Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

22 February 2019

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is the first poem I have chosen to recite on my podcast.

It's the first Hopkins poem I remember hearing cited (in part), at the ordination of several transitional deacons. Auxiliary Bishop of Washington Gordon Bennett, S.J., the ordaining prelate, preached the last three lines of this swell sonnet: "For Christ plays in ten thousand places, / lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His / to the Father through the features of men's faces."

Drawing upon the philosophy of Blessed John Duns Scotus, Hopkins appreciated the haecceitas, or individuality ("this-ness") of created realities. Each one of those ten thousands slays in its own way, or indeed Christ slays through them. (I know it's "plays" and not "slays"; I just wanted to use the latter term while it's still in the Youthvocabulary.)

Somewhere I read about the bell-like quality of the following:

"Like each tucked string tells, each
>bell's /

In one of his sermons, Hopkins defines grace as "any action, activity, on God's part by which, in creating or after creating, he carries the creature to or towards the end of its being, which is its selfsacrifice to God and its salvation."

The preceding definition is found in the poem notes in Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works, one of the sources I shall cite frequently.

Here Hopkins echoes a saying of St. Catharine of Siena that appeals to modern ears: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."

Kingfishers and dragonflies can't help but be what they are, but we can. The same grace of God impels us all, but our cooperation with that grace is necessary and noble.

21 February 2019

Time for a Podcast

I started this blog some years ago as a place to inspire, inform, and entertain. Its name, "The Shipwrack-Harvest," is a reference from Gerard Manley Hopkins' ode "The Wreck of the Deutschland."

In the worst of this 1875 disaster, five nuns exiled for their Catholic faith started crying out for Christ to come quickly to their rescue, whether as transport-to-shore or death. Hopkins wondered whether the nuns' plea could serve as an intercession for souls to return to Christ.

is the shipwrack then a harvest, does tempest carry the grain for thee? 

Incidentally that's why this blog is spelled ship"wrAck" and not "wrEck." Maybe they spelled it that way years ago. We used to hear the phrase "to rack and to ruin," so maybe there's a connection.

This past week has witnessed articles concerning problems with Catholic priests' failures in chastity (sex only within marriage). The celibate vocation is for the Latin rite the typical condition to be ordained a priest. The celibate person (priest or not) witnesses to the primacy of everyone's relationship with God over spousal relations, however good and necessary they are to the Kingdom.

Hopkins had struggles with his creed, his family loyalties, his emotions--even, it seems, with his sexuality. His poems were sallies in a well-waged spiritual campaign.

In "The Shipwrack-Harvest Podcast," I wish to narrate these poetic forays so their sacredness and whimsy can "fling out broad [the] name" of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I hope you can join me.

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07 December 2018

Pride: “I Will Not Serve”

The deadliest of the deadly sins requires the most vital remedy: Christ the humble King is the antidote to the Pride of the lion. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Of course, there is the desire to avoid the fall before which pride goeth (cf. Prov 16:18)—a desire motivated by a healthy enough dose of pride...and prudence. 

Unhealthy pride registers as a pronounced preoccupation with self that makes us alternately disappointed or fascinated. Superiority and inferiority have their respective dangers. “What are other people saying or thinking about me?” is a heavily-traveled road. In order to drive on that road, we find ourselves exaggerating, or desiring to impress. Our knowledge, our talents, our resources become a tool for shaping perceptions rather than serving for service’ sake.

Our fair land seems forever embroiled in a conflict of some sort. Remarkable, though, is the drama of the angelic conflict of Lucifer and Michael, which didn’t really involve a sword. Rather, while Lucifer declared he would not serve, effectively making himself out to be God, Michael responded, “Who is like God?“—the meaning of his name. The truth was spoken, the untruthful angels had a great fall, and the rest is salvation history.

Subtle is the soul’s campaign to become the sole arbiter of good and evil. Before the first human sin was the first angelic sin: Lucifer’s refusal to worship as God desires. “I will not serve!” was his anthem. Note that, while the angelic will and intellect are so supreme as to manifest in a single act of choosing and knowing, we humans thankfully move about from one act to another, giving us the very possibility of repentance.

The 1992 Supreme Court decision “Planned Parenthood v. Casey” astoundingly declared, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.“ Come again? 

How this decision disastrously unfurls: I recently read that 45% of all 2011 U.S. pregnancies were unintended. That information came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Human life, a disease! The Catholic Church still doggedly claims that reproductive “freedom” (aka contraception) is not the answer to the irresponsibility and violence that mostly men perpetuate: we have to dig deeper.

The preceding reflections on the capital sins did not observe the order that Bishop Barron rightly employed in his talks. Take the initials of my reverse movement, and you have the acronym PALE GAS: Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice, and Sloth. Like a pale gas, any of these sinful trends can begin to characterize our attitudes and behaviors, and finally suffocate us. Through the “breathing treatment” of repentance, however, a new air can inhabit our souls.

06 December 2018

Avarice: Private Exceptions, Common Good

Contrary to the antagonizing protagonist of the movie “Wall Street,” greed, also known as Avarice, is not good. Among the capital sins it may not be the worst, but the immoderate or unreasonable desire for riches hampers our pursuit of the kingdom of God.

The Catholic Church is no foe of private property or the entrepreneurial spirit. She is the BFF of the common good and those who care about it more than their wealth. Such persons value stewardship over ownership, holding over grasping. They ask what they can do with what they have for their God and neighbor.
Pope Leo XIII, considered the father of Catholic social teaching, said, “Once the demands of necessity and propriety have been satisfied, the rest belongs to the poor.“ That statement serves as a scathing examination of conscience upon what we own and how we dispose of it.
Bishop Barron channels Saint Thomas Aquinas when he affirms the doctrine of creation as the basis for the Church’s teaching on the use of material wealth. God made the world and everything in it. Everything we have comes from God and is best directed God-ward. Say what you will about Rush Limbaugh, but I’ve always admired his slogan, “Talent on loan from God“ because, whether or not you think he has any talent, if he does, it is. Likewise for the rest of us.
Avarice, therefore, definitely deals with nonmaterial entities; in such cases it is especially related to envy because it is motivated by the fear of inadequacy. Who says you’re not enough? Our fundamental insecurity is one not-to-be-overlooked aspect of original sin; it plays out in all of the deadly sins.
Francis Cardinal George, former Archbishop of Chicago, once spoke to a gathering of prominent donors in his archdiocese. He said to them, “The poor need you to draw them out of poverty; and you need the poor to keep you out of hell.“ Consider also the Lord Jesus’ famous dictum, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mt 26:11). The materially and spiritually poor, if you are open to them, will appear throughout your life in different disguises as aids to your salvation.
The poor in spirit seek out persons and situations that bring them closer to God and virtue. Saint Augustine described the sinful human condition as “curvatus in se” (bent in upon oneself). Nowhere is that condition more evident than in the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32): by demanding his father‘s inheritance, he effectively treated him as if he were already dead. Perhaps, when that son returned home, he began to look beyond himself, and find something of heaven.