Month: August 2015

The work done for God, done by God in us

Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll OSB commenting on the Divine Office and traditional understandings of the Liturgy of the Hours:



Living death

Rereading the novels in translation of Francois Mauriac as the last winter rains splash down around the valley — very green in places and with almond and quince blossom in some orchards, aloes still flaming on the mountainside.

From Thérèse Desqueyroux

“What an odd creature you are, Bernard, with your constant fear of death! Do you never have a feeling, as I do, of utter futility? No? Doesn’t it occur to you that the sort of life people like us lead is remarkably like death?”


The statue of a ‘pleurant‘ who would weep for eternity at the graveside of a loved one



That the face of the earth might be renewed

Bill McKibben writing on The Pope and the Planet in the NYRB on the radical nature of what Pope Francis is calling for as ‘care for our common home’: Thinking of my home in Zimbabwe as I read this as well as the devastating pollution of  the Angolan coastline defaced by  international oil rigs:



But the pope is just as radical, given current reality, when he insists on beauty over ugliness. When he demands the protection from development of “those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of ‘feeling at home’ within a city which includes us and brings us together,” he is not just celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted—he’s wading into, for instance, the still-simmering Turkish revolt that began with plans to tear down Istanbul’s Gezi Park and replace it with a mall and luxury apartments.

He also insists on giving “priority to public transportation” over private cars. This was the precise phrase used by Jaime Lerner, the visionary mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, when a generation ago he launched the world’s best transit system. His vision of Bus Rapid Transit is now spreading around the world, and it works best precisely where it most inconveniences autos, by insisting on dedicated bus lanes and the like. It makes getting around as easy for the poor as for the rich; every BRT lane is a concrete demonstration of what the Latin American liberation theologians, scorned and hounded by previous popes, once called “the preferential option for the poor.”

The pope is at his most rigorous when he insists that we must prefer the common good to individual advancement, for of course the world we currently inhabit really began with Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s insistence on the opposite. (It was Thatcher who said, memorably, that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families,” and that’s that.) In particular, the pope insists that “intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

Think of the limitations that really believing that would place on our current activities. And think too what it would mean if we kept not only “the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting.” We literally would have to stop doing much of what we’re currently doing; with poor people living on the margins firmly in mind, and weighing the interests of dozens of future generations, would someone like to write a brief favoring, say, this summer’s expansion by Shell (with permission from President Obama) of oil drilling into the newly melted waters of the Arctic? Again the only applicable word is “radical.”



Manica land

Feast of St Augustine of Hippo

This quotation that struck me so when I first read the Confessions:



“Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved you. You have called to me, and have called out, and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light and have put my blindness to flight! You have sent forth fragrance, and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you. You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace.”


Augustine the Berber

So often Catholics in the West forget that Augustine was one of the great African thinkers of the early Church. He was born into a Roman colony in what is now Souk Aras in Algeria in 354. His father was possibly a freedman given Roman citizenship; his mother Monica was Berber. Augustine would die  76 or  so years later in Annaba on the shores of the Mediterranean. His homeland had been occupied by Rome for  500 years before he was born, so he moved in a Latinised and pagan world. He would study at Carthage, become Manichaean, travel to Milan accompanied by his Christian mother, Monica. Her influence and that of  Ambrose, bishop of Milan led in part to the famous conversion recorded in the Confessions. In the spring of 387, Augustine was baptised.


His mother dead, Augustine returned to Africa at the age of 35. He would become bishop of Hippo. As Augustine lay dying in Hippo in 430,  Vandals were besieging the city of Hippo and would go on to capture Carthage. The Roman world Augustine had  known was gone.


The Confessions of Augustine was the first confessional autobiography written and has influenced  writers on spirituality and  memoir ever since.


I flung myself down under a fig tree–how I know not–and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: “And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities.” For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”

29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [“tolle lege, tolle lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.


For the Feast of the Assumption

A translated poem from the great French Catholic poet Paul Claudel:


It is she; it is she! At the thought of her the whole Bible catches fire in my mind in a blaze of syllables, like a fabric sown with brilliants!

It is she; it is she! She is the drop of manna the Lord placed in the mouth of Eve to take away the taste of the forbidden fruit and to impart it to Adam. It is she who set all sacred history in motion.

It is she who lured Abraham from the town of Ur of the Chaldees, away from those hydraulic complications and regulations and all that bakery of clay idols, and who summoned him out into the world to take command and leadership of his flock. It is she who led him to those plateaus where we meet Melchizedek, King of Salem, and who raised that pavilion where the guests are the three Persons of the Trinity.

She is the image of Isaac in the heart of Rebekah; she is the treaty of Jacob through all those years of slavery. She was waiting, drum in hands, on the opposite bank of the Red Sea to greet the terrified column of refugees. She beguiled David through the eyes of Bathsheba–and through the mouth of Solomon she gave caravans to the Queen of Sheba in exchange for the incense of the desert and the ivory of Ethiopia, a wondrous remuneration of riddles and enigmas.

Down through the generations of kings and pontiffs, mortified believers and wailing women, through the transplantations of Babylon and Medea, she fed silently on the milk and honey of the prophecies. She whom “all generations have called blessed” is the central figure and the culmination of a whole race tormented by the Word of God. (Rose, 121)



Dormition 2

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Preparing for a feast that goes back to the 6th century, the Feast of the Dormition, of Mary the Holy Theotokos  “falling asleep” in God.


Pope Pius XII, in the text Munificentissimus Deus explaining his definition of the dogma of the Assumption, refers repeatedly to the Blessed Virgin’s death before her Assumption, and the consistent tradition in both the East and the West holds that Mary did die before she was assumed into Heaven. However, since the definition of the Assumption is silent on this question, Catholics can legitimately believe that Mary did not die before the Assumption.


In this corner of the world it is cold and wintry, spring slow to arrive. A radiant heart-warming  Feast for the Blessed Virgin.


From the 4th-century Account of St John the Theologian

While Peter sang a hymn, the face of the mother of the Lord shone brighter than the light, and she rose up and blessed each of the apostles with her own hand, and all gave glory to God; and the Lord stretched forth His undefiled hands, and received her holy and blameless soul. . . . And Peter, and I John, and Paul, and Thomas, ran and wrapped up her precious feet for the consecration; and the twelve apostles put her precious and holy body upon a couch, and carried it.