Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
One of the characteristics of the first father of mankind that I did not mention in our previous newsletter is that he was a poet—as demonstrated by the only pre-Fall words of his recorded by Moses in the sacred history of Genesis. After searching in vain for a suitable companion among the animals, St. Adam is taken up into a deep sleep or an ecstasy and God forms from his side St. Eve, the first woman, the mother of all the living in the order of nature, St. Adam’s perfect companion. And Adam exclaims:
zōṯ hap·pa·‘am ‘e·ṣem mê·
‘ă·ṣā·may ū·ḇā·śār mib·bə·śā·rî;
lə·zōṯ yiq·qā·rê ’iš·šāh,
kî mê·’îš lu·qo·ḥāh- zōṯ.
The Douay Rheims translates this as:
This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.
But even the transliteration of the Hebrew reveals that the words of Adam are rich in rhymes and assonances which the English translation fails to preserve and which show him to be a great poet.
This revelation of St. Adam as poet holds a deep significance for all human beings, as it shows that God created us to be poets, to see into the natures of things, and to communicate in language that is beautiful and true. The gift of poetry should not be viewed as a rare or singular gift of an elite few, but as part of the patrimony of all mankind, a gift that everyone should be trained and encouraged to exercise.
Every Child Is a Poet
When I was in elementary (grammar) school in New York City and around ten years old, my class was blessed to have a teacher from New Zealand who taught us a class on poetry once a week during our spring semester. Mrs. Lewis had a beautiful New Zealand accent and her class focused on the Haiku form of poetry that had been developed by the Japanese but then transferred into English and into other languages. As defined by Wikipedia, the Haiku is:
a type of short form poetry originally from Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases that contain a kireji, or "cutting word", 17 on (phonetic units similar to syllables) in a 5, 7, 5 pattern
One of the most famous Haiku-style poems in English flowed from the pen of the American poet Ezra Pound. In his poem entitled “In a Station of the Metro,” he violates the rules of the traditional Haiku slightly by adding two syllables to the last line, but otherwise he followed them faithfully:
of these faces in a crowd
Petals on a wet, black bough
During the course of that semester, Mrs. Lewis managed to inspire everyone in the class to write at least one poem as beautiful as Pound’s. I am not sure how she did it—except that it had something to do with the examples she read us of Maori poetry and the way that she encouraged us and expected us to write our own Haikus using the traditional Japanese form. Most of us had the notion that poetry had to rhyme, and the fixed form of the Haiku without the need to rhyme allowed us to use words freely.
The Poetry of Adam’s Words Reflects the Poem of his Interior Life
The Eternal Word made Flesh is the ultimate poem, the perfect expression of the goodness and beauty of God. But in the Holy Gospel He clearly teaches that our words and actions are to form the syllables of a poem, to the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. The “last Adam” tells His disciples, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” “You will give an account for every idle word” and “Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Just as our words reflect our interior state, so St. Adam’s poetic speech reflected the exalted spiritual state he enjoyed until he began to entertain Satan’s insidious temptations. St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church, relates that:
When God created Adam, divine radiance surrounded the clay substance of which he was formed . . . When he awoke afterward he was a prophet of heavenly things, knowledgeable of all powers of the creature and of all arts . . . God gave over to him all creatures, that he might make them his own by his manly power because he knew of them and about them. For man represents all creatures, and the breath of life, which never ceases to live, is in him. God spoke to Adam in the language of angels, whom Adam understood and knew well. Through God-given wisdom and the spirit of prophecy he knew then about all languages that would later be invented by men, and he thoroughly knew the nature of all creatures. For the Lord appeared to him in inconceivable splendor, more beautiful than any creature.
In this exalted state of union with God, St. Adam’s whole life became a poem, in which his every thought, word and action unfolded under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost for the glory of God. With the cosmic catastrophe of the Fall, St. Adam lost this exalted state of holiness, but it did not cease to be the original, normal condition of mankind. Nevertheless, wounded humanity had to wait for four thousand years for the “Last Adam” and the “New Eve” who would live every moment of their earthly lives in that state of perfect communion with the Most Holy Trinity and who would show their children through Holy Baptism how to become “partakers of the Divine Nature,” as St. Adam had been before the Fall.
“You Returned Adam’s Nature to Its Original Splendor”
One of the most important words in the New Testament appears only three times. It is the Greek word metamorpho (μεταμορφόω). Forms of this Greek word translated as “transfiguration,” “transformation” or even as “changed” refer to the transformation of one kind of thing into another—hence, our English word “metamorphosis,” meaning a transformation like that of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The first use of the word occurs in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 16 and 17. In Matthew 16:28, Jesus tells his Apostles, “There are some standing her who will not die until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” Modernist Scripture scholars, like Alfred Loisy, saw in this remark proof positive that Jesus did not know what He was talking about—that He was wrong about the future. Had Loisy and his disciples respected the wisdom of the Church Fathers, they would have been able to explain the apparent failure of Jesus’ prediction. Indeed, the Fathers had found the fulfillment of Matthew 16 in the verses immediately following—perhaps all the more easily because their Gospel scrolls were not divided into chapters and verses:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured (metemorphōthē μετεμορφώθη) before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light (Matthew 17:1-2).
The Eastern Fathers of the Church understood that this was “the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom”: The manifestation of the divinity of Christ in his Humanity. And in the Byzantine Vesper Verses for the Feast of the Transfiguration, the Church still proclaims:
Through your transfiguration, You returned Adam’s nature to its original splendor, restoring its very elements to the glory and brilliance of your divinity. Wherefore we cry out to You, the Creator of All, “Glory be to You.”
Thus, the first use of the word metamorpho (μεταμορφόω) in the New Testament refers to the full manifestation of Christ’s divinity in his Humanity. But the other two uses of the word do not refer to Christ. They refer to ordinary believers—like you and me.
“Be Transformed by the Renewal of your Mind”
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 11, St. Paul predicts the ultimate conversion of “all Israel” when the “fullness” of the Gentiles enter in to the Kingdom of God. This “fullness” can be interpreted in at least three different ways—as the total number of Gentiles who will be saved; as a representative number of Gentiles from every nation on earth; and as a remnant perfected by the Holy Spirit. It is this last interpretation that makes the most sense in relation to the verses that follow—because St. Paul begins his next section, chapter 12, verses 1-2, by saying to his Gentile audience:
I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Be transformed (metamorphousthe μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
Here the Holy Spirit, in and through St. Paul, applies the same word for the revelation of the divinity of Christ in his Humanity to the manifestation of the divinity of Christ in the humanity of his disciples. And lest this should scandalize anyone, St. Paul uses the word a second time, in the same sense—as if to remove all doubt about its meaning—in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes:
We beholding the Lord are being transformed (metamorphoumetha μεταμορφούμεθα) from one degree of glory into another, into his perfect image and likeness. This is the work of the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
In this passage St. Paul once again affirms that every Christian is called to be transformed into the perfect image and likeness of Christ, from one degree of holiness to another, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But how is this to be accomplished?
You Are God’s Poem
St. Paul gives the answer in his letter to the Ephesians where he tells the Church at Ephesus that they have been “saved, by faith, for good works” and he adds these amazing words, telling them that he and they are:
God’s poem, created in Christ Jesus, for good works that He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
The word that I have translated “poem” is the Greek word ποίημα (poy’-ay-mah), translated as “workmanship” in the Douay Rheims. This is the same word that became poema in Latin, meaning a poetic work, which then became “poem” in English. Hence it is not a stretch to translate this verse as teaching that we are, individually and collectively, God’s poem.
One of the marks of a great poem is that—like Adam’s poetic speech on beholding his divinely-created bride—it is perfect. Every word, every stress, every mark of punctuation is perfectly chosen and perfectly placed. To change even one syllable would be to ruin the poetry.
One of the greatest poets in the English language, the Welsh Jesuit priest Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, produced many examples of inspired poetry. In his poem “Heaven-Haven”: A Nun Takes the Veil he writes:
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
To change a single word or syllable in Heaven-Haven would be to destroy its beauty. And so it is with a life that is lived in God, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, so that every thought, word and action gives glory to God and draws down graces upon all creatures. In the light of the sacred history of Genesis and the writings of the mystical doctors of the Church, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, we can understand that God wants to make of our life—individually and as members of the Mystical Body of Christ—a perfect poem. And this should convince us that nothing in our life is unimportant—that every thought, word and action that we offer up to God in union with the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary hastens the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Social Reign of Christ Our King throughout the world.
Who Is That Child?
I do not know if I have ever written a perfect poem, but before ending this newsletter I would like to share a poem that I wrote on the occasion of the death of a prominent, unrepentant Catholic pro-abortion politician after he had been commemorated with full honors in a funeral Mass by a Cardinal Archbishop in his cathedral. I sent the poem to the Cardinal Archbishop after this public scandal, and the poem was later published in the St. Austin Review. I hope that it may help to remind all of us of the hatred that we display toward pro-abortion and other mortal-sin-championing Catholics when we fail to pray for their conversion and to correct them when we have the opportunity to do so.
Last night I dreamed I saw a famous man
laid out in state in a cathedral, praised
by heads of state and princes of the Church,
hailed as a lion, as the bright crowds gazed.
But suddenly I looked into the earth
And saw a lake of fire and heard his voice,
Anguished and fearful, and I saw his ghost
Drowning in streams of burning blood. The noise
Of babies’ screams and women’s cries intoned
A dirge that almost swallowed up his cries.
But rising and falling in those flames he groaned,
“Where is the priest of God who closed my eyes?”
“Where are my friends who blessed me on my way?"
“Who is that Child above these flames enthroned?”
I hope and pray that every one of us will be inspired to make a poem of his life with Jesus and Mary by God’s grace—and to write poetry. And I would be delighted to read any poems that readers write at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata in union with St. Joseph,
P.S. Many of the future leaders of the Catholic Church in North America are being educated at Hillsdale College in Michigan. We have been trying (unsuccessfully) for several years to obtain an invitation to speak on the campus of the college or in the local Catholic parish. If you or anyone you know has influence with the leadership of the college or of the parish, please contact me at email@example.com so that you can support our latest effort to proclaim the true Christian doctrine of creation to the Hillsdale community, as the foundation of our Faith and as the only firm foundation for a culture of life.
P.P.S. Today is a First Saturday. Please be sure to answer Our Lady’s appeal for the First Saturday devotions as described by the Fatima Center at this link.