When we look back on the past, it is sometimes tempting to think of historical events as having a certain inevitability: because they happened in the way they did, it was necessary that they happen in such a way. With the aid of hindsight, we can discern how certain cultural movements or personalities influenced particular events or individuals and draw out connections and causalities that may even have been latent at the time. In itself, this can be a useful and fruitful exercise, especially when we consider the providential hand of God who is able to draw good even out of the evil actions of men.
Pope Francis is a master of understatement: ”He always does a nice job, the Holy Spirit, throughout history.”
In his recent homily for the memorial of St. Athanasius, Pope Francis spoke about the role of the Holy Spirit in fostering harmony in the Church. In the context of the dispute among the early Christians as to whether Gentile converts should be held to the observance of the Jewish law, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle James, bishop of Jerusalem, to speak in such a way that the dispute was settled (cf. Acts 15:7-21). As the apostles themselves described their consensus, “‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities” (Acts 15:28). As Pope Francis preached, “The Holy Spirit had … to foster harmony among these positions, the harmony of the Church, among them in Jerusalem, and between them and the pagans. He always does a nice job, the Holy Spirit, throughout history. And when we do not let Him work, the divisions in the Church begin, the sects, all of these things … because we are closed to the truth of the Spirit.”
The Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ was founded by a group of fourteen sisters from Union City, NJ on October 2, 1919. The following spring, a group of pilgrims from a nearby place spontaneously asked to make a pilgrimage to the new monastery in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, and over the following years, the monastery became a well-known pilgrimage destination, receiving the name “Rosary Shrine”. Established with the mission of praying without ceasing, especially through the Rosary, in 1926 the monastery also established the practice of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. After the nuns initially occupied an existing mansion creatively adapted to serve as a house of the Lord’s praise, the present monastery was completed in 1939. Situated on the top of a hill in Summit, a town so named on account of its elevation with respect to the surrounding suburbia, the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary is a center of prayer and peace within New Jersey.
“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.” With these words from an ancient homily, the Church commemorates the strange silence of Holy Saturday each year at the Office of Readings and articulates the mixed emotions that greet each Christian: the Lord is in the tomb, which fills us with sorrow, and yet we are full of hope that He will soon arise. Our trust in his Resurrection assures us that, after our own death, he will repeat with new meaning his invitation to the disciples at the Last Supper: “Arise, let us be on our way” (Jn 14:31). But for now, just as we have to endure the trials of this present life, so too we must liturgically and emotionally contend with the absence of Christ, buried in the tomb.
I once heard it suggested that there’s a sort of joke hidden in the Latin original of the Summa Theologiae that didn’t make it into the commonly used English translation: “the proof from authority is the weakest form of proof,” we read in the Benziger edition (I.1.8.2us), and yet we don’t see the words that follow in the Latin text: “secundum Boëtium.” In the original Latin, you see, Thomas argues that the argument from authority is the weakest form of argument on the basis of the authority of Boethius.
While we may certainly savor the irony, two things should be pointed out so as to grasp the real meaning of this assertion.
One dichotomy that runs through much of life is that between theory and practice. In schools of music, for instance, there is often a divide between the “performance” faculty and those who are focused on the more esoteric disciplines of music theory or musicology. We’ve all heard the old chestnut, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” We might also think of that phrase that always frustrates teenagers who hunger and thirst for righteousness: “Do as I say, not as I do.”
One of the paradoxes of assisting as a musician or singer at the liturgy is that an individual may be tempted to congratulate himself for accomplishing a task that is principally aimed at glorifying God. Musical excellence, after all, requires not only talent, but also serious effort. It is understandable that as we are more conscious of the effort we expend in preparation for the liturgy, we can at times forget about the foundational talents we have received from the Lord. Without the gift of a musical ear or a pleasant voice, no amount of effort will allow an individual to mount the heights of artistic excellence. Who can but pity the proud cantor who, descending from the ambo after intoning Psalm 115, murmurs to herself, “How well I have sung!”
In the Parable of the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16), there are some who join the harvest at the eleventh hour and others work from dawn to dusk. At the end of the day, both receive the same wage. Likewise, in the ministerial life of priests and religious, there are those who find their vocation as mature adults, and there are others who offer their first fruits to the Lord as young men and women. Through the mystery of providence, people of vastly differing age, experience, and culture are often called to be contemporaries in formation. They have answered the Lord’s call at different moments in the stories of their lives, some as innocent youths and others as aged penitents. In this context, the parable helps to remind us that the young man should not glory in his innocence, nor the old man in his experience. At the end of the day, both will receive the same reward.
Pope St. Gregory the Great was renowned for being so humble that he would not allow anyone to compliment him. On one occasion, he chided a correspondent for his fulsome praise: “When in writing to me you match the name to the thing and put forth resounding statements and rhetorical touches in my regard, surely, dearest brother, you are calling the monkey a lion, which we are seen to do when we call mangy kittens leopards or tigers.”
When I was in college I often took delight in the Letters to the Editor of the student newspaper. It was like a circus of the absurd: in the left circle, the freshman, full of sound and fury, who has just realized that the dining hall will not be serving meat on the Fridays of Lent; in the right circle, the alumnus who is inexplicably still concerned about the daily affairs of an institution he has long since left; and, center stage, well worth the price of admission, the graduate student. In a way, one could forgive the freshman his zeal or the alumnus his nostalgia—but the graduate student? Shouldn’t he be above this sort of thing?
There was one graduate student whose letters were particularly delightful.