This is a rocktopus, a rock-octopus, get it?
This is a rocktopus, a rock-octopus, get it?
I studied Latin for all four years of college, although I didn’t have a particular reason for choosing that language at the time. I had to take twelve credits in a foreign language, and once I had started Latin I was having too much fun to stop (if you can believe it). It wasn’t until after I had graduated and was teaching Latin in a private Christian middle school that I gave some serious thought to Reasons for Studying Latin.
Latin is a dead language. That is, nobody speaks it as their native language. There are only a handful of people today fluent enough in Latin to have a good conversation. Because of this, studying a dead language needs special justification. You will never need Latin in a foreign country (except maybe the Vatican). Speaking Latin will never get you a job (unless you work for the Pope or teach at a private school). Any time you spend on a dead language is time you could have spent on a living language like Spanish or Chinese.
I was tempted at first to say that there are good reasons and bad reasons for studying Latin, but I realized that it isn’t exactly true. There are no truly bad reasons to study Latin. Instead, there are primary and secondary reasons for studying Latin. The primary reasons are good in and of themselves – they are sufficient reasons to merit spending time on Latin. The secondary reasons are good, but they aren’t sufficient alone to merit the enormous amount of time and energy it will take to master the language. There has to be at least one primary reason.
These secondary reasons all together might make a pretty good case for studying Latin, but I would argue that without one of these three primary reasons below, you will be better off studying a living language.
These are the primary reasons for studying Latin. You won’t get these benefits by studying a living language. I think every Christian in the West should know at least a little Latin, if only so that we do not lose touch with our great heritage. It isn’t as hard as people say it is, and you might even find it fun, like I did..
One of my goals for the next year is to memorize some hymns. I think that every Christian should have some good hymns memorized. Hymns are more fun than rote prayers, and they can be sung with others. Saint Augustine says, “He who sings prays twice.” Hymns can be sung in the car, if you don’t have any other good places to sing. If you get secular pop music stuck in your head, you can drive it out with beautiful hymns.
Part of the impetus for this exercise is the poor quality of hymns in my church. I am starved for good sacred music. The Breaking Bread missal has some good hymns in it, good old traditional hymns (some of them are even in Latin!), but our choir somehow never ends up singing any of them. The songs they sing have wandering melodies, unmetered verses, and a range unsingable for the average male. The subject matter is usually scriptural, but the songs (unlike scripture) somehow manage to be sentimental and bland. Often, we end up singing the words of God in the first person. This is awkward, and while not all good hymns address God directly, the ideal of prayer is having a conversation with God, not being a parrot. Worse, a few of the hymns are ambiguous enough that they could be construed as heretical (and unfortunately many of our parishioners are probably not well-catechized enough to avoid this pitfall). Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about it for the time being, other than sing my own hymns.
I intend to start by memorizing a few hymns in Latin, and a few in English:
In Latin: Jesu Dulcis Memoria, Attende Domine, Tantum Ergo Sacramentum, O Salutaris Hostia, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Te Deum, Pange Lingua Gloriosi, Te Lucis Ante Terminum.
In English: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Lift High the Cross, Be Still My Soul, At the Name of Jesus, Be Thou My Vision, Holy God We Praise Thy Name.
The above are strictly hymns, but it’s also worth knowing how to sing an assortment of psalms, canticles, and prayers of the mass. Here are some extras: The Canticle of Simeon, the Canticle of Mary, the Canticle of Zechariah, the Gloria, the Confiteor, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Nicene Creed, the Rosary, and the Salve Regina. All of these have been set to music, so you can sing them whenever your want instead of just praying them.
I made this sketch on a post-it note at work, during a lull. It’s not my only picture of a rat wearing Victorian-era clothing. There are more to come. This rat bears an uncanny resemblance to G.K. Chesterton. My wife and I used to have a pair of pet rats named Squirmy and Musculus, but – unlike this rat – they kept their whiskers very neat and uncrumpled.
Here’s my cleaned-up and colorized image. I think the hand-drawn sketch conveys an emotional quality that is maybe lost in the computer-drawn version, which is why I have included it.
This is a more complete version of my rough sketch earlier. I don’t know exactly where this picture came from – it arose out of the depths of my subconscious mind, which is a little worrying now that I look at it. The Latin says (roughly) “always know where your towel is,” although a “sudarium” isn’t exactly a towel. In fact, if you wanted it to, it could refer to the sudarium.
I am going to write a few saints lives over the next few months. As I get closer to confirmation, I have a growing sense of the reality of the communion of saints. The Body of Christ is not only those who now live and walk on earth, but all those who have ever died in His grace. The more I study the lives of the canonized saints, the great martyrs and confessors of Christian history, the more I feel truly connected to the Church Triumphant.
I think that one of the surest ways to become a saint is to be the friend of a saint (whether they are canonized or sitting beside you in the pews). Studying the lives of the Saints shows that one true disciple of Christ can set dozens or hundreds of lukewarm Christians on fire. We are one body in Christ – our relationship with Jesus is never merely personal, in the sense of individualistic or private. Our relationship with Jesus is inextricable from our relationship with other believers.
This is why it is important to get to know the Saints. They are inspiring, but they are also our brothers and sisters. Hagiography is really genealogy, for these are our ancestors in faith.
Ignatius of Antioch was a student of the Apostle John, a native Syrian, and the third bishop of Antioch. (Antioch was a large city in modern day Turkey, one of the five major centers of Christendom in the Apostolic age, along with Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Byzantium.) His seven letters, written while he was being taken to Rome for trial, are inspiring, but they also give us a fascinating insight into the early church. St. Ignatius is one of the earliest Christian writers of the Apostolic age. His letters are the earliest record of the word “Catholic” in reference to the Church of Jesus Christ, and the first to describe the office of bishop in depth. He is also the first writer to respond to the Docetic heresy, which was beginning to cause quite a lot of trouble even in the first century. St. Ignatius is not officially a Doctor of the Church, but Pope Benedict XVI called him “the Doctor of Unity” because of his many strong exhortations for early Christians to seek unity through strict obedience to their bishops.
St. Ignatius was born in approximately 35 AD. He was a contemporary of the twelve Apostles and St. Paul, although he seems to have personally known only St. John, the youngest of the Apostles. Almost every book of the New Testament was written between his birth and his martyrdom. During his lifetime, in distant Britain, so far away that it might have been called the end of the world, London was being founded. Closer to home, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, in accordance with Jesus’ apocalyptic prophecies of imminent destruction. This makes St. Ignatius one of the earliest Saints, along with Pope Clement I and Polycarp, not to be mentioned in the Bible.
St. Ignatius was martyred around the year 108, eaten by lions in the Circus Maximus at Rome. Persecution of Christians during this time period was not an official policy of the Roman Empire (as it would later become), but was due to the great difficulty that Christians had fitting in and following the laws and traditions of the pagan world. Bishops and other leaders were common targets for persecution (as they still are today, throughout the world) because they were considered dangerous instigators and revolutionaries. Try to see it from the Romans’ point of view: Christians worshiped a convicted criminal in highly secretive ceremonies and refused to participate in public religion. This was considered highly unpatriotic behavior among the Romans. It was evidence of treason. Christians were considered atheists, because they denied that the pagan gods even existed, and (perhaps worse) they were suspected of cannibalism, for it quickly leaked to the public that the secret rituals of Christians involved (in some unexplained sense) eating human flesh and drinking human blood.
During his time as bishop of Antioch, Ignatius struggled against Docetism, a type of Gnostic heresy. A lot of modern people assume (apparently, due to the highly imaginative fiction of Dan Brown) that worship of Jesus Christ as a Divine Person was a late development. The existence of the Docetic heresy shows that they are very wrong. The Docetists believed so strongly in the divinity of Jesus that they refused to believe in the Incarnation. God is spirit, they held, and Jesus is God: Therefore, they reasoned, Jesus must be a pure incorporeal spirit who only seemed to be a man. Ignatius, and other Catholic Christians who had received the faith from the Apostles, fought hard against this misunderstanding, which nevertheless did not fully disappear until the middle ages. Catholics like Ignatius affirmed that Jesus was simultaneously human and divine.
St. Ignatius is a powerful early witness to devotion to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. For the Docetist heretics, the Incarnation and the Doctrine of the Real Presence were stumbling blocks for the same reason. Ignatius writes, “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God . . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” Ignatius called the Eucharist the “antidote against death” and the “medicine of immortality.”
Throughout his letters, St. Ignatius encourages obedience to the clergy, and gives evidence of a tripartite hierarchical structure (bishops, priests, and deacons) that is much more clearly delineated than it is in the letters of St. Paul. In fact, his exhortations to obedience are more strongly worded than just about any other saint. “Where the bishop is to be seen,” Ignatius writes, “there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church.” For Ignatius, the bishop is a visible sign of the presence of Jesus Christ in his Church, and the only sure means of unity.
As he journeyed to Rome for his trial and execution, Ignatius hoped for nothing less than martyrdom. In fact, he desired it so much that he asked that no one try to help or save him: “I write to all the churches and charge them all to know that I die willingly for God, if only you do not hinder. I beseech you, do not unreasonably befriend me. Suffer me to become the food of wild beasts, through whom I may attain to God. I am God’s grain, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” There is something Eucharistic even in his conception of martyrdom, just as there is something sacrificial in his conception of the Eucharist.
Ignatius was eaten by two lions in the Circus Maximus in about the year 108 AD. According to one account, nothing was left of his body but some crunched up bones. (These currently rest in the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome.) Shortly afterwards, his friends saw him in several visions: “Some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dripping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord.”
St. Ignatius, pray for us. Pray that we may yearn for martyrdom as you did. Pray that we may be strengthened in loyalty to our bishops and that we may strive to imitate our suffering God in all things.
Further reading: There are seven letters of St. Ignatius that are generally considered genuine by historians. They are short, and all of them are worth reading. The eyewitness account of his martyrdom, “Martyrium Ignatii,” is considered mostly reliable in spite of later interpolations and probably a lot of poetic license.
Someone told me that blogs are more successful when you put up a picture of yourself. . . .
This is a great way to save money, if you are willing to have a very conservative haircut. The initial investment is about the same cost as a professional haircut, and you will save more than $100 in the first year. It’s a great feeling to have control over your own hair. Before I cut my own hair, I would let it grow out for two months or more before it bothered me enough to go to the barber. Now I cut it every other week.
Your haircuts may not be professional quality for the first few months, so don’t do this right before an interview or a date. (I speak from experience – the haircut took ten minutes, but the mockery has endured.) After a few tries, you will begin to perfect the technique.
You will need: Hair clippers, scissors. Do not get hair clippers with a single adjustable guard – it will change in the middle of your haircut and shave off a huge swath of hair, right down to the scalp before you notice.
1. Put the guard attachment on the clippers. I use a number four. This will give you a very short haircut, but your scalp will not show through the hair. Three or lower makes you look like an army recruit.
2. Run the clippers over your hair in all directions. Move against the grain whenever you can. Clear out hair that has built up in the clippers occasionally. Don’t look too closely in the mirror – it’s easier to do this by touch. Run your hands through your hair to find places you may have missed. Keep going until you are certain you haven’t missed anything. The swirl on top of your head is particularly hard to get. When the clippers aren’t cutting any more hair, move to the next step.
3. If you want to, you can use increasingly short guards to taper your hair around the back and sides. This takes a lot more skill, and you can mess it up pretty badly, so don’t do this until you are feeling very confident. If you do this you can go longer between haircuts, but it looks just fine if you leave it at a uniform length.
4. Remove the guard from the clippers. Use the blades to trim your sideburns. Choose a point of reference so that your sideburns look even. I draw a line between the corner of my eye and a particular fold of my ear. Barely graze your skin with the clippers, or you will end up with red, burned-feeling skin.
5. Next, use the blades of the clippers to trim the neck. This is difficult, as you will need to draw a somewhat straight line across the back of your neck. Use your sense of touch. A mirror will just mislead you. Don’t cut too high. Go slowly.
6. Use the scissors to trim extra hair around the ears. This is the hardest part. Use the mirror. Make little cuts with the tips of the scissors to draw a smooth, even curve from the back corner of the sideburns to the area directly behind the ear.
7. Clear leftover hair out of the clippers. Oil the clippers before putting them away.
I drew this dragon in MS Paint, MS Paint is a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to art, especially when one is drawing with clicks of the mouse. The dragon is mainly made of simple shapes like circles and triangles, which I arranged in the approximate shape of a dragon and then connected with curved lines.
A few more thoughts on the dragon: It’s coughing because dragons always smoke, and it is presumably very irritating to their lungs. This is possibly the least majestic and terrifying dragon I have ever seen.
I want to be clear up front. There is, in the end, only one good reason for anyone to join a religion: Truth. It doesn’t seem like I should have to say it – it should be obvious – but to many postmodern Westerners, it is not obvious that truth should have anything to do with religion. Converts say things like this: “I like the music,” “the worship service makes me feel so close to God,” “the people made me feel so welcome,” “I felt a strange warmth within my chest,” or even “it is my opinion that this is the right place for me.” I will not discount the power of music, liturgy, and love to open hearts to the truth. (They have all played a role in my conversion – it would be dishonest of me to forget this.) Nevertheless, without truth, these things lead to emptiness, a dead end.
Everyone has a different conversion story, because everyone comes from a different place. I came from non-religiousity into protestant Christianity at a fairly young age through the simple and strong call of a God who said (though not in so many words) “follow me.” In college, I was baptized and started attending a Baptist church, not because I had discerned the differences between Christians and settled on one denomination in particular, but because I had to start somewhere. The church was on my block, and it had traditional hymns, a belltower, and a huge pipe organ. (I pray that all Catholic parishes may someday receive the eucharist as reverently as these Baptists took communion.) I learned so much while I was attending this church. I don’t think of my protestant beginnings as a mistake, but rather as an important first step, a period of catechesis.
The jump between protestant Christianity and Catholicism can be so exhilarating that converts often dwell on Catholic distinctives. For the moment, I want to dwell on Christian distinctives, things that we all agree on to some degree, positive affirmations which I think find their fullest expression in the Catholic faith. (I’ll follow up soon in another article to explain why I am no longer a protestant.)
1. The Catholic Church has lots of miracles, even in our times. The Catholic Church has been associated with many well-verified and undisputed miracles. Some Catholics are reluctant to give this as a reason to believe, as though they are cheating by not using pure reason to find God. To my thinking, what else are miracles for? A Catholic does not see miracles every day, but they do happen every day, especially in mission territories and in the wake of great Saints. The power of the Church to rebuke and cast out evil spirits is practically undisputed. The miraculous healings at Lourdes are carefully scrutinized and medically verified. The miracle of the Sun at Fatima was witnessed by a crowd of thousands, as was the apparition of a crucified Jesus Christ in the sky in Ocotlan, Mexico in 1847. The miraculous acheiropoieton image of the Virgin Mary that appeared on St. Juan Diego’s cloak not only has utterly failed to decay in 500 years, but it converted practically the whole indigenous population of South America in a few years, where missionaries had previously failed to make any progress. Eucharistic miracles, like those of Lanciano and Bolsena, are signs validating distinctively Catholic doctrines.
2. The Catholic Church is supported by history. The life of Christ is one of the most well-attested historical events of ancient history. The gospels seem to really be four more-or-less independent accounts by four eyewitnesses, two of whom are Apostles. The Apostles, the people who knew Jesus best, died as martyrs, refusing to recant what they had seen even under pain of death. People are convicted on far less evidence in criminal court every day. Claims that the Catholic Church was invented by the Emperor Constantine (a rumor started by protestants and continued by secular anti-Catholics like Dan Brown) turn out to be completely unfounded, a hypothesis contrary to all existing evidence. The truth is that Catholics are Catholics all the way back. The primary sources exist – all you have to do is read them.
3. The Catholic Church brings clarity where there was only confusion before. It is the lens through which the world becomes intelligible. No other point of view quite fully encompasses the reality we experience. Perhaps this is why the early Christians started calling themselves Catholics (from Greek: kata holos, according to the whole thing, universal). No other point of view makes sense of the deep questions we are all practically born asking. Where do I come from? Why am I here? What is true? Before, I was groping in the dark. Now, by God’s light, the world, the whole thing (the Catholic thing) is becoming ever clearer.
4. The Catholic Church is one of the only voices proclaiming the obvious things that we all need to hear. For one thing, that the Truth is out there. It’s not within you; It’s out there, and you should go look for it. The world has forgotten that two contradictory assertions cannot both be true. If we have a disagreement, we might just have a misunderstanding. We might be acting on limited information or poorly thought-out premises. We might both be wrong, but most likely one of us is right. Both of us can’t be right. This relativist point of view is not just heretical to Catholic ears, but to every honest philosophy.
5. The Catholic Church is the only place where faith and reason seem able to meet without doing violence to each other. It is the only 100% reasonable religion. It is also the only philosophy that is truly friendly to science. Are you shocked by this claim? It seems to run counter to the popular view of the Catholic Church. What about Galileo, you might ask? Well, you can’t judge a 2000 year-old institution based on the interaction of two men (one stubborn pope having a scientific disagreement with a stubborn astronomer in the seventeenth century). It is notable that the Catholic Church had no disagreement with the heliocentric views of Copernicus in the years leading up to the Galileo incident. The Catholic view is that scientific truth cannot contradict religious truth, for there is only one truth. Sometimes, the Church has mistakenly made scientific claims, but just as often secular scientists have made strong metaphysical claims that are not backed up by their research. Going back to my claim that only Catholics are truly friendly to science – you might ask, what about materialists or positivists? Aren’t they friendly to science? They are less friendly to science than Catholics, because materialists have no reason to think that the world is intelligible. They are coasting on a widespread cultural assumption that comes from their Catholic heritage. The intelligibility of the universe flows from a source, which is an intelligent Creator.
6. Christianity is the only way of life that deals with the problem of evil and suffering in anything close to a satisfactory way. To the person who asks us, “why have I suffered so much?” we can give the usual answers, which are true, but unsatisfying: the Fall, our own free-will, or because God intends to bring a greater good from it in the long term. These are all true, but only Jesus Christ can say “I too have suffered.” This is the only satisfactory answer to our suffering.
Atheism eliminates the problem of suffering, but it has no answer for the problem of beauty. Why is the world so good, so beautiful, and so orderly? If you are scoffing at me right now, turn off the news and step outside for a moment. The world is not, as some would have you believe, an unbroken expanse of misery. Every imperfect thing has embedded within it precious glittering shards of goodness, splintered off from that one Good. You, a human person, are not the least of the good things.
7. The Catholic Church makes religion manly again. There is truly a place for men within the Catholic Church. Do you want manly independence? You won’t get it, at least not in an absolute form. Everyone is a slave to something. It is my opinion that the best we can hope for is a higher master. Are you a slave to your passions, to the respect of your peers, to your boss, to your wife? It is much better to be a slave to God, for he will free you of all these lower masters. (“My yoke is easy,” says Jesus, “and my burden is light.”) The story of Exodus is a story of freedom from slavery in Egypt. This is what grace always does – it frees us from slavery. Do you want manly strength? You can get it, but you can’t ever become strong enough to keep it. Ill health, aging, injury, and finally death will take it away from you. All men are weak, but it is one of the deep paradoxical mysteries of Christianity that only God can make our weakness strong.
There is no one manlier than a Saint, even a suffering or helpless Saint. These were not bodybuilders or mountain men, but I could give a hundred examples of manly acts of heroism and sacrifice. St. Benedict (the original bro) perfected the art of manliness: hard work, prayer, study, and ascetic self-denial. St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to be starved to death in another man’s place. Sir Thomas More, to defend marriage and the unity of the Church, willingly went to his death, in spite of many opportunities to recant. St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, a fifteen year old martyr of the Cristero War, would not apostasize even under torture and died shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!”
There is admittedly a lot of unmanly sentimentality in our church – especially in the hymnals of the last few decades. It must be purged (and it will, by God’s grace), for sentimentality poisons any real relationship with God.
8. The Catholic Church makes religion beautiful. It is not a religion of bare whitewashed walls and Christian pop (at least, not as long as there are those who resist). It is the religion of Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Dante. It is a religion of flying buttresses, gargoyles, stained glass, polyphonic chant, incense, bells, icons, and golden chalices. These do not distract us from God, but are a way of honoring him, setting aside objects, spaces, and people for sacred purposes and marking them out as His own. I love the themes and celebrations of the week and the liturgical year, endless cycles and epicycles of contemplation between the Rosary, the Divine Office, and the Mass. Most of all, the Saints are beautiful, for it is often in God’s people that we see Him most clearly.
9. The Catholic Church is big – I don’t mean big in numbers. I mean that it seems to contain an entire infinite universe within its bounds. Every Saint has something new to teach us about Jesus, and somehow this is without adding anything to that which we already know. Catholic Christianity is such a big idea that even the simplest truth seems to contain an infinity of fascinating implications, often hidden until they are unlocked by the unique key of an individual to whom God gives understanding. Perhaps this has something to do with how we are to become one in God, partaking of his divinity without losing our own individuality, one of the great mysteries of the Christian religion. Cardinal Newman demonstrated that an idea can unfold and grow without losing its original character. This is why the Catechism is so thick. This is why I will spend a lifetime reading the great Catholic books and never be able to read them all.
10. Finally, I am becoming a Catholic because Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, through his Sacred Scripture, and through his Holy Church is calling me to follow him. In the end, there can be no other reason. God does not expect us to limp into his kingdom using only our feeble, broken reason. He calls us by name. This is what we call faith – the response to God calling us by name.