Friday, August 19, 2005

St. Bernard of Clairvaux
What else is achieved by meditating on such great and so undeserved mercy, such gratuitous and so proved a love, such unexpected condescension, undaunted mildness, and astonishing kindness? ... Then the bride surely runs more eagerly in the odor of [these qualities'] perfumes. She loves ardently, yet even when she finds herself completely in love, she thinks she loves too little because she is loved so much. Nor is she wrong. What can requite so deep a love by so great a lover? It is as if a tiny grain of dust were to gather all its strength to render an equal love to the Divine Majesty who anticipates its affection and is seen entirely bent on saving it.
--St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pilgrims from Belgium Arrive in Cologne
Monks from Brazil
Nuns from North Dakota
Pilgrims from Angola
Punks for the Pope

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Going Public

As of today, I will be passing on my blog's address to other friends outside HFH. There doesn't seem to be a problem with private information in the comments. I do ask that visitors who are not members of Holy Family Homeschoolers respect that the Patristics Reading Group posts are meant as a forum for discussion by those who are reading the Church Fathers together with Quasten's Patrology, and while anyone may contribute to the discussion, those posts are not the place for confrontation or for criticism of Catholic doctrine or practice. Inappropriate comments will be deleted mercilessly. In all other comments, I ask only that the ordinary rules of civility and polite society be followed; no exceptions will be made for those who had the misfortune to be born in a barn or raised on a desert island.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Manx Kitties Here are that pair of sweet little manx kitties hoping for adoption. See how mama, realizing someone is looking at her, makes those starfish happy-paws. You just know those kittens have the same adorable temperament. And you can see for yourself how pretty they are.

The kittens will be weaned around the end of September, and if someone would like to go down to Texas City with me the first weekend of October, they would be very happy to have a new family. Their odds for adoption in Texas City seem much less than in our own fair city; one reason I'm pushing so hard for someone to take them.

EDIT: Here's the website for the shelter, for anyone who's interested in adopting one of their lovely critters.

UPDATE: Wydell Dixon, who runs the shelter, will be driving up north at the end of September, and has offered to bring mama cat up with her. She is willing to bring the kittens also if someone here wanted to adopt them. So if you're interested and it's just the road trip putting you off, please contact Wydell at 409-948-1112 and let her know.

Friday, August 12, 2005

2 Retro 2 B 4gottenCheck these out. Catholic comics from the forties and fifties, archived for posterity by CUA. Just ... can't ... stop ... reading ... them. Now if only Pauline Press would re-release more than a handful of their great line of saints comics (or someone who had them just lying around would sell them to me...).
Second Reading

Here we go with the next reading, St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians. This is Clement of Rome, the one who's mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer (the Roman Canon); don't confuse him with Clement of Alexandria.

St. Clement had a second epistle attributed to him, which has since been recognized as spurious (and which we won't be reading). This might be a good time to talk a little about spurious and apocryphal writings. Many assume that "spurious" equals "fraudulent" and imagine some medieval monk forging documents by candlelight. Certainly there are forgeries--the Donation of Constantine will forever remain a staple of anti-Catholic rhetoric--but often a spurious document is simply a matter of mistaken attribution. Such is the case with Clement's second epistle; it's apparently a homily that was thought by early Christians to have been written by St. Clement, but has since been shown to be by a different and unknown author. Nobody faked it; it's just that we don't know who it's by. If you're reading fast and want something extra, go ahead and read it. Guilt-free.
An Actual Post on Homeschooling

Yahmdallah is a friend whom I once hung out with on Delphi's religions discussion forums, and who was kind enough some months back to invite me to opine at length regarding the election of Josef Cardinal Ratzinger.

My. Three hyperlinks in one sentence. I'm starting to get the hang of this.

Anyway, he has many informed opinions on books and movies, and a post up right now on Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Which put me in mind of the only Stephenson book I ever read, on the recommendation of my dear husband (whom we shall call on this blog by his internet username, Eudoxus): The Diamond Age, Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. It's not the greatest work of literature, and in fact becomes simply unreadable about two-thirds of the way through (besides containing an off-putting amount of plot-irrelevant pornographic content). But I read it near the beginning of my life as a Homeschooling Mom, and found Stephenson to be amazingly on-target about the personal and cultural reasons Eudoxus and I had for teaching our child ourselves. The Christian homeschooling movement seemed to have no points of recognizability for us; and John Holt always leaves me thinking this is all the stuff that messed up the schools in the first place, isn't it? But Stephenson comes scarily close to getting it right.

The Diamond Age is set in a near-future Shanghai in which society is divided into multiple strata called "claves." One of these is a group called the Neo-Victorians, the leader of which has created a sort of e-book which acts as a complete library and tutorial, guided by a hidden instructor who, together with the book's adaptable AI, provides a personalized classical/liberal arts education to the young reader. This book falls into the hands of a young girl with the Dickensian name of Nell living in the chaotic underclass dominated by easy consumerism (a Startrekky replicator acts as a sort of in-home WalMart), horrifically invasive advertising, a completely broken-down social order and family structure (her home hosts a parade of abusive "fathers"), and proves to be the salvation of the young girl. Eventually she discovers the Neo-Victorians, and learns that rather than being the enclave of elitist, nostalgic reactionaries their name and reputation might suggest, they have withdrawn instead in an attempt to recreate a new society in which self-control, education, and resistance to high-tech materialism allow genuine freedom.

This freedom is the "liberal" in liberal arts, the education once reserved only for the wealthy but which it was Thomas Jefferson's dream that it be made available to all citizens. Jefferson's educational vision never came into full bloom, in great part because of the dominance of progressivist educational theories in the early decades of the twentieth century (see Diane Ravitch's painstakingly researched Left Back for a detailed history of American educational theories). This progressivism played into the regrettable anti-intellectual currents of American culture that spurned book-larnin' and venerated 'practical knowledge' and native know-how. Stephenson shows a society in which practical technical knowledge has eradicated privacy and critical thought, and young people's native know-how enculturates them into casually criminal lives and early death (Nell's older brother being the exemplar).

Just how truly Gen-X Stephenson's thoughts are can be seen by the change going on in homeschooling theory. Ten years ago, when Offspring #1 was born and I first started thinking seriously about matters of education, the homeschooling cultural landscape was bifurcated. There were the Christian homeschoolers, the evangelicals and fundamentalists who were already culturally committed to some degree of separatism, and who had been running their own schools for years. And there were the unschoolers, the disciples of John Holt, who believed a hundred years of progressivist reform had failed, that schools were structurally incapable of true progressivism, and that the only solution was withdrawal from an unreformable system. Other groups (such as Catholic homeschoolers) were too small and lacking in a unifying educational ideology to have a cultural presence.

Today there is a rapidly increasing group calling themselves "classical homeschoolers," of which (full disclosure) I consider myself to be part. Our vision for education and culture, while often regrettably foggy, greatly resembles Stephenson's Neo-Victorianism, which in turn resembles not so much Victorian England but rather Jefferson's vision for an educated populace. The popularity of The Well-Trained Mind arose from its tapping into this often-incoherent longing for some other way of living with and educating one's children; and despite the myriad shortcomings of that book (that's a post for another day), it offered something beyond retreaded progressivism and religious separatism and has struck a chord with the Gen-X generation of young parents who desperately want something better for their children than the feral consumerist techno-dystopia they see becoming American child-culture.

Are we Neo-Victorians? We'd sure like to be. Stephenson offers a tantalizing reflection of our fears and aspirations. Whether something will come of this new movement, or whether it, like the post-Boomer generation, will simply be a demographic blip, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

It took a minute of staring at the calendar for me to remember who this saint is: Edith Stein. There is an good post on St. Teresa Benedicta, murdered by the Nazis, at Sacramentum Vitae.

Monday, August 08, 2005

More Quasten on the Didache

"The rules of morality are set forth by means of a description of two ways, that of good and that of evil.... This two-way device, which here becomes a basic method of training catechumens, bears the stamp of a time-honored Greek concept. It was used in Hellenistic synagogues to instruct proselytes.

"According to [the Didache], baptism by immersion in running water, namely in rivers and springs, was the customary manner of administering this sacrament; baptism by infusion was sanctioned in cases of necessity. This is the sole reference from the first and second centuries regarding baptism by infusion.... The Didache contains, moreoever, an express precept enjoining fasting. Both the candidate and the minister of baptism are required to fast before the administration of the sacrament. Wednesdays and Fridays are prescribed as fixed fast days....

"The recital of the Lord's prayer three times daily is for the faithful a matter of obligation. Ch. 9 and 10 are of importance for the history of liturgy for they contain the oldest eucharistic prayers yet recorded.... The opinion advanced more than once, that we have here no specific Eucharistic prayers but simply table prayers, is untenable. The discussion of the Eucharist is closely connected with that of baptism and the two are evidently associated in the author's mind."

So what strikes me, reading this, is the extent to which we 21st century American Catholics have become almost two-tiered; those to whom these basic (to the Didache author) guidelines for Christian life are still familiar, and those to whom they seem like archaic and unfamiliar relics. Gone since the late 20th century are the expectations of universal fasting until noon on the Station Days of Wednesday and Friday, of fasting as a matter of course during Lent and before reception of sacraments. How many Catholics still pray thrice daily as a matter of habit, no matter how nominal they may be in other ways? The dawn, noontime, and evening Angelus are quaint customs; baptism is de-emphasized in the rush to assure parents that we don't regard it as "fire insurance" and it's fine to wait until you can get all the relatives together for the event.

I'm not in the ranks of those bemoaning the Second Vatican Council. In some respects, the teachings of the Didache are better respected today. The Liturgy of the Hours (breviary) is no longer the province of priests, but prayed by laity in its full form or else in shortened or adapted forms (Shorter Christian Prayer, Magnificat magazine)--an excellent development of thrice-daily prayer. Baptism by infusion is no longer sprinkling for infants, and many parishes have returned to full or partial immersion for older children and adults; again a welcome development, as the Didache makes it clear that infusion is only for the sake of necessity. Legalistic aspects of fasting and abstinence have been done away with; no more fussing over the necessity of medicine, or rainwater entering the mouth. Alternative Friday penance is permitted; a good thing for vegetarians.

But the pastoral and liturgical improvements seem more than offset by the disappearance of a common practice. What good is emphasizing the ancient practice of praying the psalms and Our Father three times a day, if nobody is doing it? The Angelus may have been too Marian for many (though the genuflection at "became flesh/ And dwelt among us" reveals the true Christocentric nature of the prayer); but at least it was once universal. Historian Eamon Duffy--hardly a reactionary conservative--has written intelligently on how the loss of a common fasting practice has gutted the meaning of the penance, which was essentially communal.

So where now? Is there any return to a broad cultural Catholicism that could recognize the teachings of the Didache, even if in a less than ideal form? Can we retain the ressourcement retrievals of a more authentic, patristically based Christian practice, without such practice being confined to ghettoes of self-described "traditional" Catholics?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"The whole world would not be enough to serve so great a guest"

My favorite image of St. Martha, whose feast day was last Friday. You can see her stomping on the dragon anywhere (more on that dragon in a minute), but here she is as she appears in Holy Scripture, preparing dinner for Jesus. And what a dinner!

St. Martha caught the Christian imagination as the chooser of the lesser vocation. In a society where many were called to be set apart for constant prayer and a life of poverty, she became a symbol of those who must go out into the world, acknowledging that their sisters (or brothers) may have chosen the "better part," and yet pursue holiness in the vocations God has called them to. Thus the medieval Martha became a wealthy noblewoman, a warrior, and a world traveler.

The Catholic worldview has always been comfortable with understanding vocations as greater and lesser, yet without finding choice of the lesser to be in any way blameworthy. After all, Christ didn't rebuke Martha for failing to choose the better part with her sister, but for trying to call Mary away from her own vocation.

Thus, following St. Paul, the consecrated life of sacrificial poverty, celibacy, and obedience is acknowledged to be greater than the married state; the cloistered contemplative life (often associated with Martha's sister Mary) better than the active; poverty better than wealth (eyes of needles, and yet St. Joseph of Arimathea); laying down the sword better than taking it up. And yet the Church acknowledges that God may call one to find sainthood in the lesser way of service. The legends that sprang up around St. Martha made her an exemplar of those who serve God and their fellow man in a way less perfect, yet still in a way of heroic perfection.

Somebody, after all, has to create the jobs, fund the charities, slay the dragons, and clean all those fish.
From that medieval classic The Golden Legend, by Jacob de Voragine:

Martha, who was Christ's hostess, was of royal lineage. Her father was named Syrus, and her mother, Eucharea. Her father was governor of Syria and many maritime lands. by inheritance through her mother she possessed three towns, namely Magdalum, and the two Bethanys, as well as parts of Jerusalem. This noble hostess waited on the Lord and wanted her sister to do likewise, because, as she saw it, the whole world would not be enough to serve so great a guest.

After the Lord's ascension, when the dispersion of the disciples occurred, Martha, with her brother Lazarus, her sister Mary Magdalene, blessed Maximinus, who had baptized the sisters and to whom the Holy Spirit had entrusted them, and many others, were put on rafts by the infidels without oars, sails, rudders, or food; but with the Lord as Pilot they made port at Marseilles. Then they went to the region around Aix and converted the local populace to the faith. Martha spoke eloquently and was gracious to all.

At that time, in the forest along the Rhone between Arles and Avignon, there was a dragon that was half animal and half fish, larger than an ox, longer than a horse, with teeth as sharp as horns and a pair of bucklers on either side of his body. This beast lurked in the river, killing all those who tried to sail by and sinking their vessels. The dragon had come from Galatia in Asia, begotten of Leviathan, an extremely ferocious water-serpent, and Onachus, an animal bred in the region of Galatia, which shoots its dung like darts at pursuers within the space of an acre: whatever this touches is burned up as by fire. The people asked Martha for help, and she went after the dragon. She found him in the forest in the act of devouring a man, sprinkled him with blessed water, and had a cross held up in front of him. The brute was subdued at once and stood still like a sheep while Martha tied him up with her girdle, and the people killed him then and there with stones and lances.

The Didache

Has everyone read at least a little of the Didache? Excellent. Here are some excerpts from Quasten:

"The complete title of this work is however: [lots of Greek words], i.e. 'The Lord's Instruction to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles'. The latter seems to have been the title by which it was originally known. The author does not reveal his name. Nevertheless, it would be rash to presume, as Duchesne suggested, that the title points to apostolic authorship. The text in no wise justifies this. This author's intention, evidently, was to give a brief summary of the doctrine of Christ as taught to the nations by the Apostles.

"Judging by the title only, one might expect the Didache to reveal the evangelical preaching of Christ, but we find it to be more on the order of a compendium of precepts of morality, of instructions on the organization of communities, and of regulations pertaining to liturgical functions; we possess here a summary of directions which offer us an excellent picture of Christian life in the second century."

More later. Any thoughts?
Please forgive the pause in posting. We had some long-term problems with our phone lines which led to chronic problems with our internet connection, finally solved by having the phone guy come put in a new line. So nice to be able to connect at better than 4.8 Kbps (not making this up), a speed at which we could send and receive e-mail (sometimes), but at which the connection would just time out whenever I tried to blog.