April 27, 2017

Discarded Communion Host Leads to Conversion

Interesting reversion story from a guest poster at Catholic Bibles blog:
"I went to a good college and let my faith slip away due to the self consciousness of being semi-religious at an Ivy League school during the Bush years, when Christianity was mainly seen as the philosophical arm of the Republican party by many in New England.

-From there it was a fairly quick descent in drugs. I got that out of my system and got pretty heavily involved in left wing activism for a while.

-I was absolutely lost and depressed for much of the time between age 18 and 22, but after college I began to find my place in the world in some bohemian circles. I noticed, say, trees for the first time in my life and was intoxicated by the beauty of the world. I started thinking about Jesus a lot, but mainly in a "I wish it was all true..." sort of way. I had "natural happiness", but nothing supernatural.

-While dating an art student, I awoke in her apartment, quite hung over, and grabbed a strawberry. I bit it in half and was amazed to look inside and see the pith within the empty space of this overgrown hothouse berry. It came to me in a flash, as easy as if you look at a clock and know what time it is without knowingly processing the symbols: God exists.

-I excitedly told my girlfriend, who was quite horrified and dumped me. She wept in the entryway of her building as she walked me out. "There is no heaven," she kept repeating.

-I carried with me the knowledge of God's existence, but didn't know what to do about it. I certainly didn't identify with any specific religion or spirituality.

-In the summer of 2012 I stopped at a Stop n Shop in Johnston, Rhode Island to grab a meager dinner before I went to shoot pool with some friends at a dive bar. I looked down at some point and there on the ground was a very dirty communion host. I knew that it didn't belong there, and after thinking about it for a while, I picked it up and put it in my pocket. The entire rest of the night I felt charged--as if I'd been plugged into a battery or something.

-The knowledge of what this was dawned on me over the course of months and years, not all at once. I gave the host to my parents (who had returned to the Church with new enthusiasm a year or two before) who asked advice from their pastor on what to do with it. The suggestion, considering it was of unknown origin, was to dissolve it in water and feed a beloved plant with it. My mother poured it onto the soil around a sunflower.

-I knew my life was transformed. I knew the Church was who she claimed to be. I already knew God, but now I knew that he loved me and pursued me. Still, that knowledge of its importance, compared to the sinfulness of my life gave me pause and indecision.

-I returned to the Church Ash Wednesday 2013."

April 26, 2017

Q&A with Pope Benedict

Interesting excerpts from the Pope Benedict "Last Testament" interview book: 

Q: Do you experience the ‘dark nights’ of which the saints speak?
A: Not as intensely. Maybe because I am not holy enough to get so deep into the darkness. But when things just happen in the sphere of human events, where one says: ‘How can the loving God permit that?’, the questions are certainly very big questions. Then one must maintain firmly, in faith, that He knows better.

More and more it is a gift; you suddenly see something which was not perceptible before. You realize that you must be humble, you must wait when you can’t enter into a passage of the Scriptures, until the Lord opens it up for you.

Q: What are your thoughts about your resignation?
A: One objection is that the papacy has been secularized by the resignation; that it is no longer a unique office but an office like any other. I had to accept that question, and consider whether or not functionalism would completely encroach on the papacy, so to speak. But similar steps had already been made with the episcopacy. Earlier, bishops were not allowed to resign. There were a number of bishops who said ‘I am a father and that I’ll stay’, because you can’t simply stop being a father; stopping is a functionalization and secularization, something from the sort of concept of public office that shouldn’t apply to a bishop. To that I must reply: even a father’s role stops. Of course a father does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility. He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such. It was also this way for bishops. Anyway, since then it has generally come to be understood that on the one hand the bishop is bearer of a sacramental mission which remains binding on him inwardly, but on the other hand this does not have to keep him in his function for ever. And so I think it is also clear that the Pope is no superman and his mere existence is not sufficient to conduct his role; rather, he likewise exercises a function. If he steps down, he remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on, but not in the function. In this respect one comes to understand that the office of the Pope has lost none of its greatness, even if the humanity of the office is perhaps becoming more clearly evident.

Q: Pope Francis?
A:  From ad limina visits and correspondence. I grew to know him as a very decisive man, someone who in Argentina would say very firmly, this is happening and this is not. I had not experienced this aspect of warmth, the wholly personal connection to the people; that was a surprise to me…

One person might be somewhat reserved, the other a little more forceful than one imagined. But I do think it is good that he approaches people so directly. Of course, I ask myself how long he will be able to maintain that. It takes a great deal of strength, two hundred or more handshakes and interactions every Wednesday, and so forth. But, let us leave that to the loving God.


Q: How did you deal with rejection while a young adult in the ministry?
A: I believe that it is dangerous for a young person simply to go from achieving goal after goal, generally being praised along the way. So it is good for a young person to experience his limit, occasionally to be dealt with critically, to suffer his way through a period of negativity, to recognize his own limits himself, not simply to win victory after victory. A human being needs to endure something in order to learn to assess himself correctly, and not least to learn to think with others.


Q: Were you still able to get any sleep [during your papacy]?
A: Yes, yes, that is non-negotiable for me. [Laughs] I’ll never let that be infringed upon.  Seven or eight hours.


Q:  Is the new internal split, then beginning within the Church, and basically enduring to this day, to be considered as part of the tragic nature of the Council?
A: I would say so, yes. The bishops wanted to renew the faith, to deepen it. However, other forces were working with increasing strength, particularly journalists, who interpreted many things in a completely new way. Eventually people asked, yes, if the bishops are able to change everything, why can’t we all do that? The liturgy began to crumble, and slip into personal preferences. In this respect one could soon see that what was originally desired was being driven in a different direction. Since 1965 I have felt it to be a mission to make clear what we genuinely wanted and what we did not want.

Q: Did you have pangs of conscience, as a participant, one who shares responsibility?
A: One certainly asks oneself whether or not one did things rightly. Particularly when the whole thing unravelled, that was definitely a question one posed. Cardinal Frings later had intense pangs of conscience. But he always had an awareness that what we actually said and put forward was right, and also had to happen. We handled things correctly, even if we certainly did not correctly assess the political consequences and the actual repercussions. One thought too much of theological matters then, and did not reflect on how these things would come across.

Q: Was it a mistake to convoke the Council at all?
A: No, it was right for sure. One can ask whether it was necessary or not, OK. And from the outset there were people who were against it. But in itself it was a moment in the Church when you were simply waiting on something new, on a renewal, a renewal of the whole. This was not to be something coming only from Rome, but a new encounter with the worldwide Church. In that respect the time was simply nigh.


Q: You once said that you got to know this great man [Pope John Paul II] better by concelebrating the Holy Mass with him than by analysing his books. Why was that?

A: Yes, well, if you concelebrated with him, you felt the inward proximity to the Lord, the depth of faith which he would then plunge into, and you really experienced him as a man who believes, who prays, and who is indeed marked by the Spirit. This was more the case than if you read his books, although they also gave an image of him, but they certainly didn’t let the whole of his personality energe.

He was a man who needed companionship, needed life, activity, needed encounters. I, however, needed silence more, and so on. But precisely because we were very different, we complemented each other well.


Q: Describe your vision impairment.   
A: The day came, in 1984 I think, when I had a kind of embolism too, which spread to the whole eye. I was in Maria Eck hospital and went to the optician the very next day. It was already too late then, so my vision was very severely impaired. That was being treated for a long time, until finally – a third thing – macula [Macula lutea – also called ‘yellow spot’, a disease of the retina], so now I’m simply blind in the left eye.

Q: Completely?
A: Yes. I don’t even see light and dark.


Q: In the Vatican you never belonged to any cliques. You have an aversion to cronyism. Has your keeping a distance from the apparatus of power not earned you lots of enemies?
A: I don’t think so, actually. I’ve even had friends. Everyone knew that I don’t do any politicking, and that inhibits hostility. People know: he’s not dangerous.

Q: When Joseph Ratzinger emerged before the faithful on 19 April 2005 on the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica as St Peter’s 265th successor, he looked almost like a teenager. After the long suffering of his predecessor, people weren’t accustomed to seeing a Pope not sitting in a wheelchair, who was able to recite texts fluently and to the end. The Popes passing the baton could not have been more different. One was mystical and Marian, the other learned and Christocentric. Here the actor, the man of gesture who wooed the stage. There, the shy ‘worker in the vineyard of the Lord’, the man of the Word, who wanted to renounce the prizing of mere effects over substance. This was already the third conclave you’d witnessed. Was it different to the others?

A: Well, with the first two I was still among the young and little-known cardinals, a novice shooter, so to speak, and in that sense I was in a quiet position. Here I had the responsibility of dean of the College of Cardinals. That means you have to conduct the Pope’s funeral, you have to manage the preparations and then even have a responsibility in the conclave itself. At the end, it is the dean who asks the one selected whether or not he accepts. Through a good twenty years in Rome I was no longer an unknown quantity, my position this time was different from before. And finally, I was now seventy-eight years old, which was of course reassuring. If the bishops stop at seventy-five, you cannot hoist a seventy-eight-year-old onto the chair of Peter.

Q: Why did you not name yourself John Paul III?
A: I felt that would be inappropriate, because a standard had been set there which I couldn’t match. I could not be a John Paul III. I was a different character, cut from a different cloth; I had a different sort of charisma, or rather a non-charisma. Suddenly: Christ’s vicar on earth. What inner change was going on there? Yes, there was the thought: no, I need still more help from him. One knows: I really am not that. But if he lays the yoke on my shoulders, he must also help me bear it.

Q: You spoke of the cardinals’ ballot as the falling of a ‘guillotine’. Did you regret that later?
A: No, the feeling was just like that, a guillotine.

Q: Do you feel you were too much of a professor as bishop?
A: One only realizes afterwards that a professor is accused of approaching the contexts of life too theoretically, which is a danger when it comes to action. But he is gradually schooled in dealing with practical matters by the people around him, and this enables him to become something different; less theoretical and more capable of grasping practical tasks.


Q: Will it take centuries to Christianize the continent of Europe again?  Were you deluding yourself to have preached there so much?

Q: It is not permissible simply to give up proclaiming the gospel. Indeed, it seemed completely absurd in ancient times that a couple of Jews went out and sought to win the great, learned and knowledgeable Graeco-Roman world for Christianity. There will always be great failures too. We do not know how Europe will develop, or the degree to which it will still be Europe if different strata of the population newly structure it. But to proclaim this Word, which bears power in itself, to build the future which makes the lives of human beings meaningful, that is independent of any calculation of success, and absolutely necessary. The Apostles could not make sociological investigations, that happens or it doesn’t, but they had to trust in the inner power of this Word. At first, very few, lowly, people joined. But then the circle grew. Of course the Word of Gospel can disappear from continents. Indeed we can see now that the Christian continents of the beginning, Asia Minor and North Africa, are no longer Christian. It can even disappear in places where it was dominant. But it can never remain unsaid; will never be unimportant.

Q: Were you too focused on debates on the “historical Jesus”?

A: If we no longer know Jesus, the Church is finished. And the danger that we will just destroy him and talk him to death with certain types of exegesis is overwhelming. Therefore I had to get a bit stuck in to the battles over the details. It is not sufficient just to interpret the texts spiritually with dogma. One must enter into the disputes, and do so indeed without losing oneself in the exegetical details, but go far enough to recognize that the historical method does not prohibit faith.
The question ‘is it really proven?’ comes to one again and again. But then I’ve had so many concrete experiences of faith, experiences of the presence of God, that I am ready for these moments and they cannot crush me.


Q: How was it with Obama?
A: A great politician of course, who knows what it takes to be successful, and has certain ideas that we cannot share, but he was not only a tactician to me, but certainly a reflective man too. I felt that he sought the meeting between us, and that he listened.  What was generally impressive about these encounters was discerning that – although these people indeed think very differently to us on many issues – they certainly try to see what is right.

Q: How was the meeting with Putin?
A: Very interesting. We spoke with each other in German; he speaks perfect German. We didn’t go very deep, but I certainly believe that he is – a man of power of course – somehow affected by the necessity of faith. He is a realist. He sees how Russia suffers from the destruction of morality. Even as a patriot, as someone who wants Russia to have great power again, he sees that the destruction of Christianity threatens to destroy Russia. A human being needs God, he sees that quite evidently, and he is certainly affected by it inwardly as well. He has now even, as he gave the Papa [Pope Francis] an icon, made the sign of the cross and kissed it.

Q: Describe your papal visit to Berlin.
A: Berlin is somehow different to the Catholic tradition, and the city is an expression of the Protestant world. Catholicism is indeed there, and it is lived too, but it is somehow marginal.  So it’s clear that one could not expect that Berlin would be like Madrid, or even like London or Edinburgh. There are other cities which are not at all Catholic, but the people are somehow different there . . .

Q: How did you find the meeting with Fidel Castro?
A:  It was touching, somehow. He is of course old and unwell, but certainly very with it and he has vitality. I don’t think he has, on the whole, yet come out of the thought-structures by which he became powerful. But he sees that through the convulsions in world history, the religious question is being posed afresh. He even asked me to send him some literature. Did you do it? I sent him Introduction to Christianity, and one or two other things too. He is not a person with whom one must expect a major conversion, but a man who sees that things have gone differently, that he has to think and ask questions about the whole again.

Q:  Pope Benedict, in the 1950s you predicted an enormous loss of faith across much of Europe. That won you a reputation as a pessimist. Today one sees how your vision of the ‘small Church’ which would lose many of her privileges, which would be opposed, and around which fewer and fewer believers in the strict sense would gather, has come true.
A: Certainly, yes. I would say the dechristianization continues.

Q: How do you see the future of Christianity today?
A: That we’re no longer coextensive with modern culture, the basic shape of Christianity is no longer determined, that is obvious. Today we live in a positivistic and agnostic culture, which shows itself more and more intolerant towards Christianity. In that sense, Western society, or Europe in any case, will no longer simply be a Christian society. Believers will have to strive all the more to continue to form and to bear the awareness of values and the awareness of life. A resolute faith among individual congregations and local churches will be important. The responsibility is greater.

Above all, we see how the dechristianization of Europe progresses, that in Europe things pertaining to Christianity are increasingly disappearing from the character of public life. So the Church must find a new kind of presence, must change her way of being present. There are seismic periodic changes in process. But we do not yet know at which precise point we can say that one era begins and another starts.

Q: You know the prophecy of Malachy, who in the Middle Ages predicted a list of future popes even to the end of time, at least the end of the Church. According to this list, the papacy ends after your pontificate. Is that an issue for you, whether it can actually be that at least you are the last of a series of popes, as we have known the office so far?
A:  Anything can be. This prophecy probably arose in circles around Philip Neri. And he simply wanted to say – in contrast to the Protestants, who were then saying the papacy is at an end – through an endlessly long series of popes yet to come: ‘No, it is not at an end.’ But you don’t have to conclude that it really ceases then. His series was never going to be long enough.

Q: But are there not also lonely hours, in which one can feel terribly alone inside?
A: Certainly, but because I feel so connected to the Lord, I’m therefore never entirely alone.
Q: He who believes is never alone?
A: Yes, genuinely. One simply knows, I’m not the one doing things. I also could not do it alone, He is constantly there.

Q: Were you happy then, being Pope?
A: [Laughs] Well, I would say so; I knew that I am carried, so I am grateful for many beautiful experiences. But it was always a burden too, of course.

Q: Your bishop motto comes to mind: ‘Co-worker of the truth’. How did you actually come to that?
A: Like this: I had for a long time excluded the question of truth, because it seemed to be too great. The claim: ‘We have the truth!’ is something which no one had the courage to say, so even in theology we had largely eliminated the concept of truth. In these years of struggle, the 1970s, it became clear to me: if we omit the truth, what do we do anything for? So truth must be involved. Indeed, we cannot say ‘I have the truth’, but the truth has us, it touches us. And we try to let ourselves be guided by this touch. Then this phrase from John 3 crossed my mind, that we are ‘co-workers of the truth’. One can work with the truth, because the truth is person. One can let truth in, try to provide the truth with value. That seemed to me finally to be the very definition of the profession of a theologian; that he, when he has been touched by this truth, when truth has caught sight of him, is now ready to let it take him into service, to work on it and for it.

To be loved and to love another are things I have increasingly recognized as fundamental, so that one can live; so that one can say yes to oneself, so that one can say yes to another. Finally, it has become increasingly clear to me that God is not, let’s say, a ruling power, a distant force; rather he is love and he loves me – and as such, life should be guided by him, by this power called love.

April 24, 2017

Favorite Gospel Writer

Be cool if there was a book or article on the favorite gospel writer of various saints and historical personages.  A google search revealed the following: 


On a Catholic web forum:

Many of us have a favorite Gospel writer—wouldn’t it be interesting if that Gospel is the one that relates most closely to our own temperament? In fact, many Christian writers have speculated about the temperaments of the Gospel writers, as each seem to reflect a unique–and slightly different–perspective. To the extent that each of the Gospels offers a slightly different perspective on the Paschal mystery, it may be possible to characterize each one’s “temperament.”

Matthew demonstrates definitively that Christ is the Messiah, the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and emphasizes the Kingdom of God. St. Luke highlights Jesus’ relationship with the Father, especially through prayer, as well as the poor, women (especially Blessed Mother), the lowly and the suppressed. Mark is the least “scholarly” and tells a straightforward fast-paced story; he shows Christ’s urgency and his conquering action. John is the most mystical, poetic, and theoretical of all the four. To hazard a guess, we would propose that St. Matthew is choleric, St. Luke the relationship-oriented sanguine, St. Mark the straight story, simple and unadorned (phlegmatic), and St. John (the truth will set you free; the only Gospel where Christ carries the cross alone, the most poetic and mystical of all four gospels) –idealistic, melancholic.


Father James McIlhone, priest-scholar, professor at Mundelein Seminary for 23 years, author, recipient of academic honors, and the director of biblical formation for the archdiocese:

 “I think it’s a toss up between Mark and John. Mark gets a bum rap. I try to show people he’s not this little school kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about and had to be corrected by Matthew and Luke, but rather a prominent theologian in his own right.  And of course, John is just spectacular. The depths and wonder of what he says. The line we say over and over again, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” When you read that in Greek, “The Word became flesh” -- in a definite moment of time God became one of us. ‘Dwelt among us’ isn’t a good translation. ‘Pitched his tent among us’ is the meaning of the Greek. And of course the tent is the dwelling place of God.  The tent ultimately becomes the temple of God, and then the next line is, ‘We have seen his glory,’ and the glory is the presence of God. So Jesus in becoming one of us, becomes for us what the temple was for Judaism, and then that just develops throughout John’s Gospel.”


Ordinary Christian commenters:
My favorite is Mark. He writes and shows us “Jesus as an Action Hero.” When I finish mark I always sit back and think, “Wow, Jesus was amazing.”


I’ll take Luke. Hasn’t always been, but right now … Luke. The prominence of women, the poor, and the forgotten make me want to learn from the parts of Jesus’ teachings I ignored for most of my life.


John has a sense of the mystical and talks a lot about love. With John, I get the feel that he writes with a sense that this is only the tip of the iceberg.


I’m with Fajita— John’s my man. I like the thought of him being the “best friend”. I know if someone was going to write my story, I’d want it to be my best friend.


I’ll put my vote in for John too! I fell in love with this Gospel in Ross Cochran’s class at Harding and it has been at the top of my list since then!


I have to go with Luke on this one. Jesus gets his hands really dirty in Luke’s gospel. At times I am a Matthew guy, but I love Luke’s storytelling.


I’m a big fan of John. I like knowing it was written by Jesus’ best friend. I really love hearing Jesus share his insights into why he came and what his mission was all about.


I like Matthew’s geneology of Jesus showing God uses both men and women who have made mistakes to bring about a perfect messiah.


I’ve been hanging out in Matthew for so long these days, and love his rich Jewish slant. So, for now he’s my favorite. I sat at the feet of a good friend years ago as she taught through Mark, and at the time that was my favorite.


John… or Luke… I could go with either, but I think I’ll stay with John because of all the poignant teaching from Jesus during the last supper.


The Book of Mark is underlined & scribbled with more notes in my Bible than the other Gospels, with Matthew marked up as a close second. I’m not sure that means I like Mark the best, but maybe his telling of “The Story” speaks to me more plainly.


Luke, hands down.


John.  He brings me to my knees in worship of the King like few others


I would pick John. I love the fact that John is more theological than historical.


Gospel of Luke. For two reasons.
Reason #1: The parable of the Good Samaritan
The single best articulation of the Christian ethic.
Reason #2: The parable of the Prodigal Son
The single best articulation of the Heart of God.
Within those two stories is the whole of the Christian story.

I am addicted to Matthew right now because it lays out most clearly to me what a disciple of Jesus would do. It is a story that you appreciate much more clearly if you understand the back story and the things going on in the first century. I love the time dedicated to the question, “If Jesus is the Messiah, why are things going so bad right now?”

I like how Matthew grounds me and Luke provokes me.  Matthew drives me back to the OT to find the Kingdom of Heaven there. In that way, for me, it serves as a recommendation of the radical behavior of Jesus in Luke. It’s as if Matthew says “Jesus is a totally legit prophet, because he preaches the word of God as faithfully as anyone before.” Then Luke comes along and says “‘Totally legit’ will blow your mind.”

I don’t know if I have a “favorite”, because I appreciate them all so very much……..BUT, if I was pushed to the wall at gun point, I think I would have to go with John. It’s an adventure every time I read it!


JOHN.  I’ve always loved the amazing ‘little’ details he throws in to flesh the stories out. (NT Wright is brilliant in ‘John for Everyone’, Parts I and 2)


I mostly relate to John. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is teaching things and everyone seems to nod their heads and say, “Oh, now I get it.” But in John, everytime Jesus teaches something, people walk away confused or angry. The message seems to be this, now that you are thoroughly confused by Jesus, you have a question to ask yourself, “Am I going to follow Jesus because I understand him or am I going to follow him because I trust him?” That’s not an easy answer. If we follow because he makes sense to us, then we are really worshiping our ability to figure it out.


Calvin Coolidge:  “John was a particular favorite of Coolidge's, and he took the oath with the Bible open to the gospel of John.”


Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779-1865): John


John Bunyan, author of “Pilgrim’s Progress”:  John


Fr. Stephen Salocks, Dean of Faculty at Boston Seminary: 

“Fr Stephen answered that his favorite is St John, the fourth Gospel – a very rich Gospel, plus it’s a bit of a luxury to have a full course to teach about that Gospel! Scot asked Fr Salocks to explain what the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John are. Fr Salocks began by saying that he always says the biggest problem with studying the Synoptic Gospels is that they have already read John’s Gospel. In the 21st century we have a defined portrayal of Jesus, a Christology – in the 1st century coming out of the life, teaching, suffering death and resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles go out and proclaim. Towards the end of the 1st century, the original eyewitnesses start to die out – Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans, there is a breach between Christianity and Judaism; all this created a need for a concrete way to preserve the Tradition. Fr Salocks noted that are always called a people of Scripture and Tradition because of this. From this desire to record the tradition, a disciple of St Peter in Rome writes down everything he knows and has heard about Jesus – this is the first Gospel, Mark, written from Rome to try to help Christians in Rome understand who Jesus is. This isn’t a bed of roses either – it’s suffering, serving, being a disciple. Within the next ten or fifteen years, that Gospel and other sources of Tradition are present perhaps in Antioch where Matthew likely wrote his Gospel. Matthew is addressing a different situation than Mark – how do we understand Jesus as God with us? The end of Matthew, Chapter 28, encapsulates the entire theme of the Gospel – “I am with you to the end of the age.” But Jesus now is emphasized as the authoritative interpreter of the Scripture – this is a reaction to the dialogue between the Christian and Jewish faiths about who the authentic interpreter of the Tradition is. Roughly the same time, in a place that is a bit more fuzzy, Fr Salocks continued, Luke is writing a Gospel. But right from the start, Luke emphasizes that he is not an eyewitness but rather is drawing on the experiences of others (Luke 1-4). He also has a copy of Mark’s Gospel and some resources from Matthew. Luke’s focus is Jesus as the Savior, and how Salvation becomes known through the peace and forgiveness that Jesus brings. Luke believes that the message to “take up the Cross daily and follow” Jesus is so important that he writes a second volume – what we know as the Acts of the Apostles, Fr Salocks concluded.

It’s fascinating to see how well all three Gospels tie together, Fr Salocks noted – even the spelling is coherent in many ways, not just the phrasing and wording. They are truly of the “same eye” – “Synoptic.” It wasn’t until the 18th century that someone drawing up columns to study the Scripture put all three Gospels side by side and saw the incredible similarities between the three. John, of course, is the non-Synoptic Gospel, called by one scholar the “maverick.” John is the spiritual Gospel, one that delves more deeply – miracles are fewer, and not even called that – they’re “signs,” emphasizing John’s focus on Revelation throughout his Gospel. Fr Salocks said he likes that idea, as he feels that Scripture itself is incarnational, the Word of God and the human words about the Word. Scot emphasized that most people think “synoptic” is more related to “synopsis” – to think that all three Gospels were written from the “same eye” is a great way to explain the similarities and emphasize the reality of Inspiration. Scot asked Fr Salocks to explain a bit more about the Inspiration in the Catechism. Fr Salocks explained that the phrase “Word of God” in Greek or Hebrew – the whole sense of “word” is more than a verbal sense, it is the reality of God, the experience of God. When a prophet said “the Word of God came to me thus,” they were saying that the reality of God had touched them. We can imagine, Fr Salocks continued, a prophet being overwhelmed, or the people of Israel escaping slavery, and the reality of God overwhelms them as much as the Red Sea overwhelmed chariots. Inspiration is a heavy theology course in and of itself, Fr Salocks commented, but the Scriptures are the object of God’s Inspiration and not a “divine download” from God to the evangelist or to a prophet, where the bars go to 100% the Gospel is complete! No, it is rather a process whereby a people together with a gifted individual in their midst collaborate to record how God has revealed Himself to them, and how do we understand that. As soon as a person or a people being to think about and talk about their experience of God, they are interpreting it, Fr Salocks said – we look at the Scripture and we understand that this is a record of our ancestors in the faith interpreting their experience of God, putting it into words in their time. Because it is the Word of God, we approach it with faith in the context of the Church. There is an allegorical sense to Scripture – how does each passage help us understand Jesus or help us to know how to act?”

April 13, 2017

Happy Triduum

Kathryn Jean Lopez goes on a 30-day retreat./

That's hardcore.


I tend think people who for Lent give up social media and/or reading the news are engaging in a 'win-win': a win for God, and a win for man. (Giving up chocolate or coffee is a win for nobody.)

I say that after gluttonously consuming news after earlier-than-normal 6am wakeup. In this case I got all fired up over the dragging of a "volunteer" off a United flight for insubordination. I fired off emails to both senators asking that the fraud the airlines pull (that of intentionally overbooking) be banned. As if that's the most important thing in the world. As if the Egyptian Christians shouldn't be news item number one. Oy. I'm so easily roiled over the wrong things.

You get the feelings Christians in Egypt (and Europe, long term) are like the Indian tribes of this country circa 1840. Soon to disappear. Which means it's a good time to double up our faith and hope.

April 05, 2017

Causes of White Despair

It's sort of like the chicken or the egg--whether "white despair" was first triggered by economic issues or a spiritual malaise.

Not surprisingly this WaPo article points higher rates of white mortality to economic causes: "In their latest paper, Case and Deaton highlight a host of 'social dysfunctions' that are on the rise in white communities, including 'the decline of marriage, social isolation, and detachment from the labor force.' They believe that all of these problems may share an underlying cause: The economic forces which made life much harder for those without a college degree in recent decades."

Certainly work is a generator not just of wealth but of dignity.  As Pope Francis said:
"We get dignity from work..Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts."
But what's interesting from the graphs below is how it shows the deep white mood crash came around 1998.  Just before the economy slowed (click to enlarge):

Meanwhile the decline in church attendance crashed in '99-'00, also before the '01 recession:

So it's difficult to say that all of this was caused simply by the economy.

April 01, 2017

A Day in the Life

Friday: A "get 'er done" day fraught with wall-to-wall speed programming. Gosh these programming emergencies feel exhausting and today was just nonstop fun and excitement.

After work dropped off wrong-sized shorts at UPS, as delivered yesterday. I'm starting to think when you order sizes they take it as a "nice to have". As in, "it'd be nice to deliver him a XL but he'll settle for a medium". Second time that's happened in the past month.

Then off to pick up more of that daily bread called beer.

Back home took dogs on their customary 7-minute constitutional. (It only feels like 20 mins.) No rabbits were harmed during this interlude.

Finally my time: The rich rigatoni repast of recliner. I watched some baseball, a brainless enough change activity. Then the sweet mercy of having food delivered via amazon.com/restaurants. This time Rusty Bucket, a good fish dinner, suggested tip was $5 and no delivery fee. Nice.

Finally the Presanctified Byzantine liturgy at the Eastern church I favor. The inertia factor seems to increase every year but I was bound and determined to do this (and, hopefully, the Stations of the Cross).  It's like I'm trying to keep up with my past self.  Forty-five minute round trip. But the liturgy worked its magic and re-centered me.

Later I thought about how I meant to ask Dylan for what emotions he feels when he hears the tune "When I Ruled the World" by ColdPlay. Specifically not about the lyrics, but the song tune itself. It seems ineffably sad, combined with a wistfulness.  Later, after having heard the lyrics clearly it's no wonder it's a downer of a song, to put it mildly - the singer is expressing his damnation ("I know St Peter won't let me in"). Seems a case where the lyrics match the tune in terms of the emotions evoked.

Saturday: Ah, let the healing begin. The morning began grumpily, as I was in severe reading and coffee deficit. A bit of tension over my wife's concern over my overfeeding the dogs - both are slightly overweight. I kept thinking that feeding the dogs ain't so easy since bending over ain't that easy at 53 and three quarters.

Slept in till after 8am on the strength of an important repetitive morning dream: I had discovered via a google popularity search that the phrase "leader of the free world" was used often in 2008 with Obama, but not in '16 with Trump. This was a miscarriage of justice, another case of liberal bias. A few hours after waking I figured I go through the motions and check the search term popularity and it spiked majorly (or bigly) just after Trump was elected. The opposite of what my dream foretold. Likely because pundits were sarcastically offering, "this guy is the leader of the free world?"

But by 10am I was satisfying my drought by consuming the latest National Review. It was a good issue, with a dense retrospective of a visit to Jerusalem by Richard Brookhiser, a sobering look at how Chuck Berry's invention of rock and roll changed us all, pieces on Calexit and the French elections, and a review of the Ignatius Press history book on the bishops of New York City.

From the article on Chuck Berry:
The electrification of the id at a young age doomed students to an impoverished spiritual and intellectual life, [Allan] Bloom believed: “Rock music provides premature ecstasy and, in this respect, is like the drugs with which it is allied.”
A culture influenced by rock is fundamentally different — more individualistic, more pleasure-centered, more rebellious — from what prevailed before 1955.... We live in the lyrical and spiritual universe of the Chuck Berry song.
Ain't it the truth. "We ain't delinquents, we're misunderstood" goes the West Side Story lyric, or in this case, "We ain't delinquents, we just listened to rock growing up."
Friend Ron had sent me the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I'd put off looking at it since it seemed to me a statement of the obvious: that Islam is greatly flawed and so let's read about someone with an axe to grind about it. I was prepared to tell him that I was more interested in the genesis of Islam than it's current often malicious execution. But when Ron asked if I'd read it, I felt the call to at least start it. And it's surprisingly engaging and well-written. Read it for an hour or two after an early Outback dinner. No wonder it's a best-seller. I should know that bestsellers don't get that way by accident.

Steph left this evening for, of all things, a weight-lifting conference in Dayton which features the author of a book she's reading on strength training. Aaron is the evangelist here - he told her about the author and asked her to come to Dayton with him and two of his lifting buddies. (An interesting foursome.) Aaron never does anything half-assed, be it his job, child-begetting, or physical training. When he was into running, he had to run a marathon. Similarly now in workouts, he's dedicated to the nth degree. Plus three kids in this day and age is probably equal to 5 in 1950. (Somewhere the Hodges are laughing.) He's definitely not of a phlegmatic constitution.

So Steph will be gone from 5 till at least 11pm. Bachelorizing tonight.
I appear to be on a book buying jag. Fourteen for the month of March; almost one every other day, yikes. I guess it's in case there's a book famine.

Fortunately ten were $2-$4, so it's understandable. The pricier selections include the Dominican Sisters' Manual of Marian Devotion (impulse buy because it was 40% off on St. Benedict day) and Fantasy Life, because it's a baseball picture book that followed minor leaguers along their journey, which is like crack cocaine to me. Those two were about $45.  Ideally I could just stop buying right now for a couple years just read what I have to my heart's content. But somehow I think I won't do that. At the very least I can just buy the $2-3 offerings. These books are like rabbits, reproducing endlessly. Which reminds me of the Jonah Goldberg funny about dog-walking:
But now because the foul, oh-so-hoppy scent of bunnies is everywhere, leash walks take an eternity. She has developed a basset-like obsession with olfactory investigation.
Speaking of which, I took the dogs on this overcast Columbus (pardon the redundancy) day to the local park near the senior center. It's a place I'd taken Maris many a time when she was a puppy but never Max. So now Maris got to introduce Max to this particular park. It was uneventful till the end when I decided stupidly to go off the path, onto the grass near the forest, where of course I ended up falling on the slickness and landing on my backside in a mile-long puddle. It rained 25 inches yesterday, so grasslands have become tricky-to-identify swamps. My back pocket held my iPhone, and I was nervous for awhile I'd ruined it by getting it too wet. It got plenty wet, but apparently not too wet.

March 28, 2017

The Last Apologist

I feel moved by the plight of one Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong. He's kind of like a rugged individualist out there trying to make a living on his own, without the carapace of a Catholic Answers (not that they're doing that well) or an EWTN. He rides alone, like that lone cowboy, only the world has no more demand for cowboys. He points out the sweet spot in apologetics was 1995-2005 and indeed that was the hot time. Who knew there were boom and bust cycles in apologetics? He says there's a bust now because people care little for truth and much for relativism, and that could be true.

I'm trying to figure why the 1995-2005 years were good. I think it's because a generation of Catholics - the '70s and '80s kids like me - grew up without apologetics whatsoever in the unlikely quest to ignore religious differences for kumbaya purposes - so then we all got hooked on this new, amazing thing, like how the Bible isn't anti-Catholic after all. But then the bust happened, perhaps because kids today get enough apologetics in (chastened) Catholic schools or because we're already going to hell in a hand basket and there's no thirst for truth period.

He needs $7,000 and he's at $865. I contributed $60, which seems lame but the problem is that it's hard to discern if my contributing more would be contributing to him being where God doesn't want him to be. I can't tell how effective he is, and if you're not effective is that what God really wants you to do? Maybe so; our God is not the god of efficiency, to put it mildly. I could try to be heroic, a chivalric romantic gesture that is appealing (as many a lost cause is), but would it only defer the inevitable?  The thing about giving is it seems like you have to discern what God discerns for the recipient. 

March 14, 2017

Zmirak's Recipe for the Contraception Issue

Interesting to read John Zmirak's article contra the Benedict option and supporting courting existing Catholics starting with the nettlesome issue of the ban on artificial birth control: 
What’s the answer to all of this? We need that other 95 percent. And given that the key issue on which most dissent hinges today is contraception, we need to do a much better job conveying the Church’s position to ordinary people. 
It’s a hard sell already, because the argument hinges on rediscovering and accepting that there is teleology in nature – that bodies and organs have purposes, not merely “functions” dictated by evolution. But that argument can be made, and we might start by boning up on how teleology and what Aristotle called “final causes” pervade the natural world. (For the best arguments on this subject, see Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition.) 
Next we can show people how, without some notion of natural law, we cannot make the case for human rights – much less for legal rights, or filigrees like anti-discrimination laws. (The best introduction to natural law is J. Budziszewski’s What We Can’t Not Know.) 
Finally, we can point to the miserable outcomes produced for children by parents who treat their sexual powers as toys in a selfish game of utilitarian hedonism. The statistics on children of divorce and of single parents are eloquent on that topic, and Charles Murray summarizes it concisely in Coming Apart

March 09, 2017

Filipino Scammer Poetry

I thought Nigerian scammers were mostly Nigerian but alack it's migrated even to the Philippines.

I decided to add line breaks to the missive for poetical purposes.  All words are shown exactly as they appear in the original email; a masterpiece of the genre, if you ask me.

Late Former 
--by Mrs Villaran Nenita
I am Mrs Villaran Nenita
a Filipino by nationality
widow to the late former
minister of finance.

I inherited a total sum of $6.Million
        - American dollars! -
from my late husband, the money
was concealed in a metallic trunk
box and deposited with a security
and finance company in abroad.

That was because I needed
a maximum security/safety
of my trunk box and no body
nor government organization
can trace the where
about of the money
until I am ready
and prepare to claim it.

The Security company didn't know
the real content of the box
because it was deposited by my late
husband as a family valuables.

I will send to you the Authorization
certificate to call
the security company
in my next mail
which is the Certificate
Of deposit

Kindly reply.

March 06, 2017

Extraordinary Form

Read a series of rich Amy Welborn posts on the new Vatican II liturgical setup where we are "parachuted into Lent". Good turn of phrase. In the old days, for a thousand years, we were prepared for Lent by three weeks of semi-penitential season to help us focus so that Ash Wednesday isn't such a rude surprise. I definitely feel like I should be in better shape for Ash Wed given that the day feels almost like a solemnity given the fasting and ashes.

It tempted me to want to buy The Liturgical Year but it's a 13-volume set, a priest's life work. I'm awed that someone could write thirteen books on the liturgical seasons - one, I believe, on Septuagesima Sunday alone (a Sunday I'd never heard of till this year). The fellow must've had quite a love for liturgy.

The wondrous, timeless liturgy at Holy Family on Sunday was just what the Great Physician ordered: inspiring, challenging and consoling all at the same time. Wondrous music. No wonder Antonin Scalia liked it so much. And I'm really liking the priest there at HF. They have a gem.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is actually a sacrifice at Holy Family: when the priests lifts the chalice in the new mass, it's a gesture akin to a toast. But with the simple reorientation of the priest towards the altar, the gesture becomes physically what it signifies: an offering of the Son to the Father. There's a deep satisfaction in seeing symbol line up with reality. And since we're body and soul, not just soul, that satisfaction makes perfect sense. The Incarnation is in some ways the secret to everything.
So it was an hour and a half liturgy and it felt like 20 minutes. Utterly amazing. And I so love my '62 Missal. Likely the most beautiful book I've ever owned.
Mesmerizing temptation scene in the desert. So much to meditate on, like how Satan said the angels would protect Jesus if he cast himself down and after Jesus said no, the angels came anyway. Also interesting how the Spirit, not Jesus making the decision on his own, led him to the desert for the 40-day fast.

March 01, 2017

Trump's My New Guilty Pleasure

I relish Trump skipping events that other GOP officeholders would take as an immutable facts of life: like getting abused at the White House Correspondents' dinner (often a commercial for liberalism given comedians and media are left-wing).

And how Trump disinvited the unhallowed NY Times to a press conference.

And how Trump doesn't allow Democrat human shields like Rep. John Lewis to deter him from criticizing them.

I think it never occurred to other GOP'rs mainly because they have a case of Stockholm Syndrome and have grown accustomed to being abused by their media captors.

Trump reminds me of Howard Cosell's book title: "I Never Played the Game"; it's remarkable to see an officeholder so unbeholden to the press, having won without them. At least unbeholden until of late when his approval numbers have taken a hit.

It's also remarkable to actually feel like Trump the billionaire is an underdog (and America loves an underdog) given how unfairly the press has treated him. The lack of restraint that Trump generally shows is more than matched by the mainstream press -- except they flood the airwaves more than he can flood the Twitterverse.

And I'm thrilled with his cabinet picks, SCOTUS pick, Mexico City policy, Keystone, etc...


Yes to what Jonah Goldberg says here:
One of the things the mainstream media doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that just because Trump isn’t having a honeymoon with the press, the Democrats, or a good chunk of independent voters, that doesn’t mean he’s not having a very real honeymoon with Republicans. They want him to succeed and they want his “enemies” not just to lose, but to be humiliated (hence the popularity of Milo in some corners, and a chunk of my least friendly e-mail). 
Indeed, I think there’s good reason to believe that the honeymoon is more intense precisely because Trump is under such a sustained assault. Something similar happened under George W. Bush when the Left lost its collective mind and did everything it could to undermine a wartime president. Conservatives — me included — out of a sense of both loyalty and anger rallied to Bush and had a tendency to overlook certain foibles and mistakes for the greater good. We may not be at war — at least not like we were in, say, 2005 — but the Left and the media are clearly at war with Trump. And because Trump often makes it difficult for his allies to defend him on ideologically or politically consistent terms, the attachment is often more emotional than rational.
From: http://www.nationalreview.com/g-file

February 28, 2017

Politics, Schmolitics

Four, perhaps related, thoughts:

1. Co-worker saying that abortion is better for the baby in some cases, i.e. if they're doomed to a life of poverty.

2. Civil libertarians were up in arms in the early '00s due to fear the Patriot Act would allow the government to search our library borrowing records. Within five years the government would kill American citizens overseas without much protest from the same civil libertarians.

3. There was a huge uproar over the cruelty of the Iraq sanctions before the Iraq War, but relatively little said of the thousands of Iraqis who died during the subsequent war.  More was said about the lack of armor US soldiers were receiving and the faulty intelligence on WMD.

4. There was great gnashing of teeth over the torture of terrorists, but not much over Obama's drone program that simply killed terrorists.

Seems like a culture of death to me.  And/or that suffering is seen as a much greater evil than death (especially when it involves library records).


Perhaps historians will look back at the presidencies of Bush and Obama not as leaders who took on the big issues of radical Islam and health care respectively, but as having missed the much more important issue of unifying the country.

It may be that no president can do that but should the polarization continue there's a chance that disunity will be the story, and that the culprits will be Bush and Obama (and possibly Trump, although one wonders if we're too far down that road now for it to matter).

Both Bush and Obama proved to be arrogant and willful: Bush, despite promising a humble foreign policy started two unwinnable wars and engineered an intrusive security state. Obama, despite promises of uniting the country, rammed health care through with only Democrat votes (having even to bribe some of his own Democrats to vote for it with kickbacks).

Obama's cool, aloof style and Bush's deafness to his father's wisdom suggest these are the most arrogant presidents in generations.  And that fact was hardly lost on Americas; Bush drove the left insane as Obama did the right.

Hillary and Trump both seem to continue the Obama/Bush pattern. Trump, self-evidently, and Hillary by the inability to admit she is cable of error.

Still, it seems America wants arrogant presidents. After all, Hillary and Trump won their party nominations and George HW Bush was one of the more humble of presidents in recent memory and got flattened in '92.

February 27, 2017

One Liners

"La La Land should have spent more time in Wisconsin." - Andrew Clark


How complex can it be to figure out how the wrong envelope got in Beatty's hands?  Do we need Woodward and Bernstein on this?  So we don't know who caused the Oscars mistake without (apparently) a big investigation. And we think we'll solve the Russian hack?


The press is outraged that the NYT is barred from a press conference. My question: do press conferences ever make news? Aren't they a way to feed the media beasts predigested facts and mixed with falsehoods?  The whole thing seems like a way for reporters to be able to tell their kids and grandkids they were in the same room as the president or his spokesman. And a decent way for journos to avoid honest show leather reportage.


Unintentional hilarity from a MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski tweet:
"Exclusive: Bloomberg cancels WHCA dinner afterparty via @axios"
Oh no! The afterparty of a dinner that serves no purpose but glorify the incestuous relationship between "journalists" and the people they cover has been boycotted by Bloomberg! Wake the kids and phone the neighbors.

The whole WHCA dinner jumped the shark years ago.  It's probably a pretty reliable indicator of the decline of journalism: As the dinner became bigger and glitzier and celebrity-driven, journalism became sillier and more biased.


Trump asked Kasich to a meeting?  That's odd; it would seem to take a surprising amount of humility for the potus to do that.  People are complicated, not reducible to caricatures.


"This is the core claim of populism,” writes Jan-Wener Muller in 'What is Populism', “only some of the people are really the people.”


"I'm pretty sure President Trump is basically Hitler. You can tell by how terrified people are to appear in public demonstrations against him." - James O'Keefe


"I think it is the Judges who generally indulge in contempt of court." - Chesterton


Ironically, the 9th Circuit is like Donald Trump: ego-driven and uninformed.


"Electorate would be more willing to abide by advice of expert-class if expert-class wasn't viewed as having messed up so many big things." - Chris Amade

February 24, 2017

Seven(ish) Quick Takes

From Word Among Us:

A rich repast from Ross Douthat here on Catholicism. Makes sense to me.


The toxicology report came out about that girl from my alma mater who drank herself to death. Traces of marijuana and a whopping .347 blood alcohol level. It looks like asphyxiation - she had her head face down on the pillow. My sister surprised me by last month saying that she always tells her kids that if they drink to excess to not sleep so that they could drown in their own vomit, because when the body is that intoxicated sometimes it doesn't turn over or do the normal things to breathe or project vomit. I never would've thought about that, and she said that before the position of the victim was known. It goes to show, I thought, of how important our collective wisdom is, how this little thing like positioning a drunk could be life or death.

It seems she had a similar incident in November, with the police filing a report on her given a .3+ blood alcohol level and obvious intoxication.  It was as if that was an opportunity for her, as if she were given another chance to choose "life or death" as Moses put it. So sad.

Read wide-eye opening opinion piece by Robert Samuelson of the WaPo, hardly a shrinking righty, on the media's obsession with Trump:
"But beyond this lies a silent goal [of the press]: the search for some impeachable offense. If found, this would clearly justify the media’s obsessive attention to the president’s every move and policy. But if not found, the press risks losing more of its credibility by conducting a political witch-hunt."
Good to hear from a centrist like Samuelson of the media's true goal, that of impeachment. A press scorned is not a pretty sight. Wise commentary from him all the way around. I guess it takes an economist, a numbers guy, to have the detachment necessary to be wise since anger, like euphoria, makes one stupid. Witness the reliably idiotic Mark Shea.

From a Catholic site:
Of course, the Catholic faith is about divine mysteries, not human rituals, however treasured...This distinction is what gave the fathers of the Second Vatican Council the boldness to tamper with the most ancient rites of the Church. Yet Aquinas saw something that too many in that time did not: ritual cannot be dispensed with and should not be disparaged. We need solemn ceremonial forms not because they are essential but because humans have always tended to comprehend the profound through the trivial.
We need fixed and tangible ways of perceiving divine mysteries. This is why Aquinas defends not only the importance of ritual but also the use of images in Church. He offers three arguments. First, images are necessary for the instruction of simple people. Second, they aid the memory by daily presenting the example of the saints. Third, they help to excite devotion.
Really, though, Aquinas’s three reasons are one. Though he first defends images as useful for the instruction of simple people, he then goes on to explain why they are useful to us all. For learned and unlettered alike, memory is imprinted and emotion aroused “more effectively by things seen than by things heard”. Aquinas was sophisticated enough to realise that all men are simple. If the poor need art and ritual, so does everyone.

Crank Up Some Village People

Young man, there's no need to feel bound.
I said, young man, pick that book off the ground.
I said, young man, to you all will rebound
There's no need to be unhappy.

Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're fighting the foe,
You can go there, and I'm sure you will find
A smart way to have a fine time.

It's fun to go to the library
It's fun to go to the library.
You can read something wise, and avoid all the lies
Pick up a Bible guys.

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, read some Socrates,
I said, young man, you can grow in your dreams.
But you got to know this one thing!

It's fun to go to the library
It's fun to go to the library.
You can read something wise, and avoid all the lies
Pick up a Bible guys.


From a book called Shakespeare and Sex and Love:
Shakespeare's writings are full of a sense of the tension between the spiritual and the earthly, and awareness of the difficulty of understanding when and how the sexual faculty, which may be terribly abused in the search for sensual gratification... Shakespeare often seems to be asking when desire stops being lustful and starts being love? What is the relationship between lust and love? He explores the theme repeatedly in both plays and poems, and it will recur in later pages of this book. (It is akin to the question of where, in the visual arts, artistic portrayal of nakedness or of sexual behaviour shades into pornography.)


I got sidetracked last night by "fake news", specifically an utterly incompetent family tree version on ancestry, presumably a third cousin or more distant. It's an embarrassment to the Conn- name. At first I was thrilled since it had so many breakthrough "facts", names and dates that I wasn't able to uncover in my research. But as I painstakingly went through her sources, I found it Trumplivious to truth. So that was a time suck with no payoff.


One of the things that strike me as qualitatively different between the Latin mass and the New Mass is the seriousness of the former. The stakes feel higher, like salvation is at stake. It's sort of like the difference between an average May MLB baseball game and a World Series game.

Obviously we don't know in terms of numbers how many go to Heaven and how many to Hell, but we do know that demons exist and their existence alone ups the ante. It's hard to imagine an exorcism at the New Mass - in between the syrupy hymns and Father's announcements - but at a Latin Mass you can well imagine it.

It feels like weighty matters are involved - the fate of souls - and so the priest faces the altar because that's where the action is, that's where the answer (God) is.

I'm not sure one needs that seriousness weekly or even monthly, but it does seem like an indispensable reminder that God is much bigger and more mysterious and awesome than we think.

The Eastern church maintains that focus in their liturgy. With infant Baptisms, for example, it's not all cute and bubbly, but serious: there's an actual exorcism performed just in case...!


Ross Douthat on Pope Francis/Donald Trump parallel:
...the drama in the church is a kind of photonegative of the drama in Washington, D.C. In both contexts, a provisional center has cracked up, and a form of steamrolling populism has taken power. In both contexts, ideas from the fringes — far right and far left, radical and traditional — suddenly have unexpected resonance.

The difference is that in Rome the populist isn’t a right-wing president. He’s a radical pope.

...In the context of the papacy, in his style as a ruler of the church, Francis is flagrantly Trumpian: a shatterer of norms, a disregarder of traditions, an insult-heavy rhetorician, a pontiff impatient with the strictures of church law and inclined to govern by decree when existing rules and structures resist his will.

His admirers believe that all these aggressive moves, from his high-stakes push to change church discipline on remarriage and divorce to his recent annexation of the Knights of Malta, are justified by the ossification of the church and the need for rapid change. Which is to say, they regard the unhappiness of Vatican bureaucrats, the doubts of theologians, the confusion of bishops and the despair of canon lawyers the way Trump supporters regard the anxiety of D.C. insiders and policy experts and journalists — as a sign that their hero’s moves are working, that he’s finally draining the Roman swamp.

Meanwhile the church’s institutionalists are divided along roughly the same lines as mainstream politicians in the face of Trump’s ascent.

...The ranks of papal skeptics are filled with Africans and Latin Americans as well as North Americans and Europeans, with prelates and theologians and laypeople of diverse economic and political perspectives. Most are not traditionalists like Burke; they are simply conservatives, comfortable with the Pope John Paul II model of Catholicism, with its fusion of the traditional and modern, its attempt to maintain doctrinal conservatism while embracing the Second Vatican Council’s reforms.

But because this larger group is cautious, its members have been overshadowed by the more forthright, combative and, yes, reactionary Cardinal Burke, whose interventions might as well come with the hashtag #TheResistance.
Which places him in the same position, relative to Francis, that a Bernie Sanders occupies relative to Trump — or that Jeremy Corbyn occupies relative to Brexit. He’s a figure from the fringe whose ideas gain influence because the other fringe is suddenly in power; a reactionary critic of a radical pope just as Sanders or Corbyn are radical critics of a suddenly empowered spirit of reaction.

So the story of Catholicism right now has less to do with reaction alone and more to do with what happens generally when an institution’s center doesn’t hold.

In his own way, no less than neoliberals in Western politics, John Paul II tried to forge a stable post-Second Vatican Council center for Catholicism; now, much like the neoliberal order in Western politics, his project seems to be collapsing. The church under Francis has moved left as Western politics has moved right, but the reality in both cases is one of polarization, of a right that wants to be more reactionary and a left that wants to be more radical, and an establishment uncertain how and where to move.

But just as the Trump era may turn liberals into radicals, the Francis bulldozer is making a traditionalist critique of the entire post-Vatican II church resonate on the younger Catholic right — which is already more skeptical of modernity than the John Paul II generation. And with a traditionalist turn in theology could come the return of an illiberal or post-liberal Catholic politics — one already visible here and there online, in the zeal of certain Catholic trads for Trumpism and far-right politics in general.

Just as Trumpism is forging tomorrow’s political left, in other words, Francis is forging tomorrow’s Catholic right — theologically and perhaps politically as well.

February 20, 2017

We Can't Handle the Truth?

The first time I thought Trump had a chance to win when was Donny Deutsch on Morning Joe said this election was like TV series and in November the voters would decide whose storyline they wanted to see continue - Trump's or Hillary's? The answer was and is self-evident.

Yesterday Jonah Goldberg wrote something that sort of cemented it, and gave me fresh appreciation as to why the Bible, with its stories, is far more popular than catechisms:
While working on my book, I’ve come to believe more than ever that man is a story-telling animal and that stories are what give us meaning, direction, and passion. Hume’s point about reason being a slave to passion should be more properly understood as “reason is a slave to narrative.” ...It is entirely true that the press served as an eager participant in the story of Obama. It is also entirely true that much of the mainstream media is playing the reverse role in the story of Trump’s presidency.
"Truth’s a dog that must to kennel. He must be whipped out, when Lady Brach may stand by th' fire and stink." - Shakespeare's King Lear

Heard WSJ columnist talk about Trump's trouble with the truth. He said implicit in Trump's assertion that "a lot of people say that" is to conflate popular opinion with the truth. To actually defend an untruth by the fact that many hold it is reminded the columnist of a serious philosophical argument that Plato had concerning whether injustice was better than justice.

No wonder someone tweeted during the campaign that Trump was the natural result of a society of relativism. In some ways it's liberals who have created fertile ground for Trump by insisting that the truth doesn't matter in matters like when life begins or which religion is true.

(It reminds me of how years ago I wondered if the illusion of truth is just as good as truth, specifically with the infancy narratives in the gospels. Would it matter if one of the accounts wasn't factually accurate since both teach deep and powerful messages about the coming of the Messiah?)

The way I've been looking at Trump post-election is that he's entitled, so to speak, to be fallible. That I have to put up with him as president just as my wife has to put up with me. Not to overlook flaws certainly but at least to understand he has them and thus write them off to some extent. "He's just being Trump," I think.

But the danger was posed by columnist that truth is "whatever you can get away with" is dangerous because it can spread. More people will imbibe his philosophy - he'll get converts. I'm not sure this is true - it seems like in most cases the president acts as an allergen that inoculates. Which is why we get opposite presidents each time (plainspoken Bush was the opposite of fork-tongued Clinton, aloof Obama the opposite of Bush, and Trump the opposite of everybody).

It's probably not a coincidence that the rise of the new atheism came during the presidency of the most evangelical Christian president we'd had in some time (Bush II). Similarly, I think the worst thing for Mormon recruitment would've been had Romney won in '12.

But tactics may be different than personalities and philosophies, and Trump's tactics work to some extent so there's the rub.

February 16, 2017

The Trumpenstein

I generally assiduously ignore Trump, preferring to savor his actions rther than his words, but today couldn't help but want to watch his train wreck of a "presser" as they now apparently call press conferences (I must've missed the memo).

Trump is a figure of interest partially because there's still the rolling shock that he's President of the United States. Maybe this is what liberals thought about Reagan in '80, a minor league actor.  Trump is also of interest simply because he's so resolutely coarse and vulgar while, at the same time, on the side of the angels on policy (mostly; I dislike his trade views).  Lastly he's of interest simply because he's so damn comfortable in his own skin.  By media standards he's about as unhip as you get: old white guy with odd hair.  And yet he's overcome the disabilities of presentation.  The confidence he exudes, I imagine, confers confidence to all the old white guys who voted for him.  Trump's the new black.

His performance at the press conference was the stuff of wonder if only because he's taken authenticity and casualness to a new level.  Casualness with the truth, for sure, but also casualness as far as just being himself, not putting on airs, just acting like he wasn't at a press conference but at his backyard barbecue.  Only he was frying reporters, not burgers.  It's no small thing to be the first casual president.  No wonder his big Inauguration song was "My Way".

February 13, 2017

Let's Play...Why's My Bookbag (or e-read equiv) So D*mn Heavy?

Saturday I fell headlong heedlessly into a print ocean. I was determined to go for quantity if not quality.

First up was the new Evelyn Waugh biography. I asked myself why, given he was an uncharitable, sex-addicted prose-master (is that uncharitable?) and I guess I had my answer right there. Why not read the Ian Ker biography of St. Gilbert of Chesterton? Or the bio of Russell Kirk, imbiber of ancient wisdom? Really, what can Waugh teach given that his talent for writing is nontransferable?

Then I lapped up some William Least Heat Moon and some lively dialogue that reads like fiction. Here he has a repairman come over and talk about his son while doing a job:
A couple of months before setting out to travel the Ouachita Valley, I had an electrician rewire a storage space I was converting into a small exercise room. I explained to the man, only a few years younger than I, old folks don’t need storage —they need muscle. The remark found resonance in him and considerably slowed the job, since he apparently wasn’t able to talk while simultaneously holding a tool or length of conduit. He put down his screwdriver to exposit more clearly his means of teaching his grandson rudiments of basketball to help the boy make his school team.

“I never played down to him. He had to match me, but it didn’t take long before he could outrun me, outjump me. That young body! Hell, he could get it to piss over the hood of a pickup.” He stopped. “Excuse my phraseology, but you know what I’m saying.”

He took a length of conduit, measured it, and put it down once more. “Oh, man! To be seventeen again!” (Conduit up, conduit down.) “He could outdo me in every way but one, and I had that advantage only because he couldn’t see it, no matter how I tried to explain it.” (Screw-driver in hand, screwdriver back into tool belt.) “Time!” he said, referring to what he was using too much of for my project. “The boy doesn’t know what to do with time except to burn it. That’s my one advantage. If he isn’t fiddling with an electronic game, he spends his time dreaming impossible things —climbing Mount Everest or dating some starlet of the hour.”

Having forgotten the conduit measurement, he remeasured. “I tell him, ‘Okay, you can outrun me, but what good is it if you’re not running to some productive place?’” (Here, a piece of conduit actually got attached to the wall.) “I tell him he’s like a trash collector, except he goes around just collecting days so he can haul them off to dump them.” (Junction box screwed to the wall.) “Time’s his enemy because he’s got too much of it, and it’s my enemy because I’m running out of it.” I could see why. (Next length of conduit measured and set down.) “Old Mother Nature’s a smart-ass, you know. When you finally learn how to use time, you can’t even piss over a hubcap.” (Conduit remeasured.) “Excuse my phraseology, but you know what I’m saying.”
Then wasted time reading New Yorker Jeffery Tubin's old slanted book on the Supreme Court. Just can't resist those gossipy, what-are-they-really-like scenes. It's almost humorous how Tubin's love and affection for the liberal justices comes out spontaneously.

Read some of High Dive novel. Mentions that the problem with having a fall-back plan is you're likely to fall back on it. Commitment uber alles. Also liked this line, about a girl who was cool because she didn't care if she looked cool: "Lack of self-awareness has its own perfect appeal."

Riveting Heather King quote from a book she's reading:
“Maslow ...said transcenders, on the other hand, “had illuminations or insights” that motivated them to transform their lives and the lives of others. They felt a sense of destiny, sought truth, did not judge, and viewed pain, even in their love lives, as an opportunity to grow. Maslow considered peak experiences, mystical visions, and self-creation as natural parts of our higher circuitry.". --Brenda Schaeffer, Is It Love Or Is It Addiction?
Which is interesting in that that "desire to transform the lives of others" is what evangelism would seem to imply. St. Paul, the master evangelist, was certainly highly motivated to transform the lives of others, and well he did.

Anyway I love that sentiment that "mysticism is natural", that it's accessible to us all. (Although Maslow's not exactly Scripture though.)


I find it a humorous juxtaposition but an appropriate one, that Song of Songs follows Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It's surely no accident - the one answers the other. The first says "all is meaningless" and the second says "except for love". The first represents our time on earth, the second our time in Heaven.

Found this from a Patheos blogger:
"I count [these two books] among my most cherished members of the canon.
Without them I don’t think there is enough space for God to roam around. Although these books are certainly unique in their presentation of God, they are unique in a good way that opens our imaginations to new ways to encounter the divine. They open up mystical playgrounds, and theological escape hatches. I love it.
I need to be able to love God deeply, madly, passionately, and with abandon; like in the Song of Songs. Our culture is awash in cheap sex. I need a place where it is rich. Song of Songs can provide that place.
I also need to be reminded of a God that can meet me in the midst of my duty. Sometimes the feeling of passion for God are gone. My fear of the LORD is tainted with doubt and God does not seem personal at all. The world can seem empty at times, and even the good things I have can appear fleeting, evanescent, and absurd. Ecclesiastes gives me a sacred space in those times. It helps lead me into the desert where God can work something new in me. Ecclesiastes guides me to under the wings of the monastic traditions of my faith and through the dark night of the soul. It demonstrates that even in austerity there is richness in God."

I read where the gospel of Matthew was given pride of place as the first because it was the historically seen as the most important and favored. I can't pick one of the gospels as a favorite, mostly because each have things I like and things I'm less fond of. Different strengths. For example, I always feel guilty with Luke like I'm not too favored given my (relative) wealth but I love his emphasis on prayer and Mary.  With Mark, it seems like Jesus is always tirelessly performing miracles.

Here's my rough could-be-wrong one sentence impressions of the gospels:

Matthew: the authoritative Christ
Mark: the approachable Christ
Luke: the contemplative Christ
John: the consoling Christ

Another view: Matthew for conservatives, Luke for liberals, Mark for non-ideologues, and John for everybody since he transcends labels.


Good homily at Mass the other day - I appreciated how this young Dominican isn't shy around deep questions. He's refreshingly ambitious in how much he's willing to take in a mere 5-minute homily.

Specifically he talked about the origin of Original Sin. How our first parents were without disordered desires. They could eat the precisely correct amount - no more, no less, than what was perfectly desirable. They could not lust. They could be lazy. In other words, they had no trouble with the passions. In a sense, they were like the angels in the lack of temptation around bodily sin. However, like the angel Lucifer, they were susceptible to spiritual sin, namely of wanting to be God. The devil famously would prefer to be master of Hell than a servant in Heaven - in other words, to deny he too is a creaturely beings designed for service.

The priest said that of course it's objectively better to be master rather than servant. Who wouldn't prefer that? To have complete control over our circumstances? But the Tree Adam and Eve grasped at (to become gods) was the Tree that Jesus became and freely offered, such that we can become like God after all by virtue of his divine gift.

And what a revelatory NABRE footnote concerning today's reading from Genesis:
"The Lord God planted a paradise [= pleasure park] in Eden.” It should be noted, however, that the garden was not intended as a paradise for the human race, but as a pleasure park for God; the man tended it for God. The story is not about “paradise lost.”

Interesting to read Deut 28 given it mentions "blessed be the fruit of your womb", obviously later echoed in the NT as applying to Mary. I read the whole passage and considered it as foreshadowing of Mary:
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments...Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb...The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways...The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God.
That last part reminds me of Mary as Queen of Heaven, Queen of even the angels! The part about the Lord opening his rich storehouse reminds me of her storehouse of grace and how she would "lend to many nations, but will not borrow", which is certain on the grace front; she lends to us and need not borrow being preserved from Original Sin. And the part about enemies fleeing reminds me of the demons being cowed and of the prophesy in Genesis "I will put enmity between the woman and the serpent."

In the "paradise lost" notion I've always subscribed to, I pictured that it's as if we were gods before the Fall when in fact we were still creatures subject to the test. We may've been immortal but we still had to humbly submit to a greater power than ourselves. We still had to work even - to cultivate the garden as it says in Genesis.

The sobering thing is that even without our passions we are still quite capable of sin, witness the angels who fell as well as Adam and Eve. One hundred percent of prelapsarian humans fell and perhaps a third of the angels as well. No wonder pride is the ultimate enemy.

There's a kind of odd consolation in reading about the Fall since it helps explain the why of it all - the why of demonic possession ("he will bruise their heel" - a literal bruising in the case of St. Padre Pio) and of course the necessity of death, to fulfill the truth of the word of God as far as the consequence of partaking of the forbidden fruit.

The Fall's effects applied even to two people for whom it didn't happen: Jesus and Mary. Both were conceived without sin like Adam and Eve. And yet both took on the consequences of Original Sin: difficulty in labor for Mary if not literally than symbolically given how a sword pierced her heart, and death for both, although we're not sure about Mary on that aspect.

At Byzantine service heard the Prodigal Son gospel; one thing that occurred to me for the first time ever was how even in exile the prodigal was in at least one way morally impressive: he would not steal despite his great hunger: "He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating, and no one gave him anything."

I also thought during the First Reading about the connection between the Eucharist and sex: how in both cases we join ourselves physically to another, and how in both cases we see how seriously God takes material things: in the first case, how seriously he takes what we do with our bodies, and in the second, how seriously he treats union with us such that he's willing to risk ridicule by changing bread and wine into Himself. "He who eats and drinks my Body and Blood gains eternal life", he says, and he who commits adultery with someone not his wife risks eternal hellfire.

Thirsting for culture in a dry land, I took 7-yr old Sammy to the Art Museum where a piano soloist was offering a concert. I thought it was free - it seemed the last art museum concert was - but this one was $30 for me and $10 for Sammy. I said "no thanks" but the kind lady at the ticket counter said, "Oh go on ahead anyway." And then to Sam she said, "you'll be inspired!" (Of course Sam had no openness to being inspired except by the kids movie he was watching on my iphone - that was obviously the only way I was going to get him to go with me!) He'd actually been there before, on a class field trip! A pretty young woman reported to me that she loved my sweatshirt, which says "Eat. Breathe. Sleep. Books."

I gave the ticket lady the $15 I had on me, though now I wished I'd just accepted the largess and be $15 better off. But good to support the arts, I should say. We left after an hour, at intermission, to prevent Sam from getting too restive. Plus I was having a helluva time trying to suppress my cough. The more I thought: "don't cough! People are trying to listen to this great music!" the more I had to cough. My eyes watered and I involuntarily near-coughed. Grateful between pieces when I could cough while applauding.

I dropped $20 at gift shop which was an unforced error. Never let Sam go shopping with you else he'll beg and wheedle you like a master playa.


Michelangelo's poetry:

Swift through the eyes unto the heart within
All lovely forms that thrall our spirit stray;
So smooth and broad and open is the way
That thousands and not hundreds enter in.
Burdened with scruples and weighed down with sin,
These mortal beauties fill me with dismay;
Nor find I one that doth not strive to stay
My soul on transient joy, or lets me win
The heaven I yearn for. Lo, when erring love —
Who fills the world, howe’er his power we shun,
Else were the world a grave and we undone —
Assails the soul, if grace refuse to fan
Our purged desires and make them soar above,
What grief it were to have been born a man!