Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Unbelievable Craziness of Incarnation

I don't care if you call yourself a believer or not: there's a certain craziness in saying that 2000 years ago, around the 25th of Kislev, the God who thought the entire Universe into being chose to become a baby human in a nondescript village called Bethlehem on a fairly nondescript planet called Earth.

The Incarnation is indeed crazy.

And is it not, therefore, exactly what we'd expect?

Because it's one thing to say that God is Love. And mean by that the kind of syrupy impersonal karma that seems to underlie all these Christmas specials where the "true meaning" of this holy day is revealed as "sharing", "caring", or any number of concepts that couldn't be more adequately explained by a nice episode of Barney.

But it's another thing to really mean God is Love.

Because there isn't a real love in the world--romantic, parental, filial, friendship--that doesn't involve a bit of crazy.

Every good story of love has it: the beloved following each other to the ends of the earth, sacrificing everything, daring and doing things far beyond normal human endurance. Caution is thrown to the wind, death is stared right in the face. The greater the crazy, the greater the love that it indicates. But we don't only find it in dramatic, cinematic experiences either. Just the mere fact that one human being has a mystical affinity to some other human being--that particular face, that particular smile, that particular laugh in ways that often make little sense to anyone else--I'm not sure we can ever explain that fact biologically with the same simple truth as the plain phrase "he's crazy about her." It may not be logical. It may not be sensible. But it's right.

In love, the impossible becomes possible. The unbelievable comes true. An ordinary person becomes an extraordinary treasure that nothing on earth could ever replace.

And it's in that context we must understand the Incarnation.

Is it crazy that God became man? You bet.

But as long as there's a thing called Love in the world, we would expect no less.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kateri Saiatatokenti, tak8aterennaienhas.

["Saint Kateri, pray for us", in the Mohawk language]

The moment many Canadian and American Catholics, especially of American Indian descent, have been waiting for is finally on the horizon.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk and Algonquin woman who died in the odor of sanctity in 1680, will soon officially be known as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, marking the first time that an American Indian north of Mexico has been raised to the dignity of the altars in the Catholic Church.

I share the profound joy of Kahnawakeronnon, whose mission I had the pleasure to visit a few years ago, and the joy of all American Indian communities over this truly monumental news that their patron saint has been found worthy of such an honor.

And I also have a request of the Saint herself.

I'd like to humbly entreat Kateri that she help complete a great work for her countrymen that she started the week after her death.

Here's the account of one of her biographers, Father Pierre Cholenec (1641-1743):

"The sixth day after the death of Catherine, this was Easter Monday, a virtuous person worthy of belief, being in prayer at four o'clock in the morning, she appeared to him surrounded with glory, bearing a pot full of maize, her radiant face lifted towards heaven as if in ecstasy....Furthermore, this same apparition was accompanied with several prophecies by as many symbols which were to be seen on each side of Catherine in her ecstasy; of which prophecies some have been already verified, others have not as yet. For example, at the right appeared a church overturned, and opposite at the left an Indian attached to a stake and burned alive...

As for the Indian seen in this apparition, attached to the stake and burned alive, that was sufficiently verified some years after, when an Indian of this mission was burned at Onondaga, and two women the two following years; and as we do not doubt at all that Catherine, who had made it known so long beforehand, obtained for these Indians the invincible constancy that they showed in their torments, we will speak of it at the end of this third book as a marvellous effect of the power she has in heaven.

Father Cholenec has left us a brief but precious account of the deaths--really martyrdoms--of these three Indians of Kateri's mission:
Steven Tegananokoa
Frances Gonannhatenha
Margaret Garongouas
Their stories were retold in various Indian-language publications in the 1800s, and their Causes were even included in a group of over 100 "Martyrs of the United States" that was submitted by the American bishops to the Vatican in 1941.

So who exactly were these three "Iroquois Martyrs" whom Cholenec believed won their crowns thanks to Kateri's intercession?

Over the course of the next week or two, this blog will tell their stories. And I pray that as Kateri's Cause nears toward completion, she will continue to intercede with God on behalf of theirs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Categorically Unreasonable

One thing particularly struck me about this story about the Knights of Columbus putting up a sign to "Keep Christ in Christmas".

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted to put up a competing sign that said the following:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” said Seidel.
Little problem here though. "Reason" is an abstract concept, a process or state of mind that cannot be verified scientifically by any means. It has no mass, no energy, no wavelength, no temperature, no quantifiable existence of any sort.

In short, we can't scientifically prove reason exists any more than we can scientifically prove God or angels or heaven and hell exist: because it is outside the capacity of science to measure it.

And at any rate, there is absolutely nothing reasonable about naturalism. To say that existence is limited to what we piddling human beings can detect with our eyes, ears, and measuring instrumentation is to make natural world completely dependent on *our* powers of observation. It'd be like an angler fish confidently asserting there is no such thing as the sun or clouds because he has never seen them.

Reason can say "I don't know if there's a God." Fair enough. It can say "I don't know if there's angels or devils or heaven and hell." Fair enough. Reason can say "I see no evidence of these things". Fair enough.

But reason can never simply and categorically say "Those things do not exist", or "there IS NO evidence". That is where it gets itself into trouble, and that is where too many skeptics founder on the shoals of their own deification of it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Christian origins of Christmas

What a fantastic blog.

And positively devastating to the idea that the date of Christmas was chosen to supplant a pagan holiday.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Corona of the Immaculate Conception

As we approach the patronal feast day of the United States, it's the perfect time to mention a beautiful devotion to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

The Corona of the Immaculate Conception is a chaplet composed by a Jesuit priest who was one of North America's great explorers: Father Jacques Marquette.

Unfortunately, the Corona is not very well known. There's another, better known devotion called the "Chaplet of the Immaculate Conception" written by St. John Berchmanns. But in terms of authorship and historical context, Marquette's Corona has a special significance for Americans and Canadians.

Let's set the stage with an account of the Corona from Marquette's Jesuit superior Fr. Claude Dablon, writing from Montreal in 1677:

"Some months before his death, he said every day with his two men a little Corona of the Immaculate Conception which he had devised as follows: After the Credo, there is said once the Pater and Ave, and then 4 times these words: Ave filia Dei patris, ave mater filii Dei, ave sponsa Spiritus Sancti, ave templum totius Trinitatis: per sanctam virginitatem et immaculatam conceptionem tuam, purissima Virgo, emunda cor et carnem meam: in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, — concluding with the Gloria Patri, the whole repeated three times."
For a long time I never found an actual Corona of the Immaculate Conception for sale anywhere. So I went ahead and made my own with cord/twine, 15 blue oval beads, and a miraculous medal:
But you can also use St. John Berchman's Chaplet of the Immaculate Conception, which has the same arrangement of beads.

And now the Rosary Workshop actually makes a beautiful Chaplet of Fr. Jacques Marquette SJ with Russian trade beads and a sterling or solid bronze medal (image posted here with permission of the Rosary Workshop).

Their arrangement is slightly different than the one I made, but of course there is a good deal of room for individual preference on these devotions. Here's how I say it.

How to Say the Corona of the Immaculate Conception

1. On the medal, say the Apostles' Creed.
2. On the first bead, say 1 Our Father and 1 Hail Mary.
3. On each of the next 4 beads, say a Corona Prayer:

Hail Daughter of God the Father,
Hail Mother of God the Son
Hail Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Hail Temple of the entire Trinity.
By thy holy virginity and Immaculate Conception,
O Virgin most pure,
cleanse my heart and my flesh.
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
4. End with 1 Glory Be.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 two times.

If you'd prefer to say the chaplet in Latin, the text of the Corona prayer can be found italicized in the passage from Fr. Dablon above.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The First of Many Letters from Hoquessing

Since our beloved earth has made more than two entire revolutions around the sun since the last post, it sure seems that despite my good intentions, I haven't really gotten the hang of blogging after all.

No matter. There's hope for the old dog yet, so I'm having another go with a new title, a new look, and a renewed sense of purpose.

First of all, as part of the relaunch I chose to rename the blog "Letters from Hoquessing" and to relegate my name to a mere subtitle. Take THAT, sin of vanity!

Hoquessing means "heaven" in the trade jargon of the local Lenape Indian language. It's also one letter away from Poquessing, the name of the creek that separates Philadelphia and Bucks County. I can't tell you how many hours of my childhood I spent hopping rocks in that creek, catching salamanders and crayfish and falling in love with the natural world and the biological sciences.

Heaven and earth. Past and future. Local and universal. Poetry and science. The Church and the world.

It's a nice confluence of imagery, and it seems to get to the heart of what animates my writing and, really, pretty much everything that occupies my mind these days.

I chose "Letters" mostly because it gave me some nice assonance with the short e's. That thar's some poetry, friends! But come to think of it, it also can mean intellectual pursuits and academic in "a man of letters". In this age of the Intertubes, it's really pretty silly to be an author communicating ideas and NOT have a central place to post updates on new books and articles. Unless, of course, that's part of your shtick. "Love and fear me, ye lowly, for I do not NEED publicity!"

So here it is: "Letters from Hoquessing"--about a nerd from Bucks County who likes Indian languages, creeks, and religious stuff.

Sound about right for branding purposes? I like to think so.