Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Night's Victory

The sun set upon the beauty of the garden,
And soon the day’s light began to wane.
Dark shadows the creep silently forth,
Chasing away the melodious chorus of birds.
Trees which provided cool shade by day,
Now by night conceal the lurking spooks.
No longer is it safe for men in this place,
We must leave it behind, lock the gates!
The streams where by light we swam,
There in darkness and fear shall we drown.
The insects which once danced gracefully
Prefer to hunt us, biting and stinging instead.
In the meadows lambs once blissfully played,
Before the wolves prowled unopposed.
The flock is scattered, the sheep wander,
Leaving the shepherd to mourn in solitude
He is left to weep in the deepest of agonies
And for our sake, he must now suffer alone.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Review of "The Meaning of Tradition"

A point of contention between Catholics and many Protestants is the question of Tradition. Many Protestants reject Tradition, preferring the Bible as the sole rule for their faith. On the other hand, Catholics honor Tradition as a part of God’s communication to His people. But what is Tradition? What is its content, and how is it transmitted? Father Yves Congar, a highly regarded Dominican theologian, considers these questions with his book, “The Meaning of Tradition.”

Father Congar begins his analysis with a story told to him by an Anglican friend. The friend was a member of a delegation which had been sent to Moscow to establish theological relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. Among other things, the delegation discussed the relationship between Tradition and Scripture. Their translator, however, was not familiar with ecclesial terminology, and so translated the word “tradition” as “ancient customs.”

For many people, this is exactly what “tradition” means. Not so for Fr. Congar. Tradition is not simply a set of “ancient customs,” dead rituals or practices of the ages past which have nothing to say to the people of today. Nor does tradition cling only to the past, resisting at all times change or innovation, a “conservative force in society” which preserves the past. Indeed, Tradition “is not just a conservative force, but rather a principle that ensures the continuity and identity of the same attitude through successive generations…[It] is like the conscience of a group or the principle of identity which links one generation with another.”

For Catholics, the Tradition to which the Church refers when stating doctrine or formulating faith can be traced back to the time of the apostles. Before the Gospels where recorded they were preached, and before St. Paul’s epistles or the catholic (universal) letters, there was tradition. “The apostles were essentially witnesses, heralds of the Good News, preachers and teachers. The churches were established by the spoken word and organized in like manner.” It was through the preaching of the apostles and their helpers that the faith was first spread and established.

There is, however, more to Tradition than simply the spoken word—there is an element of imitation, of generations following the examples established by their predecessors.
“The Jewish ideal of discipleship entails far more than the mere learning that characterizes a pupil; it includes the imitation of the master’s life and habits. The disciple not only received oral lessons from his master…he also learned from his way of life.”
Thus, where the texts of scripture may give very few details about, say, the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper, every Christian community knew how to celebrate this in great detail, because they had learned how to do from form the apostles who were present at that last supper. This in turn has been handed on to us today. “The Church, which had seen the apostles” celebrate the breaking of the bread “thus learned the Eucharist from its actual celebration; and so it was with many other things.”

This is not to say, however, that Tradition can disagree with or contradict outright the written teachings contained within Scripture.
“It is rare, in fact, for the most important ‘traditions’, whose origin is very probably apostolic, to have no connection with Scripture. Very solid connections are even revealed by searching the Scripture…for the overall sense of God’s actions and will.”
Everything contained within Tradition can also be found, if only indirectly or incompletely, in the Scriptures, though with a caveat: not everything contained in tradition or practiced today was necessarily “instituted materially or historically by the apostles in its present form” (author’s emphasis). Rather, it was enough that “the apostles had given general directives” for which the Church “had formulated precise instructions.”

Tradition requires an agent of transmission to ensure that it is passed from generation to generation. “The act of transmission implies a content…it also implies someone who transmits.” The object or content of Tradition is thus the “deposit of faith.” The subject of Tradition, that is, the transmitter, was first the apostles and then the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. “After the apostles, the Church is naturally the next to benefit from the revealing and redemptive work of Christ, but she is also destined to be its instrument, the means by which it is communicated to the world.” Above all, it is the Magisterium which serves as the subject of Tradition. “The first function of the Magisterium is one of witness; by the apostolic succession…the episcopate enters into the unity of the mission” of guarding and transmitting the faith. “The role of the Magisterium is…keeping faithfully, judging authentically, and defining infallibly the content of” the deposit of faith.

The Church, in turn, is granted the authority to preserve and transmit Tradition through her teachings. A part of this authority includes judging and interpreting Tradition—determining what is a part of Tradition, and what it means. But this is not to say that the Church herself is above Tradition:
“While it evaluates and judges it [Tradition], the Magisterium itself depends upon tradition, since [the Magisterium] is a function within the Church, and not above and outside her, and receives assistance only in keeping and defining the faith of the Church. It judges tradition in the sense that it decides whether it is indeed a tradition of the Church, but as soon as it has recognized [the tradition] as such, the Magisterium submits to tradition as a rule inherent to itself.”
The Magisterium may have the authority to determine what is and isn’t a part of the Tradition or deposit of the faith, but having done this, is again subordinate to that deposit.

Elsewhere, Fr. Congar notes that the “Church lives on the deposit; the Magisterium receives assistance only to keep and explain the deposit. Neither the Church nor the Magisterium has the slightest autonomy with regard to the deposit, and it is to [the deposit] alone that they owe their life and even existence.” The Church does not invent doctrines; the Magisterium’s formulations of dogma do not add to Revelation. Rather, these things can only determine or explain that which has already been revealed.

Having discusses the subject of Tradition, Fr. Congar next discusses its object, that is, its content. A part of the object of Tradition is to connect the Scriptures together, to link them to each other so that their meaning may be better known. “Tradition is not disjunctive; it is synthesis and harmony. It does not skirt around the subject, isolating a few texts, but on the contrary operates from within, linking the texts to the center by situating the details in relation to the essential.” That center is, of course, none other than the Word-Made-Flesh. “To give meaning to Scripture is to explain it in the light of God’s plan, whose focal point is Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “the apostles’ preaching and tradition did in fact consist in revealing the entire structure of the economy of salvation, in relation to Christ, as to its center, around whom the rest was arranged, shaped and took its meaning.” When isolated from their center, the texts of Scripture lose their meaning. It is the primary purpose of Tradition to link all of these texts back to Christ Who is their center.

As such, Tradition must be closely linked to Scripture. “Even if it [Tradition] completes the latter [Scripture] objectively, what it adds must…be closely connected with the written testimony; in its essential dogmatic content, it gives the meaning of the Scriptures.” Doing this requires that it be “a synthesis…by uniting the numerous or partial statements to the center of Revelation, which is the economy of the Covenant in Jesus Christ.”

Father Congar then turns at last to what he refers to as the “monuments” or “witnesses” or Tradition. The monuments consists of first and foremost the Scriptures themselves, and secondly of the texts of the Magisterium; the other great witnesses being the liturgy, the Fathers of the Church, and lastly the doctors, confessors and other saints. The Scriptures themselves are said to contain all that is necessary for salvation, and the texts and decisions of the Magisterium elucidate upon the realities contained therein. But it is the liturgy which “provides a contact with the realities themselves, even though this contact is not as immediate as that resulting from a total experience.”

Another of the great witnesses are the Fathers of the Church. These men lived during the period from the second through the seventh centuries during which the Church came of age, from being a small and persecuted sect to being first recognized by the Roman empire and then later declared the official religion of the state. The Fathers are “the best examples of the ideal of a unified and fully integrated humanity, which is the model of Christian anthropology.” They are “first and foremost commentators of the holy Scriptures….This patristic writing is also clearly pastoral, which explains its vigor and straightforwardness, characteristic of Church writing.” These things meant, when considering that the attitude of the Fathers was spiritual, that “their writing, when compared with the Christian reality, reveals an immediacy which brings it close to the simple and vigorous texts of the witnesses.”

Father Congar then concludes his analysis by returning to the point from which he departed. In the end, tradition is confined to neither the ancient rituals and customs of the Church nor to the writings of the Fathers, Doctors, or theologians which have lived throughout the ages. It is rather to be found in the very lifeblood of the community, both in the teachings of these great men and in the liturgical worship of the community. Rather, the vital elements of Tradition are “the believing Church, the teaching Church and the Holy Spirit, who supports and enlightens them.” Nor does the Church invent new doctrines to add to Revelation:
“Indeed, the Church invents nothing; she receives no new Revelation to alter or enrich the object of saving faith. She is linked to the deposit in the same way that she is necessarily apostolic. Her hierarchy is assisted with the sole object of being the witness and guardian of this deposit.”
Finally, he gives us a warning about what Tradition is, and what threats it faces. “Tradition is equally continuity and progress, conservation and development. Two dangers threaten it however: that of remaining static and depending too much…on the past, and that of remaining too independent of the advance of new ideas and of their general acceptance.”

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If you like this post and want to read more, here are some related posts:
Jesus of Nazareth:  a Review
Truth and Tolerance: a Review
The Faith of Our Fathers: a Halfway Review
The Line Through the Heart (Book Review)
What We Can't Not Know (Book Review)
The Revenge of Conscience (Book Review)
Love and Responsibility (Book Review)
Disorientation: A Review in Four Parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
My review of The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays (Nicene Guys)
My review of Three to Get Married (Nicene Guys)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wounded Souls' Pride

In sorrow you may die a thousand deaths,
Remorse may choke away life's joy.
I'm unhappy with the choice I've made,
Quite ashamed of what we've done.
Is pride blocking out the tears,
How can we cause each other such pain?

I try to express how deep my regret runs,
Yet I can't quite be brought to confess.
A contrite heart and broken humble soul,
These things we both know too well.
Is it pride that holds back the tears,
Why can't we just say that we're sorry?

Can this wrong ever be fully made up,
Perhaps we may never really know.
It all just seems so painfully futile,
We're caught by the need to atone.
Is it still pride warding off the tears,
When will we finally be even?

I no longer hold that grudge against you,
And you've at last forgiven my part.
Still our friendship seems so strained,
We are not yet truly reconciled.
Is pride even now stifling the tears,
What will it take to restore our bonds?

It seems as though we still perpetuate,
We keep causing each other to suffer.
We want to stop hurting one another,
And still our actions aren't justified.
Is it pride that stops the flow of tears,
How can we end this sad cycle?

Our souls are not completely healed,
Neither of us can do that alone.
We both need a little help from without,
Looking around us we find no aide.
Is it pride which dams back the tears,
Where can we find someone to help?

We finally look beyond ourselves for comfort,
And we find Someone Who understands.
He has endured all this suffering once too,
He can conquer it for us if we'd allow Him.
Our pride is released as the tears drops fall,
And He mends our broken hearts and souls.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Saints and the New Saviors

There are some people who always seem able to bring out the best in others. On the other hand, there are some people who always seem able to convince others that the best in them has been brought out. This seemingly minor difference can be all the difference in the world, as the first set of people can inspire others to sanctity, whilst the second set can do quite the opposite. The former are the saints, humble souls who seek to imitate their God and lead others to Him; the latter are the personality cults and their leaders, whom too often feed upon their followers’ own narcissism.
The holy men and women point our attention outwards, first towards God and then towards each other. We see this interwoven with the lives of the great saints which have come before us, each giving his or her own witness to their faith; some even inspire others into the same witness, as St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography did for Edith Stein, who would become St. Teresa of the Cross. Their lives become a window through which we may catch brief glimpses of the Lord’s face, as they empty themselves to make room for Christ, becoming thus the light of the world.
This is a sharp contrast with the personality cult leader, whose example points inward, towards ourselves and ultimately towards himself. We see in him the promise to fulfill our own desires for the world, perhaps the chance to change the world to fit our definition of a better place. The cult’s leader awakens something within his followers—that hidden or perhaps not-so-hidden narcissism which poisons their motives. It is not for God’s glory that they would improve the world, but rather for their own; “prepare yee the way” may still be the battle cry, but the way is meant for them and not Him. The cult leader becomes not a window but a mirror through which we can see only our own dark hearts.
Saints act with humility, knowing that they are nothing without the Lord, their God. Our Lady exhibited much humility when, trembling and quite probably afraid, she gave her consent to the Lord, “Let it be done to me according to thy will.” Saint Francis of Assisi would echo this example over a millennium later, praying “Domine, fac me servum pascis Tuae,” that is, “Lord, make me an instrument (servant) of Your peace.” They view themselves as dust, as nothing, without the sustenance of their Father in heaven.
A personality cult’s leader may instead push God into his own service, being chosen by God to guide or rule the people, if in a rather secular manner. It is not he who seeks to serve God, but rather God Who must serve him. To these cult leaders, these gods unto themselves, the Lord is nothing, a mere thing imagined; they make religion an instrument of their own will, seeing in it nothing save perhaps a vehicle to their own following. It is not, “Lord, make me thy instrument,” but rather “Lord, be my instrument.”
Most of the saints follow in the example of their Messiah, that is, Christ. The apostles Peter and Andrew were both crucified for their faith, albeit in slightly different manners than was their Lord. Of the group of apostles who spread the Christian faith after their Lord’s resurrection, only one was not martyred. Most left everything behind to spread the Gospel, and example followed even by many of today’s religious men and women, who take and usually obey vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
This is opposed to the personality cult leader, who anoints himself messiah and then expects to be followed. Rather than leaving everything behind and possibly putting their own lives at risk, he is all-too-happy to take that which is not theirs, either by offering or by force, and to endanger or ruin the lives of those who stand in his way. If he cannot be the master of life, then he will at least be the master of death, be it of his enemies or his scapegoats.
Finally, religion is central to the lives of the saints. They did what they were able to “pray unceasingly.” Their words, thoughts, actions, trials, triumphs and tribulations are all aimed towards God, for His glory. Slip as they may from this righteous path, to it they would always return, for they knew that it was not for themselves that they did these things, but for the One Who created them. Every ailment or injury becomes a means of participating in Christ’s passion, every moment of joy a blessing from above. Hunger is a form of solidarity with Jesus was he passes through the desert, distress a reminder of His agony in the garden, and failure, a reminder in the countless souls who turned their back on Him throughout the ages.
In the personality cult, religion must be ultimately thrust aside to make room for the cult’s leader. The cult thus first attracts those without a religion, and then those whose religion is nominal only. If the religious beliefs of the people can’t be swept aside, then these people must be convinced to join by the cult’s promises. They must be made to see here the fulfillment of some of the earthly tenets of their religion—to feed the hungry, for example. They are, in other words, made to think that this leader will transform society into a new paradise, a sort of heaven-on-earth. Those whose religious convictions remain outside of the cult’s influence must then be marginalized by claiming that their faith is illegitimate—that they are not “true” believers or that they do not have faith for any of the right reasons. They are said to cling to their religions to alleviate their own suffering rather than to find their salvation or that of the people around them.
Having displaced religion, the cult cannot accept the existence of pain or suffering of any form. If there is no suffering God, then suffering can have no redeeming qualities. If there is no paradise in heaven, then there must be a paradise on earth, governed (of course) by the world’s leaders, and particularly the cult’s own messiah, and not by the God Who sits in heaven.
Suffering or success, sorrow or joy, trial or triumph—all of these things could become a form of prayer, union with God and His Kingdom; instead, the cult’s messiah becomes the solution to the former of each pair, and the source of the latter. These things should all be opportunities to get to know the Father Who is Creator, the Son Who is Redeemer, or the Holy Spirit Who is Sanctifier. They can inspire true hope, a virtue which helps us ever to wait for the coming of the Kingdom, and to truly prepare the way for Christ, not by transforming the world into our image, but by allowing ourselves to be transformed into His; not by changing society to meet our standards, but by changing ourselves to fit with God’s standards.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Self-Appointed Savior

Bitterly they may seek some consolation,
Always clinging to that which they know,
Religion or customs or other people like them,
Anything which may act as a salve or escape.
Can they not see me as their only savior,
Knowing as I do how to bring them change?
Help them to see their blindness I must,
Open their eyes to my perfect solutions I will,
Because without me they are hopelessly lost.
A better leader they will not ever anoint,
My plan alone will bring unity and harmony,
And all others are nothing but false prophets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Simon the Coward

Simon the Coward, thrice denied his Teacher,
He next was found weeping bitter tears.
How failing was his loyalty, how faulty his faith?
Who dared brave storming seas for but a moment,
Nor could he yet risk life or limb for his friends.
Simon the weak-willed, who in a garden soundly slept,
While prayers shrouded in agony were offered nearby.
Were all those signs he witnessed bu for naught?
Whose perception was well guided yet temporary,
Fading to darkness and mourning at death's touch.
Simon the slow and slow witted, yet quickly he ran,
Still was second to the tomb, yet first to re-enter.
What could cause him such dumbstruck amazement?
Yet quickly his shock fell away leaving only joy,
His tears dissipating into jubilant praises.
Simon renamed Peter now proclaims life renewed,
His faith rekindled was ignited by a Holy Flame.
What was the source of his newfound courage?
His faith sturdy as a rock, a solid foundation,
His martyrdom a crowning testament to Christ's glory.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Boanerges

I hear the thunder rolling this night--
So loud and roaring, my very wits it's deploring.
The sound shook the world all around me,
My confidence was shattering, my will's guard battering.
The lightning struck with intense brightness,
From heaven above streaking, the earth 'twas seeking.
The storm raged across the land and o'er the sea--
By its fury my heart was pierced, igniting my deepest fears.
My awestruck terror at last begins to subside,
That once dreadful cacophony is now a sweet symphony.
By the lightning I now see everything so clearly,
My soul is soothed by gentle rain, my heart by Spring's refrain.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Student's Frustration

Meaningless courses, with trials and frustration fraught--
From them, worthwhile intellectual fruits are reaped not.
Homework assignments, meant to be enjoyed naught,
How I wish the material was a little more capably taught.

In this class there is found little of true value or merit,
Yet a requirement the department did firmly declare it.
The exam was too hard, all of the students despair it,
But if I want my degree I'll just have to grin and bear it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Robber's Last Act


A bandit robber and a rebel am I,
Soon to be hanged and to die.
I do not repent, not a tear drop will I cry,
Nor heed that voice inside asking me why.

My memories to days past do hark,
As the sky above me goes dark.
To any early raid does my mind embark,
That fateful day I robbed my third mark.

It was a small family caravan,
I recall that frightened young woman,
She held her little child's tiny hand,
Riding a donkey led by an old man.

From a king's army they had fled,
Like those Israelites Moses once led.
For the child's safety they did dread,
The king wanted to see that child dead.

They carried spiced, incense and gold,
So I took all my donkey could hold.
I rode off thinking myself to be so bold,
But deep inside me, my heart grew cold.

'Twas three days before to them I returned,
All the while my heart inside me burned.
To that woman's pitying face my mind turned,
By her child's cries my conscience was spurned.

I gave them back all from them I had taken,
The gold, spices and sweet incense I'd stolen.
I apologized to the man that poor woman,
But I felt it was the child who'd me forgiven.

That innocent babe's eyes I never forgot,
Though others my robberies besought.
The merchants I robbed, their guard I fought,
Until I was by the temple's soldiers caught.

Now I am hanging upon a crossed tree,
Whilst two other men hang beside me.
At one man's feet, a familiar woman I see,
No other than the victim of my third robbery.

Is that man by my side now dying,
Is he that child who once lay crying?
Now I realize that I have been denying,
That all this time to myself I was lying.

I see his eyes are now fixed upon me,
And I finally know how to set myself free.
I ask for his pardon, and he grants it to me,
Promising that this day in heaven I'll be.

My soul hell must count as another loss,
'Twas won by my Lord upon the cross.
Into the furnace me they won't ever toss,
Instead shall I be called Saint Dismas.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reprobus

Reprobus the boastful, prideful giant so mighty!
Who sought service to the world's greatest king,
Searched out a lord great and powerful to serve.
When he found a fearsome ruler with armies vast,
Won renown in many a great battle or small clash.
Yet finally disappointment he found even there,
When that wise earthly king showed he knew fear,
For even that wordly ruler did certainly know,
His powers were not protection from evil's prince.
So thus did Reprobus seek this prince unspoken,
Of whom even the strongest of men were in fear.
The demon's hordes Reprobus lead in battle,
Though even this master would shake and tremble
As wooden bridges or green forests he passed.
Then did the fell legions Reprobus abandon,
To seek the mysterious power hidden to sight
Whose presence wood revered and demon feared.
For miles he traveled and days he searched,
But a sign he never could see nor a trace find,
'Til upon a swift-flowing river he chanced,
And then wearied stopped for rest and a drink.
Serenely he slept by rivers' firm grassy banks,
Though soon was awakened by a timid child's cries,
Meekly pleading for help crossing river's tides.
Prideful Reprobus glimpsed the water flowing,
And laughing, the child placed upon his shoulders.
The river's pull he mocked as deeper he waded.
Water's depth soon warranted even a giant's swimming,
Yet then it was that the child grew ever so heavy.
Reprobus' proud boasts were all but for naught,
As struggling he slowly sank below water's edge.
By his eyes quickly flashed his many brave deeds,
Those glorious battles in which he had conquered.
Yet neither war nor adventure could ever prepare
Mighty Reprobus for his struggle against rapid river.
As downward under child's burdensome weight he fell,
Still for child's sake determination to fight he found,
While the babe's weight grew crushing, too heavy to bear.
But with the last of his strenght he still pushed forth,
Against the swift tide his every muscle now straining,
Darkness to claim him came and over vision blackness fell--
Yet his hand grasped a great fish in the river swimming,
And to the shore helped tow him, though deeply it swam.
Soon firm perch his feet found as the water grew calmer,
And sweet air he then tasted, as the wet veil fell away
As above the water's edge his head finally could strain.
At last upon the river's far bank he wearily clamored,
As the child sat waiting innocently upon the land.
'How heavy you are child, like the earth upon my back!'
Replied the child sweetly, 'It was more than that,
For by my will was the world itself shaped and made,
And by my own hands were the moon and stars hung.'
Then in wonder did Reprobus himself kneel down,
To this mysterious child before him paying homage.
For it was he for whom Reprobus had long searched,
The Great King whom he had ever longed to serve.
Though 'twas not pride nor fame he now desired,
For these had been drowned in the murky waters.
Rather simple humility he now offered to his Lord,
Whom he had bore through the swift deadly currents,
Where perished his visions of vainglory in baptism,
As he left his old self and name in the silent depths,
To be known evermore as Christopher, Christ's bearer.