I now have some time to look at Fr. Cantalamessa’s talks at the USCCB retreat, and came across this in the first talk:
The Cloud of Unknowing, at the beginning of his treatise on contemplation, gives to his readers an advice which is fundamental also for making a good retreat. In order to pierce the cloud of unknowing which exists above us, between us and God, we need to put first “a cloud of forgetting beneath us”, living aside for a time every problem, project or anxiety we may have at the moment. (Footnote to Chapter 5 of the Cloud of Unknowing)
I remember coming across The Cloud of Unknowing while in college, perhaps as a result of a course in religion. I loved it and its exhortations continue to speak to me.
Here’s a link to the whole work translated by Evelyn Underhill, an Anglo-Catholic who was an expert in Christian mysticism. Perhaps we can claim her and the Cloud of Unknowing as part of our patrimony in the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican Tradition.
Carl McOlman writes:
Nearly all Christian mystics maintain that an essential characteristic of Christian mysticism is participation in the Body of Christ, which is to say, in the Christian community of faith. In other words, to be a Christian mystic, it is as important to be a follower of Christ as it is to be a mystic. And to be a follower of Christ means to express spirituality in a communal way. The above statements annoy a lot of people. Sorry about that, but that’s how it rolls.
Community. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us. Recently a reader of this blog forwarded me an email from a friend of his who criticizes some of Evelyn Underhill’s ideas in her book Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. These two people, whom I’ll call “the reader” and “the friend,” were looking at a passage in Mysticism where Underhill describes two core mystical principles. I’ll post the complete email at the end of this post, but for now, here’s just the highlights.
Here are Underhill’s two principles, from Mysticism:
- While mysticism is an essential element in full human religion, it can never be the whole content of such religion. It requires to be embodied in some degree in history, dogma and institutions if it is to reach the sense-conditioned human mind.
- The antithesis between the religions of “authority” and of “spirit,” the “Church” and the “mystic,” is false. Each requires the other. (pages ix-x)
Underhill goes on to say:
The “exclusive” mystic, who condemns all outward forms and rejects the support of the religious complex, is an abnormality. He inevitably tends towards pantheism, and seldom exhibits in its richness the Unitive Life. It is the “inclusive” mystic, whose freedom and originality are fed but not hampered by the spiritual tradition within which he appears, who accepts the incarnational status of the human spirit, and can “find the inward in the outward as well as the inward in the inward,” who shows us in their fullness and beauty the life-giving possibilities of the soul transfigured in God.
What Evelyn Underhill is doing here is very simple: she is drawing a distinction between mysticism in a generic sense, and mysticism as specifically manifested within Christianity.
I was a do-it-myself Christian mystic in a sense during about a decade where I had a regular contemplative prayer discipline but no orthodox Christian community where I was prepared to sign on the dotted line that I believed any particular creed.
One one hand, I benefited greatly from the practise of entering that Cloud of Unknowing, and I believe God honors any honest searching for Him, regardless of the context, whether it’s in a big charismatic revival or through sitting still in a room, gently trying to stay aware of the present moment, the way I was doing. But the best and fastest spiritual growth came when I was anchored in a Christian community and learned how important it is to believe in order to understand rather than understand as a pre condition for believing.
Anyone else familiar with this book? With a similar contemplative practice?
[#20 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of January 13 – 19]
HIS week in English Catholic History, we begin to celebrate the Octave of Unity from January 18th to the 25th. The Octave was created by Fr Paul of Graymoor, an Episcopalian priest and religious who brought his entire Anglican religious community corporately into union with the Catholic Church.
Fr. Paul was born Lewis Wattson to the Rev Joseph Wattson and his wife, Mary on January 16th in Millington, Maryland. Rev Wattson was strongly influenced by the writings of John Henry Newman and the Oxford movement in the Anglican Church in England. He was dismissed from his Episcopalian seminary on suspicion of being a Jesuit spy. Nevertheless he went on to become the rector of a small parish in Maryland.
From 1882 to 1885, Lewis studied at the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary in New York.
in 1886, Lewis became an Episcopalian priest himself, serving as rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY until 1895.
In 1893, Fr Lewis conceived of a religious order he wished to found, inspired by the life of St Francis of Assisi, Italy. Opening his Bible at random, his eyes fell upon Romans 5:11: “And not only so, but we also joy in God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” Fr Lewis saw within the word “atonement” “At-one-ment”, and conceived the purpose of his order as bringing unity within the schism-troubled Church of God.
From 1895 to 1898, Fr Lewis joined and led a semi-monastic Episcopalian community of unmarried clergy in Omaha, Nebraska called the Associate Mission. During this period Fr Lewis corresponded with Sister Lurana White, discussing the possibilities of religious orders taking monastic vows within the Anglican Communion. Sister Lurana also went to visit the Anglican Sisters of Bethany in England to learn from their model. In 1898, Fr Lewis and Mother Lurana co-founded the Episcopalian Franciscan Friars and Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement in Garrison, New York. At this time, a common monastic practice, Fr Lewis took the religious name of Paul. They took possession of the Graymoor property in 1900.
Eight years later in 1908, Fr Paul created the Octave of Unity, a devotional intended to promote religious unity around the world.
On October 30th, 1909, Fr Paul and the Friars were accepted corporately into the Catholic Church as a community. In many ways this corporate reception foreshadowed the creation a century later of the Patrimonially English Ordinariates of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (November 4th, 2009) which would permit the incorporation of entire parishes with their priests into the Catholic Church.
Day 1, January 18th: The union of all Christians in the One True Faith and in the Church
Day 2, January 19th: The return of separated Eastern Christians to communion with the Holy See
Day 3, January 20th: The reconciliation of Anglicans with the Holy See
Day 4, January 21st: The reconciliation of European Protestants with the Holy See
Day 5, January 22nd: That American Christians become one in union with the Chair of Peter
Day 6, January 23rd: The restoration of lapsed Catholics to the sacramental life of the Church
Day 7, January 24th: That the Jewish people come into their inheritance in Jesus Christ
Day 8, January 25th: The missionary extension of Christ’s Kingdom throughout the World
The National Catholic Reporter has provided a link to all the talks the Preacher of the Papal Household Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa gave at the recent retreat he offered for American bishops at the invitation of Pope Francis.
Texts of the 11 talks delivered to the U.S. bishops who gathered for a week’s retreat at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago show a heavy emphasis on traditional themes, a robust defense of celibacy, a severe criticism of attachment to money and an endorsement of new lay movements as a replacement for declining numbers of clerics.
I hope to set aside some time to read these talks. Interestingly, I would say most of the Catholics I know personally have a great affection and respect for Fr. Cantalamessa. He is especially beloved among charismatic Catholics. Continue reading
Last Sunday, we had a visit from two young men who had attended publicly-funded Catholic schools. The one I spoke to at length said the effect of that education left him an atheist. But his interest in an ancient sport prompted him to do some reading and he discovered how many knights of old were deeply Christian. His reading and searching led him to discover the Traditional Latin Mass, and he is now a member of our local Priestly Society of St. Peter (FSSP) parish in Ottawa and very happy there.
He and his friend, however, had decided to visit other churches in the area and since someone had left a little leaflet in their apartment building about our Christmas season liturgies, they visited us and stayed for our Epiphany Dinner that followed our Mass and the Baptism of our youngest member, little Phoebe.
They were pleasantly surprised by our Mass and what a delight it was for us to meet these delightful young men who are eagerly growing in the Catholic faith, and who rediscovered it through traditional liturgy.
We also have some regular visitors who participate in our parish life but are active members of other parishes in Ottawa. We welcome them. They are our friends, part of our community and they support us.
In recent days, however, I have had some conversations with some people involved in Ordinariate life about those who tacitly support the Ordinariates, or the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society but tacit support is as far as it goes.
[#19 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of January 6 – 12]
HIS week in English Catholic History, we celebrate St. Benedict Biscop, whose feast day is January 12th.
St. Benedict was born in Northumbria to a noble family, and it is recorded he was a thane, or secular minister to King Oswiu for a time.
Good company breeds goodness in oneself, and Benedict decided to accompany St. Wilfrid (the Elder) to Rome as a companion at the age of 25. St. Bede the Venerable tells us that by the time the young Benedict left Rome for home, he was “full of fervour and enthusiasm for the good of the English Church.”
Twelve years later, he repeated the journey, this time to satisfy his habit of reading good books, which were more plentiful in Rome. On his way back from Rome, however, Benedict stopped at a monastery on the island of Lérins in France. There he remained for two years, taking monastic vows. Benedict returned to Rome thereafter, and was commissioned by Pope St. Vitalian to accompany Ss Theodore and Adrian (discussed in Issue # 3 of this series) to evangelise the English people. This mission commenced in AD 669.
Benedict was made the abbot of the monastery of Ss Peter and Paul at Canterbury, a role he remained in for two years. During this time, in keeping both with the intellectual Renaissance Ss Theodore and Adrian introduced in England, as well as his own proclivities, St Benedict created an excellent library for his monastery, stocked with both religious as well as the classical works of ancient literature.
In 674, St. Benedict was granted by King Ecgfrith the land he needed to build a monastery in his native Northumbria, naming it St. Peter’s. He went to the continent to recruit the masons he needed to build a splendid monastery in the pre-Romanesque style. His fifth and final journey to Rome in 679 was, again, to buy books – this time for his new monastery – as well as relics of saints to surround his community with the visible remains of that “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews, and privileges for his monastery from Pope Agatho.
Returning from this journey, Benedict also brought with him Abbot John of St. Martin’s Abbey in Rome. From John, the monks learned how to perform the Roman rubrics and how to read and write Latin in Roman script.
The monastery was a great success, providing the country with the tangible presence of holiness and an ascetic lifestyle for men who wished to pursue this austere mode of life in service to God. King Ecgfrith therefore asked St. Benedict to build a second monastery, which he did at Jarrow, most famous as the abode of the Venerable St. Bede himself, who provides us with so much valuable information about the English Church of this period. Bede actually knew St. Benedict Biscop himself and learned from him. It is from Bede’s pen that we receive almost all our information about his holy master. Jarrow was also the first monastery in the British Isles to be constructed in stone.
We read that Benedict suffered a long illness at the end of his life that left him bed-ridden for three years until his death in 690. Today relics of St. Benedict Biscop can be found in the cities of Thorney and Glastonbury. He is honored today as a patron of the English Benedictines, and of the fine arts which he spent so much care in bringing to England to civilise it. His primary contribution was in bringing the worship and level of culture and technology of the English Church into unity (or catholicity) with that of Rome and the rest of the continent, thereby strengthening both his island home and enriching greater Christendom.
No doubt some of you may have read Fr Z’s (former Lutheran priest) recent blog post regarding the Noveritis, traditionally chanted at Epiphany making known the key dates in the new church year.
Not to fear, Ordinariate Catholics! CCWatershed.org has the Ordinariate covered with its chant version in English. The pdf is linked here.
Come now, you musically gifted lovers of Tradition and Patrimony: Get your pastor’s permission and go for it! (The OF and Divine Worship permit a layman to sing it. I am unsure about the EF.)
Also, regarding the pdf above, (This was helpfully brought to my attention by Steven Rabanal) per Divine Worship: The Missal, which specifically provides for an hieratic English Noveritis, one must use “brethren” rather than “brothers and sisters”.
A Happy Christmas, and a Very Revealing Epiphany to all!