The Petty Habits of Losers

I recently learned that a certain Republican Women’s Club in Greene County has directed its members not to write the standard congratulation letters to Republicans who won the primary or who won posts in the state Republican Party — if they are connected with the Tea Party in any way — even if they had been members of this particular club for many years. Nor is this a new club policy, one understands.

Really? Could you be any more passive-aggressive and petty?

Basically, you’re saying “we support Republicans whom we like, but we won’t even be civil to lifelong Republicans we don’t like. In fact, we will be less civil than we would be to Democratic Party members.” (And indeed, this club has invited Democrats who have county jobs to come speak, and treated them with hospitality and friendliness.)

If you want to lose both elections and political influence, this is the way to go.

If you don’t want to represent Republican women who vote and run, this is the way to go.

Be serious about party politics and binding yourselves to work together to win, or go home and lose on your own time.

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That Margaret Barker Person Is Creepy

I wondered where the weird Episcopalian raisin cake thing was coming from. Now I know.

Basically, she is a Methodist theologian who wants to paint every mysterious figure in the Bible as referring to Asherat, and apparently that doesn’t except Melchizedek. I feel like I am back reading neopagan feminist fantasy novels from the Eighties, crossed over with Jack Chick tracts.

Her basic theory (and that of some other feminist theologians) is that “El Shaddai” does not mean “my all-mighty/all-sufficient god”, but rather “goddess of the breasts”. Obviously there are problems with this, starting with “el” being the masculine word for a god; the feminine form is “elat” or “elath”. Also as you would predict, she calls this notional deity “the Lady” and “the Queen of Heaven”. Supposedly, all Biblical references to Wisdom are really about this female El Shaddai. (I’m not sure how the Shekhinah glory fits into all this.)

Everything was all happy (instead of mother goddesses being a sign of female oppression and sex slavery, as they often are… but that’s another post) until EVIL King Josiah threw out all the symbols of feminine divine power, substituting a lot of FAKE stuff about Moses and Aaron. Everything that was ever lost from the Temple was not hauled off by God or by Egyptians and Romans, but was actually a SEECRRETT goddess worship thing that bad Josiah destroyed. But the SEEECRET TRAADITIONNNNNNN was handed down in secret wisdom among those who still followed the old religion, and eventually we got Mary worship.


The non-hilarious thing is that Mormons have taken up this stuff as proof that there really are multiple gods and goddesses, including both “the Heavenly Mother” and their cousin Bob who now has his own planet, and that all of their Temple stuff is really true.

The other non-hilarious thing is that obviously there is a lot to say about Temple theology and about the roles of women in Temple Judaism, as well as about what was expected about the Messiah and how early Christians interpreted the OT. Instead of writing those books, Barker is wasting her time on crap and on being a bad guide to others.

Finally, it would seem that Marquette actually invited this woman to give a Marian lecture. The University of Dayton has had some terrible speakers, but at least they’re not playing “Insults to Mary R Us.”

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Sensus Fidei

I really like Fencing Bear at Prayer’s range of sources and quotes about Marian hermeneutics of Scripture, and I think she is onto something. Yes, the early use and the use in so many sources of so many of the same abstruse Biblical references means something big.

The problem is that she has hitched her wagon to this Margaret Barker person and her theories, who wants to turn the known presence of Asherat worship in Israel and the raisin cake thing into an actual inspired theology and Scripture tradition that was killed off by evil evil Josiah and those darned rabbinical vowel pointings, and which came to life again through Virgin Mary worship.

(Seriously, people, is there a rule that every anti-Catholic lie has to be repeated twice: once by non-Catholics as condemnation, and then by other non-Catholics as praise?)

Well, I have been reading patristics and Marian Scripture interpretation for a long while too, and I have the advantage of knowing in my gut that Catholics and Orthodox and Copts are not Collyridian goddess worshippers. So what am I thinking about this?

  1. The entirely human gebirah or queen mother was important in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. She appeared in king lists and interceded with the king (and Esther also acted similarly in the more precarious Persian cultural position of king’s wife). Chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs is quoted from a gebirah. The dad’s mom was in a similar position of influence in most Jewish families, down to the present day, and so was the mom’s mom.

2. Since the royal gebirah was important to any king, people expected any Davidic king to have one. If the Messiah was going to be a Davidic king, his Davidic gebirah was also important, and possibly prophesied. If the Messiah was going to be more like a prophet or a Nazarite, his mom would dedicate him like Samuel or Samson’s mom (or Elizabeth). If the Messiah was going to be more than just human (as Daniel hinted with the God-like powers of the “one like a Son of Man”), his mom would have to be a special Daughter Zion figure. We do see a few Jewish apocalyptic texts attributing  mighty powers to the Messiah’s mom, while still portraying her as a human given these powers by God.

3. OTOH, since Asherat worship seems to have been a common temptation for Jewish women, and since a lot of early Christians may have mixed not entirely ex-paganism with their new religion (a la Roman occult synthesis of everybody), it is possible that some people wanted to turn the Messianic mom into a goddess, and hence the Collyridians. It is possible that one might wrest unorthodox interpretations of Scripture from such people, by teaching orthodox Marian stuff more heavily; but really we see more Marian stuff showing up versus Nestorianism, as a guard against bad Christology. We don’t know any bad interpretations from those Collyridian folks, so it would be just guessing now.

4. On the other side, however, the niche of “God’s highest creation and perfect human who is not God” is extremely persistent among people who don’t want to concede it to Mary. From the Arians on, a lot of people put Jesus there. The Muslims claim Mohammed is the Perfect Man. So it makes more sense to think Mary is important as being a human who manages to do it right, than having her be some goddess figure.

5. Actually, most patristic sources seem to use Lady Wisdom as referring directly to Jesus (not the Holy Spirit or Mary), although obviously it got important later and many Christ verses can also refer to Mary or the Church or the Christian soul. (I would be curious to see any stats showing otherwise about early use.) But yup, Song of Songs is used early for both the Church and Mary.

6. The Scriptural figure of Israel as wayward or faithful wife, of Daughter Zion, of the Valiant Woman and the various wise (or stubborn) Matriarchs, Esther, Judith, and the Jewish tradition of the Torah and Sabbath as spotless women or brides, would seem to relate more closely to Marian readings of Scripture than any guesswork goddess. (The presence of women in semi-liturgical roles at Jewish festivals, and the prayer roles of  both ordinary Jewish women in in the home and of priests’ wives in their homes, may tie in, too.)

So without reading this Bear’s actual book, or indeed any Barker books, I do not know if that is the orthodox direction she is going, or if she has another orthodox direction. I would hope so. If she is taking this in a weird heretical way (which was what the Marquette talk sounded like, at the end and unexpectedly), I hope she turns it around. Listening to Mary brings one toward Christ and the Church, not out into the darkness or into the company of Jezabel. Mary is the proto-Christian.

Just to be clear, however, I still like the cut of Fencing Bear at Prayer’s jib. I just hope she knows where she’s sailing. Even if she doesn’t, I’m pretty sure her observations will continue to be interesting!


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St. Augustine on the Sword and the Soul

A good quote found at the blog of Fencing Bear at Prayer, whom I should follow.

“[O Lord,] You grasp my soul, and topple my enemies with it.

“And what is our soul? A splendid weapon it may be, long, sharp, oiled, and coruscating with the light of wisdom as it is brandished.

“But what is this soul of ours worth? What is it capable of, unless God holds it and fights with it? Any sword, however beautifully made, lies idle if there is no warrior to take it up….

“So God does whatever He wishes with our soul. Since it is in His hand, it is His to use as He will.”

— Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 34 (35), trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B.

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A Presbyterian Academic and the Virgin Mary

“Ironically, of course, that Mary even needs me to make this argument is thanks above all to Protestants like the Presbyterians, who in their insistence on sola scriptura managed to erase a whole tradition of reading with one fell swoop of the pen: “Medieval Catholics were making it up.”

Well, obviously I also wish she would come to Catholicism, but it’s perfectly true that the Scriptures are full of Mary and that Marian devotion is full of the Scriptures. I don’t know why most people don’t get this.

(Of course, I also think that Beatus of Liebana is fun and personable, so maybe I’m not the average person.)

But then, we modern Christians all find ourselves in a world that doesn’t recognize that the Old Testament is full of Jesus, even though Christians have been explaining all of that for centuries. I still keep finding “new” things in the Gospel that directly refer to the Old Testament, even though any early Christian or medieval scholar would have known all that from childhood.

Her forthcoming book sounds like it will be nifty. Here’s more from her blog post:

Would I have come to this way of reading the Scriptures about Mary if I had not been raised a Presbyterian, convinced that all the secrets of divinity lay hidden in the Book? Would I have taken the thirteenth-century Augustinian canon Richard of St. Laurent seriously when he insisted that Mary is the Book in which it is possible to read all the mysteries of God, if I did not already believe it were possible to find the whole of God’s plan for creation therein? Would I have paid proper attention to the thirteenth-century Franciscan Servasanctus of Faenza when he said that Mary is the book of life containing all the creatures of Creation, who herself promises, speaking as Wisdom: “They that explain me shall have life everlasting” (Ecclesiasticus 24:31), if I were not already seeking Wisdom in the Word? Would I have noticed the twelfth-century Cistercian Amadeus of Lausanne insisting that Mary is the key to the mystery, the one standing between the two golden baskets filled with the flowers of the Old Testament and the fruits of the New (he is commenting on Song of Songs 2:5: “Support me with blossoms. Stay me with apples, for I am sick with love”), if I had not been attending to the way in which he commented on the Song of Songs? As Amadeus tells it, one basket stands on the left of Mary and one on the right, while Mary is seen standing in the middle, mediating between the promise and the fulfillment, and “like the tree planted in the midst of paradise, she raises her head to the height of heaven and, conceiving by the heavenly dew, brings forth the fruit of salvation, the fruit of glory, the fruit of life, and he who eats of it will live forever.”

Heh, heh… and people think St. Alphonsus gets hyperbolic and overly poetic about Mary. Understated, he was.:)

And here’s a bit about the author’s religion and roots, which may be of interest.

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VENERABLE Brother William Gagnon of New Hampshire, 1905-1972!!!

Venerable Brother William Gagnon, was a member of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. (As a monk, not a knight.) He was born in Dover, New Hampshire, entered the order up in Quebec, and died while performing heroic service to the poor in Saigon, Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.

Anyway, his sainthood cause received a decree of heroic virtue that was approved by the Pope back on December 14, 2015, in the same consistory that got Mother Teresa and Mother Hesselblad’s canonization miracles approved. This officially made him a Venerable. I missed that, so now I want to mention several times that he’s actually been named Venerable by the Pope! YAYYYYY!

The news of his title in Italian, from his order’s website.

An article about him in English, from his order’s website.

A news article from Dover.

“I was speaking to a brother from Vietnam who didn’t know [Gagnon] personally but had heard many stories about him,” said Provincial Secretary Stephen de la Rosa of the Hospitaller Order in Los Angeles. “What came out in those stories is that he was totally committed to every task from the simplest to the most complicated.”

…. “In this day and age, it helps us to understand humility in a person who reaches sainthood,” de la Rosa said. “He was a hard worker and didn’t seek praise for his work.”

The basics from an article about him:

Born and baptized May 16, 1905 at Dover, New Hampshire, U.S.A. of French Canadian parents, living both in New England and Quebec, Canada, he was called from his youth to take care of others. He discovered the fulfillment of this call when he entered the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. He took vows on 20 November 1932 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His dedication to those who were sick and suffering energized his life….

After having occupied various functions, his dream of being a missionary became a reality when he arrived with two other Canadian Brothers at the Bui-Chu Mission, in the North of Vietnam, January 18, 1952.

During 17 years, his apostolic action concentrated on the implementation of the Order in Vietnam and ministering to thousands of refugees. Hospitality as a way of being and acting toward those in need was empowered by a deep sense of reverence for life and a devotional life of prayer. He was enlived daily by his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Exhausted after having given of himself totally, Brother William Gagnon died in Saigon, Vietnam on February 28, 1972.

Here’s the official prayer for his cause:

Lord Jesus, Your mercy inspired the Servant of God William Gagnon to live hospitality with the ill, the refugees and the poor. Grant that we may always minister to all suffering people with charity, as did this Son of St. John of God.

Lord, hear the prayer that we address to you (insert personal intention) by the intercession of the Servant of God William Gagnon, in order that we may be affirmed
in our faith and that Your glory and the joy of the Church be proclaimed.

Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory be….

So there you go! Sounds like a good guy to have in your corner! And go, Dover NH!

(Insert “the pro from Dover” jokes here, I guess….)

Here’s the US Hospitallers’ website. No news update yet.

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June 5th – Canonization of Blessed Elizabeth Hesselblad!!!


The soon-to-be SAINT Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad started out life as a Lutheran. To send money back to her family, she emigrated to the US at 16 and became a nursing student in New York. She got through and became a skilled nurse, despite a “prank” which left her locked into the hospital morgue all night on Halloween. (Which turned out to be a good thing… because a dead guy in the morgue woke up and started knocking on the wall because he needed help! AAAAAGH! She had nerves of steel!) She converted to Catholicism in the US, largely due to the witness of her patients’ faith.

After she became Catholic, she ended up becoming very ill. She went on pilgrimage to Rome and started to feel the call to become a sister. She tried out life with the Carmelites, but felt a calling to the Brigittines, a mostly-defunct order originally founded by St. Bridget of Sweden (a little visionary) and her daughter St. Catherine of Sweden (obviously the organizer). The group had originally been known for contemplation and for its close association with male religious (partly in imitation of the original St. Brigit of Kildare’s order, and partly for practical reasons).

Hesselblad felt that there ought to be a return to the original rule, including the unique habit which was based on St. Bridget’s visions. She was eventually given permission to try this out, but essentially had to go it alone for many years before other people joined her version of the order. Today it is fairly successful in Italy and in Sweden, as well as around the world.

One of her earlier recruits is also the subject of a sainthood cause: the Servant of God, Mother Maria Riccarda (Mother Richard) Beauchamp Hambrough. Since the medieval Brigittines were big in England, it was natural that an English Catholic would have been equally enthusiastic about bringing back the order.

Her life is full of exciting things and interesting doings, including her little Roman convent’s involvement in resisting the Nazis and the Holocaust. There’s a lot of good stuff in her story, and she’s a credit to the US and her other countries!

Her canonization miracle was approved back on December 14, 2015, and now her canonization is officially set for June 5th.

I haven’t been able to find out what her specific canonization miracle was. Back in 2007, however, it was reported that the Brigittines had submitted a miracle where a Mexican sister of the order (Sister Martine Kochuvelikakathe from India) had called upon Mother Hesselblad in December 2001, when a thug was going to fire a gun at her, and the gun miraculously jammed. Probably it wasn’t that one, though, unless there was more to it. (Sainthood cause miracles have a lot of requirements.)

A Swedish newspaper’s article in English. (Doesn’t remember St. Catherine of Sweden!)

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