Tuesday, August 11, 2009

St. Clare and SLJ: "..do you believe in cooks?"

I did not post on Saturday, wishing to keep a kind of silence during our novena. But today, the feast of St. Clare, I was inspired to see what if anything Fr. Jaki had to say about her - and I was surprised, as you shall be also. The quote is in an unusual place, and also supplies the hearty humour for my missing Saturday post... but first I must mention yesterday's feast, the feast of the deacon St. Lawrence. As you may recall he laughed and joked as he was being grilled, but I wish to give you something even more serious, which will give the cross-links we have come to expect in our study. Jaki recalls
a remark of the Saint of Assisi as to what he would do were he to meet Saint Lawrence and a priest at the same time: "I would first kiss the hand of the priest and say: Forgive me, Saint Lawrence, but the hands of the priest touch the body of our Lord each day!"
[SLJ The Theology of Priestly Celibacy 186]
As you will expect from our scholarly master, the quote bears a footnote. I try to avoid too much of the distraction of footnotes here, but this time the note has some substance beyond the bibliographic citation:
5. Saint Francis could, of course, extol the dignity of the priesthood in distinctly theological terms as well. The occasion was the long letter he addressed to the General Chapter of the Order, gathered on Pentecost 1226. There, in turning to the priests of the Order, he referred to the veneration due to the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the hands of St. John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, and to the tomb in which Jesus laid, and drew the following lesson: "How worthy, virtuous, and holy ought to be he, who touches with his fingers, receives in his mouth and in his heart, and administers to others, Christ, no longer mortal, but eternally triumphant and glorious!" Quoted from O. Englebert, St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography (1965; Ann Arbor, Ml: Servant Books, 1979), p. 263. Equally important, by showing fun respect towards priests of ill-repute, Francis rebuffed heretics who claimed that the unworthiness of a priest voids his sacramental powers. See M. E. Habig (ed.), St. Fancis of Assisi. Writings and Early Biographies (4th rev. ed.; Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, l983), pp. 1605-06.
Now that I have mentioned St. Francis of Assisi, I can easily mention St. Clare - rather, I can quote Jaki's mention of her. It is a bit long, but it countains a great piece of humour, and is well worth your study - indeed, your contemplation, for it touches deeply to the heart of science.
In view of the threats, mental and moral, that envelop man’s understanding of his true relation to the universe, a recourse to everyday reasoning about its true provenance may have more merit than one would dare to assume. I mean such rebuttals of unbelief that may not stand up in the courts of logic-chopping but reveal an unerring grasp of some basic logic. One such rebuttal I witnessed when in late September 1947 I was on a train on my way to a town near the Hungarian-Austrian border. My preoccupations about my eventual crossing that border through fields loaded with mines were momentarily dissipated when a fellow traveler, a newly blossomed Communist, needled me (traveling in cassock) with objections to the existence of God. A gracious woman in the same compartment chimed in on seeing the ineffectiveness of my replies. "Why don’t you ask him," she turned to me, "whether he has ever seen boots that made themselves?" Another rebuttal of the same sort took place some time ago in this University. [Oxford] The president of one of the colleges was having an evening discussion with one of the undergraduates about theological matters. At the end of the discussion the student said, "Well, I am sorry, Sir, but I still don’t believe in God and as it is dinner time I must now go to my dinner." As he rose, the president said to him, "I hope you enjoy your dinner - by the way, do you believe in cooks?"

To speak of cooks and cosmology in the same breath is far less incongruous than it may appear. Modern scientific cosmology has in fact discovered in the early stages of the universe a situation that may be best compared to a cosmic soup into which a very specific number of ingredients were placed with utmost attention to their respective proportions. That cosmic soup is indeed of such great refinement as to provide sustenance to the immense chain of living forms. They all rise and perish. This picture of universal death, often going together with an apparently senseless waste of life, appeared to Darwin as irreconcilable with the reality of a Creator. In his case too, the argument was a cover-up for an earlier loss of faith, a process in which concern for suffering had no part. At any rate, human suffering seems to be the only serious argument against God’s existence. Yet all that suffering, insofar as it is a purely physical process, takes place in terms of laws that also govern the entire universe. Those laws are a powerful beacon in a mental landscape which, whatever its dark areas, is lit up by not a few beacons. They all reinforce one another and give enormous justification to that trust in the Creator which is more than an intellectual recognition of His existence. This is why a deep and broad resonance is found in most human hearts and minds to the chorale in Bach’s St Matthew Passion:
Commit your way,
And whatever troubles your heart,
to the trustiest care
of Him who controls the skies;
He who gives clouds, air, and winds
their paths, courses, and tracks
He will also find ways
where your feet can safely pass.
The cult that inspired that chorale reaches to points where, if taken for a mere esthetic item, it can be of no use. Such points are those of excruciating pain, of disasters, and last but not least of the approaching moment of one’s death. In itself a most esthetic description of that moment is a favorite saying of Francis of Assisi that one should await the last hour as if an invisible sister were to come to close one’s eyes. Had Francis been a mere esthete, however extraordinary, he could not have inspired followers such as Clare, who said as she died: "Blessed be Thou, Lord, who has created me." Of course, both Francis and Claire took their inspiration from a cult of which the daily recitation of the Psalms was an integral part. They both, along with countless others, repeated at least once a week the Psalmist’s words: "I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation."
[SLJ God and the Cosmologists 227-9]
P.S. I wanted to quote Chesterton on Clare, but it would take us far afield for today. However, if you have GKC's St. Francis of Assisi please read the portion in chapter 7 "The Three Orders" where St. Clare is compared to Juliet (CW2:99] and you will be even more surprised.

1 comment:

Sarsfield said...

SLJ at his best. The mix of history, cosmology, theology and devotion that no one else can match. Thanks for a great post.