Sunday, June 20, 2010

4th Sunday after Pentecost

“At thy word I will let down the net...”

Dear Faithful,

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away [Mk 13,31] said Our Lord, and we say very well that everything that Our Lord does has eternal value. Our Lord is God Himself, and as God is eternal, never changing, always perfect, so everything that Our did and said is eternal, always perfect.

For this reason the gospel can be understood in many ways - that is to say, that the one true sense of the Scripture has many consequences which the text itself serves to signify. The very actions and words of Our Lord are not simply historical acts, but deeds that also signify the future and present mysteries. The lesson we read in the gospel can serve as an example that Our Lord is the same, today, yesterday and tomorrow.

We read that Our Lord stood upon the lake, as the fishermen mended their nets. And we read that Our Lord entered into the ship that was Peter’s, in order to teach the multitudes. Notice that Our Lord does nothing by accident, every action and every detail has a significance and lesson for us today. As we read in the Scriptures [1 Peter 3], the boat of Noah is a figure of the Church, where the souls that are saved from the deluge are saved through baptism, thus it should not surprise us that Our Lord should enter the boat of Peter in order to teach, for Our Lord teaches us through the Church of which Peter is the head.

The gospel says that the fishers were mending their nets. The nets of the Apostles are the interweaving words and certain folds of speech, the intricacies of argument which do not let those escape once they are caught. The intertwined threads make a tissue, like the arguments of logic which keep one bound, leaving all that is extraneous behind, like water passing through the net holds the fish bound. Just like action follows from conviction, so once we are held by the truth, so we are bound to put it into action.

And so the fishermen were mending them, that is to say, attempting to repair the doctrine that was insufficient, as we read, that they worked all night without catching anything. The Apostles were still very much attached to earthly things and to worldly doctrines, not yet having been instructed by Our Lord. And so their nets were in need of mending, that is to say, by the consequence of original sin, men are born in ignorance and even what little convictions they have are liable to break and unable to hold the wavering mind.

And so Our Lord, as we read, tells Peter to draw back a little from the land, that is to say, to detach himself from worldly things. Our Lord even tells Peter to launch out into the deep, that is, into the profound mystery of God. St. Paul will speak to us of the breadth, and length, and height, and depth of the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge [Ephesians 3.18]. The response of Peter shows the weakness of his understanding, and yet also his great faith. We have labored all the night, and have taken nothing. The poor human doctrines is unable to pull souls out of the tossing of the sea of passions. Yet St. Peter then demonstrates his faith, when he says: “But at Thy Word I will let down the net”. Peter believes the words of Our Lord.

Belief is something more than knowledge. Belief implies not only the acceptance of something as true, but also a confidence and a conviction and trust. We believe someone not only because they know more about something than we do, but also because we are certain that they are not lying to us. St. Peter shows both these aspects of faith: He trusts Our Lord, and believes that He is speaking the truth in spite of what his experience has shown him - there are no fish to be caught Yet he lowers down his net. Thus he trusts in what he does not perceive, and believes in the word of Our Lord.

And the gospel says, that they caught an enormous quantity of fish. Our Lord rewards the faith of Peter with an enormous catch of fish. Detached from earthly things, he reaps the rewards of his faith. And the gospel says that their net broke - their earthly reasoning could not account for such a miraculous catch. The companions of Peter then come to help them, and they fill the ships with fishes. This symbolizes the other Apostles, and their successors the bishops, who must work in union with Peter to bring in the enormous catch of souls who would be brought out of the sea of ignorance into the boat, in such great quantities that boat would almost sink.

The gospel tells us that the boat would almost sink, and in another place we Our Lord compares the kingdom of heaven to a fisherman who casts his nets into the sea, and the angels who cast out the bad and keep the good. So also the Church is burdened by the weight of souls, but especially by those who are burdened by the weight of sin. Yet in spite of the weakness and malice of men, the ship did not sink. It is not only the miraculous catch which is miracle of the Divine Master, but also the fact that the ship could hold such an enormous host without sinking into the waves.

So great was the miracle that Simon Peter is astonished, and cries out in fright at seeing himself so unworthy of such a miracle. He fears the power of Our Lord, who as master of heaven and earth has wrought this miracle. He cries out, ‘for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ as he realizes that the Person who just wrought this miracle will also be the one who will judge him on the last day.

This lesson is still useful for us, dear faithful, as a reminder that even the highest authority in the Church, and the miracles that they work upon the altar, does not mean that they are not also men like us. They too, like St. Peter, can cry out ‘for I am a sinful man’, especially if they do not do like St. Peter does and not detach themselves from the land, or refuse to let down the net. That is to say, the ministers of Christ must be obedient to the words of Our Lord, and launch out into the deep, that is to say, search the profundity of Christian doctrine, in order to have a miraculous catch of souls. Hence the importance for us, to pray often for the sending of holy priests, and to make sacrifices for the sanctification of priests.

And lastly Our Lord, seeing in St. Peter the dispositions befitting the head of the Church, namely his faith, his obedience and his humility, states to him : “Fear not, henceforth thou shalt catch men”. St. Peter receives his vocation, a vocation which will later be fulfilled when Our Lord says to him: ‘upon this Peter I will build my Church”.

This conversion of St. Peter through the miraculous catch was complete, for we read in the Gospel: “and leaving all things, they followed Him”. Leaving behind the earthly considerations and earthly fortune, they take up a new calling. They no longer have a worldly doctrine and worldly reasoning, but a divine calling, a divine doctrine, a divine net with which to catch souls, souls which he will draw out of ignorance and error in order to keep them in the Church.

And so my dear faithful, on this day when we recall the vocation of St. Peter, let us pray especially for the successor of St. Peter, the Pope. Let us pray that he too might be detached from material and worldly considerations, and launch out into the deep, that is to say, by preaching clearly the doctrine of the Church. So many souls are lost today because the Church has ceased to teach, cease to draw out her nets into society in order to draw them to the truth. The bark of Peter is taking on water more than fishes, and the ship seems to sink.

Yet we have the divine promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, in spite of the malice of men, and even of the sins of St. Peter himself which he confesses today before the Lord. But the Church will not continue without each of us doing his part. Each of us must pray for the salvation of his soul, and this salvation, through grace, comes through the ministers of Our Lord. Thus each of us must pray for priests, for the Bishops and for the Pope, for their sanctification which will be the assurance of our own, and so also the joy and astonishment of St. Peter will also be our own, seeing the working of grace unto that glory that will be ours forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Dear faithful,

This Sunday, the Sunday that follows the Feast of the Sacred Heart, is as it were the explanation of the mercy of God that is Incarnate in the Sacred Heart. Our Lord in His goodness explains to us the great mercy of God towards sinners, and on this Sunday opens to us the Heart of God, of what God desires for sinners, namely their conversion.

The sinners came to Jesus, says the Gospel: and the sinners and publicans came to hear to the words of Jesus. [Lk 15,1]. They came to hear the words of Jesus, that is to say that they were not busy with the things of this world, nor with their false doctrines, but they came to hear. They came to hear, perhaps firstly only from curiosity, perhaps looking for a cure, perhaps even because their friends had recommended that they go and hear Him. It is likely that they are the sort that might even receive the word of God with joy, but afterwards will be strangled by the cares of this world, or perhaps there are some who will persevere. But the important fact is that they draw near to Our Lord, as the Gospel states.

This event of Our Lord’s life is repeated throughout the history of the Church, even if in some details it is as different, as many differences as there are different souls. There are many people who may have heard of the Traditional Mass, who have perhaps a friend who invites them to see the Mass in Latin one Sunday, or who simply notice that some things in this world are just not like they should be. And so they come to Our Lord, they come to the Mass. They draw close to Our Lord.

And yet these people are very very far from perfection. The Gospel mentions two classes of men: the Publicans and sinners. The publicans were more than just theives. They were often traitors to their country, public sinners who not only committed sins but even whose profession was an occasion of many disorders, for they extorted money for the occupying power from their own countrymen. And yet even these souls can receive the grace to see Our Lord. And there were other sinners as well, sinners who perhaps have tasted the worst and long for the grace of rejecting their past and starting afresh.

And so we often have, dear faithful, coming to the Mass people who are very far from perfection, and indeed often understand very little of what the Mass is about. In fact the Gospel states that they came to hear Our Lord, it does not say that they understood HIm. There are souls that come to be cured, even if they do not know from what they suffer. In fact, every single one of us that attends this Mass are sinners, some more than others, just like everyone who goes to the doctor is sick in some way. Our Lord in this life is not so much a judge, but rather a doctor of souls. This is the time of mercy, the time of repentance, the time of searching for perfection if not yet obtaining it.

But unfortunately there are those who are scandalized. There are those who have not understood the mercy of Our Lord, and do not want to understand it. They are actually those who will refuse the mercy offered by Our Lord, and will even reject Our Lord and demand His crucifixion. These are the Pharisees. These are those who think themselves to be the model of all perfection, and yet they themselves, by their behavior, are the furthest from Our Lord. The Gospel does not say that the Pharisees hear Our Lord, but rather that they murmur, they speak against Him. In fact they only look for occasion to show their superiority to Him: This man receives sinners, and eats with them. They do not understand Our Lord, nor do they want to. They are only interested in showing some way that they are superior, that they are better than their neighbors, that they, unlike the others, keep the commandments.

These are the souls that will be quick to criticize every minor detail of their neighbors behavior, who think themselves somehow the police of the parish, who after Mass will measure the length of everyone’s chapel veil, who will be quick to inform you of the latest conspiracy theory and whatever else is wrong with the world. They hope that you will be impressed with their perfection, that they, unlike others, know something that you do not and that they for one, will not converse with you unless you show yourself up to their standard.

And yet Our Lord does not even despair of these malicious Pharisees. His mercy is so great that He even desires the salvation of these poor souls blinded by their own pride. It is especially for them that Our Lord gives us this parable, that they might be converted and think with the same mind of Our Lord, to judge not to condemn, but to save and to convert.

The sheep, of whom ninety-nine are safe, are the souls that are ignorant. They are often lead astray by bad example or by bad leaders. They are lost not so much by will but by weakness. And so the shepherd will go and search for it, he will go into the wilderness, namely the world, and seek it out. So also the true apostle, the soul truly zealous for the Church, will not be the soul that sits by himself at home to launch crusades on every internet forum to criticize and insult everyone he comes across. On the contrary, the zealous soul will go to his friends and neighbors, like the man in the gospel, and tell them to rejoice for what he has found: namely the grace of God, the grace of conversion. The truly zealous soul will be that soul who wants to share the wonders of the Mass with his friends and acquaintances, with his colleagues at work, to show them the joy of the grace of a good conscience. The Pharisee, on the other hand, according to the words of Our Lord, will seek rather to burden his neighbor, laying upon them troubles and cares that even he himself won’t lift with his finger.

The coin that is lost is the sinner who knows what he has done. The coin bears the image of the power which stamps it, like the soul which bears the image of God with understanding and free will. These souls know what they do, and voluntarily lose themselves to sin. They have spent their time and energy on things no worthy of their dignity, they have wasted that money which can buy them eternity, namely their knowledge and love. They have broken the ten commandments, for as St. James says that he who has violated one of them has violated them all [James 2,10] - the ten coins are not complete when the one is missing. And so the woman in the Gospel, namely the Church, will light the candle of doctrine to show these souls the error of their ways and sweep the house by the sacrament of confession, finding for these souls the grace of God of infinite price.

In both cases their is great joy in heaven, for by the grace of God these souls turn from evil and embrace the good. Though they are imperfect, though they have much to do in order to persevere in goodness, and even if their bad habits will take much time to eradicate, nonetheless, they have the grace of God and they have the chance to obtain eternal happiness. And thus in complete contradiction to the Pharisees and all the sectarians that follow in their footsteps, we too ought to rejoice at every soul that shows an interest in the truth. We ought to rejoice and help those who come to the Mass, though if they are in ignorance or even in sin.

True, there are times when Our Lord will have to clean the temple of those who would defile it. There are times when the scourge has to protect the innocent who might be corrupted or defiled, but those are times when His authority is questioned or HIs temple in danger, when it has become not a place of prayer and mercy but a den of thieves. Yet of these persons, these thieves, we do not read of their conversion. We do not read of their repentance, nor do we read of joy. As a matter of fact those that will be purged from the temple will be the Pharisees, who do not pray for the conversion of sinners but who barter and trade in the criticism of others. The time will come, as Our Lord says, when they will be judged in the same measure that they have judged others [Mt. 6].

And so my dear faithful, let us learn from these parables of Our Lord and especially by His example, of how best to win souls for the truth. We read in the gospel that Our Lord began “to do and to teach”, that is to say that He firstly taught by example and then by instruction. So we ought to be the first not to give a word of condemnation, but rather a word of encouragement, to lead and teach by our example more than by our criticisms. We ought to be able to say with St. Paul: be ye imitators of me like I am of Christ.

For most souls, my dear faithful, need more a light word of encouragement and instruction rather than condemnation. Most souls are like the Samaritan woman, who come to the well of grace that is the Mass. And how does Our Lord approach this woman, so far from the grace of God? He does not come to condemn her, but actually even makes Himself indebted to her: give me to drink [Jn. 4,7]. He who is the author of life and death, her judge on the last day, asks her for a drink. He asks for something, He contracts a debt, from a woman who in her own words the Jews would have nothing to do with. And Our Lord, seeing in her these words of humility, these words which testify of her lowly condition, offers her in exchange the living water of grace that will spring up into life everlasting.

And Our Lord will only gradually show her the difference between this earthly water, the earthly water of passions that can only satisfy for a moment, and the water of eternal life that will satisfy one for eternity. And perhaps not entirely understanding everything that He says, she wants what He offers.

And then, and only then, Our Lord mentions the great obstacle to this grace. Go and call thy husband. With some embarrassment and false shame she says that she has no husband. Yet with what delicacy does Our Lord make mention of the fact that she is so far from God! For what you say is true, that him whom thou hast last is not they husband. And we see the fruits of Our Lord’s delicacy, tact and patience. She makes her confession to Our Lord, and this confession of her faults turns her into an apostle, and apostle for the entire city which will receive Our Lord through her testimony.

So then, my dear faithful, let us then imitate Our Lord, especially in our dealings with others. There are many souls that are suffering in the slavery of sin and ignorance, and through some special grace they might have heard of Tradition, they might have heard of the Mass. And so they come, by the grace of Our Lord, to see and hear Our Lord through His Holy Church. They come maybe for the first time, and please dear God, let it not be for the last time. These souls are like children, young or perhaps even unborn to the faith - and woe to that man who would be a scandal to them, who would even block, paralyze and even destroy the grace that others have won for these souls. There will be much to be answered for on the day of judgement for those that would impede the return of the lost sheep to the fold, or who would rather keep the coin from being found.

And so, in obedience to Our Lady, Our Lady of Fatima who asked for the prayers for the conversion of sinners, let us pray for them and work for their conversion by imitating the mercy of Our Lord, that we might rejoice in the return of the lost and the finding of missing, a joy that even the heavens partake of, for ever and ever, Amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursday after the 2nd Sunday of Pentecost

Dear students, dear faithful,

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and likewise we commemorate a Polish blessed bishop and martyr: Bł. Bogumiła. In both of these saints we see many heroic virtues worthy of imitation. We see in their lives a model in keeping the commandments of God. Yet today, instead of concentrating on the lives of these saints, it would be also edifying to look exactly on the purpose of the commandments which God has given. us.

It seems rather odd, if you think about it, that so many of the commandments seem so negative: you shall not do this, you shall not do that. Seems all rather negative, rather boring. It would seem that since God is perfect, He wouldn't need to state everything in so negative a fashion. So it seems in so many things in life there are more things you shouldn't do than anything else.

Yet this is not true, and in fact it is quite the opposite. What we don't do, and what we shouldn't do, are actually more defining of who we are than anything else.

In fact, if you look at how a scientist begins a problem, he often begins his research by finding out what something isn't than talking about what it is. After all, if he knew what it was, he wouldn't need to study it. A scientist will often begin by eliminating certain things from his experiments. This is part and part of the scientific method: we eliminate those variables that change, so that we study only one thing at a time. For instance, like when we studied the effect of gravity we try to eliminate the difference in air resistance. We try to have both objects the same size and shape. We eliminate the different things that could influence our study in order to arrive at a basic truth of how gravity alone affects something falling. So a scientist will often spend a lot of time eliminating things, seeing what has no influence at all in order to arrive at the actual and precise cause of what he is observing.

The same is especially true with God. We can't see God, after all, and He is so perfect that we really don't have words to describe him. Even St. Peter, when he saw the glory of Our Lord on Mount Tabor, was at a loss of words, only saying "Lord, it is good for us to be here", and the gospel says "For he knew not what he said" [Mk 9,5], so overwhelmed he was with the vision. So when we study God, we don't really have words for Who He is, but rather for what He isn't: God is Im-mortal, Un-changing, in-finite and so on. We actually have to describe God by first finding out what He isn't.

The same is true in the moral life. The splendor and magnificence of what God has prepared for us is so great that St. Paul tells us: "That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him." [1 Cor 2,9]. It will be a life without end, without sadness, without suffering.  And the same can be said about the way to obtain eternal life. It is true that each of us knows in our hearts that we must seek good and avoid evil, yet the good we seek is infinite so it is difficult to express and describe in a positive fashion. So often, in the moral order, we look more about what we have to avoid. True, the ten commandments tell us to observe the Holy Days, but it will be often the observance of Holy Days that are outlined in a rather negative fashion: that we don't work on these days for example - this negative precept actually makes the Sunday different from all the other days when we do work.

Even in mundane things like going to school on the bus, or driving down a highway, often your path is defined by what you don't do: you don't get off at the first stop, but only on the second. You don't take this exit on the highway, but another you must take if you want to arrive at your destination. So in the moral life, in our search for perfection, it is sometimes very difficult to describe what perfection is like but much easier to know what it isn't.

We can see this in the example of the pagans who do not know God. They have a certain instinctive knowledge that God exists, that some higher power is ruling the universe that they ought to obey, but they really have no idea what God wants from them and so they give themselves over to all sorts of excesses. THe different superstitions and exaggerations which we see in the pagan religions are often because they really have no precepts - no commandments saying what they shouldn't do. They give themselves over to their passions and concupiscences with no restraint. A rational man however, is often characterized by the fact that he has the strength of will to say no to his lower passions.

It is exactly the absence of restraint that paralyzes and imprisons the poor soul that does not know how to say no. You have certainly seen people that think they are cool because they can break the rules, because they think they are somehow superior, because they are rebellious or whatever. But actually these people are slaves to their own passions and to others. It might seem fascinating at first, but actually their way of life is more and more limiting the further they continue on the bad path. They are slaves to the opinions of others, for they only do what they do so that others will somehow respect them. They do not have a personality but rather are completely governed by what others want them to do. On the contrary, the truly interesting people are often attractive for the simple fact that they don't do like others do.

What is more, the really interesting life is rather by following the commandments of God, not by disobeying them.

Just to take one example, you might wonder why it is that God tells us not to tell a lie. It seems rather so impractical - lying seems so easy and so much more efficient than telling the truth. AFter all, politicians lie everyday and they seem to have a lot of success. But actually, if you think about it, politicians are actually and most often the most unsuccessful of people, and it is because of their lies. No one believes what they say, and their promises are worse than empty air. You might think, for instance, that it is so much easier to lie and said you did your homework so you can be free and go out and play, but that one lie actually leads to less and less freedom. For the next day you have to tell another lie to hide the fact that you didn't do as you said, and then another lie to cover that one, and soon you even forget what you said. President Reagan was once asked how he had so quickly answers to the questions reporters asked him, for unlike other politicians he had very straight and simple answers to what was asked of him. He simply answered the reporter that the truth is so much easier to memorize. So it is in real life: lying might seem a shortcut to get what you want, but in fact it makes you a prisoner, leaving you nothing but an empty mind full of nonsense, and soon leads to the loss of everything for no one can be a friend of someone who has the habit of lying.

So my dear faithful and students, let us remember that the prohibitions that God gives to us are always for our good. The good God wants for us is so great that often we cannot understand it, and so God to help our weakness adapts His commandments that we can more easily follow them. Even if they seem negative to us, they are actually defining our course in life so we don't destroy ourselves. The same is true of your parents. They will often forbid you things that you think are so fantastic that you can't imagine why they wouldn't allow you to do it. And yet you have lived so little of your life, you have seen so little of this world that you really have no idea how harmful some things can be. Your baby brother for instance will want to touch the hot stove because it looks so interesting, and yet you can't let him do that or else he will lose the skin off his hands. He will also want to drink some cleaner or other poisonous liquid, not really knowing what it is except that it has a nice looking bottle. In the moral life there are likewise things no parent can allow their children to do, and the hurt that comes from being unsupervised is often much greater than just a burn - it can mean the loss of one's soul for eternity.

Yet life is not just negatives, this we know. There are so many things that we know to be good, but the problem is that we are often distracted by what looks good rather than what really is good. Nonetheless there are so many obviously good things to do that it really is a shame to waste one's time and energy trying out things that are doubtful and sinful. Especially remember that you will be often like whom you spend the most of your time with. If you have bad companions, you will end up being a bad person. You are, in the physical order, what you eat - if you eat bad food you will starve and maybe even die. So also we shouldn't fill our souls with stupidities and ugly things, but rather what is good, what is true, what is noble and what is truly giving us a glimpse of that infinite joy we will have in heaven.

So let us ask especially of that grace that will help us to realize what God wants for us, namely that we be happy for ever and ever. True, it is often difficult, often rather painful, but that is how life works. If you only learn that one lesson, of how life works, you will have learned everything. If however you have only learned how to be influenced by others and have them lead you by the nose throughout your life, then even with all the books and learning in the world, you will really have understood nothing. So pray that Our Lady might help us, show us like the Mother she is, the way to eternal happiness. Amen.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Dear faithful,

This Sunday follows the great feast of Corpus Christi, the feast which celebrates Our Lord preparing for us the banquet of His very own Flesh and Blood. Today, in the Gospel, we read likewise of Our Lord preparing another feast, the feast which is but a fulfillment of what the Blessed Sacrament promises and accomplishes in us, namely eternal life. Our Lord invites us to enjoy an eternal communion with Him in heaven. Our Lord, having ascended into heaven, has prepared for there a place for us: the feast is prepared, and he bids many to enter. Our Lord is the Lamb of God, the lamb sacrificed the evening before the Pasch, who gives His own body to be eaten that we might be saved from the avenging angel [Ex 12,22.] in the day of judgement.

In this feast which Our Lord invites us, there are three classes of men who cannot enjoy eternal life, or rather there are three who refuse to enter into the joy of Our Lord [Mt 25,34] and who will be rejected from paradise.

The first of them say to Our Lord: I have bought a piece of ground. These are those who are attached to the things of this earth. The piece of ground signifies government, possession, and all the pride that follows it. Notice that it does not signify need or necessity, for the invited one does not say that he must work the land, but rather that he must go and see it. Thus pride is the first vice reproved, just as the first man did not wish to have a master and was thrown out of paradise, so likewise the proud cannot enter into the eternal banquet of Our Lord. His excuse is to occupy himself with possessions, whereas Our Lord had already said that there is but one thing wanting: sell all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me [Luke 18,22].

And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them. The five yoke of oxen are firstly the five senses of the flesh, which yoke us to the sensible things of this world. By concupiscence the senses are not so much servants as masters of the carnal man, keeping his eyes fixed only upon the ground to earthly labors like oxen. Such men do not use their senses for that which God designed them, namely to pursue the good, the eternal good, but only for the fleeting pleasures of this life. They do not feed their senses on things that are beautiful or true, but only for the vanity of earthly pleasure. And thus these men do not excuse themselves from necessity, that they might feed their oxen, but rather that they may prove them, namely just for curiosity.

And lastly there are those whose curiosity has lead them so far that they become attached to sin. The affections of the soul have become bound to sin, or namely they have espoused the state of sin. Thus this man does not even ask to hold himself excused, but rather states: I cannot come. Just as he who was at banquet without the wedding garment [Mt 22,11] was thrown out of the kings wedding feast, so also the soul that has espoused sin cannot enter into the banquet of Our Lord.

These three classes of men cannot enter the banquet of Our Lord because they are those who have succumbed to the concupiscence of the eyes, concupiscence of the flesh and the pride of life. The pride of life, those who pride themselves on their property, who have bought a farm. The lust of the eyes, those who have trained their senses to only earthly things, who have yoked themselves like oxen to the earth. The lust of the flesh, the most binding of the concupiscences, are those who have joined themselves to the flesh, married to pleasure and not to the good.

These three classes of men are also excluded from the supper: the Gentiles, the Jews and the heretics. The Gentiles are those who are tied to the earth, like the pagans, knowing no god but the material things of this world. The Jews on the other hand received the law, and were yoked to the Mosaic precepts engraved on two tables of stone. These five yoked are the five books of Moses which put upon the people of Israel the burden of the law: a yoke which St. Peter said that none of them could bear [Acts 15,10]. A yoke that was carnal and earthly, materialistic. And lastly those who have had their affections swayed by the seductions of error and have abandoned the truth to marry themselves to error are those who have taken a wife that will not lead them to heaven.

And so the servant returns to the master informing him of these things, that these had refused to call to enter into his joy, the master becomes indignant and angry. When we say that God is angry of course we do not mean that God suffers or somehow changes because of the will of man, but rather when we speak of His anger we refer to that operation of punishing that is akin to that of a man in anger. None of these that were called will enter into His feast, so God has sworn in His anger.

Yet this refusal of the proud is curiously enough also a grace, a grace for those who were not invited at first. Just as the refusal of the Jews was the occasion for God to call the gentiles to the truth, so also the refusal of the proud and the important is the occasion to call the poor, the needy, the blind and the lame.

The poor are those detached from the things of this world. The feeble are those whose works are yet imperfect and yet the can gain strength by carrying the Cross. The blind are those who have not heard the truth, but once they receive it with joy, can enter into the feast. Because the proud refused to come, the poor are chosen. Those that confided in themselves, who thought themselves strong, are cast aside and the weak, or those that do not trust in themselves, are called in their stead. The wise of the flesh, the worldly and tried in the five senses and knowledge did not come, so the blind, those who mortify themselves of their senses, are chosen instead. Those who have married the life of sin could not come, and so God calls the free, those who have espoused the good life.

And notice that the master commands them to be brought it, and says that they should even be compelled. They should be compelled meaning that they will not come unless they are somehow forced. They are forced by the word of God. For who shall believe unless it is preached to them? [Rm 10,14]. The are moved by the persuasion of truth, for truth of its very nature moves us and pushes us to acceptance. Whereas lies make us slaves of iniquity, truth makes us servants of justice. [Rm 6,19] Truth is compelling because it excludes error, it excludes all other wayward opinions.

And the Lord of the household begs not only that the blind and lame and the poor be brought in, but even those in the highways and hedges. Those in the highways are far from the city of God, and those in the hedges are those who stand as it were between two camps. These two can be converted and brought to the Kingdom of Our Lord, the first by bringing them closer, the others by giving them the balm of mercy. And God wants Heaven to be filled. His house will be filled with many souls who will enjoy His feast for all eternity.

And yet the other three classes of whom we have already mentioned receive a terrible curse: that none of these men that were invited shall taste of my supper. They will be with those who are cast without, in the exterior where there will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth [Mt. 8,12].

Those that are without, that have no part in the joy of Our Lord, are nonetheless unhappy and jealous of the good that we have through grace. And this is why there is joined to the Gospel of today the lesson of St. John, that we should not wonder if the world hate us. The world, those that have no part with the banquet of Our Lord, and thus starving of their own will and own malice, will naturally hate those that enjoy the confidence of the master.

And so, my dear faithful, let us then take head of the warnings of Our Lord in this Gospel of today, that we not be counted amongst those who refuse to enter into His joy and His banquet. Let us follow the teaching of St. John, that we love one another, in that love which Our Lord shows us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where all eat of the same bread as we are all members of the One Mystical Body of Our Lord, who liveth and reigneth world without end, Amen.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Corpus Christi

Sermon for Corpus Christi 2010

Dear Faithful,

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the eve of the His Passion, Holy Thursday, said to His disciples whom He loved: “O how long have I desired to eat this pasch with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). So great was the desire of Our Lord to give Himself entirely for love of us. So great was this desire that Our Lord predicted, prefigured and even wrote history itself in order to teach us the greatness of this sacrament.

We read in the book of Genesis, of how God planted a tree in the garden of Paradise. In fact there were two trees especially created by God: one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the other the Tree of Life [Gn 2,9]. Adam and Eve, created in the state of grace, were destined to eat of this tree of life in order to preserve their immortality. The fruit of the Tree of Life was not forbidden, on the contrary it was necessary for them, as it gave them life and immunity from corruption. It was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that was forbidden, as it’s fruit led to the destruction of innocence and sin.

And alas, as we know, our first parents did not obey and instead of eating from that tree that was to give them life, they chose to believe the lies of the devil and lost their innocence. With their fall from grace they lost also their right to eat from the Tree of Life. The gates of paradise were closed, and mankind at enmity with God, subject to pain, suffering, sickness and death. God threw them out of paradise, that they should not eat of the tree of life lest they live forever [Gn 3,22].

And yet a promise was made, that there would be One who would come to restore this life once lost by sin. Our Lord, in the fullness of time, assumed our humanity and dwelt amongst us. And yet to restore this order that was lost by eating of the fruit of the tree, He Himself underwent suffering, pain and death, as they hung Him upon a tree. On the tree of the Cross Our Lord hang as a victim, and yet also as a teacher, showing us by example the true knowledge of love. Upon this tree Our Lord reestablishes friendship between mankind and God. Upon this tree Our Lord rules in His Kingdom, a Kingdom richer than paradise ever was. Upon this tree Our Lord offers Himself as victim, and it is from this tree that we are to eat if we are to receive eternal life.

And we read later in the book of Genesis, how the fruit of the tree would be given to us. The Patriarch Abraham would receive the visit of three guests under the shade of a tree [Gn 18,4]. These guests would speak of his son Isaac whom he would offer on that same mountain where Our Lord carried His Cross, the tree of life. Abraham had already made war against the people of Sodom and took all their substance away [Gn 14,11], and Melchisedech offered in thanksgiving for this victory a sacrifice. Being the King of Salem, that is the King of Peace, Melchisedech the priest of the most high God, brought forth bread and wine, and blessed Abraham. Our Lord, as a fruit of that victory over sin and death, offers for us upon this altar a sacrifice of His very own Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine.

And so my dear faithful, we honor today this great sacrament which is the fulfillment of all the promises of Our Lord. Our Lord is present in this sacrament: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, real and substantially present though hidden under these signs. These signs of bread and wine are at once a symbol of their power to nourish our souls. They are also a sign of God’s infinite love for us, who had used these signs throughout history to announce the coming of this one sacrifice renewed upon our altars.

Thus after the Mass we will adore this sacrament, as therein Our Lord, true God, dwells amongst us. Our Lord is there, present, as a source of light and grace for us all. Each and every holy communion we make, dear faithful, is an enormous fountain of grace and also a promise, a promise that if we eat of the tree of life we will live forever, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

Dear faithful,

We read in the very beginning of the book of Genesis of how God made mankind: And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness. [Gen 1,26]. Man was created in the image and likeness of God.

When we speak of something being the image of something else, it brings to mind a portrait or a painting. The artist will have before his mind a scenery or a person and will apply color to the canvas to make an image. An image should be a copy, or rather a translation of something from one medium to another. A picture of course is not a man, but it can be an image of a man. The picture is something completely different, vastly inferior to a human being, but nonetheless the picture can be an image of a person. An image can show us what a man looks like, but it is not a man. Thus when Holy Scripture says that man was created in the image of God, it means that man is somehow an imprint or has some sort of characteristics that reflect in some way what God is. Though of course a human being is completely different from God, just like a portrait is a completely different thing than a living person, nonetheless there is something similar, something that says to us that this image is an image of God, just like we can say that this statue above the altar is a statue of Our Lady - it is an image of Our Lady. Of course it isn’t the person of Our Lady, but it is an image, a sort of reflection, such that we can look at the statue and recognize the features of Our Lady.

Thus if man is an image of God, there is something in man that reflects who God is. When we look at a portrait, what forms the image and makes it reflect the characteristics of a person are the colors and lines which the artist imprints upon the canvas. So we see also in the book of Genesis the work of an artist: And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul. [Gen 2,7]. This living soul which God imprinted upon the clay is what makes man the image of God.

These considerations, my dear faithful, bring us to the contemplation of the mystery which we celebrate today, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. It is this feast that teaches us most profoundly Who God is: He is one God in Three Divine Persons. God is one, as there is only one divine nature, there is only one perfect being. We know that there can only be one God as if there were two, there would have to be something to distinguish them from each other. One of them would have to have something that the other did not, and thus would not be perfect from this lack. Thus thus there can only be one God. And yet God is in Three Divine Persons who are distinct: the Father is not the Son, and neither of them is the Holy Ghost.

Perhaps the best way to truly understand this mystery is to look upon the image of God which He created. Just like you can begin to know someone by a portrait that someone makes of them, so we can know something of God by that image which God made of Himself, namely the human soul.

A human soul belongs to one human being - just like there is only one Divine Nature, there is only one human being for each immortal soul. And yet the human soul, which is spiritual, is gifted with two powers, two spiritual powers that are what make it truly human: the power of reason, and the power of love. The power of reason makes the soul universal in the sense that we can know things, other things outside of us can enter our minds and we can grasp their nature and understand them. What is even more astonishing is that we can even know ourselves, come to some knowledge of who we are and of our own human nature. The power of language is exactly to express this interior knowledge that we have of ourselves to others. The power of love is that attractive force that pulls us towards the thing loved - we want to be united with it, we want good for it, we want to possess it. Whereas mankind has many other faculties and powers, these two are what makes him human, created in the image of God.

God is a spirit, and as God is spiritual God Himself also knows and loves yet in a manner infinitely greater than ourselves. God knows all things, and He also knows Himself in a perfect manner. God also expresses Himself, expresses this knowledge that He has of Himself but in a way that is infinitely greater than our poor language can do. Whereas we have to use many phrases and words to express our interior life and interior knowledge of ourself, God does so in one Unique Word: the Word of God. This Word is something distinct from the person Who expresses it - and yet expresses the exact nature of God. This Word is eternal like God is, and it is the same nature as God, and yet it is another Person. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This is the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Son of God.

And from the Father and the Son there is likewise an infinite love, an infinite attraction between them that is united by the fact that they share the very same nature. The good wished for each other is likewise that infinite and perfect Good, the Divine Nature. This love is however something distinct from the Father and the Son, as Our Lord announced that Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father. He is sent by the Father and the Son as from one principle, being Himself the substantial Love of God. This distinct Person is the Holy Ghost, the divine love of God proceeding from the Father and the Son.

What is most astonishing, and even more mysterious, my dear faithful, is that we read in the book of Genesis that God created man not only in His image, but also in His likeness. Likeness is much more than an image. A likeness is a comparison that presupposes something equal, a nature that is equivalent. For instance, one can say that your daughter is similar to your wife, or that your son is similar to your grandfather. You would not say however that a dog is similar to a cat. There is something of an equivalence of nature in a likeness, that what is like another must have something in common.

And God created man in His image and likeness. This likeness of God was infused in the soul of Adam from the very moment of his creation. It is this likeness that rendered Adam pleasing to God and also which entitled him to eternal life, that is to say to a life like to that of God. This likeness is what we call sanctifying grace, the grace that makes us children of God. It is this grace that renders us pleasing to God and even able to enjoy God for all eternity as St. John says: we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is. [1 Jn 3,2]. It is for this reason that we receive grace and are baptized, according to the command of Our Lord in the Gospel of today: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. [Mt 28,19]

This life of God, my dear faithful, this eternal happiness of God is what we were made for, as we were first created not only in His image but also His likeness. This likeness we can lose however by sin. Sin destroys this likeness of God in our souls and renders us impossible to be happy like God for eternity. Our Lord suffered His Passion and Sin in order to pay the price of the loss of this grace - as this likeness of God is so precious that the Son of God Himself must pay the price with His own life. There is truly only one evil in this world, dear faithful, and it is the infinite evil of sin, for by sin we lose the likeness of God Himself. In fact we lose God Himself as this likeness is nothing less than the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in our souls.

Our Lord said to us: If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him. [Jn 14,23]. The Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost whom they send into our hearts crying “Abba, Father” [Rm 8,15], dwell in us when we are in the state of grace. This mystery that we celebrate today, the infinite interior life of God, is something that it accessible to us my dear faithful, it even becomes a part of us if we obey the words of Our Lord.

And so, my dear faithful, with these considerations let us look always to that which is most precious, most important. The state of grace is in reality the only true reality, the only truly important thing in our lives. With the state of grace we have everything, even God Himself. Let us then do all in our power to keep this state of grace, and if we have the misfortune to lose it, to find it again as quickly as possible by a good confession. Let us keep always in our hearts and our minds, in our knowing and our loving, this presence of the Most Holy Trinity, that this presence might blossom on the day of our entry into eternity as a happiness without end, Amen.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Conference on the program "Great Books"

Dear Mr. the Director, dear fellow colleagues, dear listeners,

I would like to begin with a few observations concerning today’s problems in education. I think all of us here are convinced that there is a true problem in modern education, and one might even say a true crisis. Problems in a certain sense have always been, but the scope and magnitude of today’s problems are not so much material, not so much a question of difficulties but rather a crisis of identity. Today it is not so much a question of lack of means or money for education, but rather what does it mean to be an educated man.

Yet it is one thing to diagnose an illness, it is quite another to find a cure. We all, I think, are certain that the educational system is sick, mortally sick, and so our task should not be so much as to criticize as to provide help and remedy. However the remedy must be proportionate to the disease if it is to bring the patient back to health. What I would like to do in this short conference is to give a brief summary of an experience in America that one could characterize as a healthy reaction to the present crisis, and in many ways a help as it corresponds in a large measure to what might be called a classical education.

In a certain sense the present malady we see in Poland is actually quite late in comparison to the rest of the world. America, which has often been the vanguard for all that is modern, has also unfortunately been the experimental ground for all that is revolutionary. The current educational system now being imposed is following in large measure the educational system in America, and thus it is only natural that the same results follow: a lack of discipline, lack of authority, lack of standards, lack of demands on the children, lack of respect for the past, lack of any formation of character, lack of anything more elevated than simple pragmatic necessity - in brief, a lack of everything that we call civilization.

Yet there were certain academic voices in America, especially connected with Columbia University in the 1920’s and 1930’s, that saw as it were the future where education was heading. There were teachers and professors, especially in higher education, that already recognized the extreme dangers threatening the youth and their education. Amongst them was Prof. John Erskine, who in turn would influence such notable personalities as Mortimer Adler. The primary concern at that time was that education was becoming so specialized that universities were no longer forming human beings but rather parts of them, or that rather the system of education had forgotten what a human being was. It was a healthy reaction against what is called pragmatism today, a system propagated by such American educators as John Dewey which emphasized that all education had to have practical use, or to work properly, for it to be of value. It was the radical empiricism of such philosophers such as William James that in many ways signaled the death knell of true education. By concentrating all human worth on what worked or what was of practical application, it eliminated whole branches of knowledge by reducing them to a practical consensus of opinions of a pluralistic society. Gone was the search for truth, or rather truth was reduced to what was expedient or what was practical or what simply worked correctly. Of course such a philosophy never makes very clear what ‘working correctly’ implied, and completely ignored the fact that human beings are not so much machines for the state, but rather have immortal souls.

The great books program was a reaction against this empty philosophy by a return to what were deemed the primary sources of Western civilization. It aimed to return to what they called “the Western Liberal Arts Tradition”, and the essential component of the program is a profound study of primary texts which were called “the Great Books”. The curricula is formed upon a canon of texts considered more or less essential to a student’s education. There are at present several programs that are modeled on this Great Books movement, the selection of texts of course varies. I would nevertheless like to give you a list coming from Mortimer Adler’s book: How to Read a Book, which is considered as a classic introduction to this program. This list is typical of such a curriculum, and from it we can form a first assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, especially with reference to a Catholic school.

Since the program uses a list of texts, and not a syllabus, the students rely almost entirely on the primary sources. The emphasis is on open discussion guided by a professor or tutor. The students are expected to write essays and reports on what they have read, and this consists the large portion of their grade. The use of primary texts dictates an interdisciplinary approach, as most of the books in the so-called Western Canon do not really fall into a certain category or discipline. Even if books such as Plato’s Republic could be called philosophy, Plato himself therein speaks of music, of government, of virtue and countless other things such that he cannot be truly categorized but rather is himself the founder of a whole school of opinions.

This universal vision or personal understanding encompassing every subject is very much the end desired by the Great Books program. What is desired is not so much a great mathematician or a great historian, but rather something of the Renaissance man who has a universal knowledge of everything that is around him, or as the Roman playwright Terence once said: I am a man, I hold that nothing human is alien to me. An educated person, according to this conception, should have at least an elementary knowledge of every human science and art. One should know at least the core of what is called Western civilization. It would be rather the initiative of the student and his particular talents to excel in a certain domain, not the chief obligation of the school.

It might be added in passing that it is often the mark of an educated man is that he cannot really be categorized or labeled with an epithet. The labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ are actually quite modern and stem more from this philosophy of Pragmatism or more specifically from Hegel, with the idea of conflicting or contrary opinions somehow meeting together to form a practical consensus or synthetic truth. A truly educated man cannot be pigeon-hold into a category, rather he is inclined towards the objective truth which is a conformity with reality. He is not imprisoned or held to hold what is “practicable” or built upon the consent of others. We are far gone from the days where one could debate the relative merits or moral consequences of some legislation - instead everything has to fall into a category as being ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’, ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ with absolutely no regard as to whether it contributes to the common good or not. This is just a consequence of a lack of culture, or rather of a new anti-culture invading every aspect of public life, the fruit of today’s present system of education.

Although many schools modeled on the Great Books program have lectures concerning the works to be read, the primary method of instruction is rather through discussion. The professor is more of an arbiter of a debate upon a theme more than an actual lecturer in the modern sense. There is much to be criticized in this approach, which I will touch on later, but the general principle is the engagement of the student in all aspects of the text - that the text should be assimilated, understood, even questioned and criticized. The aim is not so much a memorization of opinions and details but rather to encourage the student to think.

The method is largely Socratic in the true sense: one starts rather with a series of questions, and the discussion is supposed to lead to some conclusion. A gifted professor will gradually lead the questioning until the students themselves come to the same opinion as Plato himself. For instance, the text of the Republic concerning the qualities necessary for government [q.v. Republic 473c-d], the professor will not begin with listing the various doctrines of Plato, but rather ask the students what the ideal president or governor would be. Gradually the questions would be talking about government in general, and lastly some sort of conclusion similar to that of Plato: that kings must be philosophers if they are to rule well. You can see that such a technique requires a great deal of preparation from the professor and can often just lead to random discussion without any real education at all - and this is one of the greatest weaknesses of such an approach. With a good professor it is truly ideal; with an ill-equipped teacher it is little less than empty discussion.

This is only a small outline of the Great Books program, and perhaps I would do best by giving some sources where you can find more about the program itself as well as several Universities and schools in America where this program is implemented. However, what I think most important is to highlight the strengths and weakness of this approach to classical education in a Catholic school.

Firstly, let us look at the strengths. The return to the sources, to primary texts, is absolutely Catholic in the truest sense - for it is to the sources that one will always find the clearest expression and the most authoritative voice. We must always return to the Holy Scriptures, the words of Our Lord and to the decisions of the Councils to constantly renew and reaffirm our faith. Likewise in human learning there is no better voice than those who are truly masters of their domain. Reading is in a certain way having a professor speak to us through the distance of time and space. Thus to read the works of Isaac Newton is to learn from him, though second hand. All the great theologians, of whom we must especially make mention St. Thomas Aquinas, always had enormous respect for the ancient authorities, and it was always deemed impious to differ from their opinion, and if one did so one never criticized one’s master. This Catholic spirit must be kept in all domains, not just in divine Tradition but even in what might be called human tradition. Regardless of whether one likes Shakespeare or not, his command of the English language demands respect and his mastery of the description of all facets of human nature and frailty is something eternal in that it is a faithful echo of reality and even of eternal beauty. That there should exist a “Canon of Western Civilization” is certain, from the simple fact that there are souls who are more gifted than others, who have worked in union with their talents to produce works of eternal worth that have stood the test of time.

However, as you can see from this list of books, there is much to criticize. This ‘Canon’ of works cannot be separated from the Magisterium of the Church in a Catholic school. It is nonsensical to try to form the intelligence of students with books that are patently false. Many of these books on this list are not only harmful, but even destructive of the very end of education itself. For instance, one can only imagine the confusion given to the students of placing on the same list the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and Bertrand Russell or Karl Marx. There is a huge difference between the influence that an author has and whether or not he speaks the truth. In placing them all on the same footing one only ends up with an intelligence that has read everything but understood absolutely nothing.

Like in the question of Sacred Scripture, we have Tradition as witness to what is the Canon of inspired works. Likewise, in the natural realm, there is a certain tradition - the works of authors that have been used in schools since time immemorial. For instance even for the teaching of Latin the orations of Cicero are always used as a model, Virgil is still studied, as well as Caesar and Ovid. They form as it were the backbone of what can be called the highpoint of Latin literature. Certainly other authors have merit, but when there is so little time to form a good style, one should stay with what is certain and true. The same could be said of each subject.

We can see in this list of books given by the Great Books program the Protestant influence of many of the initiators of the program - the entire selection is devoid of a guiding principle or magisterium. In a sense even these educators could not escape the true source of the problem - In reality the crisis in education really began with Protestantism which set the human reason independent from the objective truth. In this sense the list of “Great works” provided by this program must be heavily modified and even rejected as non-Catholic. Nonetheless, as said before, for each study there is a certain tradition that must be held and respected, and it is a question of simply being more selective - and not less - in the choice of great works, that they be great not just in name but in value. WIth some substantial modifications there could be drawn up a similar list of elementary works that are best echos of what we often call the philosophia perennis.

What is perhaps the most profitable however from this approach advocated by the Great Books program is building the core of the syllabus around these pillars of the past. There is something in the reading of Newton himself that you cannot get by simply having the facts laid out in an outline. For instance, you often read in a book of physics that we can take the movement of a large body such as the earth and treat it as the entire mass was concentrated in a single point. From this point you can describe its movement with a mathematical equation which then allows you to predict its future movement. In modern textbooks this is treated as an assumption, and no proof of it is given. Yet Isaac Newton did not take this as granted. He goes even at length to prove this assumption with an elegance that is as admirable as the result. He even says that any object’s movement follows the same trajectory as what we call its ‘center of mass’, an even more general result that can be applied to everything that moves. He then proves that any mutual force whose strength diminishes in the inverse ratio of the distance between the objects will move in an ellipse. Then there are the enormous tables of observations of the planets, literally hundreds, to show the reader that reality corresponds to this fact. All of this is completely missing in a modern manual, as the modern manual will only teach the equations and ignore entirely the reason why they work.

In this return to the great minds of the past we can see this why which is so important to education. Education is not simply the memorizing and using of formulas, it is fundamentally understanding why the universe is the way it is, and not otherwise. Unfortunately so many manuals are only content to give us a syllabus, a series of facts that one has to know in order to pass an exam. There is no sense of wonder, no sense of discovery or trying to find out why. To give another example, it is often stated that the earth goes around the sun, and yet there is no effort at all to prove that this is true. We only read that in ‘ignorant times’ people thought otherwise, but really, if you think about it, there is nothing so non-intuitive as the movement of the earth. The earth that we see and feel and live on doesn’t move - rather the sun and the stars move around us. It took many great minds to prove this, and not without reason - and yet we are supposed to take all this on faith, without question. In a certain sense we are even more ignorant than people of the past who at least followed their instinct and observations. Yet today the modern student is asked to accept this fact which is in a certain sense completely contrary to our own observations - for none of us have ever seen the earth move or rotate, it is rather deduced from other observations.

Thus classical education must never ignore the saying of Aristotle that knowledge comes from causes, that science is built upon the principle of causality. To truly know something is to know the cause of something, to know why it is. Sometimes the causes are historical, sometimes they are simply from human free will, but nonetheless everything has a cause. Education is boring and repetitive today because there is no attempt to give the reason why, only to memorize and do as the book says. In this aspect the original initiators of the Great Books program have much of value to say - and in reality they are only echoing the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle before him: scientia ex causis. The first thing a child will ask is not “what” but rather “why” - and a true education has to be able to answer his question.

Likewise the Socratic method is entirely traditional, and one might say even scholastic. St. Thomas himself does not begin the articles of his Summa Theologia with a series of facts, but rather with a series of questions and objections. The reason for this is that there can never be the desire to know unless there is first something to be found out. If you know the answer there is no need for a professor. It is the series of objections which provide the motor, as it were, for the mind to engage itself and to find the solution provided by the master. This method is absolutely vital and even necessary for a truly Catholic education, as education is not simple the parroting of phrases, but the assimilation of the truth and making it one’s own.

However there are two major extremes that must be avoided, to which the Great Books program is not immune. Firstly, the complete absence of a manual or fixed program. Simply giving a reading list is not really realistic in a school, especially a school that is very limited in the number of hours it can give for each subject. To simply give original texts and to read them through would really mean trying to relive the past few centuries of human knowledge in the space of a few years. There simply isn’t enough time to follow the entire arguments of Newton for example establishing the different ways that motion can be added and subtracted, especially since the theory of vectors has superseded these discoveries. Thus there does have to be some sort of summary and the student will simply have to believe the professor for much of the material that he is given. And actually, historically speaking the manuals were created exactly with the limits of time as being the primary concern - that the student assimilate as much as possible in the short time allotted for the subject. Thus no school can hope to fulfill its obligations without some sort of syllabus and outline of the material. Nonetheless there should be a constant and continual effort to refer to the past and to the reason why the facts given in the manual are what they are.

This first extreme, of working without a fixed syllabus, is actually very easily avoided in our system of education as there is already a certain minimal standard given by the state that we have to fulfill. Thus there will be basic manuals. What I would encourage however is the addition of material, to return to the sources of your subject and give the texts that prove and establish the assumptions given. For instance, in treating of electricity, to go back to the basic texts of Maxwell and see how his observations that electricity is not only positive but also negative, that electric force decreases over distance and so on. I would like to show you a sort of manual that is used in seminaries which best illustrate this idea: the Elements of Philosophy by Gardeil. You can see that the first part is the manual, the stuff the students have to know. Yet for each major point of the manual there is a reference to back of the book, where you will find the original text of St. Thomas Aquinas. One can also think of the old catechisms that would have questions and answers and the appendix reserved for the decrees of the Councils or citations from the Fathers. This sort of solution really does allow the best of both worlds: having a basic outline of the material and yet still a reference to the great texts, and what is more the gifted student will know where to look for some of the same.

Concerning the second danger of this program, we must say that the Socratic method is really only as good as Socrates. If the professor has the gift of being able to lead by questions, it is a very powerful tool. However most professors do not have this gift, and usually asking questions just leads to a chaotic discussion that is more of a distraction than learning anything. Also simply questioning can just put more doubts in the mind of the students that knowledge. Thus, the Socratic method is best used in the hands of Socrates, that is to say, in a professor with a depth and breadth of knowledge as strong as his desire to lead his students to the truth. Nonetheless nothing prevents oneself from a little healthy introspection from time to time. For instance, in the preparation of your courses, really ask yourself the question: how do I know this is true? For instance, a physics teacher will teach the theory of Einstein that the speed of light is constant in all frames of reference. How do I know that this is true? What is a student doesn’t believe me, could I prove it to him? You can be sure that it is true - in fact your little GPS device wouldn’t work if it wasn’t - but how does this little gadget work? You should be the first to ask yourself why, and if you can give the answer, let your students also ask why, or even challenge them by asking the question first. You will find that this classical method of questioning and answering, especially at the beginning of a lesson, is often very rewarding and will naturally engage the curiosity of the students. Instead of simply giving them facts and equations to memorize you will have them wanting to find out, wanting to discover, in short, wanting to learn.

Let me then bring to a short conclusion with a Catholic assessment of what one should call the “Great Books program”.

Firstly, the return to the sources is something absolutely essential to a classical education, and even to what one must call a Catholic education. There are, and there will always be, works of human genius that surpass others and which in a certain way codify the natural gifts of man. It should be the obligation of each teacher to be able to give to his students at least a sample of these great thinkers and a coherent list of works that are the best in the domain of study. A great thinker is not only someone who happens to discover a truth, but especially one who can effectively communicate it to others. Newton in large measure took from others, but his presentation, form and logic are what make his work a classic. There are similar in each domain. I would propose that a concrete exercise for you as participants is to at least draw up a list of those works that are absolutely essential to understanding one’s subject of competence. Not manuals, not syllabus, but source texts.

Secondly, that a truly classical education really can’t be satisfied with a simple reading of texts. There must be a search for causes, of the reason why things are the way they are. Even in literature there are causes: why does Shakespeare use such a word in such a context, what are its consequences for rhythm, alliteration, and all the other literary devices that make the dramas not only convincing but beautiful. A teacher should not, and cannot, be content with just giving information. The child wants to know why, and a school that cannot answer his question will have failed in its purpose.

For this reason our school does not apply the Great Books program, though it admires it, but rather attaches itself to the schema given by the great medieval thinkers of the seven liberal arts - the seven arts being the causes or answers to why things are the way they are. For this I can refer you to the brochure of our school which gives a small synopsis of this idea.

Thirdly, the fundamental reason why we know from our catechism: why we are here is to serve and love God and by this means enjoy eternal happiness. If there is one great problem with the Great Books program is that it does not have a unifying thread or purpose, so often its graduates will be highly intelligent but still be searching for something. They will be much like the pagan Greeks who knew almost everything about every subject and yet the most important questions were still a mystery. Yet a Catholic school has the enormous advantage, the infinite advantage, in that it already knows the end to be achieved. The model for the classical education is already incarnate in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the fruits have already been seen in the lives of the saints and the martyrs.

The true problems of education today fundamentally began in the 16th century with the advent of Protestantism, that separated men from the guiding light of the magisterium of the Church, and the consequent loss of discipline, of subjecting oneself to reality, is only a natural and inevitable consequence of this revolt against Tradition. Thus, in bringing back to the school the love of Tradition, of the wisdom of the ancients, of all that is eternally true and good and beautiful, we can be assured of transmitting the treasures of civilization to the next generation. It is only a matter of being consistent and especially asking the grace of God for persevance

For such graces you may be assured of my prayers, and happily will answer any questions that you might have.