Setting Sail from Syrian Antioch

Sent forth by the holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)

Speaking for myself, I feel a fairly deep sense of reverence for the verses of the Acts of the Apostles that we read at Holy Mass today. Barnabas and Saul sailed from Antioch on the Orontes, and they made for Salamis, on the east end of the isle of Cyprus. And thus began…

The missionary journeys of St. Paul. The one whom St. Thomas Aquinas calls “The Apostle.”

Anyone ever heard of Odysseus and Aeneas, the heroes of the ancient pagan epics? Crafty, brave, muscular warriors, irresistible to the ladies. Odysseus and Aeneas sailed like Barnabas and Paul sailed, hoisting canvas in the Mediterranean wind, putting their future entirely into the hands of higher powers, into the hands of destiny.

But the drama of the ancient heroic pagan epics does not hold a candle to the adventure lived by the Apostle, the bookish Pharisee from Tarsus. Odysseus and Aeneas had wind, wit, will, and wanderlust. St. Paul had the Gospel of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit. Odysseus and Aeneas left the legacy of successful sons of fortune. St. Paul built up the Church of God.

What the Apostle bequeathed, time has not erased. And I don’t just mean his letters–written in the throes of complicated circumstances, the particulars of which we can only begin to grasp–letters which nonetheless deliver to us the enduring Word of God.

No, not just his letters in the New Testament. St. Paul’s amazing adventure across the Mediterranean gave birth to Christian communities, to local churches, flowing with the sap that gives life to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

Even though St. Paul lived a celibate life, he became a father in a way that Aeneas never did. Aeneas was revered by the ancient Romans as their father. But the chaste Apostle makes the lady-killing Aeneas look less-than-virile by comparison.

The Apostle sailed the Mediterranean in order to give to the poor the Good News of Jesus Christ. He hardly did it by swashbuckling, dashing gallantry. He made extra money by spending his days making tents. Not exactly romantic.

But, sailing hither and yon across the Mediterranean, St. Paul lived the adventure of divine love. Every day he grew closer to Christ, by sharing what he knew of Christ with others. And what greater adventure could there be?

Don’t we want to be on the boat, setting out from Antioch, with Barnabas and Saul? The wide sea opening before us, with the prospect of souls on all the father shores, with whom the Lord is asking us to share His love?

That adventure awaits us even now. That ship is sailing even now. The adventure that St. Paul lived is by no means over. In truth, it has only just begun.

Juice? Georgetown Downs Orange (88-74)

"I told you the Hoyas are tough!"
"I told you the Hoyas are tough!"

Summers brought it. Freeman brought it.

Monroe can pass the ball better than any 18 1/2-year-old big man who has ever lived.

Georgetown dominated the #8 Orange.

My mom doesn’t have cable, so we had to listen to Chvotkin the Great on AM 570, which, as I have said, is even better than being at the game.

Very nice Big East win for the Hoyas! By the way, does anyone know the whole story of how the Syracuse Orangemen became the Syracuse “Orange”?

DaJuan Summers had 21 points, his season high
DaJuan Summers had 21 points, his season high

On other interesting matters…

Continue reading “Juice? Georgetown Downs Orange (88-74)”

The Records of Aeneas and St. Paul

…I promise I won’t bore you with any more palavering about ancient epic poetry for a while after this little essay… But this struck me as interesting: Both Aeneas and St. Paul left for Europe for the first time from the western coast of Turkey, and both of them wound up in Rome.

I am not about to consider the question of whether or not Aeneas was a real person. What I think is interesting is this:

The memorial of Aeneas’ sea-voyage to the west, across the Mediterranean to Italy, is one of the most beautiful artistic works of all time. It is a perfectly organized whole. It is an absolute literary masterpiece. It paints the picture of the ideal Roman warrior. Vergil set out to capture the spirit of ancient Rome in flawless dactylic hexameter, and he succeeded.

Map of Aeneas' journey
Map of Aeneas' journey
On the other hand, the memorial of St. Paul’s sea-voyages, which eventually brought him to the west and to Italy, is a scattershot literary patchwork. The Acts of the Apostles tells us a fair amount about what happened. But the Acts of the Apostles is NOT a literary masterpiece. And the book does not focus exclusively on St. Paul, nor does it include the climax of the Apostle’s earthly life, his martyrdom outside Rome.

St. Paul's Apostolic journeys
St. Paul's Apostolic journeys
We also have St. Paul’s letters to fill out the picture of his grand life. But these letters obviously were not written to be memorials of the Apostle’s heroism. They are at times poetic, but in no way are they literary masterpieces. They were never meant to be. They were written to deal with particular pastoral problems. St. Paul did not think of his “legacy” while writing them; he thought only of the salvation of the souls to whom he was writing.

So Aeneas (fictional or real) has the literary equivalent of a Michelangelo or Da Vinci portrait to keep his memory alive. St. Paul has the literary equivalent of an office-building blueprint that has been torn into a thousand pieces, and about 500 of them have been found and taped back together; the other 500 are lost forever.

God’s ways are not our ways.

American Aeneid

The Aeneid by Virgil is one of the greatest things of all time. It is the epic poem which tells the story of how Aeneas and the Trojans fled from their burning city after the attack of the Greeks. They crossed the Mediterranean to reach the place where they were destined by the gods to live: Rome. Aeneas is confronted with temptations to give up the long journey, including the lovely Dido, but he never gives in. He is driven on by his sense of destiny. Nothing is more important than his duty to reach Rome.

A likeness of the heroine
A likeness of the heroine

Earlier this week I was thinking about the Acadians. I first learned the history of the Acadian exile from a Creole seminary classmate. The Acadians were French colonists who lived in Nova Scotia. During the French and Indian War (1755-58), they were exiled by the British and their towns were burned. They were forced to return to France or to move south in North America. Many of them eventually came to Louisiana.

I am ashamed to admit that I had never read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline, so I got up early this morning to read it.

Evangeline is the most beautiful Acadian maiden in the village of Grand-Pre. Longfellow depicts Acadia as a kind of Eden; Evangeline’s greatest pleasure is to pour bowls of fresh ale for the men. She is engaged to marry the blacksmith’s son Gabriel, the love of her life. But then the British arrive and burn the town and put Evangeline and Gabriel on different ships to send them to an unknown fate.

Longfellow refers at least once directly to the Aeneid, and his style is like Virgil’s throughout the poem. But Longfellow’s Aeneas is not a swashbuckler driven by destiny but a kind, pure, long-suffering woman driven by love. She searches the rivers, plains, mountains, towns, and cities of the beautiful America of two centuries ago for her lost love. I am not going to give away the sublime ending.

Evangeline is even more a hero than the great Roman Aeneas–more admirable, more hearbreaking. The American Aeneid is a long, sad poem. But, man, oh man, is it worth reading. It will make you fall in love with our country again. It makes you feel like our country really is something–something wonderful and storied. Don’t get me wrong: the U.S.A. has many claims to fame. But to have our own Aeneid is…well, beautiful. Many things come and go, but having your own Aeneid does not easily slip away.