Thursday, October 25, 2007


I'm having a long-running e-mail conversation with one of the Inquirers. He has an exacting mind, having been in military intelligence, and now is a trial lawyer. Whenever I receive a question from him, there's always a sense of exhilaration and trepidation at the same time. One of the things that I'm learning to exercise is the "listening" part to the questions. There's listening...hearing or reading the sequence of words and finding a corresponding answer from the knowledge base...and then there's perceiving what the real question is. This is where relying on and listening to the Holy Spirit comes in. Invariably, I'll ask him a question to make him clarify what he's asking. Which leads to more questions and eventually, we'll arrive at the heart of his question. I think he enjoys that I always answer him with a question and not a direct answer. I don't think he's trying to bait me because he's too intent on learning the Catholic faith.

For example, the "Why-does-God-allow-evil-to-exist" question which I thought he threw out in a casual manner and which I challenged him on, two exchanges later ended at "What's the real meaning of my life? Where am I going?" I answered him with the theology of the Mass. It was an unexpected answer for him, but one he cogitated over.

During class times, he'll surprise me when, in the usual round-table discussions, he'll answer a classmate's question with something that we had discussed in the e-mail letters, all the while looking me straight in the eyes with that trial-lawyer intensity making sure that what he was saying was on the right path. I'll answer him with a slight smile, then he'll lean back into his chair, put his steepled forefingers to his lips, and continue to stare at me. It's as though he's trying to will all that I know out of me. Most disconcerting at the beginning, but now it just amuses me.

Whenever he misses class, he'll make arrangements to make up that session, not wanting to miss anything, not even one crumb of class material. I'm humbled by his focus. His wife is a skeptic and so our conversations have changed to how to live the Catholic life with a spouse who doesn't believe. It's a subtle change, but a revolutionary one, from the casual inquirer to his Yes. On the other hand, there's nothing casual about him. The nonchalance is an opening gambit, putting out the feelers, so to speak.

Now, he has questions about St. Thomas More, discerning whether to ask him to be his patron saint. And he also wants to put his children in CCD. Last year, I may have greeted that with hesitation, but our new CCD director has changed focus with a return to the Baltimore Catechism.

I'm glad I said Yes to this job.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In Full Swing

RCIA season is in full swing, and because we have a year-round program, I am teaching multiple tracks at the same time. Someone asked me once if I ever felt burned out by the sometimes fever-pitch of the teaching pace. It seemed an odd question then as it does now. Because if one were doing the will of God, then the grace to accomplish the task is infused into the doer of the task.

And certainly, being the unexpected catechist that I am, there is a greater reliance on my part on the grace of God for me to even begin to imagine how to go from day-to-day with the mounting responsibilities.

There is the legitimate question, however, of how does one nourish one's soul so that the teaching, an act of giving, doesn't become burdensome? Pope Benedict XVI's catechesis today on St. Ambrose, a saint whom I love and admire, had this to say about Ambrose and in it had a message for all catechists:

There was always a long line of people waiting to speak to Ambrose hoping to get comfort and hope. When Ambrose was not with these people (and these were only for short periods of time), it was only because he had to eat ['restore his body with the necessary food'] or feed his soul by reading.

In this respect, Augustine expressed wonder because Ambrose read Scriptures silently, only with his eyes (cfr Confess. 6,3). Indeed, in the early centuries of Christianity, reading Scriptures was thought of strictly in terms of being proclaimed, and reading aloud facilitated understanding even for the one who was reading it.

That Ambrose could read through the pages with his eyes only indicated to Augustine not just a singular manner of reading but a familiarity with Scriptures.

So, reading 'in a whisper'- where the heart is involved and achieves a knowledge of the Word of God - is the icon I referred to, in which one can see the method of Ambrosian catechesis: it is Scriptures itself, intimately assimilated, that suggests the content of what one must announce in order to achieve conversion of hearts.

Thus, going by the magisterium of Ambrose and Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from the testimony of one's life. The catechist may also avail of what I wrote in Introduction to Christianity about theologians: He who wishes to educate others in the faith cannot risk appearing like some sort of clown, who recites his lines by rote. Rather, to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose, he should be the like the beloved disciple, who rested his head on the Master's heart and there learned how to think, speak and act.

In the end, the true disciple is he who proclaims the Gospel in the most credible and effective way.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

God's Grandeur Podcast

Brodick Bay, Arran, Scotland

Click here to play

The Windhover
To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

    No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
       With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
          Praise him.

God's Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.