Saturday, January 06, 2007

How do you pray?

Fr. Thomas Keating and the Centering Prayer phenomena.
"Centering Prayer is neither Catholic nor prayer, yet it is offered at most retreat centers. Nowadays, most retreat centers can scarcely be called Catholic and are notorious for adopting New Age and other non-Catholic techniques and philosophies.

An additional problem with retreat centers is that they often promote universalism (everyone is saved). In a short article by Fr. James Behrens, a universalist and Trappist at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia (where centering prayer and yoga retreats are offered), he asserts his belief in universal salvation by saying: "Salvation is a one is left out... all the Bibles could be destroyed tomorrow and it would not make a difference."

What is the connection between Centering Prayer and universalism? At the root of Centering Prayer is the belief that we are all already saved and because of this belief, we do not need to pray to God for salvation. New Agers believe that we are God and God is everything, so we do not need to pray to God in a relational way (as someone apart from ourselves), but rather to the god within. "
Spero News Forum
The above editorial concerns the Enneagram as well as Centering Prayer, two essentially non-Christian approaches to the spiritual life, 'adapted' and often promoted by some Roman Catholic priests, monks and nuns. I've written on these topics before, and I'm heartened that other more qualified people continue to do so as well.
What's the big deal however? What if Zen or yoga trips your mystical trigger? What harm is there in that? What if Wicca or neo-paganism answers your spiritual needs? What if you practice a Christianized version of trancedental meditation and call it Centering prayer? Personally, I don't care what people do when they say they are praying, I just get annoyed when a few dress it up and try to pass it off as Roman Catholic contemplative prayer.
I've run into a number of la-di-da mystics out there as it is, pseudo-nuns and oodles of 3rd order religious or self-styled hermits, convinced they are contemplatives - despite their apparent lack of discernment, and perhaps a bit of presumption, these folks at least are pursuing an authentic prayer life. New Age feel-good religious seem to me to be simply pursuing themselves - or the god they believe themselves able to become.
Just because someone is a member of the Poor Clares, the Sisters of St. Joseph or the Cenacle, doesn't mean they are an authority on Catholic mystical theology, much less posess a penetrating understanding of the New Age crap they are in to. It might even be possible an elderly Trappist could be a bit theologically off center as well. (I've lived with monks - living in a monastery and wearing a habit doesn't guarantee orthodoxy.) However, these well intentioned people may not know they are leading others astray with false teachings. Unless... maybe...just maybe... they... do... know!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Penitent

The commemoration of Blessed Angela of Foligno, January 4th.
"She married young, had several sons, then, around 1288, all in her immediate household, husband, sons and mother, died. She was worldly, wealthy, vain, beautiful, even unfaithful to her husband, according to legend. She found herself unable to confess some of her sins, and, receiving communion, thus added sacrilege to these. Praying to St Francis that she find a confessor, she came upon her relative, the Franciscan, Brother Arnaldo. He would become her confessor, spiritual director, amanuensis. In modelling her life on St Francis she found herself before a crucifix, stripping herself of her clothing, vowing poverty and chastity. In 1291 she asked the Privilege of Poverty from the apostle Peter in Rome and sold the remainder of her possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor. She became a Franciscan tertiary and journeyed to Assisi, receiving first a vision of the Trinity in a chapel dedicated to the Trinity, then another in the Basilica of Assisi, from seeing stained glass of St Francis in Christ's bosom. Like Margery Kempe she started screaming and crying when this vision left and left her desolate. Brother Arnaldo was furious.

He thought she was inspired by the devil. He made her explain herself to him. A flood of visions. He struggled to write these down, in Italian, in Latin. She speaks of Christ as the God-man, stressing the paradox of Divinity and Humanity. Brother Arnaldo describes the stages of her spiritual journey, sometimes of God's presence and joy, sometimes of the deepest desolation and temptations of the devil." - A Circle of Angels
So, sinners, we should pray the Blessed Angela to obtain the grace of conversion for us, confident in God's mercy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Modesty and Calvinism...

There is a distinction.

The Apparition of the Madonna to St. Bernard wherein he nurses at her breast. It is a mystical moment in the life of the saint, rarely represented in art.

Presented is the history of the iconography shown here:

" The imagery of Bernard's miracle of lactation is founded on the words purported to have been spoken by Bernard in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Monstra te esse matrem." (show thyself my mother!) With this request the statue is said to have come alive and have 'expressed' a stream of milk to the mouth of Bernard. Louis Réau traces the iconography of the lactation miracle of Bernard back to the 14th century, finding three paintings from that period, six in the 15th century, eight in the 16th, seven in the 17th, and ends with three in the 18th century.165 14th century "Legend of St. Bernard" Majorcan;166 The Virgin Mary stands holding Jesus in right arm, pressing her right breast with her left hand using the p/z gesture; shooting a stream of milk to the kneeling Bernard in a praying attitude as three saints look on (fig. 10). > 15th century "La légende de la lactation" Flemish;167 p/z gesture to breast and holding the Christ child; Bernard holding book and pen; no milk.

ca. 1475 "Maria erscheint dem heilegen Bernhard" flemish;168 breast cupped with left hand, holding Jesus with right hand; Bernard kneels and prays; no milk. ca. 1540? "Aparición de la Virgen a San Bernardo" by Juan Correa,169 Spanish; Virgin in a mandorla cloud presses her right breast with her right hand to shoot a stream of milk to Bernard using the p/z gesture, holding Jesus in her left arm; Bernard kneels as he receives her milk. 15th century "The lactation miracle of St. Bernard,"170 detail of a retablo by the Valencian Master of Burgo de Osma; the Virgin appears to Bernard alone in a mandorla above an altar, pressing her breast between her thumb and second finger to shoot a stream of milk to the lips of Bernard; Bernard holds his hands in prayer and receives the milk drawn in a straight line from the Virgin's nipples to his closed lips. 1659 "La légende de la "lactation" mystique de saint Bernard" Bruxelles;171 The Virgin standing, with the baby Jesus in her left arm, and Bernard kneeling, elevated above the earth on clouds, overlooking Clairvaux, Bernard's newly established monastery; the Virgin squirts a stream of milk into Bernard's waiting mouth; no gesture visible 1665-75 "La visión de San Bernardo" by Bartolomé Murillo,172 Bernard kneeling with his hand on his chest in the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture receiving milk from the Virgin Mary; the Virgin appears in a cloudy mandorla and presses her right breast with her right hand to shoot a stream of milk to the saint, her nipple between her thumb and second finger, while she holds Jesus in her left arm.

(Pictured at left, an image I lifted from "Sacred Weblog of the Universal Inquisition")

Rubens (1577-1640) "Saint Augustin en moine."173 In the painting the figure of the risen Christ holding a cross looks down upon the saint from the left side, while the Virgin on the right presses her right breast with her right hand, presumably to gift Augustine, on whom she gazes, with her milk. Augustine himself kneels between the mother and son looking up into the heavens with his arms crossed. Directly associated with Murillo's painting of the lactation vision of Augustine is the painting by Murillo, "The vision of Saint Augustine" ca. 1678174 in which the bearded Augustine kneels with his hands low and outstretched, with the image of Christ crucified on the viewer's left, gazing upwards towards Mary, to the viewer's right, who is pressing her breast to squirt a stream of milk to his lips; putti fill the upper realms of the painting. ? "Saint Bernard et la Vierge," by the Master of the life of the Virgin, Cologne, the Virgin and Bernard stand in a mundane scene behind a low wall on which the baby Jesus sits; Bernard gazes at the child as Mary, with eyes lowered towards the saint, bares her left breast and holds it with the pseudo-zygodactylous gesture; Jesus touches her p/z hand, as Bernard touches the leg of Jesus with one hand while holding a book with the other; no milk. " Breast Feeding

The Puritan and Calvinist influences in our culture do indeed remain intact in the American psyche, even in an atmosphere of so much depravity and overt sexuality, while elements of Jansenism seem to be entering a new renaissance amongst some ultra-traditionalists. These provocative (provocative to a sexualized culture) images of St. Bernard will of course be shocking to some people. I post them because another blogger was recently criticized for a painting he posted on his blog, with a couple of commentators warning him that he was presenting an occasion of sin to those who would visit his site. It all happened on Roman Catholic Blog . (I myself had used the image he uses for his current post once before - borrowed from his earlier use of it.)

At the hospital today I was looking through People magazine - now that is soft porn - and definitely not art. "Brittney - put some underwear on!"

(Don Marco - where are you when I need you!)

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Old Feast of the Day was a Commemoration of the Bris of Jesus.

Or the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord.

As well as the naming of Jesus. Some people think that it was a rite akin to Baptism, to purify the Jew from original sin - some fundamentalists think this. NOT. Here is a description for those who never watched the episode on "The Nanny" with Fran Drescher:

The Origin of Bris Milah (Circumcision)

Times change. Styles change. But some things never change: Bris Milah is one of them. It is a bond between God and the Jewish nation for all time. It is a bond that can never be broken.

When our forefather Abraham reached the ripe old age of 99 years (Genesis 17) the Almighty promised him that his descendants would have a special relationship with their Creator. This would forever be symbolized by the Bris Milah (Covenant of Circumcision). "This will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you".

Abraham circumcised himself as well as all the men of his household. When his son Isaac was born, he too, underwent Bris Milah on the eighth day, as Divinely specified. (As did Jesus today.)

Heroism Throughout the Ages

Throughout the generations the Jewish people have been unyielding in performing this mitzvah. Bris Milah was often performed in secret, defying innumerable despots and hostile regimes.

Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and ancient Greece and Rome all tried to ban Bris Milah. They understood correctly that this distinctive rite is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith, and that proscribing it would be the first step towards eliminating our nation.

The Jewish people, non-observant as well as observant, are uncompromising on this issue. They recognize that in order for their children to survive as Jews, they must induct them into the Divine covenant of Bris Milah. (The Child Jesus was no exception.)

The Mohel (pronounced, moiyh-el)

A Mohel performs the circumcision with spiritual intent. A Bris by a Mohel is more than a simple medical procedure; it is a connection with the Divine. At a Bris Milah blessings are said and prayers are recited as the child takes his place as a member of the Jewish people. Carried out according to Jewish tradition, Bris Milah is a profoundly moving experience for all in attendance. - Bris, Jewish Circumcision

Thus with my male health problems, the Divine Infant Jesus is most assuredly the focus of my prayer in this first of His sufferings and shedding of blood.

"Jesus, sweetest Child, circumcised on the eighth day, called by the glorious name of Jesus, and by your name and your blood, revealed as the Savior of the world; have mercy on us!" - Carmelite novena to the Infant Jesus.

Mazel Tov!

The Nun's Story

Another favorite movie of's too bad there wasn't a "Monk's Story" that I could have gotten photos from.
Pretend this is Dr. Fortunati (it's actually the Director) saying good bye to Sr. Luke as she leaves the Congo and returns to the Motherhouse. Then pretend Sr. Luke is a monk...
Don Marco is leaving in two days to return to his Abbey, Santa Croce in Rome.

I hope the Abbot realizes how important Don Marco's blog is to the thousands of readers he has, and that he will continue writing! Pray for Don Marco - he isn't in the best of health either.

The Mother of God

Happy Feast of the Mother of God.
And Happy New Year.
Pictured, an icon of Our Lady of the Sign by a Terrance Nelson, painted for a priest in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"Narrative: Depicting the Virgin of Mt. Sinai, Our Lady of the Sign expresses the ancient anthem, “In the bush seen by Moses, as burning yet unconsumed, we recognize the preservation of your glorious virginity, O Mother of God!” as well as the prophecy of Isaiah, “... the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” (Isaiah 7:14)"
(It was the first icon I came across when I put in "Our Lady of the Sign" on Google.)
As usual, The Penitent Blogger has a concise explanation of the meaning of today's feast, in his post, "Something About Mary".