·

Eucharist & Culture (November/December 2019)

Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books

Art Review

SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

Sculpture marble
Collection, Église Saint Jean Baptiste
New York, New York

Bernard Camiré, SSS

 

This statue of Saint John the Baptist, very appropriately, greets worshipers and visitors as they enter the Blessed Sacrament Congregation’s Church of Saint Jean Baptiste in New York City. Details concerning the provenance of the sculpture are not available, but it is most certainly of Italian origin. The lack of information, however, does not diminish the rewarding experience of reflecting on its particular features.

The Baptist’s lithe frame and full, tousled hair speak of a man in his prime, while the rock-ground on which he stands reminds us that he made his appearance in the Judean desert by the edge of the River Jordan (Mt 3:1-6). His right arm is raised in a gesture of announcement that Israel’s Messiah has arrived (Lk 3:15, 16). The gesture may also be seen as one of beckoning to his contemporaries to turn to the Lord in repentance and receive its baptismal expression (Mk 1:4, 5).

John is clothed in camel’s hide (Mt 4:4), of which an interesting feature is a hanging portion of leg and hoof, as if to emphasize the dromedary-origin of John’s wear. His left arm and hand embrace a tall staff to which a small transverse branch is attached, thus forming a cross and therefore a symbol of his Master’s redemptive death, a death in which he would share as a martyr at the hands of Herod Antipas (Mt 14:10, 11). Hanging from the cross is a water flask, a necessity for sojourning in a wasteland. Also, the water-containing flask may be seen as pointing to John’s baptism of water that was in preparation for the One mightier than he who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11, 12).

Lastly, but not of insignificance, is the lamb seated behind the Baptist. Here is a standard symbol of the Lamb of God who, as John announces, “takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Here then, at the church’s entrance and in proximity to the baptismal font, we have a welcoming sculpture that speaks revealingly not only of the Lord’s precursor, but also of the redemptive grace celebrated and received therein. As we begin this Advent season, John the Baptist’s words and his striking image direct our attention once again to the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.


Poetry

Letter to Father Kolbe

Father Kolbe,
We met in the library
in Seattle.
I had not known of you.
Once long ago I’d picked up
the same book, but impatient and scornful,
put it back without looking at it.

That day, though,
I brought it home,
settled into an empty room,
and opened to the first page to read:
surprised by a sudden shock
of tenderness.
Your radiant life
filled my mind that day,
and when I took a break,
walked down the path, ran into Hiroshi,
visibly astonished when I gave him
an off-the-ground hug. . . .

You gave up math, science, invention,
or rather you gave it all to your way
of faith and all to Love;
you wanted to foster the good at all times
and then you continued your giving ways
in the death camp,
you gave all your love away,
no matter where you were;
easy or risking life and torture to love,
that love for you was the Real.

You insisted God was near to all in grace,
regardless of race or creed,
and we should try to make
our own will one with his.

You held them all close in the cruel,
suffering hell of Auschwitz;
gave your life for one you did not know;
uplifting all those dying with you,
even then you looked upward
with the eyes of love.

Mystical son, ever looking through the gates of love,
your light continues.

Joan Lerman

The Reminder:
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,”
recorded by pianist Dinu Lipatti

I became religious
about listening to every news item
on the radio,
and viewing them online.
I pushed a button in my vehicle,
and heard the most recent reports
of crimes, ugliness, and unimaginable derangement
as an everyday occurrence.

The airwaves,
the screens,
imported their data
into my consciousness.

Then suddenly one day
I heard it,
softly in the distance:

As a procession,
the hushed notes of the piano
took over with strength
from the depths of silence:
“Open the doors, the doors!” they called,
heralding the arrival of Truth, Love
Incarnate.

As if doing a double take within,
I thought,
Can it really be true?
Strength, all-mercy, something always known. . . .

But he has already entered here,
walking amongst us, sparking love’s reminders
into our consciousness,
taking our hands
into his hands.

The deep melodic lines of the bass tones
finally ring out their path,
while the intricate treble voices create fresh, new patterns,
turning themselves into homage
like flowers strewn before him,
onto the walkway
at his feet.

“Open all the windows,” ordered the Mother Superior
as the young nun Thérèse breathed her last breath.

Like then,
all is silent,
but I am filled
with holy reminders
of Love Incarnate.

The piano tones retain an echo of themselves,
like invisible traces
to nourish us
in the quiet, live air.
A breeze stirs gently.

We can only respond in thankfulness
as we receive and drink
of this strength, life, and hope.

Joan Lerman


Book Reviews

PRAISE GOD IN HIS HOLY PLACE:
PSALMS AND CANTICLES OF SCRIPTURE FOR EUCHARISTIC ADORATION

Bernard J. Camiré, SSS
Cleveland, Ohio: Emmanuel Publishing, 2019
viii, 210 pp., Donation

In the Introduction to his book, Bernard Camiré defines the criteria around which his book is written. They are the psalms as prayer and the “four ends of the sacrifice” from the spirituality of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

Father Camiré comments that the growing use of the liturgy of the hours, particularly among lay people, has fostered a greater familiarity with the psalms. He wrote this book to make the psalms and canticles more available in a user-friendly way in prayer and in Eucharistic adoration.

The second influence, as noted above, the “four ends” is drawn from the spirituality of Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868). For well over 60 years, Camiré has been a member of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, which was founded by Father Eymard, and he would have therefore been thoroughly imbued with the spirituality of Eymard. A key point of that spirituality was that Eucharistic prayer should flow from and be characterized by the movements in the Eucharistic celebration itself. Camiré’s four divisions of the psalms (praise, thanksgiving, petition, and atonement) are Eymard’s four divisions.

One could choose to do a whole period of prayer using just the “praise” psalms or the “thanksgiving” psalms, or one could divide one’s prayer time in four parts and dedicate each part to one of the four categories. It was Camiré’s intention, in putting this prayer aid together, to foster the use of the psalms in a reflective way during Eucharistic prayer. His divisions make this prayer form easier.

Camiré should be commended for using the Revised Grail Psalms translations. They are a much easier read.

Father Camiré has created a wonderful tool for those who find the psalms inspirational or who might want to delve into the psalms and see if they are helpful in Eucharistic prayer. I intend to introduce this prayer aid to the members of my parish who have expressed an interest in resurrecting Eucharistic adoration as part of our centennial year celebration. Copies of it could be left in a parish’s adoration chapel with a brief introduction on how the book can be used.

My only critique of the book, which could be remedied in a second edition, is that Father Camiré seems to presume of the reader a familiarity with Eymard’s “four ends” spirituality. A further explanation of this could be enhanced in the Introduction for those unfamiliar with this prayer orientation. Outside of that small point, I highly recommend this book to persons interested in enhancing their Eucharistic prayer with the psalms.

Patrick J. Riley, DMin
Book Review Editor, Emmanuel

 

THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST:
HOW A FORGOTTEN REALITY CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING WE SEE,
HOPE FOR, AND BELIEVE

Richard Rohr
New York, New York: Convergent, 2019
260 pp., $26.00

Years ago, a friend of mine had just seen a Woody Allen movie. I asked her how it was. She replied, “You know how he is. He hits a lot and misses a lot.” That’s my reaction to Richard Rohr’s latest book, although, in my opinion, he misses a lot more than he hits. He joins with theologians who reinterpret John 1:14 (“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”) as if the Word became every creature, including all of inanimate creation. He does not explain the rest of the verse, which refers to “a Father’s only son.” Nor does he refer to the Prologue’s insistence that the Baptist was not the One (Jn 1:8). Quite clearly John 1:14 refers to the Word becoming flesh in the individual Jesus, not the entire cosmos.

Throughout the book, Rohr mentions his pet black Labrador retriever as if she incarnated God. For him, the Divine Presence inhabits every living and every material thing. “The Christ Mystery” refers to the “indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it” (1-2). Rohr uses the term “Christ” as if it meant “the transcendent within of every ‘thing’ in the universe” (5, italics in original). It becomes for him another name for everything in its fullness. But, historically, the designation “Christ” refers to a reality quite different from what Rohr thinks. Unfortunately, his arbitrary definition deprives his theology of much needed depth.

Rohr claims, “I don’t want this to be a strictly ‘theological book’ . . . ,” and it’s not (7). It consists of a series of meditations designed to shock the reader into an awareness of the Divine Presence in creation. Normally, this exercise would take the form of a theology of grace, while perhaps also developing the sacramental principle, but Rohr wants it to qualify as a theology of incarnation (13). That way, we all can be what Jesus is, and his dog too!

Rohr claims that God loves things by becoming them (16). But doesn’t God love things by creating them? God allows all of creation to exist by participation in his very being. This is not new theology. Mystics have long been able to perceive God in a blade of grass without calling the grass the incarnation of God. The grass remains splendid in its own right as grace.

Rohr’s enthusiasm results in too many ambiguities, contradictions, and errors. For example, after rejoicing in the divine incarnation of his dog (37, 52, 160-161), he denies that technically “Jesus is God” (19). He also contends that the best thing about Mary was that she was not God (127). If he had considered Aquinas’ subtle but important distinctions in ST III, Qu. 16, he could have achieved a much more powerful theology of the presence of God.

Rohr exhibits a deep confidence in human experience. “Just learn to trust and draw forth your own deepest experience, and you will know the Christ all day every day — before and after you ever go to any kind of religious service” (53). Rohr writes as if humankind were never expelled from the Garden, as if its original goodness were never marred.

He thinks of love as completely natural and self-evident (70). He has forgotten Toni Morrison’s admonition that “wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, [and] stupid people love stupidly. . . .” At least some pedophiles really do feel that they are loving youngsters when they in fact abuse them. He refers to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” (71) and Paul Ricoeur’s “second naïveté” (244) without citing their works for the benefit of those who may want to search for the precise meanings of those terms.

Rohr makes the argument that reality is cruciform, and that, therefore, believers would do well to gaze at a crucifix, claiming that it is already an image of the resurrection (151, 155). While such an exercise can certainly benefit those who pray, inexplicably, he criticizes those who gaze at the Eucharist, a devotion that can produce profound results (136).

Another inconsistency involves René Girard, who criticizes sacrificial violence. While Rohr endorses Girard, he recommends the truth of myths, apparently forgetting that Girard produced a massive critique of myths as stories that consistently justify the sacrificial violence that Rohr so deplores (145, 171).

Rohr also considers the resurrection as a natural pattern of creation. It happens in the due course of nature. He thinks he can find clues in the recurring cycles of nature (169-170). Yet a mere four pages later, he claims that resurrection is as special as creation out of nothing — hardly a “natural” occurrence (174). Many other such difficulties arise in his text.

Readers would do much better to spend their time with Gerhardt Lohfink’s Is This All There Is? On Resurrection and Eternal Life (Liturgical Press, 2017), where he takes up the themes that Rohr has addressed. Lohfink clearly unfolds Scripture’s reverence for all creation and its relationship to the resurrection. He explains that, when John wrote that the Word became flesh, he consciously opposed thoughts about redemption as the liberation of a soul from a body (175). It has nothing to do with the incarnation of the universe. Lohfink further describes how matter, pets, and gardens become part of the new creation through a believer’s relationship with them (176). Perhaps most importantly, he advises that people not try to picture such unimaginable realities since they arise in a radically different context from this world (191).

Rather than trying to unravel the tangled web that Rohr has woven, readers will want to examine Lohfink’s book for a much more sober, consistent, and profound approach to the topic.

Gerald Bednar, PhD
Vice Rector and Professor of Systematic Theology
Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology
Cleveland, Ohio

 


About Various Authors