Sunday, March 13, 2016

Passion Sunday

From this Sunday until Easter, we enter into the most solemn time of the liturgical year. All Lent has been preparing us for Christ's Death and Resurrection. Beginning on Passion Sunday, we begin to prepare for His Death in earnest. From now until the Gloria is sung during Easter vigil, every crucifix, statue and holy picture within the church are shrouded in purple covers. Our Lord's impending betray and passion are foreshadowed in the daily readings, not only in the Mass, but in all the Divine Liturgy. Beginning on Palm Sunday, all four Passion Narratives from each of the Gospels will be read - Matthew on Sunday, Mark on Tuesday, Luke on Wednesday, and John on Friday. There are numerous beautiful and deeply moving ceremonies, prayers and hymns to bring to our minds the great love of God for us, and the great price He paid for our redemption. Passiontide into Easter vie with Christmas as my favourite time of the year.

From a purely selfish perspective - the last few weeks of Lent always seem to go by quickly. For four week, there is prayer and penance, fasting, and almsgiving. Quite often, it is a bit of a slog, that slow, breaking away from one's ordinary habits, the re-focusing on God, the discipline that is required to hold to good resolutions. And then, the Church gives one a break - Laetare Sunday (which was last week) - a day of hope and gladness in the midst of penitence. For a moment, we look beyond Calvary and see the victory after death. Then we hit a string of solemnities - Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. With the intense focus on the mystery of Redemption, comes a feeling as of a battle being drawn, of stake all, and win all. Grief and hope, heartbreak, anguish, and exultation combine to produce a time of happening - a sense of participating in some great movement that is both terrible and splendid. 

Though I have not always been so faithful to my resolutions as I want to be, I can honestly say I have done my best this year. I have spent the last few weeks feeling as though I were a bit if iron, being given an edge. I have no idea of I actually am any better than I was at the beginning of the season - God knoweth, to quote St. Paul, but the hunger I have felt is more from a desire to be more Christlike, than from the purely human hunger that comes from reduced rations. And God, being good, has occasionally played Simeon's part in my own Cross carrying, and sent a bit of elemental joy into the somber world.

After one such occurrence, I composed this:

It was a wildly windy day, and though I cannot remember if there were clouds in the sky, or if it were merely bleached by a burning, winter sun, but the raven and the gull were caught in the light, and turned into creatures of silver flame as they slipped in great circles through the draught. At that moment, nothing else seemed to matter, but those two shining works of God's hands, and the goodness He has shown in making them as He did. And it was enough.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Celebrate With Me, My Friends!

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, also knows as The Angelic Doctor. St. Thomas possessed one of the keenest minds of his time - perhaps of any time. He wrote reams of theology and philosophy, could dissect and issue so thoroughly, that there is literally nothing left to say about it:

This is the truth.

He wrote poetry, and is responsible for much of the prayers for the Corpus Christi Mass. For years, his staggering intellect, weighty writing, and passionately pure virtue, left me rather in awe and very intimidated by him. 

Last year on his feast day, however, I discovered that one could have a bit of the Summa Theologica emailed daily, so that within a year, one would have read the whole thing. At that time, I was reading a fair bit of philosophy. Nothing terribly heavy, mind. I'd gone through most of C. S. Lewis's apologetic works - and, with allowances for inter-Christian ecumenical tendencies, very fine and clear writing they are indeed. I was dabbling with the Greeks - Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Aristotle was my favourite. As it turns out, he was Thomas' favourite as well - The Philosopher, is what Thomas called him. So when I was confronted with a opportunity to read the Summa in small doses, it seemed like so brilliant a plan that I signed up for it on the spot. 

I've stuck with it, too, though I'd occasionally fall behind, and slave away to catch up. Occasional, St. Thomas so beat his subject to death, that I was exhausted by it, before the subject itself was exhausted, and I would skip ahead a bit. But, for all intents and purposes, I have managed the whole thing. (Or nearly: due to a computer glitch, there were two days in which it did not come as it out, so I have two more days left of it... but almost!) And... well, there is no denying that it was a challenge. But St. Thomas, for all his weightiness of style, has a blunt and matter of fact approach to The Truth, and will not be put off by sophistry, nor muddled thinking. St. Thomas, in fact, is practical.

He can also be very literal:

This is is also the truth. 

He was also very human, however, in spite of his great virtue. He was, for example, a bookworm. There was one time in which he and a companion were travelling to Paris, where he was supposed to have dinner with the King. When the great city came in to view, the companion said, "How wonderful it must be to own that all!" To which Thomas replied, "I'd rather have that Chrysostom manuscript I can't get hold of!" I understand Thomas there.

He was also absent minded - a result of the intense mental battles against fallacy which he was constantly waging in his own head. During one of the formal dinners with King Louis of France - which he was obliged to attend - St. Thomas, rather than eating, drinking, or talking to his companions, just sat there, thinking. Conversation carried on all around him. People were enjoying themselves, and Thomas was lost in thought. Then, all at once, Thomas brought his fist down on the table with a tremendous crash, that stunned the assembly into silence, "And that will settle the Manichees!"(The King, to do him credit, merely sent for a secretary to write down Thomas' argument right then and there, in case he forgot it.) 

Furthermore, he had some of the most truly appalling handwriting I have ever laid eyes on:

Thomists everywhere should give ceaseless praise to God that St. Thomas mostly wrote by dictating to secretaries... because, that chicken scratch is impossible to read. 

In short, I have become very fond of St. Thomas Aquinas in the year that I have spent with him. He is still far too brilliant and holy for me. I feel in his presence, rather the way Sam Gamgee feels around the Elves. But his loftiness has been tempered by an appreciation for the sheer, exuberant, childlike enthusiasm with which he tackled the world. And a hearty thankfulness for the Summa. I've actually drawn on some of that reading, recently, to answer questions I didn't even realise I knew the answer too. It is satisfying. 

And on that note, I shall urge you all to read a little bit more about St. Thomas, here. And leave you with this picture, which is a bit too true:

Aw... The Angelic Doctor understands!:

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.