January 31, 2003

Amy has a thought-provoking post in which she states, It's been said elsewhere that the easiest way to lose your faith is to work for the Church - and that applies to any denomination - it's not peculiar to Catholics.

There are things I'd just rather not know, like how sausage is made. I've more or less gotten my head around it; I tell my mom that there is nothing inherently wrong with politics. It is a God-given means, though sometimes as inelegant as a bathroom visit. When she argues about how calculating the Pope is in making huge numbers of "conservative" cardinals that will vote in the next papal election, I say, hopefully honestly, that if the situation were reversed and the Pope were "liberal" and was using political means to achieve liberal ends then it must be the will of the HS, at least as far as who the next Pontiff will be. Perhaps a more nuanced view is that the right man might not get the job, but that he will not teach false doctrine. More nuanced and more nuanced we become, gradually widening the circle of human error, until we allow for the greatest possible lattitude for human error, which gets it just about right. God is respectful of our freedom, and very economical when it comes to wielding power. Forty million U.S. abortions is proof of that.
What I Did On My Winter Vacation
I always write what I call a "trip log", with the mistaken notion that I will actually one day go back and read it. At the very least it affixes the details in my mind one last time. Since I wrote it anyway, I will post it in the fine tradition of "let no writing go unposted". You are under no obligation to read it, of course. Triplogs prior to my reversion at least proffered erotic poetry (note to self: destroy erotic poetry soon!); I can promise no sex or violence in the following:

Here lieth the sun deck, where I laid sprawled befriended by Kirk and a cold one.

The advertising on the rental car was right, at least right now. "Florida - the Sunshine State" proved to be all of that as we loaded our weary bodies into a rental which still held the aroma of "new car". From Ft. Myers we took the causeway into sunny Sanibel where we blinked like uncovered slugs.

The condo had a small screened-in back porch overlooking the pool, where a fat cigar and a couple ales on repeating days tended to invoke nostalgia. I had a terribly strong sense of deja vu, and of remembrance of things past. The large green shade tree was much like the one at our house growing up, the one near which we dug a large hole with the hope of reaching China (our knowledge of the hot earthen core being incomplete). The sun deck and pool had 60s style accoutrements that reminded me of my best friend's grandma's swimming pool and her maddeningly strict rules of no swimming for an hour after eating; I recall being out of the pool more than in it. The sun deck ascended in whitely glory, a mad pad to which I would carry a ridiculous number of books despite always choosing to read Kirk's Sword of Imagination.

The leafy courtyard had antebellum lamps and reminded me of my alma mater, which reminded of what Burke wrote concerning the man who hangs about college after having graduated - "he is like a man who, having built and rigged and victualled a ship, should lock her up in dry dock." Ah but what a gloriously unbattered ship she would be!

The complex had the aura of a retirement villa about it; the average resident age in the 70s. The beach scenes looked like retirement or insurance advertisements - loving grey-haired couples walking hand-in-hand. This was a nice feature since I would be able to avoid eye custodial issues which inevitably arise when bikini-clad young women happen by. Instead I was reading Russell Kirk sans distraction, as the sun made her inevitable trek...

    When daffodils begin to peer,
    With heigh! the doxy over the dale,
    Why, then comes in the sweet o' the year;
    For the red blood reigns in the winter's pale.

    The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
    With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!
    Doth set my pugging tooth on edge;
    For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.

Disputations has an attention-grabbing science experiment.

My first thought was that economics is a science too, although if you ask four economists what will happen you'll get five opinions.

I recall that the committee formed on the question of birth control came out in favor of artificial methods. Pope Paul VI wrote Humane Vitae instead. That sort of put theologians in the proper perspective. Ideally, we should be content with the teachings we have been given.
A belated Happy St. Thomas Aquinas day to you and yours. It was excrutiating being out of town during one of my favorite feast days. Not only am I curious what the fine Dominican friars at my St. Patrick parish would've said during the homily, but the local Dominican college always has a wonderful lecture program that day. Providentially, Tuesday was the one day I was able to make it to Mass and the priest there gave a wonderful talk on the great one. I had unthinkingly drank coffee beforehand, but the Mass started late and the enthusiastic homilist made reception possible for which I am thankful.

January 30, 2003

Serving All Your Knightly Needs
For the man who has everything: $2,450!?! Oy vey.

More affordably, the the scowling knight. (Any resemblance to your correspondent purely coincidental).

Finally, the handy knight.

Crypto-Catholic on Ash Wednesday
Hides he Wedesday's ashes
protecting his Mother's reputation
lest she be seen undesireable
by association.
Déjà vu
Watched Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and was struck by how his experience in the movie mirrors our lives. First Murray reacted to the repeating days with the childish glee of lawbreaking: venial things like inconsideration for others, eating everything off the dessert tray, smoking cigarettes. Then he upped the ante in the way some adolescents favor - he drank heavily, smashed his car into mailboxes, tried to evade police and was arrested. The next day he took it a step further by manipulating a stranger into having sex with him. It was plainly unsatisfying because what he really wanted was the character played by Andie MacDowell, and she would not be manipulated. He slid into nihilism, killed himself several times, until finally he abjectly admitted that it was he who was the problem. Because he could not have who he wanted most (Andie), he no longer concerned himself with her as a goal; he became altruistic out of desperation - the grain of wheat and fell to the ground and died. The byproduct of his altruism was Andie's falling in love with him.

Read much of John Hershey's depressing Hiroshima on the plane ride back from Florida. One of the survivors was a German Catholic priest who spent the next 30 years in almost constant pain from side effects of the radiation but who unfailing thought of others and never gave into self-pity. Just as it would be almost impossible for the early, selfish Bill Murray to imagine the later, altruistic Murray with anything but white-knuckle distaste, so it is for we who are not where that priest was spiritually to appreciate the beauty, rather than the horror, of his sacrifice. The priest at one point calmly remarked that he was glad to suffer his purgatory here.
Back from a week idyll; my folks spend two weeks every year in the land of flos carmeli (i.e. Florida) and we spent five glorious days visiting, regaining our sanity and avoiding the worst the winter has to offer (it felt a form of cheating, as if the winter is an exam and I looked off someone else's paper)...

January 24, 2003

Two by Seamus
We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening--
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

--Seamus Heaney, excerpt of Bogland


And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall--
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser--
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.

--Seamus Heaney, excerpt of The Harvest Bow
Herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.

--Shakespeare Henry IV
breath-castles in the near-distance
sing, Statehouse, sing a pro-life song!

Scraggely band of hooded sweatshirts
and mittened applause;
of evangelical sensibilities singing
Our God is an Awesome God
while unfeeling toes remind of
toes that scarcely felt.
There's something alarming about listening to the Old Dogs and realizing Waylon Jennings, who sang the following, is dead:

Drink ginseng tonics, you're still gonna die.
Try high colonics, you're still gonna die.
You can have yourself frozen and suspended in time,
But when they do thaw you out, you're still gonna die.
You can have safe sex, you're still gonna die.
You can switch to Crest, you're still gonna die.
You can get rid of stress, get a lot of rest,
Get an AIDS test, enroll in EST,
Move out west where it's sunny and dry
And you'll live to be a hundred
But you're still gonna die.

I suppose it is a Christian message in the sense of "remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It's actually a cheery song, if you can believe that.
A Different Perspective
Fotos Del Apocalypse has a promising post on the war, promising because thru the eyes of Babelfish I can only make out so much. Hernan has the advantage of being farther removed from the war than we are while (hopefully) lacking the anti-American bias that many Europeans have.
I'll be out o' town next week; blogging will resume upon return, God-willing.

Meanwhile, a keeper from Deal Hudson:
"...it's true, we're bound to follow our conscience. However -- and this is essential -- our conscience MUST be properly formed. People who disagree with the Church's teachings tend to do so out of hand without first trying to understand those teachings. That's not following your conscience, that's following your will."
Near parody  --via Minute Particulae
I can't quite believe how blatantly Mr. Weddington showed his hand, or more vulgarly, his ass. Shades of Dicken's Scrooge who when told many would die in poverty said they had better so as to "decrease the surplus population". Yikes.
Interesting tidbit for you fellow Bob Novak afficiandos:

Amazon.com: How did you get your nickname, "The Prince of Darkness"?

Novak: It's not as interesting a story as you might think. In the late '50s, I covered the Senate for The Wall Street Journal along with a reporter for The Washington Post, and aside from the wire service reporters, we were the only two who had to stay in the Senate until the last dog died. So we'd sit there and watch the Senate and have these long discussions. I was in my late 20s and I was very pessimistic about the state of the world. I thought it was going right down into depravity, and he started calling me the Prince of Darkness because I was so gloomy. Long before I had any particular prominence, people called me the Prince of Darkness because I had a kind of a grim visage. And then when I became a columnist and a TV commentator, the whole thing fit, and it sounded like I was given the name because I was so conservative.

Amazon.com: Do you mind that nickname?

Novak: Nah, I don't care.
Denver's Letter
My father rarely gave me advice, so when he did it took on a Mount Sinai importance. And one piece of advice was to never, ever use drugs. I believed him; drugs were bad. So you might have an inkling of the dismay I felt when I read that another hero of mine, the singer John Denver, was accused of using drugs. At the tender age of ten, I had to reconcile the advice my father gave with the example my favorite singer gave. So I decided to write John Denver. I said that I'd read that he used hashish and marijuana, and that perhaps the song "Rocky Mountain High" and "Poems, Prayers and Promises" were not as innocent as they seemed. They had both seemed tainted to me now, especially the lyric "and pass the pipe around" in "Poems, Prayers and Promises"...

He wrote back about a year later. I still have the letter; it's on beautiful "John Denver stationary" with a little Rocky Mountain vista on the background of the letterheard. He neither confirmed or denied the reports I had heard but one sentence forever lingers in my mind:

Don't let your perceptions of me get in the way of the value the music has for you.

You can call it what you like, a cop-out, a dodge. But he was saying "look to the music. Don't look at me." So perhaps this is a lesson to us all - when bishops or priests or we ourselves disappoint us don't let the behavior affect our faith - look at God.
"I would have given any number of neo-classical pediments for one poor battered gargoyle." - Russell Kirk
An issue must be complicated if Bob Novak and Kate O'Beirne don't see eye-to-eye on it. The fellow Capital Gang conservative Catholics have been divided over whether war with Iraq is necessary; Bob taking a negative view and Kate a positive view.

January 23, 2003

Fun with Protestants: We ran into a group from the Oligarch's area of Virginia, and one of the marchers asked us, "And where do you fellowship at?" Slight pause, Oligarch correctly translates this as "What church do you belong to?" and answers, but later notes wryly, "Yeah, I 'fellowship at' [St. X], except I go there alone, and I don't talk to anyone!" Eve via Mark
Interesting New Yorker fiction piece by George Saunders that I much enjoyed, although, as they say, your mileage may vary. (That will seem funnier after you have read it). I'm not sure it is entirely appropriate for a Catholic blog so the easily offended should steer clear.
Interesting article about Russel Kirk's stories..
Proof again, as if we needed it, that those who are weak are usually the ones who defend the weak - in this case a nearly aborted baby:

The actor Jack Nicholson, who discovered as an adult that the woman he was raised to believe was his sister was actually his mother, who had conceived him when she was a teenager. She was advised to get an abortion, but chose life. Her son became a pro-lifer. He once said, "I'm very contra my constituency in terms of abortion because I'm positively against it. I don't have the right to any other view. My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life." - from The Corner
The official Geek hierarchy courtesy NRO

January 22, 2003

It's not his feast day but St. Anthony has always been one of my favorite saints.
Old Journal Entries Never Die...
There is nothing more prosaic than nostalgia, but can it possibly have been so long since I was there at King Library at Miami, sitting completely appalled at the graffitti scripted on the bathroom carol? Can it have been that long ago, really? The fog of mysticism was murderously dense that senior year, dense with past loves and manured by meditative time superfluously supplied. The very air in Oxford hung wet with intrigue; the senior class knew it was about to go through labor – to labor – and would be cast out like mewling youths into the working world. We were people who knew their own death dates – we walked around with heavy hearts and carrying burdensome bags of nostalgia. We of deep tans would look longingly during Linear Programming and sigh as if….as if we only had more time….Winsome lads and lasses would pass phone numbers that would soon expire. We were heavy-laden with so many memories of splendour; the head-rush of so many dreams simultaneous with so many memories. We were breathing beneath the water, that senior year, we were dead men walking. The ivory tower was turning ebony. We were no longer part of the majesty, the four-year paegeant, the four-year spectacle of potential and grace.
Mosaics of the saints
pointillistic artworks of God
full of discrete points of goodness
while God is the dots
Anatomy of a Fast
First 25%: Mixed emotions; half-hearted enthusiasm haunted by the knowledge that there is significantly less to look forward to today. Prayer helps.

Second 25%: Vague sense of un-ease settles in...must resolve not to become resentful. Tell self: the fast includes a fast from irritability. Wonder if I'm as grumpy as usual if that counts since at least the fast isn't making me worse than usual. Think to self that perhaps I should've fasted from irritability alone and not worry about food.

Third 25%: Keep on keeping on, momentum has swung, hunger pangs remind me of His. I wonder: 'does drinking coffee break a bread and water fast?'. I rationalize drinking coffee for greater alertness - i.e. it's for my job.

Final 10%: That wasn't so bad... want to stretch it out some. Why was I such a wuss about it? And why did I have to drink that coffee?
Mahatma Ghandi

"It seems to me as clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime."

All Men Are Brothers: The Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1958
The rising feminist movement was against abortion. Not even the most radical considered abortion to be an instrument of freedom for women; on the contrary, abortion was understood to be an aspect of male domination, whereby (outside marriage) men tried to conceal the results of their seduction, or (inside marriage) women behaved tragically because of the terrible conditions of a home governed by a tyrannical husband.
--Tim Stafford, on the women's movement circa 1870

The Deadly Dozen

a sad 1973 NY Times front page
my guardian dear
I was in charge of eucharistic adoration at my parish. One day I asked one of my fellow parishioners if she knew how to find out the name of one's guardian angel. She said to pray in adoration, and God would let me know my angel's name. I prayed each Saturday for several weeks.

One Saturday before benediction a man entered the chapel. He was at least six feet tall and had clear blue-green eyes and long, wavy blonde hair. He knelt down in front of the Blessed Sacrament with his long arms outstretched toward heaven and started to pray the most beautiful prayers to our Lord. Everyone at adoration always prayed in silence, and we were in awe of this stranger.

After benediction, everyone started to leave and, as I always did, I greeted our guests. I walked up to the blonde man, introduced myself, and gave him the schedule of our weekly visits with Jesus. When I was finished, he bent down to look into my eyes, and as he shook my hand he said, 'My name is Edward. Isn't it nice to finally meet your angel?' I stood watching him walk away down behind the side of the church. I turned away for a second, and when I looked back he was gone. I have not seen him again.

Jesus answers even the smallest of prayers.

-Lisa Ladrido, in This Rock

I liked this on several levels...one that the prayer was answered so extravagantly - instead of coming to knowledge of the name in an impersonal, subtle experience she met him and was shown by him how to adore Christ properly. I also liked the fact that she was unafraid of taking up God's time with something the worldly would consider minutiae if they believe it at all. I shy from these type of prayers because I have a utilitarian streak a mile long, and assume it would be a presumption to ask for something like that instead of something like 'spiritual growth' or 'the conversion of Bill Mahrer'. Like eating ice cream instead asparagus. And yet...love is....lovely. It's not master-slave, but father-son.

If sometimes I seem bumptious to my guardian angel, I remind him or her that at least they get to go to Mass more often than the average GA.

January 21, 2003

"There was no great truth of which the medieval mind was more certain than those words from the Corinthians, 'For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face.' They never forgot that everything would be absurd if it exhausted its meaning in its immediate function and form of manifestation, and that all things extend in an important way to the world beyond."
--Johan Huizinga, Autumn of the Middle Ages
Bellocian article here..
Seeing thru the war glass darkly...
At the barber stand there was talk of war. It twould seem Saddam did not lived up to treaty he signed in 1991. In fact, he did not live up to that on day one when inspectors showed up to witness the mass conflagration of his weapons and instead were greeted with an elaborate "Where's Waldo?" game. So shouldn't we have gone to war on day one? The barber said, "but that was so long ago - we didn't do anything about it then." And that's true. But is that a bad thing? Shouldn't we delay, delay, delay war as long as possible?
More Ratzinger
Augustine experienced this in the case of his mother: while, he with his friends, all of whom came from the academic world, stuggled helplessly with the basic problems of humanity, he was struck again and again by the interior certainty of this simple woman. With astonishment and emotion, he wrote of her: 'She stands at the pinnacle of philosophy.' -- J. Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, pp. 340-342.

January 20, 2003

Concerning Goldhagen's Book
"As Lucy Dawidowicz saw in 1946, the Holocaust was the product not of Christendom, but of Christendom's collapse. The destruction of Christendom effected (1) the rejection of Catholic natural law and (2) the rise of the absolute nation-state, previously impossible because popes could depose and counterbalance kings...."
--Mark Riebling in National Review
Learning my ABCs...
You mean "OCDS" doesn't stand for "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Syndrome"? I recently learned it means "Order of Carmelites Discalced Secular", for any fellow rubes out there.

January 19, 2003

More Belloc
For the first time, Belloc wrote to Maurice Baring on 13 April 1908, he had given up drinking beer or wine in Holy Week:

  ...'partly to see what it is like, partly in memory of the Passion, and partly to strengthen my will which has lately had bulgy spots on it.

I have now gone through thirty-six hours of this ordeal, and very interesting and curious it is...The mind and body sink to a lower plane and become fit for contemplation rather than for action: the sense of humour is also singularly weakened.'

In later years Belloc extended his abstinence to the whole of Lent. 'I have become a Protestant and am drinking no wine during Lent, with the most terrible results to my soul which is in permanent despair', he wrote to Chesterton in 1912. 'I now see what a fool everybody is, a truth which, until now the fumes of fermented liquor had hidden from me.'

-- Joseph Pearce, Old Thunder
Flos Carmeli has a thoughtful and interesting review of Hitler's Niece, a book I've come close to acquiring on numerous occasions. Since my reversion, I've attempted to limit what I read to only what I consider "healthy", i.e. that which doesn't get in the way of God. But I don't want to be a Puritan either. (Belloc's friend Maurice Baring once wrote "..then the damned Puritans cast their stinking tarpaulin of respectability over their filthy vices and pretended to be virtuous"). I'm not sure my curtailment of certain books has borne any fruit, at least as far as spiritual improvement, but see Flos's Red Queen comment. Besides Updike, I'm also unsure of Paul Theroux, whose novel "Hotel Honolulu" looks interesting.
Bellocian Comments
"Faith goes and comes, not (as the decayed world about us pretends) with certain waves of the intelligence, but as our ardour in the service of God, our chastity, our love of God and his creation, our fighting of our special sins, goes and comes. Faith goes and comes. You think it gone forever (you go to Mass, but you think it gone for ever), then in a miraculous moment it returns. In early manhood one wonders at this, in maturity one laughs at such vicissitudes...But the Church is permanent. You know what our Lord said: He said 'I have conquered the world'...With every necessity, with every apparition of tangible human and positive truth the Faith returns triumphant. By that, believe me, the world has been saved. All that great scheme is not mist or a growth, but a thing outside ourselves and time."
- H. Belloc, in Pearce's Old Thunder

January 18, 2003

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Above the uplands drenched with dew
The sky hangs soft and pearly,
An emerald world is listening to
The wind that shakes the barley.

Above the bluest mountain crest
The lark is singing rarely,
It rocks the singer into rest,
The wind that shakes the barley.

Oh, still through summers and through springs
It calls me late and early.
Come home, come home, come home, it sings,
The wind that shakes the barley.

--Katharine Tynan

January 17, 2003

On the Dilbertization of the Workplace
...or thoughts during a meeting

Nancy Nall is convinced that the "next Big Novel -- OK, the next Big Comic Novel -- we all read and discuss will be about work. There's just too much material. On the other hand, it's the sort of material that takes the wind out of satire's sails, because it transcends it in every way."

We recently had a second pre-meeting before an upcoming overview session. Lard upon lard. These meetings have a sort of out-of-body experience to them; I could take them more seriously if everyone else took them less seriously. We all know what has to be done and could do it w/out the pageantry and project charters. The meeting made me feel old or cynical or both.

I think to self, “she is too old to be so enthusiastic”; I try to recall that her job depends on enthusiasm, on rallying the troops, on making management see that she is valuable player. But it still feels like farce. I feel like I’m watching a bad play. The meeting is interrupted by someone leaping up. His phone is space-age cool, like something George Jetson would have. A little blue light fired on as he flipped it up. It looked like a toy.

It wouldn't have felt this way years ago. I still recall those halcyon days; I projected all the sophistication and importance of the world upon my job. I showed my parents my desk and bragged, only half-joking, that this is where the important decisions are made.

The truth is that most work outside the home seems unutterably small, with the exception of ministry work, the professions, and art. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Priest, prophet, poet. And yet all work is meaningful, by definition, because work is done by humans and humans are of inestimable value. A shoe-maker’s work is as valuable to God as a CEOs. But I have trouble getting this construct into my head though. I make the linkage intellectually but… Perhaps I’m bastardizing the corporate experience – without ambition to advance it becomes a farce. They can become exercised over minutiae because they are hungry – they want to get to the next level. Strip “the game” from the corporate rat race and you’re left with…what?

And yet these are surely just the musings of the terribly spoiled. What about the Mexican migrant worker who sends every dime back to Mexico so that his wife can join him? What about the starving in Africa? They would love a farcical job.
Catholic–minded Christians favor rituals and set prayers; Evangelical-minded Christians think these are insincere, that a prayer or action must come from the heart, and that set prayers and rites are dead. Samuel Johnson, good Anglican that he was, disapproved of the Presbyterian version of this attitude in his Journey to the Western Isles.

"The Naked Face" by Malcolm Gladwell in the August 5 New Yorker explores the meaning of facial expressions. They are universal and largely involuntary. A trained or naturally intuitive person can detect a liar, and much else, by facial expressions.

When I worked as a federal investigator, we were trained to pick up verbal and facial clues of liars - nothing as subtle as the article discusses, but useful anyway. To practice we had a film and transcript of Ted Kennedy explaining what he did at Chappaquiddick. We were told to look for signs that he was lying. Most of us stopped at 100.
A current researcher (who was pro-Clinton) noticed that Clinton had characteristic facial expressions. The researcher contacted Clinton’s communications director and said, “Look, Clinton’s got this way of rolling his eyes along with a certain expression, and what it means is ‘I am a bad boy.’ I don’t think it is a good thing. I could teach him how not to do that in two or three hours.” Clinton refused. In any case the expression was revelatory.

I am always getting into trouble because of my facial expressions, I don’t suffer fools gladly, and even when I keep my mouth shut, my expression must give me away, because people get angry with me after they have said something stupid. They suspect it is stupid, and see by my face that I think it is extremely stupid.
However, returning to the Catholic-Evangelical disagreement, researchers have also discovered that facial expressions can create the corresponding emotions.
A researcher asked one group to remember a distressing situation, and monitored their heart beat, etc. They showed signs of stress. He then asked another group to make a facial expression of distress without thinking of anything. They showed the same physiological signs of distress as the first group. One group held a pen tightly between their lips, which made it impossible to smile. They were shown cartoons. They were not amused. Another group held a pen in their mouths in such a way that they were forced to smile. They found the cartoons hilarious.

Pascal (I believe) advised someone who said he had trouble believing in Christianity to take holy water on entering a church, and that belief would follow. Our external actions tend to create the corresponding internal attitudes.

Catholics: You are right, actions create the emotions.

Protestants: You are right, the heart will out no matter how hard we try to conceal it.

However, if a person has decided something is right – that he should venerate God or love his wife - but for some reason doesn’t feel the emotions he ought to feel, he can perform the actions, bowing and kneeling, or kissing and bringing flowers. These actions tend to create the emotions, and are not insincere, because the will has made a decision based on the truth, and wants to bring the heart into conformity with realty. This is the definition of truth and truthfulness. So High Chuchmen are a little more right than Low Churchmen (who in any case often have their own unacknowledged rituals).
--Leon Podles

Postcript: Minute Particulae blogged about The Naked Face back in August.
Ratzinger Quote via Olde Oligarch
On the other hand, a society and a humanity will not long endure in which persons in service careers -- in hosptials, for instance -- no longer find meaning in their service [because it is not intellectual], and universal irritation, mutual suspicion, destroy life in common. God's revelation was to the simple -- not out of resentment against the great, as Nietzsche would have it -- but because they possess that precious naivete that is open to truth and not subject to the temptations of nihilism. This should be the foundation of the great respect the Christian should feel to those who are simple of heart. - Cardinal Ratzinger
I'll always be your beast of burden
Overheard at a restaurant, table of eight next to us, one grey-haired couple and two young couples. Older gent gives older lady a peck on the cheek, after which she appears pained and then warns, "Oh, men always want sex - no matter how old they are!".

January 16, 2003

Interesting post from Minute Particulars. Read the whole thing, but if not read this:
The "credibility of others" is woven so tightly within the human act of faith that practically speaking it's inextricable from any notion of faith in God alone. Our faith is in God alone, but the manner in which we become disposed to such an assent very much involves the dynamic of believing in the testimony of other human beings so that we can, as Pieper puts it, "participate in the knowledge of a knower."

Here's where the shoe pinches a bit for me in the issue of how we might respond to those who have "lost faith" because of the actions of others. Of course faith has God as its object. And indeed faith is ultimately a gift. And yes our genuine assent requires the grace of the Holy Spirit. But all of this is sort of highlighting the end of a very long and nuanced theological argument. It's a response to a denial that God is the Source and End of all that is, was, or will be, including the assent of faith in each of us when it occurs; but I'm not sure it's a response to the despair many find themselves in when they are betrayed by priests and bishops.

I think, deep down, everyone wants to be a saint since that's what we were created for. The restlessness that St. Augustine wrote about is a restlessness for sanctity because sanctity is a greater oneness with God. But we want to be saints without the work, or, if work is necessary, then it be done with the surety that the goal (sanctity) will be achieved. Thus when my mother says that in the 1950s Catholics were not any holier than Protestants, she was also saying, "not eating meat on Friday and making every go to Mass on Sunday or they will go to hell" did not work, i.e. did not make them saintly. This is sort of what Nietsche said when he said, "if Christians are redeemed, why don't they look redeemed?".

Similarly, if priests, bishops, and monks are not any holier than the average Joe (despite their access to the sacraments and the arduous journey that includes celibacy requirements and extensive biblical/spiritual learning), then some wash their hands of it because they see that the arduousness of the journey does not even guarantee the destination - holiness. But ...as St. Peter bluntly said, "Oh Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life." It is folly to ignore the paths the saints since you cannot get there without those steps, even if there is no guarantee you will arrive if you do take them.

A Paradox from Minute Particulars:
In theory God can reveal Himself to anyone without our efforts to evangelize. But a corollary to this would seem to be that in theory we can't come between God and another human being. I think these both have to be true lest we distort Creator and creature or limit the power of God. Yet, and I admit this is a strange thing to say, we can't live as if these theoretical notions are true. If we do I think we commit the sin of presumption. We can't presume that God doesn't require our efforts to spread the Good News, even though somehow we know that He doesn't. And we can't presume that our sinfulness won't affect another human being's ability to know God, even though somehow we know that nothing we do could ever finally hinder God.
More from the Irish Page

An Ghaeilge
Is mise an Ghaeilge
Is mise do theanga
Is mise do chultúr
D'Úsáid na Filí mé
D'Úsáid na huaisle
D'Úsáid na daoine mé
is d'Úsáid na lenaí
Go bródúil a bhí siad
Agus mise faoi réim.

Ach tháinig an strainséir
Chuir sé faoi chois mé
Is rud ní ba mheasa
Nior mhaith le mo chlann mé
Anois táim lag
Anois táim tréith
Ach fós táim libh
Is beidh mé go beo.
Tóg suas mo cheann
Cuir áthas ar mo chroí
Labhraígí mé
Ó labhraígí mé!
The Irish Language
I am Irish
I am your language
I am your culture
The poets used me
The nobles used me
The people used me
and the children used me
Proud they were
And I flourished

But the stranger came
He suppressed me
Something worse than that was
my own people rejected me
Now I am weak
Now I am feeble
But still I am with you
and I will be forever.
Raise up my head
Put joy in my heart
Speak me
Oh speak me!
Sun spills despite the clouds
into my winter hovel
agilely missing pregnant chads
radiant excesses at random intervals
keeps me at the bay.

grey-stoke stick-trees
look upended, leaves planted;
only the roots show.
Minimalist poem about College Life


January 15, 2003

...And Poetry

excerpts from Nine Little Goats
It's a cock's foot of a night:
If I go on hanging my lightheartedness
Like a lavender coat on a sunbeam's nail,
It will curdle into frogspawn.
The clock itself has it in for me,
Forever brandishing the splinters of its hands,
Choking on its middle-aged fixations.

Darkness will be dropping in
In the afternoons without an appointment,
A wolf's bite at the windowpane,
And wolves too the clouds
In the sheepish sky.

---Núala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated from the Irish by Medbh McGuckian

Núala Ní Dhomhnaill (NOO-la Nee GO-nal), Ireland's foremost present-day poet writing in Irish, was born in 1952 in Lancashire. In 1957, her parents returned to Ireland -- to the Dingle Gaeltacht in Kerry, where she grew up. She writes all her poetry in Irish because she believes that Irish is a language of enormous elasticity and emotional sensitivity; of quick and hilarious banter. Many international scholars have commented that this language of ragged peasants "seems always on the point of bursting into poetry." (Dhomhnaill, 2)- via the Irish Page
Irish Song Wednesday

A Man You Don't Meet Every Day
I have acres of land I have men at command
I have always a shilling to spare
So be easy and free when you're drinking with me
I'm a man you don't meet every day

So come fill up your glasses with brandy and wine
Whatever it costs I will pay
So be easy and free when you're drinking with me
I'm a man you don't meet every day...


January 14, 2003

Wherefore Mosquitoes?
Came across this quotation...

Perhaps the real question is not why does God allow for physical evil, but why did God create us in a material world? Some suggest that God created us in an imperfect material world so that we would not rely on ourselves but come to love and rely on the perfect God (2 Cor 1:8-9). St. Irenaeus of Lyons (190 A.D.) wrote:

"...where there is no exertion, there is no appreciation. Sight would not be so desirable if we did not know what a great evil blindness is. Health, too, is made more precious by the experience of sickness; light by comparison with darkness; life with death. In the same way, the heavenly kingdom is more precious to those who have known the earthly one. But the more precious it is, the more we love it; and the more we love it, the more glorious shall we be in the presence of God. God, therefore, permitted all these things, so that we, instructed by them all, might in future be prudent in all things, and, wisely taught to love God, might abide in that perfect love." [Against Heresies IV,37,7]
-- from A Catholic Response
I can certainly see the appeal of Tan Publishers. Their newsletter arrive/brochure arrived in the mail today and though I rarely buy anything I find the mere reading of it enriching and oddly comforting. I wouldn't mind being a Catholic fundamentalist - we'll all be fundamentalists in the next life - i.e. everything will be black and white and much clearer. Tan has a lot of edifying books that are not Fundie books, don't get me wrong. There are summaries of the Summa and lives of saints and others. But what prompted this post was this nugget from the letter:

If you are going to read the Bible, get a copy of the Douay-Rheims Bible and read the real Bible. In my opinion, it is the only really accurate English translation of the Bible there is. Every verse evokes the authorship of Almighty God, and many times just a sentence or a clause from the Douay-Rheims will bring the answer to a question that has been bothering you for a long time.

That's a pretty effective sell. Never mind the great break-throughs in biblical research and manuscripts that have occurred since the Douay-Rheims. It's our KJV.

Moreover, the publisher tackles the question: Why read the spiritual classics?

One of the things we certainly need to engage in is spiritual reading, for excellent spiritual reading-- such as found in the powerful books from TAN - gives us 1) the adult knowledge of the Faith that we need in order to practice it well, plus 2) the motivation to do so.

Sounds reasonable.
Interesting post from Doxos (via Dylan) on the infinite distance between the Irish and the Irish-American. Alas, perhaps only landscape and songs like Kevin Barry remain. If I went back to the olde sod, I would never go to Dublin. I would go to Belfast and Northern Ireland where perhaps vestiges of yesterday can be found. At best, touring can be like time travel; at worst the homogenizing of culture and self-consciousness that the tourist trade induces makes it unpalatable. Truly foreign cultures become more attractive, albeit more deadly. A visit to say Damascus or Baghdad would be a real treat because it is there we can find a difference (at the cost of many of them hating your guts, a small price to pay). Certainly my yen to travel has decreased steadily as I've approached middle-age.

A WASPish English professor at school raved about how strange it is that whites want to go to England or Ireland and blacks to Africa and Asians to Asia. He was a connoisuer of Japanese culture and constantly preached the gospel of learning about and traveling to truly "other" countries.
excerpt from Étude Réaliste
A baby's eyes, ere speech begin,
Ere lips learn words or sighs,
Bless all things bright enough to win
A baby's eyes.

Their glance might cast out pain and sin,
Their speech make dumb the wise,
By mute glad godhead felt within
A baby's eyes.

--Algernon Charles Swinburne
Hokie Pundit laments the fact that some branches of Christianity do not have open Communion and that some get unduly hung up on the use or non-use of alcohol for Communion. An ex-priest I know (as well as a very close loved one) also think the RCC's Communion policy distasteful. Hence this question interested me.

I think CS Lewis would beg to differ. He urged no one to stand in the hallway of Christianity, but to pick a room (i.e. denomination or branch) and live its tenets and particularities. To have an open Communion, it seems you'd have to have it in the hallway, metaphorically-speaking.

There are some things even the Pope has no power to change - such as the use of wine in Communion. What is special about wine? Or what is special about water, when used in Baptism? Besides that Jesus used both, there's a sense in which water, for example, is not merely a symbol of cleansing but was created firstly for Baptism and only secondarily for thirst-quenching and cleansing. In other words, instead of thinking that God appropriated water as a symbol since it had cleansing and thirst-quenching properties, consider that He imagined primarily for the sacrament and that secondary uses were applied so that its real use in Baptism might be better understood.

For those who think, "who cares? it's just a material substance", think about the universe. That an invisible God created a material universe leaves us wondering why, but the fact that he did makes it, by default, important. The fact that God-made-man decided to attach an importance to common everyday objects is determinative, because God alone determines whether something is important.

The thing not too many people like to bring up is that Catholics believe, or are supposed to believe, that Communion is something entirely different from what an evangelical would believe it to be. Thus I'm not sure how you can have an "open Communion" when the very thing itself is the object of dispute.
Jaded by Beauty
A professor friend of mine who used to teach college in Appalachia wrote to me recently: "When I moved to the Tennessee mountains, I was always stunned at how much kids raised there could not see the beauty that was all around them, and all of the amazing kid stuff there was to do in mountains and lakes and waterfalls and music and everything. A small place, but a wonderful place. But the students from there said they never, ever thought of that. They were comparing their lives with MTV, and advertising, and HBO, and the products of New York and Los Angeles."
--R. Dreher, NRO
Ode to Libraries
"Those buildings were oases, elegant, cathedral-like spaces where you could sit for hours and hours. You could go to the bathroom and find a fresh roll of toilet paper in the dispenser, and you could go scavenging for the latest novel by Toni Morrison or Robert Stone, and it would actually be there, waiting for you to come and claim it. I loved libraries fiercely. They were gratifying, inviting, intellectual, clean: everything that the rest of the world all too often was not...

...a few years ago I became a member of the New York Society Library, where they actually know my name and whose elegant rooms make me feel as though I'm living out a scene in a Henry James novel."

----Meg Wolitzer, via bookslut
First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation."
--2 Peter 3:3-4

January 13, 2003

News you can use
My friend has four children under the age of six, and seems to often be the recipient of vomit from sick kids. This happened to him over the weekend, but then he remembered his reading on serial killers. He is a movie buff who wanted to know how close to reality Hannibal Lector was and so he came across a serial killers website and found that some of them put Vicks Vaporub under their nose in order to deal with unpleasant odors. My friend remembered this, quickly grabbed the Vicks, and was spared from wretching himself (and was able to clean up the voluminous vomit w/out incident). Pick Vicks - the choice of serial killers everywhere.
A Two-Sided Equation
Where John baptized with plain water, Jesus added the Holy Spirit.
When He was given plain water, He made fine wine.
When He was given five loaves and two fish, He multiplied them.
When He is given bread and wine, he makes his Body and Blood.

Minute Particulae has a particularly bracing post reminding us that things are different with us, post-Pentecost. St. Paul makes this point over and over and the Church teaches it as well - that we are fundamentally different, living in the new Dispensation. Not only that many of the old rules don't apply - meaning some of the rites of the Old Law such as dietary disciplines and circumcision - but that we are given a gift that they did not have. This is easy for the pessimist to forget. Whether we feel it, or see it in history, is quite irrelevant. As MP says, "Our baptism has freed us from such things. Our task as a people of God baptized in the Holy Spirit is radically different from John the Baptist; we are to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Lord as his friends, and as sons and daughters of the Father."

My mother and I once had the discussion abou this - she said the world seems not to have changed, human nature is such as it always is (a different point!) and that the Post-Pentecost world is not much better than pre-Pentecost. I argued contra, and also sent this rather blunt query to EWTN's online guru for more. Here is his passionate reply, which I sent to mom:

Q: Why does the world post-Pentecost look just as bad as the world pre-Pentecost? The Bible said that the Holy Spirit would usher in a new age but it looks much the same.

Answer by Fr. John Echert: Do not Imagine for a moment that the world redeemed by Christ is no better than the world apart from Christ. We have inherited a world in which the Gospel spread rapidly from one end to the other, as is evident from the early writings which comprise the New Testament. In a matter of a couple decades the Good News of Jesus Christ and the knowledge of the one true God began at its center in Jerusalem and had reached the center of the Empire of the time at Rome. What would the world look like without Jesus Christ? Think for a moment the visible indications of the breaking in of God's Kingdom. Jesus cast out demons, restored sight to the blind, gave hearing to the deaf, raised the dead to life. The physical miracle were authentic and signs of a deeper reality: Jesus had power over sin and death. Imagine the difference had Jesus Christ not risen from the dead. You would have no hope for eternal life and would see only darkness in the world. By now the darkness may have overtaken any natural hope for life and destroyed any natural goodness. Given modern methods of warfare, the world might by now have destroyed itself or be barely habitable. Yes, Thomas doubted and Saul persecuted the Church. But they were won over by the grace of God experienced in a visible manifestation of the Risen Christ. For the rest of us, we depend upon faith and the witness of those who personally experienced the Lord in the Gospel period and the Apostolic Church.

What a blessing for us, undeserved by accepted in faith. Finally, let me give you an example of a difference between pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost times: 14:66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maids of the high priest came; 14:67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, "You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus." 14:68 But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you mean." And he went out into the gateway. 14:69 And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." 14:70 But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." 14:71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know this man of whom you speak." 14:72 And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept. 5:26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 5:27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 5:28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 5:30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 5:32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." Believe me, you cannot imagine the darkness and hopelessness that would by now envelope the world, had not the Son of God taken upon Himself our humanity and redeemed us from sin and death. Yes, human freedom remains and so does sin, since each person has the ability to choose sin. But grace has made an incredible difference; a grace which does not compel but works to wear down our resistance and find a place in our hearts and minds.
I know I like to know what people are reading so I will share the earth-shaking news that verweile doch was very, very good to me last night. Enjoyed large, languid quantities of Walker Percy's "The Last Gentleman", read the latest issue of Crisis, which included an edifying article on Evelyn Waugh (which led me to pick up the old $2 Brideshead Revisited copy I had found at a library sale last year and plow into it). Also read Bud MacFarlane's "Conceived Without Sin", which I had bought at the Cathedral Shrine shop in Washington ostensibily for my sister, wondering if it were a bit too apologetic in nature. She enjoys mass market fiction and sometimes wavers in her commitment to the Church, so it seemed a kinda/sorta good fit but I don't want to come off as some sort of huckster since that can have an equal and opposite reaction...
Memories of a Breakfast Drink
Tang, sprang plain-sung against the tongue
orange pistoles blasting orange twang.


Winter Whine
Nature dieth
we acclimate,
accustom our arses to the
furniture of our minds;
live there awhile
eschew the outdoors
till numbness ensues;
till the summer sun seems sudden-garish;
like a drunk at the symphony.

January 11, 2003

Interesting item from dead tree National Review
[L.Brent] Bozell faulted the West for having accepted too thoroughly Aristotle's declaration that the intellect is what truly distinguishes man from other creatures: 'The most exquisitely equipped 'rational animal' could not, in virtue of that equipment, believe, or hope, or love supernaturally. Reason does none of this things, nor can it explain them.'
--Michael Potemra
Got this from Davey's mommy, who got it from others...
"Nothing gives one a more spuriously good conscience than keeping rules, even if there has been a total absence of all real charity and faith."

And from Thomas Merton, via Dylan:
The pleasure of a good act is something to be remembered -- not in order to feed our complacency but in order to remind us that virtuous actions are not only possible and valuable, but that they can become easier and more delightful and more fruitful than the acts of vice which oppose and frustrate them.

January 10, 2003

Cow's Heads in Formaldehyde   ...Peggy Noonan's Latest
I have a theory that liberals and leftists prefer their leaders complicated, and conservatives prefer their leaders uncomplicated. I think the left expects a good leader to have an exotic or intricate personality or character. (A whole generation of liberal journalists grew up reading Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill on Bobby Kennedy's sense of tragedy, Murray Kempton on the bizarreness that was LBJ, and a host of books with names like "Nixon Agonistes" and "RFK at Forty," and went into journalism waiting for the complicated politicians of their era to emerge. They are, that is, pro-complication because their ambition to do great work like the great journalists of the 1960s seems to demand the presence of complicated political figures.)

Liberals like their leaders interesting. I always think this may be because some of them have not been able to fully engage the idea of a God, and tend to fill that hole in themselves with politics and its concerns. If the world of government and politics becomes your god, and yields a supergod called a president, you want that god to be interesting.

Conservatives, on the other hand, don't look for god in government, for part of being a conservative is holding the conviction that there is no god in government. They like complicated personalities in their TV shows and from actors and opera singers, but they want steadiness and a vision they can agree with from their presidents. Actually I think conservatives want their presidents the way they want their art: somewhere in the normal range. They don't like cow's heads suspended in formaldehyde and don't understand that as high art; by 1998 they thought Bill Clinton was the political version of a cow's head in formaldehyde, and they didn't like that either.

And so my liberal friends say: Why do people like Mr. Bush? And they want an interesting answer. But I do think part of the answer is: Because he's not complicated and perhaps not even especially interesting as a person. We just love that.

-- Peggy Noonan
Mining for Gold in a Sea of Chaff *
Bruce Springsteen is out-of-date. His song, "Fifty-seven Channels But Nothin's On" should be "Two-hundred Channels But Nothin's On". But amid this tsunami of dross, this tornado of torpitude, I've found one show I like to watch - CBS's "The Guardian". And this season they have really cool theme song, Empire In My Mind by the Wallflowers.

One internet reviewer opined:
...But the song is another good one, with Jakob [the song writer] taking a long, hard look at himself, and finding good and bad, but sounding surprised by exactly how much bad there really is.

I cannot deny/There's a darkness that's inside/I am guilty by design/And now I realize that temptation's made me blind/To the empire in my mind.

I'm assuming that this empire represents all that he aspires to be, all that he's convinced himself he's already close to being. But upon closer inspection, he realizes where he thought there was order, there is chaos, and even crime, and his biggest fear is this: I'm afraid someday I'll find/There's no empire in my mind. No good at all inside him. And while this may not be autobiographical, it's certainly a theme we can all relate, including Jakob, obviously.

* - entrant for 2003 "Mixed Metaphor" in a Catlicker Blog Award (MMCBA)
Kairos and Disputations have had good posts on the all-important but infrequently asked question: 'Is it true?'. It is understandable how few ask that question, because the answer simply may not, in their view, be "survivable". In other words, to take an example off the shelf, the gay person cannot really ask, 'is it true that God does not approve of homosexual acts?' because that would require a scenerio of life (i.e. one without sex) that is simply unsurvivable. (The obligatory disclaimer is of course that this "unsurvivability" is a perception, not reality). Christians are accused by atheists of this (see Gov. Ventura's "weakminded" comments). Many Protestants want the assurance of "once saved, always saved", because not having that is unsurvivable (Luther, for example, is said to have had a problem with scrupulosity). Thus we have to try to force God into our pre-conceived notions, mostly because the stakes are so high. I remember in my licentitious days thinking, "I can't believe God would send me to hell for this. I simply refuse to believe it, because then everyone I know is going to hell...". Now I think more along the lines of, "hey I better improve, before I 'get improved'" - i.e. if I don't develop the virtue of patience, it will perhaps be given to me by virtue of something catastrophic.

We see even scientific "truth" bent for our purposes. E. Michael Jones in "Degenerate Moderns" provided an eye-opening look at the hidden motivations of many of the leading figures of modernity. Most of those profiled were/are revered for their seeming objectivity, but Mr. Jones shows the faulty moral framework that caused them to have huge ulterior motives in bending truth to their own particular problem.
To share another's affliction is the pluperfect way to care about them. In other words, if I have a heart condition, I cannot help but be extremely sympathetic to those who have a heart condition. There is little merit in that, it being a purely human phenomenon, but it seems we should take advantage of whatever natural advantages we have. This is a preface to saying how moved I was by this post from the Kairos guy. Thank God for Confession, where hope is renewed. I was reading the second chapter of Acts the other day and it was marvelously consoling. Reading about Christ's power is something that gives one hope, in a world where oft times God whispers. To know that you are not alone is helpful, close to the point that 'to be understood is to be cured'.
I recall that one of the blogs suggested the practice of designating their daily rosary for someone. I've found it useful that if I was angry at someone that day, they automatically become the designatee for that day. This has the salutary effect of providing even more incentive not to become angry.

January 09, 2003

Interesting Tidbit from the Cath Convert Billboard
Q: Surely, as Catholics, we have access to much more grace than the average Israelite had under the Old Covenant, so why aren't we much better morally?

A: One guess would be that we live in an age that is much more conducive to sin. Think about it, it's just as easy to type "www.redhotporn.com" as to type "www.catholic-convert.com." The internet gives easy access to all kinds of sin. Indeed, seemingly everything about our popular culture encourages materialism and sin. The very idea of sin is down-played and laughed at. Those who try to practice self-denial are looked on as bizarre and fanatical.

Our modern technology might also play a part. The more climate-controlled and comfortable our lives become, the less we feel the need for God. I believe one of the saints said that weather was the best penance because it comes to us directly from the hand of God. But we live in an age where it's possible never to see the weather if we so choose. We are insulated and isolated from life itself to a much greater degree than an Israelite in a tent who lives or dies depending upon when God sends rain.
I would also guess - though I don't know - that where grace abounds, demonic attack and temptation abounds as well. When God steps up His activity, I suspect that Satan steps up his, too.

Finally, I don't think our free will is much different than that of the ancient Israelites. Indeed, the human condition never really changes, which is why the Bible is as relevant to us today as it was when it was written.

Truth & Hubris
I was struck by this comment on Amy's blog concerning Anne Lamott:
A sinner on a radiant trajectory toward Jesus is in better shape than a "solid on all the disputed questions" type who's come to a dead stop. Watch this girl.

I'm fascinated by the connection between knowledge of the truth and hubris. There is a tendency to feel smug or proud of the truth one believes, be it the Catholic who feels he/she is better because they have "the truth" or the Protestant who believes likewise, or Christians over Muslims and vice-versa. Perhaps the reason the truth at times seems muddled is intentional on God's part - to prevent us from becoming insufferable.

Matt 13: "He replied, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "`You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear."
The Sad Death of Jack Kerouac
In 1969, the last year of his life, Jack and Gabrielle, and Jack's third wife, Stella, lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a retirement town, and Jack seemed retired, spending most of his time indoors, drinking Johnny Walker Red and reading National Review, the Bible, Pascal, and Voltaire. He was watching television the morning of October 20, eating tuna fish out of the can, sipping whiskey, and scribbling a note. There was a pain in his stomach. He made it to the bathroom in time to vomit a waterfall of blood. His liver, long cirrhotic, had finally hemorrhaged. The blood filled Jack's chest and welled up into his throat.

He was rushed to St. Anthony's hospital. He remained unconscious while doctors operated on him and pumped thirty pints of blood into his body. He died an alcoholic's death, drowning in his own blood, at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

--E. Micheal Smith
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him. - Acts 2 38:39
Then Lamott is back to what she does best: proclaiming the grace of God. "But there wasn't a single thing that I'd do that Jesus would say, 'Forget it, you're out, I've had it with you, try Buddha!' - Christianity Today article

Now, even if you have problems with Lamott for whatever reason you might, you really have to admit that this last statement is one to sort of stop you in your tracks and force you to re-evaluate your sense of what faith is all about and how tempting it is for religiously-minded folk to decree that other sinners (whose sins are, somehow, worse than the religious folks' sins) must be, have to be, cut off from God's grace. - Amy Welborn

I recall reading Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear it Away and, truth be told, not enjoying the ride too much. But the ending! Wow...what a powerful ending...
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

--G. Herbert

January 08, 2003

Cardinal Newman thoughts...
Another must-read post at Disputations here. Makes sense to look at history first in attempting to determine if something is true. Certainly, in the examples he gives, papal documents are not going to be convincing to outsiders...I googled for these interesting Cardinal Newman comments:

'The more one examines the Councils, the less satisfactory they are.....[but] the less satisfactory they, the more majestic and trust-winning, and the more imperatively necessary, is the action of the Holy See.'.......

Newman also wrote to the Guardian sharply denying the allegation of J.M. Capes that he did not really believe in papal infallibility, and citing a number of passages in his writings, beginning with the Essay on Development, for more or less explicit avowals of the doctrine...... "As regards the relation between history and theology, Newman is unequivocal in his criticism of Dollinger and his followers......'I think them utterly wrong in what they have done and are doing; and, moreover, I agree as little in their view of history as in their acts.' It is not a matter of questioning the accuracy of their historical knowledge, but 'their use of the facts they report' and 'that special stand-point from which they view the relations existing between the records of History and the communications of Popes and Councils.' Newman sums up the essence of the problem: 'They seem to me to expect from History more than History can furnish.' The opposite was true of the Ultramontanes, who simply found history an embarrassing inconvenience....

But he wondered why 'private judgment' should 'be unlawful in interpreting Scripture against the voice of authority, and yet be lawful in the interpretation of history?'....No Catholic doctrine could be fully proved (or, for that matter, disproved) by historical evidence - 'in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church.' Indeed, anyone 'who believes the dogmas of the Church only because he has reasoned them out of History, is scarcely a Catholic.'

--from Ian Ker's John Henry Newman: A Biography via Dave Armstrong's site.
At last...I understand why Bill Buckner missed that ground ball. Kudos to Dylan.
"You know what I love about the Irish? The way they don't seem to be after your money. Everyone else in the world is."
--P. McCarthy, McCarthy's Bar

Sadly, the Irish are merely behind the times. But one can hope they will not be assimilated too.
Adams quote
The appeal of young women was exceedingly strong; an elderly John Adams wrote that he was of an 'amorous disposition from as early as ten or 11' but kept himself in rein. 'No virgin or matron ever had cause to blush at the sight of me...My children may be assured that no illegitimate brother or sister exists or ever existed'.
--D. McCullough's John Adams
Fictional Wednesday
The local pawn shop was having a President’s Day sale. All items 50% off, stolen items 75% off. I went because I had been recently retired, right-sized or otherwise been acted upon instead of acting on. My services would not be required. I lugged a sousaphone carefully through a door decorated with bars.

I’d had the tuba since high school but hadn’t played it since. My lips were out of shape and my lung power suspect, the result of a pack-a-day habit that had begun in my 20s until by 40 I was shivering outside my workplace, experiencing the odd sensation of feeling both good and bad simultaneously. Like when you cut yourself shaving in a nice, hot shower.

The tuba had been in cold storage for over 30 years, but with its sale imminent, nostalgia overcame me and I began making loud, flatulent notes. Soon I was playing the melody line of every John Phillip Sousa song I could recall. The next day I was at it again attempting Vivaldi's "Four Seasons”. It sounded like a German grocer on speed.

LaTonya Baumgartner was the proprietor. I’d expected someone seedier, like Adrian’s brother Pauli in Rocky. She grimaced when she saw the tuba.

“How much for this?” I said.

“You know, this shop is kinda small. That would take up a lot of room. Do you want to find something in trade, something equally big?”

I looked around numbly. The sad collection of misfit toys looked morosely back at me, like one large Evil Eye. Guns and jewelry filled the shop, much of it traded for drug or booze money. Trading the permanent for the temporary.

“Well, I could use some cash…”

“How about that foosball table?”

She eventually agreed to take the tuba for $20.

I spent the sundown on Mallory Square where the best entertainment was the sunset but where the people-watching was good too. There was the tight-rope walking dog named Mo, and his shaggier owner. Later at a karokee bar called “Two Friends” I discovered the etymology of the word "Karokee": it's the Japanese word meaning “those who lack the embarassment gene”.

There was the ice princess in the short skirt singing irenic, ironic songs like “Black Velvet” and “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”. She accepted applause as her birthright. There was Bunny, the scared little girl who gripped the microphone like a lifeline and your heart went out to her as she stood rigid as a statuette. There was the tall and angular-faced Ric Ricardo, still possessing boy-next-door-looks despite grazing the north pastures of the 40s. He sang standards so old they’re coming back in style, and he also sang “Song, Sung Blue” straight-up, irony-free.

The emcee for the evening was friendly and wore his poker face even during the worse song fractures, which apparently must be part of the job description.

January 07, 2003

Various & sundry
It seems to me that as notions of God become more specific and more loving, they become harder to believe but more consoling. It would seem to be an act of faith to believe that all this is an accident. To believe that a billion-billion stars exist and that we naturally perceive the beauty in those stars and the trees and seas purely by evolutionary means is hard to believe. To believe that the level of complexity in the earth started with an ameoba takes, well, an act of faith. Thus it is a miracle that God created the world, but it would also be a miracle if it happened by accident - either way is a leap. But to believe in a loving God is different from believing in a creating God, and it seems to me that believing in the Jewish notion of God is easier than believing in divinity of Jesus because it is harder to believe that God would take human form. An omnipotent God is more in line with our expectations. God went from being nameless ("I am who am") to taking human form to taking the form of bread, each requiring a greater seeming humility of God and each requiring greater faith on our part but offering the consolation of greater closeness.

We have things backwards - we want mysticism so as to love God more fully, whereas mysticism grows out of a love for God and the willingness to suffer. I wish I spent as much time exploring Christ's wounds as I do my own ("suffering and sorrow are proportional to love" wrote St. Catherine of Siena).
George Herbert (1593-1633)
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture--"for Thy sake"--
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th' action fine.
Chuckled at this clever comment from Edward Trumbo on Mark Shea's blog concerning the "blame the Vatican first" mindset:

We must have married lesbian priestesses liturgically dancing down the aisle with their cloned babies on the feast day of St. Margaret Sanger, or the terrorists will have already won.
Pope Praised in Pravda
Who knew that Pravda is still extant? And is on the web in English? It includes this snippet:
Here is Pravda's interesting take on the Pope:

The spiritual leader of all Catholics, Pope John Paul II, is, of course, an extraordinary person. With the Pope, the Catholic church recovered its authority and power. Many articles and books have been written about the pope, and now even a film is being shot about the pontiff's childhood and youth. The pope is an anti-communist, and they say the socialist camp would not have been ruined without his assistance.
Disputations has had some excellent posts lately. He aims at quality, not quantity, whereas I employ the "broadcast" method. He speaks humorously of the viral theory of heresy, which I have been prone to (his dig at those avoiding Merton because of something he wrote in his journal in '67 especially hit home).

My (very) limited theological reading suggests to me that much of it is speculation, an issue perhaps peculiar to my cast of mind. For example, here is a quote from Hans Van Baltahasar:

"Consider the abysmal problem of the relation between God's Kingdom and earthly power (into the ultimate depths of which probably only Reinhold Schneider has the courage to descend today): whether, for example, a call to arms by the Church, a blessing of weapons, or taking up the sword of this world is an expression of the courage of the Christian faith or, on the contrary, the symptom of an unchristian and faithless anxiety; whether something that can be defended and justified in a hundred ways with penultimate reasons drawn from faith (quite apart from the lessons of Church history - but then what does Church history teach?) will collapse miserably before the throne of judgment of the ultimate reason - because what of course appeared to be God's weapon in the hands of God's warrior against God's enemies is now suddenly exposed as Peter's desperate sword-waving against the high priest's servant, whose side Jesus takes in order to expose such brandishing of weapons for what it was: anxious betrayal."

This was great, I loved reading it, thinking about it, but in the end it fell flat, too speculative. The short answer is that he doesn't know what the connection between God's Kingdom and earthly power should be. And that's fine and I appreciate the honesty, but so much of theological writing is like this - pure speculation on this side of life. Similarly, how many are saved - wither many or few - has been debated ad nauseum with no clearer picture. Theologians have been all over the map, and rightly so since it is only for God to know. These "criticisms" if you can even call it that, may be the by-product of my math-oriented mind, concerned with being able to look in the back of the book for the answer - i.e. that a = (b + c)/ d. But clarity is overrated. Neither Zechariah nor Mary were given much clarity by the angel Gabriel, but one chose the better path.
Speaking of movies...
Here are some aging emails I exchanged with a Christian movie reviewer concerning Speilberg's "A.I." - written when it first came out:

my email
....I thought the movie not very friendly to Christianity. Surely it wasn't a coincidence that little Haley prayed 2,000 yrs (Christ's death to now) before getting a mechanistic, unsatisfying answer to his prayer in the form of his Mom-for-a-day. How reflective of our times to have his prayers answered by science and not by God! It seemed a mocking of religion to me, not something unusual for Hollywood but unusual from Spielberg.

excerpt of his reply:
"not something unusual for Hollywood but unusual from Spielberg."
Indeed. Still, all of those final events were in Kubrick's story treatment. Spielberg just changed them from being "chilling" to a rather forced sentimental warmth, which just didn't make any sense. So I wouldn't say Spielberg is suggesting science will be our savior...I think the only thing he cared about was giving the boy a merciful sendoff. And Kubrick, well, he would never say science will be our savior, unless he's suggesting it as a nightmare that we had better try and avoid... That's my current notion, anyway (it keeps changing with this movie.)

my reply:
"And Kubrick, well, he would never say science will be our savior..."
Very true, but Haley's quest was that someone make him "real" - something other than mechanical parts. Today it is fashionable to believe that we are nothing more than moving parts, that there is no soul or free will (my stepson believes this). So I understood the movie as setting up the proposition that only God can make us real and that the ending was the moviemaker's statement that just as there was no Blue Ferry to make Haley real, there is no God that gives us a soul.

His reply:
It's amazing to me to think that so many people can live day to day believing they have no freewill. Why would God bother to create us if we could not have relationship? If we could not surprise him? I've been reading First Samuel... and was fascinated to see that God "regretted" making Saul king. That implies disappointment, which implies surprise. (And there are so many other evidences in the Scripture.) But I guess you need to believe the Bible in the first place to find any convincing arguments about life there.

I was a little disappointed in his last reply, given that whether God is capable of being surprised is something debateable, given that his foreknowledge is perfect....
We are all John Nash
Under the favorite movie category of a blog questionnaire I briefly considered A Beautiful Mind. The movie portrays the John Nash's recovery from paranoid schizophrenia, partially through pure force of will - the discipline of daily disregarding paranoidal thoughts. This could be seen as a metaphor for all of us. Certainly sin is a sickness, a form of insanity (Frank Sheed emphasizes this with the title of his book: Theology and Sanity). We see things in a false light, through colored glasses (see Matt 16:23). Thus we need to constantly discipline our thoughts with respect to what is real.

January 06, 2003

Old Journal Entries never die.....they just get posted:

Gruff, older middle-aged man, not completely assimilated, walks over to friend's cube (aka known by my stepson as a 'veal fattening pen'). He is of that exquisitely rare type, that hot-house flower, the never-been married 50ish man. He maintains a sort of razor-sharpness (perhaps due to having never had a poor night's sleep). He is rough edges all extant, eccentricities allowed to flourish, his world untrammelled by the paths oft taken, he lives eagle-eyed for trespass and finds in my friend the troubled youth he never had:

   "What are you doing sending notes like that? I don't know anything about the LAD database project!".

My friend had sent a note out to the whole dep't, on orders from his boss & boss's boss, with a helpful EOM ('end of message') at the end. The note applied to the older man, whether he cared or not, albeit no action was required. He reminded me faintly of a drunken neighbor we once had when I was a kid, a man whose world view was such that anything out of the ordinary was eyed suspiciously: "What you readin' a book fer, son?" My buddy (aka "Bone") had sent out a note that smelled suspicious.

That this guy would take the time to walk over instead of call or write over a matter of such triviality left me awed. I put off going to the bathroom when I need to, just to avoid the inconvenience of rising, and here this guy rushes to my friend's desk like it's a 4-alarm fire. All over a no-line note.

My buddy, blindsided & unaware of his trespass on the other's Lotus kingdom, suppresses the instinct to lash or laugh.

"Just delete it....You know..."
"Motion pictures can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because they are made to meet market demands, they reflect popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. Film is a medium rife with ambivalence: to purvey is not to analyze. That means film is ripe for horror, because horror is the expression of ambivalence: we do not know the cause of what is going wrong, for we are the cause of what is going wrong. .....
Horror thrives only when the distinction between good and evil has been lost - indeed, the presence of horror is the sign that the distinction has been repressed and forgotten...."

--E. Michael Jones
Via Amy's Blog
"What I think of as Christian novels are those that point out man's need for redemption. Crime and Punishment, Robinson Crusoe, Les Miserables, that wonderful one by Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, all those books declare that man is incapable of saving himself, of delivering his own redemption. Yet we don't call those Christian novels, we call them classics."
--Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River
Oblique House led me to this bon mot from Catholic Light: Most blogs are self-indulgent, masturbatory junk, emanations from people who couldn't get published anywhere else.

And the point is? Most people are self-indulgent masturbators (uh, metaphorically-speaking of course) in their daily life; why should it be any more egregious written down rather than spoken or otherwise expressed? Especially given that reading a blog is optional, while in real life putting up with insufferable people (including ourselves) is often not.

The policy of this blog is, in the fine Jesuitical tradition, to come as close to the line of self-indulgent masturbation as possible without crossing over. Only you can judge if I am successful.

Walker Percy once said that Americans are newspaper readers and fornicators, and for many bloggers (not the Catlickers of course), the blog is the form of entertainment that combines their two loves - porn and news.
For me, one interesting part of the blogsperience is watching the "politics of linking", as well as dealing with the rejection of not being linked on blogs where your buddies are linked. That rejection is beneficial of course - no pain, no gain. As St. John of the Cross put it (I'm paraphrasing): "those who seek the praise of others are like the 5 foolish virgins who have no oil for their lamps and go in search of it".

Another fascinating part is watching the spiritual growth of others. The young are particularly fluid - Lord knows my stepson lurches from atheism to theism on a quarterly basis (prayers always thankfully received!). There's a 21-yr religion major whose blog I watch for similar reasons...

The Politics of Linking ....to tune of the "Politics of Dancing"
This is not as clear as one would imagine. There are many possible policies or combinations of policies:
1) Link to only those you read
2) Link to those who you wish you would read (i.e. I wish I would read "Daily Meds" more, but link to it as reparation for that)
3) Link to those who link you
4) Link to everyone (a daunting task in the Catlicker blog world)
5) Link to no one, giving only the "Praise & Glory" link
6) Link to the "big name bloggers" (i.e. Amy & Mark, et al)

January 05, 2003

Mark Shea makes the good point by asking:

Am I the only one who thinks it's rather suicidal...

for Christians in a rapidly de-Christianizing and increasing anti-Christian culture to urge Caesar to kill as many citizen as he can? It's not my main reason for thinking the Pope is basically right to want to limit (not "abolish") capital punishment. But I think it deserves consideration.

Our learned Dominican associate pastor thinks it's conceivable that we again be outright persecuted for our faith...in this country...in our lifetime. I don't need that reason to oppose the death penalty since, well, I'm slavishly devoted to our Pope and I'm ok with whatever he says. If he told us to say a Rosary three times every day while hopping on one leg, I'd start exercising and grab a 15-decader.
Cardinal Ratzinger tackles a tough one
In his new book with Peter Seewald, the Cardinal is asked:

Q: The question is whether faith really makes us so much better, more merciful, more caring toward our neighbor...Let's take those people whom God has called to faith...Why is it that among monks and nuns we see so much bearing of grudges, so much envy and jealousy and such a lack of willingness to help?

A: This is indeed a most pressing question. There we can see once again that faith is not just there, but that it either withers or grows, that it either rises or falls on the graph. It is not just a ready-made guarantee, something one can regard as accumulated capital that can only grow. Faith is always given only in the context of a fragile freedom. We may wish it were otherwise. But just therein lies God's great gamble, which we find so hard to understand, that he has not given us stronger medicine.

Even if we are bound to notice inadequate patterns of behavior (behind which, of course, there is always a weakening of faith) within the world of those who believe, we cannot ignore the positive side of the account.

(He goes on to describe the many faith-filled people whose actions more closely follow their Christianity.)

--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World

Makes sense to me. It's been said that God is a "just in time" God; he gives us our daily Bread, rather than a longer-term supply. A daily recommitment is necessary. I'd never heard faith compared to a graph but it comports to reality and would also help explain the "Situation" concerning wayward priests.
Buckeyes as Metaphor
With Ohio State, all is prologue till the final play. There is no assurance; one must persevere to the end. Watching them reminds me of a line from Rosanne Cash's "Seven Year Ache" - see how much your old heart can take.

There is the agonizing fact that a resurrection requires a death, and during the national championship game the Buckeyes would lose before they would win. Rigor mortis began after a failed 4th down play in overtime; there they lay, slumped on the field full of recriminations that they had taken it too far this time, that lady luck was on sabbatical. For an ebbing few heartbeats it was finito, until a yellow flag appeared, appropos of nothing, like a folded burial cloth in an empty tomb, and the jubilant, devilish Miami mascot was shooed off the field. Interference had been called against Miami, and the Buckeye body sprang to life, like the besotted whiskey drinker in the Irish drinking chune "Finnegan's Wake" (as they say on Thistle and Shamrock):

Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin Street
A gentleman Irish, mighty odd
He had a tongue both rich and sweet
And to rise in the world he carried a hod
Now Tim had a sort of a tippling way
With a love of the liquor poor Tim was born
And to help him on his way each day
He'd a drop of the cratur every morn

Whack fol de do now dance to your partner
Round the floor your trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake

One morning Tim was rather full
His head felt heavy which made him shake
He fell from the ladder and broke his skull
So they carried him home, his corpse to wake
They wrapped him up in a nice clean sheet
And laid him out upon the bed
With a gallon of whiskey at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head

His friends assembled at the wake
And Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch
First, the brought in tea and cakes
Then pipes with tabacco and whiskey punch
Miss Biddy O'Brien began to cry
'Such a neat clean corpse did you ever see
Yerrah Tim, avourneen, why did you die?'
'Ah hold your toungue,' says Paddy Magee

Then Biddy O'Connor took up the moan
'Biddy,' says she, 'you're wrong I'm sure,'
But Biddy gave her a belt in the gob
And left her sprawling on the floor.
Oh then a mighty war did rage
'Twas woman to woman and man to man
Shillelagh law did all engage
And a row and ruction soon began.

Then Mickey Maloney ducked his head
When a naggin of whiskey flew at him
It missed him, falling on the bed
The liquor splattered over Tim
Bedad, he revives and see how he rises
And Timothy rising from the bed
Says 'Fling your whiskey round like blazes
Thunderin' Jaysus, do you think I'm dead ?'