Monday, March 29, 2021

This Morning: St. Thomas More and the Arrest of Jesus

Just a reminder that I'll be on the 
Son Rise Morning Show with Matt Swaim this morning (Monday in Holy Week) to conclude our Lenten series on St. Thomas More's The Sadness of Christ

I've offered him several topics to discuss as he chooses: More's wonder at the transformation in Christ from His soul being "sorrowful unto death" to being the Master of the situation when Judas and the cohort arrives; his concern about his contemporaries' methods of interpreting the Holy Bible without or even opposed to the Fathers and Tradition of the Church, leading to division; More's meditation on causing another to fall and die; and finally, his magnificent meditation on the verse from St. Luke's Gospel on the hour of power and darkness.

Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern. 

Since More describes the practice of some of his contemporaries to think they know more than the Fathers or the teaching authority of the Catholic Church to interpret scripture, you may wonder by what authority Thomas More interprets these passages from the four Gospels, if he is doing it on his own or based upon the Fathers and Tradition. This article by Travis Curtright describes More's sources, which are the Fathers via St. Thomas Aquinas and Jean Gerson's harmony of the Gospels:

Imagine Thomas More's cell in the Tower of London, what he calls his "shop," and his books, what he refers to as his "implements." In such a shop and with these tools, More produces his "goods," among which we count his De Tristitia Christi. (2) On June 12, 1535, the King's Council determines More's books shall be taken away from him. According to More's early biographer, Thomas Stapleton, More keeps his blinds drawn down day and night after that. When his jailer asks why, More replies: "Now that the goods and the implements are taken away, the shop must be closed." (3) Less than a month afterwards, More's trial and execution occurs. (4)

What are these "implements" that More values so much? We know he uses both the
Catena aurea of Thomas Aquinas and John Gerson's Monotessaron as his "basic tools" for composing De Tristitia. The Catena is a compendium of exegetical comments by Church Fathers, which Aquinas compiles and condenses. His Catena aurea thereby becomes a "golden chain" of linked biblical commentary on specific sections of the gospel. The subtitle of Monotessaron is Unum ex quattuor, or "one from four," which indicates how Gerson integrates four gospels into one "harmony" by combining corresponding verses. More's obvious interest in the passion of Christ and his own imprisoned state leaves him with limited access to books and so he chooses his texts very carefully. Gary Haupt surmises that "nothing could more appropriately express More's intense concern with the unity of Christendom" than his selection of Gerson's harmony and Aquinas's collection of Church Fathers. (5) Unity among evangelists and within the tradition is symbolized in More's selection of texts and in the cause of his imprisonment.

At the end of The Sadness of Christ when St. Thomas More enters the debate among the doctors about exactly when Jesus was arrested, More chooses to disagree with Gerson and some of the other authorities:

But . . . in this one place I have departed from [Gerson] and followed those interpreters (and they too are celebrated authorities) who are persuaded by the very probable inferences from the accounts of Luke and John to adopt the opinion that only after Judas had given his kiss and returned to the cohort and the Jews, after Christ had thrown down the cohort . . ., after the ear of the high priest's servant had been cut off . . ., after all the apostles had escaped by running away . . .--only then, after all these events, did they lay hands on Jesus. (pp. 113-114)

All the quotations are from the Scepter edition of The Sadness of Christ, presenting the Yale University translation. 

Sometime after St. Thomas More wrote those words Sir Richard Rich, Sir Richard Southwell, and Master Palmer came to his cell and laid hands on his book, pens, and, and paper and took them all away. At More's trial on July 1, 1535, Rich would perjure himself, but Southwell and Palmer would not back him up when he said that More had stated the Parliament could not declare Henry VIII Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England. 

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Preview: Jesus Lets the Cohort Arrest Him (More and The Gospel of John)

In our last reflection for Lent on the Monday of Holy Week, Matt Swaim and I will discuss Saint Thomas More's commentary on the arrest of Jesus in The Sadness of Christ on the Son Rise Morning Show. Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern on Monday, March 29.

St. John the Evangelist does not describe the Agony of the Garden in his Gospel. On so many Good Fridays, I've heard a priest explain how Jesus is totally in command in St. John's Gospel. The cohort, the Sanhedrin, even Pilate are the ones on trial, not Jesus. He is the King, He carries His own cross, He bows His head (first) and then gives up His spirit. All of this fulfills His statement in John 10:17-18: "No one takes it [His life] from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”

And Jesus' control over the events begins when Judas shows up with the cohort, as St. Thomas More, citing the Gospel of John, emphasizes that Jesus stuns the cohort as they seek "Jesus of Nazareth", stating "I am he". They draw back and fall to the ground--and More presumes that since Judas, who has just betrayed Him with a kiss, is standing with the cohort, draws back and falls to the ground too.

O saving Christ, only a little while ago, you were so fearful that you lay face down in a most pitiable attitude and sweat blood as you begged your Father to take away the chalice of our passion. How is it that now, by a sudden reversal, you leap up and spring forth like a giant running his race and come forward eagerly, to meet those who seek to inflict that passion upon you?

Then he applies this seeming change to us:

Hither, hither let all hasten who are faint of heart. Here let them take firm hold of an unwavering hope when they feel themselves struck by a horror of death. For just as they share Christ's agony . . . they will also share this consolation, undoubtedly they will feel themselves helped by such consolation as Christ felt . . .

More emphasizes that Jesus surrenders Himself at the same time He demands the cohort let the Apostles go: this is not a condition or a bargain. Just as He stuns them into collapsing to the ground by saying "I am he", Jesus commands them to let the others go. Thus He fulfills His statement to the Father, "Of those you have given me, I have not lost anyone" (John 18:19). Furthermore, More states: "He Himself by His hidden power had opened up a way for their escape." (pp. 79-80)

In the midst of his discussion of how Psalm 109:8 ("May his days be few, and may another take over his ministry"; also quoted in the Acts of the Apostles 1:20) foretells Judas' death, More writes a great defense of the Fathers of the Church and the Tradition of the Church in contrast to those who try to interpret the Bible on their own:

And nevertheless nowadays, first in one place, now in another, there are springing up from day to day, almost like swarms of wasps or hornets, people who boast that they are "autodidacts" (to use St. Jerome's word) and that without the commentaries of the old doctors, they find clear, open, and easy all those things which all the ancient Fathers confessed they found quite difficult. . . . But now these modern men who have sprouted up overnight as theologians professing to know everything, not only disagree about the meaning of Scripture with all those men who led such heavenly lives, but also fail to agree among themselves concerning great dogmas of the Christian faith.

More prays that they return to "the bosom of Mother Church" so that Christians will be united "in the true faith of Christ and joined in mutual charity as true members of Christ . . . " (pp. 81-82)

Another remarkable passage occurs when More meditates on the different fates of the Apostles and of Judas: Judas, "rejoicing and exulting", thinks himself safe, not knowing what will happen to him next (his remorse and suicide) contrasted with the Apostles, in danger of arrest, but destined to survive:

In this connection I am struck by the lamentable obscurity of the miserable human condition: often we are distressed and fearful, ignorant all the while that we are quite safe; often, on the other hand, we act as if we had not a care in the world, unaware that the death-dealing sword hangs over our heads.

Again, it's hard not to see More's own predicament in his next words:

Cruel is the appetite which feeds on the misery of others. Nor is there any reason why a person should rejoice and congratulate himself on his good fortune because he has it in his power to cause another man's death . . . For though a man may send someone else to his death, he himself is sure to follow him there.

More still holds out hope for the sinner's repentance and God's answering mercy--that no one would ever imitate Judas and refuse God's grace, "but rather may eagerly accept the grace God offers us and may be restored one more to glory through penance and mercy." (pp. 83-84)

There's a very long section (from page 85 to page 95) on the Severing of Malchus' Ear in which More describes St. Peter's history of trying to prevent his Master from suffering His Passion; whether or not it's ever right to commit violence to prevent the innocent from suffering, etc, but as More himself says when commenting on all the different meanings the Fathers of the Church had seen in this event, it would make "too long an interruption in the account of the historical events." (p. 95) 

So I'm skipping over that to highlight the great soliloquy More gives Jesus to offer an exegesis on the verse from Luke's Gospel: "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." This is a real tour-de-force:

Explaining why the authorities didn't arrest Jesus in the Temple or in any public place when he was preaching, teaching, and debating with them, He states:
It was because the time and the hour had not yet come, the hour fixed not . . . by your cleverness, but rather by the unsearchable plan of my Father, to which I too had given my consent. . . .

And so this is your hour and the power of darkness. This is the short hour allotted to you and the power granted to darkness, so that now in the dark you might do what you were not permitted to do in the daylight . . . You are in the dark when you ascribe my death to your strength . . .

But this is the hour and the brief power of darkness . . . For you yourselves create your own darkness, you put out the light . . . This is your short hour. . . .

But this hour and this power of darkness are not only given to you now against me, but such an hour and such a brief power of darkness will also be given to the governors and other caesars against other disciples of mine. And this too will truly be the power of darkness. (p. 100)
And Jesus alludes to the persecution of his disciples in the future, the suffering of martyrs--all driven by the prince of darkness, but doomed to defeat by God's power. The prince of darkness and the tyrants (Nero, Henry VIII?, and others) will succeed for awhile, but God the Almighty will destroy them in the end. Their time is short:
And so this hour of yours and this power of darkness are not long-lasting and enduring but quite as brief as the present moment to which they are limited, an instant of time always caught between a past that is gone and a future that has not arrived. Therefore, lest you should lose any of this hour of yours which is so short . . . be quick about it . . .
And Jesus again demands that the Apostles go free, while He allows the cohort to take Him.

As I did last week, I've given Matt Swaim (and you, I hope) a great deal to think about in these wonderful passages and meditations from The Sadness of Christ. Saint Thomas More, in the Tower of London, facing his own death, was still thinking about the other Catholics in England who would suffer because of the division Henry VIII and his supporters were bringing to England and the Catholic Church. While the majority had signed the oaths Henry VIII demanded, More had faith in Jesus that this hour of darkness would be brief in the eyes of God and His Providence. Therefore he was providing them with consolation and hope in the face of persecution, exile, and even death.

All the quotations are from the Scepter edition of The Sadness of Christ, presenting the Yale University translation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

On-line Exhibition on the Catholic Martyrs of the English Reformation

I have been limiting my blog posting throughout Lent to a few book reviews and the announcements (previews and reminders) of the Son Rise Morning Show series on St. Thomas More's The Sadness of Christ. As we enter Passiontide, however, it seems appropriate for me to let you know about this on-line exhibition on the Blessed and Canonized Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales:

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, this online exhibition will examine the faith stories of these remarkable men and women from the 16th and 17th centuries. It is illustrated with images of their relics and other manuscripts and artefacts in the care of the Jesuits in Britain Archives and Stonyhurst College.

The exhibition has been designed as an immersive visual and audio experience and is best viewed on larger screens. To listen to the exhibition text press the play button under the main image and scroll down to see the accompanying images. You can skip to particular relics or Saints using the index above, but to get the best experience we recommend working your way through from start to finish.

We hope you enjoy discovering these remarkable objects.

You can both read and listen to the text describing the objects and their stories.

The exhibition does include an entry on St. Thomas More, including pictures of his nightcap, crucifix, and hairshirt!

There's also a fascinating account of the Thorn from the Crown of Thorns which Mary, Queen of Scots brought with her to Scotland after the of her husband King Francois, and how Father John Gerard, SJ, came to receive it:

A gift of a one of these precious thorns was made to Mary, Queen of Scots on or after the occasion of her marriage to Francois, the oldest son of the King of France, in 1558. Mary’s later misfortunes after Francois’ death, on her return to Scotland as an eighteen year-old widow, are well known. In 1568, following armed rebellion from her government and defeat in battle, she fled Scotland seeking refuge in England and was taken to Carlisle Castle. She was described as a guest but was in fact a prisoner.

Learning of her arrival in Carlisle, Thomas Percy, the Catholic Earl of Northumberland gained entrance to the castle and demanded, unsuccessfully, that the Catholic Queen of Scots be handed into his custody. During the following twelve months, Percy was active in raising opposition to Elizabeth, with the intention of freeing Mary, placing her at the head of an army, and, ultimately, on Elizabeth’s throne. It seems reasonable to assume that Mary passed this most precious relic of the Passion to Percy at Carlisle, or in the months afterwards, as a pledge of her trust in him.

During my last trip to Paris with my late husband Mark I was able to attend, during Lent, one of the services Venerating the Crown of Thorns in the Cathedral of Notre Dame--seven years ago!

Monday, March 22, 2021

This Morning: Thomas More on Angels, Bishops, and Judas

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show with Anna Mitchell this morning to talk about St. Thomas More's The Sadness of Christ

I've offered her several topics to discuss as she chooses: More's interpretation of the significance of the angel comforting Christ and the blood Jesus shed like sweat in His anguish; More's excoriation of the bishops sleeping while the faithful facing so many dangers; More's eloquent litany of the mercies Jesus extended to Judas for repentance.

Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern. 

So why do I have a picture of Newman on this post? Because as I read Michael Pakaluk's The Voice of Mary in the Gospel according to John, I discovered a Parochial and Plain Sermon by St. John Henry Newman, "A Particular Providence as Revealed in the Gospel."

In this sermon, Newman writes about the mercies Jesus showed to those He encountered depending upon their needs. Judas needed Jesus too, and as St. Thomas More commented in 1535 on all the mercies and opportunities He'd offered to Judas Iscariot, in 1835 St. John Henry Newman reminded his congregation of the"particular providence[s]" Jesus offered to His traitor:

The most winning property of our Saviour's mercy (if it is right so to speak of it), is its dependence on time and place, person and circumstance; in other words, its tender discrimination. It regards and consults for each individual as he comes before it. It is called forth by some as it is not by others, it cannot (if I may say so) manifest itself to every object alike; it has its particular shade and mode of feeling for each; and on some men it so bestows itself, as if He depended for His own happiness on their well-being. This might be illustrated, as is often done, by our Lord's tender behaviour towards Lazarus and his sisters, or His tears over Jerusalem; or by His conduct towards St. Peter, before and after his denial of him, or towards St. Thomas when he doubted, or by His love of His mother, or of St. John. But I will direct your attention rather to His treatment of the traitor Judas; both because it is not so commonly referred to, and, also, because if there was a being in the whole world whom one might suppose to be cast out of His presence as hateful and reprobate, it was he who He foresaw would betray Him. Yet we shall find that even this wretched man was followed and encompassed by His serene though solemn regard till the very hour he betrayed Him.

Judas was in darkness and hated the light, and "went to his own place;" yet he found it, not by the mere force of certain natural principles working out their inevitable results—by some unfeeling fate, which sentences the wicked to hell—but by a Judge who surveys him from head to foot, who searches him through and through, to see if there is any ray of hope, any latent spark of faith; who pleads with him again and again, and, at length abandoning him, mourns over him the while with the wounded affection of a friend rather than the severity of the Judge of the whole earth. For instance, first a startling warning a year before his trial. "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" Then, when the time was come, the lowest act of abasement towards one who was soon to betray Him, and to suffer the unquenchable fire. "He riseth from supper, and ... poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet," [John vi. 70; xiii. 4, 5.] and Judas in the number. Then a second warning at the same time, or rather a sorrowful lament spoken as if to Himself, "Ye are not all clean." Then openly, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me." "The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him; but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed Him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said it." Lastly, when He was actually betrayed by him, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" "Judas" (He addresses him by name), "betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" [Matt. xxvi. 24, 25, 50. Luke xxii. 48.] I am not attempting to reconcile His divine foreknowledge with this special and prolonged anxiety, this personal feeling towards Judas; but wish you only to dwell upon the latter, in order to observe what is given us by the revelation of Almighty God in the Gospels, viz., an acquaintance with His providential regard for individuals, making His sun to rise on the evil as well as on the good. And, in like manner doubtless, at the last day, the wicked and impenitent shall be condemned, not in a mass, but one by one—one by one, appearing each in his own turn before the righteous Judge, standing under the full glory of His countenance, carefully weighed in the balance and found wanting, dealt with, not indeed with a weak and wavering purpose, where God's justice claims satisfaction, yet, at the same time, with all the circumstantial solicitude and awful care of one who would fain make, if He could, the fruit of His passion more numerous than it is.

This solemn reflection may be further enforced by considering our Lord's behaviour towards strangers who came to Him. Judas was His friend; but we have never seen Him. How will He look, and how does He look upon us? Let His manner in the Gospels towards the multitude of men assure us. . . .

I'm sure you noticed that 300 years separated these works.

Great minds--great saints--think alike!

What a particular providence I read Pakaluk's book while engaged in this series for the Son Rise Morning Show!

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!
Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Preview: Angels, Bishops, and Judas in "The Sadness of Christ"

On Monday, March 22, Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Saint Thomas More's The Sadness of Christ on the Son Rise Morning Show

Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern.

When Saint Thomas More--who had been writing Catholic apologetics against certain Lutheran errors being introduced into England--addresses the verse from the Gospel According to Luke (22:43) describing the Angel from Heaven who came to strengthen Jesus, he brings up an objection some were raising at the time. This is an objection we Catholics still face: that we should not pray to angels and saints to intercede with us for favors from God, but always and only pray to God alone.

More's response reminds us that he was a great defender of the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church in these early days of the Reformation, as Lutheran ideas were being imported (through books and those who'd read them) into England. Some of the good bishops in England had even given him permission to read these books to refute them. His Dialogue Concerning Heresies and Supplication of Souls are two examples of More's apologetic works. In the former, among other issues, he defended the Catholic practice of intercessory prayer to the saints and angels; in the latter, prayer for the dead and the doctrine of Purgatory. He also wrote works defending the ministerial priesthood and the Real Presence of Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion.

This response reminds us that in the midst of his own preparation for death, More was still concerned about the state of the Church and divisions introduced by Lutheran teachings, as his comments below about the bishops of his own time also demonstrate.

He calls these ideas that it's "futile for anyone to seek the intercession of an angel or departed saint" "pernicious nonsense" and "trivial and groundless arguments" in the face of the fact that Jesus was, as He told the Apostles and His Mother after the Resurrection, comforted by an angel in His Agony. More further points out that angels had ministered to Jesus after He conquered the devil's temptations in the wilderness. (pp. 38-39) If angels ministered and supported Jesus, why can't we ask them to help us with their prayers?

In the next section, with the heading of another verse Saint Luke's Gospel (22:44), St. Thomas More explores the meaning of Jesus sweating blood in His anguish, answering objections to those who say that some martyrs faced their deaths with greater courage, it seems, that the King of Martyrs. More responds: Jesus faced sufferings greater than any martyr because of His mental anguish: "even the presentiment of it [His Good Friday sufferings] was more bitter to Christ than such anticipation has even been to anyone else." (pp. 39-40)

Next, More takes on the third and final visit Jesus made to the disciples and notes the contrast between the sleeping disciples and the active and determined traitor, Judas. It is in this section that More sees "a clear and sharp mirror image (as it were), a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages . . . even to our own" especially in regard to the leadership of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century: the bishops.

As Anna Mitchell might say, here's the 'money quote':

Why do not bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence? Since they have succeeded in the place of the apostles, would that they would reproduce their virtues just as eagerly as they embrace their authority and as faithfully as they display their sloth and sleepiness! For very many are sleepy and apathetic in sowing virtues among the people and maintaining the truth, while the enemies of Christ in order to sow vices and uproot the faith (that is, insofar as they can, to seize Christ and cruelly crucify Him once again) are wide awake . . .

More goes on to say that some bishops are not just asleep through sadness but are "numbed and buried in destructive desires . . . drunk with the new wine of the devil, the flesh, and the world" (p. 46)--harsh words! But remember that of all the bishops of England, only one was in the Tower of London because he refused to swear the oaths Henry VIII demanded, the former Bishop of Rochester, future cardinal and saint, John Fisher. (He'd been stripped of his title of bishop by Henry VIII; Pope Paul III gave him the title of Cardinal; Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a saint.)

From the bishops, More turns to Judas, "an apostle turned traitor", noting that Jesus had offered him "many opportunities of coming to his senses":

He did not deny him His companionship. He did not take away from him the dignity of his apostleship. He did not even take the purse-strings from him, even though he was a thief. [John 12:6; 13:29] He admitted the traitor to the fellowship of His beloved disciples at the last supper. He deigned to stoop down at the feet of the betrayer and to wash with His innocent and most sacred hands Judas' dirty feet . . . Moreover, with incomparable generosity, He gave him to eat . . . that very body of His which the betrayer had already sold . . . [and] He gave him that very blood to drink which . . . the traitor was wickedly scheming to broach and set flowing. Finally . . . Christ received him calmly and gently . . .

when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss--thus "God showed His great mercy . . ." and More concludes from this litany of mercy that we should pray for each other's renewed conversion and repentance, that God will continue to present us with opportunities "to come to [our and each other's] senses". (pp. 49-50) And More even says that if we see a Judas, a traitor, among us we should pray for his repentance and reconciliation, just as Jesus gave Judas every opportunity to return to His company and His love. 

St. Thomas More told Sir Thomas Cromwell that he prayed for Henry VIII and he wished even those who condemned him to death that they would all meet merrily in Heaven. He was praying for their repentance and reconciliation, that they should return to Jesus' company in the Church and heal the wounds of division, brought about by Henry VIII's false claim to leadership of the Church of England.

Obviously, I've given Anna Mitchell much to think about this weekend as she prepares for our discussion Monday morning! All the quotations are from the Scepter edition of The Sadness of Christ, presenting the Yale University translation.

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!
Saint John Fisher, pray for us!
Saint Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Monday, March 15, 2021

This Morning: Sleeping Apostles on the Son Rise Morning Show

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning with Matt Swaim this morning to talk about St. Thomas More's The Sadness of Christ. The theme of sleepiness may all too appropriate for the early risers on the Son Rise Morning Show. I've named today "Spring Ahead Monday", celebrated with coffee, lots of coffee!

Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern. 

We certainly won't have time for this during our short segment, but Thomas More pauses in his comments about sleepiness and inattentiveness in prayer--not just by Peter, James and John--among his contemporaries (and now us) in the midst of his explication of the story of Jesus's Agony in the Garden.

He admits that he's been rather hard on his fellow Catholics, "attacking that sort of prayer in which the mind is not attentive but wandering and distracted among many ideas" and then proposes "an emollient from [Jean/John] Gerson to alleviate this sort point, lest [he] seem to be like a harsh surgeon touching this common sore too roughly," and even making the reader feel hopeless about her ability to pray without distraction. (p. 56)

John Gerson (1363–1429) was chancellor of the University of Paris, a defender of St. Joan of Arc's innocence after her execution, and a promoter of devotion to St. Joseph. He worked hard to destroy the Great Schism of 1378 (with the competing anti-popes) and was known as the Doctor Consolatorius--like More's good friend John Colet, he did not use the scholastic method of exploring theological themes, but wrote more simply and directly.

More tells his readers that in Prayer and Its Value (De Oratione et ejus Valore) Gerson says there are three aspects to prayer: the act of praying, the virtue of praying, and the habit of praying. Using the example of a pilgrim on the way from France to Compostela, Gerson says that the pilgrim starts out with the act: being a prayerful pilgrim, devoted to Saint James, and meditating on the saint. He develops this virtue of praying throughout his pilgrimage, but sometimes he gets distracted, perhaps by the practical matters of blisters, rain, and other troubles. He's still on pilgrimage; he's still enduring all the trials and dangers of the journey, because it's become a habit. So the pilgrim just needs to persevere on the pilgrim trail, devote himself again to meditating on the saint to continue the act of praying, its virtues and his good habit. Only if he decides to break off his pilgrimage, go home, and decide never to complete it will he forfeit the benefits of the pilgrimage.

As More concludes, Gerson says it's same with prayer: "once it has been begun attentively it can never afterwards be so interrupted that the virtue of the first intention does not remain and persist continuously--that is, either actually or habitually--so long as it is not relinquished by making a decision to stop not cut off by turning away to mortal sin."

Thus More, calling Jean Gerson "the most learned and virtuous man" offers some respite to his readers, as long as they don't try to use this explanation as an excuse "for those who out of careless laziness make no effort to think about their prayers." (p. 58)

This emollient that More pauses to provide in the midst of his meditation on The Sadness of Christ could be a good pick me up for our mid-Lenten devotions. 

Nunc coepi! Now I begin!

Image Credit (Public Domain): Jean Gerson, 1714 Engraving By: Bernard Picart

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Book Review: "Mary's Voice in the Gospel According to John" & St. John Henry Newman

Last week I purchased a copy of Michael Pakaluk's latest Gospel translation and commentary at Eighth Day Books. According to the publisher, Regnery:

The Gospel according to John has always been recognized as different from the “synoptic” accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

But what explains the difference?

In this new translation and verse-by-verse commentary, Michael Pakaluk suggests an answer and unlocks a two thousand-year-old mystery.
Mary’s Voice in the Gospel according to John reveals the subtle but powerful influence of the Mother of Jesus on the fourth Gospel.

In his dying words, Jesus committed his Mother to the care of John, the beloved disciple, who “from that hour . . . took her into his own home.” Pakaluk draws out the implications of that detail, which have been overlooked for centuries.

In Mary’s remaining years on earth, what would she and John have talked about? Surely no subject was as close to their hearts as the words and deeds of Jesus. Mary’s unique perspective and intimate knowledge of her Son must have shaped the account of Jesus’ life that John would eventually compose.

With the same scholarship, imagination, and fidelity that he applied to Mark’s Gospel in
The Memoirs of St. Peter, Pakaluk brings out the voice of Mary in John’s, from the famous prologue about the Incarnation of the Word to the Evangelist’s closing avowal of the reliability of his account.

This remarkably fresh translation and commentary will deepen your understanding of the most sublime book of the New Testament.

This review of the book in First Things by Max Torres provides an apt summary of Pakaluk's method:

Proceeding thus, Pakaluk posits four possible modes or causal pathways of Mary's influence: by virtue of John’s deference to her; by his familiarity with her and custom acquired by living with her for so long; by his love for her and attraction to her person and thought; and by the mutual influence and love she shared with Jesus, which beckons discipleship. He posits six types, marks, or forms we might expect her influence to take, each predicated on a particular role that John could not occupy: as Theotokos or God-bearer; as woman; as mother; as perpetual virgin; as spouse; and as handmaiden. How would things look from the perspective of one who conceived and bore God incarnate? How would one expect the roles of “woman” or “handmaiden” to color Mary’s experience and John’s account?

Pakaluk finds what he seeks in several features of John’s Gospel. For example, he points out how it consists mainly of conversations rather than accounts of deeds or teachings—a mode of communication that he argues is especially characteristic of women. Similarly, John’s Gospel is told from the point of view of a sympathetic observer who identifies with Jesus, much as a mother and Theotokos might tell it. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus clearly and consistently proclaims his divinity by referring to himself in God’s name: “I am.” Mary would have understood from longer and more intimate knowledge of Jesus what the synoptics could only grope at in confusion; this would explain why John highlights Jesus’s startling revelation of his name when the synoptics could not, and did not, mention it in theirs. . .

And you may read more about how Pakaluk came to write the book here in an interview at Crux.

As I noted when reviewing The Memoirs of Saint Peter, I think I benefited immediately from reading Pakaluk's translation of the Gospel according St. John merely by the fact that it was in a different format (printed separately and not in a "Bible" format of columns and notes at the bottom of the page of the text of the Gospel) and often by Pakaluk's word choices, made because as he says my eyes skim too quickly over the words I've always heard and read. 

One of the points of debate between those who have found such reverence and silence in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite (aka The Tridentine Mass, celebrated since the Council of Trent in the 16th century until the mid-20th century in the Roman (not Eastern) Catholic Church) and those who appreciate the wider range of Scripture passages in the Ordinary Form of Latin Rite (with more or almost all vernacular language, in spite of the stated wishes of the Bishops of the Second Vatican Council) is the purpose and role of the Scriptures in the context of the celebration of the Mass. 

The Extraordinary Form has one cycle of readings (an Epistle--an Old Testament or New Testament reading NOT from one of the four Gospels and a Gospel), read every year at Daily and Sunday Mass; the Ordinary Form has three cycles of three readings for Sundays and two for Daily Mass (just two readings). Thus if one attended Mass or at least read the readings for every Mass every day for three years, one would read much (not all but almost all) of the Holy Bible. Thus, the Ordinary Form would seem to provide Catholics with the opportunity for a much fuller understanding of the Scriptures, with the Sunday homily or daily Mass feverino explicating and applying the readings. The Ordinary Form seems to provide more didactic opportunity for growth in the knowledge of Scripture. 

Proponents of the Extraordinary Form would respond that knowledge of Scripture is not the purpose of the Holy Mass. As Dietrich von Hildebrand writes in Liturgy and Personality, the purpose of attending the Holy Mass is for us to grow in virtues in conformity with Jesus Christ. We are mainly participating and offering ourselves with Jesus to the Father in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not studying the Bible.

[This is at least one form of the argument between proponents of the two Forms of the same Latin Rite; both of which represent the Holy Sacrifice and feed us the Holy Sacrament, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. As also the Eastern Rites and the Anglican Use do.]

But that expanded selection of readings in the Lectionary of the Ordinary Form can't replace reading the Holy Bible outside of the liturgy (which includes the Liturgy of the Hours) and even for a Catholic like me who does complete the reading cycle every two and three years it's beneficial to read a book of the Bible separately and even explore it on its one. With the good commentary that Michael Pakaluk provides, I understand more what makes the Gospel of John different than the Synoptic Gospels and why. So that's one reason I recommended both The Memoirs of Saint Peter and The Voice of Mary in the Gospel According to John. In fact, I recommend reading Memoirs (Mark) and then Voice (John) in that order to see how the entire views and purposes of the two Gospels differ and I hope Professor Pakaluk offers his own translations of the Matthew and Luke too; he just needs to find his "hook".

Finally, what really induces me to recommend this book is Pakaluk's substantial use of the Parochial and Plain Sermons (PPS) and other works of Saint John Henry Newman--although you wouldn't know he did so from the Index, which never lists Newman's name!

Here's just a partial list of the PPS Pakaluk quotes, cites, and references:

The Mystery of Godliness
Scripture a Record of Human Sorrow
Christ the Son of God Made Man
Attendance on Holy Communion
The Eucharistic Presence
The Gospel Feast
Obedience to God the Way to Faith in Christ
The Incarnate Son, a Sufferer and a Sacrifice
The Shepherd of Our Souls
Tears of Christ at the Grave of Lazarus
Christ Manifested in Remembrance
Saving Knowledge
The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Church
Obedience the Remedy for Religious Perplexity
The Indwelling Spirit
Righteousness Not of Us, but In Us
Christian Repentance
Witnesses to the Resurrection
Peace in Believing
The Gift of the Spirit
The Unity of the Church
The Christian Church an Imperial Power

When the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas are cited, they are noted in the Index, but not Newman's--I find that a strange and unfortunate omission. 

Pakaluk relies greatly on Newman in his commentary on this Gospel; if he isn't citing Newman's sermons and other works, he's referencing Newman's translation of the Catena Aurea! For example, when Pakaluk cites "The Mystery of Godliness" he notes that Newman helps "us to hear the voice of Mary here" (p. 36).  I am working on an index of my own to keep inside the book so I may have it as a reference in future! If Regnery wants to pay me for it in the paperback edition or a second edition of the hardcover, the publisher can contact me! 

Highly recommended, nevertheless!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Preview: "Simon, Are You Sleeping?"

On Monday, March 15, Matt Swaim and I will continue our discussion of St. Thomas More's "The Sadness of Christ" on the 
Son Rise Morning Show

Listen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern.

As More notes, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him to be closer during His Agony. More also reminds us that these three Apostles were with Jesus on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration and at the raising of the daughter of Jairus. 

Jesus selected them to be with Him at crucial times and we know that He had selected Peter, formerly Simon, to be the leader of the Apostles and the Rock upon which He founded His Church.

Yet, these three, the Rock and the Sons of Zebedee, failed Jesus at this crucial time. 

As you may expect, St. Thomas More finds special significance to this failure, especially since they had seen Jesus in His Glory and at His most powerful, raising a little girl from the dead.

As all three Synoptic Gospels note, Jesus asks Peter, James and John to come along with Him and stay awake while He goes further away to pray, and then He comes back and finds them asleep.

Citing Matthew and Mark, More quotes this passage at the beginning of the next section: 

And He said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not stay awake one hour with me? Stay awake and pray that you may not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

Noting how "forceful" this brief speech is, More offers another imaginary soliloquy of Jesus:

Simon, no longer Cephas [Peter/Rock], are you sleeping? . . . I singled you out by that name because of your firmness but now you show yourself to be so infirm that you cannot hold out even for an hour against the inroads of sleep.

And the soliloquy repeats the question"Simon, are you sleeping?" again and again: Jesus has honored him; Simon Peter had boasted that he would die with Jesus, that he would never betray or abandon Jesus; he should know that the betrayer is coming soon (or at least that Jesus is in danger), but "Simon, are you sleeping?" (pp. 25-27)

More notes that the rest of Jesus' actual words apply to John and James as well--and to us:

Here we are enjoined to be constant in prayer, and we are informed that prayer is not only useful but also extremely necessary--for this reason: without it, the weakness of the flesh holds us back . . . until our minds, no matter how willing to do good, are swept back into the evils of temptation. . . .

Christ tells us to stay awake [not for pleasure or play] for prayer. He tells us to pray not occasionally, but constantly. . . . He exhorts us to devote to intense prayer a large part of that very time which most of us usually devote entirely to sleep. . . . Finally our Savior tells us to pray . . . that we may not enter into temptation. (pp. 27-28)

More answers objections that some might raise to how Jesus prays three times to the Father to take the cup away from Him but will certainly do the Father's will if He must drink from the cup; how He  returns to the three Apostles three times to find them asleep and remonstrates with them, by noting that "nothing He did was done in vain". (p. 33)

It is in this context of the sleeping Apostles that More mentions their successors, the Bishops, saying that by checking on the Apostles three times and hoping to find them awake Jesus 

demonstrated His anxious concern for His disciples and also by His example gave to the future pastors of His church a solemn injunction not to allow themselves the slightest wavering, out of sadness or weariness or fear, in their diligent care of their flock but rather to conduct themselves so as to prove in actual fact that they are not so much concerned for themselves as for the welfare of their flock. (p. 33)

The Bishops should be like Jesus; in the midst of His suffering He is still vigilant over His flock, the Apostles. More will later contrast the sleeping Apostles (and their successors the Bishops of his own day) and the active and alert Judas, on his way to the Mount of Olives with a cohort to betray the Son of God with a kiss.

Saint Thomas More also devotes a few paragraphs to how we even know from the Gospels about the sadness of Christ. He declares that all these details about the prayers and the checking on the sleeping Apostles had to come from Jesus Himself. Since the three Apostles couldn't stay awake, they could not hear His prayers and they certainly did not see the blood which flowed like sweat, or the Angel who came to comfort Him. 

Therefore, More reasons, after the Resurrection, He must have given the Apostles and His Mother "a detailed account, point by point, of His human suffering". Otherwise, we would not know those details: ". . . which no one could have recounted except Christ Himself. . . . in His kindness [He] made known His own affliction . . ." for their meditation and ours. (pp. 31-32)

As we've noted before, St. Thomas More had obviously meditated often on these passages from the Gospels describing the Agony Jesus endured. He had considered the objections some readers might raise--often because of confusion about the Mystery of the Incarnation and the Person of Jesus--and considered answers to those objections. He had thought out the implications of each action and prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in the context of the events of the Passion and in their moral and spiritual meaning and application to himself and his contemporaries. 

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

Image credit (Public Domain): The Transfiguration (Pietro Perugino, c. 1500)

Image credit (Public Domain): The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus (William Blake)

Monday, March 8, 2021

This Morning: The Divine Person in Human Agony

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning with Anna Mitchell this morning to talk about St. Thomas More's The Sadness of ChristListen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern. 

If we have time, I'd like to highlight an aspect of More's meditation on the Agony in the Garden: he creates speeches by Jesus to explain what His actions in Gethsemane should mean to us.

For example, when More interprets Jesus's Agony in the Garden as an example for those in the Church who may be weak and fearful, advising them to persevere in spite of that weakness, he writes:

To such a person as this Christ wanted His own deed to speak out (as it were) with His own living voice: "O faint of heart, take courage and do not despair. You are afraid, you are sad . . . Trust me. I have conquered the world, and yet I suffered immeasurably more from fear, I was sadder, more afflicted . . .  follow my leadership; if you do not trust yourself, place your trust in me . . ."

This is a remarkable device for More to use as he enters "(as it were)" the mind of Christ and to speak in Our Savior's "own living voice"! More weaves phrases and images from Scripture into these speeches: "I have conquered the world" (John 16:33); "have me alone as your shepherd" (Matthew 26:31), etc. More even incorporates passages from St. Paul's letters into this speech: "I will give you together with the temptation a way out that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10:13) . . . "this light and momentary burden of tribulation will prepare for you a weight of glory which is beyond all measure." (2 Cor 4:17)

St. Thomas More is certainly taking seriously St. Paul's statement to the Corinthians that "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16) in this passage and others that occur throughout the text.

If you want to read more than we can discuss in these brief segments,The Sadness of Christ, with an excellent introduction by Gerard Wegemer, is readily available from Scepter Publishers.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Preview: The Agony and The Incarnation

On Monday, March 8, Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of St. Thomas More's "The Sadness of Christ" on the Son Rise Morning ShowListen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern.

The Sadness of Christ, with an excellent introduction by Gerard Wegemer, is readily available from Scepter Publishers.

On Monday, we'll look at the section in which St. Thomas More examines the emotional and very human reaction of Jesus to the suffering He knows He will soon endure. The example of Erasmus's 1498 interpretation of the Agony in the Garden certainly influenced More's interpretation: Erasmus had contended, against John Colet's view, that Jesus had really suffered fear and anguish because of the suffering He was facing. More adopts the same view, answering the objections of those who would say that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, should not display such weakness.

More cites Matthew 26:36-38 and Mark 14:32-34 as Jesus takes Peter and the Sons of Zebedee, John and James with him farther into the Garden of Gethsemane:

For a huge mass of troubles took possession of the tender and gentle body of our most Holy Savior. He knew that His ordeal was now imminent and just about to overtake Him: the treacherous betrayer, the bitter enemies, binding ropes, false accusations, slanders, blows, thorns, nails, the cross, and horrible tortures stretched out over many hours. (p. 7)

Then he answers several objections: 

Since He is God, why would He be so sad and afraid? He knows He will triumph!

More replies: "He was no less really a man than He was really God." He'd felt hunger, thirst, and weariness before as any other man would; why would He not experience fear and dread?

Other objections: 

Since He had told the disciples "not to be afraid of those who can kill the body only" and 

Since martyrs have rushed to their deaths "eagerly and joyfully", why was Jesus, "the prototype and leader of martyrs . . . so terrified at the approach of pain, so shaken, so utterly downcast"?

Why didn't He "provide a good example"?

More answers these objections: 

Jesus wanted His disciples to be both courageous AND prudent; He had also told them "If you are persecuted in one city, flee to another" in Matthew 10:23. It would be foolhardy to seek out martyrdom, and a Christian disciple should not do so.

The holy martyrs did fear torture and death. More offers the example of St. Paul who was willing to die for Christ, nevertheless did everything to preserve his life, even to appealing as a Roman citizen to a higher authority for his final trial.

(More was not rushing into martyrdom himself and feared the suffering he would endure if condemned of treason--being hanged, drawn, and quartered--and he tried to negotiate with Henry VIII and Cromwell, maintaining silence about his objections to the oaths. He was following the example he highlighted in these replies to common objections.)

More concludes that Jesus was providing a good example: "the fear of death and torments carried no stigma of guilt but rather is an affliction of the sort Christ came to suffer, not to escape". 

He had become a man like us in all things but sin.

Like Erasmus in 1498, More tries to describe how the Divine Nature and Human Nature of Jesus worked together, saying that

His divinity moderated its influence on the humanity for such a time and in such a way that He was able to yield to the passions of our frail humanity . . ." (p. 13)

That might seem a mechanical explanation, dividing Divine and human functions in the one Person. But More is trying to explain how Jesus was bearing witness to the mystery and the truth of His Incarnation. More briefly explores the heresies that divided the early Church, of Arius and others who either denied Jesus's Divinity or His humanity, warning against choosing either extreme (Scylla and Charybdis).

Finally, Saint Thomas More argues that Jesus endured these agonies for the sake of those in His Church through the ages who would be weak, offering Himself as an example to them, suffering for them, and even making "Himself weak for the sake of the weak", taking "care of other weak men by means of His own weakness." He had their welfare so much in mind that He endured the Agony of the Garden (p. 17) to help them face their weakness and persevere.

Image Credit: (Public Domain): The Agony in the Garden attributed to Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746)

Monday, March 1, 2021

This Morning: More on the Holy Bible

Just a reminder that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning with Matt Swaim this morning to talk about St. Thomas More's The Sadness of ChristListen live here or on your local EWTN affiliate at about 6:50 a.m. Central, 7:50 a.m. Eastern. 

We'll focus on how St. Thomas More begins his meditation on the Agony in the Garden with comments about the prayers Jesus and the Apostles pray after the Last Supper and how More encourages us to know the meaning of words and what those meanings tell us about these events spiritually as well as literally.

Image Credit: (public domain) Jacques Callot - The Agony in the Garden