The Witness of Blood

My brother Benedict sent me his translation of an article by a Muslim, Wael Farouq, strongly moved by the witness of the Christian martyrs of recent months:

Some, climbing to heaven, have left their bodies hanging from crosses; others left their hearts at their homes and have went away, they have chosen hunger, thirst, tears as their companions and have fled. All of them could have escaped these agonies, a few words would have sufficed to renounce their faith and there life would have been spared. But they were given a choice and they chose: they renounced life to choose eternity, they renounced lies to choose truth.  They have offered to all believers a witness steeped in agony testifying that a life without faith is not worth living. In an age of doubt, of uncertainty, of nihilism they have chosen to become incarnate signs of certainty. What is happening in Iraq, in Syria, in the Holly Land is not a crime with inhuman assassins as its protagonists. It is a heroic epic with tens of thousands of common people, people like you and I; tens of thousands who have chosen to abandon all their goods for the sake of spiritual freedom; tens of thousands of people like you and I who have demonstrated that the person is more powerful than power. Faced with this testimony I would like to say to the Holy Father Francis that I along with millions of Muslims pray together with him, trusting that the Good and Merciful God who loves His children will hear his prayer and will answer it. I would like to tell him that we will not be moved by those who are moved by vengeance and who prepare the ground for a great war in the name of religion.

We will not defend those who have lost their lives for their own faith by renouncing our own faith. We will not renounce our faith in peace, we will not renounce our faith in love.

I wish to tell the Holy Father that I and the millions of Muslims who have changed their profile picture on the social media sites, replacing them, in solidarity with the Christians, with the letter N, which stands for Nazarene; that I and the Muslims that went to the streets to defend with our own bodies the Coptic churches from the extremists; that I and all the learned Muslims who have condemned the acts of that gang of terrorists, renouncing them (going so far that the Saudi Mufti known for his orthodoxy called them the number one enemy of Islam) furthermore without finding any western media that would publish this our renunciation; that I and the intellectuals who have written thousands of articles in order to condemn these crimes, that I and the thousands of Sunni, Shia, Yazidi, and secular victims, that we, thank him for having given us a place in his prayers for all of the victims. (Original: Esteri)

10 questions

I have long enjoyed reading and arguing with the “Ochlophobist.” Though we often disagree, I find him one of the most consistently thought provoking bloggers. So, am pleased to be included in his 10 questions series. In Q 8 I refer to “Antigone’s penultimate speech.” But I really meant the parts of her last speeches that John Francis Nieto translated and used as the first part of his “Fugue” in GlossaeI looked it up, and it is actually mostly from her antepenultimate speech. Here is Nieto’s translation:

Unwept. Unloved. Unwed,
And led, weary within,
Down the ready road.
Never to see the sun’s
Sacred eye—my doom.
This fate unwept.
No lover mourns.

Tomb, Bridal. Cavernous
Home, everwatching, I am coming
And to my own, whose number,
Great among the dead, added,
As they went down, to Persephone.
Last, I go down worst,
Before my lot of living is run out.
I yet feed strong hope:
To come dear to my father,
Held dear by you, mother,
Dear to you, born from one womb.

This hand washed each
As you died, pouring
Over tombs fit libations.
Now, big scrapper, such
Rewards covering your corpse.

Yet to those thinking right
I but honored you. No way,
Was I a mother of children,
Not if my dead husband lay
Wasting, would I bear such
Burden, against the city’s might.
Shall I say what law lets me?
Another husband for the dead one,
And a son got of someone else,
But, mother and father hidden in hell,
No brother will ever blossom.
By such law I honor you above all,
To Creon seeming to sin, to dare
Horrors, dear brother of one womb.

And now he leads me by the hand,
Taking me like this. Unbedded, unwed,
No share of marriage, no suckling
Of children, but so, abandoned
By friends, unfortunate, living
I come to the grave of the dead,
Overstepping what divine law?
Need I look longer to the gods?
Which shall I call, a comrade?

Impious I am by piety.

Solemn Vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Feast of St Bernard

Yesterday was the Feast of our Holy Father St. Bernard. Two of my confrères took final vows.

I described the rite of solemn profession of vows on an earlier occasion as follows:

The ceremony for solemn vows follows more or less the outline described by St Benedict in the Rule, and is marked by St Benedict’s Roman sobriety. After the gospel the candidates prostrate themselves before the Abbot, who asks: Quid pétitis? They respond Misericórdiam Dei et Ordinis. The abbot then tells them to arise and preaches a sermon, sitting on the faldstool with the candidates standing in front of him. Then comes the feudal “homagium,” in which the candidates lay their hands in the abbot’s and promise him and his successors obedience according to the Rule of St Benedict “usque ad mortem.” Then every one kneels down and the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. Then come the actual vows. The candidates read out the vows of stability, conversion of morals and obedience, which they have written by hand on parchment. They then sign the vow charts on the altar. The charts remain on the altar and are offered to God together with the gifts of the Mass. After signing the vows they sing Súscipe me, Dómine, secúndum elóquium tuum et vívam; † et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea three times. They then kneel down in front of each and every monk in the community, saying Ora pro me Pater, to which the monks reply Dóminus custódiat intróitum tuum et éxitum tuum. While this is going on cantors sing the Miserere. Then the newly professed monks are then blessed with an extraordinary three part prayer, addressed to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity in turn. They are then clothed in the cowl and the Mass proceeds.

Photos: Stift Heiligenkreuz


“The man who loves God above all else and with his whole being”


Da mihi hominem, qui ante omnia quidem ex toto se diligat Deum; se vero et proximum, in quantum diligunt ipsum; inimicum autem, tanquam aliquando forsitan dilecturum; porro parentes carnis suae germanius, propter naturam; spirituales vero eruditores suos profusius, propter gratiam; atque in hunc modum ad caetera quaeque Dei ordinato intendat amore, despiciens terram, suspiciens coelum, utens hoc mundo tanquam non utens, et inter utenda et fruenda intimo quodam mentis sapore discernens, ut transitoria transitorie, et ad id duntaxat quod opus, et prout opus est curet, aeterna desiderio amplectatur aeterno: talem, inquam, da mihi hominem, et ego audacter illum sapientem pronuntio, cui nimirum quaeque res revera sapiunt prout sunt, et cui in veritate atque securitate competit gloriari, et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Sed ubi ille, aut quando ista? Quod flens dico, quousque odoramus, et non gustamus, prospicientes patriam, et non apprehendentes, suspirantes, et de longe salutantes? O veritas exsulum patria, exsilii finis? video te, sed intrare non sinor carne retentus, sed nec dignus admitti, peccatis sordens. O Sapientia, quae attingis a fine usque ad finem fortiter in instituendis et continendis rebus; et disponis omnia suaviter in beandis et ordinandis affectibus! dirige actus nostros, prout nostra temporalis necessitas poscit; et dispone affectus nostros, prout tua veritas aeterna requirit, ut possit unusquisque nostrum secure in te gloriari et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Tu es enim Dei virtus et A Dei sapientia, Christus sponsus Ecclesiae, Dominus noster, super omnia Deus benedictus in saecula. Amen.

(Give me the man who loves God above all else and with his whole being; who loves himself and his neighbour in the measure in which they both love God; his enemy as one who will perhaps one day love God; his natural parents tenderly as nature prompts, his spiritual parents – namely his teachers – unreservedly as gratitude requires. And in this way he reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love, looking down on the earth and up to heaven, dealing with this world as though uninvolved, and distinguishing with an inward refinement of the soul between what is to be merely employed and what enjoyed, paying passing attention to the transient, and that only as need requires, while embracing all things eternal with a desire that never flags. Give me, I say, a man like that and I dare to proclaim him wise. Such a man takes all things as they really are, and is able with truth and confidence to boast: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ But where is such a man and when shall these things be? Weeping, I ask: how long shall we have the fragrance without the savour. we who glimpse our heavenly home from an unapproachable distance and are left sighing for it and hailing it from afar? O Truth, homeland of wanderers and the end of exile! I see you, and yet, detained still in the body, I may not enter in, nor am I worthy of admittance, grimed as I am with sin. O Wisdom, you who span the universe with power, beginning and preservation of all that is,  you who order our affections without coercion, distilling your blessing, so govern our acts that our present obligations are discharged, and dispose our affections to reflect the etemal values of your truth, so that each one of us may safely glory in you and say: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ For you, O Christ, are the power and wisdom of God, the Bridegroom of the Church, our Lord and God blessed for ever more. Amen. (St Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica Canticorum, Sermo 50; trans. Pauline Matarasso))

The Our Father and Spiritual Exercises

I recently preached a retreat on the Our Father, and it struck me again how the order of the Our Father is virtually the opposite of that of St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. St Ignatius has one begin by considering one’s sins, and ends with a contemplation of God’s love, whereas the Our Father begins with the Father in heaven and ends with ‘deliver us from evil.’

In his division of the Our Father, St Thomas poses the following objection: “Further, one must withdraw from evil before attaining good. Therefore it seems unfitting for the petitions relating to the attainment of good to be set forth before those relating to the removal of evil.” This could be taken as a positive argument for the order of the Exercises. St Thomas replies as follows:

Since prayer is the interpreter of desire, the order of the petitions corresponds with the order, not of execution, but of desire or intention, where the end precedes the things that are directed to the end, and attainment of good precedes removal of evil.

Thus in the body of the article St Thomas argues that the Our Father looks first to God as final end,

first, by our willing the glory of God [hallowed be Thy name], secondly, by willing to enjoy His glory [Thy kingdom come]. The first belongs to the love whereby we love God in Himself, while the second belongs to the love whereby we love ourselves in God.

Then we pray for that which is immediately ordered to the end, namely that we do God’s will. Then for the things instrumentally ordered to attaining the end (daily bread). And then finally for the removal of sin, temptation, and all evils which hinder us from the perfect possession of the end.

St Ignatius was a man of action, and it makes sense that he takes the opposite order. Nevertheless, before beginning the first exercise he puts “The Principle and Foundation,” which is about the final end.


David Foster Wallace on Anamnesis

This had been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions […] That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense. (Infinite Jest, p. 1053, note 281).

I think this a marvelous description of what I have called nostalgia, the condition for the sense of recollection of amnamnesis when one then meets the somebody one has not yet met.

“The confessor should never worry about those waiting in line for confessions”


From a translation of selections from the Praxis Confessarii of St Alphonsus Liguori:

To be able to prescribe the right remedy to his penitent’s spiritual sickness, the confessor must know its origin and cause. Some confessors ask for nothing more than the number and the species of the sins. As soon as they are convinced that the penitent is disposed, they send him away almost without a word.

A good confessor acts very differently. First he investigates to find out how the sickness started and how grave it has become. He asks if there is a habit of sin, if there are occasions – some time or place or persons or circumstances that provoke him to sin. In this way, he can do a better job of correcting the penitent, of disposing him for absolution, and of giving him profitable remedies for correcting his sins.

Next he makes the pertinent observations. Even though he should treat his penitents as a loving father, still as a doctor he is bound, when it is necessary, to warn and to correct them. This is especially necessary in the case of the very sinful who seldom come to confession. He should warn and correct everyone who needs it, without respect of persons. It makes no difference whether he be priest or prelate, governor or elite, as long as he has confessed with little evidence of sorrow. Pope Benedict XIV compares the words of the confessor to those of the preacher: “The confessor’s warnings are much more effective than those of the preacher, for he knows the case in question and the preacher does not. For this reason, he can make more pertinent warnings and prescribe remedies which fit this particular sin.”

The confessor should never worry about the ones waiting in line for confessions. As St. Francis Xavier said, it is better to hear a few confessions well than to hear many which bear little fruit. Confessors sin if they come across an indisposed penitent and immediately tell him to leave the confessional, for fear of wasting time with him. Learned theologians have said that, when a penitent comes indisposed, the confessor is obliged as far as possible to dispose him for absolution. To do this, he could tell the penitent, for example, how much his sin’s have offended God, how great is his danger of being condemned to hell, and so forth. And it makes little difference if others are waiting or even if they leave without going to confession, for the confessor is responsible not for them, but for the one who is here and now in the confessional.

The confessor is also obliged to instruct the penitent if he is culpably ignorant of any point of natural or positive law. If he is inculpably ignorant, it depends. If he is inculpably ignorant of something necessary for salvation, then the confessor is obliged to instruct him. If he is inculpably ignorant of some other matter (of which he can be ignorant) – even something of the divine law, the confessor should prudently decide whether the instruction will be profitable for the penitent. If it will not be profitable, he should not make the correction, but rather leave him in good faith. The reason is: the danger of formal sin is a much more serious thing than material sin. God punishes formal sin, for that alone is what offends Him. This I proved more sufficiently in my Moral Theology. [...]

When the penitent’s ignorance redounds to the harm of the common good. The confessor is a defender of the good of society and he is bound to prefer the public good to the private good of his penitent, even when he realizes that the correction will be useless. Consequently, he must always instruct rulers, confessors, prelates, and parish priests who are neglecting their obligations, because ignorance in these men – even if it is invincible – will always hurt society. People will see what they are doing and consider it all right to imitate them.


Plutarch on Freedom

Now absence of control, which some of the young men, for want of education, think to be freedom, establishes the sway of a set of masters, harsher than the teachers and attendants of childhood, in the form of the desires, which are now, as it were, unchained. [...] But you have often heard that to follow God and to obey reason are the same thing, and so I ask you to believe that in persons of good sense the passing from childhood to manhood is not a casting off of control, but a recasting of the controlling agent, since instead of some hired person or slave purchased with money they now take as the divine guide of their life reason, whose followers alone may deservedly be considered free. For they alone, having learned to wish for what they ought, live as they wish; but in untrained and irrational impulses and actions there is something ignoble, and changing one’s mind many times involves but little freedom of will. (On Listening to Lectures, 1)