I’m not the only person who stopped reading Time of course. Its present readership is a shadow of its former self, and it will probably go the way of NewsWeek and The Bulletin in the near future. Still, Time’s “Person of the Year” continues to impress, and attract coverage in other media.
I received an e-mail this morning from CatholicVote.org with a reflection so thoughtful and compelling that I reproduce it here.
Dear CV Friend,
Another week, another media frenzy over our pope.
This morning Time announced they have selected Pope Francis as Person of the Year.
Good news? A non-story? What to make of this all?
George Weigel has said that the late Blessed John Paul II regularly inquired of his visitors the details of what was happening in their corner of the world.
According to Weigel, the pope wasn’t as much interested in the political stories that dominated the headlines. He was more fascinated by what the Holy Spirit was doing through these events.
Which brings us to the widespread popularity of Pope Francis.
What is the Holy Spirit up to?
According to the headlines this morning, the Holy Father’s approval rating (who knew there was such a thing!) is at 92% among Catholics. Non-Catholics too are intrigued. Even non-religious. And the media, evidenced by today’s news, loves him.
But wait! Many of you are writing us saying: these people don’t understand what our Church teaches! They aren’t pro-life, they don’t defend traditional marriage, or they don’t believe in the Real Presence.
The Church is most assuredly facing significant threats. The list is long, and we need not recount them all here. The newfound popularity for Pope Francis and the Church can at times seem like a contradiction. Many new people are intrigued by our Church, while its adversaries seemingly continue to grow.
We can’t help but recall St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. For it seems that what we are witnessing is the battle not of flesh and blood, but of spiritual principalities. Satan is worried. And he is working overtime. We see his poisoned fruits everywhere in our culture.
But the Holy Spirit too is clearly at work as well.
Will the popularity of our Holy Father translate to a deeper faith among Catholics? Will it lead to higher Mass attendance, more vocations, and a greater embrace of the fullness of Catholic teaching? We don’t know.
The ways of Our Lord are a mystery.
But we do know what Christ promised us in his Church.
For that reason, we ask you to pray with us today the words from St. Paul that followed in Ephesians:
With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones’ and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.
A mystery and an adventure indeed.
May God bless our Holy Father.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug opens in American theatres on Friday, and in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day.
Visiting Middle Earth via the Ballarat Regent Theatre is an established Boxing Day tradition in my family, so I’ve already got my ticket.
FinancesOnline.com has commissioned a beautiful infographic on Smaug and sent it to bloggers like me in the hope that we will post the item and send traffic to their website. I guess this is the future of online marketing, about which I’m ambivalent, but in this case it has worked! The infographic is a good one, and I think many readers will enjoy it. So here it is.
Forty-five years ago today, on 10 December 1968, Thomas Merton – perhaps the twentieth century’s most famous monk – died. Exactly 27 years earlier, on 10 December 1941, he had joined the Gethsemane Abbey in the United States.
Merton lends himself to comparison with Augustine. He exploited his youth with intensity, espousing atheism and nihilism, drinking excessively and womanising enthusiastically. Like Augustine, he fathered a child prior to his conversion. Even after his conversion, he struggled against his passions; he confessed to “continual, uninterrupted resentment” towards monastic life — something he did not consent to, but which manifested itself anyway. At one point, he fell deeply in love with a nurse half his age, and though he confessed his love to her and exchanged love letters, he did not break his vows, and ultimately broke off the relationship.
I have not read any of his works, but after today I’m resolved to read his first and most famous book, The Seven Storey Mountain. The book is a spiritual autobiography, which documents his conversion. Merton’s genius, it is said, is his ability to describe God’s love in terms which resonate with our peculiarly modern aspirations and foibles.
Principally what makes the Mountain worth reading is that as he looks into his past Merton loves himself and forgives himself, and loves and forgives everyone else too. This doesn’t mean that he thinks that what he did was good, just that he looks on it dispassionately and sees its proper place in his life. He has drunk of Dante’s Lethe and Eunoë, and so remembers his sins “only as an historical fact and as the occasion of grace and blessedness.” (From Universalis.)
That’s a great recommendation. In the confessional, I often advise penitents not to be discouraged when they fall, but in the spirit of St Paul, to see their sinfulness as an opportunity to receive grace and foster humility:
To keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is enough for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:9ff)
Of course, in relating this advice to others, I’d do well to heed the words myself. So, in the hope that Merton’s reflections might help me in this, I have duly added The Seven Storey Mountain to my summer reading. Here’s a foretaste:
Therefore, another one of those times that turned out to be historical, as far as my own soul is concerned, was when Lax and I were walking down Sixth Avenue, one night in the spring. The Street was all torn up and trenched and banked high with dirt and marked out with red lanterns where they were digging the subway, and we picked our way along the fronts of the dark little stores, going downtown to Greenwich Village. I forget what we were arguing about, but in the end Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question: “What do you want to be, anyway?”
I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plane, where I knew it belonged and said: “I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”
“What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?”
The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all. Lax did not accept it.
“What you should say” — he told me — ”what you should say, is that you want to be a saint.”
A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said: “How do you expect me to become a saint?”
“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply.
“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”
The entire book is available online, though I recommend you find yourself a hard copy too!
What seems a lifetime ago — only two weeks — I travelled to Adelaide to attend the ordination to the diaconate of one of my dearest friends in the seminary.
Someone remarked to me recently — and I agreed wholeheartedly — that in Michael Romeo, Adelaide will get three priests, such is his competence and work ethic. (I’ll get in trouble if he reads that, so here’s hoping he’s so busy with diaconal duties that he doesn’t have time to read this blog.)
Michael was ordained deacon en route to priestly ordination next year. Ordained with him were Arturo Jimenea and Michael Moore, who will be permanent deacons, dedicating the rest of this lives to diaconal ministry.
Video of the ordination has been uploaded to YouTube. An hour-long YouTube clip is a stretch in whatever circumstance, but the beauty of YouTube is that it leaves you free to watch your own customised highlights package. I recommend watching from 29:48, which begins the rite of ordination itself, and from 46:15, which begins a very beautiful post-communion motet. (I forget which. Maybe someone more conversant with sacred music might identify it.)
Colloquially speaking, deacons “hatch, match, and dispatch.” (They preside at baptisms, marriages and funerals.) More formally:
The deacon’s ministry is to bring God’s Word to believer and unbeliever alike, to preside over public prayer, to baptise, to assist at marriages and bless them. To give viaticum to the dying, and to lead the rites of burial. Once he is consecrated by the laying on of hands, he will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop. The deacon is to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of hours for the Church and for the whole world.
The “permanent diaconate” was restored to the Latin Church only recently. For many centuries, the only Roman Catholic deacons were “transitional deacons” — that is, men like Rev Romeo, who are ordained deacon in preparation for priestly ordination. The order of “permanent deacons” was restored in 1978.
Notable deacons include St Stephen Protomartyr, St Laurence, and St Francis of Assisi. May they bless and intercede for Michael and his brother deacons, permanent and transitional both.
While I’m leading a group at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, I’m obviously not at my desk blogging. But through the wonders of technology, here’s something I prepared earlier!
This ten-minute video is a fast and furious foray into the history of the Crusades, which is probably overwhelming if you don’t have any previous knowledge of the subject.
Its greatest strength, though, isn’t its fact and figures, or even its oddball humour, but its underlying and frequently repeated premise: the study of history exposes us to cultures and ideas different to our own. To judge those cultures and ideas by our own cultural and philosophical standards is anachronistic, arrogant, and foolish.
That doesn’t mean that we have to embrace a moral or philosophical relativism. It just means we need to take the contemporaneous claims of historical figures seriously, and not rationalise them through an ideological hermeneutic. I didn’t study a lot of history at university, but the little history I did study was impaired by this very error, typically incorporating a soft-Marxist revisionism.
If I’ve lost you, just watch the video. Even despite its pace, it probably makes a lot more sense than I do.