a pilgrim and friend of God.

A note from Philadelphia

I’ve been in Philadelphia since Monday evening. I’m attending the summer conference for the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, hosted at Neumann University. The conference’s theme is The Sacramental Imagination, a title I might have been likely to give them.

I took the train from Raleigh and arrived in the city an hour and 45 minutes late. There’s not much to say about this- I did miss the opening Mass and dinner, but the train ride was quite calm and relaxing, and I was able to finish S. Augustine’s Confessions, which I try to read at least once a year.

I was invited to give a paper, entitled “Despoiling the Romans: How Pagan Authors Can Help Train the Christian Mind in High School Latin.” The paper/lecture went well, though I was trying to do too much — history, theology, pedagogy — but my hearers (auditors) were hospitable and gracious, and I made it out unscathed. I did have a terrible headache after the session — a combination of not great sleep (college dorm beds and windows that let in the sun in at dawn), wine from the last night’s wine and cheese party, and general dehydration. I’ve recovered now, but I did opt out of the optional trip to the city to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Almost, actually. I did have a terrible headache after the session — a combination of not sleeping well (dorm room beds and windows that let in the sun in at dawn), wine from the last night’s wine and cheese party, and general dehydration. I’ve recovered now, but I did opt out of the optional trip to the city to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Instead, I stayed in, read Newman, said Latin Vespers, and enjoyed a few hours to myself.


Andrea del Sarto, “Disputation on the Trinity” (1517), featuring Saints Augustine, Lawrence, Sebastian, Peter Martyr, and Mary Magdalen.

The conferences I’ve attended in the past were rarely interesting or edifying, but not this one: the plenary and break-out sessions have been stimulating, and the conversations around the campus on any number of subjects, ranging from Catholic education, Latin, the Christian life, etc., have all be rich and most welcome. These, for sure, have made the trip most worth it.

I’ll return after my colleague gives the conference’s final plenary lecture (~10:45):, cleverly entitled, “If I teach with the Tongue of the Angelic Doctor but have not love, I am a Noisy Moralizer or a clanging Apologist.” My train home departs is scheduled to depart at 12:35 pm and the station is approximately 35 minutes away. I hope I can hear my friend and still make my train home. I’m excited to see my family- it’s my younger daughter’s second birthday.

On Good (Legal) Writing

An excellent article about good writing (albeit legal writing):

Faced with an archaic statute, textualists can consult period dictionaries to figure out what the words meant when they were enacted. Mr. Garner’s favorite example is a hypothetical 1910 law requiring nimrods to carry a license. Back then nimrod meant hunter. But Bugs Bunny gave it a new meaning by sarcastically putting the label on the bumbling Elmer Fudd. A modern court should stick with the meaning originally intended.

When Mr. Garner posed that thought experiment, Justice Scalia reacted with disbelief. “He said, ‘There’s no way that anybody thinks a nimrod is anything other than a hunter.’ I said, ‘Your clerks, believe me,’ ” Mr. Garner recounts. “He called them in, one at a time, and just said, ‘What is a nimrod?’ And they would say things like ‘a dummy, an idiot.’ And he was aghast at this.”

At a younger age (high school and right after college), I grew to love The New York Times column “On Language” by the late William Safire. This article brings certain memories of my love affair with the English language flooding back.

My original blog, portmanteaus, was at times an experiment with this love affair.

Let your soul be your eyes

Wake at four o’clock, Byzantine time.
Attend to yourselves.

Recall that all is vanity.

Say together Matins.

At the First Hour, lift the sun with open palms.

Water now may slake your thirst.

Remain here close enough to be seen but far enough apart to be unheard.

As is our custom, the Third Hour.

You often will have obligations.


With my blessing you may exchange them for food at the monasteries.

Return at once, for there are luxuries there that we have renounced.

Cease labors at the Sixth Hour.

We now enter the period of stillness and watchfulness.

We seek only the company of grace.

Cradle silence like the Holy Infant.

Hear what is being said in the spaces between words.

Hot is the sun in Greece; hot our habits.

Let that too be a martyrdom, brothers.

Regret the Ninth Hour, for our prayer time is ending.

With sunset, we shall chant Vespers, remembering our conversations with God.

Remembering our failings.

Seeking holy correction.

And now, at evening, rip up some wild onions and grasses for our soup.

Here, in this sack, are the barley rusks.

We eat just once a day, and only enough to stay hungry. We sleep, after Compline, only enough to stay weary.

But it would be better for you if like me you kept Vigil and became the night itself.

Calm. Silent. Attentive.

Let your soul be your eyes.

See, so much is happening!


Ron Hansen, Elder Iosef’s Rules for Hermits” (First Things, 2014)

The Feast of the Most Precious Blood

Today in the traditional Roman, or General, calendar is the Feast of the Most Precious Blood [Pretiosissimi Sanguinis] of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is written: “Thou hast redeemed us, O Lord, in Thy Blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom.”

The Introit is drawn from St. John’s Apocalypse (5:9-10), and the Gradual, also from St. John, reads: “This is He Who came in water and in blood, Jesus Christ; not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood. There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.” (1 Jn 5:6-8)

These selection seem most fitting, since both note the Savior’s blood most manifestly. 

The most interesting, and most speculative, mediations for today’s feast, the antiphons from this evening’s Vespers, are drawn from the prophet Isaiah and, again, the Apocalypse: 

Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments [tinctis vestibus] from Bozrah? this, that is glorious in His apparel? (Isa 63:1) 

I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save (Isa 63:1).

He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood [veste aspersa sanguine], and His name is called The Word of God [Verbum Dei] (Apoc 19:13). 

Wherefore art Thou red in thine apparel [rubrum est indumentum tuum], and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat? (Isa 63:2) 

I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the nations there was no man with Me (Isa 63:3).

To read more about today’s feast, see the recent post from New Liturgical Movements 

Learning Lectio Divina

The Suburban Hermit, whom I’ve only now stumbled upon, has a love (and short!) primer on Lectio Divina based largely on the Guigo II’s Ladder of Four Rungs.

Two notes: first, the term leggere, “to read,” would have been understood by the ancients up unto the late classical age as “to read (aloud).” I often inform my students who are working to learn their Latin vocabulary and forms- “Be sure to read these words and forms out loud, in order that your mouth says the words, your ears hear them, and your mind and learn them twice; second, the term meditare, which is often translated straight-away and flat-footed as “to meditate,” might better be rendered “to memorize.”

For an excellent tutorial on Lectio, see Fr Cassian Fulsom, OSB, Prior of the Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia, Italy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yslKmUFdl44

The Suburban Hermit

Monk_Reading_Book_1Lectio Divina, or Holy Reading, is a wonderful, monastic contribution to spirituality. It combines two aspects of the threefold Benedictine life of Work, Prayer and Reading.

When we participate in Lectio Divina we pray and read. We read and pray. The essential idea is that we read the sacred Scriptures not critically or even to gather information, but so that the Word of God might be a bridge into the presence of God.

There are four stages to this devotional discipline which were first outlined in the twelfth century by a Carthusian monk named Guigo.

The first stage is leggere “Reading”. We use a short passage of Scripture and simply read it slowly. It is fine to use the gospel reading from Mass for the day or to use the Scripture passage from the Office of Readings or to work you way slowly through a particular book of the Bible.


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The Vigil of Saint John the Baptist

Today is the Vigil of Saint John the Baptist, for it is written: “From my mother’s womb the Lord called me by me name, and made of me a sharp-edged sword; He concealed me in the shadow of His arm, and made me a polished arrow” (Isa 49.1-2). John, the Vox clamatis, that is, the Voice who precedes the Word.

In vigilia

Today’s Gospel reading, in full:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zachary, of the course of Abia; and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were just before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. But they had no son, for Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it came to pass, while he was officiating in the order of his course as priest before God, according to the custom of the priest’s office, that he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord to burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right of the altar of incense. And Zachary, seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, Do not be afraid, Zachary, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son and you shall call his name John. And you shall have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great before the Lord; he shall drink no wine or strong drink, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. And he shall bring back to the Lord their God many of the children of Israel, and he shall himself go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just; to prepare for the Lord a perfect people. (Lk 1:5-17)

From Guéranger:

This page which the Church reads to us today is precious in the annals of the human race, for here begins the Gospel itself, here we have the first word of the good tidings of salvation. Man had not been kept in total ignorance of Heaven’s plans for the rescue of our fallen race and the gift of a Redeemer, but weary and long had been this period of expectation, since the day when first the sentence pronounced against the accursed serpent pointed out to Adam and Eve a future wherein man should be healed by the Son of the woman, and God also by Him should be avenged. Age upon age rolled on, and the promise, still unaccomplished, gradually assumed certain developments. Each generation saw the Lord, by means of the prophets, adding some new feature to the characteristics of this Brother of our race; in Himself so great that the Most High would call Him ‘My Son’ [Ps. 2.7]; so impassioned for justice that He would shed the last drop of His Blood to ransom earth’s whole debt (Isa 53.7). A Lamb in His immolation, He would rule the earth by his gentleness (Isa. 16.1); though spring from Jesse’s root, yet was he to be the desired of the Gentiles (Isa 11.10); more magnificent than Solomon (Ps 44), he would graciously hearken to the love of these poor ransomed souls: taking the advance of their longing desires, he is fain to announce himself as the Spouse descending from the everlasting hills (Hos 2.19; Gen. 49.26). The Lamb laden with the crimes of the world, the Spouse awaited by the bride – such was to be this Son of Man, Son likewise of God, the Christ, the Messiah promised unto earth. But when will He come, this desired of nations? Who will point out unto earth her Saviour? Who will lead the bride to the Bridegroom?

Mankind, gone forth in tears from Eden, had stood with wistful gaze fixed on futurity. Jacob, when dying hailed from afar this beloved Son whose strength would be that of the lion, whose heavenly Son whose strength would be that of the lion, whose heavenly charms, still more enhanced by the blood of the grape, rapt him in inspired contemplation on his deathbed (Gen 49.9-12, 18). In the name of the Gentile world, Job, seated on the dunghill whereon his flesh was falling to pieces, gave response to ruin in an act of sublime hope in his Redeemer and his God (Job 19.25-27). Breathlessly panting under the pressure of his woe and the fever of his longing desires, mankind beheld century roll upon century, while consuming death continued its ravages, while his craving for the expected God waxed hotter within his breast. Thus, from generation to generation, what a redoubling of imploring prayer, what a growing impatience of entreaty! Oh! that though wouldst come down (Isa 44.1)! ‘Enough of promises,’ cries out the devout St. Bernard, together with all the fathers, speaking in the name of the Church of the expectation, and commenting the first verse of the Canticle of Canticles; ‘enough of figures and of shadows, enough of others’ parleying! I understand no more of Moses; no voice have the prophets for me; the Law which they bear has failed to restore life to my dead (4 Kings 4.31). What have I to do with the stammerings of their profane mouths (Ex 4.10; Isa 6.5), I to whom the Word hath announced himself? Aaron’s perfumes may not compare with the oil of gladness poured out by the Father on him whom I await (Ps 44.8). No more deputies, no more servants for me; after so many messages, him come at last, let him come himself!’

Prostrate, in the person of the worthiest of her sons, upon the heights of Carmel, the Church of the expectation will not raise herself up till appears in the heavens the proximate sign of salvation’s rain-cloud (3 Kings 18.42-46). Vainly, even seven times, shall it be answered her that as yet naught can be described arising seawards; still prolonging her prayer and her tears, her lips parched by the ceaseless drought, and cleaving to the dust, she will yet linger on, awaiting the appearance of that fertilizing cloud, the light cloud that beareth her God under human features. Then, forgetting her long fasts and weary expectant years, she will rise upon her feet, in all the vigour and beauty of her early youth; filled with gladness the angel announceth to her, in the joy of that new Elijah, whose birthday this vigil promised on the morrow, she will follow him, the predestined Precursor running, more truly than did the ancient Elias, before the chariot of Israel’s king (3 Kings 18.44-46).

The vigil, like many vigils in earlier times, is a fasting day, alongside the days of Lent, ember days, that is, the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the feast of Saint Lucy (13 December), Ash Wednesday, Whit Sunday, and Holy Cross Day (14 December), the vigils of the twelve apostles (excepting those of Saints Philip and James and Saint John, the vigils of Christmas Day, Whit Sunday (or Pentecost), the Assumption of Our Lady (15 August), the feast of Saint Laurence (10 August) and the feast of All Saints (1 November). And though not obligatory, it was also customary to fast the days of Rogationtide [Duffy, Stripping 41].

The idea of fasting is tied to the longing for the Lord. Saint John the Baptist is the precursor, or forerunner, of the Christ, born, we are told (Lk 1.24-26) six months prior to Christ’s nativity, hence the dating of the feast. Advent itself, like Lent, is a time of preparation and fasting. Moreover, the Advent-feel is intentional. Consider the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent:

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem, ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes, eius dexterae sociati, regnum mereamur possidere caeleste.

Grant, we beseech you, Almighty God, this will to your faithful, that, hastening in righteous deeds to meet your coming Christ, assigned to his right, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

Note the theme of running with preparation, like the ten wise virgins, “which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). It is the Baptist who guides the wise virgins to meet the bridegroom. More on that tomorrow.

In fact, Guéranger, during his thoughts on Christmas Eve, references Psalm 79.2: “O thou that sittest upon the Cherubim, show thyself!” We long to see the Divinity who created us, has redeemed us, and will one day judge us.

So it is with the forerunner, whose own birth and ministry we hail as light in the darkness, hence the tradition of bonfires on Saint John’s Eve:

St John Bonfire

To finish, the capitula assigned in the Mozarabic breviary for today:

Lo! the first beginnings of Christian joy, O Lord, whereby erstwhiel the sanctified Voice preceded the Word about to be born in the flesh, and the herald of light signally announced the rising of the Day-star he himself had witnessed: by him both faith’s mysteries and salvation’s fountains have produced marvels: he is approved whose conception is miracle, whose birth is joy; therefore do we beseech thee, that we who with glad ovations hail the birthday of thy Precursor, may with purified hearts draw nigh likewise unto thine own Nativity: so that the Voice which preseched thee in the desert mauy cleanse us in the world; an ho who, preparing the way for the coming Lord, washed in his baptism the bodies of living men, may now by his prayers purify our hearts from vices and errors: so that, folowoing in the footprints of the Voice, we may deserve to come to the promises of the Word.


Build a Bonfire for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist — The Catholic Gentleman

There’s just something about men and fire. We love it. The snapping wood angrily spitting sparks. The hypnotic dance of the flames. The pulsing glow of light filling the dark night. The warmth of matter turned into energy. It’s all a bit magical. And if you’re looking for an excuse to build a bonfire, the Church…

via Build a Bonfire for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist — The Catholic Gentleman

My own post on the Vigil of Saint John the Baptist is coming shortly!

Quotidian (XI)

Today in the traditional calendar is the Wednesday with the Octave of Corpus Christi [Feria Quarta infra Octavam Corporis Christi] — a privileged day. The second antiphon at Laudes chanted:

Thou feddest thine Own people with Angels’ food, and didst send them bread from heaven, alleluia.

Angelorum esca nutrivisti populum tuum, et panem de caelo praestitisti eis, alleluia.

The antiphon is a meditation on Psalm 77 (78) [v. 26: Man ate the Bread of Angels; he sent them provisions in abundance (Vulg.)], and the resonance with Aquinas’ Sacris Solemnis hymn for Corpus Christi is unmistakable:

Panis angelicus fit panis humanum
dat panis caelicus  figuris terminum
O res mirabilis! manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus et humiliating

Thus Angelic bread becomes the Bread of man 
Heavenly bread fulfills what prophecies fore show
O wondrous thing! The pauper may consume his Lord
Though he be humble and low.

Yesterday our family purchased, disassembled, transported, and then reassembled a used bunk bed for the girls, especially Mary Margaret,who continues to make great strides in her potty training.

Today is my first day of summer vacation and fully free from teaching responsibilities. I’m not one for long periods off, so I’ve brought a few projects home, namely my Roman/Medieval history lectures to be revised (lectura revisenda) and my plans for an STMA four-year vocabulary plan.

Otherwise, I’ll be preparing for the Institute for Catholic Liberal Educational ‘s 2016 conference: The Sacramental Imagination. I’m giving a short paper in a breakout session about using narrative to teach Latin. More on this later but the general idea is how to lead students through a rigorous diet of Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil (and even Livy and Ovid) can help students to grasp more fully what they pray in the Mass, comment on the Vulgate, and read and enjoy Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

BBC: England’s Saintly Relics

From the BBC: “Elbows, skulls and holy hands: Venerating England’s saintly relics” [26 May 2016: link]

More than 800 years after he was murdered at Canterbury Cathedral, a small piece of elbow bone thought to belong to St Thomas Becket has been the centrepiece of a week-long pilgrimage in London and Kent. Venerating saintly relics has long been a tradition of the faithful, with some of the more unusual attracting the most attention.

The report is a picture gallery of the relics and/or reliquaries of a number of English saints, including Saints Thomas Beckett, Cuthbert, Alban, and martyr Ambrose Barlow

In addition to this, there is a short bit (as short as the others) on the very few relics of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

Newman Reliquary

Newman’s Reliquary (with cardinal gelero) at the Birmingham Oratory

There are very few relics of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who became England’s most famous Anglican convert to Catholicism.

He was beatified by Pope Benedict during the Pontiff’s visit to the UK in 2010 following verification that a miracle had been effected in his name.

Newman was the founder of the Birmingham Oratory, where he lived until his death in 1890.

A casket in the chapel which has become his national shrine, in the church of the Birmingham Oratory, contains part of a bone, while the handles are from the cardinal’s original coffin.

If you’d like to read more on (the lack of) Newman’s relics, my friend Justin Coyle has written a short piece for First Things on the matter here.

Ex Libris: A lovers’ quarrel

Personal Library

[Originally penned in 2012]

I have too many books. So says my wife at least and this is likely to be true. Save my mother, who turned my childhood bedroom into her library, there are few others I know who have more books in their own personal possession. This is a matter of pride for me and likely not the good kind.

Years ago, I spent perhaps $100 of each paycheck on used books from the Reader’s Corner or Quail Ridge Books. This habit became the single greatest burden when I found myself moving to six different locations in seven years. Books, as you may know, are some of the worst items to move.

Months ago, this excess of books did not matter. Books and bookshelves occupied the open floor of my office and piles upon piles spilled into the guestroom and even downstairs our living room. But because my wife and I have welcomed into our family and into our home our baby girl, Mary Margaret, the guestroom has become a nursery. Many of the books I had safely tucked away I moved into to the office, which is not large enough to house them all.

I first did a pillage of my shelves of anything that met one of two criteria: Did I have double/triple copies of the book? And could I readily find the book at the local public library? Both of these determinants seem rational and untheatrical, but to me, they were wildly unfair. Not every copy of Augustine’s Confessions is equal, and sometimes a chorus of translations is a nice resource to have on hand.

Before I became a father, these books were my children and their marginalia was evidence that these copies were mine and bore my DNA in the notes and highlights throughout their well-worn pages. These books are the highlights of a lifetime of high school and college reading lists; afternoons spent at used bookstores and library remainder sales, and gifts from charitable others who had neatly inscribed the inside cover with a dedication on the occasion of the gift. The inside of one such book, a birthday gift from my best friend, reads, Charlie, Happy 23rd birthday! Enjoy this book along the journey. Michael, Nov 13, 2004. I have enjoyed this book numerous times, and I couldn’t think to part with it.

Even with the above criteria met, there are still a large number of books stacked in not so neat piles on my floor and on the tops of bookshelves in a most unkempt manner. These include old Latin and Greek primers and grammars from the 19th century, nice editions of the classical dramatists, Loeb Classics, and a few small first editions of Southern novelists.

Still this library leaves a number of theological works by Church Fathers and contemporary theologians, hard-to-find works of American Southern fiction and non-fiction prose and poetry, and many well-tested, hard-to-find books on Greek and Roman history. You cannot find these at the public library.

This problem is not mine alone. Anyone who has ever collected books into a personal library comes to a point where she has to evaluate its contents and the living space allotted. She might have to ask questions similar to the criterion questions above. Seneca the Younger, the Roman philosopher of Stoic note and a favorite of mine, has been instructive on this matter:

A multitude of books only gets in one’s way. So if you are unable to read all the books in your possession, you have enough when you have all the books you are able to read. And if you say, ‘But I feel like opening different books at different times’, my answer will be this: tasting one dish after another is a sign of a fussy stomach, and where the foods are dissimilar and diverse in range they lead to contamination of the system, not nutrition. So always read well-tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before.[1]

At the heart of Seneca’s enjoinment is not only the question of why we keep multiple books around but more to the point why we even read. “Reading,” one of my teachers once told me, “is writing on your soul.” I think this is true. Reading the well-formed sentences of the masters of language and thought is important for the development of one’s character and soul. Or as Seneca continues:

Each day, too, acquire something, which will fortify you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well. After running over a lot of thoughts, pick out one to be digested thoroughly that day.[2]

In reading Seneca, I have been somewhat convicted on my hoarding approach to authors, books, and my library. Boethius, I am told, only had the Bible and Augustine’s City of God. But I do have certain Senecan guards on my reading habits. For example, I do have a well-tailored short list of novels and monographs I read yearly:

  1. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
  2. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
  3. The City of God, Augustine of Hippo
  4. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  6. Winston Churchill: An Informal Study of Greatness, Robert Lewis Taylor
  7. Iliad, Homer (trans. Robert Fagles)
  8. Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
  9. Confessions, St Augustine of Hippo
  10. Letters from a Stoic, Seneca

These are all good books, and they would certainly make up my desert island library. But are they enough to satisfy my appetite for reading and at the same time adhere to Seneca’s standards? For some like me, reading has always been about volume than quality or character. If I can just get my eyes on the pageIf can just read everyone, I’ll know I’ve probably read the right ones once or twice. But if I take Seneca at his word, then there are only a handful of authors and books that should limit my reading appetite and therefore my library. Reading too, like a good library, requires a lifetime of discipline.

[1] Seneca. Letters from a Stoic. Penguin: London, 2004. Print, 33-34

[2] Seneca, 34