October 31, 2002

Commentary on Matt 12:44-46:
The controversy over exorcism in the preceding context sets the stage for Jesus to establish the superiority of his New Covenant ministry over the Old as administered by the Pharisees. Although the Pharisees expel evil spirits ("your sons", 12:27), they leave a vacuum that exposes individuals to more severe counterattacks from Satan. Jesus also drives out demons, but, unlike the Pharisees, he fills believers with the greater power of his kingdom through the Spirit (12:28). Jesus' contemporaries must prefer these blessings of his kingdom ministry to the real but limited benefits of the Pharisee's ministry; otherwise they are left vulnerable to spiritual catastrophes worse than before. - RSV-CE Ignatius Study Bible
The Eucharistic Complement
I'm beginning to see Eucharistic Adoration as a necessary complement to the Eucharist. It is a liturgical fast before the feast, a discipline that creates the desire necessary to receive Communion. That, coupled with occasional periods of physical fasting, seem to be the necessary antidotes to a surfeit of religiosity for religiosity's sake.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

How often I have stoned those He sent for my good!
I never paid much attention to immigration issues until 9/11. But that, coupled with the revelation that the D.C. sniper was an illegal immigrant, has definitely piqued my interest.

I'm at a loss at just why it is so difficult to clean up the Immigration & Naturalization Service. For decades this has been a festering sore, with reorganization after reorganization failing.

My suspicion is that immigration reform is something that neither party wants. And the two-party system fails when neither side "wants" an issue. I think this is a case where it has failed, and most spectacularly with the Republicans. They are the party of responsibility, the "daddy" party, the law and order party. But they have gone AWOL on this issue.
Where Humility Goes Astray
"I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong." - Bertrand Russell
Got a hit from a Google search for the following:

"brain chemistry" "facial beauty"

This blog is the only result of that search. My mother would be so proud.
Chez Kat has an interesting reflection on George Harrison and his claim that it is all "show". She rightly points to the marytrs. I'm reminded of a comment from my stepson:
"Religious faith is something everyone says they have, but no one really believes."
Tell that to the St. Padre Pio.

I appreciate your prayers for him.
On universalism:
Wasn't the Fatima apparation approved by the Church and didn't one of the children see hell with souls in it? I understand it is a private revelation, but it is a private revelation approved by the Church. The existence of Hell is probably the most difficult doctrine to believe of all, according to Peter Kreeft.
I love the oxymoronic quality of this post from Disputations:
The Resurrection: The women want to prepare Jesus' body; Jesus prevents them. (Or, Mary Magdalene wants to hold on to Him; He tells her to let go.)
The Ascension: The Apostles want Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel; Jesus wants to return to the Father.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit: The Apostles want to keep a low profile; the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, wants them to proclaim His Name.
The Assumption: Mary's mourners bury her; Mary's Son raises her.
The Coronation: Mary regards herself as the handmaid of the Lord; the Lord regards Mary as His Queen.

As my wife says, the Kingdom is "opposite world".
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back...
dylan has a remarkable post about his post-conversion tenebrous experiences.

I share his sentiments, excruciatingly so. My reversion in '98 resulted in a great fervor that was spectacularly aided by the providential finding of a Byzantine church in my area and in the recovery of the beauty and truth of the Magisterium. After a long bachelorhood, marriage in '99 required enormous adjustments. I understood it that God's mission for me was my stepson's conversion, which, of course, is painfully erroneous. Conversion is God's business (including my own). My spiritual life became much more defensive rather than offensive. There was a certain bitter irony that I could not effect my own full conversion, let alone his. As marrow from a bone donor, I hoped that my new found poverty would result in his enrichment.

A lack of progress isn't as discouraging in the spiritual life as its devolution, or retraction. But one cannot judge those things. I've no doubt that without the reversion marriage and a stepson would've been much more difficult.

I wondered during the priestly scandals and the often apparent lack of guilt the churchmen felt, and I considered perhaps they were too close to the sacraments, as if such a thing were possible. As if they were taking them for granted. Humans tend to treasure what is rare. The very ubiquitiousness of liturgies and Eucharists that the serious Christian experiences can, it seems, devalue them in his head, though not in reality. But this is the wonderful reality of the New Covenant, this closeness to God without penalty. In the OT if you touched the Ark of the Covenant you were dead, unless you were the high priest.

I've come to the rather banal realization that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and that the sacraments and liturgies are not magic pills that overcome heavy lifting. They simply provide the food for the building of muscle. And I've also realized that the most effective argument the devil can make is to say, "see, you're no better off. God's word and sacraments are not efficacious." As St. Thomas says, the only thing needed for sancity is to "will it".

I remember a relative, my opposite. She was outgoing and socially liberal. She made spectacular meals at Thanksgiving, single-handedly baking for who knows how long, always with at least three desserts. She never forgot my birthday. All of this despite a life filled with pain, for she lived for 20 years with Lupus. The last two years she became a different person due to the degeneration of the disease. She became completely withdrawn, would not allow even her children to see her. She spent those years in her room, and left it only to retrieve the mail. It felt like a disaster. But was it? She who epitomized strength and duty was brought low - does this sound familiar? Is it not a message that we cannot do it on own, that our power is completely insufficient? Are we not like Peter who looks down at the water instead of at Christ?

I know this is rambling, disjointed and perhaps contradictory. There is a certain sense that after conversion we simply trade a different set of sins for the previous set. We become self-righteous. It is human nature to think, "if I can do this (fill in the blank), then they certainly can."

How can we live this Word of Life? By focusing on three very important elements...
- We need great faith; that is, the deep-rooted conviction that the grace of Jesus is much stronger than the inclination to sin which we still carry within us.
- We need great generosity in our commitment to dig out the seeds of sin, the roots of the vices we still possess.
- We need to animate our generosity with a boundless trust in the mercy of Jesus; that trust which drives us always to begin over again, even after every eventual failure.
- Chiara Lubich via the Magnificat

When Jesus fell on the way to Calvary, he did not blame God or self. He simply got back up. And while there was obviously no sin in His physical falling down, is it not a metaphor for us?

October 30, 2002

Ire 4
We moved on to Kilarney. The sheep we saw on the roads and in the pastures everyday began to symbolize something to me - a kind of freedom. The sheep in the moutains looked straight from the set of "Heidi", and no fences held them in. They simply grazed and went where they would, on land too rocky to till. The baby lambs looked comical, with their black stovepipe legs abutting snow white fleeces.

do you remember
the sodden glens
in the highlands of
Eire above the sheep lands?

do you remember
the gaelic one
hair held thrall
in the glue pages of
Celtic lore?

do you remember
the labryinth streets and
Galway’s bay spilling
o’er it’s banks?
Tackiness not seen since Clinton
I'm nauseated by the turning of Paul Wellstone's memorial service into a political circus. But suddenly it became clear - this is their religion! I don't know whether or not Paul Wellstone would want his service to morph into a pep rally, but it is an entirely appropriate symbol of some members of the Democrat party who see politics, not God, as the instrument of righteousness. The secularization of the Democratic party has not resulted in the absence of religion in the party, but a new one - one that pays reverence to the environment, feminism and the right to kill the unborn.

"He knew that the service became more than just a remembrance for the dead when he got a call from a reporter "who wanted some Republican response to the memorial.

"I said [to the reporter], 'Do you realize what you just said?' "

"There is an ideology that fundamentally traces all existing institutions back to power politics. And this ideology corrupts humanity and also destroys the Church. Here is a concrete example: If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is oppressed. And then the question of, for example, women's ordination, as an issue of power, becomes imperative. I think this ideology produces a totally false point of view, as if power were the only category for explaining the world and the communion present in it. If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life. We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if in some kind of association."
- Cardinal Ratzinger

October 29, 2002

From the Anchor Hold has a passionate post on 'what is a Catholic'. Having been a cafeteria Catholic myself, I'm all for inclusivity. Would I have come back to the Church sooner if I felt I was out of it? I don't know. When I was a cafeterian, I felt a sort of limbo. I felt neither fully saved, nor fully damned, neither fully Catholic, nor fully not. Why? Because of mixed signals. I liked views some had that Jesus preached only against hypocrisy. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." But I also had that old Catholic grade school talking back at me. I took comfort in the examples around me, Catholics who were going wild, and I could justify my behavior that way. Sin, as preached in the bible or in the "old days", had possibly become redefined or outmoded. If the Church had stated its creed more clearly or preached more damningly perhaps I would've despaired and grown bolder in my sin. Or reformed.

Where the self-definition of Catholic begins to break down is when you publically espouse beliefs contrary to Catholic doctrine ala a Francis Kissling of "Catholics for Choice" and a Garry Wills. And for Catholic politicans who sanguinely vote pro-choice while trumpeting their Catholic roots.

But they say that the sin you haven't committed is the one you think is the worst. There but for the grace of God, go I. Their addiction to the wielding of power is equivalent, or in many cases more powerful, then the poor sinner who feeds his addiction with sex, drugs or rock 'n roll. Ex-communication rightly lies in the hands of bishops. We have to "dance with the one what brung you" and the apostolic line of bishops have brought us to this place, this faith.
Ireland - part 3
I limped to our B&B that night at Malahyde and played dead soldier on the long couch. The next morning, after being woken by the high-pitched scream of the B&B lady (apparently she didn't expect me to be on the couch), I groggily attended the ablutionary duties that transform one to respectability. I had for breakfast my usual, "Wheatabix", a delightfully different cereal that instantly breaks down in milk. In fact, it became a fun physical challenge to pour the milk over the wheat bisquits and consume them before they evaporated into a mushy milk. The consistency was perfect for those early mornings in the Irish fog. On good days I would ask for scrambled eggs instead of the ubiquitious fried eggs and I would fork and watch, fascinated, as the yellow blood covered the plate.

We toured a castle that day. It'd been in the family 800 years - one of, if not the, longest single-owned castle in all of Ireland. I sat in the banquet room of the castle, with all the personages of the family peering down at me, the oil paintings of 10 generations. Where I sat, breakfast had been served some 300 years ago, just before the famous "Battle of the Boyne". Nearby Cromwell's British troups butchered the Irish, including 18 members of the party that ate here that fateful morning. They ate their last meal, knowing full well it would probably be their last meal.
Read "Everything But Grace's" complaint about S.A.D. and whether it is real or not I don't know, so the following prescription might be placebic (if that ain't a word, it should be): First, get one of those "full-spectrum" lights that mimic the sun. There is a brand known as "Happy Eyes" that sells them. I put it in my book room since it's a great reading lamp as well. Second, I religiously take 1-2 hour hike in the woods every Saturday. Getting outdoors really helps.
OED or bust
I've decided this blog requires the use, nay ownership, of the Oxford English Dictionary. You might think it a needless acquisition. You might think that I'm just looking for an excuse to buy it. But surely the etymologies and date charts will allow me to much more precisely and cogently write these journal entries posts. In the meantime, eat your heart out!

All But Dissertations has a wonderful post on books as "things" which can dominate us. When we moved to a larger house I realized a dream - to have all my books massed in one huge shining army, one dedicated room instead of books scattered like little sentries in rooms here and there.

I double-shelve only the most heinous books, books next to be thrown out (yeah right, that'll happen). The double-shelving only lasts until I buy another bookcase, which is what I really resist. Books are cheap (half.com has $20 used books for $5 all the time) but bookshelves aren't and it is very difficult to justify that.

Since I am still relatively young, there will come a time that storage will be a huge problem, and I don't want to be one of those who stores books in his bathtub (yes, there are people who do that).
Whereas, fifty years ago, any early passage from the bible was assumed to be mythical or symbolic, the onus of proof has now shifted: increasingly scholars tend to assume that the text contains at least a germ of truth and see it as their business to cultivate it. This has not made the historical interpretation of the bible any easier. Both the fundamentalist and the 'critical' approach had comforting simplicities. Now we see our bible texts as very complex and ambiguous guides to the truth; but guides none the less.
- "A History of the Jews", Paul Johnson
Winter as Character Builder
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
'This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
- Shakespeare "As You Like It"
Errors o' Omission
Kudos, of course, go out to the other local bloggers with big name links. I just noticed that Disputations is permalinked on Eve (he did not, of course, mention it). I always considered Disputations more of a big name blogger though, so it's not as exciting as Dylan's breakout. I've made too much of this already, but it is kind of an enjoyable parlor game, i.e. the "politics of linking" (sing like 80s song "Politics of Dancing"). And the obligatory disclaimer applies, "it's just an exhibition, not a competition, so please - no wagering" - Letterman.

October 28, 2002

Blogger Makes Good      I read the news today...
Kudos to Mr. Dylan (or should I say "dylan" in deference to ee?). Twould be a shame not to celebrate the break-out of the tidepool of Tenebrae, who hath slipped these mortal coils, these penny-ante ten to twenty hits-a-day, by virtue of being knighted by Eve via a permalink. Well-deserved. It is the marketplace correctly valuing him. His blog "wears well" too, whatever that means. Part of his appeal for me, I think, is the honesty and lack of "smiling-faced Christianity" that causes many evangelicals to make the group "Up With People" look like Marilyn Manson. (Though admittedly the lack is in me, for St. Paul does say that one should always be rejoicing.) But his honesty is refreshing. And his success was wonderfully anti-political. No tit-for-tat linkages, no quid-pro-quo, no financing of his Presidential Library in return for a link. And no sitemeter to boot!

Ireland - Part Deux
Far too short a time was spent in pleasant Ennis, a picturesque town with a big statue of the Irish liberator, Daniel O'Connel, in the town square. The pub was enjoyable, with the now familiar cast of characters, the occasional tourist amidst the haberdashy Irish and the old man with the gargoyle face. There always seemed to be a guy with a misshapen face - an exquisite example of British or Irish inbreeding - or was it simply the natural look of true United Kingdomers? I wish I had a picture, but alas could only look on afar at the bulbous noses, & chinless'd men. I also watched with fascination at the staid couples that would come in. A man and a woman, usually with quite plain, expressionless faces, came in and sat down, side-by-side, and grimly drank their drinks (he Guinness, she whiskey). It was a bit entertaining, as I tried to divine their reason for being there. It certainly wasn't to mingle, or to be social, or even to ostensibly enjoy the music - they would sit side-by-side without talking and drink. I thought it somehow romantic. American Gothic in an Irish pub. There could've been the caption, "what if Stoics drank?". My eyes went from the fine oil paintings on the walls of this richly panelled bar to the oil paintings sitting around me.
  Old Thunder review
Morningside of the Mountain
There was a girl, there was a boy
If they had met they might have found a world of joy
But she lived on the morning side of the mountain
And he lived on the twilight side of the hill

They never met, they never kissed
And they will never know what happiness they missed
For she lived on the morning side of the mountain
And he lived on the twilight side of the hill

For love's a rose that never grows
Without the kiss of the morning dew
And every Jack must have a Jill
To know the thrill of a dream that comes true

And you and I are just like they
For all we know our love is just a kiss away
But you are on the morning side of the mountain
And I am on the twilight side of the hill
- lyrics by Tommy Edwards

There is something inherently romantic in this...more so than if they had met...just as Casablanca is the most romantic movie of all time though the lead characters went their separate ways. The potential of loss, or to have never lived, infuses life with meaning and shoots it full of precarious possibilities.

...stop me before I get to Tony Orlando & Dawn...
Interesting Article in the Public Interest on the secularization of the Democratic Party:
The Republican party can more or less take us for granted - where else can we go? The lack of pro-lifers in the Democrat party will entice Republican politicians to move towards the pro-choice side because of the lack of consequences.

Feeling thermometers ask respondents to rate social groups and political leaders on a scale ranging from 0 degrees (extremely cold) to 100 degrees (extremely warm).....In 1992, the average thermometer score of Republican delegates toward union leaders, liberals, blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats, for example, was 17 degrees warmer than their mean score toward feminists, environmentalists, and prochoice groups (44 degrees versus 27 degrees, respectively). Similarly, the mean thermometer score of Democratic delegates that year was 21 degrees warmer toward conservatives, the rich, big business, and Republicans than their average score toward prolife groups and Christian fundamentalists (34 degrees versus 13 degrees, respectively). Of the 18 groups tested by CDS, the most negatively rated group was Christian fundamentalists.

ANES results indicate that anti-fundamentalism appears disproportionately among secularists...who, ironically, "strongly agree" that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one's own.
The Coming Of Wisdom With Time
Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth. - Yeats
Steve Riddle has an excellent post on a book by Wilfrid Stinissen called Nourished by the Word. There is a freedom in Scripture that I often dare not go to play in, given a lack of trust that I will not interpret a given passage in ways self-serving. I am attracted to the idea of single interpretation though it be typically folly, because Scripture is not mine, it is everyone's, and it is not for only our time, but for all times. So it need be flexible, it need be able to say different things to different people at different times. Which it does. It is like a great Divine chord that is struck and re-struck and it sounds magnificent, if slightly different, to every ear.
From Sunday's Verweile Doch
He thought of the virtues of courage and forbearance, which become flabby when there is nothing to use them on.
'You're never satisifed to let the Testament alone. You're forever picking at it and questioning it. You turn it over the way a 'coon turns over a wet rock, and it angers me.'
'I'm just trying to understand it, Mother.'
'What is there to understand? Just read it. There it is in black and white. Who wants you to understand it? If the Lord God wanted you to understand it He'd have given you to understand or He'd have set it down different.'
    - John Steinbeck, East of Eden
From the same newspaper:
Father Romano Guardini worries that people are forgetting how to achieve stillness and to reach the level of concentration needed to be 'all there' - fully present - to their life experiences.

In the preface, Bolt explains that he was troubled by the thin fabric of contemporary human character, by the tendency of the typical modern man to think of himself in the third person, to describe the self in terms more appropriate to somebody seen through a window.

Bolt provides a penetrating insight amounting to a one-sentence summary of the cultural ills that best us today: 'Both socially and individually it is with us as it is with our cities - an accelerating flight to the periphery, leaving a center which is empty when the hours of business are over.'

[Bolt is playwright Robert Bolt, who wrote the screenplay "A Man for All Seasons".]
Bishop Griffin in the diocesan newspaper
Today, I want to appeal to you to help the poor. I am speaking about the truly poor, those who can do nothing now to help themselves spiritually - the poor souls in purgatory....All who die in God's friendship and grace are saved, but, after death, there is a time of purification in which we achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven.

As poor as we often feel, in seeing through the glass darkly, the bishop reminds us that there are those poorer than ourselves - those who can do nothing to help themselves spiritually...

October 27, 2002

dylan at Tenebrae is a bad influence on me. After his MacArthur Park, I have this sudden urge to post "One Tin Soldier", "Billy Don't be a Hero", and "Man of LaMancha". I'll try to repress it. Remember the old Steve Martin gag, where he sings the Perry Como song? After all these years I can't get those lyrics out of my mind - "It's impossible....to stick a Cadillac up your nose, it's just impossible".

Sorry. Let's resume regularly scheduled programming.
Now Reading...
   "History of the Jews" - Paul Johnson
   "Old Thunder: the life of Hilaire Belloc" - Pearce
   "Lenin" - Service
   "Bible Companion" - Witherup

How vast, how oceanic is the world of books! I'm truly blessed to have fallen so ridiculously behind in my reading; blessed because in the event of a recession/depression I could live for years off the livery of my library! (Although hopefully not having to resort to bibliophagy).
My bishop has some very worthwhile thoughts on the praying for the dead that I mean to blog about. (Hence this reminder). One good idea is to write down a name of a deceased relative/friend each day on your calendar for the month of November, and pray especially for that person on that day.
On Whither Ignorance is Bliss
Knowledge up to a point is salvific - i.e. knowledge of Christ and those things taught necessary for salvation. That is the purpose of the bible after all, to give us the knowledge necessary for our salvation. Modern scholarship, however, is not necessary for that end and, in suspectible individuals, can be an anchor weighing on a full trust and certainty in God. One can say that their faith is by definition weak if they are upset by it. Here belief in the infallibility of the Church helps, since she has said that all Scripture is inerrant and inspired by God. In that sense it is a "Protestant" problem. (Or for those, like my mother, who has "issues" with the infallibility of the Church). Ronald Knox and others have pointed out that we wouldn't know the bible to be inspired and without contradiction without the Church's instruction to that point.

There is a temptation in civil law to ban what causes problems for a minority, i.e. like the prohibition of alcohol. With respect to artificial birth control, perhaps its effect on the populace at large appears, on the surface, more dangerous than to an individual family. But that is a moral issue, not a knowledge issue. Knowledge itself cannot be intrinsically harmful, since truth can do no harm. Bad scholarship - yes, but good scholarship no. Perhaps the modern biblical criticism is helpful in the sense that faith can be strengthened by its exercise.

October 26, 2002

One key to understanding the bible is that it was never meant merely to bring us to itself. Every principle of Scripture shows us our need of the forgiveness that Christ secured on our behalf...It is for such a relationship that the Bible was given. - found on internet, unattributed.
Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid....

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!                  -William Butler Yeats
Snake’s shed skin lay
like summer in humps of leaves
and mouldering memories;
she busies herself in other climes
inebriated by distance.

Summer warms no more;
no fetal bed of sun-posting down
real as a your neighbor.

Of memories sure,
scent of tomato leaves on your hands
undertow of dirt and stones
fires along the tree line
gasp-lit sighs of marshmallow-melts
sagging atop burnt-orange tips.

Hard-won leaves slowly defrock
medals shed; like tombstones lay;
Autumn cruel descends
grace revoked
the light abates
in weeks, it was all faerie’s dream.
"Too much hate from the anti-hate crowd."
- found post on a Yahoo billboard, in response to the cursing and invective of those who love women unless they are unborn women.


Remembering Ireland - dusting off the ol' travelogue - circa 1996
We drove south to Waterford, the site of our first bed 'n breakfast. The lady of the manor, Agnes, was kind and civilized, offering us tea and scones in her baroquely decorated lounge room. The rambling farm house had the added benefit of being near a pub the size of a shoebox, where a dozen locals celebrated a Saturday night in this small, randomly chosen town.

The barkeep was a shyish boy of 18ish and he was so soliticious and anti-teen that it was very refreshing. Their teens seem to be lagging behind American teens in obnoxiousness. The dogs in Ireland are remarkably friendly too. It made me think of Garrison Keilor's line about Lake Woebegon..."Ireland - where the teenagers are well-behaved and the dogs respectful". The men at the stools of the bar held forth in a strict dress code followed according to age:
    over 60 - tweed hat, tweed jacket, slight limp
    40 - 60 - no hat, no limp
    30 - 40 - no jacket
    under 30 - blue jeans & tennis shoes
No matter how hard I concentrated, I couldn't make out their muddled accented speech. They may as well been speaking Gaelic. It sounded like a cross between Archie Bunker and an auctioneer.

The next day we made a stop at the Molly Malone statue (of the song "in Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty, crying cockles and mussels sweet Molly Malone"). The lascivious statue, with her bronzed pectorals immodestly covered by half cuffs of bronze fabric had none of the English prudery about her. But Molly seemed to have a quality that Mona had in her Lisian smile - meaning all things to all people. To some, Molly is a motherly figure that represents Ireland as earth mother, a symbol of Ireland par feminine that goes back centuries. To others it represents the youth and vibrancy of a city infused with music and poetry. Molly perpetually struts aside her cart of cockles and mussels, looking for all the world like a naive peasant girl amidst the busiest square in the busiest city in Ireland, never closing her eyes to the wide spectrum of indecencies, the public urinations on her, the drunks retching their huddled masses upon her... But, Molly retains the wide eye'd innocence that is so easy to retain when you're made of brass.

October 25, 2002

from Johnathon Franzen on a Gaddis book:
There were quotations in Latin, Spanish, Hungarian, and six other languages to be rappelled across. Blizzards of obscure references swirled around sheer cliffs of erudition, precipitous discourses on alchemy and Flemish painting, Mithraism and early-Christian theology.. . . it was a struggle to figure out what, or even who, the story was about; dialogue was punctuated with dashes and largely unattributed." - Johnathon Franzen

I'm not sure I get the point of gratuitous obscurity. Obscurity can be beautiful; sprinkled words of a foreign language even look beautiful on the printed page. But some of it I think appeals to the pride of the reader - I got this allusion! It's art as a glorified crossword puzzle I guess. Shakespeare wrote plays that sound obscure to us only because of the antiquated language. To people of his day, it was plainly understood, albeit laden with rich prose, foreshadowings, symbolism, etc. The very beauty and comprenhensiveness of Shakespeare perhaps spoiled the broth for later generations who could not compete. Ultimately, the moderns often have less to say but have very creative ways of saying it. But perhaps this is merely sour grapes for not "getting it".

On re-reading this book ten years after I wrote it, I find its chief faults to be those two which I myself least easily forgive in the books of other men: needless obscurity, and an uncharitable temper. C.S.Lewis, looking back on his Pilgrim's Regress
Ha, good picture at Minute Particulae
Katie Knows Best
I just did what I never do - I watched Katie Couric - and during a 5 minute profile of the sniper she did not once mention his conversion to Islam. She did say he changed his name. She emphasized his military background, spoke to fellow soldiers, etc...We *got* that he was comfortable with guns. We did not *get* the why he did it, which ultimately is the only thing of interest.

I assume this is because she, and her co-horts at NBC/Pravda, fear reprisals against innocent Muslims in this country. But this sort of paternalism is ultimately harmful. Most obviously, it is not part of her job.

Paternalism is, however, part of the Church's job. She is our parent, our mother. And she was accused, in the 50s and before, of paternalism. Now since I wasn't alive pre-Vatican II, I have no idea if what I am about to say is completely true. It is what I've heard. Second-hand. So correct me if I'm wrong. But what I've heard is that the Church, paternalistically, told the faithful just to read the Baltimore Catechism and accept the answers unquestioningly. My understanding is that there were not bible study classes; which is understandable given that scripture in the wrong hands is dangerous (i.e. it fractured the Church). Not to mention that form criticism and historical criticism has weakened many a faith (my mother's among them - she said her faith was much stronger in the 50s..especially before she decided the infancy narratives were 'made up'). So...is it better to be dumb with a strong faith or smart, in the ways of biblical criticism, and have a weak faith? I leave it to another mother, Mater Ecclesia.

October 24, 2002

Comic Corner
A New Yorker cartoon depicts a forlorn looking man, down on his knees, gazing up toward heaven and praying, “Possibly due to a technical error, I seem to be getting someone else’s comeuppance.”

Another cartoon shows a businessman in a suit and tie with a briefcase, walking by a homeless man sitting peacefully on a bench. They are sharing the same thought: "There but for the grace of God go I!"
Pro mirth!...
"In human affairs whatever is against reason is a sin. Now it is against reason for a man to be burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment."- Aquinas
You will know them by their dreams...
Dreams oft go where the day daren't, they fall into turpitude such that wakefulness itself induces scrupulosity...

"The dreams of good men are better than those of any other people." - Aristotle
"Even during sleep, the soul may have conspicuous merit on account of its good disposition."- Augustine
Aquinas provides perhaps too much information on another kind of dream.
Stop me before I schadenfreude
We had the first annual "Bobber Beer Test" today. My friend known variously as "'bobber" (short for scambobber) and "Hambone", has bragged ad nauseum (emphasis on nauseum) that he can tell a beer's age. He bought into the whole Budweiser "born-on date" thing hook, line & sinker. Instead of considering it a marketing ploy, he goes to the supermarket wading through cases of Bud in search of product no older than three weeks old. I found it somewhat amusing, but it gives him such joy to find something say, three weeks old instead of five. Why make an issue of it?

But human preversity being what it is, I finally succumbed and called him on it. I found a 5-month old can of beer that had been stored at room temperature for most of the five months. I found a 4-week old "fresh" beer that had been always refrigerated. The beers were refrigerated overnight and poured into containers marked cryptically.

"Ahh...yes...this is the real thing...fresh brew!" he said of the five-month brew, with absolute certainty.

"EEEhhhhhwwwww!" he nearly retched as he drank the 4-week old brew.

I admit I enjoyed it all far too much.

"The four-week old beer might've been somehow corrupted by the shipping process...maybe out in the sun." - his initial reaction.

"Don't you consider this test aberrant in the sense that the first taste of beer is so exhilarating than, say, a sip from the 2nd or 3rd beer?"
- his second thought.

"No, what would be aberrant would be if you didn't provide a rationalization," said me.
Thank you Saint Anthony!

October 23, 2002

Converts have had a disproportionally immense impact on the Church. St. Paul, Augustine, Newman - many of the giants were converts. Part of it may be that they have been given, by grace, a vision comparable to the sudden insight Helen Keller had when she suddenly understood the meaning of words at age eight, a joyous breakthrough that happens to "cradle learners" at around age three. Her life was utterly changed that day in Alabama, changed by the opening of a world denied. Cradle learners like us take words for granted - but she had fasted before the feast.

Garcia Lopez de Cardenas discovered the Grand Canyon and was amazed at the sight....The assumption is that the Grand Canyon is a remarkably interesting and beautiful place and that if it had a certain value P for Cardenas, the same value P may be transmitted to any number of sight-seeers - just as Banting's discovery of insulin can be transmitted to any number of diabetics. A counterinfluence is at work, however, and it would be nearer the truth to say that if the place is seen by a million sightseers, a single sightseer does not receive value P but a millionth part of value P.

Why? It is almost impossible because the Grand Canyon, the thing that it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer's mind. Seeing the canyon under approved circumstances is seeing the symbolic complex head on. The thing is no longer the thing as it confronted the Spaniard; it is rather that which has already been formulated- by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon. As a result of this preformulation, the source of the sightseer's pleasure undergoes a shift. Where the wonder and delight of the Spaniard arose from his penetration of the thing itself, the sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the performed complex.
-Walker Percy Message in the Bottle

The convert seeing the Church in its true light for the first time is like someone seeing an infinitesimally small fraction of the light of God. But that light is transformative. Supernatural grace allows those who think they have seen the light to be renewed to see it as if for the first time. Cardinal Newman once wrote a woman who was enthused by her conversion; he said it was great news, but may it continue over time.
I don't see much EWTN, mostly because reading is a more efficient use of time given the slowness of the verbal, but there are a couple shows that I compulsively watch. One is "Catholic Authors" with Fr. McCloskey. The other is "Franciscan University Presents" a talk show with a Franciscan priest, Scott Hahn and another professor at F.U. (oops).

One topic was "Reaching out to Lukewarm Catholics"; the professor confessed that he felt like the topic was somewhat cheeky since most of us are lukewarm Catholics, at least compared to the saints. He sighed, "I would that the gap narrow between my own sinfulness and the virtuousness of the saints". Scott Hahn quickly retorted, "we do too!" before adding the obligatory disclaimer, "as I do hope for myself too".

There were substantive exchanges I could post here, but one of the more interesting ones was discussion about evangelization techniques. The guest argued that people are swayed mostly by your behavior, your peacefulness, your love. Doctrine is a side issue. Scott argued about people's thirst for truth and quoted Chesterton's line about open minds. I thought about this while reading Nancy Nall's comments about how the Catholics who frequent Amy's blog turn her away from coming back to church. On her website, she argues that she could never become a Republican because of the way they dress (I guess). There are many people like this, people who apparently think that by becoming ...Catholic or Republican...one is somehow tainted. One would think that the decision to become a Catholic or Republican would be based on the truth of it. As I commented on Amy's site, whether I see Christ in me or in others is irrelevant. What matters is whether I consider Christ truthful. The truthfulness of Christ compels me to be Christian, and the fidelity of the Catholic faith to that Truth compels me to be Catholic.

So, does behavior conform once the truth is known, or does good behavior lead to knowledge of the truth? To the first, one can say "no" since the devil knows the truth. And to the second, many of us know holy Mormons or Muslims. Either way, as one old philospher once said, "don't live like a tomcat while you're looking for answers", suggesting a linkage.

People don't ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.- Robert Leavitt
So much as you have of inward love and adherence to his holy light and spirit within you, so much as you have of real unaffected humility and meekness, so much as you are dead to your own will and self-love, so much as you have of purity of heart, so much, and no more, nor any further, do you see and know the truths of God.
-William Law via Tenebrae
Old Poems, dusted off

I drank the dram proffered by profs
dressed in plaid imputing glam
to previously dull subjects to wit:
it seemed plausible to give your life
to a study carol and an obscurity
            like 18th-century economics
amid grand trees and tenured security.


arid as the craterous moon
dry bone dust
borne aloft on directionless winds
across a sparkling venue
to Paradox.

arid as the last tundra
misquitoed details swarm
entracted distractions
piss flies demand
a share of blood
just a small share,
till volumes it becomes.


Throw the shackles
wind the thymes
free the smallness
duc in altum!
Put together beak and
Carraway and find
a seedy bird! be silly as
the created world,
as the three-toed sloth!

Hie thee to the ocean floor
lit by aphorismic animals
indeterminately shaped
neon bodies flashing
like made-up words
they flit about unknown to man.

October 22, 2002

The mind isn't meant to be open forever anymore than the mouth; as the mouth shuts upon meat, so the mind upon truth.
I am always approaching my end,
looking for the hidden one.
Tongue-tied in time for my nani's deeds,
I have done my trembling,
but the soul must be an All in All,
laid out in one sentence,
over the Pool, over the absolute intention,
even the knowledge of death.

This, before you,
       is the life
of a dark and dutiful dyeli,
searching for the understanding of his deeds.

Let my words wound you
into the love of the emblems
    of the soul's intent. -Jay Wright
Steve Riddle on the riddle of free will:
...this is an interesting proposition, but it is contingent upon a hidden axiom which is integral to the conclusion. [He] assumes that all reality is a single closed system and not a series of infinitely contingent systems. If the former is true, the conclusion (no free will) holds; however, if the latter is true, then a choice, or a bifurcation point, can be known, but the spinning out of the system totally contingent upon it. In other words, God knows all the pathways, all the bifurcations, and our choices are free, but the end result is still known in God's mind without restricting free will. God knows the end results of every single choice and does not dictate (in the vast majority of cases) which choice is made. In this sense free-will can be called an illusion, but it is an illusion with the depth of reality of imaginary numbers, which are, in no way, imaginary.

I liked this Vatican art, though others thought it ugly beyond ken. It recognizes our "unfinishedness" and displays an attitude of encouragement from our Holy Father, his individual attention given to ordinary Joes like us. I have no idea what it really means - I thought it about losing our stoniness and becoming who we are meant to be. But the Pope is in stone.

October 21, 2002

Woe who taketh arms in life
And retaineth hands of strife,
Better far books of whiteness,
Where psalms are seen in brightness!
-Cellach, 6th century

Ancient Irish poetry from Cellach, king of the Irish province of Connaught, who wished he’d remained a student instead of king.
Four Green Fields
"What did I have?" said the fine old woman
"What did I have?" this proud old woman did say
"I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I had fine strong sons, they fought to save my jewels
They fought and died, and that was my grief" said she

"Long time ago" said the fine old woman
"Long time ago" this proud old woman did say
"There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved by mountain valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood" said she

"What have I now?" said the fine old woman
"What have I now?" this proud old woman did say
"I have four green fields, one of them's in bondage
In stranger's hands, that tried to take it from me
But my sons have sons, as brave as were their fathers
My fourth green field will bloom once again" said she. Tommy Makem

The 'fine old woman' represents Ireland and her fields the provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connacht. Her fourth green field, the northern province of Ulster remains 'in strangers' hands.'
See Peter Kreeft on the controversial topic of the historicity of the bible. My mother wants to throw Noah overboard, considering the story not true and therefore on par with Aesop. I argued for the inspiration of biblical accounts while couching it in terms of: 'whether or not it really happened is besides the point - is it inspired?' But Kreeft considers it important, so I better reconsider. I have done precious little research on the flood, specifically concerning the animals coming in the ark in pairs and presumably re-populating the earth. My scientist uncle considers this bolderdash (bowlderdash?) from an evolutionary, botanical, etc standard which it may well be. Anyway, this inter-familial debate becomes my debate whether I want it to or not, so I found this Kreeft thing and thought it might be of interest.

postscript: I bought her Mark Shea's book on interpreting the bible correctly, Making Senses of Scripture last year.
Selections from Verweile Doch

Therefore, the case endings in Proto-Indo-European, since they, too, must have begun as separate words, are signs that this language, too, was just one more of thousands of end products of millennia of change from the Ur-language. - John McWhorter, The Power of Babel

It was this that threw him off, her having to aim to be what she was. - Walker Percy The Last Gentleman

The engineer, on the other hand, read books of great particularity, such as English detective stories, especially the sort which, answering a need of the Anglo-Saxon soul, depict the hero as perfectly disguised or perfectly hidden, holed up maybe in the woods of Somerset, actually hiding for days at a time in a burrow of ingenious construction from which he could notice things, observe the farmhouse below. Englishmen like to see without being seen. They are by nature eavesdroppers. The engineer could understand this. Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman
Blue coat planted
in unconcious soil,
brusque air falls upon thy medals
your cool, Victorian age
dew-fallen to frost
our Odyssey retreating.
Remembrance, the jewel we gave
tarnishes; valour shed like trees falling
in forests though no one heard
still be valour.
Woe is he
who picks at sins like festering sores
as if the Sinless one’s scourging
were done without effect.
Found this quote from John Henry Newman in this month's Magnifcat. It reminds me of another quote I heard, something along the lines of "love is beautiful in dreams, harsh in reality."

In books, everything is made beautiful in its way. Pictures are drawn of complete virtue; little is said about failures, and little or nothing of the drudgery of ordinary, every-day obedience, which is neither poetical nor interesting. True faith teaches us to do numberless disagreeable things for Christ's sake, to bear petty annoyances, which we find written down in no book...It is beautiful in a picture to wash the disciples' feet; but the sands of the real desert have no luster in them to compensate for the servile nature of the occupation.

And here he sounds a little like Tim Drake:

The art of composing, has in itself a tendency to make us artificial and insincere. For to be ever attending to the fitness and propriety of our words, is (or at least thdere is the risk of its being) a kind of acting; and knowing what can be said on both sides of a subject is a main step towards thinking the other side as good as the other. Hence men in ancient times, who cultivated polite literature, went by the name of "Sophists"; that is, men who wrote elegantly, and talked eloquently, on an subject whatever, right or wrong...Such are some of the dangers of elegant accomplishments; and they beset more or less all educated persons.
- Cardinal John Henry Newman

October 20, 2002

Via Ad Orientem, via Widening Gyre...(you knew I'd have to post this):

The Pelagian Drinking Song
Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!
- Belloc
Furthering my Apostolate of Bad Poetry:
* Vive la Difference *
Marie said
‘Let them have cake”
He said
Let them have my Body.

October 19, 2002

The Cliffs of Moher
The wind bereaves wayward souls
hugs at the corners; unrolls pageants
where bitterns ‘round battered lighthouses
hale-gust promontories sound-crush
winds forty miles prey on
tummy-crawls to vertiginous falls
organs fastened to skin and skeleton
by the barest of margins.

Eire robs your heart,
wraps it round your ankle,
stolen by the Gaeltacht poetry
Guinness and silent Green hills,
meandering in the mid-distance and
clasping to her knoll
unbearable poignancies.

-Back in ’96 I was on a forsaken hill in Ireland, as lost to earth and kin as this world can offer. The green undulating hills were big enough to offer invisibility, but not so high as to make the climbs difficult. There in the old air I pondered the white fleece of visiting sheep and rams, some with horns and stares of unnerving alertness. What was I looking for on those unbeaten, scat-scattered paths?

October 18, 2002

  Lyrics to Irish tune ("chune") Risin' of the Moon
Oh come tell me Sean O'Farrell, tell me why you hurry so
Hush a bhuachaill, hush and listen and his cheeks were all aglow
I bear orders from the captain, get you ready quick and soon
For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon
At the rising of the moon, at the rising of the moon
For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon

And come tell me Sean O'Farrell, where the gathering is to be
At the old spot by the river quite well known to you and me
One more word for signal token, whistle out the marching tune
With your pike upon your shoulder at the rising of the moon
At the rising of the moon, at the rising of the moon
With your pike upon your shoulder at the rising of the moon

Out from many a mud walled cabin eyes were watching through the night
Many a manly heart was beating for the blessed morning's light
Murmurs ran along the valley to the banshee's lonely croon
And a thousand pikes were flashing by the rising of the moon
By the rising of the moon, by the rising of the moon
And a thousand pikes were flashing by the rising of the moon

All along that singing river, that black mass of men was seen
High above their shining weapons flew their own beloved green
Death to every foe and traitor, whistle out the marching tune
And hoorah me boys for freedom 'tis the rising of the moon
'Tis the rising of the moon, 'tis the rising of the moon
And hoorah me boys for freedom 'tis the rising of the moon. - J. Casey

This poem was written to commemorate the 1798 Irish Rebellion; plotters agreed to meet at the rising of the moon with their pikes (weapons) on their shoulders. The result may have been predictable, but the courage and determination shown by the men of '98 became a watch-word for later generations. This is my favorite Irish tune.
   The Healing Improvisation of Hair
   Wind in the cottonwoods wakes me
   to a day so thin its breastbone
   shows, so paid out it shakes me free
   of its blue dust. I will arrange
   that river water, bottom juice.
   I conjure my head in the stream
   and ride with the silk feel of it
   as my woman bathes me, shaves
   away the scorn, sponges the grit
   of solitude from my skin, laves
   the salt water of self-esteem
   over my feathering body.
   How like joy to come upon me
   in remembering a head of hair
   and the way water would caress
   it, and stress beauty in the flair
   and cut of the only witness
   to my dance under sorrow’s tree.
   This swift darkness is spring’s first hour.
-  Jay Wright
It often happens that Satan will insidiously commune with you in your heart and say: "Think of the evil you have done; your soul is full of lawlessness, you are weighed down by many grievous sins." Do not let him deceive you when he does this and do not be led to despair on the pretext that you are being humble. What was the purpose of His descent to earth except to save sinners, to bring light to those in darkness and life to the dead?- from the Macarian Homilies via Tenebrae

October 17, 2002

I've always had a soft spot for professor E. Michael Jones. His critiques of modernity have just enough truth to absorb you, albeit with enough conspiracy theory to repel most casual readers. He also adheres to the commandment "never bore". His view is usually a libido-centric view of things (Degenerate Moderns was a crowd-pleaser for the smoke of satan folks, as well as for me). Anyway, I keep waiting for him to cross the line - he came close here but perhaps now he really has:

Urban renewal was the last-gasp attempt of the WASP ruling class to take control of a country that was slipping out of its grasp for demographic reasons. The largely Catholic ethnics were to be driven out of their neighborhoods, where they were to be "Americanized" according to WASP principles.

Can't judge it unless I've read it though.
Sadly, this appears to be life imitating art...This is very close to the "ultimate entertainment" described in David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.
A Dream
It was a cavernous bascillica, a sort of coronation hall - with endless red carpet leading to the altar. He was in the very last pew. Behind, in the exit rotunda, was a sign that said "God's meal is done." He walked up to Communion late, and fought the urge to run up the long aisle since the 97-year old priest in the bright, heavy straining vestments waited. The pastor smiled patiently, his posture stooped. He gave him the Body and said 'take and look at it through the light'. He did and could plainly see a seed embedded in it! 'May you grow spiritually as a tree,' he said. The communicant ate half of it and immediately the other half became a steel ingot depicting the Crucifixion. He ate that too, despite its seeming hardness.
Remembering Rome
The "Church of 40,000 Bones" as my friend called it was actually Santa Maria della Conceizione. Here, not quite entombed, were over 4,000 monks who donated their bones as the raw material for macabre decorations that illustrate biblical imagery as well as the brevity of life. (For example, the sacred heart with a crown of thorns adorns the walls via a unique combination of bones.) When I read about this place I imagined it much more dark and dreary, a Halloweenish place. But I thought it was about as cheerful as you could make it, especially if you forgot for a minute the archway decorations were bones. The message is the "as you are/ so was I/ as I am/ so shall you be" and is intended to give a sense of urgency in the spiritual life. The psalmist asks in Psalm 30 what profit is there in his death - "Will the dust praise you?" and I thought this place really tried to have these dusty bones praise God by showing the faith of these holy monks had in not fearing death but by taunting it and saying "where is thy sting?".
Samuel Johnson wrote a series of sermons for his friend John Taylor. One of them deals with trust in God. Trust in God is an essential part of the Christian life. But suppose that a man does not feel trust. Ought he to try to deceive himself into thinking that he does feel it? Ought he to try to manufacture feelings of trust by sheer will-power? Johnson's answer is that he ought to behave as if he did trust God, and that means obeying God. He who obeys will find sooner or later that he does trust. "This constant and devout practice is both the effect, and Cause, of confidence in God. Trust in God is to be obtained only by repentance, obedience, and supplication, not by nourishing in our hearts a confused idea of the goodness of God, or a firm persuasion that we are in a state of grace." A problem for Johnson was that, although he had no trouble seeing that his attitude toward God ought to be one of trust and dependency, his constant struggle since infancy with his physical disabilities had instilled in him a strong habit of self-reliance and rejection of help from others. Habit and theory were thus at constant war. He also found it difficult to participate in public worship, especially when it involved sermons, since he often knew more about the sermon subject than the preacher, and had to resist the impulse to contradict him. Public prayer was less of a difficulty, and private prayer still less. - Bate's biography of Samuel Johnson

If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.
Fire Sale....All Bad Poetry Must Go*
Portrait of a hero
'the Mick' with bat in hand
how comfortably he holds his gaze
and surveys the outfield land.
Against a darkened sky
the pinstripes shine so bright
and 'neath his cap a brim of green
gleams out into the night.

* - to make room for more bad poetry!
Leaving St. John’s
a holy old woman saw me leaving and said:
“I believe there is some Holy Bread up there for you.”
I thanked her
the words a balm
I imagined those words said again
at the juncture of this life and the next.
Like a fish in Peter’s net
I suffer and flap noisily
in the light and death-to-self
fighting He who saves
craving the dark water of sin.
I do beseech you, either not believe
The envious slanders of her false accusers;
Or, if she be accused in true report,
Bear with her weakness, which, I think proceeds
From wayward sickness, and no grounded malice.
- Shakespeare, Richard III
On Hypocrisy
"....It's crucial to understand that a Christian isn't a hypocrite, for example, simply because he condemns fornication and then commits it himself. He needs to repent and do penance, but the sin itself does not make him a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy is a layer of three sins: the arrogant judging of another person; the sinful act itself; and deception about the act. You don't become a hypocrite merely by saying one thing and doing anohter, but by affecting a virtue you don't have.
  - Erick Scheske in Our Sunday Visitor

October 16, 2002

Rejoice, thou barren that barest not. Break out and cry, thou that travailest not; for more are the children of the desolate than of her that hath the husband. -Gal 4:27
Someone once told me that they will get religious when they have a need for it - when they are old and facing death and need something to keep them going. I reacted to this idea of "God as a device used for my mental health" as an allergen. I overreacted and thought ill of the person; I began to distrust feelings to the point where positive feelings were nearly despised. My reaction was surely partially a recognition of that utilitarian view of God in my own life. ("He protestheth too much..."). I accused myself of praying only for the peace of mind instead of love for God.

Lord, protect me from what I have thought in the name of self-protection; of preferring to error on the side of seeing you as a God of justice, rather than mercy. This self-protection, this desire to pass the test rather than to love you is worse than the fellow who imagines his need for God a mental health construct. Strategems made me see thee in the most stringent terms, a wrathful God, so that if you turned out to be Mercy, all would be bonus. Prudence be damned, all have sinned, all is misery, only thou art grace. Thou art Mercy or I am doomed...

The idea of life as a test is enervating and debilitating; life is a choice, true - Adam and Eve had to choose and one could call that a "test", but it's about a relationship, about love. "Test" is Old Testament, it is the Law. With the wiles of a good test-taker, I've too much notion of 'grading on the curve' and too much imbued with playing percentages, finding Pascal's Wager distasteful while unconsciously (or not) playing the game, forgetting the purpose of the Law is that "grace might be sought, and grace was given that the law might be fulfilled" [Augustine]. I must rejoice in the free gift, in the good news, in Love for "we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free."
Dylan rips these things off like there is no tomorrow, always dense with allusions and punctuated with piquant details. Fearing risk of comparison, I think I'll pass on doing something similar.

I do believe in intellectual submission to the Church, partly because it is the hardest thing. There is a preversity in me that imagines that which is hardest must be the best. That isn't necessarily so, but it usually is. I'm no joiner either; I did my time in a fraternity in college (which confirmed it). In my experience, the lowest common denominator wins.

I remember years ago telling my non-Christian brother-in-law that Christianity requires intellectual submission. He leapt at that a little too gleefully. I think he thought it meant throwing away reason and accepting a literal six-day creation. I regret that I didn't add, "but you never have to accept anything contrary to reason." But I was still in my credo quia absurdum phase.
Facing Winter's Death
Think you I can a resolution fetch
From flowery tenderness? If I must die,
I will encounter darkness as a bride,
And hug it in mine arms.

   - Shakespeare Measure for Measure

October 15, 2002

Poem o' the Day
Saint and hermit send
each other news by seagull.
Herebericht is safe within his lake,
islanded from demons, speaks
with the fresh-water fish about
the scent of home, its wholeness
of moss and quartz.
Otters sit outside his hut
and toast him with sunken wine.
He sniffs at the pebbles.
They smell jaspery.
They smell of Heaven.
The gull they send between them
carries no messages
scrolled around its leg.
Instead it is itself illuminated:
every feather written on in script
which only they can read.
excerpt from poem by Bill Herbert
Rain is holy water to lovers -McKeun
Not too often, while dreamily browsing a book catalog, do I spy something as eye-popping as this: "The Early Church Fathers", a 38-volume set coving the first 800 years of of the church, regularly $1,100, marked down to $299.99. I don't need something like that, being hopelessly behind in my reading as it is, but it is a remarkable deal at $8 a book. An amazon.com review says that the works are all translated and edited by Protestant scholars and divines, so the footnotes, prefaces, and profiles of these Church Fathers and their works tend to be shrouded with Protestant leanings. Alas - everything is sectarian, even pre-Reformation. Why should the early church fathers be different than the bible itself?
Quotes, we've got quotes..
"The secret about the scientific method is this: Science cannot utter a single word about the individual molecule, thing, or creature in so far as it is an individual but only in so far as it is like other individuals. The laymen thinks that only science can utter the true word about anything, individuals included. But the laymen is an individual. So science cannot say a single word to him or about him except as he resembles others.

A man is after all himself and no other, and not merely an example of a class of similar selves. If such a man is deprived of the means of being a self in a world made over by science for his use and enjoyment, he is like a ghost at a feast. He becomes invisible. That is why people in the modern age took photographs by the million: to prove despite their deepest suspicions to the contrary that they were not invisible."
- Walker Percy, Message in a Bottle

"There is no wrath that stands between God and us but what is awakened in the dark fire of our own fallen nature; and to quench this wrath, and not his own, God gave his only begotten Son to be made man.

God has no more wrath in himself now than he had before the creation, when he had only himself to love. The precious blood of his Son was not poured out to pacify himself (who in himself had no nature toward man but love), but it was poured out to quench the wrath and fire of the fallen soul, and to kindle it in a birth of light and love."
- William Law via Tenebrae October
Nonsensical Tuesday...a fictional foray
In a moment of pique, I quit my well-paying job to become a greeter at WalMart. I’d always envied those grey-haired sentries, ever-present at the threshold of department store greatness. It was dawn, spring of ’01 when I first arrived; I stationed myself far enough away from the entrance to give the customers a sense of belonging but close enough to reassure them with the prospect of guidance. No one visited that first hour and I felt the stab of nostalgia.

WalMart was where I spent my youth and it’s a truism that wherever you spent your youth – be it prison, ballfield, battlefield – there becomes the talisman of sweet remembrance. I meditated on Walmart's marvelous self-containedness - there was furniture to sit on, food to eat, books to read, and aisles and aisles of self-replenishing goods. At the entrance of the in-store McDonalds sat Ronald in Eastern contemplativeness while that indefinable smell constantly triggered scent and memory glands. Customers (or clients as we were instructed to think of them as) arrived often disshelved and tattooed, with big hair and large bellies – proffering a vision of life underexamined yet lived.
"But there is another criticism that stands out as particularly pernicious: That the prayer life of Christians isn't important enough for the Pope to waste time on."

Here is a voice of reason. Personally, I love that the Pope is interested in our prayer life. He probably sees much better than we do that bishops come from the ranks of priests, priests from holy parents, and holy parents from prayer. He's aiming for the root cause instead of just lopping off the whole American bishopry. One can't legislate holiness.

I think the current helplessness we tend to feel with respect to our society, culture and leadership can be turned around into a blessing...the times I feel truly humble and reliant on God are when I am helpless.

October 14, 2002

Sometimes, it is as if the thorn not only becomes a rose, but the rose is dependent on once being a thorn. Let me try to 'splain (as Ricky would say).

I've been musing about the fact that two giants of the Church - St. Paul & St. Augustine - both preached theologies completely and radically different from what they believed in their pre-converted lives. Augustine, who lived a randy early life, is accused of being 'anti-woman', but he wrote in a way that recognized a danger, a precipice that he wished others avoid; thus his fondness for the virtues of celibacy. St. Paul, who was a relentless believer in the Law, ended up preaching its contrary. The irony that he should be the apostle of the Gentiles is rich. And yet, who better? He understood the futility of the Law completely and experienced the contrasted reality of the Risen Christ like few could. In a sense won't we look forward, in an age of doubt and apostasy, to a greater joy when we experience things made clear? Won't the joy be incomprehensibly greater for having experienced its converse?
the Real Thing
Wow. This excerpt about the great Ted Williams speaks for itself:

If I had to sum up what he showed me, it was the difference between politesse -- Ted wasn't big on that -- and what was the large, true-blue, right thing to do. It was later, too, I understood this was pattern with Ted. He had to rough up the people he meant to help.

No one ever wrote, for example, that when Darryl Strawberry spiraled out of baseball in a gyre of alcohol, cocaine, and litigious women...when his imminent return to the Yankees was sadly scuttled by another acting out -- a D.U.I., or getting kicked out of rehab, or something (Straw's woes are hard to keep straight now)...the first call he got was not from his lawyer but from Ted Williams, who barely knew him, but who invited Darryl to come live at his house.

This was also pattern with Ted -- hiding the generosity of spirit that made him a great man. Maybe he assumed it would be misunderstood. Or worse still, too widely understood. "YER MAKIN' ME A DAMN SOCIAL WORKER," he yelled at me one time. This was the fact he wouldn't let me print:

For years, personally and secretly, Ted had been keeping a lot of guys in business -- guys too old to qualify for baseball's pension, or they didn't have enough time in the majors, or they didn't have the talent and never made it to the majors -- and mostly they were guys too proud to ask, but he knew they were just scraping by. He'd call them up. He'd tell them he was collecting for charity -- the Jimmy Fund for kids with cancer, or his museum, something -- and they'd hem and haw about how things weren't great with them, just at the moment, might be tough to pitch in...."DAMMIT, I CALLED YA!" Ted would bellow into the phone. "SEND ME A CHECK FER TEN BUCKS, SONOFABITCH!"...Then, when he got their check with the number, he'd deposit ten grand into their account.
- by Richard Ben Cramer
Today's special...(inspired by Kat Lively & Dark October)
   99 Personal Revelations Marked Down to 16
1. The first heroic deed of my life was being born and shucking the amniotic fluid for air
2. Agree with Churchill's axiom that if "you are 20 and conservative you have no heart, and if you are 40 and liberal you have no brain".
4. Find the philosophies of Edward Abbey & Henry D. Thoreau way too attractive for my own good.
5. 33-min 5 mile personal best
6. Believed in the myth of the "noble savage" as a youth
7. Believed in the myth of the "noble savage" as an adult when I read that the typical hunter/gatherer worked 15 hours a week
8. Liked the song "Fat-bottomed Girls" but careful to add, "but not the words, of course"
9. Wrote following poem at age 10 and was swiftly accused of plagiarism by Sally Jurgensen: "Fierce sometimes is the rain/ bursting on the windowpane/ Rain is racing down the road/ Dripping wet is the olive toad! / But all the rain is far away / For I am in my house to stay". Consider this the highlight of my writing career.
10. Said poem lives on in the lives of many first-graders (my mother is a teacher and makes them write that poem)
11. In college, considered the phrase "fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life" flat out wrong.
12. John Updike can flat out write
13. Cardinal Ratzinger fascinates me
14. Like making lists
15. Am saddened that the Indigo Girls no longer thank God on their CD sleeves.
16. Find that it is easier to have the right opinion, than to do the right thing.
Memorable Quotes from Verweile Doch*

'I guess the last bad habit a man will give up is advising.
'I don't want advice.'
'Nobody does. It's a giver's present.'"

The sectarian churches came in swinging, cocky and loud and confident...The sects fought evil, true enough, but they also fought each other with a fine lustiness. They fought at the turn of a doctrine.

- John Steinbeck, "East of Eden"

* - "verweile doch is German for "linger awhile", which is what I call my long Sunday reads.
Read an electric "99 Theses" from the masked blogger (I won't link to it since I'm unsure of how much "pub" he wants). It eliminated my need for caffeine this a.m.

It offends my sensibilities that in Gaelic whiskey means "water of life". That water is taken, thank you very much. But one of my interests has been how to integrate transcendental experiences within a Christian life, like, for instance, alcohol. Outside of spiritual experiences such as prayer, transcendental experiences for me include writing, sex, love, running and alcohol. As one ages, there is a certain diminishment in many of the above...Not to mention that the number and quality of transcendental experiences are inversely proportional to the quantity of one's family obligations.

The obligatory caveat is, of course, that pleasure is not the purpose of life anyway.
Quote Corner
The strongest human instinct is to impart information. The second strongest is to resist it.
- Kenneth Graham

People don't ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.
- Robert Leavitt
On a sunny, bittersweetly warm-turning-winsome day last week I headed to Oktoberfest and the Klaber Orchestra. I ordered a Warsteiner dunkel, and the 30-something woman asked who was on my watch. I showed her & said “Padre Pio.” Awkward silence ensued. “Bet I’m the only one here with a Padre Pio watch, eh?”. No answer. Bleeding mystics aren't for everyone.

I wandered over to a huge outdoor screen which showed the Bengals in action (more or less). At the nearby Bier Garten tent I heard the unmistakable sounds of the chicken dance. Both sights were humorous and fetchingly silly.

October 11, 2002

The Balance of the Helmsman
"While it is right that, in accordance with the example of her Master, who is “humble in heart,” the Church also should have humility as her foundation, that she should have a critical sense with regard to all that goes to make up her human character and activity, and that she should always be very demanding on herself, nevertheless criticism too should have its just limits. Otherwise it ceases to be constructive and does not reveal truth, love and thankfulness for the grace in which we become sharers principally and fully in and through the Church. Furthermore such criticism does not express an attitude of service but rather a wish to direct the opinion of others in accordance with one’s own, which is at times spread abroad in too thoughtless a manner.

Gratitude is due to Paul VI because, while respecting every particle of truth contained in the various human opinions, he preserved at the same time the providential balance of the bark’s helmsman. The Church that I – through John Paul I – have had entrusted to me almost immediately after him is admittedly not free of internal difficulties and tension. At the same time, however, she is internally more strengthened against the excesses of self-criticism: she can be said to be more critical with regard to the various thoughtless criticisms, more resistant with respect to the various “novelties,” more mature in her spirit of discerning, better able to bring out of her everlasting treasure “what is new and what is old,” more intent on her own mystery, and because of all that more serviceable for her mission of salvation for all: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

- Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis
Scarlett's Father
His wife's demise
be his dementia-
the rose of Death on O’Hara’s tomb
lay atavistically
‘on e’ry Irish heart
More Muggeridge
If western man continues to attempt to satisfy himself thru power or money or eroticism or indulgence in drugs, his life will destruct in such a way that it will be clear to him that such a life is not viable” – Malcolm Muggeride
duty without love
is unbearable
love without duty
duty resting on love
gives life.
Items from the Kitchen Compost Bin...
I'm at a loss at why I like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky so much; it seems vaguely disconcerting. I used to like Monet. I used to like Renaissance art. Now I'm liking the moderns more and more, which feels vaguely perilous. It suggests I'm too much of my time and that my dreams of being a 19th-century type are just that. I wonder what the type of art you like says about you - especially when it evolves. Steve Riddle seems the most 19th-century among the St. Bloggers's. He rises early, drinks the dram of silence and contemplation, breathes old poetry and has a Southern chivalric manner.
I once started reading a short bio of Klee, hoping he wasn't some sort of terrible person. I like artists to be moral and sane. I was always put off from reading "The Confederacy of Dunces" when I learned the author committed suicide because it was as if his world view was tried and, sadly, failed. Similarly with atheistic authors. As if depression and a lack of faith were "catching". A prejuidice I must overcome.
Suitcase full of apologetic writings with titles like: “Against Sociobiology” and “Why a Bible Translation itself is an act of Church” and the sobering “Death of Christ in the Church – Why Ecumenicalism No Longer Matters”. Hie thee to prayer and the healing of Eucharistic Adoration.
What glee to find this for only $1 at a library book sale. Poetry is sort of an antidote to contemporary life. George Will once said he reads fiction as an antidote to a "surfeit of journalism". I sometimes feel the same, drowned in the news, and the prosaic, utilitarian words of a business-oriented culture.

October 10, 2002

This looks good...

The Comic World of C. S. Lewis is Lindvall's topic, and his examination of this renowned apologist ...reveals an unexpected perspective on the primacy of humor as a gateway to God.

"What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously." That quote from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, aptly selected by Lindvall as a chapter opening, capsulizes the springboard for C. S. Lewis's dive into the comical.

Lewis always cuts to the heart of Christianity. His high esteem for laughter, whether generated by a joke, satire, good food and drink, or a convivial party, reflects his belief that play and pleasure are gifts from God, and in fact, that these are hints of the Kingdom of God.

Lewis observed that humans are stuck between two worlds, a natural one and a supernatural one. God, he said, had set out "to make an organism which is also a spirit; to make that terrible oxymoron a 'spiritual animal.' " The tension between flesh and spirit is the source of our best kind of laughter, because it fundamentally affirms our relationship to God.
Like cans of Budweiser with "born-on" dates of a while back, so too are some of my postings of late. Here is my Mexican trip log, cannibalized from last year's journal:

The adrenalin began flowing at the Mexican airport, where the first impression was that we weren't in Kansas anymore. We were deep in the heart of Mexico, deep in a state capital drenched in the colors of their flag - red, green and white. This was no silly border excursion, no weak Cancun trip (no Florida warmed over and served with a Spanish accent). This was the real thing, the nerve center of Mexico where the main economy isn't tourism.

We met our avuncular host, Jacob, at the airport. He was loquacious and proud of his country, shown by his frequent disclaimers that most Mexicans are not "banditos" and by his intense interest in pre-modern Mexcian culture. Jacob reminded me a bit of our baseball sportscaster Marty Brenaman - never at a loss for words and having perfectly coiffed hair.

Unlike Cortes, who came to Mexico City in the early 16th century by long and tortuous route, we arrived by plane (while complaining, of course, on how long it took). You could see the dense city of 25 million souls hemmed in by the mountains, like a big green skirt. Our foray into the foreign met odd foreign signs like "Buenes y Sabarro" and swarms of green VW bug taxis. Dense canyons of buildings covered the land till the reach of the mountains, at which point shacks and shanties sidled halfway up the hills, their inhabitant's laundry hanging out on rooftops suggesting a kind of vulnerability.

That Friday we descended into another time to an old church. I saw a priest hearing a confession out in the open as if it were a common thing. I saw paintings of Jesus and Mary that exuded an inexpressible warmth. There was an electricity in these beginnings, these firsts: like the first church, the first sight of the city, the first arrival to the hotel, the first meal.

We visited the Shrine at Los Remedios ("the Remedy") on Saturday just one day after the feast day (Sept. 1st) when 10,000 pilgrims come here for a celebration of Masses and devotionals and food and fireworks and high-wire acts. There was a little courtyard with various rooms containing religious articles and walls papered with petitions, prayers and pictures, all home-made. I'll not soon forget walking into that courtyard of glass-eyed folks, staring impassively at us like we were visitors from Neptune. It was like a movie set and we were the "Three Amigos" wandering where we didn't belong, here with our gaudy white tennis shoes. I wanted to interact with the Mexicans and get a better sense of who they were, and what made many of them so pious.

I bought a rosary at the shrine and asked the local padre to bless it. He looked like a tall Sancho Pancho and wore a white Dominican-like robe. He took a pine bough and dipped it in holy water and proceeded to brusquely bless the rosary and then me. Earlier, at Mass at Los Remedios I witnessed Mexicans with tears in their eyes. They appreciated the faith. It was by their example and the knowledge that soon I would be seeing the image of Our Lady of Gaudalupe that made me ask impulsively if the padre would hear my confession, with comic results.
"Could you hear my confession?"
Quizzical look ensued.
"?Confessiono?" I figured adding an "o" at the end might do the trick.

Wasn't the Church supposed to be universal anyway? I guess when we all knew Latin.

"Jdkjfedkjdkjkjf," said the Padre in Spanish, or words to that effect.
"Hablo English?" I asked.
The good padre looked pained but concerned, and I was quite sorry by this time that I had brought the whole thing up. We seemed to have reached a stalemate, and I started to back away saying, "that's okay", although I realized immediately the inanity of that - I could've said, "free spaghetti!" for all he knew. He didn't leave me off the hook and instead came over and warmly led me by the hand out into the courtyard searching all around. Finally he found Jacob and I understood he was to translate.
"I just asked if he could hear my confession," I told Jacob.
Jacob said some Spanish words back out at the good Friar and then Jacob to me laughing, "I hear your confession. You tell me!".

Over the length of the trip we saw at least ten churches. All of them were beautiful though markedly different. The Cathedral at Zocala Square was a feast for the eyes of epic proportions. Ornate gold altars and side altars repeated like endless eaves of finely decorated libraries. The Cathedral was dark, magisterial and and not for impressionable young children. Another church, Juan Diego's uncles', was the oppposite. It was light, and airy and simple. There were no reliquaries but an easiness and it emphasized the gospel accounts of Christ riding on a donkey and being born in a manger and God's gentleness and mercy. The yin and the yang?

Zocola Square is second in size only to Red Square in Moscow. The imposing square is surrounded by gargoyle'd buildings and one expected to see a bullfighter or matador at any moment. Zocola felt foreign - it pulsated with foreignness. At one end loud opera music blared, at the other side there was a loud Indian drumming. The place felt like the setting of a lost empire or somewhere Indiana Jones would feel at home. The square was not quite safe -rogue tour guides and pick-pocketing banditos roamed - but had, glamour, with pistole-toting police guarding the Mexican treasures from American riff-raff. I clambored up the stairs to a sumptuous room only to receive a curt, "no moleste!". I said,"Vamous?" and he said, "si". Later, at the bottom of the stairs, I offered a "Beunes Dios" (good day) at a stiff-necked policeman and received my first 'gracias'. It was then I knew I'd connected with the Mexican people and was now one of them. The fabulous murals of the Palace were stunning and encyclopedic but the severe time period alloted to the square made 'hurry-travel' necessary.

The next day we loaded up the bus and headed for the reason we came - Guadalupe. The mysterious story of the image fascinates. It, like the Shroud of Turin, comes as close to a "smoking gun" for faith as you can get.
College is the nexus of time and energy; never will you have more of either. This results in really well-made homecoming floats and clever party favors.
My friend lets me get away with inconsistencies. I know that he knows it - and I like him all the more for it. Is that a flaw in him? He's a strong Christian and I'll often say something stupid for which I'll eventually get around to apologizing. But the funny thing is, he never points out my inconsistency, my sin. He may offer silence, but never accuses. Never preaches, unless asked. Words pale next to action, including, ironically, the phrase itself.

Blogging is an interesting exercise because for all its vaunted speed, it gives us tantalizing choices on whether or not to be silent. In the "real world", in real time, these choices are often made without thinking, since speech happens so much more quickly than writing & posting does. Blogging gives one a chance to think, which it is often accused of not doing.

This post is not inspired by Disputations. Personally, I found Disputation's criticisms of those who criticize the bishops enlightening. He makes good points. I'm not making a judgement on the specific arguments since I found both sides compelling. I just think silence or challenging the argument are better ways to go rather than the third choice, which is to reflectively criticize those who criticize given the Pot, Kettle, Black situation. But what of the case of bishops? That is more complex. They are given a special position of authority. John said of the bishop, "Exhort him, challenge him, correct him if you must, but do not try to replace him." Sounds reasonable.
Where the faeries live
‘neath many the odd-looking stone
be they not stones at all
but shape-shifted swans that longed
for a sedentary existence.

Of feint gypsies
I’d fain meet
there in the green sea-kettle marshes
where croaking brown-coat frogs
bestride busy-fiddlin' pub craickers
by skirt-wearing lacross-playing lads
down at the County Down -
Till the bare juts of cliffs
Where folly-spray waves terminate
crashing infinitely
the mist rises like incense
the air aghast with the spectacle below
where sweet Eire ends and the sea begins
a scandal for sea and land alike
the mutual breakage of continuity
lay there the craved border
where ships were let go to where they will
for monks, green martyrs
to lands near or distant.

How foreign it feels to me still!
waited on by the brogue-ish dark-haired waitress
how foreign compared to our grocery
the long tired walk to the Milk
in the service of merchandising
that I might buy something else on my journey..
the haggard looking cashier,
seemingly bored and boring
ahh, to see Christ in her or me!
I'm a fan of C-Span's founding father Brian Lamb. In beltway talk he's known as "the Spinx" for the poker-face he shows when callers say things like, "Clinton killed, he will kill again" or "the FDA wants to ban NiQuil and it's the only thing that puts me to sleep". Brian lives a sort of 19th century life; he rises at 4am and reads every major newspaper in the U.S., Europe & Asia before having a tumbler of whiskey during open lines at 7am EST. He is preternaturally calm but then again who wouldn't be if you're unmarried, have a cush job and a 58-year old's sex drive? Mr. Lamb is known for his exceptional sense of humor - he once peppered a guest with questions like, "What do you write on?" He's also been known to stretch the truth, like when he referred to Hillary Clinton as a United States Senator. (Wait, ouch….she IS a senator).

NB: Much of the above, of course, is blarney.
Children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy. - Chesterton.

October 09, 2002

Seventy times seven
oh blessed alliteration
oh holy equation
the number of our salvation.
Love is a sort of seventh day, so thinking can rest. - from Camelot
The entrĂ©e’s to choose from at the lunchtime cafe were “baked fish” or “beer-battered fish”. The yeasty Yugoslavian woman asked what I wanted. “Beer-battered fish, the beer on the side.” Dedicated to (is that a Guinness he be drinkin'?):