February 25, 2013

Random Thoughts

My wife set up a webcam and now we can check our pets Buddy and Deedle while we're away from home via an internet connection. Nice to see them wandering around during the day: Conclusion? Buddy sleeps a lot. I almost feel sorry for the piker. Wish I could get him a book to read or something. His intellectual life looks limited at best.

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Read of recent popes in the latest National Review. JPII and Benedict a change not only in nationality (i.e. not Italians) but also having pastoral experience and having never worked in the Vatican diplomatic corps. Scholars! A new breed of pope.

Interesting article by John Allen today on the coming papal conclave. He mentioned that some cardinals thought Benedict's resignation - especially if it becomes the new template - erodes some of the luster of the office. “May as well be the Archbishop of Canterbury!” is how one prelate put it. Interesting thought that hadn't occurred to me. There was something romantic about the papacy being a job that controls you - i.e. you serve till death - rather than you controlling it by fixing its cessation if not its beginning. Chesterton wrote that romantic things last forever and thus the papacy was of that kin. Am sort of fascinated how the uber-tough German Ratzinger wasn't willing to clean up Vatican mismanagement. No heads rolled. Wow, if even a German can't make heads roll who can? Not that the Vatican mismanagement matters to the average Catholic including me, at least up until the malfeasance reaches a criminal level, such as the awful pedophilia scandal of the church. But the whole Vatileaks thing seemed a sideshow compared to the greater issue of the need for a Catholic renaissance.

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A bit of suntastic earlier today, at least for Cloud-umbus. Took advantage of it by taking Buddy for a walk and letting my mind go to that surreal moment of snorkeling on Cozumel followed by those delicious shrimp tacos and quintet of Dos Equis. Rare you get such a combination of pleasures: beach, sun, beer, food. All at once. Glad I broke out of my rather rigid vacation “schedule” of not drinking before 3 and always skipping lunch. It was like we had a picnic on the beach under that umbrella. Gosh that was great. If short-lived.

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Having purchased the most basic Logos Catholic virtual library, I now feel how nice it is to have things like Pope Benedict's book on Jesus, entirely “free” of charge. It's sort of like how when you prepay for a week of meals at an all-inclusive resort, it feels really good to partake without pulling out the credit card. Totally illusory but still. It's the first time I've ever pre-bought a library of books and between the de Sales book and this papal book I do feel like there's a lot of riches contained within. I certainly am impressed by those folks who have purchased the more expensive sets. It's almost like they must be able to justify it almost as like it were a donation to a good cause, keeping those Logos workers employed spreading the good news, translating new volumes from Latin, providing a richness of resources for future scholars. Because really only scholars need this sort of thing it seems to me.

But I've always wanted to just drop a couple hundred dollars just once at a bookstore. Maybe even including a thick history book of stout stock, or a coffee table art book. The closest I've come was when given money for around my 13th birthday and Mom took me to a bookstore and I came home with four books. I spread them before me and took a picture. It's kind of surprising I've never just thrown caution to the wind and spent like crazy at a bookstore before. I don't have that overly wild streak of generosity, towards others or myself. I don't have that willingness to live high on the hog for the moment, to feast, to celebrate in a truly robust fashion. I'm too wary of the future I guess, or perhaps too cognizant of the cost of celebration. Too wary of Lent to enjoy Easter I guess. Must be the impact of the English on me, that English concern about money that imprinted itself on the Irish consciousness over the centuries. Certainly influenced my frugal Irish grandma, although likely it was the Great Depression that did the influencing there. It was kind of funny to have seen my 100% Irish Grandma acting like an English protestant when it comes to the purse.

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St. Polycarp feast is today. A martyr for whom the flames did not scorch. But the sword did twain. Which is an interesting thing - it seems like with a lot of the early martyrs it took multiple attempts to kill them. Which seems odd in a way, as if God was protecting them from one form of death only to have them succumb immediately to another. But I suppose it was a way of showing the miraculous (and that God cares) even when evil has its way. It was a way of God saying, “I was with them even though they died.” Would surely be inspirational to the flock to hear that flames did not hurt Polycarp.

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How I'd longed to be wombed within that “Temple of Peace” as Gladstone called his library, inside my idyllic house of books. House and Gardens? Call it House and Libraries and I may subscribe!

Reading Benedict's second book on Jesus. Learned about the history of the word hosanna. Fascinating! I've said the word a million times without delving into its rich past.

Sometimes it feels like the Christian life is, reduced to its core, storing up a different sort of treasure than we normally store up. That is, the storing up of love, of charitable acts. Which suggests that instead of going for the gratification of self in this life, we seek to delay our gratification, we seek to work for the next life.

Some of us seem to have the capacity to delay gratification and some don't. A study was done on nursery schoolers in which they could have a single marshmallow immediately or wait for an undetermined time (up to fifteen minutes) and receive two. Most children couldn't wait. The psychologist tracked the children for the next 40 years and found that those who waited lived "productive and in many cases outstanding lives." Those who immediately grabbed a marshmallow didn't do as well. It also made for a difference of a whopping 215 points on their respective S.A.T.s!

It sounds so deterministic to say, but sometimes it seems like there's such an inborn, genetic component to self-control. Of course Jesus say that to whom much is given, more is required implying that there's an intrinsic difference in what some are given as opposed to others. And the Spirit is what matters given the frailty of the flesh.

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Went on a C-Span Boston binge. I watched an hour special on the Old North church that was especially thorough. Despite having visited there twice, I learned new things or things I'd forgotten. Like the fact that it had originally been called “Christ Church” and the boxes weren't for privacy but to stay warm from drafts in an unheated church. I was shocked to learn that the church's plain white look was not the way it would've looked like originally, but was the early 20th century's historical vision of how churches in that time period looked. We thought they were all into simplicity and lack of decoration when they had angels painted and wallpaper and decorated those spare cubicles with furniture and art. Funny how our view of history constantly changes and how, despite that, we assign our current view as having some sort of definitive authority. They'll laugh at us a hundred years' hence.

That got me hungry for Boston history, so I searched the C-Span website and found an archived hour-long video concerning the Granary Burying Ground, the famous place where Paul Revere and John Hancock are buried, second oldest in Boston. I really wanted to find the graveyard next to the hotel we stayed at on the Freedom Trail but this sufficed, and the guide was very helpful in describing how gravestones changed (and quickly!) from the time of Puritan simplicity (just writing, no pictures) to late 17th century death heads with wings, to happy face heads with wings, to urns and willows (following Roman images) when an interest in all things classical emerged in the late 1700s. A very satisfying history lesson.

It's amazing what all's on C-Span. Imagine having your own private guide to places like Gettysburg, the Old North Church, the Capitol building, etc… including access to places where the general public isn't allowed? All from your own home. And yet we do not avail it!

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After church, Fr. Jeff apparently out with a cold and an African priest substituting who was difficult to understand, I returned to home and hearth.

And speaking of Africans, the NY Times (oh how I envy the Left for having such an impressive organ) had a piece about how the Catholic Church in Africa is exploding and how it's attributable to the Church being able to serve people when dysfunctional states can't. In one sense it's as though the Times is simply attributing success of a religion to the mere satisfying of material appetites, be they providing places of quiet and safety in Nigeria, or payment of a crushing debt for someone in Rwanda. And that's kind of insulting, an Obama-like “cling to their guns and their religion” thing attributed to fear or desperation or material deprivation. But on the other hand, isn't this cradle-to-grave takeover by the state uneasy to the devout in part for fear that people won't look to God? And didn't Jesus say that the rich will find the way to Heaven hard because they are already full?

Caught a bit of Bishop Campbell's homily this week and he quoted a pagan observer of Christians around A.D.150 who said Christians were different because they “stay true to their marital vows and don't kill their children.” Interesting to see how the same challenges confront today's Christians, given how high the rates of divorce and abortion are. It seems like human nature and societies don't change, only how Christian Christians are.

In Fr. Barron's Lenten meditations he writes, “Unless you fast, you may never even recognize how hungry you are for God.” Fr. B says not to treat fasting as self-punishment but “feel that hunger as a kind of sacrament of your divine hunger.”

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Still amazed by that statistic that that the eventual SAT score of nursery school was 215 points higher for those who, more than a decade before taking the test, could wait in order to receive the reward of a second marshmallow. Interesting too that the feeling of stress is related to this - people who can wait feel less stress. Though I suppose it's something of a catch-22 since if you can wait you are inherently better at dealing with “stress” where in this case stress is defined by simply waiting.

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Conjectures about the Holy Father are naturally rife these days; I always got the sense that he never really wanted the job given that he is a scholar and a pope must, first and foremost, be a shepherd of people and thus work with people far more than ideas. And yet the fact that he remained pontiff for almost eight years is nothing to sneeze at. Eight years is a pretty decent stretch so I can't see how anybody could think he shirked his duty. The benefits of his pontificate were surely front-loaded and skewed towards the beginning years anyway.

What I miss most is the prospect of future encyclicals and books. He's a writer so trenchant and prolific that despite having a “glut” of his writings I always feel like he's capable of say something fresh and new and addressed to exactly our (or my) condition. If John Paul II was a tough act to follow, so too is Benedict XVI given that he is arguably the smartest cookie in the church militant. We had the most charismatic and beloved of popes in John Paul II and the most intelligent in Benedict, both qualities being pretty nice to have. Who wants a good administrator or a good diplomat when you can have holy man with charisma or holy man with intellect? God has certainly been good to the Church lately given the run of popes of the last hundred or so years. Lots of saints or potential saints in the bunch: Pope St. Pius X, Blessed John XXIII. Pope Pius XII being considered, as is of course John Paul II. Even Paul VI is being considered: “The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted in favor of Pope Paul VI’s 'heroic virtue.' This clears the way for Paul’s beatification (though a miracle still must be approved). Paul’s beatification could occur during 2013.”

I guess his resignation teaches, again and as if I should have to be reminded, that we should never take anyone for granted. Somehow I pictured Benedict would write as many encyclicals as John Paul despite the advance age of the former. Having known only one pope my whole adult life in John Paul I think I assumed somehow that Benedict would be the pope for another large period of my life.

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