Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders For Our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, proclaiming Christ crucified, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. I’m a member of St George Melkite Greek Catholic parish in Sacramento. My booklist, which is in a way deep in history (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books of primary importance), is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Trial of Job; Patrick Henry Reardon
  • The Greek Plays; various authors
  • Vergil’s Aeneid; Sarah Ruden translation
  • Ignatius of Antioch; Allen Brent
  • Harp of the Spirit; St Ephrem the Syrian
  • The Confessions; Saint Augustine
  • Commentary on Jeremiah; St Jerome
  • Homilies on John; St John Chrysostom
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Collected Poems; St Robert Southwell
  • Comedies & Tragedies; William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Collected Poetry & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Dylan’s Visions of Sin; Christopher Ricks
  • Complete Translations; Seamus Heaney
  • Pride and Prejudice; Jane Austen novel
  • Christianity in the Middle East; Raheb 
  • Memoirs of Louis Bouyer; John Pepino
  • Deification Through the Cross; K. Anatolios
  • Life of the World; Alexander Schmemann
  • Compendium to the Catholic Catechism
  • Horologion; Melkite Greek Catholic liturgy
  • The Liturgy of the Hours; unabridged

The Appalachian Riders For Our Lady have a particular interest in the season of Ascensiontide, which we consider nearly as important as Advent and Lent.  My particular interest is: That ecclesial bodies with very different ecclesiology seem to have very similar Christology.  Emphasis on “seem”. 


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

The foundation of everything is Christ Jesus, and him crucified. However, beyond the personal aspects of that, what are the implications for our social relationships?

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, the Bride of Christ, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose chief steward is the bishop of Rome (for better or worse). Besides addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can “check one’s answers”– the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community. Somewhat related to this, I prefer to get my history indirectly, via literature.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

The noted Evangelical scholar Mark Noll, in the book ‘Is the Reformation Over’, argues that Catholic and Protestant disagreements really come down to different understandings of the nature of the Church.  I don’t disagree; however, I very much disagree with the view that “well, maybe so but that’s not important to’s my personal relationship with God that is important.”  The nature of the Church is essentially intertwined with the work of the Holy Spirit, as is reflected in the Nicene creed.  God is able to sustain what was initially established (..I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it) and it is wrong-headed to try to start over on one’s own.

Technology is very important and clearly the most important technology is language. The people who know the most about language are not the philosophers but the poets, broadly defined.

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” (Richard Feynman)

“The Catholic Church is the Church we mean when we say The church.” (Lenny Bruce)

“When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures. Fortunately around my native town of Dunbar, by the stormy North Sea, there was no lack of wildness, though most of the land lay in smooth cultivation, With red-blooded playmates, wild as myself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, and along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.” (John Muir)

“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.” (John von Neumann)

“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (William Faulkner)

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

Cultural Roots


  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours; unabridged
  • Horologion; Melkite Greek Catholic liturgy


  • The Trial of Job; Patrick Henry Reardon
  • Vergil’s Aeneid; Sarah Ruden translation
  • Ignatius of Antioch; Allen Brent
  • Harp of the Spirit; St Ephrem the Syrian
  • The Confessions; Saint Augustine
  • Commentary on Jeremiah; St Jerome
  • Homilies on John; St John Chrysostom
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Christianity in the Middle East; Raheb
  • Deification Through the Cross; K. Anatolios
  • Life of the World; Alexander Schmemann
  • Compendium to the Catholic Catechism


  • The Greek Plays; various authors
  • Collected Poems; St Robert Southwell
  • Comedies & Tragedies; William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Collected Poetry & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Dylan’s Visions of Sin; Christopher Ricks
  • Complete Translations; Seamus Heaney
  • Nature Writings & Essays; John Muir

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The Glen at Maude’s Tavern

The hills of Appalachia are wrinkled deep in time. Some places there, as the saying goes, you can’t get to from here. At least, if the here were televised America. And if not….

There are three large structures in the Glen at Maude’s Tavern: the chapel, the abbey, and of course, the tavern. As to which is oldest, well, that has been the heart of many a heated argument by the bar at Maude’s Tavern – especially since nobody around here puts much value in being new. The tavern looks the newest, what with Joe Turner coming down from Northern Virginia back in the 70s to renovate it; however, his taking Sue Wesley as his wife, ‘as part of the renovation’ he’s fond of joking since she grew up at the tavern, and her roots being Cherokee ‘as are the mountains! Sue says’ give grounds for the tavern being oldest.

Certainly, none of the groups have been very particular about keeping written records and much is hard to make out in the fog of time. The chapel folks, the people of the Mt Zion Freewill Sanctified Baptist Chapel, going back to Scots settlers (refugees from the losing side of the 1650 Battle of Dunbar in the 3rd English Civil War), are what most folks associate with old-time Appalachian mountain culture. And then the abbey Riders, the Abbey of the Appalachian Riders for Our Lady, with their immediate roots in what some think a humorous convolution of Francis Asbury inspired Methodist circuit-riding with Francis Assisi inspired devotion to renewal of the Catholic Church, trace their roots all the way back to the first century after Our Lord’s rising from the dead. So, depending on one’s view of what counts as evidence and as connection, the abbey and the chapel and the tavern each have grounds for claiming to be the true foundation of the Glen.

Myself, Tom White, I’m a lapsed Unitarian, coming from a family of lapsed Unitarians. My mom lapsed from Unitarianism into Methodism and I continued the lapse all the way back into the Catholic Church (and into the Riders, in spite of or perhaps, because of their limiting brothers to two dozen books).

And, though I keep forgetting, since this might be read by someone outside the Glen, I really need to start with that, since it holds them all – the tavern, the abbey and the chapel. What with its geography, which kept it free from the reach of television’s invasion and of thoroughfares from elsewhere in the United States, it is in many ways a world of its own, a sociological laboratory of sorts, one might say. Any reader will, I trust, appreciate my reticence regarding the specific location and features of the Glen, in order to preserve its privacy. The crucial fact, both geographical and geological, is that it is fairly well isolated from the rest of the country. In fact, my descriptions of land and environment will often be of similar, though larger, regions far to the west: the Uinta Basin in Utah and the Flathead and Pend d’Oreille regions in Montana and Idaho.

The first white men to set eyes on the Uinta Basin and Uinta Mountains were members of the small Spanish expedition from Santa Fe headed by Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. The expedition crossed into Utah and the Uinta Basin several miles northeast of present day Jensen [see the chapter ‘Las Llagas – San Andres’ in The Dominguez-Escalante Journal, University of Utah Press]. These explorers opened the Uinta Basin and the eastern portion of the Great Basin to Spanish, and later Mexican, American, and British fur-trappers and traders.

The Uinta Basin drew little interest during the initial phase of settlement of the Great Basin. Early in the 1860s Brigham Young did order a small expedition to the Uinta Basin to determine the suitability for locating settlements there. Upon the expedition’s return, the Deseret News reported that the expedition had found little there and that the basin was a “vast contiguity of waste…valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to hold the world together.”

To hold the world together – that is the purpose of the less traveled places of which I speak.

Chief Sitting Bull

At least two Paleo-Indian cultural sites (12,000-8,500 BC) have been located in the Uinta Basin. These people were primarily hunters of the mammoth, bison, and other big game. During the Archaic period (8,500-2,500 BC), the basin was occupied by Plateau Archaic People who were gatherers as well as hunters. More recently, people identified with the Fremont Culture have occupied the Uinta Basin. The Fremont Culture parallels in time and development the better known Anasazi Culture. People of the Fremont Culture lived in semi-subterranean shelters (kivas) and were dependent primarily upon corn agriculture and hunting of smaller game and fishing.

During the ethno-historical period (A.D. 1300 to present), the Uinta Basin has been occupied by a band of Utes. The basin was also occasionally visited by the Northern and Northwestern Shoshones (hence the picture of Chief Sitting Bull).

And then, there’s Father Pierre Jean De Smet and the tribes of what’s now Washington, Idaho,  and Montana; however, that will have to wait for another posting. I just wanted to introduce all the main characters and set the stage before getting back to Maude’s Tavern.

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Christianity in the Middle East

A comprehensive reference book:

The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Christianity in the Middle East, edited by Mitri Raheb and Mark Lamport.

While expensive, this 600+ page book with over 50 contributors has much material difficult to obtain elsewhere. From the Preface:

First, a disclaimer and an orientation statement: this is not a ‘Christian’ book, nor is it written from a Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox or Pentecostal or any other faith perspective; this is a book about Christianity as it has existed and does exist in the Middle East. Due to the vast and often extreme historical interactions of people, politics, cultures, languages, and religions, the story told herein is uneven and uncomfortable, and the task, which is not an easy one, is to describe and not prescribe, report and not take sides, and interpret and not prejudice. If our collective efforts are able to elucidate the nature of the ancient and modern faith of Christianity as it has existed–thriving and floundering, triumphalistic and tenacious–for twenty centuries, then we will have succeeded. If not, we have been less that effective in our efforts. Whatever else may be said, certainly the story of Christianity in the Middle East is nothing less than a surviving jewel.

In the Foreword, Philip Jenkins writes:

Much of the history of Christianity involves a gradual but quite thorough displacement from the origins of the faith–ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and geographic. Of course, the faith emerged from a Jewish matrix, and that lengthy process of separation was traumatic enough. But for several centuries, the heart of Christianity lay decisivly in the region that today we term the Middle East. Of the church’s original five patriarchates, four lay in that region–Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria–with Rome as a distant West European outlier. That concentration is all the more marked when we recall the serious claims to patriarchate status of the Church of the East, which long found its seat in Baghdad. Well into the eighth or niinth centuries, if not later, so much of the intellectual and spiritual life of the faith was expressed Syriac, Coptic, and Greek, and Latin was very slow to enjoy a comparable status.

Of necessity, any account of the historic development of Christianity must focus on the Middle East–and that remains true far beyond the “early church.” Through perhaps the half-way point of its story to date, the Christian center of gravity lay far to the east. As late as the end of the first millennium, on ecould make a plausible case that Antioch stood at the geographic center of a Christian world that stretched from India to Ireland, from the Baltic to the Horn of Africa.

So much writing on Christian history focuses exclusively on those Western and Latin regions where the faith would flourish in later ages and underplays or ignores those older Eastern developments. Some accounts seem to suggest that when those regions fell under Islamic political power, Christian life swiftly faded or vanished almost overnight, and nothing could be further from the truth. Partly, such a distortion reflects the inevitable tendency to view the past in terms of the present: we see things not as they are, but as we are. That habit is reinforced by the steep decline suffered by many eastern churches in later eras, and especially after the disasters and persecutions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Particularly from around 1500, the heart of Christianity moved decisively to Europe, and to European realms overseas, and those burgeoning Western churches readily ignored their sadly declined Eastern counterparts.

. . .

If we cannot write the history of christianity without that continuing Middle East theme, neither can we comprehend that region without its enduring Christian presence. Into the twentieth century, Christians made up a substantial proportion of the population of the Middle East, from Persia to Egypt, and most particularly in the Ottoman territories. Only the catastrophic events of the First World War era smashed that older reality, setting the stage for the near total Islamic dominance in many regions. . . .

Sections of the Handbook

  1. Sociohistorical Sketches of Christianity in the Middle East, pp 1-112
  2. Religious Encounters in the Middle East, pp 113-222
  3. Contextual Expressions of Christianity in the Middle Ease, pp 223-340
  4. Sociopolitical Influences on Christianity in the Middle East, pp 341-448
  5. The Story of Middle Eastern Christianity by Country and in the World Context, pp 449-572

The Amazon sample (see link above) gives further information about the book.

Regarding Melkite Christians, chapter 23 is written by Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo (There is a very abbreviated version at the St Elias website.)

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The Sacrament of Matrimony


337. What is the plan of God regarding man and woman?


God who is love and who created man and woman for love has called them to love. By creating man and woman he called them to an intimate communion of life and of love in marriage: “So that they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:6). God said to them in blessing “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

338. For what ends has God instituted Matrimony?


The marital union of man and woman, which is founded and endowed with its own proper laws by the Creator, is by its very nature ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children. According to the original divine plan this conjugal union is indissoluble, as Jesus Christ affirmed: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).

339. How does sin threaten marriage?


Because of original sin, which caused a rupture in the God-given communion between man and woman, the union of marriage is very often threatened by discord and infidelity. However, God in his infinite mercy gives to man and woman the grace to bring the union of their lives into accord with the original divine plan.

340. What does the Old Testament teach about marriage?


God helped his people above all through the teaching of the Law and the Prophets to deepen progressively their understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage. The nuptial covenant of God with Israel prepared for and prefigured the new covenant established by Jesus Christ the Son of God, with his spouse, the Church.

341. What new element did Christ give to Matrimony?


Christ not only restored the original order of matrimony but raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, giving spouses a special grace to live out their marriage as a symbol of Christ’s love for his bride the Church: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church” (Ephesians 5:25).

342. Are all obliged to get married?


Matrimony is not an obligation for everyone, especially since God calls some men and women to follow the Lord Jesus in a life of virginity or of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. These renounce the great good of Matrimony to concentrate on the things of the Lord and seek to please him. They become a sign of the absolute supremacy of Christ’s love and of the ardent expectation of his glorious return.

343. How is the sacrament of Matrimony celebrated?


Since Matrimony establishes spouses in a public state of life in the Church, its liturgical celebration is public, taking place in the presence of a priest (or of a witness authorized by the Church) and other witnesses.

344. What is matrimonial consent?


Matrimonial consent is given when a man and a woman manifest the will to give themselves to each other irrevocably in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love. Since consent constitutes Matrimony, it is indispensable and irreplaceable. For a valid marriage the consent must have as its object true Matrimony, and be a human act which is conscious and free and not determined by duress or coercion.

345. What is required when one of the spouses is not a Catholic?


mixed marriage (between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) needs for liceity the permissionof ecclesiastical authority. In a case of disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) a dispensation is required for validity. In both cases, it is essential that the spouses do not exclude the acceptance of the essential ends and properties of marriage. It is also necessary for the Catholic party to accept the obligation, of which the non-Catholic party has been advised, to persevere in the faith and to assure the baptism and Catholic education of their children.

346. What are the effects of the sacrament of Matrimony?


The sacrament of Matrimony establishes a perpetual and exclusive bond between the spouses. God himself seals the consent of the spouses. Therefore, a marriage which is ratified and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. Furthermore, this sacrament bestows upon the spouses the grace necessary to attain holiness in their married life and to accept responsibly the gift of children and provide for their education.

347. What sins are gravely opposed to the sacrament of Matrimony?


Adultery and polygamy are opposed to the sacrament of matrimony because they contradict the equal dignity of man and woman and the unity and exclusivity of married love. Other sins include the deliberate refusal of one’s procreative potential which deprives conjugal love of the gift of children and divorce which goes against the indissolubility of marriage.

348. When does the Church allow the physical separation of spouses?


The Church permits the physical separation of spouses when for serious reasons their living together becomes practically impossible, even though there may be hope for their reconciliation. As long as one’s spouse lives, however, one is not free to contract a new union, except if the marriage be null and be declared so by ecclesiastical authority.

349. What is the attitude of the Church toward those people who are divorced and then remarried?


The Church, since she is faithful to her Lord, cannot recognize the union of people who are civilly divorced and remarried. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). The Church manifests an attentive solicitude toward such people and encourages them to a life of faith, prayer, works of charity and the Christian education of their children. However, they cannot receive sacramental absolution, take Holy Communion, or exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities as long as their situation, which objectively contravenes God’s law, persists.

350. Why is the Christian family called a domestic church?


The Christian family is called the domestic church because the family manifests and lives out the communal and familial nature of the Church as the family of God. Each family member, in accord with their own role, exercises the baptismal priesthood and contributes toward making the family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue and the place where the faith is first proclaimed to children.

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The Sixth Commandment

From the Compendium to the Catholic Catechism:


487. What responsibility do human persons have in regard to their own sexual identity?


God has created human beings as male and female, equal in personal dignity, and has called them to a vocation of love and of communion. Everyone should accept his or her identity as male or female, recognizing its importance for the whole of the person, its specificity and complementarity.

488. What is chastity?


Chastity means the positive integration of sexuality within the person. Sexuality becomes truly human when it is integrated in a correct way into the relationship of one person to another. Chastity is a moral virtue, a gift of God, a grace, and a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

489. What is involved in the virtue of chastity?


The virtue of chastity involves an apprenticeship in self-mastery as an expression of human freedom directed towards self-giving. An integral and continuing formation, which is brought about in stages, is necessary to achieve this goal.

490. What are the means that aid the living of chastity?


There are many means at one’s disposal: the grace of God, the help of the sacraments, prayer, self-knowledge, the practice of an asceticism adapted to various situations, the exercise of the moral virtues, especially the virtue of temperance which seeks to have the passions guided by reason.

491. In what way is everyone called to live chastity?


As followers of Christ, the model of all chastity, all the baptised are called to live chastely in keeping with their particular states of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others, if they are married live in conjugal chastity, or if unmarried practise chastity in continence.

492. What are the principal sins against chastity?


Grave sins against chastity differ according to their object: adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual acts. These sins are expressions of the vice of lust. These kinds of acts committed against the physical and moral integrity of minors become even more grave.

493. Although it says only “you shall not commit adultery” why does the sixth commandment forbid all sins against chastity?


Although the biblical text of the Decalogue reads “you shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), the Tradition of the Church comprehensively follows the moral teachings of the Old and New Testaments and considers the sixth commandment as encompassing all sins against chastity.

494. What is the responsibility of civil authority in regard to chastity?


Insofar as it is bound to promote respect for the dignity of the person, civil authority should seek to create an environment conducive to the practice of chastity. It should also enact suitable legislation to prevent the spread of the grave offenses against chastity mentioned above, especially in order to protect minors and those who are the weakest members of society.

495. What are the goods of conjugal love to which sexuality is ordered?


The goods of conjugal love, which for those who are baptized is sanctified by the sacrament of Matrimony, are unity, fidelity, indissolubility, and an openness to the procreation of life.

496. What is the meaning of the conjugal act?


The conjugal act has a twofold meaning: unitive (the mutual self-giving of the spouses) and procreative (an openness to the transmission of life). No one may break the inseparable connection which God has established between these two meanings of the conjugal act by excluding one or the other of them.

497. When is it moral to regulate births?


The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.

498. What are immoral means of birth control?


Every action – for example, direct sterilization or contraception – is intrinsically immoral which (either in anticipation of the conjugal act, in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences) proposes, as an end or as a means, to hinder procreation.

499. Why are artificial insemination and artificial fertilization immoral?


They are immoral because they dissociate procreation from the act with which the spouses give themselves to each other and so introduce the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Furthermore, heterologous insemination and fertilization with the use of techniques that involve a person other than the married couple infringe upon the right of a child to be born of a father and mother known to him, bound to each other by marriage and having the exclusive right to become parents only through each another.

500. How should children be considered?


A child is a gift of God, the supreme gift of marriage. There is no such thing as a right to have children (e.g. “a child at any cost”). But a child does have the right to be the fruit of the conjugal act of its parents as well as the right to be respected as a person from the moment of conception.

501. What can spouses do when they do not have children?


Should the gift of a child not be given to them, after exhausting all legitimate medical options, spouses can show their generosity by way of foster care or adoption or by performing meaningful services for others. In this way they realize a precious spiritual fruitfulness.

502. What are the offenses against the dignity of marriage?


These are: adultery, divorce, polygamy, incest, free unions (cohabitation, concubinage), and sexual acts before or outside of marriage.

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Jeremiah chapter 31

The Joyful Return of the Exiles

31 “At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.”

Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
    the Lord appeared to him[a] from afar.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
    O virgin Israel!
Again you shall adorn yourself with timbrels,
    and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
    upon the mountains of Samar′ia;
the planters shall plant,
    and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when watchmen will call
    in the hill country of E′phraim:
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.’”

For thus says the Lord:
“Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
    and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
    ‘The Lord has saved his people,
    the remnant of Israel.’
Behold, I will bring them from the north country,
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    the woman with child and her who is in travail, together;
    a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
    and with consolations[b] I will lead them back,
I will make them walk by brooks of water,
    in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I am a father to Israel,
    and E′phraim is my first-born.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
    and declare it in the coastlands afar off;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
    and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’
11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
    and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
    and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
    and they shall languish no more.
13 Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance,
    and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
    I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
    and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,
                says the Lord.”

15 Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are not.”[c]

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
    and your eyes from tears;
for your work shall be rewarded,
                says the Lord,
    and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope for your future,
                says the Lord,
    and your children shall come back to their own country.
18 I have heard E′phraim bemoaning,
‘Thou hast chastened me, and I was chastened,
    like an untrained calf;
bring me back that I may be restored,
    for thou art the Lord my God.
19 For after I had turned away I repented;
    and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh;
I was ashamed, and I was confounded,
    because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
20 Is E′phraim my dear son?
    Is he my darling child?
For as often as I speak against him,
    I do remember him still.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I will surely have mercy on him,
                says the Lord.

21 “Set up waymarks for yourself,
    make yourself guideposts;
consider well the highway,
    the road by which you went.
Return, O virgin Israel,
    return to these your cities.
22 How long will you waver,
    O faithless daughter?
For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth:
    a woman protects a man.”

23 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes:

‘The Lord bless you, O habitation of righteousness,
    O holy hill!’

24 And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander[d] with their flocks. 25 For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

26 Thereupon I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.

Individual Retribution

27 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. 28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say:

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.

A New Covenant

31 [e]“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

35 Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
    and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name:
36 “If this fixed order departs
    from before me, says the Lord,
then shall the descendants of Israel cease
    from being a nation before me for ever.”

37 Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
    and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the descendants of Israel
    for all that they have done,
                says the Lord.”

Jerusalem to Be Enlarged

38 “Behold, the days are coming says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the tower of Hanan′el to the Corner Gate. 39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Go′ah. 40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be uprooted or overthrown any more for ever.”

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St Chrysostom’s homily on St Ignatius

Paragraph 4 of this homily includes this:

4. And I will speak of a fourth crown, arising for us out of this episcopate. What then is this? The fact that he was entrusted with our own native city [Antioch]. For it is a laborious thing indeed to have the oversight of a hundred men, and of fifty alone. But to have on one’s hands so great a city, and a population extending to two hundred thousand, of how great virtue and wisdom do you think there is a proof? For as in the care of armies, the wiser of the generals have on their hands the more leading and more numerous regiments, so, accordingly, in the care of cities. The more able of the rulers are entrusted with the larger and more populous. And at any rate this city was of much account to God, as indeed He manifested by the very deeds which He did. At all events the master of the whole world, Peter, to whose hands He committed the keys of heaven, whom He commanded to do and to bear all, He bade tarry here for a long period. Thus in His sight our city was equivalent to the whole world. But since I have mentioned Peter, I have perceived a fifth crown woven from him, and this is that this man [St Ignatius] succeeded to the office after him. . . .

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Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian

Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian that we pray daily during Lent.

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Deification Through the Cross

A paragraph, and a bit more, from the introduction of Khaled Anatolios’ book ‘Deification Through the Cross’

The third factor that I have suggested to be an obstacle to the contemporary appropriation of the Christian teaching on salvation is the lack of experiental access to this doctrine. Perhaps this is especially the case in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, where the claim to an experience of “being saved” is frowned upon. But legitimate caution against hubristic certainty about one’s eternal fate does not mean denying the experiential accessibility of the content of Christian salvation. For those who have put on Christ and who can say, along with the elder Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30), rejection of the experience of salvation is not a tenable option. Nor is it everywhere rejected. It is true that certain strands of the Protestant tradition still place a premium on the felt assurance of being “saved,” and proponents of liberation theology insist that salvation be acted out and made manifest in bringing about justice and peace. However, my complaint about the lack of experiential access to the Christian teaching on salvation presupposes that the ultimate touchstone of Christian experience is neither individual affect nor external action but liturgical worship. If that is true, the loss of the sense of worship as the performance and celebration and actualization of salvation must be counted as a prime cause for the modern inaccessibility of the “joy of salvation.” The kind of worship that would mediate this joy would have to include an interpretation of liturgical prayer not onlyu as an appropriation of the effects of Christ’s salvific work but also as a participation in the internal dynamiosm of that work. At least in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, such an understanding and experience were given in older conceptions of the eucharistic liturgy as representing, in some manner, the salvific sacrifice of Christ. There was a similar understanding of sacramental confession as a sharing in the internal dynamism and the fruits of Christ’s salvific work. For a variety of complex reasons having to do with both modern conceptions of liturgical worship and vagueness and perplexity with regard to the doctrine of salvation, Christian communities today inadequately appreciate liturgical worship as an experience of salvation, as an entering into the very dynamism of Christ’s salvific work, and as a conscious participation in Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Without such a basis in liturgical experience, the christian doctrine of salvation is bound to remain vaguely numinous and somewhat esoteric, like a mythological construct that can be evoked by a variety of strange metophors but to which we can have no concrete experiential access.

Positive Requirements for Contemporary Soteriology

As surely as the doctrine of salvation itself dwells on the negativities of the human condition only in reference to their overcoming in Christ, so our elaboration of some key factors in the modern malaise with respect to this doctrine must issue in a constructive program for the reversal of this malaise. It is fitting, then, to follow our three complaints with three positive prescriptions, as follows.

First Requirement: Fidelity to the Canonical Scriptures

The first requirement for a modern, intelligible reformulation of the Christian doctrine of salvation is that the entire scriptural witness must be considered normative for the understanding and exposition of this doctrine. Of couse, this should go without saying in any endeavor that that claims to be Christian theology. . . .

Second Requirement: The Normativity of Tradition

A second requirement for the renewal of soteriological dictrine is that a critical hermeneutic of charity must be applied to the tradition. We must strongly resist dismissing any significant and longstanding interpretation of salvation within the historical experience of the church. . . .

Third Requirement: The Normativity of Liturgical Experience

A third requirement for the modern reformulation of soteriological doctrine is that it must stimulate and inform the concrete experience of Christians. christian salvation is not merely a theoretical construct but the lived experience of every Christian, and the summit of this experience is worship. . . .In the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the words of institution, which commemorate the death of Christ and which are remembers as the “precept of salvation,” are embedded in an anaphora of praise that identifies liturgical worship as the very culmination and ultimate fruit of God’s work of creation and salvation

It is fitting and just to sing to you, to bless you, to praise you, to give thanks to you, to worship you in every place of your dominion….

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Melkite Mission: Placerville

“House blessings, baby blessings, tree house blessing, oh my! Maybe we need to start a Melkite mission in Placerville!” – Abouna Hezekias, pastor at St George Melkite in Sacramento.

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Catholic Political Thought

I’m taking an ICC course on Catholic Political Thought, taught by Dr Chad Pecknold, with over 2500 participants from over 65 countries. Here are a few of my presuppositions:

  • Politics is about the tension between human nature and the common good for a reasonably cohesive and well defined group of people.
  • Political thought has, historically, been founded upon city government and the importance of communication and coordination has been underrated with regard to more dispersed groups of people.

Somewhat related to this:

Can a large organization do without one dominant, official language? The Roman Catholic Church’s abandonment of Latin has implications for the Catholic Church as a whole; in particular, both English and Italian become more important, albeit for different reasons.

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Vespers and Orthros

In the Melkite liturgy, as in Eastern Catholic liturgy in general, evening and morning prayer are well integrated into the regular worship of the parish. In the Melkite liturgy, here are the psalms which are chanted:

Vespers Psalms: 103, 140, 141, 129, 116

Orthros Psalms: 3, 37, 62, 87, 102, 142, 44, 50, 148, 149, 150

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Bob Dylan Interview

From the December 19th, 2022 Wall Street Journal interview with Jeff Slate, centered around Dylan’s recent book: The Philosophy of Modern Song.


Is there a technology that helps you relax? For instance, do you binge on movies via Netflix, because you mention streaming films in the chapter about “My Generation”; or do you use a meditation app or workout app, especially while you’re on the road?

My problem is that I’m too relaxed, too laidback. Most of the time I feel like a flat tire; totally unmotivated, positively lifeless. I can fall asleep at any time during the day. It takes a lot to get me stimulated, and I’m an excessively sensitive person, which complicates things. I can be totally at ease one minute, and then, for no reason whatsoever, I get restless and fidgety; doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Two or three hours in front of the tube is a lot of binge watching for me. Too much time to be involved with the screen. Or maybe I’m too old for it.

I’ve binge watched Coronation Street, Father Brown, and some early Twilight Zones. I know they’re old-fashioned shows, but they make me feel at home. I’m not a fan of packaged programs, or news shows, so I don’t watch them. I never watch anything foul smelling or evil. Nothing disgusting; nothing dog ass. I’m a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it.

As far as being physically active, boxing and sparing are what I’ve been doing for a while. It’s part of my life. It’s functional and detached from trends. It’s a limitless playground, and you don’t need an App.

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The Public Choice of Gavin Ashenden

Gavin Ashenden writes:

How might St Paul, the Archduke Ferdinand and the Catholic Church come together in a story set at the end of 2022? They might offer themselves as useful interpretative devices as the story of what is happening in the Church in the West today continues to unravel.

Some commentators who have been following my journey and reading my work have taken an interest in the fact that I have withdrawn my application to be ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church, and wondered why. The dynamics that drove the story might have a wider application than just us.

(read the rest at: )

I note that the character of Horatio in the play Hamlet is “more an antique Roman than a Dane” which fits with my view of the ‘mousetrap’ being crucial to the play and also connects with this article.

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On Fasting

Here are some thoughts on fasting taken from Alexander Schmemann’s book ‘Great Lent’:

It is important, therefore, to discern the uniquely Christian content of fasting. It is first of all revealed to us in the interdependence between two events which we find in the Bible: one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other ar the beginning of the New Testament. The first event is the “breaking of the fast” by Adam in Paradise. He ate of the forbidden fruit. This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us. Christ, the New Adam–and this is the second event–begins by fasting. Adam was tempted and he succumbed to temptation; Christ was tempted and He overcame that temptation. The results of Adam’s failure are expulsion from Paradise and death. The fruits of Christ’s victory are the destruction of death and our return to Paradise. . . .

In the Orthodox teaching, sin is not only the transgression of a rule leading to punishment; it is always a mutilation of life given to us by God. It is for this reason that the story of the original sin is presented to us as an act of eating. For food is means of life; it is that which keeps us alive. But here lies the whole question: what does it mean to be alive and what does “life” mean? For us today this term has a primarily biological meaning: life is precisely that which entirely depends on food, and more generally, on the physical world. But for the Holy Scripture and for Christian Tradition, this life “by bread alone” is identified with death because it is mortal life, because death is a principle always at work in it. God, we are told, “created no death.” He is the Giver of Life. How then did life become mortal? Why is death and death alone the only absolute condition of that which exists? The Church answers: because man rejected life as it was offered and given to him by God and preferred a life depending not on God alone but on “bread alone.” Not only did he disobey God for which he was punished; he changed the very relationship between himself and the world. . . .

Christ is the New Adam. He comes to repair the damage inflicted on life by Adam, to restore man to true life, and thus He also begins with fasting. “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry” (Matt. 4:2). Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else–when we urgently and essentially need food–showing thus that we have no life in ourselves. It is that limit beyond which I either die from starvation or, having satisfied my body, have again the impression of being alive. It is, in other words, the time when we face the ultimate question: on what does my life depend? . . .

What then is fasting for us Christians? It is our entrance and participation in that experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total dependence on food, matter, and the world. By no means is our liberation a full one. Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam, being part of it, we still depend on food. But just as our death–through which we still must pass–has become by virtue of Christ’s Death a passage into life, the food we eat and the life it sustains can be life in God and for God. . . .

All this means that deeply understood, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature. It not a theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science and existence on that lie. Fasting is a denunciation of that lie and also the proof that it is a lie. It is highly significant that it was while fasting that Christ met Satan and that He said later that Satan cannot be covercome “but by fasting and prayer.” Fasting is the real fight against the Devil because it is the challenge to that one all-embracing law which makes him the “Prince of this world.” . . .

Ultimately to fast means only one thing: to be hungry–to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about man, that hunger itself is first of all a spiritual state and that it is in its last reality hunger for God. In the early Church, fasting alway meant total abstinence, a state of hunger, pushing the body to the extreme. It is here, however, that we discover also that fasting as a physical effort is totally meaningless without its spiritual counterpart: “. . . by fasting and prayer.” This means that without the corresponding spiritual effort, without feeding ourselves with Divine Reality, without discovering our total dependence on God and God alone, physical fasting would indeed be suicide. If Christ Himself was tempted while fasting, we have not a single chance of avoiding that temptation. Physical fasting, essential as it is, is not only meaningliness, it is truly dangerous if it is disconnected from the spiritual effort–from prayer and concentration on God. . . .

It is for this reason that we need first of all a spiritual preparation for the effort of fasting. It consists in asking God for help and also in making our fast God-centered. We should fast for God’s sake.

[Great Lent, pp. 93, 94, 95, 96, 97.]

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Vatican II kept me out of the Catholic Church for many years. Let me explain.

I was baptized as an infant at Trinity United Methodist Church in Buchanan Virginia in 1950. However, I didn’t have a living faith in Christ until 1977, after having been in the Navy for 8 years, when I joined Rock Church in Roanoke Virginia where my soon to be wife, MaryAlice, attended. The next year we moved to Blackburg where I started college at Virginia Tech and we became members of Dayspring Christian Community there.

My only church experience, for many years, was evangelical/charismatic (Botetourt county where I grew up didn’t have its first Catholic Mass until 1981) and my only knowledge of historic Christianity came from reading and that came slowly.

As I read, piecemeal and undirected, the impression I got third hand was that Vatican II meant that there was no longer any need to become Catholic. When I finally entered the Catholic Church in 2007, my conversion had little to do with Vatican II.

I’m currently a member of St George Melkite Greek Catholic parish near Sacramento.

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On Sirach

Sirach is the last of the wisdom books in the Catholic canon of the Old Testament. As such, it may be regarded as a massive summation of the Israelite wisdom tradition–a meditation on the entirety of Israel’s Scriptures from the perspective of “wisdom” (Hebrew hokhmah), the practical knowledge of righteous living. Because Sirach provides such a useful digest of the moral teachings of the Jewish Scriptures, the early Church used it extensively in catechesis and moral instruction, so much so that it came to be known as “Ecclesiasticus” — that is, “the Church’s little book”.

….despite the eventual rejection of Sirach by medieval Judaism and later by Protestantism, it was, in fact, regarded as Scripture by a substantial number of Jews during the Second Temple period and beyond. It was this latter view that the early Church inherited; not only was Sirach viewed as inspired by the majority of Church Fathers, but it was (as stated above) one of the most popular books in the Old Testament, generating a remarkable amount of commentary.

From “A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament” by Bergsma and Pitre.

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Robert Frost: Seven Favorite Poems

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Culture of the Incarnation

From the introduction in Tracey Rowland’s 2017 book “The Culture of the Incarnation: Essays in Catholic Theology”:

This is a collection of essays that have previously been published in separate journals over the past decade. In one way or another, they each take seriously the idea that the Incarnation was the greatest revolution in world history. When the Word became flesh, a new era of grace began, redemption from the effects of the first sin became possible, and humanity found itself in a sacramental cosmos. As St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the idea poetically, Et antiquum, Novo cedat ritui: ancient rites have now departed; newer rites of grace prevail.

These newer rites of grace opened the gates to a Christian humanism and a whole cultural order built upon it. St John Paul II described such a culture as a civilisation of love and contrasted it with a culture of death. Pope Benedict XVI described the culture of death as a dictatorship of relativism. These two men, who were arguably two of the finest scholars ever to occupy the Chair of St. Peter, shared a quarter century of intellectual partnership. During this time, they offered the world a theological analysis of the current crisis in which Western culture finds itself. The essays in the present volume amplify this analysis.

. . . .


  • Introduction
  • Beyond the Correlationist Paradigm: Joseph Ratzinger on Re-Evangelization and Mass Culture.
  • The World in the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
  • Augustinian and Thomist Engagements with the World
  • Variations on the Theme of Christian Hope in the Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
  • Culture in the Thought of John Paul II and Benedict XVI
  • Poland and Communism (for Those Too Young to Remember)
  • The Contribution of the Polish Intelligentsia to the Breakthrough of 1989
  • The Humanism of the Incarnation: Catholic, Barthian, and Dutch Reformed

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My Parish

I find the Divine Liturgy at my parish to be very romantic, intellectually coherent, and incredibly beautiful.

My love she speaks like silence

Without ideals or violence

She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful

Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire

People carry roses

Make promises by the hours

My love she laughs like the flowers

Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations

People talk of situations

Read books, repeat quotations

Draw conclusions on the wall

Some speak of the future

My love she speaks softly

She knows there’s no success like failure

And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles

Madams light the candles

In ceremonies of the horsemen

Even the pawn must hold a grudge

Statues made of matchsticks

Crumble into one another

My love winks, she does not bother

She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles

The country doctor rambles

Bankers’ nieces seek perfection

Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring

The wind howls like a hammer

The night blows cold and rainy

My love she’s like some raven

At my window with a broken wing
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It is hard to convey the beauty and goodness of God. Hence, on the one hand, the necessity of the Incarnation and on the other hand, ministers focusing instead on the much easier task of saying what folks should do.

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