Sunday, May 17, 2015

Happy Solemnity of the Ascension (sort of)!

Thursday was the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. But in most of the United States it is celebrated today. Ever wonder who gets to decide if it moves? No, it's not the bishop. It's actually the archbishop, so that an entire ecclesiastical province, composed of an archdiocese and its suffragan (i.e. affiliated/subordinate) dioceses have the same practice. So here in the Diocese of Richmond, we follow the practice chosen by the archbishop of Baltimore. In the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Newark, and Omaha, the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday; everywhere else it is moved to the following Sunday.

Curious which ecclesiastical province you're in? Take a look! (Note that this map shows the archdiocese of each province in a slightly different color from the rest of the province. If that confuses, you, try this map instead.)

In the course of digging up the map above, I stumbled upon the historical map below, c. 1912, back when there were only fourteen provinces. You can see that the number of diocese and provinces has proliferated considerably in the past century, to thirty two Latin provinces in the continental US.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Davidic Origins of "The Last Shall Be First"

Jesus was a rabbi.  We sometimes forget the very Jewish nature of his ministry and teaching.  I was recently struck by this reality while reading the Book of Samuel. When David and his band were away, Amalekites raided the city of Ziklag, carrying off the wives and children of David and many of his men. David set off with 600 men in pursuit of the Amalekites, but along the way 200 men tired and were left behind, while the other 400 continued the pursuit. When David and his men finally came upon the Amalekites they rescued their family members and captured a large quantity of plunder.

When David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him, whom he had left behind at the Wadi Besor, they came out to meet David and the men with him. As David approached, he greeted them. But all the greedy and worthless among those who had accompanied David said, “Since they did not accompany us, we will not give them anything from the plunder, except for each man’s wife and children.” But David said:

“You must not do this, my brothers, after what the LORD has given us. The LORD has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiders that came against us. Who could agree with this proposal of yours? Rather, the share of the one who goes down to battle shall be the same as that of the one who remains with the baggage—they share alike.” And from that day forward he made this a law and a custom in Israel, as it still is today. (1 Samuel 30:21-25)

Thus, when Jesus told the parable of the vineyard workers, all of whom were paid the same wage irrespective of how long they worked, he was not introducing a new teaching.  Rather, he was reminding them of the long-standing Davidic practice.

Nor was this the first time that Jesus invoked David's example.  In Matthew 12 he compared his own disciples to David and his band, who ate of the sacred show bread reserved to the priests.  With these examples in mind, it is perhaps all the more fitting that in Matthew 21, the very chapter after the parable of the vineyard workers, the crowds acclaimed Jesus as the "Son of David."  Here was one who revived the forgotten teachings of Israel, who called the people to rededicate themselves to the holiness of God's covenant.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fairyland amid the Factories

I’ve recently taken to reading my son poems each night. Among our recent reads were Chesterton’s “Song of the Children” and the poem below, “Modern Elfland.” I found it particularly interesting because Chesterton is often assumed – among other things, because of his advocacy of distributism – to have been an agrarian romantic.  And maybe he was.  But this poem suggests that, in city or countryside, among fields or factories, the spark of life exists and can be found anywhere. For those inspired by the Chestertonian vision, seeking out the “heart of fairyland” in the midst of modern life may be a more fruitful path than trying to rebuild a lost agrarian world which, for most of us, is probably out of reach.

Modern Elfland
By G. K. Chesterton

I cut a staff in a churchyard copse,
I clad myself in ragged things,
I set a feather in my cap
That fell out of an angel’s wings.

I filled my wallet with white stones,
I took three foxgloves in my hand,
I slung my shoes across my back,
And so I went to fairyland.

But lo, within that ancient place
Science had reared her iron crown,
And the great cloud of steam went up
That telleth where she takes a town.

But cowled with smoke and starred with lamps,
That strange land’s light was still its own;
The word that witched the woods and hills
Spoke in the iron and the stone.

Not Nature’s hand had ever curved
That mute unearthly porter’s spine.
Like sleeping dragon’s sudden eyes
The signals leered along the line.

The chimneys thronging crooked or straight
Were fingers signalling the sky;
The dog that strayed across the street
Seemed four-legged by monstrosity.

‘In vain,’ I cried, ‘though you too touch
The new time’s desecrating hand,
Through all the noises of a town
I hear the heart of fairyland.’

I read the name above a door,
Then through my spirit pealed and passed:
‘This is the town of thine own home,
And thou hast looked on it at last.’

From The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (1927) via the Poetry Foundation.  Picture from the Chesterton Debate Series.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Boat Race Day!

Saturday 11 April 2015 is The Boat Race, the annual competition between Oxford and Cambridge on the Thames.  In the world of rowing, not to mention Oxbridge rivalry, it is as big as the Olympics.  And after last year's drubbing by Oxford, Cambridge has something to prove.

You can watch the Boat Race - or, rather, Races, since the men and women are rowing on the same day this year - online, courtesy of the BBC.  The women's race is at 16:50 (London time) and the men at 17:50.

To get in the mood, you might consider watching True Blue, a film based on the 1987 "Oxford Mutiny" and the Boat Race of that year.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chesterton for Good Friday

The Song of the Children
by G. K. Chesterton

The World is ours till sunset,
Holly and fire and snow;
And the name of our dead brother
Who loved us long ago.

The grown folk mighty and cunning,
They write his name in gold;
But we can tell a little
Of the million tales he told.

He taught them laws and watchwords,
To preach and struggle and pray;
But he taught us deep in the hayfield
The games that the angels play.

Had he stayed here for ever,
Their world would be wise as ours--
And the king be cutting capers,
And the priest be picking flowers.

But the dark day came: they gathered:
On their faces we could see
They had taken and slain our brother,
And hanged him on a tree.

Image courtesy of The Work of God's Children Educational Project.

Friday, March 20, 2015

King David Chooses the Unlikely - and God Does Too

In the Book of Samuel, David, the anointed king of Israel, becomes a fugitive when Saul, the king from whom God removed His favor, tries to kill David. We are told that David "was joined by all those in difficulties or in debt, or embittered, and became their leader" (1 Sam 22:2). For a man about to raise a veritable guerrilla army, this does not seem like very promising material.  Then again, it sounds much like the "tax collectors and sinners" who appear throughout the Gospels following Jesus.

Interestingly, we learn a few chapters later from some shepherds who traveled through the territory of David and his outlaws that "these men were very good to us. We were not harmed, neither did we miss anything all the while we were living among them during our stay in the open country" (1 Sam 25:15).  It turns out that, under a leader like David, the indebted, the embittered, the outcasts of society, can become not only a capable fighting force but upstanding men as well.  Thus does the Old Testament foreshadow here, and in dozens of more prominent examples, the idea that St. Paul explained to the Corinthians: "God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Rights and Responsibilities of Generations

Communitarianism never really took off as a political movement, but its emphasis on both rights and responsibilities broadly accords with the flavor of Catholic social teaching. With that in mind, and inspired by the consciously inter-generational charism of the Sword of the Spirit community, I have been thinking a lot lately, as I watch my own parents age and my children grow, about the rights and responsibilities of generations. Not yet having run the full course of life, I realize these are limited by my own experience, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Young people, from high school students to recent college graduates, have lots of energy and, although they rarely recognize it, time. I would strongly recommend to anyone about to finish undergraduate studies that they consider undertaking missionary work, joining the military, or going to graduate school. This is the season of life for such things. I am glad, for my part, that I completed my PhD immediately after my undergraduate education. While additional "life experience" in the midst of my studies would have been valuable, I cannot imagine trying to finish coursework or a dissertation while raising a family.

  • On a related note: society desperately needs the enthusiastic service of young people. While service projects abound, it feels like many of them involve piecemeal efforts or the ticking of boxes. More organizations for sustained, dedicated service are needed, and more young people should be encouraged to participate in them. The Mormon missionary system comes to mind as a model of large-scale, coordinated utilization of young peoples' efforts.

  • Young single people need support. Two particular manifestations come to mind. First, I am deeply grateful for men a few years older than me who shared their lives. I have learned a great deal from them. With young children, my wife and I now find ourselves spending the overwhelming majority of our social time with other parents of young children. There are many fruits to this arrangement, but I fear that we are doing little to impart our wisdom (such as it is), sometimes gained with sweat and tears, to those who will need it in a few years.

  • Second, the debacle of the Texas A&M Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Resource Center reminded me of how difficult it is to be a single person in a society saturated in sexual promiscuity. As Genesis reminds us, "It is not good for the man to be alone." Single life was a blessed season for me, but also a trying one, and I lived it in an extremely supportive environment. I cannot imagine doing so at a large public institution such as A&M (itself, by no means the worst of "party" schools). Why are there no Single People Striving to Live Chastity Resource Centers?

  • On the whole, our elders are neither accorded the seat of wisdom, nor would they know what to do with it if they were. Consider the term we use for those advanced in age: elderly. Literally, those like elders, but not actually such. Our society is so far removed from a reverence for our elders that most of us have no idea how to incorporate them into the regular habits of business and social life. Moreover, the generation now reaching retirement is a generation which - collectively, if not individually - rejected the oversight of their elders. If there was ever a sense for how elders gracefully receive deference and impart their wisdom while still permitting a younger generation to lead, that sense has been lost. Many of our elders today, so rarely receiving the respect due to their experience, are either embarrassed by the attention grasp at it in a way which is unhelpful. The wheel must be reinvented.