“Strengthened and Prepared for Spiritual Combat”

Today is the Memorial of Pope Saint Sixtus II and his companions. Sixtus (or Xystus) was Bishop of Rome during the time of the emperor Valerian, who waged an all-out persecution against the Christian faithful. On August 6, A.D. 258, Sixtus was celebrating Mass at the catacombs of Saint Calixtus with four of his seven deacons, when the emperor’s soldiers entered and killed them. Another of his deacons, Lawrence, would be killed a few days later following a stunning act of defiance (he is the only deacon to be honored with a Feast).

We know of their fate primarily from a letter written by Saint Cyprian, who would himself be killed not long thereafter, to a fellow bishop named Successus. I am including my meager translation of that letter below. I would ask that, as you read it, you please think of those Christians suffering religious persecution today, and recognize the mindset that accompanies it on both sides. I don’t mean the simple humiliation that Christians in the West endure at the hands of secular humanist relativism (not to mention each other); I’m thinking of those at odds with the government in Sudan and Syria, those being wiped out or forced to flee in Iraq by the radical Islamic caliphate, and those trapped in Gaza and unable to evacuate. I pray such extreme persecution never develops here, but rather ends everywhere. Continue reading

Recording the Secret: A Meditative Translation of “Pange, lingua”

Record, my tongue, the secret of the glorious Body
and of the precious Blood that, as price of the world,
the fruit of a noble womb poured out–the King of nations.

Given to us, born for us from an undefiled Maiden,
and having lived in the world as He sowed the seed of the Word,
He brings His sojourn to an end with a wondrous rite.

Reclining with His brethren on the night of His last supper,
having observed the law in full with the prescribed food,
to the Twelve He gives Himself as food with His own hands.

The Word-in-flesh makes true bread flesh by a word,
and wine becomes Christ’s blood;
and if perception is lacking to sustain a sincere heart,
faith alone is enough.

So bowing down let us revere such a great promise,
and let the former pattern fall to a new order.
Let faith stand forth as an aid to the failings of the senses.

To the Begetter and the Begotten be praise and jubilation,
strength and honor, glory as well, and blessing.
To the One Who proceeds from Both be accolade likewise.  Amen.

– St. Thomas Aquinas (translated by Daniel Smith)

Reunion

I know not where I am being led, but I am not afraid.

It has been a long time since I was truly afraid of anything. I’ve been apprehensive, cautious, but those aren’t the same thing.  Not the same as what I felt the last night I knew fear.  Fear of not knowing if I was doing the right thing.  Fear of ruining a simple young girl’s life at her most vulnerable moment.  Fear of my well-intentioned plans backfiring.  And then, once I had resolved to carry out my plans, fear of the dazzling presence that burst through into my dream.  It shook me to my core even as it commanded me in the sweetest voice I had ever heard in my life, “Do not be afraid.”  And my fear did indeed melt away as that voice continued, assuring me that I could take the girl as my wife, that the Child she had been found to be carrying had been conceived by the spirit of the LORD, and that we were to give the Child a very special name – one that means “The LORD is the Preserver” – and that we were to give Him this name because “He will preserve the nation from its failings.”

“The LORD is the Preserver.”  I knew what and who this Child was even then.  I knew it then as surely as I know it now.  And as surely as I knew I would never be afraid again, for God was with us.  And so I took her into my home, this simple young girl that I was seeing for the first time with newly-opened eyes.  I fell to my knee, but I was not afraid.  What else could I do but simply fall to my knee and kiss her hand and look up at her with a loving smile?  For I did not see a simple young girl, but the most beautiful woman in all creation. Continue reading

The Magnificat: A Boast of YHWH

Another unconventional hymn translation in honor of today’s solemn feast of the Holy Mother of God.  Enjoy!

My being is a boast of YHWH,
and my spirit delights in the God of my deliverance,
because He has seen fit to regard his servant-girl’s lowliness.
For look! from this point on all generations will say that I am blessed:
because He Who has the power has done great things for me;
holy is His name;
His compassion is there from generation to generation
for those who fear Him.
He has put forth the strength of His arm,
has sifted like chaff the arrogant in the devises of their hearts:
He has deposed lords from their dignity
and exalted those of low estate;
the hungry He has filled with benefits
and the wealthy He has sent away empty-handed.
He has obliged Himself on behalf of Israel His son
to call to mind His compassion,
just as He said to our forefathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

– The Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), translated by Daniel J. Smith

The Depths of the Compassion of Our God – The Explanation

There is a traditional Christian answer… It is not clear, however, that the language of that answer any longer communicates what it was intended to convey. Hence we have embarked on a process of reconstruction, attempting to get hold of the reality that the traditional language originally engaged.

Thank you, William P. Loewe, for writing down what was on my mind as I worked on my translation of the Canticle of Zechariah (which I published back on Christmas Eve).  Here he is speaking of the meaning of the Resurrection as salvation from sin, but the quote really does apply much more broadly than that.  Translation really is more of an art than a skill; obviously one needs skill to know what the words mean and how they work together in grammar and syntax, but translation seeks to communicate not just words but the entire frame of mind and way of life that generated them.  And for us Christians it has happened, we must confess, that the oft-used and -abused words such as “redemption,” “salvation,” “justice” and “mercy” have come to simply assume meanings that are no longer actively known, and as a result they are not effectively communicated.  This is a problem that I am seeking to at least alleviate as I make my way through a daunting self-imposed project: a reading guide to the Four Gospels, with special attention paid to the beautiful hymns set down by Luke and John. Continue reading

The Depths of the Compassion of Our God

Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel,
because He has looked upon His people and accomplished their release.
And He has roused the horn of deliverance for us
within the household of David His servant,
just as He said through the mouth of His holy prophets through the ages–
deliverance from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us–
showing compassion in His dealings with our forefathers
and remembering His sacred pact,
having sworn an oath to Abraham our forefather to give Himself to us
so that unafraid, torn away from the enemies’ hand,
we may worship Him in integrity and righteousness
before His face through all our days.
And you, little child, will be called prophet of the Most High
for you will go forth before YHWH’s face to prepare His way,
to give knowledge of deliverance to His people
by the pardoning of their sins
through the depths of the compassion of our God
in which the Dawn will look upon us from on high
to shine upon those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death,
to direct our feet upon the way of peace.

– The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), translated by Daniel J. Smith

Mother of Mine – A Hymn for the Assumption

A cry from a manger awakens the night,
an angelic promise now come into light.
The Mother is there, and she comforts her Child
’til His cry is tender, His suffering mild.
Then closing His eyes, in that moment blest
the Infant of Bethlehem slumbers at rest.
And holding her Jesus close to her heart,
for ever she loves Him, and never will part.
Mother of God, thy Son we adore;
Mother of mine, be near evermore.

A cry from a hill far from home fills the air;
a crucified Lord they behold in despair.
But Mother is there as His journey is done,
His suffering ended, His victory won.
His eyes now are closed; the moment is blest,
as Christ’s holy Body now slumbers at rest.
And holding her Jesus close to her heart,
for ever she loves Him, and never will part.
Mother of God, thy Son we adore;
Mother of mine, be near evermore.

A cry of a miracle! Dry all your eyes!
He rises in glory, ascends to the skies!
He sends back His Spirit, that life-giving breath,
to say far and wide: O Man, fear not death!

In a land far away, as the years roll ahead,
the Lord’s loved disciple sits down by a bed.
The Mother is there, but is ready to leave,
full trusting in hopes that we scarce can conceive.
And closing her eyes, in that moment blest,
immaculate Mary slumbers at rest.
And taking His Mother close to His Heart,
for ever He loves her, and never will part.
Mother of God, how your Son shall adore!
Mother of mine, so shall we evermore,
for Jesus has crowned your immaculate heart
and never your soul from your body will part!
Queen over Heaven and Earth, we adore;
Mother of mine, be near evermore.

Copyright DJS 2013