Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Faith vs. Reason (Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: Conclusion)


“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” — Martin Luther, Tischreden (1569)
"Fides quaerens intellectum"  (Faith seeking understanding.) — St. Anselm
What is the relation between faith and reason?  Is there one?  In the previous posts on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason I have discussed the importance of reason in interpreting revelation, a revelation that at some level be accepted on faith.  But someone will no doubt object, "How can you know anything from faith?"

I would respond with a question, "How can you know anything without faith?" Because knowing something requires, first of all, an implicit faith, a trust, in the means of knowing.  It requires faith in one's own intellect and reason, and indeed in intellect and reason themselves.  It requires faith in one's senses, in sight hearing, taste, touch, and smell.  It requires faith in other people who write and talk. Sometimes that faith proves misplaced, and then reason helps us to know who and what is trustworthy, and who or what is not. But still, knowledge requires the exercise of faith, and thus faith becomes a means of knowing. 

Our knowledge of the physical realm is what Aristotle called "physics".  How we know what we know, what we can deduce about being from the physical realm, and what we can know by the exercise of reason on the non-sensory objects of our intellect, Aristotle called "metaphysics."   Now there have been philosophers who have tried to dispense with metaphysics.  The problem here, as the reader should see, is that the very exercise to dispense with it must be of necessity an exercise in the thing itself. Metaphysics is not something from which you can escape.  And denying the role of faith by denying metaphysics is something that will not work. 

We have good reason to have faith in natural science, with its means of knowing.  However, natural science is not the only basis of our knowing, both for practical, and for metaphysical reasons. As examples, I know my friend in a way that cannot be entirely explained by natural science, and I know that an exercise in pure mathematics has a given solution, even though there is no sensory phenomenon which will prove it.

Things also happen, which our reason tells us make sense, and really did happen, but whose causation we cannot explain.  That this should be so is not surprising.  Our senses are limited, as is our knowledge of the world around us.  Then, even ordinary things, which we may be able to explain on a scientific level quite satisfactorily, nonetheless bring us a sense of wonder, and access parts of us which a dry rationality cannot.  In either case, sometimes we have an experience, of beauty, of a transcendent meaning, or of a transcendent purpose, which raise us out of ourselves in ways we cannot imagine could have happened.  Some of this we would certainly categorize as religious experience, that is of a super-human reality, or more narrowly, of a transcendent and uncreated beauty, reality, and goodness.  Faith in this kind of experience as a form of knowing is religious faith. 

If religious experience provides us with some form of knowledge, then it is as accessible to reason as any other form of knowledge: there is no such thing as knowledge derived from religious faith which is super-rational, even if the object of that knowledge may transcend the limits of our reason.*  God gave us our reason as essential to our knowing.  Any attempt therefore, to know something by religious faith without employing reason (as suggested by Martin Luther in the quote above) is to try to act contrary to our God-given nature, and the results of this cannot but be destructive.  I would suggest that religious fundamentalism, which has proved so destructive in our history, is a result of just such an attempt.

Christian faith is based on a particular religious experience, namely that of Jesus' disciples who experienced him as bodily risen from the dead after he had been executed by crucifixion.  The Bible, the Christian religious scriptures, includes the testimony of the disciples to this experience.  Now, if historical science is at all trustworthy, then we can say that history tells us that the disciples truly did believe that Jesus had died, and that they had seen him alive, in the flesh, able to be seen and touched, able to function bodily, such as eating in their presence.  This was an experience that deeply changed them.  It was such that they were happy to give their lives in order to bear testimony to it, and many of them did.  Since then many Christians throughout the centuries have given such testimony, and have engaged in many selfless acts of love for their fellows because of this testimony.  Christian faith is based upon putting trust in this witness, and in the God whom we believe to be its cause, and whom we trust we know through this common experience of Jesus' resurrection. 

*One useful point that theologian David Brown makes (in his book, The Divine Trinity) is that if Christians accept Christian religious experience as a source of knowledge, they must also accept the religious experience of others as a source of knowledge (which does not mean we have to accept the theological or philosophical conclusions they draw from this experience). 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Name Day


Today is my name day, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel.

My parents could not have a child. They decided to adopt, and Fr. Holliday (of St. Matthias' Episcopal Church in Athens) told them to ask for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel to get the right baby. So they did, and very soon received news that I was available for adoption. I was baptized on Easter afternoon, and they named me Michael in thanksgiving.

I have always felt a special responsibility to fight for God's truth and love because of that.

Interestingly, I was born on St. Matthias' Day, who was the patron saint of my home parish.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Rev'd Dr. Edward Bouverie Pusey

E. B. Pusey
22 August 1800 – 16 September 1882
From Pusey's Sermon, The Entire Absolution of the Penitent

It is mostly through searching pain, some stunning blow or sharp piercing stroke without, or strong inward mental fear and agony, that the sinner is deadened to the world, and made alive to God. Suspended life cannot flow again without deep pain. "No one," says St. Augustine, "chooseth a new life, but who repenteth him of the old." "Man must long to become what he hath not been, hate what he hath been." What is repentance, but, out of love to God, to will from the heart all undone which has offended Him, with a strong purpose never more to offend Him? Yet we cannot wish undone, what we do not hate; and so the first dealing of God with the soul mostly is, to make it condemn itself, to place itself before the sinner’s face, being before him all which he had hitherto striven to put behind his back and hide from himself, and by a lightning-flash to pierce his darkness and shew him the pit of hell which yawns beneath his feet. "If we would judge ourselves," says Holy Scripture, "we should not be judged."

Full Text on Project Canterbury: The Entire Absolution of the Penitent

Prayer:

Well done, good and faithful servant, † because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, saith the Lord.

V. The Lord guided the righteous in right paths.
R. And showed him the kingdom of God.

Grant unto us, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know thy presence and obey thy will; that, following the example of thy servant Edward Bouverie Pusey, we may with integrity and courage accomplish what thou givest us to do, and endure what thou givest us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


H/t St. Bede's Breviary

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Original Prayer of Humble Access,
in Latin and English


Non accedimus ad hanc mensam tuam, O misericors Domine, fiducia justitiæ nostræ, sed in multitudine miserationum tuarum. Neque enim sumus digni, ut colligamus micas de mensa tua. Sed tu es idem Dominus, cujus semper proprium fuit misereri. Concede igitur, misericors Domine, ut sic edamus Carnem Filii tui, et bibamus ejus Sanguinem in his Sacris Mysteriis, ut nostra corpora peccatis inquinata munda fiant perceptione Sacratissimi Corporis sui, et nostræ animæ laventur in Præcioso Sanguine suo: ut perpetuo habitemus in eo, et ipse in nobis. Amen.
— from the Liber Precum Publicarum of 1560

We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.
— from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Place for Prayer

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
— T.S. Eliot, from Little Gidding

St. Bede's Chapel
at Autry House across from Rice University
Today is the 15th anniversary of reinstituted Morning Prayer in St. Bede's Chapel a Autry House (now part of Palmer Church). Morning Prayer had been prayed for many years, until about 1990. On September 16, 2000 it was reinstated, and has been said every weekday (with very few exceptions for holidays) ever since. Among other things, we pray daily for the needs of the Rice Community, and the Texas Medical Center. (See: AutryHouse.org)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mechanical Religion vs. the Cure of Souls

Rogier van der Weyden, The Seven Sacraments
Altarpiece, ca. 1455
I am reading, with delight and interest, Oliver Sack's biography, "On the Move." I recommend it for a number of reasons, but for me the most important insight is how being a good physician is not a mechanical application of medicines and therapies to a set of symptoms and a diagnosis, but rather involves a personal contact, listening to people's stories, and personal relationship over a long period of time.  In an age where medicine becomes increasingly bureaucratic and impersonal, and where medical education is more a more like technical training, it serves as a useful reminder that medicine is an art, intrinsic to which is the unique relation between persons.  Every patient is different, and needs to be treated as such, and as a person, with whom the physician is in relation.

In ministry there is a very similar problem to the problem of a mechanical approach in medicine.  In my experience it takes two forms, which often coexist.  The first is religious legalism.  This is the idea that a set of laws, regulations, or ideological principles are the backbone of religion, and must be applied without regards to persons.  I can cite two good examples of this.  

The first is the annulment process in the Roman Catholic Church.  I know of a case where a couple were civilly divorced.  One of the spouses filed for annulment, and the first official contact that the other spouse had from the Roman Catholic Church was a written notification of this petition, with a very invasive questionnaire.  No attempt was made herein to provide pastoral care to the respondent, and when the spouse asked for help with pastoral aspects of the case, he was told that this was purely a matter of canon law, and received no help or referral for pastoral aid in dealing with the broken relationship or the consequences on the offspring.  

The second case comes from a liberal congregation, that was noted for its "inclusivity" and "openness to all."  A visitor to that congregation, not really desiring political discourse, nonetheless found himself at a church event where the conversation turned rather sharply to politics.  When he was so foolish as to make a rather mild criticism of the democratic party's stance on an issue, it was made clear to him that his departure from strict political orthodoxy made him decidedly unwelcome.

The other way in which a "mechanical" approach to church life manifests itself is in attempts to grow or maintain congregations using consumerist or salesmanship tactics, usually masquerading under the name "evangelism."  This is so all-pervasive in our church life, that I think we have ceased to notice.  Evangelism comes to mean getting more warm bodies in pews, and getting them to give so as to support the institution.  The tools employed to do this are from marketing psychology.  They also treat people, not as persons, but as things to be manipulated for our own purposes.  Needless to say, many people sooner or realize that they have been had, and it may turn them off to church for life.

In contrast to these mechanical approaches to religion, the concept in pastoralia that corresponds to the concept of medicine as a personal relation is the idea of "cura animarum" the "cure" or "care of souls." The cure of souls sees priests as a spiritual physicians.  Like physicians, priests have medicines and therapies, and like those of physicians these have no automatic or mechanical application.  Good pastors must know their sheep, and listen to their stories.  They have principles, they have possible diagnoses, but there is no one size fits all, and preconceived categories do ever entirely match the reality—each case is unique.

Pastoralia, pastoral theology and its application, is an art.  It requires, not training, but education, and a "liberal" theological education at that, namely one that teaches priests to think theologically for themselves.  Further, it requires of priests self knowledge and spirituality maturity, especially in prayer.  The better priests learn to attend to God in prayer, the better they can attend to, listen to, their parishioners.

There is in pastoral ministry no substitute for the personal relation between priest and parishioner.  Each case is different, each story unique.  Thus, priests who attempt to impose their preconceived idea of how the case ought to look, whether on a parish or on individual parishioners, are doing their flocks a disservice. Since pastoral care is a a personal relation, the most important thing a priest can bring is a genuine love for his flock, that is genuine charity and desire for their welfare.

Further, as in physical medicine, the priest is not in charge.  It is God who is the healer, and he sets the terms.  After charity, comes humility, the humility to realize that I am not God, and that if I desire to lead others to God, frequently I must get myself, my own ego, my own projects, my own definition of priestly success, out of the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the Move, by Thom Gunn

A contrast to the previous poem



On the Move
By Thom Gunn

The blue jay scuffling in the bushes follows
Some hidden purpose, and the gust of birds
That spurts across the field, the wheeling swallows,
Has nested in the trees and undergrowth.
Seeking their instinct, or their poise, or both,
One moves with an uncertain violence
Under the dust thrown by a baffled sense
Or the dull thunder of approximate words.


On motorcycles, up the road, they come:
Small, black, as flies hanging in heat, the Boys,
Until the distance throws them forth, their hum
Bulges to thunder held by calf and thigh.
In goggles, donned impersonality,
In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust,
They strap in doubt – by hiding it, robust –
And almost hear a meaning in their noise.


Exact conclusion of their hardiness
Has no shape yet, but from known whereabouts
They ride, direction where the tyres press.
They scare a flight of birds across the field:
Much that is natural, to the will must yield.
Men manufacture both machine and soul,
And use what they imperfectly control
To dare a future from the taken routes.


It is a part solution, after all.
One is not necessarily discord
On earth; or damned because, half animal,
One lacks direct instinct, because one wakes
Afloat on movement that divides and breaks.
One joins the movement in a valueless world,
Choosing it, till, both hurler and the hurled,
One moves as well, always toward, toward.


A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self-defined, astride the created will
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither bird nor holiness,
For birds and saints complete their purposes.
At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

With Fall Coming: "I sit beside the fire and think" by J. R. R. Tolkien

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fundamentalism and Liberalism (Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, Part II)

The Prologue to the Gospel of John
fr. the Codex Alexandrinus, 5th Century A.D.
We ended the previous post with a discussion of reason as the means of interpreting Scripture.  Given that it is by reason that the human intellect (or "understanding") operates, that is, by our ability to relate truths one to another, the question comes up:  Given that our reason functions to relate truth to truth, what is the relation to the truth found in Scripture to the truth that we know from other sources, and how do we relate these?  Is there a relation, or does religious truth exist in a different, unrelated realm from other kinds of truth?

The Gospel of John begins with the assertion, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God." There is a great deal to be said about this, but for our purpose let us look at the contention that the Word, Gr. λόγος, "logos", was God.  The word "logos" means both "word" and also "reason", that is to say, reason as the underlying rationality of all that exists.  This is a "a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."  The corollary to this is that not to act or speak in accordance with reason, "not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God's nature."*

Since it is the business of reason to relate truth to truth, and since it is in the nature of God to act in the cosmos in accordance with reason, it must then follow that reason as given to us by God can relate that truth found in God's saving revelation to us with other truth that we come to know in the cosmos.  In short, there is not a separate truth found in revelation or discovered by natural science, but rather there is one truth.  This means that if we find a conflict between natural science and revelation the fault must lie in a failure to understand one, the other, or both.

For Christians this means that we cannot interpret Scripture in such a way as to negate what we do in fact know through natural science—nor can we use natural science to negate what we, in fact, know through revelation.  Thus we cannot find a refuge from this dilemma in fundamentalism, which would negate science, nor can we honestly embrace what Newman called religious "liberalism", which denies that we can know or posit anything as objectively knowable from revelation.

This leaves us with two essential tasks. One is to apologize, meaning explain and defend, natural science to our fellow Christians who are fundamentalists.  The other is to apologize for the objectivity of that knowledge which we have from revelation, or what some would term "religious experience."  Given that most of our fellow churchgoers actually do tend to fall into either religious fundamentalism or liberalism these are no easy tasks.

In order to do this, it means for ourselves that we must interpret Scripture rationally, that is rationally harmonizing what we know from revelation with what we know from elsewhere in such way that does violence to none of our knowledge or forms of knowing.  This latter is the work of Christian theology.
To be continued...


*Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address. This address, which seems to have been willfully misinterpreted by many at the time of its delivery, is extremely important for the point that I am making in this post.  An English translation, which I commend for your reading, is found here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: Part I

At ordination in the Episcopal Church, in response to the question "Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?" the ordinand makes a declaration and signs it in the presence all, which declaration includes the words "I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation."

As with many such statements, as with many things in the Bible or any other text, what something actually means is not always as obvious as one might think.  As with any words it is necessary to understand certain things about the words in order to understand them.  A useful hermeneutic, or means of interpretation, was provided me by my professor of Pastoral Theology, and I share it with you now: In order to understand any speech, one must know (1) who (2) says what (3) to whom (4) about what.  That is, in any speech, there is (1) a speaker, (2) something said, (3) a hearer and (4) content.  Also, each of these four elements exists in a context which is essential for understanding it.

Let us look at some aspects of this statement in context.  In it we confess the authority of Holy Scripture. Let me explain what that means.  When we say say something is said with authority, we are saying that it is true, and one who speak with authority speaks the truth.  One who has authority is one who is able to speak, habitually, about the truth on certain subjects.  When we say that Scripture has authority, we confess that Holy Scripture is true for salvation, that it is a true word, given for the purpose of salvation.  Now truth is the correspondence between a statement and reality—when we say that a statement is true, we are saying that, for the purposes for which we are talking, that statement corresponds to something real such that we may know that something from the statement.  So in speaking this way we say that Holy Scripture is speaking in such away so that we may know the reality of salvation.

Now this authority is confessed in response to a question.  That question refers to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as received by the Church.  The authority of Scripture is not being asserted in a vacuum, but rather as part of a doctrine, discipline, and worship which is not our own creation, but has been received by us, and not as individuals, but as the Church.

Scripture is part of something received, and if it has been received it must have been "passed down." The word we commonly use that means the act of passing something down, as well as what is passed down is tradition.  That tradition includes doctrine, discipline, and worship, and the Scriptures themselves.

The human faculty by which we know the the truth is known by the the intellect (a.k.a., the understanding), which in comprehending a certain truth, apprehends the real thing to which the truth is true.  The process by which we understand truth is reason, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out: "to understand is simply to apprehend intelligible truth: and to reason is to advance from one thing understood to another, so as to know an intelligible truth" (Summa Theologica, 79,8).  It is on this basis that we say that we as Anglicans base our faith upon Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
To be continued...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Feasts Today: The Martyrs of Memphis & Fr. Charles Lowder

The "Martyrs of Memphis"

Sister Constance
née Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846, † Sep. 9, 1878


Today Anglicans have two important commemorations.  The first is the "Martyrs of Memphis" a group of four religious sisters of the Sisters of St. Mary and two priests who died while serving the sick during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis in the Summer of 1878.  They were
•Sister Constance (neé Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846), superior of the work at Memphis, headmistress of St. Mary’s School for Girls.
•Sister Thecla, sacristan of St. Mary’s Cathedral and its school chapel, instructor in music and grammar (English and Latin)
•Sister Ruth, nurse at Trinity Infirmary, New York
•Sister Frances, a newly professed nun given charge of the Church Home orphanage
•The Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Memphis; former U.S. Army artillery commander, West Point alumnus and professor (Served with classmate Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in Kansas, defense counsel in Custer's 1867 court-martial trial.)
•The Rev. Louis S. Schuyler, newly ordained assistant rector at Parsons' prior parish, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Hoboken, New Jersey.*

The Sisterhood of St. Mary was the first religious order founded in the Episcopal Church in U.S., being founded in 1865 in New York.   In 1873 a group of sister came to work at St. Mary's School at the invitation of Bp. Quintard (himself a high churchman with a passion for work among the poor and disadvantaged).

Memphis had been subject to frequent epidemics of yellow fever, but the worst occurred in the summer of 1878.  Yellow fever returned to Memphis with a vengeance in August of of 1878, and the hospitals were overwhelmed.  25,000 people evacuated the city, but the sisters stayed to take care of those who could not leave.  They went from street to street, often into houses with dying or dead inhabitants.  Eventually  all four sisters and two priests succumbed to the fever, Fr. Parsons dying first on September 5, and Sister Thecla dying last on the 12th.  Sr. Constance had died on the 9th, her last words being "Hosanna, Alleluia!"

The sacrifice of the sister did much to reconcile many Episcopalians who had theretofore been suspicious to the existence of religious life in the church, and also did much to advance the Anglo-Catholic Movement in this country.

We give thee thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
*From the Website of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Constance & Her Companions


Fr. Charles Lowder


Charles Lowder was one of Newman's disciples at Oxford.  He was priested in 1844.  In 1845 he became assistant curate at St. Barnabas Pimlico, a center of the catholic revival and an advanced ritualist parish located in the slums of London. In 1855, with five other priests, he founded the Society of the Holy Cross.  In August 1856 he became rector of St. George's in the East, a mission church, where, working with the sisters of the Community of the Holy Cross, they provided schools, a prostitutes' refuge, "a hostel for homeless girls, night classes and parish clubs, an insurance scheme for dockers, coal for the poor and general poor relief."  He helped found St. Peter's London Docks in 1866, where he was first perpetual curate (priest-in-charge), and then vicar.  

A cholera epidemic broke out almost immediately after the consecration of the church.  The tireless work of Charles Lowder, the other mission priests, and the sisters in ministering to the sick earned him the respect of the nation and the love of his parishioners, who began to call him "Father," a title previously used in England only by religious clergy of the Roman Communion.  It is from this time that the title "Father" began to be used in English for secular priests. 

Fr. Lowder's personal holiness and work for the sick and the poor did much to advance the Anglo-Catholic cause, and to earn acceptance of the ritual promoted by the movement.  More importantly, the combination of charitable works, worshipful services, and a devout spirituality brought many to Christ who lived on the cruel fringes of society.  He died on September 9, 1880, and his burial was attended by hundreds of clergy and thousands of his parishioners.

O heavenly Father, Shepherd of thy people, we give thee thanks for thy servant Charles Lowder., who was faithful in the care and nurture of thy flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by thy grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

✠ Holy Martyrs of Memphis, Blessed Charles Lowder, pray for us. ✠

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Some Thoughts on Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

A friend of mine, who prefers to remain anonymous, shared some thoughts with me on Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

What a glorious, hope filled, and reassuring work this liturgy is. I have come to the opinion that benediction manifests most clearly the Catholic response to the solipsism of modernity.

What strikes me about Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament is that nobody has a right to it. The priest approaches with great care and preparation, and his contact with the host is limited through the use of the monstrance, his cope, and humeral veil. The congregation too receives Christ's blessing indiscriminately without the mediation of the priest, even though the priest is admittedly a crucial participant in the Benediction. These, I think, are uncommon attitudes in a Church which is too often carried away by priest-on-display clericalism and, conversely, an aggressive assumption of the privileges of the laity. At Benediction no one is privileged, save Christ Himself, the uncontested focal point of the rite.

Most of all, Benediction invites the faithful into a fuller understanding of faith. In an age that all too often substitutes 'assent' for 'faith', the rite of Benediction provides a severe rebuff.

For some discussion of an Anglican approach to this rite, please see Results of the Doctrine of the Real Presence

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Importance of the Family Dinner Table

Labor Day Breakfast
     In my grandparents' home the dinner table was sacrosanct, both the formal one and the one in the kitchen where we ate most often.  No mess was allowed to clutter the dinner table.  The dining table was specifically for eating as a family, and while I might be permitted to sit at the one in the kitchen with my homework, or while we were shucking peas or doing other kitchen work, I had to leave it clean whenever I left, and that had to be in plenty of time for the next meal.
     We always set the table before meals, including place mats or table cloths, silverware etc.  Having a pretty table to look at was important.  We prayed before meals, and we did not leave the table until everyone was done.  (If I had to get up to go to the bathroom or for some other reason, I asked to be excused.)  There was no TV: We were expected to converse, except at breakfast, when we were allowed to look at the newspaper.  When we were done the dishes were removed, the table cleaned, and a centerpiece put back on so that it always looked nice.
     As I look back over my life, those households in which I have lived that were happy were characterized by two things: we prayed together, and the dinner table was sacrosanct and sitting down together as a family for meals was important.  In those that came to a bad end, these two things were lacking.  I cannot universalize, but that has been my decided experience, and I would certainly take a lesson from it.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.—J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Texan Chicken Gumbo



I made chicken gumbo today, which I have not done since my grandmother died, and never by myself.   It's not as good as hers, but I am not dissatisfied with the result.

I didn't cook it from a written recipe, (neither did she) but I will describe it for you.  You take onion, bell pepper, and chopped celery and cook them in a little oil or fat on the bottom of your stew pot until they are clear looking.  (I added a small, medium-hot green chile.)  You then add your chicken stock, cut up chicken (already cooked) and okra—if you are not averse to okra.  Some people add other vegetables, or even sausage, although I have never seen a home-made Texas gumbo with sausage.  I added a bay leaf and a bit of cayenne for seasoning as well.  Bring to a boil, let simmer for a while until the vegetables are tender, and add some filé before serving.  (Filé is dried ground sassafras leaves.) You can omit the filé, or the okra, but not both, as they are thickeners that give it the right consistency.  Some old cook books will tell you that a gumbo must have okra: My grandmother's gumbo always did, but I have had some that don't.  Gumbo is usually served over rice.  I also served ours with croûtes (hard toast) and a chopped salad of romaine, tomatoes, celery and red onion, with a spicy buttermilk dressing. 

You can also make gumbo with fish or shrimp, or just vegetables—and you can use vegetable or fish stock, as appropriate. Gumbo is a standard traditional dish in Louisiana, East Texas, and along the central Gulf Coast.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Man for All Seasons, on Positive Law

Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More
Alice More: Arrest him!

More: Why, what has he done?

Margaret More: He's bad!

More: There is no law against that.

Will Roper: There is! God's law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man's laws, not God's– and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Broken Friendship (from Christobel), by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Alas! they had been friends in youth;
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain.
And thus is chanced, as I divine,
With Roland and Sir Leoline.
Each spake words of high disdain
And insult to his heart's best brother:
They parted — ne'er to meet again!
But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining -
They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between; —
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
by
Washington Allston

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's Hard Dealing with Grief

Requiem Mass
We are not a society that handles grief at all well, or that is good at letting people grieve, and churches (and liturgists) can be be among the worst offenders.  The problem is that grief ignored does not go away.  If we do not face it it can knock the feet out from under us, or render us unable to act in life, or to form new relationships, or love others. 

To be healthy, we need to face grief when it comes, and it can come from many causes.  It can be the death of someone we love, or a broken relationship, or the loss of a pet or a beloved building or place: one grief that comes back to me repeatedly is the loss of my childhood home, which was always a place of peace, and beauty, and safety.  Another is the loss of my marriage.

Losses often cannot be fixed.  We cannot bring back the dead.  Sometimes broken relationships cannot be mended, nor matter how hard we try or might want to.  Sometimes there is no going home, or going back to places we love. 

However, we must deal with grief, and it can be a very, very hard to do so.  Sometimes we need public solemnity and sadness.  I find it always helps to pray over a loss, and prayer, both private and common, for me provides the best comfort.  Talking and remembering with others are important.  Sometimes we need just a walk alone and a chance to cry.  There is nothing unmanly about crying or expressing sadness (for those so foolish as to believe that may I point out that the unwillingness to be vulnerable and face grief can be a kind of cowardice).  There is nothing unhealthy about being sad and expressing it either.  Only when we have faced our sadness and let ourselves feel it and done something with it, even just putting it in God's hands, can we move on.

Sir Thomas More on Literary Efforts


This certainly rings true:
To tell you the truth, I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish it all. Tastes differ so widely, and some people are so humourless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them. Most readers know nothing about literature – many regard it with contempt. Lowbrows find everything heavy going that isn’t completely lowbrow. Highbrows reject everything as vulgar that isn’t a mass of archaisms. Some only like the classics, others only their own works. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humour, others so half-witted that they can’t stand wit. Some are so literal minded that the slightest hint of irony affects them as water affects a sufferer from hydrophobia. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down. Then there’s the alcoholic school of critics, who sit in public houses, pronouncing ex cathedra verdicts of condemnation, just as they think fit. They seize upon your publications, as a wrestler seizes upon his opponent’s hair, and use them to drag you down, while they themselves remain quite invulnerable, because their barren pates are completely bald – so there’s nothing for you to get hold of.
—St. Thomas More to Peter Gilles, 1516

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why the Book of Common Prayer Is So Important to Christendom



Whatever the faults of the Book of Common Prayer (and it has significant faults), it did something that no other liturgical book did, and thereby made a unique contribution to Christianity:

The decade which gave birth to the first English Prayer Book was that which also gave birth to the Spanish Inquisition. While we were concerned with vernacular liturgy, a simplified Kalendar, and above all, with a two-fold instead of seven-fold office, Luis of Granada was being censured for his little book for secular devotion, and the Scriptures in the Castilian dialect was on the Index of prohibited books.... If an English Bible for lay devotion was heresy to Spain, the idea of an Office to be shared between priest and laity would have been incomprehensible to the seminary of St. Sulpice. Even the Salesian school, even the Italian humanists, were hopelessly outdistanced by us in the pastoral ideal of one militant Church.... Neither Missal nor Mass-book, Breviary nor Primer, it is gloriously ironical that the Book of Common Prayer, born four centuries back, is still the most comprehensive ascetical expression of the one integrated Church in the whole of Christendom."
— Martin Thornton, Feed My Lambs, pp. 53-54

H/t The Rev'd Matthew Dallman