I have felt a bit overwhelmed by the challenge of sharing some of what I learned about the great French revival of the 17th century during my week as a wanna-be scholar in Athens, Ohio.
First of all, Dave made me read tons about the dark days that set the stage for the generation of saints and the profound religious revival that marked France and especially Paris for 150 years. That meant the Eight Wars of Religion that racked France for 36 years. Massacres, siege, famine, civil war, mob lynchings, reigns of terror, and some of the nastiest diatribes ever written. Oh, and real albino friar assassins. Dominicans. Hmmm.
Dave told me that the relentless grimness was one reason he had never been able to bring himself to read Reformation history. A convert from evangelicalism, he couldn't stand reading about Christians doing the unspeakable to one another in the name of Christ. (So he specialized in World War II Poland and ethnic cleansing instead which is mostly about Nazis and Communists doing the unspeakable to the ideologically and racially impure. I don't know as how I count that as an improvement.)
The fascinating thing is that many 20th century historians of the period don't take religion seriously as a motive. It had to be a cover for economic or class warfare, political motivations, power grabs, etc. It is the most recent generation of scholars, writing in the 80's and 90's, who have insisted that as uncomfortable as it makes us - 17th century Frenchmen and women were truly exercised by religious questions and driven by religious feelings. And this startlingly anachronistic working assumption that France and the French were essentially non-religious people also permeates our popular culture.
I realized as I read that I had a powerful, unspoken image of Paris, nurtured by innumerable films and stories, as a cheerfully amoral and irreligious place where style in living and the arts, food, and sex are recognized as the center and purpose of life. (Think of Professor Henry Higgens declaiming: " "The French don't care what they do actually as long as they pronounce it properly."
The Myth that is Paris seems to run like this: When Americans want to get out from under our bourgeois, work-obsessed, dour, joyless Puritanism; when we want discover our inner passion, artist, and cool; we go where an irresistible sensuous tide will carry us - guiltless - away and tutor us in the arts of living. We, like Audrey Hepburn or Anne Hathaway or Gene Kelly, go to Paris. Mere morals are helpless to resist the sensuous force that is Paris.
So it was a bit startling to grasp how uneasy the Maurice Chevalier of American films would have been in intensely religious late 16th and 17th century Paris. That Paris would easily give early American Puritans, 16th century Spain, and Islamic Mecca a run for their money in a contest for most religious culture. For 100 years, Paris was one of the most religious cities on earth.
Paris was the Catholic bastion in France, the center of Catholic resistance in the Wars of Religion. For six years, Paris was run by a radical branch of the ultra-Catholic Holy League. Penitential Eucharistic processions filled the streets of the capital for months at a time. Parisians endured months of siege and starvation rather than accept a Protestant king. It was the intransigence of Parisian Catholics that ultimately forced the Protestant heir to the French throne, Henry of Navarre, to become the Catholic King Henry IV. (And no, Henry never said "Paris is worth a Mass." The quip that launched a thousand bad histories was coined by ultra-Catholic propagandists who insisted that Henry was not capable of conversion. More on that later.)
Over 60 new religious orders were founded in the city in the first half of the 17th century. And the majority of these new religious were contemplatives who lived very rigorous and ascetic lives. Parish was the center of the Catholic revival that ultimately transformed the entire nation.
So the next time you hear Humphrey Bogart say "We'll always have Paris.", remember that Paris has not always been the seductive, religion-free, symbol of our escapist fantasies.
More as I have time. I must finish preparing for the Stewardship Conference talk next week. It was fun telling Fr. Mike this morning (as i dropped him off at the airport) "See you in Munich." Now that's something I've never been able to do before!
I'm back home for the nonce, It is a stunningly beautiful October day here and i am reveling in the last of my flowers. Chances are that they won't be blooming by the time I get back from our next trip. Cause it's October and you know that means lots of airplanes and frequent flyer miles.
Then both Fr. Mike and I fly to Germany next Tuesday where I will share the story of my conversion and he and I will teach the Called & Gifted workshop. Our venue is tough: the gorgeous Benedictine Monastery in Ettal, Bavaria.
After this, Fr. Mike loses his right to complain about those tundra mission tours.
Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago made the following comments during his intervention at the Synod on the Word of God ongoing in Rome:
"To speak of the Word of God in the Church is to speak of the Word of God in the lives of believers. Pastors should attend to conversion of the imagination, the intellect and the will of those to whom they proclaim the Word of God and for whom they interpret Scripture. Too often, the contemporary imagination has lost the image of God as actor in history. The contemporary intellect finds little consistency in the books of the Bible and is not informed by the 'regula fidei'. The contemporary heart has not been shaped by worship and the submission to God's word in the liturgical year. If the power of God's word in Holy Scripture is to be felt in the life and mission of the Church, pastors must attend to personal context as well as to inspired text."
The other day I expressed a hope that the synod in Rome on the Scriptures would "focus on calling Catholics to discipleship and the intentional following of Jesus." It appears that the relator, or moderator of the synod is calling for just that - and more. Here's a quote from John Allen's coverage of the synod.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, the relator of the synod, issued a strong call for what he called “spiritual exegesis” of the Bible, premised not just on cognitive understanding but, above all, on personal faith and commitment (emphasis mine).
Ouellet proposed a new “Marian paradigm” for Scripture study – using the Virgin Mary as a model of a response to God’s Word that, in his words, is “dynamic,” “dialogical,” and “contemplative.”
Among other things, Ouellet argued that the Bible has to be seen as part of a broader relationship with Jesus Christ, the “living Word of God,” that’s both personal and also rooted in the community of the church (again, my emphasis). "Christianity is not really a 'religion of the Book,' Ouellet said, but rather a “religion of the Word – not solely or mainly of the Word in its written form.” ... Ouellet placed great stress on reading the Bible within the context of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as well as the fathers of the church and the great saints. He called the liturgy the “crib” of God’s word, its “Sitz im Leben” – a technical term from Bible studies that means its social context.
I am pleased by both the emphasis on reading scripture as an expression of our relationship with Christ - as well as a means to deepen it - and by the contextualization of it within the Eucharist. As the sacramental re-presentation of the Last Supper and Jesus' atoning death on the cross, it only makes sense that we listen to him speak to us today, in our context, just as he spoke to his disciples in theirs. He then feeds us, like them, with his body and blood.
That "speaking to our hearts" in the context of the liturgy must continue throughout the week as we sit and contemplate his word to us in both the Old and New Testaments.
News of attacks on Christians in India made the papers a few months ago, then dropped out of the news. But the attacks have not abated, and Christians and Muslims in rural areas of India need our prayers. This letter was distributed by Sr. Marie-Therese, OP, from the Dominican Justice and Peace committee.
Attacks against Christian and Muslim minorities have existed for years in India rural zones. But they have become more violent since the end of August, especially in the State of Orissa (north East of India) and, more recently, in the Karnataka State (South west of India, Bangalore is the capital). The population of these two States include between 2 and 13% of Christians. But there has been violence also in several other States. The media have said little. It seems that the Government would like to hush it up.
The authors of these crimes are Hindu extremists, especially the Hindutva movment whose active arm is the RSS (Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh) which is present in both India and the U.S. This movement is trying to establish a Hindu India, ethnically pure (like the Nazi Movement in the Germany of the thirties) It also wants to perpetuate the caste system. The Governing party does not fight them, and, in some cases, the police seem to take part with them in the attacks instead of trying to stop them.
There have been murders of priests (all Indians), of religious sisters (also Indians) and of lay people, destruction and desecration of churches, of convents, educational institutions, and orphanages… These attacks are not led by local Hindu people, but by gangs coming from the outside, fanatisized, indoctrinated, and sometimes inebriated.
The causes of these persecutions, in addition to ethnical purification, are of two kinds: o allegation of mass conversions of Hindus to Christianity by force or by fraudulent tactics. This allegation is without foundation. o the work of Christians with tribal people and dalits (the untouchable caste) makes them more aware of their human dignity and of their rights, thereby disturbing landlords in their use of these people as cheap labor in their farms.
An intervention of the international community is quite necessary, particularly of the U.N.
Our sisters are well, but they do not know for how long… Of course they are counting on our prayers and on whatever we can do to alert the international community. I hope to be able to suggest to you some concrete actions in a few days. A letter to the Prime Minister of India is being prepared at the level of the Dominican Family.
I hope you can find it in your heart to also pray for the conversion of the hearts of the Hindu extremists, so they put aside their violent ways.
Beginning this Monday, October 6, 180 bishops representing episcopal conferences around the world, 24 members of the Roman Curia, 10 heads of religious orders, 32 clerics appointed directly by the pope, 37 observers, of whom 19 are women, and 41 experts in scripture, liturgy and doctrine will be gathering in Rome for the 22nd session of the Synod of Bishops. The topic for this synod is, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The ever-intrepid John Allen reports,
In preparation for the synod, the Catholic Biblical Federation commissioned GFK Eurisko, Italy’s leading market research organization, to poll 13 countries about attitudes toward the Bible. It was billed as “the most systematic scientific undertaking yet attempted to compare, on an international scale, levels and forms of familiarity with the scriptures.”
In broad strokes, the survey found that even in highly secularized nations, people have a basically positive attitude towards the Bible, finding it “interesting” and wanting to know more about it. Yet across the board, Biblical literacy is often astonishingly low. For example, large numbers of Americans, like people in the other countries surveyed, mistakenly believe Jesus authored a book of the Bible, and they can’t correctly distinguish between Paul and Moses in terms of which figure belongs to the Old Testament.
In light of such findings, there will undoubtedly be considerable attention to meat-and-potatoes questions of how the church can boost study and prayer with the Bible on the pastoral front lines.
How's this for 'meat-and-potatoes': focus on calling Catholics to discipleship and the intentional following of Jesus! I hope the bishops and their advisors, rather than asking about techniques or programs, focus on the reality that people who hear about Jesus from others who are in a living relationship with him are often intrigued and want to know more about him. The scriptures become the means by which Our Lord speaks to the individual's heart and mind, calling them to conversion and a new life in him.
As believers and disciples, it is our role, whether lay or ordained, to 1) live the faith we profess in an intentional, daily manner that evokes a response from others because of its non-conformity with the values of the world; 2) be ready to be able to speak of our relationship with the Lord in a way that is compelling and clear; 3) be able to help guide others through the savoring and study of scripture so that they neither interpret them in a fundamentalist-literalist manner, nor rely simply upon a scientific historical-critical exegetical approach (especially one that by default excludes the possibility of the supernatural!) 4) help people interested in the Scriptures and the God who reveals himself in them also encounter the Body of Christ, the Church, which is ultimately responsible for the transmission, preaching and interpretation of the Word.
Let's remember to pray for the success of this synod, and that devotion to God's self-revelation in the Scriptures might be approached with reverence, awe, and great joy because of the treasures it contains.
After the Lord of the Rings trilogy (whether one read the books or saw the movies), it's hard to read the title of this post and not put a few extra s's on the end of precious. But, according to a book by San Francisco's Archbishop George Niederauer, when he was still bishop of Salt Lake City, that's how God sees us.
In Precious as Silver: Imagining Your Life With God, Archbishop Niederauer guides us through reflections on a series of excellent questions: What is God Like? What Are We Like for God? What is God's plan for us? What Does it Mean to Be a Disciple? Why and How Does a Disciple Pray? and How Are DIsciples Called to Serve in Ministry?
The title comes from a passage in Malachi 3:1-3. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner's fire, or like the fuller's lye. He will sit refining and purifying [silver], and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifices to the Lord.
As a small sample of the archbishop's insights, I offer this excerpt from his book:
The truth is this: We are God's silver. All of us. God "sits refining and purifying" us all, his children, generation after generation, because he loves us. He knows that it is in our nature to become tarnished, to behave sinfully and ignor him, and that he must constantly call us back to himself and polish us with his attentive love and grace. God knows that we will go on getting more or less tarnished, and he will have to continue polishing. Even after Jesus Christ has "refined" us sacramentally through the power of his saving action, we will need that polishing all our lives long.
Why does God do it? He polishes us because he cherishes us. We are precious and valuable to him. He could have created a stainless steel equivalent, but he created us. The reason why is a mystery, but the cherishing is real. The preaching of Jesus Christ is full of the good news of that cherishing.
This realization can calm our anxiety about our worth in God's eyes. It should not tempt us to complacency...The important lesson this image teaches is that we are simultaneously cherished and imperfect. To God, "cherished" matters much more than "imperfect," so it should matter much more to us.
The last few days the daily reading from the Old Testament has come from the book of Job, which asks the perennial question, "Why do good people suffer?" Of course, we often ask a similar question, especially when the suffering is personal. In these cases, the question becomes all the more pointed and urgent, "Why am I suffering?"
God's 'answer' to Job is instructive, but not terribly comforting. Simply put, God says, "I'm God, you're not. Trust that I know what I'm doing. Everything's under control."
When confronting our tendency to worry or lament our misfortune, Jesus points out, a bit more comfortingly (and maybe with a wry smile) than the Almighty who speaks to Job. Jesus asks rhetorically, "Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Lk 12:6-7
Perhaps our suffering is often a sign that God may be polishing us a bit. Maybe the splendid brilliance in which we were created has become a bit darkened with tarnish. Rather than the free creatures God has made us to be, we have become slaves to lesser goods, or created lesser gods in our own image. Am I suffering as an effect of my sinfulness? That pain can be a call to conversion! Am I suffering because I've lost my home in a hurricane? Well, Job lost more, and he didn't curse God. In fact, his horrific losses got him thinking about and talking to God quite a bit, didn't it? The struggle, of course, is to remain believing we are precious in the midst of suffering. It is tough to believe every hair on our head is counted, or that we haven't, in fact, escaped God's notice, when our hair is falling out in chemotherapy-induced clumps.
I would suggest that our painful losses, whether the loss of property, prestige, youth, opportunity, health, or a beloved, are opportunities for us to return to the Lord with renewed dependence. Pain can actually be an invitation to be polished, and you and I have encountered people of faith who have suffered, or are suffering, and who have grown closer to God, and more in touch with their fragile creatureliness, as a consequence.
And they can be beautiful and brilliant to behold. And that is so because they still know they are cherished and precious even as they lose everything.
The paradox is, for those who cherish God in return, nothing else really matters, and the only loss that is feared is the loss of that relationship. To live in such a way is to enter the kingdom of heaven. That is precisely what the rich young man in Matthew 19 could not do because of his attachment to his wealth. He could keep the commandments - follow the rules - but he couldn't abandon himself to his Creator. Because of his attachments, he went away sad, unable to be polished, and unable to know how precious he was.
I'm having a most fruitful and interesting time in Athens, Ohio , which is a lovely university town nestled in wooded hills that are just beginning to turn but this piece from our local Colorado Springs Gazette reminds me of what I am missing: the almost indescribable glory of the aspens at their height.
The closest thing to the light of the Beatific Vision that I expect to experience in my earthly lifetime.
I just finished reading a manuscript by Mary Sharon Moore, one of our Called & Gifted workshop teachers, titled, "Touching the Reign of God: Bringing theological reflection to daily life." It will be published, probably in December, by Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene. I'll let you know when it is available.
Mary Sharon is founding director of Awakening Vocations, a ministry dedicated to awakening the vocational culture of parishes and guiding the vocation discernment of individuals. She is an active spiritual director, frequent writer, and her Journey with the Word seasonal meditations are heard on Catholic radio stations around the United States. Her monthly vocations column, Conformed to Christ, appears in diocesan newspapers.
In a time when many don’t believe that God is personal, Mary Sharon shows us just how deeply personal and transformative a relationship with God who is love, mercy, humility, and forgiveness can be.
Through short reflections from the heart of a woman in whom Jesus has made a home, we are offered graceful entry into Mary Sharon's inner life of reflective prayer and her outer life as a Christian in the world. Further, we are allowed to see for ourselves how the Holy Spirit connects the two. Neither is perfect, yet both are real, instructive, and humbly inspiring.
Like her life, her book is saturated with Scripture. In her everyday encounters with the world and its denizens, the living Word of God challenges her, shapes her attitudes, insinuates himself into her thoughts, and judges her words, her actions, and even her inaction. As a result, we glimpse the possibility of life and prayer becoming one, and realize that not only can we touch the reign of God, but God’s reign reaches under the door of our hearts to touch us.
Touching the Reign of God reveals the startling practicality and ancient mystery of prayer lived; prayer taken seriously, not in the multiplication of words or measure of time, but through attentiveness to the Trinity with Whom we each long to be united. From the experience of her prayer-life (and life-prayer), Mary Sharon can confidently and audaciously proclaim, “No aspect of human life falls outside of God’s blessing.”
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