Augustine


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Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was an influential leader in the early Christian church serving as bishop, evangelist, theologian, and writer of copious works that are still studied to this day. He spent his youth infamously in a hedonistic lifestyle and in active involvement in heretical movements. To the joy of his Christian mother Monica he finally converted to Christianity at the age of 33 and soon would become priest and bishop.

Augustine’s story shows us how Christ reveals himself to an individual over the course of one’s life, sometimes without the person even knowing. The immediate message of Augustine’s life is that is never too late to turn towards God. Augustine wrote of his life and this continuing revelation in his famous work Confessions. His confessional style of writing is widely adopted by other Christians including modern figures such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton (all of whom I attempted to read during Lent this year). One lesson I got from Confessions is that Christianity is a relationship, with it’s ups and downs, and the continuing need to open oneself to Christ working in one’s life.

Augustine is also significant because he’s from North Africa on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. The early Christian Church centered on the Holy Land and Europe (even more so in the Middle Ages when Europe was synonymous with Christendom). Augustine demonstrated the true universality of the Church, open to all peoples, even the outsiders. Appropriately, the oldest Catholic church in the United States with a predominately black congregation is named for St. Augustine (which I wrote about in my visit to Washington for the ALA conference in June).

Finishing on a somewhat lighter note, in researching this post I discovered that St. Augustine is the patron saint of brewers. Being very fond of beer I find this patronage working in Augustine’s favor. This Catholic Online article claims that Augustine is the patron of brewers due to his misspent youth. This doesn’t speak to positively though of the fine men and woman who brew beer such as those at Augustiner Bräu, a German beer named for an order of monks named for Augustine of Hippo.

For more on St. Augustine, visit:

Clare


St. Clare of Assisi

In a very powerful scene in Roberto Rosellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis, Clare comes to visit Francis and all the friars are filled with joy about the meeting of these two living saints. It’s a scene in which two people who love each very much come together in the serenity and joy of the greater Love of God that brought them together and changed their lives.  This was my introduction to Saint Clare of Assisi and one that’s stuck with me over the past couple of years as I’ve learned more about this remarkable woman.

Just as it was portrayed in the movie, Clare was a lifelong friend and spiritual guide for Francis, and in many ways they were brother and sister.  With Francis she is the co-founder of the Franciscan movement and would be the first woman to write a Rule for religious women that would be the basis of the order now known as the Poor Clares.

Her spiritual transformation began in her youth when during a time of war she spent time with other women as penitents in Perugia.  Many of the women she knew from this period would later join her order, including her mother and sisters.  Later she would return to Assisi where she would hear Francis preach and through his inspiration would chose to give her life to poverty for God.  At the age of 15 she refused a prosperous marriage and at 18 she ran away from her wealthy home and family to give herself over to the spiritual life. Francis himself helped by cutting her hair and introducing her to a religious order where she traded fine gowns for rough robes of a sister.  Her father and brother were furious and tried to force her back home, but she clung to the rails of the altar in the chapel.

While Francis traveled great distances to spread the Gospel message, Clare never went far from the convent of San Damiano in Assisi for the remainder of her life.  Her relatively sedentary existence would not hinder her influence.  As mentioned above, women flocked to her to join the Poor Clare’s order.    By Francis’ command she became abbess at the age of 21 and remained so until her death.  Yet all the sisters were considered of equal rank and made decisions affecting their lives together.  Instead, Clare lead by the example of her virtue in a live focused on austerity and gospel poverty.  Many men came to consult her as well, including cardinals and even Popes.  Clare also correspond with people such as Agnes of Prague, the Queen of Bohemia who would take vows as a Poor Clare under the inspiration of Clare’s writing.

After Francis’ death Clare would take the lead in persevering on the way of Francis when other Franciscans wished to relax the Rule. Many people of the world and even church leaders thought the life of the Poor Clare’s to be too strict, and Clare had to negotiate up until the day before she died until she received official approval from the Pope for her Rule.

Clare is an inspiration in how she chose poverty in order to become close, her example of leadership, and her steadfast devotion to Christ and the Franciscan movement she helped found.

More information about Clare of Assisi:

The Feast of Saints Peter & Paul


I’m making this post two weeks two late, but I did not want to let this feast day go past without some note. Saints Peter and Paul of course are two of the most important saints in church history, both being leaders of the early Christian community after the ascension of Christ. I did not make the time to write about this saints, but luckily Baptized Pagan covered this significant feast day. I wondered why Peter and Paul, ofte at odds during their lifetimes, would share a feast day. My theory was that the Church wished to teach humility, that Peter and Paul as important as they were to the Church, were just men, humble before God. BP mentions instead that it relates to their martyrdom in Rome and the establishment of the church in that city.

While at Baptized Pagan, check out his reflections on Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

More on Peter and Paul:

I hope my lesson learned is not that if I fail to do my work someone else will do it for me.

Saint Botolph


Saint Botolph

This year June 17 is the intersection of three different days that twine together in Boston, MA: Father’s Day, Bunker Hill Day, and the Feast of St. Botolph. Botolph, in a sense is the father, and patron saint of Boston, the name deriving from a contraction of “Botolph’s Town.” The original Boston is in Lincolnshire in England (like Boston, MA a place known for its fens) and is home to a church dedicated to the saint nicknamed Botolph’s Stump. Botolph’s name is remembered in the Hub of Universe in the name of a street in Back Bay, the name of a club, and in the name of the president’s house at Boston College. Pieces of the the Gothic window tracery of Lincolnshire’s Church of St. Botolph are incorporated into the structure of Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square. The Puritans who named their “City on a Hill” Boston of course had no intention of naming the city after a canonized saint, merely naming it after where many of them came from. And while June 17th is a holiday in Suffolk County, MA, it is not for the saint but for the battle fought on Bunker Hill on that day in 1775. Coincidentally, the feast day of Saint Patrick, Boston’s other patron saint, is also a public holiday but that is due to Evacuation Day.

So what about Botolph the man himself?

  • born ca. 610 of noble Saxon blood in East Anglia.
  • studied under monks and became a Benedictine himself in northern Gaul.
  • founded a monastery around 654 a AD at Ikenhoe (ox-island) which once was believed to be at Boston, but recent scholarship points to it being at Iken in Sussex.
  • died in 680 following a lengthy illness while being carried to chapel for compline.
  • little detail known about his life but Botolph is a very popular saint in England and Scotland (where his feast day is June 25) and has many churches dedicated to him.
  • some evidence points to Botolph being of Irish birth, hence his ability to communicate easily with the Scots.
  • patron saint of travelers. In medieval London, the churches at four gates are named for him and are places travelers would go to pray for protection before setting off on a journey and to offer thanksgiving upon arriving safely in London.
  • his relics have been scattered to several locations through the ages including the four St. Botolph churches around London and Westminster Abbey.

So there you have it. A worthy saint and namesake of a great city.

For more on St. Botolph, visit:

Saint Columba


For my third consecutive post about favorite saints I’m writing about a saint I associate with a place I visited on my travels in Ireland and Britain in 1998 (see Bede and Kevin).  This time the saint is Columba (also known as Colmcille and numerous other variations) and the place is Derry (also known as Londonderry) in Northern Ireland.  Saint Columba (521-597) is attributed with founding Derry by placing a monastery there in the 6th century.  Doire as it is spelled in Irish means “oak grove” and Columba wrote fondly “Derry mine! my small oak grove/Little cell, my home, my love!”  Colm Cille means “dove of the Church” and this imagery of doves and oak groves gives a sense of a pastoral history to a city ravaged by sectarian violence the past four centuries.

Columba was born in County Donegal in Ireland of royal descent and was ordained as a priest by the age of 25.  Possibly as the result of a conflict with Saint Finnian over a psalter (which led to a family feud and many deaths), Columba exiled himself to Scotland as a missionary. In 563, Columba and his followers established a missionary center at Iona to help bring Christianity to the Picts.  The Iona Abbey helped revitalize monasticism in Europe and became a place of pilgrimage.  Columba himself was a man of prayer, study and letters writing hymns and transcribing 300 books.
Much of what is known about Columba comes from Vita Columbae, a detailed life of the saint by Adamnan of Iona.  The work contains many legendary details such as the  first written appearances of King Arthur and the Loch Ness Monster. Columba’s legacy is long lasting and today he is one of three patron saints of Ireland along with Bridgid and Patrick.

Learn more about Saint Columba at:

Saint Kevin of Glendalough


On holiday in Ireland in 1998 (a few weeks before I would visit Durham), I made a day trip from Dublin to Glenalough — the valley of two lakes — amid the mountains of County Wicklow. In the beautiful setting rests the remains of a monastery started in the 6th century by Saint Kevin (498-618). Glendalough is a fantastic place both for the extensive ruins and the natural beauty. In fact on a second visit to Ireland in 2002, it was one of the few places I visited a second time and even spent the night.

For a saint of the early medieval period who lived a 120 years, little is known of St. Kevin. Here’s a mix of fact and fancy in Kevin lore:

  • He was the first person named Kevin which means “fair begotten.”
  • Kevin studied in monasteries at an early age.
  • He founded the monastery at Glendalough as well as other Irish monasteries and was instrumental at Clonmacnoise.
  • Despite founding monastic communities, he spent much of his time as a hermit. Even at Glendalough he spent much of his time praying in a tiny cell on a rocky precipice overlooking the Upper Lake.
  • Once while praying with arms outstretched a blackbird built a nest in his hand and laid eggs in the nest. Kevin kept himself still in that position until the birds hatched.
  • Glendalough grew to be a bustling village and pilgrimage site, worth half the indulgences of a pilgrimage to Rome.
  • The monastery at Glendalough was destroyed by the English in 1398.
  • St. Kevin’s feast day was commemorated with riotous celebration in Ireland until banned by the British in 1890.
  • Long acknowledged and venerated as a holy person, Kevin’s saint was confirmed by canonization in 1903.

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The structure nicknamed “St. Kevin’s Kitchen” is actual a church. The tower is a steeple rather than a chimney. The stone structure dates to the 12th century.

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The view of the Upper Lake is close to what St. Kevin would see each day from his cell high upon the rocky wall. I was not brave enough to climb out to the actual location. Visiting this place certainly made the live of a monastic hermit appealing to me, although I doubt I’d ever be still enough to hold a bird’s nest until the eggs hatched.

More resources on Saint Kevin of Glendalough:

Saint Bede the Venerable


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I can’t say I’ve ever made a pilgrimage to place where a saint’s mortal remains rest, at least not on purpose. On a whirlwind trip through England, I made a train stop in Durham so that I could visit the Durham Cathedral and attend the Evensong service. The baggage check at the train station was closed for security reasons so I had to carry my honking big backpack with me as I trudged through the cathedral. My spirits were lifted though when I discovered that the cathedral is the burial place of Saint Bede the Venerable.

Apart from having one of the coolest names of all saints, Bede was also the patron of the church where I worshiped at that time in Williamsburg, VA (an appropriate saint for a city with an English heritage). I’m assuming that photography was not permitted in the cathedral, otherwise I’d have a photo to post.

Bede was first and foremost a scholar. From an early age he studied science, language, arts, ecclesiastical history and scripture. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People is one of the great primary sources for 8th Century Anglo-Saxon research. I guess I’m drawn to Bede because he was a scholar, a writer, and most specifically a patron saint of historians. A lot of medieval saints are known for their miracles and it is hard not to be skeptical about them. Bede’s scholarly approach uses the great gift of education to transmit learning and inspiration to us down through the ages, which I guess is a miracle in of itself.

More on Bede the Venerable at:

Saint of the Day
Catholic Encyclopedia

Saint Godehard


This isn’t my typical saint entry. I really enjoyed this article by Greg Ruehlmann on Busted Halo to promote a German saint whose feast day would be widely celebrated by Catholic German-Americans (similar to Irish-American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day). I’m not certain why he chose Saint Godehard of Hildesheim (sometimes spelled Gotthard, Gothard, or Godard) for whom there seems to be very little information about in the English language. St. Boniface, apostle of the Germans, would seem to be a more appropriate analog to St. Patrick.

But today is Saint Godehard’s feast day, so let us learn about this somewhat obscure holy man:

  • born in Bavaria in 960.
  • joined the canons at Niederaltaich where he would become provost and help reintroduce the Rule of Benedict
  • was known for keeping good order and was trusted to oversee reforms in monasteries
  • served as Bishop of Hildesheim from 1022 until his death in 1038
  • particularly drawn to those in poverty and founded a large home for the poor near Hidesheim
  • canonized by Innocent II in 1131
  • a major tunnel beneath the Alps between Switzerland and Italy is named for him
  • according to Ruehlmann he is the patron saint against gout (I’ll pray for that!) and for help with difficult births

So on this lovely Friday, hoist a stein of German beer and celebrate St. Godehard.

More information at:

Catholic Forum
St. Patrick’s Church
Wikipedia

St. Catherine of Siena


Catherine of Siena

My personal acquaintance with Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) begins with the church I attended as a child, St. Catherine of Siena parish in Riverside, CT. It was here that I first learned to love the Mass, following along with the readings in the missal and singing out joyfully with the folk group. It was here too that I received Eucharist for the first time, my first Communion going ahead as scheduled despite the fact there was a fire in my house the night before or that my father injured himself in a fall that morning. I’m grateful that St. Catherine’s was the first of three Catholic faith communities I’ve been blessed to be a part of in my life. Presumably the parish name originated from the large Italian-American community in Connecticut, but about the woman herself I knew little until recently.

Catherine Benincasa was a remarkable woman for any age. In her youth she developed a strong devotion through prayer and visions and defiantly resisted her parents plans for her life. She refused to be married and instead joined a Dominican lay order and devoted herself to helping the poor and the sick. She was known for her many letters which while dictated were very strong and opinionated giving orders to bishops and royalty alike. She even attempted to resolve the crisis of the Avignon papacy. Late in her life she composed her great spiritual work The Dialogue of St. Catherine. She died young but accomplished much and was canonized 81 years after her death. In 1970, Paul VI named her as one of the first women and lay persons to be a Doctor of the Church.

When I went on retreat to Glastonbury Abbey during Lent I was perusing the bookstore shelves and found a number of small books in a series called “30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher”. Basically each day there’s a small passage from the writings of a great Christian writer to reflect on each day for a 30 day period. I decided to pick up Set Aside Every Fear: Love and Trust in the spirituality of Catherine of Siena. Afterwards I learned that by coincidence or divine providence the thirtieth and final day after the day I purchased the book was April 29, the feast day of Catherine of Siena. So I’ve spent the last 30 days praying and reflecting through the words of Catherine.

Other resources on Catherine of Siena:

Lectio Divina: Reflections on Lenten Reading


For Lent I took up reading books on faith, religion, and spirituality, and here is the result. The very first book I picked up for Lent contained and introduction by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne that defined exactly what I set out to do. They revealed to me the term lectio divina, Latin for “divine” or “spiritual reading” which they define as:

“… a meditative approach, by which the reader seeks to taste and savor the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. This process of contemplative reading has the effect of enkindling in the reader compunction for past behavior that has been less than beautiful and true. At the same time, it increseases the desire to seek a realm where all that is lovely and unspoiled may be found. There are four steps in lection divina: first, to read, next to meditate, then to rest in the sense of God’s nearness, and, ultimately, to resolve to govern one’s actions in the light of new understanding. This kind of reading is itself an act of prayer. And, indeed, it is in prayer that God manifests His Presence to us (xii-xiii).”

1. The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

I don’t want to say that I like the movie better, but I’m glad I saw Roberto Rossellini’s dramatization of some of these stories first before I read the book. Since Little Flowers was written in the 13th century it definitely is written for its time, that is full of miracles and an almost competitive piety. That being said there’s a lot to learn from Francis and his friars as they take on a life of poverty, serve the poor and worship God with ecstatic joy. The stories often read as parables with Francis teaching the friars with his words and actions in a Zen-like manner. A good little book to read and ponder during Lent.

The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi is also available for online reading in its entirety.

2. The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton (Fiftieth Anniversary Edition)

I’m happy to say that after looking forward to reading this book for a long time it did not disappoint my expectations. This book is the unlikely story of a man of the world deciding to convert to Catholicism and then become a Trappist monk. Further defying logic the book became a best-seller and it’s author perhaps the first celebrity-monk of the modern age. I like the book because Merton’s thoughts and struggles parallel my own thoughts and struggle on my faith journey. I also enjoy reading about Merton in the places I’m familiar with such as New York City and Cambridge, England. I will have to disagree with Merton based on personal experience that Catholic schools do not prevent bullying among children.

Favorite Passages

Many times it was like that. And in a sense, this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for for the purely arbitrary reason that we simply don’t want it. We will seperate ourselves from that love. We reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, simply because it does not please us to be loved. Perhaps the inner motive is that the fact of being loved disinterestedly reminds us that we all need love from others, and depend upon the charity of others to carry on our own lives. And we refuse love, and reject society, in so far as it seems, in our own perverse imagination, to imply some obscure kind of humiliation (p. 26).

People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us (p. 142)?

When it comes to accepting God’s own authority about things that cannot possibly be known in any other way except as revealed by His authority, people consider it insanity to incline their ears and listen. Things that cannot be known in any other way, they will not accept from this source. And yet they will meekly and passively accept the most appalling lies from newspapers when they scarcely need to crane their necks to see the truth in front of them, over the top of the sheet they are holding in their hands (p. 187).

I did a fair amount of reading that might be called “spiritual” although I did not read spiritually. I devoured books making notes here and there and remembering whatever I thought would be useful in my argument — that is, for my own aggrandizement, in order that I myself might take these things and shine by their light, as if their truth belonged to me (p. 253-4).

Experience has taught me one big moral principle, which is this: it is totally impractical to plan your actions on the basis of a vast two-columned list of possibilities, with mortal sins on one side and things that are “not a mortal sin” on the other–the one to be avoided, the other to be accepted without discussion. Yet this hopelessly misleading division of possibilities is what serves large numbers of Catholics as a whole more theology (p. 265).

Catholics are worried about Communism…but few Catholics stop to think that Communism would make very little progress in the world, or none at all, if Catholics really lived up to their obligations, and really did the things Christ came on earth to teach them to do: that is, if they really loved one another, and saw Christ in one another, and lived as saints, and did something to win justice for the poor (paraphrase of a talk by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, p. 373).

3. Living Vatican II by Gerald O’Collins, SJ

I am a Vatican II baby. The Church as it is following that revolutionary call for reform and revival is the only way I know the Church. And I think Vatican II is a good thing. That is as far as I know what it actually is and what the council achieved. I’d hoped to find a book that would act as a summary introduction to the many documents of the Second Vatican Council. Sadly I don’t think this book is it as it seems to assume prior familiarity with the output of the council and deals in theological language just out of my grasp. Despite that I find it satisfying that O’Collins is generally positive about Vatican II and it’s continuing implementation for all people in the faith. It seems all that I read these days are criticisms and reactionary views regarding Vatican II.

Favorite Passages

I beg to differ from some cardinals and other critics, who think the sheer numbers [canonized by John Paul II] have cheapened the “honors” of canonization and beatification. The Holy Spirit operates powerfully everywhere, and one can rightly suppose that many of the faithful have responded courageously to the call to universal holiness, which Vatican II recognized and proclaimed. To say otherwise would be to demean the work of the Spirit and Christ’s call to heroic discipleship, and even to picture real sanctity as something that happens only far away and long ago. The truth was state on May 4, 2003, by a huge banner in Madrid’s Plaza de Colón when John Paul II came to canonize five twentieth-century Spaniards: “You too can be a saint.” (p. 26)

Changing situations call for fresh emphases and developments. The long history of Catholic Christianity shows repeatedly that it takes creative fidelity to effect a rejuvenating reception and promote true development. Both fidelity and creativity have been regularly involved: a fidelity that does not decline into rigidity and a creativity that does not lose its roots in the mainstream tradition (p. 47).

Will the health of the English-speaking areas of the church be promoted or even maintained by a special sacral language that sounds remote, archaic, and awkward? Such language hardly agrees with the kind of language for prayer used and reccomended by Jesus himself. He spoke to God and about God in a simple, direct, and familiar way: “Abba (Father dear),” “your kingdom come,” “deliver us from the evil one,” and so forth. It is very difficult to imagine Jesus encouraging us to start using words like beseech and deign (p. 74-5).

4. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

Another autobiography by an American Catholic convert who is remembered as one of the great leaders of social justice of the Twentieth Century. Unlike Merton, Day did not head to the cloister but to the streets and the farms meeting poverty and injustice head on. I’m impressed by her devotion and the way in which she incorporates her faith into a lifestyle. And she writes with both humility and humor. It’s hard not to want to change my life after reading this book. I also think now that I may be an anarcho-syndicalists and never knew it.

Favorite Passages

Going to confession is hard. Writing a book is hard, because you are “giving yourself away.” But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his sustenance and love.

People have so great a need to reverence, to worship, to adore; it is a psychological necessity of human nature that must be taken into account. We do not like to admit how people fail us. Even those most loved show their frailty and their weaknesses and no matter how we may will to see only the best in others, their strength rather than their weakness, we are all too conscious of our own failings and recognize them in others.

The Catholic Worker, as the name implied, was directed to the worker, but we used the word in its broadest sense, meaning those who worked with hand or brain, those who did physical, mental or spiritual work. But we thought primarily of the poor, the dispossed, the exploited.

Every one of us who was attracted to the poor had a sense of guilt, of responsibility, a feeling that in some way we were living on the labor of others. The fact that we were born in a certain environment, were enabled to go to school, were endowed with the ability to compete with others and hold our own, that we had few physical disabilities — all these things marked us as privileged in a way. We felt a respect for the poor and destitute as those nearest to God, as those chosen by Christ for His compassion (p. 204).

What a delightful thing it is to be boldly profligate, to ignore the price of coffee and go on serving the long line of destitute men who come to us, good coffee and the finest of bread.

“Nothing is too good for the pour,” our editor Tom Sullivan says, and he likes that aphorism especially when he is helping himself to something extra good (p. 235).

Once a priest said to us that no gets up in the pulpit without promulgating a heresy. He was joking, of course, but what I suppose he meant was that truth was so pure, so holy, that it was hard to emphasize one aspect of truth without underestimating another, that we did not see things as a whole, but in part, through a glass darkly, as St. Paul said.

5. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Macmillan 1959)

Bonhoeffer is the German Luther minister who defied antisemitism and fascism in Nazi Germany, building resistance on Christian principle. He paid the ultimate cost by sacrificing his life when he was executed in April 1945 just weeks before VE day.

The book sets out in simple and stark terms what cost one pays to follow Christ. The language can be complex and I believe Bonhoeffer deals with issues such as the debate of faith versus works, and the concept of grace, things I confess I don’t quite understand. Theologically I’m a kindergartener. The heart of the book is an exegesis of the Sermon of the Mount. At each point Bonhoeffer empasizes that without Christ, without discipline there is no forgiveness and there’s danger of self-justification. While the book was hard going, I think it was a good experience for me to work through it.

Favorite passages

To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life. It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause or conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, the we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life (p. 78).

My brother’s burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share.

Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display. When men pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action (p. 146).

Judgement is the forbidden objectivization of the other person which destroys single-minded love. I am not forbidden to have my own thoughts about the other person, to realize his shortcomings, but only to the extent that it offers to me an occasion for forgiveness and unconditional love, as Jesus proves to me. If I withhold my judgment I am not indulging in tout comprende c’est tout pardonner and confirm the other person in his bad ways. Neither I am right nor the other person, but God is always right and shall proclaim his grace and his judgment.

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace whcih others are just as entitled to as we are. But in the love of Christ we know all about every conceivable sin and guilt; for we know how Jesus suffered. Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore see with clarity. If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts (p. 164-5).

6. Bound to Forgive by Lawrence Martin Jenco, O.S.M. (Ave Maria Press)

Father Marty Jenco was a newcomer to Beruit working with the local chapter of Catholic Relief Services when he was kidnapped by Shiite Muslim guerrillas and held as a hostage for nearly two years. The slim book details Fr. Jenco’s simple Christ-like faith which allows him to retain hope during times of abuse and deprivation, and more shocking to forgive his captors. While in captivity he manages to pray, to celebrate Eucharist, and to join in faith with his fellow hostages. He also is able to overcome his anger and see his guards as individuals, recognizing their humanity, and even offering forgiveness to one guard who asks for it. Through it all he keeps his heart on God and is able to see God’s love in the small details such as one night when the guards bring him to the roof to look at the moon. A very inspiring and touching book.

Favorite Passages

At this roof-edge of my prison life, in the white luminance of moon and stars, with the smell and taste of the salt sea-breeze, I knew love reigned invisibly. In the stark electric glare and grinding murmur of this tortured, fratricidal city, I knew this wasn’t the world God created. I heard God’s love singing to me and in me, modulating all the world’s fantastic dissonances (p. 49-50).

Some people advise me to forgive and forget. They do not realize that this is almost impossible. Jesus, the wounded healer, asks us to forgive, but he does not ask us to forget. That would be amnesia. He does demand we heal our memories.

I don’t believe that forgetting is one of the signs of forgiveness. I forgive, but I remember. I do not forget the pain, the loneliness, the ache, the terrible injustice. But I do not remember it to inflict guilt or some future retribution. Having forgiven, I am liberated. I need no longer be determined by the past. I move into the future free to imagine new possibilities (p. 135).

7. Confessions by Saint Augustine

If I thought some of the other books I’ve read for Lent were difficult to follow then I was not ready for the writing of a 4th century Doctor of the Church from North Africa. It’s interesting that I read this book last after Seven Storey Mountain and The Long Loneliness. Confessions is in a sense a progenitor to the Christian confessional memoir. They all share in common the authors’ rebellious youth, turning away from God, before a conversion experience brings them Home. What I find interesting is that Augustine, Merton, and Day all look back and see where God was in their lives, where they rejected Him, and where He was there all along despite themselves. Conversion is also an ongoing process of relationship, still occurring as the authors write, as opposed to a single ka-pow moment of “finding God.”

Favorite Passages

O God, hope of youth, where were you all this time? Where were you hiding from me? Were not my Creator and was it not you who made me different from the beasts that walk on the earth and wiser than birds that fly in the air? Yet I was walking on a treacherous path, in darkness. I was looking for you outside myself and I did not find the God of my own heart. I had reached the depths of the ocean. I had lost all faith and was in despair of finding the truth (p. 111).

From now on I began to prefer the Catholic teaching. The Church demanded that certain things should be believed even though they could not be proved, for if they could be proved, not all men could understand the proof, and some could not be proved at all.

Note: I’ve not yet finished Confessions, and I think I’m going to put it down for a while, but when I pick it up again I will update this thread with more reflections.