Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Why the Liturgical Turn?

Observant readers will notice that there have been a lot of liturgical commemorations here at the Guild Review, from the season of Advent to the particular holidays of the Annunciation (aka Lady Day) and Christmas to the feasts of Ambrose, Cecilia, Clare (and Clare again), Francis, Louis and Zelie, Michael (aka Michaelmas), Patrick, and Thomas More. Why is that, you ask?

The simple answer is that my life has been busy and it is much easier to post a prayer and a picture than to write a semi-coherent argument about a topic.

But the increased focus on the liturgical calendar also reflects developments in my life outside the blog. This may be a function of age. When I was younger I had considerable time to devote toward the pursuit of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. I read, widely; I discussed ideas with friends; I turned over arguments in my head and wrote many of them down, some published here. But with the advent of middle age - a family, a mortgage, a 9-to-5 job - I find that much more of my time and energy is spoken for.

But it is here that the liturgical calendar reveals its genius. Built into the very rhythms of the liturgical year are all the great modes of the spiritual life: expectation, adoration, prayer, fasting, alms-giving, sorrow, triumph, and teaching. Below, so to speak, the great movements of the seasons there are the individual feast days, celebrating key moments in the earthly life of Jesus as well as the lives of disciples who sought to imitate him. These saints are as diverse a collection as one could imagine: men and women, rich and poor, priests, religious, spouses, scholars, evangelists, hermits, writers and artists, farmers and craftsmen, from every continent and every century from the Resurrection to the present. Even a passing mention of a handful of them becomes, over the course of a year, a veritable education in Christian living.

Thus, our family has been trying to notice more of the liturgical celebrations, as well as the Quarter and Cross-Quarter Days, great medieval markers of the year. We have done so with small observations: special desserts or crafts with the kids, a prayer for a saint's feast stuck to the bathroom mirror, a special song or story after supper. If your family is interested in doing likewise, resources abound; you might start with Carrots for Michaelmas, one of the many blogs dedicated to living the liturgical year.

In an increasingly secular age which so rarely has the time to pause and think about much of anything, the liturgical calendar invites us to align the rhythms of our daily lives with the heavenly choirs.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Happy Feast of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor!

Gracious God of majesty and awe,
Who made the bishop Ambrose
a exemplary teacher of the Catholic faith
and a model of apostolic courage:
We seek Your protection,
look for Your healing,
and hope for Your mercies,
for they cannot be numbered.
Raise up in Your Church men
after Your own heart to govern
with courage and wisdom,
and make us worthy to taste
the Holy of Holies,
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Today's image is by Anthonis van Dyck. If it had a caption, it might well be, "In matters of faith, bishops judge Christian emperors, not emperors bishops."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Feast of St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr!

O God,
Who crowned the innocence and holiness
of the virgin Cecilia
with the wreath of heroic martyrdom
and consoled her with the songs of angels:
set us aflame with divine love,
give us perseverance amidst persecution,
and grant that we may send our prayers
heavenward on winged notes of praise.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Today's image comes from the Polet Chapel in Rome.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Happy Feast of St. Francis!

Regular readers know Francis and Clare are popular around here. Happy Feast of St. Francis, who so earnestly strove to be like Christ in all things, and in so doing set a noble example for all of us. Saint Francis, pray for us!

You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the Most High.
You are Almighty.
You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth.
You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good.
You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love.
You are wisdom.
You are humility.
You are endurance.
You are rest.
You are peace.
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches, and You suffice for us.
You are beauty.
You are gentleness.
You are our protector.
You are our guardian and defender.
You are our courage.
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Savior.

- A prayer in praise of God, as given by St. Francis to Brother Leo

Friday, September 29, 2017

Happy Michaelmas!

Everlasting God,
You wonderfully ordered
the ministries of angels and mortals,
and sent the archangel Michael,
bearer of the banner of heaven,
to defend us against
the malice of Satan’s pride.
Do not forsake us in the last struggle with evil,
but by the aid of Your holy angels
bring us to eternal life,
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

How is your family planning to celebrate? There are a wealth of traditional foods for the celebration of the Archangel Michael. As this post explains, carrots, goose, special bread (St. Michael's Bannock) and blackberries are all on the traditional menu, for various reasons. Or waffles are, apparently, traditional in France; this website has a recipe and additional info. Other edible ideas I've seen include angel-shaped sugar cookies or really anything autumnal, since Michaelmas - almost exactly midway between Midsummer (St. John's Day) and Christmas - is the traditional approximation of the equinox and thus the beginning of autumn. If you're looking for decoration, aster flowers are also known as Michaelmas Daisies, because in many places they bloom around the feast.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Teaching Medieval History: How Should We Do It Today?

In an age when controversies and commentary happen at the speed of Twitter, I do not profess to have kept up with all the twists and turns in the saga of Rachel Fulton Brown, a medievalist at the University of Chicago. But, so far as I can tell, the story went something like this: A couple years ago Prof. Brown wrote a blog post noting that medieval white men had done some good. In light of recent white supremacist shenanigans, another medievalist left a comment on this old blog post, essentially asking Prof. Brown what she was doing to set the record straight and fight racism. Prof. Brown took issue with this perceived politicization and the whole thing descended from there.

There are three questions (possibly more) at issue here: How do we teach medieval history? How do we interact as professional historians? And how should history be employed to political ends?

I am currently teaching medieval history to high school students (specifically, a British history survey; the first semester is medieval, the second modern). My basic approach is to point out some of the good things going on - we discuss literary achievements, religious life, and the role of women such as Etheldreda and Leoba - while also acknowledging the shortcomings in justice, knowledge, and material standards of living. So far as I can tell, Prof. Brown has taken a similar approach. She has not claimed that medieval Europe was a paradise, but neither is she willing to suggest - as some in academia do - that the thousand years of medieval history are one long record of unbroken oppression. Likewise, she has not claimed that European or Western civilization is, in every respect, superior to all other cultures of the world; but neither has she characterized Western civilization as inherently bad. One may quibble with some details, but her overall approach is very sound history; to deviate from it would be a shame.

In lashing out at her critics, Prof. Brown has not always used kind or professional language. For that, she deserves a stern talking to from her department head. But calling for her job is a bit much. Her opponents should know that you cannot publicly criticize someone without expecting them to respond, possibly disproportionately, possibly in an unprofessional manner. This is unfortunate but not the end of the world.

But the crux of the controversy seems to be the role of history in contemporary debates. Some people argue that there is an imperative duty for all academics to wield their professional tools in a partisan manner; their central task, the argument goes, is to fight injustice. The error here is not in presuming that academics can weigh in on current debates. Rather, the error is two-fold: presuming that academics must engage in such debates and failing to appreciate the deep long-term contributions of academia to the cause of justice, without mentioning contemporary issues. Teaching students how to reason; how to think deeply about culture, politics, and religion; teaching them to express themselves clearly in speech and in writing - these are profound contributions to the common life of our country. Indeed, I would argue that over emphasis on the latest subject of protest risks undermining the very important work of fostering these necessary habits of thought.

So far as I can tell, Prof. Brown shares the my understanding of the role of history. She has not, to my knowledge, insisted that academics avoid all discussion of current controversies or politics; rather, she simply asks that her non-participation in such crusades not be held against her while she is busy carrying out these other essential tasks of history. I hope, for everyone's sake, this tempest ends soon so that we can stop the comment wars and get back to more important work.