Sit Tempus

The hymn "Ubi Caritas" dates from the late Eighth Century A.D., and is traditionally sung in the Western Church as one of the antiphons during the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday of Easter Week. Here is a nice version of the traditional hymn.

The lyrics are as follows:

Latin text
English translation
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).
Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages. Amen.

A few contemporary composers have rearranged the hymn or based longer works on the theme of the hymn. Three of my favorite contemporary works on this theme are by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, a contemporary chorale and symphonic composer whose various compositions often "strike a chord" within me (pun intended). The following are versions of Gjeilo's "Ubi Caritas" and "Ubi Caritas II" (which he has stated are, to his mind, "bookends," meaning that they work as stand alone pieces or performed together in order), the first sung by the exquisite British a cappella group Voces8, and the second performed by the Central Washington University Chamber Choir, with the composer accompanying the choir with an improvised piano part. While choirs also perform the second piece without a piano accompaniment, I usually think that it's interesting to see the composer of a piece perform it. I hope that readers enjoy these versions as much as I do. The advertisements are annoying, but a small price of admission, I think.

As much as I love versions I and II, I most love Gjeilo's third variation on this theme, entitled "Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III)." The following version is sung by the Dutch professional chamber choir Cantatrix, with orchestral accompaniment. The pictures that are featured in the video are well-suited to the music. As we approach Christmas day, I hope those of you whose hearts are open to it are touched to some degree by the beauty of this music.

Sit tempus (Blessed be the moment).

The Cult Of The Shadow

God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. 

Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it! 

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…. 

The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God's will, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity…. 

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. 

This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy. 

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love - outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion. 

We are not very good at recognising illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves - the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. 

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered.

Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honour, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface…


We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real...and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.
--Thomas Merton, "New Seeds of Contemplation"

I think that so many of us spend our lives in the cult of the shadow, wearing our masks and wondering why, even if others buy the facade, we--in our heart-of-hearts--do not. Come home to reality, before it's too late.

To High Places By Narrow Roads

A hymn composed in 1841 by poet, actress, and hymn writer Sarah Flower Adams, Nearer My God to Thee was arranged about seven or eight years ago by a Mormon named James Stevens, the then-artisitc director of a men's acapella vocal group at Brigham Young University, BYU Vocal Point. Stevens added a chorus of Latin background vocals, using the Vulgate, or Ecclesiastical, Latin pronunciation, the pronunciation used in the Catholic Church liturgy and in modern spoken Latin. It's closer in sound to modern Italian than to classical Latin. For example, in the line "Caelitus Mihi Viries," "Caelitus" is pronounced "Chaelitus" rather than "Kaelitus," and "Viries" as "Viries" rather than "Wieries." That might sound like a difference only a nerd could love, and perhaps that's correct. On the other hand, it displays an in-depth knowledge of a faith not his own that the marks the composer (to me, at least) as a person both learned and interesting.

In this season of Advent, I'll let anyone who's interested surrender to an unexpected arrangement of a 19th Century hymn, one both modern and yet, in many ways, classic.

The English translation of the Latin lyrics: "At the moment of death/My strength is from heaven/God helping, nothing should be feared/Forever/Direct us, O Lord/To high places by narrow roads/Such is the path to the stars/Ever upward."

This particular video has been viewed (to date) over 28 million times. I guess even the non-religious appreciate the very human yearning for the transcendent, at least when it's expressed so well.

Sell Your Cleverness and Buy Bewilderment

And yet, I still struggle. Lord I believe, help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24). Faith does not give you the kind of certitude that you have when you learn something from a book. Why do I confess Christ, but wrestle to trust Him, and to obey Him? Why do I know that He is who He says He is, yet I do not love Him with all my heart, and I do not do as He commanded, and love my neighbor as myself? Why could those men of the High Middle Ages raise a matchless cathedral for the love of God, but I can’t even raise myself up out of bed early to pray as I should?

I have no answer, other than that dying to oneself takes a lifetime.
---Rod Dreher, "The Rose Window and the Labyrinth"

The great fault of our age (as of every age, from my reading of history) is pride. A lack of humility poisons everything, across all segments of society. Our political arena alone is so bereft of humility that any admission of human doubt or weakness is a death sentence. 

Here's a news flash: we're all full of crap. Every one of us. Those most self-assured are, most assuredly, the most full of it, but even the few saints among us, while they might have less than the rest of us, are not completely spic and span. One critical difference between a saint and "a man in full," however, is that the saint will recognize and confess that fact. 

Rod's right, I think. Dying to oneself does, indeed, take a lifetime. I wish I'd understood this sooner in life. I wish more people, particularly those who propose to lead us, understood this now.

On The Cusp Of The Rough Voiced Future

Autumn Road

 I follow the clean-edged macadam north

To catch the train. The maples lining both
Sides hang with leaves turned soft but brilliant reds,
Oranges, and umbers that will make their beds
Soon in the unmown grass that lines my street,
And crumble at the weight of passing feet.
The people who just moved in three doors down
Have ringed their banisters in black and brown
And hung a skeletal child from a swing,
Its eyeless stare a dark and menacing
Reminder to pray for the dead and of those
Horrors the coming darkness may disclose.
We haven’t met the tenants yet, and don’t
Want to. A glance into their yard has sown
Nightmares already in my children’s sleep,
Shaking them teared and screaming from its deep.
We’ve heard them crush their beer cans, out to smoke
Late at night, and guffaw at some crude joke.
A few doors farther on, the lawn is spiked
With signs for candidates I’ve long disliked.
Just seeing their names induces in me fear
Less supernatural but much more near
At hand than those that haunt the children’s dreams.
But then, I see that new foundations, beams
Of smooth pine pitched high in the sun, where two
New homes are rising, promise something new;
And hear St. Monica’s bronze bells in her tower
Govern our hillside as they toll the hour,
Chastening us that though our time seem dire,
Much has endured through beating rains and fire,
And good can still be made in this dark season.
I read a book last week that says our reason
No longer sees the world as from God’s eyes;
Where the ancient mind saw signs, ours now denies
To it all but the most material meaning.
I’m not so sure. It seems that thoughts are leaning
Up against every fence post, and the earth,
Stared at, stares back and quietly brings to birth
Between us words, morals, and promises
Which we might overlook but can’t dismiss.
I worry, as a father, that the year
Ahead will bear out omens all too clear
Such that my children, grown, will only know
The clash of good and evil’s fiery glow.
I stop to let the speeding traffic pass.
The gutter’s tiled with tins and broken glass.
Across the way, the Veteran’s Memorial
With polished granite, stirring flags, and aureole
Of silver guards the entrance to the station.
Its plaque says, These gave their lives for our nation.
I wait, clutching my ticket in my hand,
For what the rough voiced future will demand.

—James Matthew Wilson


"The Ship"
---Bishop Brent

What is dying
I am standing on the seashore, a ship sails in the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says: "She is gone."
Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says,
"She is gone"
there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout:
"There she comes!"
and that is dying.

Several years before she died, my mother told me that she stopped believing in the existence of God the day my brother Jeff died in July 1989. I told her that was the day that I started to seek again the faith in which I was raised, though I didn't conceive of the search in that way at that time, and though it took me 16 more years to rediscover it.

"Well," she stated, "I think it's all a myth. You live and then you die and that's the end."

"I'll pray for you," I replied, tenderly, and I meant it.

She laughed.

Each of us grapples with the age-old questions in his or her own way. I am convinced by now, especially after recent experiences, that none of us can accurately get inside another person's head and see the world through their eyes, no matter how close we think we might be to them, and no matter how much we think we share in common. Even those of us who share the same DNA and the same close family history are often as different as if we had been raised by different tribes. All we can do is try to explain the world as we see it and hope that what we say strikes a common chord in others, or that others can, by sharing their perceptions with us, shape and inform our perceptions in positive ways.

By the way, I have honored the immediately preceding paragraph in the breach as often, or perhaps more often, than I have in the observance. It doesn't lessen its truth, if it has any.

As to death, I've come to the conclusion that if there is no ultimate justice, if the wicked are not punished and the righteous are not justified, then life is simply a matter of personal opinion and, objectively, ultimately meaningless. I don't want to get into an existential debate with anyone, I'm merely communicating how I personally perceive life and death. I choose to believe that my brothers Jeff and Dan, my sister Kathy (Kate, as she named herself), my mother Marjorie, and my father Joseph, exist in some conscious form in some other realm where truth, beauty, and the good are fully realized. If I didn't believe that, not only could I not proceed to perform the mundane tasks that I must perform today, I would be compelled to take a flamethrower and meet out mankind's notion of justice here and now.

A former friend, who is a close friend of a brilliant neuroscientist, used to tell me that the neuroscientist said that human beings' brains were hard-wired to desire something more than they had, which "evolution" had programmed into the brain as a survival mechanism. It gives us our motivation to plan and anticipate the future. She offered this as an explanation for human beings' seemingly constant search for something more from existence than what they experience with their five senses, and as an alternative to the existence of God. I asked her, assuming that her friend was correct, who or what had created a process of evolution that includes rules and possible outcomes that led to the ultimate result that human beings have the need to anticipate the future through a feeling of discontent as means of survival, but that Rhesus Monkeys do not? Who is the "programmer"? Frankly, she didn't know and didn't care.

Well, I do care.

My belief is close to what a whip-smart (and since-fallen) Franciscan once asserted to me: that we are discontented because we are not made for this Earth. We are all pilgrims, marooned in the land of the enemy, making our way to what we hope will be our true home. It's a common view, not at all original, and I think that makes it not one iota less "true" than my former friend's friend's view that it's all random atoms colliding and reacting in accordance with laws that were created by random chance or an impersonal force.

To me, we're all ships sailing on often storm-tossed seas, struggling to stay afloat until we reach home. There, we'll find our true safe harbor. Until then, we'll never be calm, never at rest, never at peace. In this life, our ships cannot rest at harbor because this world does not provide one, although many of us believe that our faith provides passage to one in the next life. In that next life, I pray that I'll sail with those I once loved and love still, on an ocean more glorious than the mind of man could even hope to imagine.

Je Regrette Tout

Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late -- a crop of inextinguishable regrets.
--Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. 

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

--From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot