A Cautionary Tale
NB: I wrote this in 2022 thinking I would start a separate webpage for book reviews. Yeah, right.
It took me several months to finish this short book by Aram Saroyan, the son of the famous writer William Saroyan. A personal journal kept over the course of the final three weeks of his father's life, Last Rites overflows with painful memories like a tidal wave of self-analytic emotion, regret, and barely suppressed rage. Incredibly, Aram's dysfunctional (to my way of thinking) persistence in trying to be near his abusive father in his last days pays off. Despite the title, there are no sacramental rites performed, which was a disappointment. But a cautionary tale for anyone who tends to idolize talent, which I think we all do to some extent. A must-read for students of Saroyan, if only as a means of paying one's respects to this larger-than-life Armenian-American hero.
Okay so I'm not anywhere near Harvard (well maybe about ten miles or so), but believe it or not, since August I have been living in a darling Colonial just north of Boston. Boston has long been known as a haven for writers and freethinkers (Thoreau, Emerson, and one of my favorites--Louisa May Alcott), so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have decided to join a society of writers--namely, the Cape Cod Writers Center. My next book may not be set in Boston, but it will definitely be written here!
Many thanks to Kim at Bethany House for asking me to give a reading from IPGK to our young guests from Cristo Rey High School in Oklahoma City. (My first book reading! And I got lunch, too!)
Many thanks also to Makayla, Itzel, Mrs. Basse and Ms. Smith for letting me take their picture afterwards. I'm so glad I got to meet you all today!
I had just posted this clever caption under this up close and personal photo of Big Ben, the ginormous clock atop the tower in London that famously tolls every fifteen minutes with regal, penetrating tones. And out leaped the word "Domine" from an inscription just below the clock's white face. It leaped out at me because I see this word several times a day in my breviary and missal. ("Domine" means "God" in Latin.) In this instance, however, it's a prayer for Queen Victoria, evidently the reigning monarch when the iconic clock was constructed at Westminster in 1844. The inscription reads "Domine salvum fac Reginam nostram Victoriam Primum," -- "Lord, keep safe our queen Victoria the First."
The purpose of this post is not to save the queen, but to present a somewhat scholarly essay I wrote for The Wanderer newspaper six years ago. We are once again at the end of the liturgical year and about to embark on another. For pious Catholics, the beginning of the new year in the Church occurs on the first Sunday of Advent, about a month and a half before the secular version on January 1. While the New Year's Eve party crowd is waiting for the stroke of midnight so they can crack open another bottle of champagne, Catholics are celebrating the Octave of Christmas and/or the Feast of Mary, Mother of God and waiting for the Three Wise Men to complete their gift-laden journey to the Christ Child on the Feast of Epiphany. Ours is a vastly different and holier goal (and doesn't leave us with a hangover on January 2.) Like the face of an old-fashioned clock, our days and hours are numbered. Let us use them wisely—for the glory of God and for souls, because "You know not the hour nor the day." (Matt. 25:13)
The Sanctification of Time
by Julie Ash
The classic poem “If”, Rudyard Kipling’s optimistic ode to growing up, makes the unlikely promise that “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it—and which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!” While this frenzied definition of success may accurately depict modern life in ways Mr. Kipling couldn’t possibly have imagined, we Catholics must take a radically different approach to time management. We must order our days by the careful, prayerful use of the time that has been given to us. But how? Obviously, it is beyond the scope of this short essay to enumerate the myriad intersections of time and eternity in the Church. Fortunately, the book of Genesis offers us an important clue about how God regards time. In The Shabbat as Sanctuary in Time, Rabbi Abraham Heschel notes that the very first thing declared holy by God wasn’t a place or a person, but a day—the Sabbath. Clearly, time is holy; it is a precious gift from God that should not be wasted.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time: Chronos, or chronological time, and kairos, or the optimum time. Because God created and sanctified time to structure and order the life of man, we would be seriously remiss if we failed to accord to Him a certain portion of that time—a tithe of time. And not just any time, but the most acceptable time: the intersection of chronos and kairos.
For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
2 Cor. 6:2
Christ’s act of redemption is the center of history and eternally present in all times. We must, therefore, make its weekly (and even daily) commemoration the center of our lives, rather than social or business interests. But this is just the beginning. Once we have begun to sanctify our week through the proper observance of Sunday—attendance at Mass, spending time with family, and rest—we can begin the process of sanctifying the entire year, and even the hours of our daily life, in accordance with the sacred liturgy.
We are now at the beginning of a new liturgical year. At a homily given at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Abbey for the first Sunday in Advent, one of the monks offered the following reflection on time:
“Time has a center, and this is Christ: ‘When came the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman…’ (Gal. 4:4) … Thus the liturgical year springs from the Christian outlook on time. It is a yearly cycle, based radically upon a natural cycle, but entirely transformed and elevated by faith.”
Quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium from the Catechism, he went on to explain that
“In the course of the year . . . [the Church] unfolds the whole mystery of Christ. . . Thus recalling the mysteries of the redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present in every age; the faithful lay hold of them and are filled with saving grace.” (SC 102, no. 1163).
By reminding us of the treasures contained in the liturgical year, the Benedictines at Clear Creek are simply following in the footsteps of their renowned founder, Dom Prosper Guéranger. Writing of Advent in his monumental work, The Liturgical Year, Dom Guéranger encourages us to begin anew:
He repeats His visit of this year with an untiring tenderness; He has forgotten your past slights; He would ‘that all things be new.’ [Apoc. 21:5]. Make room for the divine Infant, for He desires to grow within your soul. The time of His coming is close at hand: let your heart, then, be on the watch; and lest you should slumber when He arrives, watch and pray, yea, sing. (Ch. 3, “Practice During Advent”)
Nevertheless, the sanctification of created time mandated by God and effected by His redeeming presence in history can only come to full fruition through our active union with the Church in liturgical prayer. Saint Paul exhorted us to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess. 5:17) What better time (kairos) to renew our prayer life than during the holy season of Advent?
Significantly, the Catechism devotes an entire section to the subject of prayer. Despite what we may have conditioned ourselves to believe, or been led to believe by our spiritually bankrupt culture, it is always possible to pray; prayer is a vital necessity; and prayer and Christian life are inseparable (CCC 2743-2745). In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal (CCC 1073). The Church has been blessed with a comprehensive, all-encompassing framework for prayer in the Divine Office. As Father John Hardon beautifully explained, “The Liturgy of the Hours is no merely human form of prayer. It is nothing less than Jesus Christ praying through us, and we through Him.”
Each year contains the entire Catholic cosmogony, from the penultimate drama of Holy Week down to the feast of the poor souls in Purgatory. Remarkably, each week also contains the highlights of the year in microcosm: we commemorate the Passion and Death of Our Lord on Fridays; Our Lady and all of her graces, virtues, and sufferings on Saturdays; and, of course, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sundays. Probing one step deeper, each hour’s recitation of the Divine Office contains within it complex polyvalent meanings, which provide an endless source for fruitful meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ and divine revelation.
The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the psalms into the age of the Church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated. Moreover, the reading from the Word of God at each Hour with the subsequent responses and readings from the Fathers and spiritual masters at certain Hours, reveal the deeper meanings of the mystery being celebrated, assist in understanding the psalms, and help one prepare for silent prayer. The lectio divina, where the Word of God is so read and meditated that it becomes prayer, is thus rooted in the liturgical celebration. (CCC 1177)
Because the Liturgy is thus imbued with multi-layered sacred meanings derived from the combination of divine paradigms and a vast array of historical religious artifacts, the Divine Office is not restricted to any particular language. Traditionally prayed in Latin prior to the Second Vatican Council—a practice retained by the Congregation of Solesmes of which Clear Creek Abbey is a part—it is not necessary to be a Latin scholar in order to derive great spiritual benefit from praying in this beautiful language. Mysteriously, the intention of offering one’s prayers united with the Church in the worship of God is much more important than actually understanding the words that are being said. God knows what you are saying, and why you are saying it. That is enough. Possibly, it is even better, because it allows us to focus on the intention of our actions—worshiping God as His Bride and interceding for mankind through the Body of Christ—more than the actual words themselves.
While remaining faithful to the duties of our state in life, the ancient prayers of the Church contained in the Mass and Divine Office (along with the private devotional prayers that flow from them, such as the Rosary), provide us with ample means to sanctify our days. For those with hectic schedules, even one Gloria, when said with devotion in union with the Church, is of inestimable value, traveling as it does into the past, the present and the future--in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Naturally, the spirit of the world is violently opposed to this exalted use of our temporal resources and will do everything in its power to distract, dissuade and deter us from our goal. But we must not surrender. If we conform to the spirit of the age, our faith will stagnate and may even die. We can no longer just “go with the flow”; we must exert heroic effort to reclaim liturgically-ordered time in our own lives through persevering in love (CCC 2742) and recognizing the perfect plan of God in the annual, weekly and daily cycle of prayer in the Church. As Dom Guéranger so poignantly wrote,
[P]rayer said in union with the Church is the light of the understanding, it is the fire of divine love for the heart. Prayer is man’s richest boon. It is his light, his nourishment, and his very life… Be wise, then, ye children of the Catholic Church, and obtain that largeness of heart which will make you pray the prayer of your mother. Come, and by your share in it fill up that harmony which is so sweet to the ear of God.
May all of us respond with open hearts to Dom Guéranger’s excellent advice, advancing along the pathways of love through the sanctification of time.
 It is the laudable custom at Clear Creek Abbey, for the sake of humility, not to personally identify the work of individual monks.
 The Liturgical Year, Preface.
Trigger Warning: fetal tissue research
So I was "this close" to publishing the hardcover of my Catholic novel a couple of weeks ago when an unexpected typo glitch turned up at the last moment and threw me for a loop. Total, complete brick-wall burnout. Sick to death of the whole thing. Wanted to burn it and never look at the shiny, expensive cover ever again. In desperation, I asked for prayers from many sources, but ten days went by and I still couldn't bring myself to work on it despite looming deadlines for printing and delivery before Christmas.
Then yesterday I thought of something. Several chapters are set in Pittsburgh, a city I lived in and grew to love many years ago. In the novel, I laud the resiliency of its people after the downturn in the economy following the energy crisis in the 70s and the closure of nearly all of its steel mills. As one example, I wrote about how the towering U.S. Steel Building downtown was renamed the UPMC Building when that institution took it over from the failing steel industry. UPMC--as in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. And all of a sudden I realized that my prolife novel as currently written would give positive attention to the institution that, I just learned, claims it wants to become the "tissue hub" of fetal tissue research. (Trigger warning: Grisly details contained in this factual article from a Harrisburg, PA news site. Horrifying topic to be sure, but I am greatly encouraged by the large numbers in the young pro-life crowd protesting at the state capitol in August.)
Basically, according to the above-linked article, abortions are routinely performed at UPMC, and the dying fetus is immediately shuttled to the research department, enabling them to have access to organs that are "fresh, not frozen." As in the heart was still pumping, trying to keep the little one alive. They admit as much in their grant applications to the National Institutes of Health. (Yes, dear taxpayer. Your coins to Caesar are fueling this Frankenstein-ish assembly line. Or what should more properly be called a "disassembly" line.)
I can attest from personal experience that there are many excellent doctors, nurses, and staff in the UPMC hospital system. I don't want to condemn them or their healing work. But the freakish fetal research going on at Pitt has to stop. As wonderful as her people are, the city of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh/UPMC need our fervent prayers to combat this reprehensible, ghoulish abuse of the unborn.
So my novel is getting a footnote to my "isn't Pittsburgh wonderful" chapter. Maybe then Our Lord will give it the green light, and I can get on with publishing this story about people dealing with, among other things, the hidden, horrific reality of fetal murder and its chilling effects on the soul.
The opinions expressed on this website are my own personal views and do not necessarily represent those of the Catholic Church.
If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.