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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The San Damiano Crucifix 

The text below was originally presented at a Formation Meeting of the St. Louis the King Fraternity of the Secular Franciscans held on September 13, 2005, at the Old Mission Santa Barbara. I am posting this version on October 4, which is the day of St. Francis' birth into eternal life.

The San Damiano Crucifix does not particularly resemble the crucifixes usually seen in our churches. Ordinarily, a crucifix is a realistic presentation of Jesus, dead or dying on the cross. In contrast, the San Damiano Crucifix shows Jesus on the cross, wounded, but nonetheless alive and alert, even serene and transfigured. This difference arises from the San Damiano Crucifix being an icon, as are found in Eastern Christianity. Icons are not simply pieces of decorative art, but are stylized works, produced in agreement with certain norms and principles so that they can have a sacramental function (1) and can aid us in devotion and prayer, which is the main focus here. Indeed, St. Francis was praying before this icon in the San Damiano Chapel when he first received his call.

To summarize its history briefly, the crucifix was painted in Umbria in the 12th century by an unknown artist. However, the icon shows Syrian and Byzantine influence. This is not as surprising as it might seem to us today because Syrian monasteries were located in the Umbrian valley before the time of St. Francis while Byzantine models had been known in Italy since about 550 A.D., when the Byzantine Empire incorporated Ravenna. The San Damiano Chapel was not a parish church, so the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved there. For this reason, perhaps, the crucifix was painted for the chapel as an object of devotion. But, also because the chapel was not a parish church, it was neglected and subsequently abandoned, leading to St. Francis' first call and his work to restore it and similar structures. Still later, St. Clare and the first Poor Clares lived at the San Damiano Chapel and used the crucifix for prayer and devotion, just as St. Francis had. When St. Clare's body was transferred from the chapel to the old Church of San Giorgio in 1257, the crucifix, it seems, was also moved. It remains there today: the Poor Clares preserved the cross for 700 years. In 1938, it was restored; this restoration aids us in interpreting the crucifix, which, in turn, aids our understanding and use of the crucifix in prayer. Still more recently, in Holy Week, 1957, the crucifix was placed on public view for the first time over the new altar in what is now San Giorgio Chapel in the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi.

However, the main concern of this writing is to discuss the San Damiano Crucifix as an icon which can play a role in our prayer life. Icons, as stated above, have a sacramental, devotional function and serve as windows into a different, sacred, time and space, that is, the Kingdom of God, "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1). An icon of Jesus Christ allows us to experience the living God become human not only as love and truth, but as beauty as well. Further, icons present, or narrate an encapuslated, condensed theology, every detail of which can and should be used in meditation. (2) Because of this combination of theological idea and image, icons can be used not only in instruction but also in cataphatic prayer, that is, prayer in which visual images as well as our other senses, our feelings, and, in fact, the whole imagination are used. (3) Since both images and ideas are involved, it is best for us to be acquainted with both the theology and the stylistic and artistic methods used in icons. (4)

The style used in icons differs from that found in Western Art, in which realism predominates. Rather than represent reality as our senses perceive it, icons seek to encode certain concepts and ideas. For example, perspective is used differently. In realistic repsentations, two lines, say lines representing the sides of a road, become closer as their distance from the viewer increases, until they finally meet. In icons, perspective is reversed and the lines grow closer and meet, coming to a point on the viewer; if you like, they focus God's grace on us. Similarly, in realistic perspective the figures closest to the viewer are largest, with size decreasing the more the distance from the veiwer increases. In icons in contrast, the largest figures are the most imporant ones, while less important ones are smaller; size has nothing to do with distance from the viewer.

The largest figure in the San Damiano Crucifx is that of the transfigured Jesus Christ; His size asserts his prominence. Not only is Christ the largest figure, but He is also a light dominating the whole scene; "Christ is the light of the world" (John 8:12). In addition, Jesus is standing upright; He is not nailed to the cross. Nor is His head bowed in suffering and death. Rather, His head looks down slightly and His eyes are open. They look out, not down. If we take this to mean that Jesus is looking at us as we pray to Him, we can understand this to show that Jesus is a good listener who sees and listens to us. Jesus' appearance is serene and peaceful; He is not suffering. Nor does He wear a crown of thorns; instead, he has a halo. The light and halo show that Jesus is the "Glory of God": "The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen His glory" (John 1:14). Jesus' death on the cross is also His time of glorification. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

At his Transfiguration Christ showed his disciples the splendor of his beauty, to which he will shape and color those who are his: "He will reform our lowliness configured to the body of his glory." (Philippians 3:21)
St. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologiae

Jesus is not wearing an ordinary loin cloth, but an ephod, a vestment worn by priests; Christ is not simply serving as a sacrifice here, but playing a priestly role. Note also that He is not shown as pantocrator "ruler of the universe" and dressed in royal garb, as he would be in a more strictly Byzantine icon; this priestly attire points to Syrian influence, as does his hair. Jesus' hands, feet and side are all pierced, with blood flowing from each wound. From the feet and side it flows straight down, as gravity would require, but it flows from His hands down his arms to his elbows before it falls from his body. More will be said about that below. The inscription above Jesus' head is IHS NAZARE REX IUDAEORUM, short for, Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum ("Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews"), from which came the usual inscription seen on our crucifixes, INRI. This particular inscription is found only in John's gospel (John 19:20-22) (5).

The largest of the smaller figures are the community under Jesus' arms. There are five main figures (the artist has identified them by giving their names) and four lesser ones. The main figures are:

  1. Mary (Sancta Maria)
  2. John (S. Johannes)
  3. Mary Magdalene (Maria Magdalena)
  4. Mary, mother of James (Mary of Cleopas) (Maria Jacobi)
  5. The centurion

Only John's gospel mentions Mary and John as being at the cross, although it does not name them explicitly. Rather, this gospel calls Mary "His mother" while it calls John "the disciple whom He loved." Many references to this disciple can be found in John's gospel. None of them identify this disciple as St. John, although this is the traditional interpretation.

The colors used in icons usually have significance, as do bodily gestures and the use of the eyes. This is also true in the San Damiano Crucifix. Thus, Mary's outer mantle is white, to signify victory, purification, and good deeds, while the gems represent the graces of the Holy Spirit. The dark red of the garment under her mantle symbolizes intense love. The purple inner dress proclaims that Mary, as the Mother of Jesus, is the Ark of the Covenant. Likewise, the position of Mary's hands is also meaningful: her left hand is raised to her cheek to express her acceptance and love for John, while her right hand points to John. Mary's eyes express acceptance of Jesus' stated wish, "Woman, behold your son," (John 19:26).

The color of John's mantle and tunic, his posture and position, and his expression are just as meaningful. John's mantle is rose, to express eternal wisdom while his tunic is white, to show purity. He stands between Mary and Jesus, as he is loved by both. In addition, as he looks at Mary, John points to Jesus, accepting Jesus' command, "Son, behold your mother." (John 19:27)

Similarly, Mary Magdalene wears scarlet to symbolize love; this is deepened by the blue of the mantle. She stands in a special place, next to Jesus. Her hand is on her chin, showing her confident belief in a secret: "He is risen." Mary, Mary Magdalene, and John, together with Mary, mother of James, all stand together near the cross, not at a distance (again, this is stated only in John's gospel).

The last of the five main figures is the centurion. He is probably the centurion mentioned in the other Gospels, i.e., the centurion whose son was healed (Matt 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10; note here that he holds wood in his left hand, indicating his building of a synagogue; note also John 4:46-54: The Second Sign at Cana in Galilee). This interpretation is made probable because his son can be seen behind his shoulders along with the tops of three heads behind him (this is true in the original, although not in all reproductions). (6) "So he himself believed along with his whole household." (John 4:53) If we suppose that all or some of these people are gentiles, then note also, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also and they must listen to my voice." (John 10:16) Finally, the centurion has extended his thumb and two fingers to express his belief in The Trinity. His two closed fingers express the hidden mystery of the twofold nature of Jesus Christ, human and divine; "Truly He is the Son of God ." (Mark 15:39)

This whole group denotes the whole community of faith, Jew and Gentile: "There is neither Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ." (Gal 3:28; also 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11) All the faces in this group are calm and peaceful, like that of Jesus; none of them display any sorrow or horror. A light is visible behind the group: again, "Jesus is the Light of the World." (John 8:12; also, John1:4-5, 9) As noted above, the blood of Jesus drips from His elbows; it falls onto the community standing below, including John. Fr. Raymond Brown stated that they are all one family in discipleship.

The lesser sized figures stand below and to the side of this community. They are, first, Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus' side with a lance. The name written under him (not visible in all reproductions) (6) is derived from Greek and means "Spear Man." (His real name, of course, is unknown). The artist has given him a rather long lance. The second is thought to be named Stephaton, possibly the soldier who gave Jesus a sponge soaked in sour wine (John 19:28-30). But this is uncertain, since no name is written to identify him. Also, he is not dressed like a Roman. It may be that both represent the authorities, Jewish and Roman, who put Jesus to death.

The figures found in the bottom panel are difficult to interpret because the panel is all worn from touching and kissing. We can see two male figures with halos, but who they are is unclear. The rest of the panel is obscure. Still, people have attempted to identify them through the centuries. Some have assumed that they are the Patron Saints of Umbria (i.e., of the churches in Umbria): St. Damian, St. Rufinus, St Michael, St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul. Others thought them to be disciples looking up, awaiting the return of Christ. Still others considered them to be Christians, who are called to be holy: here, in our present existence, they (or, rather, we) can see Jesus, but not as we will after the Kingdom comes to complete fruition. Finally, they may be our ancestors in faith, that is, the holy people and patriarchs of the Old Testament, awaiting redemption through Christ. (Of course, the main concern here is prayer and meditation. If your are practicing cataphatic prayer, why not all of the above, choosing according to your needs and desires while praying?)

The Rooster, visible on the right near Jesus' knee, calls to mind the denial of Jesus by St. Peter (John 13:38; 18:15, 25- 27). Also, he announces the dawn of Christ, the Light of the World (Malachi 4:2 or, in some translations, 3:20). A vine borders the cross. It represents the Mystical Vine: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15). The seashells along the cross' side stand for eternity, for a mystery hidden in eternity's sea is being revealed.

Behind Jesus an empty tomb can be seen. It is red at the top and black below; in this image, the red of love overcomes the black of death. Two saints stand at either side of the tomb, not far from Jesus' hands, possibly Peter and John. Each gestures to indicate faith in the resurrection. Two groups of two angels also gesture towards the Risen Christ, discussing God's love for humanity: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not die, but have life everlasting" (John 3:16).

Above Jesus' head and the inscription, IHS NAZARE REX IUDAEORUM, the iconographer has placed a Medallion of the Ascension. In it, the ascending Christ is shown breaking out of a circle of red. Jesus wears a golden victory garment with a purple scarf of royalty over his shoulder. In His left hand, He carries His cross as a royal scepter. His face smiles slightly as He is welcomed by ten angels, five on each side, their wings visible but folded. We should note that the inscription is not only at the top of the cross over Jesus' head, as in John 19:19, but it is also under His ascending feet and so identifies who the ascending Christ is (like the names Sancta Maria, S. Johannes, etc., mentioned above.

In conclusion, the icon is not just a depiction of the crucifixion, but actually a visual narration of the whole main event of our salvation history: the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, a summary of our redemption in its totality. Above I said that Francis used this icon as an aid to prayer. While he was praying, as we know, he heard the voice of Jesus give him his mission in life: Jesus said, "Repair my house (domum), which is completely destoyed (tota destruitur.)" Francis then set out to repair the San Damiano Chapel,followed by others. He went on to try to repair the whole church, not simply physically but spiritually. However, as Raphael Brown points out in True Joy from Assisi, Jesus didn't tell Francis to repair his church (ecclesiam); He said, "Repair my house (domum)". If we think of God's house as being within us, such repair is something that we can all do.


1. The icon is not a sacrament, of course, but has a sacamental funtion. It has a spiritual effect, and can aid in devotion and prayer. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1667,1674, 1677-79.

2. There is a similarity to stained glass windows here. In earlier times, when literacy was less common, images of these kinds had an additional instructional purpose. Iconographers, in fact, thought of their task as like unto that of the Evangelists. In our own times, however when literacy is much more wide-spread, these images can still help us to focus our minds in prayer.

3. Generally, the use of sacraments and sacramentals is consiedered to be a form of cataphatic prayer. Cataphatic prayer is often contrasted with apophatic prayer, which renounces images and feelings in order to draw us closer to God. A characteristic form of apophatic prayer is centering prayer, in which a word or phrase is used as a way to focus ourselves on God. More generally, contemplation is considered to be apophatic prayer. But these are really two sides of the same coin. Whether by the infused contemplation of apophatic prayer or by the contemplation induced self-consciously by a method of cataphatic prayer we still seek a greater awareness of God. (See Fr. M. Basil Pennington, 1976).

4. The use of icons in prayer has been treated by Henri Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons.

5. More detailed information about the ephod and the origins of the theology of the San Damiano Crucifix in John's gospel can be found in the study by Michael Guinan, OFM.

6. This is true of the reproduction present at Old Mission Santa Barbara which was used during the presentation to the Secular Franciscans.


Bodo, Murray, OFM
The San Damiano Crucifix: A Prayer. Written for the 6th National Forum of the Franciscan Institute. St. Bonaventure University, New York. Febnruary 26-29, 2004.

Brown, Raphael, Tertiary OFM
True Joy from Assisi. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press. 1978

Goonan, Fr. Michael
"The Crucifix." St. Anthony's Messenger . Oct. 1995

Guinan, Michael, OFM
The San Damiano Crucifx, The Gospel of John, and St. Francis. St. Bonaventure Univeristy: CFIT. To Appear.

Nouwen, Henri.
Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons. Ave Maria. 1987.

Pennington, M. Basil, O.C.S.O
"Centering Prayer--Prayer of Quiet." Review for Religious. vol. 35, 1976/5

Scanlon, Fr. Michael, TOR
The San Damiano Cross: An Exposition.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Welcoming Prayer 

Recently while receiving and studying spiritual direction, I became acquainted with The Welcoming Prayer. It was suggested that it would be beneficial to anyone faced with an unpleasant situation, person, circumstance or the like. People who are taking part in twelve-step programs may find The Welcoming Prayer especially useful, although using this prayer is by no means restricted to them alone. After all, the people studying in The School for Spiritual Directors were not there to do twelve-step work.


Gently become aware of your body and your interior state.
The mind can deceive, but the body never lies.
Listen to its wisdom and hear its truth.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me in this moment
because I know it is for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts,
feelings, emotions, persons,
situations and conditions.

I let go of my desire for security.

I let go of my desire for approval.

I let go of my desire for control.

I let go of any desire to change any
situation, condition,
or myself.

I open to the
love and presence of God
the healing action and grace within.

The Welcoming Prayer was developed by Mary Grozowski, late master teacher at Contemplative Outreach, and is based on the wisdom of Fr. Thomas Keating and Jean-Pierre de Caussade's 18th-century book, Abandonment to Divine Providence.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

In first month, Benedict places distinctive mark on papacy 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- He began under the sign of continuity, but in his first month Pope Benedict XVI has already placed his own distinctive mark on the papacy.

His public appearances, while generating enormous enthusiasm, have been designed more to provoke thought than to please crowds. This will be a teaching pope, and his lessons draw heavily on Scripture.

The new pope has kept Pope John Paul II's team of Vatican officials. But in his first major appointment, he picked an American, Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco, as his successor at the doctrinal congregation -- a bold move that gratified many U.S. Catholics and lessened European influence in the Roman Curia.

In waiving the five-year waiting period for the start of Pope John Paul's sainthood cause, the pope showed he was listening to the popular voice of the church and recognized that rules are sometimes made to be set aside.

Two other decisions hinted at Pope Benedict's governing style:

-- He opted not to preside at beatification liturgies, ending a 34-year practice. Although papal beatifications had become routine, the pope and others thought they created misunderstandings about the sainthood process.

-- He shortened the October Synod of Bishops. In the past, the pope had said synods tend to exalt the role of bishops as delegates of local churches rather than as shepherds of their own flocks.

The pope's decisions and talks since his election April 19 seemed to show a desire to pare back to the essentials -- at least as much as possible for a 21st-century pope.

At the same time, Pope Benedict understands that in many ways he is expected to be a "pope for all people." In his first month, he spoke with various heads of state, international diplomats, Christian and non-Christian representatives, journalists, bishops from Africa and Asia, members of Rome's Catholic community, clergy, curial officials, pilgrim groups from around the world and, of course, the College of Cardinals.

At his weekly general audiences, the pope has grown increasingly relaxed with big crowds. He seems to genuinely enjoy riding his open jeep around the square, standing and waving as he holds onto a bar with one hand.

After his first general audience, the pope shook the hands of nearby bishops and left the scene. Now he makes it a point to seek out the sick and lay people who have come for a personal blessing or to bring him gifts. He doesn't rush and usually has a few words for each.

The new pope's reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Many visitors are impressed by his easy and direct style, others by the simple fact that the church once again has a pope who can move through a crowd or improvise a talk.

Pope Benedict's talks and sermons have not been the high theology of books and conferences. Instead, he has focused on the basics during his first month: the church's evangelizing mission, the danger of losing sight of God and the priority of human life issues in modern society.

On several occasions, particularly around the feast of Pentecost, he has explained the church's purpose by recalling the words and witness of apostolic times. Even his nonliturgical talks, like his address to Sri Lankan bishops, have been built around passages from the New Testament.

The pope has not dumbed down his message. His sermon on Pentecost, for example, examined the relationship of human freedom, the gift of the law on Mount Sinai, the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the church's mission and the Eucharist. But woven through the homily were straightforward statements about people's real limitations and the recognition that faith is often a struggle.

"We continually close our doors; we continually want to feel secure and do not want to be disturbed by others and by God," the pope said. But Christ will come for us, he said, just as he passed through the closed doors to reach his disciples at Pentecost.

Likewise, on the feast of the Ascension, he offered a simple reflection on Christ's continued presence in the world, saying: "The Lord is always within hearing. We can inwardly draw away from him. We can live turning our backs on him. But he always waits for us and is always close to us."

So far, Pope Benedict has spoken mostly about the essentials of church life and relatively little about contemporary social issues. Appeals for victims of disasters or violence, which made for easy headlines under Pope John Paul, seem to have disappeared.

The new pope is also meeting with fewer groups, especially from Italy; such meetings used to fill the calendar of his predecessors. And so far he does not seem to feel the need to send messages or give speeches to participants of every meeting at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict may have given some clues to his style of papacy in his 1987 book, "Church, Ecumenism and Politics." He warned about "the limits and dangers of activism" in church governance, which he said risks getting in the way of the Holy Spirit.

He said it was worth remembering that the only true head of the church is Christ, and "we are all merely his tools." The real task of the pastor, he said, is "to stretch out the sail of our faith ... so that the Holy Spirit can fill it with his breath."


Thursday, April 07, 2005

washingtonpost.com: The Cardinal Principles of Politics 

washingtonpost.com: The Cardinal Principles of Politics

Pope's Will Shows He Considered Resigning 

My Way News: "Pope's Will Shows He Considered Resigning"

Monday, April 04, 2005

Pope's death brings unprecedented outpouring of Jewish thanks, praise 

By Jerry Filteau

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The April 2 death of Pope John Paul II brought an absolutely unprecedented outpouring of condolences, thanks, praise and blessing from religious leaders of the Jewish community.

Their comments indicated how deeply Catholic-Jewish relations have been affected worldwide by the Catholic Church's first Polish pope -- who as a youth personally experienced the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jewish people in World War II and as pope transformed that experience into an intense Catholic theological reflection on God's eternal covenant with Jews and the sinfulness of Christian anti-Semitism.

"Nobody has done as much to transform Catholic-Jewish relations as John Paul II. He will be forever remembered as a great hero of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation," said Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious relations for the American Jewish Committee.

"The Jewish community has lost a treasured friend," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

"No other pope in history has devoted so much time and attention to Jews, whom he described as 'our elder brother,'" said Rabbi Gilbert S. Rosenthal, director of the National Council of Synagogues, which represents North American Conservative and Reform synagogal and rabbinical organizations.

"Pope John Paul II revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"He was the pivotal figure in the significant improvement of Catholic-Jewish relations in our time and he played an unprecedented, historic role in promoting dialogue and reconciliation between religions and peoples," said the National Polish American-Jewish American Council.

"He was a pope for the ages," said the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"The historic and landmark contributions that he made to Catholic-Jewish relations were pioneering and invaluable," the union said.

"We will lovingly remember his historic visits to the Great Synagogue in Rome, a concentration camp in Auschwitz (Poland) and the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as he stood with us in spiritual solidarity," said the New York Board of Rabbis. "Declaring anti-Semitism a sin against God and humanity, the pope repeatedly reminded the world that we could never again remain silent while people perish because of their race or religion."

"Shalom, shalom, shalom," the board said to the late pope, repeating his final words to a delegation of 130 Jews including New York rabbis that he met at the Vatican less than three months before his death.

At that meeting, "in an extremely moving moment, three rabbis of different denominations blessed this sacred soul," the board said. "This was a most fitting gesture for an extraordinary individual who blessed us with his voice and his vision."

Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of the American Jewish Congress' Department of Jewish Affairs and a professor of Christian-Jewish studies at Seton Hall University, a Catholic institution in New Jersey, said: "John Paul II was the first bishop (of Rome) to visit a synagogue in almost 2,000 years. He repeatedly stated that anti-Semitism is a sin against God and that there is no room in Christianity for anti-Semitic interpretations of Christian texts. Under this pope the church asked for repentance for her role in the Shoah (Holocaust) and recognized Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people."

Rabbi Rosenthal also cited the issuance of new church directives on Catholic teaching and preaching about Jews and Judaism under Pope John Paul II and the pope's prayer at the Western Wall for God's forgiveness for Christian sins against Jews.

While noting many of the same actions, Foxman commented that "most importantly, the pope rejected the destructive concept of supersessionism," which is the view that the new covenant of Christianity superseded or replaced God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and he "has recognized the special relationship between Christianity and the Jewish people."

Rabbi Yoffie cited the papal acts mentioned by others and also the pope's insistence "on the eternal validity of God's covenant with the Jews."

"The extent of the change that John Paul II wrought is expressed in the power and intensity of the language he used, calling on members of the church to do 'teshuvah' -- repentance -- for sins committed against the Jewish people and urging them to remember the unique relationship that exists between the church and the Jewish religion," he said.

He recalled that Pope John Paul urged Catholics and Jews to be a blessing to one another and said, "In the Jewish tradition we say of those who have left us: 'May his memory be a blessing.' We say this today of John Paul II."


Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

CNS STORY: Seminary rector wants priests who can dialogue, evangelize 

CNS STORY: Seminary rector wants priests who can dialogue, evangelize

By Patrick Joyce
Catholic News Service

MENLO PARK, Calif. (CNS) -- Forming priests who will respond to Pope John Paul II's call for a "new evangelization" and share the pope's eagerness to dialogue with the world are top priorities for Sulpician Father Gerald L. Brown, rector of St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park.

"One of the great challenges for today's seminaries is how to come to terms with the kind of evangelization that is needed in contemporary times," he said in an interview with Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the San Francisco Archdiocese. "How do we tap into the hunger that's there and, at the same time, encourage the value of coming together as church?"

Father Brown, a former provincial superior of the U.S. Sulpicians, became rector of St. Patrick's last July. He said seminary leaders must learn new ways of finding and reaching out to people who may have vocations to the priesthood, religious life or lay ministry.

"A lot of people in this generation are looking for something very meaningful in their lives," Father Brown said. "They're searching. ... The question is: How do we create opportunities for people in those age groups to reflect on the possibility of a vocation, how do we tap into their lives at that moment when they're about ready to make a major life decision?"

He said one problem is a lack of "structures we can plug into" to reach young adults. "We do well with people as they prepare for Communion and confirmation, but then what happens to them after that?" he said. "We have lost many young adults. We have to find a way of reaching out because many of them are concerned about questions of faith and the meaning of life."

Candidates for the priesthood at St. Patrick's generally range in age from their late 20s to their 50s. He said many ended up in the seminary as a result of an encounter with a priest who recognized a possible vocation and asked the right questions. "What about all the others who aren't here, simply because nobody knows where to find them?" he asked.

He noted that the age range of students poses challenges for seminary formation. "The older students come with tremendous experience," he said. "The danger is to deal with them as if they were just beginning students. We've had to learn how to benefit from their experience. We need to take that into account, in the classroom and spiritual direction and counseling and in our academic program.

With seminarians born abroad forming about one-fourth of U.S. ordinands in recent years, the diversity of nationalities and cultures in the seminaries today is "a great strength" but also a challenge, he said.

Not only must students from Asia, Africa and Latin America learn to deal with the U.S. culture, but "we who are the host culture need to understand what makes us distinct as a culture," Father Brown said. "How do we transmit that knowledge so the international student can be effective here? We also need to be open to learning from the experience of other cultures."

He said the makeup of the seminary faculty and staff should also reflect the diversity of cultures found in the student body.

Another priority today is forming future priests who can collaborate well with lay people and permanent deacons. "All of us must work together, with mutual respect, to bring the Gospel to people," he said.

"There are 10 times as many people studying for full-time lay ministry in the church as there are seminarians," Father Brown said. "On the graduate level in the United States there are 3,500 seminarians and 35,000 lay people. And of course the number of permanent deacons is growing."

But the biggest challenge in seminaries, he said, is to help seminarians integrate the "four pillars" of growth needed to make them well-rounded, effective priests: human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation and pastoral formation.

Those elements are not compartmentalized with a priest being "intellectual one minute, then pastoral another minute," he said. "One has to be spiritual in everything and the intellectual life has to help change what it means to be human and spiritual. All those things work together. Seminarians -- and all of us -- have to learn the skill of integrating. That is not easy."

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Witness of Czeslaw Milosz 

by Jeremy Driscoll
Copyright (c) 2004 First Things 147 (November 2004): 28-33.

Joseph Brodsky once declared that “Czeslaw Milosz is one of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest.” After his death on August 14, many of the obituaries and published tributes said the same thing. Milosz’s greatness was displayed not only in his poetry but also in his prose. In both he showed himself to be one of the bravest and sharpest thinkers of his time, as most critics have agreed. Yet there is an element of his greatness that has been generally avoided or underestimated even by his admirers. One rarely sees Milosz discussed as a Christian writer or his work as an expression of a profoundly religious imagination. How is it possible to praise Milosz as poet and thinker without coming to grips with his Christian vision? To do so is not just to ignore an essential dimension of his work; it is to miss the heart of his message.

Czeslaw Milosz was born in Szetejnie in 1911 and raised in Wilno, both of which are in present-day Lithuania. His family was part of the large Polish-speaking population of that city. For this reason he identified himself as a Polish writer. Living there through his university education, he was present in 1939 when the Soviets invaded Lithuania, while Hitler simultaneously invaded Poland. At great personal risk, he escaped through the Soviet borders and worked for the Polish resistance in Warsaw throughout the war. Once the war had ended, he tried to make a life for himself in his own nation and was part of the diplomatic corps of Communist Poland’s postwar government. He was posted to the consulate in New York and the embassy in Washington. In 1951, while he was serving as the cultural attaché at the Polish embassy in Paris, he defected. He remained in France until 1960, when he took a position at the University of California, Berkeley, as a professor of Slavic literature. In 1980, at the age of seventy, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Having lived in exile for fifty years, he moved from the United States to Krakow in 2001 and died there this summer at the age of ninety-three. He had remained productive until the end; a final book of poems, Second Space, is being published in English this fall.

This bare-bones summary of his life shows that Milosz’s personal history included almost the whole of the twentieth century. He participated in some of its most dramatic episodes and lived within several of its colliding cultures, carving out homes in Lithuania, Poland, France, and the United States. These are the contexts in which his Christian vision was shaped and delivered. Although he often expressed this vision obliquely, he was relentless in his criticism of those who despised faith as an anachronism: “I am not afraid to say that a devout and God-fearing man is superior as a human specimen to a restless mocker who is glad to style himself an ‘intellectual,’ proud of his cleverness in using ideas which he claims as his own though he acquired them in a pawnshop in exchange for simplicity of heart . . . . The sacred exists and is stronger than all our rebellions.” Milosz believed that the role of the poet is crucial in any society—regardless of how little poetry is appreciated or its importance understood. Consider his apologia for the poetry he was writing during and after World War II, when the world was undergoing a shock and disillusionment perhaps unparalleled in human history. How should the poet react? Here is Milosz’s proposal:

As is well known, the philosopher Adorno said that it would be an abomination to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz, and the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas gave the year 1941 as the date when God “abandoned” us. Whereas I wrote idyllic verses, “The World” and a number of others, in the very center of what was taking place in the anus mundi, and not by any means out of ignorance. . . . Life does not like death. The body, as long as it is able to, sets in opposition to death the heart’s contractions and the warmth of circulating blood. Gentle verses written in the midst of horror declare themselves for life; they are the body’s rebellion against its destruction.

To retain simplicity of heart, to write verses for life against death—these gentle-sounding goals are not achieved without cost or without a sustaining faith. Yet here it is necessary to remind ourselves of the paradoxical way in which faith is practiced. Faith is practiced in the struggle with faith. Milosz had the courage to expose his struggle in all its intensity; thus the readers with whom he shared his troubles and doubts can trust, or at least consider with appropriate seriousness, his decision to stand within faith’s orbit. In a 1959 letter to the Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton, Milosz wrote, “As to my Catholicism, this is perhaps a subject for a whole letter. In any case few people suspect my basically religious interests and I have never been ranged among ‘Catholic writers.’ Which, strategically, is perhaps better. We are obliged to bear witness. But of what? That we pray to have faith? This problem—how much we should say openly—is always present in my thoughts.” Two things stand out in this candid letter. First, his careful consideration of how best to treat religious themes in his writing. Second, the depth of his humility and poverty before faith.

In one poem, he addresses God wryly, saying, “It seems to me that people who cannot believe in you / deserve your praise,” and he confesses later in the same poem, “I pray to you, for I do not know how not to pray.” This struggle spanned his entire life. Only a few years ago, feeling his age, he wrote, “Now You are closing down my five senses, slowly, / And I am an old man lying in darkness . . . / Liberate me from guilt, real and imagined. / Give me certainty that I toiled for Your glory. / In the hour of the agony of death, help me with Your suffering / Which cannot save the world from pain.”

In a piece written in 1991 he mused at length about the difficulty of sharing thoughts like these. “I feel obliged to speak the truth to my contemporaries and I feel ashamed if they take me to be someone who I am not. In their opinion, a person who ‘had faith’ is fortunate. They assume that as a result of certain inner experiences he was able to find an answer, while they know only questions. So how can I make a profession of faith in the presence of my fellow human beings? After all, I am one of them, seeking, as they do, the laws of inheritance, and I am just as confused. . . .”

But let us come to the content of what he believed: “To put it very simply and bluntly, I must ask if I believe that the four Gospels tell the truth. My answer to this is: Yes. So I believe in an absurdity, that Jesus rose from the dead? Just answer without any of those evasions and artful tricks employed by theologians: Yes or No? I answer: Yes, and by that response I nullify death’s omnipotence. If I am mistaken in my faith, I offer it as a challenge to the Spirit of the Earth. . . .” Later in the same piece he asked, “Ought I to try to explain ‘why I believe’? I don’t think so. It should suffice if I attempt to convey the coloring or tone. If I believed that man can do good with his own powers, I would have no interest in Christianity. But he cannot, because he is enslaved to his own predatory, domineering instincts. . . . Evil grows and bears fruit, which is understandable, because it has logic and probability on its side and also, of course, strength. The resistance of tiny kernels of good, to which no one grants the power of causing far-reaching consequences, is entirely mysterious, however. Such seeming nothingness not only lasts but contains within itself enormous energy which is revealed gradually. One can draw momentous conclusions from this.”

Milosz believed that the religious question ought to be explored in the mainstream of literature and culture. As he grew older, he used the authority he had acquired to challenge those of his colleagues who believed that discussions of religion were beneath their dignity. “To write on literature or art was considered an honorable occupation,” he wrote in 1997, “whereas any time notions taken from the language of religion appeared, the one who brought them up was immediately treated as lacking in tact, as if a silent pact had been broken. Yet I lived at a time when a huge change in the contents of the human imagination was occurring. In my lifetime Heaven and Hell disappeared, the belief in life after death was considerably weakened. How could I not think of this? And is it not surprising that my preoccupation was a rare case?”

Czeslaw Milosz stood apart as a poet who dared to be preoccupied with such things. He believed that many of the horrors of the twentieth century had their roots in the effort to liberate people from religion. Milosz witnessed these efforts first-hand and reflected on their results: “Religion, opium for the people. To those suffering pain, humiliation, illness, and serfdom, it promised a reward in an afterlife. And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murder we are not going to be judged.”

The evidence of Milosz’s Christianity is spread throughout his poems and essays in fragmentary clues. Rarely did he discuss the topic systematically. His faith was often a kind of secret which, once noticed, could explain at least in part his choice of themes and subjects. But sometimes it would come to the surface of his work. In 2002, Milosz published a long poem that was meant to function as a testimonial, A Theological Treatise. Milosz was aware that he was risking his reputation by venturing to write about theology, but he chose to use his credibility and clout to address a theme that literary fashion silently prohibited. “Why theology?” he asks in the first paragraph of this poem. (There are twenty-three paragraphs in the whole treatise, each containing varying numbers of stanzas.) He answers, “Because the first must be first. / And first is a notion of truth.” The paragraph concludes with a plea and a stipulation: “Let reality return to our speech. / That is, meaning. Impossible without an absolute point of reference.” In this testimonial poem, Milosz directly acknowledges God as the absolute point of reference. Many of the Christian themes scattered throughout his writings are here gathered together. One such theme is the frank expression of his own struggle with various elements of Catholic life. He always took theology seriously, but he sometimes wrote about theologians with bitter irony. He found the clericalism in some sectors of the Polish Church to be exaggerated and distasteful. “I apologize, most reverend theologians, for a tone not befitting / the purple of your robes. // I thrash in the bed of my style, searching for a comfortable position, / not too sanctimonious, not too mundane. // There must be a middle place between abstraction and childishness / where one can talk seriously about serious things.”

Milosz was wary of the comfortable abstract formulas offered by the academic theologian; they seemed to have little to do with the horrible questions his life story had forced him to confront. He recoiled from mechanical presentations of doctrine and easy explanations of suffering. When a clerical and theological style becomes stiff or sanctimonious, it cannot be taken seriously by people engaged in life-and-death struggles. But a poetry that spoke only of this-worldly things—a poetry that was “too mundane”—would fail to satisfy the deepest longings of the heart. Milosz rightly aims for a “middle place” where it is possible to “talk seriously about serious things.”
Yet Milosz believed, somewhat problematically, that the most serious things resisted any kind of definition. The mysteries of the faith were to be praised, described, but not explained. “Catholic dogmas are a few inches too high; we stand on our toes / and for a moment it seems to us that we see,” he writes in the Treatise. “Yet the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the mystery of Original Sin, / the mystery of the Redemption are all well armored against reason . . . // What in all that can be grasped by little girls dressed in white for First Communion?”

Milosz’s long testimonial poem also reveals his gnostic leanings. The tendency makes for interesting poems, but it adds to his difficulties with Catholic theology. “Not out of frivolity, most reverend theologians, I busied myself with the secret / knowledge of many centuries, but out of the pain in my heart when I looked out / at the atrocity of the world.” Here Milosz is explaining and justifying his turn to gnostic texts for help. He addresses himself to the “most reverend theologians” to complain that his need was not being met by their pat assurances. The pain Milosz refers to in this poem is not merely an intellectual sorrow: he is writing not just about the universal tragedy; he is writing about the tragedies of his own life. Wounded by the betrayals and injustices he has witnessed, he longs to understand the mysteries of evil and innocent suffering: “If God is all-powerful, he can allow all this only if he is not good. // Wherefrom then the limits of his power? Why such an order of creation? They all / tried to find an answer, heretics, kabbalists, alchemists, the Knights of the Rose Cross.” Here he cites the gnostic sources to which he turned. Surely he was led in this direction by reading Jacob Boehme, who had so strongly influenced Adam Mickiewicz, the critical point of reference for all modern Polish poetry.
It would have been impossible for Milosz not to have gone this gnostic way, at least to some extent. In addition to the Mickiewicz influence, his own temperament inclined him toward it. The horrors he lived through caused him to pose the same questions as these gnostic texts, and orthodox Christianity was not giving him the spiritual answers he needed. But if the Christianity of his time and place was not delivering those answers, this does not mean that the answers were not there. And in Milosz’s struggle we see him betray an instinctive understanding that this may be the case. This explains why, in the midst of the Treatise’s lengthy discussion of gnostic questions, he also narrates his own practice of Catholic life. He is being driven by something larger than himself, and it is nothing less than his whole Catholic faith, whether he always chooses it or not. He admits, “Alas, an American saying has applied to me, though it was not coined with kindly intent: / ‘Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.’” He is not always comfortable with his religious inheritance, and yet something compels him never to abandon it.

Milosz often sensed a lack in his own faith, and he confesses this in the Treatise, as elsewhere (see “Distance,” above): “Why not concede,” he asks, “that I have not progressed, in my religion, / past the Book of Job?” This can best be understood in light of something he tells us later in the poem: “Only a dark tone, an inclination toward a peculiar Manichean / strain of Christianity, could have led one to the proper trail.” Here “the proper trail” means the proper interpretation of his work. All this comes in the paragraph that begins, “To present myself at last as an heir to mystical lodges . . .” He is confessing much, disclosing much, at these points in his testament. He is providing his readers with clearer information about his spiritual life. Hence the “at last” which introduces this revealing paragraph. He is expressing relief as he finally reveals the sources and limits of his religious anxiety.

What is significant for Milosz’s readers in this kind of writing is that he names in himself what is a fundamental religious question of our times; namely, getting past Job. Getting past Job—or for that matter, getting past a Manichean Christianity—is a serious religious challenge. The Christian tradition is in fact equipped to take the serious searcher past Job, but it was precisely this part of the tradition that was somehow not delivered to Milosz and which does not appear in the poem. I would suggest that it is only possible to move past Job by going through Job.

There is a tradition of Christian exegesis which reads Job as a prophecy of Christ. One can even imagine Job’s complaint provoking the Incarnation and the cross as the response from God. The prefiguration becomes explicit at Job 10:4-5, where Job says to God, “Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees? Are your days as the days of a mortal?” In fact, in the Incarnation and the death of Jesus, God can now answer Yes to this question. This Yes is strongly underlined in the phrase from St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians 2:8: “obedient unto death, yes, death on a cross.” In the same part of the poem where Milosz quipped about the little girls dressed in white for First Communion, he also warns, “And it will not do to prattle on about sweet little Jesus / in the hay of his cradle.” But, of course, sweet little Jesus in the hay is not the central announcement of Christian faith. The central announcement is Jesus Christ, “and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Milosz’s warning against a sweet little Jesus is equivalent to Job’s demand for a serious answer to his serious question. But the death of Jesus on the cross is God’s serious answer. In the end, Milosz’s Treatise does not grapple deeply enough with this divine answer.

To come back to Milosz’s words at this point in the poem, he notes a difference between himself and Job—namely, that Job thought of himself as innocent while the poet is not. “I was not innocent, I wanted to be innocent, but I couldn’t be.” But in the end it was not Job’s innocence that was important but rather the majesty and mystery of God, before which Job bowed down and became silent. In an earlier writing Milosz had shown himself to be aware that this was the key insight of Job, even if, in the poet’s version of the story, God says things that are rather more severe than anything to be found in the book of Job. In a little essay titled “Misfortune” in Milosz’s ABCs, Milosz writes, “To create a universe like the one we have is not nice. ‘And why should I have to be nice?’ asks God. ‘Where did you get such ideas?’” This is strong thinking. It is acquiescence to the impenetrable mystery of God, an acquiescence to whatever of God the death of Jesus on the cross is meant to reveal.

When in the Treatise Milosz refers to his own practices as a Catholic, he speaks with a remarkable humility, contrasting his own weakness with the strength of the communion to which he belongs. This humility is especially striking since Milosz was, by temperament, a proud man, as he himself often acknowledged. His fine mind and his natural sophistication caused him to hesitate before the requirements of faith. But in the end he rejected the option of turning his sophistication against more simple believers. Near the very beginning of the Treatise he states, “The opposition, I versus they, seemed immoral. / It meant he [Milosz] considered himself better than they were.” At the end, having agonized through much of the poem over the questions posed by his gnostic favorites, he comes back much more strongly to a defense of the categories of Christian worship. “Treat with understanding persons of weak faith. // Myself included,” he writes. “One day I believe, another I disbelieve. // Yet I feel warmth among people at prayer. / Since they believe, they help me to believe / in their existence, these incomprehensible beings. . . // Naturally, I am a skeptic. Yet I sing with them, / thus overcoming the contradiction / between my private religion and the religion of the rite.”

This confession repeats a theme that Milosz has accented frequently in his poetry. Let three poems suffice as examples. In one he speaks approvingly of “Helene’s Religion”: “On Sunday I go to church and pray with all the others. / Who am I to think I am different?” And yet, familiar disappointment in the Church rises to the surface as Helene says, “Enough that I don’t listen to what the priests blabber in their sermons. / Otherwise, I would have to concede that I reject common sense.” Then, speaking for and with Milosz himself, she continues: “I have tried to be a faithful daughter of my Roman Catholic Church. / I recite the Our Father, the Credo and Hail Mary / Against my abominable unbelief.” Here the solid regularity of Catholic practice faces down Milosz’s reflexive skepticism.

In “With Her” Milosz speaks of hearing a passage from Scripture during Mass at St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley: “A reading this Sunday from the Book of Wisdom / About how God has not made death / And does not rejoice in the annihilation of the living.” We should not be surprised that the words catch his attention. They directly address the key question that he and the gnostics often posed: how to reconcile death and innocent suffering with the notion of a good God. The poem continues: “A reading from the Gospel according to Mark / About a little girl to whom He said: ‘Talitha, cumi!’” Then, with an unselfconscious humility, the poet witnesses to how he has received these words. He writes, “This is for me. To make me rise from the dead / And repeat the hope of those who lived before me.” Here Milosz is exactly a Christian— the scriptural word is received as a word for him in that moment, together with all those who have believed before him. The theological term for this is “communion of saints.”
The poem “In a Parish” can serve as a third example of Milosz’s understanding of Catholic practice. He begins, “Had I not been frail and half broken inside, / I wouldn’t think of them, who are like myself half broken inside. / I would not climb the cemetery hill by the church / To get rid of my self-pity.” Here again is Milosz involved in Catholic practice, the visiting of cemeteries being an especially strong part of Polish Catholicism. But he is also bringing to explicit expression what is implicit in any Christian gathering, whether among the living or the dead—namely, the recognition that we are all frail and broken. This is, among other things, what brings Christians together across differences of background. As Milosz looks at the names on the tombs, from his own “half broken inside” he begins to establish a communion with those buried there, musing ironically on the meanings of the names he reads: “Crazy Sophies, / Michaels who lost every battle, / Self-destructive Agathas.” When a child is born we name him or her with an uncomplicated hope. But then the child grows up and a sadder story must be told. Still, Milosz sees all these lives under the sign that, for a Christian, ultimately explains existence: they all “Lie under crosses with their dates of birth and death.” And in this moment the poet feels his vocation again. He asks, “And who / is going to express them? Their mumblings, weepings, hopes, tears of humiliation?” Milosz does not answer this question in the poem, but his work as poet has always been to give voice to precisely this: all the sad, neglected stories of so many men and women.

But for Christian faith, under every cross and every sad story lies the hope of resurrection. It is this that Milosz ultimately expresses as he gives voice to the dead. The poem ends with him addressing them all: “Thus we go down into the earth, my fellow parishioners.” We may call this a sad story, but we should also note the communion expressed in going down to death with “fellows.” And how do we all go down? “With the hope that the trumpet of judgment will call us by our names.” Christian faith teaches that such a call will not summon us to some vague eternity. Instead, we shall be renewed as the particular persons we were meant to be, expressed mysteriously in our names, their deepest, truest meaning now revealed in the “judgment that will call us by our names.” And this in the “new heavens and new earth” promised by the Scripture (2 Peter 3:13). And so Milosz concludes, “Instead of eternity, greenness and the movement of clouds. / They rise then, thousands of Sophias, Michaels, Matthews, / Marias, Agathas, Bartholomews. / So that at last they know why / And for what reason?”

These three poems may help us to understand Milosz’s ultimate message in the Treatise—namely, his choice to “sing with them,” his fellow Christians, despite the fact that he is naturally a skeptic, and despite his lengthy grappling with gnostic theories.

In the last stanza of the Treatise, Milosz addresses himself directly to the “Beautiful Lady, you who appeared to the children at Lourdes and Fatima.” Such a direct invocation involved a great risk; Milosz knew it might alienate many of his readers. They would wonder how such a serious writer could take seriously the Marian apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima. Believing in the authenticity of such apparitions is not even a requirement of Catholic faith. And yet here is Milosz admitting, “I too have been a pilgrim in Lourdes / by the grotto,” and further, “Lady, I asked you for a miracle.” And if these revelations of common piety upset his nonreligious admirers, he, too, was somewhat upset by the experience: “My presence in such a place was disturbed / By my duty as a poet who should not flatter popular imaginings, / Yet who desires to remain faithful to your unfathomable intention / When you appeared to children at Fatima and Lourdes.”

We must take this as his last word in this long poem (that is in fact what it is). After rehearsing all his anguished questions and the gnostic solutions to which he had sometimes turned along the way, he finishes with a serene prayer to the Beautiful Lady and takes children as his model. He no longer demands a transparent solution to the problem of innocent suffering. Instead, he expresses a humbler aim: to remain faithful to the “unfathomable intention” of the mother of Christ. Milosz had suggested earlier in this stanza that part of this intention has to do with beauty: “As if you wished to remind them that beauty is / one of the components of the world.” The Lady herself is beautiful, as is the place where she appears, “in Lourdes / by the grotto, where you hear the rustle of the river and, / in the pure blue sky above the mountains, a narrow scrap of moon.”

Milosz wished to bear witness to the great Christian insight about beauty, so memorably expressed by Dostoevsky: beauty will save the world. For Milosz this was not an insight arrived at late in life; the Treatise presents us with the mature version of what we already saw in the poetry he was writing during the darkest period of the Second World War: “Gentle verses written in the midst of horror declare themselves for life.” As a young poet, Milosz knew that it was always the poet’s job to record and praise the world’s passing beauty. In the Treatise, the older Milosz reminds us that the poet receives this beauty from a permanent source beyond the world.

If this message about beauty was indeed part of the Lady’s intention, we might go on to ask whether her intention might ultimately concern the revelation of her Son as the secret of her own and the world’s beauty. After all, everything about Mary leads us in this direction. Non-Catholics often worry about an excessive Catholic devotion to Mary, and in some cases the worry is justified; but in Catholic teaching and tradition—and here Milosz is typically Catholic in making Mary his last reference—Mary, though beautiful in herself, leads us first and last to Christ, who is beautiful even in his dying. He is the Beauty that will save the world.

Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., is a Benedictine monk at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.
He teaches theology both at Mount Angel Seminary and
the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome.



At a certain distance I followed behind you, ashamed to come closer.
Though you have chosen me as a worker in your vineyard and I pressed the grapes of your wrath.
To every one according to his nature: what is crippled should not always be healed.
I do not even know whether one can be free, for I have toiled against my will.
Taken by the neck like a boy who kicks and bites
Till they sit him at the desk and order him to make letters,
I wanted to be like others but was given the bitterness of separation,
Believed I would be an equal among equals but woke up a stranger.
Looking at manners as if I arrived from a different time.
Guilty of apostasy from the communal rite.
There are so many who are good and just, those were rightly chosen
And wherever you walk the earth, they accompany you.
Perhaps it is true that I loved you secretly
But without strong hope to be close to you as they are.
Czeslaw Milosz

(Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass.
From the book New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001 by Czeslaw Milosz.
Copyright © 2001 by the author.
Published by arrangement with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bishops explain their views on election issues as Nov. 2 approaches 

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With the elections less than two weeks away, Catholic bishops took to the pages of secular and Catholic newspapers to explain their views on the key issues facing voters.

While Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver and Bishop Bernard W. Schmitt of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., focused on abortion as the most important moral issue of the day, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit said the policies of President George W. Bush were "in opposition to a culture of life" despite his stand on abortion.

Bishop Kenneth A. Angell of Burlington, Vt., noted in a letter read at all Masses in Vermont Oct. 23-24 that there is "no perfect being in humanity ... no perfect politician ... no perfect leader." But he said Catholic politicians and voters both have a responsibility to learn the truth taught by the church and not to distort Catholic teaching.

Comments by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago in a recent edition of his archdiocesan newspaper centered on the church's response to Catholic politicians who support abortion. He said he had not directed anyone to refuse Communion to those politicians "because I believe it would turn the reception of holy Communion into a circus here."

Archbishop Chaput's comments on "Faith and Patriotism" in an Oct. 22 op-ed piece for The New York Times were similar to those he has made in earlier talks, columns and interviews.

He criticized those who say Catholics "must not impose their beliefs on society" and who warn about the need for separation of church and state, saying that "we should recognize these slogans for what they are: frequently dishonest and ultimately dangerous sound bites."

"People who support permissive abortion laws have no qualms about imposing their views on society," Archbishop Chaput wrote. "Why should the rules of engagement be different for citizens who oppose those laws?"

The Denver leader said Catholics, whether voters or politicians, "are doubly unfaithful -- both to our religious convictions and to our democratic responsibilities -- if we fail to support the right to life of the unborn child."

"Our duties to social justice by no means end there," he said. "But they do always begin there because the right to life is foundational."

Bishop Schmitt, in a letter to Catholics made public Oct. 20, called abortion "the greatest moral evil of our age" and said it is "so grave and profound an evil that it calls all men and women of good will to action."

"In light of that truth, a Catholic who deliberately votes for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion is guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil," he said.

"When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, such an action can only be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons," Bishop Schmitt said. "I cannot think of a value to put on innocent human life and the right to life; others, in conscience, may be able to."

Bishop Gumbleton, writing in the Oct. 20 op-ed section of the Detroit Free Press, said that if Bush were to visit Detroit's inner city he would meet "many men, women and children who have dramatically experienced the effects of his policies."

"When Bush travels the country, he often says that he stands 'for a culture of life in which every person counts and every being matters,'" the bishop wrote. "These words resonate deeply with Catholics. But is Bush's agenda really the Catholic agenda?"

Citing the president's policies on the Iraqi war, capital punishment, health insurance, jobs and poverty, Bishop Gumbleton said Catholics must "call on Bush to account for a deeply troubling record."

"And we must also challenge Democrats to embrace the entire culture of life, not just a selective economic and social agenda," he added, calling the 2004 elections a choice from among "imperfect candidates."

"What we will not do is vote for a candidate just because he uses words that we like to hear, remembering, as Scripture tells us, that we must be 'doers of the word and not hearers only,'" Bishop Gumbleton said.

Bishop Angell's letter, which was also published in the Oct. 22 issue of The Vermont Catholic Tribune, Burlington's diocesan newspaper, quoted extensively from the U.S. bishops' document, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility."

"How do we imperfect human beings recognize the truth and apply it to our responsibility to vote, to choose between two imperfect candidates, especially when it seems both are infringing on life in one way or another?" he asked.

"We must tirelessly hone our judgments, inform our consciences and measure each person, politician or platform according to how close they come to living the way, speaking the truth, and respecting and protecting life," Bishop Angell said.

The bishop urged "prominent figures who profess the Catholic faith" to take "great care to lead, not mislead, the faithful on any and all respect-life issues."

"Public statements and opinions which distort Catholic Church teachings can confuse the faithful, cause them great pain and promote disunity within the church," he added.

Cardinal George, in his column for the Oct. 10-23 edition of The Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper, revisited the question of whether Catholic politicians who support keeping abortion legal should receive Communion, saying that such a decision should be left to a politician's pastor after discussions between the two.

"A firm case can be made that refusing Communion, after pastoral counseling and discussion, is a necessary response to the present scandal," he wrote. "Some bishops have made that case. If I haven't made it in this archdiocese, it's primarily because I believe it would turn the reception of holy Communion into a circus here."

Saying that the Eucharist is "our highest, most perfect, form of worship of God," Cardinal George said it "should be manipulated by no one, for any purpose."

Copyright (c) 2004 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Renoir's Last Painting - (a poem by Benedct Auer) 

by Benedict Auer

Nenette had gathered anemones

for beside your sickbed

while the sun slit the sky,

and as you lay in bed,

too weak to leave it,

you ask for your paintbox,

and for several hours

you become the flowers -

buttercup sunlights canvas,

lemon light across your face,

pain is forgotten.

Your petrified hand

rigidly curled inward

grips the brush,

afraid to let go, knowing when you do

it will be forever.

When you drop the brush, your head falls to the pillow,

and filled with awe you whisper

"I think I am beginning

to understand...."


Renoir's Last Painting

by Benedict Auer


Thursday, October 07, 2004

"Sustainable Development" Means to Focus on People, Says Vatican 

Vatican Official Addresses U.N. Panel

NEW YORK, OCT. 6, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The key to guaranteeing "sustainable development" is to put the person at the center of attention, says a Holy See official.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations, expressed that conviction Tuesday when addressing the U.N. committee studying the question of sustainable development.

"Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature," the prelate said. "For this reason we believe that sustainable development must always be considered within the context of an authentic human ecology."

"In order to proceed more quickly towards sustainable development, useful steps forward will be made by means of the broadest participation of stakeholders," he suggested.

"Through their active involvement, the essential principles of solidarity and subsidiarity will be respected. It is through these two principles that stakeholders will come to perceive that the needs of all, not just some, must always be taken into account," the archbishop added.

"In this context, what is important is to guarantee an appropriate accountability on the part of those directing programs and projects on sustainable development, so that decisions taken will reflect the concerns of the people that the programs meant to help," the Vatican official said.

"In this sense, it would be most helpful if persons living on or beyond the margins of society were actually considered as true actors in their own development," the archbishop suggested.

"People are not tools but central participants in the determination of their future. In their specific economic and political circumstances, they should be left to exercise the creativity that is characteristic of the human person and upon which the wealth of nations depends," he stressed.

"Sustainable development should thus be aimed at inclusion, something that will only be attained through equitable international cooperation, participation and partnership," he added.

"The marginalized, while stakeholders, are often deprived of their voice at the negotiating table. Only the bond of solidarity can guarantee a real change in this regard," Archbishop Migliore said.

"Genuine global prosperity and progress on issues of sustainable development depend on the unification of the interests of all people," he indicated.

This is why the Holy See took this opportunity, he said, "to appeal for an integrated strategy that will reinforce the kind of solidarity in which all, not just some, people can exercise joint stewardship."

Monday, October 04, 2004

Corporate success comes from ethics, not profits 

By Catholic News Service
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CNS) -- Using the business practices of the Knights of Columbus' insurance company as an example, the head of the Knights said corporations can succeed by placing ethical values above profit margins.Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the 1.7 million-member organization based in New Haven, spoke Sept. 28 at the St. Thomas More Center on the campus of Yale University in New Haven."Contrary to the impression given by recent scandals in the business world, not only is it possible to conduct business from a moral standpoint, but it is possible to do so in a way that is successful," Anderson said."Furthermore, I think that Catholics have an important contribution to make in this area and there are lessons that may be learned from the experience of the Knights of Columbus," he added.Although any company will be subject to "failures in training, in diligence, in prudence and in foresight," Anderson said, "ethical decision-making should permeate every aspect of the life of a company and its employees" and "should provide the context for product development, marketing, investments and employee relationships."In addition to being a volunteer Catholic men's organization involved in charitable activities, the Knights is a fraternal benefit society that has more than $52 billion of insurance in force for its members and their families and more than $11 billion of assets under management, the Knights' leader said.He said the insurance operation -- which employs 650 people in New Haven and nearly 1,400 agents across the United States and Canada -- is "one of only six insurance corporations out of approximately 1,700 in North America" receiving top ratings from Standard and Poor's, A.M. Best and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association."And I would suggest to you that a principal reason that we were able to achieve that ... is because we have been steadfastly committed to our motto, 'Protecting Families for Generations,'" Anderson said.Among the business decisions made by the Knights which would seem to favor ethics over profits, he cited:-- Its marketing code of ethics, based on the Ten Commandments, which calls on agents to "present honestly and accurately all facts necessary to enable a member to make an informed decision."-- A follow-up of randomly selected clients about whether they understood what they purchased and their level of satisfaction.-- A mandatory third-part mediation system, in which clients with a complaint may be represented by counsel at no cost to themselves."We think a Catholic company ought to be able to develop a system of dispute resolution without depending upon trial attorneys and lengthy court proceedings," Anderson said.-- Refusal to invest in any companies with ties to abortion, contraception, pornography, for-profit health care, embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning."Even though we have consistently applied these ethical criteria to our investments and therefore have refused to invest in companies that many analysts insist are superior investments, we have continued to achieve strong earnings year after year," he said.-- A commitment to employee-employer relationships based on "recognition of the dignity of all those whose efforts combine to form the cooperative initiative that makes a company's efforts a success."Employees -- many of whom have been represented by unions since the 1960s -- make no contribution to their health care coverage and receive significant educational incentives, Anderson said. He also expressed pride at the fact that recent union contract negotiations were completed three months before contract expiration and extended the existing contract for three years "with only one minor language change."Anderson opened and closed his talk with references to former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who wrote in "The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice" that the communist regime had "reduced gifted and talented people to nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy and stinking machine, whose real meaning is not clear to anyone.""Gifted and talented people should not be reduced to 'nuts and bolts,'" the Knights' leader said. "The moment a company loses sight of the reality that its people -- its employees -- are its most important resource, that is the moment a company begins to lose both its moral foundation and its capacity for long-term success."

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This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Serving the poor is to be preferred above all things

A writing of St Vincent de Paul

Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause.Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.

© Copyright 1996-2004 Universalis Publishing Ltd

The word "angel" denotes a function rather than a nature

A sermon of Pope St Gregory the Great

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy”.Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle. Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

© Copyright 1996-2004 Universalis Publishing Ltd

Pope donates $100,000 toward relief efforts in flood-stricken Haiti
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II dedicated $100,000 to fund relief efforts in flood-stricken Haiti. Through the Vatican's charity arm, "Cor Unum," the pope earmarked the money to help Caritas Haiti purchase drinking water, food and medicine after the string of powerful tropical storms and hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean. The pope's gift was announced by the Vatican Sept. 27 after Caritas Internationalis launched a major appeal for funding relief efforts in Haiti. Caritas is seeking $900,000 in funding and donations to provide supplies to tens of thousands of people left homeless by Tropical Storm Jeanne. Mudslides triggered by heavy flooding killed more than 1,600 people and injured 100,000 more in Haiti after the storm hit the island in mid-September. At least another 1,000 people are reportedly still missing and feared dead. "The hardest-hit region is the city of Gonaives and the surrounding area. ... The damage was catastrophic for residents, all of whose homes and buildings were flooded, some beyond repair," the Caritas appeal said. The U.N. World Food Program estimated some 175,000 people in Haiti have been left without food, water and electricity. Caritas said the emergency funding would supply kitchen utensils, sleeping bags, tents, medicine, chlorine and clean drinking water to 2,000 families in three different parts of Haiti. A Caritas emergency response team also has been dispatched to help local Caritas officials assess further needs.Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, has provided $500,000 to purchase food and health and hygiene supplies, said Sheyla Biamby, CRS spokeswoman in Haiti.Biamby told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview that security was a major issue in Gonaives, with aid trucks being looted before reaching the poor.Water and hunger also were issues as a result of the lack of security and poor condition of the roads. Most of Gonaives remained under three feet of water, she said Sept. 27.About 1,000 Haitians fled to the cathedral in Gonaives, 400 to the home of Bishop Yves-Marie Pean of Gonaives and another 300 to the Caritas compound in Dolan, outside Gonaives, she said.Though not as powerful as other hurricanes and tropical storms this year, Jeanne has been the deadliest and is considered to be the worst tropical storm to have swept across the Caribbean in more than a decade. Haiti has been especially hard hit this year; in May, floods killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed many towns and villages. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; 80 percent of the nation's people live below the poverty line. Recent hurricanes and tropical storms caused extensive property damage in the United States, but without the loss of life caused in Haiti, noted the head of the U.S. bishops' international policy committee. "Hurricane Ivan did great damage in my Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, as in other parts of this country, but nothing can compare to the devastation and loss of life suffered by the people of Gonaives," Florida Bishop John H. Ricard said in a letter to Archbishop Hubert Constant of Cap Haitien, president of the Haitian bishops' conference. Bishop Ricard noted that while aid agencies such as Caritas and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services have moved quickly in responding to the Haitian disaster, more aid was needed. The bishop said it was essential "that neighboring countries, and especially the United States, urgently provide the financial and material resources required at this time." "We call on our government to go well beyond the limited aid thus far announced," he said. - - -Contributing to this story was Stephen Steele in Washington.END


Copyright (c) 2004 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250
Vatican official tells U.N. war in Iraq did not make world safer
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Addressing the United Nations, a leading Vatican official said the war in Iraq did not make the world safer and that defeating terrorism will require multilateral cooperation that goes beyond short-term military operations. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's top foreign affairs official, made the remarks Sept. 29 in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The text was released at the Vatican Sept. 30. Archbishop Lajolo offered a far-ranging review of Vatican positions on peace and justice issues, saying global poverty must be the No. 1 priority for the United Nations and for all international agencies. "The urgency of the situation cannot tolerate delay," he said. He noted that hundreds of millions of people are living below the threshold of what is necessary, and tens of millions of children are undernourished. Turning to Iraq, Archbishop Lajolo said the Vatican's opposition to military action in Iraq in 2002-2003 was well known. "Everyone can see that it did not lead to a safer world either inside or outside Iraq," he said. Under the present circumstance, he added, the Vatican believes it is imperative to support the provisional Iraqi government as it tries to bring the country to normality and establish a political system that is "substantially democratic and in harmony with the values of its historic traditions." He called terrorism an "aberrant phenomenon, utterly unworthy of man" that today threatens all countries. While every nation has the right to protect its citizens, he said, "it seems obvious that terrorism can only be effectively challenged through a concerted multilateral approach ... and not through the politics of unilateralism." "No one is in any doubt that the fight against terrorism means, first and foremost, neutralizing its active breeding grounds. But the underlying causes are many and complex: political, social, cultural, religious," he said. For that reason, he said, even more important is long-term action directed at terrorism's roots and designed to stop it from spreading. Archbishop Lajolo addressed several other major international issues: -- On disarmament, he called for severe and effective international controls on the production and sales of conventional weapons. He praised U.N. efforts to date, but said "huge economic interests" remain as obstacles. Weapons of mass destruction and their possible use represent a separate problem, the archbishop said. But he reminded the assembly that conventional weapons are being used in "numerous armed conflicts that stain the world in blood" and in terrorism. -- The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said, will require not only justice but also mutual forgiveness, which requires greater courage than the use of weapons. He called on a return to the "road map" peace plan, which has been formally accepted by both parties. -- African conflicts in Sudan, Somalia, the Great Lakes region, Ivory Coast and elsewhere call for greater international attention and authoritative intervention by the African Union, he said. -- The right to life has special application in the human cloning issue, Archbishop Lajolo said. The United Nations is scheduled to debate it this fall. The archbishop reiterated the Vatican's call for a comprehensive ban on human cloning; he said the Vatican supports procurement of adult stem cells as opposed to cells taken from human embryos. Archbishop Lajolo also raised the question of U.N. internal reform aimed at increasing its peacekeeping effectiveness around the world. In general, he said, the United Nations needs more room to operate before conflicts begin. He suggested that the United Nations be given "special prerogatives to facilitate action to prevent conflicts at times of international crisis, and also, when absolutely necessary, 'humanitarian intervention,' that is, action aimed at disarming the aggressor." Quoting Pope John Paul II, the archbishop said U.N. effectiveness will also depend on whether it can rise from "the cold status of an administrative institution" to the status of "a moral center" where all the nations of the world feel at home. END


Copyright (c) 2004 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250

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