Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Part II: Piety the Savory Gift

Here is a continuation of the article on piety by guest blogger Mary Lanser:

Piety the Savory Gift
by Mary Lanser

By the power of the Holy Spirit, in our sacramental initiation in Christ, we become savory citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, called to live and teach the Kingdom of God, here and now as we live in this life. In describing this reality for us, Jesus calls us “salt of the earth” and leaves us with a sacramental Church by which we are able to open our minds and will to the counsel and advocacy of the Holy Spirit.

According to Matthew 5:13-16:
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
So then how do we “let our light shine” so as to glorify the Father in heaven? Let us go back to Isaiah and point out that in the scriptural list of spirated gifts there are two mentions of fear: 1) Fear of the Lord, and 2) a quick understanding, or delight in the Fear of the Lord. In the RSV Catholic Version the pericope reads as follows: Isaiah 11:3 “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Part I: Piety the Gift

Since it has become popular in some Catholic circles to speak of piety as if it were a disease rather than a gift of the Holy Spirit, I have asked my Byzantine Catholic friend Mary Lanser of Irenikon to write a series of essays about it.

Piety the Gift
by Mary Lanser

Piety is most commonly identified with the externals of religious devotions including personal attitudes of heart and mind expressed in prayer and spiritual writings, and descriptions of, pilgrimages to, and venerations of holy people, holy places or holy things. In this brief four part series we hope to illuminate the foundations of true piety, without which, these external manifestations would be absolutely meaningless.

According to the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas as well, piety is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In that sense it is not a virtue that we can acquire, it is a gift of grace given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift intended to assist us in quieting the passions and incorporating the virtues in our daily lives.

St. Thomas takes the enumerated list of the gifts, and the description of the spirated nature of the gifts directly from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 11:2-3. I am including two reliable translations of these passages so you can see that the list in Isaiah appears slightly differently from the seven gifts as they are listed in the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas as: wisdom, knowledge, understanding and counsel, fortitude, piety and fear.

However, the contents of either list, the one in Scripture or the one from St. Thomas, is not different from the other in meaning.

Isaiah 11 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition):
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. 2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. 3 And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears. 4 But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: land he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. 5 And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.
Also note that in verses 4 and 5 of Isaiah there is a foreshadowing of the Sermon on the Mount and what we have come to know and revere as the Beatitudes, or the way of the beatitudinal life. There is also distinct and powerful references to justice, which we will come to address, in due course. These elements are crucial in understanding the full import of piety as a spirated virtue [by the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit] in our lives, designed to assist us in becoming more fully one in and with Christ.

As St. Thomas writes:
seeing that these gifts are set down in Holy Writ as having been in Christ, according to Isaiah11:2-3 ....the virtues are given simply that we may do good works, but the gifts, in order to conform us to Christ, chiefly with regard to His Passion, for it was then that these gifts shone with the greatest splendor. Yet neither does this appear to be a satisfactory distinction. Because Our Lord Himself wished us to be conformed to Him, chiefly in humility and meekness, according to Mat. 11:29: "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart," and in charity, according to Jn. 15:12: "Love one another, as I have loved you."
In the latter part of the text, referencing both Matthew and John the Beloved, one can begin to see the relationship between the gift of piety, or godliness, or fear of the Lord, as it is variously translated, and its fulfillment in living a beatitudinal life. Over the centuries, for the saints and fathers, piety has been an especial type of virtue. Not quite the same type as the virtues which, as we've been taught, can be either infused in us through the Trinity indwelling, or acquired naturally to some degree.

It is revealed in Isaiah that true piety cannot be acquired by human effort in any way, but is by its nature given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that piety is entirely an internal and invisible movement of the Spirit in each person, or that we cannot interact with that gift in very personal and public ways. Piety is made manifest both interiorly and exteriorly.

In a word from Venerable Nilus of Sinai we can see that if piety is truly in operation in a soul, it is inevitable that it becomes apparent to the hearts and eyes and ears of others: “Not he who shows mercy to many is pious, but he who offends no one. Study virtue by word, but preach about it by deed.”~Venerable Nilus of Sinai.

As surely as we think this is a simple counsel to treat our brothers and sisters as we'd like to be treated, we can be equally assured that it is not.

The question remains: What does it mean to “offend no one.” Not what does it mean to us, as in what is the first thing that comes to mind? But what did it mean to Venerable Nilus?

If we are asked or ordered or merely expected to sin, in any fashion or to any degree, must we sin in order to offend no one? If we are expected to behave in such a way that we know or believe will be offensive to God, whether or not it is personally sinful, must we do so in order to meet the Venerable Nilus' criteria that we offend no one?

Of course not! What Venerable Nilus says is that we are not only to seek interiorly to be holy as Christ and the Father are holy, but we are to outwardly sign or preach the Kingdom by being visibly holy in our lives. We are to accomplish this by displaying the very godliness in us that is a gift from God, spirated by the Holy Spirit, first to Christ, and then to us through Baptism into Christ. We accomplish this first and foremost by being obedient to the commandments and to legitimate authority in all things but sin.

It is also clear from this brief counsel that piety is the hearthstone for the fires of humility, for the proud can still show mercy, but it is only the meek and the humble who can empty their own will in deference to the will of another, and it is only the meek and humble of heart who seek never, first and foremost, to offend God. And if one teaches and preaches the truths of the Kingdom then they will not ever be truly offensive to others, for offensive in the sense of the holy fathers means to give scandal or lead others into sin, by thought, word or deed!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Friendship With the Saints

Friends in high places. Some thoughts from Fr. Mark.
At certain times in one's life, a particular saint will begin, in so many ways, to say, "Will you too be my friend?" This generally happens when the saint in question starts turning up again and again in books, articles, letters, pictures, and conversations. One mustn't be too quick to discount such things as mere coincidence. From their places in the glory of heaven, the saints are continually widening their circles of friends and clients. It pleases Our Lord to allow this because He wishes, through a given saint, to draw us to a particular virtue, to assist us in a trial, to bestow upon us certain graces, or to make us aware of certain mysteries of the faith.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Songs of a Housewife

 Under the Gables discusses Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' poems about household chores. Holiness can be found in the mundane, depending upon our attitude and intent. According to Mrs. Rawlings:
I was brought up to believe in the modern myth that housekeeping is only drudgery, and the housewife is a downtrodden martyr. I thought that any seemingly contented housewives were only 'making the best of it.' When I first began housekeeping in my own home, I felt that I had entered the ranks of the mistreated.
After a time I began to realize, to my amazement, that I didn't feel at all downtrodden, and that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I began to look at other domestic 'martyrs' from a new angle, and I have learned many things.

I have found that there is romance in housework: and charm in it; and whimsy and humor without end. I have found that the housewife works hard, of course--but likes it. Most people who amount to anything do work hard, at whatever their job happens to be. The housewife's job is home-making, and she is, in fact, 'making the best of it'; making the best of it by bringing patience and loving care to her work; sympathy and understanding to her family; making the best of it by seeing all the fun in the day's incidents and human relationships.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Silence: Can You Hear It?

Why is silence vital to the contemplative life?
The lasting fruit of these moments of external silence is the ongoing “internal silence” which spills over into our daily routine; one is called to spiritual silence for renewal and strength in order to fully live out the vocational call in the world. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this topic on July 4, 2010: “Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Josephite Marriage

A beautiful meditation on the marriage of Our Lady and St. Joseph.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

St. Jane Frances de Chantal

She gave an unflinching witness of faith amid trials, as well as of the power of gentleness. Here are some wonderful posts about her, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Blessed Martyrs of Rochefort

From Louange de sa Gloire:
"Fr Jean-Baptiste Duverneuil is thought to be born in Limoges 1737 or at Saint-Trielx on January 7th, 1759. In religious life he was called Fr. Leonard. Fr Michel Louis Brulard, was born at Chartres on June 11, 1758. His religious name is not known. Fr Jacques Gagnot, known in religious life as Fr. Hubert of St Claude, was born at Frolois on February 9, 1753.
Loyal to God, the Church and the Pope, they refused to take the oath of the civil Constitution for the Clergy imposed by the Constituent Assembly of the French Revolution. Persecuted and condemned, they were imprisoned on a boat in Rochefort Bay, on the Atlantic coast of Charente-Maritime, waiting. to be deported for forced labour in French Guyana or in Africa. This never happened. They were left massed like animals on the slave trader Deux Associes, anchored in a small inlet between the islands of Aix and Madame. During 1794, on this old ship or “Ponton” the first two Carmelite religious died: Fr Jean-Baptiste on July 1 and Fr Michel-Louis on July 25. They were buried on the island of Aix. Towards the end of August a widespread plague of frightening proportions broke out aboard the ship. Those prisoners left alive were disembarked on the island of Madame and housed in tents in conditions that continued to he horrifying. Fr Jacques died there on September 10 and was buried on the island. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 1, 1995, together with 61 other martyrs who were likewise victims of the French Revolution (1794-1795)."
-- From the website of the Discalced Carmelites of the Australia-Oceania Region

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blessed Isidore Bakanja

He was killed for wearing the Carmelite scapular.
Blessed Isidore was born in 1887 at northeast Republic of the Congo, and at a young age was hired as a domestic boy. Many of the Belgian plantation owners and their agents were avowed atheists, who hated the missionaries because of the latter's defense of the natives' rights and their denouncing of injustices perpetrated against them. "Mon pere" was a pejorative name given to priests and to all that had to do with religion. Isidore soon experienced the hatred of the agents for Catholicism. He asked for leave to return home; permission was refused. He was told to stop teaching his fellow workers how to pray: "You'll have the whole village praying and no one will want to work", one agent shouted at him. Isidore was told to discard his scapular. When he did not, he was twice flogged.
The second time, the agent flew into one of his rages. He jumped at Isidore, tore the scapular from around his neck and threw him to the ground. He had two servant boys hold Isidore by his hands and feet and a third domestic flogged him. The whip was made of elephant hide with nails protruding at the end. The writhing Isidore asked for mercy. "My God, I'm dying", he muttered. But the colonizer kept kicking Isidore in the neck and head, and ordered his domestic to scourge him harder still. After 100, those assisting lost count of the number of blows. Isidore's back was one open wound; some of his bones were exposed. After scourging he was thrown, legs chained, into a hut for processing rubber. He could not even move to relieve himself.
Since an inspector was due, Isidore was banished to another village. But because he could not walk, he fell by the wayside and hid in the forest. He dragged himself before the inspector, who was horrified at the sight of this modern Job. The inspector himself left a written account of his impression: "I saw a man come from the forest with his back torn apart by deep, festering, malodorous wounds, covered with filth, assaulted by flies. He leaned on two sticks in order to get near me -he wasn't walking; he was dragging himself". The agent appeared on the scene and tried to kill "that animal of mon pere", but the inspector even physically prevented him. He took Isidore to his own settlement, hoping to help him heal. But Isidore felt death in his bones. He told someone who had pity on him: "if you see my mother, or if you go to the judge, or if you meet the priest, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian".
Two missionaries spent several days with him. He devoutly received the last sacraments. He told them the reason for his beating: "The white man did not like Christians.... He did not want me to wear the scapular.... He yelled at me when I said my prayers". The missionaries urged Isidore to forgive the agent; he assured them that he had already done so and that he nursed no hatred for him. This "animal of mon pere", this convert of two-and-a-half years proved that he knew what it meant to follow Jesus - even to the point of being flogged like him, even to the point of carrying the cross, even to the point of dying. The missionaries urged Isidore to pray for the agent. "Certainly I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much". His agony - more painful than the actual flogging - lasted six months. He died on either 8 or 15 August 1909, rosary in hand and the scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel around his neck. - EWTN

Monday, August 16, 2010

Married Priests in the First Centuries

Interesting video.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Power of Holy Obedience

Anthony Esolen explains:
Obedience is indeed a liberating and beautiful virtue. It frees me from the stranglehold of my self-will, which is another way of saying that it pries the talons of Satan from off my throat, so that I might breathe like a human being and a child of God. It frees me from having to determine, from my own limited store of experience and my limited grasp of eternal verities, the principles whereby human actions are good or evil; and that means that I am free to delve the more deeply into those verities, discovering more and more within them, dwelling within them, meditating upon them like the Psalmist pondering the beauty of God's laws at night upon his couch. Obedience sharpens my hearing and my sight, as Jesus Himself has promised, for those who keep His commandments will be beloved by the Father, and He will bring them light.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why We Are Not Healed

Resentment and the remembrance of wrongs.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

God Isn't Nice

God is good, and goodness is different from niceness.
The culture of niceness rejects anything that challenges the autonomy of the individual. It has bastardized the meanings of words such as “love”, “freedom” and “marriage”, confusing people and leaving them ignorant about God, the meaning of life, and the dignity of the human person. In fact, the origin of the word “nice” is the Latin word nescius, which means “ignorant”.

“That kind of culture activity of ‘being nice’ is destructive, and it’s not what Christianity is all about,” said Sr. Galligan. “God is not nice. God is good, and goodness is different from niceness.”

The culture of niceness also eschews the rich intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church.

“We have a tradition that is [almost 2,000] years of the best of philosophical and theological minds, with the contemporary blessings of [Popes] John Paul II and Benedict [XVI], who are also very able to engage young people, old people—the culture,” said Sr. Galligan.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


What is it?
We need to clarify our ideas concerning this important subject. What is tolerance? The word “tolerance” derives from the Latin verb tolare, which means to bear, to endure, to put up with. The object of tolerance, that which is borne or endured or put up with, is invariably something negative. We speak, for example, of people who have a low tolerance for distractions, meaning that they are easily distracted. Or, to cite another example, the physiologists tell us that women, on average, have a higher tolerance for physical pain than do men, meaning that they can put up with pain better than can men.

Now, the thing to note about tolerance is that, just as such, it has no immediate moral dimension to it. The inability to tolerate distractions may be simply a matter of natural temperament, and the ability to tolerate pain can be explained in terms of one’s physical make-up, things over which a person has no direct control. Whether or not tolerance takes on a virtuous character very much depends on its being an attitude which is deliberately assumed.

To the best of my knowledge, St. Thomas never regards tolerance, just as such, as a moral virtue. It would seem that the actual moral virtue that tolerance comes closest to is patience. The virtue of patience, unlike tolerance, is not the mere enduring of something difficult or painful, but it is doing so for a higher end. Saint Thomas teaches that patience represents a conscious, willed effort to preserve a rational good in the face of sorrow. The patient person puts up with difficulties for the sake of a good that transcends those difficulties. So, we take note of the fact that the saints are always patient, because they bear all the crosses that are sent to them for the supreme good which is the love of God.

Is it ever permissible to tolerate things which are not merely negative but positively evil? Not only is it permissible, sometimes it is unavoidable. There are certain circumstances in which particular evils must be put up with, and this is because any attempt to get rid of them would very likely only give rise to yet greater evils, and our second state will be worse than the first. But such circumstances should be considered exceptional, and the salient point to stress here is that to tolerate evil in such circumstances does not at all mean to approve of it. The evil is simply “put up with,” borne, as a painful presence which, if it were possible to do so, one would promptly take action to get rid of it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Corporal Mortification

A brief defense.
Mortification is an unpleasant word to the contemporary ear. For many, it has something vaguely to do with "being embarrassed" -- but it also conjures up pain, humiliation, even cruelty. This is hardly surprising: What isn't understood often produces shock and incredulity. In our world of high tension, uncertainty, and psychological stress, why would any sane person welcome more affliction?

Despite all this, voluntary mortification has an enduring power for both the body and soul. Self-denial helps a person overcome both psychological and physical weakness, gives him inner energy, helps him grow in virtue, and ultimately leads to salvation. It conquers the insidious demons of softness, pessimism, and lukewarm faith that dominate the lives of so many today.

In contrast to the extremes of sadism or masochism, corporal mortification is grounded in a healthy view of man and the world around him, namely, that all of us are flawed and have sinful tendencies within us. The practice itself dates back to biblical times and finds its greatest expression in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
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