Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summertime Reading

This past 4th of July I began reading the classic apologetic work by the pioneer American Cardinal James Gibbons Our Christian Heritage. The prose is marvelous. Here are two samples: the first on God the Greatest Engineer and the second on God the Universal Provider.

"If, on reaching [an] uninhabited island...you discovered there in the midst of the solitude, a railroad engine complete in all its parts, though you could find no trace of man, you would, at once, reasonably conclude that some skillful mechanic had wrought it. And we see before us this grand and complex engine of the Universe so vast in proportions, so perfect in detail; --an engine not standing still, but in perpetual motion. This earth which we inhabit, though it forms but an insignificant part of the whole machinery of nature, is revolving around its own axis at the rate of a thousand miles an hour, and is rushing through space with the surprising velocity of 68,400 miles an hour; yet so smoothly does it make its revolutions, that so far from experiencing any jarring sensation, we are quite unconscious of its motion.
"And there are myriads of other planets constantly moving like our own, each in its own sphere, and with so much order as never to diverge from their proper source, and never to occasion the slightest collision." pp.21-22

"Cast your eyes about you. See the great palace of nature constructed for you by your Heavenly Father. Observe with what order and regularity this palace is superintended. It is so carefully renovated every day, from its bright green floor to its azure roof, that it never shows signs of decay or old age.
"See how diligently every member of this vast household is provided for, from the huge elephant of the forest and the leviathan of the deep to the flying bird and the crawling worm. Imagine the quantity and variety of food that is necessary to sustain so immense a family. O Heavenly Father, Thy commissariat never fails. Thou makest ample provision for all. 'Thou openest Thy hand and fillest with blessing every living creature.'" Ps. 145 pp. 82-83

Appropriately, this same psalm 145 was last Sundays psalm for the Mass (Seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time [year B]); and the Gospel, just as appropriately, the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-15). Isn't it remarkable how so often one's personal spiritual reading agrees with the prayer of the Church! It is a sign of unity, harmony, and supernatural peace.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Oud: the ancient Lute

The typical Arabic guitar is the oud (Eng. lute), the ancient instrument which was the precursor of the guitar. Listen to some of the master oud players and you will immediately see the origins of the Spanish guitar genius. Check out Farid al-atrach "The King of the Oud!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Way, Saint James, and Our Blessed Mother his Aunt

Today is the Feast of Saint James the Greater.

According to the 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia, Saint James (and John, his brother) is a close blood relative of our Lord (a 1st or 2nd cousin), because their mother, Salome is probably the woman identified in John 19 as "...His [our Lord's] mother's sister." That would explain the prominence of James and John with Peter, as witnessed in the Gospels: e.g. Transfiguration and Gethsemani; and the various discussions about who is the greatest among them and who should have the first places in Christ's kingdom. It would also explain the special relationship which is historically evident between Saint James and our Lady (e.g. Nuestra Señora del Pilar) and our Lord's commendation of the Blessed Virgin to her own nephew.

Pope Benedict made his Papal pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle James during the 2010 Jubilee and spoke of the meaning of the pilgrimage experience.

He said: "In the secret of their heart, knowing it explicitly or sensing it without being able to express it, so many pilgrims,...as they walk the way to Santiago de Compostela to embrace the Apostle...experience...the Gospel...the path by which, in renouncing a selfish and short-sighted way of thinking so common today, and taking on instead Jesus' own way of thinking...attain fulfillment and become a seed[s] of hope. The fatigue of the journey, the variety of landscapes, their encounter with peoples of other nationalities--all of this opens their heart to what is the deepest and most common bond that unites us as human beings: we are in quest, we need truth and beauty, we need an experience of grace, charity, peace, forgiveness and redemption. And in the depth of each of us there resounds the presence of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. Yes, to everyone who seeks inner silence, who keeps passions, desires and immediate occupations at a distance, to the one who prays, God grants the light to find him and to acknowledge Christ. Deep down, all those who come on pilgrimage to Santiago do so in order to encounter God, who, reflected in the majesty of Christ, welcomes and blesses them as they reach the Portico de la Gloria." Zenit, 6 November 2010

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taybeh and Franziskaner

It is rumored that Franziskaner is Pope Benedict's favorite beer, an excellent (widely available in the US, and inexpensive--under $30 case in the NY Metropolitan area) Bavarian weissbier brewed since 1363! An authentic medieval ale!

Taybeh is the only Palestinian beer. It takes it's name from the town of the Brewery: Taybeh--the only remaining completely Christian town of the Holy Land today. In Palestine last month I enjoyed that beer which claims to be "the finest in the Middle East." It's only been around since 1995--thanks to teetotallying Islam!

The quaint town of Taybeh is built like a fortress on a hill much like many of the medieval towns of Europe, a worthy source for this Palestinian heart warming thirst quencher.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It Takes a Village...To Make a Marriage...Forever

Your holy marriage is not your own private property: it belongs to God, it belongs to the Church, and it is an integral part of the larger society: the neighborhood, the town, the state. Therefore, you cannot manipulate it or dispose of it at will. This was the Holy Father's message to an engaged African couple from Madagascar in the same Milan interview cited above. It is interesting that the Holy Father speaks of the positive aspects of traditional arranged marriages. In those marriages it was the religious and social responsibility of the spouses to learn to love each other, and that was possible because love is an act of the will. That is why small towns and rural areas throughout the world, even today, have very low divorce rates. The commitment is all encompassing. It entails every aspect of one's religious and social life, it is not based merely on the passing infatuation of two individuals. Read the relevant passage below.

...You spoke of different types of marriage: we know the “traditional marriage” (mariage coutumier) of Africa and western marriage. In Europe too, to tell the truth, until the 1800s, a different model of marriage was dominant: often the marriage was in reality a contract between clans in which the aim was to preserve the clan, hoping to adapt the one to the other. This is also how it was in part where I come from. I remember that it was still very much like this in a small town where I went to school. But then, beginning in the 1800s, there was the emancipation of the individual, personal freedom, and marriage was no longer based on the will of others but on personal choice; first a couple fell in love, then they got engaged and then came marriage. At that time we were all convinced that this was the only correct model of marriage and that love alone guaranteed the “forever,” because love is absolute, it wants everything and therefore also the whole of time: it is “forever.” Unfortunately, the reality was not thus: we see that falling love is beautiful, but perhaps it is not always perpetual, just as sentiment is not: it does not remain forever. So, we see that the passage from falling in love to engagement and then to marriage requires different decisions, different interior experiences. As I said, this sentiment of love is beautiful, but it must be purified, it must follow a path of discernment, that is, it must enter into the reason and will; reason, sentiment and will must join together. In the Rite of Matrimony the Church does not say: “Are you in love?” but “Do you will?” (Vuoi?), “Are you decided?” (Sei deciso?) In other words, falling in love must become true love involving the will and reason on a journey, which is that of engagement, of purification, of greater depth, so that truly the whole person, with all of his capacities, with the discernment of reason, the power of the will, says: “Yes, this is my life.” I think often of the marriage at Cana. The first wine is delicious: this is falling in love. But it does not go all the way: a second wine must come, that is, it must ferment and grow, mature. A definitive love that really becomes a “second wine” is more beautiful, better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek. And here it is also important that the “I” is not isolated, I and you, but that they community of the parish, the Church, friends be involved too. These things – the proper personalization, communion of life with others, with families that support each other – are very important and only in this way, in this involvement of the community, of friends, of the Church, of faith, of God himself, can there grow a wine that lasts forever.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pope Benedict Reflects on His Own Family Life and the Centrality of Sunday and Song

"Sunday was always the important time for our family, but Sunday already began Saturday evening. Father read the readings to us from a book that was very popular in Germany at that time. The book also included an explanation of the readings. That is how Sunday began: we were already entering into the liturgy, in a joyful atmosphere. The next day we went to Mass. My home is very close to Salzburg, so we had a lot of music – Mozart, Schubert, Haydn – and when the Kyrie began it was as if heaven had opened up. And at home the big lunch together was naturally important. And we also sang a lot: my brother is a great musician, he composed music for all of us already as a young man, and the whole family sang. Dad played the zither and sang; they are unforgettable moments. Then, of course, we took trips together, walking; we were near a forest and so walking in the forests was very nice: adventures, games, etc. In a word, we were one heart and one soul, with many shared experiences, even in very hard times, because it was wartime – first there was the dictatorship, then poverty. But this love that we had for each other, this joy even in simple things was strong and so we were able to overcome and endure even these things. I think that it was very important that even little things gave us joy because the other person’s heart expressed itself in this way. And in this way we grew up in the certainty that it was good to be a human being, because we saw that God’s goodness was reflected in our parents and in us children. And, to tell the truth, if I try to imagine a little how paradise will be, I think always of the time of my youth, of my childhood. In this context of confidence, of joy and love we were happy and I think that paradise must be something like how it was in my youth. In this sense I hope to go “home,” going to the “other side of the world.”"

And to a couple from the United States the Holy Father stressed the importance of defending Sunday for the defense of man.

"I hope that Sunday is observed in America. Sunday seems very important to me, the day of the Lord and, precisely as such, the “day of man” too, because we are free. This was, in the creation account, the Creator’s original intention: that on one day everyone would be free. In this freedom for each other, for ourselves, we are free for God. And so I think that we are defending man’s freedom when we defend Sunday and holidays as God’s days and therefore days for man."

[Excerpted from Pope Benedict's 4 June Milan Dialogue With Families]

My recent sojourn in Palestine and Israel with the almost absolute Friday Muslim rest and the equally almost absolute Saturday Jewish rest in that Holy Land I could not but think of the all but defunct "blue laws" of my youth in our erstwhile Christian nation. Even the international airport of Tel Aviv is closed for the Sabbath! The non-believers are more zealous than believers in defending the day of the Lord according to their false beliefs. What a shame for us! May their fervor stir up our piety.
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