Life after Epiphany


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Prayer to St. Thérèse of Lisieux (taken from the book “Blessed be God”)

O servant of God, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who in thy dying moments did say: “I will spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth,” hasten to let fall upon me a Shower of Roses that I too may be inflamed with that fire of love which burned so brilliantly in thy breast and which brought thee so gloriously to the arms of Jesus, my Lord and my God. Amen

Happy Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux!
If you prayed the novena with me, I thank you!

The book Blessed be God: A Complete Catholic Prayer Book with Epistles and Gospels for Every Sunday and Holiday of the Year  by  Fr Charles J. Callan OP and Fr. John A. McHugh OP (reprinted in 2010 by Preserving Christian Publications) is a real little treasure. It was published in 1960 so it is modelled on the old Roman calendar rather than the current calendar, but it is absolutely teeming with beautiful prayers and devotions. Vinyl bound with gold edging on the pages and a page-marker ribbon, just beautiful!It includes aspects of catechesis on the virtues and whatnot, too (c’mon, the authors were Dominican!) and I can’t recommend it enough. I received mine as a gift from a friend just last week. It is already well-used and well-loved!


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Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux – starts Sunday 22nd September

EWTN as always have proven just to be an awesome Catholic resource, a great contributor to the rebuilding of Catholic Culture.

I’ve mentioned before that St. Therese of Lisieux has a very special significance to me. In anticipation of her upcoming feast day on the Roman Calendar, I’ll be praying the novena that EWTN have published on their website:

http://www.ewtn.com/therese/novena.htm#pray

Please do consider joining me!


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tears

2468946This past week in Australia has seen public outcry at the fact that the newly announced cabinet includes only one woman. Whilst I will plainly state my opinion that this is a cosmetic and transparently partisan complaint of little substance, given that our leadership should entirely be selected on capability and merit rather than meaningless gender quotas, I do not want to get stuck on this point. Rather, I would like to acknowledge that the vocation of woman is different to the vocation of man, and I would like to explore one aspect of this vocation of woman.

Now before the radical feminists of the world get all up in arms let me be very clear: I am NOT saying that there is not a role for women to play in leadership or government in this day and age. Absolutely not. There is overlap between the roles of women and men, but there are also characteristics of serving the Lord and building up the Church that tend to be unique to femininity and masculinity. I would envisage women as leaders to fall within the overlap, but perhaps a woman’s style of leadership might then veer into the area of what is unique to femininity.

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Fr. Gerald Vann OP, in a book that is a personal favourite of mine, Heart of Compassion: The Vocation of Woman Today, appeals to the teaching of St. Paul in the Mystical Body of Christ and its composition comprising many different parts with different roles (1 Cor 12:21). He tells us that we will not achieve the freedom and dignity of woman by trying to make her a man – and then goes on to examine some of the ways in which the differences are complimentary. His underlying thesis appears to be that the woman’s contribution is ESSENTIAL to the success of the masculine vocation, and that the masculine vocation helps to give meaning or context to the feminine vocation.

After an examination on a generic level, Fr. Vann moves to a detailed exploration of the ‘Vocation of Tears’ that I found very striking… and moving. It is of course fitting that he establishes the Blessed Mother as the exemplar of a feminine vocation well-lived… she who kept all things and pondered them in her heart.

stMarysCathedralMAR2013 021What a precious gift, that the woman is, by nature, receptive and contemplative! Pondering deeply will almost always entail some kind of personal response, and often this is one of compassion. Maternity, whether biological or spiritual, requires compassion, and the Mother of Sorrow, depicted in the pieta holding her precious Son, teaches us trust during despair and courage in the face of suffering.

“We cannot think adequately of woman’s vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ without thinking of the mystery of vicarious suffering and expiation”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p70, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann further illustrates with a look at St. Monica, quiet and patient over many years weeping and crying out to the Lord on behalf of her son, St. Augustine. He tells us that St. Monica would take part in the philosophical discussions that were involved in St. Augustine’s catechetical preparation for Baptism, but emphasised that the conversion came much earlier, a movement of the Spirit in St. Augustine’s life, an answer to prayer… the fruit of tears, not words.

“We are concerned with the tears that express a deep feeling of responsibility in the sight of God, that are themselves a prayer and a sacrifice to God, and that are part of the vocation of Christian motherhood because the love of the son who causes them is in itself an aspect of the love of God. It is tears such as these that can be the channel of saving grace; it is the children of tears such as these who cannot perish.”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p72, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann exhorts women to learn to pray the De Profundis, i.e. Psalm 129 (130), on behalf of humankind, and in so doing, to unite our very prayer life with the one efficacious sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross. If we look around us, we see so many reasons to despair, so many reasons to weep. Our tears, though, are not tears of despair. Our tears are fundamentally an expression of hope, hope in the love and mercy of the Father who keeps His promise to His children.


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Don’t let academic hubris hijack theology…

infancyNarrativesJacket

I discovered something very ugly in myself today, as I reflected upon an event in my past.

As a novice, I was writing a paper that involved some exegetical work with the Psalms. During my private prayer and study, I encountered a fairly involved connection between one of the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew that excited me greatly! I added it to my paper as part of the case I was trying to build to support the central thesis of the paper and thought little more of it until the following day.

At the evening meal the following day, I was sitting at table with my sisters in the refectory, and listening to the spiritual reading selection of the evening as is monastic custom. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was hot off the presses and we were hearing it for the first time the very week it was released.

That evening at table, I heard THE VERY SAME EXEGESIS that I had prepared on the day prior, read from the work of the then Holy Father. Exegetical method AND conclusion were almost identical. And here it was, published by the Holy Father! But when I had typed it the day prior, that very same argument had been my own original work. Supposedly original.

So here is where my ugliness crept in.

I started getting all upset about INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY of all things. Can you think of anything more ridiculous than wanting to compete with the Pope over the intellectual property?

An account of my folly: I went to see my superior first thing the following morning. I wanted to know what to do from an academic honesty perspective. I didn’t want to cite the Holy Father. I felt I was justified in claiming the work as my own, given that I HAD arrived at the conclusions before encountering them elsewhere, even though they had existed elsewhere prior to my discovery of them. I wanted to use the electronic timestamp on the document in which I had written my paper to demonstrate that my conclusion was written prior to the night that it had been read to us at table.

PRIDE. How it corrupts the beauty that God created in me.

I write of it now because I refuse to let shame take a hold. Shame is a lie. Of COURSE I’m weak – why be scandalised by that?  Here is an opportunity. Out of the depths I can call upon the Lord. Out of my weakness, I can still witness to the Truth.

What is Truth, here?

I call upon ALL who read, study and pray with Scripture to recall that ANY time we are able to draw something from the Sacred Text, it is RECEIVED. It is a GIFT. It is the Word, GIVEN to us.

The conclusion I reached when working with the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew? It wasn’t mine. It was given to me, by the very same God who gave it to the Holy Father. Instead of resenting that he got there first, what on EARTH am I doing not giving thanks that such a thing was revealed to me, a mere child? (And a spoiled child at that!!) I give thanks now, and offer my very failure to do so earlier to the Lord that He may bring good out of it.

Curious to know what the exegetical conclusion was? Go read Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI. In the meantime, I pray for humility, and I return to my study of the Scriptures… on my knees.


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12 generous women

At this very moment, the twelve novices with whom I used to live in community are professing public vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are on the other side of the world from where I live, so I am unable to be present to celebrate with them. The best that I could do was to go to Mass for them earlier today, and to be up now, at this crazy hour, thinking of them, praying for them, and making a note in my blog about it to mark the occasion.

When I was a religious sister, my name was Sr. Catherine Thérèse. My patronesses were Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse of Lisieux.

One of my patronesses, St. Thérèse, wrote a stirring poem of deep significance to myself and my sisters, entitled The Melody of Saint Cecilia. I have included an extract below that I think is fitting as my sisters approach the altar today:

“Your union, spotless, chaste, shall win great souls to God
Souls that no other spouse than Christ shall seek on earth
And near His heavenly throne, when life’s hard path is trod
There you shall see them shine, in saintly joy and mirth”

Cecilia, lend to me thy melody most sweet:
How many souls would I convert to Jesus now.
I fain would die, like thee, to win them to His feet;
For him give all my tears, my blood. Oh, help me, thou!

Pray for me that I gain, on this our pilgrim way
Perfect abandonment that sweetest fruit of love.
Saint of my heart! oh, soon, bring me to endless day;
Obtain that I may fly with thee to heaven above!


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Did Catholics change the Bible? Let’s look at Genesis 3:15 (Part 2)

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Those of you who read the first part of this study would know that, noting certain differences between the Vulgate translation of Genesis 3:15 and other translations, I began to wonder if the Bible had been changed in order to impose a certain meaning upon the text.

The translation from the Hebrew reads:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

This version of the text presents God addressing the serpent, telling him that the offspring of the woman would crush/bruise his head. St Jerome’s Vulgate translation, on the other hand, presents a scenario where the woman herself crushes the serpent’s head.:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

The question, then, arises over who it is that is doing the head-crushing. Is it the woman, or her offspring? To have presented the text in the way that he has, Jerome has performed two operations on the sentence:

  1. changed the subject of the sentence from ‘seed of the woman’ to ‘woman’
  2. missed (or ignored?) the gender of the word ‘heel’ (NB: the Hebrew word for ‘heel’ in this text can only be parsed as singular and either masculine or neuter. The feminine form of the word is quite different. )

Were the translation only to require one or other of these changes then Jerome’s handling of the text could be explained away as an accident; however, given that two separate operations were involved in arriving at Jerome’s translation, and that noticing either one in the process of translation would signpost the other, it is more likely that Jerome’s alteration of the meaning of the sentence was quite deliberate. Jerome WAS very well-versed in classical languages, after all. Perhaps Jerome himself can tell us what’s going on, here. In a later analysis of his own work, Jerome says:

more correctly, it has in the Hebrew it will crush your head, and you shall crush its heel. For our footsteps are indeed shackled by the serpent, and the Lord shall crush Satan under our feet swiftly*

This brief comment from Jerome tells us a very great deal; first, it tells us that Jerome recognized the form of the noun “heel”, and of the preceding personal pronoun, to be masculine/neuter singular. Additionally, the comment demonstrates that although Jerome recognized the singular form in the Hebrew, his interpretation of its content corresponding to the word “seed” (i.e. the owner of the heel) to be a collective empowered by Christ. WHOA!! Wait a minute! St. Jerome DID change the text? He conceded his inaccuracy! And it seems he let it stand! What’s going on here? Let’s start with a little bit of context. As far as we know, St. Jerome’s translation of Genesis was the first translation of the book into Latin and the first translation of the book from the Hebrew by a Christian. Also important – the translation was happening in the late fourth century AD. What St. Jerome was doing was ground breaking to the extent that St. Augustine even expressed initial concern about not relying upon the Greek translation that was already available (the Septuagint) – many of the letters between St. Augustine and St. Jerome have been preserved that demonstrate a discussion at great length over the translations, and even over St. Jerome’s method – the use of asterisks and obelisks as codes for flagging discrepancies between the original Hebrew and the Septuagint translation… discrepancies very similar to that which we are investigating here! All of this historical context is going to help us next time when we tackle the idea of canon,  and have a look at whether or not St. Jerome was doing something shady by translating the text as he did.

<< Go back to part 1 of this series       Watch this space for part 3… >>

_______ * St. Jerome. St Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis: Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by C.T.R. Hayward, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995. Reprinted in 2001. 33.


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Benedict XVI: For the record

This post, on a blog I stumbled across this morning for the first time, is a wonderful tribute to the Pope Emeritus. None of this detracts from Pope Francis, whom I believe may just prove to be as saintly a Pope as his more recent predecessors. But the media ought to be ashamed of themselves for failing to report the real story. The real story here is the CONTINUITY of humility, the CONTINUITY of holiness in the Papacy. Slightly different styles, slightly different emphases… but CONTINUITY where it counts. Fidelity to Truth. Fidelity to Love. Fidelity to God.

I believe that all of the media circus about Pope Francis is an attempt by the media to gain some kind of leverage in shaping the direction of the messages that come out from Rome. I kind of almost get the feel that, due to Pope Francis’ country of origin being in Latin America, they are trying put an insidiously subtle liberation theology spin on everything he does…


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Did not our hearts burn as He talked to us on the road? An Eastertide Scripture reflection

This beautiful Emmaus Painting can be purchased as a print from the original artist, who has other work for sale also: http://www.emmauspainting.com/

I LOVE the Emmaus pericope.

Our human experience is so often characterized by our confusion at what is happening to us and around us. We get preoccupied with trying to make sense of it all and without our recognizing it, Jesus draws near.

How often we are oblivious to His presence!

Nevertheless, Jesus walks with us. He is present to us in our pain and confusion. Perhaps He is silent sometimes – but He is there.

Verse 16 tells us that the eyes of Cleopas and his companion (Luke himself?) were kept from recognizing Christ. I wonder if God doesn’t do this sometimes to help us see our need for Him, to help us desire Him more? Just like the lover in the Song of Songs, whose relationship with His beloved is characterized by alternating periods of presence and absence… yet even when He is absent, He leaves behind his fragrance, the rememberance of Him… is He ever TRULY absent?

The question He asks next seems indicative of an invitation to prayer. Jesus knows the answer to the question He asks – He is the Risen Lord, after all! He asks the question to prompt a conversation. Jesus wants us to bring our troubles to Him, even though He already knows about them. He helps us to reflect thoughtfully… and then He asks us to listen to Him.

The thoughtful reflection is important, but the crucial step is the listening, for it is then that our hearts burn. We are made for union with God. God is our ultimate end, our absolute good. It makes sense that as we listen to Him, something inside us starts to sing. “Only the lover sings” as Josef Pieper would say! Yes – something inside us starts to sing, and our deepest desires are revealed to us. The Lord knows our desires – but do we? Really?

The journey on earth is long and arduous at times, and it would perhaps be cruel if the Lord were to heighten our desires but never to satiate them. Whilst our desire for fullness of union with God, and the ability to see Him as He is, can never be realized until the next life, we can receive a foretaste of this union at the Mass, our portal as it were into the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This very account is the Scriptural basis for the structure of the Mass. The Mass consists of a celebration of the Word where we allow the Lord to speak to us through Scripture, and the priest in his homily seeks to help us understand the Gospel message by explaining the Scriptures in the broader context of Salvation History such that we can see how it points to Christ. Then we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a representation (in the Hebrew understanding) of the once and for all Paschal Sacrifice. Time and space diminish in their relevance – all of the angels and saints are truly present at each Mass, where heaven is united with earth, and it is NOT a repetition of the Sacrifice that transpires – rather it is the very same Sacrifice – we become mysteriously present at Calvary.

It is here, in this place, during the breaking of the bread, that we are able to recognize the Lord and understand what He has spoken to us.

“O Sacred Banquet – in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is recalled and the pledge of future glory is given to us!” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Do you desire intimacy with Christ?
Come to Mass and meet Him there!


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charity begins at home… Pope encouraging grassroots change

We saw major steps in ecumenism and cultural interchange with Pope Benedict XVI. This movement on the “big picture” was truly beautiful and enriching for the Church.

It certainly seems as though we are now receiving enrichment of a different kind; Pope Francis in his preaching and in his public messages to date seems to be honing in on the individual and his/her relationship with God.

Pope Francis’ recent Twitter feed is my case in point:

pontifextwitterfeed

And most recently: “Never speak poorly of others.”

These tweets are all short extracts taken from recent homilies and addresses. Each speaks to an aspect of one’s personal relationship with Christ and the nature of how that relationship expresses itself in relationship with others. It is the encounter with Christ that is important! Pope Francis is inviting each one of us to take a good look at ourselves, to stand as we are before the Lord and to receive His love and mercy and seek to live out the love we have received. His messages are simple but important…  and potentially very powerful in their effect, if we take them to heart.

Its almost like Pope Francis is acting as a personal spiritual director to every single individual in the Church throughout the world! How amazing that such a thing is even possible! Changing hearts. This can only be done by the Holy Spirit. It seems that He is working through our Holy Father in this way… we need to open ourselves up to these graces!

Both the “big picture” and the “grassroots growth” need attention. Each of us needs a shepherd to help lead us to Christ as individuals, and we also as the People of God, as a Church, need a shepherd. Both men are different, and the Holy Spirit has given each individual holding the Office of Pope a different task. Isn’t encouraging to see that all of us are being well tended?