TSD 17: Confidence and Trust

For parents, they don't always grow together

Our oldest just turned six(!) yesterday, and she’s now emerging into that golden period when her trust in the wisdom of her parents is a matter of choice rather than mindlessness, but when she still doesn’t have the wherewithal to regularly question us. When she says, “OK Daddy, you’re right,” she really means it. It’s pretty wonderful.

Watching the final installment of the How to Train Your Dragon series at our neighborhood park last night.

But it’s also a little unsettling. She’s reaching a stage where I have memories of being her age, and so I can remember the trust I had that my parents knew exactly what they were doing, that every decision had a reason behind it or was part of some larger strategy.

Let me tell you: I don’t feel like that at all. Sometimes there’s a method to the madness, but often our moment-to-moment parenting decisions feel completely ad hoc.

I think that’s fine and, at least to some degree, natural—in part because to consider the alternative is terrifying. Consistency is more about cultivating habits of virtue in ourselves than it is about perfectly following some ideology of parenting. And when the kids do get old enough to really poke holes in our parenting, I think (I hope) consistency in love and prayer will be more important than consistency in method, or even in reason, in convincing them to stand down.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Genesis 18:20-32, Colossians 2:12-14, and Luke 11:1-13.

The theme of the week is clearly prayerful trust in the Lord’s goodness and mercy, with the first reading covering God’s assurance to the plaintive Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten good people were found there, and the Gospel including both a truncated Lord’s Prayer and the famous counsel of confidence:

And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

I’m especially fond of the next verses, though, where Christ connects earthly and divine paternity in a way that immediately brings His point home (though it may not work so well for the cheeky prankster dads among us):

What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 

Lastly, regarding the Lord’s Prayer, the Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about the relationship between Luke’s and Matthew’s versions:

As for the prayer itself the version in St. Luke 11:2-4, given by Christ in answer to the request of His disciples, differs in some minor details from the form which St. Matthew (6:9-15) introduces in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, but there is clearly no reason why these two occasions should be regarded as identical. It would be almost inevitable that if Christ had taught this prayer to His disciples He should have repeated it more than once. It seems probable, from the form in which the Our Father appears in the "Didache", that the version in St. Matthew was that which the Church adopted from the beginning for liturgical purposes.

God did not find ten good people in Sodom. John Martin, 1852.

Wednesday, July 31, is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. One of the most consequential men in the history of the Church, Ignatius was born Íñigo López de Loyola in the Spanish Basque country in 1491. Remarkably, it was only at the age of 30 that he experienced a full conversion of heart; until then, as the Catholic Encyclopedia gracefully puts it, he lived a life of “dissipation and laxity”:

He was affected and extravagant about his hair and dress, consumed with the desire of winning glory, and would seem to have been sometimes involved in those darker intrigues, for which handsome young courtiers too often think themselves licensed.

Summarizing Ignatius’s life and legacy is a fool’s errand: His decade-long period of nomadic study, during which he transitioned from bland military officer to a man of God full of heavenly ambition, is itself worthy of an entire volume. Let us just say that he is responsible for not one but two history-shaping contributions: the Society of Jesus and the Spiritual Exercises. We can turn to Butler’s Lives of the Saints for the rest:

True love is never idle; and always to labour, to promote God’s honour, or to suffer for his sake was this saint’s greatest pleasure. He said, that no created thing can bring to a soul such solid joy and comfort as to suffer for Christ. Being asked what was the most certain and the shortest way to perfection, he answered: “To endure for the love of Christ many and grievous afflictions. Ask this grace of our Lord: on whomsoever he bestoweth it, he does him many other signal favours, that always attend this grace.” …

From this same love of God sprang his ardent thirst for the salvation of men, for which he undertook so many and so great things, and to which he devoted his watchings, prayers, tears, and labours. When he dismissed any missionaries to preach the word of God, he usually said to them: “Go, brethren, inflame the world, spread about that fire which Jesus Christ came to kindle on earth.” 

Saint Ignatius of Loyola's Vision of Christ and God the Father at La Storta, painted less than a century (1622) after his death by Domenichino.

Friday, August 2, is the Feast of St. Peter Julian (Pierre-Julien) Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and its women’s counterpart, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. St. Peter’s legacy can be seen now in parishes around the world in the form of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a devotion—especially in the form of the Forty Hours—that the priest dedicated his life to spreading. Here we see a connection between our two saints this week, since St. Ignatius of Loyola was also a proponent of the Forty Hours.

St. Peter Eymard was part of a veritable entourage of nineteenth century French holy men and women, being acquainted with St. John Vianney, St. Peter Chanel, St. Marcellin Champagnat, Bl. Basil Moreau, and Ven. Pauline-Marie Jaricot.

St. Peter Eymard crossed paths with the sculptor Auguste Rodin (“The Thinker”) in 1862, when the young artist, distraught after the death of his sister, sought entry into his congregation. The saint counseled Rodin through his depression, and encouraged him to return to the practice of art—his true vocation. Shortly thereafter, Rodin produced this bust of Père Eymard.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. The Epistle is Romans 6:19-23 and the Gospel is Matthew 7:15-21.

In these readings, both of which exhort us to examine the “fruit” borne by our choices and conduct, we see the intrinsic connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy: Christ warns us of “false prophets” at the same time that he says that “he who doeth the will of my Father” will enter the Kingdom. The Church underscores this in the Epistle: “The wages of sin is death.” St. Jerome affirms this with his typical bluntness:

What is here spoken of false prophets we may apply to all whose dress and speech promise one thing, and their actions exhibit another. But it is specially to be understood of heretics, who by observing temperance, chastity, and fasting, surround themselves as it were with a garment of sanctity, but inasmuch as their hearts within them are poisoned, they deceive the souls of the more simple brethren.

However, in the interest of fairness, let me note a contrasting commentary (same source) from St. John Chrysostom:

Yet He may seem here to have aimed under the title of false prophets, not so much at the heretic, as at those who, while their life is corrupt, yet wear an outward face of virtuousness…. For among heretics it is possible many times to find a good life, but among those I have named never.

The introit this Sunday comes from Psalm 47 (D-R 46):

Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus: jubilate Deo in voce exsultationis. / Quoniam Dominus excelsus, terribilis: Rex magnus super omnem terram. Gloria patri…

Clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy. / For the Lord is most high, He is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth. Glory be…

The introductory paragraph for this Mass from the St. Andrew Daily Missal (a recent acquisition of mine with which I am very pleased) observes how this Introit combines with the readings to form a complete whole:

Divine life shows itself in acts. St. Augustine, explaining the Introit, says that “hands and tongue must agree together, the one glorifying God and the other acting accordingly.” The Gospel declares that it is not those who say “Lord, Lord” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of the Father. A tree is judged by its fruit. … What fruit, adds the Apostle, have you gathered from sin, except shame and eternal death? whilst “by serving God, you produce fruits of holiness and win eternal life.”

Friday, August 2 is the traditional Feast of St. Alphonus Liguori. (His feast in the 1969 calendar is the day before—one of those annoying little changes that serves little purpose but to distinguish the old and new calendars from one another.) Perhaps best known today for his Way of the Cross, which forms the basis for celebrations of the Stations in churches all over the world, his most consequential work was founding the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) in 1732. As a missionary order, the Redemptorists had particular influence in America—and specifically my city of Pittsburgh, where both St. John Neumann and Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos served in the same parish.

St. Alphonsus’s Catholic Encyclopedia entry includes this interesting note, perhaps relevant to those of us easily preoccupied with current events in these tumultuous times:

Very few remarks upon his own times occur in the Saint's letters. The eighteenth century was one series of great wars; that of the Spanish, Polish, and Austrian Succession; the Seven Years' War, and the War of American Independence, ending with the still more gigantic struggles in Europe, which arose out of the events of 1789. … But to all this secular history about the only reference in the Saint's correspondence which has come down to us is a sentence in a letter of April, 1744, which speaks of the passage of the Spanish troops who had come to defend Naples against the Austrians. He was more concerned with the spiritual conflict which was going on at the same time. The days were indeed evil. Infidelity and impiety were gaining ground; Voltaire and Rousseau were the idols of society; and the ancien régime, by undermining religion, its one support, was tottering to its fall.

In Italy, the saint’s most popular legacy may be his Christmas carol, Tu scendi dalle stelle (“From Starry Skies Descending”):

Those Seven Days

Tommy Tighe is starting a podcast on Catholicism and mental health, which is really smart and, I suspect, really needed:

Constance Hull writes about how renewing the priesthood—and by extension the Church—can’t be just about policies and procedures, but about embracing spiritual battle:

Renewal within the priesthood will be born of prayer and through the earnest desire by priests to become the saints God is calling them to be. Priests are called in a special way to surrender themselves fully to Christ in trust, obedience, and charity in ordered to be configured more closely to the Eternal High Priest. Our prayers aid them in answering Christ’s call in their vocation.

Sometimes is takes an outsider (like a Canadian priest) to concisely nail one’s own views about the traditional national aesthetic:

A next step in the cause for the canonization of Servant of God Fr. Edward Flanagan, the Irish-American priest of the Diocese of Omaha who founded the Boys Town community for orphaned and troubled boys, has been submitted to the Vatican.

A short thread of my own on a rumor that has swirled for years now, especially in my neck of the woods: Was Fred Rogers received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed?

Have you signed up for The Lamp newsletter? If not, why not?

As for me…

At the Scottish Catholic Observer, I write about the colonization of friendship by “professionalism” and “codes of conduct,” leaving no space for a grace-filled intimacy to flourish:

The work or business relationship—guarded, strategic, professional—has become the norm. For this reason, the genuinely intimate and self-giving friendship feels dangerous, like we are inviting exploitation and emotional pain.

This focus on misplaced professionalism results in a kind of prudishness, where anything that might symbolise the ‘private’ sphere is considered unsafe and unclean. We put up high barriers to intimacy that only a select few—mostly just immediate family members, and sometimes not even them—can clear.

Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

And if you enjoyed this, please forward it along to friends. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a week of These Seven Days.