"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, February 18, 2019

Matthew Monday: Basketball Shooting Tournament

There hasn’t been much on the Matthew front to report lately but there was something back in November that I’ve been meaning to post.

As I mentioned back in October, Matthew decided to play soccer this year instead of basketball.  Well, as expected, the St. Rita soccer team is horrible.  Two years ago they didn’t win a game.  Last year Matthew played basketball, and the soccer team again didn’t win a game.  So far in the first halve of this year’s season—it gets divided by winter with a first half autumn and second half spring—they didn’t win a game.  In the meantime, Matthew had improved in basketball and wished he had joined the team.

But back in November, separate from the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), there was a nationwide basketball shooting contest.  It was essentially foul shots, though the younger grades were a step closer than the foul line.  Each school would pick the best two or three for each grade, send them to a local competition (Staten Island, in this case), the winners would go to a regional competition, and those winners would go for the national.

It was one day in early November that Matthew came home from school and said he had won the basketball shooting contest at his school for his grade.  I really didn’t understand the national tournament yet so I was confused.  But I have to admit I didn’t believe he had won any kind of basketball shooting contest.  He could barely reach the basket two years before and he hadn’t practice since.  Well, he did win his school competition, even over the ones on the basketball team.  And so he made it as the school representative for fourth grade at the regional.

At the regional he was excellent.  He was something like 15 of 20 in the first round, and a little less than that in the second.  Unfortunately there’s not going to be much to show you because—mea culpa—I muffed the pictures and film.  I think I screwed up initially and then my phone battery died.  But here’s what I did take.  First a still picture of Matthew of Matthew getting the ball at the foul line.

And here’s a four second video of Matthew taking a shot.  The camera stops before the ball reaches the basket but I do think it went in.

Finally Matthew wound up in third place for the fourth graders.  Now that is third place for all of Staten Island, and we at Staten Island have a population for nearly 500,000.  That’s the size of a small city.  Here’s a picture of Matthew with his third place medal.

As you can bet, he wants to play basketball next year.

EDIT:  I forgot to mention.  Third place does not move on in the competition.  Only the first place winners.  

Sunday, February 10, 2019

In Memoriam: Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson was one of my dearest baseball players and the backbone of the great Orioles teams from 1966 to 1971.  Six years he played in Baltimore.  He led them to the World Series four of those six years, winning twice.  I became an Orioles fan in 1970 at about nine years old.  Here I am nearly fifty years later and still an Orioles fan.  I don’t remember the 1970 season.  My earliest baseball memory was the sixth game of the 1971 World Series, the Orioles against the Pirates.  The Pirates had a three games to two lead in the series and if they won the sixth they would be world champions.  The game went into extra innings, bottom of the tenth.  Frank Robinson got on base and somehow got to third.  The next hitter—I learned later it was Brooks Robinson—hit a bloop fly ball to shallow center.  Frank Robinson tags and beats the throw home, sliding over the plate to win the game.  That Frank Robinson slide into home to win the game is my earliest baseball memory.

Here, I found it.  This is my earliest baseball memory.

Frank Robinson passed away on February 7th this past Thursday.  He was 83.  He was a gentleman but he played with an intensity that was downright ferocious.  Here’s how the Baltimore Sun started his obituary:  

Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson had those skinny legs and a gingerly gait that made it seem as if his feet always hurt. But the ferocity with which he played baseball belied his appearance. He crowded the plate with abandon and hurtled into fielders to break up double plays. Once, at Yankee Stadium, he decked a fan who tried to rob him of a fly ball.

"I always had the willingness to push myself. I tried to be better than what I was," said Mr. Robinson, a 13-time All-Star and first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1982. "Sure, it’s just a game. But it’s my life."

He would be a hall of famer, hitting just short of 3000 hits and hitting 586 career home runs.  He would also be baseball’s first black manager and a first ballot hall of famer.  His number 20 is retired by three teams—the Cincinnati Reds, the team who drafted and played for ten years, the Baltimore Orioles, the team who he led to four World Series appearances, and the Cleveland Indians, the team with who he finished his career and who hired him as the first black manager. 

He was traded to Baltimore after the 1965 season when the Reds thought he was washed up at 30 years old.  From the Sun’s Obit:

Cast off by Cincinnati owner Bill DeWitt, who called him "an old 30," Mr. Robinson seethed.

"I was hurt and angry," he said at the time. "I feel I have something to prove and the quicker I can, the better off I’ll be."

And boy did he ever.  1966, his first with the Orioles, would be his greatest year.  Again from the Sun:

On Opening Day, 1966, in his third at-bat as an Oriole, Mr. Robinson homered in a 5-4 victory. One month later, he hit a pitch completely out of Memorial Stadium — the only player ever to do so.

"The [one-minute] ovation the fans gave me after I trotted back on the field following the homer was the thing I remember most about my years in Baltimore," Mr. Robinson said later. "I knew then that I had been accepted."

He hit a club-record 49 home runs, drove in 122 runs and batted .316. He led the Orioles to their first American League pennant and a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. He won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs, and both the AL and World Series Most Valuable Player awards. Moreover, he brought a brassy edge to the Orioles that remained long after his departure in 1971.

And then he was traded after the 1971 season.  I was heartbroken.  How could they trade Frank?  But at the point he was 36 and on the decline.  He would finish a few more years with several teams and become the Cleveland Indians player manager.  He finally retired as a player after the 1976 season. 

But I was too young to fully appreciate Frank Robinson as a player.  I got to really appreciate Frank when he became the Orioles manager during the 1988.  That year the team would lose its first 21 games and fire its manager Cal Ripkin, Sr. and put in Frank.  They had one of the all-time worst season records that year.  But the next year, 1989, not only did the team have a winning record but they actually competed for a division title, though they fell short in the end.  They went from a record of 54-107 and in last place 34 1/2 games out of first in ’88 to 87-75 in second place just two games out of first in ’89.  I remember that season so well.  We were actually in first for part of the season.  Just like 1966 was Frank Robinson’s great ball player year, 1989 was Frank’s great managerial year.  He was voted manager of the year.

Here is a wonderful tribute put together using Frank Robinson’s own voice.  I think it shows what a gentleman he was and what a tenacious ballplayer.

That is a wonderful tribute.  Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul rest in peace. He brought us joy.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Essay: “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler

We did something a little different at the book club at the turn of the year.  As a short term read, one week, we read and discussed an essay on how we might write notes into a book as we read.  This is actually a famous essay from the eminent scholar, Mortimer J. Adler,   and his essay is appropriately titled, “How to Mark a Book.”  The essay is only six pages, so you can read it in less than fifteen minutes.  You can find it here.  

It’s surprising how controversial a subject this can be.  Some find writing into a book a grave taboo.  I on the other hand write profusive notes in every book I own.  There seems to be two extremes.  Which side do you fall on?

Side note.  I just read Adler’s biographical entry at Wikipedia and I’m surprised to learn he was a convert to Catholicism.  I have read one of his books, though I can’t recall which, so I have known of Adler since I was a young man.  I didn’t know he ultimately became Catholic.

The following are my comments in our discussion at the Goodreads Catholic Thought Book Club.  Here’s a link to the thread

Comment 1:
Books are sacrosanct to me too, so I would never be careless with them. But I consider my thoughts to be sacrosanct as well, so I have no qualms writing my thoughts as I read to any book I own. Of course if I don't own it, that's different. I haven't read Adler's essay yet, so I'm curious to see how he recommends scribbling in the margins. I'll discuss some of my methods after I read the essay.

Comment 2:
I thought this paragraph made a rather interesting point:

But the soul of a book can be separated from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini's score of the C-minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores—marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them—is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author.

A book has a soul that cannot be destroyed? But one should be free to tamper with the body...lol.

But the comparison to a musical score is really interesting. A musical score exists in sort of a metaphysical nether world. The story of a book, the lyricism, the ideas, they too exist separate from the physical book in a metaphysical realm.

John Replied to Comment 2:
“But the soul of a book can be separated from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting...."

This is one of the ideas in Bulgakov's the Master and Margarita, isn't it? That even if you burn a manuscript you haven't destroyed the book itself, its metaphysical existence.

I replied to John:
Is it? The Master and Margarita has been on my reading list but I've never gotten to it.

Kerstin commented:
"I use laminated holy cards as bookmarks. They do double duty for me marking the page, and their long edges make for a great ruler substitute for underlining passages. ...it must be the German in me..."

I replied to Kerstin:
Ha, you should see my scribbles. And when I'm in a moving vehicle the lines come out as wavy as a trembling hand. Can you imagine standing in a crowded subway on my way off to college trying to underline while the train is bouncing and rocking...lol.

Comment 3:
Adler’s list of devices was very interesting.  Here’s my response to each one and then I’ll add a few of my own at the bottom.

1. Underlining: of major points, of important or forceful statements.

Absolutely.  That’s probably the most important single thing you can do, identify the salient points.

2. Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.

I do this too, but more if a lengthy passage is very important.  I do it in lieu of underlining.

3. Star, asterisk, or other doo-dad at the margin: to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or twenty most important statements in the book. (You may want to fold the bottom corner of each page on which you use such marks. It won't hurt the sturdy paper on which most modern books are printed, and you will be able to take the book off the shelf at any time and, by opening it at the folded corner page, refresh your recollection of the book.)

I use asterisks too, again to highlight an import section.  So what’s the difference between my underlines, vertical lines, or an asterisk?  Not much actually.  Underlining is more when I think the particular language used by the author is significant. 

4. Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single argument.

I don’t really do this, but then I don’t read philosophic works where the building of argument is important.  If there are several points I may list them, numbering them.

5. Numbers of other pages in the margin: to indicate where else in the book the author made points relevant to the point marked; to tie up the ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, belong together.

Yes, I do this too but sparingly.  It’s a pain to try to find the page of the previous idea to tie them together.  I guess that’s my laziness.

6. Circling of key words or phrases.

Absolutely.  Very important.  A circle on top of the print stands out.  I also circle dates to orient the passage in time and history.

7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page, for the sake of: recording questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raised in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the books. I use the end-papers at the back of the book to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance.

Yes absolutely.  A list of characters at the beginning of the book, an important thought in the margin, a summary of the salient point at the end of a chapter, an asterisk at the beginning of the chapter, what page important thoughts or events are located in the back of the book.  I never fold a page tip.  I’ll write that page number in the back. 

Other things I do:
1. An exclamation mark on the side to highlight a well written or beautiful section.  Double exclamation marks for something exceedingly well written.
2. An arc of a line to connect something on the top of the page to something on the bottom.
3. A definition of a word or term that comes up in the writing that I needed to look up.
4. Emotional reaction that I might have to a passage.
5. Question mark on something I don’t understand.

Comment 4:

Also, has it been said?  I always use pencil, never ink.  I live with mechanical pencils either in my shirt pocket (Yes, I'm a geeky engineer) or scattered through the house.

Comment 5:

I think one other thing should be pondered.  How does marking a book in the new world of ebooks work?  You would think it would work the same way but I find it different.  Certainly one can tack notes on any given page, and my current Kindle has four colors of highlight to choose from.  But still I find it different.  I find that I do not scribble little notes as often as when I have a pencil in hand.  It tends to be rather tedious to open up the notes page and write a thought.  I certainly don’t do it just to put a question mark or an exclamation mark in the margin.  I can’t circle an important word or date.  I highlight it, which I guess is the same.  My previous Kindle only had one color, if it was a color, but now with four colors I have created a hierarchy with the color scheme.  That helps.  Red would be the most significant and perhaps equivalent to my asterisk in pencil.  In the Kindle format I now never list the characters at the beginning or collate motifs at the end of the book.  In short it’s is not as detailed as with pencil and paper book.  

Friday, February 1, 2019

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn, Part 3

This is my third and final post on Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World.  You can find the first post here.  
And the second post here.   

Part 1 addresses chapters 1 through 4.
Part 2 addresses chapters 5 through 7.
Part 3 addresses chapters 8 through 14.


Chapter 8: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Hahn outlines the significance of Jesus being born in Bethlehem.

Chapter 9: “Do You Believe in Magic”
The Magi, who were gentiles, followed the star to find truth and give gifts to the new born king of Israel.

Chapter 10: “Shepherds, Why this Jubilee?”
Hahn connects the historical role of a humble shepherd to the shepherds who will be among the first informed of Jesus’ birth to the child who will eventually become the Good Shepherd.

Chapter 11: “The Glory of Your People: The Presentation”
Hahn provides the context to the three post birth Jewish rituals: the circumcision, the child’s presentation, and the mother’s purification. 


Chapter 11 was probably the most difficult for me.  It probably requires a deeper understanding of the Jewish rituals.

Circumcision is easy enough to understand but Hahn takes it further than I ever thought.

Israel’s covenant with God was “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8); and, though Jesus, as God, was not bound by the law, only he could fulfill the law perfectly, precisely because he was God and therefore sinless. And so he did, as his parents took him to be circumcised, perhaps at the synagogue in Bethlehem.

Christians have always seen this moment as an anticipation of Jesus’s crucifixion. It was the first shedding of his blood, whose value was infinite. Because of Jesus’s perfection, this rite by itself possessed power enough to redeem the world; yet he pressed on to a more perfect fulfillment and more complete self-giving. To his own law he would be obedient—“obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8).  (p, 128)

First I had never heard that Jesus’s circumcision was a prefiguring of His crucifixion, but I can see that.  But Hahn says that “because of Jesus’s perfection, this rite by itself possessed power enough to redeem the world.”  You mean that Christ did not have to be crucified?  I can see the circumcision as a foreshadow, an echo, or, as Hahn initially says, an anticipation of His ritual death, but in lieu of it?  That seems like a step too far. 


I have to admit, I really don’t understand that distinction Hahn makes concerning Jesus’s Presentation at the Temple. 

Luke’s narrative is quite odd.  He describes Jesus not as being “redeemed,” but rather as being “dedicated” or “presented” in the Temple.  It’s an important distinction.  The law did not require that all first born males be redeemed. (p.129)

Hahn goes on to explain.

If Jesus…was dedicated to God and not redeemed, he belongs to God permanently…Thus, Luke presents Jesus as a uniquely righteous first-born, who—unlike other Israelite males—did not need to be redeemed from service to the Lord, since he was not unclean.  Instead, he was consecrated as a firstborn (Exodus 13:1-2).  (p. 130-131)

So the distinction lies between redeemed versus consecrated.  If someone could explain that distinction further I might get it.


Another interesting tidbit from chapter 11 is that Hahn tells us that Luke is one of the possible authors for the Epistle to the Hebrews.  I had not heard that.  I just finished reading the Epistle to the Hebrews as a continuous read and that does make sense.  The writing styles are similar.



Chapter 12: “Flight Into Joy”
Hahn explains how the flight into Egypt resonates in Biblical history.

Chapter 13: “Blessed Trinities: Heaven and the Holy Family”
Hahn contemplates upon why God entered the world and entering revealed how God is both a family and love.

Chapter 14: “Joy to the World”
Hahn explains why we celebrate Christmas, why it is important to do so, and the joy it brings to us and to the world.


I recently saw a video from a vlog (I think that’s what it's called) titled "The Ruben Report" where Bishop Barron and Rabbi David Wople were discussing issues and religion.  You can find that video here.

They mostly agreed on things but they did stumble on a disagreement on the nature of God, of course, given their two different religions.  Around the 24 minute mark the Rabbi says Jews see the Father as perfect, why does He need to be three?  A few minutes before that Bishop Barron explained the central tenet of Christianity that God became man, but he never fully answered the Rabbi.  The conversation drifted onto other things after that.

But Scott Hahn in chapter thirteen asks the very question, "Why did God become man?  It is one of the insolvable mysteries, like Why is there something rather than nothing?" (p. 145)

To answer the good Rabbi one could just say that's what it is, just like gravity attracts and not repels.  God chose to do that, and it doesn't make Him any less perfect.  Bishop Barron says it's a mystery, but it's not a mystery.  Scott Hahn answers it.

But in this instance an angel gives us a clue by way of the Scriptures. It is the angel who tells Saint Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Surely Jesus’s name, given by heaven, tells us something about his purpose. He came to “save his people”—more specifically, to save them “from their sins.” To do this is a pure act of merciful love, because sins are by definition offenses against almighty God. Yet it is God himself who has taken flesh for the sake of our salvation. He came, moreover, not just to save the wayward members of his chosen people but to save even the gravest sinners of Babylon and Egypt.

In the act of saving us, God drew close to us, so that we could see him and touch him. He became a baby, so that he would need to be picked up and caressed, changed and fed.

As we draw close to God incarnate, we can see more clearly the nature of God eternal. And that, too, was why he became man; revelation is bound up with our salvation. In our fallen state, with our darkened intellect and weakened will, we could not see God or know him, though we could know that he existed.

God drew close so that we could see clearly—and know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). In eternity, that is his deepest identity. Before he created anything to love, he was love; and love is an act that requires both a subject and an object, a lover and a beloved. God is that pure act of love. Because of the revelation of Christmas, we know that love as the Blessed Trinity. Pope Saint John Paul II summarized the matter in a memorable way: “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of family, which is love.”  (pp. 146-148)

God became man to (1) to save us as part of mankind, therefore redeeming mankind, because it was mankind that lost salvation, (2) to show us that God is love, (3) to reveal that God is a family of persons bound in love of which we are supposed to emulate, (4) to draw us close to Him since He took on physical presence, and (5) to show us that God can humble Himself to come as a babe that requires love and care.


I thought the final chapter was a superb way of concluding the work.  First Hahn points out what makes Christianity special because of Christmas.

No human mind could have invented the triune God.  He is not a God we can contain in our categories or tame by our thoughts.  No human mind could have conceived a God who is love and who loves us as if we were gods.  No human mind, unaided by angels, could have dreamt up Christmas.

Christmas makes us different.  Christmas sets us apart.  Christmas calls us to share in divine love—and then to share that love with an unbelieving world.  (p. 163)

So in chapter thirteen Hahn tells us why the birth of Christ is so important, and then he tells us why we should celebrate it.  God entered humanity for our salvation, and that brings joy to us and to the world.

God has created the whole world for the sake of the joy we celebrate at Christmas.  He fashioned human nature so that every man, woman, and child should desire Christmas joy and seek fulfillment in Bethlehem, the House of Bread—through the Bread that came down from heaven.  God made us so that we would find all other joys unsatisfactory aprt from the joy of Christmas.  (pp. 164-165)

So we should spread this joy, despite the commercialism twist that it has taken the last hundred years.  Hahn is not afraid of the commercialism.  In its own way, it’s “an acknowledgment of Christmas joy.  It’s the market’s awkward attempt to join the party and capitalize on joy” (p. 166).  And why is Christmas joy so important?

Because the world offers countless pleasures, but no lasting joys.  What Jesus Christ gives is joy, even in the midst of hardship and sorrow—even amid persecution, flight, and exile.  (p. 165)

It is amazing how people can be secular all year long but celebrate Christmas.  In Christmas those people come the closest to tangibly experiencing Christian jubilance, but it still falls short of full mystical joy.  This is our calling as Christians, to bring people to this joy.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

My 2019 Plans

My plans for this year will be humble, not because I don’t plan to read much but I don’t plan to plan much.

The reads I know I’m reading include the last canticle of Dante’s Divine Comedy, his journey through heave, Paradisio.  And as last year with Inferno and Purgatorio, I will be reading two different translations, the Hollander and Hollander husband and wife team (the translation I consider the best) and the Anthony Esolen, which is also very good.  I’m reading two translations to absorb it better and bounce one off the other.  We are reading Paradisio for the Catholic Thought Book Club at Goodreads.  By the way, the book club would love to have you, so come on over.  ;)

Once we are done with Dante, the book club’s next read will be The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.  This will be a re-read for me and I know I posted my thoughts here at my blog several years ago when I first read it.  I wonder if my thoughts on it will change.

For my parish Bible study—they just call it that, but as you can see we read other works—we are reading Mike Aqulina’s The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers.  It’s a survey book of most of the church fathers.

Also on the read list will be the next novels in a series I’ve been reading through.  One series is Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End, centered on the main character, Christopher Tietjens, and his World War I experiences.  I am up to the last novel of the series, Last Post.  There is also the final volume of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  The huge epic is made up of five volumes in which I treat each volume as a novel.  The fifth volume is called, “Jean Valjean.”  I’ll be continuing in the C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia series.  I’m up to the third book when considered chronologically, The Horse and His Boy

Of course I’m continuing my read through the Bible.  I’m up to the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, and all the short letters in the New Testament: Letter of James, First and Second Letters of Peter, First, Second, and Third Letters of John, and the Letter of Jude.  As usual I will be reading both the KJV and NIV translations.

I have to pick up on the series of short stories I have lapsed in keeping the last few years.  I’ve been trying to go through the complete short stories of Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, and Evelyn Waugh.  And I’ll try to sporadically and randomly add short stories as they pique my interest.  I doubt I can get back to two per month, but I’ll do the best I can.

And that’s it as far as plans.  I’ve created two groups of books here below, books “On Pause” and a books “Wish List.” I’m tired of just saying I will eventually read books I haven’t completed.  So now I will list those books as “on pause.”  They are books I’ve started but have stopped reading and that I still want to finish.  And then there is a wish list of books that I may squeeze in this year if the opportunity and time allows.  You can see what is on both lists.

Perhaps some other book jumps up at me creaming to be read—that happens all the time—and I will alter my plans.  I know I will also be reading a couple of more books for the Catholic Thought Book Club, we just don’t know what they are yet.  They have not been voted on.

With that, Happy belated New Year and see you at the library.  ;)

Completed First Quarter:

“The Background,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“How to Mark a Book,” an essay by Mortimer J. Adler.

Currently Reading:
Paradisio, 3rd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Robert and Jean Hollander.
Paradisio, 3rd part of the epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated and annotated by Anthony Esolen.
The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, 3rd Edition, a non-fiction work by Mike Aquilina.
"Why Bugsy Siegel Was a Friend of Mine," a short story by James Lee Burke. 

Upcoming Plans:
Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
Book of Jeremiah, a book of the Old Testament, NIV Translation.
“The Light of the World,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“God Rest You Merry Gentleman,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Sea Change,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“A Matter of Chance,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
The Imitation of Christ, a non-fiction devotional by Thomas à Kempis.
“The Manager of ‘The Kremlin,’” a short story by Evelyn Waugh.

On Pause:
Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Virgin and the Gipsy, a short novel by D. H. Lawrence.
Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Writings, a collection translated and edited by Mark Atherton.
Fra Angelico (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series), a non-fiction work on art by Laurence Kanter, Pia Palladino, and others.
The Life of Saint Dominic, a biography by Augusta Theodosia Drane.

Wish List:
Think Like A Cat, a non-fiction help book by Johnson-Bennett.
The Remains of the Day, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The Red and the Black, a novel by Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle).
Notes From Underground, a novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Crazy in Berlin, a novel by Thomas Berger.
The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose a book of poetry and essays by T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Rainey (ed).
Henry VI, Part 2, a play by William Shakespeare.
Submission, a novel by Michel Houellebecq.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn, Part 2

This is my second post on Scott Hahn’s book, Joy to the World.  You can find Part 1 here 
Part 1 addresses chapters 1 thru 4.
Part 2 addresses chapter 5 thru 7.


Chapter 5: “Mary: Cause of Our Joy”
Hahn provides a historical and theological justification for the Virgin Birth, for Mary’s role in salvation history and her continued importance in our lives as Christians.

Chapter 6: “Silent Knight, Holy Knight”
Hahn shows the importance and significance of Joseph’s fatherhood to Christ.

Chapter 7: “Angels: Echoing Their Joyous Strains”
Throughout the Christmas story, angels supply guidance, wisdom, prayer, and protection, and the holy family is open to it.


Hahn seems to think the “most controversial aspect” of Mary is her virginity.  Would that be because of her conceiving a child without “knowing man” or that it would be unlikely she maintained her virginity throughout her life?  Neither strike me as that controversial in my mind.  I think this is the key passage regarding her virginity.  Hahn is looking at the Isaiah prophecy of a "virgin" bearing a son.

We cannot read Isaiah’s mind, but we can read his context. The passage opens with the challenge: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isaiah 7:11). He seems to be talking about a momentous sign, something indisputably miraculous. A virgin bearing a son would indeed be such a singular event. A “young woman” bearing a son would be unremarkable and underwhelming, as signs go.

Thus we can probably trust the authority of the Septuagint—which enjoyed a semi-official status in the Jewish diaspora and was uninfluenced by later Christian-Jewish disputes.

Mary’s virginal motherhood is a sign. It is not, however, a statement against the goodness of sex, as some heretics later claimed it was. It is rather a guarantee of God’s fatherhood—God is the only possible father of Jesus—and at the same time it is recognition of Mary’s special status as the mother of the Messiah. She was, as such, a vessel of the divine. Her body was, in a sense, like the golden vessels dedicated for Temple service. It was forbidden to use such chalices and plates at even the most dignified royal banquet. Likewise, her womb, having borne the Savior, could not return to ordinary activity, no matter how good, no matter how blessed.

Her perpetual virginity was fitting and proper to her unique role in the history of salvation. It is interesting to note that for the early Christians she was “the Virgin”—as if she had a special claim on the noun and required the definite article. It is the same grammatical construction found in the earliest Hebrew manuscripts of Isaiah 7:14. (p. 56-7)

That is an interesting comparison, Mary’s body as holy chalices and plates.  Knowing what I know of Judaism strict dietary and purity laws, that comparison is perfect. 

But was Mary’s virginity chosen? Had she already committed her life to God before the angel visited her? Mary’s dialogue with the angel is indeed curious. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26–35) A more literal rendering of Mary’s question would be: “How shall this be, since I do not know man?” “To know” is the common Hebrew idiom for sexual union. In the book of Genesis we read: “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.… Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth” (Genesis 4:17, 25). Still today we use the phrase “carnal knowledge” as a kind of polite phrase for sexual intercourse. The connection between “knowing” and “conception” was clear in the Torah as it was in life. So what could Mary have meant by her question? The angel had told her she would conceive a son, and she did not understand how that could be. She had not carried out what she knew to be the requisite act for pregnancy. It’s not that Mary was ignorant of the facts of life. She genuinely wanted to know how the angel Gabriel’s announcement could be true. Reading this passage, Saint Augustine noted: “Surely she would not have said this unless she had already vowed herself to God as a virgin.… Certainly she would not have asked, how, being a female, she should give birth to her promised son, if she had married with the purpose of sexual intercourse.”4 According to Christian tradition, Mary remained perpetually a virgin—before Jesus’s birth and after. Even before his conception, she may have discerned a special call to consecrated virginity. We have already seen that such commitments, though rare in Judaism, had ample precedent.


I found this passage incredibly insightful on St. Joseph’s fatherhood.

Joseph’s vocation is to be an earthly image of Jesus’s heavenly Father.  God is more Father than any man on earth, though he fathers without gender, without body, without sexual organs or a sexual act, and without a spouse.  God’s fatherhood is not primarily physical, but rather spiritual.  The fatherhood of Joseph is spiritual and real, though virginal, just as the fatherhood of God is spiritual and nonphysical.

Saint Joseph then serves, then, as an icon of God the Father, and even Jesus would have thought of him in that way… (p. 69-70)

One certainly realizes that St. Joseph is Jesus’ foster father, but in being a non-bearing father he emulates God’s Fatherhood to us all.  What’s also fascinating is that studies show that it’s the father’s faith in a family that tends to get passed onto the children.  If the father of a family is devout, the children have a much higher chance of retaining the faith, especially the sons.  So this notion of the father as being an icon of God the Father is important to all our lives.


I was really surprised to find three theories as to why Joseph decides to divorce Mary.  (1) The suspicion theory: Joseph suspects Mary of adultery. (2) The perplexity theory: Joseph couldn’t figure out how Mary got pregnant but couldn’t attribute adultery. (3) The reverence theory: Joseph knew of the Holy Spirit’s impregnating her and didn’t consider himself worthy.  Hahn finds the third theory the most satisfying. 

I had never heard of the other two theories, and I don’t find the perplexity and reverence theories all that plausible.  The support for those theories is rather tenuous.  The suspicion theory is the only one that seems to fit.  Anyone think differently?