Our days these days are filled with tasks – doctors’ appointments (immunization forms, check-ups and so on), school registration and, well, the swimming pool. So it all balances out pretty well. In fact, the swimming pool time more than balances things out considering the writing material I glean from practically every visit.
But time stops for no actual writing deadline, and the next one is Friday, the day on which I supposed to send my manuscript for the study guide for The Fathers up to OSV.

The exciting sequel to the study guide for The Apostles! Yes!
Both the book – the collected General Audience talks on the Fathers up through Augustine – and the study guide have publication dates of September 8. As with the last study guide, you’ll be able to download this one as well as purchase hard copies.
The Fathers in the OSV catalogue
The study guide in same.
(Speaking of The Apostles, some of you may recall that I mentioned a beautiful illustrated edition of the book that the Vatican Publishing House released last spring.  Well, OSV will be publishing an English version, slated for release in October.)
Since the days are so hectic and my concentration is so pathetic here at home, this evening Katie and I repaired to the local Barnes and Noble where she perused entertainment magazines and biographies of Groucho Marx and requested a new Sudoko book, please, and I ploughed through those GA talks, putting my catechetical hat on again, thinking through what sorts of questions and reflections would help readers and discussion group participants connect these words – of Benedict’s and the Father’s – with their own spiritual lives in this 21st century world.
It isn’t that hard, really, since there is really not so very much that has changed, least of all human nature, and Benedict does his usual masterful job of connecting the dots between here and there, now and then.
As a veteran of many, many discussion groups and having read through so many materials designed for Catholic adult catechesis, the first time around, with the Apostles, I was particularly committed to avoiding negativity in the questions. Think about it. How many catechetical discussion materials center around asking you to reflect on the church’s shortcomings in relation to some golden past? Instead, I very purposefully took another path, trying to respect Pope Benedict’s commitment to help us, as 21st century Christians, see the continuity between our faith and that of the Apostles or the Early Church Fathers. That does not mean we live in a dream world and avoid casting the critical eye, but at the same time, that’s not the focus. The focus is: Jesus Christ, here, now. Shall we listen? Shall we support each other and look to Christ, in hope, together?
For frankly, that hermeneutic of discontinuity, in which we ever fall short, is its own sort of dream world as well.
(This link takes you to the pdf version of the Apostles study guide to see what I’m talking about.)
So anyway, I was re-reading these GA talks tonight, and as usual, was slayed by the catechetical and pastoral discernment Benedict displays in speaking of these thinkers and pastors. (For it is always the pastoral that he emphasizes. And I thought a lot about the difference in doing theology as a pastor for the sake of the people and their understanding and doing theology as an academic, for other academics.
This passage from the 8/22/07 talk on Gregory Nazianzus particularly moved me:

In prayer, we must turn our hearts to God, to consign ourselves to him as an offering to be purified and transformed. In prayer we see all things in the light of Christ, we let our masks fall and immerse ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, feeding the fire of love.

In a poem which is at the same time a meditation on the purpose of life and an implicit invocation to God, Gregory writes: “You have a task, my soul, a great task if you so desire. Scrutinize yourself seriously, your being, your destiny; where you come from and where you must rest; seek to know whether it is life that you are living or if it is something more. You have a task, my soul, so purify your life: Please consider God and his mysteries, investigate what existed before this universe and what it is for you, where you come from and what your destiny will be. This is your task, my soul; therefore, purify your life” (Carmina [historica] 2, 1, 78: PG 37, 1425-1426).

The holy Bishop continuously asked Christ for help, to be raised and set on his way: “I have been let down, O my Christ, by my excessive presumption: from the heights, I have fallen very low. But lift me now again so that I may see that I have deceived myself; if again I trust too much in myself, I shall fall immediately and the fall will be fatal” (Carmina [historica] 2, 1, 67: PG 37, 1408).

So it was that Gregory felt the need to draw close to God in order to overcome his own weariness. He experienced the impetus of the soul, the vivacity of a sensitive spirit and the instability of transient happiness.

For him, in the drama of a life burdened by the knowledge of his own weakness and wretchedness, the experience of God’s love always gained the upper hand.

You have a task, soul, St Gregory also says to us, the task of finding the true light, of finding the true nobility of your life. And your life is encountering God, who thirsts for our thirst.

Doctors’ offices. School cafeterias. Soothing worries about new situations. Overhearing the lonely seek out their own, clumsily, tentatively, foolishly, sun glinting off the water. Finding a corner to write, think. Tasks. And in it and through it and even beyond it, you have a task, soul.

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