Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Meditation on St. Joseph and a Special Prayer Request

Prayer: The Litany of St. Joseph

A lot of people like to point out that St. Joseph had original sin, because in how we think about the Holy Family he stands in somewhat sharp contrast to the sinless Ever-Virgin Mother of God and the Christ Child, Who Himself is true God, co-eternal with the Father. I have been guilty of this, too, but the more I think about it, to speak in such a way about St. Joseph is irreverence before the mystery of the man. How many more words much more worthy could we multiply about him, chosen by the Father to be protector of the only-begotten Son and spouse of the Immaculate?

Rather than declaring St. Joseph's sinfulness, Scripture affirms that he was a "perfect man." St. James says, "if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also" (3:2). When I read this, I think of St. Joseph. After all, not a word of his is recorded in Scripture, yet the Son of God obeyed his every word. The Son of God commands his angels as the work of his hands, and the Theotokos, too, is queen over them, yet the angels bring God's messages to Joseph by dream.

When Jesus said to the Twelve, who were wondering who was greatest, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mk 9:35), I wonder if he perhaps learned this lesson observing his marvelous protector. What can I say for this silent son of David, who raised the silent Lamb that was led to the slaughter?

I only wish I could be more like St. Joseph, and so on this day I prefer to bow in stillness before his mystery and let my demons be terrorized.

Special Prayer Request:
Please pray for Fr. Ray Ryland, a priest in Steubenville whom I love dearly. He fell at St. Peter's Catholic Church there and may be dying. According to a Catholic Answers update, "Barring a miracle, he is not expected to recover." He is a former University of San Diego faculty member and a former Episcopal minister, whose ordination to the Catholic priesthood was approved by Cardinal Ratzinger. Read more about his story here. I will always remember two things about Fr. Ryland: his powerful homilies and the joy with which he celebrated the Mass. He is a holy man, and he and his family need your prayers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

TCF Quoteboard: On Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

"Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul, fasting extinguishes the concupiscible part, and prayer purifies the mind and prepares it for the contemplation of reality. ..."
St. Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Love, 1.79

This seems to be more or less the monastic thought on the matter: If we struggle with anger, fear, envy, and similar passions or sins, we ought to give alms. If we struggle with intemperance, gluttony, lust, drunkenness, and similar passions or sins, we ought to fast. If we struggle with pride, vainglory, distraction, error, curiosity, and similar passions or sins of the mind, we ought to pray.

An image depicting the passions, like an unbridled horse.
It says, "And so, desire carries me along."
This has long been an image of the one ruled by the passions.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Akathist Hymn at TAC

So this makes me doubly pleased. First of all, I'm glad to hear Thomas Aquinas College students, who are just up the road, learning the Akathist Hymn (hmmm ... ideas for the Greek class I teach ...). Secondly, the student singing in the introduction is a former student of mine, whom I taught when she was a senior. There are few things more satisfying to a teacher than seeing a student doing excellent things in life. Kudos to her!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gaudete! Some Voices Bid You Rejoice! Happy Gaudete Sunday

For more on Gaudete Sunday, read what I wrote here. But first watch and listen, et gaudete!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Becoming Marian--The Beloved Disciple Takes Her "Into His Reality" (εἰς τὰ ἴδια)

Michelangelo's Pietá
Today is the 24th Sunday in ordinary time, but it also is September 15, the day liturgically reserved for the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. While miss the reading cycle for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows since today is a Sunday, the month of September is nonetheless dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, uniquely meritorious because of her divine motherhood and immaculate conception in and through the merits of Christ himself. The "Seven Sorrows" are:

  1. the prophecy of Simeon
  2. the flight into Egypt
  3. the loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
  4. the meeting of Mother and Son on the way to Calvary
  5. the death of Christ
  6. the removal of Christ from the Cross (see Pietá)
  7. the entombment of Christ

In honor of Our Lady’s sufferings, I share the following excerpt from my article on Pope Benedict's Mariology in De Maria Numquam Satis (pp. 168-169). (Most of my article is capable of being previewed via the "look inside" on Amazon, so if you want to read more, you can there.)

Excerpted from “Divinely Given 'Into Our Reality': Mary’s Maternal Mediation according to Pope Benedict XVI” in De Maria Numquam Satis (UPA, 2009)

“Into Our Reality” – Mary and Her Spiritual Maternity over All Humanity

Not only does Our Lady cooperate in redemption, but that cooperation has a direct result for her – spiritual maternity.

At the Cross, through the all-powerful words of her Son, this title “woman” undergoes a transformation. As the divine Logos of God accomplishes what is said, so when he says, “behold your mother,” she takes on a new role, because God the Son declared it: “My word … shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose…” (Is 55:11). Had this been the scene of the crucifixion of “any-man,” it would appear that this dying criminal is setting his affairs in order before he passes. However, this man is also true God, the divine Logos, who “rules from the Cross” (1) – and this is a decree for the kingdom. His beloved disciple is now “everyman.”
From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross. … (2)

It is because she is on Calvary pierced by the sword of sorrow that she is the Mother of all who follow her Son. The catechesis contained in the prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan beautifully expresses the Pope’s teachings of the spiritual maternity of Mary over all humanity, which has its power in the Word of God.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (Jn 19:25-27).
Those italicized words are what I want to focus on, as they are the words the Pope points us toward. This passage appears as if Jesus is setting his affairs in order before his death, making sure that someone will look after his mother. But the original Greek conveys something more.
From the Cross, Jesus entrusted his Mother to all his disciples and at the same time entrusted all his disciples to the love of his Mother. The Evangelist John concludes the brief and evocative account with these words: “Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn19:27). This is the [English] translation of the Greek text “εἰς τὰ ἴδια,” he welcomed her into his own reality, his own existence. Thus, she is part of his life and the two lives penetrate each other. And this acceptance of her (εἰς τὰ ἴδια) in his own life is the Lord’s testament. Therefore, at the supreme moment of the fulfillment of his messianic mission, Jesus bequeaths as a precious inheritance to each one of his disciples his own Mother, the Virgin Mary (3).
Finally, in this glimpse, it is worth highlighting one more significant word: “hour.” In the Gospel of John, as was mentioned above, the hour is frequently used in reference to the hour of the Passion. In the other episode in John’s Gospel in which Mary appears, the Wedding at Cana. “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). In Cana, we see Mary inquiring about something specific to Jesus’ hour of his Passion. And in the hour, we see him giving her as Mother to the disciple as an “action” of the hour. “From that hour, the disciple received her into his own” (Jn 19:27). Giving his mother is the Savior’s will during his saving Passion. Mary is a gift from her Son to every believer, a gift from the Cross.

Pope Benedict stated in a homily on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven: “We have a mother in heaven. And the Mother of God, the Mother of the Son of God, is our Mother. He himself has said so. He made her our own Mother when he said to the disciple and to all of us: ‘Behold, your mother!’” Because Christ proclaims this from the Cross, and because his words are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (cf. Heb 4:12), this maternity of Mary over all believers is part of the “Good News” of Calvary, a truly personal gift from the Cross that abides in heaven to this day. “We have a Mother in Heaven. Heaven is open. Heaven has a heart” (4).


(1) Jesus of Nazareth, p. 338. Jesus “rules from the Cross, and does so in an entirely new way. Universality is achieved through the humility of communion in faith; this king rules by faith and love, and in no other way.” This is the King of the Jews—written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (Jn 19:20). And this is the place where Jesus has drawn all men to himself (Jn 12:32). By implication, this is significant for Mariology: Jesus’ gift of his Mother from the Cross to an Apostle, a prince of the Church to whom a kingdom has been assigned (cf. Lk 22:29), is a regal gift for all men whom he has drawn to himself and constitutes the place of Mary in the Church and vice versa.
(2) Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan.
(3) General Audience, January 2, 2008. Cf. Homily on the anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, April 3, 2006. De la Potterie follows Charles Journet’s translation of this Greek phrase to “into his intimacy.” De la Potterie also points to the parallel of εἰς τὰ ἴδια between John’s prologue (1:11) and the scene on Calvary to argue that in neither case is the Scripture to be read in a merely materialistic way.
It is true that eis ta idia can mean at one’s house, at one’s home, in one’s country, etc.; but in this case, the expression is always used with a verb describing transfer or movement in a physical sense. One goes on a trip. Then, after a long absence, one returns to one’s home, or one’s house. Or someone sends someone else back home. There are many examples of this in the New Testament; for instance, in Acts 21:6: “… we boarded the ship. These people returned then to their homes.” But in the scene at the cross, elaben does not describe a physical transfer or movement. As we have said, this verb signals the beginning of an attitude of faith; it is a question of a “movement,” if you will, but then it is a purely spiritual movement, a first stage on the journey of faith. Of course, a physical transfer could readily go along with a journey of faith; but such a movement is totally out of perspective as to the verse and to the whole pericope, both of which find themselves on a strictly theological plane. Yet, if it is a question of spiritual attitude, there is still the eis ta idia. What, then, is the meaning of these three words? It most certainly is not a question of a house, but what belongs, “en propre” (peculiarly/to one’s own), to the disciple. This is what St. John’s repeated use of the term idios seems to suggest (e.g., Jn 10:4) … (Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, pp. 227-228).(4) Homily, Aug. 15, 2005.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Oremus: For Egypt and Our Brothers and Sisters Suffering in the Body

Upon seeing this image of a decapitated statue of Our Lady in Egypt ...

... I remembered the story of the apparition above the Coptic church near Cairo. It is time again to invoke Our Lady of Zeitoun for peace in Egypt. She appeared there first on April 2, 1968--45 years ago. No doubt it is still in the national memory there. When she appeared, she said nothing, but she came with signs and miracles for Christians and non-Christians alike. I would encourage anyone who wishes there be an end to the violence to turn to Our Lady's supplication.

Her appearance in 1968 seems to be an invitation to enter deeply into prayer for this land torn by violence, a land in which the Holy Family sought refuge from the murderous Herod. Our Lady is the Help of Christians, as we invoke her in the Litany of Loreto. No evil is greater than she who conceived the Author of Life and Prince of Peace in the stillness of her virginal womb. By her "yes," she made the Co-Equal, Co-Eternal Son of God our brother, conquering the pride of the serpent by her perfect humility and immortal meekness.

For the Christians in Egypt, let us pray! She who gave flesh to the Savior of the world will not refuse us.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Our Lady and Divine Child with Rosary. Image from St. Peter's List.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

JP Catholic Students' Production of Redline Featured in LA Times

On the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, known in the Catholic world for being a master at the use of the media of his day to spread the Gospel, the LA Times published a piece about JP Catholic University's film Redline, much of which was filmed on campus. Here is the intro to the story...

Class project yields a feature film with commercial distributors
by Richard Verrier | LA Times
The prospects of finding a distributor for a $220,000 movie, produced mainly by college students at an obscure San Diego Catholic university, could hardly be worse.

But about 60 students at John Paul the Great Catholic University who embarked on a quixotic class project two summers ago to make and release their own movie beat the odds.

With the help of faculty members who had ties in Hollywood, the students recruited professional actors and crew members to help make their film. Students wrote the script — about a terrorist attack that takes place on a Red Line subway in Los Angeles — raised funds and worked behind the camera, finding props and costumes and building sets.

And they accomplished something many independent filmmakers would envy: They managed to secure deals to distribute the movie through iTunes, Amazon.com and Redbox last month. Starting in October, DVDs will be sold through Wal-Mart and Target.

Student film shoots are a common sight in Los Angeles — which has a plethora of local film schools — and occasionally generate more production days than feature films. But most are for film shorts, not full-length feature films, and rarely do those movies find commercial distributors.

"Most industry professionals said it couldn't be done and that we had no hope of making it look like a professionally produced feature or attracting a stellar cast," said Dominic Iocco, former dean of the film and media department and a producer on the film. "But we did it and we couldn't be more proud."

Read the rest here...

Just so we're clear, I'm not one of the faculty member with the Hollywood connections! I'm excited to be purchasing a copy of the film. Show your support for the students and purchase a copy, too!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Samples from Centuries on Love: Maximus the Confessor

Maximus the Confessor's Centuries on Love are quite edifying. He wrote them to another monk, Elpidius, saying that he had relayed the thoughts of the holy Fathers before him in ways that could be memorized. English translations of this work may be found in Maximus the Confessor: Selected Writings, tr. George Berthold (Classics of Western Spirituality series), and in The Ascetic Life, The Four Centuries on Charity, tr. Polycarp Sherwood (Ancient Christian Writers series).

Translating Maximus from his 7th century Greek is quite challenging, as most of the Greek I have been working with has been that of the New Testament and early apostolic era; thus, I have found Maximus's shorter and more digestible Centuries helpful in getting me started. Plus, Maximus says they are to be read with care, so it seems a good fit for building up my courage for some of his weightier work. From any who know Greek better than I, I welcome critique of my translation in the blog comments. I have included the Greek toward this purpose.

1st century, no. 79 (PG 90, 977C):
"Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul; fasting quenches the concupsicible; prayer cleanses the mind, and it prepares it for the contemplation of beings. The Lord even grants the commandments for the powers of the soul."
Ἡ μὲν ἐλεημοσύνη, τὸ θυμικὸν μέρος τῆς ψυχῆς θεραπεύει· ἡ δὲ νηστεία, τὴν μὲν ἐπιθυμίαν μαραίνει· ἡ δὲ προσευχὴ, τὸν νοῦν καθαίρει, καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν ὄντων θεωρίαν παρασκευάζει. Πρὸς γὰρ τὰς δυνάμεις τῆς ψυχῆς, καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς ὁ Κύριος ἡμῖν ἐχαρίσατο.

1st century, no. 45 (PG 90, 969A):
"Torment your flesh with fasting and with vigil, and spend time unceasingly in psalmody and in prayer, and the holiness of self-control will come upon you, bearing love."
Αἴκιζε τὴν σάρκα σου ἀσιτίᾳ καὶ ἀγρυπνίᾳ, καὶ σχόλασον ἀόκνως ψαλμωδίᾳ καὶ προσευχῇ· καὶ ὁ ἁγιασμὸς τῆς σωφροσύνης ἐπὶ σὲ ἐπελεύσεται, τὴν ἀγάπην φερῶν.

1st century, no. 94 (PG 90, 981B):
"Through keeping the commandments, the mind strips itself of the passions; through the spiritual contemplation of the visible, [it strips itself] of passionate thoughts of creatures; through the knowledge of the invisible, the contemplation of the visible; and this, through the knowledge of the Holy Trinity."
Διὰ μὲν τῆς ἐργασίας τῶν ἐντολῶν, τὰ πάθη ὁ νοῦς ἀποδύεται· διὰ δὲ τῆς τῶν ὁρατῶν πνευματικῆς θεωρίας, τὰ ἐμπαθῆ τῶν πραγμάτων νοήματα. Διὰ δὲ τῆς τῶν ἀορατῶν γνώσεως, τὴν τῶν ὁρατῶν θεωρίαν· ταύτην δὲ, διὰ τῆς γνώσεως ἁγίας Τριάδος.
(Clarification by a less strict translation: What Maximus seems to be saying here is that beginning with keeping the commandments, the mind goes through a spiritual progression: first putting off the passions, then it puts off the passionate thoughts concerning creatures through spiritual contemplation; then it puts off the contemplation of visible things by knowledge of invisible ones; finally, it puts off knowledge of invisible things through knowledge of the Holy Trinity.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fasting or Hospitality? The Desert Fathers Weigh In

As I work on my Greek translation skills, I have been working my way through Rodney Whitacre’s Patristic Greek Reader. This is an excellent book for those wishing to broaden their scope beyond the κοινή Greek of the New Testament and enter into the Greek of the early Church. Whitacre is very helpful, but he is not too helpful, as one doing this level of translation needs to work toward independence. His text seems to be in that direction.

My post today concerns fasting. What should one do if engaged in a voluntary fast and one ends up at a dinner party or with an unexpected guest? Stay the course or entertain with a five-course? Of course, with respect to canon law, Christians are obliged to follow the norms. So, for example, if it is a required day of abstinence, one is religiously required to avoid eating meat. But what about the weekly Christian living, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as prescribed in the Didache of the Twelve Apostles?

I had a memorable experience when I was a student. One day, I was fasting on bread and water. I had been sharing my class notes with an international student, who chose to express his gratitude that evening by bringing to class some juice for me. It was very thoughtful, and so I set the fast aside to enjoy it in his presence out of gratitude for the act of charity. But I questioned myself, 'Should I have persisted in my fast? should I have saved the drink for later? or did I do the right thing?' Perhaps you have found yourself in the same situation. I think this is common in the Christian experience—one sets out to fast, and some kind person in true charity and not knowing of the secret fast randomly gives sustenance through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is clearly the testing of God. I think the lesson is to help us be "detached" from the fast.

In the sayings of the desert fathers, some of which are related in Whitacre’s reader, I found a helpful story related by Abba Cassian. Here is my translation of the original Greek.

Abba Cassian related, “Holy Germanus and I visited with an old man (τινα γέροντα) in Egypt and he entertained us hospitably (φιλοξενήσας) and was questioned by us, “Why in the reception of foreign brothers do you not keep the canon of fasting we received in Palestine?” And he answered saying, “The fast is always with me. But I cannot always hold you with me. The fasting is a useful and even necessary thing, but it is our choice. But the law of God demands the love of neighbor from necessity. Receiving Christ in you, therefore, I need to serve with all haste. If I should send you forth, I can recover the canon of fasting. For the sons of the bridegroom cannot fast as long as the bridegroom is with them. But when the bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast with authority.”

Fasting is an important choice—the γέρων (old man) says useful and necessary. But love of neighbor is beyond choice; it is a commandment. In other words, love of neighbor must always come before our fasting. Hospitality (from φιλοξενέω, i.e., to love strangers) is recognizing the presence of Christ the bridegroom in a brother. By the grace of God, I did the right thing at that time. Drink the juice, the desert fathers seem to say; resume the fast at another time.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Charcoal Fire: New Direction

You may have noticed I took a break for a while. This proved very beneficial and helped give some clarity regarding what I am trying to accomplish here, namely an encounter with Jesus Christ. What is the faith and the practice of the faith? What do we believe about God? about Jesus Christ?

As my own personal studies have turned more toward the history of Christianity as seen in the Church Fathers and toward systematic theology, I am going to be posting more in that direction. Less me, more them. In this way, I hope to share some of the things I am studying as well as present refreshingly new ancient words to my readers. I have been going this direction for a while on this blog, but making this explicitly stated should help. Considering those who I know read this blog, I think this better engages their interests than do my rantings against the HHS mandate, or against Planned Parenthood, and so on. The mystery of sin and evil is fought more effectively through prayer and fasting than through a great many words.

Also, I have found that I must do battle with this unholy desire--which I understand needs to be mortified--to comment upon every news happening in the Church and in politics. Of course, I do not. This dynamic leads to vainglory if I do write something and the temptation to critical thoughts if I do not, which is itself vainglorious (as though my input were necessary for some reason). As a result, I end up feeding the vice of curiosity by reading way too many news stories and commentary. Now, it is one's civic duty to call attention to injustice in the world, and so I will continue to do so in various ways, but for this blog, I really must stick to my strengths and entrust you to my blogroll for others' commentary on those matters.

For the sake of balance and order, therefore, I'll pass along helpful articles I may find on political matters through Twitter, but I will stick to strictly theological purposes for The Charcoal Fire.

So what sorts of topics will I be writing about on this blog in the future? Those such as:
  • Our Lady
  • St. Ignatius of Antioch's theology of the episcopacy
  • St. Thomas Aquinas's teachings on faith
  • St. Maximus the Confessor's theology of the two wills of Christ
  • eschatology
  • asceticism
  • martyrdom
  • Scriptural exegesis of the Fathers
  • reactions to theological works I am reading
  • and like topics
In all things, the goal is a greater encounter with Jesus Christ. Less me, more Him.