Monday, December 22, 2008

Man's Freedom, Creation

A personal being is capable of loving someone more than his own nature, more than his own life. The person, that is to say, the image of God in man, is then man’s freedom with regard to his nature, “the fact of being freed from necessity and not being subject to the domination of nature, but able to determine oneself freely” (St. Gregory of Nyssa). Man acts most often under natural impulses. He is conditioned by his temperament, his character, his heredity, cosmic or psycho-social ambiance, indeed, his very historicity. But the truth of man is beyond all conditioning; and his dignity consists in being able to liberate himself from his nature, not by consuming it or abandoning it to itself, like the ancient or oriental sage, but by transfiguring it in God.

The goal of freedom, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus explains, is that the good belongs in truth to him who chooses it. God does not wish to remain in possession of the good He has created. He awaits from man more than a blind, entirely natural participation. He wants man consciously to assume his nature, to possess it freely as good, to recognize with gratitude in life and in the universe the gifts of divine love.

- Vladimir Lossky, "The Creation"

HT: Glory to God for All Things

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Free Advertising

Have you tasted Dunkin' Donuts Coffee? I think they actually put donuts in there. It's a little pricey (for all those jellies and jimmies, I imagine), but it's certainly worth drinking if you get a chance, or find a good deal. And the aroma! Woe is me, for I am a sinful man among sinful people.

My wife and I love a good hazelnut blend. Along with it, a peppermint creamer at this time of year makes life a that-much-more beautiful proposition.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Netflix: A Rating Dilemma

Netflix is a terrific service - let me just get that out of the way first. I've used it for roughly three years now and have had only the rarest complaint. My complaint today has nothing to do with their service, but in the dilemma I face each week in rating movies. They ask you to rate the movies you return (and others you've seen) with 1 to 5 stars. 3 stars is "I liked it." 2 stars is "I didn't like it." 4 stars is "I really liked it." 1 and 5 stars get into the areas of hate and love, respectively, and are used with fear and trembling, as you can imagine. Anyway, here's the problem - I'm pretty laid back about movies. Most that I ever want to see enough to rent or that are recommended to me are so-so. Thus most of my movies get 3 stars. Unfortunately a 3-star rating says relatively little about how I feel about the movie. I could give it 3 enthusiastic stars, yet it isn't a film I'm ready to step out on a limb and say, "I really liked it." I could give it 3 stars meaning that it was comparatively stupid, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that I didn't like it - that there was nothing enjoyable about it or that I have some aversion to it being ever made into a film. (Sometimes I don't rate the movies because I never watch them, just send them back because I don't have much interest in watching them at the moment. Though that's rare, or is the result of a particularly busy time of life. Sometimes I don't rate them because I've watched them and am not sure how to rate them - a good or fun story, but kinda smutty [those are usually those action films that Laura insists upon watching].)

I also have other people in my family, and I often rate the kids' movies based on how often I find them watching them. If I rent a kids' movie and it gets watched once, then I know someone screwed up big - either the filmmaker or the father who thought they'd be interested. Or the advertisers who thought they'd be interested. For instance, Donut Man has 4 stars. Now I think it's on the cheesy side of things, but my kids really enjoy it. Again and again.

All of that to say, If you like movies, subscribe to Netflix. Enjoy some excellent documentaries that you would have never watched otherwise. Spend less time watching TV by watching more TV. How cool is that? If you subscribe, we can even be friends, and you can compare our likes and dislikes and see just how far you have to go before either of us can take you seriously.

This week happens to be a week I'm looking forward to in my at-home queue. I'll be watching The Dark Knight, Mamma Mia! and Innocent Voices

Route 66

My dad is 66 today. Love you, Dad. Have a good one.

And Route 66 has nothing to do with this post other than it was the first thing that popped into my head when thinking about his age. He's older than people being encouraged to find their kicks there, but younger than the road itself.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lordy, Lordy

My sister turned 40 today. Happy birthday, Tania! Much love.

Advent Reflections: Empty Hands

About Fr Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, and his second reflection on Advent:

Finally, Father Cantalamessa considered Paul's declaration that "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

This "forgetting," the preacher proposed, is detachment from any good that one has done in the service of the Church, "repeating to oneself, according to Christ's suggestions: 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

In this regard, he concluded with a Christmas reflection: "This emptying of one's hands and pockets of every pretension, in a spirit of poverty and humility, is the best way to prepare for Christmas.

"We are reminded of it by a delightful Christmas legend that I would like to mention again. It narrates that among the shepherds who ran on Christmas night to adore the Child, there was one who was so poor that he had nothing to offer and was very ashamed. Reaching the grotto, all competed to offer their gifts. Mary did not know what to do to receive them all, having to hold the Child in her arms.

"Then, seeing the shepherd with his hands free, she entrusted Jesus to him. To have empty hands was his fortune and, on another plane, will also be ours."

HT: ZENIT

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pied Beauty - my last 24 hours

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things -
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

1 John 4

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.

He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Heart North Carolina

Roses blooming in mid-November. Winter skies blue, lovely blue throughout. Sunshine. These are the days - fall days, winter days, spring days - that make me love this place. It's the heat of summer that I find difficult as a Michigan expatriate. Not that it never got as hot in Michigan, because it did and it does. But it's the quantity. Like how winter in Michigan seems to linger about two or three months too long, like an unwelcome guest who ignores your polite mention to your spouse about how tired you are, and fills up another plate with hors d'oeuvres. Michigan, where you grow up wondering why the groundhog's seeing his shadow isn't good news. That's what summer is like in North Carolina. I never thought I'd think such thoughts about summer, but there it is in black and white.

But that's not where I am. I'm in November. And for me, in the South, November is the second month of wonderful.

Wish you were here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Peace and Love, Man

HT: The WØRD

And, and, and let me add, Stephen Colbert was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross today. You can hear that interview here. Or, rather, there. And on Sunday, the 23rd, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest of All will air at 10 p.m. on the Comedy Channel.

Time on the Machine

If anyone wants to send me a laptop, I'd be grateful. It's too hard to get time upstairs in the office on the desktop machine. Too hard. Not enough time. The kids simply won't permit it, and I, in obedience, must listen to them. So I'm thinking about a 13" MacBook, titanium uni-body. Nothing fancy. Just let me know when you have it, and I'll send you my address. I'll even pony up and pay for shipping. That's a mighty tempting offer, eh? Think about it. (I'll even promise not to talk about politics here anymore. Huh? Huh?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Psalm 84

How lovely is thy dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at thy altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in thy house, ever singing thy praise! [Selah]

Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! [Selah]

Behold our shield, O God; look upon the face of thine anointed! For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in thee!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

MANIFESTO: THE MAD FARMER LIBERATION FRONT
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that
free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

HT: The Ochlophobist

Diocese of Charleston on Fr Newman's Comments

THE DIOCESE OF CHARLESTON
Statement of Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin
Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (November 14, 2008) - This past week, the Catholic Church’s clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena. The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., have diverted the focus from the Church’s clear position against abortion. As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.” The Catechism goes on to state: “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith. Therefore, if a person has formed his or her conscience well, he or she should not be denied Communion, nor be told to go to confession before receiving Communion.

The pulpit is reserved for the Word of God. Sometimes God’s truth, as is the Church’s teaching on abortion, is unpopular. All Catholics must be aware of and follow the teachings of the Church.

We should all come together to support the President-elect and all elected officials with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child. Let us pray for them and ask God to guide them as they take the mantle of leadership on January 20, 2009.

I ask also for your continued prayers for me and for the Diocese of Charleston.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Communion for Obama Supporters

This statement by Fr Newman angers me on a number of levels. Perhaps as Catholics we need to hang up our citizenship altogether, because there is not a guiltless place to lay one's head on the political landscape. If one must do penance after voting for Obama, then one must do penance after voting for McCain. Perhaps one ought to do penance for voting for George W. Bush who bloodied our hands in an unjust war and taught us how to justify torture. Perhaps one ought to do penance for voting for Bush Sr., since after Clinton took office the number of abortions dropped by nearly half a million from where it had previously stood. I swear, how we love to bully and sway until those around us cower, delighted.

I thank God for those bishops willing to lovingly rebuke Catholic politicians who are ignorant of the Church's teaching on abortion. Where are the bishops in the Church who are willing to stand up against this kind of behavior, which plays at holiness but forgets charity? It's just more Turkish Delight.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Psalm 15

O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;
Who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
Who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
Who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Psalm 131

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
My eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a child quieted at its mother's breast;
Like a child that is quieted is my soul.
O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Psalm 150

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
Praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
Praise him according to his exceeding greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
Praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with timbrel and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Better to Say Nothing

Catholics make me want to weep. Our unity should not simply be a unity formed around Rome, but around Christ - a unity born out of and supported by our love for one another. Nourished by Christ's very life. But all I read and hear is anger and judgment. Condemnation. Why? Because of a leader of a country that is not ours? Because a sister votes differently than her brother? Is this unity? Charity? If unity is so fragile, to hell with it. If love is so fickle, then do not waste it on me. Sound and fury. We would be wise to be silent.

Christ is our hope, Christ is our hope, we cry. Christ is our hope. But we do not believe it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Time to Gather

It is time to vote. Remember that how you vote has less bearing on the course of events than you believe it does. And that your prayers have more. Remember that whomever is elected, we will be all right. Remember that our hope is in Christ. Remember that we are brothers and sisters. You and I have been given our freedom, dignity and responsibility by God. We are answerable for how we use these gifts. So we become informed citizens with Christ-formed consciences, we pray, and we do the best we can. Nothing more or less. Make sure you love your neighbor as you vote and as the returns roll in. Bless, do not curse. Remember that God is love. As much as it is up to you, live in peace with all people. Pray for our peace. Pray for the Church. Pray for our leaders, spiritual and political. Sit in silence and pray. Do not judge. Love one another. Be not afraid.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"A Complicated Life"

I like my Sharing Widget in the sidebar, my ability to share posts and articles that I find, in some way, meaningful with people who are kind enough to visit my own site. So I want to point your attention to an article I read this morning written by Fr Tobias, an Orthodox priest, at "Second Terrace." He says things well. And this post, while very political is also apolitical, i.e. nonpartisan. It's about being Christian and being a Christian in America. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Godisgood

What would Jesus brew? An excellent question explored in this CNN article.

Prayer

Some family friends are in need of our prayers. Pray for Jan Mattson, please. She and her husband were in an automobile accident last night. (They are the parents of a very dear friend of mine.) As far as I know, she is still in the hospital and in need of our intercession.

O God, come to our aid.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

November 5

It's sad to me that red and blue run deeper in us in this country than our catholicity - our communion in Christ. I can't wait till November 5, not so that we can turn a corner in our country (whatever corner that might be politically), but so that the Body of Christ can once more appear to be the Body of Christ. Where my being a brother at least seems to be more important than whether I am red or blue, or different from you. When I no longer have to worry about being shoved aside or turned away from because I disagree with you about what it's about. What business does judgment have to be so cherished within the Body of Christ? It's a cancer. It kills, devours and destroys.

Life is beautiful. It rises up out of the One who is Life. People are to be loved. That one is not my enemy. Nor this one. Elections are important, this one perhaps especially so, but is it important enough to divide the Body? Where is our kinship? Where is our communion? Where are those ties that are stronger than patriotism and thicker than blood?

There should be no issue that separates me from you. We are Christ's. We do our best to be obedient, to be humble, to patiently endure. We work. We pray. We do not kick and spit at and beat one another. We don't even treat our animals that way.

We cannot judge and love at the same time, wrote Fr. Neuhaus recently in First Things. And though we sometimes disagree, that statement is unequivocally true. It is central to Whose we are. And it is a choice set before us today. We cannot love God and hate our brother. Perhaps we can get that right before November 4 so that unity doesn't seem such a farce on November 5.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Santa Needs a Second Job

My seven year old got hold of a Current catalogue in the mail. All evening she worked on a letter to Santa of all the things she wanted, from Current. It turned out to be quite comprehensive - a list that filled a piece of paper, front and back. Not a bulleted list, please understand, but serialized, all the items separated with commas. There is very little white space. It includes items such as, "Personalized notepads in a tote," and things like it. Hundreds of items like it. Though, to be fair, Current doesn't have all its eggs in the holiday wrapping and cards basket (or tote) any more. If I ever have the time, I'll try to post her list here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Seriously?

I was reading a bit on the life and voluntary poverty of Dorothy Day this morning and it combined with the daily reading today where Jesus (which I've never noticed before) tells the Pharisees, who are concerned that Jesus didn't ceremonially wash his hands before eating, that they need to "wash the inside of the cup." He says in Luke's Gospel (11.41), "Clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over." That's the New Living Translation. Here's the RSV, "Give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you." I don't care for the NASB here because I think you lose Christ's meaning. And I like best, perhaps, the KJV and NKJV's translation, "Rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you." A meditation provided by St Ambrose was also part of the mix. I don't usually compare translations, but I felt the first translation I read seemed to muddy the meaning rather than clarify it. It certainly didn't read as St Ambrose read it. Regardless, with a slurry of reasoning and emotion, I actually had the following thought - or something inanely close to it: "I don't have enough money to choose a life of poverty."

Now, perhaps on one level this is true - perhaps my life is an involuntary life of poverty. This is a real possibility, though not according to the entire world's standards. I am, after all, typing this on a computer with a rather quick and costly Internet connection, the expense of which I justify because I freelance write. I certainly don't have such great excess that I can choose to give it away while still providing for my family. But then, would that undercut the point entirely, perhaps? The stupidity of it also rose up because of the grave responsibility I have to raise my family - which is a part of almsgiving, certainly (giving up a comfortable life for a child-rich one), though it does not, by any means, exhaust the mandate laid upon me.

Give alms of such things as you have, and you will be clean.

How do you do this? How can I do this? Shouldn't I, as an American, be wrestling with how to live out this kind of iconic, Christlike life each day? Is my giving worth anything if it doesn't hurt? I don't mean being unable to buy a thousand dollar Japanese tobacco pipe, or a new laptop, or a nice home. I mean, giving so much that you are, as Dorothy Day did, getting clothes out of the same box and eating food from the same pot with which she also served the poor. That kind of life is incarnational. How do you do that with a family? How do you do it in America?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Little Saturday Morning Gas

The very day after the morning I tell my mother how disturbing it is to me that the McCain campaign has done nothing to stop the building anger and fear toward Obama in their rallies, McCain steps up and affirms Obama as a good family man (who just happens to pal around with terrorists). The GOP campaign, specifically Gov Palin and campaign ads, fed this fire. I hope they can put it out. I hope they do their best to try to. That being said, "Thank you, Sen McCain. It's good to see you again."


The next time I get flak for the size of my family, I'm saying, "Listen, Pal. That 10 trillion dollars ain't gonna take care of itself."

Speaking of which, I was at Wal-Mart the other day with the two boys. The cavernous temple evoked a happy volley of shrieks, as per usual - not terribly piercing, just happy. A lady down the aisle glowered at us. Then she took several opportunities to look at us blackly as we wheeled by. After checking out, we passed her again with her adult daughter. As we passed she began telling her about the audacity of my children's vocalizations. "I swanny. Wal-Mart ain't no library, lady."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Second Debate

I slept through it, to be honest. No engagement, on my part, other than my buttocks with my recliner and my eyes with their lids.

Let me just comment on what I imagine happened: The debate had no gaffes, no defining moments, just a lot of McCain being angry and Obama imperturable. Oh, and a whole lot of the same, oft-heard phrases.

Friday, October 03, 2008

God Love 'Em

Palin did well last night. I thought Biden did better, but at least Palin was coherent. Speaking of incoherence, after reading the text of Katie Couric's interview with Gov Palin, I've concluded that the McCain campaign is justified in accusing Couric of "Gotcha" journalism. There are clever little traps here that Katie sets - yes, that's journalism for you; yes, Palin ought to be able to navigate tough journalists. But the journalist's purpose is to inform the public about what the candidate believes, where she stands, rather than try to make her look like an idiot (at which they were quite successful, with no little help from Gov Palin). Also, journalists should hold her accountable for her own history and her own words rather than expecting her to know the minutiae of McCain's 132-year-long voting and speaking records. That would strain the brainpans of all but the most erudite of us.

One other thing, lay off on the pro-life issue, media. And since you won't: Palin, stand up. "Darnit, youbetcha I'm pro-life and here's why." It is our argument that is supported by science, reason and faith. Yes, the right to kill our babies in the womb is the law of the land. But guess what, Washington Herd, it's an immoral law. Life is not about women's rights. If it were, the government wouldn't be able to draw the line anywhere in a woman's womb, as it most certainly does. Indeed, if it were simply a matter of women's rights, the government wouldn't even be able to draw the line outside the womb.

Oh, and, just curious, did anyone besides my wife and I, hear Palin, after she corrected him, call the senator, Obiden? We laughed for half an hour about it, doing our best at Tina Fey.

An Onion and an Angel

In The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, which is my book of 2008 apparently (and if any, what better than it?), Grushenka tells Alyosha a parable. The context offers rich and dense layers to the parable, but I give it to you stripped of it and them. I share it with you because it was the very first page I read on the feast day of our guardian angels. We are interconnected, you and I - and all people and things. This is a very small onion, and you may wonder at it, but it is for you.

Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire. And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman. And God answered: now take that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it, and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she can stay where she is. The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I'll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: "It's me who's getting pulled out, not you; it's my onion, not yours." No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake and is burning there to this day. And the angel wept and went away.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: Farrar, 1990), 352.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Pope Paul VI: Convinced of Christ

Convinced of Christ: yes, I feel the need to proclaim him, I cannot keep silent. «Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!» (1 Cor 9,16). I am sent by him, by Christ himself, to do this. I am an apostle, I am a witness. The more distant the goal, the more difficult my mission the more pressing is the love that urges me to it (2 Cor 5,14). I must bear witness to his name: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16,16). He reveals the invisible God, he is the firstborn of all creation, the foundation of everything created (Col 1,15f.). He is the Teacher of mankind, and its Redeemer. He was born, he died and he rose again for us. He is the centre of history and of the world; he is the one who knows us and who loves us; he is the companion and the friend of our life. He is the man of sorrows and of hope. It is he who will come and who one day will be our judge and - we hope -the everlasting fulness of our existence, our happiness.

I could never finish speaking about him: he is the light and the truth; indeed, he is «the way, the truth and the life» (Jn 14,6). He is the bread and the spring of living water to satisfy our hunger and our thirst (Jn 6,35; 7,38). He is our shepherd, our guide, our model, our comfort, our brother. Like us, and more than us, he has been little, poor, humiliated; he has been a worker; he has known misfortune and been patient. For our sake he spoke, worked miracles and founded a new kingdom where the poor are happy, where peace is the principle for living together, where the pure of heart and those who mourn are raised up and comforted, where those who hunger and thirst after justice have their fill, where sinners can be forgiven, where all are brothers.

Jesus Christ: you have heard him spoken of; indeed the greater part of you are already his: you are Christians. So, to you Christians I repeat his name, to everyone I proclaim him: Jesus Christ «is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega» (Rv 21,6); he is the king of the new world; he is the secret of history; he is the key to our destiny. He is the mediator, the bridge, between heaven and earth. He is... the Son of Man, because he is the Son of God... He is the son of Mary... Jesus Christ is our constant preaching; it is his name that we proclaim to the ends of the earth (Rom 10,18) and throughout all ages.

(Homily given at Manilla, November 29, 1970 [©Libreria Editrice Vaticana])

HT: Daily Gospel

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wordplay

This weekend I enjoyed watching Wordplay. It's a documentary about crossword puzzles, the people who construct them and the people who solve them - specifically following an annual tournament where puzzlers meet and compete. These people they showed solving crossword puzzles competitively have high-capacity brains. Strange machines. The documentary showed one man finish a NYTimes crossword in 2:02! That's two minutes and two seconds. I can't even read all the clues in that amount of time.

Anyway, it spurred me to print out my own sample crosswords from the NYTimes and try my hand at them. And while I won't be puzzling competitively anytime soon (read, never), I did find myself having a great deal of fun. I've never done many crosswords in the past (I don't know why, being a word nerd) and so it was new ground for me.

The crosswords in the Times apparently are easiest on Monday and gradually become more difficult throughout the week, becoming extremely difficult by Friday and Saturday. My first go was at a Tuesday puzzle and my second, yesterday, I tried solving a classic Thursday puzzle. I was not able to finish either puzzle without the help of a dictionary and even then I had a few blanks. The Thursday puzzle I finished in 1:45 - that's one hour and forty-five minutes. I imagine the more you solve the easier they become. And I'll try to move away from cheating with a dictionary. Really. Or at least treat it like war - first exhausting all other options.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

First Debate

Yawn.

Nothing new last night. Nothing earth-shaking or jaw-dropping. Wouldn't it be great if we just let the two candidates debate with one another - you know, argue? Civilly, of course. Let them sit down and hash it out, drinking whisky, smoke hanging in the air above them and half-filled ashtrays before them, as they discuss rogue nations and nuclear proliferation. Something more dramatic, more film noir. That would be a debate worth watching.

Maybe the veeps will take it there.

If they don't, perhaps I will.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The BBQ Song: A Musical Primer for All Y'all

Pillow Talk, the Last Days and the Obamanation of Desolation

I don't know whether you've heard, but Obama is the Antichrist. No, no. It's true. I read it online. I've even gotten some e-mails that verify what I've read online. (And, did you hear? he's black.)

Now some are not so brazen. Some would never talk about Obama being the Antichrist, but perhaps might make a passing comment on the eschatological possibilities to his wife as stories of the crumbling of one financial institution after another crowd radio waves and jam up satellite beams. Endless conversations about our economic situation being the worst since the Depression. Fundamentalist Islam and Jihad. Russia. China. North Korea and Iran. "Maybe these are the Last Days ... , " he says, as he surfs between Fox News and 24.

Let me clear the waters a bit: If Obama is the Antichrist, then there is nothing you can do to stop his meteoric rise to power and worldwide domination. Not even Palin can stop that. It is pre-ordained. So stop sending the e-mails already. If we rapture, we rapture. Restrain your delight long enough to get your What-to-Do-if-You-Find-You've-Been-Left-Behind videos (your We-Told-You-So videos) ready. Wipe off the dust. Maybe set up a display table in the foyer.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Newborn

Sensuous, birth is full of contrasts and archetypes, meaning. It is the intercourse of heaven and earth. It is God encountering woman in her pain and joy, sweat, blood, expectancy. A kiss. A rendezvous. A revelation. We are enamored. God's breath, awake, unveiled; the Divinity reaching into clay and pulling a person from it. Two. Three.

Surprised at surprise. Caught unprepared again, thirty-eight years in, I stir to.

Life is too great, too glorious. There is suffering. There is pain. But there is, also, limitless joy that leans out from little things, like an upturned, red-capped mushroom, a defeated umbrella pooling rainwater. Like morning glory bedding on a rusted sign. Like a newborn covered in blood and vernix, trembling. Joy entwines itself in the pain, curls about it, over it, and purples. Glory subsumes all suffering, at a glance.

Drums Ready, Please

I was playing Monopoly Junior with my son Will the other day and trying to teach him how to roll the die. He would vigorously shake his hand with the die clutched in it and then place the die on the game board. Usually on the number of his choice, as it happens.

"Will," I said, the fifth time in, "That's not how you roll."

"That's how I roll," he said.

*rimshot*

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Constitution, the Whole Constitution and Nothing but the Constitution

I thought this interview a fascinating conversation on The Diane Rhem Show, mostly because of the parallel I see with the Reformational concept of sola Scriptura. I'm not saying there's a one-to-one correlation here, only that as I listened to Tribe talk about the "invisible Constitution," the similarities were striking. (Tribe is no conservative, by the way. There's quite a bit of empty rhetoric here on abortion.)

We are not, as Christians, people of the book, however, but people of the Word of God, the Word made flesh. Though certainly Christ is made present to us in the hearing of the Scriptures. Please, don't understand my beliefs about the Scriptures as an attempt to belittle them. As a Catholic, I venerate the Scriptures. (Catechism, sections 101ff.).

For Dan

HT: Happy Catholic (But could be happier if she were a Mac)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

St. Silouan: His Mercy Is Past Portrayal

My soul yearns after the Lord and I seek Him in tears. How could I do other than seek Thee, for Thou first didst seek and find me, and gavest me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit, and my soul fell to loving Thee. Thou seest, O Lord, my grief and my tears. Hadst Thou not drawn me with Thy love, I could not seek Thee as I seek Thee now; but Thy spirit gave me to know Thee, and my soul rejoices that Thou art my God and my Lord, and I yearn after Thee even to tears.

The Spirit of Christ whom I had of the Lord desires the salvation of all, that all should know God. The Lord gave the thief Paradise. Thus will he give Paradise to every sinner. With my sins I am worse than a noisome cur but I began to beseech God for forgiveness, and he granted me not only forgiveness but also the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit I knew God...



My soul knows that the Lord is merciful but his mercy passes portrayal. He is exceeding meek and lowly, and when the soul sees Him she is all transformed into love for God and her neighbour, and becomes meek and lowly herself. But if a man loses grace, he will weep like Adam cast out of Paradise... O Lord, grant unto us the repentance of Adam, and Thy holy humility.

- St. Silouan, Orthodox monk, +1938

HT: Daily Gospel

Medieval Me

Your result for The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test...

The Prioress

You scored 3% Cardinal, 74% Monk, 53% Lady, and 43% Knight!


You are a moral person and are also highly intellectual. You like your solitude but are also kind and helpful to those around you. Guided by a belief in the goodness of mankind you will likely be christened a saint after your life is over.


You scored high as both the Lady and the Monk. You can try again to get a more precise description of either the Monk or the lady, or you can be happy that you're an individual.

Take The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test at HelloQuizzy

HT: Happy Catholic

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Geneva's Large Hadron Collider

So they turned on this atom smasher yesterday, this ginormous atom smasher. The good news is that, contrary to the fears expressed by some (and even a filed lawsuit to stop them from proceeding), the earth was not turned inside out like a dirty sock. But then time will tell. They're hoping to learn some interesting things about physics with this monster and I wish them the greatest success. And that I don't die.

Here's a link to a First Things article today that talks a little about the collider.

Among other things they're hoping to find out more about how this whole universe came into being. Maybe spin off a couple of tiny black holes. Learn more about theoretical particles and dark matter. Insanely geeky stuff like that.

Here's a picture with an itty-bitty man inside the collider to give you some reference for size. It is huge: Its circumference is 17 miles. They'll begin bumping and grinding particles on October 21. I'd suggest Confession the weekend before, but that's just me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Palin 2: Equal Time

To say that I don't get Sarah Palin does not mean that I don't like her - just that I don't get all tingly when I think about her. I'm cautious about her because she's a wild card - I don't feel like I know who she is or how competent she is. She may do swimmingly. She may even be wicked good. I'm waiting.

In the meantime, it unnerves me, as it unnerves many of you, that some in the press and some Democrats disparage her so. And all of it stems out of, or seems to from my listening to their coverage, the fact that she is staunchly pro-life. They despise that this woman (that any woman) could be against women's rights, against advancing women's health. They continue to ignore or reject or spin the fact that we who are for life are not against women's rights or against advancing women's health, but that we do not believe that any person - male or female - has the right to end human life, especially not the innocent among us. They refuse to acknowledge that we believe, from both theology and science, that life begins at conception. This is a life issue; it's a human rights issue for us rather than a civil rights issue. That it even needs to be said 30+ years into the disagreement is a sad commentary. The constant spinning from the Left, since Palin's selection, aggravates even me.

At least be gracious enough to understand that we approach the issue from two distinct places rather than label all who disagree with you as sexist or ignorant or just dumb. There is no danger of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the admission that we are in disagreement about when life begins, when human rights are given by God. The "new culture war" that the Left so lately chatters on about is not the doing of the Right, but rather the result of the silencing efforts of the Left. Yes, we still disagree. We haven't gone anywhere or become "enlightened." But, at the same time, our disagreement doesn't need to be a cause for apoplexy; it ought to drive us forward into conversation. Until we acknowledge what each of us believes, we will be doomed to "culture war." We need some domestic diplomacy.

That also means that those of us who are pro-life need to calm down. We must stop the name-calling and the diatribes and the condemnation. Those on the Left are people. Image-of-God people. People God loves and on whom he pours out his mercy - no more or less than you. It is not us-them (it never is with people), it is only us. And it is incumbent upon me to love them and to honor them. That is my obligation as a Catholic.

Nevertheless, I need to go clean up the kitchen. That, too, is my obligation.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Nothing Flowers

It's strange how my yard has begun to measure life for me as surely as a calendar, only lovelier. My argiopes (garden spiders) are one such marker, my spider lilies are another. And my spider lilies have come up. They appear out of nowhere in early to mid-September and they're gone as quickly as they came. They're fairy. Oriental. Perhaps it's their shy, lovely glances that so attract me. There is nothing boisterous about them, nothing demanding. They're tucked away under the shade of my river birch, almost hidden by its branches, almost lost. They bloom and they die, and if you miss them, you miss them. They're satisfied to be nothing. That is their glory. Like morning mist over the water, they mark summer's end.

Palin

I don't get Sarah Palin. Maybe she's like Facebook for me: I enjoy having the page, but I don't find it particularly engaging or addictive. I like the connection, certainly, I just don't get the buzz. (As I've said here before, I'm a little slow.) So the only thing Palin has going for her, that I can determine, is that she's your average Jane Evangelical. But I don't understand, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote, that she "killed" at the convention. I suppose it depends on your meaning and, perhaps more, your perspective. The only thing I heard at the convention from Palin was trash talk - and not even uncommonly good trash talk, but just your ordinary trash talk that you read daily on conservative blogs. Rush trash. She came out swinging, certainly.

I like that she's pro-life. I love that she kept a baby with Down Syndrome and has a fairly large family. I like that she's able to come out after a week of media battery and deliver. I like that she's a woman and a mother and a wife.

Is there something more here, something I'm missing? Or is it simply that unenthusiastic McCain supporters ("Well, he's more pro-life than that baby-killer Obama") finally got someone ardently pro-life and unarguably alive?

Forgive my sarcasm.

I tease you because I love you.

1:21 p.m.

So I haven't been the ideal blogger lately. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. And I don't have much to say at 1:21 p.m on Tuesday, except that while playing Monopoly Junior with my four-year-old son this morning, he said, "I wuv pwaying wif you."

Staying home with the kids isn't sexy or glamorous. But who needs rock and roll when you've got that?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Piper Hit a Home Run

I laughed out loud when I saw little Piper Palin with her brother. My girls do the same thing to our babies when we're not looking. It's insanely sweet.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Some Dostoevsky

"See, here you have passed by a small child, passed by in anger, with a foul word, with a wrathful soul; you perhaps did not notice the child, but he saw you, and your unsightly and impious image has remained in his defenseless heart. You did not know it, but you may thereby have planted a bad seed in him, and it may grow, and all because you did not restrain yourself before the child, because you did not nurture in yourself a heedful, active love. Brothers, love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time. Anyone, even a wicked man, can love by chance."

(Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002. 319)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Prayer

"O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life - come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One."

- Traditional Orthodox Prayer

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love Is from God

From The Paradise of the Desert Fathers:

Sayings:

The old men used to say, "there is nothing worse than passing judgment."

They said of abba Macarius that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.

Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who said 'Do not commit fornication' said also 'Do not judge.' "

A brother asked abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."

Stories:

A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you." So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, "What is this, father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

When I first read the Desert Fathers, I kept running up against this teaching. At first, I kept my reservations about it. Milquetoast, I thought. A spade ought to be called a spade. In the course of time, I have begun - and only just begun - to realize that this teaching is, perhaps, central to what it means to me to be Christian. Because a refusal to judge springs out of a heart of love. And a refusal to judge springs out of the recognition of one's own sinfulness before God, one's recognition of one's own forgiveness. And my sin is great. My need for God leaves me breathless before Him, without legs, casts me upon his greater grace and love.

I know less each passing day. I have learned that I don't love well. I would grind my teeth in darkness and utter solitude - that is what is in my heart, and it draws at me constantly. And that is hell. When I first heard the Fatima prayer within the Rosary, I was unsettled by its talk of hell: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, bring all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy." I'm not big on hellfire or, for that matter, brimstone. But as I submitted myself to the practice of the Church, I began to realize something about me and about this prayer. When I pray O My Jesus, I am asking Jesus to rescue me not from some eternal damnation that will come one day if I embrace death rather than life, but I am asking him to rescue me from the hell within my heart, that is there each moment of every day, that threatens to engulf me. That is the recognition that I'm coming to understand: Heaven and hell are within my heart.

Neither science nor bad theology makes me doubt God. The thing that makes me doubt God, when I doubt Him, is those who claim Him. Those who would tear down everything and everyone that they might be taller. I read, I listen. I hear such terrible judgments pronounced. I see personhood overrun by ideology and pride. Where is love? There is God. So I must slap my hand over my mouth - because I am that man, that woman, who curses God in my neighbor and who engenders doubt within my own heart and countless others.

People are people. More than that, we are persons. We have such hidden hurts that are run over roughshod by those who ought to, should, must, need to know and behave better. But then, they have their own hurts, their own pain. Love is a better balm than judgment. "Beloved," says the Evangelist, "let us love one another."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday Night Prayer

This comes from the Liturgy of the Hours and is, in its simplicity, one of my favorite prayers, which I look forward to each Saturday.

"Come to us, Lord, this night, and give us the strength to rise at dawn rejoicing in the resurrection of your Anointed, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer

I usually am the first to complain about summers in the South. Too hot. Far too hot. Take last summer, for instance. For over a month the temperatures posted 95°+ without relent. No rain, just the unforgiving, driving heat. Not to mention that on the hottest day, 104°, my A/C was busted because I hadn't been changing the filters. (It takes me a while, but given the proper provocation, even I learn my lesson.)

This summer, however, has been milder and even though I begin sweating the moment I step outdoors (because I'm huge), I've enjoyed it quite a bit. I've enjoyed being outside swinging the boys. I've enjoyed tracking the progress of this year's argiope. I've really enjoyed it. It's hot. It's quiet. It's real. Outside is the opposite of abstraction - where the old table from a long-ago-disappeared Ponderosa restaurant is nearly rotted through. Where ants crawl across my writing page and pill bugs nest under my garden gloves. The mimosa is straining to make it through the month, and all that's left of the argiope, that happy yellow beast that sat with me in my solitude, is an egg sac attached under the overhang of my wooden carport, attached next to the holes drilled with the unnatural precision of carpenter bees. I'm anticipating the spider lilies. But while I wait, I'll be content with hydrangea, lyriope, and crepe myrtles. I do wish the argiope hadn't left so soon. I enjoyed her company.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Nominees at Saddleback

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

First things first: While I did not write about his passing, Solzhenitsyn has whispered quietly, in the background of my mind, for many years now. I respect his voice, as one respects the prophetic voice that one finds in the exile, and I also greatly respect his artistry. May he rest in peace and may his memory be eternal.

Now for the potstirring.

Obama and McCain both answered questions from Pastor Rick Warren yesterday at Pastor Warren's church, Saddleback, in California. I found the informal forum last night interesting. It surprised me how well McCain fared with Evangelicals and conservatives - his storytelling worked. Amidst the ensuing hubbub, however, are a couple of points and or questions I'd like to throw out there into the inane ether of the blogosphere.

I liked hearing, and the audience certainly liked hearing, McCain say that he was pro-life and that his presidency would be pro-life. I liked hearing him say that life begins at conception. But what bugs me about McCain, and what I find disingenuous - at best - is that he also supports embryonic stem cell research. I would like to hear him explain himself on that point.

That doesn't mean Senator Obama comes out bright and shiny like a new penny. Some people, including some professional analysts, think Obama was vague in his answers to some of the questions. Now I didn't think he was. I always find Obama thoughtful and intelligent, and he seemed so to me last night. He is also responding to questions the answers of which (his answers) will float with that audience about as well as a lead balloon. It's like talking evolution at Ken Ham's dinner table. It takes some guts. Then again, as I've said before, I like Obama - he comes across easy and reasonable to me. But he didn't say anything new or shocking last night. That doesn't mean I liked his answers concerning those questions. That doesn't mean on those questions I thought his answers better than McCain's.

What disturbed me last night, because it was new, was the question about evil. Pastor Warren asked something along the following lines: Do you believe evil exists? And, if so, what should be done about it? I liked Obama's answer okay in that it covered a variety of evils - with the potential of evil even in our country. McCain, on the other hand, answered from the stump, which I found particularly disturbing. When asked about evil, do you go into a tirade about destroying al Qaeda and bin Laden? Chasing bin Laden to the gates of hell? Which brought to mind the Solzhenitsyn quote. Here it is again:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

I understand these men are running for the presidency. They're not theologians or philosophers. I understand that they equivocate as they deem necessary. They're more concerned with their talking points than with real questions. I don't want it justified or need it explained to me. But evil is far more cunning than Senator McCain gives it credit. And such a simplistic and vehement answer to such a terrible question unnerves me.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

By the Way

We are expecting a baby girl at the end of December.

Assumption

Yesterday, before Mass (Feast of the Assumption), our oldest was asked if she wanted to be an altar server. We questioned the wisdom of it. But she was interested and our priest and the other altar server said they'd keep track of her. She did great. But there was that one moment.

Next to the chair where our priest sits are three stools for the acolytes. When Sophie first sat down on hers she was expecting a chair back. Yeah. It really happened. She rolled off the stool backward onto the floor. All you could see were her legs kicking back and forth behind the stool as she tried to right herself. It was quite funny, but I kept a straight face and made sure she wasn't embarrassed to tears. When she got up, she was red, but had a grin on her face and took it in stride. She did great, and I was very proud.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Best for Us

"We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

- C.S. Lewis

I've only come across this quote recently, and I don't know where it comes from. Is it from one of his books, essays, or letters? If anybody knows the source, I'd be grateful.

Monday, August 04, 2008

To Be the Fool

In Chesterton's biography of St. Francis of Assisi he says something that takes me off-guard - that Francis was thought a fool and that Francis embraced his being a fool, and redeemed being a fool. Chesterton gives the analogy of digging through the earth, and how halfway through you begin digging up rather than down. I was struck by the similarity of his words and Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as Hester is branded with a symbol of shame and yet, through her godly and wise life, the red A becomes a symbol of something beautiful - not that adultery is beautiful, but that Hester is. She is transformed by it and therefore transcends it. This is what Christ does. He takes a curse (hung on a tree), descends into hell with it, and comes out on the other side with the symbol remade. So that now, I wear a cross around my neck - not as some macabre homage to Roman cruelty, but because the shame has become glory, because night has been made into day.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Offerings for the Cult

Lately, I have done my best not to write much about the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism here as I have both Catholic and Protestant readers. And I've miserably failed friends and family in the past by highlighting those differences. It is not my purpose to offend, just a bad case of overzealousness. Occasionally, however, this blog becomes a release valve for me to blow off steam, because frankly I've got no one with whom I can talk about my Catholic faith and my faith experiences.

So, to be clear, I'm about to blow off some steam. I am upset.

I get tired of the same old lines taught by fundamentalist Evangelicals as facts concerning Catholicism. I understand that this misinformation is not put out there maliciously; I understand that it is genuinely believed by those who speak it. I also understand that it is often propagated and even motivated out of love for us Catholics. Regardless, it is misinformation passed on from soul to soul, generation after generation. Sadly, there are too few who choose to investigate for themselves the claims of the Catholic Church, preferring instead ignorance.

Take this picture as an example. This picture is on the Web site of a young Evangelical woman my wife's family knows who is going to Chile as a missionary. (And I applaud her willingness to serve Christ and others.) Above the picture is the text of Romans 10.14, from the NIV: "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (This is also an excellent example of the milieu out of which I've come, if you're interested - the Grace Brethren Fellowship, among other denominations). The collection box in the picture, clearly a Romish item, has the following Spanish written on it: "Ofrendas para el sostenimiento del culto" and then the poor soul in Latin America does his or her best to translate it for any American or English-speaking visitors and writes, "Offerings for the cult." And that's basically the literal translation of the Spanish. The only problem, and it's a big problem when the picture is bandied about as proof, is that it confirms the misinformation that many Evangelicals already believe about Catholicism, adequately serving their purpose, with little need of further proof. But it says nothing about Catholic belief and only demonstrates how languages work, and how literal translation sometimes does not. The meaning of the phrase is not "Offerings for the cult" (as an Evangelical would understand a cult), but "Offerings for the support of worship" or "Offerings for the support of the worship service." Now in ten minutes I could find a dozen Protestant Web sites with Spanish translations that include the words "del culto" for "worship" or "worship service." I even have a pdf from the foreign missions board of the denomination that is sending out this young woman that contains the following phrase concerning Church planting: "Planificar y llevar a cabo una practica del culto de adoración" or, as my Google Translator gives it, "Planning and carrying out a practice of worship." And yet here is the picture, offering evidence of the error of Catholicism.

Now this young woman is not the object of my annoyance, the misinformation is. It irritates me because the Catholic Church, while her members are certainly imperfect, has openly made known and published what she believes and practices in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, among a multitude of other documents and letters. Open the index of the Catechism, find a topic, and read what the Church teaches about that topic. At least disagree with what we teach, if you must disagree. Anyone with the faintest desire can pick up a copy and find out for oneself whether Catholicism teaches the worship of Mary, for instance. But so many Evangelicals refuse to do so. Why?

When I became Catholic I discovered that nearly everything I had heard about the Catholic Church in my adult life had been a lie. Nearly everything. One layer of misinformation lithified on top of the next. So I hear how desperately Catholics need evangelizing. I see Foxe's Book of Martyrs, anti-Catholic propaganda at its best, held in high regard (the pot calling the kettle a murderer - to mix my idiom). I listen to a sermon series by John MacArthur and there is not maybe 5 percent of the things he says about the Catholic Church that are true. I hear mockery and derision, and I hear all kinds of accusations, such as "unbiblical" and "apostasy" and "cult." It's exhausting. If anyone has the authority to accuse another of heresy, it isn't a denomination that has yet to see its 100th birthday, or even a schism that hasn't reached its 500th. And it's even more wearisome because as soon as I try to correct someone's misinformation, they want the channel changed. They say they don't want to discuss it. They say that I'm not going to change their mind so there's no sense in bothering to discuss it. They say they already know what the Catholic Church believes, and that I'm the one with the misinformation. They say that I'm argumentative and just want to be proven right, to win an argument. They fire off an accusation and then withdraw, guerrilla like, absolutely refusing to talk about the subject. And it upsets me. If they have the temerity to make an accusation, direct or indirect, they'd better have the courage for the conversation. Isn't that only fair?

Some of what I've heard in the past has been in response to my own overzealousness, my excitement upon converting to Catholicism. And I understand that kind of push back. So I'm trying to learn to be quiet. Yet even when I try to be quiet, the accusations are made. And I have never believed, nor do I still, that it is right to allow what is good to be spoken of as evil.

The Catholic Church has its problems. But being unorthodox is not one of them. Teaching the worship of Mary or idols or saints is not one of them. Having priests or bishops who don't believe what they profess may, on the other hand, be an ongoing issue. But then Protestant denominations have their share of the same kinds of leaders. Generally having a poorly catechized laity may be one of the problems facing the Catholic Church. But still the Church stands. Still the Church teaches and passes on the faith faithfully.

There is no room as brothers and sisters to accuse and withdraw, accuse and withdraw. At best, it is uncharitable. And what gain is there in holding so tightly to an assertion or belief that you are even unwilling or unable to look at?

I am not always gentle or fair or charitable - I've recognized and confessed some of those very failings here. I am in need of God's mercy, every moment - that is my position before God. I need him. But I must also say that the differences (and similarities) between Catholicism and Protestantism must be understood fairly and truly by each of us. We can't afford tolerance (i.e. acceptance as being equally true or valid) differing truths as Christians. We are called to be one. One. We are called to assent when we are called to faith, to submission and obedience. And to splinter or to start your own church community or to break off from your brothers and sisters in schism is to sin against charity - we are called to love one another. And to remain in disunity when you are convinced that Christ desires unity is also sin. The popular thinking of "I'm OK, you're OK" doesn't work in our faith. We need one another too badly. Catholics need their Protestant brothers and sisters. Protestants need their Catholic brothers and sisters, and they also need their mother, the Catholic Church. (We also, of course, both of us, need our Orthodox brothers and sisters.)

I mess up. I judge too quickly. I speak too quickly. I am not quiet enough or humble enough. I do not love enough. I do not treat with the proper respect those to whom my respect is owed. And I am under obligation to all of you. All of these things are true of me. This is also true: I love the Catholic Church. I believe that she is the Church established by Christ, and that Christ and the Church are the whole Christ. I believe that the first century Church was Catholic even if only as a seed, and that those first Christians believed in and taught the Real Presence, the Mystery of Christ, in the Eucharist, and believed in the necessity of regeneration through water (Baptism) and spirit (Faith). And I know, am beginning to know, the exceeding riches that the Church offers our world. I only wish you knew them too. I love my friends and family who remain Evangelical. I respect your faith and your journey. I trust God's work in your lives. He pours his grace out on you and rejoices in your friendship as you rejoice in his. But God is not alone. He is in the midst of a great company: Blessed Mary, the Apostles, the saints, and the angels surround him and worship him. They intercede for us and pray for our salvation. God wants his people to be one people. He wants us to share in communion with him and with one another. Come home.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hello Goodbye

The argiopes are here, big and bold, black and yellow. They tell me the time; Summer's goodbye. They stitch the season shut. You see, Laura heads back to school on Friday. And the kids start on Wednesday, the feast of the Transfiguration.

The girls might be going back to school with their mama. We've discussed whether to keep them out for homeschooling again or to send them back and we're leaning toward sending them back. I don't know whether it's the best decision, but it's there. We're still waiting to hear whether the youngest girl can get into kindergarten, and we've decided it's an all or nothing affair. If they can all get in, so be it. If they can't, they learn here at home. I've been emotional about the decision, for a slew of reasons. I'm worried about my oldest, who we pulled out because of how difficult a time she was having. I'm worried that she's not ready for heading back, or that a traditional school is not fit for her. I'm worried that I'm giving a good to them when I could be giving better. I'm worried about moving Sophie back and forth, even though she's very excited about the prospect.

I like being such a large part of their day. I like pushing them and teaching them and having conversations with them. I'll miss them. Maybe that's the entirety of my problem. That, and I don't want to make a bad decision.

If they go back, I'll be here with the boys. I'll have more time to give to them. I'll have more time to clean and to write. And at the end of December, we're expecting another baby. The new baby will certainly require some of my day.

It's been a difficult week, wrestling with the decision to send them to school and hoping it is the right one. For me it's harder than for Laura - she'll be getting to spend more time with them as they'll be driving to and from school with her (40 minutes each way) as well as hanging out in her classroom after the school day is over.

In light of all this life holds for them, it is not perhaps so paramount a decision. But it does have my mind and my heart in a tangle at the moment. I would appreciate your prayers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Six Unspectacular Quirks

Fred, over at Deep Furrows, tagged me for this unassuming meme. (Sorry it took so long.) Here are the rules:

  1. Link the person(s) who tagged me
  2. Mention the rules on my blog
  3. Tell about six unspectacular quirks of mine
  4. Tag six fellow bloggers by linking them
  5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged

Six of my unspectacular quirks:

  1. I refuse to watch a TV show or a movie if I've missed the first few minutes. I mean, would you start reading a novel on page 5? There's too much to miss within the first minutes. Right?
  2. Precision in time - wanting my watch to be exactly set. This shows my leaning toward being excessively fussy about certain things - something to do with my toilet training as a child. Apparently.
  3. Because of Number 2, in a manner of speaking, I am excessively fussy about being on time in general. Though it used to drive me to distraction far more than it does today. The older I get, the more children I collect, the more comfortable I become with more fuzziness, less fussiness, in my life. The world, it would seem, doesn't end when one arrives three minutes late. Who knew?
  4. I love Number 2 pencils. Throw in a quality eraser and sharpener from Staedtler and Daddy's in his happy place.
  5. When driving a stick, I occasionally will tap the bottom of the break pedal with the top of my right foot. It's a habit that began with a car whose rubber covering on the break pedal was always slipping off. I would tap it to slide it back up into place. After we sold the car, I forgot about the habit for years until the next time I owned a vehicle with a manual transmission - suddenly, I found the top of my foot automatically tapping the bottom of the break pedal. Weird.
  6. I hate using telephones. On the other hand, once a call is established, I enjoy the conversation.

Now I tag 6 others:

  1. Chad at Chad Is Not Enough
  2. Bill at The Hispanic Crusader
  3. Alison at Older than Jesus
  4. Sherry at Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom
  5. Dan at Theme and Variations

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On the Influence of Parents, Brain Floaters, and the Hilarity of Mis-Punctuation à la Jon Stewart

A few days back, my wife, Laura, asked my seven-year-old daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up. Anna said, "I want to be a teacher. And then when I lose my job I want to be an artist."


Evangelization, St. Francis of Assisi, Evolution and Contraception have been on my mind lately - a semi-unrelated list of subjects I've been thinking about. Aimee Milburn got me thinking about Evangelization, of course, and it's been popping here and there on my radar screen since.

I'm reading Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi and am continually floored by this saint who has always had such a phenomenal presence in my life, in my mind; I can't think of a moment in my life when I was not aware of him. It's hard to think of many who have made so great a contribution to my philosophy of life and faith, and who have been content to teach me of such things quietly from the margins.

I've been watching some videos and reading some books on evolution, and Christian thought about evolution. It's quite fascinating as I've never taken an in-depth look at evolution before in my life. (I think that's a shame, by the way. Not because evolution is all that, but because, rather than simply learning characterizations, I should have been educated, should have educated myself, about one of the most influential theories of the past millennium.) Recently I've watched a special titled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial about the debacle just a couple of short years ago in Pennsylvania about evolution and intelligent design in the public schools. And currently I'm working through a PBS series mysteriously titled Evolution. Along with those videos I've read or am reading Cardinal Schönborn's Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith, and Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. I'm also reading an interesting book by a former Seventh-Day Adventist, now an agnostic, Ronald L. Numbers, titled The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design which attempts to trace the history of the young-earth-creationist movement. I'll let you know on how well I think he did if and when I make it through the book. I've owned Darwin's On the Origin of Species for some time and will also be taking a gander at it. Let me know of other materials you know of that would be worth my while.

And on the contraception front, there's a sardonic view of the prophetic truth of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae in this month's First Things. I know speaking of contraception stirs up a whole mess, but this article is an interesting look back at a now-40-year-old document, and the consequences of our ignoring it. And it's shameful for those of us who are Catholics who have not been sturdy enough defenders of the faith in respect to our sexuality - not to stir the pot or anything.


Finally, I wanted to share this clip from the Daily Show from last night. The whole clip is quite funny, but what tickled me in particular was a piece near the middle of the clip where Stewart talks about Indymac's collapse and their offer of "water" to their customers, whose line rambles down the sidewalk. It's hilarious and serves as an important reminder to use punctuation properly, or at least more properly.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I Did Not Come Kicking and Screaming

Among other books, I have been reading Crossing the Tiber by Stephen Ray. His book relates his journey into the Catholic Church from Evangelicalism. But it's less than that and more. The book is divided into thirds. The first third is his conversion story. The remaining two-thirds give a somewhat overwhelming portrait of Baptism and the Eucharist and the unified witness of Sacred Scripture, the early Fathers, and current Church teaching concerning these two sacraments. Their testimony is astounding.

Of course, my heart is torn when I read such books because of where I am and where my family is. But let me be forthright and say that I don't believe that my family is in sin being Protestant. I do believe that they're wrong. And (regardless of how little I'll be believed) that is not to say that I do believe that I'm right, by the way. However, I do believe that the Catholic Church is right. My becoming Catholic is not the reward of my intellectual labor, not even my doing. It was not an intellectual discovery on my part, not an intellectual decision with which I rigorously struggled through in study. I did not chew my nails down to the quick wrestling with Catholicism. Some have. No, my becoming Catholic was very much accidental, like falling in love. I was longing for it. When I willingly walked into my first Catholic parish in 25 years and breathed in the smell of the place, I was home. I knew it. Deep calling to deep. My study of the Catholic Church was not to see whether she was apostate, but to see whether she was orthodox. I wasn't researching for a way to keep me from her, but researching to find a way into her. At that point, I already knew I wanted to be Catholic, I just needed to be certain that to be so would not be faithless to Christ. Little did I know that it was Christ who called me. Little did I understand that Christ and the Church are the whole Christ. There is no separating Christ from his Church. He is the Head and we are His Body.

The Catholic Church is populated with imperfect people, and such have populated her throughout history. But she is perfect in her faith. There is wholeness here. And so we pray during our liturgy, "Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church."

Section 760 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

Christians of the first centuries said, "The world was created for the sake of the Church." God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the "convocation" of men in Christ, and this "convocation" is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things, and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels' fall and man's sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world:

Just as God's will is creation and is called "the world," so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called "the Church."

Recently I was listening to Aimee Milburn speak about evangelization and Catholicism. She speaks of how we need to respect others' faith and others' place and journey with and toward God - as Pope John Paul II said, to respect others' "spiritual timing and tempo." I've not respected this "timing and tempo" in others at various times. I probably will fail to do so in the future. And I apologize for my failings, my overstepping of this sacred boundary. I am sorry that I have made others feel as if I do not respect their faith, that I have made you feel as if I do not respect yours. Because I do respect your faith. Deeply. I know that you know and love God, that you are known and loved by Him. And yet my heart aches wanting you to discover this country I have unwittingly stumbled upon. This beautiful place.

But I am learning to be patient. I am learning to be quiet.

I scribble proudly on notepads while others breathe life onto canvas and carve human bodies from marble. Forgive my simple scribblings. If I am proud of them, it is only because they are all that I am capable of.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

On Second Thought

Maybe we won't be going to the beach today. Will just lost his cookies again at 4:00 p.m. He doesn't have a fever - some kind of stomach bug, I guess. We'll be running him up to the pediatrician, whose office is a far sight better than any old sandy beach with salty breezes.

ZZZ

We're heading to the beach this afternoon. Somewhat fearfully, let me add. You see, last night Will began to throw up and vomited twice more this morning. As of 9:00 he's been vomit free. We fed him lunch and have been waiting to see if he's serious about this new endeavor of his. I've been feeling a little queasy stomached myself. So pray for us, if you would, for traveling mercies and no-vomit-in-the-truck mercies.

It'll probably be a short trip, but I hope to be able to spend at least a few mornings at the beach. Like a flapjack. I love the ocean. I'm hoping for beautiful days to soak in the glory of the ocean, and the glory of children.

Friday, Independence Day, is my 16th wedding anniversary. It's the Can-You-Bring-Me-Some-Toilet-Paper Anniversary, I think, or the Light-A-Match-While-You're-In-There Anniversary. I'm not sure which one it is now that I think about it. Anyway, Laura's a good woman, which is to say a good person, which is to say I'm a fortunate, fortunate man. (And how could I complain when she's the one who cleans up the vomit?) Thanks be to God for my wife, for our marriage. My life, I love you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Still Here

Still here. Being dragged to lake. Finishing chores left undone. Jumping dead batteries after overhead lights are left on for a week. Getting oil changed in truck. Napping. Will return shortly.

Monday, June 23, 2008

If You Can't Say Something Nice

As I was taking time to compose a post (bits and pieces over the past three days), I came across an excerpt from a book that always strikes a resonant chord: St. John Climacus's (+650) The Ladder of Perfection. Today's excerpt came from the Daily Gospel that I receive, well, daily in my inbox. It stopped my pencil. (Perhaps an old dog can learn a new trick or two.) And this refrain constantly comes to the forefront: Do not judge. Do not judge. Do not judge.

Here's the quote:

I have heard some people speak ill of their neighbour and have rebuked them. To defend themselves, these evildoers have answered: "We are saying these things out of charity and concern!" However, I have replied: "Stop practising a charity like that or you will be accusing of deceit the one who said: 'Whoever slanders his neighbour in secret, him will I destroy,' (Ps 101[100],5). If you love him – as you claim – pray for him in secret and don't make a mock of the man. This is the way of loving that pleases the Lord; don't lose sight of it and you will take the greatest care not to judge sinners. Judas was of the number of the apostles and the thief was among the criminals but, in an instant, what an astonishing change! ..."

So reply to anyone who speaks evil of his neighbor to you: "Stop, brother! I myself fall into the most serious faults every day; how could I now condemn this man?" Thus you will make a twofold gain: you will heal yourself and heal your neighbor. Not judging is a shortcut towards the forgiveness of sins, if this saying is true: "Do not judge and you will not be judged" ... Some people have committed grave faults in the sight of everyone but, in secret, have carried out the greatest acts of virtue. Thus their detractors have been mistaken by focussing only on the smoke without seeing the sun ...

Those who are hastily censorious and severe fall into this delusion because they don't keep the memory and constant care of their own sins before them ... Judging others is shamelessly to usurp a divine prerogative; condemning them is to bring down our own souls ... Just as a good grape-picker eats the grapes that are ripe and does not pick those that are green, so a watchful and sensible soul carefully takes note of all the virtues he sees in others; but it is the stupid man who keeps an eye on their faults and failings.

I am a stupid man. I hate judgmentalism in others because I see it so clearly in me. Lord, have mercy.

Pray for me, St. John Climacus, that I might love truly, forgive all, and judge none.

Friday, June 20, 2008

N.T. Wright Vs. Stephen Colbert, Kind Of

Not what I was hoping for last night, but a mildly amusing interview anyway. By the way, when I met the good bishop he had the same clothes on, and that was three years ago. I don't know what's up with that.

And if you're interested in more about the book: Here's Bishop Wright and Fr. Neuhaus of First Things going at it. Some good criticism by each of the men, I would imagine. Nevertheless, writing is an unforgiving mistress. A cautionary tale here for each of us. Certainly for me.

And here's Neuhaus's review of Surprised by Hope. (My linking is a little bass ackwards, my apologies.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer

Schooool's out. for. summeeerrr! Schooool's out. for. eveeerrr!

(Not hardly, but it is permissible that one may kid oneself on his first free afternoon.)

Starting Tuesday, Laura's first day out, Every Day Is Saturday™, again. Make a note of it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nonchalance in the Midst of Great Chalance

Sophie is testing all week, per our state's requirement for homeschooled kids. Now, in our neck of the woods, parents are allowed to administer the tests themselves. I appreciate this because it trusts me. The downside is that today while administering a math test, I was nearly driven into apoplexy as I watched my child marking, left and right, the wrong bubbles. I was staid, and remained so. Nonchalant. But how utterly maddening to know that she knows better and then to be forced to watch her record one incorrect answer after another. It was as if she were punishing me.

I quickly determined (with my razor-sharp intellect) that it would have been wise to use a practice test, in order to provide some strategies for taking such tests - like the ins and outs of using scratch paper. (Apparently there is a difference between telling something to a child and actually having her do it.)

Oh! how I need a vacation.

Friday, June 13, 2008

And This News Just Makes Me Sad

Tim Russert died today of an apparent heart attack. He was 58 years old.

Memory Eternal!