Dcn. Harrison Garlick

Dcn. Harrison Garlick serves as a Great Books Tutor for the Alcuin Institute, and is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Tulsa.

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Avoiding the Unreal: How to Read the Great Books Well

I. Reclaim your Education

“We are concerned as anybody else at the headlong plunge into the abyss that Western civilization seems to be taking,” wrote Robert M. Hutchins, editor of the 1952 Great Books of the Western World.[1] In order to “recall the West to sanity,” Hutchins, and his associate editor Mortimer Adler, compiled the fifty-four volume Great Books of the Western World series representing the primary texts from the greatest intellects in Western history.[2] From Homer, to Dante, to Shakespeare, they saw these authors in a dialogue, a “Great Conversation,” that gave the West a distinctive character.[3] These authors, especially the ancient and medieval ones, had contributed to the rise of the liberal arts and to the belief that the liberally educated man was one who had disciplined his passions in pursuit of the good. As Hutchins observed, “the aim of liberal education is human excellence.”[4]

Yet, Hutchins saw the West as undergoing a practical book burning.[5] The great books were being removed from Western education and with them any semblance of a true liberal education. Today, the book burning continues. It is evident that modern education is more a training—it trains students for a societal function and delegates the holistic, human formation to a culture of relativism. A college graduate is no longer expected to be “acquainted with the masterpieces of his tradition” nor the perennial questions into truth, beauty, or goodness.[6] We are deaf to the “Great Conversation.” We are cut off from the great treasury of our intellectual inheritance and only vaguely aware it even exists.

The great books are an invitation to reclaim your education. They are a remedy to the privations of modern education and a salvageable substitute for our lack of a robust liberal arts formation. As Hutchins advocated, in reading the authors of the great books “we are still in the ordinary world, but it is an ordinary world transfigured and seen through the eyes of wisdom and genius.”[7] We are invited to the Great Conversation, to listen, and to add our voice to the pursuit of truth.

There is a latent danger, however, in how one approaches the great books.

II. Avoid the Sins of your Age

In his 1647 masterpiece, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, the Spanish priest Baltasar Gracian, S.J., exhorted his audience to “avoid the faults of your nation.”[8] He explains: “Water shares the good or bad qualities of the strata through which it flows, and man those of the climate in which he is born.”[9] We live, as Cardinal Ratzinger observes, under a “dictatorship of relativism,”[10] and it contaminates every feature of our intellect. To have the requisite self-awareness and virtue to purge these impurities is a “triumph of cleverness.”[11] Whether we think of the ark of Noah, the compulsion out of Plato’s cave, or the angel that led Lot out of Sodom, the great books can help us escape the errors of our age. Writers like Aristotle or St. Boethius challenge our modern presumptions and stretch our imagination to encompass new perspectives on reality. We may better see our age for what it is and what led to our present culture (or anti-culture).

Relativism, however, is pernicious and infects even the remedies against it. We should observe that the authors of the great books disagree. In fact, many of the modern great books became “great” by being contrary to most all that had preceded them. The political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes is a rejection of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. The understanding of history by Karl Marx is a revolution against over two thousand years of human observation, and Friedrich Nietzsche rejects everyone to wage war against Socrates and Jesus Christ. In short, the “great books” were chosen for their impact and not principally for their truth.

The latent danger in the great books is that one simply becomes a well-read relativist. Before us are the greatest minds in the West, these minds disagree, therefore there is no reasonable expectation of truth. Even so-called conservative great books projects will refrain from saying one great book is better than another—they denounce any type of guidance to the great books, favoring a pseudo-neutrality that places dialogue over truth.[12] As Patrick Deneen observes in his 2013 essay, “Against Great Books,” “I have come to suspect that the very source of the decline of the study of the great books comes not in spite of the lessons of the great books, but is to be found in the very arguments within a number of the great books.”[13] Many of the “great books” listed in the Great Books of the Western World are the same books that led to the crisis of education in the West. As Deneen notes, “the broader assault on the liberal arts derives much of its intellectual fuel from a number of the great books themselves.”[14] If applied incorrectly, the remedy for our failing liberal education, the “great books,” becomes part of the disease.

The great books can help us avoid the errors of our age, but we cannot approach them through those same errors. Approaching the great books as some cosmopolitan relativist bears a contrary purpose than that of the traditional liberal arts. If the great books are our answer to the collapse of the liberal arts, then the great books must echo the true purpose of the liberal arts.

III.       Conform your Mind to Reality

In his 1946 classic, The Intellectual Life, the French Dominican A.G. Sertillanges lays out the simple purpose of study: “The order of the mind must correspond to the order of things.”[15] He is drawing from St. Thomas Aquinas, who teaches that truth is the conformity of the mind to reality.[16] This is the purpose of the liberal arts, of the great books, and of all study: the pursuit of truth. We must labor to conform our minds to the contours of reality. We aid one another in our pursuit of truth through our words, whether oral or written, for it is the purpose of our words to convey truth. How rich we are then to have the writings of such masters as St. Augustine to help guide us in this vocation of the intellect. As Sertillanges teaches, “books are signposts” on the movement of the mind toward truth.[17] We approach such authors as a student approaches a teacher—ready for a tutelage in what is real.

All things are judged good or bad according to their purpose (or telos, as the classical Greeks called it). I know a good knife must be sharp, because I understand its purpose is to cut. And because I know its purpose, I understand that the whetstone is good for the knife while its opposite would be bad. In sum, because I understand the purpose or telos of the thing, I can know whether the quality of that thing is good or bad—and also what is good or bad for that thing. So too is it for our intellect. If the purpose of our intellect is truth, then it is by that standard I judge what is good or bad for my intellect. Like a whetstone to the knife, a true great book will sharpen my mind’s understanding of reality. It is in obedience to this telos that we, like Sertillanges, judge our study and the study of the great books in particular. Not all great books meet this standard—as some are guides to the delineations of what is real, while others labor against it.

If we are to reclaim what was lost when the liberal arts fell, then the purpose of studying the great books must be the pursuit of truth. It was not relativistic dialogue that led Bl. Alcuin of York and Emperor Charlemagne to rebuild the West. Nor was it relativism that nurtured St. Thomas Aquinas or Dante. We are the inheritors of a robust pursuit of truth—a desire to satiate in the thickness of reality.

Yet, how does one judge what is true? In other words: how do we reconcile that we turn to the great books to teach us truth, yet we are to judge the great books by whether they teach truth? Are we the arbiter of what is real? What standards or principles should one bring to the study of the great books? What was the principle of truth amongst the liberal arts?

IV. Become a Student of the Logos

In his architectonic 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.”[18] His address—arguably one of the most important postconciliar papal teachings—submits that there is a profound harmony between Greek reason and Hebrew faith. The Greek philosophers, like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, sought the logos of reality. The Greek term logos means “the account of something” or the “ordering principle of a thing.” In Plato’s Republic, for example, Socrates is seeking the logos of justice—to know the reason and reality of what justice is. Aristotle speaks of logos as an argument that appeals to the intellect. The pursuit of the logos is part of our intellectual inheritance. It cultivated in the West the belief that nature, and all within it, bears a discoverable, rational order. It is at the heart of both our philosophy and our empirical sciences, as from logos we draw the word logic and the suffix –logy, as in biology (the account of life) or zoology (the account of animals). If truth, as aforementioned, is the conformity of the mind to reality, it was the concept of logos that taught the West that reality was an ordered, objective, and rational whole.

Greek reason and Hebrew faith began a dialogue hundreds of years prior to Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI observes, “despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.” To the Holy Father’s point, one may compare the violent clash of Greeks and Hebrews in First and Second Maccabees with the notable influence of Greek thought upon the reflections on faith in the Book of Wisdom or Sirach. Moreover, it is notable that the first Old Testament canon, the Septuagint (c. 250 B.C.), was a Greek translation centered in Alexandria. In sum, Greek reason coupled with Hebrew faith under Roman order tilled the earth for the coming of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul teaches, our Lord came in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4).

The zenith of this harmony is provided by St. John, as he opens his Gospel with an allusion to Genesis: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” St. John notably gives the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity the name Logos. He further proclaims, “the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, is the Logos of all creation—the ordering principle of reality itself. As Aristotle notes that logos can be a communication of reason, so too is the Logos the Word—the Word spoken by the Father in Genesis that structured the very order of being. The rational order of reality observed by the Greeks is the work of the Eternal Word, the Logos. As St. Paul teaches, in Jesus Christ “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). Note as well that the Logos not only created reality but continues to hold it in existence (Col 1:17). What the Greeks sought via reason and what the Hebrews sought via faith is revealed to be Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Logos.

Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality, because objects in reality have a logos—a rational order—to which the mind may adhere. Here, we may better understand why Christ proclaims He is the Truth (John 14:6). If Jesus is the Logosof all that is real, Reason-itself, the account of all creation, then to conform your mind to Him would be to contemplate the Truth of all things. He is not the logos of any particular thing, but the Logos of all—and in Him and through Him we may come to a better understanding of particulars. The liberal arts must be understood as a pursuit of the Logos. The student would undergo a disciplined order of knowledge that moved the intellect into conformity with reality. First, the student would learn grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium), and then arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium). All of these, however, and such higher sciences as medicine or law, were subservient to and perfected by the queen of the sciences, theology. The liberal arts were a foundation to and an acknowledgment of the study of God by both reason and faith, as illuminated by the Logos. It is amongst the debris of what was such a time-tested tutelage in the real that we must return to the great books. Deprived of this education, we turn first to the teachers who may be called “the ancients,” the intellects from Homer to Dante, who built up such a rich treasury of education. It is by their observations on nature and revelation that we learn of the Logos.

We live in the age of the anti-logos. Modernity is a rejection. The second half of the great books, “the moderns,” from Machiavelli to present, largely represents a deconstruction of any belief in an ordered whole of creation. While there are certainly good modern thinkers, such as Cardinal Newman or Pope Benedict XVI, the main trait of our modern age is rejection. Man no longer turns to God, revelation, nature, or history for guidance, but rather these become malleable to man’s creative will. Each man becomes his own god, his own “Logos,” who believes reality should conform to the “truth” of his own imagination. We live in an anti-culture—our dominative tutelage in the unreal. We live in a post-Christian paganism that no longer even adheres to the natural  logos of Socrates or Aristotle. The sin of our age, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted, is the sin against the Creator.[19] Man now makes his own reality and demands others adhere to it—the dictatorship of relativism.

Let us reclaim our culture. Let us reclaim our education by turning to the teachers of what is real, those who may help us—in this age of the unreal—conform our minds to Reason-itself, the Eternal Logos, Jesus Christ.

On Christ’s Invitation to Chaos

Water is chaos. Water is death, disorder, ugliness, and confusion. As Holy Scripture teaches us, after God had made the heavens and the earth, the earth was, in its primal state, covered in water and “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Yet, above these primordial depths fluttered the Spirit of God and by His Word He drew Creation from the waters.

The opening of Holy Scripture presents us with a pattern of God pulling order from disorder, life from death, and beauty from ugliness. As He pulled our world from the waters, so too will He pull salvation from chaos and death time and time again.

Remember the narrative of Noah’s Ark, and how God, in His anger, recalled the primordial waters of Creation to once again retake the face of the earth. Death, chaos, and destruction reigned. Yet, God again in His mercy drew forth salvation from the watery depths and humanity was made anew with Noah and his family.

Remember the narrative of the infant Moses laid upon the waters of the river Nile. As Noah had his Ark, so too did Moses have his basket—and what should have been his death became his salvation. For Pharaoh’s daughter drew him forth from the waters and named him Moses—meaning “to draw out.” His name, of course, is prophetic—because as he was drawn out from the Nile, so too will he draw Israel out of Egypt. Yet, once again water appears as death, as Israel becomes trapped on the banks of the Red Sea—but God turns what should have been death into life by allowing Israel to cross.

Note as well the fate of the Egyptians who were swallowed up in a watery death—a warning to us all of what happens if we attempt to navigate the chaos of this life without God.

We could also speak of how the waters of the Jordan River stood between Israel and the Promise Land or how Jonah, in his disobedience, was cast from his ship into waters and swallowed by a beast of the sea.

The entire pattern of God drawing forth salvation from the waters is perfected in the baptism of Jesus Christ. For here there is no ark or basket, but rather the very instrument of death itself—water—is made the tool of salvation. We are submerged in the baptismal waters to show our death with Christ, and, as God pulled forth Creation from the primordial waters of Genesis, so too are we drawn forth as new creatures in Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, Christ was not baptized to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us. God enters into death and the instrument of that death becomes the portal of our salvation.

This ancient symbolism of water representing chaos and death gives new insight into the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—we may recall His first miracle of turning water into wine or His later miracles of walking on water and rebuking the storm at sea. We may even start to understand why, when He cast the demons into the pigs, the demons drove the animals to be drowned in the waters. Time and time again, Holy Scripture uses water to demonstrate the authority of Jesus Christ over chaos and death.

Here, let us stop and ask: Why is any of this important to today’s Gospel? Well, have you ever wondered why Jesus chose fisherman for His first disciples? Why not choose carpenters like He and his earthly father? Why did He choose fisherman? To understand, we must apply the lessons learned since Genesis: that the waters represent a formless, primordial chaos.

For our Lord tells His first disciples, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He is not inviting His disciples to comfort or safety. For if one is going to be a fisherman, one must be upon the open waters. As God drew forth Creation from the formless depths of our primal earth, so too does He now invite His disciples to join Him in drawing forth a new Creation from the chaos of this world.

He calls them to be “fishers of men,” because as a man draws a fish out of the sea and into the boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos of this world and into the Catholic Church. This is our calling. Our Lord asks us to endure the chaotic, stormy seas of this life for the sake of those souls who are still lost amongst its churning depths.

We must hear his call. We are to be “fishers of men,” and we will be in the chaos but not of it—we are called to draw souls out of the death of this life into the new life of Jesus Christ. We bring order to chaos, light to darkness, and hope to despair.

Our Lord has made the call—He has asked us to be fishers of men.

May we answer the call and “push out into the deep” to rescue souls from the watery chaos of this world.[1]

    [1] In the first reading from Isaiah (Is 8:23—9:3), the song of praise is from those souls drawn into the safety on the new Ark, the Catholic Church. It is not unremarkable that the road glorified is the “seaward” road. The second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17) against divisions is a warning to not the chaos of the world enter the Church any more than a fisherman allows the waves of the sea into his boat. Finally, see Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship for a more in depth treatment of the allegory of water as chaos.

Into the Deep: A Biblical Study on Chaos & Discipleship

The world is in chaos. Modern man now holds himself as an autonomous moral universe in which every conceivable reality is malleable to his subjective will. Man has been “emancipated,” in the spirit of non serviam, from God, the Church, nature, history, reason, and now even his own body. Even the most basic realities of what it means to be human are eroding and with it the foundations of our civilization.

If we asked whether there was cause to hope amongst the chaos, most Catholics would, if even out of piety, answer yes—our hope is in Jesus Christ. Yet, what did Jesus Christ teach us about the relationship between chaos and hope? What is the biblical understanding of chaos? And what is the relation of chaos to vocation of a disciple of Jesus Christ?

The answer to these questions is water and what lies beneath the concept of the waters in the biblical text. Let us look at the opening of Holy Scripture:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2).

The primordial waters of Creation are formless, void, and dark. The Spirit of God flutters above the deep, and it is from these waters that God will draw Creation. The contrast in the opening of Holy Scripture grants us our template for understanding the biblical allegory of water: water represents chaos, disorder, darkness, and death; but, just as God drew Creation from the face of the deep, so too does God draw order, beauty, light, and life from that which is chaotic.

It is this interplay between the chaos of water and the order of God that we will use as our primary pattern, our thesis, to examine other examples in the biblical text.

A clear example resides in Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood (Gen 6-9). The primordial waters of Creation return to reclaim the earth for chaos. The Great Flood is another creation narrative, in which God must once again draw forth order and beauty from the chaotic deep.

The waters represent death and the Ark represents life. Many of our Early Church Fathers saw in this text an allegory of the Church and the world. The Church is the Ark, our salvation, and the world is the watery abyss, our death and damnation.

As an aside, there is an image here that has always caught my imagination. Note that the waters burst forth before the door to the Ark is closed. You can only image what realizations set in on the people around Noah when the waters started to come forth—when they realized that the Ark was indeed their hope for salvation. And note that in the midst of this realization—who closes the door to the Ark? The Lord does—not Noah but the Lord (Gen 7:16). It is ultimately God’s Ark, as it is God’s Church, and He decides who is worthy to enter and be spared the waters of chaos and who is not.

Let us leave Noah for the narrative of Moses. The life of Moses is deeply intertwined with the allegory of water. First, recall that in order to save her child’s life, his mother sets her infant son in a basket upon the waters of the Nile (Ex 2:3). Like Noah in the Ark, we see the child’s life preserved upon the waters that would have otherwise been his death. He is then pulled forth from the waters by Pharaoh’s daughter, who names him Moses, meaning “to be drawn out” (Ex 2:10). Like Creation itself, Moses is drawn from the waters and his very name exemplifies the relationship between chaos and order, death and life, water and God.

The narrative of Moses’ salvation as an infant serves as a foreshadowing to the salvation of Israel. Moses is called by God to draw out Israel from its bondage in Egypt and, as he was delivered from the waters of the Nile, he must now be the hand of God in delivering Israel from the waters of the Red Sea (Ex 14:10-22).

What should have been their death, the Red Sea, God turned into the vehicle of their salvation. A pattern emerges, as seen in the stories of Creation, Noah, and Moses, that those who have hope in God often find their salvation amongst and through chaos.

Take note of the fate of the Egyptians (Ex 14:22-31). They too attempted to cross the Red Sea but, like those who did not trust in God during the Great Flood, they are swallowed by the waters and it becomes their death. The Egyptians serve as a fateful reminder for those who attempt to traverse this life—with all its chaos and disorder—without placing their hope in God.

Another considerable example is the crossing of the Jordan River (Jos 3:17). Here, God commands Joshua to have the Ark of the Covenant lead the people across the Jordan. Once again, like the Red Sea, there is water between Israel and the Promised Land. The Ark is carried into the waters and the waters cease and those carrying the Ark stand upon dry ground. The Ark remains in the middle of the dry riverbed until the entire host of Israel has safely crossed.

Here, like the Red Sea, we observe a clear visual of the necessity for us to place our hope in God when attempting to cross the waters of this life into the eternal Promise Land.

Let us turn to a somewhat different and more nuanced example of water as an archetype of chaos. In the book of Job, when Job laments his losses, he cries out for thick darkness and blackness to swallow up the day of his birth (Job 3:4-5). Notably, amongst the chaos he is suffering, he invokes the Leviathan—the great beast of the waters (Job 3:8).

It more notable that when God decides to chastise Job, God too invokes the Leviathan (Job 41:25). God presents a clear juxtaposition: to God, the Leviathan is a plaything, like a maiden tying a bird to a string; but to man, the Leviathan, this great beast of the sea, means certain death. It is only with God, by placing our hope in him, that man can be delivered from this great beast of the waters, this beast of chaos.

Another example, and arguably one of the best examples of the allegory of water, is the narrative of Jonah. As you will recall, Jonah attempts to run from the Lord and, while he is on a ship at sea, the Lord sends a storm. Jonah is subsequently tossed out of the ship and into the sea. It is intriguing that with Noah and Moses, the vessel upon the water was the instrument of God’s salvation, and here we have Jonah, who is contrary to the will of God, being tossed out of the vessel and into the sea. He is tossed out of what represents salvation and into what represents death and chaos—only to be swallowed by a great beast of the sea. And while there is some debate whether Jonah died within the belly of that creature, it is clear that our Lord Jesus Christ uses the story as a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection—drawing yet another parallel between water and death.

Does this pattern of God using water, representing death and chaos, as a vehicle of salvation extend to the New Testament? Yes. In fact, almost our entire study up to this point could be a reflection on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Let us recall that St. Ambrose, in commenting on Luke 3:21, tells us Christ was baptized not to become holy, but to make the waters holy for us.[1] God enters death and the instrument of death becomes the portal of our salvation.

As the Spirit of God fluttered above the primordial waters and then drew forth Creation, so too does the Holy Spirit draw us from our baptismal waters as a new creation in Christ. The Church, into which we are baptized, is our salvation, as was the Ark to Noah or the basket to Moses. Moreover, we hope never to be contrary to the will of God and be tossed from the ship like Jonah. It is through these waters—like with the Red Sea or the Jordan—that we must pass to enter our Promised Land, our eternal happiness with God.

Even a casual survey of the ministry of Jesus Christ exhibits a continuation of this catechesis on water.

At the wedding of Cana, our Lord performs His first miracle—the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11). This is, in many ways, a summary of the entire salvific mission of Jesus Christ. What represents chaos and death, water, becomes by the hand of Christ wine—which in turn foreshadows our true salvific drink, the Precious Blood. Like the wedding at Cana, we too are called to wed ourselves to Christ and become one flesh with Him: we leave behind the water and we take of the wine.

Recall also Christ calming the storm (Matt 8:23-27). Jesus and His disciples are in a boat on the sea. “Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves” (Matt 8:24). Notably, however, Christ is asleep. His disciples wake our Lord and, as Matthew records, “he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm” (Matt 8:26). The narrative of Christ calming the sea recalls His relationship to the primordial waters of Creation. For Christ is the Eternal Word, the Logos, the ordering principle and account of all reality (John 1:1-14). It is in Him, through Him, and for Him all things were made (Col 1:15-17). Thus, when God the Father spoke the words of creation over the primordial waters it was the Eternal Word, the Logos, that gave Creation its form and substance—and continues, at present, to hold all things in being (Col 1:17). Christ can be the God who sleeps amongst the waves, because the chaos they represent holds no danger to Him. The Logos brought order to the primordial waters, and the Incarnate-God, Jesus Christ, calms the waters of the sea.

St. Matthew then pivots into the story of Christ’s healing of the demoniacs (Matt 8:28-34). As you may recall, Christ drives the demons out of the two men and into the herd of swine. We should take careful observance of the fact that when the demons are sent into the pigs, the demons drive the pigs into the sea where they die amongst the waters. St. Matthew is showing us that the sea, the water, is the realm of the demonic—that which is lifeless, void, and dark; yet, he couples this narrative with the calming of the storm to show us that this chaotic realm is subject to the authority of Jesus Christ. Here, it is most important to recall from the narrative before that when Christ calmed the storm, He actually rebuked it—He used the language of an exorcism. The two narratives are meant to be read as one.

We could also contemplate Christ walking on the water and what it means for St. Peter, our first pope, to leave the boat and come to Christ standing atop the waves. Let us, however, turn to when Christ calls Peter to be a disciple and what water has to do with discipleship.

The Gospel records:

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him (Matt 4:18-22).

It is not by accident that Christ called fishermen to be his first disciples. It is an intentional act that illuminates a pattern throughout all of Salvation History. It is a decision built upon the narratives of Creation, Noah, Moses, Jonah, and more. Walking by the sea, He calls them to be “fishers of men.” If one is to be a fisher of men, where must one be? As a man draws a fish out of the sea from his boat, so too do the disciples of Christ draw souls out of the chaos and into the Church.

Therefore, chaos is not a reason to give up hope. We are called to chaos. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to be in the chaos but not of it—to draw souls out of the chaos and into the grace of God’s Church. We are called to be in disorder but not be disordered. We navigate the chaos for the salvation of our neighbor—fishing them out of darkness and death of the worldly waters and into the great Ark of our Salvation, the Catholic Church. We are agents of order to disorder, of light to darkness, of hope to despair, and of life to death.

Before we end, let us examine the end of Scripture. In the Book of Revelation, St. John writes:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name… The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” (Rev 13:1-4)

Here, we see the return of the great sea beast, the Leviathan, who serves as a type of antichrist in the Apocalypse. He represents disorder, death, chaos, and is contrary to God in all ways. The people, echoing a corruption of St. Michael’s name, praise the sea beast saying, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The irony of their praise is found in recalling what God said about the Leviathan in Job–it can bring swift death to us, but to God it is nothing, a plaything to be led on a string. As demonstrated by Christ throughout the New Testament, God has absolute authority over the waters, the chaos, and all that dwell therein.

But we, placing our hope in Christ, know that the great sea beast is defeated and a new earth and a new heaven are created. Our biblical examination of water concludes as St. John writes toward the end of his Apocalypse:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more (Rev 21:1).

There is no sea in the new earth. Chaos has been brought to order, darkness to light, death to life, and the Leviathan, the sea beast, is defeated by the Lamb. The allegory of water provides an architectonic template to understanding the entire narrative of Salvation History, and it is a divine story given to us to provide hope amongst the death and darkness of daily life.

In the Gospel of Luke, Christ is with His disciples and tells them to “push out into the deep,” into the “deep water” (Lk 5:4). So too is Christ calling us to push out into the deep and draw out the souls who need Him the most. May we always be willing to take the hope of God into the depths of chaos.

This article is an adaptation of the talk entitled “On Water, Chaos & Catholic Leadership” given at the 2021 USCCB national Child & Youth Protection Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and similarly a talk entitled “On Hope & Chaos: A Biblical Study on Water” at the 2021 Idea of a Village Conference in Locust Grove, Oklahoma.


On New Year’s Eve, King Arthur was with his knights and other guests at the round table. As was his custom, King Arthur would not begin to eat until he had heard some story of wonder and renown. Suddenly, a man on horseback came riding into his hall. He was a giant clothed completely in the color green bearing a huge, ornate axe. In fact, to the amazement of the guests, the half-giant knight had skin and hair colored green—even his horse was green. Known aptly as the “Green Knight,” he issued a challenge to those brave heroes in Arthur’s hall: one of them would be permitted to strike the Green Knight once with his own axe, and then the Green Knight would strike him once in return.

The hall was silent before the massive, green man. Eventually, Sir Gawain stood before the Green Knight and brokered terms of the holiday game. Sir Gawain would strike the Green Knight and then, a year later, Sir Gawain would have to journey to the chapel of the Green Knight to stand and receive his strike.

Sir Gawain lifted the axe and swung with all his might—the head of the Green Knight went rolling across the floor. The game had apparently come to its predictable end. Yet, to the amazement of King Arthur’s court, the headless knight walked over, picked up his head, and galloped away, reminding Sir Gawain he would see him one year hence.

In this 14th century anonymous poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, our hero must find the fortitude to journey and face his green foe. While his overall pilgrimage is certainly worth reading (please do not watch the 2021 movie), what is most apt for us is how Sir Gawain found the fortitude he needed to start his journey. The author spends a great amount of time telling us about Sir Gawain’s armor, but most notable for us is his shield. On the inside of his shield, Sir Gawain has painted a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this manner, when he lifts his shield in battle, her eyes will meet his – and he will be encouraged. In the maternal eyes of Mary, he will find the fortitude necessary to do what is asked of him.

Sir Gawain invites us to understand that fortitude is necessary for a virtuous life. It does not matter if you are smart enough to understand what is right if you are too afraid to do it. How many of us know what the Gospel demands of us but buckle under the pressure of our culture?

Though our faith makes demands upon our fortitude, it also helps it. Faith perfects or strengthens our fortitude. This interplay between faith and fortitude is reflected in today’s Scripture readings.

In the first reading, the author praises the Jews whose faith in God allowed them to have the bravery to endure hardships and await justice (Wis 18:6-9). The author states, “Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes”—their faith allowed their fortitude to hold.

In the second reading, we see how the faith of Abraham gave him the courage to leave his homeland and endure hardships for the sake of the vocation to which God had called him (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19). The greatest test of which was God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice his only son—Isaac. Abraham’s fortitude, perfected by his faith, allowed for a narrative that would foreshadow God the Father sending His own Son to be sacrificed.

Third, in today’s Gospel, Christ tells us to “[g]ird your loins and light your lamps”—to be brave and to have faith (Lk 12:32-48). For to us, His “little flock,” He has given the Kingdom, if we can endure the hardships of the world for the sake of the Cross.

After linking the virtues of faith and fortitude, our Gospel today ends with a warning. Alluding to the end times, Christ tells us that when the Master comes, He will throw the wicked servant amongst the “unfaithful” for punishment. A clear analogue to hell. Yet, He says of the servant who knew the will of his Master but did not do it—that servant will be saved but punished severely. A clear analogue to purgatory.

Christ’s warning is clear: We will be disciplined—either by our own will in this life or by the Divine Will in the life to come. Knowing the will of God is not enough. We must have the fortitude to live the Gospel—to be mocked, to be alienated, to endure hardship all for the sake of Jesus Christ.

May we, like Sir Gawain, find encouragement in Mother Mary to live the life expected of us—a life of faith and fortitude.

On the Poem the Pearl & Seeking the Higher Good

We come upon a man who has lost something. A spotless pearl has slipped through his fingers and is now lost in the earth. He grieves and cries. His heart hurts with a cruel pain and a torment churns within his chest (Pearl, no. 2). He lays on the mound in the garden still seeking his pearl—but his pearl will never be found. For the pearl that slipped through his fingers into the earth was his infant daughter, now buried beneath him. He lies on her grave crying out for his perfect pearl, and he drifts into sleep. Providence provides the father with a vision. The man is transported to a celestial garden with crystal cliffs and jeweled forests (nos. 7-9). He walks until he comes to a river with waves like glass illuminated by light, shining like the stars. On the other side of the river, he observes great heavenly cliffs, and at their base, walking by the river, he sees a beautiful young woman (no.14). She is arrayed like a heavenly queen, a bride of Christ, with glistening robes all adorned with pearls. The longer the man looks, the more his heart knows that this young woman is somehow his daughter. She is his spotless pearl. Overcome with bliss, his heart expands just to contain the joy. The father cries out to his lost daughter. Yet, the heavenly maiden turns her grey eyes upon her father with a cool and collected spirit. She is reserved and, with a surreal solemnity, gently reproaches her father for what she calls “madness” (no. 23). The anticipated reunion of father and daughter gives way to daughter, now a heavenly saint, expressing her concerns for him. Why does he grieve for her when she is safe in heaven—but he is still in the struggles of life? Why does he seek her in heaven and not God? The jarring nature of their reunion is, at its heart, a clash of earthly expectations against divine ones. What follows is a beautiful dialogue between father and daughter about the nature of true happiness and what her father must do to secure it. In a preliminary manner, the jarring character of the father’s reunion with the daughter is reflected in the meeting of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, lies at the feet of Jesus listening to Him, while Martha flitters around the house serving her guests. When Martha asks our Lord for Martha to help, it is somewhat contrary to our expectations to hear Christ decline and side with Mary. Is it not good for Martha to serve her guests? Often, we reduce the moral life to avoiding evil and choosing the good. And while this is arguably the most basic moral precept, much of life is actually choosing between different goods. It was good that the father loved his daughter, just as it was good Martha wanted to serve her guests. In both cases, however, the father and Martha had to learn to choose a higher good over a lesser good. It was good the father loved his daughter, but it was better for him to love God. It was good Martha wanted to serve others, but it was better for her to be at the feet of Jesus. A key insight here, however, is that seeking the higher good does not exclude the lower. In fact, the higher will always perfect the lower. If the father loves God first, then he will love his daughter with a more perfect love. If Martha chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus, then it will ultimately perfect her service to others. At the end of the Pearl, an anonymous 1300s poem, the daughter, that queenly, heavenly virgin, a true spotless pearl, shows her father that true happiness is in God. He then sees the Lamb, standing victorious yet slain, and the father is so overcome with zeal to be with God that he attempts to cross the river. He awakes from his dream on the grave of his daughter. He still must live his earthly pilgrimage. He must seek the true Pearl, Jesus Christ, and order all other goods to this end.

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In Praise of the Holy Family Against the Gods

Homer and the Ancient Greek poets tell us that in the beginning there was the world, Gaia, and the heavens, Uranus. The earth and the heavens came together and gave birth to the great and powerful Titans—and the chief titan, Cronos, waged war against his own father and killed him and ascended in power and ruled over the world. In turn, Cronos had children—the Olympian gods—but fearing his children would dethrone him, he ate them when they were born. Yet, at the birth of one of his sons, Cronos was tricked into swallowing a stone and the young male child, named Zeus, escaped and grew strong and bold until he led an assault against his own father and cast Cronos down—and Zeus, having defeated his own father, became the chief god of Mount Olympus. From his throne, Zeus used his power to live a life of adultery and manipulation. In the gods of the old West, the relationship between father and son was one marked by antagonism, power dynamics, and violence. And as such, the family suffered. We must understand the contrast between the old ways and our true religion. In reality, God the Father and God the Son act in perfect unity and the Son is obedient to the Father’s will. It is not a dynamic of power and violence but one of obedience, humility, and love. As it is written, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever shall believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Father and Son work together for the salvation of mankind. And Christ does not come in power and strength but as a tender child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Today, the Church gives us the gift of contemplating the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Not only does God the Father and God the Son model the proper relationship between Father and Son, but God sees fit to give us a family, a holy family, which we can take as our model and guide. There is much that can be said about the Holy Family, but regarding the relationship between a father and a son, it is notable that the father in the holy family, the exemplar of all families, is an adoptive father—Saint Joseph is the adoptive father or foster father of Jesus Christ. What can this teach us? Two general observations: First, it shows us what it truly means to be a father to a son. To be a father is not reducible to or even inclusive of a biological connection. For as Pope Francis teaches, a true father is one who is intentional in parenting his children. A man could have several children inside his home to whom he is not actually a father. As a good example, we think of St. Joseph who stood in the breech between the world and his family. He protected them. He listened to the voice of God and led his family into safety and security. Under his fatherhood, his wife and son were allowed to flourish and carry out their vocations. In contrast, one may think of the priest Eli who refused to be a father to his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. His sons terrorized those around them and, most tragically, failed in their vocation to serve the people of Israel. St. Joseph, as an adoptive father, shows us that being a father is an intentional act. The second lesson from the adoptive fatherhood of St. Joseph is that we are all adopted. As Joseph adopts Jesus Christ into his family, so too does God the Father adopt all of us as his sons and daughters. St. Paul often reminds us throughout the New Testament that the Father adopts us through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. For Jesus is True Son of God. Whereas we bear the image of God like a coin bears the image of a king, Christ bears the image of God like a son to his father. It is in Jesus Christ that we are adopted and find the joys of salvation. As we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, like us take St. Joseph as a model of fatherhood, an adoptive and intentional fatherhood. A fatherhood that is willing to stand against the gods of this age that seek to bring antagonisms and violence into the family. A fatherhood that is willing to lead the family into being adoptive sons and daughters of Jesus Christ.

On King Arthur & the Woman with the Issue of Blood

The young King Arthur sat in his pavilion and before him laid the crushed and broken body of one of his young knights. The young knight – who still lived – told King Arthur about a mysterious knight fully clad in black armor who dwelt deep in the forest. The young knight had challenged the knight in all black, known as the Sable Knight, to a joust and had been soundly defeated. The Sable Knight had helped the young man back on to his horse and sent him riding back into the forest. Yet, the Sable Knight had done one curious and dishonorable act—he had kept the young knight’s shield as trophy. King Arthur loved the young knight and his love for him moved him to act. While his other knights asked for permission to challenge the Sable Knight, King Arthur decided that he, himself, would challenge the knight to teach him humility. Donning his armor and mounting his milk-white war horse, the good King Arthur rode through the forest alone toward the stronghold of the Sable Knight. His heart was full of joy and courage, and he chanted a song to himself as he rode among the trees. At last King Arthur came to long stone bridge spanning a river running through the forest. In the middle of the bridge a black shield was hung and beside it a brass hammer. On the far side of the bridge, King Arthur observed a large apple tree and amongst the branches hung the shields of defeated knights. King Arthur pushed his horse forward and observed that a sign with great red letters hung underneath the black shield, and it read: “Whoever hits this shield, does so at his great peril.” King Arthur, having read these words, grabbed the brass hammer and struck the black shield with such a violent blow that it echoed throughout the whole forest. King Arthur was not afraid. In answer to the strike upon the shield, a knight armored in all black rode forth to take his place on the far end of the stone bridge. The knight in black, the Sable Knight, told King Arthur he would take his shield and place it in the apple tree with all the others. Arthur, in turn, said he would humble the Sable Knight for his dishonor to the young knight and all the others. Words being at an end, the two took their places in an adjacent field. Each sat upon his war-horse and each held in front of them a long ashen spear. Then the “two rushed forth like lightening, coursing across the ground with such violent speed that the earth trembled and shook beneath them.” They met in the center of that field, “crashing together like a thunderbolt” with such violence that both spears shattered upon the armor of the other. Grabbing new spears, they crashed into each other again, and again, until, tired and wounded, they drew their swords and fought on foot until both King Arthur and the Sable Knight were bloodied and broken—the match was at a draw. King Arthur retired to the hut of a forest hermit. While he was tended to with prayers and medicine, King Arthur contemplated how to again challenge the Sable Knight and be victorious. The Sable Knight, however, was his equal, and King Arthur needed an advantage. Here, Arthur was led to an enchanted lake surrounded by lush and fragrant flowers that held an item of incredible power. In the middle of the lake a woman’s arm extended from the water and held the most beautiful sword King Arthur had ever seen—it was the sword, Excalibur. The only way to reach the sword was a boat carved of solid brass. If you had fear in your heart, the boat would sink beneath the waves and take you with it. If you had courage, the boat would float. Many knights had lost their lives in that lake, but King Arthur remained courageous and drew Excalibur from the lake. And, in short, armed with Excalibur, he returned to challenge the Sable Knight and defeated him soundly. The narrative of King Arthur and the Sable Knight is one of courage and overcoming obstacles, and the sword Excalibur has long been held to be a symbol of faith. As it was necessary for King Arthur to wield Excalibur to overcome the Sable Knight, so too is it necessary for us to wield faith to overcome our trials. In today’s Gospel, Mark provides us with two such examples. It was by faith that the woman with the issue of blood pushed through the crowd that considered her unclean to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. It was by faith that Jairus disregarded the opinion to not bother Jesus anymore because his daughter had died. We may think these obstacles are not as glorious or daunting as a knight clad in black, but they are the obstacles that easily defeat us time and time again. How often does the opinion of the crowd keep us from reaching Jesus? How many times does the advice and opinion of others turn us back from what Jesus has told us he would do? Today’s gospel is a reminder that you cannot serve both Jesus and this world. Faith, like Excalibur, must be wielded to cut through the trials and temptations of this life. As the chasm between our culture and our Gospel continues to grow, may our faith help us to cling to Jesus no matter the opinions of this world.

On Aslan, the Holy Spirit, and Lifeless Souls

During World War II, the Pevensie children flee to the English countryside to escape the Nazi air raids on London. The children – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – are the guests of an eccentric but kind professor who welcomes them to his large country estate. One day, as the children are playing in the old house, the youngest child, Lucy, stumbles through the back of a wardrobe and enters into an enchanted land filled with mythological creatures and adventure. The children come to know the land as Narnia, and that Narnia is held under the wicked rule of the White Witch, a tyrant who has cast a spell over Narnia to make it always winter but never Christmas. Yet, through their relationship with a couple of talkative beavers, the children come to understand that Aslan, the lion, has returned to Narnia to liberate it from the perpetual winter of the White Witch. Through a series of charming adventures, the children join forces with Aslan; yet, Aslan’s victory over the Witch is not what they expect. Where they expect him to be a military hero, to find victory in power and conquest, Aslan instead offers himself as a willing victim, a sacrifice, to save the life of another. He lays down his life, and in that ultimate act of love, he is able to receive his life again. It is only in the death and resurrection of Aslan that Narnia finds its ultimate victory over the evil of the White Witch. C.S. Lewis’ 1950 classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has an enduring value for children, because it serves as an excellent introduce for their young minds to the concept of allegory. Habituating a child’s intellect to note the signs of allegory amongst the literal text is a great service to them. It stretches their imagination to observe the layers of a text, and to have patience in unfolding a narrative. In understanding the signs and symbols of the death and resurrection of Aslan, they may grasp a deeper understanding of the death and resurrection of our Lord. Just as Aslan died to liberate Narnia from the power of the White Witch, so too did Christ die to liberate us from Satan, the prince of this world, and the power of sin and death. Yet, there is another interplay between Aslan and the White Witch that serves to teach us a truth about Jesus Christ. The White Witch’s ultimate power is to turn people to stone. Toward the end of the narrative when Narnia is fighting for its freedom, the resurrected Aslan visits the castle of the White Witch, and there he finds a great number of poor creatures turned to stone adorning the courtyard like statues. It is there that Aslan breathes on them and restores them to life. Today’s Gospel is the key to understanding this text. For in the Pentecost of St. John, we see the resurrected Christ breathing the Holy Spirit upon his disciples telling them they have the power to retain and to forgive sins. This passage, as taught by our Church at the Council of Trent, is the basis for the Sacrament of Confession – that Christ gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins and that this power continues to reside in the Catholic priesthood. In Latin, the soul is called anima and it is from this word that we derive words such as animation or animal – something that has an anima is something that moves, it has life, it is animated, just like if something does not have life, like a table or a stone, it is called inanimate – without an anima. The souls in Narnia being turned to stone by the evil of the White Witch serves as an analogue to the effect of sin upon our own souls. The Church teaches there are two types of sin: venial sins that wound our life with Christ but do not kill and mortal sins that do kill our life with Christ and separate us from Him. Like the souls turned to stone in Narnia, mortal sin causes our soul to become inanimate or lifeless. But, just as Aslan entered the domain of the White Witch and breathed life into those turned to stone, so too can a priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit, breathe new life into a soul in the Sacrament of Confession. God’s mercy is always greater than our sin – if only we would humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. As we enter into this great Solemnity of Pentecost, if you have been away from the Sacrament of Confession, consider returning to have new life breathed into you – to experience the sanctifying grace that reanimates our souls and makes them holy and pleasing to God.

The Young Imagination: Cold, Aslan & Allegory

I recall with some clarity reading aloud to my daughter the sacrifice of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I watched as her young intellect grappled with the emotions and the rationale of his sacrifice. Yet, once an understanding of the literal text had settled, with some prompting and patience, it served as a foundation for an understanding of the allegorical. Her eyes widened and a smile came across her face, as she worked through the thought: “Aslan is like Jesus.” Habituating a child’s mind to note the signs of allegory amongst the literal text is a great service. It stretches their imagination to observe the layers of a writing and to have patience in unfolding a narrative. Whether one is reading Plato’s Republic or unpacking the New Testament as a “New Genesis,” the ability to think allegorically is a great skillset in the pursuit of truth. Yet, alongside the signs of Aslan as a Christ-figure stands the complexity of the White Witch as a lesson on evil. Upon arriving in Narnia, the Pevensie children find it to be “always winter and never Christmas.” The cold is an analogue for evil, because neither actually exist. Just as cold is not an equal opposite to heat but rather its absence, so too is evil a privation of the good. Other examples of this relation include darkness as an absence of light or any attempt to articulate what existence a hole in the ground has beyond the nonexistence of earth. Also, though somewhat counterintuitive, Aquinas will use “white” as an analogue of evil, insofar as it is not “a color” but rather the complete absence of color (On Evil, I.i.co., ad. 2) Thus, even her name, the “White Witch,” is a coupling of two allegorical symbols of evil. The white, wintry cold of Narnia demonstrates well how death accompanies evil. Plants die, branches are bare, and a stillness covers what would otherwise be a verdant, vibrant landscape. The cold as a contrary to life provides the context for why the White Witch’s ultimate act is to turn people into stone. The complete cessation of their animation is demonstrative of the privation of evil upon the life of the soul—an evil known as mortal sin (I Jn 5:16–17; CCC n. 1854, ff.). The persons turned to stone are restored to life by the breath of the resurrected Aslan. This interplay between Aslan, as the good, and the White Witch, as evil, upon the soul alludes to the resurrected Christ breathing the Holy Spirit upon his apostles and giving them the authority to free souls from mortal sin (John 20:19-23). It is good for children to understand allegory. It allows their imagination to have the capacity to contemplate the truth. It is amongst the ways the Church tells us to read Holy Scripture (CCC n. 117). And simple allegorical lessons, like Aslan and the White Witch, can prepare them for their later and more arduous pursuit of discerning the good amid a fallen world.

On Dante & Good Shepherd Sunday

On Holy Thursday, in the year 1300, Dante the Pilgrim finds himself lost in the woods. He is afraid and alone. Each time he attempts to escape the darkness, to run toward the light, he is block by a wild beast. Running through the woods, his “heart plunged deep in fear,” he sees a man and cries out for help. The man is Virgil, the ancient Roman poet, who has been sent by the Blessed Virgin Mary out of pity to be Dante’s guide. Yet, Virgil does not lead Dante to safety, but rather down a “deep and rugged road” to the gates of Hell itself, and then a downward spiraling into the earth through the nine circles of Hell. There, Dante observes the punishments of the damned, and, with marvelous insights into our human nature, dialogues with them about the justice they endure and why their souls sought evil over good. Arriving at the ninth circle, the final pit of the inferno, he finds it a frozen wasteland with Satan trapped in the ice. There he follows Virgil through the center of the earth, leaving Hell, to stand before a mountain rising out of the sea. Dante hears singing, and looks up to see angels sailing ships across the waters full of souls chanting the psalms. These are the penitent souls on their way to the mountain of Purgatory. The mountain has seven terraces or rings that spiral upward toward heaven, each terrace purging the soul of one of the seven deadly sins. Coming through the gates of purgatory to the first terrace, Dante finds the side of the mountain path decorated with three great marble carvings. The first depicts the Annunciation in which Our Lady gave her “yes” to God; the second shows King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant upon its return to Jerusalem; and the third of the Roman Emperor Trajan, a pagan, who stopped his entire imperial caravan to speak and assist a poor widow. Before these beautiful carvings, Dante sees penitent souls slowly working their way up the mountainside. The souls carry large stones on their back forcing them to bow their heads and face the ground. Dante comes to understand that the first sin to be purged—the first sin that must always be purged—is pride. These souls, face bent toward the ground, now bow in death where they would not bow in life. As he makes his way up the terrace, Dante notes that not only are there carvings on the side of the mountain but there are also carvings in the ground. Whereas the mountainside reliefs of Mother Mary, King David, and Emperor Trajan show examples of humility, the depictions in the ground show examples of pride. The stones on the backs of the souls force them to bow, facing the ground, and thus, the souls contemplate these carvings as they make their pilgrimage up the mountainside. The thirteen examples of pride cut into the earth are drawn from both the biblical and classical tradition. The first example set before the souls is that of Satan, falling to earth like lightning, after being cast of heaven for his rebellion against God. The carvings also show the giants of Greek mythology who attempted to overthrow Zeus and Mount Olympus and a carving of King Nimrod, the ancient hero, whose pride led him to build the Tower of Babel. In their pursuit of humility, the penitent also see a carving of the disobedient King Saul who died ingloriously by falling upon his own sword and another carving of the young girl, Arachne, who for her pride in challenging Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was turned into a spider. They also see Holofernes, the general who mocked God, who was later decapitated by the beautiful Israelite woman, Judith, and, among the other examples, the last is of the city of Troy, who in its pride accepted the Trojan horse, now burning in flames. As the souls contemplate these images of pride, their stones becomes lighter, allowing them to begin to turn their heads and see the examples of humility upon the mountainside. Eventually, as Dante observes, they are able to stand upright, purged of the sin of pride, and the Angel of Humility allows them to move on to the next terrace. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The Church provides us a Gospel reading in which we recall that Our Lord is our Shepherd, and we are his sheep. There is humility in being a sheep. There is no such thing as a prideful sheep. A proud lamb is a ridiculous notion—but no more ridiculous than when man is prideful in the face of God. Learn from Dante—the first step in following the Lord, the first step in being a sheep of his flock, is humility. Just like Mary listened to the angel and gave her “yes” to God, so too can we listen and know the voice of our Shepherd. Whether it is Satan cast into the earth, King Saul upon his own sword, or Troy burning in flames, pride will always lead to death and destruction. Be a humble sheep. And may we have the wisdom to learn humility in this life before we must learn it in the next.