Notes to Philo’s Allegorical Interpretations

‘Tis safe to say that my goal of writing fourteen posts in fourteen days proved a bridge too far.  But, there is often value in setting goals higher than one can accomplish.  Such is especially the case with me: if I strive not for the moon, I have no hope of landing among the stars.  Nevertheless, I met the two goals of feeling confident once again in my writing and making writing a pleasant habit once again.

The Fall of Man

Speaking of setting impossible goals, reviewing Philo’s Allegorical Interpretations I-III in a complete sense would require more than the single post I’m willing to allot to it.  One stares agape in wonder at the wealth of information Philo provides and his facility of bringing forth relevant passages of Scripture and parsing Greek philosophy.  The three books draw interesting allegorical interpretation on the Story of Creation and the Fall of Man for discussing virtue and vice.  Treat the following post as notes to topics I found most interesting.  “But, can’t you be more thorough?  I know you: you’re just being lazy!” you say?  Well, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, anything really worth doing (as sharing what I gleaned from Philo surely is) is not only worth doing well but also worth doing badly, an adage I hope the present article proves in spades.

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Joyful Christmas Music

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May all my dear readers be enjoying a happy Advent season!  This week marks our final week to prepare for the great celebration of Christmas.  Buy those presents, decorate your abode, participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, meditate with wonder on the Incarnation, show extra kindness and patience, and, first and foremost, be joyful!  Buying presents for those near and dear to us in itself helps make us happy as we look forward to the smile on their faces.  Many people complain about the spirit of commercialism that runs through Christmas, but this applies mostly to businesses and may easily be avoided as long as we don’t focus on buying things for ourselves.  When else do so many people spend so much of their time and treasure in order to bring a smile to other people’s faces?

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During some years, however, people can get wrapped up in various misfortunes–suffering, sickness, over-absorbing work, stress, worry, financial strain, death of loved ones, etc., which prevent us from entering into the spirit of joy, love, wonder, generosity, and peace that is Christmas.  Also, like me, your environs might show none of the expected hallmarks of the season.  Nothing says Christmas as much as seeing a panoply of Christmas lights and decorations against a snowy background.  Without snow, it is incredibly difficult for me to think about the holiday.  Snow always brings to mind the following verses, which describe Christ’s mission: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

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Without the aid of the environment, song provides the best avenue for entering into the spirit of the season.  But, Christmas music, which begins mid-November, has lost its charm by this time.  What was intended to bring us into the joy of the holiday now annoys us.  I’ve discovered a trick this year: if English Christmas music bores you, you might simply listen to other countries’ Christmas music.  They convey the same joy and sound fresh even if we’ve already heard the English version of a song one hundred times.  ( Zvončići sounds great even though I don’t want to hear Jingle Bells until next year.)  Check out any of the playlists below.  Croatian, German, and Latin are my favorite languages for Christmas music.

And there's one of my favorite German anime characters: Satella Harvenheit.

And there’s one of my favorite German anime characters: Satella Harvenheit.

Croatian Christmas Songs

Danish Christmas Songs

French Christmas Songs

German Christmas Songs

Italian Christmas Songs

Latin Christmas Music

Spanish Christmas Music

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Finally, Lord Drako Arakis has combined several fine Christmas songs with pictures drawn in the anime style.  Their selection of Christmas music is great and much cleaner than many of his other pieces.  I have picked through the following songs, but have a care if you explore his channel!  Enjoy!

If you want to hear a sad and touching song, you can listen to the following:

Also, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

On Joy and Suffering in This Life

The thought came to my mind that people use times of joy and suffering in the opposite way from which they were intended.  During good times, we think that God loves us very much (as He does regardless of circumstances) and we grow more attached to this life.  During the latter times, we become vexed with God and groan and complain for Him to improve our lot.  Perhaps the thought crosses our mind that God hates us–an impossibility.  Rather, prosperity is not a sure sign that we are pleasing to God.  It might even be a sign that our lot is not with God but in this life.  On the other hand, St. Pio avers: “Suffering is the sure sign that God is loving us.”

St. Pio carrying Christ's cross

I mentioned in my article on Arpeggio of Blue Steel that God wishes us to be His friends.  If we look at human friendships, we might rate them as follows from least to greatest: 1) friendships of utility, 2) fair weather friends, 3) friends of long duration, 4) friends who remain friends in difficult times, and 5) friends who suffer with us.  Though God loves all of us infinitely–even those who actively hate Him, who can doubt that those who most perfectly share the cross of Christ must be considered best friends?  He wishes to transform those of mercenary temperament to serve him out of love, is pained by seeing the unwillingness of second group to stay with Him in suffering, looks with great fondness on those who stay by His side though weakly, is consoled by those who remember His Passion often, and who can describe the joy and pleasure He takes in souls that share in His Passion through suffering?  And so, when we suffer, we ought to be more inclined to thank God for these very sufferings than complain of them.  As St. Peter writes: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Leonardo da Vinci's crucifixion of St. Peter

The whole purpose of prosperity is to prepare us to suffer.  We thank God for good things so that we might later be able to say with Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  This time on earth is the most important time in our lives, but it pales in comparison to the eons we shall enjoy in the presence of God.  Such a long time is incomprehensible to us!  Everything good and beautiful here should lift our minds to the splendor and joys of paradise.  If the flowers and verdure of spring can give us such pleasure, how much more will paradise delight us with its beauties?

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Lest the thorny and rocky path to this delightful paradise disquiet us, let us remember that path smooth and strewn with flowers but leads to the gaping maw of hell.  Even if we allow the storms of life to choke our faith, God will never forget the least moment we shared His sufferings.  Who can doubt that He shall shine the warmest rays of His Mercy on such a soul even to the last moment of life so that it might still attain eternal life in heaven?

What is God’s Will and Why One Should Strive to Follow it

Interestingly, people sometimes become nervous when they hear about God’s will.  Perhaps because they expect it will take a great sacrifice or they associate this term with misfortunes–e.g. “It was just God’s will.”  Yet, who is it that is willing for us to follow His will?  A perfect and infinitely good God who is absolutely merciful and just.  He wishes all things to come to perfection, which for human beings is nothing other than our happiness.

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So, God wishes us to be happy and to be perfectly happy with Him for all eternity, sharing in God’s own happiness.  Therefore, God’s will cannot be other than His Glory and our complete happiness.  Indeed, if we should all become happy in the way that God wished, like the blessed Virgin Mary–the only human being to perfectly follow God’s will in all respects (Of course, Jesus Christ followed His Father’s will perfectly too, but He was also God), then we should all be saints and the happiness of one would increase our own happiness.  How greatly would God’s glory be revealed!  The saints dwell in perfect happiness in heaven and were more joyful on earth than us ordinary sinners.

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Yet, why this hesitation and fear of following God’s will if it leads us to perfect happiness?  The great crosses in the lives of the saints might deter us; yet, is there a life without a cross–that gift from a most loving God?  If suffering be our lot whether we are saints or sinners, why not suffer for the sake of virtue and our happiness rather than going against God’s will?  Is it possible that we shall have a lighter cross by doing what ultimately makes us unhappy, even if it might seem the easier route?

I should like to compare three lives for you, all of which seemed to have been lived by God’s will: St. Padre Pio, Louis Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkien.    One does find crosses therein, but these same people seem to be happier than most.

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On one hand, the life of Padre Pio seems to have been stuffed with crosses: demonic persecutions, persecution by church authorities, people maligning his good name, much pain, and many severe physical illnesses.  On the other hand, he delighted to suffer because suffering increased his likeness and closeness to Our Lord and Master–to the degree that he was marked with the Stigmata.  Furthermore, he was able to help people reconcile with Christ through his ministry of the Confessional and his example of a life dedicated to Jesus Christ.  Doing so brought him so many spiritual children than he could have had as the father of a family.  No other kind of life would have made Padre Pio happier.

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You might know that Louis Martin was the father of St. Therese of Lisieux.  If I remember rightly, he owned a jewelry business and delighted in his family: a loving wife, who has also entered the process of canonization, and five daughters who became religious sisters.  He strictly observed the sabbath, exercised patience toward all, was always the first to respond to the village fire alarm, made time for quiet meditation, and loved his daughters dearly.  If he had gone into religion, as he had planned, we would never have had St. Therese of Lisieux, and he would never have enjoyed the love of his family and been an example to all his neighbors.  And despite his illnesses toward the end of his life, he actually seemed to grow happier and holier and edified people even by his death.

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Lastly, Tolkien’s early life also contained suffering: his mother was disowned by her family after converting to Catholicism and she died a widow while Tolkien was in his teens, he was forced to separate from his fiancee for years without contact (save once) and almost lost her to another man, and suffered many illnesses and wounds while at the front lines in World War I–losing all save one friend in the war.  Yet, his mother’s sacrifices increased his fervor for the Faith, his separation and reunion with his beloved purified and strengthened their love, and his suffering in the war increased his understanding.

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Suffering does increase understanding.  How well could Tolkien have written The Lord of the Rings without this experience?  Could he have written the romance of Luthien and Beren?  How much less penetrating his academic articles?  Truth and wisdom are great possessions.  Can anyone doubt that Tolkien was anything less than happy in dramatically reading the first fifty lines of Beowulf before new classes?

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All these lives are happy and according to God’s will.  One might judge Padre Pio’s life to have been more according to God’s will because he’s a canonized saint, but that is speculation: we shall not know until we have arrived in heaven, and I am certain that we shall see all three of them there!  What we can be sure that Padre Pio would not have been happy as a teacher of Old English, Tolkien as a jeweler, or Louis Martin as a monk.  Each person was made to be happy in a different fashion, but all of these lives are focused on Christ and following the Will of God: your salvation and happiness.

Suffering and Christmas

Well, this blog has been full of the Christmas spirit, hasn’t it?  To tell you the truth, I think that sweetpea616 succeeded more in immersing herself in the Christmas spirit than I did–and she’s pagan!  At any rate, I think that it will be worthwhile to write about how suffering relates to the holiday of Christmas.

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I can already hear someone asking: “How can suffering possibly relate to such a joyous holiday?  What a morbid, moribund, and melancholy person!”  (And I can tell that this speaker does not know me personally.)  But do not forget that the colors green and red symbolize the Christmas holiday.  Green obviously symbolizes rebirth and renewal–and how did Christ accomplish our rebirth?  By pouring out His red blood on the Cross.  Verily, He was born in order to die.  We Christians celebrate the Invincible Love of God in sending His only Son so that Jesus Christ would redeem us through a painful death upon a cross and give us new life by His Resurrection.  In the same way, Christians are baptized into the Passion of Christ and reborn into His Resurrection.  Since “the disciple is not above his master” (Lk 6:40), we must suffer many things and courageously bear the cross God gives us so that we may be steadily transformed into the image of Christ until we reach that perfection which God has destined for us in Paradise.

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The Church calendar seems to reinforce the idea of suffering even in the midst of this joyful time of year: the day after Christmas we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephan, the feast of the Holy Innocents today, and tomorrow recalls the murder of St. Thomas à Becket.  Only St. John the Evangelist seems not to fit in until we remind ourselves that he suffered a white martyrdom.  How could it be otherwise?  In support of this idea, we have all the suffering John endured in spreading the Gospel and his gospel itself, which enters more fully into the divinity of Christ than any other gospel.  John’s gospel evidences his suffering because no one can understand God so fully without meditating on and participating in Christ’s sufferings daily.  How much grief must have filled St. John’s soul in recalling those three interminable hours at the foot of the Savior’s cruel cross?  To always have before his eyes the visible memory of Christ’s wounds and the sorrowful last words of Christ ringing in his ears?  And on the thirtieth, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family: after Christ’s whose sorrows are meditated on more frequently or were more severe than St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s?  These two saints have more glory in heaven than all the rest because they both played a larger role in Salvation History and suffered more greatly than all the other saints combined.

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So, suffering, doubts, anxiety, grief, and pain do not seem out of place this time of year.  In my case, I lack a certain talent to suffer–if I may call it so.  Suffering has the propensity to make us focus inward, to disregard the people around us, and overly seek consolations for oneself–anything to cause us to forget or diminish our pain or angst.  But, the talent or skill which one should strive to attain is to ignore our miserable condition and manifest joy to the world–especially around Christmas.

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The most memorable scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the meeting of Jesus and His Mother on the Way of the Cross, demonstrates this attitude perfectly.  What does Our Lord say to His Mother?  After being insulted and beaten constantly, being mocked, unjustly condemned, scourged, crowned with thorns, and even to this point being shown every form of contempt and disdain?  “Behold, I make all things new.”  This carries the idea that Christ’s attention was focused mainly or even purely on the good his sacrifice would do humanity rather than all the evils humanity was pouring on him–even though these sins pierced His Heart like the crown of thorns did His Brow.  Rather than indicate any pain, He joyfully boasts of the salvation He brings to the human race.  For, not even an ocean of sin can extinguish the Love of God.

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Remember what the red and green symbolize when you look next time at a Christmas wreath.  There is joy because Our Savior has come to restore the human race; on the other hand, He restores it through His Sorrowful Passion.  Neither pain or sorrow is out of place in this holiday nor ought one to forget the Passion of Our Lord in this or any season.  So, one must rejoice in spite of suffering, since Christ has come to save poor sinners–us–and these very sufferings, especially when we strive to suffer with love, bring us closer to Christ.  This quote from G. K. Chesterton seems appropriate here: “He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.”

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