In the beginning . . .

This is the first installment of  the chronicle my study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This catechism was officially promulgated in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. According to the description of the Logos electronic version, which I am using, this is “the first ‘universal’ Catholic catechism since the Reformation, and only the second one in history.” That is remarkable in itself, given how many doctrinal statements Protestantism has produced in the last nearly 600 years. I do not know where this study will take me. I am open. Let it be.

First observation: Evangelical sentiments should be pleased with the following words found in the introduction of the Catechism. After describing the four-fold division of the Catechism (Creed, Sacred Liturgy, Christian way of life, Christian prayer), we read:

In reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, sent by the Father, made man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be our Savior. Having died and risen, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the sacraments; he is the source of our faith, the model of Christian conduct, and the Teacher of our prayer.

Note the emphasis upon the centrality of Christ; there is no confusing the significance of Mary with that of Jesus.

Second observation: Lest we think that Catholicism is a religion of salvation by works, we find this:

Grace, the fruit of the sacraments, is the irreplaceable condition for Christian living, just as participation in the Church’s Liturgy requires faith. If faith is not expressed in works, it is dead (cf. Jas 2:14–16) and cannot bear fruit unto eternal life.

Is this not an echo of the biblical witness to the Christian way: we are saved by grace through a faith that is demonstrated by the way we live.

So far, so good.

with eyes wide open

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It is particularly helpful for fiction writers, which I am not, but also contains some fertile insights for all writers – and non-writers as well. Here she is commenting on the value of keeping attentive to the world we inhabit:

There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation. Or maybe you are not predisposed to see the world sacramentally, to see everything as an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace. This does not mean that you are a worthless Philistine. Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty or pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart . . . . If you start to look around, you will see.

Yes. To see God in the ordinary is to see the extraordinary God – the only god worth seeing. Certainly the only god worth trusting. Behold the anachronistic robin bob-bob-bobbin’ along in January, and be reminded of the God who surely cares more for you than all the birds of the air combined, in season and out. See through the window the brown, winter-dead flowers, and remember that all the springtime energy that went into creating their here-today-gone-tomorrow splendor is but a nano-droplet in the infinite bucket of God’s resources made available for all your needs.  Turn your fretting about hair loss into wonder that there is a God who had them all lovingly counted before the first follicle hung out its vacancy sign. And of course, we must not forget one of the most ordinary places to find God – in the toi toi. There we are reminded of the God who gives us, mercifully, a way to get rid of our dung: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

That last reminder was stimulated by another Lamottian insight:

To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering no hope to anyone.

O, God of the Ordinary, help us to extract our heads and see life with new and hopeful eyes – with your eyes.

the darkness keeps trying . . .

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” (The Gospel of St. John, 1:5)

But the darkness keeps trying. In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a deeply disturbing increase in what is being called “religious cleansing” in Muslim-majority countries like Iraq, Iran and Egypt. Today’s Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Iran Targets Christians With a Wave of Arrests.” For the most part the leaders of the world have been silent in their condemnation. One welcome exception is French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his speech yesterday to a gathering of religious leaders.

Let us pray for our brothers and sisters  . . .  and for a public outcry against the attacks. And let us remember, that try as it may, the darkness does not, will not, can not overcome the Light.

quote of the day – on the gift of good writing

As one who loves the ocean (and therefore has grave concerns about Revelation 21:1), good books and is in hopes of producing some good writing, these words of Anne Lamott caught my attention:

“An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I am grateful for the ocean.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

A Year of Heart-ease

My lovely lady recently came across stories of people who are trying mightily to simplify their lives. One approach was by women who went on a “closet diet” on which they wore only six items of clothing for a month. (www.sixitemsorless.com; www.farmersdaughterct.wordpress.com; ) The six item limit apparently did not include underwear.  One woman, Sheena Matheiken, wore the same black dress for a year as part of her effort to raise support for the education of children living in slums in India. (www.theuniformproject.com) Then there are the minimalists who challenge us to divest ourselves of all but 100 items. Try Googling “100 Things” to check it out. Most of the folks engaged in these projects are motivated by concern for living simpler, more “sustainable” lives that contribute to their personal well-being, to the protection of the environment and to the living conditions of others. Worthy causes to be sure.  Today I came upon another incentive for the simplification of our lives, from John Bunyan’s 332 year-old classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Excuse – or enjoy – the quaint old English:

Now as they [pilgrim, Mr. Greatheart, and their guide] were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding his father’s sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very fresh and well-favoured countenance, and as he sate by himself he sang. “Hark,” said Mr. Greatheart, “to what the shepherd’s boy saith.” So they hearkened, and he said:

He that is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low no pride:
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.

I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because thou savest much.

Fullness to such a burden is
That go on pilgrimage
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age.

Then said their guide, “Do you hear him? I will dare to say that this boy lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called hearts-ease in his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet.”

We could all use a bit more “hearts-ease” in our chests (I’ve always had a hard time saying the word “bosom” with a straight face). While closet diets and minimalist divestments may help, that indomitable Jew, Paul of Tarsus, has, I think, a better approach with a more certain outcome, regardless of how full (or empty) your closet might be:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

May the coming year bring you uncommon peace and deep heart-ease!

Worth Pondering . . .

“The main reason Christian believers today lack influence in the culture, despite their aspirations, is not because they don’t believe enough or try hard enough or think Christianly enough. It’s because they’ve been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.”

James Davison Hunter, author of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, in a May 2010 interview in Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/may/16.33.html?start=1)

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!

Feast your soul on this delicacy from the 17th Century English poet, Richard Crashaw. It’s a step up from “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span;
Summer in winter; day in night;
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.

from  “In the Holy Nativity of Our Lord God”
Richard Crashaw, 1652