Monday, May 25, 2009

Easter Bees

In this, my blog’s latest installment of commentary on De Virginibus, St. Ambrose compares consecrated virgins to bees, taking his inspiration from the honeycomb mentioned in the Song of Songs 5:1.* (For previous entries from this blog on De Virginibus, see here, here, and here. To read Book I of De Virginibus in its entirety, click here.)

At first, I thought that this seemed like a weird metaphor—I for one would not have thought to compare consecrated virgins to insects!—and saying that it was implied by the honeycomb in the Song of Songs seemed like a bit of a “stretch.” But in some ways this particular section seemed very appropriate to post while we’re still in the remainder of the Easter season. Specifically, because bees also find their way into the Exultet, perhaps the most magnificent and moving of the Church’s Easter hymns, which is sung in conjunction with the lighting of the Pascal candle.

The Easter bees are unfortunately lost in translation right now, (though this might change when the new English translation of the Liturgy comes out) so you probably didn’t hear about them when you went to the Easter Vigil this year. However, here is an English translation of their mention in the Latin Exultet:

Therefore, in this night of grace,
accept, O Holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this praise,
which Holy Church renders to You
in the solemn offering of this waxen candle
by the hands of Your ministers from the work of bees.

We are knowing now the proclamations of this column,
which glowing fire kindles in honor of God.
Which fire, although it is divided into parts,
is knowing no loss from its light being lent out.
For it is nourished by the melting streams of wax,
which the mother bee produced for the substance of this precious torch.**

Here, bees are beautiful because they are fruitful, and their fruitfulness comes to serve an exceptionally noble purpose—namely, the praise of God. Thus in this section of De Virginibus, St. Ambrose describes consecrated virgins as being like these “Easter bees” in their life of prayer. Emphases, in bold, and comments, in red, are mine.

Taking the passage concerning the honeycomb in the Song of Songs, he expounds it, comparing the sacred virgins to bees.

40. Let, then, your work be as it were a honeycomb, for virginity is fit to be compared to bees, so laborious is it, so modest, so continent. The bee feeds on dew, it knows no marriage couch, it makes honey. The virgin’s dew is the divine word, for the words of God descend like the dew. The virgin’s modesty is unstained nature. The virgin’s produce is the fruit of the lips, (i.e., prayer) without bitterness, abounding in sweetness. They work in common, and their fruit is in common. (Although some consecrated virgins of St. Ambrose’s time did live together in sort of proto-convents, they do not seem to have had the emphasis on the “common life” the same way that later, truly monastic religious Orders like the Benedictines would. So I think that the common “work” and “fruit” mentioned here probably represent the prayer of consecrated virgins. If consecrated virgins were charged with liturgical prayer in St. Ambrose’s day as they are now, then this common work and fruit could refer to the unity of the voice of the Church at prayer.)

41. How I wish you, my daughter, to be an imitator of these bees, whose food is flowers, (“Food” here probably means the contemplative reading of Scripture) whose offspring is collected and brought together by the mouth. Do imitate her, my daughter. Let no veil of deceit be spread over your words; let them have no covering of guile, that they may be pure, and full of gravity.

42. And let an eternal succession of merits be brought forth by your mouth. Gather not for yourself alone (for how do you know when your soul shall be required of you?), lest leaving your granaries heaped full with corn, which will be a help neither to your life nor to your merits, you be hurried thither where you cannot take your treasure with you. Be rich then, but towards the poor, that as they share in your nature they may also share your goods. (Here is a call for consecrated virgins to live a life of generosity. I think that modern consecrated virgins—even when they are full-time graduate students and therefore somewhat materially poor!—can still be generous with their time, prayers, concern for other, and friendship. In my own life, I find that it’s important for me to renew my decision to “give of myself” every day.)

43. And I also point out to you what flower is to be culled, that one it is Who said: I am the Flower of the field, and the Lily of the valleys, as a lily among thorns, (This seems like an allusion to the Eucharist) which is a plain declaration that virtues are surrounded by the thorns of spiritual wickedness, so that no one can gather the fruit who does not approach with caution. (I’m very glad that St. Ambrose makes this last point. I think you could read this line as a reference to the persecution from “the world” that those truly striving for holiness will inevitable face at some time. But my though is that St. Ambrose is actually trying to draw our attention to the fact that attempting to scale the heights of virtue leaves one with the danger of potentially having farther to fall. My thought is that this is partially why consecrated virginity requires a very solid “human formation.” That is, if a person is not well-balanced on a natural level, then the practice of the supernatural virtue of virginity is likely to exacerbate that person’s emotional, human problems.)

—St. Ambrose, De Virginibus; Book I, chapter 8

* I’m linking to New Advent’s copy of the Douay-Rheims version, instead of my typical practice of referencing the USCCB’s New American Bible, because the N.A.B. for some reason doesn’t include the word “honeycomb” in its translation!
** From “
What Does the Prayer Really Say?”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Archbishop Burke on Consecrated Virginity

This quote was sent to me by Judith Stegman, president of the Unites Sates Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV).

The passage here was taken from an interview with Archbishop Burke in Washington D.C., shortly after he spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast earlier this month.

Although Archbishop Burke is currently stationed at the Vatican as head of the Roman Rota (the Church’s “Supreme Court”), until recently he served as the liaison between the USACV and the bishops’ conference in the United States. (Emphases, in bold, are mine.)
From National Review Online:

En route from Washington to the Eternal City, Archbishop Burke took some questions from National Review Online, expanding on some of the themes of his speech Friday, and addressing a new one or two.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You’ve been very supportive of “consecrated virgins.” Is this concept important in the church? Does American society — one you say is in “crisis” — need it?

ARCHBISHOP BURKE: The consecrated virgins give a strong witness to the purity and selflessness with which we all should love one another, especially our brothers and sisters who are in most need. The consecrated virgin offers her virginity to Christ for consecration, so that she may give public witness to the love of Christ for all, without boundary and to the end. A society which is growing increasingly secularized needs desperately the life and witness of consecrated virgins who call all their brothers and sisters to love as Christ loves, that is, for the lasting good of all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back Home

(about the image: No, I don’t actually live in New York City, but in one of the rural “upper counties” of the Archdiocese of New York. (The Archdiocese stretches from Staten Island past Kingston—almost near Albany. We’re 2.5 million Catholics!) Still, when I’m in the city or see pictures of it, it makes me very glad to think that my prayers for the Archdiocese are for the spiritual benefit of all these individual people.)

I’m finally home in New York after a challenging semester, and a very long road trip! Besides my happiness of being in familiar surroundings and near family and friends once more, since I was consecrated last January I find that there’s a special joy in being physically present here. A big part of my vocation is praying for the needs of the bishops, clergy, seminarians (consecrated virgins in New York pray for them at the specific request of the NY Vocation Office), and all the people of the Archdiocese of New York. So to me, geographical proximity to the people for whom I pray is always a real consolation!

I’m very grateful to everyone who prayed for my safe travels. Driving 1000+ miles on my own was exhausting and often nerve-racking; at one point I learned the hard way that the streets in Washington DC are NOT laid out on a grid in the same way that the streets of New York City are! But overall it was a good experience and it gave me the chance to meet or visit some great people, including the Raleigh Vocation Office and the Visitation nuns in Georgetown (who were kind enough to let me stay with their wonderful community for a few days of recollection on my way home…thanks Sisters!)

My summer plans include translating and out-of-print book from Spanish into English. I wouldn’t exactly call myself bilingual (I have four years of high school Spanish), but after spending so much time studying Latin and Greek I’m really looking forward to working with a non-case language!

I am really behind on e-mails, but I do appreciate all the messages I get from readers of this blog. I’ll do my best to catch up with everyone as soon as possible.

(In contrast to the first picture, here is a photo taken of the Hudson river from the banks of my hometown. It's beautiful here in the Spring!)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Your Patience Requested…

(About the image: He’s an old photo of Jesuit novices studying. It pretty much captures how I feel right now! H/t “Roman Catholic Vocations.”)

Please bear with me and forgive the slow posting and lull in e-mail correspondence—I’m finishing up final exams at the end of a very demanding semester, and next week I’ll be driving my car home to New York from across the country.

Regular (perhaps weekly) posting will resume in a week or two, once I’m home for the summer.
In the meantime, please pray for all the new priests who were ordained today for the Archdiocese of New York!