O Holy Spirit

Blow the old man down, Wind,
sky-swimming toward the sea
into the ocean of holiness
where he suffers a sea-change
into something rich and strange
a new man born anew, god by grace

Gust away, Storm of God and send
flying my clouds of filthy earth
laying bare the bedrock of my soul
naked stone of hardened heart
and let the Sun shine
and let the rain fall
and let your wind blow
and wear it down

Rage on, Spirit flood
Flash and pound and roar
Crumble dissolve wash away
this careworn tired shack
tabernacle of selfish hues
that my heart may spring up
alive in the sunlight of God

me, just now


sinful me, clay like dough
puffed up and beaten down
rolled and flattened and kneaded
like Him, to rise again

A mysterious conversation

It was nearly a quarter of a century ago. The teenaged boy and his mother went to the newly restored Mission La Purisima near Lompoc, California, the full name of which is Mision La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday morning, warm and clear, and the nave was so full that it was standing room only by the time they arrived. Not long into the service, however, the young man, overdressed for the heat and suffering from the closeness of the centuries old, unventilated church, began to feel unwell. Though he was distressed at leaving in the midst of Holy Mass, he was afraid that he might become sick in the church itself, which was not an option. So he excused himself from his mother and stepped outside. Finding a bench in the shade near a small fountain in the gardens, he sat down to catch his breath and allow his stomach to settle. Not long afterward, a woman in a sky-blue nun’s habit joined him on the bench opposite. The young man thanked her, of course, for her concern for his well-being, and the two continued to talk for some time, with the young man feeling better as time passed. At one point, he saw his mother briefly leave the church and approach, checking on him. She returned to the Mass and her son continued to talk with the kind nun. Eventually taking his leave of the sister, he rejoined his mother for the rest of the Mass. On the way home, the young man mentioned the conversation with the nun, and how much he enjoyed it. His mother, surprised, noted that she didn’t see anyone talking with him on the other bench by the fountain, which fact surprised him indeed. For the woman was there, as plain as day, and they had a good conversation.

Yet to this day I can’t remember what we talked about for all that time….

Some thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the excerpt from Bishop, later Archbishop, now Servant of God (he is in the first steps of canonization as a saint) Fulton J. Sheen that I posted yesterday, The Night Friends of Christ.

First, I was reminded of the kind of strong Catholic culture that used to exist in the United States mid-century, of which Fulton J. Sheen is probably the standout figure. Archbishop Sheen became an actual celebrity, a household name through his popular radio program and extremely popular television presence in two programs, Life is Worth Living and The Fulton Sheen Show, crossing confessional boundaries all around. Archbishop Sheen is still popular in Catholic circles, of course, and various episodes are available on Youtube, and reruns of his programs are broadcast (thankfully!) on EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network, a cable station. In the excerpt from the book which I posted yesterday, it’s possible to gain a taste of what made Archbishop Sheen so very popular. His tone is one of the loving teacher, of a father teaching his child important things, though not teaching as though the child were stupid: not paternalistically, but paternally. This is something more easily seen in his television programs: his loving respect for the people in his audience, whom he knows and shows he knows are capable of understanding and of having faith, and of increasing both where already present. Is this so hard for us to do today? Can we not learn from a master who blazed a trail with love? Perhaps that way we could reach other night friends of Christ?

This leads to my second thought, of what a perfect descriptor “Night Friends of Christ” is for those people who are, for whatever reason—family, friends, profession, society’s ridicule (again a problem with the re-paganizing of our once-Christian cultures)—secret friends of Christ, willing to meet Him secretly in the night journeys of their own hearts, but not willing to meet Him in the daylight travelling with His Church, the Body of Christ, seen and known by all as a (gasp!) Christian. Will he next say he believes the Bible? All those dogmas? That there was an exodus? That Israel birthed a Messiah? That a man rose from the dead? That the Almighty God was born, through His completely unnecessary and unselfish love became what we are and suffered what we do in order to heal every instant, every contingent of our existence in this universe of pain and death? Why, yes, he might very well believe all that, and he wouldn’t be alone at all.

So, keep your eyes open for the Night Friends of Christ of your own acquaintance. Pray for them, whether you know of them or not. Most especially, be the example that they need to draw them out into the daylight, so that they might be willing to confront the secular world and its ruling paradigms, and so they will demand their right to their Lord’s, their treasured friend’s, Body!


Why is our Lord called a priest after the order of Melchizedek?

“King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.”

Is Yeats also among the prophets?

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of Innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Who are “the best” but the boni of our day—the politicians like their forebears, ancient cynical senators jockeying for power, for the role of princeps. What conviction do they display, with their records of social and political policies changing with the wind of opinion? The courage of their conviction goes only so deep as their demagoguery finds necessary—in another day, a week, perhaps a month—never so long as a year!—all is changed. Is is not that “Power corrupts” or even “Power corrupts the corruptible” but that “Power is corruption.”

Who are “the worst . . . full of passionate intensity,” but the terrorists of these days and their enablers? Such coarse certitude, drawing lines that none may cross but themselves, they with an adolescent fixation on an imagined utopia of fairness—one founded on their own terms, and thus eminently “fair” to themselves!—a utopia as imaginary as every other ever imagined by minds both greater and lesser.

And yet Yeats wrote this so long ago, in 1921 or before, with very different referents in mind. Even so, do we not think, all of us, but for some very brief interludes when all is well with us, that in our generations each one of them is the time when some “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”? Is not every generation prone to see the coming of the man of sin, the lawless one, the antichrist, the beast, the great Satan, Beliar—and the end of the world is at hand?

Even so: Come, our Lord. Come.

From my journal. On the night of 1 February 2008, reflecting on Fr Andrew Louth’s quotation of Yeats (at the top of the post) in his Discerning the Mystery, p. 1

On the Study of Theology

Why Doe Young Lay-Men So Much Studie Divinity?

Is it because others tending busily Churches preferment neglect studie? Or had the Church of Rome shut up all our wayes till the Lutherans broke down their uttermost stubborned dores, and the Calvinists picked their inwardest and subtlest lockes? Surely the Divell cannot bee such a Foole to hope that hee shall make this study contemptible, by making it common. Nor that as the Dwellers by the river Origus are said (by drawing infinite ditches to sprinckle their barren Countrey) to have exhausted and intercepted their maine channell, and so lost their more profitable course to the Sea; so wee, by providing every ones selfe, divinity enough for his owne use, should neglect our Teachers and Fathers. Hee cannot hope for better heresies than he hath had, nor was his Kingdome ever so much advanced by debating Religion (though with some aspersions of Error) as by a Dull and stupid security, in which many grosse things are swallowed. Possible out of such an Ambition as we have now, to speake plainely and fellow-like with Lords and Kings, wee thinke also to acquaint our selves with Gods secrets: Or perchance when wee study it by mingling humane respects, It is not Divinity.

John Donne
Probleme 5 from Juvenilia: Or Certaine Paradoxes, And Problemes, 1633

Some hopefully helpful notes:
preferment: appointment to a salaried position
stubborned: hard; difficult to move
…Origus…: Perhaps Oricus, a city in Greece? This is a cautionary tale of unknown origin (to me, at least, and Google doesn’t help), though it’s vaguely familiar: a city situated on a river with barren fields digs so many canals for irrigation (ostensibly to improve the agricultural yield and thereby the city’s economic situation) that the river downstream is no longer navigable and the city loses its more profitable sea trade.
divinity: theology

Our Prayers Say Who We Are

There’s a beautiful prayer of St Ambrose which I’ve found is recommended in Roman Catholic Missals for the use of the faithful. Below I present the original Latin, and then two translations, one dating from 1962 from a Missal of that year, the other from the current English translations propogated by the Roman Catholic International Commision on English in the Liturgy, dated to 1980. I’ll follow with commentary

Oratio S. Ambrosii
Ad mensam dulcissimi convivii tui, pie Domine Iesu Christe,
ego peccator de propriis meis meritis nihil praesumens,
sed de tua confidens misericordia et bonitate,
accedere vereor et contremisco.
Nam cor et corpus habeo multis criminibus maculatum,
mentem et linguam non caute custodiam.
Ergo, o pia Deitas, o tremenda maiestas,
ego miser, inter augustias deprehensus,
ad te fontem misericordiae recurro,
ad te festino sanandus,
sub tuam protectionem fugio;
et, quem Iudicem sustinere nequeo,
Salvatorem habere suspiro.
Tibi, Domine, plagas meas ostendo,
tibi verecundiam meam detego.
Scio peccata mea multa et magna, pro quibus timeo:
spero in mesericordias tuas, quarum non est numerus.
Respice ergo in me oculis misericordiae tuae,
Domine Iesu Christe, Rex aeterne, Deus et homo,
crucifixus propter hominem.
Exaudi me sperantem in te:
miserere mei pleni miseriis et peccatis,
tu qui fontem miserationis numquam manare cessabis.
Salve, salutaris victima,
pro me et omni humano genere in patibulo Crucis oblata.
Salve, nobilis et pretiose Sanguis,
de vulneribus crucifixi Domini mei Iesu Christi profluens,
et peccata totius mundi abluens.
Recordare, Domine, creaturae tuae,
quam tuo Sanguine redemisti.
Paenitet me peccasse,
cupio emendare quod feci.
Aufer ergo a me, clementissime Pater,
omnes iniquitates et peccata mea,
ut, purificatus mente et corpore,
digne degustare merear Sancta sanctorum.
Et concede, ut haec sancta praelibatio Corporis et Sanguinis tui,
quam ego indignus sumere intendo,
sit peccatorum meorum remissio,
sit delictorum perfecta purgatio,
sit turpium cogitationum effugatio
ac bonorum sensuum regeneratio,
operumque tibi placentium salubris efficacia,
animae quoque et corporis
contra inimicorum meorum insidias firmissima tuitio.

1962 Translation
O gracious Lord Jesus Christ, I, a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting to Thy mercy and goodness, fear and tremble in drawing near to the Table on which is spread Thy Banquet of all delights. For I have defiled both my heart and body with many sins, and have not kept a strict guard over my mind and my tongue. Wherefore, O gracious God, O awful Majesty, I, a wretched creature, reduced to extremity, have recourse to Thee, the fount of mercy; I fly to Thee that I may be healed, and take refuge under Thy protection, and I ardently desire to have Him as my Savior Whom I am unable to withstand as my Judge. To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know that my sins are many and great, on account of which I am filled with fear. But I trust in Thy mercy, for it is unbounded. Look down upon me, therefore, with eyes of mercy, O Lord Jesus Christ, eternal King, God and Man, crucified for man. Hearken unto me, for my hope is in Thee; have mercy on me, who am full of misery and sin, Thou Who wilt never cease to let flow the fountain of mercy. Hail, Thou saving Victim, offered for me and for all mankind on the tree of the cross. Hail, Thou noble and precious Blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, O Lord, Thy creature, who Thou hast redeemed with Thy Blood. I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done. Take away from me therefore, O most merciful Father, all my iniquities and offenses, that, being purified both in soul and body, I may worthily partake of the Holy of Holies; and grant that this holy oblation of Thy Body and Blood, of which all unworthy I purpose to partake, may be to me the full remission of my sins, the perfect cleansing of my offenses, the means of driving away all evil thoughts and of renewing all holy desires, the advancement of works pleasing to Thee, as well as the strongest defense and protection for soul and body against the craft and the snares of my enemies. Amen.

1980 Translation
I draw near to the table of your most delectable banquet, dear Lord Jesus Christ. A sinner, I trust not in my own merit; but, in fear and trembling, I rely on your mercy and goodness. I have a heart and body marked by many grave offenses, and a mind and tongue that I have not guarded well. For this reason, God of loving kindness and awesome majesty, I, a sinner caught by many snares, seek safe refuge in you. For you are the fountain of mercy. I would fear to draw near to you as my judge, but I seek you out as my Savior. Lord, I show you my wounds, and I let you see my shame. Knowing my sins are many and great, I have reason to fear. But I trust in your mercies, for they are beyond all numbering. Look upon me with mercy, for I trust in you, my Lord Jesus Christ, eternal king, God and man, you who were crucified for mankind. Have mercy on me, you who never cease to make the fountain of your mercy flow, for I am full of sorrows and sins. I praise you, the saving Victim offered on the wood of the cross for me and for all mankind. I praise the noble Blood that flows from the wounds of my Lord Jesus Christ, the precious Blood that washes away the sins of all the world. Remember, Lord, your creature, whom you have redeemed with your own Blood. I am sorry that I have sinned, and I long to put right what I have done. Most kind Father, take away all my offenses and sins, so that, purified in body and soul, I may be made worthy to taste the Holy of holies. And grant that this holy meal of your Body and Blood, which I intend to take, although I am unworthy, may bring forgiveness of my sins and wash away my guilt. May it mean the end of my evil thoughts and the rebirth of my better longings. May it lead me securely to live in ways that please you, and may it be a strong protection for body and soul against the plots of my enemies. Amen.

First, look at that Latin! Nice! St Ambrose was a past master of the Latin language, and this prayer displays his fine control of it. I suspect that the rhythmic quality of so many of the verses, the kind of sing-song balance of meter, may reflect that this particular prayer was originally one of his hymns, which we are aware of St Ambrose having composed in Milan to great acclaim. Not only is the rhythm balanced, but there is rhyme, and also a few intersecting chiasms. It’s a fascinating prayer, composed in a way to make it interesting for people to say, and easy to remember through the repetitions, the rhythm, and the rhymes. It shows St Ambrose’s pastoral concern for catechesis, which he was justly famous for.

The approach of the two translator or translation teams is different, owing as much to the particular piety of the translator(s) as to knowledge of Latin. So we see two very different kinds of personal piety displayed through these works. The 1962 translation displays a distinctly penitential bent, which is certainly present in the original, but is more strongly emphasize in the translation. This, of course, was a period dating to before the Vatican II Council, and the alterations to the fabric of Catholic piety that ensued afterward, a period in which this kind of penitential piety was still quite common, and was an ideal. The pentitential spirit shown in this translation is one that is thus somewhat fierce, but not insane. That is, it was based in the reality of the lived Catholicism of its day, and is precisely as one should expect it to be. Aside from this aspect, the translation is somewhat clunkier than necessary. A little more effort would have made it flow better.

The 1980 translation gives an entirely different impression, from an entirely different age, though they’re separated by only 18 years. Notice the opening: “I draw near to the table of your most delectable banquet….” It appears that the person praying is a gourmand of some sort, relating an autobigraphical detail of a trip to a restaurant owned by Jesus! This subconsciously sets the reader in the context of reading the prayer not as a personal prayer shared with others, but as something separate, someone else’s prayer that a kind of voyeurism is allowing the reader to see. Also, just as there was a strengthening of penitential language in the prayer by the 1962 translation, in the 1980 translation is a toning down of the same. Relatedly, it’s entirely gauche to begin a prayer to our Sovereign God with “I.” And Jesus has now become “dear,” as well, connoting that the Senior Ladies’ Knitting Circle has composed the prayer, and not the fiery Archbishop of Mediolanum who told off an Emperors to his face.

To summarize and exemplify the differences, compare these:
Paenitet me peccasse, cupio emendare quod feci.
I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done. (1962)
I am sorry that I have sinned, and I long to put right what I have done. (1980)

In the end, these translations are showing something that I’ve noticed subconsciously for some time now. In the translations of prayers for liturgical churches, there has been a consistent trend toward the softening of the translations of these kinds of prayers for decades now. Not only can the worshipper no longer be expected to share the worldview of the ancient writer and interact with the recommended prayer on the level of its original language with at least a modicum of understanding the depth of riches of the language, but they cannot be even expected to share a remotely similar worldview, a worldview in which we are unworthy sinners, wretched and poor, stupid and weak, putrid by inches, and the only salvation is God, through His Son. Rescue from this dismal state is not through meeting the old ladies and eunuchs of the local religiously themed social club (some call them churches, which might offend some people!), but through transformation as a member of the Body of Christ, conforming onself, though God’s grace alone, to the Divine image inch by inch, a process we Eastern Orthodox call theosis, often translated “divinization,” the primary vehicle of which is prayer. The translations of prayers anyone uses are an important part of Christian transformation, because they must accurately reflect the theological worldview that lies behind them in toto, without alteration. After all, for each prayer like the above that makes it into prayer books, the original language version is chosen for its powerful and effective words, and for its orthodoxy and usefulness to the faithful. Translations of such prayers need to reflect that power as much as possible.

I think St Ambrose would certainly have preferred the 1962 translation of his prayer, if he had to choose between that and the 1980 version above. It clearly reflects a worldview similar to his own, while the 1980 translation does not.

Psalm 6

Formal translation
O LORD, do not, in Your anger, rebuke me,
and do not, in Your wrath, chasten me.
Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak.
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled
And my soul is greatly troubled.
But You, O LORD—how long?
Turn, O LORD, and deliver my soul.
Save me for the sake of Your mercy.
For there is, in death, no memory of You.
In Sheol, who praises you?
I am wearied with my groaning,
All night I make my bed swim,
with my tears I soak my couch.
My eye wastes away from grief,
it grows old with all my tormentors.
Turn aside from me, all you doers of iniquity,
for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.
He, the LORD, has heard my petition!
The LORD has accepted my prayer!
They will be ashamed and greatly troubled, all my enemies.
They will turn back, they will be ashamed in a moment.

Informal translation
Lord, don’t punish me while You’re angry!
Be gentle with me, because I’m so very weak,
even my bones are falling apart.
My whole life is a mess.
When, Lord, will You help me?

Come back, Lord, and rescue me
because of the covenant You made.
How can I tell of Your wonders if I’m dead?
How can I sing Your praise in the grave?

I am so tired of complaining.
Every night I soak my pillow with tears.
I cry so many tears my bed floats on them.
I’m losing my eyesight from all this weeping.
My eyes are all dried out like an old man’s.
All this because of my enemies.

Start running, evildoers,
for the Lord has heard the message in my tears.
He’s listened to my petition, and accepted my prayer.
Shame and terror are coming for all my enemies!
They’ll turn tail and run, shamed in an instant!