Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oh, blawg: A mourning.

February breaks and I realize that January was death to writing. Pregnancy demands (almost) daily naps, which take up my writing time. The three little women, one of whom is learning to live without diapers, work very hard to give me rest, but only in those brief moments between snacking, pooping, reading, schooling, and general household drama. And then, of course, I like spending time with my husband. Regina Caeli Academy takes the rest.


oh, blawg.

So, the Philosopher Mom has been quiet. And will probably continue in quiet in the months to come. I hope to return to regular writing here one day--it really is rest and recovery time.

Perhaps a Lenten discipline? Along with the Lenten reading?

Can I share my dream? Last year, the Scientist Dad and I read through a selection of the Early Church Fathers for the 40 days of Lent. I would love, love to compile the

40 Days of Edith Stein
40 Days of Benedict XVI
40 Days of Carmelite Mystics
40 Days of Dominican Spirituality

After I re-write and update the entire Fr. Laux series.

After we populate the world with little philosophers and scientists and preachers.

And after my much-needed afternoon nap.

Ave atque vale!

(Oh, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh had a live-in nanny.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

We happy few, we band of brothers...

Today is the feast of Sts. Basil and Gregory Nazianzan--two men of vastly different temperament who joined together in a deep friendship. Their bond of brotherly love bears fruit even now--a testimony to the power of human friendship made in the Divine image.

Bl. John Henry Newman wrote a fantastic essay on the two men. Read the whole thing here.

This excerpt is from Gregory's poetry, describing the priestly and ascetic life that the two men chose:

"Fierce was the whirlwind of my storm-toss'd mind,
  Searching, 'mid holiest ways, a holier still.
  Long had I nerved me, in the depths to sink
  Thoughts of the flesh, and then more strenuously.
  Yet, while I gazed upon diviner aims,
  I had not wit to single out the best:
  For, as is aye the wont in things of earth,
  Each had its evil, each its nobleness.
  I was the pilgrim of a toilsome course,
  Who had o'erpast the waves, and now look'd round,
  With anxious eye, to track his road by land.
  Then did the awful Thesbite's image rise,
  His highest Carmel, and his food uncouth;
  The Baptist wealthy in his solitude;
  And the unencumbered sons of Jonadab.
  But soon I felt the love of holy books,
  The spirit beaming bright in learned lore,
  Which deserts could not hear, nor silence tell. 

  Long was the inward strife, till ended thus:—
  I saw, when men lived in the fretful world,
  They vantaged other men, but risked the while
  The calmness and the pureness of their hearts.
  They who retired held an uprighter port,
  And raised their eyes with quiet strength towards heaven;
  Yet served self only, unfraternally.
  And so, 'twixt these and those, I struck my path,
  To meditate with the free solitary,
  Yet to live secular, and serve mankind."

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Vigil of Christ's Nativity

Glory to Your coming that restored humankind to life.
Glory to that One Who came to us by His First-born.
Glory to that Silent One Who spoke by means of His Voice.
Glory to that Sublime One Who was seen by means of His Voice.
Glory to that Sublime One Who was seen by means of His Dawn.
Glory to the Spiritual One Who was well-pleased
that His Child should become a body so that through Him His power might be felt
and the bodies of His kindred might live again.
Glory to that Hidden One Whose Child was revealed.
Glory to that Living One Whose Son became a mortal.
Glory to that Great One Whose Son descended and became small.
Glory to that Great One Who fashioned Him,
the Image of His greatness and Form for His hiddenness.
With the eye and the mind–with both of them we saw Him.
Glory to that Hidden One Who even to the mind
is utterly imperceptible to those who investigate Him.
But by His grace through His humanity
a nature never before fathomed is now perceived.

St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th C), "Hymns On the Nativity" 

Image source.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Preparing for Christ with Newman.

Sorting through the Advent reading I meant to do, I found this sermon of Newman's and actually read it. Holy smokes (no pun intended)! Not for the faint of heart, it is the perfect piece for Advent during this Year of Faith. I always feel so disconnected by the time that little baby is in the manger--the pardonable but still lamentable signs of original sin--and wonder, "Why is it so rare to feel awe, wonder, total submissiveness when I believe with all I am that one night in 1st-century Palestine, the Creator of the Stars was born in blood and water?" 

Really. That's pretty awesome.  Newman's commentary is fabulous, so here are some of the highlights. Bear in mind, of course, that fear here is not terror. Newman was no Jansenist. Fear, rather, is that perfect piety (holy, servile fear) that inspires submission to the only One who holds all good in himself.

A masterful attempt to articulate how feeling ought to follow faith. Read the whole thing here.

"I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should {22} have,—yes, have in an intense degree—if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realize, not to believe that He is present...

"Who then is there to deny, that if we saw God, we should fear? Take the most cold and secular of all those who explain away the Gospel; or take the most heated and fanatic of those who consider it peculiarly their own; take those who think that Christ has brought us nothing great, or those who think He has brought it all to themselves,—I say, would either party keep from fearing greatly if they saw God? Surely it is quite a truism to say that any creature would fear. But why would he fear? Would it be merely because he saw God, or because he knew that God was present? If he shut his eyes, he would still fear, for his eyes had conveyed to him this solemn truth; to have seen would be enough. But if so, does it not follow at once, that, if men do not fear, it is because they do not act as they would act if they saw Him, that is,—they do not feel that He is present? ...

This will be seen more clearly, by considering how differently we feel towards and speak of our friends as present or absent. Their presence is a check upon us; it acts as an external law, compelling us to do or not do what we should not do or do otherwise, or should do but for it. This is just what most men lack in their religion at present,—such an external restraint arising from the consciousness of God's presence... When a person is absent, we are tempted perhaps confidently to say what his opinion is on certain points;—but should he be present, we qualify our words; we hardly like to speak at all, from the vivid consciousness that we may be wrong, and that he is present to tell us so. We are very cautious of pronouncing what his feelings are on the matter in hand, or how he is disposed towards ourselves; and in all things we observe a deference and delicacy in our conduct towards him. Now, if we feel this towards our fellows, what shall we feel in the presence of an Angel? and if so, what in the presence of the All-knowing, All-searching Judge of men? What is respect and consideration in the case of our fellows, becomes godly fear as regards Almighty God; and they who do not fear Him, in one word, do not believe that He sees and hears them. If they did, they would cease to boast so confidently of His favourable thoughts of them, to foretell His dealings, to pronounce upon His revelations, to make free with His Name, and to address Him familiarly."

And of course, because this was a homily, he offers some practical and doable ideas:

"Is it wonderful that we have no fear in our words and mutual intercourse, when we exercise no acts of faith? What, you will ask, are acts of faith? Such as these,—to come often to prayer, is an act of faith; to kneel down instead of sitting, is an act of faith; to strive to attend to your prayers, is an act of faith; to behave in God's House otherwise than you would in a common room, is an act of faith; to come to it on weekdays as well as Sundays, is an act of faith; to come often to the most Holy Sacrament, is an act of faith; and to be still and reverent during that sacred service, is an act of faith. These are all acts of faith, because they all are acts such as we should perform, if we saw and heard Him who is present, though with our bodily eyes we see and hear Him not. But, "blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed;" for, be sure, if we thus act, we shall, through God's grace, be gradually endued with the spirit of His holy fear. We shall in time, in our mode of talking and acting, in our religious services and our daily conduct, manifest, not with constraint and effort, but spontaneously and naturally, that we fear Him while we love him." 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's quiet around here...

Very quiet. 

Then I read this poem by George Herbert. Since I'm off Facebook for Advent (Oh! Blessed silence!), here is my sharing place. It's not Christmas yet, and the poem is "Christmas." But in defense of my liturgical weakness, the poem is about what we should be doing during Advent.

So, go do it.

All after pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections, quite astray,
I took up in the next inn I could find.
There when I came, whom found I but my dear,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to him, ready there
To be all passengers' most sweet relief?

O Thou, whose glorious yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger:
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger;
Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging than a rack, or grave.
—George Herbert, "Christmas," 1639

Read more:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Strangers in a strange land.

This election cycle, I tried to stay away from online debates. I was happy to post thoughtful articles (mostly reflecting on "all nations are as rust on the scales") or "like" other people's posts, but in the blogosphere silence was my rule. The first trimester of pregnancy also kept me well away from... everyone. This made it easy to avoid heated arguments or even heated commiseration with like-minded friends. Solitude and silence is, after all, not a bad way to pray for the nation. 

I got to be Mary instead of Martha for a few weeks.

Now, however, the election is over and I'm back home with the kids, the neighbors, and friends. Those of us who, in good conscience, cannot pay for abortions, birth control, or euthanasia feel acutely that our government does not represent or even protect our most cherished liberties. 

Yes, that's Pompeii. No, I'm not comparing President Obama to Vesuvius. Keep reading.

For (some) Catholic Americans--especially those of us who grew up in the 80's and 90's bubble of prosperity and freedom, this comes as a shock. We thought of America as "safe" and as "home." Our fellow Catholics long ago didn't have that shock: Charles Lwanga hardly expected his pagan king to respect the Faith. Elizabeth Ann Seton knew full well that the American government did not protect her new Church from prejudice. Edmund Campion knew what he was getting into.

But I never thought, growing up, that America was anything but the most advanced human government on earth. "We live in a free country," was the motto of 3rd grade history class.

Maybe we do live in the best possible human government--this may be the best the poor banished children can come up with. Compared to Christians in China, Nigeria, India, and the Sudan, we are free to practice certain aspects of of our faith, if not all. America is still exceptional in that regard. The late great Richard John Neuhaus warned, however:

"The United States in its founding, as is evident in the Religion Clause of the First Amendment, is the great exception to this general pattern [of religious intolerance]. But “American exceptionalism,” also on this score, needs constantly to be reexamined and, when necessary, defended. Without that, the state drives out prophetic religion and establishes a monopoly on public space and public meanings. That is the circumstance referred to as “the naked public square.” Which, as we must never tire of recalling, does not remain naked but is taken over by the pseudo-religion established by state power."

We watched this "naked public square" exercise its might yesterday. Religious freedom is clearly not a fundamental concern for the majority of Americans. Even "religious" Americans believe that faith is a private opinion, compartmentalized and removed from public life. The pseudo-religion of the state takes many forms and is still evolving, but it has driven out the prophetic religions. 

This is not an accusation: it is simply an observation. There is the City of God, and here is the City of Man. Here is Babylon. 

Neuhaus reminds us later in the chapter that, as St. Augustine wrote, no Catholics --no Christians-- can be citizens of this world. Because of a fundamental choice we made, because of the undeserved gift of an eternal King, Babylon has no power over us.

Thomas More lived in Anglican Babylon. Its greatest lion could not tame him.

Lwanga lived in Ugandan Babylon. Its fearsome fires burned him to dust but they could not conquer his soul.

And we live in American Babylon. Nothing can harm us if our hearts belong to God alone.

Cardinal Dolan's letter of congratulations to President Obama echoes More's own "the kings' good servant, but God's first." It's worth a read and I will read it to my children this evening and in the years to come as they learn to navigate their American Babylon--or whatever Babylon they encounter. 

My eldest Philosophical Child was disturbed to learn of the election results this morning. She knows that there is a "bad law" that the bishops and Catholic schools, hospitals, and institutions are trying to resist. She knows what abortion is and which candidates support it. 

I reminded her of the story of Thomas More and asked her if she could remember it. She reflected for a moment and then said, "Well, Thomas More lived with a Bad Law. And now he is in heaven!" 

The perspective of St. Paul! We must encourage each other to be more More and Lwanga than flag or fireworks. Babylon becomes an elevator to heaven when we place our loyalties first in eternity. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

Happy Feast of St. Teresa of Avila!

She is truly one of my all-time favorites-- a woman of drive and passion, with a real love for the world, but who found herself, mid-life, always wanting. God alone supplied that want, she received him, and the Church will never be the same because of what he did in her.

A few years ago (okay, 5 years ago), I wrote a series of synopses of her Interior Mansions. Today's a good day to link to them, re-read some of her sayings, and rest in the certainty that our God is the center, beginning, and end of all.

And this bit from her autobiography is hilarious. I can hear the tongue-in-cheek restraint of the last line. It sounds exactly like something my choleric child would do...

"One of my brothers was nearly of my own age; and he it was whom I most loved, though I was very fond of them all, and they of me. He and I used to read Lives of Saints together. When I read of martyrdom undergone by the Saints for the love of God, it struck me that the vision of God was very cheaply purchased; and I had a great desire to die a martyr's death, — not out of any love of Him of which I was conscious, but that I might most quickly attain to the fruition of those great joys of which I read that they were reserved in Heaven; and I used to discuss with my brother how we could become martyrs. We settled to go together to the country of the Moors, begging our way for the love of God, that we might be there beheaded; and our Lord, I believe, had given us courage enough, even at so tender an age, if we could have found the means to proceed; but our greatest difficulty seemed to be our father and mother." ~Life, Ch. I