Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins

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He was born in Victorian England, the oldest of nine children. His family was well-educated and religious. His father sold naval insurance but was also a diplomat and a poet. His siblings were talented in the arts and active in their Anglican faith. He was described as a shy and sensitive child, writing poetry himself by the age of 16. During his college years he became interested in the Catholic Church, something that appalled his family and friends. Despite their feelings, he became a Catholic in 1866, at the age of 22. Called to the priesthood, he began his studies to become a Jesuit in 1868. He sketched, wrote religious verse and sermons while teaching in various Jesuit schools.

Gerard Manley Hopkins is best known for his poetry, but his Catholic faith is the underpinning of every word he wrote. His 19th century poems sound remarkably modern. As a poet, he tried new rhythms and rhyming patterns. He invented new words as well as using archaic words that were long out of fashion. His poems are images are full of surprises, both in sound and in content. He’s one of those writers that beg to be read aloud. The sounds of the words and the feel of them on the tongue are part of the poem. As a priest, he praises God. As a Catholic, he praises the connectedness of the Creator with His creation. His poems reveal the grace that infuses every molecule of the universe. As he said, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” For Hopkins, faith is revealed through the things of the world. His is a sacramental world view. By this I mean that he saw the world through Catholic eyes. Creation reveals the Creator. That’s why the Sacraments aren’t merely symbolic, but are the intrinsic joining of a sign (the outward appearance of things like water or oil or bread) and the real grace of God. A symbol points to a reality outside itself. Some Christians understand baptism or holy communion in this way. Catholics do not. If you don’t “get” that, you won’t really understand his poems.

I’m not writing this as literary criticism, by any means. I was introduced to Hopkins’ work during my college years, but I’m just beginning to “get” him myself. I hope readers will use this brief introduction to read Gerard Manley Hopkins and to allow his words to open them to his world-view and how he saw The Lord revealed in the world. An example of this is from one of his sermons: “One day when the bluebells were in bloom I wrote the following…I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebells I have been looking at. I know the beauty of our Lord by it.” In another sermon he wrote,”The heavens declare the glory of God. They glorify God but they don’t know it. The birds sing to Him, the thunder speaks of His terror, the lion is like His strength, the sea is like His greatness; they are something like Him, they make Him known, they tell of Him, they give Him glory, but they don’t know they do, they don’t know Him, they never can…”

But we can. We can know Him. And when we do, we give Him glory and honor through our work, our love for others, and our obedience to His commandments and to His Church. For Hopkins, a life infused with God’s grace reveals Jesus anew. He says: “Let Him Easter in us.” Christ rises each day in us. Each day is grace. Each day is Incarnation and Epiphany and Transfiguration. Each moment is
Easter. Hopkins has a way of closing the distance between heaven and earth, of making our redemption come alive in the flight of a bird, the bloom of a flower, the color of a trout. And yet he fought depression for most of his life. In 1884, after moving to Ireland to teach, his feelings of loneliness and isolation increased. His health deteriorated and his eyesight failed under a very heavy workload. He contracted typhoid fever and died in 1889 at the age of 45. Despite lifelong depression, his last words were: “I am so happy, I am so happy, I loved my life.” I invite you to discover his work and the faith revealed in his poems.

To give God glory and to mean to give it: to praise God freely, gladly to serve Him, honour God, I was made for this, each one of us was made for this.”

—-Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins

—Pied Beauty—

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

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The (Really) Small Stuff

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The pastor is boring and his homilies put you to sleep. The only time he gets excited is when he’s asking for money for some project or other. The choir director chooses songs that no one can sing and that would sound better sung around a campfire than during Mass around the altar of God. There’s a clique of women in the church who control everything that goes on and make it their duty to discourage any new ideas. The youth program spends more time raising money for parties and trips than it does teaching the Gospel. The church building is ugly and in need of repairs and don’t even ask about the parking lot mess! The men’s group is great at arranging golf dates but that’s about all they do. There’s no place to put the crying babies during Mass. The social hall is a crowded and delapidated cavern where no one cleans up after themselves. The audio system is terrible, the carpet needs replacing and the whole place could use a new paint job. And the people in the pews? They sit stone-faced and unsmiling, like they’re next in line at the dentist’s office. Most of them seem spiritually asleep, or worse.

Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve been a member of a parish where some of these comments were true. Or maybe they’re true of the church you attend right now. One thing you can be sure of: there’s no such thing as a perfect parish. Every faith family is like our earthly family, made up of imperfect, flawed people who love God and each other in our own imperfect and flawed ways. We struggle with doubt and unbelief. We hang on to past hurts and grievances. We’re impatient and demanding at times, unkind and hurtful at others. We don’t love consistently or very well. We’re selfish and short-sighted and rarely forgive the trespasses of others. In short, we’re sinners.

And yet God always says to us, “Follow Me.” You. Yes, you. That sinner in the fourth pew, aisle seat on the lefthand side of the church. “You. Follow Me.” Because it’s not about the pastor or the music or the parking lot. It’s not about the men’s group or the ladies’ group or the youth group. The size of the church doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do in response to His call to follow Him. You can worship in a grand cathedral with marble and gold everywhere and if you don’t have a love relationship with Jesus Christ, your heart will be as dry as dust. Because we’re sinners, sometimes we focus on what’s not so important and let those inconvenient details of parish life distract us from Whom we come together to worship. Mass isn’t something the Church invented to keep us entertained. Mass is the celebration of His sacrifice that Jesus gave to His Church at the Last Supper. More than that, the Mass is the very same sacrifice of Christ on His Holy Cross. When you’re in the pew next Sunday, you’re answering part of Jesus’ call to love and to know Him. Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the most important relationship you’ll ever have. Follow Him with your whole heart. Love Him with your whole life. Let Him share His life with you. Let your life bear the fruit of Christ in your parish. Follow Him and let your light shine.

The best argument against Christianity is…..Christians.” G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Yes, it’s STILL Easter!

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He looked at me like I was crazy. After I’d paid for my groceries and the cashier had told me to “have a good day,” I smiled at him and said, “Thanks and Happy Easter!” Now this was almost 3 weeks after Easter morning, but it’s still the Easter season for Catholics. This whole “season” thing is something many protestants don’t teach. Catholics and our Orthodox cousins along with a few other churches do. It’s really pretty simple. Easter and Christmas are both so huge for our faith that our celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection can’t (and shouldn’t) be contained in a single day. We humans need more than one day to enter into the mysteries of our redemption and immerse ourselves in them. We need time.

The Church understands that and in her wisdom leads us through each year thoughtfully and reflectively, one season at a time. Our Catholic faith is an active and not a passive one. By this I mean that the Church asks us to enter into each celebration of the Mass as informed and engaged participants. We don’t just go to church and get spoon fed. When we understand the events of Christ’s life and ministry more fully we are better disciples. The arrangement of the calendar year into liturgical seasons with feasts and observances proper to each one, we’re more able to put our own lives in step with Christ’s journey through His life.

The liturgical year begins in the late fall with the season of Advent which comprises the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming—both at Christmas and at the end of time. We watch, we pray, we confess our sins and ask for His forgiveness. Our culture tends to leap from Thanksgiving (or even Halloween) right to Christmas. We’ve lost our ability to savor the journey to Bethlehem and what it means for us. When Christmas finally does come, our culture forgets the holiday (holy day) as soon as the wrapping paper is cleaned up. The Church reminds us to celebrate and reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation for several weeks more, until the Feast of the Baptism of The Lord in mid-January.

In a similar way, we anticipate Easter by first preparing ourselves during the season of Lent. During the forty days leading up to Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection, we again enter a time of waiting. We fast, we pray, we help the less fortunate among us. We sacrifice a little in order to share and to give thanks for His great sacrifice of love for us on the Cross. Easter is the baptism of our hearts into the love of Christ. It’s little wonder that the Church formally celebrates the season of Easter for 50 days, until Pentecost. Each Sunday is itself a “little Easter” when we celebrate our new life in Him.

Outside the seasons of Christmas and Easter, of Advent and Lent, the Church reflects and teaches, through the Scripture readings at Mass and the various feasts we celebrate, the events of Jesus’ life and ministry. We read the Gospels, the letters of St. Paul, the history of God’s people in the Old Testament and His unfolding plan for our salvation. Catholics know that the Bible isn’t merely historical but that the mystery of our redemption and salvation is an ongoing event in the present. The time of our faith journey is now, the hour of our salvation is now. Our immersion in the yearly cycles of the liturgical calendar drives this home. We are on a journey through time which will end someday. “Catholic” time is spiraling ever onto that Last Day, with each season leading us closer.

So if someone like me wishes you a “Merry Christmas” in the middle of January or hopes you have a “Happy Easter” a month after you’ve eaten your last jelly bean—just smile and nod. Maybe you’ll be reminded that we’re all on a journey through time. Some of us are on that journey as part of a Church that reminds us every day, at every Mass, that we are creatures caught up in a holy mystery. Seasons come and go, the sun sets and rises again. And through each day, each week, each month, each moment—Jesus lives His life in us. We are never alone.

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not weather. In all that he does, he prospers.”
—Psalm 1:3

The Most Difficult Prayer

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Vatican City is a tiny country located within the city of Rome. It has its own police, its own court system, its own post office. The government of the Vatican has many departments that are responsible for its administration. It even has a Secretary of State. One of the most famous men who have held this post was Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val who served Pope Pius X. He was born in London in 1865 and his father was the Spanish ambassador. He received an excellent education, spoke several languages and, as a priest, rose quickly through the ranks of Church power and influence. Pope Pius X named him Cardinal in 1903, when Rafael was only 38 years old. But aside from all his many talents and diplomatic skills, the young Cardinal was known for his faith and his holiness. In fact, most Catholics might not know that one of their favorite prayers was written by him. It’s called the “Litany of Humility” and it’s one of the most beautiful and most difficult prayers I’ve ever prayed.

It’s difficult because humility is a call to martyrdom. It means dying to self and that’s the hardest thing in the world to do. It’s impossible without the Holy Spirit. To begin with, being humble doesn’t mean being timid or insecure or spineless. Humility isn’t low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority. It doesn’t mean withdrawing from the challenges of life or being a pushover. Humility is seeing yourself honestly and realizing that you are not God. We know that everything we have is a gift from God and apart from Him, we are nothing. Humility makes us grateful. We give thanks to The Lord for everything, including our suffering. Humility knows that God is in control of everything, at every moment, and our surrender to His will gives Him glory.

When we put the needs and wants of other people before our own, it pleases God. When love is how we live, humility is in our hearts. Humility is serving others, obedience to our Maker and contentment in God’s plan for my life. He loves me completely and I belong completely to Him. I don’t have to “do” anything to impress Him. Humility goes against the ways of the world. This prayer, written by a Secretary of State, calls me to live in humility and to experience the peace of Christ in my heart. I hope it will do the same for you.

The Litany of Humility
—by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val

“O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being caluminiated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I, set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I, unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Amen.”

The three greatest virtues of Christianity: humility, humility, humility.”
—St. Augustine