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).

Habemus Papam!

I was watching the CNN live feed at 2PM (Eastern Time) today.  I noticed the smoke coming out of the chimney before the commentators did!  It was grayish at first, but quickly grew whiter.  I tweeted “white?” and noticed a flood of tweets appearing: “habemus papam!” “white!” “white smoke!”

The interregnum is over.  It is only a matter of minutes until we know who has ended it!

Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina has chosen the name Francis.  His episcopal motto was “miserando atque eligendo” (lowly and yet chosen), which seems quite fitting.  Let’s see if he uses it as his papal motto as well.

A new foundation

In a collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, there is a one saying which is a brief dialogue between two abbas:

Abba Moses: “Can a man lay a new foundation every day?”
Abba Silvanus: “If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.”

Before - Green FloorWell, I can’t say I’ve laid a new foundation every day, let alone every moment, but my wife and I did lay a new foundation yesterday, from 8:30 am through about 6:30 pm.  It’s a cork floor made of interlocking tiles that we installed ourselves.

In the morning, we rented a table saw for the day from a nearby hardware store (the miter saw, which we had spied out the evening before, had been rented a mere 45 minutes after we left the store that night).

During - Floor with Insulation and Tiles on TopWe actually didn’t get started laying the tiles until 10 am, because of our deliberations and worrying and second-guessing and recalculating.  The beginning was excruciating, because we were having trouble getting the under-layer insulation to stay in place and getting the tiles to lock together firmly (with no gaps between them).  We finally decided to try the block-and-hammer method, to get the second row of tiles to fit with the first row of tiles, and it worked.  A couple thumbs were struck once or twice, but things started to come together.

On top of that, the Catechism Search Engine had some content delivery issues yesterday morning, which frustrated a fair number of subscribers to Flocknote’s “Read the Catechism during the Year of Faith” mailing list, and added a bit of anxiety and pressure onto my workload for the morning.  Thankfully it was resolved in a matter of hours.

Floor Vent with GapDespite not having used such wood-shop equipment since my high school days, I was able to successfully and safely navigate the table saw all day, with only one defect: the final piece we needed got a chunk taken out of it, so we had to substitute several smaller pieces instead.  This was the most painstaking part of the project, because we had to cut out a rectangular opening for the floor vent.  The small gap beneath the vent opening is the last piece we put in; there are two small pieces immediately beneath the vent (in the center and on the right).  The final pieceThe long piece along the top of the vent is connected to the tile on its left; you may be able to see a tiny gap at the right end of the long narrow piece and the tile to its right.  We put the final small piece in place, and it looked pretty close to perfect.

At long last, we put the air vent cover in place, and stepped back.  It looked… right.  It looked like we’d hoped it would.  Completed ventAnd even the hairline gaps between these carefully cut-out and squeezed-into-place pieces looked natural, like part of the cork tile pattern.  All in all, the long and exhausting day was a win.

So, it was a rewarding endeavor, a tiring day, and we got our taxes done in the middle of it.  And we celebrated with some local delicious Mexican food.  With meat.  (We’re not eating meat during all — well, mostly all — of Lent.  Yesterday was a cause for some celebration.)

And, no offense to abba Moses or abba Silvanus, but I’d rather not have to lay this sort of foundation every day, let alone every moment.  I’ll stick to the spiritual foundations!

Completed floor