A Stained Cookbook Means Somebody Used It Often

Sometimes the liturgical calendar delivers punches in such succession that we find it difficult to keep up.  Today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus.  And what could be said about the Jesuits that has not already been said? There’s no time to rest, though. Tomorrow is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists, an order with its own proud history of apostolic work.  It is, after all, a good thing that the Church thinks in centuries, not minutes, days, weeks, and certainly not tweets!  (Pope Francis is, though, an accomplished Twitter user.)  We need the liturgical cycle to bring before us this unceasing stream of saintly exemplars.  We do our best to emulate them, knowing that next year we hope to glean a little more insight from the saints as they become familiar friends.  For me, it’s St. Ignatius Loyola (and St. Alphonsus), but my colleague Carmina Chapp attends instead to Dorothy Day. Somebody else might appreciate  St. Charles Lwanga or a saint known only to a few people and God.

St. Ignatius of Loyola Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius of Loyola
Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius ranks among those Catholic greats—St. Augustine of Hippo, Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton—who generate such interest that simple internet searches threaten to melt down servers.  Still, Ignatius’ life seems almost operatic, even movie-worthy.  Born to a wealthy family, Ignatius’ military career broke amid cannon fire at Pamplona, Spain.  His wounded leg had to be broken twice in order to set properly.  Bedridden, Ignatius began reading the lives of the saints. St. Ignatius thus understood fully St. Luke’s depiction of Christ’s injunction to treasure God, not earthly things.

But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Providentially, that Gospel reading appears today, St. Ignatius’ feast day. Having endured what he had, earthly possession surely seemed frail indeed.  As one blogger, working with Dom Gueranger, puts it: “It dawned on him that the Church also has her army which, under the orders of the representative of Christ, fights to defend here below the sacred interests of the God of hosts.”  An army for God—in the days of the Reformation, that stirred Ignatius to action.  Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—in 1534, headquartered in Rome.  From there Ignatius sent missionaries all over the work:  China, Japan, India, and both North and South America.  As he did, he charged them: “Go, my brothers, Inflame the world and spread everywhere the fire which Jesus Christ came to kindle on the earth.”

There’s an image: setting the world afire for God!  Yet St. Ignatius’ best-known venue to recognizing that same fire in ourselves came through a most prosaic book:  The Spiritual Exercises. Like much of the Catholic tradition I first met St. Ignatius Loyola while studying at Wabash College, led by a host of devout Presbyterian scholars.  They loved the Church and thus they taught its history, even the Catholics who opposed their beloved reformers Calvin and Luther.  William Placher’s description (p. 176) of the Spiritual Exercises always stuck with me:  “Much of it has all the literary eloquence of a cook-book, and a similarly practical intent, designed as it is for spiritual directors to use in guiding people through a religious retreat.”  Bill liked to cite St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church,” the thirteenth of which requires: “To keep ourselves right in all things, we ought to hold fast to this principle: What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it.”  For Protestants suspicious of Rome, that’s a great line, but it paints a paltry picture of the saint himself.  E.g., Bill rarely mentioned the other rules which extoll a medieval piety of saint veneration or the preceding “Rules for Distributing Alms” (or, more fundamentally, the thoroughly Scriptural foundation for the entire Exercises).  Loyalty to Rome came as part of that inflaming fire the first Jesuits found God had given them through St. Ignatius.  Jesuit identity certainly involves ecclesiastical fidelity, but not only that.

At one level, of course, Placher is right;  cookbooks are meant to be used.  Which is the better cookbook:  the slick production with recipes requiring several odd, rarely used ingredients or the one that bears clear signs of frequent, sustained use?  After all, if stained with sauces and flour, that cookbook has been used.  The recipes work—cooks can follow and make them and, this is important, those consuming like the offerings.  St. Ignatius’ spiritual direction certainly fits this.    It works and has done so over the centuries.  St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises describe a retreat to be taken over thirty-one days.  Jesuits take the entire retreat at least twice during their lives, and today the laity often seeks St. Ignatius’ retreat-director advice episodically—whether seeking insight on prayerful examination of the day or extra encouragement to lose self in order to gain Christ. The Exercises still generate widespread consideration far beyond the Jesuits’ own members.  The Jesuit cookbook still contains much that satisfies.

Like some diets, though, that draw criticism, not everybody likes it.  In Victorian England both Jesuits and Redemptorists—there’s tomorrow’s saint again—particularly stirred up anti-Catholic sentiment among Protestant elites.  Not content with merely advancing popery, the legacies of both St. Ignatius and St. Alphonsus celebrated suspiciously loose spiritualities.  Both seemed willing to contort the Gospel to fit the apostolic situation.  This adaptability, though, should be seen in the context of St. Ignatius’ charge:  ignite the world.   Sometimes, as any camper knows, you need more than one match to start that fire.  St. Ignatius, having lived quite a life before he came to God, developed a reformed Catholic spirituality that provided that ignition.  Through the Exercises’ simple prose have come a plentitude of paths, all through the Church, back to God.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

 

A Saint for My Times

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationHaving never met Dorothy Day in person (I only learned of her almost a decade after her death), I may have no business offering an opinion about whether or not she should be canonized a saint in the Catholic Church. Yet, I will attempt to do so, as she has had an immeasurable influence on my life, particularly as model of a Catholic woman in the United States of America in the twentieth century.

I came alive in my faith as a college student at the University of Notre Dame in the late eighties. A study abroad program in Rome caused my experience of “church” to explode – I came to realize that my suburban New Jersey parish and Catholic school were not exactly representative of this Body of Christ to which I belonged.  My post-Vatican II American Catholicism seemed superficial in light of the global reach of the Church, not to mention its ancient Tradition. I returned home wanting a deeper relationship with Jesus, wanting to live His Gospel more radically than I had before.

Upon my return to campus, I took a course in Catholic Social Teaching. It was there that I was assigned The Long Loneliness. And there she was. A lay woman living the Gospel radically. In the United States. In the turbulent 20th century. A saint for MY times.

There are two reasons why I would like to see Dorothy Day canonized so she can become a role model for American Catholics. The first addresses the polarization of the Catholic “right” and the Catholic “left”. In the past twenty-five years, I have watched the gap between traditional Catholics and liberal Catholics grow ever wider. I believe Dorothy represents what is right and good about both. She transcends the polarity, encourages the good of each side, and challenges the not-so-good. In her quintessential Catholic way, she embraces the both-and, as opposed to the dualistic either-or.  Thus, a woman who attended a Latin Mass everyday (prior to Vatican II, of course) was an ardent promoter of social justice (the influence of Fr. Virgil Michel, O.S.B. is evident).

We cannot build up the idea of the apostolate of the laity without the foundation of the liturgy.

-Dorothy Day, “Liturgy and Sociology”, The Catholic Worker, January 1936

Dorothy understood that meeting Christ in the liturgy is essential for performing the works of mercy. Her ardent prayer life, including her devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist as a daily communicant, her love of the saints, and her fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours as an Oblate of St. Benedict, fueled her work with the poor and her desire for justice.  When she challenged the hierarchical church, she was challenging it to be more faithful to the liturgy by being more radically faithful to its implications. When one worships and receives the Body of Christ, one has an obligation to care for all God’s children (and creation). She did not challenge the Church to change her teachings, but rather to live up to them. She saw the potential of an organized Church to truly change the world in a way that not even organized labor could. I will not presume what Dorothy would say about the liturgical reform of Vatican II. My point is simply that in order to sustain her work at the Catholic Worker, she needed to worship well. Likewise, because she worshipped well, she was moved to do the work she did. Liturgy was the source and summit of her Christian life.

The second reason addresses the inculturation of the American church. Founded by Protestants with a deistic worldview contrary to the biblical-sacramental worldview of the Church (and of Dorothy), the American project poses a challenge to Catholics of how to be a “good Catholic” and a “good American”. Dorothy taught me that it is OK to put my Catholic faith before my American citizenship. The fact that she never voted, even though she had marched and gone to jail for the privilege, tells me that the only true authority in her life was God, and that her work would be the same no matter who was in the White House. In this way she was an anarchist – not so that she could do whatever she wanted, but so she would do whatever God wanted her to do, regardless of the consequences. She did not depend on the state to do for her brothers and sisters what she knew was her responsibility as a Christian. And she was willing to be a martyr for it. In this way, she was truly free.

Though I never met the woman and may have no place at the table of her cause for canonization, I hope and pray that Dorothy Day is made an official saint of the Catholic Church. I pray for it everyday. Dorothy was a faithful daughter of the Church, and an inspiration to this Catholic woman in the United States of America in the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, as I strive to be a faithful daughter myself.

Prayer for the Canonization of Dorothy Day

God our Creator,
Your servant Dorothy Day exemplified the
Catholic faith by her conversion,
life of prayer and voluntary poverty,
works of mercy, and
witness to the justice and peace
of the Gospel.
May her life
inspire people
to turn to Christ as their savior and guide,
to see his face in the world’s poor and
to raise their voices for the justice
of God’s kingdom.
We pray that you grant the favors we ask
through her intercession so that her goodness
and holiness may be more widely recognized
and one day the Church may
proclaim her Saint.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College. She lives on the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.

I Do, For Now

 

Pope Francis Coleman blogRecently, our spontaneously-tongued pontiff, Pope Francis, made comments to journalists regarding his impression of the current state of marriage in the Church (readers of Italian can find his comments here, under Terza Domanda).

“It’s [i.e., marriage is] provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they [the hypothetical couple] say, ‘Yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

Many individuals have rightly taken issue with the Holy Father’s words here. Responses have come from canon lawyers, clerics, and lay scholars alike. I shall not wade through all of these critiques, nor attempt to clarify what the Pope “might have been trying to say” about the current state of marriage in the Church. Rather, Francis’ comments reminded me of a conversation I had with my wife regarding this same subject. At the time, she was actively involved in parish ministry and witnessed first-hand the poor catechesis and cultural deformity from which many couples seeking sacramental marriage suffered. On one occasion she voiced her concern to me in words very similar to those of Pope Francis; essentially stating that these couples had no idea what marriage means.

We ought to be very careful, however, when we play the cultural “blame game” for all of society’s ills. As a professor – and perhaps firstly as a human being – what concerns me most is the abrogating of moral responsibility. Moral responsibility comes from freedom, and freedom comes from our ability know and will. Pleading ignorance is a way of saying that I was not free to make a choice because my ability to know was substantially compromised. In many situations, of course, this happens when the truth is actively withheld from a particular party making a decision. But the culture in which we live cannot change what our bodies are, or what they do, or the nature of a promise. While Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is a part of divine revelation, the fact that marriage establishes a binding relationship – a relationship signified and consummated by a marital act – is not. To claim that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” due to ignorance, therefore, undermines the human capacity to apprehend any natural moral truth or reality. Our culture, I would argue, does not prohibit us from understanding the concepts of marriage or permanence or indissolubility but, rather, facilitates in an ever more increasing fashion our desire not to live in accordance with these realities. As with original sin, it weakens our wills more than our intellects.

As a married man, I understand the temptation to say that knowledge about marriage must be gained first-hand. There is wisdom in that belief, but one cannot push that sentiment too far. Saying “I do” at the altar cannot be considered “free from ignorance” only if accompanied by the depth and breadth of knowledge about marriage that one would only possess after 10 or 20 or 30  years of married living. That is a reductio ad absurdam. So yes, Holy Father, the husband and father in me – with a half-smile – agrees: they don’t know what they’re saying. But as a freely thinking and willing human being I must disagree: they know what they’re saying, but only their cooperation with God’s grace will enable them to live what they have promised.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Today I Met Someone

working-at-starbucksAs a college theology instructor (mostly online) I don’t have an office. The local coffee shop is my desk, with the music coming from the sound system and hum of conversation around me the ambient noise keeping me from nodding off. On this particular day I worked sluggishly at “my desk,” trying to write my monthly column. The idea was good, but the words were an alphabet soup of nothing all that significant – or coherent. Frustrated at my lack of creativity, I grabbed my tea and browsed the shops to clear my head. In my bag was my husband’s cross on its broken chain. If I couldn’t write, I might at least find a nice anniversary present.

The single sales associate in the store was busy with a customer, but asked what I needed. I told her I’d like to replace the broken chain, and she assured me they carried something that might interest me. She excused herself and went into the back room. Another associate emerged, politely questioning me and examining the chain. She showed me some pieces, and we talked about how expensive gold had become, and how we wished we’d gotten some when it was cheaper. Our chat was pleasant, and she was helpful, but a big purchase like this requires some thought. The woman was polite and not at all pushy. She said that if I returned and she wasn’t there it was because her husband had recently been hit by a car and was in the hospital. “Oh no!” I said. “What happened?” The woman offered her age (61) and said her husband was older but in relatively good shape. He’d been crossing the street downtown at about nine in the evening. The crosswalk was well-lit and the street is known for its activity, especially on summer evenings. The man was struck and lay unconscious and covered in blood. Sometime after a woman stopped to help. She hadn’t witnessed the accident, but noticed that his shoe had landed on the other side of the street, indicating that a car had likely hit him. As she knelt beside him, in one hand her cell phone, and his hand in the other, she watched two cars drive around them and continue on their way. Listening to this part of the story I couldn’t help but recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here it was, being told in real life on Main Street, USA.

Eventually the police arrived, along with my jewelry store friend. A twenty-something young woman struck the man and was watching the scene from some distance away, occasionally glancing up as she furiously texted. She’d been delivering a pizza. When the officer approached she simply said, “I hit him.” The man regained consciousness, and after a lengthy hospital stay he’ll have a difficult recovery ahead. I was dismayed by many aspects of this story: the cold response of the driver, the callous disregard with which other cars swerved around the broken, bleeding man, and the indifference of all but one woman who stopped to help. We spoke about her husband’s injuries, his memory loss, and her anxiety over how she’d care for him in their modest home.

We chatted a few minutes more and then I thanked her and told her I’d think a bit more about the chain. She extended her hand and said, “My name is Lauren. What’s yours?” I took her hand, told her my name, and she said, “It’s nice to meet you, Ann. I really don’t talk this much, but I guess I felt comfortable with you.” “I’m glad,” I said. “I don’t know if I’ll end up buying the chain from you, but I’m grateful you shared your story with me. Write down your husband’s name and I’ll pray for him. And you, too.” Lauren’s eyes welled up, and with that I knew I’d better get out of there, or I’d end up bawling myself. She thanked me and we said goodbye.

The column I’d anguished over for hours was okay, but not great. When I left the jewelry store I knew that didn’t matter. I knew that this was the story I needed to tell. For a few moments I encountered another person, and she encountered me. Our world seems to have gone mad. Terrorism and violence in city streets aren’t scenes from a summer blockbuster; they’re shattering lives every day. I can’t stop terrorism, or gang violence, or any number of tragedies happening every day. But I can be with someone when she needs to tell her story. I can stop in the middle of my own busy evening, as one woman did to help the man in the street. I can be Christ to someone by following His lead: by not fearing the encounter with another human being, by meeting that person where they are, and by taking the time to be truly present with them. I can stop worrying about silly things (like whether or not I’ll be praised for a column), and make space for another in my thoughts, my heart, my prayers, and my time. I can do all of these things. And so can you.

Today I met someone named Lauren, whose husband Joel was struck by a car. I promised to pray for them; perhaps you can as well.

Today, I met someone. Maybe you did, too.

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. This article appears in the current issue of Eastern Catholic Life, the official publication of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.