Monday, March 31, 2008

Wisdom from… [31 Mar]

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ST LEO THE GREAT: The marvelous power of the cross

When Christ is lifted up on the cross do not let your inward gaze dwell only upon the appearance he had in the eyes of the wicked, to whom the word was addressed through Moses: Your life will hang before your eyes; night and day you shall be in dread, and have no assurance of your life.

Oh the marvelous power of the cross, the glory in the passion! No tongue can fully describe it. Here we see the judgment seat of the Lord, here sentence is passed upon the world, and there the sovereignty of the Crucified is revealed. You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when you stretched out your hands all the day long to a people that denied and opposed you, until at last the whole world was brought to proclaim your majesty. You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when all the elements combined to pronounce judgment in execration of that crime; when the lights of heaven were darkened and the day was turned into night; when the land was shaken by unwonted earthquakes, and all creation refused to serve those wicked people. Yes, Lord, you drew all things to yourself; the veil of the temple was torn in two and the Holy of Holies taken away from those unworthy high priests. Figures gave way to reality, prophecy to manifestation, law to gospel.
(Sermo 8 de passione Domini 6-7: PL 54, 340-341.)

ST AUGUSTINE: The Sacrifice of Christ

Even though the man Christ Jesus, in the form of God together with the Father with whom he is one God, accepts our sacrifice, nonetheless he has chosen in the form of a servant to be the sacrifice rather than to accept it. Therefore, he is the priest himself who presents the offering, and he himself is what is offered.
-- City of God, 10, 20

Prayer. Lord, you gladdened my mind with spiritual joy. How glorious is your cup, surpassing all previous delights.
-- Commentary on Psalm 22, 5


If we have a taste for divine things, worldly things will no longer excite our appetite. [The converse holds as well! -- EBB] How can it be possible, after having considered the goodness, the stability and the eternity of God, to have a heart in love with the vanities of this world? We must put up with the vanity of the world, but we must love only the truth of God.
(Letters 439; O. XIII, p. 382)


ABOVE all, we have the same great upperclass assumption that things are done best by large institutions handling large sums of money and ordering everybody about; and that trivial and impulsive charity is in some way contemptible. As Mr. Blatchford says, "The world does not want piety, but soap--and Socialism." Piety is one of the popular virtues, whereas soap and Socialism are two hobbies of the upper middle class.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wisdom from… (25 & 26 Mar)

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IVO OF CHARTRES (1040–1116): The Annunciation

Today's feast, recalling the extraordinary way in which the Virgin conceived, celebrates the beginning of our reconciliation and proclaims the unerring disposition of God's mercy and power. There is a profound and wonderful mystery hidden in this conception by which the bond of our transgression is canceled, the divine is joined to the human, and two, that is Christ and the Church, become one body. … Let us model ourselves on the one who gave his life on earth as a pattern of Christian living.
(Sermo 15 de Annunciatione B. Mariae: PL 162, 583-586.)

As an Augustinian canon and later bishop of Chartres, Ivo left many letters and some sermons.

EPHREM OF EDESSA (306–373): Our Lord took upon himself our infirmity

Determined to give his disciples an example they could imitate, our Lord himself became one with them by assuming a human soul like theirs. This enabled him to enter into their sentiments and thus to sow the seeds of comfort in their hearts. He acquainted himself with their fear in order that the knowledge of his resemblance to themselves might restrain them from boasting of their readiness to meet death while it was still far off. Fearless though he was, our Lord actually experienced fear and prayed to be delivered from suffering, even though he knew his prayer could not be granted. … By persevering in prayer Jesus was showing us how much we ourselves need to pray if we are to escape the wiles and snares of the devil. It is only by sustained prayer that we gain control of our distracted thoughts.
(Commentary on the Diatessaron 20, 3-4, 6-7: CSCO 145, 201-204.)

Ephrem, deacon of Edessa, was a great poet who used his talent to write about the Christian mysteries in poetic form.


Hail, Full of Grace

O Mary, when Jesus was conceived in you, he found you a virgin; after being born of you he left you a virgin. He gives you fertility, but he does not violate your integrity. Whence does this happen to you? … Tell me, angel Gabriel, whence this happens to Mary. The angel answers: "I stated this with my greeting, 'Hail, full of grace.'"
-- Sermon 291, 6

Prayer. O Mary, you were a virgin in conceiving, in bearing your child, and in dying. Pray for us to the Lord.
-- The Instruction of Beginners, 22, 40

Acknowledging Sins against Others

All of us have become members of Christ. How do you fail to sin against Christ when you sin against a member of Christ? Thus, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift before the altar. God seeks you rather than your gift. Christ seeks the one whom he has redeemed by his Blood rather than what you have found in your storeroom.
-- Sermon 82, 4-5

Prayer. Lord, you are my refuge from the torment of the sins with which my heart besieges me. My joy is in you. Redeem me from the sorrow that my sins cause me.
-- Commentary on Psalm 31 (1), 7


Think for a moment of the piety of the Madonna when the angel told her that the Spirit would overshadow her. What sentiments of humility, confidence and courage! At the very moment when she understood that God had given her His heart, that is, His Son, she gave herself to God. … As far as we are concerned, we receive a similar grace in Communion, because not an angel but Jesus Christ Himself assures us that in it the Holy Spirit descends on us. Heavenly power covers us with its shadow and the Son of God really comes to us. He can say that He is conceived and born in us. Truly then, the soul can respond with the Madonna, "I am the servant of the Lord; let is be done to me as you say." [Lk 1:38]
(Spiritual Directory, Art. 12)

Oh, contemplate how Jesus Christ our Savior, at the moment of His Incarnation, took us all without exception on His shoulders, because from that moment He accepted the task of redeeming us by His death on the cross! The Redeemer's soul knew all of us by name, above all on the day of His passion, when He offered His tears, His prayers, His blood and His life for all, and addressed His Eternal Father on our behalf…. O supreme love of the heart of Jesus! What heart can ever bless You as devoutly as it ought?
(T.L.G. Book 12, Ch. 12; O. V, p. 344)


IT is one of the mean and morbid modern lies that physical courage is connected with cruelty. The Tolstoian and Kiplingite are nowhere more at one than in maintaining this. They have, I believe, some small sectarian quarrel with each other: the one saying that courage must be abandoned because it is connected with cruelty, and the other maintaining that cruelty is charming because it is a part of courage. But it is all, thank God, a lie. An energy and boldness of body may make a man stupid or reckless or dull or drunk or hungry, but it does not make him spiteful.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wisdom from… (24 Mar)

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MARCELLUS OF ANCYRA (~ca. 280– 374): Jesus commends us all to the Father

Jesus Christ, the immortal God, came not to save himself but to save those condemned to death; he suffered not for his own sake but for ours. He took upon himself our wretchedness and poverty so as to enrich us by his own wealth. His suffering is our freedom from pain; his death is our immortality; his grief is our joy, his burial our resurrection, his baptism our sanctification. For their sake, he says, I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. His bruising is our healing, for by his stripes we were healed. His chastisement is our peace, for the chastisement of our peace is upon him, that is to say, for the sake of our peace he is chastised.

Moreover, when on the cross he says: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, Jesus commends us all to the Father through himself, all of us who are being brought to life in him. They are his members, and many members are one body, and the body is the Church. As Saint Paul writes to the Galatians: You are all one in Christ Jesus. In himself, therefore, Jesus commends us all to the Father.
(On the Incarnation and Against the Arians 2-5: PG 26, 987-991.)

Marcellus worked with Saint Athanasius to support the faith against the Arians.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Glory of the Cross

Let us declare that Christ was crucified for our sake, proclaiming it with joy and pride, not with fear and shame. Paul the Apostle saw in this reason for boasting.

He could have told us many great and holy things about Christ: how as God he shared with his Father the work of creation, and how as man like us he was master of the world. But Paul would not glory in any of these wonderful things.
-- Sermon 218C, 1

Prayer. Lord, in case I would falter, you gave me a remedy through your admonishments. You established the law of forgiveness, so that as I forgive I may be forgiven.
-- Commentary on Psalm 129, 3


Live totally united to God and in Him alone, because life separated from Him is nothing but death! You do well not to influence your daughter's will; it is solely the work of the Holy Spirit to send good inspirations according to His own pleasure. On my part, I still have some hope and good indications that He will make her totally and perfectly His own. I do not doubt that she will obtain sufficient help to discover the truth, seeing that she seems marked for divine favor.
(Letters 1090; O. XVII, p. 10)


SOCIAL reformers have fired a hundred shots against the public-house, but never one against its really shameful character. The sign of decay is not in the public-house, but in the private bar; or rather the row of five or six private bars, into each of which a respectable dipsomaniac can go in solitude, and by indulging his own half-witted sin violates his own half-witted morality. Nearly all these places are equipped with an atrocious apparatus of ground-glass windows which can be so closed that they practically conceal the face of the buyer from the seller. Words cannot express the abysses of human infamy and hateful shame expressed by that elaborate piece of furniture. Whenever I go into a public-house, which happens fairly often, I always carefully open all these apertures and then leave the place in every way refreshed.
('George Bernard Shaw.')

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wisdom from… (21 Mar)

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CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (ca. 285): Christ's patience

Christ did not govern his disciples as a master rules his slaves. He was kind and gentle, loving them as brothers, even washing the feet of the apostles, showing by his example how a servant should bear himself toward his equals when his master dealt in such a way with his servants. No wonder he could show such goodness to the disciples who obeyed him, if he was able to bear so long and so patiently with Judas, eating and drinking with his enemy, recognizing the foe in his own household yet neither exposing him publicly nor refusing his treacherous kiss.

At the time of his passion and cross, even before it had gone as far as the inhuman crucifixion and the shedding of his blood, how patiently he bore reviling and reproach, insult and mockery! A little while before, he had cured the eyes of a blind man with his spittle, yet now he allowed his tormentors to spit in his face. His servants today scourge the devil and his angels in the name of Christ, but at the time of his passion Christ himself submitted to being scourged. He crowns the martyrs with never-fading flowers, though he himself was crowned with thorns. He was struck in the face with the palms of men's hands, yet it is he who awards the palm of victory to all who overcome. Others he clothes in the garment of immortality, yet he himself was stripped of his earthly garments. He had fed them with bread from heaven, yet he himself was fed with gall; and he who had poured out the saving cup was offered vinegar to drink.

He the innocent, he the just, he rather who is the embodiment of innocence and justice, is counted among evil-doers. Truth is confuted by false evidence. The future judge is subjected to judgment; the Word of God is led to the cross in silence. At the Lord's crucifixion the stars are thrown into confusion, the elements are disturbed, earth trembles, and night swallows up day. But he himself is silent, unmoved, hiding every sign of his Godhead throughout the whole duration of his passion. Enduring all things, he perseveres to the end, so that in him patience may be brought to its full measure of perfection.
(The Virtue of Patience 6-7: CSEL 3, 401-402.)

Cyprian was bishop of Carthage in Northern Africa, and had a keen sense of the unity of the Church.

The power and beauty of these words speak for themselves. Read the passage again.

ST AUGUSTINE: Christ's Cross Abides Forever

The saving serpent in Moses' time was fashioned from bronze as a symbol of faith in the enduring effects of the Lord's Passion. Faith in Christ's cross abides forever; it is as enduring as bronze. Despite the constant cycle of birth and death, the cross continues to be held high above the earth for the healing of all who gaze upon it.
-- Commentary on Galatians 22

Prayer. How great was your love for us, kind Father! You did not spare your only-begotten Son but surrendered him for the sake of us sinners!
-- Confessions 10, 43


The means necessary to build a spiritual edifice and acquire the precious pearl of perfection is the entire renunciation of ourselves and our own will––nothing else. This involves breaking away from all our evil inclinations and aversions. In fact, it is absolutely certain that perfection can be attained in no other way.
(Sermons II; O. IX, p. 82)

Fight your own worst enemy––yourself––by giving yourself to your own true self––Christ. We were all created to be personal recitals of the one hymn of divine glory called Jesus Christ. Without Him, we are as pianos trying to play their own blueprints.


MODERN and cultured persons, I believe, object to their children seeing kitchen company or being taught by a woman like Peggotty [in David Copperfield]. But surely it is more important to be educated in a sense of human dignity and equality than in anything else in the world. And a child who has once had to respect a kind and capable woman of the lower classes will respect the lower classes for ever. The true way to overcome the evil in class distinctions is not to denounce them as revolutionists denounce them, but to ignore them as children ignore them.
('Charles Dickens.')

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wisdom from… (20 Mar)

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AELRED OF RIEVAULX (1109–1167): Always ready to forgive

Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of affection, love, and imperturbable calm—Father, forgive them—and not at once embrace his enemies with all his love? Father, he says, forgive them. Could any prayer be more full of gentleness and love?

Yet he added something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wished also to excuse them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little understanding. Therefore, Father, forgive them. They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is they are nailing to the cross. If they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. Therefore, Father, forgive them. They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognize my glory. Therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

If we wish to experience fully the joy of loving our brothers and sisters, we must embrace with real love even our enemies. To prevent this fire of divine love from being cooled by the injuries we receive, let us keep the eyes of our soul always fixed on the serene patience of our beloved Lord and Savior.
(Mirror of Love 3, 5: PL 195, 582.)

Aelred was a member of the Cistercian Order who later became abbot of Rievaulx and was noted for his theological and spiritual writings.

History is the temporally extended mode of Christ's kenosis as God incarnate. Lessing's ditch, namely, that the vagaries and distances of history render it impossible to place faith in Christ, is but the historical form of the same protests against faith which faced the Apostles when they saw Christ face to face. The humility of Christ "hiding his face" extends even into the vagaries and lashings critical historians might like to give Him. Father, forgive them, they know not the inner glory of history, Christ hidden and given in the Eucharist, the one true axis of past, present, and future.

ST AUGUSTINE: Help for a Complete Conversion

When we transform our old life and give our spirit a new image, we find it very hard and tiring to turn back from the darkness of earthly passions to the serene calm of the divine light. We thus ask God to help us that a complete conversion may be brought about in us.
-- Commentary on Psalm 6, 5

Prayer. Because of your Name may you have mercy on me according to your great mercy, Lord, and by no means abandon the work you have begun but complete what is imperfect in me.
-- Confessions 10, 4


To receive Holy Communion every week we must be free of mortal sin and have no affection for venial sin. We should also have a great desire to go to Communion. To go to Communion every day it is necessary, in addition, that we have overcome most of our evil inclinations and that we have consulted our spiritual director.
(INT. Part II, Ch. 20; O. III, p. 118)

Never take the Mass for granted! Otherwise you are only taking yourself for granted! To spurn a great gift is in fact to spurn one's own capacity for love as a human being created in the image of God.


I HAVE no sympathy with international aggression when it is taken seriously, but I have a certain dark and wild sympathy with it when it is quite absurd. Raids are all wrong as practical politics, but they are human and imaginable as practical jokes. In fact, almost any act of ragging or violence can be forgiven on this strict condition––that it is of no use at all to anybody. If the aggression gets anything out of it, then it is quite unpardonable. It is damned by the least hint of utility or profit. A man of spirit and breeding may brawl, but he does not steal. A gentleman knocks off his friend's hat, but he does not annex his friend's hat.
('All Things Considered.')

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wisdom from… (19 Mar)

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FRANCIS DE SALES: Joseph, the father of Jesus

Who can doubt that when Joseph reached the end of his life, his divine foster child in his turn carried that saintly father from this world to the next, to Abraham's bosom, to be taken to himself in glory on the day of his ascension?

A saint who had loved so deeply during his life could not but die of love. Unable to love his dear Jesus as he wished amid the distractions of this life, and having completed the service required by our Lord's tender years, it only remained for him to say to the Father: "I have finished the work which you gave me to do"; and to the Son: "My child, to my hands your heavenly Father entrusted your body on the day when you came into this world; now to your hands I entrust my spirit on the day I leave this world."

Such, I believe, was the death of this great patriarch, the man chosen to perform for the Son of God the tenderest and most loving offices possible, apart from those fulfilled by his heaven-sent wife, the true mother of that same Son.
(TLG, ??)

As bishop of Geneva, St. Francis worked zealously to bring the people of Chablais from Calvinism back to Catholicism. Together with his friend Saint Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the Order of the Visitation.

ST AUGUSTINE: It Is God Who Initiates Conversion

Did you make it possible for yourselves to merit God's mercy because you turned back to him? If you hadn't been called by God, what could you have done to turn back? Didn't the very One Who called you when you were opposed to him make it possible for you to turn back? Don't claim your conversion as your own doing. Unless he had called you when you were running away from him, you would not have been able to turn back.
-- Commentary on Psalm 84, 8

Prayer. Let me not be my own life. I have lived badly on my own account and been death to myself, but in you I live again. Speak to me, O Lord.
-- Confessions 12, 10


Thinking of the grandeur of Saint Joseph, consider the words, "Lord, look with favorable eyes on the good and upright of heart." [cf. Ps 36:11] I would like to say a few words about this saint whom we love so much because he has cultivated love in every heart. My God, how good and upright this great saint must have been if the Lord gave him the lofty privilege of being entrusted with His mother and His Son! With these two responsibilities, he could have been envied by the angels. Could anyone in all heaven possess any greater privilege than this? Who is there among the angels who could be compared with the queen of angels? And who can compare with the Son of God Himself? Yet Saint Joseph was closer to them than anyone else.
(Letters 671; O. XV, p. 33)


EVERY statute is a declaration of war, to be backed by arms. Every tribunal is a revolutionary tribunal. In a republic all punishment is as sacred and solemn as lynching.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

Monday, March 17, 2008

Poetic mnemonics…

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Anapest (aka, antidactylus) is a short-short-long metrical foot used in poetry (and what Dr. Seuss normally used). This can be remembered as the "plop-plop-fiiiizzz" of an "antacid tablet".

Dactyl (Greek for "finger") is more or less the reverse of anapest, i.e., a long-short-short syllabic meter. This can be remembered by the structure of our own fingers: a long metacarpal followed by two short ones.

(I was mildly tickle to see the latter mnemonic on Wikipedia only after I had thought of it myself. Which makes my insight uniquely commonplace!)

Friday, March 14, 2008


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"To ensure it is not wasted, life should be spent in moments, appraised in decades, and invested in eternity." –– Elliam Fakespeare

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wisdom from… [7–9 Mar]

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AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354–430): The fragrance of the Son

Every Christian is aware that this passage is usually understood of Christ our head. As evening drew near, the Lord yielded up his soul upon the cross in the certainty of receiving it back again; it was not wrested from him against his will. But we too were represented there. Christ had nothing to hang upon the cross except the body he had received from us. And it was surely not possible for God the Father to abandon his only Son, who shared with him the one Godhead. Nevertheless, when Christ nailed our human weakness to the cross—that cross to which, as the apostle says, our unregenerate nature has been fastened along with him—it was with the voice of our humanity that he exclaimed: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

That, then, is the evening sacrifice: the Lord's own passion, his cross, the offering on it of the saving victim, of that holocaust which is acceptable to God. And by his rising, Christ turned that evening sacrifice into a morning oblation.

Similarly, the pure prayer which ascends from a faithful heart will be like incense rising from a hallowed altar. No fragrance can be more pleasing to God than that of his own Son. May all the faithful breathe out the same perfume.
(Expositions of the Psalms 140, 4-6: CCL 40, 2025-2029.)

POPE LEO THE GREAT (400–461): Deprive yourself and help the poor

As we prepare to celebrate that greatest of all mysteries, by which the blood of Jesus Christ did away with our sins, let us first of all make ready the sacrificial offerings of works of mercy. In this way we shall give to those who have sinned against us what God in his goodness has already given to us.

Let us now extend to the poor and those afflicted in different ways a more openhanded generosity, so that God may be thanked through many voices and the relief of the needy supported by our fasting. No act of devotion on the part of the faithful gives God more pleasure than that which is lavished on his poor. Where he finds charity with its loving concern, there he recognizes the reflection of his own fatherly care.

In these acts of giving do not fear a lack of means. A generous spirit is itself great wealth. There can be no shortage of material for generosity where it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed. In all this activity there is present the hand of him who multiplies the bread by breaking it, and increases it by giving it away.
(Leo the Great, Sermo 10 in Quadragesima 4-5: PL 54, 300-301.)

FULGENTIUS OF RUSPE (468–533): The sacrifice of bread and wine

In the time of the Old Testament, patriarchs, prophets, and priests sacrificed animals in honor of the Son as well as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Now in the time of the New Testament the holy Catholic Church throughout the world never ceases to offer the sacrifice of bread and wine, in faith and love, to him and to the Father and the Holy Spirit, with whom he shared one Godhead.

In those ancient victims the body and blood of Christ were prefigured: the body which the sinless one would offer as propitiation for our sins, and the blood which he would pour out for our forgiveness. The Church's sacrifice, on the other hand, is an act of thanksgiving and a memorial of the body Christ has offered for us and the blood he has shed for us. With this in mind, blessed Paul says in the Acts of the Apostles: Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops to rule the Church of God, which he won for himself by his blood.

Those sacrifices of old pointed in sign to what was to be given to us. In this sacrifice we see plainly what has already been given to us.
(Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Petrum 62: CCL 91A, 750-751.)


We Pray to Him, through Him, and in Him

We pray to Christ as God, and he prays for us as a servant. In the first case he is the Creator, in the second a creature. Himself unchanged, he took to himself our created nature in order to change it, and he made us one man with himself, Head and Body. We pray then to him, through him, and in him. We speak along with him, and he speaks along with us.
-- Commentary on Psalm 85, 1

Daily Progress toward God

As Christians, our task is to make daily progress toward God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant. In this school we learn something every day. We learn something from commandments, something from examples, and something from Sacraments. These things are remedies for our wounds and materials for our studies.
-- Sermon 16A, 1

Prayer. Lord, you help those who turn to you. You redeem us so that we may come to you.
-- Commentary on Psalm 17, 15

God Calls Us to Conversion

God calls us to correct ourselves and invites us to do penance. He calls us through the wonderful gifts of his creation, and he calls us by granting time for life. He calls us through the reader and through the preacher. He calls us with the innermost force of our thoughts. He calls us with the scourge of punishment, and he calls us with the mercy of his consolation.
-- Commentary on Psalm 102, 16

Prayer. Lord, see your work in me, not my own. For if you see my own work, you condemn me; but if you see yours, you crown me.
-- Commentary on Psalm 137, 18


How dangerous sin is, be it ever so small and slight! See that you do not loiter by the wayside, but always keep on walking straight ahead. During this mortal life it is impossible to remain long in one state, and the person who does not go ahead tends to slip back. Keep on the watch against venial sin, since, neglecting the help of grace even once, we leave ourselves open to commit the same sin again; and with the multiplication of venial sins we dispose ourselves to commit mortal sins.
(Sermons 58; O. X, p. 259)

There is no need to get upset if we find that we are not on equally friendly terms with everyone, provided we love our neighbor cordially, with real affection, as the Lord has commanded us, preferring the other person always and in everything above ourselves, according to the order of holy charity, and never refusing to do anything we can for him or her. We must be prepared to do everything for our neighbor except damn ourselves!
(Spiritual Treatises IV; O. VI, pp. 60-61)

Do not pay any attention to the kind of work you do, but rather to the honor that it brings to God, even though it may seem quite trivial. Desire only to do the Divine Will, following Divine Providence, which is the disposition of Divine Wisdom. In a word, if your works are pleasing to God and recognized as such, that is all that matters. Work hard every day at increasing your purity of heart, which consists in appraising things and weighing them in the balance of God's will.
(Letters 280; O. XIII, p. 53)


THUS because we are not in a civilization which believes strongly in oracles or sacred places, we see the full frenzy of those who killed themselves to find the sepulchre of Christ. But being in a civilization which does believe in this dogma of fact for fact's sake, we do not see the full frenzy of those who kill themselves to find the North Pole. I am not speaking of a tenable ultimate utility, which is true both of the Crusades and the polar explorations. I mean merely that we do see the superficial and aesthetic singularity, the startling quality, about the idea of men crossing a continent with armies to conquer the place where a man died. But we do not see the aesthetic singularity and the startling quality of men dying in agonies to find a place where no man can live––a place only interesting because it is supposed to be the meeting-place of some lines that do not exist.

IN one of his least convincing phrases, Nietzsche had said that just as the ape ultimately produced the man, so should we ultimately produce something higher than the man. The immediate answer, of course, is sufficiently obvious: the ape did not worry about the man, so why should we worry about the superman? If the superman will come by natural selection, may we not leave it to natural selection? If the superman will come by human selection, what sort of superman are we to select? If he is simply to be more just, more brave, or more merciful, then Zarathustra sinks into a Sunday-school teacher; the only way we can work for it is to be more just, more brave, and more merciful––sensible advice, but hardly startling. If he is to be anything else than this, why should we desire him, or what else are we to desire? These questions have been many times asked of the Nietzscheites, and none of the Nietzscheites have even attempted to answer them.
('George Bernard Shaw.')

A MAN can be a Christian to the end of the world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things: it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and loved falls down dead and the worms eat him. That is Materialism, if you like. That is Atheism, if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made any more hopeless because we know the names of the worms who eat him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat, is to a thoughtful mind somewhat difficult to discover.
('All Things Considered.')

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wisdom from… [6 Mar]

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CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (ca. 285): Praying with the words that Jesus taught us

With the same generosity that made the Lord give us everything else, the Giver of our life instructed us in how to pray, so that by using the words taught us by the Son we might more readily gain a hearing from the Father.

He had already foretold that the hour was coming when true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth and he has fulfilled this promise, for we who by his sanctifying action and by his teaching have received the Spirit and the truth are capable now of giving him true and spiritual worship.

What prayer could be more spiritual than the one given us by Christ, who sent us the Holy Spirit? What prayer would more surely have the ring of truth to the Father's ear than the one uttered by the Son who is the truth? To pray otherwise than as he taught us would be not merely ignorant but blameworthy, as we are warned by his own saying: You reject the command of God to set up your own tradition.

Let us pray, then, as our divine teacher has taught us. The prayer that uses his own words, sending up to him the petitions of Christ himself, has a pleasing and familiar sound to God. Let the Father recognize in our prayer the words of his Son.
(The Lord's Prayer 1-3: CSEL 3, 267-268.)

A bishop of Carthage in Northern Africa, Cyprian had a keen sense of the unity of the Church. He differed with Pope Stephen about the non-necessity of rebaptism for lapsed Christians under persecution (lapsi), but eventually conceded to the Pope's position, that of not requiring rebaptism.

ST AUGUSTINE: Jesus Overcame the Curse

Jesus overcame the curse on the human race by taking it upon his own person. He vanquished death by undergoing death himself, sin by indentifying himself with sin, and the ancient serpent by another serpent. Death, sin, and the serpent were all included in God's curse on the human race after the first sin, but the cross has triumphed over each of them.
-- Commentary on Galatians 22

Prayer. You are the truest Lord. You are not like lords who buy with their wallets, but the Lord who buys with blood. You give me the strength of salvation.
-- Commentary on Psalm 139, 11


Do not get upset about the dryness and coldness you are suffering; be consoled in the depths of your heart, remembering the words of our Lord, "How blest are the poor in spirit…. Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness..." [Mt. 5:3-6]. How happy you should be to serve God in the desert, without manna and without water, consoled only by the fact that He is guiding your and you are suffering for Him.
(Letters 1986; O. XXI, p. 25)


IN a very entertaining work, over which we have roared in childhood, it is stated that a point has no parts and no magnitude. Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are––of immeasurable stature.
('The Defendant.')

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wisdom from… [5 Mar]

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ST AMBROSE OF MILAN (339–397): Love is strong as death

Fasten this sign of the Crucified upon your breast and your heart, fasten it upon your arm, so that in all your actions you may be dead to sin. Do not be dismayed by the hardness of the nails; it is no more than the severity of love. Do not complain of their unbreakable firmness; love also is strong as death. It is love that puts to death all our sins and failings, love that deals their death blow. In a word, by loving the Lord's commandments we die to sin and to deeds of shame. God is love; his word is love, that word which is all-powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating to the point where soul is divided from spirit or joints from marrow. Our soul and our flesh must be transfixed by the nails of love, and then we ourselves can say: I am wounded by love. Love has its own nail and its own sword with which to pierce the human soul; happy are they who are wounded by them. Let us willingly expose ourselves to these wounds; if we succumb to them, we shall not taste everlasting death. Let us take up our Lord's cross, the cross on which our unregenerate selves must be crucified and sin destroyed.
(In ps. 118, 15, 37-40: PL 15, 1497-1498.)

Bishop of Milan, Ambrose was a noted preacher and writer. He baptized Saint Augustine of Hippo.

ST AUGUSTINE: Our All-powerful Physician

Our wound is serious, but the Physician is all-powerful. Does it seem to you so small a mercy that, while you were living in evil and sinning, he did not take away your life, but brought you to belief and forgave your sins? What I suffer is serious, but I trust the Almighty. I would despair of my mortal wound if I had not found so great a Physician.
-- Sermon 352, 3

Prayer. Bring relief to a serious wound with your great medicine. Mine is serious, but I take refuge in the Almighty.
-- Commentary on Psalm 50, 6


Do not limit your patience to putting up with only some kinds of injuries or afflictions, but accept all those which God sends you or lets happen to you. There are some who want to put up with only honorable afflictions, such as being wounded at war, persecuted for the faith of the like. These people love tribulations only because of the honor that goes with them.
(INT. Part III, Ch. 3; O. III, p. 134)


PROGRESS should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. [Understood in a modernist, secular sense, it] does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Wisdom from… [1–4 Mar 08]

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[I am posting only extracts from the past few days, since it would be too much at once and it's just better to move on than retread lost days.]

The act of kindness
[Jesus] related the parable of the steward to make us realize that nothing in this world really belongs to us. We have been entrusted with the administration of our Lord's property to use what we need with thanksgiving, and to distribute the rest among our fellow servants according to the needs of each one. … these same poor people will befriend you by assuring your salvation, for Christ, the giver of eternal rewards, will declare that he himself received the acts of kindness done to them.
(Gaudentius of Brescia, Sermo 18: PL 20, 973.)

…to be perfect we must look beyond even the hoped-for blessings which we have been promised are stored up for us. Our only fear should be the loss of God's friendship, and the only honor or pleasure we covet should be that of becoming God's friend.
(Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses Theoria II: SC 1, 131-135.)

[C]an people find the truth in their neighbor if they refuse to support their brothers and sisters in this way—if on the contrary they either scoff at their tears or disparage their joys, being insensitive to all feelings but their own? There is a popular saying which well suits them: A healthy person cannot feel the pains of sickness, nor can one who is well-fed feel the pangs of hunger. The more familiar we are with sickness or hunger, the greater will be our compassion for others who are sick or hungry. … However, we cannot sympathize with the wretchedness of others until we first recognize our own. … Such was the example shown by our Savior, who desired to suffer himself in order that he might learn to feel compassion, and to be afflicted in order that he might learn how to show mercy.
(Bernard of Clairvaux, Degrees of Humiliy and Pride 3, 6: Edit. Critica (Rome, 1963) 3, 20-21.)

Christ's temptations and our temptations
When our first parents were tempted by the forbidden fruit, they were tempted by the desire of the flesh. When they were told, you will be like gods, they were tempted by the pride of life. And from what was added, knowing good and evil, they were tempted by greed, taking greed generally as the desire for having any desirable thing. Likewise Christ was tempted by gluttony or the desire of the flesh … by greed or the desire of the eyes … [and ] by the pride of life when the devil led him onto a pinnacle of the temple…. In like manner we ourselves are tempted daily either by the desire of the flesh in regard to pleasurable good, or by the desire of the eyes in regard to a utilitarian good, or by the pride of life in regard to an honorable good.
(Giles of Rome, O.S.A., Sermon on the Three Vices of the World.)


The Promised Gift
Christ grants justification to those who believe in him, simply because they have faith and not because they serve the law. … In other words, the promised gift to believers is not a spirit of outward observance but one of inward devotion inspired by love.
-- Commentary on Galatians 22

Life Entails Change
Right reason demands a change in what was right to do at some earlier time if the time or circumstance is changed. Therefore, when objectors say it is not right to make a change, truth answers with a shout that it is not right not to make a change.
-- Letter 138

Prayer. Lord, you are always preparing things. You prepare us for yourself, and yourself for us. You prepare a place for yourself in us, and for us in yourself.
-- Sermon on John 68, 3

Bear One Another's Burdens
The responsibility of love is that we bear one another's burdens. But this responsibility, which is not an eternal one, leads doubtless to an eternal blessedness in which there will be no burdens for us that we will be required to bear for one another.
-- Eighty-three Diverse Questions, 71

Causes of Punishment
You who boast of the punishment you endure, do you fail to see that there were three crosses when our Lord suffered? The Lord suffered between two thieves. It is not the punishment that distinguished them, but the cause for which they were punished.
-- Sermon 325, 2


The obligations that we have toward the Eternal Father for creation, we have likewise toward Jesus Christ, Who, by the redemption, has acquired every right of sovereignty over all redeemed creatures.
(Meditations for Solitude, p. 50)

Recall to mind how long it is since you began to sin; note how greatly sins have multiplied in your heart since that first beginning and how every day you have increased them against God, yourself and your neighbor by deed, word, desire and thought. … By these two points you will discover that your sins are more numerous than the sands of the sea. Cast yourself at the feet of the Lord and say to Him, "Lord, with the help of your grace, I will never again abandon myself to sin."
(INT. Part I, Ch. 12; O. III, p. 41)

We must accommodate our heart to the condition of life in which we are, because life goes quickly and we are mortal, and death follows no set rules. It chooses here and there, without any pattern of selection and without method, taking the good and the bad, the young and the old. Happy are those who live in continual, vigilant watch!
(Letters 132; O. XVIII, p. 25)

Watch the bees on the thyme; they find a very bitter juice, but, by sucking it, convert it into honey. O worldly people! At times devout souls encounter great bitterness in their works of mortification, but by performing them they change them into something most sweet and delicious.
(INT. Part I, Ch. 2; O. III, p. 117)


IT may be a very limited aim in morality to shoot a 'many-faced and fickle traitor,' but at least it is a better aim than to be a many-faced and fickle traitor, which is a simple summary of a good many modern systems from Mr. d'Annunzio's downwards.
('The Defendant.')

A MAN may easily be forgiven for not doing this or that incidental act of charity, especially when the question is as genuinely difficult and dubious as is the case of mendicity. But there is something quite pestilently Pecksniffian about shrinking from a hard task on the plea that it is not hard enough. If a man will really try talking to the ten beggars who come to his door he will soon find out whether it is really so much easier than the labour of writing a cheque for a hospital.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

BUT the man we see every day––the worker in Mr. Gradgrind's factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind's office––he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day, and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory. The only man who gains by all the philosophies is Gradgrind. It would be worth his while to keep his commercial helotry supplied with sceptical literature. … As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment, for he will always change his mind.