The Moralia, A Classic Newly Available

One of the great classics of Western Literature, “Moral Reflections on the Book of Job”, otherwise known as the Moralia, has not been fully translated into English since 1848, and that translation is outdated. Further, it is very difficult to find a copy, as it has not been reprinted for decades.

What a pleasant surprise, even a delight, it is to discover that Cistercian Publications is publishing a complete set of the Moralia. So far, Volumes 1 and 2 are available.

However, don’t worry about running out of reading material with regards to this set. This is a deep, intense classic, with so much food for thought that the wise person will take their time with it. After all, it was written by a wise man, one of the original doctors of the Western Church, a man in a class with Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, which is high praise indeed.

Most astute observers of classic spiritual literature, especially from ancient times, will tell you that if anything, St. Gregory the Great is UNDERRATED. First, the sheer body of his material extant (available) is massive. Two of his books are unquestioned classics, The Moralia and Pastoral Care, and a third, The Dialogues, borders on such, and many would classify it so.

St. Gregory is one of the most interesting figures in the history of the Church. Certainly he is one of the most respected and revered. There are two popes given the title of great, Leo I and Gregory. Personally, I believe that within two centuries, a third will be added, and it will not be St. John Paul II, who certainly will be most people’s choice. I believe that because of the length of his pontificate and his average administrative skills, and the way some of those under him , including bishops he appointed, did not implement his teachings either faithfully or competently, it may take even further time for the dust to settle and him to receive a more objective appraisal. The length and influence of his pontificate, and the sheer volume of his teachings, likely will earn him the title of great, but I believe it will occur after Paul VI is given this honor. Why? Because he held the Church together during a time of great change and crisis, and he led it to modernize in a way that was faithful to tradition and the Bible. Perhaps most important, he allowed decentralization to occur, and empowered others to use their gifts within the Church. This takes a lot of courage, because many people will misuse this trust. However, with faith in God, it is worth the risks.

These attributes of Paul VI are in many ways applicable to Gregory the Great, and thus we should not take his label, the Great lightly. The man is a giant of the Church and someone whose relevance endures untarnished. In this manner he is much like St. Augustine, whom he greatly admired.

The first two volumes of this new translation of the Moralia are priced at $39.95. Get over the sticker shock, for what you get it is a stupendous deal. First, the book is priced high because its market is limited. The Moralia and its author are profound, and profound does not sell in our culture like entertaining does. As the Introduction to Volume 1 aptly states, what is most admirable about the Moralia is the way St. Gregory engages the crucial issue of life. 1500 years later, his answers may or may not be entirely satisfying. But they make us think, go deeper, and evaluate life and ourselves more honestly.

Most people will want to start with Volume 1 because it offers such an outstanding introduction to both Gregory and the Moralia, as well as their times. The Introduction is a short book in itself. Getting through the Moralia is a slow, cumbersome process, which is why many choose to avoid it.

However, St. Gregory is a master of the spiritual life, and we would be well served  to open ourselves to his wisdom.

The translator is a Trappist Monk from Thomas Merton’s monastery. Needless to say, the translation is excellent. I won a classical prize in Latin in college, and have an appreciation of the language and its nuances, and I am very impressed by this translation. Also, I have published three books on Job, and written numerous articles on it, so I am very in tune with the profundity of the book. St. Gregory is one of the few capable of doing it justice.

A little over 12 years ago,  German biblical scholar Hermann Gunkel’s commentary on Genesis was published by Mercer. Scholars hailed this event, because for many of them Gunkel’s commentary was the all around finest to date. Likewise, you will find a more up to date commentary on Job, but certainly not one as long and profound as Cistercian Publications recent masterpiece.

My greatest tribute is that in reading it you learn how to practice lectio divina, the moastic practice of which Gregory was so fond and skilled, better than ever before. Gregory slows you down, brings you deeper, makes you think, inspires you to listen, and urges you to implement God’s message to you. I can think of few finer tributes.

I suggest starting with Volume 1’s thorough Introduction. This will set the stage for encountering Gregory’s eclectic but masterful style. View the price as an inexpensive fee for a class. Learn from a master for a song.

The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450. Check out their annual clearance sale as well, by requesting a catalog.

If you are interested in the history of the early Church, the book of Job, or ultimate questions on the meaning of life, and are willing to work through a challenging but very rewarding read, you have found your opportunity. Take your time with it, and be grateful that a monk took on the challenge of translating this massive work as a labor of love. We are all the better for it. Thus is the Moralia, in a readable and accurate translation, with helpful white space at the margins for notes and footnotes. It recommends itself. It was influential in the church for a millennia. ’nuff said. Check it out. It’s like purchasing a masterpiece for a pittance.

Though very knowledgeable with respect to the Bible, Gregory was no St. Jerome. Thus he had to grapple with the text in a way familiar to us. He was, however, an unsurpassed pastor, an original thinker, and a sensitive and insightful pastoral theologian who lived his vocation with dignity and style. Get to know him, and some of his attributes and wisdom will rub off, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. And find hope in these horrible times, which as the Introduction notes are in many respects reminiscent of Gregory’s.

 

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Monastic Practices by Charles Cummings, OSCO

Cistercian Publications, an imprint of The Liturgical Press, has recently released a revised edition of Trappist monk Charles Cumming’s Monastic Practices.  The first point to make clear is that this is almost as appropriate for laypersons as for monks. The author speaks in a conversational and personal, but thoughtful and lucid style that makes reading a book enjoyable.

The book offers a multitude of insights and practical suggestions. The first chapter is on sacred reading, or lectio divina, which is an area of my expertise. I found the chapter refreshing, insightful, and helpful for both beginners and those advanced in the practice. It set the tone of the book for me and I realized that this is a very practical yet substantive book that can really be helpful to the reader.

I found the author’s personal, conversational style very engaging, and it is obvious that he has a mastery of the subject, having lived it since 1960. Whether you have a monastic library or are looking to build one up, or you wish to give the book to someone who is seeking to deepen their spirituality, you can’t go wrong with this book.

I suggest ordering it from the liturgical press at litpress.org. Their phone number is 1 -800-858-5450. Until July, they have a great clearance sale going on, so I suggest you also ask for a catalog on that. A lot of great deals on super books.

Monastic Practices is a book to savor, mull over, and dialogue with. And enjoy learning about a lifestyle that has much to say to us today. Extremely highly recommended, and this is from someone, myself, who has worked with monks, stayed at monasteries, and studied monastic spirituality for decades. It’s a book by someone who has lived the life enthusiastically and knows how to impart its essence. Quite well done. The book retails for $19.95, and is worth every penny.

 

 

 

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Hundredfold: A guide to Parish Vocation Ministry

In the book Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry, Mrs. Rhonda Gruenwald has filled a significant need in providing a detailed account of how parishes can develop a vocation ministry. This term is only recently becoming more common in pastoral settings, and indeed many parishes do not have a defined vocation ministry.

The need for such practical guidance as Mrs. Gruenewald gives is all the more acute as our society continues its meteoric moral decline and increasingly fails to make appropriate gender distinctions, culminating in the recent scandal and in biblical parlance abomination of legalized homosexual marriages.

As the Church teaches, marriage is between a man  and a woman. The Church offers support to persons with homosexual tendencies, and rejects all forms of hateful discrimination. However, this does not  entail passivity in the face of the moral plague that homosexual marriage constitutes. The Bible is clear and consistent in its condemnation of homosexuality, and although many  biblical commentators soften this by referring to cultural conditions and mores in place at the time, the Tradition overwhelmingly supports the biblical position.

Homosexual couples are increasingly being presented in the culture as acceptable, and even the norm, and those who protest this are often viewed and treated as reactionary pariahs. What message about heterosexual love does this send to children? How are children of homosexual couples going to have a healthy image of heterosexual marriage? These are questions that have not been taken seriously enough, and unless the Church provides additional guidance at the parish level further confusion is going to result.

Mrs. Gruenewald’s book is invaluable for providing a thorough framework in which vocational formation can take place. The book is full of practical tips for almost every aspect of this ministry. At over 200 pages, the book is almost encyclopedic in its thoroughness. The compartmentalized table of contents and book layout prevents it from being overwhelming.

As I went through the book,  I thought to myself that such a work could only have been written by a woman. In general, women are far superior to men in organizing pastoral activities, and their attention and sensitivity to detail and nuance is commendable. Mrs. Gruenewald has done her homework and expressed in clear guidelines how to develop and further a parish’s vocation ministry. The book’s table of contents enables easy access to topics of interest, so that you can address your practical concerns immediately.

Hundredfold is published by Vianney Vocations and retails for $17.00. Mrs. Gruenewald’s website is vocationministry.com, and her email address is Rhonda@vocationministry.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

I recently visited the Alabama Hall of Fame, which is in Birmingham Alabama. It’s abbreviation is ASHOF. it is located in the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, in downtown Birmingham.

I have visited all the major North American sports halls of fame: Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, swimming, and tennis. ASHOF is slightly different as it features mostly memorabalia and artifacts related to the inductees. It does not have movies and video displays as the major sports halls of fame do.

However, notwithstanding this difference, I found it extremely interesting and well laid out. There are three floors to explore, and one can comfortably tour it in 2-3 hours. Because it chronicles social and cultural changes as well, it holds interest for non-sports fans as well.

Parking and access via the highways is easy, and the staff is very visitor friendly. The gift shops has some very unusual items, including large post cards costing only a quarter.

The sections on its two most famous coaches, Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan, were elaborate and interesting.

I didn’t realize that many famous athletes had ties to Alabama, and I think it would be difficult to find another state with a sports hall of fame to match this one.

Contrary to what the locals say, Alabama did NOT invent football, but you would never  know it if you went to an Alabama home football game. However, after visiting this spacious but manageable museum, you might not be so sure.

I learned about many accomplished athletes and influential and inspirational persons, including Charlie Boswell, the blind golfing champion. At many of these museums I tend to breeze through the written displays, but the ASHOF’s are tasteful and informative. The sponsors and volunteers take great pride in this museum, and rightly so.

 

 

 

 

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Swimming Steps to Success

In 2016, Human Kinetics published a detailed guide to swimming by Coach Scott Bay.

Swimming: Steps to Success is a dynamic, comprehensible manual on the mechanics and experience of swimming. It is technically proficient yet accessible. It teaches you how to swim properly, and anticipates common errors and obstacles. It provides you with guidelines on how to overcome them as well.

Swimming has so many technical nuances that a book on it could easily be boring and dry. Coach Bay’s book is neither of those, nor is it light and banal. If you are looking for a serious, readable, technically proficient guide to swimming for swimmers of all levels of ability, you have found it in this book. It is like having hours of swimming lessons with one of the most respected instructors in the country. The book contains: detailed lessons on almost every aspect of swimming. It is like having Coach Bay in the water alongside you, urging you on. The pictures and design of the book complement the instructions, making it tolerable to work through: like practicing swimming, it is work, but rewarding and highly beneficial.

You can tell from reading this book that the author has put in the hours not only studying swimming from a theoretical perspective, but in working with swimmers at all levels. The book is down-to-earth, conversational, and thought-provoking. The book is well organized; you can navigate it easily and skip what is not of interest without losing your place.. Very highly recommended. An outstanding investment no matter your level of proficiency. This makes a great gift for both young and old who are trying to enjoy and optimize the experience of swimming rather than be frustrated or overwhelmed by it.

Swimming along with walking is the best exercise going. It is appropriate for persons of all ages. Coach Bay’s book will help you enjoy it more, without making it a burden. This book is an investment in your health and well-being, and for less than you would pay for a private swimming lesson at the YMCA! This is a trustworthy manual from a coach who has worked with Olympic athletes and world record holders as well as upstarts and stiffs (those well-meaning individuals like me who make it through the water but only by divine providence). Well done, and very much worth checking out.

 

 

 

 

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On the Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture

In 2014, the Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a document entitled “The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture.” This grew out of the 2008 Synod on the Bible and Benedict XVI’s 2010 apostolic exhortation”Verbum Domini.” It seeks to clarify the import of difficult biblical passages and to present a theologically and anthropologically prudent way of looking at the different parts of the Bible.

Currently, no complete English version of this document exists online. Most likely, the Vatican’s website, vatican.va, will eventually fill this void. For now we have this book by the Liturgical Press which contains the statement in full, without commentary.

The Liturgical Press has done us a great service by making this document available. It is a very dense document due to the subject, but it is also remarkably accessible. It is neither excessively academic or technical, though some background in biblical studies is necessary in order to assimilate its finer points. Nonetheless, any sincere layperson with a basic understanding of the historical context of the Bible and the Church’s teaching on its proper interpretation will be able to make their way through it.

However, this book/document is not an easy read. The concepts are challenging and require reflection and prudent application. If the reader views the book as an orthodox course in the Bible, and commits to a sustained reading of it, it will likely bear abundant fruits.

Two sections stood out for me in terms of pastoral application. The first was on violence in the Bible and the second is on the social status of women. What do we do with parts of the Old Testament that pray for vengeance, and rejoice in the destruction of enemies? How do we interpret St. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the family and the Christian assembly? These are subjects of great interest to many, and thus make for intriguing reading.

This book reveals one of the outstanding attributes of the Catholic Church, which is its dynamic and prudent approach to the Biblical texts. First, it only rarely defines authoritatively the meaning of a passage. Second, and this flows in part from the first point, it allows for departure from non-infallible teaching on the subject, provided that it be done in a charitable spirit and in a non-scandalous, non-divisive manner.

For example, the section on the social status of women comes down strongly on the side of those who would emphasize the cultural conditioning of these texts. Thus women troubled by these texts can find consolation and guidance from them. Conversely, those who disagree with this perspective can do so in good conscience, because it is not an infallible text, although it was approved by Pope Francis.

The danger exists that the texts might be rendered culturally obsolete, and thus the deeper religious meaning be lost. Also, the document fails to recognize that contemporary perspectives on gender roles are not infallible. Our culture can hardly stand in harsh judgment of the biblical peoples, considering the immoral practices rampant in our society: legalized abortion, violence against BOTH men and women, and the objectification of BOTH sexes.

Here, the so-called sensus fidelium comes into play. Many women who have been married for a number of decades, and who were brought up in the pre-Vatican II Church believe in biblical teaching on women’s attitudes and behavior, and of course they interpret it with common sense, balance, and reciprocality. Submission does not mean slavery. So much more needs to be explored on this subject, but at least this document provides another authoritative attempt towards clarification.

This document builds on the last PBC document, which dealt with moral teaching in the Bible. If one chooses to read this book cover to cover, it will take time. But it will be well worth it, for it represents the perspective of expert biblical commentators seeking to offer clarity for the faithful on a subject that will always retain some ambiguity. It really is like an advanced course in the Bible that has been accommodated to the needs of the faithful. The Liturgical Press has done us a service in making it available. Here is the link to the book on their website: litpress.org:

https://www.litpress.org/Products/4903/The-Inspiration-and-Truth-of-Sacred-Scripture.  The book retails for $19.95. Not a bad price for a reliable course on the Bible adapted to today’s pastoral needs.

 

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The Catholic Voter

This article was written by a friend and fellow author in the fall of 2008. Many of its points are just as relevant today. It recalls the turbulent and historic presidential campaign, and gives us an opportunity to consider how things have evolved.

THE CATHOLIC VOTER

In a reflection published last Fall entitled Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship, the American Catholic bishops repeated their previously stated view that direct abortion is intrinsically evil, and, as such, has a special claim on the consciences of Catholics who participate in the electoral process. Catholics have generally understood that they are prohibited from voting for any candidate who favors an intrinsic evil, and the new letter reaffirms that understanding. But the Bishops were careful to say that the prohibition applies only when the intent of the voter is to support such an objectionable position. That is an important qualification. But what is of primary importance in Faithful Citizenship is its recognition that one may vote for a nominee who is pro –choice, provided, again, that the vote is not in support of that position, and if there are other grave moral reasons for casting such a vote. The opening of that opportunity has led some Catholics to organize, and promote, the candidacy of Barack Obama for President .

Catholics For Obama have effectively highlighted the various ways in which the domestic policy positions of their candidate can be reconciled with important social teachings of the Church. Obama’s concerns for working families, the poor, and health care reform are just some of the ways in which his Catholic supporters see the prospect of reconciling political campaigning with religious and moral principle. With respect to foreign affairs, Obama’s objections to the war in Iraq and his determination to bring the conflict to an end, as well as to continue to pursue terrorists, are all emphasized by these church members who have joined to support him. However, neither this organization, nor the Catholic electorate at large, have given serious attention to how well either candidate measures up against the deeper principles of the Church concerning the avoidance of war and the pursuit of peace.

For centuries, the Catholic Church has opposed the use of violence to resolve conflicts between nations as well as between individuals. Following the devastation and horror of the Second World War the determination of Church leaders to build a peaceful world intensified. In 1963 Pope John XXIII published his encyclical letter entitled Pacem et Terris ( Peace On Earth) which became broadly popular especially because of emphasis upon the resolution of international disputes through negotiation rather than the use of force. In an address to the United Nations, his successor, Paul VI, made a dramatic appeal that there be “ War Never Again”. At the Second Vatican Council the Council Fathers, while recognizing the right of legitimate defense, called upon all to devise better means of protecting the common security. In articulating the elements of a peaceful world, the Council affirmed multilateral diplomacy and encouraged the strengthening of international organizations. Later, Pope John Paul II called for greater solidarity among the various nations. It was his strong conviction that the choice of togetherness over mutual isolation would be a sure path to unity and peace.

In writing Faithful Citizenship the American Bishops took full account of this accumulated wisdom .At the very outset of the reflections they call the faithful “ to be peacemakers in a nation at war “. They condemn specific violent actions such as unjust war and the torture of prisoners. And they exhort political leaders to strive to resolve all international disputes by peaceful means. In the Bishop’s conception, the moral obligation to avoid war and work for peace is a particular application of the broader respect that is owed to the dignity of the human person as well as the right to life.

To the degree that Faithful Citizenship addresses international relations the Bishops attention is directed towards matters that go beyond basic questions of war and peace. They embrace a wide range of issues from the protection of human rights and religious liberty to concern for the poor and the proper care of the enviroment. All of these problems impact the formation of a morally oriented political conscience; yet in approaching this important presidential election we must make fundamental order and peace our main concern. Without such stability nothing of lasting value can be accomplished either by ourselves or by the international community as a whole.
In evaluating how well the two candidates understand our relationship to the larger world community we must try to examine them with as much impartiality as is possible, in spite of the political pressures to which are constantly subject as our votes are solicited. While both Senators have taken foreign policy positions that, in the light of Church teaching, may be viewed favorably, those who prefer Barack Obama may find additional justifications for their general support. In spite of some waffling, Obama has demonstrated a much greater desire to negotiate the resolutions of international disputes – with enemies as well as friends – than has his opponent. Because of both his personal experience and his ancestry John McCain is more the warrior than the diplomat. He is particularly uncomfortable dealing with the complexities of international organizations and has called for the creation of a ‘League of Democracies’ which, if established, would further weaken an already fragile United Nations system. By contrast, Obama’s multicultural origins provide a breadth and inclusiveness that would serve him well in dealing with the great ethnic and cultural differences that divide the world community.

By repudiating single-issue politics, the Catholic Bishops have enhanced the capacity of Church members to be involved in the political process to a much greater degree than had previously been possible. The obligation to resist whatever is intrinsically evil persists; however, the expanded scope of relevant issues will make the Catholic vote of much greater importance to the final outcome. May that vote be cast in a manner that not only promotes the common good of the nation but also welfare and well-being of the entire human community.

Cornelius F Murphy Jr. October, 2008

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