False Prophet

In an earlier post Gil Bailie quoted from Hans Urs Von Balthasar suggesting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s current role might be understood as a lone seed from which a renewed Church could emerge. And on Facebook Gil had posted a picture of Bob Dylan meeting Pope John Paul II at the 1997 Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy where Dylan and other pop stars had performed a few songs for the gathering of an estimated 300,000 young people – these brought to mind how then Cardinal Ratzinger had serious misgivings about the inclusion of pop musicians and especially Bob Dylan at the event as reported in the later Pope Benedict’s memoir, John Paul II, My Beloved Predecessor, Benedict remembers:

The pope appeared tired, exhausted. At that very moment the stars arrived, Bob Dylan and others whose names I do not remember. They had a completely different message from the one which the pope had. There was reason to be skeptical I was, and in some ways I still am over whether it was really right to allow this type of ‘prophet’ to appear.

Recently, Bob Dylan announced the release of a new collection of original songs entitled Rough and Rowdy Ways that includes the song False Prophet, a few lines from which seem to resonate with Gil’s discussion of the Von Balthasar quote:

I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold
Put ’em six feet under and then pray for their souls

Cardinal Ratzinger had good reason to be skeptical as many young people had indeed looked to Dylan as some kind of secular prophet especially in the ‘60’s. But when Dylan made his public confession of faith in Jesus Christ in the early 80’s much of that idolization seemed to have fallen away. What remains however is a sense that Bob Dylan has a unique gift, a vocation, to be a voice not of his or anyone’s ‘generation’ but a timeless poetic voice calling us out of our unlived meaningless lives and pointing us, as he says in another line from the song, to “the City of God…there on the hill”.

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a solitary Christian…without earthly hope

Rereading what Hans Urs von Balthasar (quoting in passing Dietrich Bonhoeffer) has written brings to mind the role that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is now performing for the Church and the world.

“There are moments when a solitary Christian undergoes suffering that is unknown to others or not understood by them; he offers it to the Lord for him to use as he thinks fit, and so this Christian becomes a source of new community. In the Church’s history there have also been times ‘when the Church existed only in a single person or a family’ (Augustine), when her catholicity withdrew back into her root: consider the loneliness of an Athanasius or a Maximus Confessor. Consider, too, the loneliness of a few monks still embodying the authentic tradition of their founder. This is a loneliness without earthly hope; the crucified Lord, too, had no earthly hope, yet ‘against all hope’ he is able to raise up children to Abraham from the very stones.”

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Memorial Day

Over the past months since Ash Wednesday we have had occasion to mentioned the nearness of death to each of us as well as our consciousness of it. The recent advent of the coronavirus has impressed on us the former and today we hope to honor the latter in a specific way. It is on this national day of remembrance that we are asked to reflect on the deaths of those who served in the armed forces of our country. Since the end of the draft almost 50 years ago very few of us have had any personal contact with military service and even fewer have been touched by the death in combat of someone we personally knew. So we depend on hearing the stories of those whose lives were lost in the wars our country has fought. The movies and stories depicting the bloody battles from Lexington and Concord to the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq highlight, often in gruesome detail, of the deaths of America’s soldiers, sailors and airmen and women can assist us in this.

However, on this Memorial Day I offer the Thomas Merton poem “For My Brother Missing in Action 1943“:

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed

-Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.

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Death and Daily Laughter

In 1921 G. K. Chesterton traveled to America for a lecture tour and upon his return wrote of his experiences in a short book entitled “What I Saw in America”. In the introduction Chesterton comments on some of his preconceptions prior to the visit and mentions a couple of things he believed an early 20th century Englishman such as himself would find difficult to comprehend regarding America. One of these is what he calls the “theory of equality”, claiming that the hierarchical and aristocratic Englishman would likely find such a theory an illusion.

In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. The extreme disproportion between men, that we seem to see in life, is a thing of changing lights and lengthening shadows, a twilight full of fancies and distortions. We find a man famous and cannot live long enough to find him forgotten; we see a race dominant and cannot linger to see it decay. It is the experience of men that always returns to the equality of men; it is the average that ultimately justifies the average man. It is when men have seen and suffered much and come at the end of more elaborate experiments, that they see men as men under an equal light of death and daily laughter; and none the less mysterious for being many.

G. K. Chesterton
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Funny Truths

Benedict XVI

Writing in the 1980s, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) quoted a humorous couplet from the German poet, Wilhelm Busch. I don’t read German, and I don’t have the German original, but the English translation I have doesn’t quite work. So I have “translated” it, retaining I’m quite sure its essence:

Once your worldly reputation is in tatters,
You’ll have more time for what really matters.

Cardinal Ratzinger quoted the Wilhelm Busch version of this couplet during those years when he was widely and falsely accused of being an ecclesiastical Neanderthal. It’s quite clear to those who bother to read what he wrote during those years that he used his extra time wisely.

When I posted this some years ago on our old weblog I received a much appreciated and graceful correction from someone who left the following comment:

“Ist der Ruf erst ruiniert, lebt sich’s völlig ungeniert.”

It seems that the quote is actually falsely ascribed to Wilhelm Busch (cf. http://www.gavagai.de/zitat/unbekannt/HHCU01.htm))

I am fine with the first part, but I don’t think that you caught the essence of the second: Ungeniert goes more into the direction of “cavalierly, uninhibited by the opinion of others, not being embarrassed or easily embarrassable (if this term exists).

The Cardinal of course did both: Used his time for what really matters and did so without looking for praise by others or by caring for his reputation.

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The Limitless Landscape of Poetry

This lovely Richard Wilbur poem gives up new secrets every time I come back to it.

Two Voices in a Meadow

Anonymous as cherubs
Over the crib of God,
White seeds are floating
Out of my burst pod.
What power had I
Before I learned to yield?
Shatter me, great wind:
I shall possess the field.

As casual as cow-dung
Under the crib of God,
I lie where chance would have me,
Up to the ears in sod.
Why should I move? To move
Befits a light desire.
The sill of Heaven would founder,
Did such as I aspire.

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Standing in awe . . .

Imagine reading a splendid poem – using the adjective with all its richness – and being “struck” by its loveliness. It arrests the reader. It takes him to a new place, as we say. It enchants him. Or say one stands before a work of art that inexplicably arrests the viewer in ways for which he would be at a loss to explain.

Now imagine that the person so struck by the beauty of a poem or work of art entertaining thoughts about how it might be altered or improved. The dawning of such a thought would be the end of the enchantment of beauty. Beauty would have fallen into the realm of the practical, the alterable, the mundane. It would have lost its revelatory invitation. It would no longer be a summons.

I suspect that it is this itch to tinker on the part of those of us who lack either the talent or the inspiration to fashion genuine works of art may have been what Heidegger and others found so troubling about a technical civilization – a contradiction in terms.

Or imagine the desire to obtain the beautiful creation, to own it. Understandable though it might be, such a thought would mar the beautiful with the fingerprints of those who snatch at it as a commodity.

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Modification of Mortification

“The modification in the spiritual attitude that is contained in this transition from patristic to modern piety can be described as the change from a world-condemning ‘dying to the world’ to a world-affirming ‘dying to the world.’ In other words, in modernity what comes unmistakably to the fore is that even the factor of the Christian mortification to the world stands under the more comprehensive sign of mission. Christian death should not lead us to abandon our natural post in the world where revelation and the order of salvation have placed us; rather, our dying must itself be suffered through while we maintain our post.”

– Hans Urs von Balthasar
Hans Urs von Balthasar

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Spring Newsletter – Home Alone Edition

New in our store this month are Gil Bailie’s Reflections on T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and The Hollow Men. Our donors who support our efforts with gifts of $5 per month ($60/yr) or more will receive a complimentary copy of the five part Murder in the Cathedral series in May and June. And our Sustaining Donors who generously provide us with gifts of $25 per month ($300/yr) or more will be mailed the complete 5CD set in June as well as the MP3s. Our donors receive at least 12 complimentary CDs and or MP3s in a year. Please join them in supporting our efforts if you are able.

We and our families, are well and currently making do under the circumstances of enforced isolation. The work of the Cornerstone Forum continues amid the disruptions and distractions. We both have close family members who provide medical care to our community for whom we pray daily. Also, in our prayers are all our faithful donors and supporters. In these days we are even more aware of the great blessing we receive through our friends and supporters.

As we look ahead, we understand that the financial stress caused by the current economic turmoil many are encountering will reduce their ability to materially support our work. God help us all as we strive to continue the work we have been given.

Finally, please take a few moments in this Easter season to read Gil’s extended notes on Hope in this time of pandemic.


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Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Vonn Hartung shares a beautiful 10 minute meditation on the Stations of the Resurrection – the Via Lucis.

Easter blessings!

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