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Confessions, The Sequel

Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni is getting a lot of buzz since the New York Times talked up his success in promoting the sacrament of penance. When he arrived at his assignment, the confessionals had fallen into use and had been re-purposed. In a (probably unintentionally) allegorical line, the Times reporter noted that “The confessional in the front, nearer the altar, was filled with air-conditioning equipment.” Now, he and his assistants at St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut hear an average of 450 confessions a week. Msgr. DiGiovanni has even gained the supreme confirmation that he is doing good in this world: the expressed horror of Father Dick McBrien.

Readers of this blog expected no less from the pastor. Msgr. DiGiovanni is the founder of the Saint Monica Institute for Patristic Studies, which encourages serious study of the Fathers among Catholic lay people. Check out the Institute’s many discussion groups and programs.

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Lent: Turn Up the Joy

During this season every year, I return to the work of a patrologist I much admire, Father Kurt Belsole, O.S.B. His book is called Joy in Lent, and it’s a study of St. Benedict’s winsome approach to the Church’s season of penance. Father Kurt shows that Benedict’s emphasis on joy in Lent is an original contribution in the history of monastic spirituality. Here’s Benedict himself in chapter 49 of his Rule. The passage is titled “On the Keeping of Lent”:

The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance. However, since such virtue is that of few, we advise that during these days of Lent he guard his life with all purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times. This will then be worthily done, if we restrain ourselves from all vices. Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence.

During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God “with the joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the joy of spiritual desire await holy Easter.

Father Kurt unpacks that passage as only a good scholar — and good son of St. Benedict — can. Joy in Lent is available, as far as I know, only from the monks of St. Vincent Archabbey. If you don’t own a copy of Benedict’s Rule, consider buying this one, which is quite beautiful and comes with helpful annotation, historical background, and commentary.

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Fit from a King

PhDiva gives us detail on the recent Davidic discoveries in Israel — descriptions, background, photos, and even a patristic angle:

Some three years ago the impressive remains of a monastery from this period were excavated that together with the remains of the current excavation confirm the identification of the place as “Metofa”, which is mentioned in the writings of the church fathers in the Byzantine period. The name of the Arab village, “Umm Tuba” is therefore a derivation of Byzantine “Metofa”, which is Biblical “Netofa” and is mentioned as the place from which two of David’s heroes originated (2 Samuel 23:28-29).

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I was interviewed twice by the author of this story. I talked about the roots of indulgences in the Old Testament and the New. We discussed the ancient rabbis’ doctrine of the “treasury of merit” and how it applies to the biblical stories. I told her our approach to indulgences is better understood in terms of family life than of civil law or accounting. None of that made it into print, and I’m not really surprised. From the outset, the story seemed to be “Those Crazy Catholics and the Things They Do” (place emoticon with rolling eyes here). So that’s what she wrote. She quoted me once, an inane bit about how many times I do these rain dances and rub the rabbit’s foot in a given year. In the second interview I even clarified for her that the question doesn’t really make sense. It’s like asking how many times I kiss my wife. I told her that since I go to weekly confession and daily Communion, I usually fulfill the requirements, but I tend to do it more deliberately if my business, for example, takes me near a pilgrimage site. But none of that fit the story, which is, please remember: “Those Crazy Catholics and the Things They Do.”

And they wonder why print media are dying. And they talk about how their fact-checking makes their product so much more reliable than what you’ll find on blogs and partisan websites. Uh, yeah, right.

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Drawing a Bede

Pope Benedict has ventured into the British Isles with his Wednesday Audience talk on the man known to readers of 1066 And All That as the Venomous Bead, and known to other Christians as the Venerable Bede. The full text is not up yet in English, but here’s the summary.

In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we now turn to Saint Bede the Venerable. A monk of the monastery of Wearmouth in England, Bede became one of the most learned men of the early Middle Ages and a prolific author, while also gaining a reputation for great holiness and wisdom. His scriptural commentaries highlight the unity of the Old and New Testaments, centred on the mystery of Christ and the Church. Bede is best known, however, for his historical writings, in which he traced the history of the Church from the Acts of the Apostles, through the age of the Fathers and Councils, and down to his own times. His Ecclesiastical History recounts the Church’s missionary expansion and growth among the English people. Bede’s rich ecclesial, liturgical and historical vision enable his writings to serve as a guide for the Church’s teachers, pastors and religious in living out their vocations in the service of the Church’s mission. His great learning and the sanctity of his life, earned Bede the title of “Venerable”, while the rapid spread of his writings made him a highly influential figure in the building of a Christian Europe.

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Hope for Europe?

Father John Saward ponders the worrisome state of Europe and speaks, with hope, of Europe’s Return to the Fathers. “The faith that comes to us from the apostles passes perpetually, as St Athanasius says, ‘from fathers to fathers’. Now, among our past fathers-in-God, the saintly and orthodox doctors of the early Church (most of whom were bishops) have a special status and authority. Every succeeding generation in the Church refreshes itself at the fount of their teaching and measures itself by the standard of their lives. The fatherhood of the Church Fathers radiates the light of the Gospel unfailingly.”

The Fathers of the Church are the Fathers of Europe. In the first millennium, they gave our continent its Christian birth; at the dawn of the third Millennium, they can aid its re-birth. They ‘inculturated’ the faith, in Greco-Roman antiquity; they can guide us in re-evangelizing the Europe of post-modernity. They are of special encouragement to those who, with Pope John Paul II, seek new bonds of Christian solidarity between East and West, for in the Patristic age the Church still breathed fully with her two lungs. We cannot pretend that there were not, even then, many cases of cultural incomprehension and in the end an apparently unstoppable drift towards estrangement. But equally we must not obscure, we should take heart from, the innumerable examples of lived Catholic communion. Let me cite one. In the second century, St Irenaeus, a Greek from Smyrna, ministered as priest and bishop in Lyons, among the Celts of Gaul. In the far West he heard preached, and himself preached, the same apostolic creed he had received from Polycarp in the East. The one Church of Christ, says Irenaeus, ‘even though dispersed throughout the whole world’, holds in all the places one and the same faith, ‘as though having only one soul and one heart’. And what is the visible principle of this unity and orthodoxy? The succession of bishops from the apostles and the accord of the local Churches with ‘the very great and very ancient Church, known to all, which the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul founded and established at Rome’.

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Memories of Michael

Amy Welborn posted my reminiscences of her late husband, Michael Dubruiel, who was my editor for many years. (In case you missed my post: Michael died suddenly on February 3 at age fifty. Danielle Bean has set up a fund for the benefit of Mike and Amy’s very young children. If you can give a bit, please do.

You can also “give a bit” — and get a lot in return — by buying Michael’s books. I recommend especially The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You and A Pocket Guide to the Mass. These are the best step-by-step introductions to Catholic worship I’ve seen.

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I Ask Your Prayers …

… for the repose of my sister’s husband, Jimmy Duffy, who died yesterday after a long battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). To the marvel of everyone, he faced his end with the cheer and wit of a Thomas More or Lawrence of Rome. Please pray also for my sister Florence, her son Jay and his lovely family. We have all grown through Jimmy’s suffering. Now we must testify with our lives to what we have “seen with our eyes” and “looked upon and touched with our hands” (1 Jn 1:1-2).

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Ladder Day Saint

Yesterday (Wednesday) — after a hiatus of twenty talks on St. Paul — the Holy Father returned to his series of audiences on the Fathers. There’s no full-text translation yet, but here’s the summary.

Today we recommence our catechesis on the great Christian writers of both East and West. John Climacus, whose name means “ladder”, was born around 575, and wrote an outstanding tract near Mount Sinai on the spiritual journey leading from renunciation of the world to perfection in love. The journey takes place in three stages. The first involves detachment from worldly goods in order to return to a state of Gospel innocence and enter into a deeper communion with God. In the second phase, the soul engages in a spiritual battle with the passions by cultivating virtues corresponding to each. When purified, these passions can show us the way to God through self-denial and grace. In the third phase, John emphasizes the importance of discernment: we must examine every aspect of our behaviour in order to ascertain our deepest motivations and reawaken a “sense of the heart”. This leads to tranquillity of soul – esichía – which prepares us to probe the depths of the divine mysteries. The last “rung” of the ladder consists in faith, hope and charity. John’s account of charity includes eros, or human love, which points towards the nuptial union of the soul with God. May John’s spiritual “ladder” remind all of us who share in the death and resurrection of Christ through Baptism that we are called to continual conversion and purification with the help of the Holy Spirit.