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Thursday, February 15, 2007

PhDs - the real story

A friendly Protestant blog (which I'll link to once I'm on the computer with bookmarks) directed me to PHD, a comic strip which may be about American science graduates but which is basically my life for the last five years. The first box of this rang all sorts of embarrassing bells... WARNING: If you are remotely familiar with graduate student life, DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK as your day will be GONE.

What it doesn't tell you is that the life of a very very very junior academic isn't that much different, and that having a PhD doesn't make you the fantastically exciting person it was meant to. (Neither do new shoes, despite their promise.) S'pose we'll have to try, y'know, grace and all that...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pray without ceasing . . . and may the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts

I was looking for something entirely different, and in any case was supposed to be looking for work, when I came across this. It's in translationese. The "good grief, people, stop being so beardy" reaction probably reflects what most people feel on reading "we're so Catholic" texts; thus we have a lesson on prayer, and on the importance of ceding everything but the essential in order not to make the essential unacceptable. How useful. I quote now the bit that at the moment I like best.
Just as a natural virtue that is aspired to can only be achieved by the conducive means, so also this holy work requires some nearly indispensable rudiments: a degree of quiet; freedom from cares; avoidance of learning about and spreading the "news" of things going on, the "giving and taking" as the Fathers put it; self discipline in all things; and an overall silence which stems from these things. Moreover, I don't think this persistence and habit will be unattainable for devout people who take an interest in this holy activity. The good habit of a regular prayer time, morning and evening, always about the same time, would be a good beginning.
With surety we have emphasized perseverance as the most indispensable element in prayer. Rightly it is stressed by St. Paul, "Continue steadfastly in prayer."(Col. 4:2) In contrast to the rest of the virtues, prayer requires effort throughout our entire lifetime, and for this reason I repeat to those who are making the attempt not to feel encumbered, nor to consider the need for endurance as a failure in this sober-minded work.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Priscilla and Aquila


VATICAN CITY, FEB 7, 2007 (VIS) - Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Taking a new step in this type of portrait gallery of the first witnesses of the Christian faith which we began some weeks ago, today we take into consideration a married couple.

The couple in question are Priscilla and Aquila, who take their place, as we already mentioned briefly last Wednesday, in the sphere of numerous collaborators who gravitated around the Apostle Paul. Based on the information in our possession, this married couple played a very active role in the post-Paschal origins of the Church.

The names Aquila and Priscilla are Latin, but the man and woman who bear them were of Hebrew origin. At least Aquila, however, geographically came from the diaspora of northern Anatolia, which faces the Black Sea - in today's Turkey -, while Priscilla was probably a Jewish woman from Rome (cf. Acts 18: 2).

However, it was from Rome that they reached Corinth, where Paul met them at the beginning of the 50s. There he became associated with them, as Luke tells us, practicing the same trade of making tents or large draperies for domestic use, and he was even welcomed into their home (cf. Acts 18: 3).

The reason they came to Corinth was the decision taken by the Emperor Claudius to expel from Rome the city's Jewish residents. Concerning this event the Roman historian Suetonius tells us that the Hebrews were expelled because "they were rioting due to someone named Chrestus" (cf. "The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius", n. 25).

One sees that he did not know the name well - instead of Christ he wrote "Chrestus" - and he had only a very confused idea of what had happened. In any case, there were internal discords within the Jewish community about the question if Jesus was the Christ. And for the Emperor these problems were the reason to simply expel all Jews from Rome.

One can deduce that the couple had already embraced the Christian faith in the 40s, and now they had found in Paul someone who not only shared with them this faith - that Jesus is the Christ - but who was also an Apostle, personally called by the Risen Lord.

Therefore, their first encounter is at Corinth, where they welcomed him into their house and worked together making tents.

In a second moment they transferred to Ephesus in Asia Minor. There they had a decisive role in completing the Christian formation of the Alexandrian Jew Apollo, who we spoke about last Wednesday.

Since he only knew the faith superficially, "Priscilla and Aquila... took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18: 26).

When Paul wrote the First Letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, together with his own greeting he explicitly sent those of "Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house" (16: 19).

Hence, we come to know the most important role that this couple played in the environment of the primitive Church: that of welcoming in their own house the group of local Christians when they gathered to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist. It is exactly this type of gathering that in Greek is called "ekklesìa" - the Latin word is "ecclesia", the Italian "chiesa" - which means convocation, assembly, gathering.

In the house of Aquila and Priscilla, therefore, the Church gathered, the convocation of Christ, which celebrates here the Sacred Mysteries.

Thus, we can see the very birth of the reality of the Church in the homes of believers. Christians, in fact, from the first part of the third century did not have their own places of worship. Initially it was the Jewish Synagogue, until the original symbiosis between the Old and New Testaments dissolved and the Church of the Gentiles was forced to give itself its own identity, always profoundly rooted in the Old Testament.

Then, after this "break", they gathered in the homes of Christians that thus become "Church". And finally, in the third century, true and proper buildings for Christian worship were born.

But here, in the first half of the first century and in the second century, the homes of Christians become a true and proper "Church". As I said, together they read the Sacred Scripture and celebrate the Eucharist.

That was what used to happen, for example, at Corinth, where Paul mentioned a certain "Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church" (Rom 16: 23), or at Laodicea, where the community gathered in the home of a certain Nympha (cf. Col 4: 15), or at Colossae, where the meeting took place in the house of a certain Archippus (cf. Phlm 2).

Having returned subsequently to Rome, Aquila and Priscilla continue to carry out this precious function also in the capital of the Empire.

In fact, Paul, writing to the Romans, sends this precise greeting: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house" (Rom 16: 3-5).

What extraordinary praise for these two married persons in these words! And it is none other than Paul who extends it. He explicitly recognizes in them two true and important collaborators of his apostolate.

The reference made to having risked their lives for him is probably linked to interventions in his favour during some prison stay, perhaps in the same Ephesus (cf. Acts 19: 23; I Cor 15: 32; II Cor 1: 8-9). And to Paul's own gratitude even that of all the Churches of the Gentiles is joined. Although considering the expression perhaps somewhat hyperbolic, it lets one intuit how vast their ray of action was and therefore, their influence for the good of the Gospel.

Later hagiographic tradition has given a very singular importance to Priscilla, even if the problem of identifying her with the martyr Priscilla remains.

In any case, here in Rome we have a Church dedicated to St Prisca on the Aventine Hill, near the Catacombs of Priscilla on Via Salaria.

In this way, the memory of a woman who has certainly been an active person and of great value in the history of Roman Christianity is perpetuated. One thing is sure: together with the gratitude of the early Church, of which St Paul speaks, we must also add our own, since thanks to the faith and apostolic commitment of the lay faithful, of families, of spouses like Priscilla and Aquila, Christianity has reached our generation.

It could grow not only thanks to the Apostles who announced it. In order to take root in people's land and develop actively, the commitment of these families, these spouses, these Christian communities, of these lay faithful was necessary in order to offer the "humus" for the growth of the faith. As always, it is only in this way that the Church grows.

This couple in particular demonstrates how important the action of Christian spouses is. When they are supported by the faith and by a strong spirituality, their courageous commitment for the Church and in the Church becomes natural. The daily sharing of their life prolongs and in some way is sublimated in the assuming of a common responsibility in favour of the Mystical Body of Christ, even if just a little part of it. Thus it was in the first generation and thus it will often be.

A further lesson we cannot neglect to draw from their example: every home can transform itself in a little church. Not only in the sense that in them must reign the typical Christian love made of altruism and of reciprocal care, but still more in the sense that the whole of family life, based on faith, is called to revolve around the singular lordship of Jesus Christ.

Not by chance does Paul compare, in the Letter to the Ephesians, the matrimonial relationship to the spousal communion that happens between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5: 25-33). Even more, we can maintain that the Apostle indirectly models the life of the entire Church on that of the family. And the Church, in reality, is the family of God.

Therefore, we honour Aquila and Priscilla as models of conjugal life responsibly committed to the service of the entire Christian community. And we find in them the model of the Church, God's family for all times.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Tale of Two Bishops

Action-Bishop Andreas Laun preaches the Gospel (as usual) causing confusion and panic in the ecclesiastical establishment. Bishop Laun quite reasonably pointed out that a certain businessman who had let premises to an abortionist was now an excommunicate. Such clarity immediately triggered official denials from the higher-ups whose obvious error then had to be embarrassedly retracted. This is not the first time the Austrian ecclesiastical establishment has run in the opposite direction in the face of the enemy. It seems the fire breathing supremo of www.kath.net is keeping up the good work.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Alyssa Pitstick vs Von Balthasar

Post-match analysis from the NOR. Click now rather than later 'coz they take their articles off quite quickly. Apparently Fr. Richard John Neuhaus thinks that "Like the third-century Origen, to whom Balthasar was deeply devoted, Balthasar may end up with a somewhat ambiguous reputation in the history of Christian thought." The Second General Council of Constantinople (553) said of Origen,

"If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their heretical books, and also all other heretics who have already been condemned and anathematized by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned, and also all those who have thought or now think in the same way as the aforesaid heretics and who persist in their error even to death: let him be anathema." D223

Many heretics have been anathematized by the Church but there are only a select few whom the Church has commanded us all to anathematize under pain of anathema. If that is the kind of "ambiguous reputation" in store for Balthasar I think we can settle for that.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Inter-Religious Dialogue

For those of you who enjoyed the nasty vicar sketch here is David Mitchell's critique of BBC religious broadcasting, with a rare opportunity to witness an Anglican exorcism.

Contrarian pleasures

Eating lunch in the local veggie-organic-dolphin-friendly cafe while reading... the Spectator. And having my candle from the lunchtime Candlemas Mass at my side. Sudden realisation of oddity while ordering spinach and cheese pie (waaaay nicer than it sounds).

(But in my rush to read the hatchet job on Blairite education policy, I have a horrible feeling I forgot to say grace. BAD. Muchos-belated after-meal prayer now.)

In other, more interesting news:

Happy Candlemas!

Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare Tuum,
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum,
Lumen ad revelationem gentium,
Et gloriam plebis Tuae Israel.

Special prayers for mothers today, I think.
... et tuam ipsius animam pertransibit gladius...
That's the verse that hit me from the Gospel, for some reason.


Thursday, February 01, 2007


Noon - and the north-west sweeps the empty road,
The rain-washed fields from hedge to hedge are bare;
Beneath the leafless elms some hind's abode
Looks small and void, and no smoke meets the air
From its poor hearth: one lonely rook doth dare
The gale, and beats above the unseen corn,
Then turns, and whirling down the wind is borne.

Shall it not hap that on some dawn of May
Thou shalt awake, and, thinking of days dead,
See nothing clear but this same dreary day,
Of all the days that have passed o'er thine head?
Shalt thou not wonder, looking from thy bed,
Through green leaves on the windless east a-fire,
That this day too thine heart doth still desire?

Shalt thou not wonder that it liveth yet,
The useless hope, the useless craving pain,
That made thy face, that lonely noontide, wet
With more than beating of the chilly rain?
Shalt thou not hope for joy new born again,
Since no grief ever born can ever die
Through changeless change of seasons passing by?