Reviews of Theology, Broadly Understood

Friday, July 8, 2016

From "What Are These Wounds?" (1948)

 

“St. Lutgarde began to consider what attention she was giving the Office and came to the conclusion that she was obliged to get through the hours without ever averting her mind from her prayer, whether willingly or unwillingly, and no matter whether the thought that came to her was holy or unholy. She simply determined that she was going to think of nothing but the words of the psalms, and what they signified, and of god in whose presence she stood. Nothing else. Of course, she soon discovered that this was impossible. At the same time, she jumped to the conclusion that her distractions made her office worthless. Soon she was saying most of her Office two or three times every day. There is probably almost as much glee in hell over this sort of thing as there is over grave sin, simply because of the sad consequences to which it can lead.”  (p. 45)

 
“It is clear, then, how insidious and terrible is the danger of a doctrine that would have us put Christ and His Passion out of our minds, forget Him and His saints and His Blessed Mother, cease to reflect upon the greatness and goodness of God, upon the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us, and if we receive the sacraments at all, receive them in a state of spiritual coma, without recognition, without love, without response.” (p. 94)

 
“The main thing is to establish contact with God by loving faith. This implies at least enough awareness for the mind to be alive to the presence of God, and to the nearness of Jesus to our souls, and whatever keeps that awareness fresh in our hearts must be sought and encouraged. Hence, we must love the Holy Scriptures, and read them assiduously. We must keep immersed in the liturgy, and remain close to the tabernacle. Above all, we must faithfully and constantly strive to improve the quality of our participation in the infinitely holy and powerful Sacrifice of the Mass. All these will have the effect of keeping the humanity of Jesus before our eyes, and close to our hearts, if we only take advantage of them.” (p. 95)

 
“This is an indication of the importance of prayer in the life of the Church; active works, without the divine graces which only prayer and penance can obtain, are doomed to sterility and failure.” (p. 148)

In re: St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde:

“Their mystical writings represent the full flowering of that allegorical characteristic of the High Middle Ages. Their ideas and images are complex, vivid, and, at times, lavish, gorgeous, dazzling. Both of these saints did more than merely follow the liturgy; they exploited it to the full. There was not a mass, not an Office in the whole liturgical year, whose treasures had not been ransacked by these two immensely gifted saints.”  (p. 154)

 “One of St. Bernard’s most characteristic themes is his insistence that God only appears not to hear our prayers in order to stir us up to pray with all the more fervor and love.” (p. 168)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Merton & Waugh: A Monk, A Crusty Old Man, and The Seven Storey Mountain


This 155 page collection of 19 letters between the two writers, Trappist monk Thomas Merton (signed Fr. M. Louis, O.C. R. in 13 of his letters; O.C.S.O. in only one, simply Fr. M. Louis in two) and Evelyn Waugh over a nearly four year period (July 1948-February 1952) assembled by Mary Frances Coady is a fast, enjoyable read. 

Some of the fun lies in imagining these two literary titans processing each other’s letters (13 from Merton to Waugh, 6 from Waugh to Merton) as they formulate a response. As readers we have the advantage of knowing certain outcomes, for example, the final, and much-shortened, edit by Waugh of the English (British) version of The Seven Storey Mountain (renamed Elected Silence). 

We should keep in mind the ages of the men when these letters were written. Waugh (b. 1903) was 12 years Merton’s senior (b. 1915), so while Waugh was in his mid-forties, Merton was in his mid-thirties at the time. Anyone interested in getting to know Merton-the-younger will like this book. There are similarities to consider. Both men were converts to Catholicism in their twenties - Waugh in 1930 at age 27, and Merton in 1938 at age 23. Both men had a decade of adult Catholicism under their belts. 

One can read in Merton’s correspondence (that he may be star-struck of Waugh) a felt-need for a literary mentor. There is also, at times, an underlying need for acceptance, and to please, i.e., he goes to great lengths in more than one letter to apologize for his biography of St. Lutgarde, What Are These Wounds 

The correspondence is started by Merton, and in Waugh’s replies he does not hesitate to offer mentor-like criticism, advice and the sending of books. Merton, for his part, often appears to be offering spiritual direction, most often in closing his letters, sending prayers and offering suggestions. 

After his 1949 ordination, Merton reminds Waugh many times that he is praying for him: “I remember you at Mass,” and recommends Waugh pray the Rosary, “Say some Rosaries too, if Our Lady inspires you, it is healthy.” Merton also asks Waugh, “Pray for me too, please.” On One occasion Waugh does ask “Please pray for me,”, but other than that Waugh’s letters are very business-like. 

Of interest to me was how each writer signed off on his correspondence. Merton used the following: 

In Corde Christi (4 times)
In Corde Jesu (3 times)
Sincerely, in Corde Christi (twice)
In Corde Domino
Yours in Corde Jesu Christi
Sincerely Yours in Christ
In Christo Domino
Yours in Corde Christi
Yours ever in Christ
Sincerely in Christ 

And Waugh, for his part, signing his letters: 

Yours sincerely
Yours very sincerely
Yours ever (3)
Ever yours very sincerely 

Lawrence Cunningham is quoted on the dust jacket, “This careful study is also an interesting snapshot of the culture of the mid-twentieth-century Catholicism.”

To some extent that is true, but Coady does not develop this much, so perhaps less than a snapshot but rather a cursory glance. 

There was however considerable discussion on Waugh’s assignment (including his alcohol-fueled tour of the country)  from Time magazine to write an article  on contemporary American Catholicism -  but for a true snapshot – or at least Merton’s vision - of mid-twentieth-century American Catholicism, I turned to Merton’s journal entry for September 13, 1948: 

“…it seems he (Waugh) is going to do a feature for Life on the Church in America. The idea seems to be that there is a great Catholic revival in this country and that the future of the Church depends on us. 

“That is all news to me. If we are supposed to be reviving, where are our saints? Who keeps fasts of the Church? Who does any penance? Where is the poverty of religious? And what about our comfortable, well-fed easy going priesthood? What about the stuffiness that pervades the whole self-satisfied atmosphere of American Catholicism? When we have had something to suffer, we might do something for the world.” 

That’s some indictment, and from the guy (Merton) who less than a year previous, in the same journal (November 23, 1947) took to task Fr. John  Hugo, “one of Lacouture’s gang.” Hugo happened to visiting the Abbey at the time: “…it seems they (Lacouture and Hugo and ‘the detachers’) say you priests specifically must give up so much smoking and drinking specifically, and don’t stuff yourselves with so much food and desert. This makes everybody sorrowful because they really like cigarettes, pies, etc.”  

Interesting stuff and interesting times, made much more interesting by the likes of Merton & Waugh.  

In the epilogue Coady writes, “Had the two been young men together, callow and self-indulgent in their view of the modern world, yet insightful critics, and above all, creative artists hungry for the things of God, they might have become long-lasting friends.”  

Or, as I imagine, at least good drinking buddies.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Pope Francis to the U.S. Congress 9/24/2015





"Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions."

Sunday, April 3, 2016




If you seek a heavenly light
Thomas Merton

If you seek a heavenly light
I, Solitude, am your professor!
I go before you into emptiness,
Raise strange suns for your new mornings,
Opening the windows
Of your innermost apartment.
When I, loneliness, give my special signal
Follow my silence, follow where I beckon!
Fear not, little beast, little spirit
(Thou word and animal)
I, Solitude, am angel
And have prayed in your name.
Look at the empty, wealthy night
The pilgrim moon!
I am the appointed hour,
The “now” that cuts
Time like a blade.
I am the unexpected flash
Beyond “yes,” beyond “no,”
The forerunner of the Word of God.
Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers:
For I, Solitude, am thine own self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen!

 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Guest Blogger, C. Henri Maurice on the apostle/apostolate


“For him, nothing is trivial; a service rendered, an opportune visit, a greeting, a handshake, anything is useful, he makes everything serve his zeal. It is not given to all to perform brilliant acts, but there is no one who is unable to desire ardently the glory of God, to think of it constantly and to refer everything to this end. By self-multiplication, microscopic cells build up powerful organisms; thus the accumulation of infinitely tiny acts of the apostolate builds up the City of God. The share of each worker seems insignificant, even negligible; but the concerted efforts of myriads of hidden apostles produce magnificent results.”

 

By C. Henri Morice, in The Mother of Jesus, trans. By. Clara M. Sand, RSCJ, 1940 (pp.45-46).

Monday, February 25, 2013


"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can."

Thomas Merton, Letter to Dorothy Day, quoted in Catholic Voices in a World on Fire (2005) by Stephen Hand, p. 180

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Guest Blogger, Asher Lev

"We have our faith. We have our work. Our work is to bring God into this world. Look at what has been done to this world in this godless century. It is a horror. Our task is to redeem this horror. We cannot redeem it by offering ambiguity."

-spoken by Asher Lev, p. 343, in The Giff of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok