Tag Archives: Jesus

The Word: A Meditation on the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel

Prologue

Ignatius Press reissued Adrienne Von Speyr’s The Word: A Meditation on the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel earlier this year (it is available in paperback or Kindle).  It was first published in English in the 1950s.  The entirety of Adrienne’s commentary of the Gospel of John was later published by Ignatius as a four volume set in the 1990s. If you own Volume I of this series, The Word Becomes Flesh, this meditation on the Prologue is already included there. The set is in print.

The Word is a good introduction to Adrienne’s commentary on scripture, in terms of both style and substance. And if you had to pick just one work to read, it would be entire four volume commentary on the Gospel of John.  Its been a while since I read it, but the John commentary seemed to capture all the main points of her theology that is repeated elsewhere in her various books.

She apparently used her standard approach to meditations with The Word. She would read and briefly meditate on lines of scripture during the afternoon at her residence, and then dictate to Hans Urs Von Balthasar. He said he made limited edits to what she gave him. One line of scripture would yield several pages of commentary on average. They would do this for half an hour a day for many years. She and Von Balthasar did tend to organize these commentaries in very long paragraphs, usually only two per page. I found I needed to focus more than I normally did when reading her works.

I will include an extended quote from the first chapter that I liked, which is all derived from meditating on John 1:1:

“In this sense the revelation of the Word of God always makes too great a demand upon the creature. At first the Word that God addresses to us looks harmless, like a human word. But instantly the fire within it begins to stir, insatiably embracing everything, demanding everything, consuming everything. At first the Word of God appears to be a word one can answer; it seems as though the balance between speech and reply could be maintained, But as one begins to understand that the Divine Word is eternally in the beginning, it becomes more and more clear that man’s starting point never reaches the point of beginning and falls farther and farther behind. Skill and art of a human kind can always be learned, even though the purpose of the first lessons may not be clear. But gradually we acquire confidence, survey the subject as a whole, and with practice learn to master it. In learning the language and the art of God, in contrast, our view of the whole progressively diminishes. All our supports are wrested from us, and what remains are an ever-deeper insight into our failure and an increasing longing. We lapse farther and farther into the beginning.

All human accomplishments develop in an orderly manner according to some method or following some plan. Anyone wishing to learn a foreign language adopts a definite method. We imagine we can approach the Word of God in the same way and grow perfect in relation to him. But as often our plan in relation to God seems to us to be bordering on the maximum, it turns out to be the minimum from God’s point of view, a method that has not even grasped the first word of God’s language. Our own program will call for the performance of maximum of devotions but a minimum of real devotion. We confuse devotions and devotion, offering God the former in order to withhold the latter. Our whole performance before God is a pharisaical program, the center of which is our own perfection, with the result that it is blind to the Word spoken to us, the ever-new and ever-unexpected Word. The whole of man’s progress consists in perpetual destruction of the human center thus making way for the ever-new beginning in which is heard the Word. For the Word alone leads to God and to the beginning. Man can be led to the beginning only if he himself is in the beginning. The only way to love is to overcome one’s own point of view.

Man lives in three stages: beginning, center and fire. But since man has no center in himself and may not have one, he is led by the Word into the fire, so that he may come to the beginning, which is God. Beginning and fire are one.”

(emphasis added)

A common point in Adrienne’s writing is that God is always the “ever greater.” This would seem self-evident to a Christian, but it leads her and Von Balthasar to express discomfort with the description of our life as a spiritual ascent, or with the notion of measurable progress. They tend to see our life as more like a descent or kenosis. There are no proofed systems of spiritual development.

The commentary on the “fire” and loss of one’s “own point of view” also points to Adrienne’s meditation on the particular judgment and Purgatory in this and different books, which I will include to demonstrate the consistency and unity of her writing:

“Stepping into the realm of his manifest reality, a man steps into his ultimate destiny and is so drawn into the eschatological fire … Fire is an essential trait of the triune God, who cannot endure anything impure and must devour it.”

“Our average view of sin on earth is anthropocentric, I am accustomed to fashioning and arranging my actions according to my own views. Now this has to stop. Self knowledge becomes unreliable, since all assessment has passed to God.”

“In the face of God’s radiant evidence, man says Yes, but this is not the yes of insight; it is the surrender of my sight to the way God sees things.” “Purgatory has, as it were, a great stratagem … the ‘I’ is so disintegrated that the ‘Thou’ gradually acquires contours; what comes into being is a ‘a hope’ (which resides totally in the Lord) which is the end of my knowing better and the beginning of my surrender. I have to be extracted from being with myself so that my ‘I’ can be ‘situated’ in God.”

From the Theo-Drama, Volume 5: The Last Act, by Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar quotes from Objektive Mystik, by Adrienne Von Speyr (yet to be published in English)

We will live in God’s truth, and not our own narrow viewpoint. We have will no need to ask any more questions as Truth is self-evident. We see with new eyes. The part about keeping God at a distance with a program of “devotions”, as opposed to true Devotion deriving from obedience to the Word …. I find reflective of my own experience.

As you read her works its like seeing a great structure slowly coming into view on the horizon. There is unity, harmony, connection. I do not recall contradictions. This doesn’t happen by accident across so many books if you are making it up as you go along.

I would recommend this for anyone interested in Adrienne looking for a representative work that is not too long.

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Two Prayers Of Gratitude

I remember to say these almost every day, so they must not be too bad. Inspired by Gabrielle Bossis and the Blessed Solanus Casey.

 

Morning

My dear Jesus,

Thank you for this day.

Help me obey your will,

Hear the Spirit,

And see the Father through you.

Amen.

Night

Oh Lord,

I thank you in advance for

whatever happens tomorrow,

knowing that it is in accord with your will

or permitted by your will.

Help me to abandon myself

to your divine providence and

worry about neither the past

nor the future.

Amen.

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The Furrow

Furrows,_ploughed_field

He drags the wood along the ground,

Carving a furrow in the soil,

A valley. Dark at the bottom.

We must follow the path

He has made for us.

 

If you do not follow the path,

You will not see the furrow.

Unless a grain falls in, nothing will grow.

We lose bit by bit if we follow ….

If we choose to follow.

The earth is wet with his blood and water.

Ready for us, waiting to give birth.

 

We do not climb a mountain in life.

We descend into a valley,

Which is really nothing,

(Not the chasm he leapt into)

To join the dust.

Give away every crumb

to this hungry earth.

For the bread is a gift.

We did not make it.

Take it in,

and let it go.

 

The furrow climbs up at the end, to him.

He will reach down and raise us up,

Grasping our empty hands.

 

 

 

 

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Jeannette: Péguy goes to the movies

 

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Well, I never expected this.

Apparently the French director Bruno Dumont has adapted Charles Péguy’s The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc into a feature film. It was released in France last fall, and has popped up at a few American film festivals.  Unless you live in a big city, you will probably have to get the DVD or stream it to see it.

 

… And he turned it into a musical with a rock score. Wow.  From viewing the trailer, I can tell that he is using the names of the characters and I do recognize a few lines of dialog from Péguy’s prose poem/play.

The Village Voice describes the film as “pious,” so it sounds like the director intends a faithful adaptation.  They do criticize the method, though acknowledging that Dumont has a “streak of madman genius about him.” So you may very well hate or love the film.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc was the first piece in Péguy’s great trilogy of book length poems (followed by The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents), published shortly before World War One.

If you are not familiar with the book, this will not be like other filmed versions of Joan’s life. It will not focus on the later military campaigns or her martyrdom. It is about the origin of Joan’s mission.

Péguy is a very important artist for some Catholic theologians, and Pope Francis has quoted from his works a few times.  If you were surprised by the Pope’s alleged comments about Hell a few weeks ago, Péguy may be relevant.  The concept of solidarity was very important to Péguy, and he wondered aloud whether solidarity extended to those in Hell. The ultimate fate of those souls who go to Hell was an element in some of Adrienne Von Speyr’s spiritual commentaries, which were edited and published by the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

I think that Hell exists, and that a soul can go to Hell by refusing God’s mercy at the end of their life and the particular judgment. One of many questions raised by Péguy in The Mystery,  and by Adrienne in some of her writings, involves the scope of Christ’s “descent into hell” after his crucifixion. Does Christ’s solidarity extend to those in Hell in any way, and if it does, what are the implications of that? Can the damned change their mind through some extraordinary grace? I suspect that the Italian atheist the Pope spoke to may have been attempting, in a very poor way, to recapture Francis’ speculation on similar questions. I acknowledge such speculation is very controversial, and would appear to conflict with Church tradition as expressed in the Catechism that Christ did not descend to save those who had already damned themselves by refusing God’s mercy. The issue is discussed with much greater detail in Balthasar’s book Dare we hope that all may be saved? and the many responses to it.

I blogged about Péguy’s book last year. I will probably do a movie review after I have seen it.

 

 

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Song of Sorrow: A new hymn for Holy Week

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Ecce Homo by Mateo Cerezo

 

This post is especially for those who may be involved with music or divine worship at their church.

A few weeks ago, I heard a new hymn sung during the offertory at the Palm Sunday mass I attended. I am not sure I got chills, but it was close.  As I was listening to the organ I could tell that the arrangement was based on the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  I tracked down the director of our music program and he told me the hymn was called “Song of Sorrow.”

I learned that it was composed by the American Patrick Liebergen, and apparently published in 2011. The sheet music can be obtained at:

https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/song-of-sorrow-sheet-music/19701678

It can be described as a dirge, and our director said its only appropriate for use during Holy Week, which I would agree with.  I found a few videos on Youtube I thought I would share.

I am not a musician or artist but, in all vanity, I think I have very good aesthetic judgment.  I think this is a great hymn to be added for Holy Week services, probably either for a Palm Sunday or Good Friday service.

The first clip is from a church that has a fairly large choir. I completely agree with all the comments of the music director, particularly when he described it as “unique” in some ways.

 

The second clip is from a church with a smaller choir. I am including it to show that I think the hymn can be effective whether you have a big or large church.

 

I do think it works better with male and female voices singing different parts, as suggested by the gentleman in the first clip.

I have never posted before on music, but I did for this one. Why? I believe that Beauty is an important element of our worship and adoration. Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals, and points to the other two: Truth and Goodness. I tried to express this in a poem I wrote a while back.

There is evidence, and even data, that beauty, particularly beautiful churches, attract people to explore the faith. If you are in a diocese or other region where your church is considering consolidating churches, maybe you need to think hard about keeping the more beautiful ones.

“Song of Sorrow” is unusual in that I think the lyrics and the power of Beethoven brings home the pathos of the Passion, which is sometimes overlooked in our Joy about the Resurrection.

In the above clips the choir is accompanied by piano. I think it works better with an organ (which is how I heard it at mass).

 

The lyrics, as best I can tell, are as follows:

 

Oh Lord of Sorrow, Jesus Have Mercy,

Holy and Mighty, I pray to thee.

 

(Refrain)

Lord of Creation, Bring Your Salvation,

Oh Lord of Sorrow, You died for Me.

Lord of Creation, Bring Your Salvation,

Oh Lord of Sorrow, You died for Me.

 

Oh Lord at Calvary,

Have mercy hear my plea,

My Savior set me free,

Hear my humble plea.

 

They crowned your head with thorns,

And mocked your name with scorn

(Nailed on the cross …)?

Hear my plea and set me free.

 

Refrain, etc.

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His Forbearance

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His Forbearance

Not to pluck this flower,
Which bides inside this bower,
And lies within his power:
His strangest trial,
Perhaps to smile,
And forbear a little while.

And oh to hear his laughter,
At us who would be master.
Impatiens so sought after
And asters would fly faster.
But too soon a prune, before the bloom,
Not June, but a disaster.

A Shasta seeks a ladder
To scale some frail hereafter.
Yet better stay a daisy,
And linger long and lazy.
For too soon a bloom, before the groom,
Not June, but a disaster.

And Susans may be hasty
To grasp for shady rapture.
Rather black eyes capture,
The patience of Our Lady.
For too soon the groom, before there’s room,
Not June, but a disaster.

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For a Child Receiving Their First Communion This Weekend

Louis_Janmot_-_Poème_de_l'âme_10_-_Première_Communion

Louis Janmot, Première Communion (public domain)

 

Now the time for First Communion,

Join in Eucharistic union.

Bow down low before you greet him,

Then say Amen when you eat him.

On the tongue or on the throne,

In your heart he makes his home.

When you kneel down in your pew,

Thank the one who died for you.

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Eyelids

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Parisina's_Sleep_-_Study_for_Head_of_Parisina_-_Google_Art_Project

Ford Madox Brown, Parisina’s SleepStudy of a Head for Parisina’s Sleep (Public Domain)

 

Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.

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Putting on Christ

 

I got this outfit,

It was a gift,

Charity.

The coat sleeves are long,

Like they were stretched.

Can I make it fit?

Or do I grow into it?

The shoes have holes

in their soles.

Don’t ask about the shirt.

No wonder it was free.

 

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Holy of Holies (II)

 

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From “The Dance of Death” by Hans Holbein

 

Father, is this the hour of desolation?

The one you know and of which I warn.

In my holy place an abomination,

Will my Church be still-born?

Is this the day the world swore:

“Blessed be the barren women,

the womb that never bore,

And their breasts never nursing.”

I see two boys in the meadow playing,

A shadow falls and one is taken.

I see two girls in my temple spinning,

One is gone and the sanctum shaken.

The iron nails pierce my bride,

Her veil is torn from top to bottom.

The rusted lance rends my side,

Has my Mother’s “Yes” been forgotten?

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