Babel and Pentecost

I went to my first Pentecost Vigil Mass this year… although it was not the “extended form” and was simply three readings (Old Testament, Epistle, Gospel). But I did hear Genesis 11:1-9, and the priest related it to the First Reading for Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-11.

When I led a Bible study last winter on Acts of the Apostles 1-12 (which I cleverly called “Words on Acts”, look for the book in a year or two…), I invited the members of the study to compare the two passages and see what they had in common and how they differed.


Babel: they were speaking one language (11:1)

Pentecost: they were speaking many languages (2:8)


Babel: a plain in Shinar (11:2)

Pentecost: a mountainous area, Jerusalem (2:5)


Babel: their own city (11:4)

Pentecost: the Church, the kingdom of God (1:3)


Babel: making a name for themselves (11:4)

Pentecost: declaring the works of God (2:11)


Babel: man attempting to reach heaven (11:4)

Pentecost: the Holy Spirit descending upon earth (2:2)


Babel: coming together (11:2), then scattered abroad (11:9)

Pentecost: coming together (2:5), then scattered abroad (1:8)

Reflection on Matthew 25:31-40: Called to Solidarity and Service

(cf. James 2; 1 Corinthians 12)

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

What does it mean to keep? Today, we might ask: What is service? Service, simply, is doing works of love: it is being conformed to Christ. St. Paul and St. James agree on the need for service in a faithful Christian life; St. Paul wrote to the Galatians that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6) The words of St. James explain how faith works through love: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jas. 2:15-17)

Who is my brother? Today, we might ask: What is solidarity? Pope John Paul II defined solidarity in one of his encyclicals on social justice. It “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)

Our Lord said that he came to this earth not to be served but to serve. He is the perfect King, a King who loves his subjects so deeply and truly that he serves them. We, who are baptized into his kingship, exercise it when we love as he loved, when we serve as he served. Our Lord returned to Heaven where now he is served, both in our worship (liturgical and otherwise) and in our service to one another. Christ tells us plainly that when we serve one another, especially the suffering, the poor, and the neglected, we are serving him.

These works of love call us to solidarity, they challenge us to recognize Christ in one another, where we might least expect to find him. In its final document, Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council boldly proclaimed that, because God took on human flesh in the Incarnation, Jesus Christ united himself in some way to every single human being, simply because they’re human! (cf. GS 22) In our Lord’s solidarity with our human nature, we find the source of all human solidarity.

Hear the (paraphrased) words of a sermon of St. John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century:

Do you wish to honor Christ’s body? Then do not neglect Him when you see Him naked; do not while you honor Him with silken garments in here, neglect Him perishing of cold and nakedness out there. For the same Christ who said “This is my body,” … said, “You saw me hungry, and fed me not,” and, “Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” For in the Eucharist, Christ has no need of clothing, but a pure soul; but in our brothers and sisters, Christ requires much attention. (Homily 50 on Matthew, n. 4)

We’ve all heard the parable in Matthew’s gospel of the sheep and the goats before. This parable, like that of the Good Samaritan, is Christ’s clear answer to that selfish question of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, Christ answers, and in this one word “Yes,” Christ confirms that we are brothers and we must keep one another: that is, that we are in solidarity with one another, and we are obliged by faith and love to serve one another.

SCROLL – The SCripture Reference OnLine Library

I am attempting to begin a project I have wanted to start for several years now.

Whenever I read a book, I take record its scripture references in a notebook, using a simple notation:

Name of Book
Page#.Paragraph#, Type, Scripture Reference

For example, from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, I have made the following notations:

81.3 Q Ps 87:7
81.3 Q Is 35:10
90.1 M Josh 14:7-11
102.0 Q Mt 22:21

(The third paragraph on page 81 quotes two passages. The first paragraph on page 90 mentions five verses without quoting them verbatim. The paragraph at the top of page 102, continued from the preceding page, quotes one passage.)

The type of reference can be a quote (Q), a mention (M) such as “(cf. Jn 3:16)”, or an allusion (A) where the passage of scripture is referred to but without an actual reference provided.

I am keen on making this library available to others who want to use it, whether for Bible studies, or for writing of homilies/sermons, or for any other purpose. I would also like to expand it to include other media, not just books. Things like articles, hymns, poems, perhaps even not-written media.

To that end, I’m putting out a request for interest. If you would find such a resource helpful, or if you would be willing to contribute to it (and, if need be, verify other people’s contributions to it), please let me know.

I essentially have the code in place to support a web site interface (and API as well) to the database; if it becomes popular enough, I would need assistance in developing an app for it.

Monthly Book Review: The Saint vs. the Scholar by Jon M. Sweeney

(Note: I was given a copy of The Saint vs. the Scholar to review. I read it with pleasure and the review which follows is honest and uncoerced.)

Most years, I attend the International Conference on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, tagging along with my wife, a medieval historian. This year happened to have been one that I could not attend. But it would appear the conference noted my absence and found me anyway, through a new book published by Franciscan Media, The Saint vs. the Scholar (subtitled: The Fight Between Faith and Reason) by Jon M. Sweeney. This book gave me an introductory education into the personalities and philosophies of two or three of the people whose lives and writings I have learned about through my attendance at the annual conference. The primary two persons are Bernard of Clairvaux (the saint) and Peter Abelard (the scholar); the third person is Hildegard von Bingen (a saint to be named later).

The Saint vs. the ScholarThe book, written in a popular style to reach the lay reader who wants to understand why faith and reason seem to be at odds with one another (when in reality they are merely set at odds with one another), is structured the way many movies are nowadays: we are shown the conflict coming to a head at the start, and then we are introduced to the lives of the two people who are the subject of the conflict, before being brought back to the “present” of the conflict, and finally to the present day, where their conflict still lives on. Sweeney takes us back nearly nine centuries to Sens, France, in 1140, where Bernard puts Peter (and his dangerous inquisitive philosophy) on trial, and we learn the verdict almost immediately. Then we are given the backstory for Peter Abelard, and the backstory for Bernard of Clairvaux. Both men took parallel, and yet somehow divergent, paths in the Church that would ultimately result in their disdain for one another’s theological methods: Bernard the mystic favoring faith and a surrender to divine mystery, Peter favoring reason and the study of the divine mystery. Alas, for Bernard and Peter, these two sides of one coin can never both be facing up. One side must always be down for the other to be up; one must be humbled for the other to be exalted. This dichotomy between faith and reason, between a belief that accepts the divine mystery and an inquiry into that mystery so that one may believe, is the crux of their conflict and the core of this book.

Sweeney gives brief but adequate biographies of the two main players. Having heard of Peter’s affair with Heloise, it was fulfilling to finally read about it; the same can be said for his seminal work Sic et Non, “Yes and No”, which looks at the contradictory viewpoints of the Church Fathers. And it must be added that Sweeney pulls no punches in describing Peter’s attitude toward, and opinion of, other philosophers and scholars (and men in general). Likewise, I had known that Bernard of Clairvaux was a mystic whose sermons on the Song of Songs were without equal; so too, apparently, was Bernard himself, at least in terms of his influence over popes and his authority in the Church. Bernard was behind (and alongside) more than one pope during his lifetime, and he played a fundamental role in legitimizing the crusades.

After these biographies, we are presented with these men’s answers to two fundamental questions: who man is in relation to God, and what truth is. Again, their answers are close enough as to seem complementary, but neither man could see the bridge that joined the two. There was, however, a woman who could see that bridge: Hildegard von Bingen, a mystic of the same era. Sweeney teasingly concludes his book by drawing upon some of her wisdom to help settle the score between faith and reason. I wish he had elaborated this point. Perhaps he can pen a sequel in which he expands on how Hildegard offers a “third way” that unites faith and reason, in an equally accessible format. His explanation of the problem we face today is sorely needed — so too is an offer of a solution.

From an editorial point of view, there are some typos that, if corrected, would make the book a distraction-free read. (There are some errant commas, a duplicated phrase here or there, and some inconsistent tenses; nothing major, just enough for a first-time meticulous reader to note.) The subject matter is presented in a truly accessible way; you don’t need to have attended a medieval conference five of the last six years to understand it.

I enjoyed this book, for both its biographical and theological content. I think I know these men better, and this book establishes both of them — whether saint or scholar — as mortals, as men subject to fallen human nature. In that way it makes them more approachable, and makes the lesson to be learned from them all the more important.

4 / 5

(Next month’s book: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis by Chris R. Armstrong)

Summary of Salvifici Doloris (on the Christian meaning of human suffering)

What follows is an executive summary of Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter from 1984, Salvifici Doloris (“redemptive suffering”).

  1. Introduction (nn. 1-4)
    1. Suffering, like all human things, finds its true meaning in Jesus Christ. It is both a burden and a joy. Why it is a burden is evident; why it is a joy requires reflection into the mystery of redemption in Jesus Christ.
    2. Suffering is a constant theme throughout human existence. Human suffering is deeper than animal pain, because suffering is transcendent and involves a sense of injustice.
    3. Redemption came through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross: it came through suffering. Thus, our redemption is directly related to Christ’s suffering, and our suffering is linked somehow to our redemption.
    4. Suffering leads to compassion (“suffering” passio “with” com-), respect, and intimidation.
  2. The World of Human Suffering (nn. 5-8)
    1. Man suffers in many different ways, including physical, mental, emotional, and moral. While medicine can seek to ease physical, mental, and emotional suffering, it cannot approach moral suffering. We all suffer in different ways and to different degrees.
    2. The Bible is largely about suffering. People suffer in spite of their “election” by God, and people suffer when they stray from God’s “election” of them. Moral suffering is often described in physiological terms in the Bible.
    3. We suffer when we experience evil. In the Old Testament, the vocabulary implied that suffering is evil; with Greek (and the New Testament), language emerges that inverts the relationship: evil leads to suffering. What is evil? Christianity sees the Creator and creation as good, and sees evil as a lack, limit, or distortion of good. Man suffers because of a good in which he does not share.
    4. Suffering is a widespread phenomenon: we all suffer “in dispersion” throughout the world and throughout time. Suffering is an exile of sorts, a world of its own. Every personal instance of suffering is a small part of that greater world of suffering, but that whole world is present in each person’s suffering. Suffering also leads to solidarity and communion among those who suffer. In certain times in our history, suffering seems to be greatly concentrated, such as during famines or wars. During this era of nuclear weapons and possible mutual destruction, the amount of suffering appears proportional to the sins of our age.
  3. The Quest for an Answer to the Question of the Meaning of Suffering (nn. 9-13)
    1. Why do we suffer? Why is there evil? Man suffers and wonders why, and often suffers more deeply when he cannot find a satisfactory answer. Evil obscures our vision of God, sometimes to the point of atheism, as if to say, “an almighty and benevolent God wouldn’t allow this to happen, thus God is either not almighty or not good, which means He’s not God.” This confusion is often a reaction to so much undeserved suffering and unpunished evil.
    2. The Book of Job poses this question of suffering. Job’s friends think suffering is simply retribution for wrong-doing, a just punishment for sin. The Old Testament strongly supports that line of thinking: the existence of moral evil (sin) justifies the existence of suffering as punishment. To sin is to break the divine Law, it is to transgress against the divine Law-giver, God; it is an objective necessity that a just Law-giver should punish evil and reward good.
    3. Job challenges the principle that all suffering is the result of sin. God acknowledges that Job is innocent in the matter, but the suffering of the innocent remains a mystery which God does not reveal. While some suffering is punishment for sin, not all suffering is: it can be a test of righteousness. This all points to the suffering (Passion) of Christ in the New Testament.
    4. While the question is “answered,” it remains without a solution in the Old Testament, but there are indicators of a deeper meaning. Suffering as punishment (such as Israel endured when it strayed from her covenant with God) had an educational value as well. Punishment repays evil, but it also provides an opportunity to rebuild the good that was missing. Punishment is ordered towards penalty, but also conversion, mercy, and rehabilitation.
    5. The “why” of suffering is answered truly in the revelation of divine love: God gives the definitive answer and solution to the problem of suffering through the cross of His Son Jesus Christ.
  4. Jesus Christ: Suffering Conquered by Love (nn. 14-18)
    1. God “gave” His Son so that man might have eternal life and not perish. This “giving” implies a suffering: God did not just send His Son, He gave His Son. Jesus came to give us eternal life, which is the opposite of “perishing”: redemption, then, is about being saved from the eternal and definitive suffering of being separated from God for eternity.
    2. Christ does not just address this eternal, definitive suffering, but also our temporal suffering, both of which are rooted in an experience of evil. Jesus comes to save us from sin and death. Because of sin (ours or others’) we experience suffering. Death is a final destructive blow to our persons, soul and body: the soul survives, though separated from the body, and the body decays. It is the final experience of suffering in this world. Jesus saves us from sin by offering us Sanctifying Grace, and He saves us from death by His Resurrection which is a pledge of our future rising from the dead. In Heaven, there will be no suffering at all. Christ’s redemptive work does not abolish temporal suffering for us, but shines a redemptive light on it.
    3. Christ was well-acquainted with suffering in His Messianic work: He was around the suffering and the sick, and He became more and more isolated and the target of hostility as He approached the culmination of His work on earth. He spoke of this suffering to His Apostles many times, and rebuked Peter when he tried to prevent Him from facing His destiny: the Cross. He was fully aware of His mission and what it would entail, and the Scriptures prophesied the suffering He would have to face, as Jesus affirms several times. Jesus faced this suffering with full knowledge, in full obedience to His Father.
    4. The fourth Song of the Suffering Servant (in Isaiah 53) is a powerful prophecy of the One chosen by God to suffer for His people. It accurately depicts the events of His Passion and the depth of His sacrifice. In it, the Servant suffers for His people, to redeem and restore them. Only Jesus Christ, Who is true God and true Man, can take all the sins of humanity upon Himself in a complete and redemptive way. Jesus’ sufferings are truly human, but with a depth unmatchable by any other man, because He is Man and God.
    5. The Song continues, showing that the Servants suffers voluntarily and innocently. Jesus proves His love for the Father through His obedience to Him, going to the cross freely and innocently. He proves the truth of love through the truth of suffering. When Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” from the cross, it is not because He (God the Son) is separated from or abandoned by God the Father; the Son and the Father are inseparably united. Rather, by taking the weight of all sin upon Himself, Christ perceived – in a way inexpressible by man (who can only perceive it by experiencing it himself) – the evil of turning away from God: the suffering of man’s separation, rejection, and estrangement from God. Christ’s Passion is the culmination of human suffering, but suffering has now been linked to love which can draw good from the suffering.
  5. Sharers in the Suffering of Christ (nn. 19-24)
    1. Christ, the Suffering Servant, gave suffering a new meaning and a redemptive quality. Not only is man redeemed, but suffering itself is redeemed. Thus, as every man shares in the redemption, he is also called to share in the suffering through which redemption was gained for him.
    2. The New Testament testifies over and over to the connection between participating suffering for Christ (persecutions specifically) and participating in His glory. He who identifies with Christ in His Passion and death is likewise identified with Christ in His Resurrection and glory.
    3. Suffering for Christ also means suffering for His Kingdom, which means suffering for others as well. This participation in suffering “makes us worthy” of that Kingdom, so we are in a sense repaying the infinite price of Christ’s Passion and death.
    4. Precisely because Christ identified His “glory” with his Crucifixion (particularly in John’s gospel), human suffering has a hidden glory in it. This suffering is a call for moral greatness and builds spiritual character.
    5. Suffering is a trial, but in our weakness, the glory and strength of Christ is made manifest, as St. Paul pointed out. Christ’s “weakness” in being “lifted up” in the Crucifixion was infused with power because of its redemptive quality. So too, Christians who suffer on account of Christ have no need to feel shame. Suffering leads to endurance, which leads to character, which leads to hope; thus, suffering is a call for virtue.
    6. Because the Church is the Body of Christ, that Body shares in the sufferings of Christ Himself. As St. Paul says, we “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body, the Church.” This means that man’s suffering is joined with the Paschal mystery. The suffering Christ endured is by no means incomplete or insufficient, but our participation in it, as His Body, is what must be completed. Christ leaves this redemptive suffering open so that it can be completed in us. Christ’s Body, the Church, lives this redemptive suffering throughout its history.
  6. The Gospel of Suffering (nn. 25-27)
    1. There is a “Gospel of Suffering” written by the witnesses of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Mary, His Mother, is the foremost witness, because she was present at the side of Christ throughout His life, sharing in His suffering from Simeon’s prophecy through to the Crucifixion. Christ told His disciples to bear hardships, carry their own crosses, and deny themselves, all of which are a sharing in His suffering, and which join His disciples to Him. The promise of suffering (often in the form of persecution for Christ) requires courage and fortitude, placing hope in Christ and His victory over the world through His suffering. The fact that Christ retains the wounds of the crucifixion even on His resurrected body is a testimony to suffering being more that an encounter with evil.
    2. This Gospel of Suffering is also written by those who suffer with Christ, uniting their sufferings with His. Suffering has a revelatory character: it conceals a grace which draws a person close to Christ, resulting in a deep conversion by which the person is changed to the core. Suffering in the body also creates the opportunity for a display of interior maturity and spiritual heroism, setting an example of perseverance for others. Christ gave Mary a special motherhood over all men: as she was His mother in His suffering, so shall she be for all men in their suffering, teaching them to unite themselves to Christ. This interior process of uniting one’s self to Christ does not come easily, because of the great question of “why”. But Christ answers this question from the cross, saying “Take up your cross and follow me.” In this way, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed.
    3. Suffering is a source of joy because, with its salvific meaning uncovered, it is no longer an experience of uselessness and burden to others. Rather, the one who is suffering is actually doing their part to complete the sufferings of Christ in His Body the Church. Suffering provides an opportunity for grace.
  7. The Good Samaritan (nn. 28-30)
    1. The parable of the Good Samaritan, in answering the question “who is my neighbor?” teaches that love of neighbor means sensitivity to those who suffer. This includes sympathy and compassion, but extends most importantly to action. The Good Samaritan gives his all, even his very self, for the suffering other. This self-giving is at the core of Christian anthropology.
    2. Suffering creates an opportunity for others to show love. The natural human response is called being a “Good Samaritan”, but this act of love is a vocation and an apostolate when it is done with an evangelical motive driving it on. Thus, added to human solidarity are the Christian virtues (especially love of neighbor) which together overcome indifference to suffering. These acts of love are carried out by individuals, and not simply institutions, which can never replace the pure human element of compassion.
    3. Christ’s words in Matthew 25:31-46 provide a final perspective on suffering: in ministering to one who is suffering, we are ministering ultimately to Christ. All human suffering is an opportunity to serve Christ as we ought, which will be taken into account in the Final Judgment. Human suffering is revealed to be a conduit of grace, both for the one suffering and the one who ministers.
  8. Conclusion (n. 31)
    1. Suffering is supernatural because God has bound it up with salvation, and human because it is endured by all men. Through human suffering, men find their identity in themselves and in Christ.

Back in the ring

After a year-and-a-half hiatus, I’m back in action. I led the Bible study group at Rider University for a few years, under the chaplaincy of Fr. Joseph Jakub, but the needs of the Catholic Campus Ministry there changed — there was more interest in a men’s group (to go alongside the women’s group that met weekly), and despite being a man, running a “men’s group” is not my strength. So since the spring of 2013, I haven’t really been exercising my catechetical muscle.

Until yesterday. Some backstory is in order…

When I first moved down to the Princeton area nearly a decade ago, I was looking for Catholic fellowship with people my age. I found it in a few places, one of which was the graduate student Catholic fellowship at Princeton (despite not being a graduate student or a Princetonian). I enjoyed their company and conversation regularly for a few years, but not since moving closer to Trenton. Trenton and Princeton are not that far away, as the crow flies, but I don’t fly a crow, I drive a car, and New Jersey does not have the benefit that some of the mid-western states do… a grid of roads going north-south and east-west. No, in New Jersey, you need to make several turns just to get across the street.

A few Sundays ago, the former chaplain from Princeton, Fr. Tom Mullelly, celebrated Mass at my parish. I re-introduced myself to him after Mass, and I was happy to see he remembered me. He mentioned that there was another new chaplain at Princeton (replacing the one that had followed him). I decided a couple days later to send an email to the chaplaincy, introducing myself, dropping some names of people I’d known (most of whom, I admitted in the email, had surely moved on from Princeton by now). The reply I got back from the new chaplain started with “Unfortunately I do not know any of the people you mention below, as I am new to the campus this semester…” Heh.

“… however you and I know each other from the Archdiocese.”

The new chaplain for Princeton University’s Catholic Campus Ministry (the Aquinas Institute) is Fr. Bryan Page, from the archdiocese of Newark. It turns out I know him from several years ago, from a young adult retreat I went on back in 2008, at which he was a speaker. He spoke about the importance of taking decision-making seriously, and making good decisions, as adults: to decide is to cut off some possibility in favor of another (from the Latin decidere, “to cut off; to delineate; to settle on”).

The end result of a few more emails: I’ll be assisting him in the Wednesday night apologetics for the undergrads at Aquinas House. I attended last night to introduce myself, meet the students, and get a feel for the discussion. They’re bright, obviously, and just as interested in asking questions as they are in answering them. (Anyone who’s worked with students knows that it is harder to get them to ask a question than to answer one, because asking takes more initiative.) Our topic of conversation last night was the sacrament of Reconciliation. We tried to approach it in a Thomistic way, looking at arguments against it and countering with arguments for it.

Next week a seminarian will be leading a discussion on icons and images.

The week after that, I will be leading a discussion on Purgatory and temporal suffering. I’ll be making material available online beforehand, and sharing some of the fruits of our discussion afterwards.

Pray for me, and for Fr. Bryan, and for the seminarian, and for these eager students!

Do you have anything to share about Purgatory or suffering? Feel free to comment below.

Right thoughts, right words, right action

Rather than write a post about how I’m going to take up blogging again (and then not take up blogging again, again), I’m just going to write a blog post about something substantive: this Sunday’s second reading at Mass, from the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

In August of 2013, Franz Ferdinand released an album “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” which had a few singles that got a lot of radio time. One was “Right Thoughts”, which repeated the album title several times as a sort of chorus. Oddly enough, that song popped into my mind as I prepared to lector this Sunday morning at my parish. The first reading from Isaiah 5, containing the “friend’s song concerning his vineyard,” and Psalm 80 relate perfectly to Christ’s parable of the vineyard from Matthew 21; but, as is often the case, the merely sequential second reading struggles to find a place between the three. It tends to be overlooked come homily time.

Philippians 4 has no clear theme of harvest and justice, no metaphor of a vineyard. But it speaks of the nature of a well-tended vine, and of the attitude of its just tenants. The vineyard of the Lord should be a peaceful one, and it should be tended by those whose minds are concerned with excellence (in terms of truth, honor, justice, purity, love, grace, and praise) and whose actions are directed by the examples of the saints who have worked before them. The tenants will then not only enjoy the peace of the vineyard, they will enjoy the presence of the God of peace Himself. Note the miniature chiasm, or at least inversion of phrase, in verses 7 and 9: “the peace of God” … “the God of peace”.

[6] Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
[7] Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

[8] Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
[9] Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

As for the Franz Ferdinand song, this reading highlights “right words” (that is, words of prayer), “right thoughts” (dwelling on excellence), and “right action” (modeled after the deeds of the Apostle).

Good Friday: The Reproaches (Improperia)

The Improperia (or “Reproaches”) are a series of antiphons and responses which are part of the Good Friday liturgy in the Roman Rite (although you may not have ever heard them). They are presented as Christ crying out to His people (contextually, the Israelites) for the injustices they showed their God after all the wonders God had performed for them.

Here is my own (somewhat loose) English translation of the Latin (and Greek) text:

O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you?  Answer me!

For I brought you out of the land of Egypt,
but you brought out* a cross for your Savior.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

For I led you through the desert for forty years,
and fed you with manna,
and brought you into a land of plenty,
but you prepared* a cross for your Savior.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

What more should I have done for you, that I did not do?
Indeed, I planted you, my precious chosen vine,
but you have become terribly bitter to me.
Indeed, you gave me vinegar to drink in my thirst,
and have pierced your Savior’s side with a lance.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

I scourged the first-born of Egypt for your sake:
yet you scourged me and handed me over.

O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you?  Answer me!

I plunged Pharaoh into the Red Sea and plucked you out of Egypt’s hand:
yet you handed me over to the high priests.

O my people…

I parted the sea before you:
yet you parted my side with a lance.

O my people…

I led you as a pillar of cloud:
yet you led me into Pilate’s palace.

O my people…

I rained down manna for you in the desert:
yet you rained down blows and lashes on me.

O my people…

I gave you saving water from the rock to drink:
yet for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.

O my people…

I struck down for you the kings of the Canaanites:
yet you struck the head of your King with a reed.

O my people…

In your hands I placed a royal scepter:
yet upon my head you placed a crown of thorns.

O my people…

I raised you up in great power:
yet you raised me up on a cross.

O my people…

* The Latin is the same for these two lines (“but you … your Savior”), but I have chosen to render them differently.

A Look at Pope Francis: lowly, and yet chosen

The episcopal motto of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio is “miserando atque eligendo”.  When I found that this afternoon, around 3 PM, I quickly made an effort to translate it.  The simple Latin phrase of three words is chock-full of meaning and should tell us a lot about Bergoglio – now Pope Francis.

Miserando is related to the verb miserere (to have pity on, show compassion to); it means “to be pitied; pitiable; miserable (i.e. in need of mercy)”.  I think it can be rendered as “lowly” or “humble” in this case.

Eligendo is related to the verb eligere (to vote, elect, choose); it means “to be chosen; elected”.  While the papal conclave might make us lean toward “elected”, I think “chosen” is a more fitting and general translation, although the word “elect” does hold great meaning in Christianity: those chosen by God are the “elect”.

Atque is a conjunction.  It means more than just “and”; it is closer to “and yet” or “and also” or “but still” or “but moreover”.

Very literally, this phrase could be rendered as “to be pitied, and yet to be chosen”.  I think “lowly, and yet chosen” is an apt (albeit slightly free) translation.  It means that Bergoglio identifies himself with the poor – with the lowly, the humble, the pitiable, les misérables – and that, in spite of (or because of!) this poverty, God has chosen him.

The Latin phrase comes from a homily by the Venerable Bede on St. Matthew (Homily 21):

Vidit, inquit, Jesus hominem sedentem in telonio, Matthaeum nomine, et ait illi: “Sequere me.” Vidit autem non tam corporei intuitus, quam internae miserationis aspectibus. … Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, “Sequere me.” Sequere autem dixit imitare. Sequere dixit non tam incessu pedum, quam executione morum. Qui enim dicit se in Christo manere, debet sicut ille ambulavit, et ipse ambulare.

This excerpt is found in the Liturgy of the Hours, on September 21 (the feast of St. Matthew), for the Office of Readings; here is the English translation:

Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: “Follow me.” Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: “Follow me.” This following meant imitating the pattern of his life—not just walking after him. Saint John tells us: “Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

When these words are taken out of this context and used as a motto on their own, I think it is proper to translate them as I have: “to be pitied, and yet to be chosen”, or more familiarly, “lowly and yet chosen”.

These words are a succinct summary of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), where Mary praises God for having lifted up the lowly.  These words embody the wisdom of God, who chooses “what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).  These words summarize God’s continual love and “preference” for the poor, especially as the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34).  In short, these words are a summary of the whole divine economy!

Bergoglio – Pope Francis – recognizes himself as lowly, but does not let his humility cause him to turn away from God’s wondrous choice of him.  Rather, he sees his poverty as a sign of God’s election, although the world might think it otherwise.  This is the way of the Church, the way of each of us: we must recognize ourselves as poor, as lowly, as “miserable”, as sinners in need of mercy, as people of unclean lips.  And yet God reaches out to us as He did to Isaiah (Isaiah 6).  God purifies us by His angel of mercy, by His Son Jesus Christ, touching our unclean lips with a burning coal from the heavenly altar, with an ember aflame with the love of Christ, and so removes our guilt and forgives our sin, and says to us, “Whom shall I send?  Whom shall I choose?”  And each of us, in gratitude for the gift, must have the humility to accept the gift and respond, “Here I am, Lord!  Send me!”  For, in the end, it is not us who choose God; He has chosen us (John 15:16).