Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Weezer and Biblical Contemplation of God

On their latest album Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the band Weezer, from a certain perspective, delves into the depths of the contemplation of God based on Sacred Scripture. On this album, the song "Da Vinci" spoke to me of the reality of sacred scripture and its divine inspiration

Caravaggio's "Inspiration of St. Matthew"

Simply put, we are unable on our own to comprehend and express the reality of God's love, mercy, and awesomeness. As Rivers Cuomo sings, "Even da Vinci couldn't paint you; Stephen Hawking can't explain you; Rosetta stone could not translate you, I'm at a loss for words." Our efforts to explain and understand the wonder that is God inevitably reach the point of words falling short, of slowly entering a state of silent admiration. This is not to say that God is not rational, but only that, without his having revealed himself to us in Sacred Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, we would fall far shorter than we actually do in our knowledge of his reality. What is actually contained in the Bible has been the source of endless study, writing, prayer and reflection through history. Rivers sings, "I tried to write it in a novel; I wrote a page but it was awful," and then, "I wish I could explain who you are, but when I try I never get far." That's why we turn back to the sacred page! "Now I just want to sing your gospel." Let's go back to the inspired word of God and get to know him as he reveals himself to us.

Given the general aims and messages of rock and roll, I deem it safe to say that this was not Weezer's intent. Nevertheless, I do see myself, by means of this interpretation, fitting into a long line of Christian tradition that has "baptized" pagan symbol after pagan symbol. I hardly want to label Weezer as pagan or opposed to religion. I simply accept that these themes are generally absent from their productions.

* All quotes from Weezer are based on my listening to the song and may not be the official lyrics. I have not taken the time to research that, but then, I really did not see the need to.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

St. John Lateran

Today is the feast of the dedication of Rome's first basilica, St. John Lateran. It is part of the Rome experience to actually be able to attend Mass there on the very feast of its dedication.

It was dedicated in the 320s (I have heard two dates), before St. Peter's or St. Paul outside the walls, with the name "Church of the Redeemer." So why is it called St. John and what does Lateran mean? Here's the deal. Some of the land there belonged to a wealthy Roman family of the time whose name was Laterano. Then, at different points in history, the church was named for St. John the Baptist and for St. John the Evangelist. Their names (as well as their statues on either side of Christ) can be seen in the facade.

The cathedral has, through history, succombed to fire, an earthquake, and invading hordes. Each time it was destroyed it was rebuilt and received new names in the process.

As you enter through the front facade you pass a Latin inscription which says "the holy Lateran church, mother and head of all churches in the city and world." Why does it say this? Two main reasons. One is that the Lateran was the Vatican until the 1300s. It was the official Papal residence until the Avignon period when, for about 70 years in the 1300s, the Popes transferred their residence to France. After that, as the Lateran structures had become inhabitable, the Popes took up residence in the Vatican, where they have remained to the present day. The second reason, very connected with the first, is that St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome: it is the see of the bishop of Rome (the Pope). In fact, it still houses the offices for the diocese of Rome. St. Peter's is a mamoth basilica in the Vatican city-state, but it is not the official see of the bishop of Rome. Lateran, 1 - St. Peter's, 0.

Inside is a beautiful artistic portrayal of salvation history, or of God's intervention through history aimed at man's salvation. There are three levels (see photo immediately above, right) of decoration in the main body of the Church. The top level is a series of 12 paintings of Old Testament prophets. Below these are 12 frieze sculptures depicting, on the left side, scenes from the Old Testament which prefigured some moment in the life of Christ, depicted in the corresponding place on the right side. The two following photos depict, from the Old Testament the angel staying Abraham's hand when he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, who carried the wood up the mountain, and from the New Testament, Christ carrying the cross.

This is a bridge from old to new. Below these are the 12 impressive sculptures of the apostles and St. Paul, each with some emblem indicative of what they are known for. They were present at the Church's foundation and were the first followers of Christ who set the Church on its course. But there is yet a fourth level. As our gaze descends from the prophets, to the friezes, to the apostles, it finally reaches the floor upon which we stand. The fourth level is us. We are the heirs of this great history, of God's presence and action in human history. The Church's continuity and the realization of her mission now depend on us.

Historically, St. John Lateran is monumental for its Christian significance. Structurally, it is a marvel. Spiritually, it is a testimony of salvation history and is a fitting symbol of the Catholic Church herself, which has survived so many upheavels and struggles through the centuries, while continuing to offer mankind the surest means by which to reach heaven.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Particularly Large and Friendly Elephant

Series on "Wisdom and Innocence: a Life of G.K. Chesterton" by Joseph Pearce

Chapter 6 treats of another move and of the Chestertons' dealings with a family living near their new homestead. What it is really about, however, is G.K. Chesterton's dealings with children and his love for them.

A truly beautiful portrait is presented us in this chapter of profound happiness and content. It tells of a grown man who enjoyed the stories and the jokes he told as much as, if not more than, his young listeners. It tells of this man, having lost himself in the fun and games, needing to lock himself in his room at the last moment to write a column due that evening. It can sound so proud and stuck up to speak of someone else as being simple, but that is exactly the quality of Chesterton which this chapter brought me to admire. Life for him was so beautiful, and as a man he himself was so sincere with how he lived. These two qualities, which children, when they feel trusted, seem to possess and master so effortlessly, meant that he and children were made for each other.

He thrived in their company. He was truly himself with them and they loved him for it. As one author wrote, "he did not, like many grown-ups who are reputedly 'fond of children', exploit the simplicity of childhood for his own amusement. He entered, with tremendous gravity, into the tremendous gravity of the child." One of his young friends later shared this reflection: "It was not, as is sometimes cosily and fallaciously supposed, that he became like a small boy, but that he made small boys feel that they had become men."

This chapter highlights another quality. Chesterton was simple, yet brilliant, and he had an innate knack for putting into words what other people merely feel without the ability to describe. During a difficult period for his wife, and so for him, he wrote to Fr. O'Connor, their close friend. First, he shared why he wrote to him in particular, and not someone else, in this period of trial:
"I would not write this to anyone else, but you combine so unusually in your own single personality the characters of 1. priest, 2. human being, 3. man of the world, 4. man of the other world, 5. man of science, 6. old friend, 7. new friend, not to mention Irishman and picture dealer, that I don't mind suggesting the truth to you."

He then shared a reflection on his marriage:
"One of the mysteries of Marriage (which must be a Sacrament and an extraordinary one too) is that a man evidently useless like me can yet become at certain instants indispensable. And the further oddity (which I invite you to explain on mystical grounds) is that he never feels so small as when he knows that he is necessary."

This chapter is a showcase of what seem to me to be two of the qualities which make Chesterton Chesterton.