Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dante in Exile

One image that has remained with me since those days long ago when I sat in LitTrad II is that of Dante as an exile. Dante ended up on the wrong side of the incessant disputes between the Ghibellines and the Guelphs in Florence. And, Dante never let you forget that he was on the right side all along, and that he was suffering in exile for it. Some critics, as a consequence, might simply dismiss Dante as petulant and vengeful, and would point to his penchant for placing his personal enemies in Hell as justification for their view.

This view, however, though not completely unreasonable, fails to do full justice to the experience of Dante’s exile. What is it, then, that makes exile such a uniquely harsh punishment?

Other forms of punishment can, of course, take a greater physical toll. An ordinary prisoner sits in his cell for a dozen years, all the while constantly abused by guards and fellow inmates. An exile, on the other hand, leads a free life in another country. Nor is exile harsh because the exile is forced to go to a place he does not particularly enjoy. Ovid, for example, did not enjoy being confined to a little village on the coast of the Black Sea, but at least he was not rotting in prison. It must be something more than physical pain or boredom.

What makes exile such a unique punishment, I would suggest, is the wound inflicted on one’s identify. Who inflicts this wound on the exile? His own native land inflicts it on him by rejecting him.

The legal distinction between expatriation and deportation might help clarify this idea of rejection. In legal terms, an expatriation is quite different from a deportation. When somebody is deported, the government declares merely that the deportee never even had a right to move into the country. In an expatriation, on the other hand, the government declares that one of its own citizens has committed such a horrible offense that he is now no longer worthy to remain a citizen. Moreover, the nature of the offense is different than an ordinary criminal offense. If the exile were a regular criminal, the government would just lock him up or execute him. But, the exile has almost always committed a political offense. Put a little less delicately, he pissed off the wrong person in power. And, that person has used his power to have the country reject him on the basis of his beliefs.

How does this rejection inflict such a grievous wound on an exile’s identity? To answer this, we have to look at a typical exile. The typical exile is an intelligent, public-spirited individual who has crossed a powerful politician, or an entire faction. Usually, he has done so quite visibly, and has probably made a fool of these politicians too. They are embarrassed and want revenge, so they turn public sentiment against him and ostracize him, before finally forcing him to flee the country. Such a person is aware of his position and his importance, and this self-consciousness is the source of his vulnerability.

What are the effects of exile on such a person? First, the exile is systematically excluded from public life in his native country. This cuts him off from his country’s living history. Before exile he saw himself as involved in shaping the land he loved; now that land hates him. Furthermore, he is physically cut off from his own native land; he loses contact with the places he loves most. Also, he is cut off from many of his family and friends. He is alone and without moral support in a strange land. Finally, he is often cut off from his own language. Even if he speaks the language of the country to which he has fled, the exile cannot easily explain to the people around him how he has been wronged. In summary, the exile is abandoned to fate.

Some of these effects can be clearly seen in Dante's Inferno. For instance, in Canto X (the Epicureans), the Tuscan dialect creates an instant bond between Dante and Farinata, one of his enemies. Not only does Dante show his love for his native tongue at the beginning of his dialogue with Farinata, he shows his desire to be on the right side of Florentine politics. When Farinata boasts of defeating Dante’s party, Dante is very quick to point out that the defeat was only temporary. All this in the middle of Hell! So strong is Dante’s constant concern with his exile that it preoccupies him throughout his journey through Hell. Interestingly enough, however, Dante is generally able to transcend these concerns later in Heaven with Beatrice. Dante makes far fewer complaints about exile in Heaven than he does in Hell. Dante’s experience of Heaven and Hell must have shown him how unimportant his political exile was in comparison to our utter helplessness when exiled from God. Once he allows himself to be purified in Purgatory and abandons himself to God’s mercy in Heaven, he seems capable of accepting his exile.

Exile, then, is a uniquely effective way to punish an outspoken individual for his beliefs because it affects the very identity of an individual who is already quite self-conscious and aware of his intelligence, influence, and ambition. It takes everything away from him, and he is helpless. The only way to overcome this helplessness is self-abandonment and abandonment to God.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Welcome, Peter and Emma!

I wanted to give a special shout out to a pair of new contributors who will be joining our blogging team.

As the About This Blog section says, "the blog's contributors are a variety of graduates and friends of the University of Dallas." Peter Kromhout, is not, in fact, a graduate of UD, but he is very much a friend, having graduated from Christendom College, a like-minded institution.

Originally a native of the Twin Cities - one of my favorite metropolitan areas - Peter moved to Washington, DC, after finishing his BA in Philosophy and is currently studying for an MA in Statecraft & National Security at the Institute of World Politics.

Peter is a fan of Jane Austen, fine beer, the ancient Greeks, Irish music and getting himself into tight places in Arabic-speaking countries or our nation's capital.

Neither is Emma Zimmerman a UD graduate. However, this native of the great state of Arizona is a student of the liberal arts and can doubtless run circles around me when it comes to conjugating Latin. In addition to her interests in the humanities, Emma has managed to master the intricacies of science as well: she received a BA in Bioengeineering from Arizona State University and will complete an MA in the same field this spring before heading off to Montreal in the fall to begin a PhD.

Emma's interests include traveling to Turkey, reading long novels (including Kristen Lavransdatter and The Brothers Karamazov, neither of which I managed to finish), throwing dinner parties and listening to This American Life.

So, please, everyone, a warm round of applause for Peter and Emma!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Authority and Custom: No More Etymology

I must thank Aaron for a comment he made regarding my post on authority and power. He suggested that I think about the importance of the will and man’s fallen nature, in relation to authority. I will take him up on the offer, albeit indirectly, but decline his (hopefully only joking) invitation to do more etymology.

In my last post I emphasized that, in order to be effective, authority must be coupled with power. For example, when trying to figure out whether a given state has effective authority, it is useful to ask of its legal system: “Can this state enforce its judgments?” In other words, when a judge in this state declares by his legitimate authority that a man has committed a crime, it is not enough simply to make a declaration; he must have power to incarcerate the criminal. If the people recognize the state’s authority, the state will be able to use its power to prosecute and imprison criminals. Unfortunately, in our fallen state, such use of power by legitimate authorities will always be necessary at times.

However, authority must also speak to reason; indeed authority is even more effective when it speaks to reason. Authority must be able to convert its dictates into something more powerful than force. In an individual, that something is called sensibility, but in a group it is called custom. What prompted this idea was the following aphorism:

Man today oscillates between the sterile rigidity of law and the vulgar disorder of instinct. He is ignorant of discipline, courtesy, and good taste.

Gómez Dávila depicts two extreme situations in the first sentence. In the first situation there is authority which only has power over the will. The law has the power to punish, and so people fear the law, but they do not love it. Here fear is not the beginning of wisdom. The second situation is when there is not authority at all. Everybody does as he pleases, and nobody can stop him.

In the second sentence, though, Gómez Dávila calls for a golden mean, where authority appeals to the reason of each individual and induces him to discipline himself, to act courteously to others, and to restrain his passions. When individuals have internalized authority, it becomes a sensibility. Men begin to think in accordance with authority, not out of fear but because they have begun to understand it. More importantly, it has become a habit. When this sensibility spreads to many individuals, it becomes a general custom. Finally, we should keep in mind that authority, in the form of custom, is supposed to lead to human flourishing. It should not be sterile or rigid. On the contrary, it should lead to discipline, courtesy, and good taste. These virtues are the marks of true freedom and are the foundation of achievement. Finally, the need for the authority to wield overbearing power disappears.

In case you are inclined to dismiss this as some kind of utopian day-dream, or a nostalgic longing for the “good old days,” I would respond that discipline, courtesy, and good taste are actually very practical. For example, they are essential to the smooth functioning of our legal system. We Americans are known for our litigiousness. At first glance this seems to be a good thing—we acknowledge the authority of the courts and don't engage in private blood feuds. However, our love of lawsuits entails problems of its own. To begin with, the sheer number of lawsuits and appeals slows down the administration of justice. There are a limited number of judges with a limited number of hours in a day available to deal with all these disputes. When too many citizens sue, this means that cases take longer to be resolved, that judges can’t devote as much time to the significant and difficult cases, etc. That explains why all trial judges wish that parties and lawyers displayed much more discipline and courtesy (what they usually call “common sense”) and settle on terms acceptable to all, rather than force judges to impose terms which will probably end up pleasing no one.

This suggests a second point: The law is often a very Procrustean tool. It often pits two goods against each other, and forces one party to choose one. Or, it imposes what seems like an unreasonable solution to all. (For an example of just such a lose-lose situation, see this article.) At the end of a lawsuit, one party is almost always going to be displeased; but if parties refuse to settle, usually both parties end up displeased.

The lesson to be learned, then, is that authority with only power over the will is almost as much of a curse as the complete absence of authority. Authority must be internalized, first in the form of reasoned acceptance, and then in the form of individual sensibility and general custom.

More Boring Numbers...

Back in December I shared some boring numbers about statistics for this blog. Those covered about the first four months of the blog's life. In the five months since then we've had 1,519 visits to the blog and 2,278 pageviews. Among the hits have been 689 new unique visitors. The geographic reach has spread to 32 new foreign countries, putting us up to a total of 48, on every (inhabited) continent. In addition, we've upped our state count by nine states to 38, as well as the District of Columbia. Admittedly, some of those have been bots or people who didn't care, but those are still some impressive numbers. So thanks to all of our readers, particularly those of you who have shared this blog with your family and friends.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

St. Joseph at the Harrowing of Hell

Readers of this blog will know that I am fond of speculating about the saints. And among my favorites are those stellar members of the Holy Family, Saints Joseph and Mary.

There are various depictions of Jesus appearing to Mary after His resurrection, but a friend of mine recently wondered: what was it like for Joseph to see Jesus after the crucifixion, when they met at the Harrowing of Hell?

Saint Joseph is the patron of a happy death, and I trust that he had one. But if he died with hope and joy, he also died in incomplete knowledge. He had not seen Jesus' public ministry; the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out at Pentecost. I suspect that on his deathbed, Joseph trusted in the Lord, while still deeply wondering about what lay ahead (as he had done so many times during his life).

And if this was his disposition in death, it was also probably his disposition after death. There in the Netherworld, in Limbo, in the Bosom of Abraham, knowledge would have been imperfect. Joseph must have known that much was lacking there and, dimly, he would have perceived that there was more to come. But what? He trusted and yet... he could only see so far.

Christ is often pictured triumphantly smashing the Gates of Death as He descends into the Netherworld. But I wonder if His entry was, at first, less glorious. I wonder if the faithful souls, awaiting their redemption, were at first shocked and crushed to see that even Jesus, the Lord of Life, had been defeated, exiled here to the land of the dead. If even Jesus had been defeated, there were not grounds for hope at all; all was lost, in a very fundamental way.

But then, maybe with a word, or a gesture, Jesus indicated that He was not defeated, but that He had conquered death and had come to set the captives free. And then, beginning as a ripple and quickly becoming a flood, the utter dejection of the souls in Limbo turned to shouts of exaltation.

Now I could be wrong, but it wouldn't surprise me if Joseph was the first to raise that glad cry. He had been waiting, and hoping, and he knew that something big was about to break... And now it had. "That's my boy!" he shouts in excitement, turning to those around him. "I knew it! I KNEW it!" Laughing through the tears that are pouring down his face, he cannot help but share the glad tidings: "It's my boy!" But then humility seizes him and he concedes, "Well, of course, He's not really my boy; His father is the Lord. But He's the Son of my beloved wife and..." And quickly his enthusiasm takes over again - "And it's my BOY!" By now the other souls all see that their redemption is indeed at hand and all have joined in the joyful noise. But punctuating the cries of glory you hear one voice echoing above all the others, echoing into the depths of eternity: "That's my BOY!"

Photo credit: The Harrowing of Hell, by an unknown Dutch painter, c. 1600, from the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ is Risen!

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

-St. John Chrysostom

Special thanks to Fordham's Internet Medieval Source Book, a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history, which provided the text of this sermon.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Authority & Power: A Little More Etymology

When I wrote a week ago about natural authority, I left out an important aspect of the discussion: power.

Again, I will examine this question from an etymological perspective, and from the perspective of exousia in Rom. 13:1. If you look up exousia in a dictionary, you will find several possible definitions besides "authority," one of which will be “power.” Another way of seeing this is to think of the “authorities” in question as “the powers that be.” The two expressions seem to be functionally equivalent, at least in many circumstances.

If you look up the Neo-Vulgate translation of Rom. 13:1, you find the Latin word potestas, which means “power.” For instance, the power possessed by the tribunes of the people in republican Rome was called potestas tribunicia.

If you look up the German translation of the same passage, you will find St. Paul admonishing the Romans to submit to the state's Gewalt, or “the state’s power.” Gewalt, however, is much more than mere power; it implies violence. For instance, a derivate of this word, vergewaltigen, means “to rape.”

These three possible translations of exousia show that there is considerable overlap between the concepts of authority and power. On the one hand, authority and power are not identical. After all, might does not make right. On the other hand, authority and power cannot be completely separated. Indeed, authority without power is a joke.

Is there any way to understand power and authority? The neatest way of thinking about this is, I believe, as follows. Authority can be defined as the right to use force, and power can be defined as the ability to use force. These two terms, however, are not mutually exclusive; instead, power needs authority, and vice versa. They each complete the other.

My discussion is, of course, completely inadequate for such a complicated topic, so I hope some of you will contribute your insights.

Back to Basics

“Observation in the real world and small-scale experiments on the Earth now take second place to expensive and ever-expanding theoretical models” of questionable reliability. “Our tank is near empty of data and we are running on theoretical vapour,” he argues. There is a compelling need for “more tiresome and prosaic confirmation by experiment and observation”.

Those comments could have been made about a variety of disciplines. There is definitely an inordinate interest among certain historians in theoretical matters, to the detriment of actually doing the work of history. Frankly, I blame the literary critics from whom we picked up most of the mumbo-jumbo. Anthropology, sociology, politics and probably every other field in the humanities suffers in the same way. But they were in fact made by James Lovelock in his book The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, and were quoted in Justin Marozzi's manifesto of an article, "Back to Nature," appearing in the Financial Times.

Marozzi, a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (RGS), is a founding member of the Beagle Campaign, which is pushing the RGS to return to its original mission of mounting its own expeditions. In the last two decades the RGS has shifted its attention towards funding other people's projects or engaging in educational efforts. Both are important, but the net result, the Beagle Campaigners argue, has been a decrease in actual exploration and the hard data it brings.

The Beagle Campaign should probably serve as a warning to scholars of all stripes: at the end of the day, there is no substitute for the nitty gritty work of research. Failing that, we're just building houses of cards or castles in the clouds.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Choose What You Read

It seems every city with a subway system has free newspapers to go with it. This is definitely the case in Washington (the city of which I still consider myself a denizen, in many ways), whose Express and Examiner I find rather less than satisfying. It is the case in London as well, and as it turns out, Claire Wilson has no higher opinion of the free Tube dailies than I have of their Metro counterparts:

"They're just designed to depress, scare and sedate you. Page after page, there's nothing but paedophiles, stabbings, murders and drunk celebrities," she relates in today's Financial Times. "These papers aren't simply annoying, they're quite harmful."

So Claire and her friends decided to do something about it. Like all good young people of the modern age, they founded a Facebook group, Choose What You Read, dedicated to the proposition that commuters should consciously choose their morning reading, rather than passively accepting whatever is handed to them. But what made Choose What You Read more than just a Facebook protest was their decision to start handing out free books at Tube stations every first Monday of the month.

Their efforts are little more than a drop in the bucket when compared with the numbers of the free dailies, something Claire says she recognizes. (Well, she probably 'recognises' it...) But if even a handful of people are moved to think more consciously about what they read on their morning commute, she's willing to consider the effort a success.

If such a campaign were ever to come to the Federal City - and wouldn't it be great if it did? - I, for one, would be happy to help out.

Photo credit: "obama and hilary discussed .... (in bed)", by Pookalali08, courtesy of Flickr.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Natural Authority: A Short Exercise in Etymology

One of the hallmarks of modern political thought is the denial of natural authority. Just think of the social contract theory. According to John Locke, authority is not something natural, but is rather created by individuals who freely give up their sovereignty. For Aristotle, on the other hand, political communities are originally made up not of sovereign individuals but of family units, organized as households. The head of the household already has some kind of authority without having to enter into any supposed social contract with his children. Where, then, does his authority come from? A look at the very word “authority” in a couple languages shows that authority has always been regarded as something natural.

The English word authority comes from the Latin word auctoritas. A person’s auctoritas depends on the fact that one is, in some sense, an auctor. The word auctor entered English as the word “author”; in Latin, however, it is not restricted to a person who produces a written work. A better translation would be something like “originator.” It is in this sense that we call God the “author of life,” auctor vitae. God, then, is an authority because He is the author of life. If we extend by analogy the notion of God’s authority to human society, we can quickly see whence a paterfamilias derives his authority: a father has authority over his children because he has made his children.

Interestingly enough, even though German adopted the Latin word as Autorität, there does exist in German a more literal translation of auctoritas: Urheberrecht. Urheber corresponds to the Latin auctor, and Recht is a cognate of the English word “right.” This word, though, has become a purely technical term for “copyright.” Nevertheless, it still retains the idea that one who makes something unique retains a special right—authority—over it.

The Greek word for “authority” is also very interesting: exousia. This word is a compound of two words: ex + ousia, meaning “from nature” (ex natura). For Aristotle and the Greeks, then, an unnatural authority was by definition unthinkable. The word also has an interesting parallel usage to English. The plural form of this word means “authorities” such as civic officials, just as the English term does. For an example of this usage, see Rom. 13:1.

All this etymology should at least raise the inference that authority is not something artificially created by men when they enter into society by contract.

Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of the analogy of being. Properly speaking, only God is authority, while any authority we have comes from Him. What we have is not absolute authority, but we call it authority by analogy. This philosophical doctrine, I think, helps explain why (besides Greek idiom) St. Paul speaks in Rom. 13:1 of God’s “authority” in the singular, but of human “authorities” in the plural. Only God’s authority is absolute and utterly unique, and thus necessarily singular. No single man, on the other hand, can possess absolute unfettered authority, and so his authority must coexist with other men’s authority.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

John Paul II Novena - Day 9

Continued from Day 1.


From Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist), 3, 11, 14, 15, 25.

The Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the center of the Church's life. This is already clear from the earliest images of the Church found in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42).

The “breaking of the bread” refers to the Eucharist. Two thousand years later, we continue to relive that primordial image of the Church. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it.

“The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23) instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his body and his blood. The words of the Apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the Eucharist was born. The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord's passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the ages. This truth is well expressed by the words with which the assembly in the Latin rite responds to the priest's proclamation of the “Mystery of Faith”: “We announce your death, O Lord”.

The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift – however precious – among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work. Nor does it remain confined to the past, since “all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times”.

When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord's death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and “the work of our redemption is carried out”. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived. The Church's Magisterium has constantly reaffirmed this faith with joyful gratitude for its inestimable gift. I wish once more to recall this truth and to join you, my dear brothers and sisters, in adoration before this mystery: a great mystery, a mystery of mercy. What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1), a love which knows no measure.

Christ's passover includes not only his passion and death, but also his resurrection. This is recalled by the assembly's acclamation following the consecration: “We proclaim your resurrection”. The Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Saviour's passion and death, but also the mystery of the resurrection which crowned his sacrifice. It is as the living and risen One that Christ can become in the Eucharist the “bread of life” (Jn 6:35, 48), the “living bread” (Jn 6:51). Saint Ambrose reminded the newly-initiated that the Eucharist applies the event of the resurrection to their lives: “Today Christ is yours, yet each day he rises again for you”. Saint Cyril of Alexandria also makes clear that sharing in the sacred mysteries “is a true confession and a remembrance that the Lord died and returned to life for us and on our behalf”.

The sacramental re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice, crowned by the resurrection, in the Mass involves a most special presence which – in the words of Paul VI – “is called 'real' not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were 'not real', but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present”. This sets forth once more the perennially valid teaching of the Council of Trent: “the consecration of the bread and wine effects the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. And the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called this change transubstantiation”. Truly the Eucharist is a mysterium fidei, a mystery which surpasses our understanding and can only be received in faith, as is often brought out in the catechesis of the Church Fathers regarding this divine sacrament: “Do not see – Saint Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts – in the bread and wine merely natural elements, because the Lord has expressly said that they are his body and his blood: faith assures you of this, though your senses suggest otherwise”.

The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass – a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain – derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual....

It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer”, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

John Paul II Novena - Day 8

Continued from Day 1.


From Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary), 1, 10-12, 15.

The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium. It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.

The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).

Thereafter Mary's gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.

Even now, amid the joyful songs of the heavenly Jerusalem, the reasons for her thanksgiving and praise remain unchanged. They inspire her maternal concern for the pilgrim Church, in which she continues to relate her personal account of the Gospel. Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.

The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed”.

It is worth pausing to consider this profound insight of Paul VI, in order to bring out certain aspects of the Rosary which show that it is really a form of Christocentric contemplation.

In the spiritual journey of the Rosary, based on the constant contemplation – in Mary's company – of the face of Christ, this demanding ideal of being conformed to him is pursued through an association which could be described in terms of friendship. We are thereby enabled to enter naturally into Christ's life and as it were to share his deepest feelings. In this regard Blessed Bartolo Longo has written: “Just as two friends, frequently in each other's company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar converse with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection”.