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Prayer and Theology

Although the personal relationship of the theologian with God is a reality wider than prayer, since it necessarily involves the entire Christian life, nevertheless prayer is its conscious heart. The fourth-century theologian Father Evagrius of Pontus had a saying, “If you pray, you are a theologian.” The saying has been, perhaps, a little overexposed and not a little misunderstood. The term “theologian” here carries a somewhat specialized meaning. It really means someone who contemplates God as the Trinity. But at least we can echo Evagrius and say, “If you do not pray then you are not a theologian.” It is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for becoming a theologian (in the non-Evagrian sense) that one has some kind of prayerful quality to one’s life and thought. How we should understand this is a delicate business. Clearly, it is not the case that if we flop down in a church for half an hour a day we shall emerge from the pew reborn as a latter-day Duns Scotus. But continued exposure to God and a God-centered vision of reality brings a greater quality of intuitive ability when it comes to theological judgment. In other words, if two people who differ on some aspect of theology share a comparable theological culture, but one prays and the other has stopped praying, it is the one who still prays that we should be well advised to follow.

-Aidan Nichols, O.P., The Shape of Catholic Theology, p. 26

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A Shift in Focus

I launched this blog last September with only the vaguest notion of what its contents would likely consist of. Yet, in the course of looking back on what I have written here over the past 10 months, I have made a rather horrifying discovery.

Thulcandra is, to a painfully obvious degree, the blog of a Catholic convert.

Frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised by this. Faith, for better or worse, is a topic for study as well as a way of life; and I have an unfortunate tendency to focus on the former at the expense of the latter. This is partly the result of fear and human weakness—it’s much easier for me to think about religion as a concept than to actually approach the Divine face-to-face—but I can also lay part of the blame on how my mind works (and has worked for as long as I can remember): thoughts tend to bounce around in there and drive me crazy until I make them concrete, either in a spoken conversation or on paper. Having been conceived a mere five months after I entered the Church, I would be slightly skeptical about the authenticity of Thulcandra‘s authorship if it hadn’t become a sand trap for my ongoing musings about Christianity.

(more…)

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Peace

The Holy Trinity

Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris
Quia non est alius
Qui pugnet pro nobis
Nisi tu Deus noster.

* * *

Give peace, O Lord, in our time
Because there is no one else
Who will fight for us
If not You, our God.

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Good News from Vietnam

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Catholic World News reports the following:

Vietnamese government officials have tentatively agreed to return the former offices of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi to the Catholic Church.

In a stunning victory for Catholic activists who had been organizing daily prayer vigils outside the former nunciature in Hanoi, pleading for return of the building that had been confiscated by the Communist leadership in 1959, the government has agreed to turn the building over to Church leaders.

The concession by the Vietnamese government came just hours after the publication of a letter from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, urging Hanoi’s Catholics to avoid confrontation with police. Informed sources in Hanoi said that the government had agreed to allow the Catholic archdiocese to resume use of the building, in exchange for a promise that the daily prayer vigils would stop.

Read the story in its entirety for more details.

The Jesuit who taught freshman Scripture at my high school was Vietnamese. Short by American standards, he cut an imposing figure and commanded the respect of the 14-year-olds he taught. His thickly-accented English at times presented a challenge to the untrained ear, and deciphering his lectures was a skill my fellow students and I had to acquire in the first few weeks of class. A stickler for details, he employed an insane grading scale to our exams: more than one or two wrong answers out of, say, thirty questions, and our chances of getting a passing grade diminished rapidly. He had a short fuse and didn’t hesitate to call students out for laziness or disruptive behavior; my introduction as a Protestant to the Catholic priesthood, he was the first teacher I had encountered who occasionally swore at his students.

Of course, we all loved him. Engaging and at times even playful, he also revealed to us an intellectual seriousness that I had never before encountered in the study of Scripture. And, though I couldn’t articulate this at the time, he conveyed to me the spiritual depth and sincerity of the Catholic faith. (Neither did he shy away from talking about evil: we watched The Exorcist in class near the end of the year.) From ninth grade on, I became an outspoken defender of Catholics to my fellow Protestants, due at least in part to his witness.

Furthermore, he clearly cared about and enjoyed talking to his students. Warm and approachable outside of class, he was an adult whom I sensed that I could trust—which, for a young teenager, was saying a lot. This may have been due in part to his vocation as well: I didn’t necessarily understand the Reconciliation or hold to its efficacy, but I was keenly aware that he had not only to listen to confessions but keep silent about them as well. Each year, probably during Lent, the school held penance services where several priests would make themselves available for confession. At one of these services, compelled by guilt over sins I had committed, I actually went in to speak with him; he didn’t absolve me, of course, but he gave me some advice and a blessing. (I had forgotten that incident until recently, and now I can’t help but see it as foreshadowing my conversion to Catholicism. Though I didn’t understood its necessity or historical precedence until recently, the Sacrament of Penance has always made a lot of sense to me on an intuitive and emotional level.)

As the year drew to a close, he eased up on the workload somewhat and devoted class time to regaling us with stories of his homeland. He was one of many South Vietnamese who had been airlifted out of Saigon in 1975. Yet his tales only touched on the war incidentally, and the bulk of what he told us focused on his life as an ordinary teenager there—he was 16 when Saigon fell. He spoke wistfully of the young women who rode their bicycles to school, their long dresses rippling in the wind. He recalled the rivalries between high schools that would flare up when a boy from one campus started seeing a girl from the other; he showed us the scars on his arms that were the result of these rivalries. (Bicycle chains were apparently the weapon of choice. Like I said, Father cut an imposing figure.) Finally, at the end of the year, he told us his birth name, which we’d been asking him about almost from day one: up until that point we only knew the name he had taken as a priest. We saw this revelation as a concession, though I’m sure he was just holding it back to keep us in suspense.

Life hasn’t been easy for Catholics in Vietnam—since the communists took over, certainly, but apparently in the centuries prior to that as well. It’s a country from which the Church can claim thousands and thousands of martyrs, many of whom have been canonized as saints. I’m no expert in such matters, but I get the impression that Catholics made up a disproportionately percentage of those who left the country in the American war’s aftermath; I don’t know if this particular priest has been back there since.

What has happened in Hanoi is something I find meaningful because I care about Catholic matters and, I like to think, about human freedom. But to the men and women who fled the country at least in part because of their faith—I wonder what the return of these offices means to them? Light in the darkness, perhaps: a visible sign of God’s justice and mercy for His adopted children. And perhaps, for such as my freshman Scripture teacher, the sign that home will one day feel like home again.

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Upcoming Entries

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I’m well aware that, although it’s been over a month since I started this blog, I still haven’t written anything past the obligatory introduction. I suppose part of this could be attributed to a sort of perpetual writer’s block. The written word doesn’t come easily to me; it was a common practice of mine in college to pull an all-nighter every time I had a paper due. Lately, even in my interpersonal interactions (where I am typically the one doing most of the talking), I have felt more inclined to listen than speak. Thus, advertising my thoughts on the internet simply hasn’t been a priority for me in recent days.

I do have plans, though, to prevent Thulcandra from simply remaining inert and collecting the cyberspace equivalent of dust. As I mentioned in my first entry, I was browsing the shelves of the Main Library at UC Berkeley when I ran across a compilation of Catholic apologetics tracts dating from the mid-19th century and bearing the title Church of Our Fathers; since they’re long out-of-print and undoubtedly in the public domain, I figured it might be worthwhile to transcribe the more interesting essays here.

Now, I’ve already stated that I have no intention of making this an apologetics site. At this point in my life, I am definitely more desirous of talking to God than about Him. That being said, I will post those tracts that I think would be worth a read, and for three reasons.

The first is my aforementioned writer’s block. Transcribing someone else’s works will, if nothing else, serve as a placeholder for this blog and keep me coming back to it until the time comes when I find myself able to write something of my own.

The second is that I have a friend who may find these tracts worth reading. For privacy’s sake I won’t say more than that; in any event the internet, and blogs in particular, can serve as an excellent medium for making a body of knowledge public.

In that same vein is my third and final reason: Church of Our Fathers is old and falling apart and not likely to be reprinted anytime soon. Their contents aren’t the finest examples of the genre I’ve come across, but they’re worth preserving and may be useful to someone beyond.

So be on the lookout for a whole slew of entries in the days to come. I hope to have the first one up by the 27th of this month, the 28th at the latest.

That’s all for now.

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The First Post

Greetings, dear reader, and welcome to Thulcandra.

I will be honest and admit that, at the moment, I don’t know what I hope to accomplish with this blog, even though I’ve started it of my own accord and not at anyone else’s suggestion. Matters of faith will likely comprise the majority of its content; Christianity has been my chief spiritual and intellectual preoccupation for a long time, and those who know me personally can attest that I’m capable of rambling on for hours about liturgy and Church history and the finer points of Christian doctrine, given the opportunity and a captive audience. Additionally, I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church this past Easter, so there’s a lot I could say on the topic of conversion as well.

At the same time, that series of tubes we know and love already has its fair share of blogs by Catholic converts, the vast majority of whom are wiser, more knowledgeable, and stronger in their faith than I. Most of what I could say here has already been said elsewhere, with greater depth and in a more articulate fashion than I am capable of; if you want to learn about Catholicism, you’d be better off perusing some of the sites on my blogroll. (Eastern Orthodoxy is also well-represented there.)

More to the point, I am still immature in my faith. Thus, I will be cautious in what I choose to say about matters of doctrine. Original content posted here will, more likely than not, focus on personal experiences of beauty and suffering rather than, say, the filioque clause. I’ll leave that to the experts, or at least to the amateurs who’ve been in the business long enough to write like experts.

Just as I have no wish to overstep my own authority on matters of doctrine or understanding in matters of faith, I also have little desire to serve up the sort of nasty polemic that, unfortunately, characterizes some of the less edifying Catholic forums I’ve encountered on the internet. This includes what is written in the comboxes here; I’ve seen some downright un-Christian speech in my travels through the Catholic blogosphere, and I don’t wish to see this phenomenon repeated on my site.

Now, I can’t say for sure that I’m something I post would encourage this type of unproductive banter. Heck, I don’t even know if anyone’s going to read this blog in the first place, so maybe it’s presumptuous of me to even bring the matter up. If these conditions are met, though, I have a few ground rules I’d like to lay down right off—which, it should be noted, are the rules I intend to follow myself in what I post:

1) Be charitable in what you say and how you say it. Profanity and personal attacks are strictly prohibited.

2) Don’t waste your time blathering on about how the Novus Ordo Missae is part of a plot by the Freemasons, that the current Pope actually lives in Montana, and so forth. Your comments will be deleted. I don’t tolerate sedevacantists and schismatics; and, if you’re a good Catholic, neither should you. Likewise, I expect the more liberal among you to show respect for the Holy Father and for those among the flock who consider themselves traditionalists but are faithful to the Church.

3) Finally, if you aren’t going to use proper punctuation and capitalization in what you type, you’re better off not even submitting a comment. It won’t be posted.

Does that sound fair? No? Too bad. You stray too far into the realm of churlishness, and you simply won’t be represented here.

What, then, do I hope to accomplish here, if bashing Vatican II and attempting to determine the canonical status of the SSPX are out? As I’ve said before, I don’t rightly know. Thulcandra will probably be rather light on original content and heavy on images, poetry (not my own—I’ll spare you that, dear reader), and bits and pieces of texts from which I’ve drawn inspiration and wisdom. I may post a few complete essays on Catholic faith from a rather interesting series of 19th-century tracts I stumbled across at the UC Berkeley library; that being said, apologetics will likely be kept to a minimum.

What do I hope to accomplish? Hope is all that I have for the time being—hope that this will be a place of refuge for friends and strangers, a small corner of goodness and light in a rather dark place (the internet); that what I write will be edifying at best, harmless at worst; and, most of all, that whatever talents I’ve been given may here be put to use for the greater glory of God.

And thus ends my first post. Whew!

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San Leandro, CA, U.S.A.–I’m back.

Jason and I were scheduled to arrive at SFO at 9:30 this morning; favorable weather conditions brought us in a full hour earlier. I walked out of customs just as my parents were walking into the arrivals section. Good timing.

I managed to make it through customs without having my bags searched. Jason wasn’t so fortunate, but the ordeal didn’t take long, at least; after all, neither of us were transporting commercial goods in excess of $2000 in value, or whatever the cap above which one is charged is set at.

The flight wasn’t too fun. The service was (mostly) rude, and the food was terrible; to top it off, there was a great deal of turbulence right after dinner was served–not a good combination, if you ask me. Oh, well. At least they had The Pacifier running continuously on one of their many movie channels. Vin Diesel is the man.

I ate cold cereal for breakfast when I got home. It was the first breakfast I’d had in weeks that wasn’t made up of o-nigiri or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For dinner, my dad barbecued hamburgers–a meal I’d eaten but once in the past six weeks. Next on my list of cravings to be satisfied are mexican food and pizza. If anyone wants to grab lunch, now’s a good time for me.

Before I left for Japan, I weighed about what my doctor told me was the minimum of the “healthy” range for my height. When I got home this morning, I checked to see how I’d fared after several weeks of constant exercise and a less-than-stellar diet. All told, I had dropped around four pounds.

I haven’t been this light since middle school. Yikes. Like I said, if anyone wants to grab lunch….

Ok. I’m really tired. I’m going to sleep now. I might be in Berkeley tomorrow, though, unless I’m totally convalescent or wake up at 3:00 PM, or something. So you might see me then.

Good night.

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