Wounded and Consumed

I was moved by the following words from the Holy Father’s address to the American bishops in Washington:

[W]e fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).

That is very deeply true. And it is a truth that integralists, such as I, have to be especially careful not to forget. I can say that my own limited experience as a priest has born the truth of this out: there is a strength that comes realizing one’s weakness and helplessness in the face of sorrow and pain, and offering it to God. It is often not when I have gone into a situation full of confidence, but rather when I have gone in with dread and interior resistance that have seen God at work. A while ago my godmother gave me a book by Fr. Vincent Nagle that is mostly about this strength of weakness: Life Promises LifeIt is mostly about Fr. Nagle’s experience as a hospital chaplain, and it’s a truly wonderful book. Here’s one passage that I often think of:

Something breaks open my heart again, so that I go in begging Jesus for His graces for myself. I’m there as a beggar in the first place, and therefore I’m begging with them; I go in small and vulnerable to be with them and their vulnerability. […] I’m very grateful for this job because it makes me pray. […] When people’s consciousness, including my own, is of what they’re doing and not of what God is doing, everything is confusion and uselessness. When one is habitually conscious that life is isn’t a matter of what I’m doing but of what God is doing, then there is the possibility that it isn’t against us, or at least one is anxiously looking for signs of what He is doing. If I go in without that desire, I’m there to say some words I think will give comfort. If I go into that room needy because I need to see what God is doing and participate in it, then I’m there with them and for them. (pp. 110-111).

Difficult to Coopt

Alexandre Kojève’s “Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy,” is singularly fascinating, and full of unintentional comedy. If Hilaire Belloc had been a Russian nihilist with a soft spot for Hegel he might have written something like this. My favorite part is when Kojève talks about the Catholic Church:

The political and economic investment provided by France in view of the creation of a Latin Empire cannot, and should not, occur without the support of the Catholic Church, which represents a power which is immense, although difficult to calculate and even more difficult to coopt.




One of my first acts as curate in Trumau was to celebrate the opening Mass of the school year for the International Theological Institute, which is now located in a Schloss in Trumau. My father was the founding president of the ITI. Originally it was located in a former Carthusian monastery in Gaming, in the the lime stone alps of Lower Austria. We moved to Gaming when I was 12, and for the next six years (before leaving home to go to college) I was constantly at the ITI—attending Mass and Divine liturgy, playing football with the students, going to lectures,  sitting in on classes etc. So there was a peculiar sort of home-coming feel to celebrating the opening Mass. Below is an abridged reconstruction of my sermon.

And he went down to Capharnaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon and he cried out in a great voice: Ha. What is there between us and you, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, God’s holy one. Jesus reproved him, saying: Be silent and go out from him. And the demon flung him down in their midst and came out of him, without doing him any harm. And wonder came upon all and they talked among themselves, saying: What is this speech, that in authority and power he gives orders to unclean spirits, and they come out? And the rumor of him went forth to every place in the region. (Luke 4:31-37)

It is a joy and a wonder to me to be celebrating this opening Mass of the school year at ITI. As many of you know my father was president of the ITI at the beginning, and so I was a part of this community for many years, and owe very much to it.

In the collect of this votive Mass, which we offer at the beginning of a new year of the study of theology, we pray that the Lord might make us truly wise in the Holy Spirit— recta sapere. Literally recta sapere means “to taste the right things.” But sapere is the root word of sapientia, wisdom, and so it can be translated “to be truly wise.” To be truly wise is to taste the highest truth, and to taste the right things in it. The whole purpose and final cause of theology is to attain to true wisdom: to taste the highest truth, God Himself.

The unclean spirit, who possesses one of the men in the synagogue of Capharnaum is, from one point of view, very wise, an excellent theologian: “I know you, who you are,” he says to our Lord, “God’s holy one.” And we have to agree that he is right: his Christology is entirely correct. But he does not have true wisdom. He does not taste the right things in his knowledge. He does indeed know something about our Lord, but instead of filling him with wonder and reverence, it fills him with anger and a bitter fear. The Fathers of the Church say that the demons make a show of their knowledge in order to impress their hearers, and lead them astray. This is a perennial temptation of theologians: to want to know God, not for God’s sake, but for their own glory.

The other persons in the synagogue are closer to true wisdom: they are filled with amazement and wonder at the authority with which our Lord speaks. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. The lover wisdom, Socrates tells us in the Theaetetus, must begin with wonder. If one would end in wisdom, one must begin with wonder. Wonder is a strange thing: a mixture of ignorance and knowledge, of pain and delight. Wonder is a knowledge that shows us out ignorance, and fills us with desire to know more fully. Wonder is aroused in us when we have the beginnings of the knowledge of something truly great; we are filled with delight at the greatness of the thing, and with pain at the inadequacy of our knowledge.

The knowledge of God is maximally wonderful. The more we know God, the more we realize that we are ignorant of Him. The greater the delight at His greatness, the greater the pain at how little we are able to see Him. In studying theology we see that God is not one thing among other things, but rather the reality in comparison to which all created things are mere shadows and reflections. He is an infinite ocean of being and perfection, not divided into parts or across time, but possessing Himself entirely in the indivisible instant of His eternal and unspeakable happiness. He exceeds the capacity of our minds more than the mighty ocean exceeds the capacity of a tiny bucket. But even the smallest knowledge of Him is beyond all comparison more delightful than the most comprehensive knowledge of any created thing. A teacher of mine once said that the study of theology would be unbearable if we did not have the hope of the beatific vision in Heaven, where we will see him not through thoughts and signs, but face to face as He truly is.

The great advantage of the method used at the ITI is that it helps to arouse wonder the divine Truth. To work through the great works of theology yourself, and struggle with the questions they raise— this helps to show your own ignorance, but also to begin to taste the sweetness of the truth. The seminar method can be frustrating. One can wish at times that the professor would simply present the answers in encyclopedic way— so that one could know what to think about a given topic and move on. But such an encyclopedic summary of theology would not be suited to arousing wonder, and thus it would not be likely to lead to wisdom. It would not be likely to lead to you yourselves coming to taste the right things.

My father once gave a talk to the students of the ITI in which he compared the study of theology to climbing a mountain. Before one begins the ascent, one sees the mountain from afar in all its beauty, and wants to climb to the summit. But once one begins the ascent, one no longer sees the mountain as a whole, one sees merely the rocks in from of one’s nose, and feels not amazement at the beauty of the mountain, but weariness at the difficulty of climbing. In studying theology too one can lose sight of the greatness of the divine mystery amid the laborious details of struggling through difficult arguments on seemingly dry and abstract questions. But it is worthwhile being patient climbing a mountain, and it is worthwhile being patient studying theology.

As this school year begins try to cultivate wonder at the divine mystery, and be patient with the struggles of reading and discussing difficult texts, trying to catch the taste of the divine Truth. A great help to cultivating wonder is the rich liturgical life of the ITI: the treasures of the Roman and Byzantine liturgies, which are so full of reverence, awe and wonder at the greatness of God, who created us to know Himself. “And this is the life everlasting, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.”



I was recently appointed “Kaplan” (i.e. parochial vicar, curate) of two parishes in the care of Stift Heiligenkreuz: Trumau and Pfaffstätten. I am living with the pastor in Trumau. (It is the first time in 9 years that I am living outside the monastic enclosure itself).

Between Pfaffstätten and Trumau is the town of Traiskirchen. Traiskirchen is famous for a former barracks that now houses a refugee camp— asylum seekers in Austria are first sent to Traiskirchen before being distributed to other places. Almost every day I drive right by the camp. The camp is reputed to be very badly run, and now, with the huge increase in refugees in recent months, it is hopelessly overcrowded. Many refugees sleep outside in tents, or simply on blankets on the ground. The whole town is full of them walking about, or sitting in the shade. (Take a look at a google image search). In the mornings the are lined up outside the doctor’s office and the pharmacy. There are also usually people outside the camp handing out free stuff: clothes, soap, food, etc. One of our parishes (Pfaffstätten) organizes such hand-outs. The parish of Traiskirchen itself is doing all it can to help find places for people to stay, as is the Archdiocese of Vienna. The parish priest in Traiskirchen celebrates mass in the camp, and has asked me to teach him to celebrate in English (though Arabic would be more useful). Continue reading

In an Instant

One of my favorite books is a collection of excerpts from Bl. Columba Marmion’s letters. I have been reading it again recently, and was struck again by the following passage:

If you have delayed giving yourself to Our Lord, well! repair that by giving yourself to Him now without reserve, with great fidelity and great generosity. And never fear that your past faults and infidelities will prevent you reaching the degree of union that God intends for you; in an instant He can repair all that.

neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption

I wish to follow with all my strength the lowly Jesus ; I wish Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me, to embrace me with the arms of His love, which suffered in my stead; but I must also feed on the Paschal Lamb, for unless I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood I have no life in me. It is one thing to follow Jesus, another to hold Him, another to feed on Him. To follow Him is a life-giving purpose ; to hold and embrace Him a solemn joy ; to feed on Him a blissful life. For His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed. The bread of God is He who cometh down from Heaven and giveth life to the world (S. John vi. 56, 33). What stability is there for joy, what constancy of purpose, without life ? Surely no more than for a picture without a solid basis. Similarly neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption. (St. Bernard, Letter On the Errors of Peter Abelard)


Volo totis nisibus humilem sequi Jesum; cupio eum qui dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me, quibusdam brachiis vicariae dilectionis amplecti: sed oportet me et Agnum manducare paschalem. Nisi enim manducavero carnem ejus, et bibero ejus sanguinem, non habebo vitam in memetipso. Aliud sequi Jesum, aliud tenere, aliud manducare. Sequi, salubre consilium; tenere et amplecti, solemne gaudium; manducare, vita beata. Caro enim ejus vere est cibus, et sanguis ejus vere est potus. Panis est Dei qui de coelo descendit, et dat vitam mundo (Joan. VI, 56, 33). Quis status gaudio, sive consilio, absque vita? Nempe haud alius quam picturae absque solido. Ergo nec humilitatis exempla, nec charitatis insignia, praeter redemptionis sacramentum, sunt aliquid.

Having Overcome Death

0-1 Titian Intro 35

Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages. (Munificentissimus Deus, ¶ 40)

Variations on the intuited order of things

“Our great difference from the scholastic,” William James remarks in The Will to Believe, “lies in the way we face.” That is, James thinks the scholastic faces backwards to indubitable principles of knowledge, whereas the pragmatist faces forward toward the practical results of his opinions. James might be right about some scholastics, but if he is thinking about St. Thomas he is certainly wrong. St. Thomas is not a Cartesian style rationalist, who deduces everything from certain indubitable first truths. First principles do indeed have an important place in St. Thomas’s philosophy, but not first principles in the sense of explicit propositions (‘proper conceptions’), but rather in the sense of the first movements of the intellect in which it receives the world in an indistinct, confused, but very certain manner. That is to say, philosophy begins with the things as we indistinctly know them, and it tries to come to a more distinct knowledge of them through a discourse that always looks back to the things.

As Elliot Milco shows in his brilliant thesis comparing Michel Foucault and Thomism, there is a circularity to the project of philosophy: it begins with the essence of a thing confusedly grasped, and then proceeds by investigation and comparison to return to the essence of the thing now more distinctly grasped. From this Milco concludes that St. Thomas’s does not share the main defects of Cartesian rationalism:

An investigation always grounded in the contemplation of things does not fall victim easily to Kantian fears about runaway logical deduction. If one’s philosophical investigation is always already oriented toward things, toward the disclosure of the essences of things and the adequation of thought to reality, the chances of any early errors of principle fundamentally corrupting one’s work are fairly slim. On the other hand, if one operates like Descartes, or Kant himself, and attempts, while suspending the exercise of one’s capacities as a knower of things, to describe the pure principles of thought by which knowledge is possible, then parvus error in principio will indeed, as St. Thomas says, be magnus in fine. (pp. 67-68)

A consequence that Milco draws from this is that one can freely admit the fact that one’s own approach to reality will always be influenced by cultural habits of thought that incline one to pay attention to certain aspects of things more than others. Such an admission would be fatal to an attempt to construct a complete Cartesian system of knowledge, but it is merely what is to be expected if our knowledge is posterior to things, and dependent on sense experience:

[…] the teacher cannot communicate the essences he has received directly to the minds of his students […] pedagogy directs the mind to the truth, rather than supplying its objects directly. Shifts in pedagogical order, omissions or erasures in the body of transmitted knowledge, deprive new minds of the inclination to discover certain causal connections or aspects of being which others may have found in the past. […] the history of knowledge is not analogous to the development of an individual intellect. Where the intellect always returns to possessed ideas to perfect and develop them, in history death and contingency continually intervene to mar the transmission of acquired knowledge, so that each generation tends to represent more a set of variations on the intuited order of things than the perfection of previously held knowledge. […]  to study the history of ideas would be to study the history of pedagogy and the changing forces of human society which incite us to attend to some objects and neglect others.


Seek nothing else

I sought the Lord, and He heard me. Those who are not heard are not seeking the Lord. Mark these words, holy brethren; the Psalmist did not say: “I sought gold from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought length of days from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought this or that from the Lord, and He heard me.” It is one thing to seek something from the Lord, and another to seek the Lord Himself. I sought the Lord, he says, and He heard me. But when you pray, saying: “Put that enemy of mine to death,” you are not seeking the Lord, but, so to speak, making yourself the judge over your enemy and making your God into an executioner. How do you know that he for whose death you are asking is not a better man than yourself? Perhaps from the very fact that he is not asking for yours. So do not seek anything outside the Lord, but seek the Lord Himself, and He will hear you, and even as you are yet speaking He shall say: Here I am. What is the meaning of Here I am? Behold, I am present, what do you want? What do you ask of me? Whatever I give you is of less worth than myself: take possession of my very self, enjoy me, embrace me. You are not yet wholly equal to it; lay hold of me by faith and you shall cleave to me—so God tells you—and I will relieve you of your other burdens so that you may be completely united to me, when I have changed this mortal being of yours to immortality; so that you may be equal to my angels, and may always look upon my face and rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you; for you have sought the Lord, and He has heard you and delivered you from all your afflictions. (St. Augustine on Psalm 33)

Inquisivi Dominum, et exaudivit me. Qui ergo non exaudiuntur, non Dominum quaerunt. Intendat Sanctitas vestra: non dixit: Inquisivi aurum a Domino, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino senectutem, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino hoc aut illud, et exaudivit me. Aliud est aliquid inquirere a Domino, aliud ipsum Dominum inquirere. Inquisivi, inquit, Dominum, et exaudivit me. Tu autem quando oras, et dicis: Occide illum inimicum meum; non Dominum inquiris, sed quasi facis te iudicem super inimicum tuum, et facis quaestionarium Deum tuum. Unde scis ne melior te sit cuius mortem quaeris? Eo ipso forte, quia ille non quaerit tuam. Ergo noli aliquid a Domino extra quaerere, sed ipsum Dominum quaere, et exaudiet te, et adhuc te loquente dicet: Ecce adsum. Quid est: Ecce adsum? Ecce praesens sum, quid vis, quid a me quaeris? Quidquid tibi dedero, vilius est quam ego: meipsum habe, me fruere, me amplectere: nondum potes totus; ex fide continge me, et inhaerebis mihi, (hoc tibi Deus dicit) et caetera onera tua ego a te deponam, ut totus mihi inhaereas, cum hoc mortale tuum ad immortalitatem convertero; ut sis aequalis Angelis meis, et semper videas faciem meam, et gaudeas, et gaudium tuum nemo auferet a te; quia inquisisti Dominum, et exaudivit te, et ex omnibus tribulationibus tuis eruit te. (EnPs 33)