If It Really Happened

Butterfly

“And therefore in the Christian celebration of Easter quite particularly an affirmation of the whole of existence is experienced and celebrated. No more rightful, more comprehensive and fundamental an affirmation can be conceived.” Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity

If it really happened—that Christ rose from the dead—then my life should look different than it does. Period. A less daunting thought is this: the week in which we celebrate Easter ought to look different than it does. I am defined by what and how I remember. This week should be deeply marked by memory. Such memory does not live in the past; it makes the present come alive, in the truth of what really happened.

Please see my article today at Aleteia, Feeling Easter: We Need the Easter Festivity We are Missing.

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German philosopher in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. Many of his works have been translated into English and are still in print, including Leisure the Basis of Culture, Happiness and Contemplation, The Silence of St. Thomas, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, to name just a few.

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Daddy, Why are There Flowers?

JuliewithFlowers - Copy
I pride myself on answering questions. As a teacher I have the opportunity to answer many, and I try to do so with precision and completeness.

But some questions are different.

This one pierced through the normal routine of question posed, answer given. Or it should have.

With its innocence and purity—and attendant insight and wonder—this question from my young daughter brought me up short.

What an astoundingly good question. Why are there flowers, anyway? I shudder now to think how such a question can be easily cauterized, sanitized, and bound up neatly. How often do we in the position of teacher find ourselves explaining away, rather than explaining. Or rather than simply entering into the wonder—the wonder stemming from having chipped off a little piece of something very big and found it shimmering with an unseen significance—we parry the thrust: effectively making the questioner think he’s asked a question easily handled. We snuff out the wonder. And why? Because we don’t have time; or worse, we lack the child-like humility to enter into the wonder. Wonder can be scary, and uncomfortable.

“Because that’s how plants reproduce.”

Good God, what an answer I gave. As though there could not have been a thousand other ways for plants to reproduce. But they in fact put out flowers!

Yes, Juliana, why. Why? Please ask me again. I promise: I’ll see it through your eyes. At least I’ll try to.

For somewhere in the real answer to your question—the answer you must have sensed, the answer you deserve—is a truth beyond my telling. A truth that will endure for you and for me, even after all the flowers are gone.

Photo: Juliana

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Fathers and Sons, and Gardens

GardenBoy

“The land provides the greatest abundance of good things, but doesn’t allow them to be taken without effort.”
“Furthermore, the land also freely teaches justice to those who are capable of learning; for it does people favors in proportion to how well they serve it.”
“Agriculture also contributes toward training people in cooperation.” Xenophon, Oeconomicus

The land provides. The land teaches. In Xenophon’s view the land is a benefactor of mankind, precisely in how it calls for and responds to human cultivation. It is as though the land cultivates us as we cultivate it.

In spring most all of us feel a primordial urge: to turn the soil, to plant; even if only in a pot. If Xenophon is right, there is much more to be reaped than food for the body.

We can even be trained in cooperation: to be united in working toward some worthy end.

My article today at Aleteia suggests that the co-operating of father and son in the garden may be a potent inoculant against an epidemic of boyhood unhappiness. A Father’s Hand in the Garden: 3 Reasons to Garden with Your Son.

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we gain insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.

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The Gift of Spring

Rainbow5

“Nor would the stress
Of life be bearable for tender things
Did not so long a respite come between
The cold and heat, and heaven’s indulgence grant
This comfort to the world.”
Virgil, Georgics II

I must be a tender thing. I cannot picture bearing the stress of life without spring.

But at issue here is much more than stress relief.

G.M. Hopkins writes: “Nothing is so beautiful as spring— When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush… What is all this juice and all this joy?” Virgil finds in spring an obvious fruit of heavenly indulgence: this life-giving stretch of warmth, light, and green, wedged between the cold of winter and the heat of summer. It can be felt and seen, smelled and heard, when we walk out the door on an April morning. It breathes new life into us, as it does into field and wood, inspiring us to take up the proverbial hoe and apply it to the rows of our life.

Yet perhaps the more ultimate gift of spring is the assurance it conveys of an all-encompassing benevolence. As Virgil himself seems to suggest, how can spring be anything but the fruit of a fatherly indulgence? An indulgence wherein spring itself is part of a larger plan, where what was conceived in winter, waxes strong in spring, but bears fruit only later.

Perhaps if I truly respond to the gift that is spring—by seeing it for what it is, and then taking up my hoe, I like a tender shoot will grow strong: capable not only of bearing stress, but of bearing fruit, with joy, when it is no longer spring.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

Photo: This was a remarkable spring rainbow in the Shenandoah Valley, seen from the front porch of our home. A wild dogwood, the state tree of Virginia, is blooming in the foreground.

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What I Learned from the Man Who Kicked-In My Car Door

Image

An experience that my wife had driving through Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks ago led to a remarkable epiphany for me. Here is my account of this at Aleteia.

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The Silence of Authority

PavloKonenko

Sometimes speaking, or holding one’s tongue, can make the difference. All the difference. For life and death.

Many in authority today are silent when they should not be. Through weakness. And the consequences are devastating. Broken communities, broken businesses, broken homes, broken lives. Broken love. This because in various contexts we do not courageously and selflessly take up the authority we’ve been given. And its real absence is telling. The silence of this absence is not only deafening; sometimes it kills.

But well-exercised authority is also often silent. In its strength. True authority envelops those under it in love, nurturing and healing. Its occasional silence is one of presence, not absence, simultaneously gentle and strong. The words of this authority, stemming as they do from a wisdom born of patience and love, are powerful, their guiding power enduring after speech has faded. The words of authority reverberate and take root in this silence, giving life.

Photo: This is Pavlo Konenko, my wife’s great-granfather. Born in the western Ukrainian town of Vikno in the 1880’s, he became the beloved schoolmaster of the village of Korszylowka, which in the early 1900’s was part of the Austrian empire. He was known, among other things, for his gentle love, and his teaching the people how to graft and cultivate apple trees. After the First World War Ukraine enjoyed a brief period of independence. At the approach of the Second World War Poland asserted control over western Ukraine. Authorities visited Pavlo and handing him an unsigned petition commanded him to produce signatures from his villagers requesting to be taught in Polish. But the villagers did not want to be taught in Polish, and so Pavlo would not comply. As a result, he was sent to a concentration camp in Byelorussia, also under Polish rule. After his release, Pavlo never fully recovered, and he died in 1944. Polish rule having been followed by Nazi rule and then finally Russian reinvasion, Pavlo’s daughter Myroslawa and son-in-law Bohdan, with their two young daughters, were able to avoid the approaching communists by leaving with the Germans, ending up in Salzburg. Later Salzburg was liberated by the Americans, and Myroslawa and Bohdan had the opportunity to emigrate to America. Early in the 2000’s Myroslava and Bohdan’s grandson Alexander returned to what was Korszylowka. There he found that the people still hold dear the memory of their beloved schoolmaster Pavlo, four generations later.
Vichnaya pamyat. May his memory be eternal.

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The Heart, in Suffering

Rose

“Some day, perhaps, remembering even this
Will be a pleasure.”
Virgil, The Aeneid, I

Aeneas and his men have endured much since leaving Troy. And of course they left only after the destruction of all they knew and loved in a flaming inferno of death.

Now they’ve been shipwrecked in a strange land. What does a captain say to his men?

Some day, perhaps, remembering even this
Will be a pleasure.

Few words, perhaps, have ever sent more of shiver down the spine of Western Civilization.

Far from an unfeeling, or nihilistic, or even jaded utterance, these words express the true heart of a man struggling to maintain his confidence in the divine plan for him. In the midst of intense suffering.

Such a supple and faithful attitude in suffering can be maintained. It has been done. And it can be our purpose to do it again.

Please see my fuller reflection on this astounding text at Aleteia.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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