minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Iulius

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The month of July was originally called Quintillis, which denotes it as the 5th month. In the old roman calendar the year began with March. The first months were named after things like roman gods and such, but starting with Quintillis the months were numerically named. The re-naming to July was made by Augustus to honor Julius Ceasar.

In America, July celebrates the nations holiday of Independence on the 4th; however, July also sees independence days, for Belarus, Algeria, Argentina, the Bahamas, Columbia, Belgium, Maldives, Peru and Vanuatu.

Continuing with the theme of calendar pictures from the Très riches heures Duc de Berry, we see July in the middle ages. This month views the bastion of the Château du Clain in Poitiers rising behind peasants laboring in the heat of summer, shearing sheep and working the fields. Poitiers was a frequent residence of the Duc de Berry but the Château is no more.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of July are:

1. Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sunday
3. Thomas the Apostle, Feast
4. Independence Day (USA), Opt. Mem.
5. Anthony Mary of Zaccaria; Elizabeth of Portugal, Opt. Mem.
6. Maria Goretti, Opt. Mem.
8. Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
9. Augustine Zhao Rong and companions, Opt. Mem.
11. Benedict, Memorial
13. Henry, Opt. Mem.
14. Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha (USA), Memorial
15. Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
16. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Opt. Mem.
18. Camillus de Lellis (USA), Opt. Mem.
20. Apollinaris, Opt. Mem.
21. Lawrence of Brindisi, Opt. Mem.
22. Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
23. Bridget, Opt. Mem.
24. Sharbel (Charbel) Makhloof, Opt. Mem.
25. James, Feast
26. Joachim and Anne, Memorial
29. Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
30. Peter Chrysologus, Opt. Mem.
31. Ignatius of Loyola, Memorial

Vox Clamantis

20120624-121153.jpgThere are three birthdays that are celebrated in the church year. The most popular is of course the Nativity of Jesus, better known as Christmas. The birth of the Theotokos, Mary, is another which falls in September. And last we come to the Nativity of John the Baptist on the 24th of June.

John is such an iconic figure in the gospels. He lives apart, in the wilderness dressed like a caveman, acting like a character from a Flannery O’connor story; drawing us in and scaring us at the same time. Or like the street prophet who carries a sign about the “end of the world”, but in John’s case, he is really preparing for the beginning of one. He is a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”.

His birth comes 6 months before the birth of Jesus, and even here he prepares the way, marking the midpoint of the year, we begin to move toward Christmas rather than away. The days diminish as we pass the summer solstice, like John who must decrease and allow Christ to increase.

The greatest moment in the ministry of this man, is remembered in every mass, as the priest identifies the sacrifice, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” and is re emphasized, in the Agnus Dei, (Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecatta mundi, miserere nobis). We are constantly reminded of this epiphany, this collision of heaven and earth as the last prophet prepares and passes the world into the hands of God Incarnate.

Those Dwelling Alone

20120623-074459.jpgIt has often been stated that monasteries were a way to shut the world out, that monks and nuns attempted to hide away in a cloistered life while the world fell to pieces. The term monastery comes from the greek monos and means “to dwell alone”, but in fact “those dwelling alone” had a larger impact on the world than we know. While reading last night I came across a section on this subject from G.K. Chesterton from his excellent “Short History of England” which touches on this subject:

In the tremendous testament of our religion there are present certain ideals that seem wilder than impieties, which have in later times produced wild sects professing an almost inhuman perfection on certain points; as in the Quakers who renounce the right of self-defence, or the Communists who refuse any personal possessions. Rightly or wrongly, the Christian Church had from the first dealt with these visions as being special spiritual adventures which were to the adventurous. She reconciled them with natural human life by calling them specially good, without admitting that the neglect of them was necessarily bad. She took the view that it takes all sorts to make a world, even the religious world; and used the man who chose to go without arms, family, or property as a sort of exception that proved the rule. Now the interesting fact is that he really did prove it. This madman who would not mind his own business becomes the business rule. Now the interesting fact is that he really did prove it. This madman who would not mind his own business becomes the business man of the age. The very word “monk” is a revolution, for it means solitude and came to mean community—one might call it sociability. What happened was that this communal life became a sort of reserve and refuge behind the individual life; a hospital for every kind of hospitality. We shall see later how this same function of the common life was given to the common land. It is hard to find an image for it in individualist times; but in private life we most of us know the friend of the family who helps it by being outside, like a fairy godmother. It is not merely flippant to say that monks and nuns stood to mankind as a sort of sanctified league of aunts and uncles. It is a commonplace that they did everything that nobody else would do; that the abbeys kept the world’s diary, faced the plagues of all flesh, taught the first technical arts, preserved the pagan literature, and above all, by a perpetual patchwork of charity, kept the poor from the most distant sight of their modern despair. We still find it necessary to have a reserve of philanthropists, but we trust it to men who have made themselves rich, not to men who have made themselves poor. Finally, the abbots and abbesses were elective. They introduced representative government, unknown to ancient democracy, and in itself a semi-sacramental idea. If we could look from the outside at our own institutions, we should see that the very notion of turning a thousand men into one large man walking to Westminster is not only an act or faith, but a fairy tale. The fruitful and effective history of Anglo-Saxon England would be almost entirely a history of its monasteries. Mile by mile, and almost man by man, they taught and enriched the land.

From G.K. Chesterton A Short History of England

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Ite Missa Est

20120617-162130.jpg For the last few weeks I have been in the process of relocating from Tampa, Fl. to Charlotte N.C. A new job and new part of the country to begin exploring, it also means time to find a new place of worship.

My first stop was at the church closest to where I’m living; St. Thomas Aquinas CC. A brick structure with post and beam ceilings, shaped like a cross, with several beautiful contemporary stained glass windows in the gables. (Sorry, stained windows are difficult to get a good shot of with a phone cam.)

The priest wore a habit under his garments, telling me he was an “order priest”. This means that he is a member of a religious order as opposed to a diocesan priest who is not. My guess for now is that he is probably a Capuchin Franciscan friar, an order which was mentioned in the parish history.

Being alone for about a week as my wife and children finish things in Florida, I found myself thinking about things like distance, separation and of course reunion; especially reunion. I can’t wait for them to get here! Strange that such concepts are at the heart of the Christian faith. But there’s a paradox here too. For distance and separation are things overcome by a deeper reality that we have through communion. As the readings were spoken I mused upon the fact that these same scriptures were being read in every catholic community today. The Eucharist was the same spiritual food partaken across the world and through the ages, the most Blessed Sacrament. And in a similar way my wife and daughters were also present through the ties that bind us in that ancient institution, created by God; the family.

Ite Missa Est; the mass is ended. I walked out, shook the priests hand and walked through several gardens to my car. The kingdom of God among…..us.

San Antonio

El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), Saint Anthony of Padua, c. 1586, oil on canvas.

On of the most popular saints in the church is St. Anthony of Padua. Born in Portugal in 1195, he is most known as the patron of lost articles and safe travel. Anthony entered into the religious life with the community of Canons Regular and later joined the Franciscans who were recently formed and still under the leadership of their founder, Francis of Assisi. Anthony was educated in theology and was a gifted speaker, and would be named a doctor of the church. Francis recognizing a similar heart toward poverty, humility and prayer in Anthony, asked him to teach the Franciscans. Anthony became the first theology teacher of the Franciscan Order.

In art and iconography, Anthony is often shown holding an infant Jesus. Early art often depicted him with the scriptures and the child standing on the pages. To me it seems like a progression of ideas from the Scripture as Word to the Christ Child as the Word. Also lilies are found in pictures of St. Anthony representing purity and the Virgin Mary. He is usually dressed in the brown habit of the Franciscans.

As with many of the feast days of Saints, they land on the day of their martyrdom or death. Anthony died on June the 13th, 1231, at the age of 36.

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“Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.” (St. Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church)

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi procession

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) celebrates the ancient tradition concerning the Sacrament of Eucharist. From the earliest times in the church, and right within the Gospels, we see this focal point of christian celebration in the writings and practice of early christians as well as in the very words of Christ at the last supper where He states concerning the bread and wine that: “This is my body; This is my blood”.

In the Catholic Church there is a term called Transubstantiation which defines how we understand the Real Presence. It states that during the consecration at Mass a change occurs where the “Accidents” of bread and wine become the “body, blood, soul and divinity” of Christ substantially. The physical appearance of bread and wine remain. The concepts of substance and accident were not inventions of the church, but come from philosophy.  The basic idea is that a thing can truly be something other than what it appears to be. This is a concept not confined to the Eucharist alone. Baptism, Marriage, Orders, and the other sacraments also hold to a hidden and real grace that is bound to the physical but not necessarily seen. For instance Marriage is not a matter of a mere documented forensic declaration; it is a substantial reality that the man and woman have become one flesh. Not seen in appearance or the physical but understood in a “spiritual” way. Other examples can be found in scientific terms like physical change. For instance the substance of h2o can make up ice, water and steam. The outside appearance doesn’t change the substance within.

A Monstrance

The Feast of Corpus Christi has some interesting traditions which are still practiced. One of these would be the procession of the Eucharist in a Monstrance. A Monstrance is a vessel, which the Host (Eucharist) can be placed into for adoration. The word comes from the Latin monstrare which means “to show” (think demonstrate) and during the year many parishes have times set for Eucharistic Adoration. Worshippers can come and sit before the Sacrament, to pray , contemplate, and meditate. During Corpus Christi it was common to form a procession that would carry the Host through the town in a monstrance, and while it is not common, this practice is still observed by some today.

In the last several centuries the belief in the real presence and especially the catholic definition of transubstantiation have been challenged. Early reformers like Luther still held a similar concept which was termed consubstantiation, and the feast of Corpus Christi was retained for a time. In many of the modern sects the belief is completely rejected. In a way which I find ironic, the belief that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ has been “transubstantiated” into a belief that the bread and wine have become crackers and grape juice.

“This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”

Justin Martyr: “First Apology”, Ch. 66, inter A.D. 148-155.

Trinitas

Depiction of the Trinity from a Book of Hours.

One of the central beliefs of the Church is that of the Trinity.  The first Sunday after Pentecost is called Trinity Sunday and commemorates the belief in the Holy Trinity. It is a doctrine that developed over time and came into full formation with the Creeds, developing as a result of the Christological Controversies in the 3rd and 4th centuries. It is also one of those doctrines that people find it hard to wrap their heads around, because it is a mystery. That is not to say that it cannot be defined, only that it requires some “out of the box” thinking to adjust to the concept. To this day skeptics and even pseudo-christian sects challenge the belief, but the ancient church still proclaims this central belief that there is one God, in three Persons.

Over the years I have engaged in discussion, debates and lots of contemplation on the Trinity and my thoughts are that the Trinity isn’t really a difficult doctrine at all. There are plenty of ways to see the concept in day to day life. St. Patrick used a 3 leaf clover to demonstrate from nature the idea of 3 and 1. Three clover leafs on one clover plant. Other simple explanations would include:

  • A triangle, 3 sides but one triangle.
  • H2O (HOH) is a compound we know as water, but can also be found as ice and steam.
  • I am a son, a father, and a husband. There aren’t 3 different me’s but there are three persona’s that I exists as.
  • In math 1x1x1 equals 1.

Some of the arguments I have heard against the Trinity include:

The Doctrine of the Trinity was invented hundreds of years after Christ.This is partially true. The Doctrine was formalized as a result of controversies surrounding the nature of Christ. These are known as the Christological Controversies, and in the 3rd and 4th centuries they were a hot topic. However the fact that there was a controversy to begin with implies that while the belief may not have been formally defined, it was certainly understood enough to defend.

Icon of the visitation

The Word Trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible. This is true. However you wont find the word Bible in the Bible either. This problem is really a result of modern christian sects who have resorted to a “bible alone” basis for their theology. The ancient church was apostolic in nature, and while it held the Sacred Scriptures in the highest regard, they understood that scriptures still needed to be interpreted and defined. As such they not only drew on oral tradition for their belief in the Triune God, but saw within Scripture the basis for what was later defined as the Trinity. Examples would include the baptismal formula to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”; and the visitation of Abraham in the old testament by three men in the “hospitality of Abraham” icon.

The Trinity seems to be a belief in Three different Gods, beings, etc. This has always been a hard one for me to deal with. First because the creeds and doctrines do a very good job of stating what we believe in. Credo in unum Deum. (I believe in One God). Second, the forming of the creeds was a rejection of beliefs which broke the unity of Godhead into separate beings, or non eternal entities. In other words the Church rejected polytheism, so how can it be accused of being polytheistic? The point is that the Trinity is not polytheism, it is not based on Pagan Triads, it is not a belief in created beings attaining Godhood.

The Trinity is a Mystery. This one is more of a red herring. It is a mystery, and is understood as such by the church but that doesn’t mean there is no definition. The claim of being a mystery isn’t an excuse to say we cannot explain our belief, the Creeds are proof of this; rather that we need to explain it using symbols or metaphor. When I was in grade school, we learned about the Big Bang. In a lot of ways the Big Bang is also a mystery. It’s hard to wrap your head around such an event let alone describe it. I remember the explanation being that there was a super hot bit of matter about the size of a pencil point that began to spin and then blew up into the universe. Or something on those lines. It’s a definition which uses symbols we would recognize, like spinning, or a pencil point, to describe an event which science believes took place. In the same way the Trinity is explained using examples, symbols, philosophy, metaphor.

In Christian Art the Trinity is shown as Three different people. This is true, however this is another example of using symbol and metaphor. Depictions of an old man (Father), a young man (Jesus) and a dove (Holy Spirit), or other variations are really ways to symbolically represent the Trinity. The personhood of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are easy to represent in art, but it is not easy to show how they are all One. Overlapping the figures, or bundling them together in a cloud are attempts to show the unity in the trinity.

 

 

 

Iunius


June from The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

June has come and summer arrives. The Sixth month of the year lends to us the longest days in the northern hemisphere. It is the month of Midsummer’s Eve, which is the summer solstice. I remember June in the northeast as a child, hot and muggy, but cooler in the evening. School was ending and summer break beginning. The dusk would be filled with fireflies so that a Midsummer’s Dream seemed a real place. To this day, fireflies bring out the kid in me, reminding me of the wonder of summer vacation beginning.

June is the last month in the Old Roman calendar to have a non-numeric name; however later reforms to the calendar would add July and August re-naming the first two numeric months of Quintilis and Sextilis. June is thought to be named after either the Roman goddess Juno, or that it follows an alternate etymology for May (maiores “elders”) which is iuniores “juniors or young ones”.

The Sainte Chapelle

The scene from the Très Riches for June shows people working the field and in the background the Palais de la Cité and the Sainte Chapelle. The Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel) was consecrated in 1248 and was commissioned by Louis IX of France to house relics from the Passion, one of which was the Crown of Thorns. An interesting note on this is that Jean, Duc de Berry, is said to have recieved several of the thorns from the crown from Charles V and VI.

The feasts on the General Roman Calendar celebrated during the month of June are:

1. Justin, Memorial
2. Marcellinus and Peter, Opt. Mem.
3. Trinity Sunday, Solemnity
5. Boniface, Memorial
6. Norbert, Opt. Mem.
9. Ephrem, Opt. Mem.
10. Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Solemnity
11. Barnabas, Memorial
13. Anthony of Padua, Memorial
15. Sacred Heart of Jesus, Solemnity
16. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Memorial
17. Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
19. Romuald, Opt. Mem.
21. Aloysius Gonzaga, Memorial
22. Paulinus of Nola; John Fisher and Thomas More, Opt. Mem.
24. Nativity of John the Baptist, Solemnity
26. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, Opt. Mem.
27. Cyril of Alexandria, Opt. Mem.
28. Irenaeus, Memorial
29. Peter and Paul, Solemnity
30. First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, Opt. Mem.

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