TSD 46: The Book of Gomorrah

That got your attention

Whoa-oa, we’re halfway there…



These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Sirach 15:15-20, 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, and Matthew 5:17-37 (there’s a short version but it’s extremely convoluted—and drops the teaching on divorce—and I’m not going to bother).

This is a heavy week of readings, densely packed with spiritual insight. The overall theme of the challenge of the life of holiness—and the reward for following the Lord on the narrow path—are well suited to these last days before Lent, as we prepare for a time of penance. It builds to a crescendo with Christ’s extension and fulfillment of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, but I’m particularly struck by the last verses of Sirach here:

The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed.

No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.

I was just writing in my upcoming book on renewing the Church about the “dirty hands” approach to institutions, where leaders are excused from regular moral norms because their duties don’t allow for sensitive consciences. I’m going to go back into that chapter and insert this quotation…

St. Paul, meanwhile, describes how the logic of Christ doesn’t always make sense to those accustomed to worldly wisdom:

Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Going the Lord’s way—following His wisdom, pursuing holiness at all costs—will always, in some way, be the way of the Cross.

Jan Brueghel the Elder’s depiction of the Sermon on the Mount focuses on the crowd, largely (realistically) distracted. I’ll be honest, I really don’t like it when they put everyone in contemporary garb. But the overall effect is lovely: “Brueghel's unmatched ability to describe figures and landscape in great detail transforms the painting into a jewel-like object intended for close scrutiny.”

Friday, February 21, is the Feast of St. Peter Damian. (It’s February 23 in the old calendar.) Peter lived in an endlessly corrupt, endlessly complex time in Church history. During the time he was active in ecclesial affairs (which he would rather not have been, preferring the hermitage), there were twelve papacies, three of which were held by the same man (Benedict IX, long story), not to mention at least two anti-popes. Peter was formed in holiness among the Benedictines and demonstrated his prudence and aptitude in his service as prior of Fonte Avellana. From the time he was called out of that life until his death, he served in innumerable diplomatic roles, arbitrating disputes among bishops, between bishops and their princes, between bishops and monks, and so on.

Peter Damian is mostly remembered today, however, for the zeal with which he attacked the dual corruptions of simony and sodomy among the clergy. His Liber Gomorrhianus, in which he outlined these crimes and his proposed punishments and reforms, was a sensation—and was considered at least a bit sensational by most contemporaries, including the reigning pope, St. Leo IX. Even so, many of his ideas were put into action, and his advocacy was essential to the Gregorian Reform of the Church.

St. Peter Damian is in vogue today for his bold steps against moral corruption in the Church; let me caution any would-be Peter Damians, however, that his zeal and effectiveness sprung from his extraordinary spiritual discipline, which included obedience. He wrote:

Therefore, dearly beloved, if you desire to be at one with each other in the love of Christ, be more intent in your obedience in humbleness of heart to him who is set above you in Christ’s place … He who, despising the shepherd, seeks a hireling, who listens to the voices of strangers, who plays with the hammers of discord in the furnace of hatred and who divided the kingdom of Israel by sowing the seed of schism will have no place there.

I don’t have information on the artist, but this is St. Peter Damian an his hermit-recruits, hanging in the maps room of the Vatican Museum.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is Sexagesima Sunday. The Epistle is 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9 and the Gospel is Luke 8:4-15.

The long Epistle ends with one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture:

And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Challoner writes in the Haydock commentary:

The strength and power of God more perfectly shines forth in our weakness and infirmity; as the more weak we are of ourselves, the more illustrious is his grace in supporting us, and giving us the victory under all trials and conflicts.

It is precisely in the weak, therefore, that the glory of God is manifested most beautifully.

The Gospel is unusual in that Christ explains every aspect of the parable to the apostles. The seed that fails to fruit represents, in different ways, a disintegrated faith, a faith that is not fully internalized and lived comprehensively. Gregory the Great goes into particular detail about the image of the thorns:

It is wonderful that the Lord has represented riches as thorns, for these prick, while those delight, and yet they are thorns, for they lacerate the mind by the prickings of their thoughts, and whenever they entice to see they draw blood, as if inflicting a wound. But there are two things which He joins to riches, cares and pleasures, for they oppress the mind by anxiety and unnerve it by luxuries, but they choke the seed, for they strangle the throat of the heart with vexatious thoughts, and while they let not a good desire enter the heart, they close up as it were the passage of the vital breath.

Tuesday, February 18, is the Feast of St. Bernadette Soubirous. We talked about Our Lady of Lourdes last week, so permit me simply to quote the St. Andrew Missal at length about this visionary:

Bernadette Soubirous was born at Lourdes in 1844. Our Lady appeared eighteen times to her in the Grotto of Massabielle, in the beginning of the year 1858. On March 25, the Blessed Virgin said to her: “I am the Immaculate Conception,” thereby confirming the dogma officially proclaimed by Piux IX in 1854.

Leaving everything to purchase at such a price the kingdom of heaven [the Gospel for the feast is the parable of the lost treasure in Matthew 13], she entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers in [1866]. Here she was given the name of Sister Mary Bernard, and died on April 16, 1879, after a hidden life of prayer and penance. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1933; in 1936 her feast was ordered to be celebrated by the universal Church eight days after the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

An 1866 photo of St. Bernadette, the year she entered the Sisters of Charity.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Saturday, February 22, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It is, fundamentally, a celebration of the authority an majesty of the papacy. It’s history is, of course, a little complicated. There were for most of Church history two feasts of the Chair of Peter, one (January 18) commemorating his enthronement in Rome and the other (February 22) commemorating his enthronement in Antioch. The February feast was always more important, however, and is traditionally held to be the day on which Peter identified Christ as the Son of God (Matthew 16:13-20). The January feast was eventually suppressed by Pope St. John XXIII, meaning that there is still a slight distinction between the feast in the two calendars: In the new one, it’s simply the Chair of St. Peter; in the old one, it’s the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch.

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The throne of St. Peter in the eponymous basilica in the Vatican. The seventeenth-century bronze sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini encases what is said to be the original wooden chair from which Peter ruled.

Those Seven Days

Is there any Serious Respected Writer (besides Liz Bruenig, see below) who gets Twitter better than Ross ?

I know we make fun of the New York Times, but they have some good people these days.

For all those who think we’re living in the Worst of Times in the modern Church:

Authentic Catholic praxis right here:

They all lie, even when the truth is right there in plain sight. The father of death is, of course, also the father of lies.

I cannot stress enough how wholesome this is.

Tip Jar

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I’m literally never going to run out of these.

thank you

As for me…

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I have a new piece at the Scottish Catholic Observer on breaking the chains of our bread-and-circuses culture:

Mindless amusements, whether in the ancient Rome of the poet Juvenal, who is said to have coined the phrase ‘bread and circuses,’ or in 17th-century France, or even in modern US airports, are both symptoms and causes of spiritual emptiness.

We use them to fill our time and our minds when we can’t imagine doing anything more worthy, like prayer or spiritual reading. And in turn they crowd out God and the more elevated, more peaceful way of being to which He calls us.

And here’s part two of my interview on EWTN’s At Home with Jim and Joy:

Feedback, &c.

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