Friday, May 11, 2012

On the hunt....

I was pointed to this site by a friend of mine. Thanks Lauren!

It makes a bunch of (frankly) ludicrous historical claims, but the one that really caught my attention was this:

In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as "erastai,” or "lovers". In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.
Now here's my problem. I googled this left and right, and got precious little background on this claim except obvious cut-and-paste rehashings of the same basic plot: that John Boswell "discovered" that the two men were described as "erastai" (likely a mistake for "erastoi") = "lovers" in the earliest account of their martyrdom. This claim is now all over the Internet, and seems to be accepted as plain fact.

Not so fast.

Thanks to Google, I now have the Greek text of the Acts of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in front of me (page 373 and following). I also found a translation of these Acts attributed to John Boswell.

The Greek text is not searchable, and I'm slow at it, so I'd have to go through it word by word to determine where "erastai/erastoi" occurs if at all. But the *really* odd thing is that nothing like it seems to be in Boswell's English translation.

Do the search. No "lover," no "love". In short, no indication that the concept of lover/erastos is even *in* this text at all--English or Greek.

So let me get this straight. John Boswell discovered the fact in this account that Sergius and Bacchus were erastoi/lovers...*and he didn't bother to translate it accordingly?* Maybe I am just missing it. Maybe he was misattributed. Or maybe some academics are putting some serious disinformation out there, and maybe they have some serious explaining to do.

I sure as heck intend to find out.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Poison of Perfectionism

Last year I had a wonderful conversation on perfectionism with my cousin: a brilliant, accomplished engineer and a devoted husband and father.

He leaned in and told me with his characteristic passion that perfection is mathematically impossible. A person was a finite thing--therefore, he could only do the best he could with the skill, materials, time, and personnel that he had. To put everything on hold until some mythical perfect moment when all the elements were precisely aligned was a foolish way to go through life and great way to never get anything done.

A few months later, we were gathering at a family party expecting to see him shortly, when we received terrible news--he had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital. It was followed shortly by the even more chilling news that he was gone.

Since this all took place around my 40th birthday, his words served as stark warning against my tendency toward big dreams and equally big excuses. I have never been short of ideas. To the contrary, I have a veritable backlog of them. But I am growing ever short of years to accomplish them. My available "somedays" are rapidly contracting--to say nothing of the possibility they could all vanish in an instant.

In each of our hearts, God has seared a mission. A dream.

But we have only a limited time within which to carry it out. As long as we dither around making excuses why we can't make good on it, we set up an irresolvable conflict within ourselves which, inevitably, will sap our energy and poison our relationships. We will begin to despair. Our lives will be a constant reminder of how we are not doing what we were meant to do. We will become embittered, angry, and frustrated.

I am becoming convinced that a lot of unhappiness in myself and in the world--perhaps most of it--comes from exactly this prideful inflation of our dreams by making them more grandiose and less attainable than they really are.

Contrary to what most of us big dreamers think, the limitations that we complain about are not an impediment. They are an opportunity. An opportunity to start small, get a hold of the basics, grow in experience, and then be ready when and if the big break ever comes. Getting lucky--having that big break fall into your lap before you are prepared to handle it--is more a curse than a blessing. It is a recipe for grandiose failure. Compare entrepreneurs who slowly build a business over decades with folks who suddenly come into millions and you'll see what I mean.

Abraham Lincoln called attention to exactly this aspect of human nature in his address to the Wisconsin Fair in 1859:

The ambition for broad acres leads to poor farming, even with men of energy. I scarcely ever knew a mammoth farm to sustain itself; much less to return a profit upon the outlay. I have more than once known a man to spend a respectable fortune upon one; fail and leave it; and then some man of more modest aims, get a small fraction of the ground, and make a good living upon it. Mammoth farms are like tools or weapons, which are too heavy to be handled. Ere long they are thrown aside, at a great loss.

Mammoth dreams are the same way--too heavy to be handled, and soon thrown aside. Instead of satisfaction, there is only frustration.

There is, on the other hand, a great peace that comes with living a dream that is just our size. While we may fantasize about acres and orchards, we might find immeasurable happiness in 20 square feet of garden in a tiny suburban plot, or even in some potted herbs on the 16th floor of a high-rise. And perhaps by proving ourselves with these little responsibilities, we will be better able to tackle bigger ones, should the opportunity ever come.

The Scriptures tell us that through sin, death entered into the world. Many people view that as a kind of retribution: we did bad, so we got punished.

Perhaps not. Once sin introduced in all of us the tendency to selfishly waste, the tendency to languish and dither, the tendency to sulk and mope about what we don't have, perhaps God reclaimed the mammoth, unwieldy sprawl of eternity as a mercy. Perhaps He knew that immortality for a selfish being invariably meant, as it was for Douglas Adams's Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, a descent into boredom, bitterness, and Hell.

Our limited time on earth may be God's way of saving us from such a monstrous eternity, a way of focusing our dim, inconstant, flickering love into something manageable, something achievable.

Don't wait, my cousin would say, for perfection to do good. Start small. Pare down your ideas to fit the life you have. Then grow in experience, grow in wisdom, and grow in the satisfaction that you are doing what you were put on this earth to do.

Then, if God should deign in His infinite mercy to bless you one day with the whole of eternity, you will know what to do with it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Chaplet of the Holy Family Confraternity

Madame Barbe d'Ailleboust, the widow of the governor of Canada, founded the Confraternity of the Holy Family in 1663 with the assistance of Father Pierre-Joseph Chaumonot. The Confraternity was soon afterward approved by the first Bishop of Quebec, Blessed Fran├žois Laval, who had established a feast and a Mass for the Holy Family on the Third Sunday of Easter. From these humble beginnings the feast spread, until now it is celebrated by the Universal Church, though it has since been moved to the Christmas season.

The Chaplet of the Holy Family, composed of 3 sets of 10 beads, is as old as the Confraternity itself. By the early 1670s Catherine Gandeaktena introduced it to the Indian mission of St. Francis Xavier, and by the end of the decade St. Kateri Tekakwitha would make it an important part of her devotional life.

Recently I found the instructions and meditations for this chaplet in an 1867 manual of prayers for the Confraternity the Holy Family (see p. 120 and following).

There are, of course, other chaplets dedicated to the Holy Family, but this one occupies such a unique place in Canadian history that I think it deserves to be better known. I have translated it below.



Prayer before the Chaplet

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V. Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.

O God, who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit: give to us, in the same Spirit, to know what is right, and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who with Thee livest and reignest in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God. World without end. Amen.



The Chaplet is composed of three decades, each with a brief meditation.

On the large beads is said the Our Father.

On the small beads is said the following:

V. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Joachim and Anna, come to our assistance.
R. Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.

The Glory Be is said at the end of each decade.



First Decade.

Remember the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, on which the Most Holy Trinity has bestowed every kindness and the fullness of grace. In the Holy Family all sin has been banished, and the peace of the most perfect union reigns there, along with charity toward everyone. Those who wish to shower upon their household the mercies of Heaven must refrain from offending God, apply themselves in a concerted manner to maintain peace and unity in their family, and be filled with sweetness and charity for their fellow man. These things are what we ask of God, through the merits of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, for all the children of their Holy Family, in reciting the first decade. Our Father…

Second Decade.

Consider the intentions of Our Lady and Saint Joseph in raising the Divine Infant Jesus. Undoubtedly they cared only for the glory of God and for the relief of their fellow man; undoubtedly these thoughts encouraged them at every moment. They thought, "Oh, how the life of our lovable child is dear and agreeable to God! Oh, how it will bring glory to Him, and what good it will bring to the world when he is older!" Let us enter into the same spirit, and let us ask of God, for the fathers and mothers who do not care for God, that all the cares they take with their children will some day make them capable of glorifying God and edifying their fellow man. Our Father…

Third Decade.

Observe, on the one hand, the promptness and the joy with which the child Jesus, the Son of God that he was, obeyed the Holy Virgin and St. Joseph, and on the other hand, the repugnance, the cowardice, and the boredom that some children show in obeying their fathers and mothers. Are we not saddened by this difference? Let us ask of our Eternal Father, for the grace of submission and obedience that Jesus showed to the Holy Virgin and to her Spouse, that He make the children of the members of the Confraternity of the Holy Family tractable and obedient to their parents. Our Father…