Tag Archives: religion

Adrienne Von Speyr: Servant of God

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This post is primarily for other lay people who read the religious writings of the Catholic Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967). Adrienne was a Swiss citizen, a medical doctor by profession, and an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church. I have read just about everything she wrote that is available in English.

I recently learned that the Church had opened an investigation into Adrienne’s cause for canonization in March of this year.  Specifically, it was opened at the local level in Switzerland, on account of a life of heroic virtue.

There was almost nothing in the media about this, which is why I stumbled across it only by noticing the update to her Wikipedia page. And there was no commentary from religious scholars or theologians in the English-speaking world that I could find.

The title “Servant of God” is applied to someone at the earliest stage of the canonization process. My understanding is that the matter now goes to Rome for a review by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.  If the Church makes a finding of “nihil obstat“, which is Latin for meaning that there is nothing objectionable about the candidate, the process will proceed through formal review by the whole Church.   If the Church finds that the candidate is worthy of recognition for their virtue and worthy of further review, they will be declared “Venerable.”  After that they need to have at least two miracles attributed to their intercession for the cause to advance:the first results in a declaration of “Blessed,” and the second, “Saint.”

The silence is probably quite deliberate. Because I am a layperson with no position in the Church or academia, I am free to write about this (which may be foolish).  Adrienne wrote and had published a large volume of scriptural commentaries and spiritual reflections. Perhaps more than any other non-academic Catholic layperson in the 20th century (I don’t include self-help or advice books in this, no slight intended).  So the Church will have quite a lot to review and consider before providing a Nihil Obstat.  Much of her work remains unpublished, and much remains unavailable in English. I think the delay in publication is because those who could publish have been waiting for this process to commence.

It is no coincidence that an initial review was also opened in March into the Cause of Canonization of her spiritual director and friend, Catholic theologian and Cardinal-Elect Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar personally edited and arranged for the publishing of many of her books, and said on multiple occasions that he drew heavily on her in developing his theological insights, and that his work should not be separated from hers.

There have been some events that, in retrospect, may have pointed to the opening of her cause. There were several conferences about Adrienne’s life and work in the last few years, and Ignatius Press published second editions of a number of her better known works.

This blog would not exist without Adrienne, as I like to think she personally interceded for me three years ago so I could go back to confession after a long hiatus. I have attended mass and receive the sacraments quite regularly since then, and am active in parish ministry.  My poor efforts to take advantage of the gift I have given may not reflect well on my belief of her help, but I usually ask her to help me make a good confession when I go. I am still going regularly, even though I continue to fail quite frequently.

There are certain things in her and Von Balthasar’s writings that some scholars and theologians find to be seriously objectionable, so this may be a very long review process. I will write more about that in a future post.  If she is canonized, I think it will be very consequential for the Church.

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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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Seeds of Renewal: The Fairfield Carmelites

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From the Fairfield Carmelite website

In follow up to last week’s post, this post highlights the other new Carmelite community in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

In 2007, a group of Discalced Carmelites moved into a vacated monastery in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. Its formal name is the Carmel Of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Due to a significant increase in vocations, the Carmel requested permission to branch out, which was granted by Bishop Gainer. Land was purchased in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, which is located in Adams County near Gettysburg.

The community is constructing a new monastery using traditional methods that relies on heavy stones and wood timbers.  It is intended to be self-sustaining community  that will last many years.

They broke ground earlier this summer, and Bishop Gainer presided over a special mass and ceremony of enclosure in July.  Nine nuns are on site now, living in trailers. It has been a very hot and rainy summer in these parts, so I am sure it has not been very comfortable.  The Hermits referenced in my prior post are located nearby and offer Mass for the nuns and hear their confessions, I believe.

Like the Hermits in the prior post, this community embraces the traditional rule and charism of the Carmelites. The nuns are enclosed, wear the habit, pray and fast regularly, and perform manual labor. They do not run any profit-making business, and are dependent on donations.

They have a very nice website here, and there are opportunities to donate time, money or skilled or (unskilled) labor.

Here is a link to another website where you can donate your time or supplies to help the nuns or the hermits.

 

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First walls going up. From the Fairfield Carmelite website.

 

 

 

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Seeds of Renewal: The Hermits of Our Lady Of Mt Carmel

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From the gofundme site of The Hermits

Pennsylvania is now at the center of the scandal of clerical child abuse in the Catholic Church. A grand jury recently released a report on credible abuse allegations going back as far as 1947.  More information has also come to light about abuse in other regions, including the sexual abuse of seminarians, and the unchaste behavior of bishops and cardinals.

In these times of trial it is worth remembering that there are healthy, growing branches of the Church. And they need our help. In the Diocese of Harrisburg, we are blessed to have two relatively new Carmelite communities near Gettysburg, Pa. Carmelites, in brief, are members of a religious order who live apart from the world and devote their lives to prayer.  It is a very simple life.  No luxuries, no idleness. They wear the habit, fast regularly, and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

This post spotlights The Hermits of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, which was recognized by the local Bishop earlier this year. This is a community of men who apparently observe the original Carmelite tradition, which is usually referred to as The Ancient Order of Mt. Carmel. They follow the Rule of St. Albert, which means a heavily structured day of prayer, worship, fasting and manual labor. Unlike some monasteries, they do not run any businesses, and are dependent on alms or donations. They will be praying and fasting in reparation for the many sins of the clergy.

Their website is here. You can donate there.

The order is young and growing, and has also started a gofund me campaign for the seminary studies of its new members at this link.

Thanks for any help you can give them.

 

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Cluny Media: Recovering the Catholic Tradition

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If you have read or follow this blog, you have noted that I tend to post a lot about Catholic poets, novelists or theologians, many of whose work has been out of print of late. And I have complained about this more than once.

Well, thankfully, I learned in the last year of a publisher that is bringing many of these titles back into the light.

Cluny Media is a publishing house that, in their words, is “dedicated to promoting the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition and enhancing Catholic education by publishing quality editions of scholarly and popular works of theology, philosophy, literature, history, and science.”

They have reissued many (formerly?) well-known works from the 19th and through mid-20th century in the areas of fiction, poetry, philosophy, and theology.  I have saved myself a fair amount of money already by buying their very affordable and solidly printed editions, as opposed to paying $100 for a used and battered copy.

You will find names such as Bernanos, Bloy, Mauriac, Benson, Maritain, Peguy, etc. among their catalog. I am looking forward to reading several Sigrid Undset novels that are long out of print in America, but apparently will be reissued soon.

You will also find other, respected non-Catholic authors like P.G. Wodehouse or George MacDonald in their catalog.  Apparently the adoption of “print on demand” technology now allows small publishing houses to make long out of print books available for a reasonable price. They are adding new titles at a fairly rapid rate and I am not aware of any similar effort right now in the publishing community.

Their books are available at Amazon too, but it probably helps them if you order directly from their website. I will try to remember to do that too.

http://www.clunymedia.com

 

 

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Win Bigly: A Spiritual Autobiography

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This post is about Scott Adams’ recent book on the art of persuasion, titled Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter. Warning: longish.

I.

This was an impulse borrow from my local library, and I checked it out without any preconceived notions or a plan to review it. I was intrigued by Adams because he was one of the few public figures who made a very early prediction that Donald Trump would become president, and maintained this posture through the end of the election (at great risk to his career and public image). However, this post is not about the President or the election, or much about  the art of persuasion, but rather the spiritual or metaphysical issues Adams touches on, intentional or not.

I will preface this by saying that I am a sinner and mediocre Christian, and it is very difficult to truly know what is going on inside another person, particularly in their spiritual life. However, I found Adams to be admirably open and transparent in writing this book. Without his confessions this type of review would not be possible.  For purposes of this review, I am going to assume everything he says is true, and see where that leads us.

Adams lets us know that the book is about more than the art of persuasion on the very first page:

I’m a trained hypnotist.  And I’m going to tell you about the spookiest year of my life. It happened between June 2015 and November 2016. Okay, that’s a little more than a year.

Everything you are about to read in this book is true, as far as I know. I don’t expect you to believe all of it. (Who could?). But I promise it is true, to the best of my knowledge.

(emphasis added)

Adams starts with the topic of “filters”, or the way a person interacts with the world. He  repeatedly states that “A good filter is one that makes you happy and helps predict the future.”  He identifies the filters he has tried so far in his life. He describes how he used the “Church filter” from the age of six to eleven. He was a practicing Methodist and attended Sunday school every week. However, he found that stories such as Jonah and the Whale strained his credulity to such an extent that he stopped believing and going to church.

He then transparently discusses the other filters he tried and discarded, including the “Alien Experiment” filter (e.g. that humanity is an experiment or computer simulation run by aliens), the “Atheist filter” and the “drug filter.” I find it interesting that there are a number of  very intelligent, successful people who subscribe to the computer simulation theory. Each of these proved unsatisfactory.  He finally arrived at the “moist robot” filter.

In the moist robot filter, human beings do not truly have free will or a soul. The brain is a machine that can be trained to develop useful habits, improve happiness, and predict the future (e.g. If I do A then B will result). The “persuasion filter”, the intended subject of the book, is a subset of the moist robot method. Adams argues that most of our decisions or opinions are not based on reason, but on emotional reaction to a stimulus. Persuasion is a tool to get others to do what you want that does not rely on evidence or reason. If you can identify a “Master Persuader” like Trump, you can get an edge on others in predicting what may happen next.

II.

The second part of the book goes on to discuss errors in reasoning, such as confirmation bias, and cognitive dissonance, which is a symptom of holding contradictory beliefs. He provides multiple examples of these from the election and other historic events.

In the third part, he breaks down what persuasion actually is, its elements, and how Trump and Clinton used it, to greater and lesser effectiveness, respectively. In the fourth part, he provides advice on how to use persuasion in business and politics.

Much of this is of little value to a Christian in carrying out the work of evangelization or simply providing a good witness through acts of faith, hope or love. I think Adams does make a good point about the futility of directly attacking others’ belief systems. I am very doubtful of the ability to argue someone out of their beliefs, particularly if it is atheism or agnosticism. Apologetics has a valued place, and we should tell the Truth if asked, but the Lord and the Holy Spirit are what changes minds. Like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God always makes the larger move.

III.

Part five is the most interesting, and probably the most unbelievable for many readers. However, as I said, I am going to accept everything he says as true to arrive at the question I asked myself after I finished the book.

He begins by condemning tribalism, which results in people making decisions based on group loyalty as opposed to the truth, or evidence.   Tribalism can be political party membership, but it can be excessive attachment to ethnicity, gender, cultural traditions, etc.. I think the best identity is to see yourself and everyone else as part of the Body of Christ (whether they have been baptized or not).

The last pages are the most interesting: Adams gets to the “spooky parts” and meets a ghost in the machine of his moist robot mind.

Adams talks about his dreams or how he imagined the events of the election taking shape.  Regardless of the scenarios, he had an unshakeable hunch that Trump would win. He shares his past experiences of having “visions” that came true. He claims to have had one at age 6 that he would grow up to become a famous cartoonist. He had others that he would later move to San Francisco, and also that he would become a well paid public speaker. All happened. He describes the visions as being different than a memory or an exercise in imagination. He claims to have had about a dozen of these spontaneous visions that came true.

He goes on to wonder whether his prediction even contributed to the Trump victory. The idea of our world being a simulation comes up again, and he includes an entire appendix on the topic.

This little bit that follows is for anyone reading this who is an agnostic or atheist, but is intrigued by the idea that our world is simulation. In a way, the idea that your life is a simulation is not contrary to the Gospel. What follows is an extended excerpt from a book about St. Therese by Von Balthasar:

The Christian needs to be “crucified to the world” (Gal 6:14) with the Lord, to undergo death and be buried with him (Col 3:3; 2:12), and then be sent back to the world as the leaven in the mass.

If he is to fulfill these demands and realize the mystery of his station, he needs also a veil of protection. United with Christ’s death and burial, the Christian now shares in his Resurrection, is even enthroned with him above the heavens (Eph 2:6; Col 2:12, 3:1);

In truth he lives in heaven and is a stranger here below. But so as to be able to bear this heavenly life without dying, without losing his earthly mission in the abyss of God’s mystery, his own life has, so to speak, to be withdrawn from him until his earthly mission is complete: “You have undergone death, and your life is hidden away now with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). *

Through baptism we receive a share in Christ’s death. Your real life, life to the fullest, awaits you in Heaven (John 10:10). The existence below is the “shadowlands”, which was the title of the last chapter in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. Thinking this way also helps makes sense of Christ’s proclamations such as “Not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:18), or “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you” (Luke 10:18-20). Terrible things happen to people every day, but your true life is preserved in Heaven.  Your life in Heaven must be hidden for now, for a single full glance would kill you. Maybe you get to take a peek in your dreams, and your true self gives you glimpses of the future.

IV.

I am not providing a recommendation on whether to read or buy the book, and I do not have an opinion to share on his analysis of the election or the art of persuasion.

My main interest, as should be clear by now, is the mystical element. Are the spooky parts (e.g. the visions) true? I do not know. We have a baptized Christian that is not only not practicing their faith, but has apparently rejected it. Can the gifts of the Holy Spirit (of which prophecy is one) be operative in such an individual? We might think no, that faith and the gifts are a package deal. But this would negate the divine freedom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to bestow their favors where they like. For example, we have the figure of Balaam from the Book of Numbers, a non-Jew who God used to prophesy to the Israelites.

So how shall we categorize Scott Adams then: Cartoonist, businessman … and prophet? He stuck to his guns on his Trump prediction despite all evidence that it would not come true. He acknowledges that there were some others who made similar ones, but in my view they were very late to the game, or lesser known figures with nothing to lose. Maybe his dreams are God’s way of trying to shake his self-reliance and open him to other possibilities?  A man with his talents could do a lot in service to the Lord.

I will continue to watch what Mr. Adams says (and pray for him), for as we often say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.   Discernment is important. Balaam, despite his initial obedience to God,  later preached wickedness and met a bad end.

*Two Sisters in the Spirit, Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity, Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 1992)

 

 

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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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A Poem for Robert Hubert

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The Great Fire of London (artist unknown)

 

No one carved you an epitaph,

For a grave you will never have,

Just a pale pillar raised to the sky,

Until 1830 a bone trophy for a lie.

 

Fair Eden’s breeze did not reach Rouen, 

Where the Maid of Orleans met her end,

For you were a Huguenot, and dare not

Honor her or dream of you her Lancelot.

 

For the watchmaker had a watch for a son.

Slow ticking and from nature’s bag of tricks

Two arms, a big one and a little one,

One moving, the other stuck at six.

 

Your uneven legs were no better,

Left straight and thick, the right a stick.

A watchmaker, a clockmaker?  Never

would Robert be more than ever sick.

 

Nor could you play or run with the other boys

In the lanes. Your mind imbued in a grace

That lay in the sublime ticking of papa’s toys

And the plain charm of your mother’s face.

 

And she died when you were young,

The shield against the city’s scorn and din

of insults that you bore your parent’s sin.

She the patient one that loved so strong.

 

What do we do with a simpleton?

The family mused on their child like son.

Our lame boy is easy prey for a city’s hate,

Do we pay and pray he meets a better fate?

 

Thus sent away to his future dungeon

The target, the joke, and the Huguenot.

Robert Hubert, the unlikely Argonaut,

Seeking a fleece in the City of London.

 

It was said that there you were laborer,

More likely you were just a neighbor.

Our Robert, slow of mind with body tremor,

You never worked, but always labored.

 

They were not seven, your daily needs,

But what a struggle, these mighty deeds,

To dress, eat and pray with only one arm,

To hide ears and tears from worldly harm.

 

In 1666, you changed your fortune,

seeking treasure, you sailed for Sweden.

What you hoped to gain we do not know,

No fleece or gold in this land of snow.

 

A good soul took pity there on your woe,

And paid your passage to Rouen your home.

You called her “Skipper”, the Maid of Sweden,

A name too long for you long to know.

 

A happy reunion was not to be,

For your passage was blocked by war,

You encountered there upon the sea,

A dreaded English Man-Of-War.

 

The Maid was forced to London,

to stay at port a while. For trade

with hostile France and Holland

was by royal order stayed.

 

And standing there on wooden deck

You saw flames begin and spread.

The fire soared and sky turned red,

A glowing oven for the dead.

 

It was the strangest thing you had seen,

This curling, crackling pyre.

But did no one share that children

Should stay far away from fire?

 

Your body fluttered toward the flame,

To those who sought someone to blame,

The mob took you there upon the wharf,

A Frenchman, a fool, a limping dwarf.

 

Good Captain Petersen later swore,

That then and there he washed his hands.

Your keeper no more with you ashore,

The Maid of Sweden left for France.

 

Into the darkness you were cast,

With no friends but fleas and rats.

In filth and slime a month you stayed,

And to our blessed Lord you prayed.

 

The only miracle that did occur,

Your confession to an act of war,

“I, Robert”, set the flames you swore.

(Please do not hit me any more)

 

From France you came with ill intent,

One of twenty three confederates,

No, on further thought it was a trio,

And you of course the lead commando.

 

For but a single coin of gold,

You would set the town aflame,

A plot of cunning by one so bold,

So true to those with no shame.

 

I must admit that most did doubt

the tale of this sad and lonely youth,

But what prevailed were those who spout,

That old line, “What is truth?”

 

Though the great flame had died,

A cloud of hate had spread,

It was best that some had lied,

For a king might lose his head.

 

It was October twenty seven,

Climb the cart, does your stomach churn?

Who knows? (Today you will be in Heaven).

So off you roll to Tyburn.

 

The mob blew you stony kisses,

Some flew true, some were misses.

The red ran down onto the rope,

Coiled round one without a hope.

 

They saluted you with jeers and cheers,

That stung your ears and fed your fears.

For the final ride you were all alone,

You knew at last you would not see home.

 

The wagon reached the triple tree,

At Tyburn where the gallows rise.

The seats are filled though none were free,

All pay when a doomed man dies.

 

And from the hills the shades looked down,

With them the Maid and Thomas More,

Martyrs, scapegoats and many more,

Who drain this drink for strange renown.

 

They stand you up and set the noose,

You have no words to spare them,

The whip is cracked and horse is loose,

It flees the sin and mayhem.

 

You are too light to break your twig,

So you swing your legs about,

The children prance and do a jig,

The adults sneer and shout.

 

When at last your dance is done,

Your face is black and still,

It is a race we all must run,

May our end be not so ill.

 

Jack Ketch laid you out upon the ground,

And stripped your body bare,

Your noose and clothes worth half a pound,

To those who know no prayer.

 

The surgeons came to take you then,

But the final sale was broken.

The mob surged forward in revenge,

To claim a meager token.

 

Hands and knives went to work,

And tore your form asunder.

Your heard came free with a jerk,

Your heart was someone’s plunder.

 

This reddened patch of ugly ground,

With bloody bits spread all around,

Was Robert Hubert’s only grave,

Made by those whom sin make brave.

 

And far away a dream is broken

By knocking hands, a father woken,

Hears the words that drowns his joy:

“The English hanged your boy.”

 


Robert Hubert (those are silent “t”s in French) was a French Protestant who was made the scapegoat for the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Little is known of him, or why spent much of his adult life in England and Sweden.  He most likely was not a watchmaker, despite what Wikipedia might say, though his family included many.

Late 17th century France was a place of rising tension between French Protestants and Catholics.  Many French Protestants emigrated to England, Scandinavia and North America.  My theory is that Robert was sent away by his wealthy family to live among those communities.  A number of French Protestant witnesses participated in his trial, and tried to save him, suggesting he was known to them. One of the many ironies of this scandal was that, though a Protestant, he was accused of being a Catholic spy and received his final absolution at his hanging by a Catholic priest, the Queen’s own confessor.

Based on the recorded descriptions of his appearance and behavior, it seems he was born with cerebral palsy, and had severe motor (hemiplegia) and cognitive deficits. All those in power knew he was innocent, but post-fire, wartime London was boiling cauldron of violence and unrest. Somebody needed to be held accountable for what scholars generally believe was just a tragic accident.

What happened to Hubert was a textbook illustration of the scapegoat concept that French philosopher Rene Girard explored  in his study of mythology, religion and literature.  During a time of an intense cultural or political crisis, some individual becomes the focus of hate and anxiety of the crowd. After his death, the cloud of anxiety dissipates, and society returns to a measure of equilibrium (until the next crisis and scapegoat).  Girard, a believer, wrote that Christ was the ultimate scapegoat since he was completely without blame, and his death was in part intended to point the way for breaking this cycle, which Girard implied was a system of control by the Prince of this World.

Hubert’s family was quite good at watchmaking, and you can find images on the internet of what are either his father or uncle’s watches still present in various museum collections.

I am in a bit of a rut, so say a prayer for me if you have the time.  There may not be any posts for a while.

 

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Knowing God

For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.

For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.

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The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

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Father Louis Bouyer

This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After.  Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004.   They were not published until 2014.

I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.

This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.

About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies.  He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.

Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar:  Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was.  Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.

The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes.  He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.

The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.

The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better.  He also covers some friendships and favorite places.

Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante.  The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.

Now, the themes:

The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders

It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.

It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure.  The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.

Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail.  Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).

Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics

These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic.  The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.

On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness.  And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.

In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.   They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity

These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.

What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent.  It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends.  Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.

One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist.  When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.

Bridges between Catholics and Protestants

Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels.  Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).

Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books.  I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.

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