Universalis, About this blog

Friday, January 29, 2016

What do we know?

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’... (Mark 4:26-34)

How much do we really know about anything? It does seem likely that we know less than we think we know, and if we think we've plumbed all the depths on the subject, it's probably because we have simply stopped short of going deeper or further. But who has the time, patience and capacity to go all the way down to the limits of one subject, or several, much less all possible subjects? I've a PhD and I haven't gone all the way down my topics, and certainly not all other topics of interest. If I lived to be a thousand, there'd still be too much for me to cover. I think this is the first step to being wise: I don't know as much as I think I know. In academic circles, we realize by experience that, the more we learn, the less we seem to know relative to everything there is to know. That "everything" doesn't even begin to cover God, and appreciating that is one aspect of "the fear of the Lord", I think. It was never about terror, of course, but about appreciation, grounded in reality.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Venerating the saints: what it means for the venerator

It came to mind after having started to pray this novena I found via the app, Laudate: as the prayer proceeded, the virtues of the saint interspersed with my petitions for assistance, and then it hit me: I sure wish I was virtuous in the same way myself.

It's a novena to Saint Joseph, and it starts "Saint Joseph, you are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you." -- Do I likewise protect those who love me, like my family? "I have special confidence in you." Do I inspire such confidence? "You are powerful with God" -- am I a just man, righteous and therefore whose prayers are indeed powerful? ".. and will never abandon your faithful servants." Have I never abandoned my family? How many opportunities to spend time with or give assistance to them have I rejected or neglected? "By the love you have for Jesus and Mary.." How much have I loved Jesus or Mary by my actions?

And so on it went, making me realize that there is this aspect to prayer where what we say or express is actually addressing us as we pray. I think it was Saint Paul who wrote that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can lead us to that deeply intimate level of prayer, where the groans in our soul are too profound for wordsmithing (by my paraphrasing). This same Spirit teaches us even as we pray through the words of the prayers themselves, addressing us with the words we use, or, in the flesh, addressing us with the lives of the saints we follow.

And so I stumble into one reason why the treasury of prayers in the Church are invaluable rather than useless.  The saints must have known this for centuries, and so came up with monastic and similar rules that revolved around prayer. A pity we no longer emphasize such prayers in even Catholic schools. These troves of intimate prayer have rather been labelled rote, with a subtle or direct emphasis on crafting one's own prayers spontaneously.

I think it's the Catholic both/and principle that makes sense of this. We need these traditional prayers because they are instructive, alongside intimate quiet prayer alone with God in our own words or without any words at all. The words of the prayer are like vehicles in which the concepts are delivered. Once in, it's in, and the Spirit can nurture that into fruitfulness.

Let's bring back those prayers in schools: the Rosary, the Angelus, prayers to particular saints, and novenas. Bring them back and let them work wonders.

Monday, January 18, 2016

New routine needed

'New wine, fresh skins!' (Mark 2:18-22)

Recently, I fell into the bad habit of staying up really late to enjoy streaming video. It was a free one month so I'd been indulging while it lasted. Unfortunately, it comes with other costs, such as sleep, and the toll from lack of sleep. Trying to stop myself once I get started after midnight has been incredibly difficult. It's one of those habits so hard to break because it falls into a routine which, once I start with Step 1, I can't step off easily. It's that first step, I think. I need a completely new routine (at night). I think it's the same principle in the new life, a distinctly different life, of a Christian, as against a non-believer.  They can't resemble each other too much because the routines of the old life will.. remain entrenched in the old life. It's just how it is.