Catholicism is truly a “Taste and See” kind of religion. Most religions are, to some extent, I suppose, but this is really true of Catholicism to an extent that truly gives me pause sometimes. I used to study when I didn’t know something about the faith, or didn’t understand it. Now, instead of studying, I practice it.
This poses challenges when it comes to sharing the faith. I remember a friend crying out on Facebook once: “Am I not your creature? Why will you not converse with me?” The only answer I could offer (and didn’t because I didn’t think it would help was, “conversation presupposes conversion.”
Atheists and agnostics say “You can’t prove there is a God, and that He loves me. I cannot trust something that isn’t proven.” The reality is the other way round. You cannot prove something without trusting it. I cannot prove the rope except by climbing it, or swinging from it. I cannot prove the parachute except by jumping it. I can’t even know the bread turned out well without cutting into it. We can test and retest and make checklists and follow procedures until we are blue in the face, but even in this mundane world of the physical, we don’t know until we trust. How much more in the world of friendship and human knowing? I cannot know my brother, my friend, or my wife is trustworthy until I trust her. That is precisely how I know.
Nowhere have I found this principle more in evidence than in my relationship with the Blessed Mother, and in talking about her with non-Catholics. I caveat by saying that I struggled, and still struggle, to understand her place in the economy of salvation. I started out firmly on the nervous “this-seems-a-little-too-much-like-worship-for-a-mere-creature” side of the fence. Again, it is not something you can parse your way through. You have to practice it.
After several decades of saying the rosary on the daily basis, if not always every single day (it was not a habit I had as a teenager. In fact, looking back at my prayer life as a teenager I know beyond a doubt that someone must have been praying for me a lot, because I sure wasn’t) I can say I have come to understand by experience in a way I never achieved through the many books on the topic.
It is an experience of praying with a person, to another Person. There is no question of anyone who prays the rosary regularly and with anything like attention worshiping Mary, because you will find yourself joining her in worshiping Him.
I cannot put it any more clearly than that. Worshiping Mary would be rather like worshiping the little old lady who seems practically to live at her parish church… you know the one, who still wears a mini-veil, attends every weekday Mass, leads the rosary before Mass, knits baby hats and blankets.
Then I read a few weeks ago (yes, I still read) in Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” a statement to the effect that part of the reason why Protestants have such a hard time understanding the difference between the worship we offer to God and the veneration we have for Mary, is because they have no sacraments. That clicked for me as well. To an ancient Jew, “worship” meant sacrifice. It meant animals killed, blood drained, fat and offal discarded and burned. It was a visceral experience, and more than that it was an objective act of taking some of your livestock, which was your wealth and livelihood, and giving it to the priests to slaughter, butcher and burn.
The early Christians would have come from the same world and would have continued with the same assumption. Worship means sacrifice, only now, there is only one sacrifice, once and for all, the Eternal Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross of His Body and Blood. It was this sacrifice which He bound into the Last Supper, and which the Church has participated in ever since in the Eucharist. It was this Sacrifice that Mary herself witnessed and participated in, and she worshiped her Son as He hung on the cross, and for the rest of her life in the Eucharist. We follow Jesus’ command to “Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood” but no one has ever claimed to eat Mary’s flesh, or drink her blood.
This fits with the experience of hundreds of hours spent with the rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I do not worship Mary. I kneel beside her as she worships her Son. In fact, I kneel with a great cloud of witnesses, all worshiping her Son with her. When I prepare for Communion I ask her to help me to prepare as she prepared to receive the Body of Jesus.
It does not solve any particular apologetic conundrums, I don’t think, but nevertheless, I think it may help others to think about it. It certainly helps me. It is one more reason to invite others, even those who are not Catholic but want to know Jesus to spend time praying the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Lord is King; the peoples tremble. He is throned upon the cherubim, the earth quakes. And yet, O Lord, before me you resemble My own smallness, littleness, helplessness. For our sake You dwell among the nothing; yet we dissemble And see you not. A cup of tiny cakes Contains the Uncontainable! We assemble Sit, stand, yawn, mumble; and when he breaks Your mystical body, I check my watch… And grumble.
The SSPX, a branch of the Catholic Church which broke from full communion with Rome after the reforms of Vatican II, has elected a new Superior General. They are a highly traditional group, often accused of being overly traditional, “ultra-conservative” and anachronistic. However, in an interview with the new superior general there is some sense that they are attempting to reach a more open and doctrinal view of the documents of Vatican II, rather than simply dismissing it out of hand.
Regardless, one passage struck me as exceptionally beautiful and true, regardless of the source.
At Mass, the faithful discover the echo of ephatha, “be opened”, pronounced by the priest at Baptism. Their soul is opened once more to the grace of the Holy Sacrifice. Even when they are very little, children who attend Mass are sensitive to the sacred meaning that the Traditional liturgy expresses. Above all, attending Mass makes fruitful the life of married couples, with all its trials, and gives it a profoundly supernatural meaning, for the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony flow from Our Lord’s sacrifice. Attending Mass is what reminds them that God wants to make use of them as cooperators in the most beautiful of His works: sanctifying and protecting the souls of their children.
This is so very true, especially of a traditional (dare I say, “more traditional”) liturgy, by which I include the Tridentine and also the Novus Ordo when done right.
May all couples rediscover the joy of attending Mass together.
Last sunday but one, now, (I meant to finish this last week but haven’t had time) was a great sightseeing day. I did some searching on the interwebs and found a sight that looked promising, read some reviews, got directions and basically sketched out a basic plan for the day.
Funny how that can make all the difference.
But before sightseeing, I went to Mass with another Catholic soldier.
I have written before that when I speak of “Home” I rarely mean a physical place. I am generally referring either to family or of a Catholic Church. That is the case whenever I arrive at a Catholic Church, I am instantly at home.
The congregation is small, but wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He has promised to be their in the middle of them. It didn’t even matter that the Mass was in Thai (although the priest was kind enough to recap his homily in English for our benefit). The Sacrament is the same. It is still Jesus.
Fortified by the Sacrament, sightseeing is much more fruitful because it is easier to see things the way Jesus sees them. And there is a lot in Thailand worth seeing. He has made this country marvelously beautiful (as He has this whole world, by the way).
We set out for Ban Mi, which is a little outside Lopburi city but still in Lop Buri province. On the way we stopped at a tea stand, and the owner was so thrilled to see three white guys come in and buy Thai tea (I love Thai tea so much!) that he had to take about half a dozen pictures of us.
Ban Mi is home to a Buddhist temple complex known as Wat Khao Wonkghot. The temple is a beautiful active temple complex, still under construction even though it was founded in the early 20th century. Work on it has been proceeding steadily since the 1930’s and continues to this day, still done by hand, with all the materials carried up the mountain by volunteers from the local village.
Do not go to Wat Khao Wongkhot if you are afraid of hiking or stairs.
The temple sits in a valley formed between three small, steep “mountains” (Thai mountains of a thousand feet or so, not like Himalayas, or even Pacific Northwest mountains).
You’re not getting anywhere without climbing steps.
At the top of the central and smallest hill is a statue of a seated Buddha, still under construction. It is pretty cool to see how a rough silhouette of the body is formed from bricks and then covered with cement, all of which are hauled up all those steps by hand.
The temple is also home to one of the largest bat caves in Thailand.
To get to the bat cave… you guessed it! More steps!
However there is no hurry. (It’s a Buddhist temple. Hurry is kind of against the whole inner logic of the place.)
Stop and rest as often as you like under the trees, or among the tombs and monuments to benefactors that dot the hillside.
When you get close to the cave it’s pretty unmistakable. The smell of guano hits you about two hundred meters down the slope.
It’s a strongly ammonia smell, but according to the literature at the temple, the harvesting and sale of guano is a major source of income for the monks.
From the mouth of the cave you can hear the rustling and squeaking of millions of bats as loud as the wind through the forest leaves. Of course they don’t come out during the day, but they make a mighty noise unto the Lord, even in their sleep.
We wanted to get to the tallest peak but could not find a way up from the main temple area. So we hiked down around the mountain and into town to ask the locals. They directed us down a dark alley (okay, so it wasn’t very dark, but it was definitely an alley) where we found a bunch of dragon tails.
We estimated each one at 80-100 pounds. The bamboo apparatus is a little for carrying them to the top of the mountain on a human being’s shoulders. I am in the best shape among that group and it took me the better part of 30 minutes to make the half mile or so trail to the top, where I found what the dragon tails were being used for.
I also found more monkeys.
A local village was working on the shrines at the top of the mountain and he showed us into the space below the one that he is building.
Apparently during excavations in the area someone discovered a “footprint of the Buddha” and the temple decided to build a shrine over the spot.
It was somewhat Indiana Jones-esque under there.
This depression in the rock is the “footprint.” It somewhat resembles the shape of a human foot, and they claim it was not carved out in anyway. Now, I know what hard-headed American skepticism has to say at this point. I myself do not personally believe there is anything supernatural in the shape of that hollow in the rock. Rather like the lady who spilled shampoo in the shower that happened to land in a vaguely humanoid shape, and immediately claimed a supernatural revelation by the Blessed Virgin, I think that it is merely a naturally occurring shape in the rock that is given significance by the people who look at it.
I do not for a moment think that this makes it valueless.
This man has been hauling stone up the mountain, two or three trips a day, for almost ten years. He has helped to build a beautiful work of art in honor of the greatest and holiest thing that he knows.
The same is true of the old monk who has been meditating at that temple for 35 years, and who showed us the older and larger shrine over another “footprint” sight. For years ago when I visited the two major temples in Bangkok it was the same. I was impressed, not so much with the force of the tenets of Buddhism (that is topic for a much different and longer post) as the dedication of its adherents.
They are wiser than we are, because they understand that the fundamental relationship of the human person is worship, by which I mean surrender and self-sacrifice. They consider it a joy and an honor to subject themselves to the honor of the Buddha (which is not pure Buddhism, by the way. It is highly significant to me that pure Buddhism as the Buddha preached it hardly ever exists anywhere.)
Imagine if a parish priest asked his parishioners in America to build a chapel at the top of a mountain by first building a set of stairs to the top, and then hauling 80 Lbs blocks of stone up there one at a time on their shoulders, and carefully mortaring each one into place with cement which had to be carried up one sack at a time, in a cement mixer that was carried up on a shoulder litter.
That would never happen, because we have forgotten what it is to worship. As the great cathedrals in Europe bear witness, Christendom had that kind of faith once, which allowed a man to dig a foundation for a building he would never see, to honor a God he could not see, but believed in with all his heart.
This shrine was dedicated to the former abbots of the monastery. One of them is interred there in a glass coffin, supposedly having been miraculously non-decomposed since his death in the late 1960’s.
I am slightly familiar with the corresponding Catholic examples of the “incorruptibles” and I couldn’t help but think this must be some different sort of thing. The Catholic saints that do not decompose are usually preserved in a very life-like state, often looking as if they had merely fallen asleep.
This fellow, on the other hand, appeared to me to be more in a state of petrification or mummification.
Mind, I have no way of knowing what really is the case. I will not limit holiness strictly to Catholics, or even Christians. How am I to know that this ancient monk did not have an encounter with the living God in one form or another in the course of his meditations? It would certainly not be the ordinary path to sanctity, but God is not limited to one path (we may be, but He is not.) Only God can say. I only say that from the evidence of my sense, the preservation of the corpse seemed to resemble petrification rather than the sort of life-like preservation of the body that Catholics might be familiar with.
At this point the sky was getting dark and rain was coming on so we decided to head down the mountain. We tried to take a different path that would open up into the main temple complex, but it didn’t.
It simply led us around below the pink dome to another, smaller bat cave, with a small bench in it that the monks sometimes use for meditating. So we had to run back down the way we came through pretty heavy downpour. For whatever reason, going down was a lot faster than coming up had been.
We stopped at a local “restaurant” in town. I put restaurant in quotations because it was not a restaurant in the western sense, but rather just a house where local people were happy to cook food for anyone who stopped by. They did not serve drinks. To get drinks you had to walk out and buy them from the little shop across the street.
They made their own decorations out of old soda bottles.
Yeah, that’s probably not kosher in an American restaurants, and the tatoos made him look like a convict (rather incongruous with the green gingham apron), but the man can cook! Within moments of firing up his propane tank the open air room was filled with the taste of Thai peppers sizzling in vegetable oil.
And this was the result, khao man gai khai (oily rice with chicken and egg). It was delicious and only 20 baht (roughly $0.60 US).
We felt bad about accepting the food that cheaply, but the lady who owned the house refused to take more money. That was what she always charged, basically what the food was worth and maybe a couple of baht more. We tipped her as well as we dared without insulting her. That is something I found out last time I was in Thailand. Tipping outside Western influenced areas can be construed as insulting, as if you were “buying” their hospitality. It doesn’t always hold true, especially in areas that cater to westerners. You kind of have to feel it out. When in doubt, ask a good interpreter.
We headed back to the temple as the sun was setting, running into this fine fellow sitting atop a statue of his ancestor. Monkeys are dirty, rascally creatures, but they are fun to watch.
We hiked up to the promontory above the bat cave, and stood there to wait for the bats.
They started coming out around 6:30 PM but with the dark of the ground below them we couldn’t see them very well, so we hiked back down to the mouth of the bat cave.
Let me just say, totally worth waiting the whole day.
Literally millions of bats.
They came in wave after wave, shrieking and screeching, and flowing like a furry winged river through the air across the valley and over the forest on the opposite side, before dispersing to begin the night’s hunting.
I can’t upload video right now, though I wish I could.
I climbed down into the bat cave to take pictures of them from below as they flew past. Probably not the the wisest move, but it worked well.
The streams of bats continued past sunset, through twilight, and well into the dark.
But there was a gorgeous three-quarter waxing moon to provide perfect back-lighting.
And they continued.
Until finally we had to call it quits and go. We needed to get some food and get the van back in case anyone else wanted to go out.
We were watched out of the temple by a retinue of creepy monkeys.
A magnificent day. God is good. May all people come to know Him.
I don’t know what to make of these
Conjugal visits of ours,
Whether they make things better
Or worse between us.
I have suffered more than you know
To make them possible
And it would break my heart
To see them end,
But do they really do any good?
Can we really sustain this relationship
On one hour a week?
(One hour? Rather less. I am lucky to get
45 minutes) Especially when
You never write, or call,
Or even answer my call,
I sometimes wonder why,
Why you even bother
Since when I speak you are not here,
Not listening, your mind awash
With details of your routine
The business of living
Day to day, or football,
Or movies, or dust on the floor.
Your mind is full of everything
Except us. You don’t even talk to me,
You mutter incessantly
And when the visit winds down
And only minutes remain
Ticking off on the clock on the concrete wall,
You insist (God knows why) on taking my body
Though you have not received my heart
Have not listened to my mind.
Still you take me in your hand,
Your mouth, your body,
Mechanically like a hooker,
Never looking me in the eye,
Glancing at the clock on the concrete wall,
Anxious to be gone, anywhere.
Why? I offer myself to you because
You are my bride, and you insist,
And this is a conjugal visit after all.
But why do you insist on it?
What do you get out of it,
When you don’t see me,
Or even look for me.
Religiously you take your pill
Every day like a novena,
And still I hear you mutter
“God I wish he would use a spiritual condom,
The pill is far from perfect,
And I’d certainly hate to bear much fruit.”
And afterwards you have no more
Use for me.
You collect your things
Without a backward glance
And rush for the door,
Eagerly returning to your cell.
I hang crucified once more
Above the altar, watching you leave,
Entombed in the solitary
Oh God in Heaven, How I love her!
Why does she not care?
St. Isadore of Seville is one of my favorite saints. I think I have mentioned this before. (If I have, and I am boring you, feel free to skip down two paragraphs).
The only story I know of St. Isadore is the well-known legend of his habit of attending Mass every day, despite his occupation as an agricultural day laborer. In those days when they said they wanted a day-laborer, that meant they wanted you to work from the moment it was light enough to see, until the moment it was too dark to see, with maybe a quick break for lunch… if you had any food that is.
St. Isadore, however, had a habit of leaving his work to walk to Mass in the village. His fellow laborers noticed this and told the boss about it. The boss had never noticed any less work from Isadore than from any of the others, so he was surprised. Then he was angry because he realized he wasn’t getting his full 14 hours of work out of him. He went to the field one day to catch his hired-hand red-handed shirking his chores. He probably had it all planned out. He would be standing all impressive and frowning in front of the idle plow when holier-than-thou Isadore came waltzing back from his unauthorized ventures. However, he was in for a surprise when he arrived at Isadore’s little patch of field and found, as predicted, no Isadore. Instead, an angel was walking behind the plow, keeping up Isadore’s quota while he attended Mass.
A typical Army lunch break goes from 11:30 t0 13:00. (That’s right, civilians, it’s all right to be jealous). Today we shifted it a little bit because we had some events planned for early in the afternoon, so we left class at 11:15 and were supposed to be back at 12:45. This was a lucky break for me because on Wednesdays there is Confession, Benediction/Adoration and Holy Mass at the chapel nearby. It is not a long drive. It takes 8 minutes to go there, and about 11 minutes to get back (12:30 traffic on post is always a bit congested as everyone tries to get back to their units at once).
I made it there before the priest did. I attended the first half of Benediction, and then was first in line for Confession. I enjoyed the remainder of the Adoration period and Benediction at 12:00, but then I was faced with a problem. You see, Mass is supposed to start at 12:00 exactly. It typically lets out around 12:30, give or take a couple of minutes. It takes 11 minutes to drive back and 4 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the classroom. When lunch hour lasts to 13:00 that is not a problem. When lunch hour is over at 12:45, that is cutting it really, really tight.
Add to that I am acting class leader right now so I have to be there a little bit early to get accountability, and then Mass didn’t start until 12:07. All of a sudden the numbers weren’t adding up!
I thought about just leaving, maybe trying to catch an evening Mass somewhere later. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and I wanted it right then. I didn’t want to wait, and I didn’t want to have to cut into homework and calling family time in the evening. So I said, “Whatever. I’ll stay at least until 12:28 and see if Father just does a short homily or something.”
But at 12:28 he was just finishing the Eucharistic prayer. By the way, trying to be present and collected at the Sacrifice of the Mass while also stressing out about a time hack is pretty much impossible. So I (mentally) tossed my hands up and turned off the stress switch. I was going to Communion, and let the chips land where they may. I said, “Jesus, don’t let me be late,” and stayed.
When I left after Communion I was late. It was 12:34.
But then I made it back to the parking lot in 6 minutes! Out of the dozen or so traffic lights I had to pass, only one was red, and it turned green as soon as I got to it. Every time I reached a stop sign, no one was coming and I had right of way. I made that trip in absolute record time, and even had time to stop by my room and grab a protein bar on my way to class, and still walked in with about a minute to spare.
This is a good thing for me to remember. I want to meet Jesus in the Eucharist on a daily basis, but sometime business gets in the way. However, sometimes I am being a little bit sluggish, and I secretly welcome business getting in the way. Or at least I stay on the conservative side, not taking any risks or accepting any discomfort to meet Jesus. I am afraid that I might miss a hit time (unless you have been in the military, you’ll just have to take my word for it how much the idea “missing a hit time” freaks me out). (Then again, Kathleen was never in the military, and she is just as serious about hit times, maybe even more so. Weird!)
But Jesus has ways and means. He can literally do whatever He wants. My experience throughout my life has been that He typically matches my efforts. Whatever risk I take or inconvenience I have to accept to make it to Mass, Confession or Adoration, He is several steps ahead of me, already doing one better. This is not the first time He has worked things like this for me, although I admit it has not been quite so spectacular. But I think of all the times during the Q course that I was almost late getting back from Mass, or was late, but then the instructor was later. Whatever time I offer Him, He always gives back to me. I have never lacked what I needed to fulfill my responsibilities.
There are some questions in this world that are just hard to answer, especially in 1200 words or less (as a general rule I try to keep my blogs under 1200 words).
(Also, as a general rule, I usually fail).
One of those questions is, “Why do you remain a Catholic?” Building off some responses to a recent Pew study that purports to demonstrate that Catholics are leaving the Church in droves, Elizabeth Scalia over at Patheos (aka, The Anchoress) has challenged Catholics on the Internet to answer that question in whatever form is available to them, whether a blog, a tweet, a facebook post, or what have you. I am not overly troubled by this study or that study. If I have learned one thing from studying statistics in college it is that when you reduce human realities to numbers, you no longer reflect the important parts of that reality. Also, I want to ask the writer of the article to define “droves.”
Also, it doesn’t really matter, in one sense, whether everyone else leaves the Church or not. Of course it matters very much to them and to their salvation, and since I am my brother’s keeper it matters very much to me. But it does not matter in the sense that it does not change my responsibility. I will still remain with the Church as long as God gives me the grace to do so. In the words of Joshua, “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Screw what everybody else is doing. They will come round eventually.
Why? Why remain Catholic when everyone else is leaving or just going through the motions? (Not that everyone else is leaving or going through the motions, but hypothetically?) Because…
Everything! That’s like asking “Why do you love your wife?” It is unanswerable, both because there are (or ought to be) too many answers, and also because all of those answers remain somehow inadequate.
If someone can say, “I love her because of A, B, & C,” I would suspect that what they really love is not the woman, that human being, that indefinable and yet definite, that unutterably unique utterance of the Holy Trinity. What they really love is A, B, & C. “I love her because she cooks like Emeril, she has great conversational skills, and she likes playing tiddly-winks with me.” Yes, but what if gets cancer and she stops cooking, talking and tiddling? Will you still love her?”
The Church is not an institution, the Church is a person. The Church is the mystical body of Christ, and as such she must be loved as a person. That is, I do not love simply this or that thing about her, (although there are innumerable things that I love about the Church), but I love Her, insofar as it is given my poor powers to apprehend who she is.
If I had to distill all of that down to a single Image it would be this:
But again, this is not a picture of a “what” but a “Who.” When I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament I do so with the absolute conviction that that piece of white stuff that looks like bread is in Holy and Merciful Reality, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, fully contained in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. That is my conviction, and it is based not on my intellect, on my arguments, on my research or on my feelings or anything else. All of those things support that conviction, but they are not that conviction, because all those things are of me, and therefore changeable and fickle.
No, this conviction is the first example I have ever known in my life of Faith, the supernatural gift of knowledge of the truths of our Religion. The knowledge that the Host is God is given to me by God. I worship because I believe, but it is also true to say that I believe because I worshiped.
An agnostic I know once asked me if I heard God speaking to me when I prayed in front of the tabernacle. When he tried to pray (he was raised Catholic) he heard nothing, and he wanted to know what I heard. I had to tell him that I also hear nothing when I pray. I try to listen but silence is mostly what I hear. However, I trust that He is speaking, at a level too deep for my ears, and I find that after trying to listen for a very long time, years, decades even, I am changed. Something has happened in that time and I am different. The change looks a lot like what I would expect to see if I had heard, and so I keep listening.
Outside the Church there is no Eucharist. Therefore I shall not leave. End of story.
“Chivalry is only a word for that general spirit or state of mind which inspires a man to heroic and generous actions and keeps him conversant with all that is pure and beautiful in the intellectual worlds.
— Kenelm Henry Digby, “Maxims of Christian Chivalry”