Tertullian: ‘Then Art of Prayer’

St. Seraphim and the Bear

“[Prayer’s] only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.

All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.

What more need be said on this duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen.” — Tertullian (3rd century), from “On Prayer” (Chapter 29)

First Friday of Lent: Is Alligator a Fish?

As a Catholic with a Louisiana-Catholic grandmother, I could not resist posting this letter from the Archbishop of New Orleans from a few Lents back. If you want to read the hilarious comments from when it was first posted (and you aren’t afraid of The American Conservative), then check them out.

My favorites?
For the Monty Python fan:

“Now given that witches are made of wood and thus float, does that mean that alligators, being a species of fish and thus also float are witches? Or does it mean that alligators are made of wood?”

For the Byzantine:

“I’ve heard that both Catholic and Orthodox Lenten Fast laws classify beaver meat as a kind of fish, not that I’d every take advantage of that loophole.”

For the Bible geek:

“While I’m in total agreement with you concerning Abp Aymond’s apostolic authority, please remember that ancient Hebrew had no word for reptile. Ergo, just as the Hebrew words “brother” and “sister” actually mean cousin, auntie, BFF, and old lady from down the street when referring to the family of the Lord; in the same way “fish” in Hebrew actually refers not only to alligator, nutria, and capybara, but to crocodile, cayman, eel, and platypus as well.

As an alternative exegesis of John 21, it is entirely possible that the apostles were grilling alligator with a bit of platypus by the shore of Genesseret, but our Lord thought it was icky and changed it into tilapia when they weren’t looking.”

Seriously, this is one of the best comment threads I’ve come across in a long time. There’s even a Lenten recipe for bayou delicacy nutria. (Don’t even ask ….)

Holy Week: ‘Via Negativa’

Via Negativa
by R. S. THOMAS

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm.
We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

Holy Week: ‘At Calvary Near the Ancre’


At a Calvary Near the Ancre (For Good Friday)
by WILFRED OWEN (1917)

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

Feast of St. Benedict the African

Benedict the Moro, also known as Benedict the Black or Benedict the African, was born near Messina, Italy in 1526. He was the son of Christopher and Diana Manasseri, Africans who were taken to Italy as slaves and later became Christians. Benedict worked as a field hand until he reached the age of 18, when he was given his freedom. For the next 10 years, he earned his living as a day laborer, sharing his meager wages with the poor and devoting much of his leisure time to the care of the sick.

Although his race and his parents’ servitude made Benedict the object of frequent ridicule, he bore each humiliation with great dignity.  One day, the gentleness of Benedict’s replies to his tormentors attracted the attention of Jerome Lanzi, a young man who had withdrawn from the world to imitate the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  “You make fun of him now,” Jerome Lanzi said of those who were jeering at Benedict, “but I can tell you that ere long you will hear great things about him”.

Shortly after that incident, Benedict disposed of his few possessions and joined Jerome’s small group of hermits.  The solitaires, who originally lived in the hills near Messina, later moved to a new location outside Palermo. After Jerome died, Benedict reluctantly became the group’s superior, and the community prospered under his leadership. When Pope Pius IV directed all independent groups of hermits to become affiliated with established religious orders, Benedict entered the Order of the Friars Minor of the Observance. As a Franciscan lay brother, he worked for a number of years as a cook at the Friary of St. Mary of Jesus in Palermo, and it is said that food multiplied miraculously in his hands. Domestic duties, which gave Benedict many opportunities to perform small acts of charity, were well suited to his quiet personality.  In 1578, however, he was appointed guardian of the Palermo Friary. The illiterate lay brother did not welcome this recognition, but he was obliged, under obedience, to accept his new responsibilities and soon proved to be an ideal superior.

His reputation for sanctity spread throughout the country, and wherever he went, large groups of lay people and members of the clergy met him, kissed his hand, and obtained pieces of his habit. To avoid such attention, Benedict traveled at night whenever he could. When daytime journeys were unavoidable, he covered his face with his hood(ie). Benedict later became vicar of the convent and master of novices.  His ability to expound Sacred Scriptures impressed both priests and novices, and his intuitive understanding of complex theological questions astonished religious scholars. Benedict was said to have the power to read the mind of others, and because of his extraordinary compassion, people from every part of Italy sought his counsel. Benedict never abandoned the austere practices acquired during the days as a hermit.  Although he ate sparingly, he often said that it was proper, as a gesture of gratitude, to partake of foods given as alms. Toward the end of his life Benedict asked to be relieved of all his offices and was permitted to return to his work in the kitchen. He resumed his duties as cook, but his days were punctuated by audiences with poor men and women seeking alms, distinguished people seeking advice and prayers, and the sick who sought cures for their illness. At the age of 63, Benedict contracted a severe illness. He died at Palermo, at the very hour he had predicted, on April 4, 1589.–Adapted from information at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church

Holy Week: ‘The Ballad of Mary’s Son’

Remembering Trayvon Martin (Haraz N. Ghanbari, AP)
The Ballad of Mary’s Son
by LANGSTON HUGHES (1954)

It was in the Spring
The Passover had come.
There was feasting in the streets and joy.
But an awful thing
Happened in the Spring –
Men who knew not what they did
Killed Mary’s Boy.
He was Mary’s Son,
And the Son of God was He –
Sent to bring the whole world joy.
There were some who could not hear,
And some were filled with fear –
So they built a cross
For Mary’s Boy.