Dec 292014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 21 – 28 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Homilies

Letters

Messages

Speeches

Papal Tweets

Dec 222014
 

For the last two years my habit has been to re-read Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Just perfect reading leading up to Christmas to review all the scriptures related to the story of Christmas. After reading a book review by William Newton I have found another book to add to that annual reading. Scott Hahn’s recent book Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).

In some ways they are companion books especially as Joy to the World references Pope Benedict XVI book throughout. The underlying chronology is of course similar as you would expect when the primary sources are a limited number of passages in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Reading them together back-to-back they reinforced certain themes while also have different emphasis. If you line up 15 scripture scholars together you are likely to get 15 different opinions regarding reconciling some texts and that is also the case here to a small degree.

In Joy to the World I especially enjoyed one chapter on the angels and his saying “… Christmas appears in the Gospels as an explosion of angelic activity.” I found this phrasing rather striking and such an apt descriptor. He then canvases the Old and New Testaments to all the appearances of angels. While angels are certainly not lacking in the Old Testament the arrival of Jesus really does bring in an explosion of angels. We also learn from Jesus that angels are really good at multitasking. The Guardian Angels can both guard us and worship the face of the father.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 18:10)

Don’t blame Scott Hahn for the multitasking observation since it is my own. Really Scott Hahn kept his punning to a minimum in this book. Still I was laughing over his observation comparing the styles of St. Matthew and St. Luke in a chapter regarding the Magi. There is much in Mr. Hahn’s writing style I appreciate as his love of scripture is always infectious. I also enjoy his phrasing of things.

“We live in a world of marvels, but we are schooled to put these aside if they do not fit the broadest generalities in categories confirmed by the scientific method and approved by a magisterium of skeptics.”

Another point he brought out that struck me and stuck with me:

“Though the Gospel is certainly rich in allegorical meaning, it is first of all history. If there is allegory in the infancy narratives, it is fashioned by God, and not simply with words, but rather with creation itself—with the very deeds of sacred history. God writes the world the way human authors write words.”

This observation really applies to all of scripture. There is just so much parallelism and echoes in scripture. Mark Twain said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Reading salvation history there is more than rhyming involved, and an agency involved with God as poet. All the crooked lines of human history being straightened with repeating refrains. Scott Hahn goes into some of these parallels as they relate to the infancy narratives such as the parallels between the New Testament Joseph and the Old Testament Joseph. While he doesn’t reference the parallelism of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant in this book he has covered it elsewhere. Those scripture parallels give me virtual goosebumps as God’s plan is revealed in a series of parallels passages between the Old and the New Testament regarding Mary. You can read his article on the subject here.

Dec 222014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 8 November – 19 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

General Audiences

Homilies

Letters

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

  • “It is so important to listen! Husbands and wives need to communicate to bring happiness and serenity to family life.” @pontifex, 16 December 2014
  • “The Lord put it clearly: you cannot serve two masters. You have to choose between God and money.” @pontifex, 18 December 2014
  • “If Jesus is to become the centre of our life, we need to spend time in his presence, before the Tabernacle.” @pontifex, 19 December 2014
Dec 182014
 

I know this is a bit overdone, but I felt like overdoing it seeing so many “Reasons for the Season”‘s that forget we are sinners and Jesus came to us to save us from our sins. When we look at the child wrapped in swaddling clothes we should not forget Jesus wrapped in a shroud dying for our sins.

 

reasonForTheSeason

 

 

Dec 162014
 

My Advent hymn listening is about to wind down as I start listening to Christmas carols on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Since traditional Christmas carols played a part in my conversion I am really looking forward to this. Listening to Advent music only for most of Advent is only a couple year tradition for me, but partly I find for myself the delay in listening to my favorite carols lets me appreciate them even more. Plus I have found that Advent hymns are also pretty awesome especially as performed on Advent at Ephesus.

I have a fairly good collection of these carols once on a CD and now living in the cloud. Unfortunately the production values on too many of them are not very good. Especially ones involving choirs. I remember being disappointed after buying the “John Rutter Christmas Album” for the Cambridge Singers. While the hymn selection was excellent, the sound is low and just not that sharp.

So I am always on the lookout for a higher quality collection of Christmas carols that mixes the familiar with the lesser known. I received Christmas in Harvard Square for review and was happy to find it perfectly fulfilled my requirements.

The album is performed by [The Boys of St. Paul Choir School][http://stpaulchoirschool.com]. This is the only boys’ choir school in the United States of America and students attend full time between the forth and eighth grade. I just looked at the information regarding this album on Amazon and found that they used John Rutter & Sir David Willcocks arrangements and that the schools is based in Cambridge. So after I just complained about a specific album I found this a bit ironic.

Now I only gave this album one listen or else my personal Christmas carol embargo would have fallen and I would be playing them 24/7. One listen was certainly enough to make me love it as the boys voices come shining through with high production values. The majority of hymns on this album are the lesser known, or at least the lesser played. Still all of these selections should be better known. All I know if that I am going to give this specific album a listen daily just before and during Chrismastide.

Another polished well-produced piece of sacred music is O Day Of Resurrection! – Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday by the [New Camaldoli Hermitage][hermitge] a group of Benedictines located at Big Sur. These recordings of the Liturgy of the Hours in plainchant is captivating. I found it to be perfect background music while doing spiritual reading.

On another note (pun always intended) I sometimes hear complaints about Christmas carols being played early in stores and shopping centers. Now normally this is a complaint I could appreciate, but I have been thinking that perhaps we shouldn’t really grumble about it. At least Christmas carols are still being played in public and political correctness has not yet wiped it out for fear of offending the ear of the non-Christian. Sure the mix of these songs in public lean more towards the Christmassy secular songs, but actual carols slip through repetitions of “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” So I have decided to enjoy this while it lasts.

Dec 152014
 

For some book reviews I am almost tempted just to mention that some author has a new book out and that should be sufficient to pique your interest.

Case in point is Peter Kreeft’s new book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas. This is an author always worth reading. Since he is also a rather prolific author, directing your attention to specific books of his is also worth doing.

Peter Kreeft’s books have had a positive impact on my life. His book Handbook of Christian Apologetics coauthored with Fr. Tacelli really helped me in my limbo from atheism to belief. It was the book’s format like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae with objections and the answering of objections that helped me to get passed some of my doubts. That I didn’t have to jettison my reason for faith and in fact required fuller use of it.

In the intervening years I have found his other books to be helpful also. His latest book Practical Theology has quickly become my favorite book of his. The concept of the book is rather simple. Peter Kreeft uses St. Thomas Aquinas works and organizes them in a way beneficial as spiritual direction. As he reminds us this Doctor of the Church wrote his Summa Theologiae for “beginners” and that the same audience this book is intended for. Still it is rather hard for most people without a solid philosophical background to easily read St. Thomas’ works. I remember once picking up “The Pocket Aquinas” and being totally lost trying to read it. Fortunately that is not a problem here. Besides the saints words Mr. Kreeft provides an abundance of clarifications. Even when quoting passages he briefly interjects information to clear up St. Thomas’ meaning. After these passages he then further illuminates it.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was just how focused it was. For the most part the topics are contained to just one page with few going beyond that. Combined with Peter Kreeft’s playfulness you have a nice touch of humor that doesn’t intrude on the topic. When I first received this book I figured at 366 pages I could read it in a week and then prepare a review. That plan was quickly wrecked as I more slowly read through the book and let it marinate in my mind. This was not a book I wanted to rush through. In fact I think I will shortly read it again. Only this time I will limit myself to reading just one or two chapters a day. With 358 topics this book is a good candidate for a topic a day to read through in a year book. Flannery O’Connor use to spend at least 15 minutes with the Angelic Doctor each night.

One aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings that really spoke to me was not just the answers he gave to questions, but the questions he asked. This really brought to my mind this comment from G.K. Chesterton.

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. – Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

I have no doubt the saint would have totally agreed to this comment as his theological output was a playing in this playground. There are many who can’t see the forest for the trees and can’t see the playground because of the boundaries. There were questions he asked that I times I had wondered about, but figured nobody would have giving them any serious attention. So the best thing about “Practical Theology” is that it helped me to play in this playground and to remember that spiritual direction and spiritual reading can really fill you with joy.

Dec 152014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 20 November – 13 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Note: The Vatican has translated very few documents into English for the month of December.

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Dec 132014
 

When I first started seeing headlines about Pope Francis saying animals go to Heaven I pretty much ignored the headlines and their supposed content. I doesn’t take much intelligence to know that this would be either total fabrication or something close to that. The headlines have had staying power and have continued throughout the week in various forms of media.

Thus I figured it wouldn’t be long until Jimmy Akin had a post refuting the whole thing. Today he published Did Pope Francis say animals go to heaven? in which he summarizes at the start “But the thing is … the whole story is false.”

Now Pope Francis speeches are not known for their exactness and are prone to generalities over precision. So in the back of my mind I thought there was a possibility that this tendency lead to this story in the typical distorted amplification of his words. Wow not only did they invent Pope Francis’s words for the story but came up with some new ones for St. Paul. Must have been from the lost Gospel of Fido.

Now even if all animals went to Heaven I would have serious questions about the salvation of journalists and editors and members of news agencies. This is just another case in a long line of cases where journalists have no love for the truth or any concern regarding the truth. Maybe Pontius Pilate is the patron of journalists. This case being even more egregious than normal. No fact checking just passed along from one news agency to another. The false quote of St. Paul should have been a major tipoff. It is so obvious that zero attempt was made to acquire even the most basic facts or even spending 5 minutes on Google.

So how does such a story get passed on? No doubt there are multiple reasons. When it comes to reporting on the Church any stick will do to beat the Church including one used to play fetch with their pet dog. Page views and driving traffic for advertising dollars is probably another aspect. Sensationalism in journalism is nothing new, but click-bait headlines and stories low or totally barren of facts bring this to a new level and a declining one at that. Sure such stories are gist for the mill of headline writers.

I found CNN’s Did Pope Francis open a doggy door to heaven? to be the funniest of the lot. The story itself tried to update itself but failed even at that.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story, citing a newspaper, attributed a quote to Pope Francis. The quote actually comes from Pope Paul VI.

The problem with that is we have no evidence that Pope Paul VI said it either. As Jimmy Akin points out:

7) Did Pope Paul VI say to a bereaved boy what is attributed to him?

Who knows?

If you search the Vatican web site for the relevant quote, you get nothing.

At this point, I don’t see why anyone should trust anything attributed to a pope about animals going to heaven—not without a solid reference to a checkable, primary source document.

I have heard several attempts to try to side step this understanding especially when talking with children. A lot of people really want the idea of their pets going to Heaven. So it seems strange to me that if Blessed Paul VI ever said this that the quote would be in use in a larger circulation. C.S. Lewis also speculated on this in his book “The Problem of Pain.” Still it seems to me there is often more an emotional appeal to a theological appeal.

The CNN article goes on.

While Catholic teachings don’t reject the notion that animals have souls, traditional dogma has long held that animals don’t go to heaven.

Well Catholic teaching has long held distinctions between, plant souls, sensitive souls (such as animals), and the rational soul such as we have. All living things have souls as the soul is the form of the body. St. Thomas Aquinas detailed the thrust of the distinctions as we currently understand them. Still as far as I know there is no magisterial teaching on this as to the classes of souls. Much less a dogmatic (hey that’s pretty funny in context) teaching that animals don’t go to heaven. The CNN articles tries to be somewhat skeptical of the story, but still totally blunders in its corrections. As Mark Shea says about reporting on the Church is that you can take off 50 IQ points.

Another aspect of the ridiculous coverage of the Church that I have notice growing in the last year is how often so-called traditionalists fall for them. Most serious Catholics are highly skeptical of Church reporting for good reason. Yet I keep seeing more and more stories on “traditionalist” sites that take these stories as Gospel. Instead of any stick to beat the Church it is any stick that can beat Pope Francis. There not skeptical of the stories because they are skeptical of Pope Francis and see even bad reporting via confirmation bias. This annoys me since I have common cause with many of the liturgical complaints of “traditionalists”, but this hatred or loathing of Pope Francis makes them as agenda driven as most secular journalists.

On the lighter side the brilliant “Eye of the Tiber” presents Pope Francis confirms casts still going to Hell. I have a couple of cats, but that is still pretty funny. Surely the Cat-echism say otherwise.

Dec 072014
 

John C. Wright’s latest SF short story collection is called The Book of Feasts & Seasons.

Stories are arranged from the Liturgical Calendar starting with “The Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God.” This provides a thematic presentation of the stories although many of the stories would only generally fit into specific feasts and seasons. All of them are SF stories and include time traveling, contacts with aliens, and even a ghost story. The first story “The Meaning of Life as Told Me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer in New Jersey” is really rather fun.

While I enjoyed all the stories, some of them were exceptionally good. Short stories are not my favorite medium, yet I found several stories I want to revisit later. Two of the stories I had read before. “The Ideal Machine” was one I read in volume 1 of the “Sci Phy Journal” not that long ago. Still I enjoyed it even more on the second time around as a unique alien visitation story that takes place in a parish with a priest and two military men. The other one I had read before was “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” which was posted on his blog. A very powerful story perfect for Christmas or really the Feast of St. Nicholas”. A story that brought tears to my eyes again as did another story in the collection.

The rather unique ghost story “Pale Realms of Shade” was one of these and one that fit with the theme of the book. One of other themes of this book was marriage and sacrifice and surprisingly by the title “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” fit in there. His explorations of the consequences of time travel as in his other short story collection are really fresh and unique as in this specific story. The one titled “Nativity” is another time travel story going into a territory explored before regarding going back into the time of Christ. In “Nativity” we a presented with a husband’s grief over the death of his wife and his travel into the past seeking answers to his questions. The question of evil and whether anything ultimately matters. I hadn’t found time traveling stories into the time of Christ very worthwhile in the past. Some were much better than others such as Brandon Sanderson’s novella “Legion”, but none of them really made contact with me; much less contact with the premise. “Nativiy” presented in the Advent section of the book is great Advent reading which contains both the wonder of good SF along with the wonder of Christ and was the other story that brought tears to my eyes.

As the theme of this collection suggests these are stories that have a philosophical and theological dimension. Yet this is not pious SF that sacrifices storytelling for piety. These are excellent stories that happen to have a deeper dimension. His description of crucifixion in “Nativiy” was especially vivid to me and strangely I would love a set of reflections on the Rosary from his hands. There was a realism in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that I liked, yet some sentences in this story brought the horror of crucifixion fuller to my understanding, especially some very unglamorous aspects. Well done Mr. Wright.