O Lady, Our Lord has become our brother and our Savior.
Like the flame in the burning bush, and the dew in the fleece: the Word of
God descends into thee forever.
The Holy Spirit hath made thee fruitful: the power of the Most High hath overshadowed thee.
Blessed be thy most pure conception: blessed be thy virginal bringing forth.
Blessed be the purity of thy body: blessed be the sweetness of the mercy of thy heart.
Glory be to the Father, etc.
-St. Bonaventure, Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 8
is that I don’t need to pray well, or pray right, or pray holily, because there’s someone else who I know can and will do it for me. My prayers don’t need to be anything special, because I’m not relying on myself.
This is how all prayer should be: trusting the One who hears our prayers, and not the one who says them, or how they are said. The annoying thing is, when I try to do this, all too often I try to pray well, by trying not to try–stupid, right? Hopefully, as I learn more of God’s goodness, I’ll look less and less to myself and more and more to God.
It’s a fantastic thing, knowing that you’re part of the communion of the saints, and that there’s a whole army of angels and saints who always have your back. We never walk alone. We always have others to rely on.
I think God gives us the saints like He gave us Jesus, because we tend towards fearing and hiding from God, not trusting His merciful love. Saints can understand me, so I can trust them not to judge me. God is even better than His saints, but He reveals this through them, letting them incarnate His mercy.
God bless you!
I’m always looking for the best book for me to read next, so I thought I’d “do unto others” and share my top book recommendations. I figured the best way to distinguish the cream of the crop, is the standard of giving a standing ovation (if the book were a play…) I’ve made a rough list of about 17 so far, but I’ll share them bit by bit, in no particular order.
This is a genuinely extraordinary book… It has transformed my ideas of Catholicism and the whole universe. I wish that I could explain it, but it’s just too much. It touches on some crazy ideas from science, and I guess is perhaps the beginning of a new Christian Cosmology, that’s been largely lacking ever since Galileo and Newton destroyed the mediaeval Cosmology. But it’s more than that… It’s a renewed Christological Cosmology and a Cosmological Christology.
Bonaventure – The Major Life of St Francis
Nothing has made the gospel seem so clear to me as the life of St Francis, and this book especially. Bonaventure uses Francis’ life to teach us the ways and power of true holiness and virtue, and shows us St Francis in his uncompromised madness. St Francis is fairly called a “second Christ”.
St Therese of Lisieux – The Story of a Soul
This is possibly my favourite book of all. St Therese’s life is, on the face of it, very boring. In terms of events, there’s very little of significance. But what it has, is an extraordinary relationship of total surrender to God’s merciful love. This book teaches the true way of salvation, not by our own strength, but entirely by God’s merciful love.
And once you’ve read this, read My Sister Saint Therese, by the saint’s sister Celine. It’s a collection of recollections, that show Therese from another angle, from someone so close to her.
Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read any of these, and or any books that you’d give a standing ovation.
I’ve been thinking a bit about the Saints today, and how they were madly in love with God. Like how young men and women fall madly in love with each other, and do stupid, foolish, and very brave things for each other. Like all our better love stories.
Like Tolkien’s Beren and Luthien, this mad love gives extraordinary courage and strength, and moves the course of world history. It is ready to risk and sacrifice everything.
Saints like Francis, Clare, Mother Teresa, Rock, Benedict Joseph Labre, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Anthony, Ignatius, Agnes, Cecilia, Augustine, Francis Xavier… and on and on, were just people who had fallen head over heels in love with the living God. Yes, they are heroes of our faith, but they are only heroes because they are lovers. However powerful ideals and honour and nobility may be, it is love and only love that is capable of the ultimate heroism.
But when I look at myself, I don’t think I can honestly say I’m in love with God. I love God, but I can’t say I’m in love with Him. Not yet.
I want to be though… I guess we call it falling in love because it’s out of our control. And I guess that the way people fall in love, is by giving in to the love they already have.
God bless you!
P.S. One thing I love, is that this idea that our religion is about falling in love with God Himself isn’t a modern sales pitch, but essential to the faith, running right throughout the Tradition, the New Testament, and back to the Old Testament, taking up the whole book of Song of Songs.
Can I honestly say, that when I look at myself or at my Church, locally or universally, that I recognise followers of Jesus, the Body of Christ, or the Kingdom of Heaven?
‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’ [Lk12:49]
Where is this fire?!
I don’t see it in my life. And I rarely hear it in homilies. And I hardly see it in the Church. I start to wonder if we’ve forgotten Jesus.
There are saints amongst us, though. There are holy bishops and priests and religious and lay people, living the gospel. There are orders, and movements and organisations and just people. There are many people out there who sacrifice themselves with Jesus, living the reckless, radical love of the Father.
I just wish it were the rule. I wish that I heard this fire in every homily, and saw it in every Church activity. I wish that we were obviously so much more than a club, or an NGO. I wish that this fire was burning in all my flesh, down to the marrow.
But I’ve read, that all that’s needed to become a saint, is to will it. God wills it already; we just need to cooperate, accept His grace, obey His gospel.
And the truth is, there’s no real life apart from Jesus’ life. It’s a choice between life and — far worse than death– not-life. I could perhaps call it half-life, but I think not-life better captures the emptiness I’m thinking of. Or being, “lukewarm”.
I hope I’m not alone in feeling this way. Please pray with me, that we will together be set on Jesus-fire.
It feels strange, now, to look back at my first encounters with Catholicism…
I remember when I was a young teen, I was troubled by Jesus’ words, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ And the fact that no Christians I’d heard of had ever even tried to obey Him. Did no one wish to be perfect?
I did some research, and found the idea of “voluntary poverty” and the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, and I devoured his story from the Catholic Encyclopaedia. Finally, I had found someone who took the gospel seriously! He excited me a lot, and I spent a lot of time daydreaming about St. Francis and his companions, and whether I might imitate him.
Until then, I had been taught that the gospel was something done to me, that I really had very little part in. But Jesus in the gospels was teaching me something different. He taught me about the Kingdom, that made insane, outrageous, improper demands of me. His gospel was something I had to live for myself. It wasn’t merely internal, but actually, was a matter of turning me out of myself. St. Francis validated my understanding of the gospel as a Life for us to live out, and that was possible to actually live out.
I think this shifted my thinking, so that I began preferring a more Catholic idea of salvation as by some combination of faith and works, rather than the protestant “faith alone”.
The other crucial encounter was with Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, and their Catholic Worker movement, a few years later. I had been looking into Anarchism for a while, and then the ideas of “Christian Anarchism” in particular, when I decided to look into the Catholic Worker movement, by reading the biographies of Maurin and Day.
Once again, I was shocked and excited to find real people making the attempt to take Jesus at His word. I’d come across various radical protestant groups, anabaptists, mennonites, Dukhobors, etc, but they weren’t the same… As radical as they were, they couldn’t go all the way (I guess because they were larger, family based communities). The Catholic Workers lived the foolishness of the gospel, in God’s absurd love. They taught me the radical Catholic vision of humanity as genuinely children of God, as spelled out in the Church’s social teaching.
In reading their biographies, I glimpsed the world of Catholicism, full of saints and sacraments, and I began to envy them for it. Reading about how Jesus truly, physically fed them, and lived in them, in the Eucharist, and was also truly there to be served in the poor, made me realise the one weird thing that really separates Catholicism from protestantism: God’s extraordinary intimacy with us. And I wanted it to be true.
Mary being the Mother of God, the Church bearing God’s authority, salvation being by faith with works, the power of the saints, the real presence of the Eucharist, the effectiveness of Baptism, and all the rest, were the extraordinary ways that God lives in and amongst His people. These teachings became beautiful to me, even if I wasn’t yet convinced that they were true.
St. Francis of Assisi, Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day introduced me to Catholicism, and started me on my road to one day becoming a Catholic myself. They showed me a faith that was radical, exciting, and beautiful. And now, I look forward to thanking them each when we meet in heaven.
God bless you!
I read today about how, after searching out whether God called to him to preach or pray, when given the answer, St Francis ran out and preached the gospel first of all to a large flock of birds of various kinds, who listened with reverence and perhaps even true piety. “My brother birds,” he said, “you should greatly praise your Creator, who clothed you with feathers, gave you wings for flight, confided to you purity of the air, and governs you without your least care.” As he spoke, they listened actively, fluttering about in a wonderful way, stretching their necks, spreading their wings, opening their beaks and looking at him. ‘He passed through their midst with amazing fervour of spirit, touching them with his tunic.’ And at the end of it all, he reproached himself for not preaching to the birds sooner!
What really strikes me here, is his incredible boldness. Francis walks in a different world to me, a world where the most extraordinary things can be taken for granted, simply because God is with him. He doesn’t doubt or hesitate: God is with him.
This story isn’t even the best demonstration of this bold confidence. There is the time he was faced with a man-eating wolf. Where I would quickly rack my brains and try say my “best prayer”, Francis simply makes the sign of the cross, and immediately makes peace. Or when Francis was offered chicken on a Friday (he couldn’t eat chicken on a Friday, but also must “accept whatever you are given” [Lk 10:8]). I can’t imagine what sophistry I would use, but Francis simply makes the sign of the cross over it, and it comes back to life and flies away!
In fact, this boldness characterises his whole life. As soon as he receives God’s call, he jumps to action, no questions asked (meaning he didn’t fully understand a couple of times). He is defiantly “unrealistic” in his way of life, and that of his followers too. They live firmly in the knowledge that they can never trust him too much, and never love him too much.
St. Francis is the most exciting saint I’m aware of, because he’s a madman running head first into God.
I pray that I may live with bold confidence in God, just like St Francis.
God bless you!
P.S. I was reading from the Major Life of Saint Francis by St. Bonaventure, in Such is the Power of Love
‘Therefore, just as at the beginning God marvellously, without cultivator or seeds, created grain and other terrestrial things to nourish people, so too he marvellously, without human learning, made the minds of prophets and apostles and, above all, the Gospels, rich with seeds for our salvation. These are the source of whatever we sow salutarily, in God’s husbandry, for the nourishment of our souls, just as what we cultivate for the nourishment of our bodies derives only from the original seeds of the earth.
‘In fact, we proclaim what is useful for the salvation of souls only what Sacred Scripture, made fecund by the marvellous activity of the Holy Spirit, has produced or contains in its womb. For if at times we assert by a process of reasoning a conclusion which we cannot explicitly cite from the sayings of Scripture or demonstrate from the bare wording, still it is by using Scripture that we know in the following way whether the affirmation should be accepted or rejected. If the conclusion is reached by straightforward reasoning and Scripture in no way contradicts it, then (since just as Scripture opposes no truth so too it abets no falsehood) by the very fact that it does not deny what is inferred on the basis of reason, that conclusion is accepted as authorised by Scripture. But if Scripture indubitably opposes our understanding, ever though our reasoning appears to us to be impregnable, still it ought not to be believed to be substantiated by any truth at all. It is when Sacred Scripture either clearly affirms or in no wise denies it, that it gives support to the authority of any reasoned conclusion.’
-De Concordia 3:6
Is St Anselm supporting some form of the protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, over four centuries before Martin Luther? Sort of.
That’s not to say that this Roman Catholic Archbishop and Doctor of the Church didn’t acknowledge the authority of the Church’s magisterium (i.e. authoritative teaching) however. That the minds of prophets and apostles are the original seeds, seems to imply that that the fruit they bore produced the plants that nourish us now, which must surely be their legitimate successors. For St Anselm, that must have meant the Holy Catholic Church and his fellow bishops. So we can’t say Scripture was for him the sole authority, as Luther made it.
However, he does clearly consider the Scriptures alone to be sufficient to tell between all truth and falsehood, at least regarding ‘what is useful for the salvation of souls’. Everything we teach must either be straight from Scripture, or proceed from straightforward reasoning and not contradict the Scriptures. Simple enough. While every heresy must, however reasonable it may seem, contradict the Scriptures and so be rejected. Revelation must protect us against the horrific reasonableness of heresy, because what else could? Yes, the magisterium of the Church, but the magisterium always refers us back to the revelation given to us once and for all in Jesus Christ.
This is a point we need to be clear on: The Church, as the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures, has no authority over the Scriptures. Interpretation has come to mean something dishonest in our times; we suppose the meaning is being distorted and lost; in our post-modern world, we’ve started to wonder if there are any “correct interpretations”. Yes, there are. If the Bible is the Word of God, then its meaning is what God means by it, not what I decide to make of it. No one cares what I think. The Church, then, is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, simply because She is the one who hears God’s voice and listens. The Scriptures were spoken to the Church, the Beloved Bride of Christ, and therefore they are Hers to understand. The Word of God belongs to Her, precisely because She belongs to the Word; ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ [Sg 6:3].
Yes, the Scriptures are also written to me particularly, but to me within the Church. They are never my private possession. The faith is mine, because it is ours. It is mine, only because I am a living member of the Body of Christ, and my faith cannot contradict that of the Church. As I wrote in the past, your religion is mine, and mine is yours.
I hope and pray that all Christians can establish true unity with one another. ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ Amen.