Monday, March 31, 2008

The Annunciation

Byzantine Liturgy
Akathist hymn to the Theotokos (7th century)

An archangel was sent from Heaven to say to the Mother of God: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to Her such things as these:

Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth:
Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease!
Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam:
Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve!
Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts:
Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels!
Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King:
Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all!
Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear:
Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed:
Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Seeing herself to be chaste, the holy one said boldly to Gabriel: The marvel of thy speech is difficult for my soul to accept. How canst thou speak of a birth from a seedless conception? And She cried: Alleluia!

Seeking to know knowledge that cannot be known, the Virgin cried to the ministering one: Tell me, how can a son be born from a chaste womb? Then he spake to Her in fear, only crying aloud thus:

Rejoice, initiate of God's ineffable will:
Rejoice, assurance of those who pray in silence!
Rejoice, beginning of Christ's miracles:
Rejoice, crown of His dogmas!
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down:
Rejoice, bridge that conveyest us from earth to Heaven!
Rejoice, wonder of angels sounded abroad:
Rejoice, wound of demons bewailed afar!
Rejoice, Thou Who ineffably gavest birth to the Light:
Rejoice, Thou Who didst reveal Thy secret to none!
Rejoice, Thou Who surpassest the knowledge of the wise:
Rejoice, Thou Who givest light to the minds of the faithful!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

The power of the Most High then overshadowed the Virgin for conception, and showed Her fruitful womb as a sweet meadow to all who wish to reap salvation, as they sing: Alleluia!

HT: Daily Gospel

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Perhaps the most profound lesson my parents ever taught me, especially my dad, was that personal failure is redeemed in genuine repentance: "Have mercy on me," "Forgive me," or "I'm sorry." The heart these words reflect reconcile God and Man, my life with yours. They are indispensable in my life as a father and a husband, as a son and a brother, as a friend and a neighbor.

And as we are in great need of mercy, so we must also be vehicles of great mercy: We must forgive others. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant should be the filter through which all we say and do passes, remembering always what great debt we have been forgiven. It is not incumbent upon us Christians to show anyone what justice looks like. Everyone knows justice; it is written in our bones. We are called to show our neighbor what mercy looks like. Mercy, that outweighs justice. Mercy, that creates just people. Mercy, that leads to repentance. Mercy, that re-creates the cosmos. And if we fail to show mercy to those around us - those who offend, those who curse, those who persecute, those who terrorize, those who ridicule, those who kill, those who slight - then what mercy will there be for us?

Friday, March 28, 2008


Two days ago, the little tow-headed, ringlety haired boy who lives across the street asked my five year old if she would be his girlfriend. His name is Max. After being asked, the yellow-haired child ran inside to confer with her mother: "What should I say?"

"Tell him, 'Not until I'm 16.' "

Which she did. Apparently he was quite amenable and said they'd just be friends until then.

Is this my future with three girls - the tendrils of which even now begin to wind their way so gingerly about my neck?

Boys - one more reason to homeschool. Neighborhood Boys - one more reason to own a Louisville Slugger and to chew Skoal: "You wanna what, boy?" Ptoo. Of course, where I live, spectacles, a pipe, and a thick Victorian novel might better do the trick.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


It's spring here in North Carolina: My oldest daughter went to her first Reconciliation, receiving forgiveness for her dark and sordid eight years. My wife went to hers the same day.

Then, on Easter Vigil, Laura was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. I was confirmed. Our parish was crowded, the liturgy bi-lingual. It was noisy. And the Easter Vigil liturgy is not a short one, with reading after reading. But the children survived and now, thanks be to God, my wife also smells of balsam. She smells like the Holy Spirit.

The change in her is interesting to me - and it makes me happier than you can know. It surprised me. But the grace given to us through the sacraments shouted to her, I suspect. It moved her profoundly. She felt as if she were being married. As if she were being born again, again.

And I understand the feeling, the beauty and joy of it: The strangeness; being staggered into newness so unexpectedly; being elementally embraced by water and Spirit, and with oil and candlelight. And how, so immediately, your mind and heart turns toward family and friends, wishing they could, at the very least, participate in your reception. (In deep sadness, knowing that some would not.) Fervidly hoping that they might participate in their own - not because they are without Christ or anything necessary to their joy or salvation, because that is nonsense. But because they are not in full communion with the Church and miss the grace (the life, the nearness of God) that God gives so gratuitously within her sacramental life.

But it is difficult to describe, perhaps impossible, without offending those who are still where you were. And I will stop so that I am not guilty again of being overzealous. Perhaps I am already too late. (I do such a poor job - wanting to share my joy, but in the end only injuring those dear to me.) My heart is full. My wife's heart is full. And we are happy. Indeed.

May the Lord bless each of you. May his grace (his life, his nearness) pour out upon you. May you ever be more united to his love, which never fails, which has never been dependent upon you - that rushes forward without interruption, a mighty river from the side of Christ.

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Diane Rehm Show

I heard something funny on The Diane Rehm Show today. Diane and her guest, Jeffrey Sachs (author of the book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet), were discussing ways in which we can deal with issues that currently trouble and will be troubling our planet in the future. Overpopulation was of course a topic. One lady called in and said something hilarious (to me) about the poor quality of life of so many old people (nursing homes, etc.) - saying that their quality of life was pathetic at best and that they were a drain on the system. She said, "I'm not saying we should kill them. I just wonder why we keep them alive." He he he. Why, indeed? Sachs, by the way, did not think old people were a big enough drain on the system to even consider the possibility - that it was certainly not a choice between our old and our young and that there were a legion of larger problems (like our military spending) that rather needed to be addressed.

It was an interesting interview over all, as usual, though I disagree with Mr Sachs's view on large families, as, perhaps, you might imagine. A one-would-assume-Mormon caller from Utah said he grew up in a family of nine and was concerned about Mr Sachs's views. Sachs replied, "Well, what if every family in the world had nine children? The world could not support that kind of population growth."

Of course, I think the point that Sachs may be missing is that every family doesn't have that many children. Nor do they want to. Most run screaming from the very idea. So perhaps we should not be talking about a "cap" on how many children couples are allowed to have until we see the whole world crazy for kids as if they were Cabbage Patch. (Or until shari'a law is imposed upon us, which might include more pressing problems.) I would also point out to Mr Sachs, if he were listening, that America is one of the few prosperous nations who are even replacing their current populations - and that only barely. Many countries are desperate for their people to have children.

Other than that disagreement (which may be a large disagreement, given the title of his book), it seems as if it might be an interesting read. I would especially like to hear more of his views on widespread water shortages in the future, which I've heard talk of before, and the Church's role: he continued to bring forward that she had one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I Must Be Naive

What is it that people hate so much about Barack Obama? I understand people's unwillingness to vote for him because of his support of pro-choice legislation. I get that and may yet find myself voting against him for that exact reason. But it seems to me that no matter what he does, no matter how good, he is derided for it.

I watched his speech yesterday in response to the questions about his 20-year association with Rev Wright. I thought he handled the situation beautifully; humanly, rather than politically. I thought he handled it Christianly. Politically handled, he would have cut ties with the man - it would have been the wise move politically. But instead he gave a speech seemingly on the human heart (as much as a politician can), using this opportunity to reveal the quiet hatred in each of us, and asking each of us to take another step forward in becoming one people, calling us to love one another more. It was an incredible speech. (Granted, there was still standard Obama campaign rhetoric embedded here and there.) And yet some of my conservative friends, while somewhat grudgingly admitting the speech was OK, think that it's further cover for the evil he plans secretly in his heart. Now, maybe it is. Maybe Senator Obama hates America and all that it stands for. But do we have any evidence to support this belief, or are we slandering and misrepresenting him for some other reason? Do we simply fear him because of his quiet ability to inspire? I don't get it. Someone help me understand.

Maybe part of what draws me to Obama is that so many people seem to revile him for no particular reason. That ain't right.

Holy Week

Laura and Anna's spring break begins on Good Friday (well, Anna's does) and then we'll probably be digging in to rest - just enjoying our break rather than doing any extensive traveling. Maybe some gardening, some yard work, some light schooling.

Laura is being received into the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil; I will be confirmed. Laura and Sophie both had their first Reconciliation this past Saturday. We have practices to attend on top of the already busy, but blessed, Holy Triduum liturgies.

For the most part, I'm taking this week off from school so the kids can begin to view the liturgical calendar as the structure of their lives rather than something added on to it, or worked around it. Most families cannot do so because of their work and school commitments; therefore, my children's ability to more fully participate in the life of the Church during this time is a special blessing and privilege for them, even though they don't understand it at this age.

It would be nice to have family and friends around us during this time, but I know that's not the reality right now. It's a joyful time for us, certainly. But we are all so very tired also.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hey! Hey! Hey!

Generally speaking, I like dogs. But I don't like my neighbors' dogs. In fact, sometimes I wish I had a BB gun in order to gently convey to these dogs my feelings about their feelings about my being in my yard. After all, I can't go in my own yard without them hollering at me: Hey! Hey! Hey! Or when I walk in the morning, before most people are awake, the dogs are hollering at me: Hey! Hey! Hey! Whatchadoin'! Hey!

- Hey! yourself, you dirty curs!

I shake my fists.

There are days, when educating my children at home (without a teaching certificate) is rough. It is always an exercise in interruption, patience, and trust. And when I think my child has reached a milestone, the next day she has forgotten it all. It makes me want to rip out my hair in great handfuls, to bang my head against the table. Are they really learning? Does any of it make a difference? I know the answers, of course. But not convincingly. The nice thing about moments of self-doubt is that it allows me to examine what I am doing in order to do the best I possibly can, it allows me to practice letting go of this myth of perfection.

Of course, being a stay-at-home dad is itself an interesting proposition. It's lonely and humbling. But there are brilliant moments, like getting Jack Henry out of the crib and seeing the toothy grin on his face, his joy at seeing my face. Like hearing them laugh. Like listening to their dreams rattled off in half-words and lisps and with stark, real joy. It strikes me sometimes that I am glimpsing the face of God in their unsullied joy and love; and that I am allowed to live.

People tend to vocalize their admiration for what I do, but I think it amounts to nothing more than, "You poor, poor man." And while I love being at home full-time, it is an endless source of struggle for every atom of me. It is learning to live with doubt and failure. It is learning to be small. I always hated that Scripture "Live a quiet life." It whispers against my fantasies, my selfishness, my Mittyishness. And now I've come to realize that it is my salvation: littleness, quietness.

You either die for love, or you just die. It's really quite that simple.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A late addition to my favorites list:

Best Book of 2007: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, or at least the best I've read. I finished it last night with little ado, other than filling up my trash can with tissues. I also yelled at my wife to leave the room when she came in to see where I was in the book, because I don't like others seeing me cry; or staring at me and asking that terrible question: "Are you crying?" - Yes! Yes! I'm crying. Now leave me alone, woman! - And I was blubbering like a baby. This morning my eyes feel odd and heavy from the tears; it's uncomfortable. Anyway, enough of my womanish ways.

This book is profound and beautiful, recounting the lives of two women. For me, it was also deeply theological in ways that I would be cautious to express at this moment other than to say that God is all good and the Lover of mankind.

And while it is, of course, fictional, it is true - as all good fiction is. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dog Bites, Bee Stings, Feeling Sad

Here are a few of my favorite things, that any one of you can enjoy (except the one about my wife). This list was birthed out of my love for Wheat Thins - so it stretches thin on the back end.

  • Best Snacking Chip: Wheat Thins Toasted Chips, Veggie - bright yellow bag. These crackers are delicious. They're hands-down the best on the market. So say I. The other wonderful thing about them is that they have the appearance of health with such descriptors as, "60% less fat," "toasted," and "Veggie." Their healthfulness is, some would say, the Obama of the cracker/chip world.

  • Best TV Show: Lost. Of course, miss an episode and you'll be lost too. But I would suggest, after having missed three or four episodes now, to wait until November or December, queue the DVDs on Netflix, and watch Lost until your eyes shrivel up in their sockets. Sweet.

  • Best Writer of All Time: Shakespeare. His plays simply don't get old. I mean, they get older every year, but one doesn't tire of them. They're timeless, is what I mean. I laugh at all who disagree: Ha ha ha.

  • Best Movie of 2007: I'll have to let you know in 2009.

  • Best Album of 2007: Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. This album is sick (for you younguns who can read). And was a fine (er hum) sophomore release by Arcade Fire. Needless to say, opinions are like assholes - as my father is wont to say; everyone has one. And so say I. And science will back me on this one.

  • Best Date of 2007: "Uh, did we get a date this year, Sugar Bougar?" Of course, every day being married to this woman is like a date. Tonight is Date 5,726. I probably ought to change out of my pajamas.

  • Best Pope of 2007: Benedict XVI. Benedict rules!

  • Best Presidential Candidate: Someone not running, let me assure you. I've said enough on the bid for the White House on this blog. I'll not write about it again tonight.


I'm on Facebook, by the way, and would love to have more friends (or seem to have more). I'm not sure I understand the buzz about the site even though I've been there for a while, but it is certainly another avenue to connect with people. That's always nice.

The reason I am posting this is (other than trying to fill up my box of friends) is twofold: I just had someone whose blog I read join up and we are now officially friends (phew!); (b) I was thinking about the "Bookshelf" application over there - to share what you're reading and have read and discuss such things, and it struck me that while they have categories like "Currently Reading," "Want to Read," and "Already Read" to describe your books; they have no "Never Finished" category, and then maybe with a subcategory to list the reason why (such as, "It sucked," "My brain is too small," or "It was assigned for a class"). I'd like that category to be added, though it might quickly get out of hand, as I've never finished hundreds and hundreds of books, for some of those very reasons.

Some of you may already be part of Facebook, and I've just been unable to find you. Perhaps we could start a book club about the books we've never finished.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Proposition for the Democratic Party

To Howard Dean and the DNC:

There's only one way to avoid this continued foolishness between Barack and Hillary: Have them wrestle for the nomination. No, I don't relish the idea either. It certainly wouldn't be pretty. But imagine the gains: Millions of dollars saved, the party preserved from petty bickering, matching McCain step for step in the general election, and the winner and the loser able to walk on or walk away with honor. And while I'll miss the hopefulness of Senator Obama, it was silly to think that one man could inspire a nation to want to be better.

A Concerned Republican

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Confession of a Blithering Idiot

Tonight we had Parish Reconciliation: A time for readings and prayers followed by the Sacrament of Reconciliation (it is also called Confession or Penance). Two extra priests were available to hear confessions. It was a nice evening, honestly. And I am always in need of the grace I receive in this Holy Mystery.

Unfortunately, desperately needing something, does not make one good at that thing. I do my best to prepare for confession by praying and examining my conscience, but the moment I get face to face with the priest, or sit behind the screen, I go all jelly-brained. Does this happen to anyone else? I don't know whether I ought to make a list and check it off as I go, tackling the thing systematically, or whether I should wrap up my depravity in narrative. But somewhere between standing and sitting (or kneeling), I lose something near 80 IQ points (and that's most of them). Perhaps it's the lack of feedback: I expect a dialogue and the priest lets me monologue. So I go all slack in the brain, become self-conscious, forget my plans and drool out some sort of sordidness. Some things get more weight than they ought. Some get less. It is all, quite frankly, a mess.

Now, I don't like the ledger approach with the counting of the number of sins and the cataloging of kinds: "I lusted after strange women 428 times; I ate immoderately, well, every time; I pretended I was sleeping whenever the baby woke; I watch American Idol, and I enjoy it; etc." It's not me, and I'd have to keep a notebook in between confessions. A thick notebook.

What I need to do is simply go and say, "Look, here are the law and the prophets. Here's the Decalogue. Here's Christ's law of love. I've done a bang-up job of screwing it all up. I've failed at every point. For these and all my sins, I am heartily (not 'hardly') sorry." That level of generality, of course, doesn't pass muster.

I leave thankful that the priest doesn't pile on penance upon penance because he was forced to sit through the ordeal.

Still and all, through the stumbling and hawing, there is grace. God is near.

Thanks be to God for his great mercy and love: They hurtle out before me and behind me, to my right and to my left, beyond comprehension or measure. Thanks be to God; he is good. His love endures forever.