Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

I keep this older posting at the head of my blog, outlining the viewpoint of all that follows. The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books) is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • Isaiah commentary; Brevard S. Childs
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Fifteen Plays; by William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Pride and Prejudice; by Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations; Charles Dickens
  • The Golden Bowl; by Henry James
  • Brideshead Revisited; Evelyn Waugh
  • A Burnt Out Case; by Graham Greene
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • August 1914;  Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn
  • God or Nothing; Robert Cardinal Sarah
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • Splendor of Truth; Saint John Paul II
  • Kids Book of Saints; by Amy Welborn
  • Enchiridion Symbolorum; Denzinger
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

My booklist starts with Scripture, centered in the Psalms, and continues its intertwining of history, poetic literature, and philosophy broadly considered up to contemporary times. Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City  in my case) and our encouragement of increasing use of the Liturgy of the Hours. I also participate, as a matter of hospitality, in the RCIA program at St Ambrose.  Riders also try to form connections outside the Catholic Church (in my case, with St John’s Anglican, to which my wife belongs).


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose head steward is the bishop of Rome. After addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can ‘check one’s answers’ — the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

Back to my booklist, the core is: The Bible, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Liturgy of the Hours and I think of the books as being in, and for me more or less defining, three categories:

  • History
    • Bible
    • Liturgy of the Hours
    • Kids Book of Saints
    • Enchiridion Symbolorum
  • Literature
    • Divine Comedy
    • Shakespeare’s plays
    • John Donne
    • Pride and Prejudice
    • Great Expectations
    • The Golden Bowl
    • Brideshead Revisited
    • A Burnt Out Case
    • Robert Frost
    • August 1914
  • Philosophy
    • Isaiah commentary
    • Augustine’s Confessions
    • God or Nothing
    • Jesus of Nazareth
    • Splendor of Truth
    • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

Yes, that’s not how the world looks at history or philosophy; however, the resurrection of Christ Jesus changes everything.

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Loyola Kids Book of Saints

The Loyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Welborn has 
biographies of the following Saints and Blessed.
I sort by the date of their going to be with God.

polycarp		  155
perpetua		  203
felicity		  203
christopher		  250
george			  303
blaise			  316
helena			  330
nicholas		  350
monica			  387
ambrose			  397
jerome			  420
augustine of hippo 	  430
simeon stylites 	  459
leo the great 	 	  461
patrick			  461
benedict		  547
gregory the great	  604
boniface 	 	  754
cyril			  869
methodius		  885
wenceslaus		  929
bernard of montjoux 	 1081
thomas becket 	 	 1170
hildegard of bingen 	 1179
dominic de guzman 	 1221
francis of assisi 	 1226
elizabeth of hungary 	 1231
anthony of padua 	 1231
thomas aquinas 	 	 1274
celestine v		 1296
catherine of siena 	 1380
joan of arc 	 	 1431
frances of rome 	 1440
fra angelico 	 	 1455
thomas more		 1535
juan diego		 1548
francis xavier		 1552
ignatius of loyola 	 1556
teresa of avila 	 1582
margaret clitherow 	 1586
john of the cross 	 1591
paul miki and companions 1597
francis solano 	 	 1610
camillus de lellis 	 1614
martin de porres 	 1639
isaaac jogues 	 	 1646
peter claver		 1654
vincent de paul 	 1660
kateri tekakwitha 	 1680
louis de monfort 	 1716
carmelites of compiegne  1794
elizabeth ann seton 	 1821
frederic ozanam 	 1853
john neumann 	 	 1860
bernadette soubirous 	 1879
john bosco 	 	 1888
joseph de veuster 	 1889
therese of lisieux 	 1897
francis xavier cabrini 	 1917
miguel pro 		 1927
maximilian kolbe 	 1941
titus brandsma 		 1942
edith stein		 1942
peter to rot	  	 1945
katherine drexel 	 1955
gianna beretta molla	 1962
maria nengapeta 	 1964
padre pio 		 1968
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On The Rich

G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, had this to say about the rich (of which group I, like most Americans, am a member I’m afraid):

I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest —if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this—that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.

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Philosophical Reflection

It is not irrelevant that, from the standpoint of Catholic teaching, philosophical reflection and enquiry are activities of crucial importance for human beings in every culture.  This puts Catholic teaching seriously at odds with the dominant culture of secularized modernity, for which philosophy is generally understood as just one more specialized form of academic activity, important perhaps for those whose interests incline them toward that sort of thing, but something that has little relevance to practical affairs, somethning that can be safely be ignored by the huge majority of humankind, that is in no way an indispensable part of an adequate education.  Yet it is the claim of the church that these attitudes toward philosophy themselves have philosophical presuppositions, presuppositions that, if left unarticulated and uncriticized, make it impossible to think purposefully and rigorously about those existential questions to which the acknowledgement of God’s self-revelation provides the only adequate response.. The tasks that confront Catholics in the face of this cultural challenge are both theological and philosophical.  For philosophical enquiry is needed “to clarify the relationship between truth and life, between event and doctrinal truth, and above all between trancendent truth and humanly comprehensible language.” So concludes the seventh and last chapter of the encyclical [Fides et Ratio: On the relationship between Faith and Reason]  — pp120-121 in Alasdair MacIntyre’s “God, Philosophy, Universities – A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition”

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August 1914

The first three paragraphs of Aleksandr Solzenitsyn’s novel, August 1914:

They left the village in the clear dawn light. As the sun rose the mountains were dazzling white with dark blue hollows, every indentation could be seen. amd they looked so close that a stranger might have thought them a two hours’ drive away.

The Caucasus loomed huge and elemental in a world of small manmade things. If all the people who had ever lived had opened their arms as wide as they could to carry all that they had ever made, or ever thought of making, and piled it up in swelling heaps, they could not have raised such an unbelievable mountain range.

The road from the village to the station kept the mountains continually before them as though those snowy expanses, those bare crags, those shadows hinting at invisible ravines were their destination. But from one half hour to the next, as the snow began to thaw on the lower slopes, the range seemed to part company with the earth, and its upper third hung suspended in the sky. It became shrouded in mist, so that there were no ribs or seams to show that these were mountains, and they saw instead what looked like a vast white cloud bank. This broke into fragments indistinguishable from real clouds. Then they too were washed away. The range disappeared as though it had been a celestial mirage, and wherever they looked they saw only grayish, heat-blanched sky. They drove on till noon and beyond, for more than fifty versts, without changing direction, until the grant mountains retreated as rounded foothills closed in–the Camel, the Bull, the bald Snake, and the wooded Iron Hill.

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Solzhenitsyn and Modern Literature

From a 1990 article, on Solzhenitsyn and Modern Literature:

In a narrower context, August 1914 in its new augmented form is simply a great historical novel, one of the great narratives of public and private life in the twentieth century. In its insistence on the importance of individuals and individuality in history, and on the conditioned and conditional but real freedom that individuals possess, it undermines the extremes of social determinism and post-moral, anarchistic individualism—the extremes of Marxism or Structuralism and of the radical, post-moral, “self-reliant” individualism promoted by Carlyle, Emerson, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, Norman Mailer, and other “imperial selves.” If Solzhenitsyn has helped give back to Russian readers their real history, obscured and lied about for so long by Communist propaganda, he has also given to Western readers something equally precious—an unforgettable example of the moral imagination at work, with the resources of, and in the light of, the Judeo-Christian tradition. In contrast to our avant-garde Establishment, Solzhenitsyn is no degenerate son, no “connoisseur of chaos.”

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Catholic Liturgy and Prayer

Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book ‘Prayer‘ gives a broad theological account of Christian prayer, particularly contemplative prayer.  However, it should be noted that the Liturgy of the Hours is at the foundation of Catholic prayer since priests and those in religious orders pray it daily. It’s important to keep this in mind when reading Batthasar’s book.

If one searchs this blog for ‘liturgy’, one will find various postings related to the Liturgy of the Hours, aka Divine Office, aka Breviary.  The full four volume edition is more useful than various abbridgements which often wind up distorting the basic nature of the Breviary. In my opinion, lay faithful should also resist the anxiety of the overly scrupulous and feel free to pick and choose from the full Liturgy of the Hours in their daily prayer. This will, in the long run for at least some people, be more useful that trying to do everything all at once, especially if one does not have supporting community praying the daily office.

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