little time she had left.

McKennitt sings the song she wrote exquisitely, and Liz and I played the song often and danced to it many times until Liz was no longer able to do so. If you have a chance to hear the Lorenna McKennit recording, don't miss the opportunity. In the spirit of Holy Week, here are the lyrics. Please consider them a personal message from Liz, which is precisely how she asked me to think of them.

Skellig by Lorenna McKennitt

O Light the Candle, John
The daylight has almost gone.
The birds have sung their last,
The bells call all to Mass.
Sit here by my side,
For night is very long.
There’s something I must tell,
Before I pass along.

I joined the brotherhood
My books were all to me
I scribed the words of God
And much of history.
Many a year was I
Perched out upon the sea
The waves would wash my tears;
The wind, my memory.

I’d hear the ocean breathe;
Exhale upon the shore
I knew the tempest’s blood
It’s wrath I would endure
And so the years went by
Within my rocky cell
With only a mouse or bird
My Friends; I loved them well.

And so it came to pass
I’d come here to Romani
And many a year it took
Till I arrived here with thee
On dusty roads I walked
And over mountains high
Through rivers running deep
Beneath the endless sky.

Beneath these Jasmine flowers
Amidst these cypress trees
I give you now my books
And all their mysteries
Now take the hourglass
And turn it on its head
For when the sands are still
‘Tis then you’ll find me dead

O Light the candle, John
The daylight is almost gone
The birds have sung their last
The bells call all to Mass.
Have a holy Holy Week.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Stay awake with me.

My beloved Liz grew more radiant and faithful
with each step she took on the Via Crucis.

Here she is a few weeks after her first surgery.
Excited about something she had just read in Ratzinger;
wanting to read it to me.

The darkest hours still lay ahead.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Worldwide Celebration of Christ's Passion

Amy Welborn has a marvelous collection of photographs of the Passion Sunday celebrations from around the world. Don't miss it: here.

Via Crucis

The photo below was taken on our honeymoon, as the seaside path we were hiking skirted this cross. A few short years later Liz took the path that led straight to it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007