Category Archives: Reading

Cardinal Sarah on the loss of the sacred, transcendence, and the difficulty of knowing God

It is possible that the pastoral care in some parishes, and even the celebration of the Mass, actually prevent parishioners from getting close to God? Is it possible that a significant swath of Catholic culture is designed to keep Catholics from having authentic and life-changing encounters with God within that culture — needing to seek it elsewhere? Could this be one of the reasons so many have left the Church for evangelical Protestantism? For some, absolutely. Is this not why there is a kind of nervous movement among so many Catholics seeking a finer light, something burning brighter than in their local church? {Of course, one has to be careful accepting the excuses given by people who have left the Church.]

Anyway, it seems to me that noisy Masses might harm the faithful’s desires for getting close to God, and encountering the divine transcendence.

Robert Cardinal Sarah seems to offer a pointed critique related to these concerns in his latest book, The Power of Silence. If find his critique fascinating, especially because he approaches this from the topic of silence. Here are four quotes particularly relevant:

The notion of sacredness is abused, particularly in the West. In the countries that claim to be secular, emancipated from religion and from God, there is no longer any connection with the sacred. A certain secularized mentality attempts to be liberated from it. Some theologian assert that Christ, by his Incarnation, put an end to the distinction between sacred and profane. For others, God becomes so close to us that the category of the sacred is consequently outmoded. Thus, some in the Church still have not managed to detach themselves from and entirely horizontal pastoral approach centered on social work and politics. In these assertions or these behaviors, there is a lot of naïveté and perhaps genuine pride. (Sarah 119)

If we do not tremble before the divine transcendence, it is because we are damaged, all the way down to our human nature. (120)

Without radical humility that is expressed in gestures of adoration and in sacred rituals, no friendship with God is possible. (120)

Since the reform of Paul VI, and despite the intention of that great pope, sometimes in the liturgy there is an air of misplaced, noisy familiarity. Under the pretext of seeking to make access to God easy and approachable, some have wanted everything in the liturgy to be immediately intelligible. This egalitarian intention may seem commendable. But in thus reducing the sacred mystery to good ideas, we prevent the faithful from approaching thus true God. (123)


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

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Into Silence with Cardinal Sarah

Robert Cardinal Sarah has been getting some attention lately because of statements he has made regarding the proper celebration of the Mass (I think the controversy is silly and Cardinal Sarah is clearly more wise than his detractors). The cardinal has also just written a book called The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, which I am reading as part of a book group. His first book, God or Nothing, our group read earlier, and both book s are excellent, though very different.

There are so many great quotes from The Power of Silence, but for now I just want to highlight this one:

How can we come to master our own interior silence? The only answer lies in asceticism, self-renunciation, and humility. If man does not mortify himself, if he stays as he is, he remains outside of God. (51)

I am also reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which I am enjoying (I don’t really get most of the criticisms of this book). But I find the strategies and tactics suggested by Dreher to, basically, sit on top on Cardinal Sarah’s deeper insights, as indicated in the short quote above (but evidenced throughout his book). The cardinal’s quote points to a fundamental and, I believe, profound problem with our world today, and especially with Christianity — both Catholic and Protestant — we are addicted to noise, which is damaging us, and we no longer understand the importance of asceticism, self-renunciation, and humility in fighting that noise. The cardinal’s insights also point to the fact that we think we know what noise is, but we don’t — not at the spiritual level.

In fact, I believe if Christians followed the cardinal’s words seriously, then the kind of place, role, and actions of the Church in the world could take any number of forms, not only Dreher’s form(s), because it’s not really about carving out an alternative society so much as it’s changing one’s heart, will, passions, etc. — the rest will follow, and do so in countless ways.


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2015. Print.

Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel, 2017. Print.

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The Natural Laws and Essential Elements of Catholic Church Architecture

Cathédrale-Notre-Dame-de-Paris-Vue-panoramique---630x405---©-Fotolia-rdnzl

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (credit: Paris Tourist Office)

The following points are taken from Michael S. Rose’s book: Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces — and How We Can Change Them Back Again

From Chapter One: “The three natural laws of church architecture: or, the minimum you need to know to evaluate the church down the street”

  1. Permanence — a sense that the building will remain and stand against the vagaries of time a taste
  2. Verticality — a sense of the building rising or pointing to Heaven and things transcendent, and leading the thoughts of worshipers in that direction
  3. Iconography — art, statues, icons, stained glass, and other items that express and speak of Christian things, especially the holy sacrifice of the Mass

From Chapter Two: “Our pilgrim goes into the house of the Lord: or, the essential elements of every proper church”

  1. The church beckons to souls from afar
  2. The atrium leads us from the profane to the sacred
  3. The façade tells us of the riches awaiting us inside
  4. The narthex draws us toward the sanctuary
  5. The baptistry reminds us of our entrance into the Church Universal
  6. The nave declares that the Church is the ark of salvation
  7. The pews promote adoration, directing our eyes to the altar
  8. The confessional prepares us to receive the Eucharist
  9. The church’s columns enhance its verticality and permanence
  10. The pulpit is subordinate to the altar
  11. The choir serves the Mass without calling attention to itself
  12. The sacred art teaches and evangelizes us
  13. The stained glass creates a heavenly atmosphere with light
  14. The sanctuary set apart the holiest part of the church
  15. The altar is the focal point of unity, reverence, prayer, and worship
  16. The crucifix tells us of Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice
  17. The tabernacle reminds us that Christ is truly present here

The laws and elements are not presented by the author without an agenda in mind. They are to be used as a list for architects and church renovators, but also as a source of critique of modernist church designs. With this list in mind it is interesting (troubling??) to see how many Catholic churches fail to meet many of these laws and elements. Most of these church buildings were built in the past 50 years or so, and from a more modernist approach — a kind of “spirit of the age” urging towards “relevance” and man-centeredness.

The rest of the book examines examples of  church architecture that deviate from these laws and elements, and the reasons why churches where either altered away from tradition, or built according to modernist standards. Then finally the book speaks to what can be done to rectify the problem.

Personally, I love much of modern architecture. I’m not a modernist, but I appreciate much of what modern architects were trying to do, even in their failures (which were many). Still, what constitutes proper sacred architecture, that is architecture designed around the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church, seems to me fundamentally in need of something other than the modernist approach.

However, I’m also not a traditionalist in the sense that the “solution” is that we go back in time. We can and should learn a lot from the past, including examples of church architecture, but we must remember we shouldn’t just copy from the past, but create based on principles. It’s tradition for the sake of truth, not tradition for the sake of tradition.

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Unlocking the Catholicism of “The Lord of the Rings”

I find this fascinating. We all know Tolkien was a Catholic, and we can all readily pick up on a few Catholic themes in LTR, but I love how deep one can go with that. I also enjoy how much fun Joseph Pearse is having with this talk.

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O’Connor, Dostoevsky, and Christ Pantocrator: A Lecture by Dr. Ralph Wood

flannery_oconnor_painting

A truly great lecture…

flannery

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looking to be refashioned…

I just read this yesterday. I think it is marvelous…

LUMEN GENTIUM — DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH
— CHAPTER VII —
THE ESCHATOLOGICAL NATURE OF THE PILGRIM CHURCH
AND ITS UNION WITH THE CHURCH IN HEAVEN

48. The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things.(237) At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ.(238)

Christ, having been lifted up from the earth has drawn all to Himself.(239) Rising from the dead(240) He sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples and through Him has established His Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, He is continually active in the world that He might lead men to the Church and through it join them to Himself and that He might make them partakers of His glorious life by nourishing them with His own Body and Blood. Therefore the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit and through Him continues in the Church in which we learn the meaning of our terrestrial life through our faith, while we perform with hope in the future the work committed to us in this world by the Father, and thus work out our salvation.(241)

Already the final age of the world has come upon us (242) and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells,(243) the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God.(244)

Joined with Christ in the Church and signed with the Holy Spirit “who is the pledge of our inheritance”,(245) truly we are called and we are sons of God(246) but we have not yet appeared with Christ in glory,(247) in which we shall be like to God, since we shall see Him as He is.(248) And therefore “while we are in the body, we are exiled from the Lord (249) and having the first-fruits of the Spirit we groan within ourselves(250) and we desire to be with Christ”‘.(251) By that same charity however, we are urged to live more for Him, who died for us and rose again.(252) We strive therefore to please God in all things(253) and we put on the armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil and resist in the evil day.(254) Since however we know not the day nor the hour, on Our Lord’s advice we must be constantly vigilant so that, having finished the course of our earthly life,(255) we may merit to enter into the marriage feast with Him and to be numbered among the blessed(256) and that we may not be ordered to go into eternal fire(257) like the wicked and slothful servant,(258) into the exterior darkness where “there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth”.(259) For before we reign with Christ in glory, all of us will be made manifest “before the tribunal of Christ, so that each one may receive what he has won through the body, according to his works, whether good or evil”(260) and at the end of the world “they who have done good shall come forth unto resurrection of life; but those who have done evil unto resurrection of judgment”.(261) Reckoning therefore that “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us”,(262) strong in faith we look for the “blessed hope and the glorious coming of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ”(263) “who will refashion the body of our lowliness, conforming it to the body of His glory(264). and who will come “to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all those who have believed”(265).

References:
237 Acts 3, 21.
238 Cf Eph. 1, 1O; Col. 1, 20; 2 3, 10-13.
239 Cf. Jn. 12, 32.
240 cf. Rom. 6, 9.
241 Cf. Phil. 2, 12.
242 Cf 1 Cor. 10. 11.
243 Cf. 2. Pet. 3, 13.
244 Cf. Rom. 8, 19-22.
245 Eph. 1, 14.
246 Cf. 1 Jn. 3, 1.
247 Cf. Col- 3. 4
248 Cf. 1 Jn. 3, 2
249 2 Cor. 5, 6.
250 Cf. Rom. 8, 23.
251 Cf. Phil. 1. 23.
252 Cf. 2 Cor 5, 15.
253 Cf. 2 Cor. 5, 9.
254 Cf.Eph.6, 11-13.
255 Cf. Heb 9, 27.
256 Cf. Mt. 25, 31-46.
257 Cf. Mt. 25, 41.
258 Cf. Mt. 25, 26.
259 Mt. 22, 13 and 25. 30.
260 2 Cor. 5, 10.
261 Jn. 5, 29; Cf. Matt. 25, 46.
262 Ram. 8, 18; cf. 2 Tim. 2, 11-12.
263 Tit. 2, 13.
264 Phil. 3, 21.
265 2 Thess. 1, 10.

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Reading Vatican II

When it comes to understanding Catholic theology I am a true neophyte, a certified numskull. FYI. But I’m loving what I’m reading so far.

Well, I’ve begun reading the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps, in a way, I am reading these documents in light of the Year of Faith, which I find a great idea and something I hope brings about genuine and organic renewal—something we all need.

The Second Vatican Council seems to be such an important event of the last century, profoundly influential on so many levels, and still very much alive in some important sense. And it’s importance, especially regarding it ecumenical focus, is relevant for Protestants as well as for Catholics. Along with the documents, which are themselves marvelous (as far as I can tell so far), I find the council a source of interest because of the great individuals who participated both in and after the council. This look at the council by Fr. Robert Barron is fascinating:

Look who was at the council:

A young Ratzinger and Yves Congar at Vatican II

Cardinal Joseph Frings and a young Ratziner at Vatican II

Here’s another take on the significance of the council:

I am curious if there is a difference, generally speaking, in evaluations of the council and it’s impacts by those in Europe and those in the U.S.

I am no scholar, and in many ways I feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the council. I also am looking from the “outside” in that I am not a Catholic—not yet anyway. Maybe what’s so interesting about the council is just how immense and human it was. This was a council in touch with its times and actively transparent (up to a point) in a way unlike previous councils.

The following is a great overview and perspective on the council by Rev. John W. O’Malley:

I don’t know much about Fr. O’Malley, he may be in one of those two “camps” spoken of by Fr. Barron, and it seems he may be more in the concilium camp than the communio camp—for me, at this time, the communio camp stirs my heart more, but I know very little of each. However, his last comment, which was his answer to the question of where is his hope, he says, “In the living God.” That, I think, is really the key.

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