December 31, 2003

NRO Column

Derbyshire has some interesting things to say in his year end column:
I am not very confident of my own abilities in the punctuation area... Commas are themselves a vexation, and I blow hot and cold on them. One week, I'll put a comma, after every third word; the next I'll write a thousand-word book review without a single comma in it anywhere regardless of whether there ought to be one or not and without the least consideration for my reader's patience and perseverance. The semicolon is another enemy.
The actual direction my thoughts drifted was towards Charles Murray's new book Human Accomplishment...In his penultimate chapter, Murray discusses the issue of whether the rate of great achievement in the arts and sciences, allowing for population, is declining, and he comes to the conclusion that it is. Furthermore, he locates the point at which the decline began: in the middle and later decades of the 19th century.

This is one of those things that is obvious once you have been told it, even if it never occurred to you before. Just look at The Nutcracker, first staged 1892. What can our generation offer to compare with it? And look at the bourgeois values that radiate from the stage in the opening scenes: the stern Papas and stately Mamas, the kids on joyful vacation from their Latin verbs and piano lessons, the servants in their livery and pinafores, the hierarchy and order and confidence. Sure, there was another side to that world — my own ancestors were digging coal for a dollar a day while Tchaikovsky was writing out his score. In the matter of great accomplishment, though, Murray has got it right: We just don't measure up. Going down into the Chancellery bunker near the end of WWII, Joseph Goebbels took a look around at the burning wreckage of Berlin and exulted to his diary: "These flames are consuming the last of 19th-century bourgeois civilization!" He got that right; and look at what was left when the flames had done their work.

The 19th century was the greatest of all centuries for the human race, and the 20th simply didn't compare.
G.A. Day

Okay, Irenaeus it is!
A Story

There once was a lady who did everything right. A homemaker of astounding familial reknown, she volunteered to host holiday dinners and would bake eight desserts. Just trying to decide which to eat was exhausting for the guests.

Her house was always immaculately swept, her kids impeccably groomed. She never lost her figure or her temper. Her hospitality was such that she wanted them to talk - how quaint! - that they get to know one another better. She hated games, be they card or baby shower ones, thinking them subterfuges for avoiding intimacy.

Her lupus finally caught up with her. She had fought it so well for so long that it almost came as a surprise that she still had it. She became a different person the last two years of her life. Her hands swelled to the size of boxing gloves. She never came to holiday parties or family weddings. She never let anyone see her - one time not even her children.

Was it pride or despair brought upon by illness that caused her withdrawal? Was it that she could no longer be perfect? Or not wishing to inflict her weakness, her irritability, her fallenness upon others, as if she be a bad example?
New Year's Eve

Since I've gotten married and settled down, (both literally and figuratively), my interest in and sentiment towards New Year's Eve has waned. I think the nadir was reached a couple years ago when we conciously decided to not even try to stay awake. Call us jaded, but never late for dinner.

The truly insane thing was that I taped Dick Clark's ball drop and watched it the next morning, as if that moment were transferrable, as if it wouldn't be harmed by the violent ripping from context. There I am, Jan. 1st, fast-forwarding through the 5-minute, 1-minute and 20-second warnings. Yeah, yeah, drop the ball! Silly!

I wonder if the waning of sentiment is a good or bad thing or merely a natural result of the aging process. I used to get stirred up by the old Irish rebel songs, ready to fight the bloody British with a glass of porter in my hand. Now I'm more blasé. Is this the stony sleep Yeats accused us of, and if so, is it a negative?
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Be quiet, watch, and listen. You don't have the answers. The Baby does. - Amy Welborn

I am going to work hard to change my default from "I've got you pegged" to seeing people more as the mysteries they really are. - Kirsten of Summa Mamas

Superb English hymnody - Bill of Summa Minutiae, title of post.

I have a special weakness for two kinds of music: ska-punk and hard-core drug rock - Robert of Hokie Pundit, perhaps not a fan of superb English hymnody

Dean certainly is the ballerina that doesn't look so good up close. - Ono of Ono's Thoughts, on the front-running Democratic candidate

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money. - Moliere via Akim of Empty Days

When dealing in spiritual matters, it seems best to me to use the imagery that works to bring you into the presence of God and to keep you from sin. For some, that image is a stern Father whose discipline is swift and sure, but whose love is nevertheless there. Others prefer the image of King and sovereign. Some may have other images that they cling to. In many cases the images of authority, rightful though they are, do nothing to prevent me from sinning, and may actually encourage it. The idea of a holy and righteous person translated to human terms often comes down to one who wishes to impose a ridiculous and arbitrary system of rules and measures that have nothing to do with reality. (In a very mild sense I am a rebel, I suppose.) - Steven Riddle

I've known many people faced with heavy decisions in these "issues of conscience."...[Some] decide to follow their own counsel and end up living in a way that moral theology considers to be objectively wrong. In a way, they're betting that in the end the difficulties of their personal situation will trump the ordinary expectation to follow the moral law, and that God will not send them to hell for what they have chosen to do. Is this a lack of faith and charity? Is this perhaps presumption? Is it a willful decision to go to hell? They're making a bet that I wouldn't want to make, but maybe my choices have less to do with virtue than with cowardice before the possibility of losing the bet....What I think this leaves us with is this: Even without budging an inch on the orthodox requirements of the moral law, we needn't feel at all compelled to "write off" the people who are falling seriously short of the mark of objective observance of the moral law. It's probably impossible for any of us to look at a person from the outside and know whether he's fulfilled the three conditions of mortal sin, especially when the matter at hand is one of these contentious and gut-wrenching questions. Even looking from the inside, the thing is often far from clear. In the end, it's God Who will have to untangle the knotted skein of motives and fears and desires and knowledge and misunderstanding and pressure and emotion and goodwill and malice. That's where the judgment ultimately lies, and He's the only one Who can say whether the man who's chosen to live with his contradictions has won or lost the bet. - Fr. Jim of Dappled Things

To Rayber, the picture of the modern, rational man, such love is madness. It's inconceivable. It's absurd. It's just not USEFUL. And as I read those passages over and over and over I realized: THAT'S what the saints have that I don't have. That violent, inconceivable, absurd, non-utilitarian love of God. They have given themselves over to it, let themselves be swept up in it. Just for the love of Him. Just because. They aren't worried about appearing foolish. They just love. -TLS of Summa Mamas on Flannery O'Connor's "The Violent Bear it Away"

The cantor's greeting to the congregation just before the start of Mass this morning? "Happy Holidays." -Terrence Berres

"supercalifragilisticexpialidocious mortification" -Google search request that hit this blog

I sorely wish that the stale notion of condom use as the pinnacle of sexual responsibility would die. Twenty minutes in front of any major network will inform a stale mind that it is noble or sassy to carry a condom. UARGH! As a "been there done that" voice of experience I hallucinate that I would have loved as a teen to be challenged with the truth. Maybe then I wouldn't have needed to join PETA, as the itch of injustice would have been placed higher up on the moral chain. But no one taught me. Three's Company, Love Boat, Fantasy Island and PBS got to me first. - Kirsten of Summa Mamas

I started this journal or weblog to record some of my thoughts about faith and about my journey through life. To quote Henri J.M. Nouwen from Reaching Out, "I wanted to write this [web journal] because it is my growing conviction that my life belongs to others as much as it belongs to myself and that what is experienced as most unique often proves to be most solidly embedded in the common condition of being human." Life, we’re in it together. So let’s help each other as much as possible along the journey. - Mark of Cowpi

Here's a Difficulties with Confession link originally via Steven Riddle, and since I had to search his archives for it I thought I'd put it on my blog so that I can, in the future, search my own. Now how to refer to it so that it will be easily found. Sacramental dryness?

December 30, 2003

Annual Video Meliora Blog Awards (held 12/20/03 in London)

Nominees mill about...Jeff Miller on the left, nominated for "Best Blog 2003"


Best Musical Accompaniment to Guinness-Drinking:

And...the award goes to....Yes! Patty Loveless for "Mountain Soul". Congratulations Patty.

Patty accepting her award


Best Film

Lawd of the Rings, Return of the King. The competition was light because I don't see too many movies. A close second was "The Last Samurai" (I do see a lot around Christmas).

Underdressed director Peter Jackson accepts award


Best Book Read in 2003

"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck

Overdressed John Steinbeck posthumously accepts award


Best Adult Beverage Other than Guinness

Spaten Dunkel


Best Gaelic Blog of 2003

Dia dhuit!


Best Catlicker Blog of 2003

Whoa, an upset! The award goes to non-homo sapian for the first time: Reginald, the Tiger Quoll.

Cousin "Mouthy" accepts on Reginald's behalf


Books Also Honored

Also liked "Drop City" by TC Boyle. I'm savoring "The Life You Save" by Paul Elie. Preversely, I tend to not read the books I most want to because, as George Strait sings, you've got to have that ace in the hole.

And as Jessica of Bookslut fame wrote:

"Everyone is offering up their end of the year lists. I know it's the expected thing to do, but I'm going to have to pass. Books are not like movies or CDs for me. I could easily offer you a list of my favorite movies of the year, as I compulsively try to see movies their opening weekend. But when new books arrive at my house, they tend to get shelved (or in my current apartment, stacked to precarious heights) to be drawn down on a whim. Perhaps in ten
years I can tell you what the best books in 2003 were."

I'm also loving "Habit of Being" - the letters of Flannery O'Connor.
the Blogosphere

What Saddam Hussein was reading and writing.
Via Amy Welborn, the Kitna cap.
NRO interviews author of A Travel Guide to Heaven
And from Jonah Goldberg on LOTR:
The battle lines could not be clearer: Good vs. Evil. But even faced with this obvious fact, Tolkien demonstrates that man is weak. Men make excuses and refuse to look at the reality of a situation. They rationalize, they say "not me," or "this will pass." Hobbits, Elves, Ents, and Dwarves do the same thing too, but these noble creatures, alas, are as unreal as the Orcs; in a sense they too are simply extended metaphors illuminating different aspects of man's nature. Evil knows its intentions and has the will to see them achieved. Good is plagued by doubt. The whole book is intended to illuminate the nature and dangers of that doubt, whether it's the question of whether or not the men of Gondor and Rohan have the will and moral clarity to fight or whether Frodo has the will and strength to resist the ring of power. (See Steve Hayward's excellent review). Good must be chosen of free will. And free will means choices, and choices introduce doubt. Evil has no such problems.

December 29, 2003

Overheard at a dinner party:

"I'm upset with the Lord. How could he make my mother suffer so, when she's been such a strong Catholic all her life?" said the practicing Catholic.

"The Lord had nothing to do with that!", the non-practicing Catholic said ardently. "You can't blame the Lord for things like that or you'll be blaming Him every day."

Suffering is, of course, a mystery. When I was a child, I wanted to be close to God but not too close since I saw how He treated his friends. (Mostly his son, but also, to my 10yr-old mind, the Irish famine and the Jewish Holocaust.)

The most persuasive answers for me are three:

1) Rock-hard acceptance of the reality of the Fall and original sin, which altered everything in some unfathomable way. Whether creation was somehow physically altered is problematic, but I'd like to think so. Regardless, the Fall teaches that the default condition for man is gracelessness and woe.

2) Purgatory. Purgatory makes earthly suffering worthwhile (see quote in post below). Fr. Groeschel once said that he couldn't believe people didn't believe in Purgatory. "What do you think this earth is -- Club Med!? This is the beginning of our Purgatory!" said the good friar.

3) Trust in God. Pain is felt under the dentist's drill and yet good comes out of it.
Can I Use My Dog as a Character Witness on Judgment Day?

William Luse wrote that delusions of grandeur keep him going. Felt similarly the other day since our animals, Obi and Lil' Puss and Sam, follow me around like the Pied Piper, or, I momentarily delude, Francis of Assisi. I doubt St. Francis felt pride for his animal magnetism.

A friend wrote of pet envy:
"When I enter the bathroom, for example, our dog lies right outside the closed door. My husband has come to detest her--ostensibly because "she sheds so much," but I really think it's because she prefers me clearly and unashamedly to him or anyone else."

December 28, 2003

Viva the serendipitous Sunday reads. Started out with Sixpence House, because it is a library book and library books tick with temporality. The author, Paul Collins, commented piquantly on Emily Dickinson, which led me to Untermeyer's Lives of Poets, which led me to this interesting quote (though, perhaps because I'm no mystic, I don't understand the last line):
There is an embarrassing affectation, a willful naivete in many of [her] poems, as though the mature person were determined to remain not only a child but a spoiled child. At times she conceived herself as the supremest sufferer; she calls herself "Queen of Calvary" and "Empress of Calvary"...Born in the same year as Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson would have outraged her English contemporary; Christina Rossetti would have found her style incomprehensible, her spirit incredible. Here was a woman, presumably Christian, who not only questioned her God but dared tease, berate, rally, and fling herself upon Him in a burst of petulance. Yet it was the wayward Emily Dickinson rather than the worshipful Christina Rossetti who was the true mystic. One, with meek gratitude, returned to God all she had dutifully learned about Him; the other, less submissive, gave Him back a conception of Himself that was a unique creation.

December 27, 2003

Amusing holiday moment: mom inadvertently wrapped some of the Christmas presents in Jewish wrapping paper. "But there's a star on it!" she said. "Star of David!" says sis.

- the ecumenical gift-wrap
Early Purgatory

Had someone tell me they'd prefer to do their suffering in Purgatory, and not two days later I happen across this: “He who purifies himself from his faults in the present life, satisfies with a penny a debt of a thousand ducats; and he who waits until the other life to discharge his debts, consents to pay a thousand ducats for that which he might before have paid with a penny.” -St. Catherine of Genoa

December 26, 2003


Tan Books has a Mission Program that allows you to leverage generosity with gain (i.e. 30% off already reduced books if you give $35). Any engineers out there know the weight-bearing limit (in terms of numbers of books) of an upstairs bedroom?

As penance for triumphalist tendencies, a shout out to frequent commenter and Guinness drinker Thomas the Misplaced Protestant, who has a blog.

December 23, 2003

The thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices...
On Grace
You do not see your glory, and yet it is within you. If you have an unpolished diamond, you do not yet see how precious and beautiful it is, though it has the same value now as when it is polished. Likewise the beautiful and divine perfection, which grace communicates to you, is within you, hidden and concealed.

As long as you do not see God face to face, you cannot see the image of His Divine Nature in you. Grace is, so to speak, the dawn of the light of the Divine Sun; you must only wait till this Sun rises. Your glory will delight you the more, the longer it has remained hidden from you. Until then, you must, according to the words of St. Paul, walk by faith and not by sight, believing the unfailing promise of God.

In grace you have the pledge - indeed, the root - of your future glorification in soul and body. If you still sigh in the servitude of the flesh, if you still feel depressed by suffering and frailty, sigh with the Apostle after the freedom and glory of the children of God, when even your flesh will partake in the spiritual qualities of the glorified soul.

The Glories of Divine Grace, Fr. Matthias Scheeben


If I were a character in The Lord of the Rings, I would be Celeborn, Elf, King of Lothlorien, husband of Galadriel and grandfather of Arwen.

In the movie, I am played by Marton Csokas.

Who would you be?
Zovakware Lord of the Rings Test with Perseus Web Survey via Summa Minutiae

Political Ramblings

Our mayor, Michael Coleman, just became the first big-city mayor to endorse Gen. Wes Clark for President, which leaves me wondering.

Wes Clark? Who is Wes Clark? He was a Republican throughout the 80s, his character is questionable (according to his fellow generals), and this is who the mayor supports? Clark (and by extension Coleman) smell like political opportunists.

Fellow Midwesterner Dick Gephardt has been a friend to labor for seeming ever. This is how the mayor treats his friends? My guess is that Coleman wants to curry favor with Charlie Rangell and Bill Clinton since he has higher aspirations than mayor of Columbus.

But, in fairness, the Real Politik of it is that only Clark or Dean will win the nomination. And if you're a Democrat and think that Dean will lose 47 states then you pretty much have to support Clark or fall on your sword.

I'm of the "anybody but Kerry" school. A pro-death Catholic politician is a scandal.

December 22, 2003

John Updike talks about writers he has met:
At Harvard I stood with crowds of other students to hear, and to glimpse in the mysterious flesh, anthology presences like Eliot, Sandburg, Frost, and Wilder. After his lecture in Sanders Theater, Eliot, a gem of composure within a crater of applause, inserted his feet into his rubbers, first the right, than the left, as we poured down upon him a grateful tumult that had less to do with his rather sleepy-making discourse on poetic drama than with the fabulous descent of his vast name into an actual, visible, and mortal body.

Evasive temperaments are drawn to the practice of fiction. Their work is done far behind the heat-shield of face and voice that advances against a room of strangers. The performance can be a shambling and ingratiating one as much as a cocksure and intimidating one, but performance it is: a pity, for these anonymous devoted readers who press affectionately toward a blind man are his lovers, who have accepted into themselves his most intimate and earnest thrusts. I would like to meet, I suppose, Vladimir Nabokov and Henry Green, but recognize the urge as superstitious, a seeking of a physical ritual to formalize the fact that we already are (I write as a reader) so well met.
That Which Does Not Kill Us...

Bill of Summa Minutiae feels the love from St. Linus Review. Perhaps they've seen the spam poetry that has found its way on this blog, for I've not been similarly blessed. This, of course, makes me want to write better spam poetry. Inspiration is not something you can will, but I'll try now. I will not compromise my craftlessness for a shot at St. Linus Review.


To the regathering sea
we traveled far to see
and strained our nets
the sand's poor bets
to find our shells sans fee.

To the replenishing screen
I travel near to scream
and strain my net
for just one catch
of something that isn't obscene.

2 Thin of Skin Update: I have since been asked to mention St. Linus Review. I can't rule out that it was a "mercy invite".
From the People-are-so-darn-interesting File:

She's a reader big on John C. Calhoun, loves Florence King a fashionista.

Some days I long to improve sartorially, but I lie down until the feeling passes. The wicked prejudice that brains and fashion-sense are inversely related is plainly false.
Makes Sense

I'll sign on to the charitable Secret Agent Man's 50-50 solution to the Cardinal Martino flap... In other blog-in news, congrats to Davey's Momma.
Interesting NY Times articles

For many working-class and poor families, extended-family visits are the organizing principle of social life. According to the 2002 General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 41 percent of poor and working-class people spend a social evening with their relatives often, from once a week to as much as every day.

For many middle-class children, however, visits with relatives are infrequent. Instead of spending time with aunts, uncles and cousins, hectic schedules of soccer games, piano lessons, basketball practice and other activities are the organizing force of daily life.

Too often, the better-off view those who have less than them only in terms of what they can offer, or even teach, the poor. During this holiday season, it would do many Americans good to consider what they can learn from the poor and working class about family, connection and taking time to be.
And here:
[Doubt's] demarcation from faith is not as precise as these descriptions suggest. Doubt can become a rigid orthodoxy in its own right. In contemporary life, as Ms. Hecht seems to know, doubt has become almost axiomatic (as if it were a matter of faith).

Meanwhile faith itself is riddled with doubt. As Ms. Hecht points out, many religious texts (like Job or Augustine's "Confessions") are also accounts of doubt.

In his recent book, "The Transformation of American Religion" (Free Press, $26), the sociologist Alan Wolfe suggests that evangelical Christians in the United States cannot be thought of as they once were. Religion, he argues, has been transformed by American culture to become therapeutic, individualistic and less interested in doctrine than in faith.

Nor is faith always unreasonable. Religious beliefs were fundamental to the abolition of slavery in the 19th century and to the civil rights movement in the 20th. Faith may even be latent in some of science's triumphs, inspiring such figures as Newton and Kepler. The conviction that there is an order to things, that the mind can comprehend that order and that this order is not infinitely malleable, those scientific beliefs may include elements of faith.

Reason also has its own problems. Isaiah Berlin argued that the Enlightenment led to the belief that human beings could be reshaped according to reason's dictates. And out of that science of human society, he argued, came such totalitarian dystopias as the Soviet Union. Reason then, has its limits.

Some of those questions may remain even after contemporary battles cease: how much faith is involved in the workings of reason and how much reason lies in the assertions of faith?

December 21, 2003

The Bush-Haters

Been reading about the remarkable campaign of Gov. Dean, who's tapped into the white-hot Democratic anger towards President Bush. Since Bush has been a huge spender, signed steel tarriffs and a Medicare bill, it seems there's one major reason for the anger. Iraq. Is it all just about his diplomacy skills, or the idea of the war itself?

What surprises me about this is why the war isn't seen as a "tough call". I'm also surprised by knee-jerk supporters.

When the inspections were ended in '98, there was a feeling that Saddam could be ignored and the agreement made at the end of the Gulf War swept under the rug. I know I wasn't pounding on doors saying, "hey, hey we got to have those inspections!". Out of sight, out of mind, I wasn't worried about Saddam. But would the Bush-haters really prefer our typically undisciplined approach to foreign threats? I'm not suggesting Bush is always consistent - merely that in this case the war could be seen as the disciplined and logically consistent consequence of the past twelve years of dealing with Saddam.

I'm not sure anyone BUT Bush would've gone to war in Iraq, in part because it's personal, or "persnal" as he might say. His dad felt the sting of criticism that he hadn't ended the first Gulf War properly; his legacy would've been ruined had Saddam developed and used WMDs. He was told over and over that he hadn't finished the job. And he wasn't given the opportunity given his failed re-election in '92.

But it's not just "persnal". The current President is disciplined, and has a strong will. Most politicians don't have the spine that he does, which makes his enemies all the madder. When I was a kid and verbally fought with my sister, the worst part was when she acted like it didn't bother her. Bush gets up early every morning and pounds out five 7-minute miles. One senses that he doesn't like messes, or threats about which he could have done something. So it's a natural fit that he would want to tackle Iraq. 9/11 gave him the additional impetus since the idea of a "democratic citadel" in the middle of the Middle East seemed as irresistible as it does unlikely. Like mild Canada right there next to Iran and Syria. Don't we already have Turkey as a citadel of democracy in the Islamic world?



Dreams, at least my dreams, are never fantastical. They have a foot in 'it could happen' while possessing a robustness that real life lacks. More novelistic than many novels, dreams effortlessly riff and vary outside of time and writer's block. They are written to please. Sensing flagging interest, the Dream-maker sows something unexpected in a real-time fashion.

Transportation difficulties rarely present themselves. I was somewhere, then, inexplicably, just outside Bronx Stadium at dusk. Plots twine and twist and make merry or ill.

I set here to write about the dream but am already losing it; it's evanscenting itself. Like trying to grasp water.
One of the reasons I like to listen to Garrison Keillor on "A Prairie Home Companion" is that he manages to "contain multitudes" - to be both humorous as well as spiritual (obviously I can't speak for the state of his faith or soul). But on his show, he goes from a LOL satirical piece to a sweetly singing "Silent Night". Sort of Curt Jestian? Keillor said on yesterday's broadcast, "we see the world clearly as children and then spend the rest of our lives trying to recapture that vision."

December 20, 2003

Throw the Damn Ring, Frodo!

Went to The Lord of the Rings today and was pleasantly surprised. Can’t compare the movie to the book because I haven’t read the latter, but my expectations weren’t high since the first two incarnations offered interminable battle scenes combined with a lack of closure. But the pure visual grandeur of the movies made them a must see, especially for a matinee price of $3.50 – equivalent to $1 per movie hour. Semper frugal Hambone would be proud.

I really liked this installment. This movie had the closure the others lacked and the battle scenes were creative enough to sustain interest. One of the characters (I think the dwarf) said, “Death is certain. Chance of success small. What are we waiting for?” Funny. Finally found out how the creepy Gollum got that way. Nice twist – he used to be a man, or perhaps still is though malformed by his evil. The variety of characters show every gradation of sinfulness. Gollum at one end and Sam (Gandalf I take to be a God figure) the other of the spectrum. Sam is one heckuva good friend.

The attractive power of the ring reminds me of the “ultimate entertainment” of David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. Wallace gruesomely describes a video tape so addictive that watching it means death, since viewers will not break away for food or water.


Also caught a western on TV - Riders of the Purple Sage. One of the reasons I like westerns is that the characters are laconic and only say things when things need sayin’. At the dinner scene between the protagonist and his love interest there are few words and few words seem necessary. There is an economy with the language and truths are dispensed in disarmingly simple ways.

Ed Harris is an underrated actor. At one point, another character goes on a meandering spiel pledging his truthfulness to Ed Harris’ character before asking him “so, do you trust me?”.

“Reckon I do. Might’ve saved your breath.” Pitch perfect.

Later he falls in love with the woman who knows but won’t tell the name of the man who caused his sister to commit suicide. But he finds something else on the way to vengeance:

“--And I give up my purpose. I can’t kill a man just for hate. Hate ain’t the same since I loved you."
More from Flannery O'Connor (from "Mysteries and Manners")
The fiction writer should be characterized by his kind of vision. His kind of vision is prophetic vision. For the Catholic novelist, the prophetic vision is not simply a matter of his personal imaginative gift; it is also a matter of the Church's gift, which, unlike his own, is safeguarded and deals with greater matters. It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as a part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight.

It is, unfortunately, a means of extension which we constantly abuse by thinking that we can close our own eyes and that the eyes of the Church will do the seeing. They will not. We forget that what is to us an extension of sight is to the rest of the world a peculiar and arrogant blindness, and no one today is prepared to recognize the truth of what we show unless our purely individual vision is in full operation. When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eye of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.

It would be foolish to say there is no conflict between these two sets of eyes. There is a conflict, and it is a conflict which we escape at our peril, one which cannot be settled beforehand by theory or fiat or faith. We think that faith entitles us to avoid it, when in fact, faith prompts us to begin it, and to continue it until, like Jacob, we are marked.

The writer may feel that in order to use his own eyes freely, he must disconnect them from the eyes of the Church and see as nearly as possible in the fashion of a camera. Unfortunately, to try to disconnect faith from vision is to do violence to the whole personality...The tensions of being a Catholic novelist are probably never balanced for the writer until the Church becomes so much a part of his personality that he can forget about her - in the same sense that when he writes, he forgets about himself. This is the condition we aim for, but one which is seldom achieved in this life....
Philip Trower Excerpt (from "Turmoil and Truth")
Obscurities in [seeking the theological meaning of scriptural texts] are due to the mysterious nature of the subject matter, or, according to St. Augustine, are deliberately put there by the divine author himself. "The Sacred Books inspired by God were purposely interspersed by him with difficulties both to stimulate us to study and examine them with close attention, and also to give us a salutary experience of the limitations of our minds and thus exercise us in proper humility". God does not disclose the full meaning of what he is saying to mere cleverness or sharp wits.

December 19, 2003

Reasonable people can disagree about what constitutes protection of human dignity. But it could get out of hand:

House Bill 12158 - Concerning Ethical Treatment of Tyrants

Tyrannical detainees must be cleaned, shaven, provided a suit and tie by Joseph Abud clothier. Any filming of the tyrant must be preceeded by a lightly-chilled apertif and a gift of fresh flowers (out of season only).

Tyrannical detainee (TD) will have right of first refusal concerning use of unflattering photographs. Lighting will be Streisandian. Close-ups (as defined in Appendix Z-3) are prohibited.

If TD is sensitive to camera glare, custom-occluded optical light, available at agencies listed in Appendix C-2, must be used.
Pictures of Ireland via Bill of Summa Minutiae.

Altar, Catholic Cathedral, Dublin

This image of an altar, with the sun appropriately lit on "Jesus" and "Ecce" (i..e 'Behold Jesus'), reminds me of the time the sun perfectly lit up an image of Jesus in a church window during the words of Consecration. The ancients constructed their sacred places so that the sun would enter during the solstice. How much more appropriate for the Lord of Light.

Nothing seems more homelike and restful than a neat and cleanly Irish village, near the Dublin or Wicklow coast, on a fine day in summer, when the sun is cloudless and the sea breeze tempers the gentle heat of the flower-perfumed Irish atmosphere.

The villagers can hear the drowsy hum of the bees as they "swarm" on the cottage roofs, and the soft note of the cuckoo, deep in the summer woods. At such a time in the day, along comes the buxom old fishwife, with a heart like an angel and a tongue like a fend, leading her donkey through the village street.

"Have ye any fresh mackerel today?" inquires the good housewife.

"Av course I have, an' what ud I be doin' wid scale fish?" answers and queries the piscatory peddler.

"Give me half a dozen, thin," says the "vanithee," mildlly.

"Half a dozen o'mackerel! Yerra, what d'ye take me for? Ye'll have a dozen or nothin, Mrs. Leary."

"Well, a dozen be it, thin. Anything for a quiet life," responds the victim.

The exchange is duly made and the fishwife leads on her animal and cart, crying out at intervals, "Fr-r-r-esh mack'ril! Fr-r-r-e-s-h m-a-c-k'ril!" until finally she disposes of all her load and returns home rejoicing.

Fridays with Flannery
Poorly written novels - no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters - are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying. Now a statement like that causes problems. An individual may be highly edified by a sorry novel because he doesn't know any better. We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes. God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being.

I have found that people outside the Church like to suppose that the Church acts as a restraint on the creativity of the Catholic writer and that she keeps him from reaching his full development. These people point to the fact that there are not many Catholic artists and writers, at least in this country, and that those who do achieve anything in a creative way are usually converts. This is a criticism that we can't shy away from. I feel that it is a valid criticism of the way Catholicismis often applied by our Catholic educational system, or from the pulpit, or ignorantly practiced by ourselves; but that is, of course, no valid criticism of the religion itself.

Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery...The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. He feels no need to apologize for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God. For him, to 'tidy up reality' is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride. Open and free observation is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches.

And when we look at the serious fiction written by Catholics in these times, we do find a striking preoccupation with what is seedy and evil and violent. The pious argument against such novels goes something like this: if you believe in the Redemption, your ultimate vision is one of hope, so in what you see you must be true to this ultimate vision...The beginning of an answer to this is that though the good is the ultimate reality, the ultimate reality has been weakened in human beings as a result of the Fall, and it is this weakened life we see. And it is wrong, moreover, to assume that the writer chooses what he will see and what he will not see.
--Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

Update: Marvelous excerpts and commentary on The Violent Bear it Away at Summa Mommas

December 18, 2003

Premature Exclamations

You've probably heard about the Saints football player who was fined $30,000 dollars for calling his family after scoring a touchdown. That was one expensive phone call. Should've dialed 1010220. I can't work up much outrage - I rather admire the ingenuity of hiding a cellphone in the goal post. The sheer audacity of it is far more impressive than dance steps or fist pumping.

After celebrating his first touchdown reception, wide receiver Bill Trumpy was told by his coach, "act like you've been in the enzone before".

I suppose. But it's joyful to see others joyful.

From now on I think I'll do a little celebration in the endzone of a particularly good post.

Nah, nevermind.
Furthering the Cause of Evangelization

Or not. My brother-in-law, not a Christian, sent me an email concerning Cardinal Martino (he's never mentioned or sent me an email before on any church matter):
This makes me sick ... Why was this story run in the first place, and why does the Vatican allow him to voice views like this ...

Saddam deserves to and needs to be executed for the betterment of society.

Thankfully, the Vatican's not in charge of much anymore...
Always on the defensive, we Catlickers. Usually self-inflicted.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

Saw a magazine at the Jewel the other night. 500 Fabulous Christmas Ideas. Could write my own magazine....500 Bad Ideas... #408 - Live on caffeine, Sudafed and left over pieces of cake from the Baby Jesus Birthday Party at Church. Try to use vitamins, soy drinks and lots of Lubriderm around the eye-lids to undo the damage... #1 - Neglect spiritual life. Put spiritual reading on the same shelf with the bills that you’ll pay the first week in January. Try to cram all of your prayer time into multi-tasking activities only. (i.e. praying while driving, doing laundry, etc.) Don’t waste time that could be spent on superfluous details of ‘holiday’ celebrations. - Ellyn of Oblique House

How can we be happy confronted with images like these? We can get used to mass graves, to iron maidens, to torture videos. But the tongue depressor! Not the tongue depressor! Foul Americans! - Mark of Irish Elk, poking at Cardinal Martino's criticism that the U.S. treated Saddam 'like a cow'.

The thing is, I never liked "church people," and churchiness. I guess I still don't, and I'm not sure why. Most expressions of piety leaves me cold. I think it's because religiosity seemed to me to be a shield against life, and the true experience of God. I felt, though, that Percy and Merton and even Kierkegaard knew something of life that lots of church people in my earlier life did not. Rightly or wrongly, I experienced church people as being afraid of life, and running from it. You couldn't say that about those men. Merton esp. got to me, because he had lived the kind of life as a young man that I was living, in a way, or at least that I aspired to live. And he saw the hollowness of it, and conveyed it to me so intimately and convincingly. One reason I love this blog so much is Amy writes with such love for and devotion to Christ and the Church, but also without sentimentality. I find that liberating. - Rod Dreher, on Amy's blog

For me, Cardinal Martino's statement is no more a threat to my faith than the spectacularly sinful life of a 15th century Cardinal or Pope. Same Church, the saints and sinners all exist on the same plane. It is a mystery, yes, and one worth unpacking - if our faith is revealed incarnationally, through stuff and words and music and yes, people, how do we see through the (always) less-than-adequate stuff and the (frequently) ridiculousness (and worse) of the people to Christ? - Amy Welborn

For some reason it is easier to get people to believe this about the negative impact of sin than about the positive impact of good works. - Ben on Disputations

Maybe we're more familiar with the former? - Tom of Disputations, responding to Ben

Angels think we wee humans are simply adorable. The Guardian Angels in particular want to make us even more wee and adorable. If they do their jobs right (which they cannot do without our cooperation, of course), we end up like the little children to whom the Kingdom of God belongs...Let’s love the small things, then, and let’s start with the Infant Jesus.- Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis

War is, at its very best, medicine, not food. And it is to the health of society as an amputation with a rusty saw and no anesthetic is to medicine. Yet, what is remarkable is how much energy we are willing to put into finding ways of saying, "Let's get real! Amputations with rusty saws and no anesthetic are a necessary part of life! Don't bore me with the kumbaya crap about trying to diminish the number of rusty saw amputations. In fact, let's talk about just how slowly and painfully we'd saw off the healthy limbs of the Enemy! Because it's the only thing those bastards understand!" - Mark Shea

My conclusion--some people are just more active than others and more imaginative. In my experience those often "diagnosed" with ADHD (even the adults) are highly imaginative and interesting folks that most of the pack (read unimaginative and boring) would rather have drugged into submission. Ritalin makes these gifted individuals into zombies. - Michael of Annunciations

Anyone with a decent classical education knows that artistic achievement and moral character go hand-in-hand. Art is about Bildung, whether on the part of the artist or the audience. Contrary to the commonly-quoted but misunderstood sense of the late-modern apophthegm, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," I've always maintained that people who intentionally make ugly art -- not bad because of poor technique, but bad by design -- are generally artists with screwed-up souls....Conservatism -- both political and ecclesiastical -- needs to crawl out of its foxhole and develop a better lingo on this problem. We all know that when Card. Mahoney builds a monstrosity of a cathedral that deconstructs everything about the sacred synaxis and feels like something between fallout bunker and East Berlin chic, that something is spiritually wrong with Mahoney, and the architect, and with everyone who dotes on this wreck as the next best thing." - Old Oligarch

"Nemo dat quod non habet" - No Latin maxim has changed the way I think about my life today and my future ministry more than that one. The translation is "one cannot give what one does not have." In earlier days in the seminary, they paraphrased the principle this way: "Nemo dat what he ain't got." The flip-side of the argument is just as powerful. One can only give what one has. If persons are bitter, depressed, fearful, angry, and/or judgmental, those will be the things they will "give away" in their interactions with others. God surely wants us to spread the Gospel message. But we can only do that if we are living in the heart of the Gospel, the Paschal Mystery. - Steven Matteson of In Formation

Let a thousand shapeless plaid jumpers bloom. - Matthew of Shrine of Holy Whapping and Notre Dame, welcoming rival Ave Maria.

December 17, 2003

Add another voice to the consensus of praise of Mel Gibson's The Passion. I'm listening to Fr. Groeschel on tape, and he says that the movie will be an incredible catalyst to conversion; that the images are burnt in his mind months after. His praise is, therefore, of the typical order of magnitude concerning this apparently amazing film. Since my rating of a movie is usually inversely proportional to my expectations going in, I'd prefer to hear a few more negative reviews.

It appears the Pope has seen it too. (Peggy Noonan article via A Son Becomes a Father)
Calicker Day at NRO

NRO has articles by Catholic authors today - Michael Novak and Joseph Pearce.
Baseballis Maximus

I re-org'd my books last night and came across an old friend.

When I was a child, the bible of baseball record books was the massive MacMillan edition of “The Baseball Encyclopedia”. It was – and is – the Oxford English Dictionary of baseball stat books. Every player ever to appear in the major leagues is in the book. The pure gratuitousness of it is best expressed by this: every pitcher’s at bats, hits, batting avg and home runs is included, not simply his pitching record.

But this was the Cadillac of books - far too expensive for a ten-year-old. One Christmas I got one almost as good –Turkin and Thompson’s “The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball” - which contained a truncated record of every player ever to appear in the major leagues.

I nearly trembled when I first sought the entry for my great-great uncle Harry Wilke. Larger than life, I pored over his entry scores of times, imagining every at bat. I looked up the entry again:

Wilke, Harry Joseph.
b. Dec. 14, 1901 Cincinnati, Oh.
1927 Chi NL 3rd basemen 3 games .000 batting average

The entry packed little, but much. Born in my home town, if he couldn’t play for the home team then the Cubs were the next best thing - what tradition! My relative played at historic Wrigley Field. Surely he wasn’t given a chance to prove himself – how could he in three games? Maybe he faced a pitcher like Burleigh Grimes, who was allowed to use the spitter even after it was outlawed. Or he was injured, ala Wally Pip.

This was a book to be savored and treasured. Its cover barely hangs on after so many years of use and mis-use. The dust-cover is surely dust in a landfill by now. The introduction, preface, and even the endpapers were lovingly examined – apparently even by my mother who scrawled her maiden name twice before writing her married name. (She tended to doodle when she was on the phone. Obviously she wasn't particular about where she doodled.)

The preface starts with the phrase, “It took an earthquake to start this book”, an attention-getter. Hy Turkin felt his chair shake and concluded it was an earthly tremor. He phoned the newspaper and and his report, complete with name and address, was printed. A neighbor, S.C. Thompson read the account and introduced himself to his neighbor and they found something in common: a love for baseball history.

For this ten-year old, death was something that happened to old people. It was sad and slightly creepy for the preface to end with a sentence beginning with, “Following the deaths of Mr. Turkin and Mr. Thompson..”. This was the first book I owned written by the recently dead. But I paid no nevermind.

In 1990, after having had a “real job” for five years, I purchased the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Turkin and Thompson's labor of love.
Quizzical Thoughts

Tom of Disputations threds the thin line between satire and sincerity with a Baskins-Robbins quiz providing 31-derful ways of affirming that the quiz-taker is indeed wonderful.

Cynically, I assumed that he is spoofing the quizzes. (Personally, I got affirmed recently via Zep 3:17. The Advent readings really are wonderful*.)

Donning my reportorial robes, I asked the source. Tom says, "Actually, it's an early Christmas present for quiz takers who are tired of getting "Gender Nazi" or "Jingle Bell Rock."

* - The readings from Isaiah are consoling and as a pessimist (Fr. Groeschel admits the same), a season that tells me I must rejoice (as we were told on Gaudete Sunday) is good thing.

December 16, 2003

Snippets from the Land of Broken Toys

Cutbacks to our office supply budget have been enjoined. We'll not have those fancy-schmancy pencils anymore! We'll write with bark and like it. Beginning today only "best value" items will be available, aka "cheapest", such as remanufactured toner cartridges.

I just hope they don't try to recycle the toilet paper.

A friend emailed: "It's a pitiful sight to see highly paid professionals descend on a recently vacated cube to try to salvage whatever office supplies might have been left behind. One guy almost broke my arm trying to get a 3-ring binder away from me at the bottom of a scrum."

Are shin guards a tax-deductible office expense?
That Humility Thang

A loved one (disclaimer: not my wife) believes in UFOS, and started a recent phone call with, "I know UFOs exist".

I told her I neither believe nor disbelieve. There's no scientific proof. I didn't know what to tell her concerning her fear of how the discovery of UFOs could affect church doctrine. Inwardly I was marveling that this was one of her concerns. I have difficulties with doctrines and scriptural passages and my own salvation, but the effect of UFOs isn't one. I was momentarily envious, since I thought it'd be nice to trade mine for hers.

I was going to email her and say that she couldn't *know* UFOs exist, only that she has *faith* that they exist since she is taking another person's word for their existence. I managed to gin up enough curiousity to Google for the Catholic Church and UFOs, and no less a personage than my hero Padre Pio had this to say: “The Lord certainly did not limit His glory to this small Earth. On other planets other beings exist who did not sin and fall as we did." Not that Padre Pio is Thomas Aquinas, but I felt humbled; a bit of comeuppance.

Next on the humility tour was this man's want list. And I call myself a reader? I read Dick and Jane. Check out the philosophy - can you say 'original sources'?

The third stop on the tour was learning that someone I respect is apparently a registered Democrat. Not that there's anything wrong with that, many of my best friends are Democrats, grin. Just that it seemed unlikely from him. That tendency to label again.
Go Figure

Sad story. Got to wonder what the parents were thinking in keeping a pet Bengal tiger, let alone a tiger with a hole in its cage.

I'm fascinated by the thinking, or lack thereof, that goes on. Like parents who would okay their child's visit to Michael Jackson's ranch. Or an actor who trusts MTV. It's sort of a man bites dog story. The lack of cautiousness and anxiety must be exhilarating, although it can lead to tragic endings. As a child I often slept in the rear dash board during long family trips. Parents now would be pulled over for child abuse. While out playing, we'd jump twenty feet down into an old swimming hole (something they've since closed down due to a child's injury). We were blissfully ignorant.

This is part of the reason I'm fascinated by Ono's "Catholics for Kerry" website. "Catholics for Kerry" has a "man bites dog" aspect for me. (I'm not, of course, equating the parents of the boy allowed to go to Jackson's ranch with Catlicks for Kerryites, of course. Merely that their stories are interesting.)

As is the story about people who keep tigers as pets. That's illegal in my part of town, so I figured this could only happen somewhere blessedly rural, far from the madding crowd, somewhere where freedom is exercised (though not always judiciously). A map confirmed that Millers Creek is located in rural North Carolina, near the lush Appalachian mountains.

I'd like to travel to off-the-beaten track places like Millers Creek. I'd like to go to Palestine, WV and see the hometown of Private Lynch. Maybe Waco, Tx too, home of the Koresh group. I recall going to a black Pentecostal church and the feeling of being "other" (I was one of three whites) was electric. One blogger wrote that he prefers reading blogs by women, maybe because of this sense of otherness. The problem is that a public blog necessarily changes the voice of a woman blogger. Men might like to hear the unadorned, frank talk that goes on in woman's private gatherings, but that's not likely on a public blog.
A Natural History of Self-Indulgent Posts

As a connoisseur and practitioner of self-indulgent posting, I thought I'd offer this field guide so that you too can spot self-indulgent posts in their natural habitat - the blog. Some SIPs are camouflaged, shy to parade their self-indulgence in the klieg lights. This post will help you sniff them out.

1) Use of words "I", "my, "me". I have a problem with this. If I did a word count on blog personal pronouns, I could be one of the top offenders. You don't see Shea or Welborn beginning every other sentence with I. At least I don't think so.

2) Poetry. More people write poetry than read poetry, which suggests it's a dying art form though you wouldn't know it from some blogs. Typical camouflages and ruses include attempting to spike the entertainment value by adding a picture and/or some explanatory notes explaining the "deeper significance". Don't be fooled. The writer is trying to turn your attention from the fact that he or she had the audacity to inflict another poem on the world.

3) Short stories. I used to have a feature called "Fictional XYX", where XYZ was the day of the week the fiction piece appeared. "Fictional Friday" had a nice ring to it but often the inspiration to write it came on a Monday or a Saturday, hence the variability in the title. No one reads these. They are very hard to disguise, the elephants of the SIP world. Even Kathy the Carmelite, who read all my stuff when she was reading my stuff, never touched the fictional pieces. "I don't read fiction," she said. Smart gal.

4) Political posts. Political views are like...hemmmm....buttocks. Everyone has them. Few change their politics after the age of 30, so these posts either preach to the choir or turn someone off. Shared political views between like-minded friends is a fine pleasure though, like fish barrel shooting.

This should get you started. Be aware that even solipsists look both ways before crossing the street. The natural predators of SIPs are POPWs ('posting other people's words'). POPWs, especially from smart folk like Flannery O'Connor or Thomas Aquinas, atone for a multitude of SIPs.

December 15, 2003

Two Cents' Worth

Rod Dreher, of Amy Welborn commenting fame, recently said that he was a practitioner of NFP but was upset by the lack of support from both hierarchy and fellow parishioners when he tells them how burdensome it is. Either he encounters looks of disbelief (from those not taking Humane Vitae seriously), or looks of disbelief (from practitioners who think it the most wonderful/easy thing in the world).

Maybe I'm too much of an individualist, but I really don't look to the Vatican or anyone to make it easier for me since I think it's possible only by grace, much as priestly celibacy is possible only thru grace. I don't expect my bishop or my fellow parishioners to somehow force more grace into me, much as I might like that to happen. Alternatively, it might just mean that I'm community-challenged.

Update: Reader Jeanne has some interesting comments:
Rod Dreher had an article in the Our Sunday Visitor some time ago saying how hard it is. I think it depends on the person. I think you're right. It can only be done by grace. And I know that all my contemporaries didn't bother. There was very little support. A person can have a siege mentality and maybe a triumphalistic approach when there's no support. Nowadays, you have to go it alone in many ways. One problem with Rod is that he has no community around to support him in any way. His wife has found community as women find it easy to relate to others. Men by their nature tend to be loners in charge of their territory and let no other man come into that territory.... But Rod goes on about all kinds of things that are painful because he can't find people who think like he does. He's also suspicious of others anyway.
Enjoyed this quiz (via Steven Riddle). Gotta love these questions:

Q: What's your opinion of Burning Man? Answer: White people fetishizing primitivism, can you get more bourgeois?
Q: Postmodernism began when... A: Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat (I actually chose the Warholian answer).

tortured conceptual artist
You are a Tortured Conceptual Artist. Your fellow
postmodernists call you an anachronism, but
you've never cared much about the opinions of
others. After all, most of them are far too
simple-minded to appreciate the nuances of your
work. They talk, while you are part of a lived

What kind of postmodernist are you!?
brought to you by Quizilla
Quotes from Colleen Carroll's The New Faithful
"It was this fundamental restlessness," said thirty-year-old Brother John Paul Walker, reflecting on what lured him away from a doctoral program in chemistry at Johns Hopkins. "I've learned that's the key to discernment. If you're really doing what God wants you to do, you'll have peace and you'll have joy."

Doug Galbi, an economist in his late thirties, gravitated toward the Catholic faith while in graduate school at Oxford. 'Christianity was talking about things that no one else was talking about," said Galbi, who said he sometimes wonders, "If everyone was Catholic, would I still be Catholic?"

"God has been very gracious to me in giving me a vocation that makes my Christianity alive," said [Tara] Haley, who works for Christ House, a recovery facility for people who are homeless and ill in Washington D.C.
Dead Men Walking

I can take the Catholics for Kerry website with great equanimity, mostly because this man:

is nearly as politically dead as this man:

If I'm wrong, I'll enjoy crow pie.

December 13, 2003

My friend Sandy always says, "just because something is true doesn't mean you should say it". (The corollary might be just because you think something doesn't mean you should blog it.) I thought of her while reading this:
I think we are all disgusted by the way George W. Bush's administration has allowed honesty and candor to seep into the genteel world of international affairs....

If the U.S. is going to right its foreign policy, it is going to have to rein in President Bush's tendency to be straightforward. It is going to have to acknowledge that honesty is a good thing when it comes to international affairs — in theory.

The administration's fundamental problem is that it is not very good at dealing with people it can't stand. The men and women in this White House are exceptionally forthright. When they come across someone they regard as insufferable, their instinct is to be blunt. They seek to be honest rather than insincere, to not sugar things up but to let these people know how they really feel.

Sometimes you've got to be slippery to accomplish real good. The Bush administration is thus facing an insincerity crisis. It has become addicted to candor and forthrightness. It needs an immediate back-stabbing infusion.

Perhaps Al Gore could be brought in to offer advice.
And the 'Best German' of All Time Is...

Marx or Adenauer? Surely you jest.

Hope Scipio gave a nod to Cardinal Ratzinger.

I was thinking the other day was how easy it is to affix labels. Like blogger A is mostly x, y, or z where x, y, or z is devout, cerebral, pessimistic, funny, snobbish or whatever else. When blogger A is not characteristically himself or herself, it feels forced, as if that quality is not of their essence - even when what they are doing is a good thing. Isn't that ridiculous?

The distance between who a person is (or should I say, how he presently acts) and who God intended that person to be might be large or small, and even that person doesn't know how big the distance. "Being who you are" is a difficult term with which to come to grips. You mean act the way I've always acted? You mean act the way God wants me to? You mean act the way I think God wants me to act? Potentially different answers. Lacking consistency may mean either that you are trying to be someone you are not, or you are trying to be someone you are.

December 12, 2003


On fine family dining:
Despite all this, and in the face of grim experience, we try once a week to eat en famille.

"Yay! It's family dinner time!" the children cry.

My husband's shoulders immediately droop.

For Daddy, dining with the children is like being Howard Dean at a cocktail party for Campus Conservatives. He can scarcely speak, so great is the degree of his aesthetic suffering. Like many a clever wife before me, I see that Daddy had better get some fresh air, fast — ideally on his own and preferably in the Outer Hebrides.
From FirstThings (Fr. Benedict Groeschel Letter to Editor):
Avery Cardinal Dulles’ characteristically clear and comprehensive article “The Population of Hell” (May) brings home a concern that many of us share with even saintly people of the past. The question of the salvation of the apparent unbeliever or of the marginal—the publicans and the harlots who Christ says will enter the kingdom of heaven before us—is often a very personal one. Most of us have friends and relatives on or off the spiritual edge. Cardinal Dulles did not refer to one important aspect of this question, perhaps because he takes the approach of the theologian. There is something to be learned from the private revelations of the mystics, whose unusual experiences of the divine have been approved by the Church.

The source of information is, of course, uneven; it is also easily dismissed and therefore often overlooked. In our time one private revelation has received the highest possible ecclesiastical approval with the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, a humble Polish nun who left an interesting record of her encounters with Christ as the embodiment of Divine Mercy. She recorded experiencing symbolic conversations of the Merciful Savior with a variety of types: the fervent soul, the suffering soul, and finally the despairing soul. In a remarkable account, which includes an important reference to prevenient grace and which leaves the soul free to accept or reject salvation, St. Faustina describes how an apparently lost soul is called by Christ himself at the hour of death. I included this remarkable passage from St. Faustina’s Diary in my book The Cross at Ground Zero, and it proved to be an immense consolation to many who lost dear ones on 9/11.

Is it in totally bad taste to suggest that we might consider, partly on the basis of St. Faustina’s revelation, that there may be a final divine call to conversion at the hour of death? Could this be the meaning of the promise of salvation given to the good thief on his cross? He did not walk in the straight way or enter by the narrow gate, but we have it on the highest authority that he is not to be counted among the population of hell.
More correspondence here.
And Why Do Tall Girls Wear High Heels?

There has been much arch punditry concerning the recent chess-playing in the Democratic party. How can it be that Hillary has become the party hawk? Why did Gore support Dean? When will Sen. Kerry's wife cut off the ketchup money?

All these questions and more will not be answered on this blog.

Spam into Gold*

Emil Bass
sent me an email
    (i do not lie)
irretmievable blackbifd nwnru
which galvanized my opening
what could this mean?

Predictable as gas
    emissions from a hack pol
she says
she's outgoing,
sexy and spontaneous.

At once I understood the title:
the time taken to read it
is as irretrievable
as a blackbird in the wind.


* - Spam is a metaphor for sin and the human condition, which attempts to bring to light the surface wastefulness of how we spend our time. My goal is to 'de-paganize' spam, by bringing out any innate but unseen beauty that might lurk within; by changing it from an homely sales pitch to a homely poem (though a poem completely shorn of profit motive). Spam is constructed of words, and the English language is beautiful.

Reminds me of a song...(to the tune of "Song, Sung Blue"):

Spam-sprung blues, ev'rybody knows 'um;
Spam-sprung blues, ev'ry garden grows one.
Me and you are subject to some spam now and then,
But, when you take the spam and make a poem,
You take the spam again, spam it out again.

Sorry, I must be reading way too much spam.
Pretty soon they'll need an Oxford Companion to Oxford Companions.
Magazine Article

I received a complimentary issue of a magazine called "The Latin Mass" (I think that was the title). Inside was an article praising the Baltimore Catechism, which I thought interesting and somewhat persuasive. But there was also a long article explaining how bad Vatican II was for the Church and the evidence given was a long litany of familiar statistics: priestly and religious vocations down, down, down, Mass attendance down, etc...

And while I'm sympathetic to the traditionalists, the problem is that you cannot assign a cause and effect. Since we don't have access to a parallel universe, we can't see how things would've had turned out without Vatican II. Perhaps things would be worse. Flannery O'Connor argued that a tenuous connection to the Church is better than no connection and it's possible that if the Church had been "stricter" we'd have only a remnant left. An Amish-like church.

The '60s culture affected nearly every institution and every person. There was and is no way to prevent the Zeitgeist from impacting you, either positively or negatively, which should provide additional motivation to want to change the Zeitgeist. Every Protestant denomination suffered likewise from the ravages of the 60s; it wasn't uniquely a Catholic problem. Once the elites in a society acquire bad ideas - i.e. lose their faith - their misconceptions tend to have a trickle-down effect.

God intended that men and women should impact and influence other men and women. There is no such thing as a "splendid isolation". One can no more hoard spiritual riches as one should material. The great spiritual poverty of the 60s affected nearly everyone, including the Church, but it strikes me that blaming Vatican II for our spiritual poverty just doesn't work.

Update: Just after writing about the possibility of a remnant church by too strict an approach, I see this from Wry on Amy's blog:
The priest I treasure most highly, the one who brought me into the church, was a "hard" man disliked by some parishioners. And he did have crusty qualities, like brushing you off if he was busy. But he told me after all my dithering about whether I believed everything and whether to join or not that I *shouldn't* join! "We already have enough bad Catholics," he said. "We don't need any more. Good night."
And he put his black hat on and walked into the night.
It was the beginning of my true conversion. Placed before that real choice: Yes, No - I realized how much I wanted to say Yes. Another thing he said: "You learn your faith on your knees." I had been spending hours pouring over books trying to find the answers and solve the debates in my head, but I began doing the stations of the cross instead. I took some private lessons from this priest to make up for the RCIA I had missed. I joined the church on my birthday, and it was the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Goethe Quote

Offered by Ham of Bone:
Many are full of esprit and knowledge, but they are also full of vanity; and, that they may shine as wits before the short-sighted multitude, they have no shame or delicacy - nothing is sacred to them. Madame de Genlis was therefore perfectly right when she declaimed against the freedoms and profanities of Voltaire. Clever as they all may be, the world has derived no profit from them; they afford a foundation for nothing. Nay, they have been of the greatest injury; since they have confused men, and robbed them of their needful support.

After all, what do we know, and how far can we go with all our wit? Man is born, not to solve the problems of the universe, but to find out where the problem applies, and then to restrain himself within the limits of the comprehensible. His faculties are not sufficient to measure the actions of the universe; and an attempt to explain the outer world by reason is, with his narrow view, vain. The reason of man and the reason of the Deity are two very different things.
Beating the Flu Bug

My wife is beginning to catch a cold or flu and is fishing for ideas to stem it. I offered Bone's sworn way - by eating garlic. I also printed this post from Two Sleepy Mommies. But I really liked Erik's comment on Pansy's post:
I swear by my formula for fighting colds and flu. The center of the system is well-made espresso. Drip coffee not only will not do, but is a step in the wrong direction. Milk drinks are only tolerable before 10am, otherwise they will only weaken you.

At the first sign of symptoms, I drink shots of espresso in regular intervals throughout the day. I drink lots of water, and take Vitimin C. I get my rest and avoid red wine, greasy food, ice cream, and so forth. I have a Tablespoon of good cognac before bed. If I have any nasal congestion, I eat wasabi. I eat a lot of garlic, too.

I continue the espresso cure (actually, I do that even when I am completely well, too) act as if I am not sick at all. I drink a good chilled Sapphire martini, eat normally, drink red wine with dinner, finish with ice cream, stay up late, work hard, and all of that. Generally it works well and I am fully recovered in a day. If it is a particularly nasty bug, a cigar might be required.

It sounds crazy, but I do not get sick as often or as hard or as long as most people. Perhaps it is my constitution, but I think it is more to do with attitude. People are getting wimpier and wimpier. I imagine that in a couple of decades most of the population will be too caught up in feeling ill that they will not be able to leave their houses.
I think he manages to hit all the major bullet points for effective cold relief/prevention:

1) Include an exotic ingredient for placebo effect. The wasabi and garlic work here.

2) Increase your will to live. Anecdotal evidence suggests that having a strong will to live strengthens your immune system. At least that's why I treat myself to Kellogg's Corn Pops and Guinness (separately, of course, and for medicinal purposes only) when I start to get ill. Erik's line "a cigar might be required" is the plu-perfect will-to-live ingredient.

3) Appeal to one's pride. "People are getting wimpier and wimpier" is operative here.

December 11, 2003


Nicole links to a book and article on the subject by Sr. Kathryn James, FSP.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

I was in a shop over the weekend and for the first time ever the assistant, the fair, young assistant, I may say - unasked and unsolicited - offered me.. . .the senior's discount... I tottered home to contemplate my new-found antiquity, although I probably should have stopped off to buy some Geritol. The two people I've mentioned this to so far have both wanted to know if I actually took the discount. Of course, I took it. It's a discount. I'm even cheaper than I am old and broker than I am proud. If they'd offered a fat-and-ugly discount I would've taken that, too. - John at the Inn at the End of the World

We're supposed to "take up" our crosses, not construct, deconstruct, invert, implode, or otherwise tamper with them. They are uniquely ours and they represent our share in working out our own salvation, but also our share in the salvation of all who surround us. Paul told us that he "made up what was lacking in the sacrifice of Christ." What could possibly be lacking in that sacrifice? It is a puzzlement, but I accept it as truth and from it conclude that we all have some duty to do the same. One thing we present to people that may "be lacking" is a sense of the immediacy and the intimacy of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. As we toil through Advent and thirst with the ancient peoples of the desert, awaiting our Salvation, we can take steps to make His presence known. Among those steps is taking up our crosses, not begrudgingly, but thankfully--knowing that by this sign we are saved and we proclaim salvation. - Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli

I have to say that what concerns me these days is not so much the presence of heresy but rather the growing belief that these arguments are unimportant. Say what you will about Hans Kung; at least he believes that doctrine matters. Kung, like many of us, may suffer from pride, but I would hold that the greater danger these days is sloth, a sense that it doesn't really matter what Christians believe as long as we love each other. - Peter Nixon on Amy's Blog
I do owe more to the parish than just the balance on my building fund pledge. Tonight is the parish's annual meeting. If I belonged to some other parish, I might be at the meeting, thinking there was some point to attending. As I've said before, after being on the Parish Council, Dilbert is funnier than ever. - Terrence Berres

Many people think the Lenten call to examine our lives in light of the Ten Commandments is a guilt trip based on fear. But the reality is that examining our conscience in light of the Ten Commandments is the only ticket out of guilt and fear. Why? Because the Ten Commandments presuppose that we are to be taken seriously as moral agents who can choose both sin and virtue and be persons who act out of love, not just react as victims. The Ten Commandments treat us like competent grownups and call us to act like it. The practical result of refusing to be treated like a competent grownup is to regard oneself as a helpless child who can only be acted upon. The practical result of that is to make everybody a "victim" and nobody responsible. And the practical result of that is guilt, fear and simmering resentment against all those "other people" who act upon poor me. When you sin, you can repent and be done with it. When you are a helpless victim, you can only whine and seek damages. - Mark Shea

Maybe the problem is thinking sins are relative to some arbitrary and ad hoc rulebook, rather than to our very nature and being. - Tom of Disputations

The answer to the question "what does this passage of scripture means?" isn't "what the author intended it to mean", but "what the tradition of the Church understands it to mean". The SAME Holy Spirit both inspires scripture and its interpretation by the Church. Hence, patristics would be what is indispensable to the study of scripture, not historical-criticism. - commenter Ben on Disputations

The filioque is usually thought of as an issue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Yet it was argued at greater length than any other point between the Lutherans and the Patriarch [in the 16th century]. The Lutherans said they agreed with the Catholic position. The Patriarch explained the Orthodox belief on the relationship of works to justification in what sound to me to be the same as the Catholic position. Which raises the question in my mind why there are ecumenical dialogues on these issues if there are more than just two interested parties to each. It appears that an accord on the filioque between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches might further divide that Catholic Church from some Protestants. Likewise, an accord on justification between the Catholic Church and Lutherans might further divide the Catholic Church from the Orthodox Church. - Terrence Berres

From the desire of my blog being read...Deliver me dear Jesus. From the desire of my blog being praised...Deliver me dear Jesus. From the fear of my blog being forgotten...Deliver me dear Jesus...That Mark Shea may notice every blog but mine...Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it...That others may be pithier than I, provided that I may become as pithy as I should...Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. - Jeff of Curt Jester, a prayer for humility

The Old Testament...was written from the perspective of Israel, not of God or some disinterested third party. From the perspective of Israel, when Israel flourishes God is rewarding His people; when Israel is led away captive, God is turning His back on them. When Israel is faithful, God seems happy; when Israel is faithless, God seems angry. Does that mean Israel's faithfulness makes God happy, or her faithlessness makes Him unhappy? No. God's love is unchanging. It is Israel that changes, and when you change your experience of God's unchanging love changes. The analogy I like is from St. John Fisher. Sunlight is warm and cheery when you're healthy, harsh and bitter when you're sick. - Tom of Disputations

The purpose of the Church is to bring the Gospel to people where they are at, not where we would like them to be. The goal of the Church is the same as it was fifty years ago: to bring the Gospel of salvation to as many people as possible. The difference is that the Church believes that this can best be accomplished in means different from those employed in the past. One can argue as to whether or not these new means are effective or how effective they are, but the fact remains that the goal is the same. --Chris of Veritas

The [saints] are not robots or Stepford saints. But that sly voice still whispers--if you abandon yourself, you'll be nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Choose YOU. Choose yourself and YOUR will. That's the dangerous choice. Faced with Jesus and the Devil, most, if not all, folks would easily choose Jesus. But faced with the false choice--Jesus vs. self? Well, then that's a more difficult decision. -TLS of Summa Mommas

My knowledge of history is somewhat ad hoc and often concentrated on individual trees rather than forests. So it was refreshing to be given a bigger, grander picture of the events leading to the Reformation by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Groeschel argues that the cause of the Reformation was partially the horrible, pathetic spiritual condition of the Catholic Church, which was was aided by events of the late 13th and early 14th centuries. There was the Black Death, the Plague that killed half of Europe - including two-thirds of the clergy and three-fourths of the religious communities. Its destabilizing effects were like an atomic bomb blast, a nuclear war.

But there was also William of Occam. From Fr. Groeschel's talk:
The Greeks, the Romans, the Jews and agreed (and many of the Oriental religions), as well as the early Church Fathers, that there were certain qualities of being that were part of the very essence of God - unity, truth, goodness and beauty. No one ever said this more clearly than St. Augustine. St. Thomas never denied it. Being, and ultimately being in its absolute form, is One, True, Good and Beautiful. There is a certain rightness to things that can never be altered.

William of Occam made the great mistake behind the Reformation. The mistake of the Reformation was not about the authority of the church, it is much more elemental than even that. Occam said that God had to decide what was right or wrong. That he had to decide that honesty was good and stealing was wrong. And Occam said that God would never make a mistake, because of his divine wisdom. So they ended up in the same place, but you got there the wrong way. He presented into philosophy and human thinking the idea of arbitrariness. God could decide that this or that was wrong. And it came to an incredible, unthinkable error. Now, Lutherans and the Calvinists got themselves out of this error long ago - politely. That God could decide, before a human being was created, apart from anything they did, that they were going to heaven or hell. That was based on William of Occam. God has to decide. It violates the very notion of goodness. Now Luther bought it lock, stock and barrel. Luther taught that before you were conceived it was determined whether you were going to heaven or hell, and that faith was a sign - a symptom - that you were going to heaven, but it didn't get you there. There wasn't anything you could do - completely arbitrary. And Calvin did something very interesting. He took a step back towards Catholicism. Although Calvinism is less liturgical and sacramental than Catholicism, in terms of spirituality it is closer to Catholicism than Lutheranism. (Read "The Catholicism of Jonathan Edwards" - even though Edwards probably never even saw a Catholic.)

This is how they got halfway back. Calvin taught if you were going to hell, that's it, goodbye. But if you were going to heaven, you could lose it. You could drop the ball. You could be lost. That's why Calvinism has always had a much stronger emphasis on spirituality. Now, as I've said modern Lutherans and Calvinists don't adopt these doctrines in the sharp and frightening way they were held. And it was a dark time. There was the Black Death, and the Hundred Years' War. A hundred years of war! Ripping Europe to pieces. The English land-grabbing France. And the war ended in less than a year by a girl, operating on a private revelation, Joan of Arc. In one year, by raising the siege of Orleans, Joan ended the hundred years' war.
The Sacramental System as Espoused by Frosty the Snowman

I was watching the old animated Frosty's Winter Wonderland, sequel to the classic Frosty the Snowman, when I thought how similar the saga to the story of sacraments.

If you recall, Frosty had a hat, which when removed effectively killed him, turned him into a lifeless snowman. The hat was a physical symbol joined with an underlying reality - the children's love. Frosty's wife was created because Frosty was lonesome and couldn't go indoors with the children. The children had Frosty; their love for Frosty's wife must've been inadequate because the hat given by the children did not effect a change. It was only when Frosty made his wife a bouquet of frost flowers - an outward sign of an inner conviction - that she came to life.

Jack Frost (the devil figure) whipped Frosty's hat off in order to inanimate him. But Frost was overcome when Frosty's wife made a snow corsage and placed it over Frosty's heart.

The children's hat sans love was superstition. Frosty's wife's love without a work did not avail. It was faith with works that worked.

Next week - Frosty's eschatology. Pre Trib, Pre Mil, Dispensationalist? Stayed tuned.

December 10, 2003

Touchstone Links

Some good links here and here concerning Naomi Wolf's anti-pornography article in the New Yorker.
A Marvelous Order

Once a year the Columbus Symphony comes to my place of work and offers a free concert. I'm always awed by how well they play; their crescendos perfectly crescendo, notes are never held too long or not long enough. They play with 'soft, soft hands' - nimble and quick when needed, graceful and gentle otherwise. And there is this marvelous order among so many moving parts.

This year they had it in the lobby outside the lunchroom, perhaps only a dozen listeners. I was three feet from the first chair violinist, a guy who'd always appeared as a tiny speck from my seat far in the back of the Ohio Theatre.

Hans Urs von Balthasar was quoted in National Review: "Whoever sneers at her [beauty's] name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past - whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love."