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The Tortoise and the Hare-Brained

The tortoise in the classroom, taking notes slowly in time-honoured cursive script, beats the hare-brained student whose fingers dance at lightning speed on the keyboard of his laptop, transcribing every word of the teacher. Is this counter-intuitive of merely common sense? My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative addresses the question:

Why Doesn’t Pope Francis Speak English?

In the Catholic Herald this past Thursday, Matthew Schmitz explains the hostile attitude of the Vatican toward the United States:

 

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/july-28th-2017/why-rome-doing-battle-with-american-culture/

 

Schmitz interprets the barely concealed disdain Pope Francis has for the United States in a broader, more historical context that’s much more illuminating than my mere reaction to the Pope’s refusal to speak English. It’s more than disingenuous to suggest that he simply never learned the language. English is the second language of all western countries and most Eastern countries as well. It would be difficult if not impossible to avoid learning English for any educated person, even for those who are minimally educated. No. He doesn’t speak English because he chooses not to.

From the smallest social setting to the largest media-covered event, it is never courteous to refuse to address someone in their own language. It is an insult that expresses an attitude of superiority and a contempt for one’s audience. From the moment Pope Francis first addressed an audience of English speakers in Italian, the content of Schmitz’s article was inevitable.

Siegfried Sassoon brings his goddaughter to the Faith

The revival in interest in the life and work of Siegfried Sassoon continues apace. Having paid tribute to his legacy in my own play, Death Comes for the War Poets, I’m delighted to learn of a new opera, inspired by his life. This renewed interest has led to a very interesting article in the UK’s Guardian about Sassoon’s friendship with his goddaughter and niece, a friendship which led to the latter’s conversion. Here’s the link:

Maturity in Christ

From an email to a friend …

***

This week, in my regular Scripture readings, I read Ephesians chapter 4, which is pretty much the heart of Paul’s theology of regeneration in Christ.  It is the great and profound mystery that we don’t hear a whisper of from the pulpit – at least I haven’t in any single Mass I’ve been to in the last 17 years.  But it is at the center of what the Faith is.  

We are remade in Christ.  As Christians, who we are is different from what we were.  We experience a change in our being: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

I have never heard that mentioned at any Church I’ve been to, beyond the readings.  It may be read by the lector, but it’s never preached by the priest or deacon.  And it is as unbelievable as the Resurrection.  “If Christ be not raised, then is our faith in vain, and we are the most miserable of men, and we are still in our sins.”  If the Resurrection is false, then we are all fools and we should burn down the churches and stay in bed on Sundays.

And – crazy as the Resurrection sounds – even crazier is the belief that our natures are being remade.  “You have been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him in faith.”  

And even more difficult for modern Christians: we are all supposed to be growing into Christ.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.


Growing up as Christians, becoming “mature”, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, no longer “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

We are not only to mature in Christ as individuals, but as a Body, conforming ourselves to Him who is our head, Jesus.  When we mature in Christ, the Church matures in Christ, and we grow into the fullness of Him as a Body.

The “fullness of Christ” to which we are to strive is (in this passage from Ephesians 4) derived from the Greek work πλήρωμα (pleroma), meaning fullness and completion and final perfection.  In Colossians, Paul uses this word to extol the divinity of Jesus: “For in Him dwells all the fullness (πλήρωμα) of God in His body”.  

Pleroma is a mature completeness, and in Christ it is the fullness and completeness of a man who is God.  

But this is lacking in our whole vision of our faith.

Today a friend told me about an atheist she knows who now wants to pray and be Christian. My friend kept giggling and talking about the “miracle” of this atheist’s conversion, but there was no hint of the reality of it.  It’s as if the game is won.  The story is over.  He’s Christian, no longer atheist.  End of story.  Ta da!  

But what of the reality of who this man is?  What of the struggles and disappointments he’s bound to face?  What of the next step, maturity in Christ?  Who can lead him from infancy in the gospel to maturity, “attaining to the fullness (πλήρωμα)”, so that he is not “swept by every wind of doctrine blown by the cunning and craftiness of others”?  Somehow my friend sees this as a game, as a switch you flip, as a yes that drowns out the no, as a complete victory, rather than a wobbly and tentative first step toward the light that is still far away.

“Art Poetique” by Paul Verlaine

“Art Poetique”.
By Paul Verlaine (1844-1896).
Translated by Norman R. Shapiro.
Music first and foremost! In your verse,
Choose those meters odd of syllable,
Supple in the air, vague, flexible,
Free of pounding beat, heavy or terse.
Choose the words you use – now right now wrong –
With abandon; when the poet’s vision
Couples the precise with imprecision,
Best the giddy shadows of his song.
Eyes veiled, hidden, dark with mystery,
Sunshine trembling in the noonday glare
Starlight in the tepid autumn air,
Shimmering in night-blue filigree!
For Nuance, not color absolute,
Is your goal; subtle and shaded hue!
Nuance! It alone is what lets you
Marry dream to dream, and horn to flute!
Shun all cruel and ruthless railleries:
Hurtful quip, cruel laughter that spall
Heaven, azure eyed, to tears; and all
Garlic-stench scullery recipes!
Take vain eloquence and wring it’s neck!
Best you keep your rhyme sober and sound,
Lest it wander, rimless and unbound –
How far? Who can say – if not in check!
Rhyme! Who will it’s infamies revile?
What deaf child, what Black of little wit
Forged this useless bauble, fashioned it
False and hollow-sounding to the file?
Music first and foremost and forever!
Let your verse be what goes soaring, sighing,
Set free, fleeing from the soul gone flying
Off to other skies and loves wherever.
Let your verse be aimless chance, delighting
In good opened fortune, sprinkled over
Dawn’s wind, bristling scents of mint, thyme, clover…
All the rest is nothing more than writing.