Tag Archives: Beauty

A Brief Reflection on the Anglican-Use Mass

This past Sunday, I had the distinct privilege to attend the approved Anglican Use Mass at St Jean Baptiste here in Victoria.  Ever since Sunday, I have been telling every single Catholic I see to go to it and experience it for themselves.  I walked away thinking to myself “This is what the Council had always intended; this is what the Mass is supposed to be like”.

It is, indeed, quite a different Mass than the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal that is normative in Catholic parishes throughout the world.  It is also different in certain ways from the Extraordinary Form that I have experienced on various occasions.   It was very simple – only 20 – 30 people were in attendance as the community is currently quite small – but extraordinarily beautiful.  The prayers are exquisite, aesthetically pleasing, moving, etc.  I walked away with a real sense of the sacred, a deeper sense of the sacred.  It did not need pomp and circumstance in order to be beautiful for it was structured so as to not need that.  However, I would very much love to experience their liturgy in the form of a High Mass one day.  The choir – 3 people – sang the Introit, Hymns, etc the way music is meant to be sung: with life!  Finally, the community itself is so very welcoming and delightful.

I have only been once, but already I am itching to attend again.  I pray I have one or two more opportunities to come out to experience their form of the liturgy.  The position ad orientem, the posture of the congregants, etc.  All of this stamped upon me a deep and profound sense that we were in the holy of holies: Christ was coming down to us to lift us up to sit with Him on His heavenly throne.

I write this brief reflection with one singular purpose: to encourage anyone who reads this to do all that is in their power to go and experience this beautiful tradition of the Mass for themselves.  Hopefully – and I believe Benedict XVI is thinking this way – it will inform how we celebrate our current form of the liturgy to bring it back in greater conformity with our ancient traditions.

in Christ

-Harrison

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Gift vs. Given

I am now officially done the seminary year.  This past week I helped out at a Bible Camp in our diocese, and I have also done something I have not done for a while: leisurely reading.  I love reading for school, etc., but I have already noticed a marked difference between reading for a paper and reading simply for its own sake.  When it comes to leisurely reading, nothing compares.

One of the books I have decided to take up is by Kenneth Schmitz titled “The Recovery of Wonder“.  It is, essentially, a book about things and how we view things.  If this post is obtuse, please grant me this slight indulgence as I very much find myself in line with Schmitz’s thought and find his style to be rather attractive.  When I find a style attractive, I have a tendency to imitate it, hence why this post may be obtuse.  If you are not a great fan of obtuse things, then, by all means, you are not obliged to continue on.

As I stated, the book is about things or, in Latin, res.  The fundamental question that underlies the investigation of the book is the reality of things: are they complex wholes or are they simple parts mashed together?  I have yet to finish the book, but am already able to see where his argument is going by virtue of the title.  Wonder – and it is for this reason I purchased the book – has been a concept that has been rather appealing to me for some time now.  To be in awe of things is the sign of contemplation and to see that things point beyond themselves to an Other who constitutes the totality of finite existence.  The thing points to the transcendence of this Other because this Other is also immanent to the thing by virtue of its upholding this unnecessary thing in existence.    In effect, this is the traditional, pre-modern metaphysical worldview.  A thing, whatever it may be, is ultimately a mystery – that is it is something that has an infinite depth that can never be grasped in its totality; there is always a ‘more’ to it.  The word that constitutes such a worldview is the word ‘gift’ and it is the result of the reality of the Hebrew and Christian revelation of the God who creates ex nihilo.  Writing a paper this year on Genesis 1:1-3 helped me realize just how profound and revolutionary the opening words of Genesis are.  The way, in fact, to read the entire creation account of Genesis – the hermeneutical key by which one ought to read the entire creation story – is through the lens of the concept of gift.  All that is is a gift from God, it is not necessary.  God creates out of His gracious love and each thing that is in existence is the result of His loving gaze upon us.  When in the realm of metaphysics, one would call this an ontology of gift: every thing has within its being the stamp of being gifted into existence.  No thing that is – save for God – need exist.  It is pure gratuity.  Thus we hang thinly between the abyss of annihilation and the totality of being.  Our very being is constituted of nothingness and everything at the same time.  This is what is known as contingency, and contingency – ontologically and not simply in a causal series – is expressed most fundamentally in the concept of gift.

Gift, donum, is contrasted with the modern approach of seeing reality as given, as a datum.  When things are seen as a gift, they are seen as their whole, though constituted in a complex manner.  Yet the whole, in the realm of gift, is greater than the sum of its parts.  With the modern concept of things being simply a given, a datum to be investigated, a phenomenon to be observed, we run the risk of seeing distinctions within a thing as also a separation between the aspects of a thing.  This is what is known as scientism: the constant desire to pursue the simple aspects of a thing to the neglect of the whole.  It is also an expression of voluntarism, of power over nature, of the throwing oneself over and above another object.  It is no coincidence that our move towards a technological society is based within a cultural mentality in which power is the ultimate arbiter of life.  Seeing the world as a given – that is, it is simply there, without any concern for its ultimate ontological origin – means to seeing it as something to dissect and to have power over.  Things become the objects of our rational need to dissect, separate, and own, instead of the more primary human need of the intellect, which expresses itself in contemplation, allowing all of reality to be itself to the subject and to receive it with openness as the totality that it really is.

I am not downplaying the importance of the givenness of reality.  There is a very true sense that there is a givenness to the natural realm.  It is simply there in front of us in order to investigate.  Often, when two worldviews are pitted against each other, we have a tendency to want one to win out over the other.  But this need not be the case.  There is value and truth and, dare I say, even beauty to the modern approach to the world.  However, if we are to have true success with it, if it is going to truly correspond to our humanity, then it must be in conversation with the contemplative nature of life.  Contemplation – intellect – and rationality need not be opposed to each other.

Yet, I must emphasize one thing and it is with this that I will end this post.  The point of Schmitz’s book is to rediscover the idea of wonder, to be amazed by that which is around us, from the simplest to the most complex things.  In short, we must rediscover the contemplative nature of life.  Both Schmitz and Pope Benedict point to the ecological movement as an expression of the sense that technological domination over the natural realm must have its limits, that we must let things be at times, that we must allow the world to be itself for us and for us to receive it in contemplative and receptive humility.  What is wrong in the movement is that it emphasizes the natural realm to the neglect of the human and even, at times, to the detriment of the human.  Yet there is also that essential kernal of truth: the natural realm is beautiful and worthy to be upheld and protected against the domination of the human will’s desire to cease control of all that is. To be human is to be finite, to be limited, and the idea that the natural realm is only datum, only given, will constantly go against the truly human when it acts to the neglect of the contemplative attitude towards the world.

It may seem like an impossible task, for the ideology of scientism is very much ingrained within our cultural mentality.  It will take Herculean efforts in order to overcome such a cultural attitude.  Yet we must begin it.  To rediscover wonder in the world is to rediscover the essential aesthetic quality of the world.  Beauty, I am convinced in this day in age, will indeed save the world.  We can reclaim the rightful place of the giftedness of the world alongside the scientific.  They need not be opposed.  For when this is done, then the investigation into the world will no longer be for dominance over it, but rather as an immersion of our selves into the reality of things for their own sake.  Then, and only then, will the world be able to begin to be beautiful once again.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Value of Ecclesial Friendship

Though it is a busy semester, one of my joys is a small community I am part of here in Edmonton known as Communion and Liberation.   Though lately it has been difficult for me to attend meetings due to the priorities of seminary life and prayer, I did find time this past weekend to join them for Mass and a meal.

I had not planned to stay too late that night, but ended up staying an hour longer than intended.  Over the course of the evening, our conversation moved from the happenings of our lives, to serious theological topics, to questions of discernment, to simple world and secular events.  Yet the Person of Jesus was the unifying focus of all our conversation.  Indeed, I have discovered that in that community I have real friendship, that there is a real care for the other, a delight and love for the other simply as other.  What unites us is an ecclesial friendship, that is, a friendship that is centered around Christ and is lived as a miniature communion that reflects the communion of the Church.  In this group I realize questions that affect my destiny, that allow me to engage in the struggles and trials of my life, and, most importantly, it is a group that constantly challenges me to recognize the Presence of Christ in all that I am and that I do.  I am challenged to accept the reality that is given in front of me and to embrace what Christ has given me.  In short, I find myself constantly challenged to live the beauty of my Christianity by the support and love of these friends.

I find, at times, that the word ‘friend’ has been greatly diminished in our culture.  I myself even use it too flippantly at times.  Yet we must have a certain reverence in front of such a word, for the Lord uses it in a strikingly deep way when He says “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”.  The word is not flippant, it denotes an intimacy that most friendships lack.  In other words, most friends are not really friends, they are acquaintances.  Recently, one of my friends from CL (the abbreviation we use for the movement) e-mailed me and was getting me in contact with others from the movement, encouraging me to be in touch with them so that I may develop friendships with them.  I was really moved by the use of the word ‘friend’ because it was not being used irreverently.  It was being used with devotion, awe.  Friendship, as the movement sees it, is deeply sacred and beautiful because through it we are made into the images of Christ we are called to be.

It helps me, then, to realize that I cannot always be ‘friends’ with everyone because friendship is sacred and therefore demands work.  Friendship is to be beautiful and beauty demands effort, attention, time, space.  In short, it demands devotio.  By this I mean a real dedication of self to an other.  This does not entail copious amounts of time spent with the other – I have friends in the true sense of the word who I may only see once or twice a year, if that – yet the time is done with great devotion with an aim towards creating something beautiful for God.

Yet, unfortunately, our culture lacks this true friendship and it is something that is so beautiful, that we long for in a deep way.  It is in image of the intimate friendship we have with the Lord and is always for the upbuilding of the other.  If our friendships do not have an aspect of ‘building up’, then there is something lacking and we may want to re-evaluate our dedication to that friendship.  But we need friends, true friends, whom we can be with in the Lord, with whom we can constantly talk about the true state of our hearts, our desires, disappointments, and all of it centered in the Lord.

I have learned what it means to be a friend from the movement because it images the friendship the Lord has with us.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Interwebs Pt 2

Well, it happened.

Last Friday, after a week or so of preparing people, I did what I thought to be the unthinkable.  I DELETED MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!

Now, Facebook is tricksy: they like to give you two weeks before deleting your account, just in case you change your mind.  That e-mail they sent haunts me: I can still revert, I can still go back!

But I refuse to.  This is what I must do.  But, I must admit, it has not been easy!  Suddenly I feel disconnected from the world.  How will the world know if – God willing – the bishop decides to call me to ordination?  How will I tell friends and family alike?  How can I share the latest articles I’ve come across, the newest ideas, the latest books, the mundane activities of my life?  I must admit it: there is slight separation anxiety attached with this detachment.  It is not easy. 

Furthermore, how am I to find out what sort of events are going on around town with my friends?  How will I know what is going down?  I feel separated, lost, and scrambling to distract myself in other realms of my life.

But, in the end, despite the difficulty, despite the slight anxiety, I realize this has been a good thing.  I did not realize how much time Facebook was taking up in my life until I left it.  How easy it was to go on my phone and check it out.  How easy it was to just sit at my computer and engage in rather pointless discussions.  In the end, it was more a waste of time than anything else.

But there is a further element of reflection from all this: the separation anxiety is real, but it is because our world has reduced communication to social media.  We are unable to communicate outside of it.  This has all occurred within the span of five years at the most!  That is a scary change, one that, I believe, is the result of the unreflective spirit of our age.  As I mentioned in my previous post, we have a tendency to take upon new technologies simply because they are new and not because they are good.  We refuse to ask “what are we losing with all this?”  It is a question we must always ask.  In the end, as Neil Postman observes, every new technology means that we lose something.  The invention of writing began to be the end of oral tradition and profound memory, for example.  It’s not necessarily bad, but it means we lose something in the process of gaining something else.

My question today, however, is whether this form of communication through social media is actually good?  The reactions I got against leaving Facebook, the fact that people felt they would be unable to communicate with me by leaving it tells me there is something wrong here.  If something creates the inability to communicate any other way, then I think we need to begin to re-evaluate and ask whether we are on the right path.  The more I reflect on it, the more I think that we are not on the right path.  I see an inability to confront and talk face to face.  I see an inability to communicate person to person.  When communication loses the personal element, then we are no longer communicating.

To me, communication must take all three transcendentals into account: the true, the good, and the beautiful.  In fact, all activity should be done in truth, for the good of myself and others, and in an attractive/enticing manner.    That is the ethos which governs my life.  Technology, however, has lost its aetsthetic value, its ability to put forward an attractive truth claim, to form an attractive ethos.  With the loss of the aesthetic dimension, with “the beautiful” being removed from the realm of technology, all that is left is facts in place of truth, activism instead of goodness.  When you remove a transcendental, all else becomes pointless because all the other transcendentals lose that which makes them what they are.  Truth needs beauty and goodness to be truth, beauty needs truth and goodness to be beauty, and goodness needs truth and beauty to be itself.  The internet, I believe, does not have the moral or aesthetic dimension.  With this, I see the internet only as a place for fact finding.  One can find resources, articles, news, etc.  This is good.  But it is not a place of communication.  The only exception I will give to this is e-mail because it mimics letter writing.  It still loses the essential element of reflectivity – it’s so easy to write without much reflection in email – but it can allow for that element.  I have yet to see that reflectivity anywhere else on the internet.

By the by, a friend and colleague has posted a wonderful reflection on his blog in reference to my first post.  You can find the article here.

In Christ

-Harrison

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The Splendor of Jesus Christ is the Message of All Saints

Recently, for my class on the Theology of Revelation, I have been reading “Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics: A Model for Post-Critical Biblical Interpretation” by W.T. Dickens.  Don’t let the title scare you, the book is not what this post is eventually about.  I do, however, wish to use it to talk about the point of this post: the attractive splendor of Jesus Christ.  The book is an attempt to see what sort of impact Balthasar’s theological aesthetics (a fancy way of speaking about a theology of beauty) has on scriptural interpretation.  There is much that has been said so far in the book, and much I could speak about.  However, I just want to speak about one element that Balthasar speaks of that is important for Christianity: that there is a splendor to Jesus Christ.

What do I mean by splendor?  Splendor, for Balthasar, is a radiating light that presents itself to someone and attracts them to its ground in God.  There is an inner integrity to the Person of Jesus that sends us who experience Him into a sort of ecstasy: we are drawn out of ourselves into the beautiful radiance of Jesus.  We see in Him that He points to His Father, and there is an attractiveness about His Person that radiates to the whole world.

Yet, to appreciate the sheer radiant beauty of the Person of Jesus, the subject (that is, us) must be open to receiving  Jesus and allowing Him to be Himself to us.  Behind this is St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises: a spiritual work that is at the heart of all Balthasar’s work.  St Ignatius speaks about the importance of indifference: we must abandon our own desires, our own willing of things, save for willing what God wills of us.  In short, our wills must be disciplined in order to be truly free and receptive to the beauty, radiance, and splendor of Jesus Christ.  It is not a stoic indifference, of allowing whatever happens to happen to us.  Rather, it is a desiring the will of God alone because it is this will of God that brings us true peace and happiness.  Balthasar speaks of this beautifully when he says that we must allow the beauty and splendor of Jesus Christ to master us so that we can accept Him as He is.  This is not a fatalism, nor a pure passivity, but rather a dynamic engagement with the ever present Word of the Father.

When we allow that splendor of Jesus to radiate towards us, we allow Him to in-form us: to become a likeness to Him and then His splendor radiates into the world.  And that is the ultimate point of this post.  Today is the Solemnity of All Saints, where we celebrate the victory of Christ’s redemption for those who are reigning with Him in the bosom of the Father.  They are there because they have allowed Jesus to in-form them: they allowed Him to be Himself to them and that formed them into His image and likeness.  They too carried – and still carry in Heaven – the splendor of Jesus Christ.  If you have ever met a saint, you know what I am speaking about.  Holiness radiates from them and we want to be like them.  We want to experience the radiant love of Christ as they have experienced it.  Ultimately, we celebrate All Saints day because it is really a celebration of Christ and His victory over sin and death in the lives of the faithful reigning with Him.  We celebrate them because Christ is in them: they are Christ to us and bring His radiant love to the world.

And that is their example for us.  We also celebrate All Saints day because it is a reminder of our call to holiness.  Yet, we can only become holy in so far as we allow Christ to be Himself to us.  We must put our selfishness and self-will out of the way so that we may simple, lovingly, and actively receive Christ as He is in our hearts.  Then we see His splendor, then we desire to be formed by Him, then we become saints because we become more like Him.

This is very important because it is an element that is missing in most preaching today, and it is difficult to preach to a world that is increasingly active and less receptive.  We don’t have “time” to see Jesus and to be with Him.  Balthasar argues that the only means of holiness is contemplation, which is indifferent, actively receptive, and desirous to become what the person contemplates.  In short, to contemplate, we need to put ourselves to the side and let God do the work (for true contemplation is not our own work), we need to allow the form of God to change us and to act on His promptings to change.  God calls us all to be saints and to be saints in a particular way.  St Ignatius was not called to be Mother Teresa, nor was JP II called to be St Francis.  Each saint has a particular charism, and some are more hidden than others: most of the saints in Heaven are “hidden” from us in that we do not know who all of them are!  But there are some there who are greater than Mother Teresa, but they lived their holiness in hiddenness, just as our Lord hid for 30 years before His public ministry.

Again, though, it is difficult to preach this to a world that does not appreciate silence, stillness, and receptivity.  How we preach the ever-new and ever-ancient splendor of Jesus Christ is difficult in an age of self-assertion.  Yet the best mode of preaching is to allow Jesus to impart His splendor and beauty in us so that we can be the manifestation if His Presence to the world.  Yet we can only do that when we give ourselves to Him in prayer, when we constantly participate in the sacraments, when we simply love others with the heart of Christ and seek Him in them.  It requires, in the end, immediate obedience to His Person, a willing to lay down all for Him, and to not condition His message to suit our own needs and selfish desires.  We must have only one desire: Jesus Christ.  When that becomes our true desire, then all we do and say finds an ever-fresh and ever-new source in Him Who brings all we say and do into the unitive power of His love present in His death and resurrection (hence why Mass is so important).

So, on the feast of All Saints, let us begin today to live the splendor of Jesus Christ in our lives and let the radiant beauty of His love shine through our hearts to the whole world.

In Christ

-Harrison

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