Friday, September 12, 2014

St. Francis Parish Magazine: Holy Cross 2014

ST. Francis Parish Magazine
Holy Cross 2014

Christian Education 2014-2015

This past summer I re-read two books, which had a great impact on me, when I first read them: Etienne Gilson’s The Mystical Theology of St. Bernard and St. Theresa’s The Way of Perfection. You all are, I fear, either the beneficiaries or victims of my reading. In any case I was certain that I would want to relate to you some of the insights of these two giants of Christian Spirituality.

St. Bernard by any reckoning was a remarkable man. When he showed up at the new Monastery of Cliteaux he did not show up alone. He brought along thirty-two of his relatives, including all his married brothers. His younger brother and his father and many others soon followed. St. Bernard was and is a persuasive guy. He might be able to tell us something about evangelism. His appeal is not limited to those drawn to the monastic life. His diagnosis of the human condition is universal:

[Man] always stands in this two-fold peril, either of forgetting the "dignity" which constitutes his glory, or of forgetting that its source is not in himself. In the first case he forgets his glory, in the second he falls into vainglory. Now to forget that which invests him with his glory is to lose sight of the source of his own pre-eminence and power over the beasts of the field, and so in the end become like them. For want of realizing his freedom he loses the prerogative of reason which distinguishes him from the other animals, and so exposes himself to the risk of becoming one of them himself. The first moment of self-knowledge, according to St. Bernard, lies in man's awareness of his own greatness: "And so it comes to pass that when a man no longer recognizes himself as a creature endowed with the high prerogative of reason, then he begins to be herded with the flock of beings without reason. Not knowing his own glory, which is all from within, the soul is led away by its own curiosity, and conforming itself to sensible things without, it becomes but one of the rest, not understanding that it has received more than the rest" (Gilson p. 35).

St. Teresa of Avila needs no introduction. But the part of The Way of Perfection which caught my attention is her commentary on the Our Father. She is teaching her sisters about prayer and teaching about prayer must always begin with the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer which Jesus gave us. Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, writes:

“Teresa does not try to teach us as a theologian or exegete about the meaning of the text or our nature as adopted children of God. Setting aside the effort to explain the truth seen by her as too great to be explained, she teaches through her own spontaneous prayer”.

The only way to learn to pray is to pray.

These two doctors of the Church should keep us busy for most the year. If I run out of things to say, there are always more books for the parish priest to read.

Fr. Allen

Emblem of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate

The Archbishop of Mosul on Civilization and ISIS

Jonathan Rogers

In a recent July 23rd interview with Memri TV, the Syriac Archbishop of Mosul, Nikodimos Daoud broke a self-imposed silence. The Archbishop had avoided speaking too loudly in previous months about the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) invasion of Northern Iraq, in order to try to protect the Christian population of Mosul. But by late July, there was no longer any point in keeping silence. There are no Christians left to protect in Mosul.

The Archbishop’s emotional interview details a litany of outrages all too familiar to those aware of recent events in Syria and Northwestern Iraq. Since early June, ISIS’s (or ISIL’s) rapid territorial expansion and self-declared Caliphate has brought with it a brutal terror campaign of death and persecution. Christians, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities have faced expulsion, systematic robbery, and worse. Second-class citizenship and the Sharia-mandated Jizyah tax on “unbelievers” is the least-bad outcome in this situation. Archbishop Daoud recounts the cutting off of food rations, marking Christian homes for subsequent terrorizing, stripping Christians leaving the city of all their possessions at gunpoint, and beatings. The Mar Afram Cathedral in Mosul has been refitted with speakers and is now treated as a mosque.
As saddening as the Archbishop’s tale was, his subsequent interview with Memri TV on August 25th is, on reflection, even harder to swallow:

“We have pens, paper, culture, and knowledge. We don’t have anything to fight with. A Christian cannot live where law does not prevail. We can only live in a place governed by law. Where there is no law to protect us and guarantee our rights, we cannot live, because we have no weapons, and we were not brought up – by our religion, society, and family – on the culture of blood, killing, and plunder.”

Abp. Daoud’s outburst can easily be read, on the surface, as an expression of righteous anger, backed up even more vehemently by his denunciation of ISIS as “Beasts. They are beasts. We are not beasts. We represent true humanity…all we know is how to write and how to instill culture in those around us—just as we instilled culture in the Arabs and Muslims, when they came here as conquerors.” These are harsh, heady, and understandable sentiments. Yet the emotion cuts deep into the history of the region and the relationship between the two-thousand year old Christian community and the comparatively younger dominant Islamic culture.

When the first Arab armies arrived in Syria in the 7th Century, they found a Christian culture that was already older than the English Reformation is to us today. While the Western Roman Empire was fast becoming a memory picked over by warring Germanic tribes, the Eastern Mediterranean world retained its Greco-Roman roots and accompanying literature and philosophical traditions. Charged with the Orthodox dynamism of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the entire region was still decidedly ancient; its church still very much “Early.” It even had the full complement of ecclesiastical disputes and divisions (Monophysitism and the Council of Chalcedon are not academic trivia questions to Syrian Christians today). Classical learning never needed to be rediscovered in the East, because it had never been lost.

The Arab conquerors were decidedly rustic; skilled and pious merchants and raiders from the desert, with a tradition more oral than literate. The absolutely stunning Islamic expansion of culture and territory, and development of a sophisticated and urbane society of learning and refinement from the 8th to 12th centuries, did not happen in a vacuum. The original Islamic Caliphates were grafted onto the roots of the Greco-Roman-Christian Ancient Near-East. Most of the original translation of the classics into Arabic was performed by Christian and Jewish scribes. During the High Middle Ages, Western Europe famously benefitted tremendously from the scholarship of the Middle East; St. Thomas Aquinas received Aristotle through Averroes. But Averroes received Aristotle through St. John of Damascus.

The Archbishop’s claim that Christians “cannot live where law does not prevail” is not simply an appeal for police forces to patrol the streets of Mosul. It is an appeal for human community bound not by brute force, but by Civilization as Law, which is ultimately a reflection of the Eternal Law. The characterization of ISIS as “beasts” is not an epithet. It is the Aristotelian charge that man living outside of the political community is an animal. It is an excommunication from human nature.

In Mosul, a two-thousand year old Christian ecumenical polity is under siege, and the Church’s response has a vocabulary suited to its age. To see a tradition with such a vibrant and organic link to its past imperiled is hard to watch. And the notion of evil as self-defeating and self-consuming, is on full display.

History at St. Francis: Stan Merrell

Nancy Toland

On a rare occasion, dad will launch into a story about something he has never shared with me. It makes me realize how many stories a man of 92 must have and how many of these treasured remembrances would be lost had he not had such a long time to recollect. Tonight we were watching the History Channel and out came some real "pearls" I had never heard. I want to share them because he was such a typical soldier and I know so many of our WWII vets, who are now gone, probably never told their tales. Dad hardly mentioned the war until the late 1980's.

He told of how he had a salt water shower on his way over on the ship to England. His next shower was not until the war was over, when they brought makeshift showers out to the field. My dad is so fastidious I just can't imagine him wearing the same clothes all those many months. He said he had a duffle bag when he got off the ship, but they collected them, and after they went into battle he never saw it again until after the war. All he had left was a tin biscuit box in which to carry all his earthly belongings. He said they consisted of a razor, a bar of soap and any extra food he may have acquired. When anyone got an extra gift of anything, they would all share. He always remarks on how much he loved these friends.

Dad also shared his army days sleeping accommodations during his months in The Ardennes both leading up to, and while the Battle of the Bulge was underway. I had heard many times how he slept in the snow under his tank. In fact, when we have been in the middle of a "Good Ole Texas Ice Storm", he often says, "This reminds me of Belgium, 1944." But I had never heard of a tent they had been issued. Apparently, every tank was given a 12x12 tent that was rarely, if ever, used. The last thing these guys wanted to do was pitch a tent in the dark after very long days of movement or battle. Dad said he remembered only three occasions where the tent was ever raised. The first time, they tried to pitch it in the dark, only to realize they had placed it on top of barbed wire. The second time it was pouring rain and they again pitched it in the dark. This time the guys had eaten something that didn't "agree" with them and they still spent the bulk of the night running out into the rain to "spare" the others. (No further description needed). The last time they used it, was when they came upon a beautiful location that was just crying for a tent. They dug their holes for the night and placed their tent over them. In very short order, they were under attack and shells began coming down. They all fled out of the tent, scrambled and dove under their tank. When daylight finally came, they went to gather their tent. It was full of holes and useless. So that was their last night in the tent and after that, they were happy to be back under their trusty M-7.

Dad talked about the ground he covered after the Bulge. They were heading toward Berlin! He gets choked up talking about the pontoon bridge the army engineers built that stretched across the Rhein. He said it was truly a miracle. He said Patton had promised to"piss in the Rhein" and although dad did not witness this first hand, many others did!

Their course was abruptly changed when the higher ups decided to let the Russians take Berlin. Dad said he shared quarters with Russians and that he would not want to be those Germans. They were scary guys! The 11th made a 180 back to a town outside of Linz. Shortly thereafter they came up on Mauthausen Concentration camp. This part of his war experience is always vague. I can tell he doesn't like to talk about what he saw. I let it pass.

Years ago, dad and my mother were among the honorees at a luncheon in San Francisco put on by Northern California Jewish Community Center. Each liberator was individually presented with a medallion, put around their neck by a Mauthausen survivor. Daddy can't talk about it without crying. It meant so much to him and he treasures the memory.

When dad's division landed outside Linz, they had some very different "digs!" It was after Germany had surrendered and they were waiting for their next deployment and new assignments. They came upon a fabulous large estate with beautiful grounds and a lovely home full of exquisite antiques and gorgeous furniture. The family, (a man, his wife and their daughter) were relocated. Dad said it did not go unnoticed by the GI's how pretty the 19 year old daughter was, but no one dared approach her. The officers all slept in the grand bedrooms, while dad and his friends slept in the kitchen. Still, it was a wonderful spot and the food was far superior to anything they had eaten in months.

What impressed dad the most, was how the Captain handled the eviction of the family from their home. He told them, that it was a temporary occupation and that all would be returned to them untouched. He promised them that all their beautiful possessions would go unmolested and that nothing would be missing when they returned. Dad said all the men were instructed to be respectful of the home and to make sure not to damage anything. All the men honored this promise to keep their hands off everything and when they left, all was intact. I asked daddy about the poor family. He said, "We didn't feel too badly. The man was a big Nazi." (That's why they were living so well.)

Dad added that the average GI didn't come home with any contraband, and the men who did acquire Nazi souvenirs and such were almost always officers. The average GI never had a chance to get their hands on anything nor would they have been able to smuggle it home. I think daddy (and his buddies) were of a generation where rules, and honoring them, was important.

After dad left the "fancy" accommodations outside Linz, the guys all began being sent back to the states. Dad wasn't going home for good, but rather for a 30 day leave. He was going home to get ready to be shipped off to Japan and was going to be among the ground troops being sent into a ground war. As he arrived in the New York harbor, he looked across the harbor and saw a ship that hosted his brother's unit. They had only seen each other once during the war, and now they would be back in Berkeley together; if only for a while. But the calendar was working in dad's favor. The date was August 6, 1945. The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that same day and before dad and Fred even made it home, Japan had surrendered. 

Rick Giles: The Consolation of Philosophy

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius c.  A. D. 480-524

The Consolation of Philosophy was one of the most popular and influential books in Western Europe from the time it was written, in 524, until the end of the Renaissance.  Its doctrine was a cornerstone of medieval humanism and moral philosophy. The subject is human happiness and the possibility of achieving it in the midst of the suffering and disappointment which play so large a part in every man’s experience.

Boethius was born about 480 into the distinguished Roman family of Anicii.  His father was Consul in 487, and Boethius was later elected Consul.  He learned Greek and undertook to translate and comment on all of the works of Aristotle and Plato with the intention of demonstrating their essential agreement. His works on the study of universals and logic were widely read and very influential in the middle ages, as well as works on arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy and theology. His most famous book, The Consolation of Philosophy,  was finished shortly before his execution in prison at the age of about 44.

But Boethius was a man of public affairs as well as a scholar.  He became Consul in 510, and later Master of the King’s Offices, one of the highest positions in the Western Empire.  His sudden downfall came about primarily due to political intrigue while he was serving Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, who had invaded Italy in 489.  Theodoric consolidated his power legally in 493 by becoming Roman Governor technically subject to Justin, the Emperor in the East.  Theodoric, an Arian Christian, was a temperate and just ruler, but the charge of treason against Boethius is one to which men of independent judgment and deeply held principals are always vulnerable in an autocratic government.

The Consolation of Philosophy is about 120 pages and divided into 5 books.  As Boethius is bemoaning his fate, he is being comforted by the Muses, but Lady Philosophy suddenly appears and drives these Muses away, saying “Leave him to be cured and made strong by my Muses”.  Each book has  prose followed by a poem.  In Book 1, the stage is set for his cure by Lady Philosophy  reminding him of the basic truth that the world is governed, not by chance, but by the rational control of the divine Creator.

Grace Rogers: An Introduction to Flannery O’Connor

My first introduction to Flannery O’Connor was after I heard good things about her and her Catholicity (any good Catholic should love Flannery, right?). I picked up her most popular short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, at the library and dove right into it. Honestly, I was not impressed. “What’s the point?” I thought. “Her dialogue is weird and she just kills people!” Which indeed is the first reaction of a good many readers. If you’ve had that reaction yourself and would like a second try, or if you’ve never touched a Flannery story but you might be interested, I’m going to let you in on a little secret; do not start with the most popular.

Begin instead either with her collected letters The Habit of Being, a biography, or her newly published journal of personal prayers. Works such as these not only brought me back to O’Connor but made me a lifelong devotee. In her personal relationships, communication, and her day to day life can be found an almost shockingly rich faith in our Lord, as well as a wonderful example of labor cultivating talent. When I picked up The Habit of Being on a whim, I had no idea what I was going to find; namely, a woman who read twenty minutes of Aquinas before bed every night, a woman with deep, strong friendships; a woman with not just talent but also a perfectionist’s standards for art; a woman with a crippling, painful, terminal disease who was determined to use her time and talent for the glory of God.

What glory is to be had if all she does is kill people? A fair question that can be answered by another look into O’Connor’s faith. She believed that the Gospel speaks through violence:

“I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work” (Blooms Literary Criticism).

O’Connor’s literary philosophy and method of evangelization come together to produce a fairly complete picture of the salvation story from the Old Testament to the Mass said in modern parishes. We can’t overlook or downplay God’s love in this expansive tale but, often we can’t see or experience that love until we understand that violence was needed to consummate it. Jesus’ grotesque crucifixion was the ultimate act of love and as soon as Christians forget the sacrificial attribute of The Lamb, the sooner we fall away from His love. Flannery O’Connor understood this fact and used it to her advantage better than anyone else.

I got caught up in the myth of Flannery. Maybe next time I’ll actually review one of her books like I was asked.

--Grace Rogers

On the Bishop’s Visitation

Greg Rogers

The bishop is an icon
Of a lion and a lamb
Quite literally unnatural
Like jalapeno jam

A mitered martyr, priest and warrior
Showing God to Man
Both sheep and shepherd, hart and hound
Athena, Mars and Pan

To loose or bind in heaven or earth
As God gave the command
And on this strange ungainly rock
The Church must somehow stand

And a second one:

Holy Mother Church -
If you don't love, at least you like her
If you're undecided, then
You've not met Bishop Iker


On the other hand, ‘when bishops aren’t around’:

S.  J Forrest

'Parson sacked for practicing Roman Rites,' 'Police padlock Church.' =Headlines in  daily press.

WE know a wicked clergyman,
who often can be found,
Engaged in orgiastic cults
When bishops aren't around.
He waits until the coast is clear
And then, with bated breath,
He starts to practice Roman Rites,
And laughs himself to death.

Laughs himself to death

Around the grim and sordid streets
He wanders, in the hope
Of reinstating Peter's Pence,
Or taxes for the Pope;
While, in the darkened alley ways
You'll often hear it said,
He traffics in Indulgences,
And Masses for the dead.

Within the stately Vatican,
The aged Pope of Rome
Sits smiling with a knowing grin,
(Just like a naughty gnome !)
He knows that artful ministers
Are working for him still,
And cost him not a penny piece
For England pays the bill.

The content of the Roman Rite,
We don't profess to know;
It must be very bad, because
The Bishops tell us so.
Our Governmental Liturgy
Which supersedes the Mass,
Is National as British Trains,
Electric Light, or Gas.

And English folk who pray apart
From 1662,
Are clearly practicing a thing
They didn't ought to do,
So call the bobbies, bar the doors,
Raise high the churchyard wall;
For those who won't be C. of E.
Shan't worship God at all !

The readers of the Parish Magazine may note that the Parish poet has submitted verses which are not in limerickal form. I trust that this is only a momentary departure from grace. But just in case I appeal to authority of St. Thomas Aquinas, who sanctioned this high form of poetic expression.

by A. N. Wilkins

Among those identified by the ingenious as authors of prelimericks are Aristophanes, Robert Herrick, and Shakespeare. Surely, though, the person whom one would least expect to find in this brotherhood is St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, the Universal Doctor, the official philosopher of the Catholic Church. His contribution occurs, of all places, in the Roman Catholic Breviary, which Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines as "an ecclesiastical book containing the daily public or canonical prayers for the canonical hours." Since the particular item is a prayer of thanksgiving to be recited by a priest after mass, it is not surprising that the fan of the limerick who identified it was Msgr. Ronald A. Knox. He called attention to it in a review of Langford Reed’s The Complete Limerick Book published in English Life, February 1925.

Both Jean Harrowven (The Limerick Makers [London, 1976], p. 13) and Cyril Bibby (The Art of the Limerick [London, 1978], p. 180) include the Latin text, although neither one gives Knox credit for having discovered it. Bibby notes that in the Breviary the piece is not set out in five lines, limerick fashion, as it is here.

Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
Caritatis et patientiae,
Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.

Seeing such lurid words as concupiscentiae and libidinis, one longs for a translation, bur either Bibby and Harrowven do not know enough Latin to translate it or they have no pity on the less fortunate who did not get beyond Caesar. My knowledge of Latin is not up to the task, but fortunately I am acquainted with a scholar who, at the age of 90, can still construe a mean Latin verb. She is Ms. Irene Blase (A.B. and A.M., University of Chicago), who taught Latin at the high school I attended more than 40 years ago. She provides the following translation:

Let it be for the elimination for my sins,
For the expulsion of desire and lust,
  [And] for the increase of charity and patience,
  Humility and obedience,
As well as all the virtues.

Thus, even if St. Thomas wrote what six or seven centuries later would be called a limerick and though he used words like desire and lust, he didn’t tarnish his halo.

Possible Versions of his Prayer

Extinguish concupiscent fires,
Eliminate lustful desires;
Give patience and love,
A plentitude of
What humble obeying requires.

O strengthen my efforts to rule
My passions and help me to cool
Attractions to sin,
Then help me begin
Considering virtue a jewel.

Oh LORD, I can prove intellectual,
A. Doctor, profoundly effectual,
Whose teachings are sure
If YOU keep me pure
With thoughts that are wholly asexual.

Another Version
by Robin Kay Willoughby

This limerick’s for purging my sin,
Ousting lust and desire from within,
Which leaves oodles of space
For agape and grace,
Plus humility, virtue, and gin.

Many thanks to our contributors to the Parish Magazine this month. Now it is time to get ready for next month. The deadline is the day before yesterday. Don’t forget the alternative is long boring theological discourses from the Parish Priest. 

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