Friday, January 20, 2012

One Thing One Good Priest Has in Common with the Wife of Bath: Review of Discovering the Camino de Santiago by Rev. Greg Markey

If you only have a short time or short attention span, try this three-paragraph review (if you have more time or interest, see the longer article that follows below):

I recently read Discovering the Camino de Santiago after an autographed copy was sent to me by Mary Rose Garych, one of the parishioners of Fr. Greg Markey, who wrote the book. Mary Rose is a Facebook friend, and she thought I might be interested after she had read a lukewarm review I had posted about The Way, a recent movie by Emilio Estevez about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. In my review, I had found the movie lacking because it tries so hard not to be religious that it falls short of being the powerful movie it might have been.

In contrast, Fr. Markey’s book describes a devout Catholic pilgrimage. I already had a great deal of admiration for Fr. Markey, who I'd met along with some of his parishioners at a Sacred Music colloquium in 2007. He is a zealous, comparatively young priest pastor who wears a cassock and a Roman collar and who also offers Traditional Latin Masses in the Extraordinary Form and supports a high-quality sacred music program at his parish in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Fr. Markey’s account of his pilgrimage is a perfect book for a Catholic to read, whether or not you are planning to try to walk the Camino yourself. He provides background information about the history of the Apostle St. James the Greater that you need in order to understand why pilgrims have been trekking to the northwest corner of Spain to honor the saint for centuries. All we learn in the Scriptures is that St. James lived in Israel. Fr. Markey’s book presents the evidence for the traditional beliefs that St. James evangelized Spain, that he returned to Jerusalem and later died as the first martyr among the Apostles, and that his body was brought back to Spain for burial. And Fr. Markey’s own journey to the shrine of St. James is humbly told, reverent, and inspiring. From a comment I posted to the National Catholic Register review of the book.

If you have time for or interest in pondering the history of pilgrimages in general and the Camino de Santiago in more detail read on.

Probably the most famous of all pilgrimage stories is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which recounts a series of predominantly raunchy tales that are exchanged by a group of men and women to amuse themselves as they travel together on a pilgrimage in April of 1387 to the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury, England. Even if you haven’t heard of Canterbury Tales, you probably have heard of the movie Becket, which starred Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton, and dramatized the murder of St. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his cathedral. St. Thomas Becket was killed because he had stood up against his friend and king, Henry II, to support the autonomy of the Church. St. Thomas Becket was canonized as a martyr only two years after his death, in 1173. And his tomb has been a pilgrimage destination ever since.

William Blake’s 1 ft. x 3 ft. engraving of the Canterbury Pilgrims

Canterbury Tales was written about two hundred years after St. Thomas of Canterbury’s death. Chaucer’s work is full of references to Catholic practices and saints, to Christ and His Mother. Among the thirty-odd pilgrims are both male clerics (a prior, a monk, three priests, a parson, a pardoner, and a summoner), and women religious (a prioress, and a nun). At the end after the raucous tales were over, when Chaucer was nearing death, he added a retraction, repenting for any harm he might have done out of ignorance by writing down lewd tales and asking for forgiveness for any parts of his work that “sownen unto sinne” [lead readers by bad example towards sin].

From the characteristics of the characters as portrayed by Chaucer and by the stories they told, it’s obvious that even back in the 14th century most people made pilgrimages more for fun than for penance. True, Chaucer’s pilgrims were on their way to the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket but the pious destination for many seems to have been a pretext for a lark. In an era before cruise ships, travel agents, and package tours, people in Chaucer’s time traveled for many of the same reasons people travel these days, to see new places, to escape their ordinary lives, to get out in the open air in the springtime, to meet new people and to have adventures to boast about when they returned home. You didn’t have many choices back then if you wanted to see the world, you either went to war (if you were a man), or you went on a pilgrimage.
Aside from the knight in Chaucer’s story, who is travelling to give thanks for his survival during the Crusades, and who is a “a verray, parfit gentil knight,” the only other truly inspiring member of the company is the parson, a poor priest who Chaucer describes as rich “of hooly thoght and werk.”

But then, you might consider the five–times-married conniving Wife of Bath to be inspiring (as I once did during my feminist days when I admired her independent ways). Chaucer wrote that the Wife of Bath knew much about wandering by the way and had “passed many a strange strem.” Chaucer was making ironic digs about the much-mated woman’s indiscretions, but this bawdy 14th century character had wandered much and had passed many strange streams also because she had made an astounding number of pilgrimages: three times to Jerusalem, another time to Rome, and other times to other major pilgrimage sites, Boulogne in France, Cologne in Germany, and most apropos to this review, she had also gone to Santiago, in Spain.

The ancient Christian world had many pilgrimage sites. And before them, the Jews had the Temple at Jerusalem that they were bound to visit several times a year, until it was destroyed. It’s intriguing to realize that the roads in the Judeo Christian world have been tramped by pilgrims for thousands of years, and that people have been traveling a lot longer distances and for many more years than we can probably even imagine.

Santiago [Sant Iago] means St. James. Santiago de Compostela is the short way to refer to the Cathedral Shrine of St. James at Compostela where the Apostle St. James the Greater is buried. And the Camino de Santiago is the short way to refer to the road (camino=road) that pilgrims take to St. James’s Shrine.

Discovering the Camino de Santiago, by Rev. Greg Markey, is a much more humble work than Canterbury Tales, and it was written in our era, which is for the most part no longer even nominally Catholic and which knows little or nothing about pilgrimages. Fr. Markey started writing this brief (75 page) book as he travelled prayerfully and contemplatively on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela during a sabbatical, from late June to late July in 2009. The book is not a work of literature, and it is not a guide for someone who plans to check off “Walk the Camino” on his or her bucket list.

Hundreds perhaps thousands of books have been written about the Camino. When asked why he wrote yet another book about it, Fr. Markey replied that very few Americans know about the Camino and that misinformation abounds.

He describes the significance of St. James the Greater whose bones are credibly believed to be entombed at the cathedral in Compostela. He quotes from significant Church documents about the shrine and provides some of the rich history of the Camino. And then he describes how he walked along the road with both a Vatican flag and an American flag hanging on his backpack and a rosary in his hand, handing out blessed Miraculous Medals as the opportunity presented itself, among a shifting stream of people who came from all around the world for many and varied reasons.

No bawdy tales are recorded in this good priest’s book and nobody’s foibles are parodied. Fr. Markey wrote in his introduction that he wanted to write about the Camino “from the perspective of a believer” both because the Camino is rich in Catholic history and because the great contribution of the Apostle St. James to the evangelization of Hispanic peoples deserves to be better known. Devotion to St. James was the original motive for the pilgrimages to Compostela that began to be made about thousand years ago, and a record of widespread devotion to the great Apostle remains in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Central and South America in the scores of cities and towns and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches, that bear Saint James’s name.

The distance from where Canterbury Tales began in Southwark in London to where it ended in Canterbury is about 58 miles, and the journey took four days for most people mounted on either a horse or mule. In contrast, Fr. Markey walked 496 often-pain-filled miles of the popular portion of the Camino called the Camino Frances, which extends from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near France’s border to Compostela, and his pilgrimage took him a month. He walked the Camino to offer thanks to God for his ten years as a priest, with the resolution to offer up any sufferings he might experience along the way.

This French map shows the vast network of Compostela pilgrimage routes across Western Europe and England. Four of the major routes converge in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, where Fr. Markey began his pilgrimage

How many of us could imagine that hundreds of thousands travel on the Camino and converge on Compostela every year? As was true in Chaucer’s tale, only a scant few of Fr. Markey’s fellow travelers could be said to be on the Camino for pure motives of performing penance and showing sorrow for sins.

Fr. Markey greatest camaraderie occurred during the times when he fell in with a pious and joyful group of Catholic young people who are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and who seemed to be on the Camino for all the right reasons. After they kept running into each other, they decided to join forces, and from that point on they read the Liturgy of the Hours, said the Rosary, and participated at Mass with Fr. Markey, until the end of the pilgrimage.

Fr. Markey’s goal was to arrive at the shrine by the Feast of St. James on July 25, and in spite of setbacks from “Brother Ass” that put his plan at risk, he made it--the day before the feast. He concelebrated with the archbishop and many other priests on the feast day, and a day later he was able to say a private Mass with the FOCUS group at the tomb of St. James.

The experience of the Camino has been exhausting—perhaps the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life—yet filled with many graces. The Camino beats you down, wears you out and purifies you.

I met Father Markey, along with his parish choirmaster and organist, David Hughes, and a number of their parishioners, at the 2007 Sacred Music Colloquium in Washington D.C. (Above)

Fr. Markey is pastor of St. Mary Church in Norwalk, CT. One of his parishioners who attended the colloquium, a dear young woman named Mary Rose Garych, sent me an autographed copy of Fr. Markey’s book, after she read my review on Facebook of the recent movie about the Camino de Santiago, called The Way.

Father Markey wears a cassock and a Roman collar, which I believe makes a much-needed statement about the special calling of a priest. I especially admired him when I first met him because he seems to do all that he can to foster reverent worship at his parish, as he wrote on the parish website, “to simply bring St. Mary Church into conformity with the norms of the Church.” Now, after reading his pilgrim story, I admire him even more. Since the book was published, Fr. Markey has become sought after as a speaker about pilgrimages, justifiably so.

Fr. Markey at Midnight Mass at St. Mary’s Norwalk (December 25th, 2011). The parish offers a Traditional Latin High Mass daily and offers the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin on Sunday mornings
Another reader who commented on the National Catholic Register review of this book remarked that pictures would have added a lot. Here is a photo from the web of the Virgin of Orisson, a beautiful statue that Fr. Markey encountered soon after he had entered Spain on the Camino Frances and started climbing in the Pyrennes

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Main Catholic Creeds: Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian

This post includes the wording of three main Catholic Creeds: The Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, which I referred to in a recent blog called Speaking of Creeds.

Apostles' Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Athanasian Creed

Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith.
For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever.
This is what the Catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity.
Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit.
But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty.
What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is.
The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is boundless, the Son is boundless, and the Holy Spirit is boundless.
The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.
Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being.
So there are not three uncreated beings, nor three boundless beings, but one uncreated being and one boundless being.
Likewise, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent.
Yet there are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being.

Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
However, there are not three gods, but one God.
The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.
However, there as not three lords, but one Lord.
For as we are obliged by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person singly to be God and Lord, so too are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.
The Father was not made, nor created, nor generated by anyone.
The Son is not made, nor created, but begotten by the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit is not made, nor created, nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.

There is, then, one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
In this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less. The entire three Persons are coeternal and coequal with one another.
So that in all things, as is has been said above, the Unity is to be worshipped in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.
He, therefore, who wishes to be saved, must believe thus about the Trinity.

It is also necessary for eternal salvation that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man.

As God, He was begotten of the substance of the Father before time; as man, He was born in time of the substance of His Mother.
He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh.
He is equal to the Father in His divinity, but inferior to the Father in His humanity.
Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ.
And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed unto God.
He is one, not by a mingling of substances, but by unity of person.
As a rational soul and flesh are one man: so God and man are one Christ.
He died for our salvation, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day.
He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
At His coming, all men are to arise with their own bodies; and they are to give an account of their own deeds.
Those who have done good deeds will go into eternal life; those who have done evil will go into the everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly and steadfastly; otherwise He cannot be saved.


Speaking of the Creeds

This blog is a branch post from my recent review of Dorothy Sayers's collection of essays called, "Creed or Chaos." I'm pulling this topic out of the original post to make it easier to provide a slightly closer look at Catholic Creeds.[1] The text of each of the Creeds mentioned below is in Main Catholic Creeds: Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian.

Over the centuries, the Church has used several Creeds to teach true doctrine to converts and to clarify certain teachings (dogmas) that were disputed. Many of the Protestant and Orthodox denominations still use the same Creeds. Interestingly, most of the denominations that still use the Creeds even keep use of the credal phrase "I believe in one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church," even though they no longer consider themselves Catholic, at least with a big "C."Others have changed "Catholic" to "Christian."

The word Creed comes from the Latin "Credo," which means "I believe." The meaning of the words "I believe" includes intellectual agreement. In addition "I believe" in this context implies that I not only agree in my mind, but that I also trust the source. Catholic believers believe that the source for the Catholic Creeds ultimately is Jesus Christ, who through the Holy Spirit created the Scriptures and guides the doctrinal definitions of His Church, which is His Body on this earth.

Many writers have pointed out that when we say "Credo" or "I believe," the roots of the word "Credo" carry even more meaning, not only agreement and trust, but also both love and commitment.

This means that the fullest implication of the words "I believe" when a Catholic says the Creed is something like "I give my heart-felt commitment to these truths because I not only agree with them but I also trust and love the Creator who revealed them to us and the Catholic Church that defined them."

Catholics are mostly familiar with two Creeds that are recited during Masses: The Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed. Less well-known is the Athanasian Creed.

The Apostles Creed, was also called the Symbolum Apostolorum (Symbol of the Apostles). It was a kind of passphrase among Christians in the early Church, like a password given out by a military leader to the troops. You would know that someone was a Christian, if that person knew the Creed.

The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief, or orthodoxy. The creeds of Christianity have been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. For that reason a creed was called in Greek a σύμβολον (Eng. sumbolon), a word that meant half of a broken object which, when placed together with the other half, verified the bearer's identity.[2]

Tradition with a small "t" divided the statements of the Apostles Creed into twelve articles, it was believed that each of the Apostles contributed one of its articles:

1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and life everlasting.
The twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed were put as questions to candidates for baptism. "Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?" And so on.

The Nicene Creed was created in response to heresies that denied that Jesus Christ was God. To combat those errors, articles were added to affirm the correct doctrine that Jesus is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father ... ."

Although it is now commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed, it is more accurately referred to as the "Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed", because the creed defined at the Nicene Council in A.D. 325 was revised in the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

The Athanasian Creed is the first creed that stated the equality of the three persons of the Trinity, and it includes anathemas, or condemnations, of those who disagree with the truths expressed in that Creed. (Anathemas were also part of the original Nicene Creed.) This creed was attributed to the great St. Athanasius for a long time, but modern scholars (who I can't say Credo to) disagree.[3]
The portion of the Athanasian Creed that concerns the Trinity reads: "The Father is God, The Son is God, The Holy Spirit is God; God is the Father, God is the Son, God is the Holy Spirit; The Father is not the Son, The Son is not the Father, The Father is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Father, The Son is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Son." These truths about the Trinity are illustrated in the image known as the Shield of the Trinity.

More colorful is the shield of the Trinity shown painted on the shield of a soldier going into battle.

The important thing to take away from this brief discussion is that the Creeds contain essential beliefs for a Catholic Christian. The Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds are used in various liturgical settings in the Catholic Church, and each was created for the purpose of teaching what we need to believe in order to be Christians.

[1] The Creeds are discussed in much more detail at Creeds and linked articles you can find there about the liturgical uses of the creeds and about the individual creeds. Remember the online version is from 1932, and that things changed enormously after 1962 and the Vatican II. Also see Wikipedia article called Creed, where the posts include much more recent information.
[2] Found in a Wikipedia article titled Nicene Creed\
[3] I can't say "Credo" to most modern scholars, who seem to me to have an agenda of trying to make their careers as debunkers of the truths that we hold most dear. But I digress.

Les Visages d'Enfants: A Fine French Family Movie from the 1920s

On Turner Classic Movies Silent Sunday Nights last week, I saw Les Visages d'Enfants (The Faces of Children). I like this movie very much, partly because it is about a family's life in a village whose daily life is permeated with a deep Catholic faith and because the story is portrayed without a hint of the usual movie concupiscence (or condescension for that matter).

This article has photos from the movie. In it, the reviewer says correctly that the movie is about "the wildness, and the meanness, that children are capable of." But this fine French film is about much more than that.

For one good thing, this story of events in the life of a Swiss family is presented without the kind of elaborate overacting and melodrama you find in American silent films of the same era, which is in itself enough to recommend it.

It would be a great movie for a family to see together, once you adjust your expectations to the slower pace of a silent film. The suspense is masterfully generated. And the emotions are portrayed movingly mostly through the actors' faces, especially the faces of the children (a good thing for a movie whose title is Visages d'Enfants, I might add).

One film critic said that it was the one French movie of the 1920s that he would recommend for everyone to see.

Warning: Spoilers follow
Some things about the movie that stay with me are how kind the village priest was to his godson after the boy's mother's death, how he took the distraught boy along on his yearly visit with an old friend for a few weeks to prepare the boy for his father's remarriage. A scene of the two priest friends playing a game together shows them to be charming and innocent in their amusements in their spare time.

I also admire the way the boy is portrayed as devastated by his mother's loss.
At the start of the movie, the removal of the boy's mother's coffin from his home and the procession to the graveyard are frequently shot from the boy's point of view, so we experience right along with him a dolorous combination of grief, dismay, confusion, and vertigo, until he falls to the ground in a dead faint.

Here is a short clip from the beginning of the funeral.

The drama heightens when after his father's remarriage, the boy becomes progressively so nasty to his stepsister that he finally almost causes her death.

Some other aspects of faith-filled life in the village are well shown when the family and women neighbors pray together with the priest for God's help while the stepsister is lost. Meanwhile, while the village men start a search, the lost girl herself prays in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a small chapel where she had been able to find refuge from the avalanche not a moment too soon.

After a search in the mountains, the men finally discover the chapel engulfed in snow up to the cross on its rooftop. They frantically dig through the snow, pry up some roof beams, and the father looks down to find his stepdaughter sleeping, seemingly under the protection of Our Lady, in front of Her altar.

In a suspenseful climax, the boy apologizes and kisses his stepsister and then almost kills himself from shame. The movie goes on to show how he comes to be redeemed and to love and trust the woman who took his mother's place in his home.

This You Tube clip shows some of what followed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creed or Chaos by Dorothy L. Sayers

Creed or Chaos: Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe) is a collection of essays by Dorothy L. Sayers that was first published in 1949.

I first heard of this collection by Sayers at a Sunday dinner at the home of my friends, the Garton-Zavesky family, in 2011. When the conversation came around to the Athanasian creed, and they discovered I didn't know it, the oldest son, fifteen year old Nicholas, fetched me the book of Sayers's essays, which has the Athanasian creed printed on the last page. The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed are on the front pages. These creeds are appropriate framing for a book about the necessity of sharply defined dogma to counteract the threat of chaos, the much-to-be-deplored fuzzy thinking so common among many of today's Christian believers.[1]

Remember the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass, who told Alice that she could believe six impossible things before breakfast? Equally preposterous to me is the idea that Christians should preach only a religion of love without teaching the actual doctrine that is central to the Christian beliefs.

In case you haven't heard about Sayers before, I'll give you a brief introduction. She was a versatile and brilliant British academic, author, and translator in the early 20th century. Her works range from a translation of The Divine Comedy (that effectively used the terza rima[2] of Dante's original Italian) to the Lord Peter Whimsey mysteries, which are charming and well-written in an entirely different kind of way.

The introduction to Creed or Chaos is ironic because it credits Dorothy Sayers with having led the author of the introduction and his wife from atheism to Catholicism. Converting people to Catholicism is an odd accomplishment for a writer who was a "high Church" Anglican who never joined the Catholic Church. The conversion began when the wife was struck by Sayers's insistence in her introduction to her translation that The Divine Comedy "can only be understood as 'the drama of the soul's choice' between good and evil, revealing 'the terror and splendor of Christian Revelation'" After pondering this, the wife made a choice of her own, and joined the Catholic Church, where her husband followed her and joined too.

As an example of the topics in these essays, in the chapter titled, "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged is the Official Creed of Christendom," Sayers examines the Church's teaching about Jesus Christ as God made man and contrasts the historical facts about Jesus as described in the Gospels against a popular idea that dogma is boring, and that preachers who preach dull dogma are driving people away. Apparently the idea that a church should be doctrine-free had wide currency in her era.

I believe it's a lack of these solid teachings that provide Truths that are worth believing in and giving one's life for that is driving people away. Here are a interesting couple of sentences that indicate Sayers thought so too, which contain a rather reluctant bit of praise for the Roman Catholic Church:

I shall and will affirm that the reason why the Churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology. The Church of Rome alone has retained Her prestige because She puts theology in the foreground of Her teaching.

Two other essays of special note from this collection are "Why Work?," and provocatively, "The Other Six Deadly Sins."'' Apropos of the latter, I've observed that for many, including many priests, the only significant sins are related to the sin of Lust. Not so.

All sins can be deadly, and even if venial, all sins diminish and weaken the Christian life. The seven deadly sins are also commonly called the seven capital sins, because they are the source (capital comes from the Latin "capus," which means "head") of all other sins. Here is one example. Just this past Sunday, our fine new rector, Canon Fragelli gave a good sermon on the sinfulness of talking about others. He said that when people come to him and say, "Father, God doesn't answer my prayers," he says to them, "Stop gossiping." I don't think he has any special knowledge about that person's failings in that area. It's just that gossiping is such a common vice. He knows that prayers are only answered when a person is righteous[3], and that righteousness includes not just chastity, but also abstinence from all other evils, including the specifically mentioned hateful sins of backbiting (slanderously revealing another's faults to someone who has no business knowing about them), and calumny (lying about another person), which in their turn are due to the cardinal sin of Pride and Envy, the latter of which St. Thomas Aquinas refers to as sorrow for another's good.

Summing up, I can't say this is close to my favorite Sayers book, mostly because the issues of her day are not the same as the arguments of our day. But the essays are interesting because her writing is always interesting. And although the issue of keeping dogma out of the Church is not spoken about so much now, the belief that one can believe whatever one wishes is rampant today.

Thanks be to God, we have the sure and certain teachings of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, which still teaches us what we need to know about the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, True God and True Man.

Check out Creed or Chaos by Dorothy Sayers if you have a chance.

[1] Speaking of Creeds, here is a blog I wrote about the Christian creeds and what it means to say "Credo," "I believe."
[2] If you like digressions (I sure do), you might like this article, which is a discussion about the many various attempts to translate The Divine Comedy into English, using terza rima, other rhyming schemes, or no rhyming at all.
[3] I learned the King James Version of this verse (James 5:16): "The effective fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much." But this other translations from the Revised Standard Version may make it more clear: "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." Not righteous, then your prayers are either not going to be powerful or not effective, or both, right? Righteousness means abstaining from all the deadly sins. Therefore, gossip not, and sin not in other ways if you want your prayers to be heard. And don't think I'm being holier than thou. The finger points also back at me.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Christmas: It's Not Over Til It's Over

Christmas is a season not a day.

In spite of what most people seem to think, the time before Christmas is not the Christmas season. On Christmas Day, the season is actually just beginning.

In the culture at large, the weeks before Christmas are a time for celebration, with lots of excitement from the Christmas music, lights, decorations, and parties.

In the Church, the four weeks before Christmas are a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth, a time of sober waiting. These four weeks of waiting start on the first Sunday of December and are called Advent, which means "coming." Advent is so important to the Church that it is the start of the liturgical year. During Advent, we anticipate the celebration of the First Coming of Christ that starts on Christmas Day and also are reminded to be ready for Christ's expected Second Coming at the end of the world. The Advent vestments are purple, the color of penance. The Christmas vestments are gold or white, to show our joy.

It seems to me that in the real spirit of the season, Christians should only start the singing of Christmas hymns and carols on Christmas Day, and hold off on the decorations and the parties until then. The festivities can then continue throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas up to the Feast of the Epiphany. Or even longer.

The Twelve Days of Christmas end January 5. The Epiphany, which is also called the Feast of the Wise Men, is celebrated on January 6. At my house, the wise men finally arrive at my manger scene on January 6 after they have been wandering around the living room ever since the creche was put up.
But Christmas is not over even at Epiphany.

In the Catholic liturgical year, the Christmas season ends forty days after it starts, on February 2, on a feast day that has been called many names because it celebrates many things. The feast has been called Candlemas because candles are blessed at the Masses that day. The Purification of Our Lady in the Temple is a second name. In the Jewish religion, a woman presented herself for purification at the temple forty days after the birth of a male child. The Presentation of the Child Jesus is the current title of the feast. When Christ was carried into the Temple forty days after His birth to be dedicated to God as required by Jewish Law for every firstborn son, He was recognized by an old man named Simeon and by an old woman named Anna, who had been waiting years for His coming. In some traditions, the feast is also called The Meeting because of Christ's meeting with the prophet Simon and the prophetess Anna.

These remarks just skim the surface of all the rich symbolism and significance of these feasts. And there are several more feasts during this time that I can't go into now.
The point to remember is that the Catholic Church dedicates a long time, the symbolically important number of forty days, to the celebration of Christmas, and, contrary to public opinion, the celebration does not end on December 25 but starts on that day.