Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Notes on the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas.


It has been the general custom of this blog to observe today's Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas with a post on the Angelic Doctor. This year's feast day post has a Toronto connection, insofar as it involves a lecture by Father Leonard Boyle, O.P., a longtime member of the faculty at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies who went on to serve as prefect of the Vatican Library. A few months before his death in 1999, Father Boyle gave a talk entitled "St. Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium" in which he offered various thoughts on the scholarly charism of the Dominicans and St. Thomas' role in its development. Father Boyle begins with some wonderful commentary on a fragment of Thomas' early work as an ordinary student, which Boyle reproduced as a handout for talk's original audience:
Because of his towering reputation, it is easy to forget that Thomas was once an ordinary student, and that he was not at all perfect from the outset of his Dominican life. Recently I came across and published a fragment of a commentary on the Pseudo-Dionysian De caelesti hierarchia by Albert the Great, Thomas' teacher, that Thomas had copied while a student at Paris, under Albert in 1245 to 1248, when he was in his 20's. This fragment, of which you each now have a copy as a souvenir, is in a reliquary in Salerno Cathedral and it was taken centuries ago from an autograph manuscript of Thomas now in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples, a manuscript which once had belonged to the Dominicans of San Domenico, Naples, Thomas’ last abode.

Now it is reasonably certain that the commentary of Albert on the De caelesti hierarchia is from the years that he and the young Thomas of Aquino were together in the Dominican studium at Paris at Saint Jacques, 1245 to 1248. For the many scholars who have worked on this period of the careers of Albert and Thomas, this Naples autograph is the textual source, directly or indirectly the archetype, if you wish, of all the known copies of this commentary of Albert, and the editors of the recent Cologne edition — four or five years ago — of that commentary of Albert have taken this for granted.

Now I have never seen — examined — the whole autograph at Naples, but only this fragment of some 38 lines. What you've got in front of you is 19 lines on one side, 19 on the other I didn’t give you. Now from an examination of these 38 lines, against the surviving manuscripts of Albert’s commentary on the De caelesti hierarchia, all of which are supposed to depend upon that Naples manuscript, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Naples autograph is a very wayward copy of Albert's commentary. It's just not correct. Even in the short 38 lines here in the Salerno fragment, it's quite clear that this is a very personal copy which Thomas made for himself, and that that less than brilliantly. There are notable lapses and at least one instance where he skipped a line, through homoioteleuton, which, as you all know, means "lines with similar endings," so you skip, as you do in typing. On one occasion he added a phrase or two for his own benefit, to make more explicit what Albert had said. So in no way can the Naples manuscript be the exemplar, the archetype on which all these other manuscripts depend, as all scholars and the recent edition have maintained to that.

This is the young Thomas, industrious, but far from infallible. And it is one of the few occasions when we see Thomas as an ordinary Dominican, struggling along like the rest of us, and not always getting things right. He misspells horribly. Later on we shall see if he improved with age.
To read the rest - and I hope you will - click here. On this Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I hope that you will also join me in seeking the Angelic Doctor's intercession, that his prayerful aid may benefit all students and teachers of philosophy and theology. AMDG.

Friday, January 16, 2015

On the Waterfront.



This blog has been fairly silent so far this year, and I can't promise that posting will become much more frequent in the coming weeks. That said, I would like to call your attention to a new venture by a fellow Jesuit scholastic here in Toronto, John O'Brien, who is currently curating a winter film series at Regis College. John will be posting spiritual reflections and questions on each of the films in the series on his blog, Veritas Liberabit, so readers who cannot attend the screenings in Toronto can still participate in the series vicariously by watching the films on their own and considering John's interpretations of them.

The first film in the series at Regis is Elia Kazan's 1954 classic On the Waterfront, which was shown this past Wednesday. I encourage you to read what John O'Brien has to say about the film, but I would also like to add one additional note: Father Peter Barry, the waterfront priest portrayed in the film by Karl Malden, was based upon a New York Jesuit, Father John M. "Pete" Corridan. Father Corridan's life and the larger story behind the film were both chronicled by a former professor of mine, Dr. James T. Fisher, in a book entitled On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York. I have some personal history with this book, which I read in draft form during a course I took with Jim Fisher at Fordham; I can also remember watching On the Waterfront in class with the benefit of Jim's expert commentary, and a couple of fieldtrips we took to the New York waterfront helped to bring the story to life. To learn a bit more, read this 2009 interview in which Jim Fisher discusses Pete Corridan and On the Waterfront. For more on the Regis Film Series, keep an eye on John O'Brien's blog Veritas Liberabit. AMDG.

Monday, December 29, 2014

An update on St. Elias.



Today's print edition of the Toronto Star has an update on the reconstruction of St. Elias Church, which, as longtime readers of this blog may recall, was destroyed by a fire in April. I have a link to the story insofar as I have been a regular at St. Elias since I moved to Toronto, and I served my first liturgy as a deacon with the St. Elias community in their temporary digs at St. Augustine Secondary School in Brampton. Here is more, courtesy of the Star:
St. Elias the Prophet Church in Brampton has received $500,000 in donations, half of which came from an anonymous donor at a recent benefit concert and dinner.

"The local community has really supported us," said parishioner Lu Bobyk after the Sunday service, which has been held in the atrium of St. Augustine Secondary School since the fire.

...

Bobyk said the St. Elias' insurance will cover $3.8 million for construction of the new building plus $1 million for interior furnishings. The church has not yet officially started fundraising, he said, but more money will be needed for furnishings.

"We'll need significant funds to refurbish the inside with iconography."

...

Father Roman Galadza said the architects of the new church, which will have a wooden structure very similar to the old one, are in the final phase of their drawings. They recently met with city staff to discuss the next steps toward reconstruction.

"The city knows our parish and our community," he said. "It regrets the loss along with us and wants to see the building back."

The plan is to break ground in May and complete construction by summer 2016.

In the meantime, both Bobyk and Galadza said the congregation's 175 or so families have remained tight-knit while attending at St. Augustine.
If you would like to learn more about how you can help St. Elias rebuild, take a look at the parish website for more information. Of course, even if you cannot assist the parish financially, prayers are both needed and appreciated. AMDG.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A new and wondrous mystery.


Having returned from Midnight Mass and before going to bed, I would like to repeat the annual tradition of this blog by extending to all readers my prayerful best wishes for Christmas and by sharing a portion of a Nativity sermon preached by St. John Chrysostom:

I behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory.

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now, for our redemption, dwells here below; and he that was lowly is raised up by divine mercy.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven: she hears from the stars the singing of angelic voices; in place of the sun, she enfolds within herself on every side the Sun of Justice.

Ask not how - where God wills, the order of nature yields. He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed, and all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is is born, and He Who Is becomes what He was not.

Christ is born! Glorify him! AMDG.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The power that will overcome the law of sin.


This is the last in a series of posts reflecting on the Sundays of Advent with the help of Father Alfred Delp's Prison Meditations. For the Fourth (and final) Sunday of Advent, Father Delp considers the themes of "binding and loosing" that are constitutive both of our Advent journey and of the Christian life generally. As Father Delp explains, our liberation from sin comes in our surrender to God:
. . . The power that will overcome the law of sin is not to be found within the heart of the sinner who seeks it. And he must first fulfil the necessary condition of a change of heart before he can even receive that redemptive power which lies beyond his reach. He must first call upon it and then make himself ready so that he may go to meet it. Advent does not offer freedom to the man who is convinced he is already converted. Stir up thy power: by the help of thy grace. It is a case of God against sin. Sin is very like a handcuff - only the person with the key can unlock it. It doesn't matter how fervently I desire it, I cannot rid myself of my handcuffs because I have no key. And sin is like the door of my cell - even if I had a key I could not unlock the door because it has no keyhole on this side. It can only be opened from outside. And opposed to sin is God, as accuser and judge of man obstinate in error, as liberator and saviour if he will turn to his Redeemer and ally himself with his Creator against sin. . . .
How do we ally ourselves with God? First and foremost, we do so by prayer. Though we must remain hopeful that God will answer our prayers, we cannot know the exact form that God's response will take:
The outcome of so many things, the occurrence of so many miracles depends on the wholeheartedness of our plea to God. He will not always provide sensational miracles - though they will occur now and again, witnessing to his divine power. But with truly regal bounty he will reveal himself in a thousand little everyday adjustments proving by innumerable apparently casual events that his will prevails in the end. The man of real faith has no doubt about the outcome - he leaves the means to God. And when God repays, and more than repays, man's trust we can only stand speechless in amazement and awe.
As we complete this time of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity, each of us could do well to reflect upon the ways in which our trust in God has been amply rewarded. The work of opening our hearts and our lives to receive Christ into our midst includes the task of recognizing how the One we await has already manifested himself in our lived experience. Just as God's answer to our prayers can take the form of "a thousand little everyday adjustments," the Lord can make himself present to us in subtle and often surprising ways. As we recall with gratitude the ways that God has been at work in our lives, let us prepare to joyfully celebrate the birth of our Redeemer. AMDG.

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N.B.: This is a lightly edited repost of an Advent meditation originally shared on this blog in 2009.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete in Domino semper.


Gaudete in Domino semper - "Rejoice in the Lord always." This imperative from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians gives the Third Sunday of Advent its common name of Gaudete Sunday. Coming roughly halfway through Advent, Gaudete Sunday provides a special opportunity to take stock of one's readiness to welcome Christ when he comes into our midst. Having urged us in the strongest possible terms to rejoice in the Lord ("again, I say, rejoice"), today's reading from the Philippians also reminds us that we haven't much time to spare, for "the Lord is nigh." Our merciful God is ready to receive us. What, then, prevents us from hastening to meet him?

Father Alfred Delp begins the section of his Prison Meditations dealing with the Third Sunday of Advent by reflecting upon the meaning of happiness. According to Father Delp, the common understanding of "the happy state" as "contentment with one's lot" doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Writing from a German prison cell less than two months before his execution at the hands of the Nazis, Father Delp recognizes that few would regard his life as happy He also wonders whether anyone could truly be considered happy in a world torn apart by war:
As a matter of fact we may ask ourselves whether it is worthwhile wasting time on an analysis of happiness. Is happiness not one of the luxuries of life for which no room can be found in the narrow strip of privacy which is all we have left when war occupies almost the whole of our attention? Certainly it would seem to be so in a prison cell, a space covered by three paces in each direction, one's hands fettered, one's heart filled with longings, one's head full of problems and worries.
In spite of all this, Father Delp finds that his imprisonment has helped him to understand the true meaning of human happiness:
Yet it does happen, even under these circumstances, that every now and then my whole being is flooded with pulsating life and my heart can scarcely contain the delirious joy there is in it. Suddenly, without any cause that I can perceive, without knowing why or by what right, my spirits soar again and there is not a doubt in my mind that all the promises hold good. This may sometimes be merely a reaction my defence mechanism sets up to counter depression. But not always. Sometimes it is due to a premonition of good tidings. It happened now and then in our [Jesuit] community during a period of hardship and nearly always it was followed by an unexpected gift due to the resourcefulness of some kind soul at a time when such gifts were not customary.

But this happiness I am speaking of is something quite different. There are times when one is curiously uplifted by a sense of inner exaltation and comfort. Outwardly nothing is changed. The hopelessness of the situation remains only too obvious; yet one can face it undismayed. One is content to leave everything in God's hands. And that is the whole point. Happiness in this life is inextricably mixed with God. Fellow creatures can be the means of giving us much pleasure and of creating conditions which are comfortable and delightful, but the success of this depends upon the extent to which the recipient is capable of recognising the good and accepting it. And even this capacity is dependent on man's relationship with God.
Happiness in this life is inextricably mixed with God. Reading and thinking about these words, I recalled the "Atheist Bus Campaign" launched a few years ago in Britain, which involved the placement on the sides of public buses of advertisements bearing the following words: "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The fact that some atheists equate faith in God with anxiety reveals an almost laughable ignorance of what religion is really about.

The sense of true happiness and joy that is a part of the Christian vocation comes from an understanding of who we truly are and how we stand before God. Father Delp points out that this understanding is fundamentally a private one, which perhaps partly explains why the inner joy that Christians feel is too seldom apparent to the world. As Father Delp writes, "The conditions of happiness have nothing whatever to do with outward existence. They are exclusively dependent on man's inner attitude and steadfastness, which enable him, even in the most trying circumstances, to form at least a notion of what life is about."

The challenge facing Christians in a secular society is essentially twofold. First and foremost, we must seek to nurture a deep sense of inner joy that can withstand the apathy, misunderstanding and outright hostility that often seems to surround us. Secondly, we must seek to live in a way that makes our joy evident to the world. As we continue to prepare ourselves to welcome Christ into our lives and into our hearts, we would do well to reflect on how we might better meet this twofold challenge. In thought, word and deed, may we more faithfully live out the call that comes to us today and every day to "rejoice in the Lord always." AMDG.

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

The value or worthlessness of human life.


Picking up where I left off last week, here are some thoughts on the Second Sunday of Advent from Jesuit Father Alfred Delp (1907-1945):
The value or worthlessness of human life, its profundity or shallowness, depends very much on the conditions of our existence. Life ought to preserve its real stature and not dissipate itself in superficial interests or empty sterility. Western civilisation is responsible for much misconception, foreshortening of views, distortion and so on both in public and personal life. We are the products of that faulty outlook. Distortion is a danger inherent in man's nature to which we as a generation seem to have been more than ordinarily prone.

Moments of grace, both historical and personal, are invariably linked with an awakening and restoration of genuine order and truth. That, too, is part of the meaning of Advent. Not merely a promise, but conversion, change. Plato would have said preparation for the reception of truth. St. John more simply called it a change of heart. The prayers and the message of Advent shake a man out of his complacency and make him more vividly aware of all that is transmutable and dramatic in his life.

. . . The encounter with God is not of man's choosing either in regard to the place or the manner of it. Therefore the central portion of the message [of the Second Sunday of Advent] runs: 'Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me.' That is to say God is approaching but in his own way. The man who insists that his salvation shall depend on his own idea of what is right and proper is lost. It means further that the starting point of the movement towards salvation is the point at which contact is made with Christ. The way to salvation in the world is the way of the Saviour. There is no other way. We have to see this clearly and constantly affirm it.

. . .

So this Sunday we must again fold our hands and kneel humbly before God in order that his salvation may be active in us and that we may be worthy to call upon him and be touched by his presence. The arrogance so typical of modern man is deflated here; at the same time the icy loneliness and helplessness in which we are frozen melts under the divine warmth that fills and blesses us.
Though Father Delp composed his Advent meditations nearly seventy years ago, the distorted outlook that he noticed among his contemporaries is still very much with us. Convinced of our own self-sufficiency, we often fail to realize our own need for God's help; as Father Delp notes, the terms of our salvation are set by God alone. Even so, in our blindness we can often fail to perceive the ways in which God comes into our lives and offers the gift of His loving presence to us.

As we continue on our journey through Advent, perhaps we would do well to reflect on God's unexpected and unsought interventions into our seemingly independent and self-directed existence. As we do this, I pray that we may have the courage to become more open to Christ's presence in our midst. AMDG.